Friday, June 30, 2006

Hong Kong Adventure (part 1)

By now, a bunch of you are wondering when (and maybe if) I’ll ever get around to telling you about my Hong Kong Adventure... Well, here it is!

Denmark ended up being a nightmare, but Hong Kong was a little different. I never know how these people find me to attebnd their Film Festivals or teach classes, I don’t advertize that I teach classes and try to keep a low profile. I think what happens is that one Festival reads the brochure for some other Festival and sees my name and tracks me down.

So in the middle of last year I get an e-mail from a guy named Richard with the Hong Kong Film Academy asking if I would like to do my 2 day class as part of the Hong Kong Film Festival /Market in March of 2006. They will reimburse my airfare and pick up all of my expenses, guarantee me $Xk and give me 50% of everything after expenses. This is a huge established film festival in March with hundreds of people attending. If I get 50 people, I can make more money than London (unless their expenses are... expensive). I’ve had 50 people when I put on the class myself in Vancouver with *no* film festival going on at the same time. So this is a good deal...

Except I’m dealing with a communist country and they have more rules than you can imagine. I need a work visa to do a 2 day class. They send me the forms over the Christmas holiday when I’m in Concord visiting my folks and need them returned right away. At the same time, Denmark sends me a contract which I sign and return. I return from the holidays, and book my flight to Denmark but hold off on Hong Kong until my visa is granted by those pesky communists.

February comes and my visa has still not been granted. I’m e-mailing these guys like crazy, and they say it should be any day. Problem is, I’m going to miss the 3 week cheap airfare window and pay some outrageous price. Sure, it’s reimbursed, but the cheap price is over $1k and the expensive price is over $3k - a lot of money out of my pocket and it makes the expenses higher (and less $ for me). A week before the festival - no visa. Richard in Hong Kong e-mails me that the visa won’t be ready until *after* the film festival. This makes no sense. After the film festival I’m granted a 10 day visa. Richard suggests I come in May. Won’t be part of the film festival, but as long as I have a 10 day visa why not use it? Hey, I’ve never been to Hong Kong. We pick a weekend in May and I buy my plane tickets for just over $1k.

Two weeks after returning from Denmark I’m back at LAX flying to Hong Kong.

Another really long flight. This time, the Hong Kong guy (Richard) is waiting in the airport. So I’m not lost in a foreign country again. And, he has US $ in his pocket to reimburse me for my airfare and to pay me the advance on the class. Completely unlike Denmark!

The bad news is, almost no one has signed up for the class (6 people) and he wants me to do a 3 hour preview class that night. Oh, and to cut costs, instead of putting me up in a hotel, I’m going to stay at his mother’s house. His mother’s house? He tells me it’s okay, he lives there, too. This is a mid-40s guy, living with his mom. I’m thinking “Mega-loser”. Okay, later I find out that’s normal in China. A family buys a house and every generation lives in it. And, to tell you the truth, the idea of living in someone’s home instead of some hotel (that looks the same as some other hotel) is kind of cool. So we go to his mother’s house... which is really half a floor of a condo on the side of a hill overlooking the city of Hong Kong. 4 bedrooms plus servants quarters. And they have a servant named Emily from the Philippines. I have my own room (which was an office before I arrived).

Wait, I forgot something. Walking to Richard’s car at the airport, he walks *behind* me. I have to keep turning around to find out which direction we are going in. I suggest he walk ahead of me or beside me, but he just points in the direction of his car every time. For a while I think that this is custom, too... but it’s *not*. Not a single other person I meet in Hong Kong walks behind me. His *mother* walks in front of me. The servant, Emily, walks in front of me. I think Richard may have self esteem issues.

So I take a short nap and shower before my 3 hour preview class. This class is not going to be hosted by the Film Academy, Richard is footing the bill for my seminar, it’s his personal money in my pocket. That’s bad news because he doesn’t have an institution behind him to help advertize the class. The preview class is going to be at some production space in the very tall building that houses his company (and a million others).

We go to dinner first, and Richard’s partner in the production company says he’ll order for me. His wife speaks Chinese to the waiter... and I’m served some sliced beef, mashed potatoes and gravy. I tell Richard that next time I’d rather eat authentic food. I mean, half the fun on traveling is experiencing another world. I eat Chinese food in America, I might as well eat *real* Chinese food in China. I do the preview class and we sign up 6 more people afterwards.

