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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

All hail the new prince on 'Game Of Thrones'

Posted: 04 Jun 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Pedro Pascal, the latest key player in Game Of Thrones, has left a big impression on fans of the series.

If you're going to come late to the party, you better make one heck of an entrance – and arguably, there have been few introductions that made as big a splash as Pedro Pascal's in epic fantasy television series Game Of Thrones (GOT).

Playing the dangerously fascinating Oberyn of House Martell, a prince from Dorne with a prodigious appetite for both sex and revenge, Pascal had his work cut out for him, not just to live up to fans' expectations, but to stand out in an already crowded field.

The part he plays, however, is rich with possibilities. Oberyn, or the Red Viper as he is known, has never forgiven the Lannisters for the murder of his sister Elia; while he may be at King's Landing at their invitation, there is certainly more on his mind than a social visit.

During a recent phone interview from New York, 39-year-old Pascal (previously seen in shows like The Mentalist and Homeland) says he's never had more fun with a character – and he's not just talking about the raunchy scenes. ("I was only half-naked, really!" he laughs. "I managed to keep my pants on; I don't know how, but I did!")

"I think (show creators) David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have seized the chance to realise a brilliant character by (author) George R.R. Martin. Oberyn is very dangerous and quite fearless; he goes up against some of the most dangerous people in Westeros without fear, which is very unique."

Pascal also relishes the opportunity to play a character so obviously apart from everyone else, even in a show where practically everyone is at odds with each other.

"He sounds different, he moves different. He has integrity, he's a loyal partner and a fierce warrior, and it was nothing but delicious to play him. I would love to attribute my own character to him, but living like that, I don't know how long I would last!" he says.

If reviews and fans' responses are anything to go by, Pascal has certainly won them over with his smouldering depiction, and that too in only seven episodes. But what episodes they've been! Thus far, we've seen Oberyn face off with Tyrion, Tywin and Cersei Lannister, not to mention steam up the screen with a tangle of lovers.

"There's so much to learn from this character!" shares Pascal. "He approaches life with such fearlessness. He does not limit himself from experience and pleasure, he's a world traveller, a good father, and a fierce warrior, but ultimately, he's a very progressive thinker. He refuses to play by old conventions, and I think that is very revolutionary, and to me, very honourable."

On a more personal level, the Chile-born actor found he could relate to Oberyn's need to avenge his sister. Granted political asylum in Denmark and then later the United States during the Pinochet regime in Chile, Pascal is very attached to his elder sister.

"There's only one person who has been everywhere I have in my life, and that's my sister. Right there was an immediate connection to Oberyn, because it seems like his sister is his greatest love, and so much of his person is shaped by her death."

Oberyn's biggest moment thus far, perhaps, was in this season's seventh episode, Mockingbird, where he volunteers to stand as the wrongly-accused Tyrion's (Peter Dinklage) champion in a fight against the man who killed Elia, the gargantuan Gregor Clegane (Hafthor Julius Bjornsson). It was a momentous scene that saw both Pascal and Dinklage turning in superb performances, and is likely to be remembered as one of the season's best.

Surprisingly, it was the very first scene Pascal shot for the show, and the importance of it wasn't lost on him. Add to the fact that he was going to be working with the Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning Dinklage, he was naturally rather nervous. As it turned out, he had little to worry about.

"Working with Peter Dinklage was very relaxing and exciting. He's a very generous and inviting actor, and he's one of the best people I've worked with. Very soon, it became two actors on equal ground.

"It was quite emotional seeing the episode for the first time (when it aired), all my memories came flooding back because it was the beginning of my journey on the show."

Meanwhile, the episode has also left the show's fans waiting with bated breath for the upcoming The Mountain And The Viper, which finally gives Oberyn a chance to exact his long-awaited revenge upon Clegane, the Mountain. According to Pascal, he prepared for the role by training in wushu, and the duel, which was shot in Dubrovnik, Croatia, took about five days to shoot.

"It was in an incredibly decorated set, and it had an exciting fulfilment while we were shooting it, because it felt just as epic as people are anticipating. It was a very harrowing shoot for everyone," he recalls.

