The Hong Kong Standard
Demise of an icon takes FEER factor out of being a dictator
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
People with cars often end up lugging stuff around for other folk. Take, for example, my former colleague Nate Thayer, whose odder-than-usual bit of luggage was the corpse of one of history's greatest mass murderers.
Nate, a journalist, had trekked through the jungles of Cambodia to get one of the scoops of the 20th century: an interview with Pol Pot, a dictator responsible for up to 2.5 million murders.
Pol Pot died shortly afterward. (Yeah, meeting reporters REALLY ups your stress level). Nate poked him to make sure he was dead, and then was asked to help transport the body in a pickup truck.
"It felt kind of weird to be driving along with a dead historical figure," he told us back at the office.
I thought about throwing into the conversation an anecdote about a rude hitchhiker I once picked up, but I changed my mind. Sometimes you meet someone whose stories are so amazing they make normal conversational exchanges impossible. Nate was one of those guys, and there were others in the office, too.
Those memories come from the time I worked at the Far Eastern Economic Review, or FEER.
It's in the news because the American owner, Dow Jones, announced it will cease publication after this month's issue, abandoning a name that has appeared on newsstands for 63 years.
In 2002, FEER predicted that a killer microbe would appear in southern China, cross to Hong Kong, and then cause global panic. A few months later, the killer microbe SARS appeared in southern China, crossed the border to Hong Kong, and then caused global panic. The magazine took out an ad in newspapers saying, "Sometimes we wish we got it wrong."
My father was writing an article for FEER when I was conceived - he was a dedicated multi-tasker - so it was inevitable I would join the staff. But while other reporters got mega- scoops, my job was to document the small, quirky tales that defined life in Asia-Pacific, on a page called Travellers' Tales.
I'll never forget the Filipino woman who claimed to have given birth to a fish. Or the couple in Tianjin, China, who offered a fortune to any man who would marry their household ghost. Or the Australian motorist who tried to escape driving penalties by claiming that his wife was driving, despite the fact that she had been dead for four years. Or Britz, a dog picked up from a New Zealand town by a tornado, and put down so far away it took him 10 hours to walk home. Or the Japanese employee who was so ashamed of having missed a meeting that he had himself kidnapped to provide a worthy enough excuse.
However, the quality of FEER's reporting fell dramatically in 2004, possibly related to the fact that the owner sacked all the reporters. From then on, the magazine's death became inevitable.
Mass murderers hiding in the jungles are reading this and saying, "Yippee, guys. We're safe!"
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