The last 4 days have been one of the most incredible phases in this entire 1000-day journey I must say! I really had the best time ever!
This is because over the last 4 days, the hubby and I went all the way to Las Vegas and back, where we picked up a Silver Screen award from the Nevada Film Festival for my little film, Mausams!!! The fact that we had won the award in itself was cloud 9 material but the fact that I could make it there and pick the award myself made it go way beyond cloud 9!
There is lots to write but before we start, let me say that given that all the time zones are very much screwed up, am gonna write the fantastic stories of the last 4 days in one single post.
Ok... So here we go... We started from Singapore on Friday, December 2nd morning. Well.. Ridiculously early flight actually... 6am! Which meant waking up and getting to the airport by 4am! But what was really cool was the flight we took, Delta airlines, turned out to be pretty good! They had a very good personal entertainment system with the video and audio quality beating even Singapore airlines, which was a real surprise!
So yes, the journey started on a very positive note and it made the almost 7 hour flight to Tokyo very pleasant! I ended up watching 2 films - Crazy, Stupid Love and X Men First Class, both of which I enjoyed! It was also pretty cool that the hubby and I were to make this journey together because it was like we had all the time in the world over the super long flight to catch up with each other, which was a very welcome change after some very hectic time we had to go through recently!
We had a 2.5 hours stopover at Tokyo, which we spent by walking around the airport, getting some good Japanese curry udon at a food court we ended up at and laughing at this silly event where the dear hubby tried to communicate to a Japanese sales girl in sign language and weird noises only to be responded back in perfect English!
Then it was time for a much longer flight to Los Angeles (almost 12 hours). This time the Delta flight was different - it wasn't as nice as the flight we took to Tokyo and the entertainment program list wasn't as extensive and good. However it was still pretty decent if we do not compare. I tried to sleep through the flight as much as possible and whenever I couldn't, I ended up watching a movie (Juno, which I thought was terrific) or reading my book (The Immortals of Meluha). Overall I continued to enjoy the journey!
And then we reached Los Angeles. After a pretty quick immigration process, the hubby and I ended up walking from one terminal to another in search of our next flight. Under normal circumstances this would have been annoying but given the very pleasant weather in LA and the fact that we had 5 hours to kill in transit time, we enjoyed the walk. We also had our first of many cups of Starbucks Chai Latte from the USA on this trip, followed by breakfast at the typically American Ruby's dinette.
And then, we got to the final leg of the journey, the flight to Las Vegas!
I had gotten a window seat for this flight and I could get a glimpse of the Vegas strip, the desert landscape around, the hilly terrain beyond that and the snow capped mountains at a further distance. All if it looked pretty nice from up in the air and I decided that I already love Vegas! Oh, I must also say that I was very amused to see so many slot machines even within the airport! Obviously Vegas makes sure people gamble until the very last lap of their visit!
Once we got out of the airport, we took a pretty long cab ride to JW Marriott in Summerlin, where the film festival was to take place. Summerlin is a few miles away from the strip, in a very affluent neighbourhood, with absolutely nothing touristy about it. I enjoyed the cab ride, taking in the lovely hills at the distance that seemed to have more colours on them than I had ever seen on any mountain range before, and I fell in love with the very lovely (or highly "manicured" as the hubby calls it) suburbs of Summerlin when we got there.
The JW Marriott resort was a pretty, sprawling establishment, set up in a very peaceful, quiet area with lovely views of the mountains! A special mention goes to the tastefully done up Chritsmas tree that greeted us at the entrance! To add to all the loveliness, we also got upgraded to a room with a balcony from where we enjoyed the gorgeous sunset (at 4:30pm!)!
We napped for a couple of hours to get over the fatigue and then made our way to the welcome dinner organized by the festival folks, at an Irish bar within the resort premises (by the way the resort is also home to the Rampart casino, since apparently no hotel in Vegas can possibly exist without a casino!)
