Illustration by Jared Downing | Frontier

Ta-ta, crotchety jerks

Goodbye and thanks to the team who kept publishing me, even when I was writing from the perspective of an anthropomorphised pair of elephant pants.

By JARED DOWNING | FRONTIER

WHEN people complain about Frontier magazine being too sober, I think back to the time its editors let me call them “crotchety jerks” in the opening line of a column.

I didn’t really mean it. The Frontier news team, past and present, are wonderful journalists and people. Rather, I was merely sounding the depths of what they would tolerate in these pages.

I’m happy to say that I never found its bottom. I’ve laced my columns with innuendos and F-bombs. I’ve made up entirely new words and passed them off as American slang. I’ve openly admitted to breaking the law in one column, and then, writing under a different name, called on the police to bring me to justice.

Yet, in issue after issue, my words and images would appear, in all of their impudent, foul-mouthed glory.

It began with “The Secret Wizard of Sedona Hotel”, about posing as a business traveller at Sedona Hotel in order to use its internet to play nerdy online games. That Valentine’s Day, feeling bolder, I satirised expat bellyaching in a breakup letter with Myanmar penned under the name X. Pat Whiteman. After they published “A Few of my Favourite Things in Yangon”, which was literally just me listing things I like, I started aggressively searching for something the newsroom heads would say “no” to.

When I told them I was going to “review” a Myanmar language film and then submitted the incoherent notes I’d scribbled in the cinema while sloshed on High Class brand whisky, they asked for a sequel. When I used my Frontier company ID to bluff my way into the press box of an international football match, not only did they run the column, but listed me as “Sports Reporter” on Frontier’s masthead.

These people let me write a column from the perspective of an anthropomorphised pair of elephant pants. They let me draw Vladimir Putin twerking at the Russian embassy Christmas party. They ran crossword puzzles with clues that literally called for my own sacking. Those familiar with last year’s Aperol Spritz scandal may recall X. Pat Whiteman’s response: “How to Live Like a Local.” A surprising number of readers didn’t understand that it was satire and actually believed there was an expat in Yangon who steals food from street dogs and sleeps on a fire escape.

Of course, these same editors approving this nonsense also joined in the fun, and – as this magazine’s cartoonist – it was an absolute joy to draw editor-in-chief Thomas Kean behind the wheel of a dilapidated Yoma Car Share vehicle, digital editor Clare Hammond trapped in a bus stalled by a local parade in Shan State, or awarding-winning reporter Kyaw Phone Kyaw sulking in a yellow raincoat during Thingyan.

So, I would like to thank those “crotchety jerks”. Thanks to Tom and Ben for staying late at the office while I finished a sketch of an egg with an angry face, and Clare, who remained a paragon of patience even though I could never remember to send the web versions of the cartoons. To Geoffrey, the veteran newspaper man who had to edit text sloppier than a backpacker at Penthouse. To Maisy, HR head and a woman of faith, who prayed each morning that I wouldn’t lose another FRC form or let my visa expire again. To Oli, Sean, Peter and Alex. To Hans, who hired, sight unseen, a broke freelancer from Alabama. And of course, Sonny Swe; may his days be long, strong and full of whisky.

Frontier allowed me to splatter their pages with the jokes and drivel that, like a rubber coat in Thingyan, helped me weather the fear, anger and pain that haunts the country I fell in love with. And this news team, the editors, reporters, photographers and translators of Frontier, face all of that badness head on, every day. But take it from me: When you see their work, their sober analysis, tragic features and heart-breaking images, know that somewhere, beneath it all, there is a smile.

By Jared Downing

By Jared Downing

Jared Downing is an American journalist from Colorado and Alabama. He likes podcasts, radio theatre and hitchhiking and collects cans of sardines from around the world.
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