You may have come across Shrek while watching cartoons on TV or DVD with your children or childlike friends, but I had never heard of Shrek or any of the adorable characters created with him in the scripts, not until I met him in Universal Studios Hollywood this week, that is. This was one of the first stops in our current trip, the first serious one after my retirement, and one that could mark the beginning of another chapter.
Rosita and I had not planned for any long trips overseas for sometime. My last job had taken me to quite a few places outside Hong Kong, but these were all business trips with hardly any sightseeing. Besides, the treatment regimes prescribed by Rosita’s doctors had meant that she could not be away from Hong Kong for too long. We had planned to go away for at least a few weeks in April when I began my pre-retirement leave, but then there was SARS and the WHO travel advisory, followed by a new treatment regime for Rosita, which meant that we had to give up the trip to Australia. In the midst of all these, I signed us up for a river cruise for late October, in blind faith that Rosita would have completed her chemotherapy by then and hence would be well enough for travels. As I have shared with you in the last two letters, Rosita became very weak and could not continue with the treatment. We were not sure we could go on the river trip or any trip overseas then.
Fate had it that we met this Chinese qigong master who had since put Rosita on herbal medicine and had assured us that Rosita would be fit to travel. With renewed hope, we put together a sort of round-the-world trip, beginning with Los Angeles where we would visit Rosita’s father and siblings and some of our friends. We would then move to Toronto, visiting friends, before flying to Europe to join the river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam. Los Angeles is therefore our first stop.
We left home last Saturday. I had hoped to share with you our travel plans earlier, but there seemed to be so much to do. For example, I debated within and with Rosita on whether to take along a laptop. We decided that we should, if only to play FreeCell with it. I did not have one at the time, so I acquired a new one and invited a friend to program it for going onto the Internet wherever I went. The process took a while, and I set off with the excess baggage. Alas, here I am, finding that I need to use my sister-in-law’s computer to log onto the Website, notwithstanding a few phone calls to my computer friend in Hong Kong, which could prove to be rather expensive because I made them on my mobile phone. I had to resign to the possibility that the cable system my in-law had subscribed to might not be compatible with the software my friend had selected for me. I hope the laptop would function better in Toronto.
Talking of mobile phones, they are indeed a boon to businessmen and travelers. The problem is that your friends do not know you are traveling and would call you in the oddest hours. Moreover, I had a few calls I did not need, one from a customer satisfaction survey, two or three from secretaries of friends who thought that I was still working for Invest Hong Kong asking me how they could buy the best seats to the HarbourFest shows, and still more from people who thought that I was somebody else. You may ask why then I did not switch it off during these hours. Well, if I did, I would not be able to receive these calls, would I? Why then would I carry one?
Back to Shrek whom I began this letter with, we actually met him in a 4-D new attraction. I understand the show only debuted here in LA two months ago. This is a greenish over-sized bald-headed creature which had a donkey friend and a dragon which take them to various knightly errands such as saving Princess Fiona or cleaving another evil dragon and so on. The show was based on a character created by author William Steig, who I found out afterwards died the Friday before I left home, at the age of 95. I understand that Shrek the movie was very popular, so much so that Shrek 2 is in the making, aiming to be released in May 2004, featuring voices of Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz. Rosita thought she had seen the movie, but this one is in 4-D, taking off from where the movie left. Participants are given special glasses or visors as they said with which to appreciate the special effects. The third dimension is rather tell-tale, real and exciting. Objects are seen to have stopped right in front of one’s nose and running at great speeds towards the eyes. The fourth dimension includes vibrations and movements of the chairs to synchronize with the story, water drops falling on the head and faces when the characters spit and so on, and air currents running through the hair and behind the neck when the creatures are making fast movements such as flying. Try it, we liked it. More importantly, you do not need to know Shrek or his story to enjoy the show.
We also met Arnold – Arnold Schwarzenegger of course – as Terminator 2, in 3-D. This one is billed as an “all-out cyber adventure in which you would need to fight your way out through a barrage of gut-wrenching, hyper-realistic, special effects so amazing you won’t know where reality stops and fantasy begins.” We actually saw Sarah Conner and her son John running in the cinema with Arnold brandishing his over-powered gun and shooting at flashy objects released from sky-net. Some of you might have experienced this one, for it is not as new as Shrek.
From Arnold the Terminator, we quickly moved to Arnold the budding politician and Governor-elect of California. By now, you would all know that Schwarzenegger won the historic California recall election this week, which had resulted in the sitting Governor Gray Davis being recalled 11 months after he was re-elected. Arnold won by a rather wide margin. There were 135 candidates in the field, or so the media kept reminding us. Schwarzenegger had 48% of the votes, the next closest had 32%, leaving a distant third with 13%, while the rest of the 132 candidates sharing the remaining 7%. More than 70% of the voters cast their ballots in the history making election, some food for thoughts for Hong Kong.
What was more interesting was the lead up to the Election Day and the characteristic smear campaigns led by politicians and the media. Now, Los Angeles Tines is probably the only English language newspaper in LA. It made no pretence that it supports the Democratic camp and had been running stories on how the muscle man had been womanizing all his life and how he admired Hitler. CNN reported that it lost 1,000 subscribers before the Election. More interestingly, the morning after the poll, the paper’s B section, headed in bold capitals “CALIFORNIA” which is the Los Angeles edition of LA Times, had the following lead stories on the front page: “Bears Kill Pair Who Lived Among Them” which outlined a story of a bear enthusiast and his girl friend being fatally mauled while camping among bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park; and “Train Crew Is Blamed in Fatal Crash” which featured a report in which the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the railroad crash that killed three Metrolink passengers and injured 260 in Placentia last year was caused by an inattentive freight train crew in Burlington Northern too busy talking to each other thereby failing to notice signals. There was however an oblique reference to the election the night before in a column at the bottom of the page by a regular contributor Steve Lopez, headed with two German words and a rhetorical question “So What Now?” Lopez refused to acknowledge the results because the final tally was not in when he was doing the column, notwithstanding that CNN had made a full report live the night before, beginning with a rather graceful concession speech from Davis, followed by a jubilant Jay Leno announcing the victory appearance of Arnold, and a short but impressive acceptance speech by the latter. Lopez went on to surmise whether the muscle man would actually live in the state capital, or in his Brentwood home, commuting to work by his private jet. He then spoke of the film “The Candidate” in which Robert Redford played a rookie who pulled off an upset and won an election to the Senate. In the closing scene, he turned to his campaign team and asked, “What do we do now?”
In a western-style democracy, running for public offices is a lot about politics, and confrontational politics in particular. I have not got a clue on why our favourite film star would abandon screen stardom and big bucks for politics. For that matter, I still wonder why any mortal would run for offices in a voluntary or service organization such as Rotary. But I like what he said in his acceptance speech, in particular, the following line, “For the people to win, politics as usual must lose.” Big words indeed!
I have just learnt from my mobile phone service provider that Rolling Stones is not going to Hong Kong. It smacks of politics. What do you think? I would talk to you soon.