Archive for August, 1998

Existential Panic World Tour Part 2: Kathmandu!

A movie poster in Kathmandu

Man, this country is nuts. Yesterday I was privileged to see a cobra charmer; a corpse ready for the funeral pyre; errant cows; weird holy men with painted faces, unkempt hair and loin clothes; Tibetan monks; women in saris and more stupas than you can shake a stick at, but I have yet to lay eyes on a single traffic light nor I’m glad to discover a McDonald’s. There are at least six or seven sites where the average tourist can log into the net within a block of here, but most streets here aren’t paved and I’ve seen more half naked crying children standing in rubbish heaps than I care to see.

I’ve been guided by a “college student” conveniently, or suspiciously named, Mr. Nepal. He has boundless energy and knowledge about Nepal and has a contagious smile. Yesterday, we went from one end of Kathmandu to the other seeing dozens of temple complexes, each more stunning than the next. By the end of the day, I simply wanted to sit in a quiet room and detox from sensory overload.

Today, it rained most of the day, so at my behest we went to see an Indian film. It started off as a standard Dirty Harry style rip-off, but quickly became a deeply weird film-going experience. The movie began with a montage of the chiseled-featured good guys where aviator glasses and the Indian flag. Yes, these lads were honest, virtuous, and had David Hasslehoff haircuts–all the things that India, apparently, looks to for a hero. The villain, conversely, was a Sherrif Lobo look-a-like hell-bent on doing everything that made India weak–corrupting officials, buying elections, killing, raping and of course wearing really tacky jewelry. The guy who played the villain, by the way, apparently was a devotee of the Eisenstein school of acting–I haven’t seen a more campy performance since Ivan the Terrible Part 2. Anyway, the leading good guy gets predictably suspended when he shoots a criminal in the groin (who bored a striking resemblance to G. Gordon Liddy). The crook/victim was running for office and his platform apparently entailed beating up orphans and circus performers. From there the plot splits into a dozen different directions. Will the other chiseled face good guy get the girl? Will the leading good guy get his job back and get another girl? Will the villain ever stop sniveling? To make matters more confusing, the “plot” will suddenly cease and an elaborate music and dance number will kick in. Out of nowhere a dozen backup dancers pop out of nowhere and begin shaking their busoms in a manner frighteningly reminiscent of Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” (That video scared me as a child.) In one sequence, the girlfriend starts singing on an isolated beach and out from a drainage pipe, I guess, comes the Benatar dozen. What really struck me about these sequences is that there is absolutely no coherence between one shot and the next. One moment girlfriend is rolling in the sand with her back-up, the next she’s in a completely different outfit embracing her beau. Is this an avant garde deconstruction of cinematic space? Is this some convention I’m unfamiliar with? Or is this simply really bad filmmaking? The film ends with the evil villain literally nailing the good guy to a cross and then setting it alight. For one spine-tingling moment I thought that the hero would actually snuff. According to the film, Jesus simply didn’t want it enough, because our hero managed to push over the cross, rips his impaled hands from the wood and proceeds to kick the shit out of seven or eight armed baddies. I was hoping they’d break into song at that point, but sadly they didn’t.

What was interesting about this film was the audience, who applauded when the hero suddenly saves an orphan from getting its head kicked in. I’m not sure if it’s a certain innocence from cliche at work or simply applauding is more a part of Nepali culture.

Over and out.

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Existential Panic World Tour Part 1: Taipei

I’m at a bank of computers in the Taipei train station apparently intended for bored weary travelers to kill time cruising the net. Being in a place like this one certainly gets a feeling of future-shock. Soon such places will probably be common place but for the moment there’s still a bit of a William Gibsonsque thrill to the whole thing.

Taipei is, in a word, hot. I spent most of the day hiking from this notably temple to that and by the end of the day I felt as if my shirt were floating on a layer of sweat.

The city itself is dirty and chaotic. The traffic here is downright dangerous–in America there’s always an assumption that drivers won’t run over pedestrians if only to avoid damaging their cars, here, judging from the number of dents and dings in Taipei’s fleet of taxis, I make no such assumptions. Nonetheless, the longer I’m here, this is my second visit, the more I’m finding things like street vendors selling everything from chicken feet to pirated T-shirts more charming than annoying. (At one nightmarket I found a T-shirt that I think was supposed to read “Ice Cream” but instead read “IRL CFPAM”) Moreover, the neighbor in which Emily’s grandmother lives, which has retained much of the older architecture from the Japanese occupation is actually pretty.

Anyway, E is growing impatient so I best be on my sweaty way. I will write again soon, either from here or from Kathmandu.


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