Friday, 21 November 2008

Matchmaking month

Tomorrow will be the third time I’ve been set up for a matchmaking dinner this month. These things usually don’t happen to me, but I guess when it rains, it pours.

The week before last, Mom tried to lure me into having dinner with “Grandpa’s young and very talented surgeon.” I didn’t know what it was all about until she kept calling and calling and calling, asking when I’m finally getting off work, when I was working overtime at the anti-Chen Yunlin riot. And just two days before that the managing director called asking if I was free that night to meet a guy looking to marry someone. Eh… But once again, I was saved by protestors. I very happily worked in a violent mess until 22h00 that night.

Well, the guy looking for a bride is back in town (he lives & works in China) and there are no demonstrations to hide behind this time. The dinner is tomorrow. Ann, stop laughing.

On the other hand, Mom’s again rubbing her hands because next Wednesday, we’re having a “family” dinner at the exclusive Wang Pin steakhouse, which you can only get reservations through employees of the conglomerate that owns the restaurant. The Chang Geng Memorial Hospitals are part of the conglomerate. Guess who’s probably coming to the dinner?

I feel like I’m living in the middle ages. They may as well bind my feet and put me in three-inch lotus shoes.

Must think of emergency exit strategy!!!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Chishang Station 池上車站 near Taitung 台東

A nice little station, famous for its lunch box. The rice in those parts is especially good - just the right firmness. You might see "池上便當" or "Chishang biandang/lunch box" stores all over Taiwan, and supposedly, this is where it all started.

Here, biandang are sold on the platform and you buy them in the 60 seconds that the train stops at the station to drop off and pick up travelers. As the train approaches, you can hear three or four small-sized, middle-aged women wearing blue vests, carrying baskets filled with about 20 hot lunch boxes each and yelling "便當!便當!" meaning "lunch boxes! lunch boxes!" They can't go into the train to make the sale, so you have to be ready and waiting for them, TWD70 in hand, at the cabin exit. If you're too slow, too bad - no hoka hoka (means "hot" in Japanese) Chishang biandang for you. You'll just have to wait until the next time you pass by this station that is in the middle of nowhere and between two other middle of nowhere places. So no QQ rice, sausage, stewed egg, cha siu pork, sauteed leafy greens, fried dumpling and other goodies until...god knows when you get the chance to come by again.

We visited the restaurant by the station that made the biandang, and the owner was really friendly. It probably helped that she recognized me from TV. Haha. I tell you, I'm more popular down south in the countryside! Despite my lousy Taiwanese, they still like me over there. She told us that selling biandang at Chishang is quite fun, and I believe her, based on the smile that everyone who works at the restaurant has on their face. They have a great culture going on there. Their work is really routine. Five minutes before trains arrive, they bring the biandang across the street to the station and start calling out "biandang biandang." The trains leave, they come back, and do it all over again at the next train. But because you only really have one minute to buy/sell these biandang, things can happen in the scurry. She said just recently someone said "I'll take all of those!" right when the train was starting to move away. There was no time to give back change or take the biandang out of the basket, so the person said "don't worry about the change," and grabbed the whole basket. They never saw the basket again. "It's still on its journey around the island," the owner said. Another time, a woman hopped off the train to buy biandang for her and her son. And since little boys just don't know what "stay here" means, he followed his mom off the train but forgot to follow her back in. So when the trains left, usually it's just the three biandang ladies left on the platform, but this time, it was three biandang ladies plus one teary-eyed little boy. They ended up putting the boy in a car and speeding off, chasing the train all the way to the next station, where the mother was waiting after being notified of where her son was, and that the biandang ladies were making a special delivery.

So much fun. Such wonderful memories. We were there last week. I had a wonderful cameraman who filmed it in HD. He taught me all kinds of things, like subject placement, camera movement techniques, including one called "dolly in, zoom out." I can edit video, I've just never shot it before. I don't know if I'll ever film video myself, but I have to at least learn. It's fun anyway.

In search of...

