Getting to know: Indochina bureau chief Nirmal Ghosh

This short Q&A series with ST's beat reporters lets readers meet the person behind the byline. These are the experts who will be answering readers' questions in our askST section.  

1. How do you introduce yourself when you meet someone?

Nirmal Ghosh; I'm with The Straits Times, covering the region. 

2. Which would you rather be: a journalist, a photographer or an environment activist?

A journalist, because it is compatible, and can coexist, with the others. 

3. Which has been your most dangerous assignment so far as a foreign correspondent? And your most interesting posting?

The most dangerous was the political conflict in Bangkok which came to a head first in 2008-2009, and then - even worse - in 2010, when I was often at or close to a blurred front line and had to run from gunfire, or crouch and shelter in doorways and behind roadside lamp posts to avoid bullets which I could hear zipping overhead. There was also a constant edginess in an atmosphere of prolonged standoff marked by seemingly random bomb and rocket attacks by either side. 

Close to that was the so-called Saffron Uprising in Yangon in 2007, when the army cracked down and in one incident, a Japanese video journalist was shot dead.

A third occasion was when Bangladesh intelligence and police came to my hotel in Cox's Bazaar at night and calling me out, interrogated me for close to two hours. There was no physical harm but it was clearly a potentially dangerous situation. 

4. What is the most challenging part of your job as Indochina Bureau Chief for The Straits Times, which covers a region in itself?

The most challenging is to flip back and forth between countries which are all individually complex and have their own history, culture and dynamics. Setting stories in the right historical and contemporary context without oversimplifying, is challenging. 

5. What inspired your interest in writing about environmental issues in the region?

I have been interested in environmental issues since my childhood, mainly because I was taken to remote wilderness areas often as a child and I continue to do that - travel to remote wildernesses - whenever I can. That interest widened to include broader environmental issues that often underlie conflict and justice issues or have implications for public health. 

6. One is your biggest and most worrying environmental concern?

I am conscious that we should be working to leave the planet in better shape for the next generation. But our system, which relies on massive energy and other inputs, and is in a near-constant state of tension with lopsided distribution of resources, makes that difficult. We really have to find ways to reduce our footprint, or we will reap terrible consequences. 

7, Three things you practise to save the earth?

I use and re-use and recycle as much as possible, eat organic as much as possible, avoiding highly processed and packaged foods, and consume as little energy as possible - switching off lights and so forth. And I fight for wildlife conservation, not so much in an idealistic bunny hugging way, but pragmatically, because the state of the biosphere - the land, the oceans, the air - matters. None of this is anywhere near enough, of course.

8. What tips would you give to a journalist aspiring to be a foreign correspondent?

You must be flexible and adaptable to different conditions, and open-minded - and a fast writer. Be a good listener; and while you must probe, you must also respect what you see and hear, and be prepared to revise whatever you may have read from experts in the light of your own experience. And, stay fit - you never know what happens next and you need to rise to any occasion.