Thursday, August 17, 2006

After 10 years it appears JonBenet Ramsey's slayer has been arrested in Thailand. The news has been breaking since this morning and our paper has no space for it - though I'd happily scrap a 30-some centimeter screed I'd been toiling reluctantly on concerning Hong Kong Gurkhas complaining about their problems with their former employer, the British government - in favor of a good juicy JonBenet write-up.
"I know it was enormous in the United States," one page editor told me. "A media frenzy, right? We hardly were aware of it here."
I'm heavily biased, of course. I lived in Boulder at the time, wrote a few pieces about it for MSNBC and other media and was as convinced as most that the late mother, Patsy, was the killer. It consumed the town and ruined some careers, including some investigators and at least one young reporter at the Boulder paper. It also brought the loonballs out - the secretary of my lawyer once unwisely showed me a five page scenario she'd written theorizing that her employer had done it. She was serious, and seriously unemployed shortly thereafter.
My then-wife and I also had some sick fun with it, running a weekly JonBenet trivia column on an AOL community website as part of our Boulder coverage and driving out of town visitors to the death house to pose for photos.
Now it appears that an American teacher and apparent pedophile who'd hoped to lose himself (and, I imagine, like Gary Glitter in Vietnam and Cambodia, indulge in his sickness) in Asia has been run to ground.
Thank gawd it's over. But it's not, of course. The JonBenet media machine, long dormant, is being dusted off and polished, choking and sputtering a little, yes, but it's going to be roaring full-on soon as John Karr is flown to Boulder and tried.
And, honestly, I wish I were part of it again, if only for a little while.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Everyday People
Throughout my life and partly due to the nature of journalism, I've seemingly been a magnet for nutzoids and the downtrodden, as well as downtrodden nutzoids, and this week has been no exception.

Where to start? Maybe with the phone calls from readers who see my byline and say "Justin Mitchell ... Hmm... If I rearrange the letters it spells: Justice Nth Mill or Lunchtimes Jilt or Lichen Jilt Smut. I'll call him for Justice, Lunch or to see if he can help me Jilt that Smutty Lichen who has been making my life unbearable."

No. 1 was a Filipina named Wilma who called to say that her diplomat fiance has been beating her and forging diplomatic relations with women other than her. I asked her if she'd filed a police report and if she needed a phone number of a shelter for battered Filipinas and Indonesians. No, she hadn't. She wanted me to write a story. No, wait. She didn't want a story. She just wanted to talk. Her ex-husband, a former editor at The Other English Language Paper, had advised her not to go to the press. On the other hand...So it went. I adopted my best crisis counselor voice but lost heart after she told me she still "loved" her assailant and hoped they would reconcile.

No. 2 was an email from a Texan in Guangzhou. She's a teacher at an international school who says her "human rights have been violated" becauase she wasn't paid her holiday wages for the summer of 2005. She has contacted her senator, as well as the State Department, the US counsulate about this outrage and now she was hoping that I would expose it. I begged off politely but she's persistent. The last e-mail I received suggests a covert lunch in Hong Kong with the promise that she has "shocking" details of corruption and scandal at the school. She can't tell me more via e-mail, however, because a "mysterious virus" that she believes was "injected" into her hard drive by "persons unknown" is forwarding all her e-mails to "covert agents who wish to destroy her."

Then there's the New Zealand guy who has been sending me fragmentary e-mails from Yangshuo that read in part: "we have had other spiritual action to remove the demons from the hotel."

