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From Wynn: my last blog

Thursday, January 17, 2008

This may be my last blog. I will be flying home tomorrow night, while Alexi, Jean, and Smith will be staying a few more days. Most of the shooting is finished now. We spent a large part of the last couple of days in Levuka, on the island of Ovalau. Levuka was the original capital of Fiji. It is a sleepy little colonial town, wonderfully untouched, and somewhat musty and dusty. It has great atmosphere. Also, Jean’s great-grandfather,
G.H. Lee (whose story is part of Jean’s novel and may also be part of the film) spent time in Levuka back in the early days of colonial Fiji. Jean visited there a few times in the past. We stayed at the oldest hotel in Fiji, the Royal Hotel, a fantastic ghost of a hotel, somewhat surreal, like something out of a dream or hallucination. There’s not much to do there, and only three places to eat in the whole town. But it was very picturesque and we did get a little closer to old colonial Fiji (which has almost disappeared from Suva.)

After returning to the main island, Viti Levu (on a plane with a cabin space equivalent to that of the Ford Everest we are driving now), we did a little more shooting in Suva—the botanical gardens, the old Regal Theatre (now housing a Chinese restaurant), and the old Catholic church. We also finally found Jean’s grandparent’s house by walking around the area where she remembered it being with an old photograph. The house is still there, but it has been totally changed with a number of additions and remodeling jobs over the years. It seems to house a wealthy family now, but Jean would have been happier if it was left as it was, even if that meant that it was abandoned ruins like her own house.

Anyway, tomorrow morning we are planning to go to the cemetery to try to find the graves of Jean’s grandparents. After that we will drive back to Nadi with an extended stop at the old Lee estate at Deuba. Hopefully we won’t be rained out again there.

That might be all for me, but look out for at least one more blog from Alexi before they all return to the States.


From Wynn - 3 Amazing Days

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Wow, it’s been an amazing and intense last three days. After leaving Korelevu, we headed toward the capital, Suva. But we had to make an important couple of stops on the way. First, Jean wanted to find a small village called Lomeri, which she used to visit as a girl. We found the village, but when we drove in we could not find the old church that she remembered. Coming to the end of a dead-end road, we asked some people for help, and it turned out that they were all members of the Round family, who Jean knew, and who we had already come in contact with since arriving in Fiji. The dead-end of the road was actually the Round family homestead, and we talked to several members of their family. One man upon hearing Jean’s surname said that his dad had worked for Jean’s dad for 28 years. Also, Jean happened to mention to them that she used to go to a Chinese shop in the village to buy hot buns, and, lo and behold, they told her that the shop was still standing. They showed us the way and, amazingly, there it was, an abandoned shop in a small village in the middle of nowhere that was right out of Jean’s memories. Wow. (By the way, we shot the whole thing). Also, we found the church.

But, even more important than Lomeri was Deuba (“Deumba”), which was the large plantation that Jean’s mother’s family had owned near there. As we approached the area, Jean recognized the landscape and knew the exact place where the property came down to meet the sea. It was a beautiful bluff that jutted out to the ocean with a lovely beach in front of it. Jean was very emotional about returning there to walk on the beach one more time. But just as we were driving up, it began to pour rain. It was a true tropical rainstorm, and we couldn’t stop there to shoot or even visit. Jean was disappointed, but understanding of the fact that we would have to delay the visit to Deuba. We will return there later in the trip.

We continued to drive to Suva, and as we approached the capital city, Jean recognized that the city had changed dramatically from how it was in her memories. The small, tidy colonial town was now a large, dirty commercial center. She was especially dismayed to see the overgrown and unkempt cemetery (where her beloved grandparents are buried) as we drove into town. It was very emotional for Jean. We decided not to try to see much of Suva that evening, just to get dinner and go to bed. Going to dinner was an adventure in itself, but that’s another story. However, it is worth noting that upon coming home to our seedy hotel (which we have since changed) we met a lovely middle-aged Fijian couple who remembered a lot of the Fiji that Jean knew. We arranged to interview them in the morning.

