Wendy Saville and Dennis Hall returned from a trip to China last month delighted with the opportunity to learn more about the country and to share information with their Chinese counterparts.

Saville is chief of psychiatry at Pelican Bay State Prison and Hall provides trauma and crisis management counseling and training for businesses and individuals.

My expectation was not high and it far exceeded my expectations, Hall said. It was an awesome trip.

The patients looked very familiar, Saville said. Like mental patients anywhere else, clean and well-fed.

They did, however, say that the patients they saw were in large urban areas and that mental health was almost non-existent in the outlying rural areas of the country.

The couple were part of a People to People Ambassador Program, founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 to give each the fullest opportunity to learn about the people of other nations

Delegations, including those from medical, environmental, engineering, mental health, music and sports professions meet with their counterparts in the host country to compare and share information and learn from each other.

The delegation of 50 mental health professionals from Oregon was led by Barry Kast, director of Oregon Health and Humans Services.

Traveling from Beijing to Xian and Guiyang, they visited seven institutions, which included five mental hospitals and two universities.

They met with heads of each facility, where they were able to ask questions and then tour and speak with people.

They were accompanied by a Chinese translator and guide, and many of the people they met were trained in English-speaking countries.

Saville said the Chinese professionals are far behind us, but theyre working hard to catch up.

Hall said, They are pursuing western methods along with traditional practices. Research combining traditional Chinese and western medications is reducing doses and side effects.

Traditional Chinese treatments include herbals, acupressure and acupuncture.

Theres no private psycho-therapy, Saville said. The concept is too far out.

She said the stigma against mental illness compares with that in the U.S. 20 years ago.

We were impressed with the mental health professionals who are working against heavy odds and what they have done in 20 years, they said.

The Chinese were open about existing problems, such as the increasing suicide rate among women, especially in rural areas, where ingestion of pesticides and lack of emergency medical facilities contribute.

Alcoholism, which was unknown 30 years ago, is also on the increase, along with opium addiction, they said.

It wasnt all work, however. The food was wonderful, hotels were five-star and the sightseeing was exciting, they said.

In Beijing they visited the Summer and Imperial Palaces, the 17-arch bridge, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall.

In Xian they visited the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, a temple originally built in 652 and reconstructed in the 700s.

The highlight of the Xian visit was the Terra Cotta Warriors, discovered in 1914 by a group of peasants digging a well. So far an estimated 8,000 of the 2,000-year-old stone guards have been found.

The stop in Guiyang provided an opportunity to visit an area with much less tourist activity and a large minority population. Here they traveled to Huangguoshu Waterfall, the tallest in China, centerpiece of 18 waterfalls, 100 caves, and four subterranean rivers.

Before leaving Guiyang, delegates were taken on an excursion to Quianling Park for a stroll through forested walks and a visit to Ming dynasty Hongfu Monastery.

An observation from Saville is the tremendous cultural change in Chinese society resulting from the one-child policy. She noted there are no longer four or five children to take care of two parents and four grandparents.

There is a little emperor syndrome. Children are highly valued and there is less child abuse, she said.

The delegation members were treated well. The Chinese hosts

were all so eager to help.

Its obvious that the two-week trip has made a lasting impression on the couple as they review the many photographs taken and speak about the people they met.

They apparently made an impression on their hosts.

The Chinese are very interested in my business, Hall said. Ive had three e-mail inquiries from Chinese corporations.