This past week passed by in a blur.
Rushing from one place to another, chugging my bags and jumbled notes along, writing scripts after scripts in the car, being on stand-by for live-reporting (my first outside of our usual studio and without a prompter), having a bite or two whenever I can, checking in and out of a hotel – all while attending to dozens of WeChat messages (in Mandarin) the entire day from different groups… yes, that pretty much summed up my 5-6 days.
Oh, that, and getting the hotel reception to print some of my last-minute notes for me (for free!).
To have a minute of breather is pretty precious.
I am now back in Beijing, and missing the weather in Shanghai and Zhoushan but not the intense rush which isn’t quite for the faint-hearted. (Although I suppose it depends on how much of a sense of urgency you apply onto yourself as well)
But you know what?
There were so many goods in between.
Before I go, I would like to firstly thank our Shanghai bureau who were so kind to have settled the logistics for me (hotel and transport), so I didn’t have to worry about these – although, applying for reimbursements for accommodation and flights back here in BJ would be a pain haha.
In the past week, I laugh recalling how my cameraman, 李大哥, would scramble but excitedly seek to find the translation for a word I did not understand. 什么意思 would be a common question from me in our conversations, when I come across a phrase I do not understand. He said his English has improved dramatically in these four days; so did my Mandarin.
Our driver, 马大哥, would take us to where we need to with no questions asked — this came in super handy especially when we needed to be at a place (in this case, places) pronto. He also helped to ‘shoo’ passer-bys (though sometimes, indulge with them) when I was doing my live-crosses by the port.
Both of them were patient, actively helpful, resourceful, assuring, and just so accommodating to my requests and push to get things done – and that made things so, so easy for me.
And what a beautiful stumble we came upon when in Zhoushan.
Although, it wasn’t quite accidental as I had an “end in mind”. I usually do not like attributing things happening to luck (maybe just 1 percent) as I believe if I want to find and get something done, I will — it’s only a matter of timing and if I can get something solid enough.
We arrived at this coast off Zhejiang province on Sunday night – on last-minute notice to be on stand-by to board a helicopter the next day, though chances were low as the oil tanker had sunk when we departed for Zhoushan, which is an over 4-hours’ drive from Shanghai.
When the next morning came and we still received no notice, I told the team I needed a cut-off time, failing which, I am going to start heading out to look for leads for a story. I mean, since we were already there – the nearest fishing ground to where the collision happened! How can there be no story?
And off we went – my cameraman, driver, and me. I told them what I wanted, and asked them to help look around local websites or ask around on viable ports for fishermen to speak to. (The night before when having seafood noodles for supper, I asked the owners if they heard of this tanker sinking and if they are concerned with the oil spill, but they didn’t seem too perturbed)
The first port we went to – after I went around asking just two people, we struck lucky with the third; as one hint lead to another.
And amazingly, we got to two great sound-bites – one who is a chief officer of a ship (who later insisted I not air the name of his ship), and a general manager who has been operating a huge seafood market for 20 years.
I miss pursuing stories like these – your own suggestion, initiative, leads, and all executed in action via persistence and determination.
Indeed, this assignment has opened my eyes to so many things.
Firstly – teamwork. I have always been a huge advocate of this. But this time, the fact that my cameraman went over and beyond his role – to best search for leads, help explain my questions better to the interviewees (when need be), patient with my need to get things done right, finds the best spot to do my live-hits and stand-up, takes the necessary footage for my package without me having to explain too much or instruct him… Basically, all I had to do was to prepare my scripts’ content and delivery, and leave the rest to him.
Every cameraman has a style of his or her own, and most if not all I have worked with were superb in their own ways. There are some who pushes the ball back to you (the reporter) asking what do you want. In some cases, it works. But when one has a tight deadline to rush, a cameraman who actively participates to get things done, better, is a blessing.
As I am a foreigner (this would be my first outstation trip on my own), I truly appreciate this gesture – of having someone explain some of the local terms and culture better to me. 李大哥 said to me: “你的人又好有认真，若我做不好我对不起自己”.
This assignment has also brought to light to me, the importance of post-production support.