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Living dangerously with dwarfs, Angela Lansbury, Lin Piao and Zhou En Lai
There are moments more and more when I wonder what and why the hell I'm still here, but it took a small gathering tonight in a Shenzhen nightclub, restaurant and bar area to keep me hanging on. The occasion was a gathering of Brit and New Zealand business types as well as Chinese Christians and a couple of covert missionaries - a mostly mixed batch - and I was there to try to make more contacts regarding a never-ending story I'm attempting to research on underground Chinese Christians
In the course of it, I wound up meeting two people of minor note, an older British woman who resembled Angela Lansbury and who has been in China, Hong Kong and Macau since the early '70s. She said she was originally attached covertly to the British secret service in the 70s in Beijing as a "business secretary" (kind of a Miss Moneypenny on steroids) who offhandedly added that as part of her duties she'd met the compiler of The Little Red Book and China's first prime minister, Zhou Enlai at an official reception in 1973.
"He was a lovely man," she said. "Very gracious."
The gathering also included a photographer connected with the Christians, a Chinese hunchback dwarf who looked and sounded alarmingly like Linda Hunt's role as a male photog dwarf in a 1982 Mel Gibson movie in which a pre-antiSemite/delusionary Christ figure Gibson played a foreign correspondent in SE Asia, The Year of Living Dangerously. If you never saw it, it's worth a rental. Gibson was good and Hunt won an Oscar.
Anyway, the Linda Hunt hunchback photogdwarf and I were talking with the Angela Moneypenny woman and she mentioned Zhou En Lai again. (Is there a Dylan song in this?... "The motorcycle black madonna, two-wheeled gypsy queen and her silver-studded phantom cause the gray flannel dwarf to scream....")
So the photogdwarf upped the Chinese revolutionary name dropping ante by telling us that as a child he had lived downstairs in a government complex from former Chinese defense minister and one-time Mao heir apparent, Lin Biao. The photogdwarf's dad had been a Chicom revolutionary on the Long March with Lin, Mao and Zhou and later was an sort of aid de camp for Lin. He added that his father also paid the price when he was imprisoned and tortured after Lin's plane was shot down over Mongolia in 1971 on Mao's orders as Lin, supposedly fed-up with the Cultural Revolution and who failed in a conspiracy kill his boss, was fleeing to the Soviet Union.
I asked him what his most lasting childhood memory of living downstairs from Lin Biao was and he replied: "He had a Russian phonograph and he would play western recordings very loudly late at night. It was hard to sleep but we did not complain because he was my father's friend and boss."
What kind of songs, I asked, hoping he'd say something like The Beatles or Elvis, maybe Dylan. He couldn't describe them well, but I got the vague impression they were a mix of European and Russian classical and '30s pop.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Dear Abby
Funny how one's past can come back to haunt or, just maybe, help you. When I applied for my gig at The Standard a little more than two years ago - back when real journalists were in charge for the most part - I was a bit apprehensive about some spotty points in my work history.
The most worrying one besides the two or three year gap that listed employment such as "Sanitary Maintainence Consultant, Greyhound-Trailways Transportation Depot, Hygene, Colorado," "Psychotropic Researcher," and "Assistant Adjunct Instructor, Special Needs" was the 18 month gig I'd done at Weekly World News in various roles, including a stint as rabid right wing columnist Ed Anger, and two as lonely hearts gals Serena Sabak ("The World's Sexiest Psychic Advisor") and Dotti Primrose who was sort of a cross between Ann Coulter and, if anyone still remembers her, shrill advice shrew Dr Laura, except imagine them sucking up a heady combo of paint thinner and meth before spewing opinions and advice.
I asked the pal (also named Mitchel, except corrupted as a first name and with one L) who'd tipped me to the would-be employer at The Standard what to do about the Weekly World News blemish. Suffice to say that the WWN is one step above pornography and about 119 flights below the likes of the Washington Post or even the (Indianapolis) Naptown Argus in the world of US journalism.
"Tell him the truth. He'll find out anyway," was Mitchel-with-one-L's sensible reply.
"Yes, I confess. I was Ed Anger at the Weekly World News, " I stuttered at the job interview. "Actually, the third one. And I was also Dotti Primrose and Serena Sabak. All three at the same time. My shrink loved the whole tri-personality thing. But I don't know how many Dottis and Sabrinas preceeded me."
Turned out (sort of like my shrink except this time I got paid for talking about it) my new boss loved the concept and my first assignment was to write about working at the WWN.
Fast forward two years. He and and another sympatico editor were unceremoniously canned by a bilge sucking hydrocephalic weasel who, after shatting in the nest he'd nervously created and setting it on fire, then minced to The Other English Language Paper in Hong Kong, his tongue and palms rigidly extended for more HK$ and power.
I hate that when it happens.
So both guys have found some connections, some investors and started a new online publication called Asia Sentinel. It's still a bit of a work in progress and some of the old Standard and other venerable Asia English-language pubs loyalists are contributing to it, though it ain't a full-time gig for most of us yet. The goal is roughly an Asian Slate.
My first formal assignment, though, was to revive the advice and column gig a la Ed, Dotti, Serena and here's a sample. As I write this the column isn't up and running yet, pending approval, etc., though there's other better, headier material there now if you're into most things Asian.
Dear Average Advice Guy,
My love interest is working in the Middle East for an oil company. He also has a French girlfriend. As I am in Australia, she is closer geographically than me and I know it will be more convenient for him to take some of his time off with her rather than me. How do I lure him away from her?
Geographically Challenged In Oz

