Friday, October 22, 2004

Life in the Land of the Rising Sun: Remote Journalism

I just had the dangedest thing happen to me yesterday (he says, unconsciously revealing his rural Oregon heritage).
I'm not talking about the "drama appreciation" event that took place the same day, though it was pretty interesting, too. Having to walk almost three miles from the school to the Kashima Workers' Culture Hall (Workers of the world, unite and be cultured!) helping shepherd about fourteen dozen 9th-grade monkeys in the waning wind and rains in the wake of typhoon #23 (apparently known as "Tokage" on the other side of the ocean) was definitely an experience, I tell you. The play itself, a modern, Japanese comic opera that drew heavily from Kabuki but employed a lot of modern (read "bathroom") humor, was well made, well executed, and a total blast to watch. (I have to admit, seeing a really cute, cartoonish horse character drop dead after drinking a cup of poisoned sake and then have a large, pink, inflatable penis suddenly pop up from its lower body definitely made my day...week...decade?)(The students told me it was fortunate I could only understand about half of the dialogue. Apparently it was extremely off-color.) The fact that I was even able to (forced to?) go to the thing was amazing. I was supposed to be held up by my 12th grade class in the morning, but, wouldn't you know it, that class wound up being pre-empted by an achievement test. (Personally, I think it was a conspiracy.)
I'm not talking about the hopeless mess of a girl in my homeroom (actually, I'm the assistant homeroom teacher, but the regular teacher was out, so I was in charge), who had skipped school every day for the previous month because she was living with her boyfriend, suddenly showing up at the Culture Hall about halfway through the play. She was actually wearing her uniform properly, too, for a change, though her orange hair stuck out a bit in the crowd. She didn't look very happy.
I'm not talking about my briefly nodding off mid-lecture, mid-sentence, on my feet during my 7th grade Oral English Communication class in the fifth period.
I'm not even talking about the emergency rehearsal I scheduled for the jazz band to make up for the one wiped out by typhoon (Tokage) #23 the day before. Unfortunately, the senior high members wound up showing up really late, and I had to stop it early, so we were able to practice all of two songs. The performance is tomorrow...ecch....
Actually, what REALLY made that totally unusual Day from Purgatory was THE INTERVIEW (major 9th chord fanfare). That's right, I was interviewed by NHK TV.
You see, a program that covers news and events in Ibaraki Prefecture was doing a story about Todd, an American who works at the capital. He is Ibaraki's C.I.R., or Coordinator of International Relations. In other words, he's sort of the "head gaijin" for the area. He is personally involved with any and all official activities that involve foreigners here. He is famous for showing up at festival events in a clown suit. He also plays the sousaphone, and he directs a dixieland jazz combo. I happen to be a member of that combo. The station had asked Todd to bring his band to the studio to play live on the program. Unfortunately, thanks to the "drama appreciation" event, my oh-so-important 5th period class, and my desperately needed (but ill-fated) jazz band rehearsal, I wasn't able to make it. As it turned out, only one other member besides Todd was able to attend.
NHK, being the state TV channel, wasn't going to give up without a fight. When they heard that there was another gaijin in the band, they were determined to get me involved one way or another, so they decided to bring me in live on camera and interview me. Now, tell me...what does a live camera interview usually entail? It usually involves sending a reporter, a camera crew, a sound crew, a couple of technicians (i.e. people who fuss over the equipment before giving up and going with the reporter's idea and claiming it's their own), a couple of people with no use whatsoever, and the guy that drives the van, right?
Come on! This is the 21st century! They conducted the interview via a TV phone. Yes, you read that right. They mailed me a TV cell phone. It looks like a perfectly ordinary cell phone with a camera, which is something everyone but me owns right now. My own cell phone is a relic from the dark ages that existed before 2002, when internet capability was still considered neat, but anyway, this was no ordinary cell phone. It had a TV camera, and it had extra buttons. It had lots, in fact. It had so many that the technician explaining to me how to use it over the phone had no idea whatsoever, so I had to figure it out largely by trial and error. Fortunately, during the practice session, we got it working right.
Anyway, when the program began, the studio called me on the TV phone, whereupon I pushed, not the phone button, but the TV button. I then got to see an image of what my face looked like coming through the camera. I also got to see the TV program in progress. I watched as Todd, in his clown suit, and the other member of the band that had arrived come into the studio and performed. Then they interviewed the members for a while, showed some film clips of Todd in the field, and then interviewed them some more. Then, out of the blue, they announced that there was another amerikajin in the band, and I JUST HAPPENED TO BE THERE!!!
There was a ping, a light came on, and they greeted me. I was on TV!!!!!!!
My hands were a bit cramped from having already had to hold that phone for over twenty minutes, but I held it as steady as possible and proceeded through the on the air chat.
That was when, in the next room, the concert band suddenly started playing the loud, brassy fanfare that kicks off "Disney Fantillusion". And they didn't just play that wonderfully exciting fanfare once, but OVER AND OVER AGAIN BECAUSE THE KIDS COULDN'T GET IT RIGHT.
Thanks to the timely Disney assault, I could no longer hear what the TV announcers were asking me, and I couldn't get up to go into the next room to tell the concert band to shut the fark up. I didn't even have a convenient firearm with which to shoot Mr. Karatsu, who was conducting the thing. (Yes, I had informed them in advance of the interview...which REALLY MAKES ME WONDER...) All I could do was make an educated guess as to what they wanted me to say and improvise. Luckily, my responses seemed to be okay, because they kept me on the air and continued chatting with me for several minutes in a rational, good-natured manner. (Actually, the lead female announcer for the program...who is very cute, by the way...called me today to thank me, and she said that my witty dialogue actually helped carry the program. I responded by saying in all honesty that I really wasn't sure what I'd been talking about.)
After the segment ended, the local news segment started. The engineer came online and told me that they'd go ahead and keep the connection open so I could continue to watch the program. My hands were shaking now, and I really wanted to go throttle somebody in the next room, but I went ahead and watched the news. All those scenes of flooding, overturned trucks, and damaged roofs thanks to typhoon #23 (Tokage) did a lot to calm my more murderous feelings.
(Mr. Karatsu insisted later that he'd had no idea I'd been in the process of the interview just outside the door. He said the students had just come down and asked him to conduct a quick band practice since I had terminated the jazz rehearsal early. Considering I had asked the student band chairwoman to see to it personally that the noise level was kept down until I gave the all clear, I REALLY have to wonder who pulled that one off.)
Well, anyway, that was my nifty experience. I was interviewed by a TV station and appeared live on the air without ever meeting anyone face-to-face. All my communication was via phone, and I received the remote camera by mail to operate myself. The sheer novelty, if not audacity, of the endeavor is amazing enough, but, on the other hand, I can't help seeing this as yet another example of how the internet/cell phone era has led society to be colder and more isolated.
But at least I got to see the face of that cute announcer talking to me on that little screen!

(Okay, the female viewers of this blog, I will stick my head in a bucket...)


Don Snabulus said...

If you change female to male throughout this tale, it is even more amusing. Try it and take a shot of tequila each time you see the word cabbage.






The Moody Minstrel said...

Well, thank you for giving me an excuse to crack open my languishing bottle of Cuervo!

He he he he he he he he he he!!!

Ha ha....I said "he"!