I really should take back all the horrible and spiteful things I have said in the past about the ridiculous quantity of sports results RTHK Radio 3 uses to fill up space during its morning news show because it’s easier to read out interminable and inconsequential numbers off the Internet than getting out there and reporting what’s happening in the world.
The half-hourly cycle on Hong Kong Today begins with brief headlines from Planet Mayhem: the Pakistani terrorist outrage du jour, the Southeast Asian tectonic disaster, the election in a semi-important but uninteresting place like Spain or Canada, and then – squeezed in for no obvious reason – an overseas soccer result apparently chosen at random from the thousands available every day of the week.
Then listeners get the actual news: how many kids the Taliban suicide bomber killed, an eye-witness account in Bahasa of the Indonesian earthquake, and a reminder of the new prime minister’s funny name. This is followed by a roundup of the many noteworthy events taking place in the Big Lychee. Maybe the Hospital Authority has sawn the wrong guy’s leg off (or got the right guy but wrong leg) or induces labour in a husband whose wife is giving birth out in the corridor. There’s the inevitable traffic accident as the laws of physics stubbornly refuse to bow to a bus driver’s whim in some place we’ve never heard of in the New Territories. Probably a protest or three: women demanding breast-feeding in public, Christians against breast-feeding on TV, or public housing tenants demanding free vacations in the Maldives.
Then we have the business news: riveting 0.2% swings on the US stock market, a mind-numbing takeover bid that never ends, plus maybe an interview with a local market commentator – the ranter about gold and fiat currencies, the local voodoo-technical analyst with his short-term forecast, or the suave expat broker who’s seen it all before. When the embarrassing government announcement imploring me to keep Hong Kong green or fight influenza begins, I leap from my bed to brush my teeth.
Then it starts: like a sprinter darting from the starting blocks, the RTHK sports presenter launches into his high-speed delivery of teams and goals and Manchester and Chelsea and this player and that player or that team manager, all blurted out like an Australian sheep auction. After this breathless list of men running up and down fields chasing a ball, we get a slightly relaxing clip of an educationally subnormal young man attempting to explain his feelings on losing or winning a game. Knowing that intense accounts of men hitting a little white ball around with a stick, or women tossing a bigger yellow one back and forth to each other are still to come, I usually stumble out of the bathroom, dribbling minty, fluoride-laced foam, and switch the radio off.
But not today. As I spit the last of the frothy Colgate into the sink, I hear the usually hyperactive sports reporter choking back tears at the microphone and warning listeners that he has tragic news to impart. A German goalkeeper, he intones, has died after throwing himself in front of a train.
The image of a locomotive speeding across the pitch towards the goal while the team’s valiant last defender hurls himself in its path flashes before me. But no – the announcer says it was suicide. So it happened at the local Bahnhof.
A desperately sad story unfolds. The dead man (presumably this Robert Enke – this can’t be that frequent an occurrence in the goalkeeping world) lost his little daughter a few years ago and had his own medical problems. The presenter describes the poor man’s unhappy childhood: orphaned at an early age, never had shoes, forced to pick turnips in the fields during winter, witnessed pet puppy dog being eaten by a bear. So gripping and touching is the account that I try to gargle silently lest I miss anything. By the end of the report, everyone in the RTHK studio is weeping, and no doubt most of the listeners are too. It is almost a relief after the time-check at the top of the hour to go back to an update from Karachi.