Article from the Sun daily by Yee Jie Min (posted on 8 September 2016)
WHILE backpacking in Afghanistan, Chris Lau met an old man who thought he was a journalist. Holding Lau’s hand and looking at him intently, the man related how his village was suffering as a result of an unstable political situation.
At that time, Lau wished he could broadcast that message to the world, but alas, he didn’t know how.
That encounter set the tone for the rest of his seven-month trip, which took him to Cambodia, Thailand, India, Nepal, Iran, Turkey and Egypt. It made him question his desire to live like a hippie for the rest of his life, and more so, altered his perspective on travelling for the sole purpose of enjoyment. He found a purpose to help those in need, and in doing something meaningful while he travels.
These contemplations led him to pursue a course in journalism while freelancing as a journalist upon his return to Malaysia.
Ever since, Lau has reported from Iran and Lebanon; and thrice in Syria and Afghanistan respectively. His experiences were filled with terror, complete with snipers and mortar bombs.
“My scariest experience is when I was in a hospital checking casualties in Kafr Zita, Syria. An air strike was coming – we heard it and even saw it with our own eyes. The doctors, nurses and patients were hiding in the basement feeling terrified,” revealed the 24-year-old.
What was it like to report from Syria and Afghanistan?
Syria is where you will see the most desperate people in the world. Every household has lost friends or family members. Travelling is also very risky as it is currently lawless, hence any extremist can kidnap you with or without political motivation in order to get a ransom.
Afghanistan currently has the second largest refugee population in the world. The war between the Afghan government and the US, with the Taliban or ISIS seems to be never-ending. The economic situation is bad, and people just want to get out of the country. You may be in a big city, but there are many national security forces in plain clothes on the streets watching what you are doing.
Talk about some obstacles or occupational hazards of the job. It is not easy to build contacts in war zones.
Language barrier was also a challenge as few speak English, and the issue of safety often worried me. The places you stay in are basic, and you will face trauma.
I overcame them by separating my emotions when I was on the job. I discarded grief because all the sad stories were repeating themselves, and did not cease. The sadness can be overwhelming hence I had to purge it out of my system.
So what message do you wish to convey from these war-torn countries?
The kind of stories that make people realise that these things still happen. There are so many suffering people who need help. There are children who barely have bread to fill themselves. When there is awareness, it means international communities are watching and that can be a way to put pressure on those waging the war.
How did your family and friends feel about your being in such volatile settings?
My parents were supportive, but did not encourage visits to conflict zones. I updated my social media profiles to let them know what I was doing, and I made sure to stay safe. My friends were definitely supportive. They kept saying, “Come back in one piece and we’ll throw you a party!”
An advice for aspiring journalists.
A war correspondent needs to be brave, flexible, and friendly. He also needs to crave the adrenaline rush, and be able to live in very basic conditions and communicate with the locals.
To become a journalist requires a lot of passion. You have to also set a goal. Ask yourself: Do I want to do the same thing for a year? If not, what should I do to make my career more exciting every day?
Self-description in three words: Emotional, risk-taking, boyish.
Places he’d like to visit: Iraq, Brazil and Tanavalu.
Inspirations: Anderson Cooper and Matthieu Aikins.
Pastimes: Hiking and working out.
Favourite media companies: BBC, Al Jazeera and VICE.