BRIAN LORD"s RADIO STORIES
Major Change and typhoons #41
The First image I have of Hong Kong was when the 747 I was landing in came so close to one of those high-rise apartment buildings that peppered the area around Kai Tak airport I could actually see through a flat's window and ascertain the residents were watching "The Simpsons". That was back on an exploratory trip in 1994 and in the years that followed no aircraft struck one of the buildings. Over 100 aircraft from all over the world squeezed through that narrow corridor every day no doubt frightening hell out its passengers. It was one of those “Well I made it but surely the next won’t and cause untold misery and world headlines.” Never happened. Late In the 1900's Chek Lap Kok was opened, South of Hong Kong proper and within months an aircraft landed in a typhoon, upturned, killing two and injuring two-hundred of the three-hundred or so on board. Go figure.
Kai Tak was one strip of runway poking into Kong Kong Harbour whereas Chek Lap Kok was an isolated island leveled, graded and paved with a massive terminal that appeared from certain vantage points to resemble a giant squid. An aerial Disneyland. A leap into the mid 21st century. Not even a tree to hit on approach or take off. Some pilots still consider it the finest airport in the world.
But this is about Radio in'it.............
..........An announcer in Seattle or Vancouver sits down at the console and speaks fluently. Now that the "Scream Era" (can you say BOSS Radio) is over. News announcers are expected to know how to pronounce the names that are making the news and the places from which news is emanating, that can get tough in an Eastern European war or broadcasting the names in a tennis tournament, but wait 'till you get to pronouncing names, etc in Chinese. New Kettle. New Fish. I was openly attacked by the brutal News Director, Brian Curtis for making probably the biggest gaffe in the field when I announced that something or other was happening somewhere on the Yangtze River -- or a I said "on the 'Yangk-zee". It was near the beginning of the great Three-Rivers project which, of course was of high interest in Hong Kong. When the news cast was over I was asked in anything but pleasant terms.."WHAT was the name of that River" and when I answered I endured a several minute sermon on the importance of names and places and 'Yangk-zee' was a bit off the center. The proper pronouncing of the Yangtze is the "Yawn-zuh”. Could I please pronounce the river's name so our Chinese Audience--English speaking or not-- will at least recognize the area. Oh Yeah, another thing; being as we were only a couple-hundred klicks from Guangzhou, please call it by its Chinese name which is no longer used within the country, never was-- except in error. It’s Canton. Considering the number of Chinese people and the size of our listener base, it would be nice to know the vast area and populations proper names No Cantonese, it's Guongdonghui. No Mandarin --- Putonghuai.
That ain't all. There are ten countries in ASEAN -- the Association of South-East Asian Nations -- which does not include Hong Kong but does include Thailand and Indonesia. Try getting hit cold with King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand or maybe Megawati Sukarnoputri, (second reference: She.) The Philippines is hopeless and not much in the way of news comes out of Brunei. Singapore is naturally, mostly business news and Laos doesn't broadcast anything.
On a miserable, rainy morning in early 2001 my wife, Feli and I jumped in a cab in Sai Kung, our home in a Hong Kong Suburb, and endured the long ride to the new airport's terminal. We were bound for the Philippines where we were to take up residence in a small agricultural town one-hundred kilometers north of Manila name Jaen, pronounced High-En, the ancestral home of the De Guzman family. Felicitas Ciriaco De Guzman was a Nurse who had taken her RN course at Philippine University where she already held a Bachelor of Secondary Education degree. Her mother had wanted her to be a teacher and Feli had fulfilled part of her mother's wish by gaining the degree but never taught a soul, her idea of a working life being that of a nurse, care-giver in a distant land as far away from the Philippines as she could get. Her employment search led her to Saudi Arabia where she looked after the needs of a cranky, old Arab lady who was obviously waiting for Mohammed to free her from her earthly bondage. Feli was stuck with her,0 due to an iron-clad two year contract and hated it. Ferdinand Marcos had been Dictator/President of the republic when she had left and she rarely returned to her home country as her ability was much in demand in Hong Kong where she helped raise little Chinese girls who all screamed like banshees when Feli moved on to another position..
