TIANJIN - It's been a lot of work spanning a couple of continents, but Zhongnanhai will finally re-launch tomorrow afternoon with a completely different look and functionality.
A couple of items, before we go (temporarily):
- Unfortunately, while we are currently transferring our posts to the new site, all comments will be lost. This is a sad reality of moving from Movable Type to an entirely new platform.
- All RSS feeds will change; in fact, there will be more RSS options on the new site. Please check back tomorrow (Saturday) to update your feeds.
We'll see you on the other side...
Given what has been happening here in China the past week and a half, it's hard not to think and write about all things earthquake. However, I thought I might just take a moment away from China to throw my two cents in on the Democratic Presidential nomination race in the United States.
Politicians, much like movie stars and sports figures, have never really been known as introspective. Some may call it shallow. However, I personally do cut them a bit of slack. When you're surrounded 24/7 by sycophants and fans who consider you the second coming of Lennon (that would be John, not Vladimir Ilyich) it's most likely difficult to be able to see through the fog of crap these people encase you in. But that said, there has to come a point in everyone's career where you just have to step back and say "enough is enough." There's nothing more pathetic than an aging sports star who keeps clinging on hoping for one last shot at glory, or an actor who may have had his or her 15 minutes of fame who is now relegated to supporting roles or the occasional cameo. Same thing applies to politicians. In any election, a politician - generally speaking - once the polls are closed and the numbers start flowing, will know very quickly whether or not he or she has a shot of winning. And when the numbers become inevitable, most politicians generally concede victory to their opponent gracefully and move on. However, it's becoming readily obvious that Hillary Clinton is not one of these politicians.
Despite a recent turnaround in the last few primaries, Mrs. Clinton still trails Barrack Obama to the point now where she can no longer get more delegates than he can. The best she can hope for, on the narrowest of outside chances, is that the Democratic Party flips its decision and allows the votes that were cast in Michigan and Florida to be added to the overall tally. This would still not give Clinton enough delegates to win the nomination outright. All this could potentially do is give her the lead in the popular vote, which her campaign hopes, would be enough to convince Superdelegates that she's the horse to bet on in the Presidential campaign against John McCain. This scenario has, in my estimation, about a 2 percent chance of actually succeeding. And if it did work, it would put the Democrats in a particular disadvantage. Here's why, as I see it:
For this unrealistic outcome to work for Mrs. Clinton, Superdelegates would have to turn against Obama, a politician who has run a somewhat cordial campaign (though not without its mudslinging, of course) and has kept his nose clean politically (minus his yappy former preacher). As such, if Clinton wants to turn the SD's her way, she'll have to get particularly nasty and drudge up some sort of scandal against Obama and ride it all the way to Denver. I can just see the Republicans salivating at this prospect. As well, if the Democratic party reverses its original decision not to allow the Florida and Michigan votes to stand because they violated party rules, again it gives ammunition to the Republican Party, which would be well within its rights to begin pointing out that if the Democrats can't follow their own rules, how can they be trusted to keep their promises and play by the rules if they got into the Whitehouse. Basically, if the stars align for Hillary, the Democrats are essentially going to have to run a defensive Presidential campaign. And look how well that worked out for John Kerry in 2004.
It's time for Mrs. Clinton to take a step back and face the reality of the situation. If she actually cared about the fortunes of her party, and not her own inflated sense of self-worth, she would gracefully bow out of the race now and allow the Democratic party time to get itself cohesive enough to take on the Republican machine, which, despite what you might think about the crap that has gone on the last 8 years under Bush, still has the power and support in the United States to snatch up what should have been a virtual cake walk for Democrats this go round.
This is a post in a series focusing on the US Presidential race. As the 2008 campaign has global implications, the writers at Zhongnanhai will be occasionally posting on this topic. You can read more of our coverage by clicking here.
Covering the Earthquake zone: Day 1, Sichuan Province, China
I saw my first dead body today. Figures it had to be of kids.
We were shooting at a county 60km away from the epicentre of the earthquake that hit Sichuan province, southwestern China.
Also had a building crumble towards us so we ran. But we're safe no worries.
The rescue effort in Hanwang county is into its fourth day. Parents and relatives are basically looking for their kids bodies to surface.
Miraculously a girl was rescued alive today. Unfortunately she will be amputated from the waist down. But considering the circumstances I think her parents and everyone are grateful.