But if GOT fans know anything, it is this: no head is ever safe in Westeros. Could this be when we bid adieu to the hot-headed, hedonistic prince of Dorne? Pascal has only one thing to say: "Keep your fingers crossed!"

> Game Of Thrones airs every Sunday at 10pm on HBO (Astro Ch 411/HD Ch 431).

TV casting highs and lows

Posted: 03 Jun 2014 09:00 AM PDT

When it comes to TV icons, there is stunning casting, stunt casting and casting that just leaves you stunned. The Spudniks look at some close calls and wild misses.

A character isn't iconic until an actor makes it so. I truly believe that some of TV's best-loved and most memorable characters achieved their status as a result of spot-on casting and brilliant acting. Take the character of Walter White on Breaking Bad as an example. 

If you've watched the series, you will agree that one of the best things about the show is Bryan Cranston's White (aka Heisenberg), the chemistry teacher who starts manufacturing crystal meth to pay for his cancer treatments and to support his family.

The show is phenomenal and Cranston has since been dubbed "TV's greatest leading man" because of his brilliant portrayal of White. But did you know that Cranston wasn't the first pick for the part? You know who was? Apparently Matthew Broderick (yes, Ferris Bueller!) and John Cusack were offered the role first.

Mind blown yet? It seems the show's executives weren't convinced that Cranston (who had just come off the set of Malcolm In The Middle) had it in him to flesh out the character. They changed their minds after the show's creator Vince Gilligan showed them Cranston's guest appearance in an episode of The X-Files (season six, episode two). 

Imagine if either Broderick or Cusack had accepted the role? They're good actors, but could they have delivered the way Cranston did? I don't think so.

Speaking of The X-Files, here's another bullet that was dodged: guess whose name was bandied about to play Dana Scully? Pamela Anderson! Yes, Miss Baywatch herself! I don't blame you if you take a moment (or five) to thank the TV gods that she wasn't chosen and the part went to Gillian Anderson instead.

Pamela may have a paranormal figure, but as an investigator of unexplained phenomena? Besides, Gillian and David Duchovny had such great chemistry. Things would definitely have been different with that other Anderson as his partner. I shudder to imagine.

Now as much as I loved her as Scully, I don't think I would have liked her playing the part of Lady Cora Crawley on Downton Abbey. Yes, Anderson (Gillian, that is) was offered the part, but turned it down. Lady Cora isn't one of my favourite Downton characters, but I don't quite see Anderson in the role. Those soft sighs that Elizabeth McGovern has perfected? Can't imagine them coming out of Anderson!

And do you know that Ray Liotta was approached to play mob boss Tony Soprano on The Sopranos? Fortunately (for fans of the show), Liotta turned the role down because he wanted to focus on his movie career. Phew! I mean I can see Liotta as a mob boss, but seriously, no one could have played the part better than James Gandolfini.

On the sitcom Modern Family, all the characters seem perfect for their roles – even Lily, the adopted daughter of homosexual couple Mitch and Cameron. Patriarch Jay Pritchett is another fine example of great casting. The character is practically like a second skin to actor Ed O'Neil. Guess who was asked to play the part? Craig T. Nelson, who went on to play the patriarch on another family drama, Parenthood

All's well that ends well! SI

While Indra is thrilled that her favourite actors got the parts they did (I strongly believe no one else could have ever fit into Walter White's shoes other than Bryan Cranston), I'm here to ponder on the actors who didn't quite make the grade.

One that I have a current particular disdain for is Lysa Arryn nee Tully. Wife of the late Jon Arryn, she is the Lady Regent of the Vale of Arryn in the TV series Game Of Thrones.

Played by Kate Dickie, she is very unlikeable. She lusts after Petyr Baelish and is horrible to anyone who stands in her way. I find it hard to believe that she could be a Tully and find little in Dickie's portrayal of Lysa to make a viewer like her at all. That's why when push comes to shove, I am not really bothered if she is left onscreen or not. In a series that otherwise gives so much weight to casting, I find Dickie particularly lacking.

I have only recently started watching Homeland, and I love it to bits – which is strange because it is so political in nature and that is far from my cup of tea. My gripe with the casting (and again I think it is one of those shows that excels in this area, which may be why I am so critical) is the pivotal role of Abu Nazir.

