This is meant to be incoherent

Publié le par chrislzh

A lot of this I was going to write days ago. But other things got in the way. Now I have a lot more to write about, or at least, I thought I did at 10 this morning. I’ll try, but I may well have forgotten half of it already.


Two films: The Road to Guantanamo by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, and Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World by Albert Brooks.


I watched these two films last weekend. The Road to Guantanamo I highly recommend. It’s a very powerful film following four (quickly to be reduced to three) young Brits of Pakistani origin as they travel to Pakistan for the wedding of one of their number, and then, having heard an Imam’s call to help the people of Afghanistan, travel to Afghanistan to ‘help’ (how, exactly, was never detailed. However, they are never shown lifting a weapon) just as the US/Northern Alliance coalition topples the Taliban regime. Naturally, entering from (Quetta, if I remember rightly) means they find themselves on the wrong side of the front line. Then they find themselves being carted around with nothing to do. Nobody ever seems to figure out how these three young Brits can be put to use, and nobody ever thinks that handing them a weapon or two might be a good idea. Anyway, they find themselves in Kunduz under an American barrage with the Northern Alliance poised to capture the city. They attempt to flee, and in the process, one of the original four disappears. The other three, through whatever miracle, manage to stay together long enough to be captured by the Northern Alliance. They find themselves at a prison camp for Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners at an American air base outside Kandahar, where they are, ahem, ‘interrogated’, and then they’re shipped off to Guantanamo Bay, where they are interned in and, ahem, ‘interrogated’ at Camps X-Ray and Delta.


The film is a re-enactment of their story interspersed with interviews with the three actual protagonists. Now, I don’t know what they were really doing on the Taliban side of . I have no idea whether they did ever have any substantive contacts with Al Qaeda or the Taliban. And in fact, I don’t care. Nor do I know how much of their story of torture and abuse may have been exaggerated or fabricated. Fact is, American war crimes in this and many other conflicts have been well enough documented for this story to be for the most part credible, even if it is a little embellished or air-brushed in places. Also, the worst allegations of torture and abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay (and elsewhere) are far worse than anything presented in this film.


And that, friends, is what makes the film so powerful: It’s three rather ordinary, if somewhat naïve and even a little dumb, Pakistani Brits telling us how they came to find themselves stuck in a living hell for three years and what happened to them in that hell. And yet, in the back of your mind throughout the whole film are all the worse stories of torture and even murder you’ve heard of happening in American military prisons camps.


Actually, there are a few moments of light humour in the film. The humour does lighten the atmosphere briefly, but this lightening of the atmosphere makes the rest of the film that much darker. One of the Camp X-Ray guards seems to be a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde, almost bi-polar. He goes from screaming at prisoners and on occasion calling in the “riot squad” or calling others to help him kick the shit out of a prisoner (literally: That scene shocked lzh, and in no small part because a woman was putting the boot in with just as much ferocity as her male colleagues) to killing spiders and scorpions and other nasties that had crept in to the prisoners’ cages or having a friendly chat with one of the young brits about the raps he’d been teaching the other prisoners (after the prisoners were officially allowed to talk to each other, of course). And that rap scene was hilarious: The guard asked about the raps, and the brit gives him this impromptu rap about how he’d gotten to be in Guantanamo.


And truly, humour is one of the most effective ways of putting these jumped-up, sadistic little gits back in their place.


Anyway, great film. I highly recommend it.


I wish I could say the same for Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. Well, it’s not a bad film, but, like far too many “Americans traveling abroad” films, it says more about American ignorance of the outside world than anything else. Actually, it is quite engaging in its subtle, low-key, sarcastic humour, and Albert Brooks has the good grace to spend at least as much time laughing at himself as anything else (the Mel Brooks motif, in particular, was quite nice). But the film is about a month-long mission by one comedian to and in order to find out what makes Muslims laugh. Now, is a Muslim country, and does have the world’s second largest population of Muslims (after ), but doesn’t this particular mission strike you as being rather limited?


To make matters worse, every character other than Albert Brooks was some kind of ridiculous caricature. The two bumbling but somehow kind of up themselves State Department minders sent with Brooks were ok. But the Indian and Pakistani characters were ridiculous, and Brooks seemed to work under the premise that comedy simply didn’t exist outside of .


Well, what saved the movie was that the ridiculous caricatures of Indian and Pakistani government officials so absurdly misread Brooks’ activities that they went to war with each other, while Brooks flew home and celebrated a successful mission blithely unaware of the war he had caused. The end of the movie gave us a few little text summaries of the kind they put at the end of biopics to let us know what happened to the various characters in the end. The last of those little texts told us that and ceased hostilities as soon as they realized that Albert Brooks was the problem, proving that the film was really just a piss-take of in general and Brooks specifically.


