If he holds to the schedule he has set for himself today, President Bush, the ultimate jet-setter, will have eaten breakfast in Beijing, lunch in Seoul and dinner somewhere over the North Pacific. Taking advantage of the 13-hour time difference between Beijing and Washington, he will be home at the White House in time for bed at a reasonable hour.
That bedtime will be the only real evidence of moderation in a 133-hour journey to Asia and back.
This, after all, is not the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who once prepared for the jet lag of a trip to Beijing by spending several days at his ranch near Santa Barbara and a day and night in Honolulu, and then making another overnight stop in Guam.
Less Elapsed Time
That one-way route, while not rivaling in elapsed time Marco Polo's overland excursion to China from Italy, managed to cover approximately the same amount of time that Bush has devoted to his entire journey--a trip that began in Washington on Wednesday and ends there this evening, with intermediate stops in Anchorage, Alaska; Tokyo; Beijing, and Seoul.
George Bush does most things in a hurry, and traveling is no exception.
"Just the starting time is an indication," complained one bleary-eyed member of the White House senior staff. He was referring to the pre-dawn hour at which the President started the journey: approximately 5:45 a.m. EST.
"Welcome to world travel with George Bush," said the staffer, who is approximately half the President's age but was feeling somewhat older than the 64-year-old chief executive at the moment. "This is the way he likes to do it. He's got amazing resilience, and I'm just dragging today."
No Speed Record
Bush is not setting some sort of presidential speed record. That dubious honor belongs to Lyndon B. Johnson, who circled the globe in four days.
However, Bush's trip will cover 18,095 miles. This means that over the course of the 5 1/2 days, he is moving at an average speed of 136.05 m.p.h.--not a bad pace considering the rare moments, which bring the average down, when he has been standing still, sleeping or sitting down to eat.
There may be a certain macho satisfaction that comes from setting an exhausting public pace and apparently surviving it; from cramming 21 meetings with other figures from four continents into less than two days; from squeezing in receptions and working dinners, and a morning-long state funeral for Emperor Hirohito.
Bush managed that in Tokyo alone, without dozing off in public as Reagan did during an audience with Pope John Paul II in 1982 at the Vatican, albeit on a day that began with an early breakfast in Paris after an economic summit conference.
Logistical Support Helps
But such a feat as Bush's marathon journey can only be accomplished with discipline and the logistical support that few but a President receive.
There are the grand things: Air Force One, for example.
Easing the travail, there are also the smaller, hidden details: On Friday, at Hirohito's funeral in the Shinjuku Gyoen garden on a raw, damp morning, the temporary floor beneath the mourners' feet was heated with electrical coils, and a fake wall about seven feet from where Bush was seated contained heating units.
There is also split-second timing: A meeting Sunday with Zhao Ziyang, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, ran 25 minutes late, breaking up at 5:50 p.m., 10 minutes before Bush was scheduled to begin a live television interview on a Chinese network that would reach an audience estimated by the station director, Huang Huiqun, at 400 million to 600 million.
"You can't just walk out of a meeting with a head of state to go to a TV interview," said a senior U.S. official, explaining why Bush felt compelled to stay later than scheduled at a meeting that Zhao was reluctant to cut off.
Motorcade Through Beijing
As a result, the President's motorcade raced through the Beijing streets at speeds reaching 60 m.p.h. His limousine screeched to a halt at the television studio and Bush ran up the outer steps with fewer than five minutes to spare until air time.
Aboard Air Force One, life is generally more relaxed, and informality reigns even as the work moves forward. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, for example, wore a blue warm-up suit with rainbow colors decorating the shoulders on his way to Tokyo.
"It's for 14 hours," he said, explaining his less-than-diplomatic attire as he began the outbound journey.
The trip actually took 17 hours and 10 minutes, with a 90-minute refueling stop in Anchorage. Bush spent the first leg plowing through what an aide said was "a stack of work" and meetings on presidential appointments with Baker, Chief of Staff John H. Sununu and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, as the three aides continued to work on filling posts in the Administration.
But on the second leg of the transpacific flight, after giving a speech at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage during refueling, the President remained in his cabin, watching part of the Bette Midler movie "Big Business" before dozing off.
Throughout the tour, Bush offered assurances that he was holding up under the pace.
"Staying awake?" he was asked at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday in Tokyo, which was 2:30 a.m. in Washington--21 1/2 hours after he awoke at the White House to begin the journey.
Sank Into Chair With a Sigh
"Staying awake," he replied, before sinking into a chair with a sigh at the start of a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita.
"How do you feel?" he was asked two days later, at a Tokyo news conference.
"Feel all right. I've done my exercise every day," said Bush, who generally jogged two miles or so several times a week during the presidential campaign. "I didn't go running, but they had a bike over there (at Bush's temporary residence at the Okura Hotel) and I've been pedaling on that thing, which is very important. It really makes a difference in how I feel."
The President's concern about physical fitness was even noted by 84-year-old Deng Xiaoping, China's senior leader.
"You're an athlete. That's why you're in good shape," Deng said during a picture-taking session at the start of their hourlong meeting.
And Deng also took note of the hours Bush keeps.
"I know it's a hard job to be the President of the United States, and you will be the champion of the world in terms of having the busiest work schedule," Deng said.
Take, for example, the President's schedule for Tuesday, his first day back in the office.
Reagan, who was 70 when he took office, or six years older than Bush is now, rarely reported to the Oval Office before 10 a.m. on the first day after an arduous trip.
Bush, fighting down to the wire for his nomination of John Tower as secretary of defense, can ill afford to sleep in on Tuesday. He has invited a group of senators to the White House to press his case for Tower's confirmation.
The invitation is for 7:15 a.m.