MASERU, Lesotho – The passport is stamped U.S., but I’m unabashedly a citizen of the world, with a toehold on four continents: from New York to Hong Kong, Prague to Lesotho. As a foreign correspondent, journalism educator, Health and Development communications consultant, and father of three, I’m based in Lesotho, high in the mountains of southern Africa. As the lone Western correspondent here, I’ve covered the tiny Mountain Kingdom‘s unique political crisis for Foreign Policy, AFP, South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, and others. Meanwhile, I’m also teaching Health Journalism and storytelling in one of the world’s sickliest societies. And from next-door South Africa, I’m co-producing a documentary film – The Clubhouse: A Post-Apartheid Story – which explores racial healing and equal opportunity in The Rainbow Nation, twenty years later. At the same time, in Hong Kong, I’m a six-time Visiting Scholar teaching International Journalism, mostly to bright, young mainland Chinese; and in Prague, I’m Senior Trainer of a biannual course in storytelling from around the world. In fact, post-Communist Central Europe flows through my veins; that’s where I launched my own foreign-correspondent career two decades ago. Thank you for visiting my website – and for reading … Michael
Archive for the ‘China’ Category
Posted in "From East to East", Africa, Blogging, Central Europe, China, Eastern Europe, European Union, Hong Kong, Journalism, Lesotho, Parenting, Teaching, Writing, tagged Basotho, Freelance Foreign Correspondent, Freelancer, Journalism Training, Lesotho, Maseru, Parenting, Sesotho on July 3, 2015| 4 Comments »
Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", "Nieman Reports", "Transitions Online", Africa, Blogging, Central Europe, China, Eastern Europe, HIV/AIDS, Hong Kong, Hungary, Journalism, Lesotho, Media Missionary of Maseru, Photography, South Africa, Teaching, Writing, tagged African Health, Basotho, Breast Cancer, Cervical Cancer, Development Journalism, Diabetes, Faculty of Health Sciences, Gender-Based Violence, Global Health, Health Journalism, HKBU, Hong Kong Baptist University, Human Trafficking, International Development Assistance, Internews, Journalism students, Journalism Training, Kenya, Kick4Life, Knight International Journalism Fellowship, Lesotho Media, Malnutrition, MCC, Millennium Challenge Account, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Multiple Concurrent Partners, National University of Lesotho, NUL, PEPFAR, Photos of Basotho, Photos of Lesotho, Population Services International, PSI, Pusha Love, Southern Africa, Student-Journalists, The Health Journalism Club, The Mountain Kingdom, Trailing Spouse, U.S. Embassy of Lesotho, UNICEF, USAID on May 31, 2013| 1 Comment »
[The following piece was published June 3, 2013, on The Mantle.]
MASERU, Lesotho – In November 2011, I was newly arrived in Africa, so full of hope, writing dreamily of Lesotho’s “veritable field of dreams” for journalism trainings.
Eighteen months later, rejection slaps me in the face so often, I’m ready to press charges. I’m a pauper on the streets, banging my tin-cup.
Hey buddy, can you spare a dime? Yes, it’s for a journalism training. But not only will it improve Basotho health, it just may save lives!
I came to Lesotho having taught journalism over the past ten years in New York, Central Europe and Hong Kong – and soon realized I was the only journalism-skills teacher in the entire “Mountain Kingdom.” I studied how to help a tiny nation of 1.8 million, clustered in hamlets among the tallest peaks of southern Africa. Not to teach any kind of journalism, but specifically, health journalism.
The list of what ails the Basotho of Lesotho is depressingly long. They suffer the world’s third-highest rate of HIV infection – an unfathomable 23 percent among the most sexually active, ages 15-49. Malnutrition has hit 40 percent, as two-fifths of the children under age 5 endure stunting of the brain and body. Then there’s TB. Diabetes. Breast cancer. Cervical cancer. And so on. Everywhere you look, bad news.
Meanwhile, it’s darn near impossible to find a decent example of explanatory journalism, to inform and educate society on simply how to cope with all this. Which is unsurprising, since Lesotho lacks any real journalism education or professional training. Among reporters and editors here, “The blind are leading the blind.” (Though, this is not their fault, as I’ve written in a related post.)
Though I’d landed in Africa with no contacts whatsoever – as a dutiful “trailing spouse” following my wife’s career in international development – so optimistic was I about my freelancing prospects that I boldly launched a new feature for my website, and immodestly named it The Media Missionary of Maseru.
Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", Central Europe, China, Democracy, Eastern Europe, European Union, Gypsy, Hong Kong, Hungary, Lesotho, Minorities, Photography, Roma, Romani, Slovakia, tagged 1848 Revolutions, 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Arab Spring, Brussels, China's Ministry of Railways, Ethnic Hatred, European Commission, Fidesz, Gorilla Scandal, Habsburg Monarchy, High-Speed Train, Július Barczi, Jose Manuel Barroso, Klub Radio, Mitteleuropa, Orban Viktor, Red Sludge, Robert Fico, Scapegoating, Soviet Union, Toxic Spill, Vienna, Viktor Orban, Weibo, Wenzhou Train Crash on March 19, 2012| 2 Comments »
MASERU, Lesotho – Last week was one filled with nostalgia and melancholy.
From my new base in Lesotho, three other adopted homes – Hungary, Slovakia and China, all dear to my heart – each resurfaced in the news with depressingly familiar story-lines. From thousands of miles away, they reminded me of past reporting – and how little changes.
First up, Slovakia, where I recently lived for five years. One of its historic, hilltop castles burns to the ground – apparently caused by two kids, 11 and 12, messing with cigarettes on a windy day. From an adjacent village, they accidentally set fire to some dry grass, whose embers floated upward, igniting the castle’s timber roof.
Poof! In minutes, a gothic, seven-century-old memento, gone.
The Slovak and Czech reaction? Gypsies! It must’ve been those damned Gypsies! More than a rush to judgment, it was a virtual blood-libel against Europe’s largest and most marginalized minority, known more respectfully as Roma. Over the years, I’ve chronicled countless times [like here, here and here] how post-Communist Central Europe always finds something to blame on the Roma. (Even if there’s no love lost in Slovakia for castles that are essentially relics of Hungarian overlordship, while Slovaks toiled as serfs.)
This fire came on the heels of public outrage over a galling corruption scandal, followed by an election that ousted the ruling coalition. If a beaten child has no recourse toward his parents, he turns to kick the dog. Especially in a region saddled by congenital resistance to introspection, which much prefers to point the finger of blame elsewhere.
Though in this case, soul-searching is well warranted, as a Slovakian art historian asserted. The brushfire threat around the castle always existed, he charged, and state authorities were negligent to protect and preserve it.
“It is forbidden to burn grass and it is certainly wrong to do so, but it is just as sick to put the blame on ‘unidentified perpetrators’ who are allegedly members of a minority in the interest of distracting attention from one’s own responsibility,” said the art-historian, Július Barczi.
Next in the news, China.
Posted in "From East to East", Africa, Blogging, Central Europe, China, Eastern Europe, European Union, Hong Kong, Journalism, Lesotho, Parenting, Photography, South Africa, Teaching, Writing, tagged Afrikaans, Afrikaner, Basotho, Bratislava, Chinese Counterfeiting, Ex-Communist Eastern Europe, Freelance Foreign Correspondent, Freelancer, Makos Retes, Maseru, Mitteleuropa, Mokhoro, Poppy-Seed Strudel, Prague, Rondavel, Training on November 20, 2011| 5 Comments »
MASERU, Lesotho – Surreal. It’s a shopworn term – defined as unbelievable, fantastic or incongruous – that is thrown around way too casually in the Anglophone world. By me, included.
But how else to describe my sensations this past week, as I stumbled into the next stage of my life: here in remote Lesotho, the “Kingdom in the Sky” of the Basotho people?
Just two months ago, I wrapped up 17 years as a Central Europe-based foreign correspondent. The place may be rife with cobblestones and castles, age-old hatreds and poppy-seed strudel, but the post-Communist world is also perched on the doorstep of wealthy, industrialized Europe – and hitched to the fate of the European Union.
Then I spent two months in China, mostly in the hyper-developed, hyper-kinetic and hyper-counterfeiting mega-cities of Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. The Chinese seem hell-bent on proving to the planet – and to themselves – that they’re worthy of the mantle “the next global superpower.”
A mere 36 hours later, via plane, train and automobile, I arrived in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho. Courtesy of my wife’s job in international development, I find myself with our three kids, for three years, in one of the world’s poorest, least-developed, and worst-HIV-ridden countries.
Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", Blogging, China, Democracy, Dictatorship, Hong Kong, Journalism, Teaching, Writing, tagged Beijing Normal University, Censorship, Chinese Blogosphere, Chinese journalism students, Chinese Media, HKBU, Hong Kong Baptist University, Pearl River Delta, Self-Censorship, United International College, Zhuhai on November 11, 2011| 1 Comment »
HONG KONG – Last Friday, I would’ve been within my right to sleep in and relish a break from Hong Kong Baptist University. For six weeks, I’ve slavishly tutored another 79 of Asia’s brightest journalism students – mostly mainland Chinese women. (They’re worth it, but my right eye has gone blurry.)
Instead, I woke early to hydrofoil across the rocky, sun-soaked Pearl River Delta, back to the English-language United International College in Zhuhai. In a sauna of a classroom, before 20 (mostly) wide-eyed journalism undergrads, I sweat through three hours of my Parachute in! The Adventurer’s Guide to Foreign Reporting lecture: how I broke into freelancing 17 years ago, and how I’ve done it ever since.
All this, for free. For a friend. For the students … Ah, who am I kidding? I did it for me. As I returned home Friday night, thoroughly wiped, I thought to myself: “You may have an addiction to China.” Or, more specifically, an addiction to teaching Chinese journalism students.
The weekend didn’t cure me. On Monday morning, I volunteered to rise at another ungodly hour and represent our Master’s program in International Journalism at the graduation of last year’s students. I’d trained them twice: for six weeks in Hong Kong, then one week in Prague.
On stage, I enjoyed a bird’s-eye view as dozens of beaming young Chinese heard their names called and – before family and friends – marched across to receive the hearty handshake of a pair of HKBU dons.
I can’t deny it: China and her young Chinese have cast a spell on me. This country matters. Economically, diplomatically, militarily. The world’s emerging superpower is so endlessly fascinating, I’m dizzy with all that I want to write about it. Then there’s the teaching. I now hear myself utter over and over again, to anyone who’ll listen: “China matters – which means my Chinese journalism students matter, too.” The apple of my eye today is HKBU’s current crop of students.
Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", Blogging, China, Hong Kong, Journalism, Photography, Teaching, Writing, tagged Chinese journalism students, Headshots, HKBU, Hong Kong Baptist University, IPhone, Journalism Education, Mainland China, Photography, Portraits on November 11, 2011| Leave a Comment »
HONG KONG – I’m not a professional photojournalist. Yet as a freelancer in the field, I recognize the value to being able to offer clients what I humbly refer to as “decent, usable” photos to package with my articles.
This semester, among the hours I spent with 14 separate groups of mostly Chinese students – cramming in myriad advice on how to professionalize their journalism blogs – I included a quickie tutorial on how to snap a no-frills portrait of their subjects. With their IPhone.
After all, if you’re off in an interesting place, interviewing interesting people, odds are your client will not muster the resources to send a photographer to retrace your steps. A headshot, at least, will a) make the story more visually appealing and b) help readers connect with your subject. Oh, and it may put a few more dollars in your pocket.
Two essential tips, then, I was taught long ago. First, turn your subject 45 degrees – get some angularity in their pose, rather than a straight-shouldered mug-shot. And second, like a hunter, don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes – the proverbial “window onto their soul.”
Naturally, I experimented with a guinea pig in each tutorial, to show the others. The result, it turns out, is a cherished memento for me — and a photo essay of the next generation of Chinese journalists:
Thirteen more below …
Posted in "From East to East", "Mantle", Blogging, China, Hong Kong, Journalism, Teaching, Writing, tagged Chinese journalism students, HKBU, Hong Kong Baptist University, Journalism Teaching, Tough Love, Tutorials, Tutoring, Writing Coach on November 11, 2011| Leave a Comment »
HONG KONG – An Australian friend and colleague began teaching journalism this semester at Hong Kong Baptist University, and we recently commiserated over deep-fried pigeon how aggravating it is when students dare ignore our wisdom.
Since my colleague is new to university teaching in general, I preached to him the virtues of an occasional tongue-lashing of wayward students. Bouquets of praise and encouragement only go so far. Whether face-to-face or via email, I find nothing wrong with letting loose the occasional abuse – a tough love, borne of concern.
In the sanctuary of university brick and mortar, they can get away with missteps or outright mistakes. Next year, in the real world, they may pay a price. Why not scare them straight?
Since I always advocate the benefits of “show, don’t tell” through concrete example, here’s an email I sent to students during their recent reporting project — written for the class of my HKBU colleague, Robin Ewing, but which I then critiqued — on how to sensitively and professionally approach the reporting of minority communities.
Not surprisingly, it drew stony silence — though, the final articles produced were impressive overall: