Friday, December 15, 2006
Saturday, December 09, 2006
- opening introduction of the series, Star Trek, The Next Generation
October 8, a Sunday. We woke early that morning for our travel to Las Vegas, the next stop in my US tour. Las Vegas is a 6 – 7 hour road trip over a barren wasteland from LA. And by the time, we got there. It is about 4 in the afternoon. We took some time off from our ride to cool our heels (more like our arse) at the Caesar’s Palace before proceeding to our hotel, the Flamingo. The stay at Las Vegas was supposed to be our free activity night without programs or visits scheduled but Eric, our tour guide proposed to “show” us around town for a $50 fee. Everybody including my aunt and my cousin readily took the offer except for my sister and me because I had something else planned for the evening. During one of the stopovers in our road trip, I manage to obtain a copy of the Las Vegas tourist guide and to my consternation, I discovered that there is this show dubbed, “The Star Trek Experience” at the Las Vegas Hilton, which also happened to be just a block away from the hotel that I’m staying (whopeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!). I heard about this show years ago in some TV infomercial. As a Trekkie, I’ve long to visit the place ever since. I’d always wanted to be “there” at the bridge of the Galaxy class starship, USS Enterprise NCC1701D and if possible sit at the captain’s chair. Imagine the smile on my face after finally realizing that I would be able to “see” in my “dream” and that I would finally be “there”. I’m a man of few indulgences (some say I’m boring because of that). I’m never a movie fanatic neither do I “worship” film stars or rock stars (Idon’t go hysterical or “agog” over them) but Star Trek, however is an exception. I don’t know why but probably because I’m science enthusiast, space science in particular. And Star Trek is all about space and more. Star Trek is about the exploration of the unknown not only of space but also of the inner being, of the endless possibilities that only an open mind could proffer, and of the future of mankind, a vision of utopia. But most probably, the reason Star Trek appeals to me because it awakens the other side of me, the side of me that is curious, imaginative, and adventurous, the side of me that wants to be “out there”……….. My sister and I hurriedly finish our dinner at the hotel and immediately embark on our quest and by 7pm, we were already there buying our tickets and boy! The tickets are quite expensive, $40 per person which translates to roughly P2,000. No wonder there was no line formed. Anyway, the ticket entitled the holder to see two show, the 4D Borg Invasion and the 3D Klingon Encounter plus an unrestricted tour of the museum. We toured the museum while we are waiting for the show to start. Hahhhhhhhh……. The place is quite nostalgic to me. I can’t help it. All those Photon Torpedoes, Phasers, and Starfleet Uniforms simply brought out the “memories” of episodes of the series that I’ve watched. As the show began, we were led into a briefing room inside a Science Space Lab/ Starbase located somewhere in the Delta Quadrant. Inside the room, The Doctor or the USS Voyager Medical hologram told us about Starfleet Medical’s latest top – secret project being developed at the station. Based on briefings, Starfleet Medical is trying to develop a counter measure to the Borg’s nanite implants specifically, Starfleet discovered that some humans possesses the genes to create a immune system that would combat the Borg’s nanite invasion of the body. The nanites once inside the host would try to take over the host’s brain functions and with it’s success transforms the individual into a mindless zombie. With the attachment of some shielding, weaponry, communications, and scanning devices, the host would become a half humanoid – half machine Borg whose mind is seamlessly and eternally connected to the Borg Collective represented by the Borg Queen. Hence, the importance of the project and it turns out that we are the test subjects since we possess the “correct genes”. However, before any tests were conducted, we felt a huge shudder and heard a loud bang. The Borg has attacked! It had attacked the station ostensibly to thwart any attempt to their dominance (funny but the station happens to be conveniently located inside the Delta Quadrant, their territory!). General alarms were sounded off and a general lock down was initiated and we were all ordered to evacuate the station and board a shuttlecraft that would take us out of the Borg space and into Federation territories. Power however was out and in the midst of the blaring red light, our officer – escorts had to manually pry open the shuttle bay door. As we nervously waited for our escape, a Borg arm punched through the ceiling and grabbed an officer upwards to be “assimilated” (the process of being transformed into a Borg). To add further tension to what seems to be a very intense situation, a Borg drone (individual unit) in all of it’s cybernetic gory suddenly appeared behind us and walking towards us hell bent to “assimilate” us into the Collective. Luckily, the door opened and we all rushed in. It closed just in the nick of time just like one would expect from a good story. Even so, the relentless Borg banged the door so hard that we thought that he might actually bore it down and got to us but then, the shuttlecraft launches out of the station and into deep space. For a moment there, we thought that we were safe but to our distress, the Borg Cube (the Borg mother ship) was waiting for us. The first thing it did was blast away the pilot cockpit rendering the shuttlecraft immobile and dead in the waters. In the middle of this “tragedy”, we were lucky that the shield hold up preventing us from being sucked into the emptiness of space but nevertheless, we became the prisoners of the Borg. The Borg Cube has thrown a tractor beam at us and towed us in. Inside the Cube, we came face to face with the Borg Queen. Nanites were injected into us as we felt something “poked” through our back and while we “struggle” with the nanites, we were imbibed with a vision of how the “assimilation” would proceed. Our limbs are to be chained and then as we became numb, a drill came straight towards our right eyes. It was to “remove” our right eyes and replaced it with a laser scanner, which thus complete our “assimilation” process. The eye removal process was supposed to be painless because as nanites have taken over our brain functions, our sensory function including our pain receptacles would also be under “control”. Even though the drilling was an illusion (4D remember?), I can’t help but closed my eyes as it comes “dangerously” close. All the while as the assimilation proceeds, we heard this musical, mechanical voice saying, “Prepare to be assimilated. Resistance is futile!” Just as things seemed so hopeless, The Doctor appeared like some mental hologram urging us to fight “assimilation” since we possessed the genes to do so. Before long, we “manages’ to “overcome” the assimilation and just then, we heard a loud blast. Admiral Janeway and Voyager came to our rescue by blasting their way to the Cube, throws a tractor beam over our shuttlecraft and pulled as out of the Cube minutes before it was incinerated. We were towed and left at what was supposed to be Deep Space 9. After some congratulatory remarks, we were released. We passed through a hallway and emerges at Quark’s Bar, a real Bar located at the lower ground floor of the