A two-and-a-half year pandemic tested his love for China, but he still highly enjoys living there. Correspondent for Dutch news Broadcaster NOS Sjoerd den Daas (35) studied International Financial Management in Groningen and Uppsala, with a Minor in Chinese, and has been working as a journalist in China since 2015.
A cup of coffee, a newspaper, and a jog. This is how an average day begins for Sjoerd den Daas in Beijing. 'Mornings are quiet. I read the paper, listen to a podcast, or meet with a source.' Later in the morning, he leaves for his office, which he shares with journalists from other international media channels. 'That's when it all kicks off.' On a busy day, he can be heard and seen on three or four different Dutch news programmes—sometimes even late into the night, due to the time difference. Or he'll be out chasing a story somewhere in the country.
But that's just a regular day, and one of those hasn't happened for a while. As a foreigner and a journalist, Den Daas is under the microscope: whether he is allowed to enter another city is often under question. Even without the incredibly strict lockdowns, which once again hampered him and others in places like Beijing and Shanghai for weeks this spring— although it was still permitted to go outside in Beijing in most cases.
The Chinese government's handling of the coronavirus has sometimes been rather grim. Den Daas still remembers an encounter he had with an older woman, who lost her daughter to the coronavirus. 'At the time that her daughter became infected, the government already knew that a deadly virus had broken out in Wuhan, and it still let a People's Congress go ahead. The mother wanted to denounce this, she wanted justice for her daughter, but she was subsequently intimidated and threatened by the government: if she carried on talking about it, her husband could lose his job.' These types of stories get under Den Daas' skin: 'There is a lot of distress. It is not always easy to be so close to all of it.'
This does not mean that Den Daas' love for China has ended. The fascination that he developed for the country as a teen—when he visited family in Hong Kong with his father—is still there. 'It is a country with an impressive history that is now reaching the peak of its development. And with fascinating nature—from the mountains in Tibet to the deserts in the North and the seas on the East Coast.' He feels at home among the Chinese population and he speaks their language. 'In general, Chinese folks are warm and spontaneous. Making friends is easy here; the threshold to go out to eat with someone is very low. And they are very direct. If I return from abroad, someone might just say to me: "Oh, you've put on weight!"'
At the moment of this interview, Den Daas has already been back in the Netherlands for a month and a half. The NOS Correspondent Days were a good excuse to finally visit family for a longer period. 'As long as reporting from China is hardly possible due to the coronavirus measures, then I may as well do it from Friesland.'
And when Den Daas is in the Netherlands, he tries to get the most out of his visit. He occasionally visits Groningen, his former student city. 'It is and remains the city for students. For years, I have been recommending every final-year school pupil to choose Groningen. Everything is possible here. Where else could you go out until 6 a.m. on a Monday?'
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