How Brandy Got Her Groove Back

I started this blog after living in Hong Kong for four years, and then I immediately lost interest. I’ve been trying to figure out why that is when, A, as exhausting as this career is I am beyond grateful for it; B, I love writing and making people laugh; and, C, I would have LOVED a blog from an international court reporter when I was in school (or after it!) and I’d like to pay it forward! (I know, I know, how selfless of me, talking about myself. much humanitarian lolz).

Last week in Seoul after a haircut in Hongdae. Koreans KNOW HAIR. And it was only KRW30,000 in a super cute trendy salon! (About 30 bucks US)

Disclaimer – I’ve sucked at taking photos lately, so my photos have nothing to do with what I’m talking about. Deal with it 😛

I think I’ve put my finger on why I haven’t been updating this blog as regularly as I would have hoped, and I think it comes down to me being quite burned out this year. I’m coming up on five years in Asia and five years of traveling to different countries multiple times a month. I don’t want this to come off as if I’m ungrateful or that I’m no longer happy here. I absolutely am, but in the past few months when it has occurred to me that I need to write another blog post, I feel kind of “meh” about it because this life has become so “normal” to me!

Rare photo of office staff and the court reporters all in one place at the same time

Well, I take it back. The gorgeous beaches here will never be just “normal”!

Tai Long Wan in Hong Kong where I went camping last month

BUT, that said, when I was in school Facebook wasn’t a thing yet. I don’t even think I was on it by the time I passed the CSR in late 2008. I never went or have been to a convention. Hell, I barely went to school LOL. So when I passed the CSR — (What was that? only 3 errors of the 50 allowable? “Crushed it,” did I hear you say? 😛 did anyone see my humility lying around here because I seem to have lost it during that not-so-humble brag) — I literally knew only one working court reporter: my dear friend Helena who had started working six months prior to me. Ha! All of that to say, I would have loved to read a blog by a working court reporter back then, especially an international one, as that’s what I knew I wanted to do one day! So if even one person finds my life inspiring and wants to try to come play with me in Asia, or at the very least just read about what it’s like, then that’s a good enough reason for me to get my groove back! (After only three posts, was I ever technically IN a groove? lolz)

Last week in Seoul. I was SO excited to need a coat!

So I started brainstorming ideas for posts other than just “I went here, look at this photo, here’s my steno machine, here’s my bowl of noodles,” etc (Though let’s be honest, everyone loves a bowl o’ noodles photos, amirite?)

Tsim Chai Kee, the most delicious bowl of noodles with beef and big honkin’ wontons and fish balls – don’t knock the latter ’til you’ve tried it 😉

One topic I thought of was to write about the court reporting industry in Asia. It’s such a different animal than from taking a deposition in the States. When I moved here, I was completely overwhelmed with how much I needed to improve, and quickly, if I was going to be thrown into international arbitrations and Hong Kong and Singapore High Courts. The standard of quality that is required for realtime is extremely high. Counsel love to stand up and point out mistakes on the realtime. Let me tell you, that combined with not being able to use auto-brief or have the screen refresh makes you the best reporter you can POSSIBLY be reeeeeal quick.

Last month in a bi-lingual arbitration! Here I am with the Chinese stenographer! She didn’t speak any English so I had to pantomime to ask her for a photo 🙂 She was so sweet and did the whole transcript herself each day! What a bad ass! Meanwhile, I had an editor for the whole eight pages or so a day that was in English… ha! That was a good week.

For those unfamiliar with the auto-brief function, if I steno a phrase two or three times, a suggestion on a way to steno that phrase by several key depressions at one time, rather than, say, three or four separate keyboard depressions, will pop up in a little box. When I’m in court or an arbitration here, however, the turnaround time for the clients to receive the final edited transcript is 3 hours after the hearing/trial adjourns. For this reason an editor sits in the room with me with my laptop in front of them so they can edit as the trial/arb takes place. I can’t use auto-brief (very well, anyway, and it’s complicated to explain why it only half-works!) I have no ability to put my hands on the keyboard and quickly fix something if I drop a word (or words lol) or royally butcher a name or something. Even if I did, it wouldn’t matter since the program we use does not refresh the realtime screens! (Not much point when an editor is sitting there editing likely 10 or more pages behind … if we were constantly signaling for them to move to the bottom of the transcript and fix something, we’d never get the transcript done on time!

