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The Black River

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Mask Kobayashi paints a bleak picture of Tokyo during the 1950s in The Black River. Set in a neighborhood beside a U.S. Army base, Kobayashi shows how Japan’s become corrupt. When Nishida, an upright student/bookseller, moves into a decrepit apartment building that’s more of a shanty than a building, we meet a motley crew consisting of parasites, prostitutes and a couple good guys who don’t stand a chance of fighting city hall given that most of their neighbors would sell out their own mother given the chance.

Soon both Nishida and Killer Joe, a Japanese low level gangster, fall for Shizuko, a lovely, innocent young woman. Joe shows his colors early on by ordering his hoodlum pals to attack Shizuko. It seems they’re going to rape her, but Joe happens by and fights them off. He professes his love and while Shizuko is briefly wooed, Joe then forces himself on her and she’s reviled. The next day Shizuko visits Joe to tell him she was going to report him to the police, but decided she’d be willing to marry him to salvage her reputation. What a sacrifice! It’s hard to believe that a woman would even have to consider such an option, but in some times and places that’s how people thought.

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Meanwhile Joe’s plotting with the greedy landlady to evict the residents of the shanty. Both will make out like bandits if they can get the not-so-beautiful losers out of the place.

The film then criticizes the greed, pettiness and lack of morality in society without blaming the problems on the American Army.The Black River shows how the characters contribute to their own troubles. Certainly, Shizuko was a victim in many ways, but she winds up but her choices also lead to an end where I saw no happily ever after for her.

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Intercontinental Hotel: Lijiang

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Adjacent to Lijiang’s Ancient Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Intercontinental hotel offers style, comfort and outstanding service. All the villas are modern and comfortable with rooms and architecture based on local ethnic crafts and culture making the Intercontinental an ideal place to stay, especially if you can pay with points. I really hated to leave this sanctuary. It would be an ideal place to come to finish editing a writing project.

The service was friendly and efficient. The staff all seemed genuinely eager to help. There were always enough staff with fluent English on hand to help.

The food in the executive lounge was beautiful and ample. I was upgraded to an executive room so I could have afternoon tea, cocktails and appetizers and breakfast in the lounge. They always offered a choice of Chinese and Western fare.

Customer Service

Certainly, the activity I dread most when I return to the US is dealing with customer service. I expect piled up junk mail and sometimes that requires a customer service call. This time though my calls have all been tied to technology problems.

I forgot my newish desktop computer’s password and the number of my failed attempts to log in locked up my account and required a call to Apple. I figured it would take 15 minutes tops to resolve the issue. Boy, was I off. It took almost 2 hours. I wasn’t on hold for long as I used the service where you give them your phone number and someone calls you right back.

All the time was spent answering questions, many that had nothing to do with my problem. Before I knew it, for some reason the clerk was warning me that I’d have to delete my hard drive. Because I forgot my password? I resisted that and eventually got a senior representative who helped without doing anything to my hard drive.

Then we’ve got a problem with our printer, which is less than 3 years old. I tried several solutions posted online and on YouTube. I was pretty proud that I learned how to remove, flush and replace the printer head. I really thought that process, which took hours, would fix it, but alas, no. I called Canon and the operator guided me through a couple other fixes, which didn’t work. She then said Canon would give us a 15% loyalty discount on another printer, but I’m loathe to buy another Canon since this one didn’t last very long. I don’t like planned obsolesce and believe a printer should last 5 years. I realize now I’m a dreamer.

I hate spending so many hours on customer service problems. In Asia, service has been always so punctual and effective. I wish I could say the same about the US.

Can anyone recommend an inkjet printer which they consider reliable?

Sugalabo

Simon and Martina, with the help of the very-talented Dan, have made an outstanding video about a chef in Tokyo, who has an incredible respect and interest in local ingredients and regional cultures.

I’d love to know how they got to join him in Ehime. Just start watching and see what you think. Would you want to try dinner at Sugalabo? I wonder how much that costs.

