Monday, August 25, 2008

A (stormy) day in the life of a journalist

The worst thunderstorms of this year hit today, waking me at 7am with bellowing thunder and flashes of light. The rain reached epic proportions, pounding my window panes and flooding Shanghai's unsuspecting streets.

As I drifted in and out of sleep, I fervently hoped that no freak storm could last 3 hours, as I had scheduled today that most nerve wraking thing: an interview, in Chinese, with one of those arty types that rarely make sense.

By 11am I was walking through the ongoing rain, ankle deep in flood waters that smelled suspiciously of sewege (and ruining my favourite yellow heels) to meet the Famous Chinese Orchestra Conductor. Having left my dictating machine in the office last week, and failing miserably to get a taxi this morning, I arrived soaked to the rehearsal hall of the Shanghai Opera House.

There I found the conductor in full flow, conducting a hundred musicians and singers, and nowhere near finished. An hour later the rehearsal ended (and I had dried). As I rushed up to catch his attention the conductor told me the hour long interview I had prepared had to be squeezed in to 15 minutes before he left for another meeting.

Such is the glamorous life of a journalist.

Before I became one I imagined it was like mingling with the stars, picking the brains of the sucessful, being invited to media parties, and attending press conferences to a backdrop of cameras flashing.

The strange truth is all the above is true, but there's a cloud to every silver lining.

It was at a media party that I realised journalists occupied the bottom rung of the glamour ladder. Maybe it was when russian models with no brain cells flounced passed us with a breezy, "we don't need tickets, we're models". Or when I saw drunk, rich people ignoring us and behaving badly, making passes at each other's wives and propositioning above mentioned models with promises of private helicopters.

I realised we are perennially the fly on the wall, the observer of those who have done things with their lives, those who have made it. Like being a narrator in a play, you never figure in the plot.
But then as this morning's whirlwind interview ended (I had managed to squeeze another 4 minutes out of him), I was reminded of why I love this job regardless.

Despite his success my interviewee was nice and interesting and had things to say. He loved music, he was passionate and he was living his dreams. He told me about struggling to earn a living at music school, sleeping in metro stations in the winter and working at restaurants. He told me about success, and how, if you prepare for it, luck and fate will surely come.

As I had lunch in a nearby dim sum place, with the rain still going strong, and jotting down interview notes, I thought I was really damn lucky. I come and go as I please, and I write what I want to write. Well, not exactly if you count censorship, but I mean, I'm free to make sense of the chaos of life in words. And I'm free to give my take on it's meaning.

That's what makes it so great, not the glamour, but the nature of what you do day to day. That's what makes worthwile the exhausting days out running around town in torrential rains or blistering heat.

Back at the office it's another day of not knowing what to expect, and who I'm going to meet.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

what I did today

My posts are so damned instrospective and self absorbed. It reflects a life of too much thinking and not much doing. I look at other bloggers and they just talk about what they did and what they ate. Why can't I be normal like that.

Ok so this post is about what I did today. I got up too late and couldn't be bothered to go to the gym. Then I went to work and tried to write an article about travelling on a budget in Asia. Also had a mild panic attack like I do every week since I had the idea, about my over ambitious article about culture gap between East and West. I wanted a salad for lunch but there was a monsoon outside so I went to the disgusting canteen instead, it wasn't so bad though the whole place smells of cabbage.

Last night I watched the American version of the korean film My Sassy Girl, and for some reason it really depressed me cos it was so bad and the original was so good. Today my room mate has some function to go to so I'll be at home alone, probably watching another movie. And doing my laundry.

And I decided to blog the last hour of work cos it was taking up too much of my evenings.

And I'll go to bed again and wake up again and have this unreasonable sense of futility. Cos really, there's nothing bad about this. What's about this? Nothing. Sometimes it's just the circular nature of life, the waking up and going to bed. Every night I swear, I've done this a million times already, and it seems never to take me any closer to happiness.

Things change, but then again they don't. Or maybe I just can't see it.

Aaaargh, I'm thinking too much again.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Notes from the abyss

Why do I associate existentialism with the abyss? Here's something of an explanation. It was a philosophy developed at the turn of the century, in reaction to the breakdown of religion as the thing that gave human life meaning. Having no meaning is like staring off the edge of a cliff, into a neverending darkness. The chaos of freedom breeds madness. Why did people always need the external authority of god and religion? Because it allows us not to look at the madness, and live like it doesn't exist. But existentialism is based on that abyss, on facing up to its entirety. The victory lies in overcoming the hopelessness of our lonely race, and to create something from the absurd. Instead of finding meaning in a meaningless universe, we create it when nature never meant it to exist.

And on this issue of 'becoming' - particuarly appeals to me. It's not simply making yourself who you want to be, but it says, there's no one way you are supposed to be. No one way you'll always be. It frees me from destiny.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Quotes and more from the abyss

Well I started this blog partly to indulge my obsessions with certain dusty, dead, dark and nihilistic, turn of the century philosophers. Actually I never had the guts to do the useless philosophy degree that I desperately wanted (instead I did engineering), so really, maybe, I actually know fuck all about existentialism. But I have read about it, went to some evening courses, and the guy I was obsessed with at 18 for the next 4 years was one. So that's the sum total of my great knowledge on this subject.

But I figure actually, the less the better. What I know I strongly identify with, and what I don't know I'll recreate to be my own brand of philosophy, which, after all, is the point of life.

So I have, over the years, come across a few quotes that hit me in the guts and took my breath away. Perfect prose and love are the only two things that can do that to me. So I'll be sharing some of this with you, but treating you to it little by little, in a controlled release.

This is the one for today:

"There cannot be a God because if there were one, I could not believe that I was not He." Neitzche

Sunday, August 3, 2008

An honest alcoholic

Days when I wake up at 5am are usually grappling-with-depression days. But I don’t just grapple with it, I think about what it means. I figured it’s being at some sort of crossroads – go forward or go back? Make something of your life? Or destroy it? Suicide takes a certain resolve, and planning. Going to live in a cave and grow your own food so you don’t have to interact with the world takes determination. Actually living life takes even more work, a life time of positive thinking and problem solving.

This is where I clench my fists and rail against the sky: why is nothing easy??!

Then it occurred to me the easiest option is to be somewhere in between living and giving up – i.e. wallowing in misery. Never quite making the decision to sever ties, but not having to make the effort to make things better. Yes, misery is the escape of hypocritical choice. It’s great to know that I’ve chosen this scenic route for great chunks of my life, when I could have been just an honest alcoholic.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Why I hate saturdays

Every situation in life can be summed up with a line from the Smiths. Every Saturday can be summed by this: “so you go to a club, and you stand alone, and you go home, and you cry and you want to die”. It’s not just the rake thin girls dressed like sex dolls in clubs like Muse, or the men with only one thing on their minds. It’s the nature of hope. The definition of madness is doing the same things hoping for different results. If so, hope = madness. Saturdays when I try, and fail, to meet new people on a meaningful level repeated ad nauseum makes empty spaces in my head for bad things to happen. Things that make me wake up at 5am the next day. Like how I’ll never find someone who knows me, who gets me, who chooses just me. Like how men and women are no more than what you see on the outside – dolls and predators.