Played by Navid Negahban, Nazir hardly has any presence at all in the series, which is tragic for me. This is supposed to be the man who was able to "turn" (well, I am only at the start of Season Two) agent Nicholas Brody (the inimitable Damian Lewis). 

I was hoping for someone who could mesmerise you with just one look and get your heart racing at the very sound of his voice. The sort of actor who would command your attention. Negahban, sadly, fails on all counts.

Last but not least, I also really never liked Margarita Levieva who played Amanda Clarke in Revenge. You never really wanted to root for her because she wasn't really nice to begin with. I'm not sure if that was the character herself but somehow Levieva didn't lend her role any sort of emotion that would either engage or antagonise the viewer. She was just a bit "blah" for my liking.

When you're sharing the screen with the likes of Madeleine Stowe and Emily VanCamp, you really need to bring your A-Game to the show – and Levieva failed miserably.

Casting can be quite a difficult thing to do, and it is with new eyes that I look at TV ensembles these days. The bar has been set so high, we expect nothing but the best. AMC

Film to TV: Steven Spielberg steps up TV production presence

Posted: 02 Jun 2014 01:40 AM PDT

The filmmaker will be producing seven shows, becoming most active producer on the small screen.

Between July 2014 and early 2015, a total of seven shows backed by the filmmaker will air on American television. Taking the place of J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg has become the most active producer working for the small screen today.

Extant, Red Band Society, The Whispers and Public Morals are the four new Spielberg productions viewers can expect to find on TV in the coming months. These latest productions will join the returning dramas Falling Skies, The Americans and Under the Dome.

Aliens invade the airwaves

Unsurprisingly, a number of Spielberg's productions are related to his signature themes, namely extra-terrestrial life forms. The director known for his sci-fi blockbusters E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind and War of the Worlds is bringing similar narratives to television.

The Whispers is a thriller series about an alien invasion that uses children to take over the planet.

Premiering July 9 on CBS, Extant stars Halle Berry as an astronaut who, upon returning to Earth after one year alone in space, finds out that she is pregnant, presumably due to a mysterious extra-terrestrial force. At the start of next year, ABC will unveil The Whispers, a thriller series about an alien invasion that uses children to take over the planet.

These new series echo some of the motifs seen in Falling Skies, which has aired on TNT since 2011, and Under the Dome, the second season of which will premiere June 30 on CBS. The two programmes also refer to extra-terrestrial life, each in its own way.

Action and dark humour

Of course, Spielberg's body of work for the silver screen is hardly limited to the sci-fi genre, and his TV productions are just as diverse. For TNT, Spielberg is producing the new historical police drama Public Morals, which promises to be closer to the current FX Cold War spy drama The Americans than to E.T.

Set in 1960s New York, Public Morals follows a team of officers in the NYPD Public Morals Division. Ed Burns (Mob City) plays an agent trying to stay on the straight and narrow in a job full of temptations, all while raising his young sons.

FOX, meanwhile, is betting on the dark humour of Red Band Society, a remake of the Spanish medical drama Polseres vermelles. Octavia Spencer, the Oscar-winning actress seen in The Help, is cast of this series, which follows the day-to-day life of seriously ill teenagers living in a hospital.

The new J.J. Abrams?

With seven productions on his hands – or eight including the TV adaptation of the video game Halo – Steven Spielberg has become the most prolific TV producer of the coming season, surpassing even his counterparts focused entirely on the small screen.

Chuck Lorre currently has four comedies airing on CBS in the coming season (Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Mike & Molly and Mom). Shonda Rhimes has a total of three dramas (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder), tying with Seth MacFarlane, who has as many comedies (American Dad, Family Guy and The Cleveland Show).

J.J. Abrams

In fact, Spielberg seems to be stepping in to fill the position occupied previously by J.J. Abrams, a producer known for juggling multiple TV projects in recent years. After building his reputation with the series Felicity, Alias and Lost, among others, the creator and producer has all but disappeared from the small screen. Person of Interest is now his only TV production, as Revolution, Believe and Almost Human were all cancelled this year. While J.J. Abrams has responded to the call of the cinema – he is currently directing Star Wars: Episode VII – his idol Steven Spielberg seems to be stepping in to take his place.

