Why do reporters go international?
Reasons include wanderlust, money, excitement, and a desire to be unknown in a new city ergo wear pyjamas to the supermarket without fear of ridicule. There are others but they are the main ones, in no particular order (OBVIOUSLY THE PYJAMAS IN THE SUPERMARKET ONE IS FIRST. Polka dots in aisle 4!). Above all, though, international work is an adventure. It is a study in contrasts.
You win some…
..you lose some.
Banqueting in Beijing…
..delayed in an airport.
The front(ish) end of a plane…
..the mid section of a bus.
Suddenly: a pipe organ.
If you gild a crap plastic chair, is it still a crap plastic chair? (Yes)
Captioning from a piano stool.
A lot of moments are just straight up magical or fascinating or appalling, but they all seem slightly attenuated for not occurring in one’s homeland. A contrast from the usual. With a touch of nightwear. As ever, not all assignments are documentable, but here is a sample of the contrasts in a “standard” year in international reporting.
Most of my work, as always, was international arbitrations. They’re usually in rooms with spectacular views.
Favourite in windows:
This was an arbitration about a vulvovaginal thrush medication patent. Thank god for this window. It was so much better to look out of than trying to avoid eye contact with all the elderly males in the room continually repeating VULVA.
Second-favourite in windows:
Waffles on both sides of the window.
Best in harbour:
Loveliest in Saturday mornings:
All the Saturday mornings when I’m not working and I get to sleep in. But if not, then I guess I choose this one, which was closing submissions in a chemical arbitration. Despite the lovely view.
I live-subtitled the Asian Film Awards at the Venetian in Macau. This was my sixth time on this assignment, but the first time trying to do it without a chair.
I grabbed the stool from the grand piano backstage. Wait a minute, wait a minute. This was at the very theatre where I had previously seen Alicia Keys perform. Was I possibly literally sitting where Alicia Keys‘ bum had gone before? I’ll never let anyone persuade me otherwise.
It wasn’t as uncomfortable as I’d imagined. The only concern was stopping my steno machine from inexplicably outputting #I KEEP ON FALLING… INNNNNNNNNN… AND OUTTA LOVE…#
Not like she was using it…
Ran outside pre-show to try to spy on celebs arriving. Was hampered by my lack of visual recognition of most Asian film industry celebs, also by my lack of a selfie-stick.
Chinese New Year this year was spent in Singapore.
The night before my job started, I was in a deep sleep in my hotel bed when explosions boomed out. Not accustomed to gun violence, I dropped out of bed and rolled over to the window like a roly-poly beetle.
Ahh my leg! Never staying in the Holiday Inn again!
After a quick check to ascertain whether I had any critical injuries, I poked my eyes above the window just a few centimetres to discover it was merely a pyrotechnics display heralding the Year of the Goat.
This was not the most restful start to the biggest job of the year, an investor-state arbitration with 30 realtime connections…
Starting the lunar festivities with a massive hearing on jurisdiction, including a federal treasurer in the witness box. Kung hei fat choi!
Some whimsical strolling after the hearing.
In Beijing, I was privileged to provide the first English reporting at an arbitration at their Arbitration Commission:
This building is fondly known as The Big Underpants.
Remembering that Chinese is the world’s fastest-growing language, here is “stenographer” in Chinese characters. It could be useful. It would have been useful to me on multiple occasions in the past six years in Asia, let’s be honest.
Beijing also presented the very worst in international peak-hour traffic, I mean seriously, worse than New Delhi. Or Melbourne. Which I’m not sure actually has a global ranking but seriously have you tried to drive down Hoddle Street anytime except 3am? Forget it.
After battling said peak hour, BEST IN BUCKET LIST!
The Forbidden City:
The Great Wall, Mutianyu section:
Naturally not in China, where they’re banned, but I did a small number of US depositions. Some snaps of dep environs:
First time in bladder almost bursting (okay, not really the first time. We’ve all been there):
Just me and the tealady in this room doing a directions hearing by teleconference. I had to keep drinking lattes and getting my water refreshed to justify her coming in on a Saturday. “No more tea for me. Got any Shewees?”
