The death of Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez last Thursday shocked and saddened many Chinese fans of the Colombian writer, who started out as an obscure journalist and became the master of magical realism. Many Chinese netizens posted famous phrases from his works, especially the epic 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, to show their grief. Some media reports even said he had worked as a stringer for Xinhua. Pang Bing'an, who worked at Xinhua's Havana bureau in the 1960s, dismissed the reports, but he remembered an anecdote about Garcia Marquez, then a correspondent for Cuba's Prensa Latina news agency. The veteran journalist recalled his chance encounters with the literary legend. "He had an ordinary appearance at that time. I didn't expect him to become such a celebrity later," said Pang, who is also a former vice president of Xinhua. In April 1959, Pang went to Cuba to set up the Havana bureau and was its first chief correspondent. His office was located in the same building with Prensa Latina, which had just been established by the new Cuban government after the Cuban revolution. In the same year, three Chinese technicians sent by Xinhua moved to the building to help Prensa Latina set up a radio station. Garcia Marquez, an admirer of Cuba's revolution who became a correspondent in 1960 for the Cuban news agency in Bogota and New York, always lodged in the Chinese technicians' room when he returned to Havana. Pang said, although Garcia Marquez did not write stories for Xinhua as reported by some Chinese media, his experiences as a reporter had laid a solid foundation and provided abundant materials for his literary works. In fact, the Nobel laureate devoted himself to journalism, even after he won the prize in 1982. He spent more time in Colombia in his later years, founding a journalism institute in the port city of Cartagena. In 1998, Garcia Marquez used his Nobel prize money to buy a majority interest in Colombian news magazine Cambio and was a prodigious contributor to it before falling ill with lymphatic cancer the next year. "I'm a journalist. I've always been a journalist," he has said. "My books couldn't have been written if I weren't a journalist because all the material was taken from reality." Pang, who established a friendship with other Latin American writers such as Carlos Fuentes and Pablo Neruda, said he was sorry he didn't get to meet Garcia Marquez again after he became a Nobel laureate. "When I saw his photo in 1982, when he was awarded the Nobel prize, I recognized it was the young man who slept on the couch of my office," he said. The veteran journalist said many Chinese read Garcia Marquez's works to learn more about Latin American culture. "It is a gratifying thing," he said.