Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Osaka Madness

When I got back to the office today from my trip to Brazil, there was a form on my desk with the words "get stickers,” scrawled across it. It was from my boss.

Apparently - as is usually the case, as was the case in Rio - in order to report on the World Athletics Championships in Osaka, Japan, next month, I need to get a sticker for my equipment. That's fine. The only thing is the deadline for applying for radio frequencies was JANUARY of this year. That doesn't really have anything to do with the job I do, because I don't plan on broadcasting anything live. I was planning on being in the mixed zone where the athletes come off the track, record a few quotes, write the story and feed it back to Washington. It's a basic report.

But the Olympic-type guys have figured out that they can make money by making everyone have a sticker on their stuff or they won't be allowed to take it into the stadium. Which means I could fly clear across the world, go to the stadium get in, but would have to leave my equipment back at my hotel room.

I likened it to being invited to the picnic, but not being allowed to eat. But I e-mailed the Osaka 2007 people because what they are restricting is not what we want to do. We just want to be able to get some quotes from the athletes, and insert them in reports. I hope they understand that.

The last one of these that I covered was in 2001, just a month before 9-11. I haven't been to one since - there was one if Paris in 2003 and one in Helsinki, Finland in 2005. But the sense I get from talking to people is that the Japanese are sticklers for abiding by the rules, and it even says that unauthorized equipment and the accreditation of the user will be "confiscated."

I checked their website, and the last deadline for applying for radio frequency - everything from a wireless laptop to a cell phone - was June 4th. There aren't any more. But since that doesn't really have anything to do with what I am doing, maybe there is another set of rules by which to abide. We'll see. Otherwise, its a long trip for nothing. I hope that isn't the case. This is the trip I wanted to take. Brazil was the one I had to take.

More later.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

At what price?

I got to play real reporter today. Unfortunately when I get to do that kind of thing, it usually involves stuff blowing up, burning, collapsing or crumbling and people are usually dead.

That was the case today, in the aftermath of Brazil's worst air disaster in Sao Paolo in which as many as 195 to 200 people died. The plan slammed into a gas station and a building after sliding off a rain-slicked runway in Sao Paolo. The runway, which some pilots had called "the aircraft carrier" because of its short length, had been resurfaced, but the grooves had not been carved into it to drain the water.

The accident was all over the news and Brazilian TV even read the names of the passengers on the list. They showed the grieving and shell-shocked relatives at the airport, which had been closed to jets like the A-320 that crashed because it was considered unsafe.

Unfortunately, an appeals court had overturned the original injunction because it was thought the economic impact on Brazil would be too high. In other words, money was more important that people's lives.

So those people paid the price for the desire for economic prosperity.

Brazil's president declared three days of mourning and Brazilian athletes are wearing black armbands to show solidarity with the families of those killed. They are also observing a minute of silence before each event.

Maybe building a better airport would be a better way to honor the memory of those killed. I don't know. But I do know that grief looks the same in any language. Even though I could not understand what was being said on Brazilian TV, I knew what was meant - this is a horrible tragedy. Unfortunately since the runway – which drops off at the end like an aircraft carrier – cannot be lengthened because there are houses – HOUSES – at both ends of it.

The crash is the worst air disaster in Brazil’s history. Last September 154 people where killed when a Gol airlines 737 collided with a private jet and crashed in the Amazon area. Brazil has notorious battles with its air traffic controllers – including an antiquated system where controllers have to use paper strips to keep track of airplanes.

One person outside Sao Paolo’s main morgue said that it was not surprising. “This is Brazil,” he said. “There’s blame to go all around, but no one is going to take responsibility in the end.”

Sounds so American, doesn't it?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Big Power in a little Package

Natalie Woolfolk of the USA Weightlifting team I got to interview Natalie Woolfolk of the US Weightlifting team today at the Pan American Games.

She is 5'3' and 135 and it's all a bundle of energy. She won a bronze medal in the women's 63 kilogram class with a total of 213 kilograms (that's almost 470 pounds).

She was a great interview. She is small and perky and laughs readily. She likes to talk about life - not just about sport. She loves James Brown's music - which makes her a champion in my book. Before her bronze medal effort she was listening to "Get Up Offa That Thang" which she said pumped her up.

Natalie is the daughter of the strength and conditioning coach at the U.S. Naval Academy - Kirk Woolfolk. She has improved so much in the past few years that her dad says he won't lift with her any more.