hotel. Interesting, the place is actually model after the real Quark’s Bar in the DS9 series. Even the waiters are dressed like a Ferengi (a materialistic alien species whose philosophy is based on predatory mercantilist outlook, their “bible” is the “Book of Acquisitions)! Anyway, the 4D Borg Invasion show was nice. It has a rich developed story that has texture and depth and it really enlivens the experience. The graphics however are just so – so. After lingering at the bar for a few minutes, my sister and I went up for our second show of the series, the 3D Klingon Encounter, which in my opinion is far more entertaining than the 4D Borg show albeit it is “older” than the latter. To begin with, a “hotel staff” led us into the “show” in the current time. As we were being brief with the “show”, the lights went off completely for a few second and once it came back, we were already “transported” to a “new” place. A Starfleet ensign greeted us telling us that we were no longer in the “show” but rather on board the “real” Enterprise, specifically in the Transporter room of the Enterprise D and that we are no longer in our current time but in the 24th century. The ensign told us that the Klingons discovered a time portal, a rift or fissure in the Time – Space continuum and manages to go back in time to Las Vegas and abduct a “distant” ancestor of the famed Captain Jean Luc Picard, the captain of the Enterprise D. However, the Klingons didn’t know which one of us is the true “ancestor” of Picard and so they decided to abduct everyone just to be sure. However, the process of abduction has caused a time distortion anomaly resulting in the disappearance of Picard but not the memory of his existence. As a result, the Enterprise under the command of it’s first officer, Commander William Riker launched an investigation and stumbled upon the Klingon plot. It thwarted the scheme by intercepting us during the transport process and rescued us. After the briefing, we were led into the bridge of the Enterprise and there through the view screen, Commander Riker gave us our mission (or our marching orders depending on which way you view it). We were to return to our time and with it restores the original timeline or else, the future will be irreversibly altered with cataclysmic outcome. We were to take a shuttlecraft and track down the time portal, reenter and emerge in our own time. We were to keep out of harm’s way or else one of us, the purported ancestor of Picard would be “killed” and thus irreparably damage the time – space continuity. Easier said than done, I mean with all the Klingon Bird – of – Preys looking for us. As Riker was telling us of our mission, I sweep my gaze and marvel at the magnificent bridge. I also felt the wooden panel of the nearest console. It was surreal but a nice one. Invariably, I fixed my gaze at the empty Captain’s chair. Somehow my urge to sit on the Captain’s chair has taken over me, for I asked the commanding lieutenant to let sit in the Captain’s chair for just “a while”. And to my stunning surprise, I got a stinging rebuke from the lieutenant for being insensitive to the “crisis” and to their “loss” of the Captain. Geez, she could have just said no instead of those “reasons”. Anyway, it was a nice try and no sooner I had shaken off that rebuke as I enter the shuttlecraft. The shuttlecraft in this show was totally awesome better than the 4D show and we are in for a great ride! First, we went to warp (a faster than light travel) passing by planets and asteroids. Then, we went through the icy debris ring of a planet, which reminds me of Saturn but it is not Saturn of course (at least in this show). And there we encounter a few beautiful whale like space creatures. Just as we were enthralled by the scene, 2(?) Klingon Bird – of – Preys appeared in our bow and immediately pursued us. The chase has begun. We tried to shake off the Klingon ships but to no avail. Then, the Enterprise came to the rescue and instantly blast one of the Klingon ships into smithereens and chased the other ship away. We all cheered and hoorayed at the Enterprise. I even pump my fist in the air to cheer on the Enterprise. With the threat neutralize, we turn our attention to looking for the portal but it was nowhere to be found but we did discovered something else, a Klingon cloak generator. We took aim at the generator and fired with every photon torpedoes we got and instantly turning the generator into billions of sub – atomic dust. Then, like a shinning moon, the time portal “shone” in front of us. We entered it and instantly, we were magically taken back to the beautiful night sky of Las Vegas just above the Hilton. We were about to revel at our “return” to our timeline but then all the sudden, an acid green hawk like Klingon Bird – of – Prey battle ship decloaked right in front of us. We were all stunned and as the Klingon ship steadied and take aim at us ready to fire their deadly disruptor beams, a bright flash appeared and the Klingon ship disappear. The Enterprise has come through the portal as well and in the nick of time to save us once again. We landed at the Hilton and left the ship and again out through the hallway and into the Ferengi’s bar. The 3D Klingon show like the 4D Borg show has a pretty nice script but the graphics is way too much better than the last. In fact, I could that it was better than the Back to the Future 3D show and at par with the Soaring Over California 3D show. At any length, as I was set to leave the bar when I came about a sign on a stairway, the sign is advertising a pictorial session with the audience dressed in a Starfleet uniform and sitting in the Captain’s chair on the bridge of the ENTERPRISE!!!! Damn! This is what I’m been waiting for a long time now! To be a CAPTAIN of the Enterprise. I couldn’t describe the joy I was experiencing then. I just simply “gallop” towards the door when I chanced upon another sign, which states that it was closed since 7pm and would open at 9am tomorrow. Damn. In a matter seconds, the extreme joy that I had experienced disappear and in it’s place was sadness and bitter disappointment, the kind of disappointment that one would harbor for the rest of their lives. I was so close yet it was so far away, so unreachable. I would be very willing to pay for twice even thrice the price of the pictorial (it cost $24) just to be able to dress in the Captain’s uniform and sit in the Captain’s chair on the bridge of the Enterprise and be able to utter this command: “Helm, set a course to the Neutral Zone………. Maximum Warp………….. Engaged!” But as fate would have it, I was to be denied of that chance (I could always come back to Las Vegas but that would be sometime in the future and who knows what would happen in the future). With great disappointment, I turned to the souvenir shop and try looking for something that would remind me of the joy I once felt in the place. And my gaze landed upon one particular object, a toy actually, a replica model of the Sovereign Class starship, USS Enterprise NCC1701E. It was beauty to behold it. That duranium white hull, that pair of swept back warp nacelles……. However, that TOY cost $49.99 roughly P2,500. Too expensive! I struggled long and hard about whether or not to buy it. Finally, my financial sense got the better of me and I replaced the toy on top of the shelf and walk away without turning back……. Funny if you going to think about it for two days later, I found myself buying a $64 Polo Ralph Lauren shirt! And I hate shopping! Talk about some weird financial sense!
