Monday, 12 May 2008

It’s happening

Things are starting to happen indeed. It’s as if the stardust started picking up, beginning Friday, 2 May. I was assigned to cover a World Vision event, and after several encounters with them, I decided to sponsor a child. TWD 700 (less than USD 30) per month to help a child get fed, educated, clothed, housed, etc, it was meaningful and yet not a financial stretch for me. World Vision will pair a child up with me. I have no idea who/where he/she is yet.

My next assignment was at Taipei City Hall, but two steps from the mayor’s office, I got a call from my assigner. I was to speed to the TVBS studios and get a statement from the incoming Premier on something he’s already commented about before. It was another one of those frustrating and demoralizing assignments, but I could only execute.

After another meaningless scrum with reporters with Mr Liu in the middle, kind of like the rugby ball, he went inside and it was over. But as I was leaving, I spotted Young Ming, the general manager of TVBS walking out of the building. I had wanted to talk to him since March to ask for career advice. I first met Mr Young two years ago when he was the bureau chief of Channel News Asia in Taiwan, when he tried to recruit me to for the Taipei correspondent position. In the end, CNA headquarters rejected me, but it got FTV’s attention. I suppose FTV then decided to give me a chance at other things, since they saw that someone else thought I had enough potential to be a correspondent. At that time, I was on the English news team, but after the recruitment attempt, the managing director of News moved me to Chinese news. I hadn’t seen Mr Young since, but I thanked him for “pointing out” that I was worth something to FTV, and kept in touch throughout. Late last year, I hit a low, and perhaps it was then that I really started to search for what I want to do next. Maybe the search was unconscious, but by March, I knew that it was time to think about something new. I thought, “I have language skills, writing skills, production skills, presenting skills, there’s got to be something else I can do with these.” However, I did not know what. I only knew that it wasn’t news. I wanted to ask Mr Young what he thought, so I emailed him, around the Presidential elections in March, but he didn’t reply, and had also changed his mobile number, so I thought I was out of touch and out of luck.

Then I saw him coming out of TVBS that day and ran over to greet him. Immediately, he pulled out a business card and wrote down his new mobile number and said “call me if you need to talk.” Wow, what a chance meeting! And how wonderful that he remembers me and is willing to talk to me!

When I got back to the office, there was already an email waiting for me, from him. “Call me if you want to talk, this is my number,” he wrote again. I called him and he was free for lunch the next day. Yay!

After my morning anchoring relay Saturday, I met Mr Young for lunch near where he lived. He told me his stories, the programs he used to make, the places he went, what he used to do, what he does now. By this time, William and Corona had already helped me formulate the idea of becoming co-host and producer of lifestyle programs, but I didn’t know anything else beyond that, including where to start or how to start. Mr Young said, “you stepped into local Taiwan media on your first step. For your second, you should step out of local Taiwan media and into international media.” Besides that piece of advice and the lunch, he gave me nothing else. But it was a far clearer direction than any other that I’ve thought or heard, and I am very, very grateful for it.

International media. Lifestyle/culture programming. Then I thought, it would be best if this programming is broadcasted both locally and internationally, because this way I would have more opportunities. In Taiwan, Discovery’s Travel and Living Channel is a good example. “Fun Taiwan,” which produced locally by a local production team, has done so well that it will also be shown region-wide. This is the type of distribution I’m looking for.

I told Mom, Dad, Mama and my “old friends” gang about this new direction, and they all thought it was a good. Corona immediately thought of a friend at CNBC in Singapore and got us connected via email right away on Sunday. I’ve sent them my CV, and noticed that someone at CNBC Singapore browsed through my blog for some 25 minutes at the least. I don’t know if anything will become of this lead, but I think it is a wonderful start.

As Corona and I had dinner at Nonzero on Sunday, Mr Chu was there and invited me to a dinner with his very interesting and “crazy,” he calls them, artist friends Monday. In addition to meeting these incredibly interesting people (among them were famous artists, a gallery director visiting from Shanghai, an architect/interior designer, an author and a ballerina), right before dinner, Sam (my chief editor at English news, but now friend and person who gets all the translation cases offered to me) called and said Fun Taiwan needs a temporary voice over and asked if I was interested. While there was no money, and Janet would redo my voice over when she returns from her promo in Singapore, I said, “yes” in a heartbeat. It was a great chance to get to know the production team and to let them know me. While it doesn’t promise any future jobs or opportunities, I thought this too was also a good start. I don’t have any intentions of competing with Janet, but I have a feeling that in addition to the Taiwanese-American/crew/martial arts/financial or medical professional-turned-hocus-pocus-media background that we share, we both are facing changes. She seems to be turning into the mainstream entertainer path, while I’m turning into the lifestyle programming host/producer path. I think the production team liked me OK, but who knows what will happen. Maybe nothing. But it’s also a start.

World Vision child sponsorship, Young Ming and direction, Corona and CNBC, Mr Chu and artists, Sam and Fun Taiwan, all these leads within just four days. Uncle Terry told me twice about learning to catch signs, and I think this may be one of those signs.

