Thursday, 23 August 2007

Looking forward to September

Both mind and body are tired and weak. Mostly, I think it’s because of this seven day long night shift and ever increasingly busy schedule.

The night shift takes away energy because I’m basically jet-lagged for the first 4 days. And because I’m working at night, I don’t have any time to myself to spend with family and friends, the lack of socializing drains my happiness tank. Now my mind is about to explode because of everything that didn’t come out.

This month has been particularly busy and stressful. The first week, I had just returned from Daniel’s wedding in California. Although it was a very happy occasion, we were busy from morning until night, every single day. The day after I got back to Taipei, I was back at work. That weekend was the second wedding reception. During the week, I was shuttling between Danshui and Taipei, partly in order to spend more time with Daniel and Quyen, and partly because the water where I live in Taipei was supposed to be stopped for maintenance work. During week two, I worked six days and spent most of the seventh day with parents and rowdy family friends. Also during week two, my boss made me the scapegoat twice for her own mistakes, causing me to be very angry, and psycho fan sent a gift and too many strange text messages, causing me to be very scared. Week three, I worked four days, had lunch with Dad on the fifth then started on my seven day night shift.

My first day on the night shift, the anchor team leader, Jianguo, asked me to come in to anchor in the morning before my night shift started because he was short-staffed. But when I went in for make-up, I saw that the roster for the day had been completely changed, and I wasn’t on it. The change in roster didn’t bother me, but being first asked to come in to help with anchoring in the morning before going on a 12-hour night shift and then canceling me without telling me made me very, very, very upset. Apparently, Jianguo forgot to notify me of the change, and he apologized. I got over it.

Night one of the seven night shift was when typhoon Sepat was at its worst. I was assigned to report live from Central Weather Bureau, so I went in and had make-up and hair done around 18h00. By 20h20, I was at CWB and a nervous wreck because I’ve never done live typhoon reports from the CWB. At 21h30, I was to go live, and I was 80% ready, as ready as I’ll ever be. Then came the sound test, which the sub control at the TV station links to us via microwave (usually satellite, but we have a microwave transmitter at the CWB) and test my sound volume and video feed. We were 60 seconds away from going live, and the sound test failed. They couldn’t hear me. “Great!” I thought. All that fuss for almost nothing. What I gained out of it was rehearsal experience on CWB typhoon reporting. That was it for the 21h00 segment, and since there is no news at 22h00 on Saturdays and the 23h00 news producer didn’t need me, we packed up and headed back to the station to write and produce the story. When the 23h00 producer saw me, he said “you’re working on that complete story for me, right?” I said “yes,” and he said, “great, thanks.” My cameraman and I worked at breakneck speed to get the story out, and producer ended up not using it. “Great,” I thought, “whatever, at least now I have time for dinner.” It was 23h15 and I was beyond starving. After an energy bar, I fell asleep in my chair until it was time to go home.

Night two went a little better. Aside from being woken up at 9h00 by psycho viewer’s phone call and request to have dinner together, it was alright. In the evening, we went to film our night market feature. It was wet and muggy after the typhoon and running around a night market with filming equipment, interviewing people and filming was quite tiring. At least it was a peaceful night.

Night three, the nightmare began. First, a careless co-worker forgot that I was on the night shift and called at 9h30 to ask me for a colleague’s phone number. I gave it to her and then couldn’t go back to sleep. Then the China Airlines fire in Naha happened and we worked non-stop all night. Later in the evening, when nearly all the other stations were going live from Naha, we still only had video taken earlier during the day from NHK. Nearly all the stations sent a team there, including us, but why weren’t we live? After the night assigner, Jessica, got a phone call from the MD of the news department screaming on the other end, I learned why. Jessica told me that when the MD personally assigned the team to go to Naha and made no mention of ordering satellite transmission, no one dared to ask why or to suggest it. She said the last time a similarly large event happened overseas and someone suggested satellite, the MD rejected, and since the MD was the one who assigned the Naha team and made no mention of it, no one else was about to try again to later have their suggestion rejected. I’ve heard similar stories before. That’s none of my business, but in any case, I tried to piece together whatever I could with new NHK footage and soundbites. There was no Japanese writer on staff that evening, so I had the chance to put my Japanese skills to use. That was the night that I updated two stories a billion times to have it only aired once, or none at all. Then the complete package from our reporter in Naha finally came in via Internet transfer at 01h30, about five hours behind other stations. Roy and I had to stay until 02h00 until all the loose ends were tied up. The only thing I had to eat that night was, again, an energy bar.

