It all started with an email soon after the Pulitzer announcement. I began receiving loads of very kind emails with the subject line "Congratulations!" or "CONGRATULATIONS!!!" Those emails were very nice, but they made me a complete sucker for spam emails that also tend say "Congratulations" or "You Won An Award!" After uncharacteristically falling for a few spam emails, I ignored emails that kept arriving in my inbox with congratulatory subject lines and Chinese characters.
Until the Chinese spammers started calling me on the phone.
But wait, they weren't spammers, they were journalism professors from a well-known university in Hong Kong organizing the fourth annual "Pulitzer Prize Winners Workshop
." I was a little leery at first, thinking I might be expected to tout the wonders of the glorious People's Liberation Army
or advocate for Harmonious Society through Locking Up Dissidents
So I asked around.
Wonderful cartoonist and friend Signe Wilkinson
, it turns out, had a coworker who attended the workshop a previous year. The report was glowing. "They'll treat you like royalty," and "you would be an idiot not to go," or something to that effect. So I went . . . and was treated more like a rockstar than royalty (which is much more fun anyway).
Hong Kong Baptist University is a very well known, progressive school with a strong journalism department. (No full-immersion baptisms to be found, by all appearances a regular secular school.) Hong Kong itself is a not-so-little bastion of free speech that is kinda sorta part of China. ("One country, two systems," as they like to say.) Everyone I talked with was so hungry to talk about politics, free speech and when change would come to mainland China.
I spoke to packed lecture halls, was photographed a million times, had to be whisked away from an excited throng that reminded me of "Hard Days Night
," had cocktails with the US Consul General and ate a fish that made my mouth feel like I had just consumed a kilo of cocaine (which was fortunate, because I had just eaten cow bowel before that).
Amid all the doom and gloom in journalism, this was an amazing eye-opening experience. Most of the students at HKBU were from mainland China and are facing something a tad more dire than buyouts and layoffs. I got choked up explaining the First Amendment to journalists who asked me, how can it be that I get to make fun of politicians?
While there were other Pulitzer Prize-winners there from previous years-- like the Copley's Jerry Kammer, who helped send former Rep. Duke Cunningham
to jail-- I spent most of my time with the students and tried to get to know Hong Kong and Kowloon as much as possible.
My Hong Kong hosts were the best, particularly because they live in a place where cartoonists are treated like rockstars.
Update: Also had a great time speaking at Georgetown and Stanford, but since there was no cocaine-fish, writing about it is probably not advised.
Update #2: Clearly Hong Kong is made for cartoonists: