Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Stormy Weather
As the cliche goes in the barbarian world, "everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it." As foreign barbarian coworker Jeff and I have often complained among ourselves, here no one here even seems to talk about it and forget about even reporting about the weather unless it's drastic and you have permission from authorities. And even then the info is lacking.
To boil it down, I 've long since learned that small talk in China doesn't include subjects like "hot enough for you?" or "how was your weekend?"
Attempts at these seemingly harmless queries and subtle varitions of such have mostly met with blank stares and abrupt changes of subject equivalent to being on a crowded elevator with a coworker in Denver on a workday morning and loudly musing: "Wasn't the weather a little snowy/rainy/hot/humid this weekend/yesterday when the Broncos/Rockies/Avalanche lost/won while you had sex with mentally challenged lab rats/your grandmother/the mayor?"
The SZ Daily and the Hong Kong TV stations I follow approach weather reports very lightly. For instance, unlike their western TV counterparts, which boast the virtues of Doppler XXVII+3Z and have no problem breaking into the latest Queer Eye for the Straight Guy segment with news of hail stones the size of snot in Hygiene, Colorado, weather reports here are always at the end of the news cast and mostly summed up with the word, "fine."
"How was the weather today, Amy?" one of the coanchors chirps 30 seconds before the newscasts ends.
Amy Ng, on the blue screen, drops down like a disembodied head into the studio.
"It was fine! (Meanwhile it's spitting acid rain). I'll give you details in a moment!"
Details, following a public service ad reminding viewers to use clean chopsticks and to wash their hands before and after eating, include the high and low temps that day and then the announcement: "Here's Freddy!"
Freddy is a caucasion cartoon figure whose animation skills make the likes of Johnny Quest or Steamboat Willie look like a Matrix extra. He walks like a stroke victim until a cloud or sunshine appear. Then he lurches to a halt and exclaims: "OOOHHH!" if it's sunshine or "Uhhh" if it's a cloud. Occasionally, if the weather is extra nice, a flower lurchingly rises and blooms in front of him and then he gets really excited but we don't get to see if he pollinates it or not.
But I was really excited on Tuesday night when SZ experienced a rare, heavy thunder and hail storm and we ran a two paragraph story and a front page picture of a couple under an umbrella warding off the wet.
The story lacked some details, like how much rain and what the size of the hailstones were; details I was used to knowing back home, and determined as I was to try to push western news standards as far as I could , I kept asking.
"Was the hail the size of golf balls?" I asked. "Or small appliances? Or spring plums?"
"Why? I don't know," the reporter replied.
I knew from experience that no reporter likes doing weather stories, but I kept pushing.
"The size of shrimp or pork dumplings? Our readers would want to know!"
"No. They were not dumplings. It was hail. They are gone. I don't know."
OK. On to the picture.
It was a good shot. An attractive man and woman huddled under a wind and rain blown umbrella in the midst of the storm. The caption before the description read: "Rain hits city." Accurate, but a little blah, I thought, so inspired by old Dylan I changed it to "Shelter from the storm."
Big mistake.
"Why did you change it?" asked the page editor. " 'Rain hits city' is correct. They are not seeking shelter. The dictionary says shelter is a structure. An umbrella is not a structure. And why 'Shelter from the storm' instead of 'Shelter from storm'? We have to save space. You and Jeff always say that."
"It's more poetic," I replied. "Rhythmic. Poetic sounding. Harmonious. It's also the title of a popular Western song."
"I don't know that song."
"Our Western readers will." I paused for a moment and recalled many years ago when a then-coworker and still-pal at the Rocky Mountain News had suddenly pulled a compelling argument out of his white ass for the calcified, whiter, troglodyte News management to make the case that Marvin Gaye's death deserved front page mention because "Marvin Gaye was the black John Lennon."
"It's like referring to something like The East is Red is in China. But we can't say the 'East is Wet'. That would be disrespectful, right? But this is OK for our target readers. It's familiar and respectful, I promise." Then I fibbed bigtime. "Every foreigner knows this song and will relate to it."
That did it. Probably one of my proudest professional moments here. Thank you, Bob - and Rob.

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