Perhaps it's time for a trip to the weekend flower market.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Moving on

Thank you, Everyone for your emails and comments. I’m sorry I haven’t had time to reply to each of you individually. I’ve just been so terribly worn out. (Can you believe this is only the second day I’ve had off this month?) However, I’m truly grateful to have you all to remind me that Taiwan is a wonderful place where democracy thrives, even if some of its political components are still not very mature. Also, thank you for the well wishes. My leg is much better now. The bruise is about 85% gone. I think there will be a little bit of scarring where the end of the pipe hit, but it’ll give me a chance to brag about as a battle scar! Still I hope the scar goes away.

In the past week, I made up my mind to leave FTV in May, when my anchoring contract ends. I’ve gotten to see, be in the middle of and cover events including riots, presidential campaigns, political spitting contests at the Legislature, bloody murder investigations, super typhoons, children suffering from rare and incurable diseases, a minister of education who defended his shoving of a reporter with “microphones are crawling bacteria, and that reporter’s mic was too close to my face,” fun stories, travel stories, food & drink stories, sad stories, heart-warming stories… I’ve been very lucky to experience so much in such a short period of time. And I even learned to tell these stories live, in English, Mandarin and Taiwanese, and also from inside the studio as an anchor. I also sure met a great number of interesting people, experts on various things and made some wonderful friends.

This coming January, I’ll be on my fifth year at FTV. Surprised that I lasted this long? Most people seem to be. Two of my three parents thought I’d be out of this media hoo-ha and back at an investment bank within a year. Anne Hu (the managing director of FTV News) thought I’d be gone from FTV in two. Some coworkers thought I’d only last months, and actually tried to accelerate the process… Some say that a person as foreign as me (relative to the rest of the staff) totally doesn’t fit in a TV station that produced content for an audience whose demographics are 40’s and up, living in the more rural parts of Taiwan. A lot of people thought that with a somewhat privileged American upbringing and prestigious Japanese business school education, I shouldn’t have to and wouldn’t be able to cope with all the stress and long hours of TV news in Taiwan. Heh heh. I showed them. And I had so much fun doing it. I was (and still am) super tired, but it was worth it!

When I graduated from B-school and started working at FTV, “fit” wasn’t so important. But like how my square head doesn’t feel very comfortable in my round bicycle helmet on long, bumpy rides, it’s how I’m increasingly feeling about working here. In the last four years, I’ve grown and learned so quickly and so much as a journalist. However, the growing and learning is slowing down and all the stress and long hours is starting to not feel worth it anymore. My reports are still average or just a little above average and theoretically, since I’m different in many ways from my coworkers, I should be able to produce things that are different as well, but that hasn’t been the case. I have trouble getting my assignment editors to allow me to incorporate a broader point of view, and rarely do I get to exercise my other abilities, especially my language and planning skills. With FTV’s target audience being what it is, I’m not surprised or upset for the most part. But the build-up of rust in my head is beginning to come out of my ears, and it’s getting really annoying and itchy.

These days, I’m feeling more and more like I’m not doing very much for the company and the company is not doing very much for me. They can hire any local college graduate with a smaller salary and have them what I’m doing. Maybe they’d do the job even better.

It’s time to go. However, before I take off, I plan on completing a “graduation project.” After very frankly telling Anne Hu everything, I told her that I would very, very much like to produce at least one spectacular piece of work, which can be a single story, a feature or a series, before turning in my resignation papers. Surprisingly when I went to Hu, I expected to be berated and verbally reduced to nanodust –the treatment that most people get when they tell her they’re leaving, but she actually listened to me talk for nearly half an hour straight, nodding, smiling and interrupting only once or twice. She told me to take some days off first. She says this when people want to quit, and often, after a few days off, people do bounce back, ready to continue where they left off. I explained to her that I have a ton of days stocked up, but I can’t use them, because the editors always say, “we don’t have enough people.” Part of the problem is ME, because when they call asking if I can come back to work or take fewer days off, I always say, “oooookay.” I’m a pushover. In any case, after I left Hu’s office, Solon (my assignment editor) and Jiang (the guy in charge of anchor scheduling) were called into her office. Two hours later, Solon called and said, “good news, we’re hiring one more person, you’re getting six days off right after your night shift in December and I’m giving you a break from anchoring the next two weekends so you can rest at home.” Hallelujah! Well, I had a business trip one of the weekends, but at least this weekend, I get to stay home. But I think Hu knows that I’m determined to leave, even after some rest. In spite of that, she went out of her way to make my life easier, for which I’m very grateful and rather touched. I’m lucky to have met Solon at a time like this because he went to bat for me and he can train me to be an even better reporter in the short time that I have left.

