It’s not what you know…

As I wrap up my first year in China and lube the skis to glide blithely into the second, I’ve given some thought to what I’ll do a year from now. I’ve realized that overseas journalism might just be my ticket.

I’ve been thinking about it and have realized that there are a few prerequisites to a career in overseas journalism.

  • Love of travel. Check
  • Love of writing. Check
  • Loving audience, or at least people willing to read your writing. Check. (Judging from the lack of response to most of my postings, I’m assuming here. However, no one can prove me wrong because that would require having read this.
  • Ability to appear intelligent and reliable. Check (see previous line for proof).
  • Silk scarf. Seriously, all the reporters in Asia have them. And while I don’t have mine yet, I consciously chose not to buy one in Thailand and Cambodia, so that makes me different, not underqualified.

There might be other stuff, too, but I think those are the basics. I thought I was in pretty good shape for this career, when my ponderings were confirmed.

I’m not announcing any plans, hopes or even desires, but I thought I’d share the joy of my first big break.

I was published in by an international media giant.

Knowing you would be skeptical, I secured proof (or you could go see it for yourself):
My moment of fame
Yes, indeed, ladies and gentlemen, that “Justin J” in Changchun, China, is the rising star you discovered early. And before you go and pass it off as my commenting on an article online, allow me to direct your attention to the post heading: “Your letters.” It clearly indicates my piece of writing was subjected to scrutiny and selected for mass reproduction. It is not obstructed by a screen name or subjugated to the possibility of a user’s complaining about it.

I made it to the big time.

Actually, if you want to know the truth, they’re only returning the favor. Do you think it’s a coincidence that my feature in BBC’s Magazine Monitor came within a week of my plugging it? I don’t think so either. So, I know you’re reading this NY Times, but I’ve not heard from you yet. You could still beat Reuters, Slate and even the Onion. But you’ll have to work fast—the BBC and I are getting pretty cozy.

Jones doesn’t ring like Colbert

One of my more recently-discovered daily joys is reading BBC’s Magazine Monitor. Basically, they read the news and then give you the non-newsy highlights. I like it for a few reasons, namely, 1) it’s really well done and 2) it’s the kind of thing I do when I read the news.

I’m going to try something similar. Don’t worry, I don’t want to make this a regular feature. Unless, of course, it’s demanded by thousands of fans threatening violence to kittens. So, enjoy this single instance of the day’s news in review.

Let’s start small. This story gets notice simply because it is quite possibly the most fascinating political event I’ve witnessed in my brief tread on the life wheel. The king got fired. So he’s leaving. End of story. Except that his mother doesn’t really want to move out of the royally-sponsored home she’s lived in for years. Oh, and that there are rumors that he destroyed important documents and pilfered royal assets, but he’s letting us know not to bother following up on those. And really, I believe him. What kind of important documents are accessible to a king who can get voted out of office?

I highly recommend reading the article for the opportunity to revel in the queerness of an expelled king:

  • “[T]he ex-king did express concern about his future security and where he would live.”
  • “I don’t see any complications in the former king’s departure from the palace.”
  • “But he said it was time to move on rather than regret what had happened – and that the authorities had promised to find jobs for everyone.”
  • “He said that Gyanendra did however ask the government for help in finding alternative accommodation for him and his mother. ‘Once the issue is resolved he will immediately move.’ “

In another power grab—but with some sort of struggle this time—Bolivia owns a new gas company. Because it wants it. It runs something like this: the Bolivian government decided it wants to control its own industries, so it started negotiating with the company that currently controls things. After Bolivia “waited patiently all month,” they realized the company wasn’t going to give them everything they wanted, so they just seized control. My favorite part is the justification: “They wanted to be bosses, and have us be the employees. We’re a small country – sometimes they call us underdeveloped – but we have lots of dignity.” Read: We’re big people. Stop treating us like children, or we’re taking our ball and going home. OK, so it’s actually your ball, but we want it, so we think it should be ours. Dignity.

I blamed them until I realized Bolivia was just following the leaders. With no reported misgivings, the UN has decided they’re going to allow member nations to attack pirates in Somali waters. Hey US, UK, France, China, Libya or basically anyone else, it’s OK to invade a sovereign nation’s territory with hostile intent—you said so. I think I just found a new meaning for self-referentially absurd. China, Vietnam and Libya were quick to point out they were cool with this resolution because it didn’t violate the sovereignty of any other countries. Except the one they decided to blatantly ignore.