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Thursday, November 30, 2006
October 7 of this year coincides with the Mid – Autumn Moon Festival in the Chinese Lunar calendar. Some of Chinese elders believed that Mid – Autumn moon is the most perfect full moon amongst the 12 full moons in a year. I for one believed in it. At the time of the Mid – Autumn moon, I happened to be in LA. I made it a habit of mine as an observance of tradition to take some time out and “look” at the moon. I remember the last lines in one of Li Po’s famous poem and translating it would state that, “Though you are not in my side, my dear friend, I still raised my glass and offer a toast to the moon, wishing that you are here beside me and that you are in good health and I hoped that across the distant, you are doing the same.” The Mid – Autumn moon is to me a medium of connection. It is a medium to connect with the past (traditions), to the present (with the love ones not with you then) and with the future (with that Someone). And it is in this state of mind that I left my room that evening and came to the promenade, pulled out a chair and watched at the moon all by myself (I just came back from dinner after a visit to Universal Studio that morning and a brief visit to the Pueblo). Strange but the moon seemed different in LA than in Manila. It was larger, whitish in color and looked rather dull. The Mid – Autumn moon in Manila by contrast looked just right (size), glowing perfectly in a yellowish shade and generally bright. Even so, I stayed for a good hour or so revealing at the sight trying to establish a connection somewhat. I was hoping somebody was looking at the Mid – Autumn at the same time as I’m from the other side but just then a poignant realization came to me. The Moon is 15 hours late! (LA is 15 time zones away from Manila)
Monday, November 27, 2006
I was actually thinking of using “The Kong, the Donkey, and the Desperate Housewives” as the working title of this piece chronicling my visit to the Universal Studio but I felt that “WET” will be all the more appropriate. This is because anybody visiting the studio has a 60 – 80% chance of getting wet unless someone who liked my aunt never even attended any of the rides. They get to stay dry but had no fun at all. So how do someone get to enjoy the ride and avoided getting wet? Well, there are ways liked wearing a raincoat to the Jurassic Park boat ride or bringing an umbrella to the Studio Tour on a hot autumn day or one could stay way, way back of the seats at the “Water World” show. In fact, somebody just did that. There was an audience who wore a raincoat and bought an umbrella to see the Water World show but unfortunately, the performers were determined to get him wet and he did get wet in spite of the preparations he made. Now, you can stay dry and be entertained but that will be less fun and admittedly, “awkward” or if not “cuckoo” beside it’s no guarantee either that one would stay “dry”. Well, the best way to enjoy the visit to Universal Studio was to simply get “wet” and my visit to the studio just happen to be THAT. We arrived at the Studio at around 10 – 11 am but before that we went to see the Graumann’s Chinese Theater and the famous Hollywood “walk of fame”. Funny but I noticed that the walk and the Theater are the only place on earth where one could only meet the humblest people on Earth. The reason? Well, that is because most passersby had their heads bowed “ ) (Ok, that sounds corny). Ostensibly, people who pass by there happened to be “busy” looking at the “stars” of their favorite actors and actresses. And at the Theater, one could always find people trying to “fit” in the shoes of their “idols”. Some even tried to “feel” like a “star” by pressing their palm on the cold pavement and imagining the handprint left there by their “idols” to be theirs. Guess what? I happen to “fit in” the Terminator’s shoes! What do you know? Gover – nator Arnold is also a size 9½. Marilyn Monroe on the other hand has the smallest pair of hands and feet that I’ve ever seen. In fact, it looks like that of a 16 – year old girl and she did looked like a 16 – year old (young smooth naïve looking angelic face)! No wonder she’s a goddess! Anyway, at the Universal Studio, our first stop was to “try” the Van Helsing’s Dracula’s Fort. The place is dark and one can get the sense of a growing “edginess” but I was relatively unfazed having survived the “Terror Tower” the day before. My cousin however was pretty “shaken” by all the skeletons he is seeing so far. Funny if you to think about it because my cousin and I had just “survived” an elevator fall the day before and our heart was still beating that day. We’re pretty much alive. It turns out that the Fort is for 12 years old and older (my cousin is 10 and kids below 12 are likely to suffer trauma). Being a responsible adult, I had no other choice but to bring my cousin out of the “Fort” and thus bring myself out as well. Later on, as the other tour members exited from the Fort after experiencing a “pretty good scare”, they recounted to me about their ordeal. Ahhh, too bad. I could have “indulge” a good scare myself but being a responsible adult, I had no recourse but to stay on the sidelines. “ ). We next went to see the 3D show, “Back to the Future”. The show is based on the 1987 blockbuster movie of the same name. We were seated inside a “convertible Delaurent” car cum time machine good for 6 people and there we were taken “back in time” to the pre – historic past to chase after a renegade Delaurent piloted by Biff Tannen, the villain in the movie. We progressed from the volcanic age to the ice age and then to the dinosaur age where we were swallowed lock, stock and barrel by a T – Rex! Don’t ask me how the T – Rex’s breathe smelled but apparently, we tasted so bad or somebody in the audience must have a bad smell for we were eventually “vomited” by the T – Rex. After that, we all bumped the renegade time machine and were safely brought back to the future. yippee. We’re back (that sounded swell). The show is nice and would have been great if I haven’t visited the “Soaring over California” show the prior day. By comparison, the Back to the Future show looked “old” as in “like from the last century”. After the show, we took the Mummy the Revenge ride. Again, this roller coaster theme ride is based on the hit movie, the Mummy movies. The ride is somewhat similar to the “Space Mountain” ride except that the dazzling twinkling light show replaced by some mummy props of Imhotep’s priest and the Pharoah’s bodyguards. The ride seemed short because the speed is quite fast and the twists and turns are more abrupt and the banks and turns are much, much more steep than any of the roller coaster ride at Disney. But then again, it wasn’t that thrilling. In fact, on the last leg of the ride where the automatic camera took our picture, I was the only one of the 16 people on board who still has his eyes opened. What can I say, I survived the “Terror Tower”. Anyway, the best part of the ride is at the end for after a high – speed swirl in a dark tunnel, the cart suddenly stopped (as in SUDDENLY) just mere INCHES away from a solid wall. After a round of mummy laughter, we were suddenly pulled backwards also at high speed and into a chamber where the mummy was vanquished and thus end our ride. Great ride, hurray (sounds enthusiastic, right?). After that rather pleasant ride, we next went to take the Jurassic Park boat ride. At the Jurassic Park ride, we took a boat and went into the park, which closely resembles a prehistoric jungle one saw at the 1st Jurassic Park movie. Along the way we get to see a host of different dinosaurs. Some like the brontosaurus popped out of the water and sprayed through his “nostrils” located on it’s head. Naturally we all got wet. Next, we encountered a bunch of dinosaurs, (I don’t what species they belong but who cared anyway) who squirted water out of their mouth. They are located on both sides so everybody got wet again. After that, we saw a truck falling off the cliff and rushed towards us (pretty scary, huh?). Finally, we went inside the lab where we encounter dinosaurs popping out of the ceiling and on the final leg, a T – Rex stand guard at the “falls” and reached down tried to bite our head off. We then fell through the tunnel and out in the open just like the “Splash Mountain” drop. Although the drop was shorter than the “Splash Mountain” drop, the Jurassic Park ride is more “splashier” because I got drenched even if I stayed at 2nd row from the back (I wizened up). About the T – rex biting scene, compared to the giant boulder – chasing scene of the Indiana Jones’ ride, the latter is much better than the former. Again like the Mummy ride, I didn’t blink while everybody else did. Funny but I didn’t realize that surviving the “Hollywood Tower Hotel a.k.a. Twilight Zone’s Terror Tower would turn one into a “killjoy”. At any rate, after lunch, we went to see the Terminator 3D. Nice graphics, nice show. One thing I could say about the Terminator 3D and the later, Shrek 4D is that it is just a “movie”. I mean if you watched Disneyland’s “Honey, I shrunk the audience”, “A bug’s life”, and “Soaring over California” and to the lesser extent “Back in the Future”, one would have the feeling that you are intimately involve in the show however passive you might be (we all just sat there and watch). It’s like the stage is talking to you and you reacted because of the “special effects” from the chair. It is unlike Terminator 3D and Shrek 4D wherein you just simply watch them act just like in the movies except that it is the 3D/4D format. After terminator, we went for a guided studio tour aboard a 4 stage motorized coach. At first, I had this misconception that it would be a dull ride since we will be touring studio grounds, where you could only see large warehouse type buildings that houses the sets. Well, the first part of the tour were like that i.e., the beautiful tour guide told us what films where shot in this buildings, which is the special effects buildings, and which are the temporary shelters of crews etc. However, sometime in the middle of the tour, we went to a place called “Little Mexico”. The place is the studio set where one of scenes of the movie, “Big Fat Liar” was shot. One of the main features of the set aside from it’s rural Mexican appeal is the “simulated” storm. Heavy rains were brought about by the strategically located sprinkler systems. Thunder and lightning were simulated using lights and sound effects and lastly, came the huge flood waters cascading down from the slopes that actually threatens to engulf the coach we were riding on (it quickly receded soon after we left). We hurriedly left the place as a result and turn to a row of buildings that reminded us of New York and Europe. Afterwards, we went to see “neighborhood” of the “Desperate Housewives”. I got to say that they have such beautiful houses and “neighborhood” and that I wonder why the “housewives” living here would get “desperate”. Well, too bad, they don’t have a shoot