Favourite post-deposition shot:
Central district, Hong Kong.
The storm-warning app became redundant with this epic view of clouds rolling in over Kowloon:
It’s only accurate about 20% of the time anyway.
This one takes the award for most unnecessary tchotchkes in the work environment, also for giving me a rare chance to deploy “tchotchke”:
You know what would go really well with this papier-mâché apple that I’ve spray-painted silver? A giant plastic diamond! And…and a sculpture of a bald Kim Kardashian sitting on the toilet?! Yes YES. And let’s put a chess set to show we are also serious about the law.
Food’s a big part of international reporting, mainly for usually being out of the control of the reporter. This can lead to contrasts between astonishing banquets of local dishes, and sad packets of instant noodles in hotel rooms. Here are some of my favourite foodie moments from work trips:
An allegedly Fully Enjoyable Meal:
Traditional lunch in Japan:
Easter: when M&Ms and the Chancery Division collide.
I was in Japan the day before my birthday, and got bumped off my booked flight onto a later one. Then that later one had a broken jet. I definitely don’t want to fly in a broken jet, but I kind of had my heart set on being home with my family for my birthday. An old Japanese lady gave me a pat when I told the air hostess I was going to turn 35 in the air. I went to sit on one of those pay-for-a-massage chairs on the concourse to cry and eat a stale cookie, which was all the nearby shop had left after being pillaged by 250 delayed passengers. A while later the old lady came back and gave me this squashed cake that she’d spent her airline food voucher on: “Huh-pi bar-day! Huh-pi!”
Oh world. Why you gotta be so good and bad.
All the nominations for worst food come from acclaimed Left and Right Restaurant in Bantian, China.
“Special large miscellaneous steak.”
“Fried pork kidney slices with die peperoli, in hunan steli.”
“Fried chicken with fresh assorted bacteria.”
“Chef salad with steak, cheese, eggs, ham, fruit, salad dressing and so on.”
I didn’t cover quite as many days in the High Court as the 133 I did in 2014, but I did some, and these were my favourite views from the vicin:
I also made my first appearance in the Eastern Magistracy this year – as a witness. When the policeman came to our place to serve the summons on me, he told me not to be nervous and gave me this pamphlet about what to expect in a courtroom. Phew.
WAIT IT’S IN CHINESE NOW WHAT I suppose I will have to rely on this realistic drawing.
Best in the reason for French existing.
I don’t always use the complimentary shower cap in hotels, but when I do, I prefer it to be called a bonnet de douche.
Best in unsolicited babysitting. When you run to the bathroom in the last two minutes of the morning break and some random lady thrusts a baby at you, and then you’re just left standing there loudly doing what you hope is reassuring baby talk like “Ho dak yi! Who’s the cutest big boy? YOU ARE!” so she doesn’t think you’re kidnapping him even though you this wasn’t even your idea and you definitely have enough babies already and actually you’re meant to be in court.
Lady I know it is tough getting stuff done encumbered by a giant baby but you have to wee faster, I really have somewhere to be right now this is a toilet not a free creche.
Best in derrieres. These lovely ladies spotted during lunch while working at a casino.
Just some views I liked.
Worst in places to lug a suitcase every day…
All train stations in Asia.
Cocktails with my captioning boss from Australia on the 118th floor of the Ritz Carlton.
Most apropos in Post-its:
IT WASN’T ME.
Most uncomfortable in boardroom artwork:
I captioned a tech conference which was opened by a world-famous orchestra:
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear the Vienna Philharmonic AND to fingerspell ‘Radetzky’.
Biggest collection of armchairs:
Look at the set-up here though. How can they even make a curved screen that big?!
Best in colonial architecture:
I sat next to a Chinese reporter and got to see their latest Chinese steno machine, shown here next to my Wave:
Costs US$400 – so what’s going on in our market?
Captioned a banquet in a marquee. At one point I looked up and saw I was just outside the tent. This actually wasn’t my first time writing in a tent, but it was my first time writing under the stars. If there were any visible stars in Hong Kong.
