Jul 31

A must-read: a reporter’s guide to covering the Olympics

Written by DJ on Thursday, July 31st, 2008 at 5:09 pm
Filed under:-mini-posts, media | Tags:, , ,
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There is “A Reporter’s Guide to Covering the Olympics“, supposedly found in the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, at Time’s China Blog. It is well worth a read.

[Update] The full text is now added below. I couldn’t resist adding a bit of formatting to this nice writeup to make it more presentable than the big lump of text posted at Time.

[Further update] Now that we are examining journalist guides, please also take a look at Kaiser Kuo’s “Forbidden Cliches: A Guide for Visiting Journalists” (H/T ESWN) and Gideon Rachman’s “The lure of the great cliché of China“.

Reporter Guidelines for Covering the Beijing Olympics

1) On arrival, set the scene by saying a few nice things about the infrastructure—the high rises and the multi-lane highways, the interchanges. Developmenty sort of stuff.

2) Make an amusing, self-deprecating comment about your inability to speak or read the funny language they have in China. Play down the fact that you are dependent on a translator for quotes and newspaper reading. Never admit in print to getting story ideas or borrowing quotes from the China Daily.

3) Get story ideas and borrow quotes from the China Daily. Make sure you do this discreetly. For background only.

4) Now for reportage. After saying the nice things about the new buildings, get your translator to find a Beijing yam seller whose slum was knocked down to make way for the Olympic badminton hall. Do a few paras on him, and how all the money thrown at the Games is not helping the poor, and how terrible the huge income gap is. Make sure you write at least three times as much about the yam seller whose slum was pulled down as you do about all the new apartments, new metro lines, the growth in car ownership, the expanding health insurance and all the other good news about China that nobody in the west really wants to know about.

5) Say how horrible the air in Beijing is, even if it isn’t on the days you are there. Everybody says Beijing air is horrible, so play along.

6) The political bit. Interview a token party member, but reword him subtly to make it sound like he is just spouting the party line. Bend the translator’s words to fit—it’ll be rubbish English anyway. (Ditto in all quote treatment). Then find a good Chinese, one who is fluent in English, has lived in America or Britain, and is prodemocracy. Give them lots of space, let them sing. Martin Lee types, but preferably younger and female, for the mugshot. If you can get an interview with the Olympic artist, Ai-whatsisname, who is an anti-Commie quote machine, give him full throttle. Hopefully, he hasn’t been arrested yet.

Lastly, please remember: Chinese who love their country are called “nationalists.” Never use this word for Americans, French, Tibetans and other civilized peoples who love their country or territory. When demonstrators protest over Tibet they are acting in a heartfelt, spontaneous way, waving pretty flags you would be happy to see woven into your granny’s bedspread. When Chinese counter-demonstrate, they are always “bussed in,” the mood is “ugly”, and they are draped in intimidating red flags that can be made to look a bit Hitler Jugend-ish with the right kind of photo. (They probably did arrive in buses as this is the cheapest way of moving numbers of not-very-well-off people around, but you don’t need to prove the insinuation that the regime laid on the vehicles). Beijing is always a “regime,” by the way, and is not to be confused with western “governments.” (But: Hong Kong is an exception. Because it was under benign, enlightened British dictatorship for a long time, it cannot be a “regime.” “Regime” only applies to dictatorships in rubbish countries).

That’s about it. Don’t be deceived by all that friendly smiling and optimism, that’s just a front. It’s your job, with your long days of experience of the Far East and your fluency in a language spoken by nearly 0.005% of the locals, to get under the radar and ferret out the truth.

Did I mention how bad the air in Beijing is?

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52 Responses to “A must-read: a reporter’s guide to covering the Olympics”

  1. Dandan Says:

    LOL. A funny and practical ‘guide’ indeed.

  2. AC Says:

    Funny yet so true.

    I bet it’s the real guide for the NYT reporters. 🙂

  3. MoneyBall Says:

    LOL it’s so true, go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/china, it’s one of the most popular progressive/liberal sites but the way they conduct news on china is like some dirty cheap tabloid. and in freerepublic.com, one of the most popular conservative sites, when they talk about they look like those in movie “28 days later”…

  4. MutantJedi Says:

    OMG, Someone at http://www.huffingtonpost.com must not have figured out that the guide was satire. 🙂

  5. Charles Liu Says:

    What, no mention of 50 cent reward from the US government? This guide must be a fake 8-P

  6. Netizen Says:

    It seems everyone is writing a Beijing Olympics guide for foreign clueless reporters. I like this one best though.