that day and I wasn’t able to see Eva Longoria or Terri Hatcher in person. Next came the “garden” area where the studio kept some of their plant life that they would eventually used in their shoot and surprisingly, they also manage to keep some of that water spraying dinosaurs from Jurassic Park as well. At the end of the road, we find several cars used in the shooting of “Fast and the Furious” movies and also a compound housing one of the explosive scenes of the movie. In this scene, a barrage of bullets sprayed at the 2 parked sports cars triggering a fire and eventually an explosion that sent the cars flying into our direction. We hold our breath then thinking that the cars would smash right into our coach but it didn’t. It turns out that the cars are mere empty shells and they were “flown” by two giant mechanically arms. To our amusement, the operator performed a dance number using the cars and the mechanical arms. Pretty cool. We next went to a lakeside cottage and pier where “Jaws” was filmed and we actually saw Jaws, the mechanical shark. As we were watching, the coach stopped by the edge and all the sudden, the wooden pier beneath us “collapses” and we were partially submerge (half a wheel high) in the “lake”. Then, Jaws suddenly emerge by our side and gave everybody a pretty good scare, everybody except me. What can I say, I survived the fall at the Terror Tower. We eventually escaped with our limbs intact and proceeded to a closed warehouse where the studio designed it to look like a San Francisco subway station. There, we stopped and quite unexpectedly, we felt a violent shake. It’s an earthquake! Instantly, our coach sank by a foot and all electrical installation blew inside the “station” and sparks were all over the place. Ceiling panels collapses and lights went off. Then, when we thought that the whole thing was over, the roof collapses and an oil tank truck slide down towards us and burst into flames. Again, it would seem that the truck would hit us but luckily, somehow a “well placed” support column stopped the fall and thus we were safe or so we think. Just then, we heard a loud gushing sound coming from the stairs. Flood waters! Immediately upon the sight of the torrent, we drove away. It turns out that we had just witnessed what is like to be in a subway experiencing a magnitude 8 earthquake and by all means, you don’t want to be caught in one (not that the simulated scene was scary or something but the thought is). we then went to another warehouse which also designed to look like New York, the hellish version of it after being trashed by the Kong. Here, we saw wrecked buildings, crashed helicopters, fires and once we attempt to cross a bridge, we were stopped because the bridge was “swinging” violently and guess who was doing that? It was none other than the King (Kong) himself. Everybody was screaming their lungs out at the sight of the giant monkey except for me. I looked Kong straight in the eye and guess what I’d see? The monkey looked tame and gentle to me that I considered keeping him as pet if the studio allows me. “ ) Anyway, we moved on and passed by the famous motel where the murders in Alfred Hitchcock’s opus, “Psycho” were filmed. Pretty, desolate I would so. No wonder people felt creepy watching the movie. Next we were led into a tunnel and were trapped inside. It was dark inside and the tunnel seemed to be turning about on it’s side and suddenly, we heard noise, a bug’s noise. But this is no ordinary bug’s noise rather it is the noise that would reminded everybody of the flesh – eating scarabs in the Mummy’s movies. Although we couldn’t see anything moving but the sound does give audience a shivering feel. With that, we finally concluded our tour of the studio. It was actually a nice tour, more of a sight – seeing tour with occasional surprises. After the tour, we went to see Shrek 4D and then for the finale of the day, the Water World show. The Water World show was actually a reenactment of the last battle scene of Kevin Costner’s movie, WaterWorld. Inside the compound are three stands, left, right and center (vis – a – vis the stage). My sister and I happened to be seated at the right stand and somewhere in the middle seats. By the way, the seats are color – coded. The “green” seats are the wet sections and are located at the front while blue seats are the dry section and are mostly at the middle and the back, though it was no guarantee that audience won’t get wet. Anyway, prior to the start of the show, the actors were out trying to “aroused” the sleepy audience by dousing or more aptly, spraying them with cold water especially those in the front row seats. Next, these loonies started a screaming/cheering match among the audience (divided into the left, right and center). The winner gets to stay dry while the loser got drenched literally. One of the wise guy audience wore a raincoat to the show and he was promptly targeted by the water guns. One of the female audience probably got peeved by all the “water” attention she got that she immediate took the water gun being offered to her by one of the actors and she immediately aimed it at one of the other actors but to her surprise, the water gun was empty. It was a ruse to lure her out in the open. Poor girl (and she happens to be attractive), she got a prompt “beating” from all the water guns aimed at her. After that rather energizing pre – show performance, the show started. The fight scene was superb and looked realistic complete with explosions, fireballs, fires. It also help that the stunts are well coordinated and choreographed. But that however wasn’t the exciting part. What really excites me is the sudden appearance of a biplane that flew out of nowhere and barely over the wall made of rusted galvanized iron sheets (and in the process scraping off one of the sheets) and landed on the pool directly in front of the center audiences, sent out a huge wave that splashed the center audiences wet and kept moving forward until it bumped onto the sides of the pool. Now that is fun, wet, and scary! Too bad, I’m seated on the sides and in the dry section. But at least, it was a great show. By the time the show ended, it was around 5pm and we had to bid goodbye to the place and go back to our Inn and rest. You know what? I had to admit that Universal Studio is a great place to visit and play that is if I haven’t been to the Twilight Zone’s Terror Tower. As fate would have it, I survived the elevator fall at the Terror Tower and I lived to tell it.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
My first reaction upon reading your column the other day (October 3) is that it is an idealization and partially true. It is an idealization because history and reality showed that it doesn’t happen that way. In fact, it is dynamic. It is partial because the authors used the “Imperial” version of Confucian philosophy, the version that stresses obedience and submission. It is a feudal philosophy because it was born out of the feudal environment. Confucian philosophy is all about maintaining social and familial harmony through understanding and acceptance of one’s station in the hierarchy of things in the universe. For every station in the hierarchy, there is a corresponding duties and obligations as well as rights. Duties include taking care and defending the ones underneath you like subordinates, brothers, wife, son, students, servants etc; being true, loyal, and helpful to your peers like friends; and lastly being obedient, loyal, respectful, submissive, and generally defer to the decision of your superiors like elders, teachers, parents, rulers, etc. With duty comes rights, namely the right to demand protection, guidance, and care from your superiors; the right to demand loyalty and support from your friends and lastly, the right to demand loyalty, submission, and respect from your subordinate. However, the hierarchy is by no means rigid or static. As a matter of fact, it is quite fluid. There will come a time when a son becomes the father, or a junior member of society would become an elder, or a student becoming a master. And each rise in station would mean a corresponding change in their duty. This is the “imperial – feudalistic” version of Confucianism, a partial version that is being stressed and systematically preached throughout the centuries. As you can see, the “Imperial” Confucian philosophy is pro – establishment, pro – hierarchy, pro – order. And it is this version that provides stability to succession. However, Confucian philosophy is not just that. It is not about static and rigid hierarchy. For within the philosophy lies the genius of it’s first master, a thought that is greatly expounded upon by Mencius, another master. According to Mencius, disruption can happen in this “static” hierarchy once there is a dereliction of duty, which inevitably tramples upon another person’s rights. The aggrieved party would have the right to “overthrow” or “remove” the guilty party if not just simply severe the bond that binds them. This can be seen in Mencius’ reply to the prince of Chi when the latter posed the question, “what if a father is not a father (as in not performing the duty of a father), a son is not a son, a king is not a king, and a servant is not a servant”. To which Mencius replied, “I heard of a tyrant named Chou (the last king of the Shang dynasty) and not a king named Chou. A tyrant should be overthrown and killed but not a king”. In Mencius’ view, ones station’s in the hierarchy is maintained as long as he “does” his duty. If a person doesn’t perform his duty, he doesn’t “deserve” the appellation and the status accorded with it, i.e., the bond is severed. In addition to that, there are two concepts in Confucianism that contravenes with the hierarchal nature of it’s philosophy. The first one is ren or benevolence, and the second is Yi or righteousness. Benevolence or Ren is about caring for somebody without the superficiality of the rigid rituals and customs of respect and reverence. Righteousness or Yi is about doing what is right even if such were not his duty to perform. Furthermore, anybody can exercise this virtue and is not limited by his station in the hierarchy. One doesn’t have to be rich and powerful to be benevolent or righteous. It is these “exclusion” clauses in Confucian philosophy that is more often used in history when a father “disinherit” the eldest son (in old times) or pass over him (modern times) in favor of a younger and capable son if the eldest son doesn’t perform his “duty”. It is also due to these “exclusion” clauses that if the successor doesn’t perform his new “duty”, his siblings has the right to “overthrow” the eldest son’s leadership. However, it is also here where the weakness of the philosophy lies. It doesn’t promote meritocracy. What if the leader performed his duty but is not exceptional? There would be no justification in removing him from his place. Therefore, Confucian philosophy tends to promote stability in succession but doesn’t provide incentive for exceptional performance for there is no “real” competition.