The bodies weren't so disturbing, though the kids faces were beyond recognition. Some of the parents had to take two or three more looks under the sheets to make sure the body is in fact their child.
The most disturbing one was of a girl clutching a pen still. It happened so suddenly, she didn't even have time to react. The clock in the middle of town is stuck at 14:28, the time the earthquake hit.
The county is nearly deserted except for parts where there are rescue efforts going on. Some buildings are barely affected while places like the school we filmed today is a hallowed out mess.
The most haunting is the sound of parents wailing for their child when they recognize the body. Remember these people have only one child per family. And these kids were mostly of high school age, moving on to university next year. They're the hope of the family.
Thankfully I have not experienced any aftershocks in this area.
We're returning back to the hotel in the capital of Sichuan province every night. It's quite a stark contrast to be down in the dirt, inhaling rubble by day, and staying in a five star hotel the next.
Anyhow these are just a random collection of thoughts since my boss said I should talk about what I saw today.
I am feeling fine, but who knows if I'm repressing it.
Gotta wash off this debris off myself and grab a few hours of sleep. Another early start tomorrow.
Days 2&3 - Total devastation
Today I experienced what mass panic was and ran for my life in Beichuan county.
We were filming a rescue effort when I saw a group of rescue and aid workers, residents, everyone all running in our direction yelling "RUN!!!"
My cameraman ran towards me and said, "Run! It's a flood!"
We proceeded to run like hell, with rescue workers hollering that nobody should stop running.
To my understanding Xinhua news agency came out with a report around 12:50pm about fears of the rising water levels and cracks in the dam. But my boss says the water levels have a few more metres to go before it spills over.
Here I was expecting a wall of water going to wash over us like in the movies.
My first thought was: I should really get some medical insurance. Luckily my boss has told me tonight that I am indeed covered despite having not taken the hostile environment training course.
I did feel bad for the poor man still 6-7 metres down the rubble. We thought we'd stay there and film his rescue for the rest of the day. This father is not only alive after six days without water and food, but was UNHARMED. He happened to be under a stairwell which saved him. They were just feeding a string to him and dripping water down when there was mass panic. As he thought he was closer to being saved everyone left him. His 13-year-old daughter stayed with him though I'm told.
I don't blame anyone for being over cautious. After the complete destruction of this county after the earthquake, people are worried about more deaths. The county is reduced to rubble. In the old part of town 80 per cent of all the buildings are gone.
The site was extraordinary considering most of the bodies in obvious areas were removed. It was eerie and haunting on a different level than seeing dead bodies. I saw cars flattened like a tin can, bikes fallen into the cracks of the road, buildings fallen on top of buildings creating a mountain of rubble. You can't help but imagine the fear that must've ran through the place when the earthquake hit and the number of people who died in the most awful of ways.
This flood warning was a serious setback for the rescue effort continuing for those still found alive.
Yesterday we interviewed a 22-year-old still trapped in between slabs of concrete. His one leg appeared to be twisted and completely broken.
He was still very alert and chitchatting with his relatives, who were outside and took turns going in to see him.
I was outside the building and chatting with a fireman about the survivor. A young man in the army uniform passed by and was very excited to hear about a survivor. He said, "What's his condition? Just cut off his legs! Come on! We saved two people like that yesterday! What are you waiting for!?!?!"
As gruesome as it sounds, at this point in the rescue effort, life, at any cost is still worthwhile.
The survivor's relatives were all very calm and rational considering the circumstances. They didn't blame rescue workers for working too slow, nor were they impatient. Like the young rescue worker, they are just grateful to hear that he's alive. Of course at this point, the survivor has not been told that his mother died in the earthquake and so, still had good strength.
We ran into his doctor today and heard he was rescued at 20:00 last night, with a good chance of having BOTH legs healing!
Earlier in the day we climbed up a mountain of rubble. We heard the kindergarten was somewhere in there with parents still lining around trying to find their kids' bodies.
An aid worker told my colleague a very sad story about the kindergarten. When the earthquake happened the teacher tried to keep the kids calm by getting them to sing a song. As the building collapsed the singing petered out.
Among the wreckage I saw this one guy laying out photos he found. He sucked in his breath and said, "My god." His friend said, "I know, but it happened. What can you do?" None of the people who stood around
flipping through the pictures knew anyone in them. But they all cried silently.