And while we’re talking about ignoring, I was happily perusing this story about the latest space shuttle trip’s purpose when I stumbled across its placement of an astronaut in a six-month stint on the space station. He was mentioned in passing after the new laboratory and toilet parts threads had been developed nearly to their limits. Adding to the insult was the quick progress to the other astronaut aboard: Buzz Lightyear. Yes, the action figure garnered exactly one paragraph and eight words more attention than the human. I assume that was because Buzz was on an exciting “educational programme,” and the stupid human was just keeping the space station running for the next six months.

The last story is from space as well—both the inky expanse around us and that vast mental void we call scientific prediction. Scientists found a planet outside our solar system that is not vastly different in size from the earth. It could very well be habitable if not inhabited. OK, well, that’s a surmise, but it makes sense. Follow it: they discovered the planet’s existence and approximate size by noting a warp in light rays from a distant star. The light measurements aren’t solid enough to even know much about the star, but science doesn’t care so much about the star as about the vastly smaller planet that seems to be orbiting it. They like it so much they named it. MOA-2007-BLG-192Lb. I’m a little upset because they stole my (or Brian Regan’s) preferred name for my first child. Now if I use it, people will naturally assume my progeny was named after that planet that warped the light rays so they think it’s there and is probably the home to a human-like race of people smart enough to avoid building Chicago.

But I’m getting distracted from telling you why this has so excited them.

They took the the solid data from the mangled electromagnetic waves and plugged them into their vast knowledge (“best ideas”) of planet formation. Remember all those planets they built? And of course we’ve all watched countless planets’ genesis. From there, they speculate that this planet might have an atmosphere—a thick one even. Which is good, because the only data they can gather seems to indicate the surface temperature would naturally be lower than that of Pluto (an odd measuring stick since that thing got demoted from planethood). But since there might be an atmosphere, it’s possible that the surface temperature would be higher than colder than anything that has ever been measured or imagined before. And obviously, if the temperature is high enough, there might be liquid on the surface. And we could totally imagine that liquid being water. Which is what we think would make a nice surface of an inhabitable planet.

And that’s really not me making them sound ridiculous. My science disclaimer (recently and appropriately joined by the history/law/politics disclaimer) is further justified.

I dare you to pronounce my sardonicism unwarranted. Now if it could do something constructive. Or at least earn me money.

Growing Pains

A student at my English corner yesterday made an insightful observation: “I think technological advances have made our lives worse.” Her point was that the increased availability of goods and services, from food to communication, has decreased our satisfaction and, consequently, enjoyment of life.

There is certainly a lot of good that is lost as a society progresses. Let’s all share examples.

I’ll go first.

I’m not sure of China’s official label on the developed/developing scale. I do know, though, that the North, my region of residence is less developed than the South. I also know that my city is less developed than some others in the North. I also know that my immediate vicinity is termed the ‘Jing Yue Economic Development Zone’ of the city. Suffice it to say my neighborhood is economically and technologically marbled. I’ve looked on unsurprised as BMWs passed a donkey-drawn cart in front of my college.

A few months ago, I was needing to transfer some of my Chinese salary to my American bank. It’s actually a frighteningly expensive and awkward exercise. Western Union gets the job done, though, and I was glad to learn from their website that WU considers Jing Yue developed enough to host a branch. Upon arrival, though, I learned it was a developing branch. As in, a computer glitch was blocking them from transmitting or receiving funds. John, the designated foreigner liaison used his smooth English to promise me the difficulties would be resolved “soon.” He collected my number and promised to keep me informed of developments.

I made the trek downtown and settled my affairs after three days with no word. Problem solved, the limping Western Union managed to escape my ponderings.

John called me last night (Saturday night. The bank was closed.). He remembered my visit, my name and my need to transfer money and wanted to let me know the system was again functional. He hung up with a wish to see me soon. Twenty seconds later he called again to give me his personal cell phone number in case I ever needed his help with anything. When was the last time your banker did that?

We may be behind with some technological advances, but we remember what good old-fashioned customer service is like. And it worked: I’ll definitely go there next time I need to send money. And it won’t have anything to do with cutting out the two-hour trip downtown and back.