Monday, July 24, 2006

Hala!

Or rather: Selamat datang! (as they say here in Malaysia).

Ha ha! Jasper, if you're trying to bust my balls, I won't let you do it! I know you better than that. Hey, Annika, The Jasp is a real politico, eh? What is the stronger influence upon the brain of the Jasp? Libertarianism? Zionism? Or is it the neo cons he so admires in Washington? Or some peculiar Frankensteined combination of all three? I love you anyway, my friend. And I'm glad you like the poem. I aim to please.

See, Terry, Annika, you must understand, Jasper and I enjoy such debates. We don't actually want to eliminate each other's people. Leave that to the insurgents ha ha!

OK, honestly, I meant no offense to anyone. Besides, the Jasp and I understand each other's respective positions already. If he and I can get along, then why –I sometimes wonder– can't the parties we argue over?

btw, speaking of parties, the constant partying on my part these last few days has not helped me overcome my jet lag. So, enough of that for a while. It really must come to a stop. Especially since I just finished my first day at Al Jazeera. Even though the day went well, I felt a bit draggy and wobbly throughout the day. Doesn't help that the offices are on the sixtieth floor, either. Fortunately, there are not only 50 McDonalds restaurants within the city limits, but also 38 Starbucks, and two of them –praise God– are located at the base of the skyscraper where I work.

It's true, espresso is a magic substance.

Did as I told you I would. I gave myself an hour to get to the office, but it only took me 20 minutes to reach the Towers, So, I kicked around the park for a half hour first.

Apart from the twin Petronas Towers, the fifty acre Kuala Lumpur City Centre also hosts a mosque, a convention center, a concert hall, apartments and Suria KLCC, a six-story shopping mall, where the two Starbucks I mentioned can be found –one on the Concourse level, and one on the third floor, in case you're ever in the neighborhood, haha, now you now where to go! It would be great if you guys were really here!

For what it's worth, the Americanized food court inside Suria KLCC also features several true blue favorites like Cinnabon, Famous Amos, Häagen-Dazs, Burger King, KFC, Chili's Grill Bar, California Pizza Kitchen and Dunkin Donuts. They really love American fast food here. I mean, judging from the crowds I've seen at these places, anything on the KFC menu, for instance, is even more popular than, say, a more typical Asian side of cuttlefish with spinach in peanut sauce, or even a real Roti chicken. How can that be?

Dunkin Donuts notwithstanding, I bought breakfast on the run this morning from one of Kuala Lumpur's ubiquitous street vendors, and had what I think the man called a 'Mangga Bomb'.

A Mangga Bomb looks like it could be a jelly donut, except that it's coated with brightly colored red confectioners sugar, toasted coconut and sprinkled with a hint of cayenne (!). A deep fried crispy shell surrounds a moist center filling made of sweet pineapple cake and mango mousse.

They LOVE pineapple here.

Thing is like a self-heating hot fruity pie that kicks you in the ass and washes down well afterwards with soy milk and espresso. It's so radically delicious that I recommend you get on a plane to South East Asia immediately. And I think it may even aid in elimination, which is probably incorrect, but that's probably more information than you care to know anyway.

So after stuffing my head with like two of those things and venti Americano, I still made it up to the sixtieth floor, sugar dosed and duly caffeinated, with time to spare. Good thing, too, because at precisely 9:00AM a lovely woman by the name of Anita Pusapti greeted me. At first I thought she was maybe the same woman who interviewed me over the phone, but that was someone else, and Anita is my new boss.

SMOKIN' HOT, too, but waaa...aaay out of my league. And that's putting it only mildly.

We're probably about the same age, or maybe she's a little older, but I found out all the while I was in grad school and waiting tables, Anita was producing segments for BBC News in London. So, whereas I still think of myself as a kid, looks like an adult, and definitely all woman. I gotta stop chasing grad students. First thing I thought when I met her (after all the pornographic stuff, naturally) is that yes I'm way in over my head here, and you can bet that the first time I mess any little thing up, this woman is going to crush me like a tiny ant. In the meantime, she showed me where the emergency fire exits and bathrooms are.

