The movie Titanic came out during the year of 1998. I remembered it because of a small incident. That was the year I worked in Tokyo for over a month, one of my co-workers, a sweet Japanese girl Niroko told me she has seen the movie nine times and she was still planning to see it again. Seeing a movie in Tokyo was no cheap affair. Surely nothing is cheap in that glamorous city. Movie, however, is more expensive than other kinds of entertainment. Money was not the only thing you have to pay. The ticket was approx. $20 at the time, even though Yen was seriously deflated then (140:1 ratio to dollar at the time). Due to the movie¡¯s popularity, one had to wait in line for close to 2 hours for a ¡°standing¡± ticket. By standing I mean, you stand in a room with a bunch of others and watch this close to 3 hours movie. The line was longer for a ticket that came with a seat.
After that project ended, I treated myself for a trip to Barcelona. One early evening, I walked up the crowded Rambla from the harbor, the breeze drifted down the street. I heard some broken notes of a South American flute. It was some kind of folklore from that far away land, I remembered seeing the band members standing by Placa de Catalunya in their colorful ponchos. The flute was alone; no other instrument was accompanying it. The music was gentle and sad, waving in and out the crowd to reach me, as if winding down from a small mountain road of the Andes, bringing with it the misty clouds. I quickened my pace, wanting to hear more. By the time I was one block away from them, they¡¯ve started the next piece. I couldn¡¯t help but started laughing out loud. It was ¡°My Heart Will Go On.¡± Those sorrowful and beautiful instruments traveled across many seas to land in a touristy street of Barcelona, and they were now playing the theme song from a blockbuster movie featured that sinking ship in the northern ocean from years ago.
Come back to present. I was traveling to New York on a red-eye flight Wednesday evening. When packing, I was debating whether to carry the brick-like Harry Potter(5) with me. After all, I was on chapter 32 out of total of 38 chapters. Eventually I decided against it. The remaining of the book couldn¡¯t last me longer than two or three hours. It won¡¯t be worth the trouble of carrying it around. It was only a long weekend. And it was just a kid¡¯s novel. I could for sure wait till Sunday night to find out the ending.
In the airport, at the waiting area by the gate, I found myself surrounded by people reading¡Harry Potter! It was too much. I couldn¡¯t possibly concentrate on the New Yorker magazine in that kind of crowd. Even though the New Yorker has always been my favorite travel read. Suddenly I was dying to know what happened to Harry. I didn¡¯t have to wait long. The newsstand next to the gate devoted an entire shelf to the blue-covered Harry Potter. I stood by the shelf and read half a chapter before boarding. Once settled in my seat, I noticed two women sat in my row each holding a copy of that lovely book. I was relieved. One of them was bound to sleep for a while on this five-hour over-night flight. I happily devoted my attention to the New Yorker. Half way through our trip, majority of the passengers were asleep. The woman next to me finally spread her blanket and was putting away her book. I lightly tapped her shoulder, ¡°Are you going to take a nap?¡± ¡°I¡¯m thinking about it.¡± ¡°uhm¡ I¡¯m on chapter 32.¡± I pointed to that thick blue book by her feet, ¡°¡I¡¯m dying to know what¡¡± She beamed at me, picked up the book before I finished my sentence, and put it in my hand, ¡°I understand¡¡± I murmured my profuse gratitude and immediately dived to the book.
So that was how I finished reading the fifth volume produced by J.K.Rowling, as the sky slowly lightened in a summer dawn outside our plane window, as we were descending to JFK. I closed the book on my lap, sighed a satisfied sigh, and reluctantly looked up from a confusing haze; not quite sure where I was, not quite sure I really wanted to leave that fantastic world…
All thanks to a stranger’s kindness, and the power and ubiquity of pop culture.