Then there was a mother standing on top of what use to be her home. She kept yelling out her son's name. At first she sounded like she genuinely believed her son would respond. But much like the middle school in Hanwang county, I think parents and relatives are still looking, even if it's just the body. At least they know.
Filming that scene made me feel just how intrusive and exploitive the media is. We film, then leave. But what can we do?
People at the emergency shelter further south in Mianyang try to send out hope.
There is a tent sent up for people to register their missing loved ones.
Me: "How likely are these people going to find their loved ones?"
Volunteer: "You cannot give up hope. Many people just lost communication."
This elderly lady turned to me at the tent and asked me tearfully if I could help her find her 30-year-old son and her 3-year-old grandson. She came straight to the centre after the earthquake and hasn't been
in touch with them since.
People are holding up signs everywhere and hoping to talk to fellow villagers to see if they've seen or heard from their loved ones.
I know people say the rescue effort is winding down, but there are still places, in the mountain area, where rescue crews have yet to reach because the aftershocks made the roads inaccessible. I heard though that certain villages are still doing well enough but are running out of time without food and water.
The epicentre, Wenchuan, is still inaccessible to cars. Though my colleague, who took two days to get in on foot, assures me Beichuan, about 80km away from the epicentre, is by far the worst hit place. Likely because the county is surrounded by mountains on all four sides and the houses are built on the lowest level.
It's getting hotter by the day now and the stench of bodies is going to be a big concern. I often hear pieces of mountains rolling down of in the distance in Beichuan. I personally haven't felt much of the aftershocks.
As for the cracked dam, I wonder if the army is just going to let it wash out the county eventually. Looking at the damages I have no idea how long, and whether it's possible to even clean up that mess.
I want to thank everyone for caring about my safety. You have to believe me that we are the most taken care of. We always have water supplies and we get to stay in a five star hotel every night back in the city. And I am always careful.
My body is aching a bit from running so hard, and my throat is a bit sore from inhaling so much dust and debris (yes even with a face mask) but otherwise I am fine.
Sichuan Earthquake coverage: Day 4
No survivors were found alive by the time I left Beichuan county today at 16:00 local time. The chances are getting slimmer. All I saw were body bags being carried around.
We found a rescue effort where a father sat waiting to see if his son is still alive under a slab of concrete. It used to be a three story building. Now it stands only waist high.
He doesn't live in the county but arrived two days ago and had been continuously calling his son's mobile until it got through last night and was picked up. He heard breathing sounds and immediately notified rescue crews. They didn't start the digging until 11am today.
Two hours later they got a glimpse of the top floor of what use to be a motel. Inside were four bodies. Rescue crews gave up digging. There's no way anyone underneath would survive.
The father thinks his son is still on the first floor.
He speaks in Sichuanese to me, gesturing behind him, his son's unintended grave. I could only understand 70% of what he's saying, but I'm guessing he's complaining that the rescue crews didn't come fast enough. It still hasn't sunken in that it's now day 6 after the earthquake.
Just across the rescue site was a couple taking great pains to collect their belongings scattered on the street. They put everything in their store. They fidgeted with the lock for a long time, as if they'd return some day. My coworker told me he saw reports today that officials do not plan on rebuilding the county after the cleanup.
Further down some residents are back to dig through the rubble for their belongings. One man found his photo album and his army badge. The ex-army soldier beams and holds up a mobile phone. "I found it! And it still works!" He's among the lucky ones. None of his family members died in the earthquake.
The town is almost empty except for rescue and aid workers. Even they are slowly pulling out.
An hour drive south to Mianyang Emergency Shelter shows a bustling place. Inside people have made beds on top of treadmills, hanging laundry off the bench press, and boxing rings have become a big comfy bed for dozens. There were weird giant sized posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger and other body builders hanging on the wall. The earthquake victims leaned against them, slurping instant noodles or eating congee.
The right side of the stadium grounds was a big queue. They were registering their kids into a temporary school that will be built shortly near the site. The NBC correspondent told me that this was very well coordinated and unseen during Hurricane Katrina.
So far the stadium is quite sanitary. It's been home to survivors for almost a week, and now houses over 10,000, most from the Beichuan area. Those with their kids running around can still manage a smile or two.
I saw one baby screaming at the top of his lungs and kicking his grandma. Perhaps he's traumatized from the events of the past week. She graciously tried to hold him upright for me to take a picture of him, but he wouldn't have it. He continued to cry.
