There aren't many places left in the world of journalism where you get to really read about life the way it is. My new favorite newspaper is now the China Daily News. Since coming to China a couple weeks ago, I've found news stories that are similar to what I've read in old archives from the 1800's in the US.
Back then, you'll find stories about life the way it was... and written in a voice that mimicked the way people really talk. And that's what I've found in the CDN.
While sitting on the plane between Chongqing and Beijing last week, I stumbled across a human interest story that grabbed me right from the headline..It was called "Life in a box". The story was about the day in the life of an elevator operator. But it was more than just the account of how one woman's job is going up and down in a windowless lift for hours at a time. It featured the woman's views about the world, her exchanges between her "customers", the occupants of the building. It was a look at the interests of a real human being. An unsung hero. An ordinary person with ordinary aspirations, living in China and making a meager living.
In other words, there was something for everyone. I don't know why, but I was riveted to this woman's "life in a box". It was beautiful in a way. And tragic. Which is another way of saying her story is my story.
I think the China Daily News just does this kind of thing. Just yesterday they featured a street sweeper. One of the most penetrating memories I have of past visits to this country is of the street sweepers. They are in every city here. They wear bright orange vests and hold long poles with stiff branches or reeds tied to the end. Then they make great, long sweeps left to right or right to left motions. Their "brooms" arc along and stir up dust and papers into a general pile. Later they, or another sweeper come back and, using a smaller broom, collect the stuff.
I don't know if it was the thought that this sweeper rides his bike for an hour from his house to the "job site" or the realization that there was a person with a name under the fluorescent uniform. Whatever it was, I couldn't put the article down. It's real people who do what it takes to keep their jobs no matter how marginal, and their jobs are what helps them to make their way in their world. Human interest stories are about people. And people have things like children and dreams and preferred foods. They have a weird neighbor, and a funny brother. They are just like everyone else.
Maybe they grumble about the boss, or hope for a raise. This sweeper was awakened by the same rain on his window that was pelting my posh 5-star hotel room glass the night before. Only he was wondering about riding his bike for an hour to get to a job that would be mucky, sloppy work with a sodden broom. Not me, I was wondering if I should go to the Starbucks down the road in the morning or use the instant Starbucks packets I brought with me.
Even in my little home-town paper, the most interesting part has got to be the Police Blotter. Well the China Daily News has a similar section. In it you find nearly unbelievable writing. One story told about a man who was hit on the head by an onion that fell five stories from an open window. The story gets better. I'm a foreigner with little understanding of the cultural subtleties (and China is NOTHING if not subtle). According to the CDN, the onion was allegedly "pushed out of the window by the family's dog". The owner of both the dog and the onion was said to have paid the plaintiff for medical care for his injury.
Who wouldn't want to blame it on the dog? Regardless, that's some fast thinking for an excuse... and either it's culturally correct to accept whatever explanation is necessary in order to save face, or the onion guy is a darn good salesman.
I've heard it said that the best way to get people to read your article is with a good, grabby headline. Well, now I know what it takes to get a guy's attention. This one was in the same paper as "Life in a box". It read, "Boy Attacks Friend Who Farts at Birthday Bash". Who doesn't love a good fart story? In truth, it was the thought that a fart could have been responsible for enmity between friends that drew me in.
LIke I said, I'm now an avid reader and would likely subscribe were the China Daily delivered to Grass Valley. I may just read it online. I've come across some pretty great things here in China, just too busy to write them all up. Here's a link with a "scan" of the Fart story for those who think I'm making it up. It is one reason you should travel with a digital still camera. You never know when you might need to prove your point. (I think I started with a point.)
It's too bad that news doesn't get reported this way anymore. Now you've got idiots like Geraldo on TV during a hurricane making stuff up about riots right behind him in the New Orleans sports arena.... never mind that everyone behind him is sitting on the curb waiting for the grocery truck to come by with a new load of bananas. TV's a lousy place to get news anyway. As for me, I'll stick to the CDN I think where it is, no lie, stranger than fiction.
Here's a link for the photo with the fart story so you can share it with your friends and clog up their email inboxes.