Archive for June, 2007

Shanghai and beyond

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

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Shanghai, Day 7

My work is done here, Fredi has arrived and it is time to play, so we said goodbye to Beijing’s hazy sky and headed to the airport. There is a blue sky over China and today we saw it for the first time when we landed in Shanghai.

The 2-hour uneventful flight on China East Airline was followed by the longest cab line I’ve ever seen. Imagine a blue-level advisory at Hartsfield; not long enough to make you jump line and run down the up-escalator but long enough to be glad you stopped at the loo.

We had been told the cab ride to the Hilton would take 20 minutes and the fare was 40 yuan ($6). Not many cab drivers speak English so you must have your destination written in Chinese. But this cab driver knew 2 things in English, 150 and 2 hours. As soon as we exited the airport and he had us trapped, he said 150 yuan ($20). He repeatedly butted his fists together to mean traffic and said 2 hours. So just like that, the fare had more than tripled.

Thirty minutes later we arrived at the hotel. I stalled paying the fare until the hotel bellman opened the door and I got him involved in the fare debate. He realized we were being cheated, he got upset at the driver, said no to the 150 yuan and gave that 2-English-words-speaking rogue hell. We finally paid 70 yuan and were glad to get the hell out of there.

Finally, we’re checked-in, unpacked and it’s time to explore. Since I did not get to sleep the entire flight here (I’m not calling any names), I was generously alloted 30 minutes (count em) to rest before we hit the town. Our first stop for cocktails would be Manifesto, a very trendy restaurant just a short walk from the Hilton.

Manifesto is on an interesting street. It’s a mix of old Shanghai and new, very hip, very western establishments. Right after you pass what looks like an authentic mom and pop dumpling shop, your next steps put you in front of Goodfellas and Badlands. I think the attraction to lure you in those clubs is the gangs of babes hanging outside the entrances. Need I say, we did not stop at those.

We were greeted at Manifesto by the host Jacob, who is a very cool, Polish transplant who speaks Chinese. He led us to the chic upstairs bar and we slid into a soft deep cushioned sexy banquette (not the bed) for cocktails. There really is a partially hidden queen size bed with huge throw pillows next to the dj booth. We liked the place and Jacob was so delightful and knowledgeable about the city, we cancelled our later reservation at M on the Bund and would stay at Manifesto for dinner.

During cocktails DJ Beck and I connected. I was slowly sipping my Tshing Tao, Fredi was enjoying her Limotini and DJ Beck was mixing a smooth, early evening blend of velvet-soul and funky base-lines. I heard him spin the first three notes of “Checking out,” I turned to him and asked, Curtis Mayfield? He gave me the universal nod for, you’re cool. Hey what can I say, no matter what nationality, hip is hip.

We had a delicious dinner; started with steamed oysters in champagne sauce and caviar. Then dined on sea bass and grilled tuna. The people watching was also highly entertaining – a lot of Prada, a lot of Zegna, a lot of Armani, no knock-offs. There were just as many westerners as Chinese in the house. This place and crowd could easily fit right in Manhattan or London.

Around 10 PM the meter on my 30-minute recharging had about elapsed, I was dead tired, so we took a slow stroll back to the hotel. Slow that is until we neared Goodfellas.

Could he be in Gwinnett?

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Beijing, Day 6

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I hear things. I don’t mean in the “I see dead people” way. I mean, people tell me stuff.

It seems there is an unwritten rule here that media outlets have 4 strikes to offend, upset, embarrass or defy the government. Something like reporting a SARS outbreak in a local village in defiance of the government, is considered a strike. The first 2 strikes warrant verbal and written warnings from you know whom and the third strike gets you called in. On the fourth strike, changes are made. This is what I hear.

A couple of weeks ago when I was invited to return to China in July for work sessions in Guangzhou, I was told the newspaper there was getting a new editor, because the old one disappeared. I didn’t really pay “disappeared” that much attention at the time. Maybe the guy got an offer he couldn’t refuse or maybe he wants to be a web producer in Atlanta.

Well I heard that same story again today and I now get the feeling, when they say “disappeared” they mean disappeared. You know, like that Tony Soprano kind of disappeared. To me it sounded like urban or Chinese legend but the storyteller was very serious. And nobody looked at him like he was crazy or he didn’t know what he was talking about.

This may call for another hmmm.

That totally went over my head

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

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Beijing, Day 6

During one of the Q&A sessions I was asked, what I assumed were, questions about our newspaper decision-making process. Who decides how many pictures go in your paper? How many Olympic photos did you run in your special section? Who makes the decision on which photos go in your paper?

I assumed these journalists, worlds apart from ours, were aware of the age-old tug-of-war in American newsrooms – who makes the call on photo usage? Does a photo editor make it or does the editor or another word person decide? This has long been a sore subject in the photo world. Many people think a visual person should make the final edit and decide what runs. Most editors I know disagree.

I answered the questions by describing how the decision-making process works. I talked about collaboration, the daily news meetings, the editing process and I tried to explain the structure of the newspaper management. And I told them; naturally, the editor has the last call on any decision.

The next day I was asked twice about censorship. One question was about our coverage of the bomb explosion during the Olympics. She asked if our published stories tried to give Atlanta and the games a “good face” after the bombing. Were our stories written to protect the city and the games reputation? I was later asked, who decided which photos were used for the bombing news?

