Just yesterday, I had left the Starbucks not far from central Oxford and was headed to the town hall, apparently for “lunch”. Tracy got me into a room in the town hall, which was to be used in the afternoon for an event we would take part in. She asked me to come to the lectern for a photo opp. (You like doing that and giving speeches all the time!, she said, so on I went to “the set”. There was also virtually no-one else there, and it would be at least a full hour until the event would be underway, so we had plenty of time.)
I thought about using this pic (look at this great shot, my wife said to me) so to tell you all about a key shift in my life as I prepare for what’s next my end, career-wise. Now Tracy and I had just finished a few weeks where we consulted one other for solid plans. I myself am putting behind unpredictable times and have a fresh new vision, but also am true to that age-old adage — If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! I have to say she is far more optimistic than I dared imagine — and both of us were also realistic. ▶
The average academic talk is where you’ve students all facing one way, staring at a speaker, and then trying to make sense of this. Then you realise that when I do seminars and events, I wanted to make it the exact way both the speaker and attendees want it. We decided shifting tables so that most of us ended up looking at one other — much like a semi-roundtable — would be the best idea. And that’s exactly how the classroom was arranged for the first China Media Centre seminar, which took place today.
Vincent Ni, who’s now with the BBC World Service, came today as speaker to deliver an extremely insightful talk — insightful as it was also thought-provoking and very much what you expected from a distinguished journalist with a lot of experience. He has covered the elections in Myanmar / Burma, the Arab Spring, and much more. He has also worked previously in China-based media, moving recently onwards to media based in the UK. ▶
I will be part of the UK-China Culture Exchange – 2nd Global China Dialogue: Transculturality and New Global Governance conference. This will be held at the Wolfson Auditorium in the British Academy on 23 & 24 November 2015.
My role at this event at this moment will be as discussant of the second forum on the first day — Civilised dialogue – transcultural and comparative.
Here’s a quick briefer into the conference… ▶
I absolutely adore the English language here. Make no mistake — the way I see it, the best way to get better at speaking onstage in a tone of voice that doesn’t get people snoring is — to travel on the Tube (or any other form of public transport — even planes).
I knew this happened to me because a few years back, I was asked to record a series of (very short) audio programmes for China Radio International in Mandarin Chinese (if I got my facts right). I was invited into a recording studio with a massive microphone, and they turned the machine on. I started reciting from memory.
The member of staff from China Radio International was completely flabbergasted. I was telling stories, not monologues, and it was all being recorded.
The tone of my voice isn’t the same ole same ole boring monologue for the simple fact that I’ve listened to station announcements on the Zürich suburban train (S-Bahn) system. In the 1990s, they had two female voices, plus another two voices from male announcers. I liked the one with the lady reading the station name in a tone which must have incorporated a warm smile (you could almost hear it!), and I was made slightly more nervous when Mr Nervous Announcer did his bit. As a kid then in his teens, these minute differences in tone meant a lot for me.
Here in London, my favourite announcements are those made on the S stock trains running on the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines. This is followed up next by 2009 Stock trains on the Victoria line. ▶
Being interviewed on the lawn at College Green in central London, right next to the Houses of Parliament, was and remained a very unique event to me. The BBC got together around six people from all walks of life — including lawyers, artists, academics, and independent journalists — and filled an entire hour of programming with discussions and debate, with the Chinese President in town.
The way we conducted the interview and the programming itself was, certainly to me, quite unlike any other. It was held in the open, right next to other “camera & mic” setups by other media outlets (such as TV stations). We had no cover, no cameras, three microphones (microphones only, since this was an audio-only show), and stood around in a circle. It was in fact none other than like a good old chat — except you handed over the mic to the person who wanted to speak. At the end, we tuned in live to the Chinese President’s address to the Houses of Parliament and gave our quick 2p on how the talk was. Consensus was we did in fact actually like it.
I myself believe that things like today’s live interview is a great way to share voices freely, a principle I stick to dearly. Everyone was given almost equal microphone access and on-air time, and every view was so different and unique. The discussion wrapped up by noting how down-to-earth the Chinese President’s comments were and how this was welcomed and made a difference. ▶
This show just went epic nuts at the Bird’s Nest. Tracy and I were watching reruns of the grand finale of The Voice of China.
Obviously, I was in the main room, so I only caught the last parts. But those last parts made it all the more worthwhile. They also formed a very heated debate with other academics in a meeting just a few hours after we watched it at home.
Advertising is all the rage in China — and as long as it’s not “unhealthy” or seriously political, chances are, they’ll let it run. The super-expensive spot — played just before they announced the nationwide winner — tried to really “suck it up” to Jay Chow and his rap. It was basically a rip-off of a Jay Chow kung-fu (?) rap — plugging in a car site, Xin.com.
We saw it — and the whole wide Web went bolonzos. ▶
I did something I haven’t been doing for a fair while today at 14:30: speaking in front of an audience of 100+ people. (Stage fright is a one-off thing, though; never mind my last speaking gig in front of close to 100+ was in spring 2014…)
My 30-minute “blah” was about a myriad of things — all related to media, journalism, and the like. Things such as framing the news, covert (and not so covert) agendas, and pigeon-holing people. Things such as really trying to make sense of anything from the refugee crisis in Europe to Corbyn leading Labour (what the media thought, and what the academics thought). Things such as how social media was such a big game-changer, and how the Chinese Great Firewall couldn’t 100% define what happened inside the People’s Republic. ▶
For academics, China resembles this huge country where you are just captivated — by trains virtually flying by one moment, then huge airports to make Boris mad (sorry, Gatwick), then off-colour-looking buildings hosting Central Television. There is a lot of the glitz and glamour, but remarkably little in the way of theory.
I’ve just been dipping my feet in the China media world, but I have yet to see a solid, oft-cited Chinese-made theory about the Internet and communications (as in: the way we speak; or “talk the talk, walk the walk”). Instead, many a Chinese university freely cite McLuhan, Habermas, or Marx.
Most of China tends to default to citing Marx as often as possible. You can’t blame them: it’s “enshrined” in the country’s constitution, and the replacing of this idea with Western values is almost guaranteed to make Beijing uncomfortable. Yet what are missing here are more “Internet-savvy” / “Internet-ready” ideas, as well as a very “with Chinese characteristics” theory (which should be rather apolitical if possible).
China is indeed in quite a unique situation. ▶
China is this weird and wonderful country where it’s a challenge to make sense, at times, of what’s coming out from Zhongnanhai. Mixed in at times horrifically hard-to-understand officialspeak are national policies of a system that, whilst grey on the outside, actually works in more and more of the country.
I’ve spent 14 years in China in one go. If you’re willing to make sense of how this nation is supposed to be made sense of, here are the media resources I often tune into (in Chinese, as this is what you’d want, right?… If you were serious about China, you’d have learnt the language!)… ▶