  7. Buxi Says:

    I would’ve just laughed as this excessive satire… until this last week. I’ve been stuck in a hotel where they give us copies of the International Herald Tribune. I believe China has been the cover story 3 days this week, and every single one has been right from this mold.

    Yesterday was the story of the drink vendors who had a wall put up around their nail-house. I’ll give the IHT editors creative points for calling it Beijing’s next great Wall. Otherwise… it’s complete garbage. The editor and journalist jumped right ahead to line #4 above.

    Sigh. So sad, and so frustrating.

    I do have to say though that the weather remains as foggy/misty as it did last week. We’ve had 2-3 days of on/off rain, but the humidity has remained really high… today looks like it might be both dry and clear, so maybe we’ll have a blue sky day yet.

  8. Wukailong Says:

    Kind of funny, though I would hope that calls to clean up air pollution doesn’t also fall down into the nationalistic mud and cause anger. (Today it’s cloudy, but you can see the blue sky from the cloud)

    @LaughToTears: You forgot to mention the eating of snails.

  9. EugeneZ Says:

    Latest news on internet censorship in China during Olympics.


    Can someone put this issue in perspective for us? and Buxi, since you are in Beijing, what is your experience on internet access / blocked sites?

    My understanding is that China always has internet censorship, and in accordance with Chinese laws, and for good reasons, in my view. I have also heard that internet censorship is a common practice in many countries, including democratic countries. This is the part I need folks who are knowledgeable provide more details. If interner censorship is common practice, and is legal in China, what is the issue at hand? Why all the escalations and outcry? Is the western media again sensationalizing some non-news, coupled with a hidden China-bashing attitude underneath? I just do not get it why there is so much outcry and noise about some internet sites being blocked in China. Can people just live with it, especially given that most of the blocked sites are non-Olympics related. I just do not get it.

    Time to focus on the Olympics, and have some fun. I am ready. And I am not alone. See the link here. http://www.bangkokpost.com/010808_News/01Aug2008_news28.php

  10. Daniel Says:

    I might be watching a lot of the games on the internet, rather than just TV. In general, I really do not like some of the Olympic commentators. I remember the first Olympic Summer games I watched almost religiously was back 1996 in Atlanta and I was very pissed at the sports announcer (for one of the aqautics). Then it happen again in the winter ones and others, 1998.2000, 2002, 2004, etc. It was just a few but overall they seem to be ok. Some events happen fast enough where you don’t pay too much attention to it. Like that one event in speed skating in Utah where the skaters crashed and the Australian who was last ended up getting the gold. I knew there was some controversial statements but I just laugh at it.

  11. MoneyBall Says:

    internet censorship is stupid, period.
    blocking sites for political reasons is immoral.

  12. Charles Liu - wubaidang Says:

    Just bypass the swiss-cheese firewall with ProxyHunter or Tor.

  13. Anon Says:

    Funny that everybody is laughing, but nobody is actually thinking about the reasons behind this kind of reporting from the “western press” and whether there may be some truth behind the clich’es.
    “…and how all the money thrown at the Games is not helping the poor, and how terrible the huge income gap is. […] all the new apartments, new metro lines, the growth in car ownership, the expanding health insurance and all the other good news about China that nobody in the west really wants to know about.” All the “good” things that are being quoted here – with the exception of the metro – are not available to the laobaixing whose hutongs have been torn down – they are only affordable for the relatively small middle class. The income gap is indeed growing and the social system is a nightmare. So while the reporting may be funny or frustrating for all you middle class people nicely installed behind your computer and with enough spare time to comment on this blog, it still contains elements of truth that cannot simply be laughed away. (And please no comments about how big the income gap is in America and how Kathrina showed that America is much worse… I don’t care about America, it is not being discussed here).

