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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October, 2003, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Reporter's diary: Bush's tour
BBC correspondent Rob Watson

The BBC's Rob Watson, accompanying United States President George W Bush on his tour of six Asian nations, is filing a diary for BBC News Online.

Bangkok, Thailand :: 1700 GMT 21 October

Today I was on pool duty. First time for me.

No, pool duty does not have anything to do with those things that you swim in.

US President George Bush
It is not easy to get close to President Bush

The pool is a small group within the giant horde of journalists covering the president's visit who are actually supposed to be in the same place as he is.

The other 100 or so remain at wherever the main press centre is.

So today was my turn and as I mentioned my first ever.

The pool's assignment on this occasion was to follow the president to the final Apec session at some gorgeous government building.

It started out very promisingly as we prepared to leave the president's hotel.

First I saw the president's car pass right in front of my nose and even caught a glimpse of the man himself - a rare event indeed.

Then I got my first taste of what it is like to travel in a presidential motorcade.

OK, so the press bus was way near the back of the enormous convoy, but it was still great.

A presidential motorcade is the only way to travel.

The normally teeming streets of Bangkok emptied as if by an act of God.

It is easy to understand why presidents, prime ministers, kings, etc hate losing their jobs.

The event itself was a bit of let down, in the sense that we did not get to see it.

Sure we drove up to the government building with the president, but then it was bye bye.

While the president was inside chatting with other presidents and prime ministers, we were escorted to some delightful but baking hot outbuildings to await the outcome.

The other pool members were all veterans of this kind of affair and probably wondered at my stupid disappointment.

One of them said it was really a "bodywatch", which means you are nearby just in case the president has some horrible accident, natural or otherwise.

Anyway he didn't and so off we went by motorcade again to the airport.

And then it was time for my real treat.

My first ever flight on Air Force One, surely the world's most recognisable aircraft.

It was great. I sat next to Mr Bush the whole way in his private office/living complex at the front of the plane and we chatted about everything under the sun; foreign policy, baseball, the works.

Just kidding. The truth is I spent the two hour flight at the back of the plane in the section reserved for journalists.

I'm not complaining. We had a visit from a "senior administration official" who gave us a briefing, and a visit from the president's spokesman Scott McClellan.

I waited and waited for the man himself - maybe next time.

I would love to tell you more, but I think it is a matter of national security.

But I have come away with a memento of my flight - a packet of M&Ms with the presidential seal on.

For those of you who do not know what M&Ms are; they are a chocolate covered snack food - no I have not eaten them yet, and no there are not any going.


Bangkok, Thailand :: 1300 GMT 20 October

As far as journalism is concerned, the easiest stuff is what I call the "what happened story".

In other words, stories where you can say such and such happened in a certain place at a certain time, this is what caused it and this was the result - you get the picture.

The Apec summit here doesn't do well on the "what happened" score approach to stories. And therefore it's far more difficult for journalists to cover.

And then we even had a travel tip from the President, via his spokesman, for how to beat the jetlag. The tip? You have to workout
But that's not to say it's not interesting. Part of the problem is that news organisations spend so much time and energy previewing these kinds of stories - the BBC included - and then lose interest once they're underway.

Understandable really, as it's much easier to say what a summit is likely to be about than to find out what actually happened.

So we get back to that what happened at APEC question?

And the honest answer is it's hard to say. After all, access to the participants is very limited and the briefings provided by their officials less than satisfying.

I will say no more on the issue other than that somehow we have to do better at covering these types of stories, if for no other reason than we owe it to the 2.5bn or so people who live in Apec's member countries and all those other people affected by the numerous diplomatic gatherings that now clog the global diary.

Anyway that's enough musings. Despite the above grumble today hasn't been too bad.

I got up early to have a swim before the smog closed in and I think I'm at last adjusting the massive time difference between here and where I live. And there's my cue for today's reflection on the star of the show, President Bush.

We had the good fortune to be visited in our filing centre today by his very affable spokesman and fellow Texan Scott McClellan. I asked Scott whether the President actually enjoyed these trips.

Scott's got quite a Texas twang, but I'm pretty sure he said yes.

"Does the President eat the local food while he's away," was another searching question from another hack.

Yes, came the reply, the President had tried some Thai cuisine. And then we even had a travel tip from the President, via his spokesman, for how to beat the jetlag. The tip? You have to workout. So there you have it, a free travel tip from the Leader of the Free World.


Bangkok, Thailand :: 1700 GMT 19 October

There are two Marriott Hotels in Bangkok. Why, you're wondering, am I telling you this? Well, it might come in handy.

Today we left our hotel - a Marriott - to go to record what we call in the trade a "piece to camera" - the bit where the reporter tries to say something intelligent in vision in the piece.

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush, left, tour the Grand Palace and the nearby Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok
Bush appears to be not much of a sightseer
Our destination was a convention centre where there was a great view of the Bangkok skyline. Getting there was easy, some helpful person from the US embassy provided us a van and driver.

As the journey only took five minutes, we figured - my producer Mark Orchard and I, that is - that a taxi ride back would be fine.

So we waved down a car and off we went to the Marriott. About 20 minutes later, after crossing a very large river we hadn't seen before, we then figured something was wrong. And then it appeared - the second Marriott.

The taxi driver was very apologetic and cross with himself, though he didn't know much English he knew the F word and used it with feeling.