Suffice it to say my first year here was extremely stressful… And I am SO THANKFUL for it. I learned when I moved here that I really wasn’t very good compared to what the girls are like here. I remember editing for Jade King (My steno idol and very dear friend!) for the first time and having to fix, like, a comma every ten pages or so. The reporters here are UN-REAL and I have learned so much from them! It’s taken five years but I finally feel among their league. I can honestly say that it took until this year for me to be 100% comfortable and actually feel pretty darn good about my skills that I’ve developed over the past half decade in Asia!

Random photo – I don’t know why I look like a freakin’ mime but this is rush hour on the subway in Seoul! The guy standing next to me reeked of whiskey… almost vom’d (PS I initially wrote “wreaked” and had it up on this site for like five days? COURT REPORTER FAIL)

When I speak of the expectation of perfect realtime, I’m talkin’ quote marks, single quotes, parentheses, square brackets (if you can tell when someone speaks outside of the quote within a quote … you can’t always tell, obviously) proper capitalization when necessary, examination headings, finger-spelling unfamiliar words (rather than just phonetically stenoing it out and having gibberish [to the layman] come out on the realtime). I didn’t do ANY of this when I moved to HK. So if you’re reading that going, “holy shit,” trust me, I get it lol. But look at me now! I know this is such an unhumble brag, but my point is this: This job can take you literally anywhere in the world, but you HAVE to work for it. Getting so comfortable that the aforementioned things come naturally was no easy feat, and I still have days where I’m pretty sure I’ve never touched a steno machine in my life, but it’s also one of the things I love most about this profession – that we can continue to improve FOR-EV-ER.

As for job security in a world of ever-increasing technology, I can safely say our jobs aren’t going anywhere in Asia. The lawyers, many of whom in Asia speak English as a second language, are absolutely glued to the realtime screen, watching it like a hawk … a hawk who graduated cum laude from law school. If a connection goes down, unless we’re severely in a time crunch, we adjourn to fix it. They can’t function without it!

My cousin Geneva and her husband in Hong Kong last month. I had only met her once or twice, and the last time was 25 years ago!

Another notable difference is that in court and arbitration here, we aren’t encouraged so speak up if we don’t hear something or are not sure if we heard it. We’re very much in a “seen not heard” role. So different from the US where we are taught in school to speak up if we don’t hear something properly! I still speak up now and then, but it’s handled a lot differently. Usually I’ll speak to the arbitrator on a break and ask if he’d please remind everyone to speak one at a time.

My favorite thing about arbitrations and court is that we record audio on a server and each counsel has a table mic in front of him or her. We record on separate channels so that when people overspeak, the editor can isolate their microphones with a hotkey and pick up those missed words. It’s the best! I’m usually in the corner or even sometimes behind and to the side of the arbitration panel, but with noise-cancelling headphones and the clear audio from the microphones, I can hear everything perfectly! Well, if I can understand their accent, I can hear perfectly … in Asia that’s definitely not always true!

I’ll end here with a couple more photos. My photo of noodles has made me hungry 🙂 Thank you so much for reading! If I was cool enough to know how I’d post a poll, but does anyone reading have any input on what they’d like to read about from me? Ie, court reporting-related stuff, traveling, food, everyday life in Asia, books I recommend (I became a very voracious reader this year!) Feel free to comment if you have any thoughts 🙂

My friend/colleague Kim and her daughter and I in Hawaii a couple months ago. BEST WORK TRIP EVER!

I’ll sign off with this adorable photo of my sister Dana and her son (my nephew) Malcolm. I love and miss them and can’t wait to visit California in January!!


(Have a splendid day :))