I have just come from an experience no self-respecting American journalist should ever have to endure: a command performance with the assigned topic of “The Role of Newspapers and the Government.”
That would be a simple enough topic were I speaking to an American college audience at an American campus. But here…in CHINA…with a state-run media system…at a conference put on BY the local government…a government which two years ago started the city’s newspaper…and the government which invited Mr. Joke to be the international keynoter at this conference attended by 75 city and media leaders.
I fumbled and stumbled and mumbled my way through 30 minutes of claptrap, obfuscation and horse-puckey which my poor translator was forced to make sense of.
If I don’t get the “1st Annual Henry Kissinger International Award for
Sino-US Diplomacy and BS,” I want to know why.
Consoling me afterward, my host said it didn’t matter what I said. “You are our panda. They have come here just to look at you.”
Damned by faint praise.
That was quite possibly the single worst lecture I’ve ever given, of which I’m not the least bit proud. Now I need to go back to the New Joyful Hotel and wash my hands.
But then…a parable of redemption.
On the way back to the hotel, my driver — a big burly fellow with a gold chain and spikey hair, who looked as if he might double as a late-night bouncer — sat stoically steering through town for ten minutes without looking at or speaking to me. He neither spoke English nor wanted to. Two grown men, sitting 20 inches apart without acknowledging each other.
Until I noticed on the car’s audio system, in English, the words, “We Will Rock You.”
I pointed to the title. The driver glanced at me sideways and then reached over and hit the button. Suddenly the car was filled with the singer’s plaintive wail.
And spontaneously, the Chinese driver/bouncer and I burst into voice in unison.
“…mud on your face…a big disgrace…” and a rousing chorus of, “We will, we will…ROCK YOU!”
Exiting the car, we grinned at each other, exchanging fist-bumps.
Which proves once again, it’s not governments that matter; it’s the people.
Next day in the Liu Shi Today newspaper the headline above the story about our conference read: AMERICAN EXPERT STARTS BRAINSTORM.
Maybe I did rock them after all.