Forty years after his death, two of Bruce Lee's siblings reminisce about their famous brother's life and a legacy that is inspiring a whole new generation of fighters. Jo Baker reports.
In episode six of reality-television show Survivor Palau, the contestants endured a night of torrential rain. They huddled together in communal misery, shivering and complaining, and as the sun rose on their waterlogged camps, one competitor, Janu, chin aquiver, began to cry. She was cold, she was tired and she wanted to go home.
From the comfort of their air-conditioned living rooms, viewers scoffed. Surely Palau, a tropical paradise in the South Pacific, couldn't be that bad. But if truth be told, it can. When the sun shines, the sea is calm and the skies are clear, Palau is idyllic, fitting the desert-island stereotype to perfection. But when a storm is wreaking havoc, paradise is lost amid sheets of rain, a wind that howls around your hotel's walls and ocean conditions that can be most accurately described as sodden.
As passengers on one of the countless open-sided speedboats that constantly cross the republic's waterways, we thumped over the wind-whipped choppy sea, watching with alarm as the swell rose and fell, and wondering whether we would be swamped by one of the cresting waves. Spray was hurled horizontally into our faces as we shivered under sopping towels. We were cold, we were tired and we wanted to go, if not home, then back to the comfort of our hotel.
Before the unfavourable weather closed in, we had visited one of Palau's most popular sites: Long Beach. This 1km strip of white sand is visible only during an ebb tide. As high tide approaches, the turquoise waters inch up the beach from opposite sides, eventually creating the remarkable illusion that day-trippers strolling along its length are walking on water.
Until recently, Hong Kong travellers wanting to sample Long Beach and Palau's other sights had to fly via Manila, Guam or Taipei. With direct flights from the SAR having begun on August 30, the destination is now only a four-hour flight away. Located seemingly in the middle of nowhere, south-east of the Philippines and north of Papua New Guinea, Palau comprises more than 300 islands, only nine of which are inhabited; the 20,000-strong population is concentrated mainly on Koror, Babeldaob and Peleliu. The archipelago was occupied by Japan from 1914 until the end of the second world war, when it came under United States administration. It gained independence in 1994.
On dry land, Palau's attractions are limited. There are archaeological sites dating back to 1,000BC, fresh waterfalls and bai, or thatched A-frame meeting halls, decorated with brightly painted carvings. Having hosted its share of bloody battles during the second world war, Peleliu is popular with military history buffs and has a museum dedicated to its wartime past. Palau's capital, Koror, on the island of the same name, is a slow-paced town, its potholed main street dotted with tacky souvenir shops, karaoke bars and the odd massage parlour.
However, it's not the land that lures visitors to Palau, but the sea. For here is a pristine marine wonderland boasting more than 1,400 species of coral and about 1,300 species of fish. Most easily accessible are the so-called Rock Islands, limestone mounds topped by lush vegetation that pop up at random like mushrooms in a watery field. Their shores are dotted with caves and archways, and they are ringed with coral and water that ranges from a striking emerald green to the very definition of aquamarine. Every boat trip takes you past yet another perfect castaway beach; another little cove sprinkled with coconut palms.
On one island, our speedboat driver steered his craft through narrow rainforest-lined waterways with James Bond-like finesse, as though taking us to a secret agent's hideout. And certainly the tranquil lagoon dubbed the Milky Way feels special. Here, the ocean floor is lined not with sand or coral, but with creamy white volcanic deposits. The result is water of the most remarkable blue imaginable. With a few duck dives to the bottom, the guides bring the sludge to the surface so passengers can indulge in a full-body mud pack, painting themselves as white as shipwrecked ghosts, before taking a dip to rinse off.
If the Milky Way is good for the complexion, then Jellyfish Lake must be good for the soul. After mooring at the island of Mercherchar, a short walk from the boat takes you to a jetty reaching out into a tree-lined lagoon. There, you don snorkel, mask and a lifejacket (to minimise the exertion required to stay afloat and therefore disruption to the jellyfish) and slip into the cool water. At first it seems an unremarkable place, but as you paddle towards the lake's centre, the number of jellyfish increases until you are surrounded by them, pulsing like apricot-coloured blossoms as they rise to soak up the sun's rays. The urge to flee must be resisted for, living in a body of water cut off from the ocean and without predators, these jellyfish have evolved in such a way that they can no longer sting - you can touch them and vice versa. The serenity of the experience is unforgettable.
For those wanting to get close to other marine life, just five minutes by boat from Koror is Dolphins Pacific, a research facility in a stunning seawater lagoon where visitors can swim, snorkel and dive with the mammals. But it is out on the reefs where the underwater world is most tangible and untamed. Here is the reason Palau is considered one of the top three dive destinations on Earth. There are more than 50 scuba-dive sites and more than 40 second world war Japanese seaplanes and shipwrecks dot the sea bed. Jacques Cousteau labelled the Big Drop-Off - where the coral ends and the sea plummets to a depth of 300 metres - the best wall dive in the world. At Blue Corner - a busy thoroughfare where grey reef sharks, giant Napoleon wrasse, snapper, schools of barracuda and their many smaller meals converge - scuba-divers are equipped with metal hooks with which to anchor themselves against the strong currents as the larger marine creatures cruise by, undeterred by the water's power. At the Blue Holes, divers enter a large, 40-metre-deep cavern from one of four entrance holes. As they descend, looking upwards, the sunlight fans out into a brilliant blue display.
But you can't always bank on sunlight. Blue Corner and the Blue Holes are considered too dangerous for diving during stormy conditions; a plaque inside the latter commemorates divers who died here. In rough weather, divers can instead try their hand at the likes of German Channel, so named because it is where the Germans (Spain sold Palau to Germany in 1899) blasted their way through the reef to provide better access to the waterways. Here you can see shy garden eels peeking through the sandy ocean floor, cruising reef sharks and, with a little luck, manta rays. And when luck is as scarce as sunlight and storms descend on this slice of underwater heaven, unfortunate divers must simply resolve to come back to Palau and try again.
Getting there: Palau Asia Pacific Airlines flies direct from Hong Kong to Koror on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tour operators include Fish 'n' Fins (tel: 680 488 2637), Sam's Tours (tel: 680 488 1062), NECO Marine (tel: 680 488 2009) and PPC (tel: 680 448 6062). The Palau Pacific Resort (tel: 680 488 2600), which has beachfront accommodation, offers scuba-diving through its on-site dive shop, Splash. Other accommodation includes the Carolines Resort (tel: 680 488 3754) and the Palau Royal Resort (tel: 680 488 2000). Four-night accommodation packages range from $5,300 to $8,400, including flights. Scuba-diving is expensive compared with other Asian destinations: about US$100 for two dives (excluding equipment; about US$40).