Foreign correspondent Seth Doane is wrapping up his time in Beijing after nearly three years. He visited a dozen countries and more than 70 cities, covering the Asian continent for CBS News. Doane looked back at his journey in a reporter’s notebook.
This has been the opportunity of a lifetime, to get to cover this country and region that is growing, changing, mysterious and important.
When I was asked to come to Beijing, I had no idea what was in store.
As adventures go, it’s hard to beat boarding a boat – of questionable seaworthiness – with Filipino fisherman to glimpse China’s island-building in the South China Sea. The artificial islands are seen internationally as a muscular move.
Domestically, the ruling Communist party has clamped down on corruption, dissent and free speech. Each June 4th, we’ve come to expect a blackout of any mention of the anniversary of the brutal massacre at Tienanmen Square in 1989. I spoke to one student who said the incident is never mentioned in history books.
Mainland Chinese received little coverage of the more recent 2014 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, where protesters put on face masks and goggles as protective gear.
We had to wear masks plenty of times back in Beijing to protect against the pollution. It was all part of being based in a region that is rarely dull.
Neighbor North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and we visited the closed-off country twice – both times tangling with government minders.
A minder told me I “can’t come” to North Korea if I interviewed the people there.
It’s a stark contrast with its open, high-tech and hyper-competitive neighbor to the south. In Seoul, we learned plastic surgery is one way to get ahead.
In South Korea, we also traveled to where the Sewol ferry capsized, killing more than 300 people, mostly teenagers on a school trip.
We witnessed tragedies of unimaginable scale, like the earthquake in Nepal, where we were lucky enough to see an unbelievable rescue of a man.
In the Philippines, we watched the painful process of recovery after a super typhoon tore through.
In Japan, we suited up to go into “Reactor Four” at Fukushima after the 2011 tsunami triggered a nuclear meltdown. We also watched seven-year-old Ryuhei Sato suit up for his 55-minute solo commute to first grade, a Japanese lesson in independence. It was also strange to be checked in to a hotel by a robot.
There were some perks, like sampling wine from Ningxia, China’s version of Napa Valley.
While back in Beijing, we got used to operating by a complex set of rules, complete with choreographed press conferences.
I’ve been told to keep my hand raised, although I later learned I would be the eighth person to be called on.
Still, we kept pushing to see places authorities did not want us to, like following the deadly chemical explosion in Tianjin, where police tried to stop us from shooting.
It has been an incredible ride. It wouldn’t have been possible without all the people helping me behind the camera.
Seth Doane will head to Rome next, where he will be based to cover Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.