The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Parrot's Bubble Gum Ice Cream

Jeremiah was no bullfrog. He was my blue and gold macaw. A parrot originally from South America, his earliest days were spent riding the handrail in the front of a repainted blue and yellow school bus. He rode with my family for 10 days and 5000 miles, looking out the windows on our journey from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, along the Al-Can Highway and ending in Anchorage, Alaska. Jeremiah and I bonded on that trip, sharing perhaps a dozen bubble-gum-flavored ice cream cones, french fries and bags of M&Ms. Before either he or I knew chocolate wasn't good for birds, they were one of his favorite things in the world, although he did tend to eat the peanuts and spit out the chocolate, to my bewilderment.

Jeremiah loved the view from the bus windshield, and seemed to particularly marvel when we stopped to watch a mother moose with calf along the road, or a bald eagle perched in a tree below the snowy mountains.

At the end of the journey and in the years--then decades--that passed, Jeremiah was relegated to the periphery of the house. He wasn't ignored, but 'his corner' was out of the way where his messes (a healthy Macaw is anything but tidy) wouldn't interfere with the rest of the house. He wasn't isolated, but it was perhaps lonely.

I went off to college, and off to work, then overseas to live. One year I came back from Vietnam to visit and was sitting in the living room. While I was watching tv, Jeremiah did something he hadn't done since my childhood. In the back of the house he climbed down from his cage and walked down the hall. I heard the click, click, click of his claws on the wooden floor. He came into the living room, walked around from the couch, and climbed into my lap. I was completely surprised. He looked up and talked to me. Then he looked over to my ice cream and talked to me some more, as if asking permission. I pushed the bowl of ice cream over to him and we shared it. When it was finished he sat in my lap all evening, talking, cuddling and watching tv.

I didn't know that he still remembered those days in the bus to Alaska, so long ago. I assumed he'd hardened a bit in his age. Those times were special to me, but what I didn't realize was how special they must have also been to him, and how the absence of such times with me in his later years may have also impacted him.

I few weeks later I went back to Vietnam. Jeremiah died a soon after.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Concerning Mountain Ponies

I saw The Hobbit again over the weekend. Just as good on a second viewing. The treks through caves, mountain cliffsides and goblin towns really strike a chord with me. My trek through Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, China was the longest, most treacherous, and only two-day walk through the mountains that I have ever endured. Hiking above the Yellow Sands River, which later becomes the Yangtze, my brother and I passed through Naxi villages in hanging valleys along the ancient Tea Horse Trail. The first day we were caught in a storm and the wind howled fiercely through the teeth of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. After a night in a cliffside tavern we continued our trek through waterfalls cascading across the mountain path. As we turned a corner a train of ponies saddled with bags appeared in a bend of the trail ahead. The path followed a cliff that fell thousands of feet to the gorge below. The way was only big enough to walk single file, so I hugged the rocks as the ponies stumbled passed. I looked into the eyes of the last as he came close, wondering what he would think if he knocked me off the mountain to my death in the gorge below. Would he feel any responsibility or remorse? As he passed me, his rump knocked me against the rock face and his hoof stepped on my sore feet. His stomach groaned and then grumbled into a loud fart just below my head. I looked back at him and his burdened comrades as they turned the corner and out of sight, but he did not look back at me.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Greetings 2012

Merry Christmas to all my friends across the world; you my new friends in New Zealand who I've been blessed to meet, you friends in the US--most of whom I've known since college days, my dear friends in Vietnam and Cambodia over the last decade, and a few of you who have been scattered elsewhere across the globe. I'm spending this Christmas in Wellington--something quite unplanned--much like a certain Christmas in a small fishing town east of Saigon in 2003. Although I feel most fortunate to spend this holiday season in beautiful New Zealand, a part of my heart will always wander the city streets of Phan Thiet late on Christmas eve, with crowds of friends and neighbors under canopies of colored lights and bright red Christmas stars.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Wellington Celebrates the World Premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with The Middle of Middle-earth Campaign

In just over 50 days, Wellington will again be in the worldwide spotlight when it hosts the 28 November world premiere of The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey, a production of New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM).

