Monday, June 23, 2008

"Up the Yangtze"

Here's my first movie recommendation on this blog. I just saw "Up the Yangtze," a recent documentary abut the Three Gorges Dam, which is causing the Yangtze River to rise, and how it is affecting people in China. It's far more compelling than I can convey here, but trust me, you should try and find a theatre that's playing it or rent it.

The film mostly follows a poor family, living on the water's edge and just getting by with farming and odd jobs. Because her family can't afford to send her to high school, the eldest daughter, who is 16, goes to work on a tourist boat cruise sailing up and down the Yangtze. We see her and a 19-year-old boy starting their work on this cruise ship. The girl's parents are shown trying to figure out what to do after the water has risen over their current home.

There are some hilarious moments, like the etiquette class for new cruise ship employees on how to interact with tourists (don't call them fat or pale, don't compare America to Canada, never talk about any serious political topics like Northern Ireland). And there are some heart-tugging moments like a man talking about how difficult it is to be a common person in China and the sight of the poor family at the side of the risen Yangtze looking at where their home and crops used to be.

Five years ago Peter Hessler wrote about the relocation caused by the Three Gorges Dam project, the largest hydro-electric power station in the world, and it continues today. I enjoy reading Hessler's work (including his two books, "Rivertown: Two Years on the Yangtze" and "Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present"), particularly since he backs up his writing with a real understanding of the Chinese people. He speaks the language and has lived in China since he first came there as a Peace Corps worker in the mid-90s.

Still photo from "Up the Yangtze"

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Painted Desk's Origins

Blame it on a quiet house.

My roommates have left for two months of summer break, and the house is dead quiet except for music streaming from Pandora on my computer. There is no 1-year-old yelping out happy cries and toddling into my room to pull down blankets, stuffed animals and figurines from shelves. I can't bother his parents with my random thoughts nor talk them out with the toddler, who is a great listener, by the way.

Instead, there I was this evening sitting at my new writing desk and chair, which are painted a bright turquoise blue and decorated with birds and flowers. The desk lifts up to reveal a red interior with compartments. Every time I look at it, I get these lovely waves of happiness. And so I decided to start The Painted Desk blog to get the random thoughts out that I can't tell my housemates.

I imagine this blog will be a tangle of posts on TV, movies, books, 80s childhood nostalgia, and other things I would normally blurt out to live people who are unfortunate enough to be in my general proximity.

And I hope it inspires me the same way my painted desk has.

Photo: Pier 1 Imports