Pass the salt?
Another captioning assignment for the Secretary for Justice and 125 guests, under a roof, in fact so under a roof – a massive speaker – that the interpreter had to work via chuchotage.
Maybe the most difficult assignment this year? For me, and certainly for the interpreter. Especially when I was chuchotage-ing back at her with “helpful” suggestions about using a bunch of rolled-up papers as a horn.
Favourite views from planes, neither of which I can remember the location of now:
Favourite view OF planes, out the back of the convention centre one lunch break. I now know what my hobby will be when I retire. It will be having car picnics in industrial fields waiting for the 2.10pm Lufthansa to soar in.
In previous years, I’ve have some difficulties working in sheds. It seems like now we’ve moved past sheds into the era of open seating. Where in court we sit with clerks and interpreters, at events it appears we sit in the press gallery.
Here are two events I captioned from the front row of the media pack.
The press corps. The work of a journalist these days is a clearly demarcated 50% trying to think of hashtags and handles, 40% making loud phone calls during speeches, and 10% standing up obstructively to take pics.
I spent a fascinating day at the National University of Singapore law faculty. I have now spent about as much time at this university as I did at university in Australia during my record-breakingly short-lived scholastic endeavours.
Masters in deferring.
The longest day: dawn in Singapore…
..sundown in Tokyo.
Rainy views left and right:
Streets in black and white:
A reception at the Palace Hotel on the grounds of the Imperial Palace – the closest I’ll ever come to the Japanese royal tiara collection:
Not close enough!
My favourite panorama of the year, from the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower in Minato-ku:
At the International Arbitration Academy, live-subtitling, among others, the secretary-general of the World Bank. This was a gathering of international arbitrators, debating the constitution of a global appellate body. I was more nervous than I’d been in a while – but damned if we’re going to let new institutions open without a demonstration of realtime, am I right?
No-one say quadrifurcation, no-one say quadrifurcation…
(They said quadrifurcation.)
One of the best things about international reporting is meeting up with friends from other countries. Apart from the usual set of dear colleagues flying in and out of Asia, there were some “new” meet-ups this year (hi Linda and Gigi!) Much
eating kebabs at 2am erudite discussion on the state of the industry occurred.
With Rich in Lan Kwai Fong. He begins his own expat reporting adventure this year in the Netherlands – GOOD LUCK PREZ!
What about some scary big-screen stuff? Okay, but after the open-table debacles, only if I can have a shed. Best in I love sheds:
Everything is easier ensconced within four chipboard “walls”, even three-foot-high captioning to 14,000 people.
Some more stadium captioning in Thailand:
Highest possibility for stage fright. This is why I don’t use conflicts. Even if they’re 95% accurate. I don’t want the eyes attached to this many bums to see a mistake made by a computer. (relax, internet – my opinion only).
A slightly smaller stadium back in Hong Kong. Still not small enough to justify conflicts IMO. (And actually, to keep the bar high, is there really a difference between this many realtime viewers and one or two realtime viewers…? Touch one, touch all!)
Happiest in backstage:
I love doing and watching steno on the big stage. Let it shine!
Letting it shine in a different way:
Christmas, Orchard Road.
The last international job of the year. Not sure it counts when it’s only two hours away by bus…
Entering Shenzhen. Feels like what I imagine it must feel like to enter Pyongyang.
I’m writing this from a balcony overlooking Bac My An beach in Danang, Vietnam. All I’ve been doing here is swimming with my kids and eating coriander. The coffee of my dreams, cà phê sữa đá, is what I am toasting 2015 with.
I grew up in the north-west of Melbourne and so have enjoyed many a cà phê sữa đá in my life, but to be having an authentic one (okay, six)(a day) in Vietnam is the fulfillment of a little dream and the sweetest end to an fulfilling year. Clinking glasses with you all. May next year bring all my reporting colleagues beautiful speakers, interesting jobs, little and big dreams – and better options than Starbucks.
2016: I see you baby!