    Finally, @ EugeneZ. You ask “If interner censorship is common practice, and is legal in China, what is the issue at hand? Why all the escalations and outcry? […] I just do not get it why there is so much outcry and noise about some internet sites being blocked in China. …”. The issue at hand is that the Chinese government, via BOCOG, has promised unhindered access to the Internet in its bid for the Olympics. This means there is a moral, if not contractual (I don’t know the details), engagement not to censure the internet during the Games. China is now breaking this engagement. Does this mean it is going to break all other engagements without blinking an eye? Does this make China the trustworthy partner and respected member of the international community that it wants to be?

  14. BMY Says:


    please take it easy sometimes.

    Nobody dose not know and CCP knows(they have more statistics than people here do) the serious problems like income gaps, high cost of health care, high cost of education, the collapsed social welfare which worries everyone . there are many people are working hard to try to fix the problems.

    I am commenting here(don’t know others) is just like some is trying to spend money and time in a bar with friends.

    have you found a bar open anyway?

  15. Nimrod Says:

    I’d like to see what these supposed “promises” are. I’ve got some quotes about some rather abstract observations, which got turned into specific “promises” by the IOC and crusading Western liberals. But if you asked me, did China promise to turn itself into a Western society for the Olympics, I’d say no. Where did that notion come from? It goaded itself to develop, modernize, and be a good host for a sporting event.

  16. Wukailong Says:

    @EugeneZ: “My understanding is that China always has internet censorship, and in accordance with Chinese laws, and for good reasons, in my view.”

    The good reason is that people’s 素质 is too low, there is too much people or the Western media would poison people’s minds? This is about the only topic that makes me emotional. Sure, legislators in almost all countries that do not know better follow this ill-advised idea by implementing their own censorship, usually with the help of local ISP:s.

    It’s one thing to be annoyed when I just want to check out some information and can’t reach it (even Google – but I guess there’s a good reason for that too?), but please don’t add insult to injury by being happy over this system. It’s a royal pain in the neck to always have to bypass, find new proxies or ask people abroad to help out (unless I’m using company networks, but I’m not always in the office, and I don’t want to go there just for surfing a non-handicapped network).

    Even Singapore, the role model for many, has a free network. Ironically, that’s the one we use at work.

  17. Anon Says:

    @BMY: I know you know and (I hope…) CCP knows – but many people in the “west” do not know and that is what the reporting that is being ridiculed here is all about.

    Yeah, I did find a few bars open 😉

  18. Wukailong Says:

    @EugeneZ: Wikipedia has an informative list of internet censorship in various countries:


  19. Anon Says:

    @ Nimrod: I suppose nobody will ever know what these “promises” were, except those who saw the contracts. I can only rely on the reports – this one from the (much hated on this forum – they may be telling the truth…) BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/in_depth/2001/olympic_votes/1434964.stm

    “I think we will give the media complete freedom to report when they come to China,” said Wang Wei, secretary-general of the Beijing bid committee.”We have made our guarantees in our bid document so all the world’s media will be welcome to come to China.”…….

  20. DaMai Says:

    Without having seen the official concessions or promises made to the IOC myself (anyone got a copy?), it would be interesting to take a look and see if A) the promises are real and the gov failed to deliver, B) the promises were not made and the gov is within its rights and/or C) the issue stems from cultural differences in interpretations of law, statutes, promises, etc.

    I live and work in Beijing, but I’m by no means a lawyer and don’t have much of any experience in dealing with contract negotiations, interpretation and the whole smorgasbord of cultural issues contained therein. Anyone with experience in that area care to comment?

    Given that I haven’t personally seen an official copy of the promises, I’ll be fair and refrain from passing judgement; though I think it would also be equally fair to refrain from other forms of ‘sensationalism’ and prematurely attributing this all to the IOC and evil crusading ‘Western’ liberals.

    *Apologies in advance for my caffeine-addled late Friday afternoon stream-of-consciousness response*

  21. DaMai Says:

    I know the BBC is not everyone’s favorite media source, but given that the quote is not exclusive to BBC, and the fact that the article was posted a day before Beijing was actually officially awarded the right to host the games, it does increasingly seem like a valid quote and promise.

  22. DaMai Says:

    Not to intentionally make a triple post, but it appears as if internet access has been fully opened up to reporters as per Danwei.

  23. Buxi Says:

    The promise was to open Beijing (and China) up to the media, and this has been done. Anyone can be interviewed by foreign reporters, as long as they give their own permission. (See: Woeser.) I see nothing specific there about opening up the Internet, and/or any thousand other interpretations about “human rights” that’ve been thrown out there.