The next day Richard dumps me at a shopping mall (the same everywhere) while he goes to work. I watch 2 Chinese films (both good - a gangster movie and a comedy - I may do tips on them later) and check my e-mail at an internet café. While I’m online I discover a Hong Kong Screenwriting group’s website and e-mail the leader about the class. The next day at the same café, I get return e-mail from the leader of the group... who knows who I am and is very excited that I’m in Hong Kong. Really late notice, but he’ll e-mail everyone in his group. Because the class is only a couple days away, little chance of anyone signing up. I tell Richard about this and he doesn’t seem excited about more people coming. I get the feeling he has only told people he wants to impress about the class. This is strange.

Some interesting things in Hong Kong: The streets are steep and curved and banked and resemble a roller-coaster. Because they were a British colony, the driver sits on the right hand side of the car - every time Richard took me somewhere and I was on what *should be* the driver’s side, it was all I could do to keep my feet from hitting the brakes (that weren’t there) - so it was really like riding in the first car of a roller coaster! A roller coaster with hundreds of other cars that aren’t attached to yours.

And the streets are filled with millions of red taxi cabs. All of the taxis in Hong Kong are red, and sometimes it looks like blood flowing through the veins of the city.

Richard has an “Octopus Pass” which is like a Mobil Speed Pass that’s good for everything you can imagine, from toll roads to parking garages to buses and trains. It’s such a cool idea, you wonder why they don’t have something like that here - an everything card.

Thursday night I tell Richard I want to go to dinner someplace where there are no tourists. He takes me to the other side of Hong Kong where there’s a beach resort. Chinese surfers. A bunch of outdoor restaurants. We had a good meal of seafood Chinese food - seafood fried rice and sweet & sour fish and stuff. Everyone else in the restaurant was Chinese - on vacation. The restaurant had a dog who guarded the place. Kind of weird - the dog let us past and let most other people past but barked at one guy and wouldn’t let him near the outdoor tables. I wonder why? Anyway, it was a great meal and experience. I’d been carrying my cell phone with me and snapping pictures with it - no signal in Denmark or Hong Kong - but walking along the beach after dinner... I got a signal! Weird! I tried calling a number, and got a Chinese operator saying something I didn’t understand. I figure the frequencies that Verizon uses in the USA are used by some Chinese company, too. By the way, the surfer thing was kind of strange - you think of surfers as Southern Californian or Hawaiian, not Chinese. These guys looked and surfed just like anyone else.

On the way back we stopped at this tourist turn around overlooking the city - there was a photo map of the city identifying all of the buildings. Cool seeing the city at night. While we were there, a car pulls up and these two guys jump out and set up a digital camera and photo printer. A few minutes later, a tour bus stops at the turn around and all of the tourists crowd the observation area... and the two guys with the camera jump into action selling pictures of you with the city behind you. They sell a bunch of pictures, then the tourists climb back on board the bus and it drives away. The two guys count their money, pack the equipment back in their car and drive away. Maybe driving to the next tourist spot.

The next day Richard was going to be in meetings again, so his mother offers to be my tour guide. She’s 87 years old, and speaks better English than Richard. I asked her about that, and she told me that she was actually born of Chinese-American parents in the USA and married a man form China, then moved to his country. Even though she speaks Chinese, English was her first language. Her son Richard was born in China, and English is his second language. Strange, huh?

Friday she’s going to take me on a walking tour of Hong Kong.... and Saturday is my class. I wonder what the turn out is going to be, and wonder what an 87 year old’s walking tour of Hong Kong is like. Probably slow...

Boy was I wrong.

- Bill


MaryAn Batchellor said...

How does the class work? With a translator where you say a sentence and he repeats, say a sentence, he repeats?

A. M. said...

This blog ought to be titled "Bill's Strange Adventures". Boy, can't wait to hear what happens next.

BTW - Porn Panels prolly aren't that interesting, I think. Let's see how Richard's mom wore you out on your Tour de Hong Kong instead!

Anonymous said...

No, don't discourage Bill from telling us about the porn panel!

We need closure! We need to know how Bill escaped Denmark with his life (and, hopefully, modesty) intact. :)

Anyway, great blog! :)

wcmartell said...

The porn panel is coming! But first Richard's mom makes me climb hills all day.

The class is pretty easy - it's all in Engish! Hong Kong was a British until *1997* - and they haven't forgotten the language in the past 9 years. Also - because it's still a commerce center, people speak English to do business. I think the mainland government gave Hong Kong 50 years "as is" and then it is supposed to integrate into China (and communism). But the folks in Hong Komg think that by the time the 50 years is up, mainland China will be more like Hong Kong - already China is becoming more commercial and less communist.

- Bill

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