From Thornton Wilder

“The test of an adventure is that when you’re in the middle of it, you say to yourself, ‘Oh, now I’ve got myself into an awful mess; I wish I were sitting quietly at home.’ And the sign that something’s wrong with you is when you sit quietly at home wishing you were out having lots of adventure.”

Quote

HSP

I qualify as a highly sensitive person and found this interesting. Do you know anyone who’s highly sensitive? Are you one? Has anyone told you you’re too sensitive or do you get nightmares if you see scary movies?

I read the book she mentions.

You might be highly sensitive.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Shadow

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If you live in a sunless region like those of us in northern Illinois, you did not welcome “Shadow” as this week’s theme. I doubt there will be many shadows till spring, say May. Still I found this painting which captures some trees’ shadows.

1. Each week, we’ll provide a theme for creative inspiration. You take photographs based on your interpretation of the theme, and post them on your blog (a new post!) anytime before the following Friday when the next photo theme will be announced.

2. To make it easy for others to check out your photos, title your blog post “Weekly Photo Challenge: (theme of the week)” and be sure to use the “postaday″ tag.

3. Follow The Daily Post so that you don’t miss out on weekly challenge announcements, and subscribe to our newsletter – we’ll highlight great posts. Add Media photos from each month’s most popular challenge.

Other Weekly Photo Challenge photos:

Bright

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Bright colors from Indonesia, for a gray, winter day.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ambience

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State Library Victoria, Australia

1. Each week, we’ll provide a theme for creative inspiration. You take photographs based on your interpretation of the theme, and post them on your blog (a new post!) anytime before the following Friday when the next photo theme will be announced.

2. To make it easy for others to check out your photos, title your blog post “Weekly Photo Challenge: (theme of the week)” and be sure to use the “postaday″ tag.

3. Follow The Daily Post so that you don’t miss out on weekly challenge announcements, and subscribe to our newsletter – we’ll highlight great posts. Add Media photos from each month’s most popular challenge.

Other Weekly Photo Challenge photos:

The Quiet American

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“I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.”

I really loved Graham Greene’s The Quiet American even though the tone and the main character so differed from favorites like Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet or Gaskell’s Margaret Hale or any 19th century novel that I treasure.

Yes, the two world wars left a stamp of jaundice and cynicism on Europe and Greene shows that (in many of his works). Yet I think he’s insightful and observant. Somehow while the main character Fowler, cynical, selfish and tapped out, earned my sympathy because he was honest with himself. I guess the similar sorts I’ve run across aren’t.

I like how Greene plays Fowler’s cynicism off Pyle’s (the chatty, “Quiet” American) innocence. By connecting them through Phuong, Fowler’s mistress whom Pyle falls for and takes. Through Phuong we see the the West’s involvement in Southeast Asia. Pyle sincerely and innocently loves her. He deals with Fowler, who offers Phuong so little. She’s like a servant and whose job could end whenever he’s called back.

Fowler lies to her, has cheated on his wife and while I didn’t like or respect him, he was the most perceptive observer in the book. He saw how flimsy and immature Pyle’s views on democracy, world affairs and Vietnam were. He also is fully aware of the selfishness of his relationship with her, but does nothing for her. While Pyle offered Phuong marriage, love and respect as well as future prosperity, his simplistic ideas about politics led to many deaths including his own. Insulated from reality by his optimism and blind trust in a handful of books, Pyle epitomized the idea that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

Throughout the story Phuong is distant and opaque throughout the book. Other than her penchant for buying scarves, we know so little of what Phuong really thinks. Pyle and Folwer probably didn’t know her all that well either. Phuong never complains to her sister or anyone about her life direction. She’s willing to forego decision-making and leave that to her sister or Pyle or Fowler.

What engaged me most was Greene’s style and the complexity of characters and plot. I didn’t know anything about Vietnam in the 1950s and this book made me appreciate that history more.

A few favorite quotations

“So it always is: when you escape to a desert, the silence shouts in your ear.”

“Suffering is not increased by numbers. One body can contain all the suffering the world can feel.”

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