To celebrate Wellington’s role as host of this much anticipated world premiere, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says Wellington will be calling itself The Middle of Middle-earth during the week of the premiere.

“Wellington sits at the very heart of New Zealand’s innovative and thriving film industry,” says Mayor Wade-Brown.

“It’s also the city that has been integral in bringing the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien to life on the big screen. So for a week around the premiere Wellington will be known as The Middle of Middle-earth.”

The Middle of Middle-earth logo was designed by Daniel Reeve, an artist who worked on the cartography and calligraphy for The Hobbit Trilogy.

“I'm absolutely thrilled that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will have its world premiere in the Middle of Middle-earth,” says the film’s director Sir Peter Jackson. 

“Nowhere else in the world does a premiere quite like Wellington, and I'm very grateful for the support of the Mayor, the Council and all Wellingtonians.  It's special showing any film to an audience for the first time, but even more so when it's in your home town.”

Jackson will be joined by members of the film’s cast, as well as Hollywood stars and executives on the red carpet for the VIP invitation-only world premiere on the evening of 28 November.

“We’re delighted to take part in the Middle of Middle-earth festivities with this exciting premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Wellington,” said Sue Kroll, Warner Bros. Pictures’ President, Worldwide Marketing.  “It’s a unique opportunity to debut the film to the world in the country that has been the home of Middle-earth throughout production of the Trilogy.” 

 Stars and VIPs will walk more than 500 metres of red carpet from Reading Cinema to The Embassy Theatre, both of which will be screening the film for invited guests on premiere night.  The event will be covered by press from around the world. 

“Wellington has established a track record of holding stunning world-class red carpet premieres and we’re confident the city will turn it on again and show that we are indeed ‘the Coolest little Capital’ in the world,” says Mayor Wade-Brown.

“Preparation for The Hobbit premiere is a terrific opportunity to tell Wellington’s story too – the Coolest Little Capital where talent lives, works and does great business.”

Wellington City Council will contribute $1.1 million to the premiere week activities and towards ensuring Wellington is again looking its best under the international spotlight.

Celebrations and preparations for the World Premiere are already well underway, highlights include:
  • A ‘countdown clock’ to be installed on the front of the Embassy Theatre. The clock will count down the minutes to the beginning of the Premiere celebrations.
  • Stunning artwork inspired by The Hobbit Trilogy to welcome visitors at Wellington International Airport and across the city.
  • A Hobbit-inspired Artisan Festival in Waitangi Park showcasing the various craftspeople and talent involved in the making of The Hobbit Trilogy.
  • Outdoor, free public screenings of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy leading up to the premiere night event.

About The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson comes The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. 
The three films tell a continuous story set in Middle-earth 60 years before The Lord of the Rings, which Jackson and his filmmaking team brought to the big screen in the blockbuster trilogy that culminated with the Oscar®-winning The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The adventure follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug.  Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield.  Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Sorcerers.
            Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever…Gollum.  
            Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of ingenuity and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities… A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know. 

Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the Grey, the character he played in “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy, with Martin Freeman in the central role of Bilbo Baggins, and Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield.  Also reprising their roles from “The Lord of the Rings” in “The Hobbit” Trilogy are: Cate Blanchett as Galadriel; Ian Holm as the elder Bilbo; Christopher Lee as Saruman; Hugo Weaving as Elrond; Elijah Wood as Frodo; and Andy Serkis as Gollum.  The international ensemble cast of the trilogy also includes (in alphabetical order) Manu Bennett, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, Barry Humphries, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher, Sylvester McCoy, Bret McKenzie, Graham McTavish, James Nesbitt, Dean O’Gorman, Conan Stevens, Ken Stott and Aidan Turner.
The screenplay for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro.  Jackson is also producing the film, together with Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner and Fran Walsh.  The executive producers are Alan Horn, Toby Emmerich, Ken Kamins and Carolyn Blackwood, with Boyens and Eileen Moran serving as co-producers. 
Under Jackson’s direction, “The Hobbit” Trilogy has been shot in 3D 48 frames-per-second and will be released in High Frame Rate (HFR) 3D, other 3D formats, IMAX and 2D.  Under Jackson’s direction, “The Hobbit” Trilogy has been shot consecutively in digital 3D using the latest camera and stereo technology.  Production has taken place at Jackson's own facilities in Miramar, Wellington, and on location around New Zealand.  
Among the creative behind-the-scenes team returning to Jackson’s crew are director of photography Andrew Lesnie, production designer Dan Hennah, conceptual designers Alan Lee and John Howe, composer Howard Shore and make-up and hair designer Peter King.  The film is edited by Jabez Olssen.  The costumes are designed by Ann Maskrey, Richard Taylor and Bob Buck.
Taylor is also overseeing the design and production of weaponry, armour and prosthetics which are once again being made by the award-winning Weta Workshop.  Weta Digital take on the visual effects for the films, led by the film’s visual effects supervisor, Joe Letteri.   Post production will take place at Park Road Post Production in Wellington.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and the second and third films of the trilogy are productions of New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM), with New Line managing production.  Warner Bros. Pictures is handling worldwide theatrical distribution, with select international territories as well as all international television distribution being handled by MGM.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will be released in New Zealand on December 13, 2012, with the second film, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, releasing December 13, 2013, and the third film, The Hobbit: There and Back Again slated for July 18, 2014.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Snapshots from Star Wars Celebration VI (Part 3 of 3)

