Reporting from Far Flung Places

Throwback Thursday: CBC History

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
– Mark Twain

WRAL’s geographical broadcast coverage area is eastern North Carolina. But those boundaries do not prevent WRAL from roaming the globe to bring insights and context to our viewers about the lives of people of different cultures and beliefs, coping under a variety of circumstances.  Without fail, WRAL reporters and photographers return to Raleigh with a new perspective on global affairs and share them with the viewers.

Over the years, WRAL news, sports and engineering has traveled extensively throughout the United States. On a global scale, our news crews have traveled to Tanzania, USSR and later Russia, England, Scotland, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, Artic Circle, Israel, Italy, Croatia, India, South Africa, Japan, Canada, Nicaragua, France, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Haiti, among other locales.

Charlie Gaddy, retired WRAL news anchor, along with then-news photographer, now lawyer, Scott Miskimon, traveled to China in July,1988. Charlie shared his impressions of the trip in the July,1988 printed edition of “The Capcom.” He titled his article “Dear Mama, You Were Right…” Here is the article in its entirety.

Dear Mama, you were right. If we had dug a hole in the backyard in Biscoe through the center of the earth, we would have come out in China.

Of all the little stories you told us when we were children; I believe that one fascinated me most. Sometimes I even pictured myself digging out on the other side and having some Chinese children there waiting for me.

Charlie Gaddy

WRAL-TV Anchor Charlie Gaddy reports from China in July 1988.

Well, I finally got to go to China. The company sent photographer Scott Miskimon and me on the adventure of a lifetime. It wasn’t the regular tourist trip to Hong Kong and Beijing, but a journey that took us across North China, through Manchuria, all the way to the Russian border.

You were always afraid to fly so you wouldn’t have enjoyed getting over there. We flew most of two days, crossing one time zone after another…Raleigh to Chicago to Seattle to Tokyo to Shanghai to Beijing (it was Peking before they changed the names of many of the cities).

As soon as we stepped off the plane, I knew it would be the most unusual place I would ever visit. China explodes your senses. The sights, sounds and smells are so different that there is nothing in one’s experience to compare with it. First, there are a billion people there, in a country not much larger than the United States. In the cities you are surrounded in a sea of Chinese people. I was at least a head taller, and could see over the crowds. We encountered thousands of people and not once did I see any pushing, shoving, or arguments.

I saw no drunks on the streets and only once did I see a gun and it was on a policeman.

You would have loved the people. You always tried to teach us to be nice to people. The Chinese are masters at that. Most of them are poor, but they give one hundred percent of what they have.

Out in the country, in little towns like Biscoe, there is no running water, no indoor bathrooms, no paved streets and no sidewalks. Bu the people out there more than make up for any inconveniences with their warmth and genuine hospitality.

Charlie Gaddy

WRAL-TV Anchor Charlie Gaddy in China, July 1988.

In Harbin we walked into a school yard and the little children overwhelmed us. They all swarmed around us, reaching out to touch our hands, while chirping out the Chinese hello, which is “Nihao” (pronounced Nee-how). It was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life. From now on, when I feel down and out, I’m going to get the tape and play that back.

When we left the cities, we went north into Manchuria and into places never seen before by Americans. Getting up there we rode jeeps, vans, buses, trains and rafts. Remember too that Scott and I were carrying a full load of TV equipment. We lugged it half way across China, and it worked perfectly.

You wouldn’t believe the food. Even in the countryside, they will serve bowl after bowl of exotic foods. They hardly serve rice. You know when we had company you wouldn’t serve Irish potatoes, well the Chinese think rice is too plain to serve visitors. Among the foods we ate were baby birds, cooked whole and complete with legs, feet and beak. We also had octopus, squid, and one of Scott’s favorites, fish head soup. Now, as it turned out, if you could get these things past your mind and into your mouth they tasted great.

We rafted down the Zhang River for five days. Slept on the river bank in tents. One night I was inside my tent when I heard this roar outside. As I cleared the tent, I saw that a tree had blown down near us and the roar was a violent storm that had just blown up. We moved the tents and had a drink.