But while a number of noted filmmakers have turned their attention to the small screen only recently, the director of Schindler's List has actually been active in TV for several decades. In the 1980s and 1990s, Spielberg produced Amazing Stories, Seaquest 2032 and ER for NBC. He has also collaborated with various cable networks over the years for Into the West, Band of Brothers, The Pacific and United States of Tara.

And in spite of his unprecedented level of involvement in the TV arena for the coming season, Spielberg is not giving up on the silver screen. The director is involved in several projects, including Indiana Jones 5, Robopocalypse, a West Side Story remake and an adaptation of Roald Dahl's The BFG. – AFP Relaxnews

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

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Cantopop: The legends' stories and showbiz

Posted: 02 Jun 2014 09:00 AM PDT

The Legends readies up a musical documentary on Cantopop's four biggest stars.

HOMEGROWN theatre institution Dama Orchestra is aiming for the bright lights with its upcoming production The Legends, which is set to hit the stage at KLPac in Kuala Lumpur starting June 7.

Previous full-scale Dama Orchestra shows have been mostly Shanghai shidaiqu affairs (favourites from the 1930s to 1960s) and also several flips through the pages of Teresa Teng's Mandopop songbook (from 1970s/80s). Next up all eyes will be on Hong Kong's pop darlings and the Cantopop scene from the 1980s. That's the backstory behind Dama's The Legends.

The 1980s saw the beginning of the golden age of Cantopop, when flamboyant Hong Kong pop stars dominated the colourful Chinese entertainment scene.

Cry me a river: Dama Orchestra darling Tan Soo Suan will be taking on some of Anita Mui's hits in the upcoming production The Legends at KLPac in Kuala Lumpur.

Cry me a river: Dama Orchestra darling Tan Soo Suan will be taking on some of Anita Mui's hits in the upcoming production The Legends at KLPac in Kuala Lumpur.

For its first major production this year, Dama Orchestra has decided to pay tribute to these cultural icons with The Legends, which features a local cast rolling out a celebration of songs and stories from Cantopop icons like Leslie Cheung, Anita Mui, Danny Chan and Roman Tam.

A project of Dama's 20th anniversary celebration, The Legends is designed as a song-and-dance concert musical show with English narration.

The show will revisit the hit songs from these stars while the audience can enjoy a retelling of their showbiz stories, struggles, fame, relationships and hitmaking.

The Legends, in short, will dig deeper into the careers of these stars. And the audience can expect a deft mix of stories and showbiz.

A total of 25 Cantopop hit songs will be dispatched during the two-hour-long show (divided into two acts).

Some of the classics include Cheung's A Chinese Ghost Story, Mui's Break The Iceberg, Tam's Legend Of Dagger Li, and Chan's Encore.

"These are HK megastars with so many hits and good songs. We could never do an exhaustive programme because individually, each act could standalone on their own," says Pun Kai Loon, Dama Orchestra artistic director, about the stageside songlist.

The idea was to narrow down the setlist – with key songs – yet give the audience a snapshot of the actual pop star lives behind the celebrity and pop charts.

Nothing like the entire cast of The Legends hitting the stage to thrill the masses with the Cantopop retro blast.

Nothing like the entire cast of The Legends hitting the stage to thrill the masses with the Cantopop retro blast.

"What we are trying to do in this concert (series) is to give flavour to their contributions, as well as to highlight the spirit of their work. So, what we have done is to narrow down our selection to songs that were pivotal in their respective careers ... insightful tunes in terms of understanding them as performers and individuals," adds Pun.

As an example, he mentioned how Anita Mui started performing as a child and had already 10 years of stage experience behind her when she was "discovered."

For The Legends show, the main cast features singers Tan Soo Suan, Terence Au, Bui Yik Ling, Khoo Wu Ji, Kong Jie Wei, Lim Yee Fen, and Tan Soo Tze. Dancers Leslie Cheng, Gigi Chiam, Dorothy Foo, Rich Mah, Ben Gee, Jojo Wong, Rickyy Wong and Alice Yee have the support roles.

Unlike most tributes, music director Khor Seng Chew said that The Legends will not have any one singer playing a fixed role, as he felt no one could step into their shoes.

"The show will not be divided into four segments, with each featuring one artiste. Instead the songs have been picked to flow with the storyline."

