Telum Talks To... Shih Hsiu-Chuan, Reporter, Central News Agency
In the midst of this pandemic, Shih Hsiu-Chuan, also known as Jane, talks about her role covering stories related to Taiwan abroad. She can only cover stories in Jakarta now although she would normally cover South Pacific countries as well.
Central News Agency (CNA) is the national news agency for Taiwan. What kind of Indonesian stories are your readers interested in?
Human interest stories. For example, recently a story about a 19-year-old senior high school girl searching her Indonesian nanny, whom she has lost contact with for about 15 years, was widely published by other media and shared by our readers.
Issues related to the role Taiwan has played in major projects being undertaken in Indonesia are also interesting to our readers, such as Taiwan’s participation in mass rapid transit and light rail transit in Jakarta. Social issues being debated in Indonesia, such as LGBT rights.
I would say CNA also considers major events in Indonesia, relations between Taiwan and Indonesia in terms of trade, economic relations, migrant workers, and China’s presence in Indonesia and the Southeast Asia region are important.
What is the most challenging story you have covered in Indonesia?
I think stories related to Islam are a challenge for me, because I don’t have much understanding of the Qur’an and its teachings. That makes me worried if I wrongly interpret what Islam says on the issues I write about. I once wrote a story about “Bukan Perawan Maria”, a book by an Indonesian writer Feby Indirani. It took me a lot of time to digest the book before I could write the story based on her interview.
What is your favourite and least favourite thing when covering news in Jakarta?
I find it’s good that most people and officials are willing to be interviewed, although sometimes I have to send an official request letter from my company. When I first came here in February 2019, I thought that was redundant and bureaucratic. But in most cases, once you follow the procedure, it goes smoothly.
The least favourite thing is that security officials in many places, malls, stations, or even on the streets, would always stop me from taking photos or shooting videos and they’d ask me to gain permission from their management first.
How does being stuck in Jakarta affect you?
I went back to Jakarta in the last week of January after the Lunar New Year since I am based here anyway. Around that time, the COVID-19 outbreak had just started. I had some plans to cover stories in places outside Jakarta and they had to be delayed because of the pandemic. I don't feel stuck, because there are still many stories about the pandemic I can write about in Jakarta.
Last year, I visited the Istiqlal Mosque, the biggest mosque in Southeast Asia. I witnessed thousands of people queuing to get their meals for breaking fast and they were also there for their night prayers. This year the mosque is closed. There is nothing at all! It’s a stark difference.
If there was no coronavirus, I would be in East Timor or Papua doing feature stories.
What is your biggest concern during coronavirus pandemic? Especially since you produce multimedia articles, you have to go out to shoot videos and take pictures?
I am worried about being infected with the virus when I’m on the ground and I have to worry about my translator too since I am also responsible for his safety. We both try to be more vigilant of the situation. We always wear masks and apply hand sanitizer. As a reporter, I feel like I still have to go out even if it’s risky.
One time, we went to a hospital in Jakarta to interview a doctor about the equipment they use to perform COVID-19 testing. The doctor told us she would perform ribonucleic acid extraction (from nose and throat swabs) the next day and suggested we go back again if we needed the footage of her in a hazmat suit. Because we didn't have the suit and the press relations officer was hesitant to let us in without proper protective gears, we had to give up.
The first thing you’ll do after the pandemic ends?
I would love to visit Taman Safari Zoo!