A few last photos from last week's Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando, Florida.

Dickey Beer, stunt man for the original Boba Fett in Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi. 

Artist Jan Duursema, the talent behind the Dark Horse comic series 'Star Wars Legacy,' Quinlan Vos: Jedi in Darkness and other popular series. 

Artist Dave Dorman, who among other things, created the cover for the new 
Darth Maul comic that I'm holding. 

A giant At-At in one of the lobbies. It was signed by George Lucas himself. 

A life-size Boba Fett made from Lego. 

A curious bartender at the show. 

A little life-size piece of the Moon of Endor.

Looking for Star Wars Celebration photos to publish? Drop me a line.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Snapshots from Star Wars Celebration VI (Part 2 of 3)

One of the best parts about attending Star Wars Celebration is meeting the actors and crew from the films, many of them childhood heroes (well, maybe adult-hood heroes too).

Warwick Davis and I. Warwick starred as an ewok in Return of the Jedi, had the leading role in Lucasfilm's Willow, and played many parts in the Harry Potter films, among other things. Warwick has long been a real hero for kids big and small.

Daniel Logan plays Boba Fett in The Clone Wars, and young Boba in Attack of the Clones. This guy doesn't sit still--watch him--he has a bright future ahead of him.

Ben Burtt, legendary sound editor for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, ET and many more treasured films. In my opinion he's just as good as meeting George Lucas himself (who did come to the event, but mostly stayed out of sight).

Anthony Daniels is a real super-trooper, coming out every morning to greet fans in line and walking around the exhibition hall for photo ops. Very gracious guy.

Jeremy Bulloch, the original Boba Fett from Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. A living legend.

Jabba the Hutt, who taught me everything I know. 

An evening with Kevin Smith. He was hilarious--and very relatable, which made his humor all the more poignant. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get a photo with Jabba or Kevin.

Stay tuned for part 3.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ian McDairmid, Sam Witwer, Episodes III & IV in 3D… and FOUR Star Wars TV shows!?...

I attended Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando this weekend (I'll be mixing the worlds of entertainment and travel a lot through 2013, including covering the premier of The Hobbit in New Zealand). This was my first Star Wars convention and it gave all the attendees a bountiful supply of information on Lucasfilm’s upcoming film and tv projects.

First and foremost was the Season 5 premier of the 3D-animated television series, Clone Wars, which takes place between Episodes II and III of the film franchise.

The premier showed the last two episodes of Season IV, followed by the first of Season V, thus competing a three-episode story arc of the return of Darth Maul, who it turns out didn’t really die at the end of The Phantom Menace. The character, now voiced by Sam Witwer (Being Human), has brought intensified interest in the series from fans. Warning, SPOILER ALERT in the next paragraph:

Actor Sam Witwer, voicing a character in a 'radio drama' 
created for the convention, titled 'Smuggler's Gambit.'