P.S. There is a paper in Beijing written by a present day historian entitled, “Confucianism, the ultra stability factor in the imperial Chinese society.” It is written in Chinese by the way. I had a critique of such thesis written by a Taiwanese historian.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
P.S. Thanks Jocelyn Tan for helping me “see”. Sometimes, a person inside can’t see where they are and it is the people outside that could tell that person inside where they really are.
NOTE: Calling all GSB alumni (graduates as well as people who attended GSB for 1 year) to please join and actively support the newly organized DLSAA – GSB. For foreign based alumni, please spearhead the formation of a DLSAA – GSB local chapters in your host country. I and my colleagues at the board would greatly appreciate your effort and would like to warmly welcome you into our ranks. “ )
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
I went to see the much hyped about movie, The Banquet, last Sunday (October 21). And boy! Am I in for a treat! The movie is quite spectacular and is one of the best movies I’ve seen for the year and probably one on my list of the best movie of all times.
The Historical Background
The backdrop of the story is set during the Five Dynasty and Ten Kingdom Period in China (The civil war period sandwich between the Tang dynasty and the Sung dynasty). Few actually appreciate the significance of this historical period to the overall movie theme. The Five Dynasty period is a time when anarchy prevailed as a result of warlordism and civil war. In just a span of 70 or more years, 5 dynasties rise and fall in rapid succession. In these turbulent times, the Emperors are mere hostages to their aspiring generals while generals are hostage to their greedy and unruly soldiers. As a result, Emperors rarely died peacefully. Most of them died by assassinations and in rebellions. Because of the weakened state of the central authorities, local potentates came to control local affairs and thus rampant corruption ensued. And because of the frequent changes in regime, political survival and expediency became the norm and principles became an oddity. Morality is no more than a piece of paper and degeneracy sets in all levels of society. It is in this sad state of affairs that we find our heroes.
The movie begins with the Empress Wan entering the funeral chamber of the recently deceased Emperor, her husband. She was surprised to discover her brother – in – law (the late emperor’s brother) dressed in the armor of the emperor. Without much saying, she realized that the brother – in – law has in fact seize the imperial throne and he offered the Empress a choice, to be his consort or die. The Empress quite naturally spurned his indecent offer in a rather angry fashion but somehow relented in the end (Or did she?). With one potential opposition (the empress) removed, the brother – in – law sent out his royal bodyguard to assassinate the true heir of the throne unknowingly that the Empress Wan has also sent out her own trusted bodyguard to protect the true heir. The Prince – heir oblivious to the events outside his own reclusive world was actually sulking and was in the midst of doing a traditional play, The Song of the Yueh Women (he was actually more an artist than a prince). The Song is about a loner’s lament of unrequited love. While he was at it, the Empress’s bodyguards came and informed him of the news. Much afterwards, the assassins came and began one of most the visually spectacular sword fighting that I’ve seen. The fight was quite bloody. Everyone in the Prince’s entourage including the Empress’ bodyguard’s died fighting including the person posing as the Prince. The Prince only manages to survive because he gave his performance mask to his protector and hide underwater in the artificial lake. After surviving the massacre, he sets out to his home, the imperial palace and only to discover that his childhood love, his one and only, his step mother, the Empress Wan was in the midst of preparing to marry his uncle, the usurper, the murderer of his father, the new Emperor. The Prince was not just simply aggrieved but also beseech with anger and harbors vengeance. He visits his step – mother in the night ostensibly to confront her but also partly due to his longing to see his beloved. There happened one of the most awkward scenes. A man kneeling before the love of his life who is 4 years his junior and calling her mother. So close to his true love yet so far away. The Empress was equally hurt in such display of traditional Confucian obedience and filial piety for she still loved the Prince but couldn’t do so because she was technically his “mother” and tradition dictates that she acts accordingly. After that rather awkward confrontation came the idle pleasant exchange on their recent lives (nothing happened since both are strictly proper). Unknown to the two, the new Emperor, the usurper was about to enter the chamber when he overheard the idle murmur of the two. At first, he was surprised that his nephew, the true heir is alive but was no sooner overcome with jealousy. Even so, he kept his silence as his jealousy raged within him. How could she (his former sister – in – law and now his consort) do this to him? He (the new Emperor) could have given her everything she wanted. She was after all the object of his love (or lust depending on one’s view). Silently, he walks away and left the two alone. Amazingly, the Emperor kept his silence about the discovery even to his love, the Empress but grew increasingly distraught that she didn’t reveal the Prince’s survival to him until finally he couldn’t take it anymore and reveal what he knows to the Empress during a polo match (polo was actually invented in China during the Tang dynasty as an aristocratic sport). The Prince on the other hand was hiding in the house of his fiancé, the lady Ching, who was the daughter of a powerful minister, Yin. Minister Yin was an old but ambitious courtier as well as an astute politician, always going the way where the wind breezes. Lady Ching’s brother was a military governor of an important strategic province bordering the Khitans. Lady Ching was very much in love with the Prince so much so that she purportedly could communicate with her beau in her dreams (a sign of mental instability I would say). She would have given him everything even though she knew that he didn’t love her. Upon the discovery, the Emperor summoned the Prince for an audience and right then and there, he commanded the Prince to perform a swordplay with his royal guards since the Prince was considered the foremost swordsman in the realm, second only after the deceased emperor. The swordplay was to be played out using wooden swords to prevent injury and accidents but in the middle of the fighting, one of the guards changed his wooden sword for real thing and began carrying out the assassination attempt right in front of the Emperor who is pretending to have fallen asleep (and thereby claim innocence and be absolved of any guilt). The plot almost succeeded had it not been intervened and saved by the Empress who herself was an excellent swordsman. The emperor awoke and dismisses both the empress and the Prince. He silently looks at the guards and without warning kills the guard responsible for the foiled assassination. After that foiled assassination, the Prince became convinced that his uncle is behind the murder of his father and he sought out revenge. He visited an alchemist for a strongest poison known to man. However, he wasn’t convinced that the poison was strong but when he pressed the alchemist for another poison. He was stunned to realize that there is nothing more