She also loves to cook and hopes to open a bed a breakfast one day. We started comparing lasagna recipes - "do you use dry noodles or wet?" (she uses a combo noodle that's premoistened). "Do you start with peppers and onions in olive oil?" (she doesn't she uses onions and mushrooms). "Do you like it cold the next day?" (she does - but hey doesn't everyone?).

I was so charmed by this young woman - until I looked at her legs. This woman has the legs of a linebacker - I mean Brian Urlacher legs - which is where she gets her power from. That's the deceptive thing about her sport, too. People think that you have to be huge to be a weight lifter - like Vasiliy Alexiev of the former Soviet Union. But this is not so.

Natalie - like Tara Knott - is petite, and if you saw her in street clothes, you would not think she has the kind of power she has. But sitting about three feet from her talking about her sport, I could see how strong she is. She started in gymnastics and trained with weights in her garage once a growth spurt kept her off the balance beam. But it has paid off in many ways.

This girl plays for keeps. Her boyfriend is also a weight lifter - super heavyweight Casey Burgener. She used to work at the Home Depot, but now trains so much that she has no time for work. She also started a cooking club at the US Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs.

Natalie almost got teary when she talked about how much weight lifting has meant to her.

“I love weight lifting,” she said. “But I also enjoy – I have met my boyfriend through this. I have met my very, very best friends through weight lifting. It is very dear to me the opportunities that I have and the people I get to meet.”

In journalism school they teach you not to get too close to the story – to maintain a distance. But after talking to Natalie and getting to know her story, I couldn’t help hoping that I see her again next year in Beijing.

Monday, July 16, 2007

What a racket!

I was privileged to get an interview with several members of the USA badminton team and their coach today at the Main Press Center.

Howard Bach and Bob Malaythong are the top US men’s doubles team. They are the guys featured in the ad with Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox.

Howard said he didn’t even know who these guys were when they started the shoot, but then he was like “wow, those are some really big dudes.” But the opportunity was great for badminton.

Apparently – according to Howard, Brian Urlacher is a badminton freak. He even plays it in the Bears’ locker room.

“He told me has has a couple of sports they mess around with in the locker room,” Bach said. “So you see a lot of big, tough Chicago Bears football players in the locker room, and they were kind of hitting the birdie – playing badminton in the locker room, so that was pretty neat.”

Turns out Howard Bach also speaks Chinese. He was born in Vietnam and his parents emigrated to San Francisco. His father was the one with the passion for badminton, and kind of did the Broadway mother thing – passed on his dream to his son. Badminton is huge where these guys are concerned.

Bob is from Laos, but his parents emigrated to California as well. He learned the sport from his uncle. He’s also the one who gets the shuttlecock stuck in his leg in the vitamin water commercial.

I also interviewed Eric Go, who was born in the Philippines and plays singles. He was cool – much more rock star like than like a jock. He was more laid back and not so much “all about the sport,” even though he moved to Colorado Springs when he was just 14 to train.

I also interviewed Eva Lee and May Mangkalakiri of the women’s team. Eva was bron in Hong Kong but May was born here. They have two chances to make the Olympics – both in women’s doubles and in mixed doubles – Eva is Howard Bach’s partner and May teams with Bob Malaythong.

The neatest thing was when I talked to the USA Badminton Coach, Cai Zi Min. He was struggling to speak English but when I asked him to answer the questions in Chinese, he smiled a big smile and seemed relieved.

All of this will probably play pretty well with VOA’s language services. Indonesian, Thai, Laotian, Vietnamese, Chinese can all make use of theseinterviews. So that’s a big coup for your erstwhile reporter.

It was rainy here today and that kind of put a damper on things. But getting the interviews was great. I hope to do the same with weightlifting and judo tomorrow. If I can get fencing or shooting before I leave, that will be cake.

Three more days of work and I’m leaving. I’ll be glad to be home.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Rio Day seven

Sunset Sunday July 15 Rio de Janeiro Brazil.

I Shot this photo before going to watch badminton at the Pan American Games. Badminton at this level is not for the back yard any more.

I did watch a couple of matches, one of which was over quickly. Turns out the whole USA Badminton team was on my flight coming down here. I watched Eric Go play some Brazilian guy.

The interviews did not pan out. The players went back to the Pan American Village, and they didn't come to the court to watch the night matches.