With “media producer” as my long-term goal, for my next step, I’d like to become a TV program host and co-producer. I love being on-stage just as much as being off-stage, like how I’m enjoying both anchoring and reporting right now. I’m aiming to work for a multi-national media company. No specific target firm in sight yet, but they’re starting to come into view with the help of friends. (Thank you, Friends!!) William hooked me up with a TV station in Macau in search of anchors/reporters from Taiwan, and Sting (my production company friend) immediately got on his phone with his buddy who is one of the top guys at ESPN here when I told him about my decision to leave FTV. Interesting how Solon suggested I consider ESPN (whose Asia HQ is Singapore) because I’m quite familiar with sports, compared to most people. He said that when he was reporting at the Beijing Olympics this summer, he noticed that ESPN always had to send a Chinese-speaking reporter along with their English-speaking anchor because they didn’t have anyone who was fluent in both languages AND understood sports.

Nothing definite yet in the way of opportunities or where to go, but for sure, these signs of more good things to come are quite promising. It’s a good start. Maybe I’ll even get to work outside of Taiwan part of the time, which would be great.

I’m so happy that, as Michel put it, my pipedream is now starting to become reality. Thank you so much Family and Friends for your love and support. ☺

Friday, 14 November 2008

Bruise, day 7

Ken suggested I post this to scare my lovely readers.

Very grateful it wasn't my face.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Leap of faith

I'm starting to believe that if you take that next step into the unknown believing that the ground will be there to meet your foot as it lands, it will be there indeed.


I love my job as a reporter and an anchor at FTV, but I'm ready for the next thing - either I move to international media or I do something else in media or preferably, both. In two more months, I'll have been at FTV for four years. In five more months, my anchoring contract will be up for renewal and I'll have more than 40 days of accumulated off and vacation days. I've decided to start using up those accumulated off days. Forty days over five months is eight days a month. If you add those eight days to nine weekend days per month, I'll be off more than I'm on, which of course can't be allowed. However, I've told Solon very frankly of my thoughts and he said he'll try his best to let me take as many days, but it can't be 17 a month. We'll see what happens.

"If you build it, they will come." If I take the step, the road will be there to meet me.

I feel so good.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Chen Yunlin, Day 4

This was the most violent day I’ve ever witnessed. It was more than 24 hours ago and I’m still shaken up. After Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou met with head of China’s quasi-governmental organization that deals with Taiwan Chen Yunlin at 11h00, a massive parade led into rioting and violence that didn’t end until after 1h00. More than a hundred demonstrators, police and reporters were injured.

A model-turned-reporter/anchor at ERA TV was clocked in the head by a rock and taken to hospital. The wound was on her forehead, and it took doctors eight stitches to sew it up. Her coworkers gave her a new nickname, “Harry Potter.” My coworker was violently clubbed in the nose and eye by police, who mistook him for a rioter. Ironically, earlier in the day, he was actually stopping people from losing control and beating a man already lying on the ground. When we finally got off work this morning at 3h00, the night assigner said he has a fractured nose and still can’t open his eye. Stationed with other reporters on the road divider between the police and rioters, I was hit too, by a flying metal pipe a rioter meant for the police.

My ears have stopped ringing from having to bear seven hours of air horn blasting and my body has stopped shaking from last night’s nightmare on Zhongshan North Road, and now I’m starting to feel even more disgust for politicians and the police in general.

