IMR: 1999: September: 08 —  Wednesday, 11:05 p.m. NZT
Room 617, Heritage Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand

We've got rugby on the tele. Now that's a man's sport. Tony says it's actually less dangerous than football, but it doesn't look it. Unless — and this is rather likely — the players are just a little more technically skilled, and just successfully manage not to kill each other.

Television in New Zealand is surreal. It's that "alternate universe" thing again. A large part of it is that, like most of the developed world, a good 80 to 90 percent of the material passed on by the mass media is produced in the United States.

The kids are all "Livin' La Vida Loca." Kevin Costner and Sarah Michelle Gellar are on the cover of magazines. Steve and I were singing to Smashmouth's "All-Star" when it came on the radio a few days ago. And Alanis Morissette and Garbage are going to be in concert here next month.

Hell, Jerry Springer airs here in prime time.

But there are little quirks that remind you you're not in Kansas any more. (You're not even in the northern hemisphere.)

Now, in Hong Kong, the most memorable abberation of the local media were the television and billboard ads for maxi pads. Barely teen packs of girls prancing around in their training bras, fondling the pads like little bunnies, the slogan something like, "Just yesterday a little girl, today a woman!"

Here, it's the PSAs by the local police force.

Picture it. A bunch of sauced up blokes tumble out of a house party and climb into a little car. They pump up the music, turn the ignition, and head home, laughing and singing.

But they're going a little too fast. As they carouse and kid with eachother, the car occasionally bounces of a curb, or weaves on the road.

Suddenly, without little actual build-up, the car misses a modest turn and goes over barrier. Naturally, if not a little startled, the passengers shout.

Then the car hits a ditch and flips. Over and over. Glass shatters.

Fade to black.

The first time I saw it, I started to say to Tony, "Now that's intense."

But before I could open my mouth, the scene faded back in. One of the guys squirms his way out of the open window of the now overturned car. Inside, there's some thumping and groaning.

The first fellow out starts lamenting the wreck. "Aw, man, my car!" His friends chuckle and start jeering. Hands start feeling around for door handles.

Then. The car bursts into flames!

Suddenly the guys inside start screaming in absolute agony. The first guy starts screaming, "Help! Help!" As he frantically runs around the car, the flames get bigger. We see arms flailing out the windows. "Aaaaaaaah! Help!"

Fade to black again.

"If you drink and drive," comes the heavy block text and gruff voiceover, "You're a bloody idiot."

One of the most entertaining aspects of these meetings is that we're provided a full complement of cellular phones and radios to keep in touch as we scurry around the conference center.

And since Motorola is one of our key members, we always get Motorola stuff, and usually the best stuff at that.

Here in Auckland, we minimally got top-model Star-Tacs, but some VIPs were issued the next generation — phones about the size of two match boxes stacked on top of each other.

And in addition to great range and clarity, the radios we're using come with a dizzying array of accessories, most of them different earphone and mic sets.

We settled on little earbuds and lapel-clip microphones. And I swear, with our little "staff" nametags and the coats and ties, it's impossible to not get a little thrill from charging around like a bunch of secret service agents. There we are, ducking out of meeting halls, one finger in our ears, heads bent discreetly down as we whispering to each other.

Of course we're usually figuring out how many chairs to put at a luncheon head table, or debating when to close the doors, or tracking a speaker as he comes up the lift to hall, but with the whole setup it sure feels like a major military operation.

I make a very poor secret agent, though. Half the time I can't even keep my tie (or rather, Tony's tie, as I forgot to pack mine) straight. And we have yet to settle on our code names.

Things got a little exciting this morning. Police and security guards were running around in great numbers when a pack of angry, shouting, signwaving protesters converged on this very building.

Not surprisingly, headlines are dominated by the crisis in East Timor. Ever since last week's vote in favor of independence from Indonesia, all hell has broken loose. Many in the international community are pushing for intervention, as Indonesian President Jusuf Habibi seems unable — or unwilling — to get things under control.

Habibie was scheduled to attend the APEC leaders' meeting here in Auckland, and he was to stay in our hotel. But that was arranged months ago, long before the mass evictions and massacres began. Not surprisingly, he decided it wouldn't be a good idea to be at a black-tie reception in New Zealand while neighborhoods burned back home.

So he canceled. But apparently no one notified the protesters, who must've felt pretty silly after chanting on the sidewalk for an hour.

They went home with a whimper, and things calmed down again.

But that's not going to last.

Sadly, it is possible to leave a restaurant in Auckland hungry.

Since the day we first arrived here, every local we bumped into recommended we hit a seafood restaurant named Kermadec. It's actually located on the same block as the Loaded Hog, right on the water. So last night, after a reception featuring three speakers, we headed out into the chilly New Zealand air and down to the marina to check it out.

I can almost see how the place tricks everyone into liking it. It's right on the verge of looking too trendy. Dramatic lighting, from halogen torches casting crescent-shaped shadows to rich blue neon. Elaborate Japanese themed rooms with tables isolated on islands surrounded by water (complete with unhappy looking goldfish) or Zen-esque rock gardens. Servers dressed all in black, working very hard to keep a constant scowl.

But said service was sketchy. We waited 40 minutes for our food. And when we got it, it was just a tad above mediocre. I had the lamb... but barely.

Certainly the presentation was second to none. Every element of our obscenely small portions was carefully and dramatically positioned. It was like eating an exotic Amazon flower, or some rare alien-esque reef fish.

But we vehemently rebuffed dessert (we wanted to finish before daybreak), and by the time I got back to the hotel, I was hungry again.

I don't think this bag of M&Ms is going to do it for me, either.

© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 08 September 1999 · Last Modified: 10 September 1999