Where in the World … or out of them … are the Hickmans? If you tried to keep up with our location in November, you might be a little hard pressed to find us Here’s a quick report on our whirlwind world tour to a city-state in the Far East, a fantasy realm located in Indiana, meeting Star Trek and Galactica in Southern Alberta and concluding with a quick stop at Spock’s home in Vulcan.
Laura and I were invited to the attend the Singapore Writer’s Festival. Sponsored by the Government of Singapore and in part by the United States Embassy in Singapore, this two week conference featured fascinating guests from all over the globe. Laura and I managed the 26 hour series of airliner flights (through San Francisco and Tokyo) to arrive at the city-state of Singapore. The first think I noticed was that Customs and Immigration ARE the Singapore Changi Airport. As the entire nation is 274 square miles in size there really are no such thing as domestic flights — all flights are international.
I had visited Singapore only twice before — once while going to Indonesia to serve as a missionary and once while returning home from my service. Both times were in the mid-1970s. The city had changed a lot since then; it is one of the most stunning modern cities in the world. It has tried to maintain a blend of its old-world colonial architecture along with its ultra-modern high-rise skyline. Its careful planning is everywhere evident in the lush green spaces inside the city. It is certainly the cleanest city I have ever visited anywhere with draconian laws regarding public safety.
We were ensconced in the Rendezvous Hotel just across the street from where the Festival was being held.
Perhaps my favorite session was called: “Hearts of Darkness”
This most lively discussion was moderated by Yeo Siew Hoon and conducted with the debate between Stephen Leather (England), Christian Jungersen (Denmark) & myself. It was really interesting to hear the perspective of these two authors, who came from such distant corners of the world. I’m uncertain we answered the question properly, or came to any real conclusions but it was nevertheless an enlightening discussion and a wonderful time had by everyone.
One of the interesting and sad things that we discovered over in Singapore was that Singapore is a city in search of the soul. It was certainly possible to buy anything that was available in any shopping mall around the world while we were in Singapore, but it was impossible to buy anything that was Singapore in itself. Even something as simple and basic as an ” I heart Singapore” T-shirt was not available. Indeed while at lunch with the director of the library system in Singapore, we discovered that the city was about to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence. The people in charge of the celebration were struggling with determining a theme for the event. There was no music or art that said something uniquely Singapore. If one were to ask someone in the United States what it meant to be an American, they would almost certainly be able to give you an answer although not always the same answer. In Singapore, it seems, answering that question is still not possible. For Laura and I, Singapore is a city in search of its story.
Laura and I left Singapore early Monday morning. We flew into Tokyo and then left that city on that same Monday afternoon. We landed in San Francisco before we took off in Tokyo. Laura remarked that this meant that when we flew out to Singapore we actually lost a Tuesday since we left on Monday and arrived on Wednesday. Now, in effect, we had to Mondays in exchange. She said that hardly seems fair.
We loved our time in Singapore. We found a great love for the people there and hope to be able to return one day and help them find their story.
Laura and I had hardly been home a few days before I had to leave again… This time for Indianapolis, Indiana where I was scheduled to enter into a magical fantasy realm. Now I do regularly go to Indianapolis and engage in fantasy activities annually at the GEN con convention. This, however, was a special event associated in part with our Sojourner Tales game and with the Shroud of the Avatar game that I’m working on with Richard Garriott. You see, one of the stretch goals for our Sojourner Tales game involved my traveling to a Pledger’s home and demonstrating the game for them in person. The anonymous donor who selected this amazing prize asked that it be given anonymously to Joseph Toschlog, an avid and dedicated supporter of Shroud of the Avatar, amazing chef and enthusiastic event master. As it turned out, Joseph was hosting a Hearth of Britannia event at his home in Indiana that weekend. Since the event required costuming, I packed my wizard robes in my carry-on bag, a copy of the Sojourner tales exclusive prototype game, and once again boarded an airplane.
It was an adventure that almost didn’t happen. I was running late for the event, and the airport hotel at which I was staying told me they would call me a cab to be there in one half hour… And then promptly forgot to make the call. By the time the cab arrived, I was running late. All is well that ends well however and I managed to arrive at the party, don my robes and step into Britannia at last.
It was an incredible time and if you’re interested you’ll be able to watch the entire evening’s events on YouTube. We ran the game twice for all of the people there at the party that evening and I even managed to read to them an excerpt from the book that we are writing for Shroud of the Avatar. It was an incredible evening of unbelievably great food, good times and great friends.