Feli was between jobs in Hong Kong and permanently out of work. She was vacationing when I happened to notice her hanging out her underwear on my next door neighbor’s clothesline on Lamma Island, the location of which was home to a large circle of Brits, including my friend Rupert Winchester and his wife… maybe 200 Filipinos and me who just happened to live next door to Feli's niece Lani and Lani's husband, an American of black Irish descent named Jerry. One day I mentioned to Jerry that I had seen his wife hanging out the clothes, and she looked very cute, he turned and introduced me to Lani, his wife, who was not the woman I had seen hanging out clothes -- far from it -- she was at least 10 months pregnant. "Well who the hell did I see...?" Jerry told me it was Feli. "Where is she now?" She was in the kitchen. I got up hurried into the house yelled her name met her in the kitchen and introduced myself (as Ed). Two weeks later she moved in with me, one year later we were married, three months later my employment came to an end as the radio station decided to broadcast in Chinese only, one month later Feli and I moved to her home in the Philippines, built a house, bought a car, opened a small taxi business and settled into married life.
Yung Shue Won town on Lamma Island was about a 1/2 hour ride from Central District in Hong Kong when I first started to commute by ferry... but as time went on, the ferries got smaller and faster and the trip took about 15 to 20 minutes. There was a major drawback, one could not do the early trip that ran at 5:30 AM and get to work at 6AM, The time for Metro's first Major newscast. Initially I was never faced with this problem but the time did come when the Chinese owners decided to severely cut back on "live" English programming on Metro AM and I was forced to run the early shift on Saturdays and Sundays. This meant I had to leave Feli on Friday night around 11 and sleep at the station, ruled by an alarm clock. To begin with, I was fortunate that the executive part of the station was left open and there was a television set in one of the board rooms. I had a sleeping bag, a pillow and an alarm clock. What could possibly go wrong? Well, one of the execs saw me prone in my sleeping bag in front of the board room TV and although he didn't speak to me, the next week the door was locked. For all I know he thought I was some vagrant who'd crawled in from the outer world.
Oh I had a fine time ferreting out places to lay my sleeping bag. One was a boiler room of some sort filled with what one would expect to find in boiler rooms except the one I discovered was filled with batteries. About 200 of them. At least I think they were batteries. But a cleaning man found me there and I thought it best to look for other quarters. There was a huge empty space about a third the size of a bowling alley which was not finished -- just grey cement on floor, walls and ceiling. Future digs for Metro expansion. It worked until I saw a rat the size of a wire-haired terrier lurking about 20 meters away, the sight of which firmly ended my using that area. Eventually the Chinese News Director, Clara, gave me the key to her office after finding me hidden away in somebody's office or file room. This was not like Clara but she did have some feelings in her somewhere and that solved the problem.
Then horror struck. The entire English speaking staff including Kelly, Brian Curtis and about four other reporters and anchors were let go because management had cut back the English language banter on Metro to a point where they barely filled the local Government requirement. Only two of us were left. Chris Gelkin, who had the most kids to support, be it they were in Thailand living with their mother whom Chris described as a burning shrew from hell, a member of the devil's female staff.
Kelly Dean had impressed upon those who held the axe that I was capable of most things in radio and in a pinch could serve in any capacity, I'd been in the business since birth. One bilingual member of the staff, Nick was kept on as well. Nick sat all day transferring copy from the wire service onto the Internet. Nick was one of the few people in the colony who was born of white parents and grew up speaking both English and "Cantonese" fluently.
This change meant that there was just no possibility to remain living on Lamma Island -- it meant that we would have to move to the Mainland -- not even Hong Kong Island --although it was connected to Kowloon (Mainland) by underground subways and tunnels as well as one above ground bridge one had to keep in mind that typhoon season was capable of destroying any repetitive behavior such as getting to work and returning. The colony shut downs Taxis went to a safe place and sat there out of service. The ferries that connected Hong Kong Island to the mainland also ceased running. And that cessation included, of course, our Lamma Island ferries. The subways stopped running, aircraft grounded; people vacated the tall buildings, not because the buildings would be overturned but because gusts of wind in excess of 250 kilometers an hour can easily blow out windows. All private craft as well as work boats go to the typhoon enclosures which are behind walls and keep the water relatively calm. One cannot talk about Hong Kong without mentioning typhoons, one of Nature’s big guns. A mass evacuation begins in plenty of time to get people off the streets and off the water because a particular typhoon moves along ground level at a set rate of speed and on a pretty predictable path over a short distance, say sixteen kilometers as a rule. Typhoon warnings are posted all over town, over the radio and television and it's high nigh to impossible to be so stupid as to not know when one is on its way.
