Sunday, March 2, 2014

China - Zuzhou

Been dodging the bullet...

Overseas working trips are tiring.
My last official job was to Harbin in the Heilongjiang district in China.
Ever since, I've been dodging the bullet whenever my boss asks me to cover junkets and working trips.
But this time round, I had to submit.
I don't mind going to different parts of China since its never easy for journalists to enter this communist state.

Mission: Zuzhou

I was given the task to cover an assignment in Zuzhou, about two hours flight away from Guangzhou.
This place is in the Hunan province and the weather forecast wasn't really favourable with temperatures dipping down to 2C at night.
But its a job, someone has to do it.
I joined 20 other journalists including TV crews to visit the China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Company's yard.
They were responsible in supplying KTMB's new EMUs for the KTM Komuter service.
There were a lot of flack on this and I've come to appreciate what China has to dish out after visiting the electric locomotive factory.

With my old friend Mahayuddin Mohamad in Changsha airport
Being an old fart...

The media group was equally divided.
Half the team were veteran newsmen while the other half were rookie reporters.
I was reunited with Mahayuddin Mohamad, an old friend who took the Voluntary Separation Scheme back in the mid-2000s.
He is now attached with Bernama as a photographer. I am very happy to meet and old friend who is dedicated to the job.
The rest of the news crew were people I have never met.
"Are you new? I have never seen you before..," asked one of the reporters from a Chinese daily.
I told her that I was desk-bound and that this was my first overseas assignment in two years.
Some folks looked petrified when I said that.
The rookie kids were okay. Except for one fart-faced writer from a business daily. This guy behaved like we were out of his league. His big boss was with the Star for a year and decided to leave. 
Well, the norm was for reporters with one year or more worth of experience to travel. This guy was only working for five months.. Amazing.
Back at the New Straits Times, I went for my first overseas stint after three years. And I am proud to say that I've planned it alone. It was a job to Japan. I sailed with the Petronas fleet from Bintulu to the Tokyo bay. That was back in 1998. 
In Zuzhou, the job was very straight forward. Get the news, send it back. Get the facts right. Quote the right source. Job done.

A shot with the reporters

A CAD operator at the China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock office
The company museum, neat with all the model locomotives
Experience counts...

I've been to China before and since this was an official trip, protocol and bureaucracy matters. Even more in a communist state.
So, I've anticipated time as the factor. 
Our host would squeeze every drop of blood out of us for formal dinners, luncheons and factory visitation. That's China allright.
From Malaysia, Syarikat Prasarana Negara Berhad (SPNB) had looked after the media team.
I knew their PR man Azhar Ghazali from my reporting days and his head honcho Mr Lim, who was my colleague when I worked with a weekly community newspaper back in the mid-90s.
Right from the start, I've rounded up my "take aways" (souvenirs) at the Baiyuan international airport in Guangzhou.
Getting the gist of the story in this case, was very important.
I listened to the team's project leader's briefing, took notes on the statistics and figures and composed the story in my head.
In short, I knew what I want to write and the only thing that I waited for was the new Rapid KL Ampang Line LRT trains that was previewed at the locomotive yard.
When it was shown, I snapped a few shots, figured out what's important to transmit back to Menara Star and notify the Editor.
The company called for a Press Conference after dinner with SPNB and CSR's big wigs at helm to take questions.
I knew for fact that what they wanted to say was to formalize their statement, make corrections for the record.
That in mind, I went back to my room to file in my story and select the pictures..

A broadcast journalist doing a stand-upper on site

The new train

My job's almost done..
The game has changed.. 

Gone were the days where one had to dail-up to transmit stories.
We have high-speed internet and WiFi to get the job done these days.
I packed my gear the next day, leaving my trusty HP Mini netbook on with an Alcatel 3G modem on with a Chinese data and voice SIM card in to transmit the story and pictures.
I knew for a fact that the Bernama reporter including a few reporters from the dailies had sent in their short takes for their on-line edition earlier.
My take was enough to fill a page with pictures, so, I suggested a page lead including the photo of the new train at the yard.
It took about five minutes to load up a picture with the mobile line while others were struggling with the hotel's WiFi connection.
By the time I finished my breakfast, the story was sent. I alerted my boss in KL about it via Whatsapp messenger and called it a day..
From Zuzhou, we took a high-speed train to Guangzhou where we had a night stop before flying back to KL.
All the years in the business didn't go to waste. I knew I had to meet the deadline and squeeze in every bit of information. Most important of all: get the facts right and quote the relevant source.
And since there were rival English dailies on this working trip, the task was to take them on and give the best report..
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