poisonous than a human heart. With that realization, he gave up revenge. On the day of the coronation, the new Emperor sent out for the Prince to entertain the imperial host with swordplays with the new Emperor’s bodyguards but the Prince refuses and instead, performs a play, which he wrote. The play tells the story of two brothers, one rich and the other poor. The rich brother loved and trusted his poor and evil younger brother but the latter had the former murdered through poison. The play was an indirect reference to the usurpation and murder by the new Emperor. The Emperor though clam was shaken by the knowledge of his nephew’s discovery and he immediately sent the Prince to exile as hostage to the Khitans. En route to the Khitans, the bodyguard – escorts attempted to murder the Prince but the Prince was saved by Lady Ching’s brother. It happened that Lady Ching volunteered to accompany the Prince to his exile but this offer offended the jealous Empress Wan that she had Lady Ching arrested and tortured. Using Lady Ching as hostage, the Empress came to an understanding with Minister Yin and plotted with Yin to save the Prince (through Yin’s son or Lady Ching’s brother) and eliminate the new Emperor via assassination. No sooner that the plot was hatch, Minister Yin plotted a coup within a coup. Only this time, Minister Yin intends to remove the Empress after the assassination of the new Emperor and to usurp the throne for himself. Meanwhile, the Empress is also scouting for poison and came upon the same alchemist that the Prince sought. Like the Prince, she asked whether or not there is a much more poisonous substance than the one she is holding and to which she also received the same reply, “the human heart”. However, unlike the soft – hearted Prince, she appeared unperturbed by the revelation and “rewarded” the alchemist with poison in order to keep him silent (a vile woman indeed). There afterwards she began to orchestrates events and on the hundredth day of her marriage to her brother – in – law, she beseech the Emperor to throw a feast and the Emperor obliged and ordered a banquet to be served in her honor that night. During the banquet, the Empress quietly slipped in the poison to the Emperor’s cup and proposes a toss. The Emperor was about to drink from the poisoned cup when all the sudden a troop of actors appeared led by Lady Ching. Lady Ching offered to stage a play, The Song of the Yueh Women to entertain the Emperor. The Emperor puzzled but eventually allowed and he offered as a gesture to Lady Ching, his poisoned cup (he has no knowledge about it). The Lady Ching drank the wine to the shock of his father, Minister Yin and his brother, who both are privy to the assassination plot. There followed one of the most harrowing scene in the movie, that of a broken hearted, dying woman slowly dancing and singing a heart wrenching song till her demise in the arms of the Prince, who happens to be the masked actor behind her. In the end, the Prince professes his love for the poor Lady Ching but everything is too late. Lady Ching’s brother literally flew out of his seat and snatched his sister away from the Prince’s embrace and the Prince so enraged by the tragedies that befell him, let out his sword and aimed towards the Emperor, only to be stopped by the royal bodyguards. Whilst the battle was raging, the Emperor though calm was visibly stunned by the knowledge of the poison and the attempt to assassinate him and most importantly, by the person he most loved and that person is none other than the Empress Wan. In a twist nobody expected, he called off the guards and confronted the Prince. There he wailed against fate and most likely disillusioned by the betrayal, he took the cup of poisoned wine and drank it to the last drop and slowly, the Emperor walked up to his throne while removing his crown and collapsed and died in the bosom of his wife, the Empress. The Empress immediately proclaimed the Prince as the new Emperor but was rejected by the Prince. While the commotion is on going, an enraged Lady Ching’s brother vented his ire on the scheming Empress. He pulled out a poison dagger and aimed at the Empress’ neck but was stopped by the Prince, who was in turn fatally wounded (the Empress killed Lady Ching’s brother). The Prince died immediately in the arms of his wailing beloved………..mother………… Minister Yin for in his part of the complicity of the attempted assassination of the Empress was exiled to a distant colony. With all opposition removed, Empress Wan assumed the throne but didn’t live long to enjoy her new – found power. She was murdered in the end.
The story sounded so much like Shakespeare’s Hamlet (or was it Othello?). In fact, if Shakespeare were born a Chinese, he would have probably written something like this. This is one tragedy after a tragedy and a tragedy within a tragedy. It is a tragedy after a tragedy because one could see in the latter part how one character after another fell, burned by their own doings. It is a tragedy within a tragedy because though the characters faced their individual tragedies, the greatest tragedy is that as humans, we are mere animals of our passion and our ambition and fate came along and played our passions and our ambitions and turned us into victims of our own deeds. It makes me wonder though if we are just merely stupid or fate was being cruel.
Direction, Cinematography, and Martial Arts Play
The film is directed by Feng Xiao Kang. One thing I could say about the movie is that it is not your traditional Chinese martial arts – imperial age drama. The armors worn by the imperial guards reminded me of the Sauron’s dragon flying – minions in the Lord of the Rings movie. In fact, though the architecture is definitely Chinese, the black and white colored backdrop and the unconventional designs readily gives an impression that this is more of a Medieval European drama (and hence, the seeming reference to Shakespeare) rather than a Medieval Chinese one. The only time one would awake to the realization that this is a Chinese drama is in the grandeur and pomp of the setting (Medieval European dramas are by contrast much simpler). The obsession with the manipulation of color with an intense monochromatic (mostly red) color imposed on a black and white background provided the visual appeals and readily captures the audience attentions to what is going on rather than be distracted by the rich background. Funny, this color manipulative approach seemed to be the “rage” in Chinese films nowadays. The martial arts choreography was a breathlessly stunning visual spectacle. If you are familiar with Jacky Chan movies and his brand of raw power and bare knuckle kung fu, the swordplays here are by contrast has more grace and beauty. It looked more like a dance or more succinctly, like a ballet (especially the fight scene at the beginning) except that it’s bloody. It would be more apt to describe it as a bloody sword dance or a murderous ballet of swords. So beautiful yet so deadly. Even so, the fight scenes though bloody are in no way gory at all. The dialogue in the movie is both simple, short, and sparingly little and is spoken in Mandarin with English subtitles. Though most of the dialogues are also mere allusions and seldom straightforward, the message they convey are nevertheless concise and clear if one matches the words with the actions of the characters. Overall, credit should be given to the director Feng for he manages to keep the focus on all the protagonists (around 6 of them) without losing sight of the movie i.e., without drifting into each individual character and furthermore, he manages to maintain the focus of the movie in spite of the arduously slow tempo of the movie.
