China, October 18, 1999
I'm an editor! Can you believe it?
I done got me a job, and you never gonna guess what I do!
Somehow, some way, I'm now a 'foreign expert' in China, and appointed the Senior Editor of Beijing Review, China's only national news magazine published in English, French, German, Japanese and Spanish editions. Yes, yes, I know I am especially unqualified for and uniquely unable to perform such a professional task, but what the hell, I'm gonna do my best and spread American (as opposed to English) as far and wide as I can!
Last Friday was my first day on the job, and so far, I can tell that I am in for the time of my life (again). First, I wandered down the halls of the old and not so recently painted building we call home. Looking in each office that I could, I saw scenes that reminded me of offices everywhere, offices in Russian, and office scenes I'm sure only exist in China.
Of course, there were the required computers, calendars, pictures, and people you'd find in Boston, Berlin, or Beijing. Everyone looking like they are working hard or hardly working, as the morning rolled on. Like Russia, the smell of tea and the sounds of non-professional conversations floated down the halls with me, reminding me that I am living in yet another socialistic state, where good living is more important that good working. Oh, and for those who think Russia's governmental system isn't still socialist, visit your nearest Russian consulate!
Unlike anywhere else in the world, I believe, there were obvious signs this is China. Beyond the Chinese signs, little things like the tea strainer over the sink for waste tea leaves, and the big comfortable Lazy-Boy chairs in each office (I haven't figured that one out yet), were constant references to the unique culture I'm now living in.
My two bosses, Mr. Peng (pronounced 'pong') and Mr. Wang were very eager for me to start, giving me an office to myself (yes!), a computer, and a pile of work within minutes. The editing is a challenge for non-English major like me. I have over twenty years of practice with English, and two years of entertaining ya'll, so I know how the language sounds, but confronted by an odd rule, like I was today, I'm a little hesitant to set down a change.
I was editing a piece on Tibet that had what I felt were systematic errors in punctuation. First of all, I learned, read, and though that when three items were grouped together, as I just did at the beginning of this sentence, there should be a comma after 'read.' Apparently not in China. Also, like I just did at the end of the last sentence, a period, or full stop as they call it, is inside the quotations. Again, not in China. Hmmm. This is gonna be a challenge!
Though the pay is low (don't ask!) I love the benefits. Some, like my lunch today, are priceless. I was taken out for a massive meal with all kinds of tasty Chinese dishes and I have two bags of leftovers to prove it! Others, like the swank apartment I am getting in a 'foreigner compound,' have their ups and downs depending on the day and hour.
From what I hear, I'll be in line for official trips around China, where my main task will be to eat and drink my way into history with the locals. After two years of training in Russia, I think I can do that. Finally, when my name appears on the masthead, watch out!, for I will be swelling with pride at finally escaping the hell of the accounting back office, and diving into the dodgy existence of professional journalism after four years of trying.
Now all I got left is the hardest part, the work!