In Season V, Episode 1, we find Darth Maul and ‘brother’ Savage Opress haphazardly raising an army of pirates to take on Obi-wan Kenobi and the Jedi Order. Opress however doesn’t like Maul’s assertion of dominance and tests Maul, who puts Opress in his place and, as actor Sam Witwer explained, Maul would henceforth refer to Opress as ‘apprentice’ rather than ‘brother.’ In an early scene we see an appearance by a Kenner-style ‘Blue Snaggletooth’ character. Director David Filoni said that fans of the original action figure line will be happy to find other Kenner-style characters making appearances this season. The fighting in this episode was far more intense than in previous seasons, and the stakes much higher. Late in the episode Opress head-butts and kills a well-known jedi before Kenobi cuts off the left arm of Opress. Maul too loses a mechanical foot before the two barely escape. Filoni indicated it would be later in the season before we see Maul and Opress again. Likewise, he noted that while the night sisters have been diminished, they would return in force later on.

Following the premier was an extended new trailer for the season, featuring a Mandalorian civil war enflamed by Maul and Opress. Darth Sideous himself arrives to take on Maul and Opress in a light saber duel, reminding them that ‘there can only be two, and you [Maul] are no longer my apprentice.’ We see a darker Anakin, driven by jealousy and anger. Assage Ventress returns masked, though her new role unclear now that she has left the Sith. There were vague hints regarding the anticipated demise of Anakin’s Padawan Ahsoka. Indeed, Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, and Dave Filoni all indicated that the two had voiced top-secret scenes between Anakin and Ahsoka regarding her fate, which the other actors were not privy. Whether she is killed by Ventress (which could tie up the much-anticipated fate of both characters), or Maul, or Count Duku (which would go a long way in explaining Anakin’s new brutality in Revenge of the Sith), is yet to be revealed... or maybe she merely goes into hiding like Yoda?... not likely.

In other trailers we see Darth Maul wearing special red Mandalorian armour, as well as fighting green-skinned Falleen of the Black Sun (think Prince Xizor from Shadows of the Empire). This all happens in the midst of growing anti-Jedi sentiment within the republic. We see a battle on the planet Onderon and a female rebel leader, Steela, who features prominently in previews. Could she fill the niche left by a likely demise of Ahsoka?

Ian McDairmid, in his first US convention appearance.

Actor Ian Abercrombie, who voices Palpatine in Clone Wars, passed away earlier this year. When asked if Ian McDairmid would replace him, Dave Filoni declined to answer out of respect for Abercrombie, however he said that Abercrombie had voiced most of Season 5 already and that he would announce the replacement closer to the time new scenes are recorded.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), McDairmid was asked by a fan if he would be voicing Palpatine in the hotly anticipated Star Wars live-action tv series tentatively titled ‘Underworld.’ McDairmid’s reply:

“What do you think?” he laughed, concluding “I would hate it if I was alive and someone else got the part.” This may suggest he is also open to resuming the part for the 3D animate Clone Wars. Though whether there will be a Sixth Season has not been announced.

However, McDairmid confirmed that ‘Star Wars Underworld’ had been shelved for the time being, do to overwhelming costs and time needed to produce the level of computer effects desired by George Lucas. According to sources connected with the series, as many as 50 scripts had already been written for the series, some casting had begun, and concept art had been approved by George Lucas.

In a separate screening announced for families, Lucasfilm showed a 3-episode story arc from Season 5 of Clone Wars, titled ‘Young Jedi,’ and cut as a short movie. It followed the training of a group of new padawans, including building their first light sabers, and eventually taking on the dreaded General Grievous.

Clone Wars Season 5 premiers September 29 on the Cartoon Network.

A new 3D animated, slap-stick comedy series entitled Star Wars: Detours was also announced by Seth Green and the team behind ‘Robot Chicken’ at the convention. The series features characters from the movies in whimsical forms and settings, reminding me of a cross between family guy, the Muppets and… Robot Chicken.

George Lucas himself made a surprise appearance at a morning panel with Dave Filoni. He talked about what appeared to be yet another Star Wars tv series in development and aimed at young children, which was neither Young Jedi, nor Star Wars: Detours. What exactly this series is remains to be seen.

The convention concluded with the announcement of the release of Episode II and Episode III in 3D for September and October 2013.

