When I got back after a year in Singapore, I applied for a job in the same broadcasting company but in a different city. My old boss gave me a fantastic recommendation so my new boss gave me the best (and most exciting) beats (assignments) – police, military and politics.
Suddenly, I wasn’t the Fire Queen anymore.
The first two years of my career were spent behind the camera – working as scriptwriter, editor, director and even cameraman. Although I had moments in front of the camera, it wasn’t that often. On top of that, I’ve never had to do stories about military, politics and police (which basically includes murders, theft, rape, the usual crime stories). So, yet again, I was winging it, pretending to be cool when I was a wreck inside.
My news manager gave me the toughest and most experienced cameraman in the office, Paps (that’s my nickname for him). He was known to be the best of the best. Why did I think that? Let me give you one of his many fantastic cameraman tales.
He went with the police in the middle of nowhere to settle a dispute when suddenly a group called Tigbas gang (roughly translated as Chop Gang) ambushed the team. They were armed with, of course, machetes and wore a bullet around their neck, which they firmly believed would stop bullets from killing them. Boy, were they wrong. According to Paps, the police formed an L shape around him while he kept the camera rolling. The gang dropped from trees slicing policemen like pork chops (his words). The police fired back, of course. The entire time, Paps was filming everything. After the ambush, Paps had to be questioned by investigators because the police were accused of a deliberate massacre of the group. I think it was Paps testimony that cleared them. (If there were chopping men falling from trees to kill me and I had a gun, I’d be shooting too).
Anyway, THAT was the type of cameraman they gave me on my first day at work. He could sense I was uncertain. He could sense I was just pulling things out of my ass. But instead of telling on me, he taught me. He taught me everything from the history of the opposing politicians, to the background of the stories I covered, to what kind of charm I have to use to get my story. He was a legend.
When I finally got the hang of things, we operated quite smoothly. One of his biggest pet peeve was stand up bloopers. He hates it when journalists are not prepared on site and they have to do several takes to say two to three lines in front of the camera. When I found out about it, I made sure I was prepared. My previous boss already told me how to do a perfect one take stand up before I went to Singapore, and I never forgot that. I loved the look on Paps’ face when I first did my flawless stand up. He took his eye off the viewfinder and stared at me. “Let’s do a second take for safe shot,” I said. He told me how much he was in awe of me when we headed back to the station. Apparently, he’s never worked with a journalist who didn’t flib their stand up. (*ahem*)
We had a great rapport and great mutual respect for each other. Aside from being a colleague, he was my mentor, like a second dad.
We used to have a problem interviewing the head of the fourth infantry division in my area (the military branch for the province), but when we found out he went to school with my father, I used that to weasel my way in to exclusive interviews and stories – and there were a lot of them. Several times I got a phone call from his assistant telling me there was a big scoop and that they’ve made room for me and Paps in the military chopper. We were always the only TV crew there.
I did go on a lot of military stories, riding in military helicopters. But as cool as it sounds, my first try at it was disastrous – almost, I guess. It could have gone worse. I was covering a military ceremony, quite boring and relaxed, and I needed to pee. But because it was almost over, I decided to wait until we were about to head back to the office.
But then, seconds after the ceremony ended my news manager told me they had two spots in the helicopter waiting in the centre of the field for two reporters. And if I get to the chopper first, I could get the exclusive story. I could see that the helicopter was getting ready to fly and the military officials were already rushing towards it. I looked at my cameraman running towards the helicopter with the camera, waving at me frantically to hurry.
But I needed to pee.
I desperately needed to pee. Like dancing-in-my-seat kind of ready to pee. (I’ve Googled this and it turns out I have what is called as an overactive bladder – cross my heart!).
I had no choice. I ran to the chopper and when I got there, I asked the official if I could use the toilet really fast. (Even thinking about it now is filling me with embarrassment).
He looked at me like I was an alien and pointed to the chopper’s rotors already spinning, ready for take off. “We are about to go, there is no time,” he said.
“I’m really fast, I swear,” I pleaded. (It’s true, I used to be able to pee in under five seconds).
“No, there isn’t any time,” he insisted.
And so I got on the chopper with a full bladder, nervous as hell because it was my first time. To make things worse, the bastards played a trick on me. They said there was no room INSIDE the helicopter so I had to sit on the side of it where the guns used to be (you know, hanging on the side of the chopper). And they said I had to grab on to the handles because the seatbelts were broken!! There I was desperate to pee, holding on for dear life.
I turned around in time to see my cameraman chuckling, motioning me to sit down beside him. “They were just playing a trick on you, sort of an initiation,” he said.
The trip was 45 minutes from the camp to the top of the mountain somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Believe it or not, I survived the trip without peeing. I arrived there, covered the story and totally forgot about my bladder for another hour. However, I made sure I went to the toilet before we left again (by toilet I mean a tall box made of wood with what seemed like a 100 year old toilet inside – with no door lock).
By the time I got back to the office, the news has already spread. My officemates were chuckling because between the camp and the mountain, one of the soldiers sent a text message to my news manager saying I asked if I could pee. I was dubbed the toilet queen for a while. I really preferred the Fire Queen label.
I’m probably going to regret this but here’s an old footage of my report during yet another trip to the mountains (I was so thin!).
Next stop, some dead bodies, possible bombs, and political manipulation.