Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Macau then and now: A Pulitzer’s take

Posted by Kimberly on October 19, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
October 19, 2007, page 6 (835 words)

As the fourth day of the inaugural 2007 Pulitzer Prize Winner’s Workshop drew to a close, Fong Foong Mei, among the 2007 winning team for International Reporting, spoke to the Macau Daily Times about her time as a young 24-year-old journalist, writing about Macau’s triads.
Mei, now a 34-year-old, won the Pulitzer earlier this year after just ten years in the industry, achieving a dream many never get to realise even after decades in journalism.
“It was almost ten years ago and at the time I didn’t really have any grand aims,” she said, adding that she only wanted to try and see what it was all about.
Her stories were directed toward a Singapore audience who, she said, were fascinated by Macau.
“Then, Macau still had the gambling monopoly so everything was Stanley Ho, so the whole issue of a city that was deriving so much of its revenue from gambling was very fascinating to Singapore readers,” she said.
Wanting to write on some of the aspects of a city that was “so built on gambling,” she chose the seedier “more unsavoury” sides.
“At the time Wan Kuok-koi, ‘Broken Tooth Wan’ were getting a lot of headlines for being put in prison and he’d just done a movie too, so that was kind of fascinating,” she said.
Then there was the story about the girls working in massage parlours, “making money and the techniques they were using to work.”
“I visited the Hotel Lisboa at the time and they had a spa there and the proprietor took me around the spa and showed me all these girls that were doing these finger press-ups [against the wall] to strengthen their fingers,” she recalled.
“The masseuse used to tell me that they had to do that so much that their fingers used to tremble so much they couldn’t even hold a chopstick,” she added.
Another story featured STDM’s efforts to “make Macau more family friendly.”
“That it wasn’t just a place to gamble but more like Vegas, which is what we are starting to see now, then years later,” she added.
She recalled being shown the drawings for Macau Tower, with the organisation pointing out the shopping components and “more activities because clearly at that point, it was mostly just gamblers coming and they didn’t bring their families because they had nothing to do.”
“So it’s really interesting to see ten years later, you have the Cotai Strip and all these shops, the transformation that is happening slowly. And Macau is a very different place now,” she said.
Asked whether she believed her stories had the intended effect, she replied, “I don’t know that you can ever do that.
“You really can’t anticipate the effect. I think it created a picture of Macau and I hope it was an accurate picture at the time. Clearly it’s very different now,” she said.
Her response to the question of whether she’d had concerns at the time of the stories, she was adamant her safety was never an issue.
“I remember I had a source that took me down to the disco that was frequent by the triads at the time and it was at 5 in the morning because night life in Macau went on very late, when people finished working at the tables and then they wanted to party until 11am.” she said.
“It was a strange and bizarre world. I tried to prepare a little beforehand. I had people I knew, sources I trusted, introduce me to other sources. It wasn’t a case of me wandering off the street and saying ‘ok, take me somewhere!’” she added.
So with ten years of hind-sight, Mei finds that Macau is “certainly more about multiplicity.
“I think that’s a good thing because clearly you’ll have more jobs and a lot of organisations are US-owned which are under the rules of the Nevada gaming commission.”
She added that “it also means, for the people of Macau, that they have a lot of choices, about who they want to work for and what they want to do.”
There was also the usual reminiscing, where she talked about “how people have been saying that the local culture of Macau has been going away and that’s a sad thing.
“One of the things I always enjoyed about going to Macau was the local culture.
“I always went over there for the local Macanese food, to stroll around, eat the egg tarts and have a coffee. Those were all the old-world charms that I always enjoyed about Macau and I hope it still stays,” she said.
As for the journalism aspect, she added, “I think Macau is in a fascinating period of change now and a journalist needs to look for those periods of change because there are so much stories.
“I think it’s a great time and I’m looking forward to reading some interesting stories about Macau,” she said.
Macao Water invited local media to attend yesterday’s forums, with the company providing sponsorship.

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