The welcome dinner was interesting, to say the least. It was my first experience of being part of a large film group and I can totally get why people really take to this field so much. We, from Singapore, had travelled the longest to get to the festival but there were also others from Germany, Netherlands and Italy while the bulk was from within US and a few from Canada. Within minutes of getting to the dinner, we realized that the kinda characters and stories you come across at these events are just beyond this world!
There were full time film students and full blown professionals in the field, or others, like me, who took to films in a completely unplanned manner and had struck gold with an entry to a film festival. Even if not in films, most held a job in a creative field, be it being a writer, or animation artist, or singer etc. while we happened to be pretty much the only ones having a fully non creative working life. The youngest film maker was a teenage girl whose animation film had entered the festival (and interestingly enough, a film whose script her dad had written, has also entered the festival) while there were a few 60+ film makers as well. At one end, there were people, like me, who've made films with pretty much no budget, and right at the other end, there were others who had taken a million euros from their own pockets to make their films, very much unlike me! This million-euro person is an Italian multi millionaire singer-actress, one of the most fascinating people we met at the festival, thanks to her incredible sense of humour, her way of speech and her absolutely amusing balance of down-to-earth mannerisms together with her diva air! There were those who have been pursuing film making for years, there were complete freshers, there were stories of a single film being worked on for 5 years and stories of films that were cooked up overnight. There were also films where the same person had written, directed, produced, acted, edited etc. which was pretty incredible. There were comments like "My editor is an Academy award winner" and a response of "Oh, mine works at Burger King." So on and so forth. You get the deal.
In short, it was fascinating! I loved, like absolutely LOVED, the experience!
A special mention goes to the lovely old couple from Canada whom we had the opportunity to spend maximum time with. The husband had worked as a sales representative for about 30 years after which he took to writing children's books, novels, writing and directing stage plays, and recently, comedy films. The wife, a pharmacist, has been married to him for more than 30 years and is very supportive of the husband's newly found passion. I found them adorable! They have travelled very widely and had a plethora of stories to share and I found them incredibly fun to talk to! One thing that the husband said, stuck with me. He said that all this writing and film making etc came to his life pretty late and that he would give his very best to take his passion forward for the next few remaining years. So he was determined to write as much as possible, make as many films as possible, visit as many festivals as possible – in other words, give his best shot at living the remaining years to the fullest! His passion and determination and realistic sense of time – I found them admirable!
After that very interesting dinner, I hit the Jacuzzi (yeah, they actually have Jacuzzi baths in every room!) to get over the exhaustion of the long flight, before calling it a night.
3 December, 2011
We woke up at 5:30 in the morning, because we had to reach a place called Palace Station by 7am, from where we were to be picked up for our trip to the Grand Canyon. We had decided to squeeze in a visit to this wonder of the world, so that it feels like we have made good use of the arm and the leg that we spent in making such a short trip all the way to the US. We also booked ourselves on an airplane to get to the canyon because otherwise it would take about 5 hours to drive there one way and we simply didn't have the time for that. So yes, we were all set for our Grand Canyon trip!
It was freaking cold in Vegas that morning, unusually so, from what I understand. Even the cabbie was complaining about the cold, saying that it was the worst he has experienced in his several years in the city.
We layered ourselves sufficiently in warm clothes but even then, when I opened the door of the cab to get off at Palace station, I reeled from the shockingly chilly wind and cold. A quick chai at the Starbucks helped a bit to warm ourselves up and we waited to be picked up for the trip. Soon the mini van arrived and the driver, a very nice African American, gave us the humungously disappointing news that the trip to the canyon has been cancelled. We were to take an airplane to the canyon and that would no longer be possible because well, apparently the runway got snowed in the night before.
Snow at the Grand Canyon? I was quite surprised because I had no idea that this part of the world got that cold! Anyway, it was disappointing. The van driver told us that we could call up the tour operators and ask for a refund or shift the trip to another date. Well…!