So I had to reschedule until tomorrow. Two of the players - Howard Bach and Bob Malaythong - are featured in the Vitamin Water ad with Brian Uhrlacher of the Chicago Bears and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox.

You can check it out here. The guys playing the "Chinese team" are actually Howard and Bob. Howard is from Vietnam and Bob is from Laos. Bob is the one who gets the shuttlecock caught in his leg.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

No pay, no play

It's one of the elements of my job that I go to big events that people like to watch on TV. The problem with that is that there is ususally a large TV network that has paid lots of money to the what is called "rights holding broadcaster" for these things.

Like the Pan Am Games in Rio.

The host broadcaster here is a group called International Sports Broadcasting. They own this place as far as TV rights are concerned. And if you don't pay for the rights, you get what is called an "ENR" credential - Electronic Non-Rights holder. As one of this breed of journalist you can do nothing at Games like these except be a spectator or try to work your way around the restrictions to get what you need. It is frustrating for someone who reports for a living.

Part of my job is interviewing people and preparing audio reports for radio broadcast and Internet. But without being able to take my recorder and microphone into the venue, which I can't here, then all I can do is talk to the athletes and write notes like a newspaper reporter. It's still reporting, but the nature of broadcasting is that people don't want to hear the reporter talk, they want to hear the prinicpals, the people involved.

But without the rights, I can't deliver that product. My boss told me to act like my recorder was a personal music player or to say I had come from somewhere else and had no place to put the recorder. There's only one problem - THAT'S A LIE.

And if I did that, I am in effect stealing from the hsot broadcaster and defrauding the people who gave me the credential. It reminds me of something that someone once said when his boss told him to say he was not there when someone called -- "if I can lie for you, I can lie to you." His boss was pissed, but he later learned to trust this guy because of his integrity. I would rather have integrity than an interview.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

God is good - even better than you think

Today I was wondering if I would get the last video I needed for my television piece for the Pan American Games. There was a rumor that the head of the Organizing Committee – Carlos Arthur Nuzman - was going to be in the Main Press Center today. I called all the contacts I could muster last night trying to find out. But it was not confirmed.

Then not only did Nuzman show up, but also IOC president Jacques Rogge, Mario Vasquez Rana the head of PASO the Pan American Sports Organization and three other big wigs.
So not only did I get the people I needed, I got them all at once! Thanks be to God for his wonderful gift.

I also sent my video to Washington, via FTP which took nearly two hours. My editor blew out of the office at 2:00, and the TV intern who was working on the project has FRIDAY OFF!!!! But I can be satisfied that I have done my part. I have shot what I was here to shoot, and I have edited it as much as I could in the field. It isn’t ESPN, but it's what I get paid to do. So that's good.

Now the script needs editing and the package is in the hands of others. We'll see what they do with it.

Rainy Rio

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Here's a photo I shot of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this morning. Thank God I went there yesterday when it was clear. If I hadn't I would not have gotten any video or photos of the city.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rio Ranger

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Today I was the galloping photographer in Rio. The only way I could get to the sites I needed to video was to take a car, so I hired one. The driver was Local and charged me R$200 which works out to about $100. I also tipped him R$20, which was another 10, and I bought lunch.

But this driver, a Copacabana native named Andre Gadelha, knew how to get everywhere. He knew what roads to take, how to navigate Rio’s unbelievable traffic, and he also schlepped my gear, which was an added plus because that stuff is heavy. We first went to Sugarloaf Mountain, a huge granite cone in the middle of the harbor.

The price as $R35, about $18, and that pays for the trip up and back. It was mostly clear this morning, though there was a little smoke hanging over the city. The wind was picking up and I noticed some clouds forming over the mountains. I would become more intimately acquainted with those clouds later one. The cable car ride was smooth and easy, but the wind did make it swing a little.

There was a delay – with one group hanging in midair – I am assuming it was because of the weather. In the winter in Rio, the winds can howl and the rains come from the center of South America. It’s not cold – I’d guess it was in the 70s – but it sure does knock you around on top of a mountain.

From Sugar Loaf we went to Maracana Stadium, which we couldn’t get into because it is the site of the opening ceremonies. I could have gotten in with my credential, but I could not have taken the camera in because my agency did not buy the rights. But I did get some useful video there.

From Maracana we went to the site of Carnaval, which is basically a huge party with lots of nearly naked people. It’s Rio’s version of Mardi Gras, and they have some of the costumes at the Museum of Carnaval.

