4th Cross Street Pettah, Colombo 1890-1910 provided by Lankapura via Flickr
Travelogues

Week 4 or How to survive NYE week in Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka December 2015 – February 2015 Trip

It’s been a weird week to say the least.

It’s been the kind of week where you think it has been a few days since something happened and in reality it was just 24 hours ago. Yeah, that kind of week.

That’s probably due to NYE being smack bang in the middle of the week and that driving everyone a little crazy but nevertheless it was rather odd.

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Monday saw me bright eyed and bushy tailed being called into office earlier than required. I showed up and was asked to translate copy from Sinhala to English for the TV newsdesk for this hour long piece they were planning to air on the 31st that would take you through the news highlights of the year. They called it a flashback piece but termed it “Defining Moments”.

Translating the piece took up a bit of my time and clearly I am quite slow at it because I was given the local news segment of it to do and only got up to April, mostly because I kept having to switch computer terminals and there was much deliberation over what could be left out and what could be left in.

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Tuesday was when things started getting a bit crazy because there were people trying to produce hourly and half hourly bulletins for TV as well as the three main bulletins in the morning, at noon and in the evening but also find time to edit footage for and sub edit everything to do with this “flashback piece” of theirs. Another girl and I divided it up between us with me taking October to December but it had to be dropped pretty quickly on my end as I went off to cover a press conference.

It was a press conference by the Deputy Minister for Electricity and Renewable Power. There was no press release for it in English and I second guessed myself when he spoke in Sinhala, thinking he cannot possibly be talking about a Constitutional Amendment but it turned out that he was.

I cornered him afterwards to double check and it turned out I was right so I quizzed him on climate change issues and what Sri Lanka planned to do with regards to the COP21 agreement.

However, once back at the office, the entire thing was put aside in favour of the President going on about a bra being thrown around at a concert.

But here is the thing: while everyone else discusses bras and whether they should be thrown around at concerts, on January 9th there will be a Bill tabled in Parliament that if passed will allow them to change the Constitution so that the Executive Presidency is abolished, the powers of it taken and given to Parliament and then a Constitutional Assembly created in order to draft a new Constitution that will then also change how Parliament works. There is talk of the Prime Minister being able to pick who will sit in this new Constitutional Assembly. There are also law reforms and tax reforms and privatisation on the horizon.

But was it aired? Only very briefly.

I wrote up my climate change story, edited the audio and left it with the radio newsdesk team. The airing time was changed to 7:55 pm but the newsreaders swapped over and the second one didn’t get the memo. It never aired completely. A brief intro paragraph I had put together on an earlier version of the script ran instead at 9:55 pm.

 

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I ended up going everywhere on Wednesday. In fact, where did I not go, I do not know.

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I got to the office. My “point person” Stephanie zoomed past me and said “Here, you are coming with me!”

“Sure. Um, where?”

“Warakapola!” and off she went into an office for a brief meeting.

“Where is Warakapola?” I asked her when she came back.

“I have no idea.”

We googled it. I recognized a spot nearby. It usually takes an hour to get there. I said so. But that was erroneous.

“What am I doing by the way?”

“Just come.”

So we bundled into a van, she, the Sinhala reporter and the Tamil reporter and me. It turned out that there had been an accident early in the morning at Warakapola. It was now 12:30 pm.

“We have to do a feature story on it – one per day now and this is it.”

“Ok.”

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It took us three hours to get to Warakapola from Colombo. It was a pretty tragic story about people travelling to get their passports so they could go to Mecca but being killed as their van crossed lanes and slammed into a bus coming in the opposite direction.

We went to the police station where they were keeping the vehicles concerned and it was odd to see the mangled remains of the van.

[aesop_image imgwidth=”300px” img=”http://marisa.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/IMAG3458.jpg” offset=”-100px” credit=”Accident wreckage (c) Marisa Wikramanayake 2015″ alt=”Photo of accident wreckage (c) Marisa Wikramanayake” align=”right” lightbox=”on” captionposition=”left”]

The reporters did their pieces to camera talking about the need for speed causing unnecessary deaths on the roads. The most I did was text the head of news back in Colombo and hold everyone’s stuff and occasionally correct grammar.

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We made our way to the accident location but filming there was a hassle. The road was a bit narrower than normal, people were driving pretty fast and there were people rubbernecking as they slowed down without any thought for anyone else just to watch us film. At one point it caused another accident but luckily no one was hurt.

We sat in the van afterwards as the sky darkened waiting for footage to be sent back over the connection to the studio in time for the news bulletins for each channel. Eventually we set off back towards Colombo and reached the newsroom at around half past eight but this was also the night of the unofficial English newsdesk much belated Christmas party and I had to stay behind and spruce myself up before leaving to head towards another part of Colombo – Muttakkuliya in order to attend.