Being on the front-line, we may not have the luxury or resources to edit our own videos. My 6-year old laptop is slow as a snail, while my cameraman’s died on him just before we wanted to edit. Hence, for all 3 of my packages in the 5 days, someone from the program or the domestic team helped to edit.
From liaising with which program to air this package, to transferring the footage via cogent, emailing scripts back to be copy-edited, doing voice-overs in the maritime bureau + hotel room + Shanghai bureau… it all required precise time-planning, which I have learned from my rotation in the newsroom (if you want to catch the 8.15 pm show, your footage, script, etc. better be ready for the editor to start editing by 6 pm – you work backwards in terms of your own deliverables).
And what a circle of life it was.
The people who helped edit are those in China 24 whom I previously spent a few weeks with (to rush to air on their programme — 谢谢春莹，Sun Ye) and those in the domestic team were my peers I am closest to (谢谢懿磊，李颖) – they taught me the basics in workflow and systems when I first got here, and now I hang out with them even out of the office.
It all comes back. It’s a reminder that what goes around, comes around.
Now, jittery moments? Plenty; including being on stand-by on Saturday early morning (having landed past midnight Friday), to report on something that everything is in Mandarin. Thank you to a colleague who helped me translate and relay key words in that very tight time frame.
That day, at 4.30 pm I was asked to do a package for the 8.15 pm show. You can imagine how panicky it must have been, as we were just about to interview the second expert (of which I can’t join in the end ‘cos I had to rush a script) and hence a colleague sat in for me. The sound-bites in the end were, let’s just say, a mess — of which I felt so bad for post-production as they had to re-listen and translate for me. Those who know me would know I despise relying on others, or letting others clean up my mess. All packages I have done so far, the sound-bites were on point.
It was my first time coming up with a script in less than half an hour. Totally wasn’t my best work as I couldn’t give better context to it, but I understood the urgency of it and I know I need to learn to live with this in the future when it comes to pressing breaking stories.
And on Sunday, I was told to go live only that morning itself – when minutes before I was due to go on air, we were in the car rushing from one place to another. In my mind: It’s been a day since the last briefing or official statement from the maritime bureau. ‘What am I going to say?’ ‘Will it be news-worthy?’ These questions ran through my mind. But as with this role and such circumstances, you don’t think so much — you just do it (and scramble later).
Low moments? Inevitably there were. Firstly, for not talking more casually when doing my lives (why was I so concerned about reading my notes when I know my stuff?), but the next day it seems I almost forgot about it; and instead I sought to try harder and better the next time.
And in regards to my first package, I did a stand-up but hastily asked post-production not to include it in as I thought it wasn’t well done. I did a VO just in case and told her to use that instead. Turned out I got her into trouble (sorry, 春莹) as it was live-reporting and a stand-up was crucial in my package for me to donut my package to.
That said, I have sensed improvements in how I approach each task. Before we film, I would already know which footage I want to lock-in to fit my opening lead; and in my live-shots I already know that I can and know where to donut from my package. If you recall, in my very first live-cross, I didn’t even know what does donut and ‘ad-lib’ mean.
I am proud of these little achievements. I always believe it doesn’t matter where does one start, but rather how does one proceed to grow and improve in time.
Looking back, I don’t advocate not eating well (succumbed to KFC and Pizza Hut – like who eats these in Zhoushan, a place famous for seafood!) but alas, I had to… for a day. LI DA GE sensed my urgency and suggested this, and even comforted me saying we have seafood pizza, at the very least.
But… we did have the above meal, which was simply divine. Just doors away from our hotel, we had it twice — when we first arrived, and just before we departed Zhoushan. Fresh fishes, clams, prawns, etc…
Ultimately, what I have learned with this role is:
- To be prepared to be on stand-by most of the time (especially when you are onto a developing story at a site), for when one task ends and the story is aired, that doesn’t mean you won’t have another one to deliver the next morning
- Rest as much as you can, when you can
- Take on each task with the same vigour and positivity regardless of what it is
- Forgive those who may have not done their roles well
- Amid the hustle and bustle, take a deep breath, and carry on
And how funny life works…
Just last weekend, marking my 4th month in China, I woke up almost surprised but quite relieved I won’t be receiving any surprises or first(s). Little did I know 🙂
PS: I am usually a bullet points kinda girl, but this time… ah, 算了吧 😂