    Can someone put this issue in perspective for us? and Buxi, since you are in Beijing, what is your experience on internet access / blocked sites?


    I talked about this in my earliest reports as soon as I arrived (on July 25th). I can get on just about every website I tried: Boxun, MITBBS ChinaNews, Playboy, the FLG’s Epoch Times, 64tianwang… and that has been the case since July 25th.

    Danwei claims this:

    However, websites of organizations like Falungong and Tibetan exile organizations are still blocked.

    Sorry, that sounds like BS to me. I can log onto Epoch Times right now, and I’ve been able to log onto dalailama.com, tibet.com, tibet.net since July 25th. (See my post on that day; I checked it the very first day I got here.)

  24. Dandan Says:

    Buxi, my friends in Beijing have confirmed the same,I am confused now. Or maybe just certain ‘sensitive’ pages have been blocked but not the entire websites?

  25. FOARP Says:

    @Buxi – Surely by now you should know that anything said about what is and isn’t blocked is not necessarily proved ‘BS’ (which I understand to mean “lies or obviously untrue”) by one observer, as it seems to constantly change. It may have been true at the time of observation, or at the location of the observer, or with the service being used.

  26. Wukailong Says:

    I tried out Epoch Times and Clear Wisdom, and they don’t seem to work from here. Different ISP:s seem to be more or less permissive though. The local one I’m using often has problems even with Google.

    FOARP is right, this is a very fleeting thing, though some sites that were previously impossible to reach (like Chinese BBC and Chinese Wikipedia) are now definitely unblocked.

  27. Buxi Says:


    You’re right, I didn’t mean my comment to be as harsh as it might’ve sounded. I understand policies always change from time/time and place/place, and none of us are in a position to explain what and why they are.

  28. Dandan Says:

    might just got lifted.

  29. DaMai Says:

    I haven’t had too much trouble from my apartment in terms of blocked websites (though the internet’s been slow as hell the past month), however, keep in mind who’s complaining about this – the media. Are they referring to their attempts to get on from hotel rooms, or more likely they’re attempts to access these sites from the accredited and unaccredited media centers? Just food for thought rather than immediately assuming that what they’re reporting is BS.

  30. FOARP Says:

    Check it out (imagethief via Brendan O’Kane): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqNaAU2vXlI

  31. yo Says:

    Just out of curiosity, are the porn sites blocked?

  32. Charles Liu Says:

    @Anon, I’ll take the “the Games is not helping the poor” point.

    Did the Atlanta Games help the poor? Housing projects where torn down, homeless people were arrested, poverty among African Americans were hidden from the visitors. Is that helping the poor? What hypocrisy that we are faulting China now:

    “Atlanta’s Olympic Legacy: More Poverty, Less Freedom”



    The same thing happened during Sydney:


  33. FOARP Says:

    @Charles Liu – And many people in London think the same will happen here, and blame the IOC and the way they basically hand the Olympics to whoever promises to build the biggest and most lavish Olympic facilities.

  34. EugeneZ Says:

    Thank you all for those who provide additional information on the issue of some internet sites being blocked in China. Just to summarize my key points after taking in the input from the others.

    (1.) The news of internet blockage is probably greatly exaggerated (although not completely fabricated) – to sensationalize non-news and to make China look bad by the western media, in my view; Please remember China-bashing is not only fashionable in the west these days, but also free (meaning one suffers no consequence for bashing China, however unfairly) – a point finely illustrated in the “reporter’s guideline” post.

    (2.) China has most likely not promised explicitly that all websites would be free to access in China during Olympics. China blocks some sites for good reasons, and in accordance with Chinese laws. To promise a 100% free access of all internet sites, China would have to change some laws just to accomodate Olympics. I do not think they did it.

    (3.) The reasons for blocking certain internet sites – some of them good, some of them bad, depending on who you are, and what your policitcal views are. For me, if there is a site that calls “people’s uprising in Tibet agaist China”, and instigates violence against other ethnic groups within China, those sites should not be given a free pass to get their criminal acts organized via internet. Instead, they should be arrested for plotting terrorism activities. Pornography sites are also troublesome for the general public in Chinese society, Chinese parents tend to give their kids more freedom related to internet browsing than a typical western parent would, even though such blockage may cause practical inconvenience for some western reporters – sorry for the negative connotation here.

