More thrills than skills – A half-life in journalism, part 115

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, edited extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More thrills than skills – A half-life in journalism’, is to be published March 1 next year, by Kennedy & Boyd, Glasgow, and available from

ONE of the better features of digital photography is that the pictures you have taken can be reviewed immediately.

So, at the police station, it’s not necessary to indulge in all that unfriendly opening of the camera and seizure of unprocessed film. The officer on duty reviews my pictures of the day. They’re all inoffensive stuff until we come to that mysterious sign.

Eventually, I am waved off from the police station, still none the wiser to what has been going on.

Much later, I learn that the street where I took the ‘offending photograph’ runs past the Leadership Compound, home to offices and homes of the city’s party hierarchy.

I later learn that you can get excellent aerial photographs from the upper floors of the nearby Hengshan Hotel. And without any interference from anybody… So if you want any pictures, you know where to come.

SARS had an enormous impact on the city. When appreciation of the scale and threat level of the disease reached Shanghai, it reacted: late in the day, but with resolution.

Public places were closed, both by order of the city government and due to financial imperatives as customers and visitors faded away.

The world-famous Peace Hotel closed its doors – something it had not even had cause to do during the Sino-Japanese or Second World Wars.