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It takes being away from home for more than two months to appreciate its beauty and I’ve fallen back into the pace of Sydney with startling speed, though more aware than ever of the things I can take for granted here — ‘soft’ water from the tap, the fresh air, the humidity, the lack of strange smells in the street and no need to look at my slowly loading internet page, wondering if the Chinese censors are giving me a warning for using a VPN too much.

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The view from the literal center of Beijing at the peak of 景山公园 (Jingshan Park). Photo by Christina Guo

At the same time, I’m sorry to leave my wonderful host family, a little of that winter cold, the wonderful food and, of course, the thrill of traveling. I may not be much of a ‘crowd’ person, but I am definitely a city girl at heart and Beijing, with its maze of hutongs winding around its larger-than-life buildings and rare pockets of nature and beauty, has really only given me a taste of the adventures and exploration that is possible within it — and a decent number of blue skies to boot!

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I'll miss seeing the street vendors making Beijing pancakes in the morning ... Photo by Christina Guo

Having also spent a month working in China, I’ve only begun to understand what I don’t understand about this complex, chaotic nation. It’s given me an appreciation of how little we — as Western-raised Chinese children and as media practitioners from a Western background — understand the factors driving this nation’s law, its media and its people, and the nuances that we miss when profiling this nation and its diverse, fascinating people. This is a country alternately at the cutting edge of innovation, wealth and talent and one still struggling to close the gaps opened up by a handful of whirlwind decades of social upheaval and progress — and its progress is documented in the international eye more widely than ever before.

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Wangfujing's glittering, eclectic tourist bait. Photo by Christina Guo

Some key things I’ve learnt:

Censorship is not everything. Despite their isolation, Chinese netizens and citizens are extremely connected and engaged online and are certainly ‘wising up’ on how they engage with the rest of the world. Much of the academic discourse we’ve studied about China’s media — particularly its online platforms and their role in censorship — is now facing changes that include a subtle tightening of control over the direction of discussion on print and online media spheres. Where it goes next will be dependent on its leaders' intentions.

Do as the locals do. I really recommend trying to find a host family, either through friends or online, or to really try to get to know work colleagues out of work. Not only is it amazing to have someone to help you with the technicalities of living in Beijing (phone and internet on mobile is tricky), their point of view of the city is just so different and fascinating. Of course, you need a little luck but it’s definitely worth a shot.

Resources are limited; use wisely. By 'resources', I don't just mean the number of journalists or the extent of access you have to interviewees, research or information — it also includes your own time spent writing and researching. Think about your story in a context that factors in delay before publication, the angles of competing publications on the same topic, the authoritative value of each interviewee … they are all things we learned in theory but required extra honing when actually put into practice.

Surprise yourself. Challenging myself to be more proactive was the best thing I did for myself. From asking people to lunch, for help or pitching ideas relentlessly, I learned you really have very little to lose by asking for what you need. In my first blog entry, I hadn’t thought I could practice my Chinese a lot, as I was expecting to simply be working in the English department, but I ended up surprising myself at how I ended up conducting a large portion of interviews in Mandarin. And be resourceful — I got by fooling quite a few people into thinking I was 100% fluent with an ad-hoc combination of Bing Translate and WeChat pingyin.

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My Caixin team. I swear we don't usually look like a chorus group cover. Photo by a Caixin colleague

In my first blog entry, I mentioned wanting to absorb as much as I could about the workings of a newspaper like Caixin and also learn more about China’s economy. I caught glimpses of the fast-paced, busy lives of my Chinese reporter colleagues, but have also come to appreciate that an office is built on much more than just the stereotype of busy news reporters running around — and that you continue to build a newspaper's reputation every time you adopt its brand in the name of an interview or an article. Being exposed to daily reports about everything from China's technology to politics to business, the aspect that stood out to me was the social effects of China's changes on its people, an aspect I am very fascinated with.

Since Caixin works almost exclusively on the digital platform, none of my articles have been printed — though I do have links to articles I’ve written and podcasts I’ve written and recorded. Some of my articles — including a movie review of Tsui Hark's Taking of Tiger Mountain may appear in Caixin’s monthly magazine — watch this space!

I’m exceedingly grateful to the Australia–China Council for providing me with this opportunity, as well as to all the Australian foreign correspondents and other colleagues whom I have met along the way. While I cannot say I’m scrambling to prepare a decade-long migration to Beijing, like some other expats I met (yet?), I departed Beijing with the words 再见 (zai jian), a word that, in itself, means ‘see you again’.

And that’s what I intend to do.

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Photo with the Forbidden City. Not pictured: the 10,000 other tourists vying for this spot. Photo by Siobhan Rooney

About the Blog

Parallax records the experiences of final year students of the B.A. (Media & Communications) degree who have won competitive overseas internships to work in Asian, Indian and Latin American media organisations.
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