China Daily (Hong Kong) : 2019-01-14

CHINA : 8 : 8


8 CHINA DAILY | Monday, January 14, 2019 HONG KONG EDITION CHINA As a new year gets underway, China Daily reporters look back at some of the people and events that impressed and motivated them in 2018. CUI JIA CAO YIN LI LEI ZHANG YI JIANG CHENGLONG ZHANG YANGFEI Front-line experience shows a different side of the DPRK Sometimes nothing can mean everything For me, 2018 was a year of discoveries Taiwan residents celebrate coming home Stay curious and open to the surrounding environment Relishing the chance to step out of my comfort zone T M L O L S he Democratic People’s Republic of Korea can seem a mysterious place for people who only get a glimpse of it from occasional news stories. I was among their number until I met a group of veteran businessmen who specialize in trade with the country, which borders China and imports all kinds of supplies from its larger neighbor. Now, the country is less abstract to me. I’ve interviewed scholars who can talk about the DPRK’s relations with the rest of the world for hours (literally). However, I believe those businessmen, who make a living by constantly visiting the country and meeting its people, are the sort of experts we should listen to more. In June, I interviewed Zhou Linqing, a 54-year-old entrepreneur from Dandong, Liaoning province, which borders the DPRK. We sat in his office, which was playing host to boxes of DRPK-style cold noodles, as well as a polite and extremely friendly female trade representative from the country. “They (the people of the DPRK) are no different from us. They just do things differently,” Zhou said, sensing the feeling of surprise I had been trying hard to conceal. No expert on DPRK issues has ever told me something so fundamental and important when trying to understand the country. In December, Zhou traveled to the DPRK and was taken to a new seafood restaurant in Pyongyang. “I was surprised to learn that the customers are prohibited from smoking in the restaurant. You see, the country is keeping up with the rest of the world,” he said. Zhou was on a tour organized for a group of potential Chinese investors. He feels that the DPRK’s economic development is still slow, and UN-imposed sanctions have exacerbated the situation. “It was worse than I had expected, but the locals are still very proud and confident,” he said. During the trip, Zhou noticed many apartment buildings under construction in Pyongyang. DPRK officials told him that the apartments are part of a major housing project, which aims to improve people’s lives. However, the UN’s ban on steel imports has slowed construction, while sourcing materials has also become an issue. “Many people in the DPRK asked us when the sanctions will be lifted. That’s my question, too,” Zhou said. “Still, it’s a country that is eager to develop its economy and is packed with potential — especially for Chinese entrepreneurs who are the real backbone of China-DPRK trade.” In Dandong, Zhou’s hometown, a new bridge crossing the Yalu River that separates China and the DPRK was completed several years ago, but it stands idle. He told me the locals regard the bridge as a symbol. “China-DPRK economic cooperation will get on the fast track when the bridge is finally opened to traffic,” he said, adding that he has his eyes set on the golden opportunities that will flow when sanctions are finally lifted. ost of the time, a talkative interviewee is a boon for journalists looking to provide as much detail as possible in their reports. However, when it comes to disasterrelated stories, I think less is more. My most memorable experience of 2018 was visiting Sichuan province to interview survivors of the magnitude 8 earthquake that devastated Wenchuan county on the afternoon of May 12, 2008, killing more than 70,000 people. It was there I realized that “the more, the better” is sometimes not true. Ten years ago, I watched television as Xue Xiao was being rescued. Then a school student, he became known as “Coke Boy” after telling emergency workers that he wanted a Coke as he was being pulled from piles of rubble. At the time, I thought he was outgoing. But in May, when Xue, whose right arm was amputated after the disaster, sat in front of me, I found it hard to open a conversation with him, even though I ast year was a special one for me. Through my job as a reporter, I met more people with disabilities in one year than in the rest of my life. Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation. Over those three decades, the term used to describe the disabled has gradually changed from (useless) to (incomplete) and more recently to (disabled). Though they are just different words, the changes indicate a fundamental shift in people’s views. Disabled people are no longer viewed as a burden — or at least, not as much. Instead, they are increasingly treated with respect and seen to have great working potential that could be tapped as the population ages rapidly. However, a closer look at the community demonstrates that the progress made is far from adequate. Many disabled people are still excluded from mainstream education, even as the world races to promote school inclusiveness. Meanwhile, the special education programs designed for them lack diversity and appear primitive. Many visually impaired people I have met have voiced discontent ne of the unforgettable people I met last year was a senior from Taiwan who had traced his roots and relatives in Fujian province through his family tree and age-old stories passed down by his ancestors. In June, I traveled to Xiamen, Fujian, to cover the Straits Forum, an annual grassroots communications event between the Chinese mainland and the island. As I was having dinner in the hotel where many of the participants from Taiwan were staying, I was attracted by loud laughter from a nearby table. I walked over and was told they were celebrating a family reunion for one member. The 10 people, all surnamed Huang, were Taiwan residents who had traveled to Fujian during the forum to seek relatives in the mainland. One of them, Huang Ching-hsiung, 72, was visiting the mainland for the first time. He had discovered the place his forefathers came from in Quanzhou, Fujian, and met his mainland relatives. I asked if he would share his story with me, and that night we talked in his hotel room till almost midnight. He became emotional ast year was my second as a reporter. During it, I met a wide range of people across the country, from high-level talent to grassroots workers. Maintaining one’s curiosity about current events is crucial for a reporter, and that message was constantly reinforced last year. The rapid developments in the sharing economy and the internet in recent years have seen a growing number of people providing services on a casual basis for companies that operate via online apps. They work as designated drivers and couriers, and also deliver food to homes and offices. This undoubtedly brings greater convenience to our daily lives, and many of us are grateful for the amazing development of China’s information technology sector. However, pertinent questions behind these developments rarely come to people’s minds, such as the fact that many of these casual employees are unable to claim compensation if they are injured in the course of their work. That may seem strange to many people, who will no doubt ask why these workers do not have access to employment injury insurance to prevent such hardships. emiconductor, photolithography, quantum computer, CRISPR, facial recognition and artificial intelligence. Have no idea what these words or phrases mean? That’s okay, because until recently, neither did I. In January last year, I finished my graduate studies. In April, I started my first job as a cub reporter at China Daily. Coming from a background in the arts and humanities, I was not technologically savvy and had never been interested in science. My poor scores in chemistry and biology in high school were the perfect excuse for me to accept my lack of talent in understanding scientific theories. So when my editor told me to try reporting science and technology stories, I seriously doubted my capabilities. “It’s going to be very challenging, but fun,” she said. I gasped quietly. It turns out she was right. Reporting on science and technology has opened a window for me to peek into a wondrous world that is both puzzling and fascinating, and has tempted me to look deeper and farther. I have learned why China lags behind in semiconductor manufacturing, and why high-tech companies are racking their brains to create smaller and smaller processors. I am now aware of the areas of study in which China is a worldleader, and which remain bottlenecks. I have learned how the police catch fugitives by using cameras to automatically track and scan faces in crowds, and I have seen a little robot walking, dancing, following people around and kicking a can that got in its way. In less than a year of working, visiting academic institutions, talking with scientists and seeing technological achievements with my own eyes, I have gained more knowledge than in the previous 10 years of school and college. I have also acquired background knowledge and a writing technique that will definitely benefit my career in the long run. Reporting on technology not only requires me to understand basic scientific knowledge, but also the accurate and precise use of words and a smart way of communicating them to readers by using “human language”, or regular phrases. Readers often don’t need to know exactly what this or that technology is or how it functions — they care more about where it will be applied and how it will affect their day-to-day lives. I cannot say I am already proficient at writing technology stories, because there is still so much to learn and I am merely at the threshold. But I feel very lucky that I am able to step out of my comfort zone, progressing every day by acquiring even a tiny bit of extra knowledge after I finish working on a story. canfeiren canqueren canjiren An over-talkative interviewee almost never results in a good report for a journalist because details don’t only exist in words.” Cao Yin I asked if he would share his story with me, and that night we talked in his hotel room till almost midnight.” Zhang Yi about