The further we traveled north the more of a curiosity we became. Whole villages would turn out and surround us. They had never seen Americans before and in some cases had never seen a westerner. In every case, we were treated warmly and never felt any hostility or fear. Not far from the Russian border we stayed with a family of Oroqens, the smallest Chinese minority. They are hunters and are related to the North American Eskimo. We slept in their homes on cement beds that were stoked with hot coals from the kitchen stove to keep us warm. By the way, the man and his family, out of respect for us, slept somewhere else that night so we could have the entire house.

The head of the house, Mr. Du, gave me his prize deer antlers “From the Common People of China, to The Common People of America. In Peace and Friendship.” He said “please show it to your neighbors. It is offered in peace and friendship. We are all human beings.” It was a touching gesture and one I will never forget.

At the Great Wall of China, Scott Miskimon ran into a Russian news photographer. They shot footage of each other. One man on the trip pointed out that the event was a commentary on the times. That is, an American and a Russian photographer, taking each other’s picture at the Great Wall of China, using cameras made by the Japanese.

It’s a changing world, Mama.

Our trip ended right on the Russian border. A river separates the two countries and it is tense up there. The Chinese were afraid we would make the Russians nervous if we pointed the camera at their side. We took a boat to the center of the river. The Russians had barges on their side with guns on them. We looked at them and waved, they glared back at us. It is fascinating to be in the middle of the river. On one side all Asians, the other, White Russians. Two countries, two cultures, two languages, two peoples, divided by a narrow river.

One of the many interesting people we met was Mr. Han. He is an official in the tourism department. He shared with me his personal hardships during the Cultural Revolution in the late 60’s and 70’s. He was removed from his government job, arrested and taken from his home and family, and sentenced to farm labor for three and a half years. Then he was reinstated. He told us he harbored no bitterness over what had happened.

Scott and I are proud of the program we put together. He shot some of the most beautiful footage you have ever seen. We both lost a lot of weight. As slim as he was, he came back eight pounds lighter. I dropped fifteen. I’m not complaining. I needed that.

We didn’t argue communism versus capitalism on the program. There is really no contest. All you have to do is visit China or any third world country if you ever doubted that America is the gem of the oceans.

One fellow has already reminded me that we fought the Chinese in Korea. Well you and I don’t need to be reminded of that, do we, Mama? I was one of the many who was drafted for that one. Mr. Han was also in the Army during that war. It occurred to me, as we were talking on that train across Manchuria, that he and I were enemies nearly forty years ago.

Scott’s singing is not equal to his superb photography. He befriended one of our interpreters who was about his age. The young man loved country music and asked Scott to teach him a song. Let’s just say that there’s probably a young man in China today who is teaching his friends to sing “Waltzing Matilda” off key.

I had many surprises. Among them: The Chinese are fit. There are no fat bellies. The young ones don’t seem to be afraid to express their opinions, as I had thought they might be. Nearly all of the Chinese have access to their state run television, complete with commercials. They don’t waste anything. The bags under the mule’s tails provide fertilizer for the garden. There is more free enterprises opportunity than I thought there would be, especially for the farmers and the street vendors. The Chinese have a great sense of humor and love to laugh without being boisterous.

Scott and I flew two days back home and landed in a lightning storm at RDU…a befitting end to our Asian adventure. We wouldn’t take anything for having had the opportunity to learn, and for a lifetime of memories.

Just before we went to China, I did a newscast from Biscoe. Brother Bob and I sat on the steps of the old home place and went through an old family picture album. I wish you could have been there. Maybe I’ll get to tell you that some other way on some other day.

We are all fine Mama, but we miss you a lot.

Charles Reece  (Charles Reece Gaddy)

You can watch the entire documentary “Charlie Gaddy in China”on the CBC History website at:

Thanks to Corp’s Pam Allen for this capcom story. Pam Parris Allen is a former WRAL newscast producer/director who now works as a researcher and producer on the CBC History Project.

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