Tomorrow is another day spent in Beichuan. We felt an aftershock today while filming the rescue but it was very small. We all ran away from buildings or anything that can topple over us. But it's kind of hard.
How does one go on day in and day out not trusting nature? Not trusting the roof over your head?
My coworker's friends live in Chengdu. A newlywed was home alone when the earthquake struck. Her first thought was: What's the most precious thing we've got? She ripped her 52" plasma screen off the wall and
proceeded to wrap it up with three blankets. Then she thought: "That freezer is really new and very good."
I don't know whether she managed to carry that stuff herself.
But now she and her husband take shifts sleeping. One sleeps until 3am and the other takes over into the morning. They have set two glass bottles one on top of the other. They figured if the earthquake was big enough they will wake up.
Not sure that will save them. But I can only imagine how horrible it must be to not feel safe in your own home.
I realize I'm very privileged. Today I was hiking back to the car when I let out a big sigh "Whew! Finally done work, now I can go home!" Just then I was passing by a couple of local residents. I felt so awful. These people don't have a place to call home and will likely either sleep on the floor or in a tent made of three plastic sheets in Mianyang.
My mother called me frantically this morning, telling me to get out. She said, "Why are you doing this? It's not like they pay you a lot. You don't need to prove anything!"
I really had no good answer for her. I had to ask myself long and hard why I wanted to be here. It's not for fame; I'm not even doing on-camera stuff. It's not for the adrenaline, because I can think of a million other things more exciting than running for my life from a possible flood. It's not because of some altruistic reason that I think I'm "serving the people" or that it gives me great satisfaction to tell people about their pain.
The only answer I can come up with is that this opportunity opened up for me to experience what people have to endure through natural disasters. And keep me humble.
I've heard horror stories about trying to get a flight out of Chengdu airport. Some people waited for 24 hours or more. Our driver then piped up: 'Yeah but you guys have money so it's no problem.'
And that cinched it for me right there. We do have the resources. I'm sure I'd get out faster if I got first class tickets. I can live in my cushy five star hotel every night, or get out of here anytime I want.
Sichuan Earthquake coverage: Day 5
The mourning of the dead in Beichuan took place all over the county, just like the rest of the country at 14:28, the exact time the earthquake hit a week ago.
I went to the one that was held on the highest pile of rubble in the area, with only rescue workers from the army and media there.
About 10 minutes before the moment, the cameraman turned to me and asked, "Did you feel it?" I didn't, but it was an aftershock.
Shortly afterwards someone pointed to the mountain behind us. At the peak were clouds of dust kicking up. I looked long and hard and finally saw huge boulders rolling down the mountain.
I didn't know if it was going to be bad, but at that time, I felt pretty safe standing on top of the rubble. At least nothing can fall over me.
We never saw boulders reaching the bottom of the mountain. But it's enough of a reminder that Beichuan is still under threat.
14:28 rolled around and the soldiers all took off their hats and bowed in unison towards the Chinese flag, lowered at half mast. Car horns wailed for three minutes. It was touching.
Across the river, a rescue crew is still busy digging out a possible survivor. They do not stop during the moment.
A 67-year-old woman was found alive earlier this morning. They were hoping for one more miracle.
As we waited for the "moment" to happen, ie. see them pull out a survivor, a cameraman and I wandered off to the back part of town.
I've been back in this county for the last four days. Everyday the roads look different, boulders moved, rubble pushed aside. I'm unsure whether that car really rammed into that railing or whether it was pushed there to clear off the roads.
But this back end of town, looks about as eerie as the first day I went there.
Few residents are allowed in as of 8am today. The rescue workers say it's for their own safety. I find only a handful of them trying to collect their belongings.
One couple I ran into stood on the empty street staring at an apartment building. She points to the window with a curtain billowing in the wind. "I thought I was just going on a day trip for work and would come back that night, so I didn't even bother closing my window."
"Which floor do you live on?"
I counted. "You mean the third."
"No, the bottom floor is crushed under, now the second floor is the
None of her family died. But she lost her housecleaner and many friends.
"My initial thought was that my family was alive so I'm one of the luckier ones. But now coming back ... I'm not sure what to do."
She came back to collect some things. But it's not safe to enter. All she has left is her purse and the clothes she wore out of the house that day.