How can these politicians lead demonstrators to face off with police, then go home without dispersing the demonstrators and then the next day, say that rioters were not supporters of their party and that the riots may have been caused by KMT gangsters? Why are they leading Taiwanese civilians to harm policemen, who are also Taiwanese as well? DPP legislator Wang Shu-hui, who said her son is a policeman and could be somewhere in the crowd that day, his safety also endangered by the demonstrators she was leading, just picked up and left after depleting the battery of three campaign trucks with her leading the crowd on, shouting through the loudspeakers in the direction of the Grand Hotel, where Chen Yunlin was staying. Her son may have been one of the riot police facing demonstrators she was leading, and obviously he’s been safe the last few days of protests and conflicts.

We have footage of a police officer from Day 2, his head smashed in, bleeding badly. He told us, “Please don’t air this. I don’t want to make my mother worried.”

Day 2, I heard DPP former Taoyuan County councilwoman Wu Baoyu at around 21h30 say to demonstrators in front of Ambassador Hotel, “Please stay here and fight for another 24 hours. But sorry, I have to go first. I have to go home now and pick up my children.”

How do these politicians sleep at night?

Even during the parade from where Ma and Chen met to the Grand Hotel, there was violence. In the car ride to our post at the bridge, we saw demonstrators shoving a camera crew with their microphone cover taken off. Our mic covers display our TV station logo, and we take those off, depending on what crowd we’d be reporting in. Obviously they were working for a pan-blue TV station, because it was a pan-green demonstration. Seeing the situation, we jumped out of the car to film it and to hopefully stop the violence. Honglin, my cameraman this week started recording as I went to the boot to get out our mic (which still had its cover on). When I went to find him, I couldn’t. Instead, I saw the reporters that were being harassed on the other side of the street with the camera pointed in the direction of where they were before. And then I realized, they were filming my cameraman, who had the most angry expression on his face. “They hit me and my camera, and now it’s dead,” he said. As soon as I ran over, FTV mic in hand, the protestors saw my mic and started apologizing, “so sorry, didn’t know you were FTV. So sorry.” Should it matter that we’re FTV or Sanli (another green-leaning TV station) or not? Protestors on Day 3 pushed and shoved the CCTV (TV station from China) anchor who had come to Taiwan to cover the Chiang-Chen Talks and harassed her so much that she had to be escorted away by the police. (That’s scary to me too people ask me quite often if I’m a CCTV anchor. I don’t know why. A lot of people also ask me if I’m part Japanese too, and I also don’t know why this is too.) She is just a reporter, not a politician. She is a person and a woman. What happened to civility? What became of the warmth and foreigner-friendliness Taiwanese people are known for?

Last night, before the riots began, demonstrators threw water bottles and used up air horn cans over the barbed barricades at the police. Where we were posted, we were dodging those things all night. Some experienced print cameramen came prepared with motorcycle helmets, bicycle helmets or hard hats (that was Wally). As the night grew older, protestors started leaving. But there were still a few hundred left before the riots began. At that time I saw mostly people that looked like gang members and people that looked mentally disturbed. Then in addition to shouting obscenities, blasting air horn and flashing middle fingers, they started throwing more than just water bottles and spent air horn gas cans. They started tossing eggs, bottles of water, bottles of tea, dinner boxes still filled with food, decomposed kitchen waste, animal excrement on a skewer, stones, sticks, pipes, paint and even Molotov cocktails. My cameraman was hit by a can of paint, which splashed onto my face, jeans and jacket too. Then later, I was hit a metal pipe they hurled over from somewhere.

After the police decided to disband the rioters by force, they started clubbing anyone who would not leave. When they started clubbing, the rest of the police unit behind them would start cheering. I was shocked to see it. They’re cheering on their colleagues to beat harder? Give the bastard what he deserved? What? If this type of barbaric behavior is what runs through the police, I understand why my coworker was beaten so brutally – he didn’t care who he was beating, as long as he was beating. After two or three blows, he finally heard everyone screaming, “He’s a reporter! He’s a reporter!” he stopped and moved on to beat the person that was next closest.