In the end it turned out rather well. After the best part of 50 minutes in his taxi I reckon we had a pretty good sense of Bangkok.

It is not a city for those who like things quiet, tranquil and clear. It's polluted, packed and noisy, but very exciting.

So in the evening when we had to do some more venturing outside the hotel we took the subway. Well I say subway, but it's above ground and very clean and efficient it is too.

So if you're going to Bangkok don't forget there are two Marriotts and use the subway/overway.

There was a bit of a treat for some members of the press corps today. In the cavernous room in the hotel we use for filing our stories some monks quietly appeared.

The next thing you knew they were unravelling some mats and offering free massages to all and sundry in the working press.

Due to the pressure of work I missed out on their nimble thumbs, but those who didn't looked very happy.

Talking of monks, it reminds me of the star of this show, George W Bush. As I may have mentioned before, the president is not much of a sightseer.

He doesn't appear that curious and never stays anywhere for long enough anyway to see anything.

But seeing as this was a state visit, on this occasion he did visit a magnificent Buddhist temple called the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

It looked fantastic - the president took off his shoes and had a look around. His verdict: "Inspiring". Quite!


En route to Thailand :: 1300 GMT 18 October

I woke up very confused today. First of all I wasn't sure where I was and second I had no idea what time it was.

A quick glance at a very elegant high-tech clock on the wall of my hotel room revealed the ghastly truth - 0300.

And then the high-techness of the room reminded me I was in Tokyo.

Laura and George W Bush in Manila
He spent barely four hours in Manila
I don't want to dwell on this too long, but even the toilets in Japan are high-tech, I mean you can do such vital things as set the temperature of the toilet seat to hot or warm.

After a desperate attempt to get back to sleep I gave into jet lag and resigned myself to the idea that three hours would have to do.

It wasn't all bad news. If you ever need a good breakfast I can thoroughly recommend Tokyo. And then we were on the road again. So, some 11 hours after arriving in the city, we left.

In the daylight I got a better idea of just how vast a city it is and just how much sea there is everywhere. I hope I get a chance to go back one day.

At this point I want to let you into a little secret about one of the good things about travelling with the White House Press Corps. You don't have to fiddle about with things like customs and immigration.

Some kind folks from the US Government take care of all of that and keep your passports throughout the trip. So when the buses arrive at the airport they go straight up to the plane and off you go.

Well, that is until this very easy-going system allowed some total stranger onto to a flight during the president's trip to Africa earlier this year.

Woops. So now at the bottom of the steps to the plane there's a very high-tech system for checking who you are. It's still pretty quick, though.

Anyway by 0810 we were off to the Philippines - a mere four-hour flight from Japan. As it turns out, that's not that much shorter than the time we spent once we got there.

Regular readers of these and other presidential travel diaries will know the routine by now.

After another bus ride, our only glimpse of life in Manila, we found ourselves in a hotel from where we could file our stories.

I know there are plenty of good reasons for keeping these visits so short, such as security threats and the need for the president to spend some time running America.

But if he finds out as little about the places we visit as the press do we may all be in big trouble.

So as I write this it's about 2200 and I'm back on our press plane for the three-and-a-half hour flight to Thailand and the Apec summit.

If you'll excuse me now it's time for some plane food.


Tokyo :: 1400 GMT 17 October

As I write this, I'm finding it decidedly difficult to keep my eyes open. So my apologies to those reading who feel very wide awake.

According to my watch it's 10:50 in the evening Tokyo time and I think it's Friday. But the strange thing is that when I left California it was Thursday and still the middle of the day.

President and Mrs Bush leaving Air Force One in Tokyo
Flights feature prominently on this six-day, six-nation trip
So what did we do all day? Well it all got off to a good start in California with the meeting between Arnie and Dubya, the two undoubted stars of the Republican party.

The president cracked a joke about neither of them being able to speak English properly and somehow you got the feeling there could be a very strange new double act in the making.

The rest of that day was spent in the air. When you look at a map it's perhaps no surprise that it takes 12 hours to get from California to Tokyo. But the lack of surprise doesn't make it any more fun.

As usual I killed time by watching films and reading a very irreverential book about the president called Bushwhacked. Written by two Texan journalists, the book basically makes the argument that Dubya did a lousy job running Texas and that no-one should therefore be surprised that he's now ruining the country as a whole.

I was wondering if the White House press officials on the plane would hold my reading matter against me - so far no signs of that.

One matter I would like to take up with the White House is timing. My advice - don't in future schedule arrivals at Tokyo airport in the rush hour. It's hell.

In what I expect to be one of many long press bus journeys, it took us two hours to get from the plane to our hotel.

Shame really. It's not as if we had a lot of time here. Twelve hours to be precise. So no sushi bars for me and no karaoke. But from the little I've seen of Tokyo - that is the view from the bus - it definitely seems worth a return visit.

As for our quarry the president, he didn't do much sightseeing either. Just a quick visit to the US embassy and a dinner with the Japanese prime minister.

His only known public comments in Japan - that the noodles were excellent and relations between the two countries just as good. So there you have it.




SEE ALSO:
Bush holds talks on N Korea crisis
17 Oct 03  |  Americas
Terror war dominates Bush trip
16 Oct 03  |  Americas
When Bush met Arnie
16 Oct 03  |  Americas


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