Just as the van was about to take off after delivering this very unwelcome news, I got the driver to stop and asked for a lift to the Vegas strip, which is the most happening part of the town. The van was anyway going around all the hotels on the strip to tell the other tourists about this disappointing news and I didn't want to stick on at Palace Station, which was only a pick up point for us and was really in the middle of nowhere. Plus it was FRIKKING cold. I needed some place warm to sit down in and sort this mess of a tour out!
The nice guy agreed to drop us anywhere we liked on the strip, so we hopped on. On top of taking us around, he gave us a running commentary about the sights around. So we got a chauffeur and a tour guide, all in one! When he took a break from the commentary, I called up the tour operators and changed the tour to an airplane "non-landing" one, which basically meant that it will take us around the grand canyon by air, so we can see all the sights from the sky, but will not be dropping us anywhere on the canyon. And that trip would take off at 1:40pm. We thought something was better than nothing and decided to proceed with it.
After booking this back up trip, we thanked the van driver and got off at the Luxor on the Vegas strip. Every hotel/casino on the strip follows some theme or the other and the one for Luxor was anything and everything Egyptian. We spent some time there taking pictures and looking around. Then we decided to walk down the strip. Given that it was early in the morning and that too freakishly cold, there was hardly anyone on the roads. But we did manage to catch some typically Vegas sights of drunken couples, men so high on drinks/drugs that they cant stop screaming, brochures lying around that gave lavish information on ... hmmm... every single thing a tourist could possible want in Vegas etc. etc.
After strolling around for a bit we ended up at New York New York, another hotel/casino – this one based on well, New York.
We had a typical American breakfast buffet here and started to contemplate about our options. It was only 9am or so in the morning and the 1:30pm canyon trip seemed too far away. Both of us were being hit by severe jetlag and lack of sleep, and I was pretty sure I had no energy to go around the strip anymore, neither did I feel like I will be up and about until 1:30. Going back to our hotel and returning also didn't seem like a viable option because it was so far away.
So I decided that it might be worthwhile to check with some other tour company on whether they have a good tour option to the Canyon – something earlier and maybe on helicopter (which will not have landing issues at the canyon but our original tour operators were sold out on their helicopter tours for the day). Thankfully New York New York had a very efficient tour desk and they quickly booked us up on a helicopter trip that was to start at 10:30am. That was perfect!
So at 10:30 a van picked us up and dropped us at the airbase. There, together with three other couples, we boarded the helicopter to the canyon. And then, I had one of the most amazing times of my life! It was my first time on a helicopter – that itself was pretty cool but seriously, the landscape around Vegas is just stunning! I do believe that the whole "sin city" tag has completely overwhelmed everything else about Vegas because it was just S.T.U.N.N.I.N.G and people should seriously talk about that more!
It was absolutely breathtaking to see the smaller canyons, the desert, the snowcapped mountains, the volcanos, the lakes, all of which makes this interesting collage of browns, reds, white, blues and greens across the ground. I think I had my mouth open in wonder pretty much through the trip!
The chopper landed about two-thirds down in the canyon… we had the tall walls of the canyon on one side and the river roaring away a few hundred feet below. The snow had not reached into the depths of the canyon and hence it was pretty dry and nice where we landed. Here, the pilot, a really nice chap, set up some snacks and opened a bottle of champagne. We spent close to 30 minutes there… in that very peaceful place where you can hear nothing but the roar of the wind above and the gush of the river below, sipping a glass of champagne and feeling on top of the world!
Then it was time to go back. We hopped back in to the chopper and it took off, slowly ascending through the canyon. This time, as we left the river and ridges of the canyon behind, suddenly out of the blue, once again the spectacularly snow covered canyon platforms above came into view. And I literally had goosebumps! Within a few seconds, right in front of us, there was just an endless expanse of snow covering the Grand Canyon! It was spectacular!
The spectacular Grand Canyon covered in snow!