the lack of diversity in the syllabus, which in most cases means the only opportunities open to them are at street-side massage parlors or massage hospitals. Their interests and potential are being downplayed. What their parents and the public want is simply for them to be able to support themselves and live dignified lives. Moreover, the lack of access in the public sphere — both physically and in terms of information — makes mainstream schooling and employment all the more difficult. Though the number of accessible facilities — such as tactile sidewalks for the visually impaired and special toilets for those with physical disabilities — has expanded rapidly, some sidewalks are unusable because of illegally parked cars and bicycles, while other facilities are constantly out of use. Indeed, many of these facilities seem to exist simply as a sop to political correctness. However, huge progress has been made in the decade since China ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Now, authorities are required to offer “reasonable assistance” to disabled students taking the national college entrance exam, and since 2017 it has been illegal for schools to turn away disabled people. Let’s hope that we will see even more positive changes in the next decade. because he had finally fulfilled his father’s last wish — to find out where the family originated. Knowing one’s origins is an important thing for Chinese people. Many decades ago, cross-Straits communications were severed for some time, which resulted in people losing contact with family and friends on both sides. On Jan 2, President Xi Jinping envisioned peaceful reunification at a gathering in Beijing to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan in 1979, when the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress sent a fraternal message to the people on the island through People’s Daily. “We are all of the same family. Cross-Straits affairs are domestic affairs and should naturally be addressed through discussion and consultation between ourselves,” Xi said. I was honored to listen to his speech on the spot, and I felt confident about cross-Straits relations in the coming year. Last year, the central government enacted 31 measures to grant Taiwan residents who study, work or start businesses in the mainland the same benefits as those afforded to mainlanders. For the first time, the number of Taiwan residents who visited the mainland exceeded 6 million, with 400,000 making maiden visits. After all, Chinese law stipulates that employers must provide necessary social security for employees. In truth, though, few of these companies need to provide social security. That’s because the flexible, new service model promoted by online apps is not covered by existing laws. About 70 million people were working in this online service sector in 2017, and the number is expected to hit 100 million in 2020, according to the State Information Center at the National Development and Reform Commission. Last year, I went abroad for the first time, but by sea rather than air. I boarded a giant container ship bound for Valencia, Spain. The route we followed is part of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which is part of the Belt and Road Initiative. Upon reaching Valencia, I contacted a consignee, a Chinese merchant who purchases a range of made-in-China goods and sells them to local stores. “Inexpensive, but of decent quality” — that was how a senior couple, both former Carrefour employees, described the Chinese commodities. After hearing that, I understood how the new Silk Road is benefiting people worldwide. So, just remain curious and stay open to things around me. That’s what I learned in 2018. was careful not to reopen old wounds and avoided asking questions related to the quake. When the temblor hit, Xue was a 17-year-old high school student. In 2003, as a university senior, he worked as an intern at Coca-Cola China in Shanghai, and after graduation, he returned to the company’s branch in Sichuan. He repeatedly stressed he had accepted what had happened in the past, but he said very little about his experiences or job. The 28-year-old often wore an unnatural smile and frequently looked out of the window during our hourlong chat. I got so few details from Xue that, initially, it seemed like a failed interview. But I got much more because his evasive replies were the best expressions of his experiences and illustrated the present reality of his life and work. An over-talkative interviewee almost never results in a good report for a journalist because details don’t only exist in words. Silence or gestures sometimes convey more information. In my first years as a journalist, I urged people to say a lot, thinking I would be a failure if my interviewees said nothing. Now I realize that observation is the magic key. “Nothing” can also mean “everything”. Contact the writer at jiangchenglong Contact the writer at zhangyangfei Contact the writer at [email protected] Contact the writer at [email protected] Contact the writer at [email protected] Contact the writer at [email protected]

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