The stories of these residents don't stop here, but the life has certainly left Beichuan county.
Only a handful of residents and mostly people from the surrounding mountain areas are seen weaving between all the rescue workers who are tired and don't have much else to do other than body retrieval.
There's nothing "new" to report other than the rising body count. The international news is slowly moving back to the cyclone in Burma and to other news.
I'm heading back to Beijing tomorrow. I hear the airport is a nightmare so I'm prepared for extreme delay.
I don't feel like leaving because I know the stories aren't done. But such is the news lifecycle.
My colleague said he interviewed a father who dug with his bare hands at a school for his son yesterday. It took him 10 hours to save him.
He said, "My first thought was: It only took 10 hours? That's quick!"
Think that's a sign to get out before you get too jaded.
As emotionally taxing as this earthquake has been for many people here in China, an interview I conducted this morning really brought home to me just how much of an impact this disaster in Sichuan may be having on the overall Chinese psyche.We managed to contact a Chinese Ph.D student at Harvard Medical School by the name of Li Gang who spearheaded a donation drive to help the Sichuan victims. Ostensibly the point of the interview was to discuss what overseas Chinese people were doing to help out the victims here in China. But what was striking about the interview was the emotion that flowed forward during our discussion. In relating how he had organized the Chinese community on campus to get together, I started to hear a slight change in his voice. And in a follow-up question about what the reaction of the Chinese community at Harvard was, Mr. Li essentially began sobbing as he told us about how he and his fellow overseas Chinese students all gathered around computers and viewed images of the devastation in Wenchuan County. Afterward it got me thinking about the mental stress that people can face when they're detached from their comfort zone.
I have a number of Chinese friends and colleagues here in China who have lived for an extended period of time overseas. Though virtually all of them say they enjoyed their experience overall, many of them will freely admit that they often times found it difficult. Many reasons are generally given, including the difference in the food, the struggles with the language, the financial strain of living in generally more expensive countries, etc. The list is generally quite extensive and varied from person to person. But most of my friends and colleagues, if pressed on the matter, will admit that one of the biggest things they struggled with was a detachment from Chinese people and the Chinese culture. It, in my estimation, seems to be an emotional attachment to the 'motherland' that a lot of non-Chinese can't completely get their heads around. I've always sort of lived by the theory that home is where you make it. That's why I now consider China home. Sure, this isn't my country and technically I'm a guest here. But still, I've made China my home. But for reasons that are likely numerous, most Chinese, in my estimation, don't really think like this. Even if they were born and raised in other countries, there seems to be some kind of homing-beacon like drive buried within the Chinese soul that makes them long for the Middle Kingdom. So when disaster strikes the 'motherland,' I suspect the drive to want to help their kinsmen is amplified among Chinese people. This is why I think my interviewee this morning had difficulty containing his emotions.
Living abroad can be tough on anyone at times. As an example, this past week my elderly mother slipped and fractured her hip. Upon hearing this news from my family members, I was somewhat torn as to what to do. Being on the other side of the planet and working where I do during this time here in China would make a return flight home to visit here in the hospital logistically difficult. Still, I was stricken by a sense of 'I need to do something,' even though I know there's nothing I can do physically for her. Thankfully, she's receiving high-quality medical care and, according to my family members who are there with her, responding very well to treatment. And not to remotely even try to compare the earthquake disaster here in China with my mother's accident, but, from an emotional standpoint, it did give me a better insight into how handcuffed overseas Chinese must feel right now. You're half a world away, and you want to help, but your options are limited. That said, though I'm not normally in the habit of soliciting comments from our readers (especially angry ones!), I would like to hear from overseas Chinese and ask them what's going on in their heads right now when it comes to the disaster in Sichuan.
China came to a virtual standstill as the country observed three minutes of mourning for the victims of the deadly Sichuan earthquake. Starting at 2:28pm, air sirens wailed across the country as most motorists stopped and blared their horns. This photo was taken at Jishuitan Qiao in northwest Beijing.
Watching the television news coverage of the mass rally in Tian'anmen Square following the official three minutes of mourning, it was readily apparent that this disaster has unified people in a way that other things, such as the Olympics and other historical political campaigns (see: Cultural Revolution), have not. Compared to things like, for example, the Torch Relay, which rallied mainly frustrated youth behind a nationalistic cause, the earthquake has brought everyone together. Young and old, affluent and poor, could all be seen in the pictures from Tian'anmen Square, chanting 中国加油 (Zhongguo Jiayou, or 'Power to China') in unison. And while, at times, pundits have been critical of perceived nationalism here in China, this time around, the unity of the Chinese people is being directed at the most altruistic cause; Chinese people helping each other.
