by Han Fang
BEIJING, Aug. 14 (Xinhua) -- When I was taking pictures at Times Square on New Year's Eve 2020, recording celebrations by people coming from countries around the world, I could not have imagined that I would experience such a flustering and chaotic period two months later.
HASTY DEPARTURE AMID PANDEMIC
In mid-March, my three-year journalist career came to a sudden stop due to a disguised de-facto expulsion of 60 Chinese journalists from the United States by the U.S. State Department, and we were demanded to leave the country immediately by the U.S. side.
Since the novel coronavirus was raging and the number of flights was cut sharply at the time, the Chinese embassy tried to ask for a grace period for us, but only received a cold refusal from the U.S. government.
In less than a week, I handed over my work, packed up my baggage, terminated the rental agreement and closed all the accounts, and managed to grab an air ticket from the Internet ... I had never expected I could have been able to finish all the tiring work with such efficiency.
At a time when COVID-19 was spreading quickly in New York and in the United States as a whole, medical protective equipment was in acute shortage. Under limited time and conditions, the Xinhua regional bureau in North America tried to provide each of us with masks, gloves and disinfectant, but goggles and protective clothing were nowhere to buy.
A flight of more than 10 hours in closed space was extremely risky at the time, especially because we were not adequately protected, which made us panicky during the whole journey.
After arriving in Beijing, from the airport to a designated place of registration and then to a quarantine hotel, I finally entered a hotel room, put down my luggage and felt totally exhausted -- nearly 40 hours had passed since I left New York.
EFFORTS AS JOURNALIST
Now after settling down, I finally have the mood and time to look back on my work experiences in the United States over the past three years.
One question keeps haunting me: what exactly did my colleagues and I do wrong that made the U.S. government come to dread and hate us and can only feel relieved by dispelling us?
The China-U.S. relationship is one of the most important and complex bilateral relationships in the world. I had prepared myself for a difficult journey when I was posted to the United States in 2017.
Nevertheless, born in the 1980s after China and the United States established diplomatic ties, I grew up in the era of China's reform and opening up with the conviction that openness, inclusiveness and common development are the main themes of today's world, whose development has a lot to do with China-U.S. cooperation.
As a journalist, an observer and recorder of history, I was always filled with a sense of accomplishment when I was given a chance to present a real America to readers through my own efforts and deepen the understanding and communication between the two peoples.
I was in charge of editing and releasing news pictures taken by my colleagues stationed across the United States, whose themes ranged from President Donald Trump's White House press briefings, to the New York Stock Exchange, and to newly-launched Disneyland theme parks, constituting real moments of the U.S. political, economic and social life.
Meanwhile, I often volunteered to work on the forefront, using my own camera to record every aspect of American society, and had been impressed by a number of stories I learned during my interviews.
In 2017 when China resumed beef imports from the United States, which had been suspended for 14 years due to the mad cow disease, I flew to the remote U.S. states of Nebraska and Iowa, stepping on cow dung and braving animal blood, to photograph cattle farms as well as slaughtering and processing plants.
Through cooperation with my China-based colleagues, I used a set of photos and videos to illustrate how high-quality American beef traveled across oceans and was finally served on the tables of Chinese consumers.
In 2019, I went to Las Vegas to cover a gathering of eight "Flying Tigers" veterans who aided China during World War II, as well as their family members and Chinese friends. I witnessed how the friendship between the two countries, which bloomed from fire and blood during wartime, has taken its root and been passed on.
Over the past three years, my perception of the United States has grown from being abstract to concrete. With the pictures I dealt with, I have grown to be sympathetic toward ordinary Americans and impressed by the common feelings we share.
I have witnessed investors' joy when stock markets hit new highs, the grassroot people's anger about social injustice, the grief of the families of victims of terrorist attacks or vicious shootings, and the happiness of family reunions during holiday celebrations, and so on.
Why should all these be blamed and stigmatized?
FRIENDSHIP, KINDNESS STILL MY CHOICE
The banishment Chinese journalists working in the United States faced with is just a microcosm of the current of China-U.S. relations, which have been impeded and sabotaged by a certain group of people. Some pessimists depicted a gloomy picture for the future bilateral relations.
However, recalling the people and the events I encountered over the past three years, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel even during this dark time.
I still remember 70-year-old Bill Pellett, a rancher in Iowa who is committed to producing high-quality beef and exporting it to the international market. He and his wife are staunch supporters of Trump, but they are not in favor of the trade war Washington launched against China.
"I think it's good for all of us to understand each other and to share the resources that we have available. Each country ... has different resources, they need to trade to make the world a better place," Pellett said.
I often think of Edward Beneda who lives in Santa Barbara in California. His father Glen Beneda, a "Flying Tiger" veteran soldier who later died in 2010, had his life saved because local people fought hard to rescue him when his jet crashed in central China's Hubei Province.
"We consider the Chinese people as part of our family. I'm not talking about just the ones that saved my father's life, but we have a very profound and strong relationship with all the Chinese people," Beneda, who often goes to local schools in Los Angeles to show the documentary of his father's encounters in China.
I also think of my neighbor in New York, a city where most people are rather isolated from each other.
One day my neighbor approached me to discuss issues related to Hong Kong and Xinjiang. While we could not agree on many things, we also cleared up many misunderstandings. After learning that I would leave America soon, he took his whole family to my apartment to say goodbye regardless of the rampant pandemic and gave me a handmade card.
Because of these unforgettable people and incidents, I will not allow hatred to grip me, though the expulsion, a significant professional setback, has traumatized me. I still believe in the power of friendship. And I am convinced that kindness will win out.
Also in March, in response to the groundless suppression of Chinese media organizations by the White House, China issued countermeasures to reduce the number of foreign correspondents American media outlets posted to China.
By then, the COVID-19 pandemic was peaking in the United States, and some speculated that China would retaliate with the same measures and ask American journalists deprived of work permits to pack up and leave the country right away.
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said: "As for when they will leave the country ... we also take into consideration the situation on the ground, including the COVID-19 epidemic. China will be more reasonable and will handle their exit in a more humane way."
I do not know if my American counterparts have already left. I wish for their wellness whether they are in the process of packing or already in their home country. I also hope that they can keep their fond memories of China and will have a chance to come back. Enditem
(Han Fang formerly worked at Xinhua News Agency North America regional bureau as a photo editor.)