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Jane Hutcheon

broadcaster/journalist/author

08 Feb
2018

Five Things I Discovered About Oman Travel

Jane Hutcheon

1)  It's exotic:

When I was a TV correspondent, I'd have to start working in a new country or city from the moment my feet touched the ground.  So finding the exotic wasn't a high priority.  I had no trouble in Oman. 

Here's how I'd describe Oman: fragrant, quietly industrious, open-minded, mysterious, warm, intoxicating. 

Frankincense is the nobbly resin from the Boswellia Sacra tree found in Southern Oman.  It oozes from gashes made to the bark.  These days, it’s primary use is as incense and so little wonder as I travelled throughout Oman, many hotels and restaurants had the aroma of a high church: that was frankincense.

My favourite archeological site was the 'beehive tombs' above the village of Al Ayn, near Bat.  The stone tombs were used over and over again.  You can find the remains of hundreds of them dotted on hilltops.  Not a single souvenir-seller or another tourist was in sight.

2) You should love dates.

Dates have been grown for thousands of years and you don’t have to travel far in this beautiful country to come across an oasis town filled with date palms.  A single tree can produce nearly 300 kgs of dates and there are thousands of varieties.  I snacked on dates whenever they were offered (usually several times a day) and didn’t touch the Lindt chocolate I brought with me :) I was told by our Omani guide that as long as I consumed an odd number of dates (1,3 or 5. I didn't get beyond 5) it would be considered perfectly healthy.  I didn’t argue.  Dates and cardomon-flavoured coffee go particularly well together.

The other thing I learned about dates was that the syrup or nectar produced by storing and pressing these fruit as they dry, creates a fragrant, dark molasses which when boiled can be poured down specially-made chutes erected at the entrance the country’s amazing castles and forts.  The scalding date syrup treatment was reserved for enemy marauders.  If you tried to side-step the date syrup chute, the next obstacle was a pit of snakes, the entrance of which was concealed by a small carpet.  

   

4) Wood is precious.

There isn’t a lot of indigenous wood in Arabia.  So the most expensive parts of houses, mosques and forts - the doors and window frames - were imported from Zanzibar and India.  I fell in love with these sensational ancient teak or mahogany doors around Oman carved by artisans...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… and then several days later (in Zanzibar) came across local village workshops like this one where ornate doors have been crafted for centuries.

I was also captivated by the charm and simplicity of these wooden Koran stands which I saw throughout Oman.  Eventually I found a simple one in the souq in Doha which fitted in my hand-luggage.

5) Ibadi Islam:

Oman is the only country in the world where a majority of the population are Ibadi muslims.  Of 2.25 million Omanis, around half are Ibadis with Sunnis coming a close second.  This is a 'moderate conservative’ sect of the faith, which originally fled from Basra in modern-day Iraq.  Ibadism was created after one of the early schisms in Islam and became established in Oman in AD 751.  Ibadis believe in religious tolerance and all sects are invited to worship in Muscat’s Grand Mosque.  (My photo is of the state mosque in the city of Nizwa.)

Did I mention how perfect the weather in Oman is in January?  During the day - 22-28 degrees - with a coat and scarf for the chilly desert nights. {Zanzibar has around the same temperature though it's a little muggy) 

Thinking of joining my tour The Frankincense Route - Oman and Zanzibar in January 2019?  Here are the details.  

 

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18 Sep
2017

View Convention - Author Panel, Tamworth, Sept 16 2017 China Baby Love

Jane Hutcheon

 

I travelled up to Tamworth with Anne Summers and Anna Bligh where Anna was giving the keynote address on how the role of women had changed in her lifetime.  Anne was moderator of the author panel.

Great to chat with authors Chris Taylor (far right), Meredith Jaffe (my left) and Anne Summers at the View Convention :)

 

 

 

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08 Jun
2017

The Private Person Behind the Public Broadcaster Journalism One Plus One

Jane Hutcheon

This week I interviewed Michelle Guthrie for One Plus One, a year after her appointment as the ABC's Managing Director.

What was it like to interview your boss? people have asked me.

Everyone has an opinion about Ms Guthrie and the ABC. The opinions are not always pleasant. I felt I had the weight of expectation on my shoulders.  Apart from that complexity, the interviewer part of me was curious to know why someone who had reached such heights in the media and digital world, had such a light digital footprint herself.  It was very hard to find detail about her life and what has influenced her trajectory.  