Further to this, the government has sanctioned three days of official national mourning. This is the first time this has happened to honor average Chinese citizens. (In the past, the deaths of national leaders like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping have been marked by official mourning, but nothing on this scale) And to coincide with the mourning period, the media here has suspended basically anything that smacks of entertainment. It's being reported that newspapers will only use black font on their front pages during this period. Music programs on radio stations have been suspended and replaced by news and analysis of the quake and television stations are running continual coverage of the relief efforts. It's a very unique time here in China right now. But the question that is starting to be asked within media circles is just how long this will remain the focus of the nation's full attention?
I remember vividly in North America following 9/11 that we started asking ourselves as journalists and media organizations just how long it would be before we could, or should, start talking about other things about a week-and-a-half after the terrorist attacks. Of course, news of the event and the subsequent fallout remained the top story for weeks after the two towers crumbled to the ground. But it remains a delicate point for the media every time a massive catastrophe like this takes place. How much time do you dedicate exclusively to this before life moves on and other issues begin to be discussed again? I don't think there is any hard and fast answer to this question. Generally the theory is to gauge the mood of the public. That in itself can be a difficult thing to do, because people's emotions range widely when disasters like this take place.
No one in their right mind could diminish the scope of this disaster and the outpouring of grief that the Chinese people have been expressing for their countrymen. But just how long this will last is a somewhat unprecedented question here in China, and something that I suspect will be debated more and more as the days press forward.
BEIJING - A friend of mine passed this along this morning:
In the morning, I logged in to MSN as usual. More than 10 friends of mine sent me this "bad news" and wanted me spread it to as many people as possible:
The leader of No.3 Middle school in Huizhou, Guangdong Province has "directed" a show of donation. He asked staff to video tape him and some other leaders of the school donating money. After the video had been taken, he and his co-workers took back all the money they donated. Not only that, they gave some money to each student and asked them to donate it on tape. Afterwards, the money was returned.
My friends said, let's spread this ugly image of this school leader! Use the internet as media supervision tool, to criticize this behaviour!
You can watch the video shot by the students here.
UPDATE (1:48pm Beijing Time):
Thanks to cat for filling us in on the story in the comments section. We learned how quickly rumors can spread when people began predicting an earthquake between 10pm and midnight on the day of the Sichuan quake. Looks like this story may just be a rumor, as well.
More charity groups are stepping in to offer contributions to the victims of the earthquake in Sichuan. One such is a Beijing-based group that's connected to the China Youth Care foundation. I received a letter this morning from one of the organizers:
As you all know, the 7.9 magnitude tremor, which was focused in China's Sichuan Province, is estimated to have killed at least 14,800 people -- and that toll is expected to rise dramatically as rescue teams reach the most affected areas. In cities near the earthquake's epicenter, over 26,000 people are buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings.
Thus, the urgent help to earthquake-affected areas are badly needed. Though donations from home and abroad has been collected very effectively these days, I am sure that still some people may not have time to do it personally or still look for proper ways to help.
I and some friends are organizing an event to gather donations (cash is preferred) together and send it right away. We have one experienced person from China Youth Care Foundation who can guarantee the donations to use efficiently. Our charity dinner group has donated blankets for a Qinghai school successfully that this person coordinated.
We will have a banner showing our real care to those survivors, which you can express something on it too. We'll send it to the disaster region afterwards.
Please see details as below:
Sunday, 18th May
Location -MEA Education Centre and Kultur Kafe in the Blue Castle Complex, Building F,S-116A / NO.3,West Dang Wang Road Chaoyang District / near Dawang Lu subway stop
Tel: 0108599 7735
Please pass this message on to your friends as well.
Also a reminder that the Bookworms in Beijing, Suzhou and Chengdu are coordinating donation efforts. They are looking for tents, dried food, practical clothes, quilts and emergency blankets as well as money for water and medicine. You can find more information here. All donations should be dropped off before 4pm on SATURDAY in Beijing and Suzhou and 1pm SATURDAY in Chengdu.
