外国记者 Foreign Correspondent

Reporting in China

Plastic surgery in Beijing

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December 11, 2009 – Beijing
A meeting with Huang Chuanren, a plastic surgeon, in one of those Chinese coffee shops with plastic plants, mock ornate furniture, and a range of pretentious-but-disgusting coffees. This one offers a Blue Mountain coffee, or a Jamaica blend, or several types of sweet milky versions catering to Chinese tastes.

Huang wears a dark grey sweatshirt with a plastic Playboy logo. He is middle-aged, open and very chatty. We discuss sex change operations. He was the first surgeon in China to specialise in this procedure and advised the government on the regulations that now govern the operations. Every hospital in China tries to provide them now, since they are seen as proof of the technical skills of their surgeons, as well as of the open-mindedness of their bosses.

However, he himself has given up performing operations however, and not because of their grueling length or because his clients have struggled to readjust to normal life. Many of them end up dancing in the seedy bars on Sanya island, he says, because they are unable to hold down their original jobs or face down the prejudice and curiosity of society.

He quit because his mother insisted that his failure to have a child with his wife was because he had disrespected the laws of nature. Huang visited a Buddhist monk, together with three of his patients, in order to seek advice. He said that while no ordinary person would have been able to spot that the women were transsexuals, and that one of them was even married to a man who didn’t know she had formerly been a man, the monk saw through them straight away. He warned Huang it was bad karma to continue, but that he could do some modest repair work on previous clients if necessary. Huang lamented, however, that his wife had still not been able to conceive.

Then he told us about the growing demand for plastic surgery among Chinese government officials. Faced with having to appear before the television cameras on a more regular basis, and with having to make more public appearances, officials want to make sure they look the real deal. Demand for eye-lifting operations, nose jobs and other facial operations is through the roof. They now represent 20 per cent of all his work. He said no Politburo members had been tampered with, but said provincial governors and party secretaries were common enough and are smuggled in under cover of darkness, his other clients having been hustled out of the clinic.

Plastic surgery is also becoming a popular corporate gift for the senior executives of state-owned enterprises and their wives. It’s one way of cementing a deal, I suppose, although I’m surprised that the people giving the presents are willing to risk offending the recipients with the suggestion that they could benefit from a touch-up.

Dinner with Peter Foster, our Beijing bureau chief and his wife Claire in Sanlitun, where we went to a French restaurant above a flamenco dancing club, which itself was above a hip hop club, which sat in turn on top of a kebab stand that infused the whole building with its fragrance.


Written by malcolmmoore

December 21, 2009 at 8:30 am

Don’t force the chief to admit he lied

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December 10, 2009 – SHUANGQIAO

Biofuel machine "factory"

Adam and I return this morning to room 208 to eat a meagre breakfast of millet porridge, a few stale steamed buns and a tea egg.

Shuangqiao, the nearest town to the village, is clearly coal-powered. Huge lorries trundle through, carrying coal to nearby factories and homes. We visit a few private coal yards close to the hotel. At each one, two or three temporary workers spade coal from middling piles into bags or onto the back of horse-drawn carts. The horses look well-fed, but frequently whipped. As I approached them, they bowed their heads to the ground with worry. The hairs on the back of their legs had frozen into icicles of sweat.

The people are much jollier than down in the south, and universally preoccupied with my height and Adam’s PLA hat, which has flaps and makes him look Russian in their eyes. The bosses of the coal yards we visit say they have heard of the biofuel, but dismiss it as a fuel for peasants who can’t afford the superior luxuries of coal. One worker, however, says he is interested in investing in a biofuel machine, since he feels that it represents the future.

In the biggest yard, we sit inside with a family who have been coal salesmen for a decade. They tell us that with more people moving into apartments and using electricity, their sales have halved in three years. A brand new coal-fired power station at Hulan, with four cooling towers, has also crippled them – the station gets its coal from a state-owned mine and supplies their former customers.

After a huge lunch of beef, potatoes and a mix of cucumber, gourd, and egg and mushroom dumplings we return to the village. Yesterday, the boss claimed that he was selling his biofuels to nearby factories. When we asked if he could take us to them, he hesitantly agreed.

But when we get to the village, we are too early. The chief is still in the middle of his baijiu lunch. He sends his wife to look after us, but we scarper into the fields to avoid putting her out because she hasn’t eaten yet.

After half-an-hour, one of the chief’s cronies shows up, roaring drunk and with his flies undones. He takes us to the “factory”. This turns out to be where they made their biofuel compressor machine, which is romantically titled “Compress and Support BioEnergy Machine”. Rather than a production line, the factory is a yard in which two men are welding a few boilers.

Inside, another couple of engineers are busy reverse-engineering an enormous machine made by a company called Weida. The men take it slowly to pieces before hammering out their version of the machine’s cogs and gears from brick-sized blocks of steel. Adam is forbidden to photograph the process in case he lands them in trouble from the manufacturer. A small boiler in the corner is burning the biofuel briquettes.

When we push the chief to take us to a factory that is actually using biofuel for production, he demurs, muttering that there was a chicken farm that was heated with his biofuel but that they had sold all of their chickens yesterday. Adam nudges me and reminds me not to ask too many awkward questions. If the chief has to admit he was exaggerating, it will be a huge loss of face. And since he is relatively drunk, and staggering around the room, he might not react well to pushy foreigners. Adam reaches out to stroke his fur coat in a friendly manner and is rewarded with a venomous stare.


