Friday, April 21, 2006

One Reporter's Opinion
Occasionally I have to cover a press conference here, a task I dread due to several prevailing conditions.
1. The press release exhorting the event often does not contain adequate information, such as a recent one which said it would be held at 4 Harbour Road, Room 307, 3/F. Note that a specific building is not specified. Harbour Road is a very busy, main thoroughfare and it's not uncommon for multiple businesses and organizations to contain the same address. Nor was there a phone number/name for contact information in case one wanted to call and ask what building at 4 Harbour Road contains Room 307 on the third floor.
2. The press conferences are overwhelmingly conducted in Cantonese. An English speaker of uncertain ability is usually available for niggling details like: A. What did he/she/they say? {"They say everything is fine/not sure. Maybe good, maybe not so good.") and B. Who are they? But elemental Journalism 101 followup questions and details like "Her name is 'Miss Hui?' Okay, so, what's her first name? And what's her title?" are often met with blank stares.
3. I get lost easily and possess the map reading skills of a tape worm.
Giving myself at least an extra 45 minutes to get lost and reoriented, I arrived at 4 Harbour Road about 5 minutes before the hype was scheduled to begin. The location appeared to be a hotel. But there was no room 307. Indeed there was no third floor - though there were second and fifth floors. A desk clerk studied my inadequate press release and figured out that Room 307, 3/F was probably in the YMCA job training center next to the hotel.
Indeed it was, though the press conference had nothing to do with the YMCA or job training.
Here are some verbatim notes: "Four speakers, left to right: 1. "Mr Lai, no tie, dark hair, (need first name, affliation/group) 2.Mr Mak, gray hair, dark tie (see need info Mr Lai) 3. chairperson of HKJA Cheung Ping-ling 4. Mr Hui (striped tie, see Nos. 1 & 2 info needed).
"Miss Cheung speaks first in Cantonese. Mr Lai speaks second in length, great length. Mr Mak speaks third in Cantonese and at length. Miss Cheung again - reads Cantonese press release, mercifully short. Mr Hui again...Cantonese, not suprisingly mondo length - 6-minutes and counting....Miss Cheung asks for questions in Cantonese..."
They also took them in limited English, but I could tell from their longer, more excited sounding Cantonese responses and the back and forth, give and take with the Chinese reporters that the Standard's readers -- all four of them -- probably weren't getting the good stuff.
Suffice to say I managed to rely on the sympathy of friends and eke out a meager account, largely thanks to two former Chinese Standard colleagues who had jumped ship for Chinese language news organizations but who took pity on me and gifted me with me names, titles and pithy quotes like "We don't know. We do not have the data." I filled in the rest courtesy of an AP report by another former coworker who filed before I was able to find my way back to the office and write the first two paragraphs.

I couldn't really understand what you're trying to say...could you translate it into Cantonese?

Man, all I can say is some days I'm glad I'm not you, buddy.

Next beer's on me.
Is this the International Crib Notes Society? What a me feeling apologetic for not being able to direct my employees (here in Los Angeles) because I don't speak their language(SouthCentralAmexerican) well enough...
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