Since The Legends is a musical theatre piece, Khor worked on new arrangements and transformed the evergreen hits to give them more contemporary appeal.

"For example, Leslie Cheung's In A Sentimental Past, I felt would be better as a trio (Soo Tze, Bui and Lim) and Danny Chan's The Meaning Of Life was made into a quartet piece (Bui, Lim, Khoo and Au). The spirit of the songs remain, but they have a fresher edge now," says Khor.

Dama regular Soo Suan will be taking on popular numbers like Chan's Take Care Tonight, Mui's Heart Debt and Intimate Lovers and Tam's When Tomorrow Comes and Family.

There will also be group numbers that will see the whole company of 15 performers hitting the stage. As for showbiz glam and choreography, this is will be a blast to watch.

"Since none of the performers are native Cantonese speakers, we roped in Chinese dialect coach Lee Jin Wen to help the singers work on their Cantonese pronunciation," says Pun.

After a roll through the hits and drama at the show's recent preview, we're happy to report that nothing has been lost in translation.

The Legends will run at Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac), Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur from June 7 to June 22. Tickets are priced between RM68 to RM288. For more info, call the box-office (03 4047-9000) or visit www.ticketpro.com.my.

The Print Room: Body language

Posted: 31 May 2014 09:00 AM PDT

The Print Room's latest exhibition explores the whole notion of the human form.

Nudity. Stark, sensual, blatant. Those descriptions do come to mind when it comes to celebrating the human form. It is a complex – often forbidden – subject in some circles. Everybody has an opinion when the word "body" is mentioned in relation to photography, or through similar artful mediums.

When English photographer Paul Gadd, the director of The Print Room in Petaling Jaya in Selangor, revealed the theme of his gallery's then upcoming exhibition, he said people took it with a pinch of salt.

"We had some problems because as soon as you mentioned the word 'body', people sort of backed off, thinking nudity was involved. But that was not the case. You can represent the body however you want," explained Gadd.

And that is exactly what the gallery's latest photography exhibition called Body set out to do. When you walk into the exhibition space, you would probably pause momentarily and muse. Slowly, your perception on the whole topic will begin to take another form and you will realise that nudity is not the be all and end all, after all.

Featuring the works of 11 photographers, including three South Koreans, the exhibition mostly moves away from the ubiquitous naked human form, and looks at the subject matter rather differently. The group exibition features works by Gadd, Koh Yeo Myoung, Melissa Lim, Linda Chin, Kim Do Han, Lisa Foo, Phes, Johan Hamidon, Gaithiri Siva, Shung Yen and Kwon Hyuk Min. This exhibition, which is The Print Room's first this year, challenges the whole notion of body and endeavours to depict different facets of it.

"We tried to represent the body without being too obvious and blatant about it," asserted Gadd.

What's more, all the photographs in Body were shot using film, which is the signature format of The Print Room.

Nature #3 (Phoebe)

Nature#3 by Phes

The results are both stunning and intriguing. Take for instance the series of photographs by Melissa Lim. Using light and shadow, Lim stripped away the complexities of the human body and focused instead on its simplicity. The silhouetted human frame – reminiscent of the "shower curtain scene" in the movie Psycho – is shown through a muslin sheet.

"From behind the muslin emerges a silhouette that conveys a sense of drama, emotion, freedom and mystery, allowing one's imagination to wander and ponder," said Lim.

Linda Chin, on the other hand, shot oysters for her Venus series. At first glance, they may appear as nothing more than oysters but the allusion comes across more clearly later on.

"The Venus series aims to highlight the individuality of the human body, and the position that no one should be pressured to conform to unrealistic expectations imposed by those around them," stated Chin.

Lisa Foo's series Discover The Full Body is also a highlight. Her work is printed on blocks of wood, which added the element of art installation into this exhibition space for the first time. By using liquid light, as we found out, film photographers can use different surfaces instead of paper to bring their images to life.

Gadd's own series, called RGB, referring to the three primary colours in light (red, green and blue), is a vibrant rush of photographic instinct and technique. Depicting only body outlines, Gadd added a new filter for every shot, creating new colours and giving a three dimensional sense to a two dimensional image.

