YANDE SYAMPEYO, Beijing
FINALLY on October 15, the Ethiopian Airlines I was aboard touched down at Peking International Airport in Beijing at 17:30 hours local time.
Though exhausted, I was ready to ‘feed my eyes’ with the second largest economy in the world.
The first thing that catches a new arrival’s eye at the airport is the massive spotless infrastructure and the impressive technology. As one approaches the immigration check point, an ‘invisible’ machine records the body temperature.
Later, I learnt the machine is used to detect travellers who might be infected with viral and deadly diseases such as bird flu.
The immigration officers, who are seemingly tough but friendly, take time to screen visitors to ensure their purpose and intention for entering the country is good.
However, my ‘expedition’ was briefly halted at the airport as my colleague Mr Bikilon Zimba from Zambia National Broadcasting Cooperation (ZNBC) had an encounter with the customs officers with regard to the video camera he was carrying. The particulars of the camera were apparently not submitted in advance to the airport officials.
Two hours later, the issue was resolved and we were linked to the StarTimes officials who had been patiently waiting for us. After an hour of driving, during which I marvelled at the amazing structural beauty of Beijing city, we arrived at Diaoyutai, a five-star hotel at which we were booked.
My visit to China did not come from my own efforts. On September 29, 2017, a lifetime opportunity presented itself when I was assigned to travel to China on a media tour, courtesy of StarTimes, a Chinese media group specialised in digital migration.
I was among three Zambian journalists who were to be part of 50 media personnel from 25 African countries invited by StarTimes.
Apart from myself and Bikilon, Christeter Macha from ZANIS was the other journalist handed an opportunity to attend the much anticipated 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
The congress, which is held every five years, enables the ruling party to unveil new leadership and acts as a blue print for development plans for the next five years.
The trip could not have come at a better time in my 12 years professional career because despite having travelled widely, I had never been to the Asian country. Moreover, the amazing stories I heard from friends and family had engineered a craving within me to visit China.
So, there I was in Beijing, formerly known as Peking. A city characterised by both modern and traditional architecture beyond one’s imagination.
The capital city, densely populated with over 20 million people, is the world’s second most popular city renowned for its opulent palaces, temples, parks, gardens, tombs, walls and gates.
The starting point of my tour in Beijing was a visit to the StarTimes headquarters.
StarTimes vice-president Gao Wenzhi told journalists that the pay TV Company, with over 5,000 employees and more than 30 registered subsidiaries in Africa, wants to be recognised as a bridge of cultural exchange between Africa and Asia.
Mr Gao says the company, whose subscriber based in China is over seven million, has over 480 international channels of which 38 are self-produced channels.
The company commenced its operations in Africa in 2002 and is currently translating some of its programmes in 10 languages.
Mr Gao stressed that there is nothing peculiar about StarTimes involvement in Africa as it is only trying to assist governments attain affordable digital migration.
StarTimes has so far signed contracts with 17 African government’s worth over US$2.5 billion.
He says the business environment in Africa is increasingly conducive for foreign direct investment as most countries are becoming stable both political and economically.
“The CEO of this company often meets presidents of African countries not by any special private relationship but just co-operation. Not only does StarTimes need Africa market but African governments’ need us too,” he said.
It was also revealed that Zambia’s digitalisation is steadily progressing and is set to benefit the rural communities through a 10,000 Village Satellite TV project.
The following day, we visited the media centre to cross-check our accreditation in readiness for the much anticipated 19th National Congress of the CPC.
As expected, the security at the centre was tight and the technology never ceased to amaze me.
As I stepped forward to be scanned, my photograph and all my particulars appeared on a big screen and I was granted access to entre. This happened to all the 50 plus journalists invited from Africa.
Then we visited the magnificent Great Hall of the people, the venue of the CPC congress. The state building with both Chinese and foreign architectural influences has a green and yellow glazed tile roof with superb portico and colonnades, rows of pines and cypresses, lying at the western side of Tiananmen Square. The massive Square is the site of Mao Zedong’s mausoleum.
The Great hall, which has great bronze doors, has a spacious lobby leading to the central hall. It is used for legislative and ceremonial activities by the ruling communist party.
It is in this building that many earth-shaking historical events have changed the development course of China.
The big day for Chinese people eventually docked on October 18, when the ruling party held its 19th national congress.
It was a cold and rainy day and as a media team, we made our way to the great hall early enough to avoid inconveniencing the Chinese people who are generally good time keepers.
At exactly 09:00 hours, President Xi Jinping was on the podium addressing the over 2,000 delegates in attendance.
In his three hour speech, Mr Xi, who is also the general secretary of CPC said China has maintained its position as the world’s second largest economy with its gross domestic product (GDP) rising from 54 trillion to 80 trillion yuan.
After the official opening ceremony of CPC national congress, we headed to Zhongguancun Science Park, one of the fastest growing technology centres in the world.
The park has over 20,000 high- and new-tech enterprises, such as Lenovo, Leyard group and Baidu.
The next stop was Leyard, a multi-national group composed of more than 40 domestic and foreign technology enterprises. It is the world’s inventor and leading provider in LED display, urban landscape lighting, cultural and technological integration and innovation.
On Friday, October 17, the StarTimes media team headed to Dashanzi Art district (also known as 798 Art Zone) which is an artistic community based in an old industrial area, North-East Beijing.
The National Museum of China was our next point of exploration. The magnitude of the museum, which is constructed on twin foundations of the former China History Museum and the former China Revolutionary Museum, is a marvel.
The Museum displays both material and non-material collections and exhibits. It narrates the history of the ancestors of the Chinese people. It has rich collections such as the teeth of Yuanmou Man from Yunnan Province, dating back 1,700,000 years.
On Sunday, October 22, the media team had the privilege of experiencing a high speed bullet train ride from Beijing to Tianjin. The 120 kilometre stretch was covered in a mere 35 minutes.
The day of departure came on Monday, October 23, but before we could leave, we had one more important place to visit, China Central Television (CCTV) headquarters.
The 44-story skyscraper is 234-metres, while the architecture is marvelous.
The building is not a traditional tower, but a loop of six horizontal and vertical sections with an open centre which houses more than 30 studios.
And StarTimes overseas public relations director William Masy is optimistic the tour has enabled journalists have a better understanding of China.
Ten minutes past midnight, October 24, I was aboard an Ethiopian Airlines and thinking aloud: “This was a wonderful experience worth repeating”.