Shortly after I arrived in Hong Kong, a friend came from Vancouver for a visit. We lucked out and got a fairly high floor with a plate glass window in an inexpensive hotel run by the YWCA. It faced Victoria harbour, the stretch of water separating the main island from the mainland and the place where much of the shipping action takes place... by that I mean ferries and other commercial boats usually up to about 160 meters in length. There's also a herd of sampans, mostly fishermen drifting along as well. It's a busy harbour but limited to small craft. The huge 100,000 ton freighters are anchored between Lamma and Hong Kong and are loaded by lighters carrying the containers. We were lucky to have watched the phenomenon of an approaching typhoon as it came sweeping across the harbour on its course of destruction. Rain is in streaks 300 meters wide and is constant, the streaks following each other like a battalion of soldiers marching in a parade. The wind is deafening, even indoors as the wind strikes the building howling like a wolf. And the water in the harbour reminds one of a washing machine churning at full blast with no clothes in it. A typhoon can be a frightful scene, decidedly awesome.
Sometimes, depending on the size of the storm, and where you are -- in relation to it -- the "eye" appears overhead. I have only been in an eye once but it is a chilling experience. A pale sun which casts a strange orange hew, in that all reflective objects: windows, wooden doors, shiny metal objects pick up the color and the world around you becomes completely un-natural -- as if you were standing inside a blimp where the air is colored in an unearthly orange gloom. A frightening stillness envelopes you. The eye is short lived. A "get out and get in fast" scenario because here again comes the rage from the other direction.
My friend and I decided to venture a half block down the street from the YWCA to a MacDonald's which we thought (rightly) may be open. Only a small part was functioning but they were in business. We started down the street pressed up against the wall of the building and our umbrellas were immediately made useless and torn from us. The old description of having a fire-hose turned upon you was as accurate as ever. It was foolishness but in some ways reminiscent of hanging on to a train racing through a rainstorm...(we've all done that, right?). Exhilarating. Dangerous. It stands to reason we ate at the restaurant
Another-time, another typhoon; Feli and I ventured into downtown Sai Kung. Our home was on a hill and sheltered to a considerable extent so we said "why not". As soon as we got over the lip of the hill, the force of rain and wind hit us. We were maybe 50 meters from town when we saw hurtling along the street a store's fair-sized metal marquee; skidding speed maybe twenty miles an hour; it was likely aluminum but had it struck -- no hint of fun. A taxi stood nearby but he wouldn't even glance at us. As we made our way back up the hill to our home we were scared half to death when some kind of generator blew, casting a bright blue flash that lit up everything in the vicinity. It was accompanied by a loud electric explosion. What it is that made me go outdoors during not one but two typhoons has escaped me? Stupid adventures and life-threatening. Maybe they are spell-binding but they are fearsome rangers belonging to nature and she wants no interference from anything mortal or made by mortals. Nature has her bitchy side and typhoons or hurricanes are explicitly under her domain. If one lives in SE Asia typhoons in some cases run your life.
The Change-over from British to Chinese authority came in 1997. It was pumped up for at least two years of hype by the time the day arrived, June 30th, It was pouring rain, deadly boring and people sat and wondered what they had really expected. A couple of Flags were exchanged, the Prince of Wales spoke, the President of China spoke. Neither said anything everybody didn't already know. Some bands played and it was over. Fifty Chinese soldiers entered the colony, drove downtown to their barracks in troop carriers and nobody much ever saw them again. It was like a mini-millennium change, only smaller. Hong Kong did not exhibit the Rock 'n' Roll side of the change over at the turn of the millennium. It's like: Where do you go after you've counted down to one and lit a firecracker? Huh?
In 2001 Feli and I moved to the Philippians It took 11 years of trying to adjust to life in Feli’s home country. She had ancestral land there and we built a house, had a couple of businesses, (motorcycle taxis and a confection similar to a Popsicle, concocted by Feli that sold like gold in the dry season). The Philippines only has two seasons ---wet and dry--- both difficult for someone used to mild weather. There are many different kinds of governments; Parliamentary, Constitutional, Kingdoms. The Philippines is a Corruption government, all the way from the President on down to the civil administration. It’s a two-class system: rich and poor. The middle class is indefinable by virtue of its virtual non-existence. After a life growing up in North America, I gave up. I could not, would not, go beyond describing the Island nation as a dog---three months gone, during dry season. At least I come away with a great wife and a lot of experience, unfortunately not all of it good.
(Late of) The Philippines