The next day (yesterday), we interviewed them, and got some useful information. They told us that Bish Marine Engineering Limited, the company that Jean’s grandfather had started and that her father ran for many years, was now called International Marine Engineering Limited. Upon leaving the hotel, we headed down to the bay, and quickly found the place, right where Jean remembered it being. Sure enough, right across from the large IMEL buildings, was the modest original 1906 building that still says “Bish Limited” on the top. That building now houses a tugboat company, and we talked to some of the folks there. They showed Jean around the old building, and she again had some intense emotions. We also talked to some folks across the way at IMEL, and met one older man who had been there from the Bish Limited days. Very cool.

After that, we headed to the Royal Suva Yacht Club, which Jean’s uncle Basil had helped found 75 years before, and where her other uncle Alfred had been a commodore. The place hadn’t changed much physically over the years, but it had lost some of its grandeur. We were expecting to be able to have an elegant lunch there, but the only food on offer there was cheap, greasy Chinese food. We dined elsewhere. But returning after lunch, I asked around trying to find out information about the uncles. I was surprised to find out from an old yachtman that there was a Barry Lee in town (Jean’s mother’s surname) who was Alfred’s son. He’s Jean’s cousin! She hadn’t seen him since she was a late teen and he was a baby. She had not had any contact with him and didn’t know that he was still alive. We called him up and arranged to meet him the next day.

So this morning, after filming out by Suva point, a pretty part of the city that Jean has many fond memories of, we headed back to the Yacht Club. There, Jean was reunited with Barry and met his young Filipino bride. They shared family stories and agreed not to discuss politics when it became apparent that they were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. When Jean mentioned to Barry that she didn’t know exactly where her grandparent’s house was now since the city was built-up, he said that he knew where it was. So, after lunch, we followed his car out to the area and he pointed us up the hill. We drove up a narrow driveway, but the grandparent’s house was not on the top of the hill. Turning around, we got stuck in the mud and couldn’t get out. A Fijian man, George, who lived there helped us push it out, but we were both splattered in mud by the time we had done it. Talking to him and his family, we soon learned that while this was not the spot of the Bish grandparent’s home, it was the home of Jean’s uncle on the other side, Jack Bish. They let us walk around the house and Jean remembered it well. George told us that he could find the grandparent’s house, so we loaded him in the car and took a short drive down the road and up another driveway. But, alas, Jean could not find the house there that she remembered so well. She was disappointed and dejected. But then George told me that his 78-year old aunt lived in a house right there and that she remembered the Bish’s very well. Although Jean was exhausted at this point, she agreed to walk up the hill to meet this woman. The woman, named Litiana, greeted Jean with a big smile and said, “I know you, you’re Jean”. Jean was dumbfounded. Litiana remembered her well, saying how pretty Jean had been when she was young. She greeted us with joy and warmth, and it was amazing. We sat on a grass mat on the lawn, and George climbed a coconut tree, and got some coconuts for us. He skillfully opened them up with an axe and we drank fresh coconut water out of mugs on the grass with Litiana as she and Jean reminisced about the good old days. It’s all on tape. The best day yet!

From Wynn: Great Day

Friday, January 4, 2008

It was a great day today.

We woke up, had breakfast, and went to shoot Jean on the beach near the hotel. The hotel is at Korelevu, which is where Jean lived 60 years ago as a young mother. We hoped to find the small house on the beach where she had lived. However, the beach did not seem familiar to Jean. We did find a row of handicraft shops built out of corrugated metal at the far end of the beach. There we talked to some wonderful Fijian women who welcomed Jean like a long-lost relative. Jean mentioned the ‘Clark house’ to them, which was the house next to where she had lived. One of the women remembered the Clarks, but told us that they had passed away. We realized from talking to them that the house was not on the beach which we were on, but instead was on a beach a couple miles back.