    (4.) For the two weeks I and my family are in Beijing during Olympics, I am going to say goodbye (or at least severely limit my exposure) to western media coverage and immerse myself in this wonderful event along with my country men/women. As Chinese, this is our moment to be proud, optimistic about the future of our motherland, and also to enjoy ourselves. My 5-year old has been counting down to the day when we get on the airplane to travel to Beijing, although she has limited understanding about what this Olympics is all about – it is my chance to influence her a little, and instill a bit of my patriotism/nationalism energy in her – someone who calls her self ” I am an American, and I am a Chinese”.

  35. Dandan Says:


    Agree with you. That’s what some media has been doing. I mean which nation have 100% free access of all internet sites anyway?
    Have a good time in Beijing! Media manipulations aren’t going to spoil all the fun!

  36. MutantJedi Says:

    The problem with checking if the Internet is working (god don’t let me type intertubes) is that it is a pretty complex network of connections… (damn close to saying tubes) Just because at one moment I can’t get to http://www.xyz.com doesn’t mean that it’s blocked. Someone could have cut the fibre with a backhoe in Waco TX for all you know at that moment. Traffic elsewhere could be slowing the response to the point it looks like it’s a dead connection.

    So… Calling a site blocked might not be so much as “BS” but just mistaken.

  37. YanY Says:


    Nice comments, completely agree!

  38. sqrl Says:

    Can anyone in Beijing do a traceroute to the nyt, washingtonpost, bbc, and tibet.org and post it here. I’m curious about the lag and peering points.

  39. K Says:

    @MutantJedi – This is a very effective feature of the censorship in China – no matter whether it is a technical problem or a censored site you get the same message, creating doubt about what the problem really is and giving some sort of deniability to the government when the question of individual sites comes up.

    I don’t think anyone can really argue that there isn’t ongoing, systematic censorship of websites that publish things that the CCP finds unpleasant (not just porn or calls to bring down the Chinese government).

    @Buxi #23 – The following is a quote from the IOC’s media head Kevan Gosper:
    “The International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge met the Chinese to discuss this problem. All along the IOC has not shifted from its stated position and that was to have no censorship of the internet,”
    (from http://www.theage.com.au/world/china-bows-to-pressure-on-internet-20080801-3olk.html)

    To me the question really is: if they are so concerned about making a good impression on the world with these Olympics why didn’t they just provide open internet access within the media centre and international hotels? I know that there would have still been the negative press reports about how the internet still wasn’t free for everyone, but at least this would have allowed them to claim to be opening up and would have avoided the current debacle where there has been a big stink and now the CCP have backed down. Someone screwed up big time on this one.

  40. Wukailong Says:

    I wonder if the difference in opinions is because of what one is trying to avoid? I can understand people are fed up with too much negative coverage of China abroad, and so think that most of it is exaggerated. Whereas I, on the other hand, live here and don’t feel the impact of foreign media as much, but instead struggle with the internet censorship and feel annoyed by it.

  41. EugeneZ Says:


    What you suggested explains the different perspective between a Chinese living in the west (that is me) and a Chinese living in China (that is you). When I lived in China between 2002 and 2006, I was very busy criticizing the policies of Chinese goverment and I was vocal on Chinese internet with my criticisms, and I was often frustrated that most of my comments got deleted by China’s internet police.

    Now that I am back in US, I am so oversaturated with the biased criticism of China in the western media by the people who have not earned the right to criticize in China in my opinion.

    What you suggested definitely can not explain the different perspective between a Chinese person and a westerner. That is a much harder problem to solve, almost impossible to solve, thus the name of this blog “foolsmountain” (CLC/Buxi, right?). Majority of westerners are uncomfortable with the rise of China, because they think we are not like them.

  42. Wukailong Says:

    @EugeneZ: I’m actually a Westerner. 🙂 A Swede, to be more exact. Though I should admit that when I’m back in my old country, I tend to shun criticism of China too if it’s not qualified, or of the standard variety.