Some images even looked like a steam-punk version of a Picasso painting.

The enigma of the body – seen through the eyes of these talented photographers – is too hard to resist and so is this exhibition.

Body is on at The Print Room (49, Lorong 16/9E, Section 16, Petaling Jaya, Selangor) till June 15. Open weekends from 2pm to 7pm. On weekdays, the show is open for viewing by appointment. Call 012 337 2903, log on to theprintroomkl.com or e-mail info@theprintroomkl.com.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

The Star eCentral: TV Tracks

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24: Live Another Day - the longest ever

Posted: 27 May 2014 04:52 PM PDT

Four years on, Jack Bauer shows he hasn't lost the touch.

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

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The Star Online: Metro: Sunday Metro

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The 'Sherlock Holmes' of Himalayan mountaineering

Posted: 03 Jun 2014 11:18 PM PDT

KATHMANDU: When a deadly avalanche hit Mount Everest last April, reporters made a beeline for 90-year-old Elizabeth Hawley, the woman Edmund Hillary once called "the Sherlock Holmes of the mountaineering world".

The ice avalanche struck a group of Nepalese guides early on April 18. By 1 pm, nine people had been killed and the toll would eventually rise to 16, making it the worst disaster in the mountain's history.

More than 50 years after the Kathmandu-based mountaineering expert began chronicling the triumphs and tragedies on the roof of the world, recording deaths remains a struggle.

"It's the hardest part...it's just very sad", Hawley told AFP, as she recalled a busy day spent fielding calls from journalists and going through drawers containing her life's work - folders filled with thousands of pages charting every significant Himalayan ascent.

Elizabeth Ann Hawley was born on 9 November 1923 to a Chicago-based chartered accountant and a suffragist.

She attended university in Michigan and promptly moved to Manhattan after graduation in 1946, landing a job as a researcher with Fortune magazine.

Soon, she was bitten by the travel bug.

"I was mostly researching and writing profiles of businessmen or political figures. And I got bored," she said.

She saved money for the next few years, "eating only sandwiches and ice cream for lunch" and took off to see the world in 1957.

Her travels took her through France, Germany, the former Yugoslavia, and eventually to India, where the Time bureau chief asked if she would report for the magazine while visiting Nepal, a Hindu kingdom which had only recently opened its gates to foreign visitors.

By then, she was running out of money and the offer was too tempting to refuse. She arrived in Kathmandu in February 1959, just in time for the country's first general elections.

"I knew then that this place was going to change enormously and that intrigued me," she said. 

Mountaineering milestones

She landed her first major scoop during the 1963 US expedition of Everest when the American military attache offered her access to secret radio communication between Everest base camp and the embassy, enabling her to be the first to file when they reached the summit.

She soon built a reputation as one of the most authoritative voices on Himalayan mountaineering, known for ferreting out the truth from climbers claiming to set new records.

"I guess I am quite forceful, I come to the point and if someone thinks they can evade my questions, they can think again."

When 13-year-old Indian schoolgirl Malavath Poorna made a bid to become the world's youngest female to climb Everest last month, it was Hawley's Himalayan Database which certified her summit, effectively adding the teenager's name to the record books.

Hawley's archives are considered so thorough that managers of Kathmandu's Rum Doodle restaurant, which offers free food to Everest summiteers, first call her to confirm their feat before serving up any meals.

As a journalist, she covered a string of milestones, from the first Everest summit by a woman - Japan's Junko Tabei in 1975 - to the first solo ascent five years later by Reinhold Messner, who remains a close friend. 

In fact, had it not been for Hawley, the Italian mountaineering legend may not have become the first man to scale Everest alone.

Japanese adventurer Naomi Uemura, who had already completed a record-making expedition to the North Pole, had his eyes set on the world's highest peak, Hawley said.

"Messner had always planned to do it but not for a few years. Then I heard about this Japanese climber wanting to summit on his own and when I told Messner about it, he moved his plans forward." 

Witness to change

Today, the diminutive Hawley still drives around Kathmandu in her sky-blue 1965 VW Beetle to meet climbers before and after their ascents, but much else has changed in the mountaineering world.

Hawley began reporting during the age of national expeditions, then covered the era of solo ascents, and now views the surge of commercial climbing outfits with wariness.