So in the afternoon, we piled in the van (new car), and drove back to the village of Korelevu. We had no idea where the right place would be. But after asking a couple of people about the Clark house, we got pointed down an overgrown and flooded dirt road. It seemed to lead to nowhere, or to the end of the world, or into the past. After getting lost and redirected, we finally found an abandoned house. We thought it may have been the Clark house but weren’t sure. But walking down the beach near the house, we couldn’t find any remains of the house were Jean had lived. Not being sure if we were in the right place, and feeling frustrated, we were ready to go back to the hotel. But then we were joined on the beach by three young people fishing. Saying hello, we soon find out that one of them was named Clark. Turns out, he is the grandson of Jean’s old neighbor. Anyway, he is a gentle and handsome young man of mixed ethnicity (his grandparents the Clarks were white, but his mother is Fijian (she’s a singer with several albums!). Unfortunately, his grandmother had just died the year before, and he was the only Clark left in town. But Jean was able to talk to him at length about his family and the history of that isolated little spot. Jean was thrilled to have found him and we got great footage.

That’s all for now.

From Wynn - Our arrival in Fiji

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Sorry for the delay in blogging. It’s been a busy couple of days.

Jean, Alexi and I left San Francisco on New Year’s Eve after a hectic day of packing and preparation. We were to have a 3-hour layover in L.A., but it turned into a 5 ½ hour layover, due to the fact that the Air Pacific (Fijian) plane was way behind schedule. This was our first taste of what they call “Fijian Time” which we would get much more taste of once we got to the islands. Anyway, we had a nice dinner in Santa Monica, then rushed back to the airport to make it there by midnight for a New Year’s toast (our flight left at 1am). However once back at the airport, we realized everything was closed. So-no champagne toast. In fact, when the clock hit midnight, we were going through security. So we were standing there with our shoes off, with our bags in the x-ray machine, while the homeland security agents (wearing party hats!) counted down the new year. Strange.

It was a ten-hour flight, but is seemed more like 24. Jean had to stay awake because of her contact lenses, and she was totally exhausted by the time we landed. Alexi and I slept a bit. Finally, we landed in Fiji, and as we walked off the plane the heat and humidity hit us. We were definitely in the tropics!

We spent the first day in Nadi (pronounced “Nandi”) at a little beach hotel, resting and relaxing and went to bed early. Our first impression of the Fijians--friendly (as Smith already noted, every Fijian you walk by greets you with a hearty “Bula!”), and slow-paced (don’t expect timely service anywhere-they all operate on “Fijian Time”).

When we woke up yesterday it was pouring rain. It hasn’t stopped since. And we are on the “dry side” of the island! Anyway, rain or no rain, we started out early, squeezing into our little rent-a-car with all our bags and equipment. The car is too small and we will be upgrading to a larger vehicle today. But yesterday we all squeezed in, with Smith in the back seat with the video camera shooting, and Jean mic’ed and being recorded as we drove to our next destination. I was driving, and it was a little difficult at first getting used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road (sorry Brits!). Also, operating a stick shift with my left hand took a little getting used to. But I have picked it up quickly.

We did get a significant amount of shooting done, despite the rain. The memories are coming back to Jean, and I can tell how significant this trip is for her. Incidentally, she has already run into members of a family that she knew from her childhood. I imagine she will meet more people from the past as we continue to travel the island.

Anyway, today we are staying at the beautiful Outrigger Resort near Sigatoka. The whole complex is made up of connected Bures (thatched huts) and fronts a lagoon on the ocean. Saw a blue starfish and participated in my first cava ceremony. Cava is the traditional drink made from bitter roots that they use to welcome visitors in native Fijian villages. It was very interesting. I will send pictures.

Got to go know, time for breakfast. Will blog again soon.