    As for differences in mindset between people here and in the West, I do indeed think it’s something of a mountain, though not one that’s impossible to dig away (hopefully without the help of spirits sent by heaven 🙂 ). The difficulty lies in actually getting people to communicate and understand each other’s viewpoints, and that might take decades, though I think this is going to be less of a problem in the future with a more transparent and less authoritarian government.

    Political considerations definitely play a big role in the Western worry. India should be as much of a worry, but it isn’t because it has a political system similar to most Western countries (at least in name). That’s why we see all this criticism of China’s role in Tibet but not a similar criticism against India’s role in Kashmir. Ideologically we might see the rise of a sort of new cold war between the neo-authoritarians (China and some other countries) and the West, but I doubt it. They need each other for trade, if not other things.

  43. Wukailong Says:

    Anyway, I should point out too that I’m happy whenever I see things improve. For personal reasons the opening of Wikipedia last year made life a lot easier. And on another scale, all the improvements in Beijing and the rest of China also makes me optimistic. Just like anyone else I have my hobbyhorses though, and censorship of the Internet is one.

  44. EugeneZ Says:


    Great! The fact the I mistook you as a Chinese based on the reading of your comments says a lot – it tells me that we now have a strong foundation for some constructive conversation.

    I think that as we get closer to the opening ceremony, the reporting will turn more positive with more focus on the games and the festival atmosphere, it is already starting to show up on CNN. After all, Olympics is a happy event where the world, especially young people come together to compete on sports and share friendship. It is a great opportunity for the west to learn about modern China, I sincerely hope that they (the media in the west) do not completely blow it by sticking to thorny political issues.

  45. Anon Says:

    @ Charles Liu (number 32): There we go again, the old “The US did it, therefore we should be allowed to do it too / It happened in the US before, so we should be excused for it” line, which crops up in EVERY blog even slightly critical of China. How original! If that is the only defence you have, I fear the worst for the country.

    The fact that you are linking to some articles about the effects of the Atlanta Games means these effects have actually been reported. But were there indignant voices about this reporting? I don’t think so. Yet that is what is happening here: people are annoyed about the tendency of “western” journalists to focus on these aspects.

    I think China and Chinese needs to develop a “thicker skin” and be less susceptible to outside criticism: that is one element of being a “superpower”!

  46. FOARP Says:

    @Anon – I understand that Charles Liu is an American Citizen, not a Chinese ome.

  47. FOARP Says:

    ‘One’ I mean.

  48. MoneyBall Says:


    the line is more likely to be ““The US did it, therefore dont come to our door pointing finger before you clean your own backyard”. I think it’s a very reasonable one, and it’s common sense in the East. If the west doesnt have such a common sense… well what can I say, no wonder their country is called United States of Hypocrisy around the world

  49. SinoPeach Says:


    I am so tired of the idiots that come here to report. “Those that can’t do teach”. “Those that don’t want to become journo’s”.

  50. SinoPeach Says:

    I also meant to add that most of what people refer to as “Censorship” is just poor infrastructure. I had a long BBS post over here about it… god knows everyone else knew more than I did. Hey I only built a profitable business in this sector from scratch. But what would I know?


  51. Daniel Says:

    I think the whole pointing one finger while having four others pointing back hypocracy is pretty much common sense everywhere. I’m sure quite a few people, at least the majority of the readers of this blog, are aware of the endless debates we have in the States regarding hypocracy in our government, society, celebrities, religion, business, academics, leaders, role models, public displays of opinions, etc.

    Anyways, I watched a little bit of the Lou Dobbs show while I was at the gym. Near the half of the show it aired a segment regarding President Bush decisions to come to Communist China and talked more about the Red Storm Rising topics. I was thinking to myself that this really isn’t anything new but also isn’t it a bit late to talk about this? Sure the world’s eyes are on China (or are they?) the next few weeks but it’s like there is so much out there to learn and gripe about the country and other places around the world. From some of the interactions I had with people here, the overall impression I’m getting is that they are just going to focus on the sports and controversy stories regarding the athletes, not just politics or other internal affairs. There’s quite a few people that are a bit uncomfortable and have mixed feelings with the US’s perception of being Policeman of the world type of deal.

  52. Alat Peraga Says:

    alatperaga.web.id Penyedia Alat Peraga Edukatif TK / SD / SMP / SMA / SMK

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