Photos copyright 2012 Adam Bray. Videos are the property of Lucasfilm via YouTube.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Day Two with Ghosts & Monster Hunters

Below are more photos from my first paranormal conference, held this weekend at the Kewadin Casinos. It was a fun time and Kewadin was a cosy and welcoming setting. I loved the free gift bags for attendees too! I'd be happy to come back for future events at Kewadin any time.

Joshua Gates and Rex Williams had a fun Q&A looking back on their show, Destination Truth. The discussion included a horrifying paranormal experience involving their cameraman in Romania, Rex getting choked by a ghost in Thailand, and the whole group getting detained at a military border checkpoint in Senegal. I can sympathize with the last one, regarding my own experiences in Vietnam. Josh said his most amazing experience was spending the night alone in King Tut's tomb; something arranged by a rather amazing local Egyptian fixer.

Joshua Gate, Rex Williams and I.
You can order the Destination Truth DVDs and bookat Amazon.

'Paranormal Rockstar' Dustin Pari and Barry Fitzgerald of SyFy's Ghost Hunters International gave a funny and informative talk on their experiences with the show and discussed new discoveries and techniques in the field of ghost investigations. Particularly interesting were their comments on how different types of lighting/radiation seemed to disrupt and inhibit ghost activity, and how the foods we eat can disrupt or enhance our own senses, important in investigation of the supernatural.

Dustin Pari, Barry Fitzgerald and I. Dustin is no longer with the show, but does continue to do ghost hunting on the side, and doesn't seem to have ruled out a return to tv, in perhaps another form later on. He has also founded the Christian Patch Ministry. Dustin and Barry have a new book, 'So My Home is Haunted... Now What?' Get their previous book, 'The Complete Approach-The Scientific and Metaphysical Guide to The Paranormal' at Amazon.

Me with Amy Bruni (SyFy's Ghost Hunters) and Kris Williams (SyFy's Ghost Hunters International). Kris was involved in a bit of a controversy when she spoke out against an episode of GHI this season. A member of the team volunteered to participate in a Mayan Blood-letting ceremony to communicate with spirits at an ancient ruin in Belize. I appreciate that Kris spoke up and stood firm on her beliefs. Although my own experience with tv has been more limited, I understand what it's like as a writer when an editor changes my own words without informing me, and comes out making statements that I don't agree with--when my own name is the one on the story. Within travel media It's also bothered me when travel tv hosts set their beliefs aside to do things for ratings that would otherwise pose ethical, moral and even legal dilemas if they did the same activity in their home country.

Kris said that there's been no news about whether there will be a new season of Ghost Hunters International, but that she doesn't expect to continue with the show. I wish her well in whatever comes next. She's a talented lady with a good head on her shoulders and I'm sure she'll have  a bright future. Best wishes to Amy too, who has a baby on the way!

You can order or download seasons of Ghost Hunterson Amazon.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Squeezing in Some Ghosts, UFOs and a Vietnamese Bigfoot

Speaking of which... This weekend I happen to find myself at my first Paranormal Convention! I'll save most comments and stories for tomorrow's post, as bed-time is fast approaching, but I thought I should throw a few photos out from today's activities before I sign off.

John Zaffis from the SyFy Channel's 'Haunted Collector'

John's son, Chris Zaffis, also from SyFy Channel's 'Haunted Collector'

Travis Walton giving a presentation on his infamous UFO abduction experience

Author Travis Walton and I. Mr. Walton's book, 'Fire in the Sky' was made into a movie starring D B Sweeney, Robert Patrick and James Garner.

Amy Bruni from SyFy's 'Ghost Hunters' (with baby bump!)

The lovely Kris Williams from Syfy's 'Ghost Hunters International'

The ladies answered nearly 2 hours of questions, ranging from the role of women in ghost hunting, to working with celebrity guests, to a certain infamous episode this season.

Stay tuned for more details tomorrow, including appearances by Rex Williams and Joshua Gates from SyFy's 'Destination Truth' and Dustin Pari and Barry Fitzgerald from SyFy's 'Ghost Hunters' and 'Ghost Hunters International.' Joshua Gates was recently in Vietnam hunting for an elusive giant primate. We'll see if I can pry any behind-the-scenes info on that from him...