The acting quality of the individual actors is exemplar. The actors are all character actors and they dwell into the emotional state of the characters they are playing. Take Zhang Zhe Yi for instance, she played the character of the Empress Wan. One could literally see the emotion played out in her face whether she is happy, jealous, lust, malicious, scheming, drunken with power, or even mourning (aside from that she has a great petite body with a beautiful back and a nice arse). The Emperor (the brother – in – law/usurper) was by contrast steely calm, grave, and indomitable but also surprisingly fragile. The actor who portrayed the role, played it with a straight face devoid of emotion. His speech is deliberately even and slow giving us an image of calm and control, of darkness and dignity, of strength and power. He hides his jealousy, his rage, his fear, his weakness so well that his subsequent actions came as a huge surprise to the audience and baffle us about his through nature. His taking of his own life at the end of the movie even though he is in no immediate danger of death and even of losing is one such prime example. It is only there we could see his weakness, his frailty, his defect as a human being. The Prince on other hand displayed melancholy, sadness all throughout and the actor (Danny Wu?) played it so well that one could actually see sadness in his eyes and actually believed he (the actor and not the character) is a sad figure.
The theme of the movie is quite simple and that is Love and Ambition don’t mix. Both Love and Ambition are inflammatory and one would ignite and fanned the flames in the other until both are burned down in the end. This is best expressed in a Chinese phrase, “Jiang san wuo mei ren”, “the world or the maiden’s hand”. Difficult choice but I know mine.
Monday, October 16, 2006
I visited Anaheim Disneyland last Saturday (Sunday Manila time). We got there at around 8 in the morning and stayed till 6 in the evening. To be quite honest about it, I’m not really a fan of theme parks or it’s equivalent. I always viewed theme parks as for kids and not for old guys like me and I still hold that belief even after visiting Disneyland. Even so, I can surely say that I did enjoy my visit to Disneyland, or more accurately, I got a blast that day. so what exactly make my visit to Disneyland a blast that day? Well, let me see: First, I enjoyed the cheap thrills. Second, I happen to be “playing” with my 10 – year old cousin. Ah, kids. It takes a kid to enjoy being a kid. And Last but not the least, I do get to see a “number” of hot blondes and sexy brunettes at the park wearing shirts with plunging necklines and the skimpiest skirt or shorts one could ever find if not the most tightest shirts and pants that accentuate their figure. It was a feast to the eyes! Mine of course. Anyway, we started with the Indiana Jones ride that morning. The ride was fun although rather bumpy but not really scary at all. To be frank, my plane ride to LA was a lot scarier and bumpier. The best part of the ride I think is at the end when the giant boulder rushed towards me. It’s fun but not scary or thrilling. The same goes with the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. My plane ride was far more “adventurous” compared to it. The Haunted House gig on the other hand is scary to kids but not to an “old” guy like me. I actually felt a little sleepy if not bored with it. My first real thrill that day came when me and my sister and my cousin took the “Splash Mountain” ride. I had to confess that I’m afraid of heights and I hate sudden drops as well, which is why I generally avoided roller coaster rides. But I don’t want to be a “kill joy” to my young 10 – year old cousin, so I took my chances. And boy, it was great. The “dive” was actually short and thereby mollified the “scariness”. I was shouting “Geronimo” when the automatic camera took my picture at the top of the dive, which is why my mouth formed an “O” (I wasn’t screaming by the way, that would be too “shallow”). I did however got wet from the splash landing since I was seated in front (Yeah, incredibly genius of me to volunteer). My hair, my face, my jacket and my pants all got wet but fun is definitely written all over my face. Next stop, we went to the “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad” ride, a roller coaster theme ride. As mentioned before, I had this general “uneasiness” with roller coaster rides which is why during my youth, I would most likely closed my eyes during those dangerous “stunts”. Having considerably aged since, I decided to face “it” like a man (a favorite mantra of my cousin, he speaks mandarin by the way). Whatever that means, I did soon find out. And boy! What a ride! The 2G (2x the gravity force) experience is quite exhilarating. I felt my neck got twisted with the ride. After the ride, I thought that was the “thrill” that has eluded me for sometime now but boy I was dead wrong! For the next ride, “The Space Mountain” ride was even more thrilling!!! The speed, the numerous twist and turn, the dazzling light show all turned the thrill decibel a notch higher. Even so, just like the last ride, it didn’t make me scream! It’s child play. However, I did develop a back pain from the “Space Mountain” ride. Apparently, my body is telling me that I’m too old for this “kid stuff”. Before the “Space Mountain” ride, Eric, our tour guide took us to the Merry Go – Around. Boy, it’s been quite a long time since I took the Merry – Go – Around. When I was kid, riding the horse at the Merry – Go - Around was like looking forward to the future. I mean who didn’t dream of being a cowboy or a prince charming riding on his stead? I know I did. Now, riding the Merry – Go – Around was like going back to the past, to a time when we all dream that we could be a cowboy someday and we actually were back then. So much has changed after one merry – go – around. After the Space Mountain ride, we next went to see the 3D movie, “Honey, I Shrunk The Audience”. It was actually my first time to watch a 3D movie. It was quite “real” enough to me then that when the neon lights blew up “in front” of my face, I raised my left arm to cover my face from the “flying sharpenels”. It is then I realized that it is only an illusion and with that, came “enlightenment”. Like Neo finally seeing the Matrix as a computer code rather than “reality”, my mind likewise began to see past the “tricks”. So much so that I didn’t blink nor bat an eyelash when the lion roared in front of me or when the giant boa constrictor open it’s fanged mouth and tried to bite my head off (that happened after audience was shrank). In spite of the “clarity of vision” I had, it was nonetheless fun for I was not only treated to an optical illusion but also to sensory illusions as well. I actually felt a “herd of mice” run past my legs as well as the shake of the entire floor due to the thumping of the scientists after they “shrank” us. After the show, it was already mid – day and to everybody’s surprise, we had finished all the major rides at Disneyland. Eric suggested that we walk across to the “other side”, to the new Disneyland California Adventure theme park. The California Adventure Park is just like Disneyland, they had rides, 3D simulation shows, and cheap thrills, all of that except for the Disney toons. First stop after lunch, we went to see the “Life as a Bug” 3D show. Now, if you ask my opinion about how the show was. Well, I would say that if you have arancaphobia or for that matter a morbid fear for furry little insects. It is better not to attend even though the characters are “cartoonish”. I mean you’ll definitely scream your lungs out if not pass out if you saw a giant arankanid suspended directly above your head. Fortunately for me, I had already “transcendence”. My mind has been conditioned to treat everything I see as an illusion and so nothing “scared” me not even the finale coup de grace of the show. At the finale, they released “cockroaches” to the seat and if you happened to press your back against the seat, you would have felt the “rush” of cockroaches streaming across the seat making you jump out of your seat thus creating a “human” wave at the end of the show. Nice but again I’m immune to such illusions. It also help that Eric, tour guide gave it away when he told us to remain “glued” to the seat after the show (something that an AA IQ wouldn’t miss). After the show, we went still to another 3D show, this time, “Soaring Over California”. This is by far the most spectacular 3D show I’ve seen. You’re strapped to a seat and got suspended 3 storey high above in the air and once the screen opens, you are treated to a spectacular aerial view of California starting with “flying” through clouds and then over the top of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco followed by the hover over the great Colorado river