Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Maltese Sighting

Yesterday, February 4 2010, I was at Pousada de São Tiago, after lunch, and enjoy an "iii lai tchá" (hot tea with milk, in Cantonese) in the outside coffee-shop. It’s a pity that today was a misty day in Macau. This is not the winter of my discontent, because the weather has been fairly mildly. But last Tuesday, I was at Pousada de S.Tiago. I had a “tong lemong tchá” (iced tea with lemon) and witnessed a perfect end of day, made glorious by this sun of Macau as you can see in the picture above.

I’m preparing another post, analyzing the hundreds of sightings of Madeleine, from Argentina to Venezuela, paying special attention to the 12 (or 14…) “officially” registered sightings in Malta and looking more carefully to how the British Media and the McCann couple reacted to those sightings. A very special attention will be given to the sighting reported by Mr. Ray Roberts, also in Malta.

Last summer I went to Portugal and bought three books at the Hong Kong Airport. “A Most Wanted Man”, from one of my preferred authors, John le Carré, was one of those books. Le Carré is still a superb writer – I would give up everything I wrote, as a journalist, in the last 29 years, in exchange for having the talent to produce a few dozen pages as good as “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.”

But Le Carré seems to have lost something, after the end of the “Cold War” – a problem to everyone working for the “services”, an expression those Portuguese professionals from this field use. John le Carré, himself, analyzed this dilemma, also in a superb style, in “A Perfect Spy”.

Anyway, it was a book worth the time I spend reading it, during the flight from Hong Kong to Lisbon. I’m not John le Carré, even if I met in Hong Kong, in 1991, a German businessman that was a good “friend” of William Craw, a fictional character of “The Honourable Schoolboy” based on a real person – a British journalist who was president of Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club and has a bust in the FCC (*).

I went to FCC several times, while in Macau, between 1986 and 1997. I met Hugh Van Es, who died last year, and still remember his favourite expression (can’t reproduce it, sorry…) Once, we – me, Hugh van Es, Stuart Wolfendale and other HK based correspondents - had a couple of beers at FCC, after dinner, and went out for one more drink.

Last thing I remember, before taking a taxi to my hotel, was being at a small bar in Lam Kwai Fong, and a member of the diplomatic corps based in HK lying down in the floor, with a good level of alcohol in the blood.

We were all leaving the bar, together – me, Hugh van Es and other journalists that I can’t remember, for obvious reasons… - and no one give a damn about the drunken diplomat. I asked the patron, a middle-aged Chinese lady, what about the diplomat and she told me: “No problem, he comes here many times and always finishes like that. We will take care of him…”

Another person I met, in Macau, still is an institution inside the FCC, itself an institution in HK: Clare Hollingworth, the British Journalist that got one the great “scoops” of all times when she spotted German troops massing near the border with Poland. I met her in 1989 – the year of June 4 events in Tiananmen and when around 50 thousand illegal residents of Macau went to the streets - when a British minister in charge of Hong Kong affairs came to Macau, to meet Governor Carlos Melancia. I was acting director of the Macau Government Press Office and was in charge of “handling” a large number of HK based foreign correspondents, which came to Macau, following the Minister, “smelling” big news.

I remember I was in the front garden of Santa Sancha, the Governor’s Residence, chatting with journalists while the British Minister was talking with the Governor, when an old lady crossed the entry gates, asked something to a foreign journalist and then came to me, almost breathless: “Hello, my name is Clare Hollingsworth, I’m a journalist…”

I almost freeze. Clare Hollingworth? The author of “There's a German Right Behind Me”? The journalist who first reported the beginning of World War II? My God! I had the same feeling when I shook hands with Walter Cronkite, who came to Macau in 1990, to interview the acting Governor, Mr. Carlos Monjardino, for a TV documentary about Asia. My legs were trembling, just like when Mike Chinoy interviewed me for CNN, in 1994 or 1995 (I still have to check my blue Portuguese notebooks for the exact date…) when he did a special report about Macau and I was Governor Rocha Vieira “Nº1 Public Enemy”.

I took her to a quieter corner of the garden, found a comfortable sofa and asked if she wanted a fresh drink. She told me, again: “I’m Clare Hollingworth, I don’t’ know if you know me…” I knew. The Press adviser of the Minister, alerted about her presence, was already with us. “I’m afraid I’m behaving like a reporter…” – she said to the Press adviser, with a smile.

When the meeting finished, Clare Hollingworth was worried about how to get a taxi to the jetfoil, but I already had a car from my office waiting at the gates of Santa Sancha and we went together, with the Minister’s Press adviser, to the pier. During the short trip, she asked a few blunt questions to the poor guy. He didn’t dare to refuse an answer of to say the usual “No comments”, so he was most embarrassed, because he had to reply in front of the “enemy” – me, the acting director of Macau Government Press Office.

I gave him a helping hand and I said that he could speak openly. He had my word that I wouldn’t repeat his answers to anyone. He explained to Clare Hollingworth that the Minister came to Macau to ask to the Governor to stop “redirecting” to HK the boats with Vietnamese refugees that landed in Macau. Mr. Melancia, politely, told him that Macau Government fulfilled all its international obligations and never broke the law.

Whenever a boat with refugees was detected, at high sea, by the Macau Marine Police, they followed international rules and helped them. But people on those boats just asked for water, fuel, food and how to reach Hong Kong. I left both of them at the jetfoil pier and went back home (my son, at the time four years-old, was there, with Mrs. Elfie, my full-time Philippine domestic employee for many years, as it was my weekend with him).

I’m not John le Carré and I’m not Dashiell Hammett, but I’ll try to analyze, in the next post, the many Madeleine McCann sightings, all over the world. I will do it with more detail when looking at what I call “The Maltese Sighting”: the amazing case of Mr. Ray Roberts and the way British Media handled it.

PReis(*) I’m “selling” these details just as I “bought” them. With this, I mean that I trust the source, a low-profile German businessmen living in Hong Kong for more that 20 years, at the time and who, to my surprise, also told me that he had at home several old vinyl records of “Duo Ouro Negro”, the most well-known singers and musicians from Angola, who made with great success, the fusion of the traditional African music and pop music (as you can hear in that link…)