Friday, May 16, 2008

Reports from Chengdu

NPR's Remarkable Chengdu Diary

As the estimate of the death toll from the devastating earthquake in China's Sichuan Province continues to rise, NPR's reporters on the scene - Melissa Block and Robert Siegel - have been covering the story up-close and first-hand in a remarkable series of posts on a blog called Chengdu Diary.

Block and Siegel just happened to be in Chengdu coincidentally when the earthquake struck. They were in the process of putting together segments for the NPR program All Things Considered, describing the incredible pace of change in China today, and focusing on the rapidly growing city of Chengdu because...

Through our coverage, we hope to convey to our audience just how complex a place China is. We want to reflect the enormous changes taking place, and the challenges and the opportunities that they present. While we certainly could have accomplished that in Beijing or Shanghai, it seemed more appropriate to get out to a city that's still in the process of developing...

We solicited ideas from a number of people. We were looking for a place with a vibrant cultural scene, a place with some historical significance, a place where the economy is booming...

We liked that Chengdu is part of a big government effort to "develop the west". We were impressed with the local music and arts scene here, not to mention the teahouse culture. We liked that we could get out to the countryside in less than an hour. We were intrigued by the fact that we'd pass Intel and Motorola offices along the way. We felt welcomed by just about everyone we met. And, I cannot lie, we ate really, really well on that trip.

People here in China seem to think we picked well. A foreign ministry official in Beijing congratulated us on the choice, and said that Chengdu represents China's heartland. "It would be like going to Kansas City," he told us, beaming.

Melissa Block was in the process of interviewing the pastor of a local church when the earthquake struck.

Listen to:

The Earthquake

Dujiangyan Parents' Search for Child

Zipingpu Dam Command Center

I find that there is something incredibly intimate and immediate about radio reporting that television cannot generally match, for some reason... Perhaps to our hearts, hearing means more than seeing than we realize.

The city of Chengdu itself seems to have withstood the quake fairly well. Some of the mountain towns outside of the city, however, have been heavily damaged, and some have virtually disappeared.

The reporters note that the residents seem to credit the central Chinese government with responding to the crisis fairly well, but are filled with anger towards local officials, especially in light of some evidence that government building were built well enough to withstand the quake, but that shoddy construction was used in buildings such as the Middle School that collapsed in Juyuan. Accusations of corruption abound.

The reporters are also finding that although they have been treated well by the population at large so far, there is some increasing distrust as well, as some residents resent others openly criticizing the Chinese government to foreign reporters.

Pray for the victims of the recent twin disasters in Asia.

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crystal said...

So awful - especially coming right after the cyclone in Burma. When last I read the news there were 5 million people hmeless after the quake. Plus that virus(?) that's killing children there.

Liam said...

I heard some of the NPR reporting on this -- really quite remarkable.

Jeff said...

You know, not long before that quake hit, I was breezily making some remarks about the inevitablity of earthquakes over at Crystal's. I'm feeling a little sheepish over that now.

cowboyangel said...


Interesting post, thanks. I have to confess that I've been paying minimal attention to the earthquake. Maybe I can only handle one major natural disaster at a time. The Maynmar story upset me enough, especially their hideous government. So I was only reading bits and pieces about China.

Actually, I did read in the New York Times that a Jeff from Boston was responsible for the earthquake - It just didn't click with me until now that they meant you. :-)

Jeff said...

Another made-up story. The standards at the Gray Lady are far from what they used to be.

Garpu the Fork said...

Eh, I wouldn't beat yourself up, Jeff. Earthquakes happen, and it's a fact of life for those of us in certain parts of the world. It sounds like a lot of the buildings in the area weren't built to code, which is what makes bad earthquakes even worse. (Like hearing reports of how the concrete turned to powder, etc.)

Jeff said...

Oh, I'm not blaming myself for putting out a jinx, but for sounding cavalier the way I had described it.

Yeah, the construction on the school in particular sounded lousy, as if the paint was holding the place together. They had reports afterwards of people snapping concrete chunks in half with their bare hands.