then over the sides of Yosemite mountain and over the Grand Canyon towards the Mojave desert (I waved my hands to a squadron of F16s flying by). Afterwards, we flew over an aircraft carrier, and followed a helicopter and then over a PGA golf course where Tiger Woods hit a golf ball towards us missing us by inches and then towards an ocean wave near the beach and finally landing safely. Wow! That was a spectacular ride! It’s not just the visual spectacle that wooed me, the sensory stimulation was quite spectacular in itself. For the seats veered left or right, up and down complete with wind blowing past your face as if you were actually flying. Wow! I wonder if that’s how Superman felt. You know, with the clouds swaying on your knees. I had to admit I was a bit apprehensive about the ride and had to tighten my grip on the handrails in spite of the seat belt once I’m on the “air”. It was only on the latter part of the show that I got “comfortable”. My sister was equally apprehensive about the “flight” but somewhere near the middle, she got over it. Once on the ground, she told she had been to a far more scarier situation, that on a para – sailing expedition at Boracay earlier in the year. At this point thus far, I’ve been thrilled somewhat, surprised probably, entertained definitely but not scared. However, none of these compare to what I did next. There is this ride that me and my cousin are contemplating to take but are quite fearful of taking, that of “The Twilight Zone, The Terror Tower” a.k.a. “The Hollywood Tower Hotel”. The concept of the ride is simple. You ride an elevator and they shot you up around 10 stories high and then opens the door to let the fresh air in and also reveal exactly how high you are vis – a – vis to the outside world where one can only see the roofs and all the sudden the elevator falls with you along in it. Scary? Nope. It is traumatic!!! My hands were getting cold and sweaty when I lined up for the “insane” stunt (I must be crazy to be actually doing this). We first went to the library where a clip told us the “legend” behind the elevator. The story goes like this. 5 people (including an actress and an actor) went up the elevator then suddenly a freak lightning struck the hotel building and destroying it. The freak lightning caused the people inside the elevator to “vanish”. These people later became the ghost that haunts the hotel elevator and “causes” the unexplained malfunction. After that short clip, we were then led into a queue and finally unto the elevator. We were first in the line and so we ended up at the back of the elevator, me and my cousin (my sister got scared of the idea and went shopping instead). The elevator door closes and we backed away from the door only to show us with the Twilight Zone trailer. Then the sign fades into darkness, we were then taken up 1 or 2 floors where the door opens to reveal a huge mirror and there we could see ourselves in the mirror. Our group picture is taken and then suddenly, our reflection vanishes from the mirror (which signifies that we’re as good as kaputs). The door closes and we were brought up another floor where the ghostly apparitions appeared. Afterwards, the door closes and we were suddenly shot up a floor or two at high speed and then it abruptly halts with a jolt and then without warning, the elevator drops a floor. We then stopped shot up again around two or three floors at high speed and stopped. The door opens to reveal the outside world and how high we are actually. We are at the third floor from the top then. Then after like a second or two after the door opened, the elevator falls two floors! Again it abruptly halts and we were shot up again this time to the second floor from the top and falls like 3 or 4 floors and then again the screeching halt and the final ascent to the top. We lingered like 5 seconds at the top before falling again 4 – 5 floors down the elevator shaft. Afterwards, it stopped and we descended one floor below before being led out. Once we started falling, my heart sank to my arse and simultaneously, the seat beneath my arse dropped leaving my arse 3 inch up in the air and suspended there by half a second. Zero gravity!!! Just then when my arse is hanging in the air during my second “fall”, my phone rang! I later found out that it was my sister who called to inquire “how was it?” Perfect! Here I’m with my arse 3 inches up in the air and she has the gall to ask me how I was?! Damn! What’s even worst was that, the phone never stopped ringing! And once it stopped, it rang again!!! Damn! And I couldn’t take the call since both of the hand is tightly gripped on the seat rails in spite of the fact that I had my seat belts on (I could imagine my hands has turned knuckle white from the grip). Although I’m loath to admit, I was pretty damned scared!!! I so scared that my legs were wobbly for the next 10 or so minutes afterwards. In spite of that, I still manage to guide my cousin out and bought the photos and walked 100 meters away from the building. Damn! I’m pretty sure that I won’t be “crazy” enough to try that kind of stunt again!!! Ever!!! Well, maybe until I got over with it! It was indeed fun! Correction, it was SUPER!!! My adrenaline was way up so much so that I can’t sleep a wink that night. Well, there is also the fact that every time I’d closed my eyes that night, I dreamt of falling elevators with me inside. My sister scolded me for being an “irresponsible” kiddult for “dragging” a 10 – year old to a traumatic zero gravity, free fall expedition (my cousin also have that falling elevator nightmare that night). Well, what can I say except to repeat the phrase “faced it like a man”, which happens to be my cousin’s favorite mantra. “ )
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Friday, September 29, 2006
In the book, “In Search of Excellence” written by Tom Peters, one of the “traits” of successful companies is in their passion to excel in their endeavor. It is suggested, “that outstanding performance often demands dedicated, even passionate, single – mindedness”. However, another author disagreed with the observation. Danny Miller believes that though passion can ultimately leads to success. It may also be the very reason of their failure and their ultimate demise. Danny Miller in his book, The Icarus Paradox described 4 main trajectories stemming from the passionate pursuit of excellence. They are:
· The focusing trajectory takes punctilious, quality driven Craftsmen, organizations with masterful engineers and airtight operations, and turns them into rigidly controlled, detail obsessed Tinkerers, firms whose insular, technocratic cultures alienate customers with perfect but irrelevant offerings.
· The venturing trajectory converts growth – driven, entrepreneurial Builders, companies managed by imaginative leaders and creative planning and financial staffs, into compulsive, greedy Imperialists, who severely overtax their resources by expanding helter – skelter into businesses they know nothing about.
· The inventing trajectory takes Pioneers with unexcelled R&D departments, flexible think – tank operations, and state of the art products, and transforms them into utopian Escapists, run by cults of chaos loving scientists who squander resources in the pursuit of hopelessly grandiose and futuristic inventions.
· The decoupling trajectory transforms Salesmen, organizations with unparalleled marketing skills, prominent brand names, and broad markets, into aimless, bureaucratic Drifters, whose sales fetish obscures design issues and who produces a stale and disjointed line of “me – too” offerings.
What all this trajectories have in common are that all of them tend to focus on their excellence and pursue it to perfection without considering the practicality of such mindless pursuit. They may produce the most perfect cell phone in the world but the market really doesn’t want a perfect phone with all the loaded features but just simply a phone that they could call their love ones. They could pursue an opportunity so aggressively and so mindlessly that they didn’t realize that they had overstretched their own limits and that such “conquest” is ultimately unsustainable. In the real world, many a company is guilty of one of the 4 trajectories. Companies big or small inevitably fall for the “trap”. It is not that they deliberately walk into it rather they became so obsessed that they lost touch with reality or worst, they refused to accept reality thinking it only as a temporary fad or simply a glitch. And in the end, they pay the price of their hubris. However, such passionate pursuits aren’t really mistake. For it is in their pursuit that these companies attain their success but such passion should be tempered with practicality, prudence, and pragmatism. After all, the dough still comes from the customer and as the saying goes, “The Customer is Always Right…….”