I had barely returned from my adventures in Brittania, it seemed, before Laura and I were once again wing our way across the skies to another nation. This time it was up to Canada, and the Lethbridge Entertainment Expo.
One of the most common questions we got all weekend regarding our parents in Lethbridge was, “why are you here?” Our answer universally was, “because they asked.” And it was true. The organizer of the convention had called me up on my Skype account one day and was surprised to find I answered the phone. He struggled for a while between being fan boy and wanting to be professional and asking me to come to his convention. As he is the first convention to have asked us to come to Canada, we accepted. We did have one other incentive however. Laura’s mother was born in southern Alberta and this would afford her an opportunity to visit her mother’s birthplace which she had never had before.
We flew into Calgary and discovered, much to our surprise, that it was harder to get into Canada than any other of the countries we had visited thus far in November. We were questioned first of the customs checkpoint and then directed to immigration we had to explain exactly why we were coming into the country, what work we were doing and whether we were up to anything nefarious in Lethbridge. Immigration officers – all in flak vest and heavily armed – were skeptical of the idea of famous people going to Lethbridge. Barr believes that the officer however who was interrogating us googled our name and became very polite thereafter. Having satisfied Canadian Immigration we were last permitted to leave the airport and he picked up by the show’s organizer in a very cool Dodge Charger provided by a rental car sponsor for the occasion.
Very soon we found ourselves flying across the prairies of Canada and on our way to Lethbridge. We were given a prime spot in the exhibit hall where we could sign books and visit with friends in Canada. We were even able to connect with a pair of celebrities who are also there at the exposition: Aaron Douglas who played chief Tyrol on Battlestar Galactica and Marina Surtees who played Counselor Troy on Star Trek next generation. It was great to get to know Aaron. He made me laugh when he brought me a photograph shop on the set of Battlestar Galactica in which he was beating the daylights out of a viper pilot with a wrench. He inscribed it with “Specialist Tracy, get the Frak to work!” It is my new incentive on the wall of my office.
For Sunday, we asked the convention organizer if it would be possible to rent a car. We wanted to drive from Lethbridge down to where Laura’s mother had been born. He replied that there was no need to rent a car as a rental car was already provided for the convention. He then handed me the keys that same black Dodge Charger. This was going to be a very fun Sunday drive.
Lauren I cruised across the southern Alberta Prairie, visited Cardston and the LDS Temple there and then made our way to the small town where Laura’s mother had been born. It was a wonderful journey, especially to look west and see the Canadian Rockies in the distance.
That evening, we went with the convention organizer to his friends home and there played a six player version of our Sojourner Tales game. We haven’t been playing the game very long when I noticed that a number of people in the table were texting on their phones. I thought, “they must not be enjoying the. I mean, they’re texting right in the middle of the game!” It was then that we realize that our new friends were tweeting and texting and posting pictures of the game in progress. I was relieved; if the game was interesting enough to tweet then it must be interesting enough to play.
We had a wonderful time in Lethbridge, Canada. We made many new friends there and hope to see them all again soon. However, Canada was not finished with us yet. We had one more extraterrestrial stop to make.
On our way back to the Calgary Airport, Matthew Odland, our host at the Lethbridge Entertainment Expo, suggested that we might take a side trip to Vulcan. Having been a Star Trek fan since the premiere of the first original episode back in the 1960s, how could I possibly resist.
Vulcan, you will not be surprised to know, is the annual home of ‘Spock Days’, celebration of all things Star Trek. Vulcan is also a small town in Canada which is at the heart of Vulcan County. The town is unfortunately hampered in its ability to draw geek pilgrims by the fact that there are no hotels or motels in or anywhere near the town.
Their enthusiasm undimmed and undeterred by this logical problem, Vulcan nevertheless celebrates its ties to the Federation. Laura and I were treated to a tour of the Trekcetera Museum where a number of artifacts and costumes from the various series and movies were on display. And we insisted on having our picture taken at the base of the commemorative pillar supporting a Constitution-class starship.
And so Laura and I concluded our journeys. We had traveled to the ends of the earth – and beyond – this thing new worlds, new civilizations and making new friends. We are happy to be back at work in our home but we carry with us the warm memories of the smiling faces, beautiful places, and warm memories of our far-flung travels.