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Rain helps early foreign presenter's China journey

By Liu Xiangrui | China Daily | Updated: 2017-10-27 07:59

Edwin Maher has lived in China for 14 years and he says he wants to make the most of his China experience. [Photo by Liu Peng/provided to China Daily]

More than a decade as a news anchor for the international channel of the State-owned China Central Television has made Edwin Maher's face and voice familiar to many Chinese viewers.

Although he retired earlier this year, Maher says in future he would want to make the most of his China experience of 14 years.

The 76-year-old media veteran from New Zealand began his career as a weather forecaster for Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Melbourne in 1965, and worked there for more than 20 years.

In March 2003, when he was tending to his vegetable garden in Melbourne, it started to rain. Maher ran into his house. While he waited for the rain to stop, he turned on a shortwave radio. He then heard an English broadcast on China Radio International, which happened to report that it was looking to hire a native English speaker.

By then Maher had already quit his TV job in Australia as his late wife was diagnosed with cancer in 1999. He was looking to find something that would take his mind off his wife's death.

So Maher mailed his resume to CRI's English service. To his surprise, he was offered the position of a voice coach in Beijing a few days later.

"If the rain hadn't come down that afternoon, I would never have come to China," says Maher, adding that the experience has been quite transformative for him and opened his eyes to a country he knew little about before.

After his term at CRI ended several months later, he went on to join CCTV's international channel, thanks to his clear diction while speaking English and his experience as a voice coach.

As the channel sought to become more professional and accessible to Western audiences, Maher was soon asked to become a news anchor-making him the first non-Asian news anchor on a Chinese TV. But that did make him a bit nervous before he went to present his first news show for CCTV.

"I knew (that) everybody, including the big bosses of CCTV, would be watching because it was something new. But after the first story, I felt OK," says Maher.

But he had to also deal with a few challenges such as pronouncing correctly the Chinese names of people and places-things that foreigners find difficult.

His regular appearance on CCTV soon grabbed a lot of attention nationwide. Maher's program was liked by many Chinese, especially English learners, at the time.

Even though he left the newsroom six months ago, he is still often recognized and greeted in the streets or on the subway by those who have watched him on TV.

"Television is a powerful medium, so it does leave a lasting impression on viewers," he says.

He says he understood the reports he presented were an important window into China and he always bore in mind that those would help many viewers better understand the country.

Maher also responded to criticism from some foreign media that he became a "paid mouthpiece" by saying he "only read the news and was not trying to read into the news".

Besides anchoring, Maher has coached hundreds of Chinese colleagues over the years on English pronunciation and intonation. Maher says he has enjoyed this part of work as well because it allowed him to interact with many young people on a more personal basis and learned about their ideas, which helped him understand China better.

In 2007, Maher was given the Friendship Award by the Chinese government. The award is the highest honor given to foreigners who have made significant contribution to the social and economic development of the country.

"It was quite an honor and (was) unexpected, … it's great for the government to recognize foreigners like me and appreciate what they have done," says Maher, who is also now a holder of a Chinese "green card" that allows permanent residence to foreigners.

Maher has published two books about his experience in China. The first, titled My China Daily, is a collection of columns he wrote weekly for this newspaper and recorded interesting daily stories about his early adventures as a foreigner in the country.

He mentions in the book that he often got lost in China, including while getting on buses or trains without knowing where he was going.

"For me, it was part of the fun," Maher says.

In Beijing, he still enjoys biking around, both as a way to explore the city and to keep fit.

He lives alone in Beijing, but Maher doesn't feel lonely, he says. Technology has made the world smaller and he can stay in touch with his children in Australia and visit them during holidays.

"I've got used to this fast pace of life," he says. "Home is where your heart feels at home. I just feel quite at home living in Beijing."

Over the years, he has developed close ties with many local people, including a Chinese family he sees as his own family.

He is impressed by the development going on around him, and finds the city much more international than it was when he first arrived.

After devoting decades to media work, Maher wants to do something different.

He has joined a Chinese company that trains people in public speaking and is often invited to give lectures at various events held by different organizations, including universities.

"I like using my voice," he says, adding that he has been doing some voice-over work as well for some videos that need English commentaries.

In the future, he wants to engage himself in voice coaching for Chinese executives who need to speak English at international events.

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