First impressions of China

August 10, 2007

I recently took up a position as Senior Photographer based in Beijing, China after 12 years in Sydney, Australia. Here are some of my first impressions.


The first thing is the sky isn’t quite so blue. In fact, it’s not even near a shade of blue. The smog on the first five days I was here was amazing. The closest thing I have experienced similar to these conditions was in 2001 when Sydney had its last extreme bush fire season, and the whole city was covered in a thick, smoky haze. But that was when there were over 100 fires burning in and around Sydney, this was a normal Beijing day. Though I must say so far, most likely due to the fresh, Aussie lungs that I possess, I have no breathing problems to report.

Secondly, there a just a few more photographers competing for the best angle. For example, the first thing I covered was the spectacular one-year countdown celebrations in Tiananmen Square. There would have been nearly 200 photographers and television crews trying to cover this, in an area that normally I would have seen reserved for about 60 people. With the humid, high temperatures, being so closely packed does tend to make it a little uncomfortable, especially after 5 hours.


And thirdly, the Chinese authorities love accreditation forms. Almost every event, and when I say almost I mean 99.9 percent of all events that are press related, requires an accreditation pass. This means that forward planning is essential, and turning up on the day without any groundwork will mean a nice, uniformed man will put his hand to your camera and say something very loudly.


Having said all this, however, it has been extremely interesting and eye-opening. Impressions formed of a country looking in from the outside can be vastly different from the actual reality of what occurs. I have encountered a fantastic sense of humor that I hope to understand better when I can speak a little more Mandarin, as my favorite thing to do when visiting a country is to strike up a conversation with taxi drivers. You always find out what’s going on through these very often extremely interesting people (the last taxi driver I spoke to was a 4th-year medical student from Uganda who was making some extra cash driving a taxi on the weekends).

So, I must quickly get back to filling in my press card form, temporary resident form, air freight cargo form, Olympic test events accreditation forms, car license form, real estate application form, mobile phone application form, medical examination form, office security card form, etc etc etc……………

One comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Hi David,

Having recently travelled to Shanghai I must say as an Australian that China’s pollution is impresive if one can describe it like this. Tell me as the new senior photograper in Beijing, will you be needing an assiatant for next year? I love China, I think it is an incredibably exciting place. Enjoy it!

Posted by Tabitha Karp | Report as abusive