Dear Geographically Challenged,
You're also obviously mentally challenged. You're obsessed with an itinerant oil worker who is himself besotted with a French tart? How sad. How very sad. I can't think of a more pathetic situation that spells d.e.a.d e.n.d r.e.l.a.t.i.o.n.s.h.i.p.
Still, you have hopes "luring" him away? Since he's partial to Eurotrash the solution is simple: stop bathing and shaving your legs and underarms.
You see, after a hot, sweaty day under the punishing Arabian sky wrestling with a greasy slurry and light crude coated 36-inch rotary Tricone bit, there's nothing a roughneck likes better than than some off-duty horizontal exploratory drilling with a gal as hairy and foul smelling as himself and, unless you're Greek or a Yetti, it's hard to beat the French in that department.

Dear Average Advice Guy,
I'm an American expat concerned about my 15-year-old daughter. Despite strict precautions and many warnings, she's been sneaking out at night, roaming Hong Kong's notorious Wan chai district and coming home incoherent and reeking of Madame Pearl cough syrup, cigarettes, beer and something called a "Tequila rock and roll." That's bad enough, but two nights ago her mother and I found passed out in the bathroom with a fresh tattoo on her thigh of a unicorn and a dolphin leaping over what appears to be either a skull or Hong Kong neo-facist Regina Yip. Short of sending her back to the United States to a reform school, is there anything we can do?
Worried Father

Dear Worried,
She is obviously a very, very naughty girl and needs firmer discipline that you are willing or able to apply. As it happens, I run a private academy in Hong Kong that specializes in discipling young, wayward females such as her. Write to me again with your contact information and I will make the necessary arrangements. The substance abuse and tattoo are obvious pleas for help and correction, but until she learns who her master is and the guidance that a proper spanking to her young rosy posterior can provide she will continue to misbehave.
By the way, a "tequila rock and roll" costs HK$140 at the Wanchai bar that specializes in them. But the girl who orders them is supposed to receive a HK$80 commission so she appears to be earning some money on her own. A bit of good news, albeit negated by the fact that she failed to tell you. And that is naughty. Very naughty.

Dear Average Advice Guy,
I am being pursued by a Japanese millionaire nearly 20 years my senior. He's generous and kind but he doesn't attract me sexually. I have told him this but I can see he's living in hope of getting my pants off. What's a girl to do?
Bewildered, Not Bedazzled

Dear BNB,
This is a problem? Lebannon is in flames, a million or so fly-blown human skeletons are starving in Darfur, hundreds of thousands are still homeless following earthquakes in Pakistan and Indonesia -- not to mention many December 26, 2004 tsunami victims all over the Asian ring of fire and water; hundreds of innocents are being slaughtered in the Philippines by government shadow troops, the Taliban running is amok again in Afghanistan, my fourth ex-wife is demanding more child support for a kid who isn't mine and you're worried about doing the horizontal mambo with a dottering generous millionaire?
You obviously need more help than even I can provide.

Plea for help
And if anyone out there feels in need of Asia-centric advice (or even advice in general) drop a line through the comments here or at average underscore guy26 at yahoo dot com and I'll do my best, or what mostly passes for it these days.

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