Wednesday, May 14, 2008

All Shook Up/I'm Still Standing

Lots of e-mail traffic lately about the recent China quake in Sichuan province, all from US pals wondering if I'm okay. I was in the mighty China Daily office in Beijing on MSN chat with C when she told me about it late Monday morning from her non-news related Shenzhen workplace. Meanwhile, in a major Chinese media nerve center, my coworkers were seemingly oblivious to it for about another hour until someone switched on a TV.

Reports that it was felt in Beijing were puzzling to me, until I realized that "Beijing" covers an area - urban and rural - of several hundred klicks. But, no, the earth did not move for me in Beijing and I guess it won't until C is able to get here. Unlike Burma where the aid is at best trickling in due to the xenophobia and paranoia of the country's military junta, China has responded openly and seemingly as best it can. Premier Wen Jiabao who has become China's go-to guy when it comes to showing up at disasters to publicly console victims and urge calm (several years ago he also was photographed and filmed "bravely" shaking hands with an HIV-postive Chinese citizen) has been busy being quoted as telling injured children that "Be brave, Grandfather Wen Jiabao is here" etc.

Yesterday the foreigners at China Daily got an in-house e-mail and paper memo about a "Memorial service" and aid donation opportunity in our lobby. We straggled down at 4.45 as we'd been asked to and found organizers still nailing up enormous blowups of our front pages for the last two days: "The day the earth moved" and "Race against time" in front of an oversized red metal donation box. Some went outside in the rain to smoke under overhangs and others milled about in the lobby waiting for something to happen. I'd imagined maybe some candles and at least a moment of silence and a speech of some sort followed by the opportunity to quietly slip some yuan into the box.

No candles, no moment of silence, no moving speech. Instead we were shepherded in front of the box to form a line as photogs gathered facing us. Then the China Daily honchos were photographed smiling and pushing 100 yuan bills (about $6) into the box. Next came the foreign staff, a bit embarrassed at the photo op. I slipped 100 in and later joked that I wondered how much of the cash would wind up in the Sichuan province officials' "Karaoeke, Massage and Maotai Relief Fund."

"Be careful what you say," one Chinese colleague said, laughing a little. "Because you will be on the front page tomorrow. They will want to show how China Daily foreigners care about Chinese people."
Well, it wasn't page one, but page six with the caption: "Staff from China Daily make donations yesterday. The newspaper collected 200,000 yuan." My boss was thrilled. I guess I'd made my section look good. Another coworker told me it was auspicious that I had worn a red shirt to do this, but noted a little gravely that the background behind me was black - a symbol in official Chinese govt photos that the person is no longer in favor.

I messaged C, who said she had also been photographed giving money at her workplace for a Chinese language paper in Shenzhen. A nice coincidence and while she looks a little stiff in her pic, she's easier on the eyes.

1 comment:

Peter said...

Well... WAY easier on the eyes, and not half as grumpy looking - would be more accurate.