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The party was fun and I was very touched that everyone had contributed towards a present for me in the Secret Santa given that I had shown up long after it had been organised. But we were all tired and after some dancing and eating and drinking, we all slowly headed homeward.

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Thursday dawned and I had an early morning shift so I dragged myself to office or attempted to, only to be redirected to yet another press briefing beforehand at the Central Bank. I turned up and sat down for what would be two hours of texting my boss with what was being said in case any of it was indeed breaking news worthy.

I then meandered over to office and said “The Central Bank Governor is saying a lot of different things – what is most newsworthy?” and I was then directed to record an analyst’s interpretation over the phone. That done I ended up going to Pettah.

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Pettah is basically the Sri Lankan version of the Roman idea of a vicus to the Dutch built Fort area of Colombo.

[aesop_image imgwidth=”500px ” img=”http://marisa.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/6248662328_4cffb87dca_z.jpg” offset=”-100px” credit=”Lankapura via Flickr” align=”right” lightbox=”on” caption=”4th Cross Street Pettah, Colombo 1890-1910 provided by Lankapura via Flickr” captionposition=”right”]

In other words it is the original market area outside the original fort which has now been built up with a few buildings and has expanded but is nevertheless for all intents and purposes, still very much a trade epicenter and very much a tropical country’s market where there is merely a piece of cardboard separating a pile of potatoes from the floor of the market stall. There is noise and colour and madness and unfortunately I was carrying the cameraman’s microphone instead of my own camera at the time so that we could interview a few vendors about pricing.

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I did briefly wonder if it was the equivalent of the cat up a tree story or the dog show story – the kind you get to cover when your boss is mad at you. But prices are important but I wasn’t entirely sure how they related back to the statutory reserve ratio being raised.

[aesop_content color=”#ff0000″ background=”#ffffff” width=”content” columns=”1″ position=”right” imgrepeat=”no-repeat” floaterposition=”left” floaterdirection=”up”]The statutory reserve ratio was increased from 6% to 7.5% by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka because it decreases the incentive of private banks to lend as they will have to pay more money to the Central Bank when doing so. This means they will be tougher on people borrowing money which will then help curb inflation without the need for raising interest rates which are already quite high. At least this was how it was explained to me.

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When we got back to the newsroom it turned out that they didn’t and after a lot of chopping and changing of angles eventually a story I partially helped report and edit got on the news. It wasn’t a great piece of audio editing work but here it is:

I finished that and fled the newsroom after hearing the flashback piece had been cancelled much to the initial ire and then relief of most of the English team.

I got home at about ten pm, both my mother and I deciding a quiet night in, ensuring that the puppy wasn’t freaked out by the fireworks was probably best.

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The next day I woke up early for an early start but when I got to the office I realised my mistake.

Over here in Sri Lanka, every New Year of any sort is seen in with a ceremony where people wear their best and often newest clothes to the occasion/work and I walked into the carpark to find a pot of boiling milk at the entrance. As you do on these occasions because this is traditional. The milk is placed in a clay pot and then placed on a fire and it’s auspicious for it to boil over. It symbolises prosperity for the coming year.

[aesop_image imgwidth=”300px” img=”http://marisa.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/1149339746_949181ea18_z.jpg” offset=”-100px” credit=”Anura Peiris via Flickr.” alt=”Boiling milk traditionally by Anura Peiris via Flickr.” align=”right” lightbox=”on” caption=”Boiling milk traditionally by Anura Peiris via Flickr.” captionposition=”left”]

 

There were also four priests, one from each religion there to bestow blessings upon the staff and full traditional breakfast laid out for after. It was a very informal setting with people wishing each other and radio staff darting upstairs every half an hour to read out the bulletins.

The news was slow as it always is on the first day of the New Year and I spent most of it getting to grips with the editing software and learning how to edit international news footage for TV and how to record dubs and voiceovers. I left at noon to go back home and catch up on sleep.

It feels like after four weeks here now I am slowly getting the hang of how things work and how I can best work within the limits I have here. I do find myself wondering if I am going to get what I wanted out of this experience: I have experience writing for print and online publications but I wanted to get radio and TV reporting and production experience so that I could have the opportunity to go work anywhere in the world that I wanted to.

And so far I have been producing scripts for TV and radio with Octopus 7 (which is a news software program)  and learnt how to use Adobe Audition to edit audio and record voice cuts as they call them here (usually these are “slabs” and “grabs” to me) and how to use Remote Producer to edit “visuals” for TV stories. I have done one live cross and one standup/piece to camera and have played around with the camera a couple of times and now held out the mic for about three or four vox pops.

So it makes me interested in what the next week will bring. Whether there will be anything new to tell you or not. I hope so.

Marisa is a globetrotting freelance writer, journalist and editor with cat for hire (her, not the cat). She is currently based in Melbourne.

2 Comments

    • Marisa

      Thank you! And thank you for the comment too! I will post soon about travelling tips and press conferences and other things so keep an eye out!

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