Not a bad film, and certainly entertaining, but if you don’t see it, you won’t have missed anything.


I watched the most ridiculous rugby game ever yesterday afternoon. Well, the game itself wasn’t ridiculous. The weather was. The Super 14 final, which Ali Baba’s had live on ABC Asia, was played in Christchurch last night (NZ time, yesterday afternoon here), Canterbury Crusaders vs. Wellington Hurricanes. The Crusaders won 19 – 12, but the Hurricanes can’t be blamed. You can’t really play too much rugby when you can’t even see the ball. See, the city was shrouded in an absurdly thick, impenetrable, almost solid fog. At least, they said it was fog. Given Christchurch’s reputation for having ridiculous levels of air pollution, especially in the winter, I’m still wondering how much of that fog was natural, and how much was the result of vehicle exhaust and smoke from the wood and coal fires so many people down there still use for heating combined with Christchurch’s infamous temperature inversion layer.


And to make it worse, the TV company (Sky, was it? Somebody in NZ help me) didn’t seem to realize that cameras at ground level could provide reasonable, given the circumstances, views of the play, whereas cameras at higher levels provided brilliant pictures of impenetrable murk. So every time they switched to a higher-placed camera in order to give us an ‘overview’ of the play, we were left squinting at the screen trying to decipher the subtle changes in shading of the murk.


And then, just to add insult to injury, the satellite feed crapped out halfway into the second half. Nevermind, Ali Baba’s computer was free and we could follow the match through live scoring. It didn’t really detract from our enjoyment of the game, since most of what we could see on the TV amounted to fuck all, anyway.


I had a proofreading job to do this week. Not a paid one, mind. Just helping a friend of lzh’s who was told she would fail her degree if she didn’t sort her dissertation out. See, she’d copied the first part of her dissertation and written the rest on her own, but the difference in language levels was too great. Meaning: The first part was too obviously copied. She was told to make the language levels of the two parts of her dissertation match more closely, so that the first part was less obviously copied, and so it was sent to me for polishing. Ahhh, you’ve got to love the Chinese education system.


Well, it wasn’t too bad, but really, I would much rather be doing straight translation. I mean, it needed to be done in a hurry, so I didn’t have time to discuss things with her and figure out what exactly she meant to say. Which means, of course, that some things I could only change into vague guesses at her meaning, and other bits I had to leave in their original Chinglish. At least, with a straight translation, I could see what the author meant clearly and succinctly, and that would make it easier to give a decent English rendering of the author’s original meaning. Proofreading really is no good unless you have a Chinese original to consult or you can talk to the author about what he/she intended to say.


The most memorable part, though, and by far the easiest to correct, is the part in which she had Lao She’s Camel Xiangzi driving a pedicab. Driving a pedicab or pulling a rickshaw? It amounts to the same thing, really, but the differences are just too great to let that slide. I mean, how many pedicab drivers do you see dropping dead of consumption on the side of the road? Well, I erred on the side of pedantry.


A conversation from class on Friday afternoon:


       “Teacher, I have a headache.”

       “I also have a headache. It’s called Class 16.”


Oddly, only the two foreign students laughed. On of the foreign students is Korean, the other is Japanese. But their English is streets ahead of their Chinese classmates.


And after class on Friday, as always, the temptation of a short walk round to Ali Baba’s proved too great. One of my colleagues promised to join me there once he finished. As it turns out, it started pissing down with rain before he’d finished, and so he got thoroughly soaked on the way to Babas. Well, actually, he got thoroughly soaked on the way home. And then I, because I’d decided for no obvious reason to be an arsehole, demanded that he join me at Babas. And so he changed into dry clothes and walked out into the driving rain. Without either an umbrella or a raincoat. And so in the very short walk from his place to Ali Baba’s, which requires little more effort than it takes to cross Tongan Dao, he got thoroughly soaked again.


Note to the Pirate Houseboat Captain: By an umbrella and/or raincoat, and carry them with you everywhere so long as it is the rainy season.


Instant Karma prevailed, though: On the way home from Baba’s I discovered that my new shoes aren’t even remotely waterproof. My feet were already wet (not just damp, but wet) by the time I’d got to Tongan Dao. In fact, two days later, even though I’ve been wearing either my old, torn shoes or my sandals since then, they’re still bloody damp. They’re not just not waterproof, they’re worse than wearing sponges on your feet. Think I might have to get me some more waterproof shoes.


Today is bloody beautiful. Pity I had a bit more of that proofreading to do. Nothing too serious, just a little bit more polishing on a few paragraphs. Still, it is a day to be outside enjoying sun and clean air and warmth, not to be inside staring at a computer screen. So why am I still here?

Publié dans chrislzh

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