Night four, the China Airlines crisis continued. In the afternoon, five hours of my time was wasted at the Ministry of Education. They suggested that they would set up an exclusive interview with the minister for me to explain the latest misinterpretation the media had of what he said on Saturday. It fell through and I headed back to the station at 19h30. In the evening, I continued with the relevant China Airlines reports, the dumb thing being that we were still using NHK footage from their news program from the previous night. Twenty-four hours later, one would think that we would have produced more footage, rather than recycled more of other people’s footage. I kept updating the story, adding new soundbites as they came in hours behind other stations once again. Then the crew from the ill-fated flight returned to Taiwan. A press conference was held at Taoyuan International Airport, and everyone went live. Everyone except for us, once again. I had no idea why, and neither did the MD. So here came another call from the MD, screaming once again. This time, she said she’s writing everyone who’s responsible up. By this time, Jessica was pulling her hair out, and after phone calls to the reporter and SNG team at the airport, we had our answer, and everyone who was threatened to be written up was nearly rabid and foaming at the mouth. The press conference was held in a room where SNG cables could not reach. In this case, one would use a microwave transmitter attached to the camera to send the video feed to the SNG van and the SNG van would relay it back to the station, and this is what everyone except for us did. The problem was, we don’t own any microwave transmitters. Why don’t we own any? Because last October, management didn’t approve the budget to buy them. If this is accurate, I understand why they are upset. If the reporters, assigners and producers are really punished for this, I think there will be a revolt. None of this was really any of my business, and I merely offered an ear for people to vent, but there was so much negative energy and static at the station that night that I felt lightning was about to happen within the building. And later in that night, I found out that my Taiwanese co-anchor for the coming Saturday bailed on me. His reason was that he didn’t want to be anchoring at 07h00 after getting off at 01h00. I can’t imagine that anyone would, but I’m in the same position as he and I didn’t say a word. I had hoped that he would tough it through with me, but I was disappointed. Now I know better what kind of person he is, professionally and personally. But on top of all that, now I have to figure out how the hell I’m going to pull off anchoring an hour of Taiwanese by myself. Oh my goodness. Then after I get through the Taiwanese, I’ll be on the path to a crash landing all the way until I finish at 15h00.

Night five was tonight, and it felt like night 50. Just when one plane crisis seemed to calm down, another one seemed to begin. At around 21h45, Jessica came running asking me to keep an eye on NHK because TVBS (our greatest local competitor) was reporting on a China Airlines flight bound for Nagoya taking a forced landing at Osaka instead because of fuel shortage. Their information was based on an Asahi news report. Again, no Japanese writer was on staff and I was asked to figure out what happened. After scrambling for information and a telephone interview with the China Airlines spokesman, it turned out that it was a false alarm. What happened was that a previous flight that was landing at Nagoya flew right through a formation of sea gulls that were flying over the runway, causing instant death to about 100 of the birds. In order to clean up the carcasses, the runway had to be closed for 30 minutes, and thus the China Airlines flight and other flights were forced to temporarily land elsewhere in the meantime. The information was only available on Asahi’s website, and for the second time this week, my education in Japan came to the rescue. Before the plane incident, I was writing my night market feature on 南機場, meaning “Southern Airport,” incidentally. Coincidence? Perhaps. Heaven’s will? Maybe. Interesting occurrence nonetheless. The same night, the director of our international desk came to me and asked what I’m doing the following three Sundays. He wanted me to sub for the Japanese writer who’s on maternity break. It feels great to feel needed, but I’m going to die, because I already work more than six days a week. On top of reporting Monday through Friday, I have to anchor this Saturday and both next Saturday and Sunday. He’s not sure what he wants to do yet, and I hope he finds another solution.

To think, I have to host brunch for Dad Friday, then work 12 hours, sleep 2 hours and work another 12 hours and then have dinner with Mom, Dad and Michael three hours later. Maybe instead of sleeping, I should go to the hospital and get an IV drip put in or something. I think I better stop thinking.

What do you do when you’re already really tired and you know that you will be even more tired? Perhaps sleep, eat and exercise properly. I’ll try that.

August has been hell. I hope it ends soon. Once things slow down a little in September, I’m going to start thinking about my health. I don't need cancer just yet.

I think I can sleep better now that these things are off my chest. Good night.

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