From the Museum we went to lunch at another Churrascaria called the Palace and they kept brining the food. After lunch we went to the Christo Redemptor statue in Corcovado. We drove up the cobble stone streets then had to take a van to the top. When we got there, the clouds literally shrouded the statue. That’s a risk in winter in Rio – it gets cloudy and it rains.

But I was there to video that statue, so we stood there in the clouds waiting for a break. Thank God it came. The clouds parted a couple of times just long enough for me to get some video and photos. Then the statue was Christo Obscura.

There was this one guy praying at the base of the statue. He looked like what we in the States would call a homeless person, and he was kneeling at the base of the statue the whole time we were there.

He made me think of the Gadarene demoniac in Mark – my guide Andre even looked at him and then whispered “crazy, huh?” But this guy was on his knees in the clouds, in the cold, praying. I felt like walking up to him and saying “He has heard your cry, be at peace.” I didn’t, because I wasn’t sure of the impression and because I do not speak Portuguese.

I wonder about impulses like that sometimes. Is that God prompting me to act? It certainly is in keeping with God’s character to deliver someone, to restore their minds, to answer their prayers. But I didn’t do it. I kept on video taping and then Andre took me back to my hotel.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Flyin down to Rio

This is a record of my trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Pan American Games.
Me in the Press Cener in Rio
July 8 2007

Dulles International Airport
C Gates
7:25 pm.

I made it through security okay, but there was one little glitch. The guy at the gate did not stamp my ticket to affirm that I had shown him my ID, so the TSA people stopped me just as I was set to go through the metal detector. There I was, shoeless, with my belt and my hat and my laptop plus God only knows how much equipment in my carry-on. And they were telling me I have to go back through the line.

I was dumbstruck.

ME: You mean I’ve got to go all the way back through that line?!

TSA Lady: (Calmly) No sir, you just have to go through that area and we will get someone to stamp your ticket for you. And then we will bring you back through.

ME: Oh, Okay.

TSA Lady: Right this way sir.

We walked just a few steps away and the guy at the gate – who was almost asleep – looked at my ID, looked at my ticket, looked at me, and stamped it with the little red rubber thing. And then the nice TSA lady took me back through the security gate.

I was relieved and she thanked me for my “compliance.” That was the word she used. But she was pleasant enough and I got to my gate in plenty of time. They stopped me again after x-raying my bag with all the TV stuff in it. They did one of those explosive tests – you know, where they swab the inside of things to see if it has been exposed to ammonium nitrate or something. I was secretly hoping that the person who had the TV kit before me wasn’t in Iraq or something. We could have had a problem.

But it was negative.

I put back on my shoes, my belt, my hat, took my portfolio with all my stuff in it, grabbed the 10-ton bag of equipment and now I am waiting for the currency exchange to reopen. And I am eating a Starbucks turkey sandwich and drinking coffee. Do you believe 550 calories and 22 grams of fat for one sandwich! If I hadn’t paid eight bucks for it I would have taken it back. But I don’t expect them to feed us very well on the plane. So I wanted to grab something before I left.

The U.S. athletes were in the airport in one big group when I got there. Apparently it was the soccer team or something. And they were pleasant enough. You can always tell the jocks. They carry themselves differently, particularly those good enough to compete at the Olympic level. When I flew to Argentina for the 1995 Pan Ams it was on a plane full of jocks too. I wonder if any of them will be on this flight. Guess I’ll find out in a couple of hours.

I don’t have any cash. I was going to cash a traveler’s check but there is a seven dollar fee. Maybe I should get some cash anyway. That’s probably the prudent thing to do.


I got some money – I caved in and paid the $5.95 fee for travelers cheques. I also got some Brazilian Real. It cost me $130.57 for 200 Real. Now I am in the midst of some of the U.S. team members all of them with Nike shoes and matching shorts and t-shirts on. And I still have about another 15 minutes or so before boarding starts. I am trying to brush up on some of my Portuguese survival phrases.

9:20 pm
The plane is delayed. I have been trying to brush up on the Portuguese language studies. So far, I think I have memorized “Do You Speak English?” (voce falla Ingles?) That’s about all I can remember right now.

I also want to memorize “excuse me,” (esculpe me) and “I need to go to the hotel.” I also need to get things like “what time is breakfast” and “I do not understand” (Il no intendo – like there’s no Nintendo player).