As I was sitting down to write this blog entry Friday (9 May) night at 22h30, just one week after the dust started to pick up, I received a call from my chief editor with a very distressed tone.

Chief: Michella, I need to ask a big, big favor of you. First, do you have a US visa?
Me: Sure thing. Yes, I do have a visa. What’s up?
Chief: Oh, great! When you get back, Solon and I will have to take you to a very fancy dinner.
Me: Get back? Where am I going?
Chief: I need you to fly to Los Angeles to cover the Jimmy Chin (one of two middlemen involved in USD 30 mn Taiwan-Papua New Guinea diplomatic scandal) developments.
Me: Oh wow. Sure thing.
Chief: Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the case, I’m sending Jen-shiang with you, so you just need to help him with communication (meaning translate for him) while you are there. Also, Solon promised to give you a thorough briefing tomorrow, so you don’t need to worry. We will give you all the support that you need. Thank you so much for agreeing to help. (She sounded SO strangely relieved.)
Me: Great. When do we leave?
Chief: Don’t know yet. Maybe tomorrow, maybe Sunday. I’ll call you back. I’m going to arrange tickets right now.
Me: OK. How many days will I be there for?
Chief: No idea. Anywhere from three to ten.
Me: Oh… OK!

About 11 phone calls from the chief, Solon and the news admin manager later, it was near midnight, and I was booked a flight to LAX for 11 May, Sunday. Excited, I couldn’t sleep. I finally passed out at 2h00, then woke up to two alarm clocks going off at 3h00. Time to get ready for anchoring. A dumpling breakfast first.

Oh, I was so tired. But the excitement was still running through my body, so I was alert, but spoke too fast… Between segments, I made phone calls after phone calls to arrange for a car, driver, hotel and information in regards to where Jimmy Chin’s residence is, his lawyer’s contact, etc. Getting a professional car and driver with our budget was impossible, and as the excitement wore out, stress and worry began to settle in. With a tiny budget (USD 150/day for transportation), the only way I thought was to find a college/graduate school student. None of my friends are students anymore, and my friends in LA didn’t know any students who had time on their hands either. Luckily, Huangmin got me in touch the TECRO office in LA, and his friend, the senior press attaché, said he’ll try his best to help us. A lead, but nothing solid. I kept worrying. But worrying aside, I had a crash course on the diplomatic fiasco to attend. But first, lunch. Breakfast was at 3h00, and lunch that day was at 15h00. I was tired, hungry, couldn’t think and could hardly stand.

Yiceng prepared a timeline and all the story versions that the people involved gave, and Solon explained it all to me. In addition, he came up with possible stories to do while I was in LA, waiting for something to happen. I must have been the very bottom of the barrel, because this is a politics and crime assignment, and I’m an education/arts reporter… I think they had no other choice. No wonder the chief was so relieved to hear that I had a visa and was willing to go.

After the briefing, I went to an emergency early Mother’s Day dinner with Mom, Dad and Michael at Nonzero. Originally, we were going to have lunch together on Sunday, but because of the trip, we got together Saturday night instead. I was so fatigued by this time, I could not think or talk straight, and was in terrible spirits. By that time, I still had no car, no driver, no hotel, no idea on what was going to happen once I arrived in LA. I was freaking out. Plus, Mom and Dad were nearly an entire hour late. I needed to find and book a hotel, I needed to do my laundry, I needed to pack my bags, I needed to sleep, and I still needed to anchor starting from 6h00 the next morning. A few bites, lots of encouragement and comforting words from Mom, Dad and Superman (the guy who runs Nonzero), I went home first. By the time I finished everything I could, it was midnight. Three hours later, I was up again and back at the TV station.

Anchoring was not easy this morning. I was barely functioning. My eyes were so dry I could not wear contact lenses and so practically begged the program director to let me go on wearing my least controversial pair of glasses (the red and black ones).

After the 6h00, 8h00 and then recording the China Airlines news, I quickly went home, showered, did last minute packing and headed to the airport with my cameraman.

Now I’m on China Airlines flight 006 to Los Angeles, scheduled to arrive 11 May at 13h20. Approximately six more hours until we land, when my biggest (and maybe the last) news challenge will begin. I should try to get some sleep. Six hours compared to the four added together from the past two nights sounds like such a luxury. Good night for now.


FarFromFrostburg said...

Michella, I always enjoy reading your blog, so I thought I'd comment to say so. Your honest and open writing is quite compelling. Congratulations and good luck on all of the wonderful things happening for you, and enjoy your trip!

Anticorruption said...

Michella, its interesting reading your daily chores as a reporter and that fact that you are now being sent on an assignment to LA which could have ramifications for my country, Papua New Guinea.
I await with much anticipation the article that will come out from your meetings in LA.
I can be contacted on the following address should you need info from Papua New Guinea.
Please keep in touch and continue to update your Blog.

Papua New Guinean

翁郁容 Michella Jade Weng ミシェラ・オング said...

Thank you Papua New Guinean and farfromfrostburg for commenting on and reading my blog. It's very encouraging. I'll keep posting as much as I can. :)