Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Public awareness

I figured that having never been on television before, a short interview on a program with an audience of around 200 million on a subject I know nothing about would be a good step into the limelight, a tentative dip in the water such that nobody would notice, if you like.

Yesterday I received a message from my English student who is rather a big player in one of the CCTV channels (Central China Television), asking me if I'd like to be on television to talk about mobile phones in the UK. I mentioned that I knew almost nothing about this topic and the mere fact that I have one does not give me any expert status. Yes, but you're from the UK, was the reply to which I had no good response.

My student has been extremely generous to me and so I figured that a) I owed them a favour and b) It would be another interesting experience if nothing else. I checked at this point that it really was OK that I knew nothing about mobile phones, to which the answer was positive. I spent a few minutes in the afternoon checking up on ofcom and finding out about the ins and outs of the usual mobile contracts and the like.

I was picked up in the evening to meet the crew and we went for a fancy Japanese meal in one of the CCTV owned buildings. Sake was flowing but I reasoned that the commandment 'though shalt not blog whilst drunk' probably held for appearing on TV, too. I tried to press them on what I was going to have to say or do and the information came thin and diluted with sushi. How much does it cost for a mobile phone call in the UK? Do you have to pay extra for calls between cities in the UK? Did you know that in China people have to pay more between cities? Were the few hints I got. I would have an interpreter and the questions would be very simple.

We set up the camera in the main atrium of a hotel complex where I stood facing the camera and the interviewer along with the interpreter to the side. I was still trying to find out a bit more when the camera was turned on and they started asking questions.

First the easy stuff, some of which I replied to in bad Chinese and some of which I would turn to the interpreter for assistance.

Q. Where are you from, how long have you lived in China and what do you do here?
A. (reply in Chinese)

Q. (Various questions about how much I like China and where is my favourite city)
A. etc................

Q. Do you own a mobile phone in the UK? and how much are call charges in the UK
A. Yes, I do. (I explained a little about the different rates for different monthly tariffs, and the fact that I probably paid about a penny a minute - guessing wildly).

Q. Do you own a mobile in China and how much do you pay a month?
A. I do, and I pay between 25 and 50 RMB per month (around £2-£4).

Q. Really? (Looking slightly worried) how come? That's so little.
A. I tend to text more than call, I use msn and skype to speak with friends and I would rather see my friends than talk to them on the phone (feeling slightly smug before realising that this is a good way to look like I haven't got many friends).

Q. Do you have to pay extra for long distance calls on mobiles within the UK.
A. As far as I'm aware calls within the UK on a mobile phone are a fixed price for each contract. They vary with time but not location, but to call out of the UK costs more...(goes on a little).

Q. Do you think it's right that people in China should have to pay more for calls between distant cities? (It appears that my interpretation of this question may have been incorrect).
A. (Slightly taken aback at the lack of information given for me to make a judgment on) If it costs the companies more to set up a long range network then I can understand that they would charge more for this service.

Q. But you know that it costs them just as much to connect you on a long distance call in China as a short distance call?
A. Well if that's the case then it does seem strange, though the company clearly has to make money, it's a business, and perhaps by charging more for long distance calls your short distance calls can be made cheaper.

Q. (Rather puzzled - definitely not expecting this answer) but do you think that it's fair?
A. (Feeling that I wish I had more background to this and reword my last answer with a few extra points).

At this point the cameraman steps in, having understood my translated response and asks if I really understood the question, how can I think that it's right for people to have to pay more for this service?

Q. You know that most Chinese people think that this is terrible?
A. I didn't, but not knowing the situation in detail I think it's possible that people are having to pay less for short distance calls, offset by higher priced long distance calls.

(Interviewer is looking rather worried about my capitalist propaganda)

Q. Thank you very much.
A. Thank you.

Not quite what I expected and certainly not what the interviewers had expected. Apparently they had interviewed an Australian woman on the subject earlier who thought that the situation was terribly unfair.

It seems now that they may have been telling me that the price of phoning from different cities varies, which seems marginally less reasonable. I also only realized afterwards that it is the government here who decides on the cost of mobile phone calls.

It was only afterwards that I dared ask how many people watch this show, to which the response was roughly 200 million.

Well, another experience at any rate, I'm not planning on watching it personally, even if they do find enough after the editing process to call an interview. I can't help but feel completely bemused and indeed amused about appearing on a program in front of four times the population of England.

JTA continues...


Benjamin said...

Magnificent, you're a TV star. Sounds like a really strange debate. Your write-up is funny.

Anonymous said...

Biscuit you have, in one short interview, probably trumped the combined viewing figures of every show I've ever worked on. It's just not fair.

Unknown said...

Cheers Ben. That's if they chose to air it. We'll see!

WF, you'll just have to get yourself out here again and we can try and expose you to the Chinese public.

Anonymous said...

HA! That's awesome. Now you know how the Exxon-Mobile executives feel at the congresional hearings:) You should have followed with "Not only is it cheaper to call in Europe, but we can use Google too! And we have Democracy! Free Tibet!"

Shock---I think you missed your chance at starting a revolution:)

Take care---

Unknown said...

Hi Tex,

Sad but true, it seems that my five minutes of infamy were not used to their full revolutionary possibilities. Next time I'll be prepared ;)

All the best, J

Anonymous said...

sounds like an interesting experience, maybe someone will put it on youtube. i'd love to watch how you established rep as an british actor.

yes, half-losers like marx and the red dwarves induced the wrong kind of revolution in china. If china is gonna to be a democratic bureaucracy sometime, i sure wish not have bushes or blairs running it. no putins either. guess it's a high order nowadays to have competent politicians and physicists.

I remember at Tasi people talked about re-union in a few--like two-- years. but it seems people already are leaving or have left physics. It'll be just one more of those reunions I'll never get to attend.

Unknown said...

Hi Peng,

That's sad to hear that people, all of them talented physicists, are leaving the field, be it through lack of interest or lack of jobs. From my experience, small reunions at conferences with a few ex-TASI people, while not a recreation of TASI itself is very enjoyable when it happens spontaneously.

Anonymous said...

I just got a data plan on my mobile. I pretty much do not need my computer anymore since I do so much with my mobile phone. The neatest thing is that I can even watch naughty movies:) It is pretty neat, it's called Mobile TV. All I do is point my phone to and they have adult mobile movies in different formats like 3gp movies, symbian, pda or whatever. If you have any other cool sites, please let me know! This one, though, even has a free daily mobile movie.