BEIJING - As I'm sat at home writing this post in my comfortable dry apartment, in near silence - I, like many of you, feel desperately helpless. I've donated, I've told people how to donate on the radio and I've appealed to everyone I know back home to donate. And they are doing.
But, I cannot help thinking that I should be doing more. With the death toll likely to rise above 50,000 - I want to help with my hands. I want to help give water, distribute medicine, wipe away people's tears. And a part of me wants to grieve with the people here in China.
I'm not Chinese, but I live here. This is my home too right now.
Where I come from we don't have earthquakes or snow-storms of the magnitude that we have seen here. We just don't. And for me to be on the radio every-night delivering news about the rising casualty list - is hard.
Whilst on the show I'm signed into my messaging client - so that should anything go wrong, or need amending, my superiors can contact me swiftly and silently. For the past couple of evenings one of my Chinese friends on my contact list has been asking me the same question, 'Why is our nation's flag at Tiannanmen Square not at half-mast?'.
It's a good question.
According to Wikipedia:
Flying the flag at half-mast is a symbol of respect, mourning and distress. The flag is lowered to allow the invisible flag of death to fly on top of the mast, thus signifying death's presence, power and prominence.
The flag certainly would have been lowered in many other countries, as you can see from the Wikipedia article - so why not here? And I really am not criticising, I just want to understand why.
'It seems that the flag is never lowered for civilian matters, no matter how big. I've basically never seen a flag at half-mast. One time at school the flag was raised to half mast where one of the pulleys got stuck, but that was a half-mast raising, not a half-mast lowering.'
Just how big a civilian matter does it need to be? There is no doubt that a flag flying at half-mast is hugely symbolic, wherever in the world you happen to be. Anyone who happens to glance will know what it means - it means that the nation is mourning. It would in no way show weakness, or a lack of strength - rather, in my eyes it would show solidarity at this tragic time.
UPDATE - At 14:28 on the 19th of May 2008, 3 minutes of silence will be observed across China. Additionally, the National Flag will be flown at half-mast for the period of the 19th-21st.
BEIJING - I feel as though I'm in journalistic limbo right now.
I received a phone call this morning from a good friend of mine who had just arrived at the airport in Chengdu. He works for a Russian news service as the chief correspondent here in China. As such, he has been tasked to make it to the epicenter of this week's earthquake in Wenchuan County. He relayed for me his trip there from Beijing, saying that it was an extremely sad flight, as many of the people who were on it were family members of the victims who were on their way to collect their dead relatives. He also described for me the hardships he personally faced in getting to the hardest-hit area, given that he would most likely have to rent a bike to make it to the region because 4-wheel transport remains a virtual impossibility. And despite all that he had told me about the trouble that lay ahead for him and the hardship that he had already encountered, a large part of me wanted to say 'congratulations.'
It may seem morbid, but it's these kinds of situations that tend to bring out the best in journalists. I don't know if there's any sort of scientific reasoning behind it, but as a journalist, you're trained to gravitate toward the heart of the action. Perhaps it's because we're trained to relay information that no one else has. Perhaps another part of it is also a bit of self-gratification, given that being in these kinds of situations, you're work comes under intense focus, forcing journalists to strive above and beyond their day-in and day-out routine work. And yet another part of it might be somewhat self-serving, as after the ordeal is over and the work is done, you can say to yourself and others "I was there. I was on the front lines." Whatever it is that compels us as journalists, we all want to be involved in the story. Hence why I say I feel in limbo.
Given my present circumstances, I'm locked here in Beijing and have no opportunity to make it out to the disaster zone. Sure, I'm on the radio everyday, and have been tasked to talk about the broader-based issues surrounding the earthquake, such as logistics, civic policies, emergency management and international aide and support. I've also been doing semi-frequent updates on the overall situation on radio back in my native Canada. But a big part of me just feels that it's not enough. Again, not to sound morbid, but big-news situations like this don't come along everyday. And being a journalist within potential proximity to the story, one can't help but want to be there in the thick of things.
The last thing my friend said to me really sort of brings home the situation. He said, "I just wanted to give you a call and say that if I don't make it back, thank you [for your friendship]." Even though part of him realizes that he's potentially putting his life at risk by entering into the mass devastation, the drive to tell the story for journalists more often supercedes conventional practicality. So best of luck my friend. And the same to those doing their part for the victims of this horrific tragedy.