Dancing around the sensitive issue of country of province, Taiwan and China are finally starting to talk, and during this round of the Chiang-Chen Talks, agreements on direct shipping, aviation, postal services and food safety were made. These agreements can only make the Taiwan economy stronger and food from China safer. Only, some people fear that any talking with China will end up with Taiwan getting absorbed by China. Egged on by politicians, people deathly fearing the loss of a hard-fought democracy lost all sensibility. No one in Taiwan wants to lose democratic freedom, including the KMT. No one wants Taiwan to become a part of China and to go under Communist rule. Well, there may not be a Taiwan anymore if the Taiwanese keep hating and fighting each other.

How embarrassing it is to be a Taiwanese right now. Sigh.

Well, in addition to an awesome and rare experience in riot reporting, I think I also got a lot more insight on politicians and police in Taiwan.

I’m so glad that this is finally over, that I’m not (too) hurt and that I can now go back to reporting on health and medicine.

Thanks Mom and Dad for the flowers, and Michael and Daniel for asking if I’m OK. :)

Bruise caused by flying pipe, day 1:

Bruise, day 2:

(pictures via Apple Daily, Apple Daily, UDN, UDN, ChinaTimes)

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Need a break

I'm tired. Need some down time and some Me time. I have no idea how many more days I have to keep going. That's scary. Well, it could be another six or another 12. I've been on for seven already. :(

Chen Yunlin, day three

Didn’t have to participate in the circus today. Thank goodness. As a reward for working so hard the past couple of days, we were sent on two entertainment assignments, both on different variety programs on FTV. We were gone for eight hours, moving about non-stop. It was nothing like reporting on protests, but program promotion stories always entails a ton of waiting because there are just delays after delays. We were delayed 45 minutes at the first place and two hours at the second. It’s easier when you are certain that things will be ready in two hours, because you can just take a break and come back, but when you’re standing by the whole time, its frays the nerves and takes a toll on the body too.

Honglin, my cameraman this week, would still not stop complaining about how hard he was getting worked. He was at wit’s end, and driving me to that point too. Last night at the riots in front of Ambassador Hotel, he said to call for replacement or backup because after four hours of nonstop running, clashing and filming, he was really tired. Everyone was tired. So another reporter and I called both called our assigners and told them of the situation. The chief editor then went to talk to the head of photog, who then called the cameramen in the field and asked them what’s going on. Fearing the guy that’s been with FTV since its founding and his reputation of giving you hell if you don’t agree with him, the cameramen said, “nothing, we’re OK.” So no replacements were sent, only backup because the riot was indeed getting out of hand, and the cameramen just kept complaining. But Honglin, knowing he was in trouble for asking for the impossible and angry for how unfair life is, was in a bad mood, which carried over from yesterday to today. I’m glad he’s working really hard at his Buddhism studies, because he really needs something to help control his emotions.

Most cameramen at news stations here have a bad temper and are infamous for complaining and picking on new cameramen and reporters. I’ve been through the so-called “initiation,” which included being ridiculed in very public settings and being refused requests for certain shots and cuts. So many of them are like that. I’m glad I’m finally somewhere in the organization where I don’t have to take it all the time now. I don’t pick on new people, but at least they won’t pick on me.

Forkers veggie burger

I had a veggie mushroom & cheese burger at Forkers today.

It was the second chance I gave their veggie burger there, and don’t think I’d like to try a third. The bun is good, the toppings are great, but the veggie patty really is not the kind I like. When I picked up the burger, the patty fell apart where it stuck out of the buns. It’s fried, so it’s very greasy and hard on the outside, but on the inside, it’s soft, gooey and not very flavorful. On top of that, they left the onion in the burger despite my request to not add it (my stomach doesn’t do well with raw onions, especially). It was just one ring, so I thought I’d give it a try. But I think maybe the onion, greasy patty and fries really did my stomach in this afternoon and evening. Ughh…not feeling too great right now. I think I’m better suited for lighter, healthier food.