Otherwise, the most important thing I learned today is that Aljazeera.net, Al Jazeera Space Channel TV, and its subsidiary, Al Jazeera International –the entity I work for– are not to be confused with Aljazeera Publishing or Aljazeera.com.

The latter apparently predated the former by several years, but never earned the recognition or prestige (or the notoriety) that Space Channel TV went on to gain. Eventually Aljazeera Space Channel TV sued Aljazeera Publishing for the dot com address but lost its case in a British court. hence the dot net address.

Everyone here of course pretends not to be touchy about it, but I heard a Chinese receptionist get fucking reamed in a pigeon Malay called 'Peranakan' for accidentally telling someone over the phone that the channel's web site was dot com, and not dot net.

dot oops, yeah?

btw, when they told me that they were still staffing up, they weren't kidding! The Malaysian offices of Al Jazeera feels more like a frontier outpost than a broadcast center. I think the official channel launch is still three or four months off, maybe in mid November or something like that. I guess the reasoning is who better to work out the administrative kinks on than young, cheap help like myself.

And officially, I'm the most junior person on a team that produces documentaries and human interest segments. We produce something sort of like the stories you'd see on 60 Minutes or Date Line. And there's some overlap with our stuff being used on the website, but I'm not sure how or if that affects me. Oh, and when I say, I'm 'on the team', I mean I run to Starbucks for Anita when she asks me to. Capiche?

And as it happens, I've already been assigned to a project they've already been working on for some time now, as is my understanding.

They're making a documentary about the amazingly rapid economic growth South East Asia is now experiencing. Most of the shooting is done, but this week they are doing a few follow-up interviews with several key interview subjects, all of whom conveniently happen to be neighboring tenants to Al Jazeera in the Petronas Towers complex. So we're not going very far. The entire piece is supposed to air in conjunction with the launch of the cable channel, whenever that is.

And actually, Anita told me I will be doing more than simply running for coffee. My role, as she described it, will be to sit in on the videotaping of interviews and take notes. Not just of what people say, because that's all getting recorded anyway, but of things that might not get captured on camera. Apparently they use all that stuff for background and context when they write a narrative. So who knows, maybe something I write will actually end up in an article or broadcast piece!

Fingers crossed, one can only hope.

All that, I am told, will keep me busy through the end of this week. I have to admit, it seems like a relatively stress free way to get my feet wet, but I am nervous anyway. As far as preparation goes, we start with a tomorrow production meeting in the morning, and then –in the afternoon– we have three interviews lined up. I'm not sure if that's a light work day or a heavy work day. I'll let you know after it's done.

Oh yes, the best part– I received my official Al Jazeera ID, which gives me access to the the Petronas offices with a wave of the card. But I'm also thinking that it might prove useful as a nightclubs pass ya think? Not quite press credentials, but nothing on it says 'Gopher' ha ha!

It was long first day, but went by fast, I thought. I worked ten and twelve hour shifts at Cozy, so in that respect Al Jazeera itself runs just like a restaurant. I actually found it easier though, working at Al Jazeera because I wasn't always on my feet like you are waiting tables. Turns out, when not hitting the pavement to work a beat, journalists sit on their asses and surf the web a lot. Heaviest thing I carried today was a large hazelnut latte.

And we're surrounded by celebrities. Except since none of them are American –or Lebanese– so I'm oblivious to who people are or what their status is. So, if someone is dressed really well and looks confident, I figure they're either important or an asshole. And it's usually about 50/50 anyway.

Either way, you can't walk in the door here, though, and not know who Veronica Pedrosa is. She's the Anchor head for the Al Jazeera International Malaysian Broadcast Center, though I didn't see her in person for the first time until I was leaving for the day. During orientation they give you enough press and promo with her face on it to be familiar with her so that by the time I did see her, I knew exactly who she was, and was able to show her a bit of deference and respect.

Essentially I just looked the other way and tried not to be noticed.

But think about it:

Here I am in an Islamic country, and this WOMAN has already beat Katie Couric to the punch of being a solo female anchor.

It's almost as this side of the world presents itself as not so much being on the other side of the planet as it is on the other side of a mirror.

It's all just so–

Amazing.

Ha!

Yalla Bye–


SIRAJ!