Written by malcolmmoore

December 19, 2009 at 8:30 am

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Not quite a green revolution

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December 9, 2009 – Harbin

Biofuel compressor machine, Qinlao

An early flight from Pudong into Harbin, in Heilongjiang, where it was -10C. The airport is equipped with small cabins where disembarking passengers can change into warmer clothes. The sign on the outside was in Chinese, English and Russian. In the airport cafe, two tables of blonde Russian ladies sipped tea and ate bowls of rice.
From the airport, we went directly to a small village which the People’s Daily had earmarked as a model project to pioneer the use of biofuels. According to the report, the entire village would try not to  burn coal during the winter, and would instead use plant stalks.
It sounded unlikely in print, and over the phone earlier in the week the village chief had admitted to Elyn that they “didn’t have enough plant stalks”. When we arrived, the smell of coal was heavy in the air and the first door we stopped outside had a large sign on it offering coal at 490 kuai a ton.
The village was very neat and seemingly more prosperous than some of the rural villages we have seen in the past. It turned out that they are indeed using the plant stalks, but the People’s Daily may have jumped the gun. Coal is still being used because there are not enough plant stalks to go around. By next year, the village chief promises, Qinlao will have abandoned coal altogether. This year, they simply can’t make enough to keep up with demand.
We clamber into his Hyundai, which smells of baijiu, still has the plastic covers over its sun-visors in the front, and has been tricked out with fluffy white seat covers and fake Louis Vuitton monogram floor mats.
He took us to the old village school, which has been converted into a factory. One machine makes corn stalks into animal feed pellets and another turns them into compacted briquettes for fuel. His grand plan is to start exporting the feed to South Korea and the fuel across China. Although the corn burns up faster than coal, it also ignites more easily and creates a fiercer heat.
His sister-in-law shows us the inside of her house, complete with a multicoloured kang. I felt the platform in the hope that it might be warm, but sadly it was off. They heat the house for two or three hours every night before bed, and that’s enough. One or two tons of corn, which would cost around 450 kuai a ton, is enough to power them through the winter.
The village chief seems like a feudal lord, although he peppers his speech with enough reference to Laobaixing, the common people, to show he is at one with his constituency. Still, his house has ornate ironwork, including bright orange leaping deer, the thickest double-glazing any of us has ever seen, and he tells us that he paid for the village road after striking it rich in the construction industry in Qingdao. He also paid for the plant stalk compacters. The fuel compactor, which threw up huge clouds of dust as it made its bricks, is a design the village came up with itself, with the help of some local engineers. They’ve been perfecting it since February.
Departing, we made our way to a “business hotel” in the nearby town. I get a larger room than Adam, our photographer, and Elyn. In fact, the room is the size of two tennis courts but empty of furniture. It looks like you could use it for ballroom dancing. It’s the second cheapest room available. I wonder if the suite is a whole floor. Or maybe the suite costs more because it has more fittings. The room is 280 kuai. Elyn and Adam are paying 180 each, but there were only two of the cheapest rooms available so I took the ungentlemanly step of upgrading myself.
After check-in, dinner. A classic example of how helpless I am without my assistant. Adam and I descend to the lobby but decide it is too cold for a drink there. We ask about a restaurant and are pointed to the basement. At the bottom of the stairs, there is a large spread of plastic dishes, each piled with the raw ingredients to choose from. Since, however, we don’t know the Chinese names of any of these dishes, we resort to smiling and pointing at a whole range of mismatched courses. The helpful waitress warns us not to order too much, but we ignore her and end up with a mountain of food.
We then start looking for a table to sit down, but it turns out that there is no dining room. We are asked to get in the lift and go to the second floor, where we are ushered into room 208, which has had a table and chairs installed. Adam and I drink a couple of warms beers. Because it is freezing outside, the locals don’t want their beer chilled too.
On CCTV, as I sit in the giant hotel room, there is a show discussing the Telegraph’s website report about a fish that was boiled in oil and was still gasping desperately when served. A video of the fish had made its way onto Youtube and been picked up by our web reporters in London.
There’s a particularly gruesome bit when the Chinese diners start poking their chopsticks into the fish’s maw. The story became the most-read item on the website, but I was a bit ashamed of it and under the microscopic scrutiny of the Chinese talk show hosts, who debated the differences between Chinese and Western culture, it came across as yet another attack on Chinese habits from the foreign media.
Telegraph story: http://twurl.nl/v413qn












Written by malcolmmoore

December 18, 2009 at 1:30 pm

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Welcome to Foreign Correspondent.

This is the diary of a foreign journalist working in China.

Over the last 18 months, my assistant and I have travelled across the
country, from Heilongjiang to Guangdong, from Zhejiang to Xinjiang.

The idea of this blog is to bring you a running commentary of what
life is like for journalists in China and hopefully entertain you with
some of the characters we meet along the way.

There will be a time lapse of a few days before we post each day’s
diary. This is to allow my newspaper to publish my articles first –
they are my employers, after all.

Each post will appear in English and Chinese. I hope you enjoy them,
and please do leave comments so we can improve our work.


Written by malcolmmoore

December 18, 2009 at 11:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized