RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The vice president of China is headed for Muscatine, Iowa, next week. He will pay visits elsewhere - the White House, where he meets with President Obama; California, where he'll lead a delegation.

So why a stop in Muscatine, you may ask, population just under 23,000? Well, as Kate Wells of Iowa Public Radio explains, he'll be visiting old acquaintances.

KATE WELLS, BYLINE: Sarah Lande greets all of her guests with gusto.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)

SARAH LANDE: Hi, Kate!

WELLS: Hey, Sarah. Hi.

LANDE: How are you? Come on in.

WELLS: Thank you so much. Your house is beautiful.

LANDE: Oh! Well, thank you!

WELLS: Over the years, however, one visitor does stands out - the next president of China.

LANDE: And then this is where we had dinner with Mr. Xi a long time ago.

WELLS: Mr. Xi is Xi Jinping, and back in 1985, when he had dinner at Sarah's house, he was just a mid-level Communist Party official with a delegation from an agricultural province.

LANDE: You know, he always spoke through an interpreter, but he was eager - you know - on time, professional, capable, eager to learn, happy to be here. The more I read about it, I keep saying, wow. We must have just done a bang-up job when he was here.

WELLS: His return comes at the invitation of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. Governor Branstad met with Mr. Xi when he traveled to China last year and apparently, Mr. Xi recalled his Muscatine home stay.

ELEANOR DVORCHAK: We had this man at our house who could be president next year, and we just shake our heads. It's still like it's - in disbelief.

WELLS: Eleanor Dvorchak and her husband, Thomas, live in Florida now. But in their former home in Muscatine, they put Mr. Xi up for two nights in their college son's vacant bedroom.

DVORCHAK: I didn't do anything to it. I kind of left it the way it was: football wallpaper, and Star Trek figurines on the wall. He was very pleasant, very warm. The only thing is, it just would have been better if we could have spoken more. But he did give us a bottle of spirits and - ooh! I mean, it was moonshine - very, very, you know, strong.

WELLS: The Dvorchak's are flying back from Florida for Mr. Xi's return. It is going to be a quick visit. No grand tour, no town parade - just Mr. Xi having tea with some 17 of those he met back in '85 including Tom Hoopes, a retired vegetable farmer who showed Mr. Xi's his sweet potatoes some 27 years ago.

TOM HOOPES: It's probably the most humbling experience I think I've ever had, to think that somebody would come and take as much interest as he has.

WELLS: It is easy to get swept up in the enthusiasm and quaintness of Mr. Xi's Muscatine return. But it is also a sign of China's diplomatic savvy. I mean, just knowing he slept in that Star Trek bedroom - that is winning friends and influencing people.

And this - at a time when American politicians are criticizing China for unfair competition and displacing American jobs. Still, that doesn't necessarily make the trip a cynical exercise in public relations. After all, Iowa is an agricultural powerhouse. And it did export more than $600 million in products to China in 2010. All of which means this trip is good business - and good manners - for hosts and visitors alike.

For NPR News, I'm Kate Wells in Muscatine, Iowa.

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