This airport is full of people. There’s a lot of them standing in line at the gate – which changed from the original C5 to C8. But no one is going anywhere until the powers that be open the gate and start calling boarding.

Commo vai – how are you? Maiso menos. So-so. Plazair en conosel. Nice to meet you. Keep practicing.

Still no announcement on the plane. Just delayed. Now the numbers changed – it leaves at 10:100. No plane, no flight.

9:45 pm Now the flight doesn’t leave until10:10pm. Again, aircraft delayed. Take all the time you need fellas. Don’t hurry> I have heard that the air traffic control situation in Rio sucks. So I don’t want anyone to rush or try to cut corners. Movement at the gate. People are getting up. Pushing their way toward the gate. Maybe it’s time to go.

10:30 pm Still at Dulles. The Captain just came on the intercom and said that MAINTENANCE has something they need to do to the airplane and apparently its mandatory. So I am in my seat – waiting. They estimate it will take about 30 minutes to do whatever maintenance needs to do. The armrest cover fell off the arm rest next to me and I put it back. They are also passing out the landing cards. Give the customers something to do. But we’ll get there eventually. The captain promised. Right now I think I have the New Age channel pumped up on the headset. That’s enough to make anyone sleepy. We’ll see. Right now it’s time to take off my shoes and listen to the flutist and pianist play.

11:09- finally off the ground. Nine hours in the air

Monday 9 July 2007

Somewhere over the Amazon

I got absolutely no sleep last night. Even with the upgrade, when the person in front of you reclines their seat all the way back, you either have to do the same, or feel that familiar sardine feeling. I wanted to sleep; I tried to, but I didn’t. My left leg felt like it was on the verge of a cramp for hours and I could not find a comfortable way to sit. Once we get to Sao Paolo, everyone gets off the plane, they mix us with a flight that came in from Chicago.

9:10 Sao Paolo Airport

I finally got a couple of hours of fitful sleep. I guess my desire to sleep was stronger than my lack of comfort. But I was awakened by the breakfast cart – the flight attendants put the little breakfast on my tray, but I never ate it and they took it away. I did drink the coffee. Then we got off in Sao Paolo to go through security – they had one gate with three people on it – to get back on the same plane we left. I literally will be getting back in the same seat for the flight to Rio. Everybody has to make sure we’re safe. The Brazilian TV on in the airport is kind of like VOA’s tv.

9:19 (Brazil time) I just sat back in the same seat I was in from Washington. It’s cleaner, like they scrubbed out the plane a little. But it’s the same seat. Ah well. On to Rio!

10:04 pm After arriving in Rio exhausted, I have had a full day. I spoke to some of the USOC folks at the airport, and they told me that I should have received a packet with my credential information in it. They also told me that if I didn’t get it I would have to fight it out on my own. So I went to my hotel – which turned out to be a very charming place – even if it is far from the us stop to catch the media shuttle. And it’s almost an hour through hellish traffic to get to the media center.

The favelas are about as depressing as you could imagine. Think of the worst tree house fort you ever built – you know the kind of thing that fell in when the first high wind came. And now imagine millions of people living in conditions not much better than that. All over the hills in Rio. And right in the middle of the squalor is the multimillion dollar Maracana stadium, a gleaming white temple of football. But to get to it you have to go through a pretty desolate neighborhood. I wouldn’t want to leave MY car parked there during a game.

At the press center I discovered that while my name is in the system and my affiliation is in there, my vitals – passport number, visa number, father’s name, mother’s name, place of birth, country of birth – were NOT THERE! So I had no choice but to come back to my hotel and get the passport and take it tomorrow. I was going to try to get back tonight, but they only stayed open until 9:00 and I wouldn’t have made it there with the traffic. It was just about as bad as any I have been in – Hampton Roads, Washington, New York, anywhere.

I came back to my hotel and ate dinner at a charruacera ? or something like that where they have guys come by with big – and I MEAN BIG – skewers of meat. And they slice you off as much as you want until you say stop. And they bring fruit and fries, and oysters, and fried bananas and rice and bread and everything you could imagine. And you just pluck it off the skewers. And they won’t stop until you tell them to. They will NOT stop piling stuff on your plate until you say Nao!

So I am full, and tired, and frustrated, and wondering what to do tomorrow. Right now I am going to bed. Bom Noite.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Video madness

I tried my hand at video on the mall last Saturday. This is a rough cut version using Vegas Video 7. Be merciful.