As the most powerful Chinese leader in generations, President Xi Jinping rarely bothers to glad-hand or to try charming a crowd. His public appearances in China are carefully crafted, with fawning cadres and adoring fans positioned around him.

So, when Xi landed in San Francisco this week to meet with President Joe Biden, to try to stabilize a relationship with the United States that has been spiraling downward, it provided a rare opportunity to see the Chinese leader up close and, at times, less filtered than usual.

There were a few moments when Xi turned animated — or the closest he gets to it — like when a group of Iowans he had met in the 1980s came through the receiving line at a gala dinner in San Francisco on Wednesday night. Xi’s face lit up as he greeted the man who had driven him around rural Iowa, when Xi was a young party official from Hebei province hoping to glean insights into America’s agricultural technology.