Carmen Roberts, fast track bbc
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It’s a fairly innocuous question, but one that always riled me, especially when I was growing up, because it meant that I was different. Or more to the point, I looked different. When I was at university, I’d often tell people I was from Hawaii. This story is somewhat believable and seemed far more exotic than the truth at the time. If I took an instant dislike to someone, I’d tell them I was from Sweden, and this would usually have the desired effect and kill the conversation immediately. I’ve had complete strangers shout greetings at me in Japanese on the street, uninvited people speak to me in Mandarin at the bank or supermarket, people hard of hearing in nightclubs think I come from the United States and a British Airways steward once mistook me for a Latino. But the truth is, I was born in Singapore. My mother is Singaporean Chinese, my father hailed from New Zealand and my grandfather was born in Scotland.
Japan has never ceased to amaze and overwhelm me ever since I visited it for the first time because, for me, it is so different from other countries – the culture, customs and the people, deep rooted in their genteel mannerisms and traditions. From the white-gloved, bowing bus conductors, the Bullet trains that are punctual down to the minute to ordering one’s dinner from a vending machine! So, whether you envisage the futuristic Blade Runner skyline of Tokyo, high tech gadgets, robots or the whimsical kimono-wearing, painted-faced geishas of Kyoto, this is a country that has the potential to keep even the most avid traveller enthralled, every time.
From nuclear radiation, marriage proposals and moving countries, 2011 will go down as a year of big changes and environmental extremes, both in my work and private life. I began the year in a steady, full-time staff job at BBC World in London. It was my tenth year at the BBC, my seventh year working on the ‘Fast Track’ travel program and I’d already clocked up 70 countries in my passport (but many more for my bucket list). On a personal level, I was in a long distance relationship. My boyfriend at the time was living in Singapore. This might sound tough, but thanks to my job and his family commitments we managed to see each other roughly once every 4-6 weeks. As anyone who has endured a long distance relationship will attest, it can be trying, on even the strongest of unions. So, after a wintery morning, surprise proposal, it was confirmed that I would move to Singapore.
It’s an occupation hazard, if you work on a travel program – invariably you land up working on your so-called ‘holiday’. I just can’t help myself. This was especially the case when I was young and single, and I didn’t have a partner with whom I could enjoy an idyllic holiday. But I have to admit, it’s almost become second nature – and it’s made little difference now that I’m attached. Just ask my boyfriend and he’ll attest to the number of vacations where he’s helped me carry the camera and tripod, or worse still, had to be an extra. I recently squeezed in a day’s work while we were in Bali for a friend’s wedding. But the irony is, the report I was filming was about the rise in the number of employees across Asia who felt obliged to work on holiday.
The life of a travel journalists isn’t always as glamorous as you might think, especially in these times of airline strikes, bankruptcies and volcanic clouds. But the last place you’d expect a travel and lifestyle reporter to end up is in prison. I can safely say, our report from the Cebu Provicicial Detention and Rehabilitation Centre in the Philippines was one of the most popular stories on the BBC website during the week that it aired, it garnered a huge audience response and most importantly, it was great fun to film too. Yes, I’m talking about those orange jumpsuited, dancing inmates made famous on YouTube with their version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” back in 2007.
“What, just you? And that small camera? Where’s the production crew with stage lights and the make-up truck?” I’m sure these are just some of the thoughts that have been running through the minds of many an interviewee when I turn up on location for a shoot. Presenter, reporter, producer, video journalist – I could safely say I come under all of the aforementioned job titles. Multi-skilling is my middle name. Indeed that’s the way the media industry is going these days. Gone are the days of just being a television reporter. Video journalist is possibly the most controversial of all job descriptions. The thought of pint-sized lass like me wielding a camera will raise the ire of many old-school cameramen and die-hard unionists. But modern technology has moved on in recent years and in this YouTube era, operating a broadcast quality camera has become a lot easier and more accessible. I have to say, learning to film was one of the smartest things I’ve done in my career so far.
Most people think I have one of the best jobs in the world (until they see my pay cheque!) Actually, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me “so, you work on a travel program, do you get to travel?” Yes! And I’m one of those lucky few people who get to truly say “I love my job”. I don’t say that to be smug or presumptuous, but in my opinion there is certainly no better “office” than the refreshingly unpredictable world around us. Sure there are the long flights, layovers and delays in uncomfortable airport lounges, the constant threat of DVT but the places we go, the people we meet and the stories that come thick and fast – from camping out in the Australian outback, whale watching in Canada to African film festivals and even the odd beach destination. So what’s it like being a woman in this business? Funny, a lot of people think I’m a Robert anyway. Invariably it’s in Asia. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve walked out into a brightly lit circus of an arrivals hall filled with families reunited, business travellers and back packers with no fixed agenda, to find my host brandishing a name board that has ROBERT CARMEN. Surprised looks usually follow, which results in the pantomime of me pulling out my passport proving that I’m in fact Carmen Roberts, not Robert Carmen.
Carmen Roberts has been a journalist for Fast Track, BBC World’s flagship travel programme since 2003 and has reported from over 60 countries. After the Asian Tsunami on Boxing Day 2004, Carmen cut short her holiday in Langkawi, Malaysia to report from the devastated resort town of Phuket. Carmen’s most recent reports about liquor licensing and buying property in Bali was telecast on Fast Track. http://www.bbc.co.uk
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