The journey back to the airbase was as visually satisfying as it was when we went. Every mile seemed to have something to offer! We took a quick fuel break at one point in time in the middle of the desert, which was also a really beautiful place to stop! On the way back, we also got another very good look at the Vegas Strip. It was all so amazingly wonderful!
After the chopper ride, we were dropped back at the strip and we opted to get down at Bellagio. It was yet another hotel/casino but what was fascinating about this one was the wonderful musical fountain outside the building. I thoroughly enjoyed that – we watched two rounds of the musical demonstrations of the foundation – once to a opera song and another to a Celine Dion song. Both were wonderful and despite the cold, I thoroughly enjoyed it!
After some more walking around through the strip and lunch at the hubby's favourite Mexican food chain Chipotle, we decided that were both too tired for anything more for the day. So we took a cab and got back to the hotel at about 4pm. A special mention to the wonderful Filipino cabbie – a thorough gentleman and great conversationalist!
After a little bit of rest, it was time for the Nevada Film Festival Awards Night!
I got dressed up in a sari while the hubby suited himself up and we made our way to Marquis ballroom for the Awards night. Most of the other film makers and participants were already there and by the time we got to exchanging some pleasantries, the award ceremony began. Oh ,I must mention that my sari was a big hit! Pretty much everyone commented on it and some of the girls were almost squealing in excitement! Ah the wonders of the Indian heritage garb!
And then the awards ceremony began. There was a great deal of cheering for Mausams when the award was called out, thanks to a very high level of enthusiasm amongst the group – they were very encouraging and everyone was enjoying themselves thoroughly! I picked up the Silver Screen Award for Feature Film for Mausams, gave a short acceptance speech and smiled from ear to ear!
Receiving the award and successfully grinning like an idiot!
As I was leaving the stage after the accepting the award, the emcee also commented on how wonderful I looked, thanks once again to the one and only sari! It really seemed like one of those red carpet costume highlight moments!
Not just accepting the Mausams award but the overall ceremony was HUGE fun – I loved all the acceptance speeches and the general excitement in the ballroom! At several points in time, I genuinely wished for the entire Mausams team to be there because that would have been some super cool fun! Post the ceremony there was a photo taking spree especially against the Nevada Film Festival banner backdrop that had been set up. There was another round of catch up with everyone, exchanging contacts, taking pictures, and having a ball!
I must say that it all seemed to end pretty soon. Everything passed in a jiff… it seemed like one brilliant flashing wave of fun, happiness and smiles!
But in spite of how fast everything seemed to whizz past, I definitely remember one thing - I beamed through the night!
Soon after, we got back to the room, changed back into normal clothes, packed our bags and then met the Canadian couple and the Italian diva for dinner. After a long dinner over some amazing conversation, it was time to wind up.
But not before some gambling!
The hubby decided that it would be sinful if we come all the way to Vegas and do not gamble at all. So we made our way to casino, played a few rounds of roulette, won about 40 dollars, out of which I got the hubby to spend $2.50 on a hot chocolate for me, and felt pretty good about the whole deal!
Then we caught a couple of hours of sleep, and woke up at 4:30am to catch our flight to Singapore.
Thus our 40 hours stint in Las Vegas came to an end. But such beautiful 40 hours!
On the way back to Singapore, again, there was a stopover at Lost Angeles and another one at Tokyo. And once again, the flights and the stopovers were all very pleasant. Great food, multiple rounds of running through all that happened over the last two days with the hubby, watching films (Black Swan and Horrible Bosses), writing this blog entry – all of them were wonderful!
And thus ends the 4 day trip to the USA.
Seriously, I can't stop counting my blessings! To be able to make a film, to be able to win an award for the film, to be able to travel to US to receive that award, to have such a great time in the process – all such wonderful blessings!
A big THANK YOU to the Mausams team, family and friends who made this possible. And of course, the biggest THANK YOU to God!
The best 4 days ever!
254 more to go.