Take a nap, it's good for you! Read this article, it's a good one.

Unfortunately, the only time we get to nap is in between the office and reporting locations, and they're usually interrupted by telephone calls every three minutes. But I'll take what I can get. :)


Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Chen Yunlin, day two

Too naïve to think that I could get off work on time tonight. Even more naïve to think that I could come in later tomorrow morning. From 14h00 to 21h30, we were at Ambassador Hotel today, covering protests after protests. Some silly, some loud, some scary, some dangerous. I almost learned the hard way that you really have to stay away from the police and their shields when they are pushing in. That was really, really scary.

No dinner again. Just energy bars, vitamin gels and water from 7-11. So glad there was a convenience store nearby.

But despite working late, having to go in early tomorrow, getting stomped on and starved, I’m still happy, especially because I had an excuse to get out of an omiai (matchmaking) dinner that was later changed to tea and then cancelled because I was still outside reporting. Ha! I have no idea who the guy is, but someone asked the MD of News to make the introduction. Whoever that she’s doing this favor for is probably not just anybody, I’m guessing. I’m not so interested in bourgeoisies, for many of them that I’ve met are so disconnected with the world and have experienced so very little of real life, including having to fight for themselves and knowing what it is to be independent and successful on their own. What kind of guy do I like? Let’s save this talk for another day. ;)

Looking good

My coworker Itseng and I looking rather awake and decent, compared to our colleagues from other stations, while waiting for Chen Yunlin to come out from his dinner.

Chen Yunlin comes to Taiwan

China’s #1 official to Taiwan, Chen Yunlin, came to Taiwan for the first time in history, to hold talks with Taiwan’s #1 official to China, Chiang Ping-kun. Needless to say, it was an extremely busy day. I went to work at 8h00 this morning and just got home. It is midnight. I’m glad I had a decent breakfast before going into FTV, because I could only survive on energy bars and protein shakes all day. Oh, I’m tired!

This morning, our assignment was to cover pro-independence protestors, who were practically everywhere. Different organizations, some led by political parties, some led by city councilmen and some self-started, staged protests all over the city. There were banners, ribbons, balloons, flash mobs, props, skits, sit-ins – you name it, they had/did it… One organization even offered a USD300 reward if someone hit Chen Yunlin with an egg. I didn’t see any egg-washing, but there were quite a few scuffles with the 10 thousand strong police force mobilized for Chen’s visit.

In addition to independence activists, there were other parties popping up with their own protests as well – people yelling “Free Tibet,” people shouting “stop the oppression of Falun Gong,” exercising the freedom of speech that they don’t have in China.

Although I personally believe dialogue between Taiwan and China is good and necessary, many people do not. They are deathly afraid of losing their hard-fought democracy. People were saying things like, “Get out of here, you Communists. You’re not welcome here,” or “You want to talk? Get those missiles that you’ve got pointed at Taiwan out of there first.” There is a deep hatred for China among some people here, and it’s only Taipei. If Chen Yunlin went to southern Taiwan, I’m not sure even 20 thousand police and military units can stop him from being mobbed and skinned alive.

It’s only the first day of Chen’s trip, and I’m already half dead. I’ve had to delegate away my two travel features for this week. But it feels great to be recording history and seeing things first hand. And to make things better, my regular cameraman’s on holiday, so I’m working with someone else. What a perfect situation. AND, I made a new friend today. While waiting for Chen Yunlin come out from having dinner with Taiwanese government officials and business leaders, I struck up a conversation with a Japanese newspaper cameraman. He’s the Hong Kong bureau chief of Asahi Shimbun, and he’s here to help cover Chen’s visit. We chatted for at least half an hour, and I think he’s a genuine person with a warm heart. Maybe we’ll have dinner sometime. I hope there’s time.

Meanwhile, I need to get my health back. I’ve been having too much stomach acid and feeling nauseous a lot, and my immune system must be down, because both of my ear pierces are inflamed. Aigh.

Tired, a little sick, but happy and excited.