From Smith, re: Suva

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

I arrived in Suva after a long, delightful drive along the coast from Nadi.
Backing up, yesterday was fabulous - I struck out to explore and wandered into
a local family's hut along the shore. Spoke with them for a while. Lovely folks!
A school teacher, his wife and three girls. I'm fortunate that the Fijians speak
great English, connecting with people is for me what traveling is all about.

Last night I had tea with a Fijian business man (relocated to Australia) who I met
on the plane. He has some interesting insights about Fiji, since he is one of 11
kids and the only one to leave the island. Possibility for an interview?

En route to Suva, I stopped at Natadola beach, supposedly the island's best.
Indeed, quite fabulous - the water, the sand, the local kids playing,the warmth.
THIS is what one thinks of as synonymous with Fiji. Mumsey's right, the Nadi's
beaches are worth a swim, but not as phenomenal as Fiji's other spreads.

The ride was long to get here, but scenic. I drove past places in which we'll
stay. I didn't shoot too much, but did manage to almost fill a tape. I feel
more like I've been scouting, since I"ll be back that way, and because
I'm trying to wrap my head around what is Fiji.

I"m very motivated here in Suva - it's night, but I can already tell it's
a city of diversity with a buzzing energy.

It's interesting to be here, but I'm really looking forward to having all
of you
here too. There is much fun and adventure to be had!


From Smith: december 26 - boxing day

Friday, December 28, 2007

I'm pleased to report that all is well.

Today was 'Boxing Day,' a public holiday that follows Christmas,
so all was closed. I moved into the Smuggler's Inn - I think we should
stick with it unless something better comes up. It's right on the beach
and it's close to the airport, which will be important upon your arrival.

The car was a good call. Everything is far away from everything, buses were
nonexistent today and are sporadic at best in general. It sounds like a minimum
taxi ride to a nearby location costs $15 and goes up from there.

I drove into Nadi proper, a strip of shops and markets catering to tourists
and locals. All signage is printed in English, and most folks are able to
speak in English, though I hear them speak among themselves in their native tongues
much more quickly to each other. The signs have a handpainted stylized look.

The population is noticeably of Indian descent (curry shops, sarong stores!) and
the native Fijians, whose semblance is not unlike Aboriginal Australians. Everyone
is friendly.

I'm rediscoverig Island time. Everything moves rather slowly, though folks in
service positions are keen to the Western ways of their customers. I see people
walking on long roads in the heat of day and dark of night (no streetlights)
at a meandering pace, no hurry to arrive. I feel myself wanting to be productive,
and realizing that this is a place where things happen as they happen.

I think there is something nice about a place where people shout 'Bula!'
Just because you're in earshot and eyesight. Everyone waves.

I drove north to Lautoka, also closed. It's a similarly boxy town, non-descript
in its Fiji-esqueness. I'm looking forward to seeing the bustle of the towns
once they reopen.

I didn't photograph or video today. I'll bring my camera out tomorrow. I
was warned against 'local boys who are mischevious,' and want to take care
about filming alone. I'm scouting and planning for when we're all together.
I'll be counting on Wynn to be my ally in shooting sprees.

The internet connection is abysmal, so if you don't hear from me, it's because
the connection is down. It's 11:00 at night, and this is the first time I've
been able to get online all day.

I started a more literate sounding blog on my computer, and will send it once it
takes shape. Please let me know the type of things you'd like to hear about
- the blog is similar to this note, just less conversational.

I'm going to send this before the connection goes out...


From Smith: 'Bula' from Fiji!

Merry Christmas from Fiji!

The adventures have already begun - driving on the left side of the road on dark unlit andlargely unmarked streets, getting lost looking for the 'resort' (use this term flexibly).

When I got here, there was no room for me (!!!). I'm in a backpacker hostel next door for tonight and will battle it out tomorrow. As for the space, we'll see in the light. Certainly the water sounds nearby. The common space is not unlike a dorm hangout with a restaurant - many young folks with beers.

I'm glad to be here and will investigate the surroundings tomorrow.

be well,


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