Then it hit me. The previous day questions were not at all about the forever-debated issue of who has final say on photos. It was much bigger than that. They were talking about government censorship and control over the media by other agencies like BOCOG (BOCOG is the equivalent of ACOG during the Atlanta games).

They were asking if the government controls the American media. Do readers get all of the news or news the government wants them to get? Is that news filtered, shaped or censored is what they were asking. I don’t think they care less whether the page designer or page editor has more cache than the photo editor. That issue is probably very low on the priority list when you’re still fighting for freedom of speech and the press. Hell, they would probably be elated to have the decision made by anybody in the newsroom.

Granted, I don’t know the details of how things are run here or who makes those decisions but I can read between the lines. So if anybody is monitoring this computer or watching me via a hidden camera, I’m ONLY making an observation.

I make be slow on the up-take but I eventually get it.

I’ve got happy feet

Monday, June 25th, 2007

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Beijing, Day 3

Two firsts for me today. I gave an hour-long presentation to 150 Chinese journalists who did not understand a word I said and I had the “legendary” Beijing Renming foot massage.

Granted, I had an interpreter for the morning Olympic planning presentation but I’m still not sure what he was conveying. All I know is, there were quite a few times I would say an 8 -10 word sentence and 2 minutes later he was still interpreting that sentence. It made me think, hmmm… how do I know he said what I said? And if he did, why did it take him so much longer to say it? Hmmm.

This evening the coordinator took us all for the “legendary” foot massage. It seems that is a must-do activity when you visit Beijing. There was so much talk about it we got totally excited and damn near giddy about getting the “legendary” foot massage.

Now understand, I’m the person who made my wife, then girlfriend, wait almost a year before I let her touch my feet. A pedicure is one thing but I don’t normally let strange people fiddle with my dogs. So this is a bold step for me.

The massage was interesting but totally not what I expected. This sweet little girl, who looked every bit of 13, suddenly turned violent then beat, punched, twisted, poked, jabbed and bitch slapped my feet into oblivion. And that was before she got warmed up. She then forcibly dragged her knuckles down my soles for what seemed like an eternity. It took every bit of machismos in me to not scream like a little girl. It truly felt like every layer of skin on the bottom of my feet was now on the floor.

I was convinced that innocent looking little girl was not so innocent after all. She was probably dismissed from some Shaolin Temple for abusing monks. Or she was a stunt double for Jackie Chan fired for not pulling her punches. It hurt!!

As it turns out, the technique killed me but the final result was amazing. My feet feel great.

Anyway, tomorrow morning I do a session on sports photography skills and then maybe venture around town… if I can walk.

Out with the old, bring on the new

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

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It is official. Thursday I said goodbye to a 13-year relationship that consumed much of my life. One I never thought I could live without. It was a passionate relationship that was stimulating, challenging, rewarding and at times filled with love. I will miss it but time marches on.

That was then, this is now. It is early Sunday morning, I’m in Beijing, China and life looks brighter than ever. Metaphorically speaking that is, because the layer of haze that hangs over the city has yet to allow the sun through. But even with the early morning fog you can still see the outline of tall majestic buildings along the avenue. My hotel, the Beijing News Plaza Hotel, which is an elegant and grand structure, is located at 26 Jianguomen Nei Da Jie. I’m told this was the first street built in Beijing. It is heavily traveled and lined with tall buildings and every couture designer store you could imagine. It appears shopping is alive and well here. I was also told there are 3 million cars in the city of Beijing. Hence the haze.

My journey here started Friday morning via Seoul, Korea, a four-hour layover, then 2 more hours to Beijing. The first 12-hour leg to Seoul was not nearly as brutal as I had anticipated. Maybe it was because I was spent, emotionally and physically, and slept most of the way. I remember a flight to Tokyo a few years ago as almost unbearable and I anticipated the same.

I did awaken on cue for meals and music. I took in some Brandi Carlile, Ellis and Branford Marsalis (Miss Otis Regrets), Miles, Dinah Washington, Harry Connick Jr., John Hiatt, Thelonious Monk and others. George Porter Jr sent me his new cd and I imported it to the Goddess right before I left. You go George… I like it. Music really helps lull you into a state of calm that help the hours “fly” by. Music and Twizzlers, that is. Oh yeah, wife, bring more Twizzlers please.

I also read a few chapters of “The Rome Affair” by Laura Caldwell. One of those psychological thrillers that keeps you turning pages. Rome and redheads – check it out.

Twelve hours after leaving Atlanta I was in Seoul and engaged in some of the best people watching. Imagine you can’t see faces or people and only see clothes, outfits, accessories, hairstyles, ipods and LV luggage walking by, you would think you were in Buckhead, Frenchmen Street or the Underground. And it is the same here in China – designers have conquered the world.

Okay, nothing so far tops the Japanese Rasta guy we met in Tokyo who had Thug Life tattooed on his stomach, but I may have to dig deep for old world eastern culture.

The Liu’s, a friendly husband and wife team, from the local journalist association met me at the airport last night and drove me to the hotel safely. She speaks English and translated for her husband. Tiananmen Square is a short walk from here so a tour is in order for today.

It is now 7:30 AM Sunday morning and I’m off to breakfast.