"I have known cases where sherpas have had to clip and unclip foreign clients from ropes because they don't even know how to do that. What are they even doing up there?" she said.

The April 18 avalanche spurred a debate over the risks undertaken by sherpas on behalf of foreign clients and eventually led to a virtual shutdown of Everest, with hundreds of guides reluctant to climb this season.

Hawley, who has spent decades working with the Himalayan Trust, a sherpa-focused aid organisation set up by Edmund Hillary in 1960, said the deaths of so many guides was "tremendously demoralising" for the community.

But she said the shutdown was unlikely to have a permanent impact on Nepal's mountaineering industry.

"Climbers will forget. They will keep coming because it's Everest after all...it makes them famous and important when they go back home", she said.

In the meantime, Hawley has achieved her own fame - including a biography, a documentary, and even a Himalayan peak named after her, which she has no plans to visit.

"No thank you, I don't like trekking, I prefer to sleep in a comfortable bed and eat hot meals," she said.

"I have never ever wanted to climb a mountain." -AFP

International academic outcry over detained China scholars

Posted: 03 Jun 2014 11:10 PM PDT

BEIJING: Hundreds of international academics called Wednesday for the release of scholars and lawyers detained in China ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

China strictly limits public discussion of the June 4, 1989 suppression of political reform protests, when soldiers killed hundreds of civilians, by some estimates more than 1000.

Authorities have detained dozens - including lawyers, journalists, artists and relatives of those killed in the crackdown - ahead of this year's anniversary, according to rights groups and associates.

Around 80 academics from countries including the US, France, Britain, Australia and Germany published an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping calling for the release of five people detained last month after they attended a private seminar discussing the crackdown.

The five - detained on charges of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble" - include prominent human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, as well as academics.

Several of Pu's associates have been taken into custody in recent weeks - suggesting that prosecutors are preparing a criminal case against the lawyer, who won plaudits for representing victims of labour camps.

"It is obvious that none of the above-mentioned citizens has committed a criminal offence. Their detention is an injustice," said the letter, signed by a host of prominent China scholars and verified as authentic by AFP.

"We therefore ask you respectfully to correct this mistake, and to free unconditionally the citizens who have been wrongfully detained," it added.

In separate letter released online and addressed to "Chinese citizens," some 160 Japanese, Taiwanese and South Korean academics and writers said they were "deeply worried" about those detained.

"They have carried out rational and peaceful intellectual activities to cure the mental scars Chinese society received after the unfortunate incident in 1989," it said.

"We wish that their bodies and lives will not be under threat."

The US, EU and the United Nations human rights chief have also called for those detained in the run-up to the anniversary to be released. -AFP

New India parliament adjourns after minister death

Posted: 03 Jun 2014 11:03 PM PDT

NEW DELHI: The first session of India's newly elected parliament lasted only minutes Wednesday as lawmakers immediately adjourned in a mark of respect for a government minister who died in a car crash.

The process of swearing-in the 543 members of the Lok Sabha who won their seats in India's five-week general election was supposed to have begun on Wednesday morning.

However, it has been pushed back to Thursday as members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) attend Gopinath Munde's funeral.

Munde was killed on Tuesday morning in an accident in New Delhi, barely a week after taking up his post as rural affairs minister in new Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right-wing cabinet.

Interim speaker Kamal Nath read a brief tribute to Munde before members then observed a two-minute silence.

"The house stands adjourned to meet tomorrow on June 5 at 11:00 am," Nath then said.

In brief comments before he entered parliament, Modi promised to "fulfil the dreams" of the people of India who have given his party the first parliamentary majority for 30 years.

"I assure the people of this country that in the temple of democracy we will work hard to fulfil the dreams and aspirations of the common man in India," said Modi.

It is the first time Modi has been elected to parliament, as the representative of the holy city of Varanasi.

The oath-taking process is expected to last until Friday afternoon when a vote will be held to elect a new speaker of the lower house, with veteran BJP representative Sumitra Mahajan seen as the frontrunner.

President Pranab Mukherjee is expected to address a combined session of the two houses of parliament on Monday.

Parliament is expected to be adjourned on June 11 for several weeks as the Modi government draws up a new budget. -AFP

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