Sunday, January 11, 2004

A Place for Us
Us hairy savages, that is. On Sunday evening the place was the Shenzhen Grand Theater - a venue that while not exactly grand, seating about 600 with all the ambience of a middle school auditorium but with better acoustics - where the paper, the SZ city government and the local brewery, Kingway ("Kingway! It's clear it's beer!"), sponsored a classical concert for expats.
The program was a pleasant mix of Strauss, selections from Bernstein including West Side Story, Tchaikovsky, Leroy Anderson and two modern Chinese classical numbers Love of Butterfly which featured a fine Russian violinist Julia Igonia and - my all time favorite title - the immortal, tender and moving Women Detachment of the Red Army. (Movement 1: In which Comrades Xirui and Mei Ge deftly defeat the imperialist running dog, paper tiger forces using only a single Model 213 Tokarev pistol, the Little Red Book and a rusty wok.)
Outwardly, it all went as planned. The free tickets were snapped up three days before showtime and the program went smoothly - despite an intermission that featured no beer - Kingway or otherwise -, tea, coffee or any other substance other than bottles of lukewarm water. Foreign barbarain coworker Jeff and I enjoyed it, but some of our Chinese co-workers weren't as enthusiastic.
Jennifer and another female reporter - both mothers in their 30s with sterling university and professional credentials - were "asked" to dress up in red, slit-to-the-thigh cheongsam dresses, spiked heels and yellow and gold "Shenzhen Daily" banners across their torsos to hand out roses to arriving concertgoers.
"Do newspapers in America require their female reporters to do this?" Jennifer asked a day before pulling duty as flower bimbo.
I thought of several female reporters I've known - my ex-wife and one named Mary C. in particular - and tried to imagine them doing anything other than telling their editors where to shove their roses before calling a lawyer.
"No," I replied. "It would be considered very demeaning. It's also illegal. Reporters are hired to write stories, not to dress up like Suzy Wong and hand out flowers. Did they ask you to bind your feet, too?"
Ironically, the same week as the Shenzhen Daily was firmly advancing women's rights and another newspaper, Southern Metropolis Daily in Guangzhou was raided by cops who arrested the editor and six staffers due to its aggresive SARS coverage, the SZ Daily was also hosting a group of University of Missouri journalism school profs who were here for several days to lecture on the American approach to the craft.
The group included Pulitzer prize winner Jacqui Banaszynski who gave what several other SZ Daily reporters described as a fascinating lecture on how her series on a dying AIDS patient was put together.
"Could you do that here?" I asked one.
But I already knew the answer, of course.

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