For me, the most anxious moments were the hours BEFORE the interview.

I am approaching this in good faith, I told myself, just ask her about the pieces that you need to make this puzzle complete.  

But as well as being an interviewer who overthinks everything, I am also a long-term employee of the public broadcaster, a 23 year veteran.  Many of my peers have left either by choice or through redundancy.  Media as an industry is in turmoil.  So what changes are in store for a traditional TV journalist in the Michelle Guthrie era of my career?  

It was a bubbly Michelle who stepped briskly into my studio arena this week.  Immediate thoughts were that I towered over her( incredibly).  She didn't want to shake hands.  She opened her arms to give me a hug.  I sensed quickly that she was not someone to mess with, and yet I could relax and know that she would give me the space to probe her.  We chatted about clothes and finding the right style.  I loved her swan shirt :)

So, who is Michelle Guthrie?  From what she told me she was a good student who worked hard and then took the opportunities that lay in front of her.  She said 'yes' a lot. She took risks. She has fantastic insights into women and leadership.  She has a husband (who is a chef) living in Singapore and two lovely daughters.  She wants to make the ABC relevant for our time, which means a greater connection to the world many of us call home: online. Change IS her buzzword.  But, she prefers to be out of the public eye.

In summary, I'd give her the hashtag: #quietdisrupter

(Photos by my colleague Tom Hancock)  

 

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17 May
2017

Why I Interviewed Vir Das Books Travel One Plus One

Jane Hutcheon

The question I get asked most about One Plus One is how do we choose our guests?

We do around forty-four interviews a year.  We have a big wish-list and then lots of other fascinating names came forward too, all worthy of attention in their own way which, in our estimation, can hold the television viewer’s attention for 30 minutes. The guests are drawn from a variety of sources selected by producer Barbie Dutter and me. 

This week my guest is Indian comedian Vir Das and I was lucky enough to speak to him hours after he stepped of a plane on his first ever visit to Australia.  He's on his first international tour, performing in Sydney and Melbourne (May 18 - 27).

In preparation for the interview I watched Vir's hilarious Netflix show Abroad Understanding.  I read widely and watched his You Tube channel, where there are some very touching videos.  Every year around exam time, he does a video for school-kids.  There's a worrying suicide-rate among Indian school-children because of exam pressure.

I was very interested in the movie 31st October based on the anti-Sikh protests after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Via played a serious dramatic role in that art-house film but he’s also a familiar Bollywood actor.

India has always fascinated me.  In fact, it was the first country I fell for, even before China.  Maybe because I grew up in colonial Hong Kong, I enjoyed books about the English view of colonial life: Heat and Dust, A Passage to India and I particularly enjoyed Sarah Lloyd’s An Indian Attachment (and later Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance).

However, on my first visit to India - when I was nineteen - I was shocked by the poverty.  One day my brother and I bought some cakes in Delhi’s Connaught Place.  I carried them in a box, suspended in a plastic bag.  As we walked around I could feel something hitting my leg, but when I turned around in that tight sea of humanity, I couldn’t see what was knocking me.  Something hit me again and this time I looked down.  It was a person.  A legless person.  A legless, handless person whose arms finished near the elbows - in stumps. The person made eye contact with me then pointed to the plastic bag.  The one holding the cakes.  I handed it over immediately.

Apart from poverty I’d seen in Hong Kong (yes, there was much poverty in the seventies and early eighties) I had not experienced anything like India.  And yet I loved it.  It was so... alive!

Now the sub-continent is a whole new world from the place I experienced in the 1980’s.

It has 1.3 billion people but still, there are great divisions between the wealthy, the middle-class and those who dwell in slums.

A few hours before Vir arrived for the interview I went to the BBC website to see what was making news in India.  Sadly, the main story was about rape and whether Indian doctor would allow a 10 year old rape victim to have an abortion. The 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey still looms large in my mind.

So, mingling in with the research I had done, these were some of the issues playing in my mind when I sat down to interview Vir.  He admits he speaks from a perspective of privilege. And I interviewed a comedian for some light relief, right?  But my head is still awash with more questions that I need to unravel for myself over the next few days, through books, news, discussion.  Vir Das opened a door.

(Photo credits: Vir Das and Jane - Tom Hancock, Sadhu - Jane Hutcheon, Protest - Getty Images

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