Visiting Chinese student embraces Truckee history at old jail museum

Patrick McCartney
Special to the Sun
Ting Zhao, a 23-year-old Chinese student working in Tahoe City on a student visa, stands in front of one of the security cells in Truckee’s Old Jail Museum.
Courtesy Patrick McCartney |

TRUCKEE, Calif. — For years, college students from around the world have traveled to Truckee on student-work visas. They fill jobs on the ski slopes in the winter, and bag groceries in local supermarkets during the summer.

In exchange, the young visitors experience our culture, learn American slang and squeeze in tours of California and other states.

This summer, a Chinese language major working at Tahoe City’s SaveMart made the time on her days off to volunteer at Truckee’s Old Jail Museum. Ting Zhao, 23, served as a docent, greeting visitors to the museum run by the Truckee-Donner Historical Society.

Speaking to the public satisfied Zhao’s curiosity for different cultures, multiple languages, and history. She also had the chance to travel to Washington, D.C., touring the Smithsonian and welcomed at the State Department. Zhao said she has been impressed by the American melting pot and the vast size of the country.

“Truckee people are friendly, and they are optimistic and warm-hearted,” Zhao said recently. “Truckee is a peaceful, nice and clean town.” Zhao added that she will miss the upbeat attitude of the Americans she’s met. “They are optimistic, follow their heart and just do what they want to do. Chinese are more conservative, and easily influenced by others.”

The first person in her family to attend university, Zhao was raised in Datong, a city of 1.6 million in the northern Chinese province of Shan’xi. Her father, Zhao Jin, owns a small market, where she helped out growing up.

Zhao said she greatly misses her family, including her mother, Feng Hongyu and her two brothers. Her older brother joined the Chinese Army last year, and her younger brother attends middle school.

Each semester, Zhou travels a dozen hours by train to the Jilin Province city of Changchun, where she studies English and French at the Jilin Huaqiao Foreign Languages Institute. The province borders North Korea and Russia.

Among the many lessons Zhao has learned in her stay in California is the difference between the English she learned in the classroom from the spoken language on the street. She was also surprised by the American appetite for meat, cheese and sodas. Green tea is healthier than soda, the student gently reminded a local. Her favorite local food is garden salads, especially Caesar salad.

Zhao was taken back by the pervasive automobile culture. “Where are the people walking the sidewalks?” Zhao asked on a recent trip to Reno.

The nonprofit program that provided Zhao’s J-1 visa, Greenheart International, encourages participants to volunteer in the community, promote environmental good works, fair trade and cultural exchanges.

Patrick McCartney is a former city editor of the Sierra Sun and managing editor of the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza.

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.