CULTURE SHOCK

Fooled you, I will bet you thought it was when I arrived in Southeast Asia. Sure, that had its own newness factor, but that wasn’t the shock.

All through Thailand and Cambodia, in multiple airports large and small, we queued and queued and queued. And while you might see frustration on a random face, people stood quietly. And politely. And generally without complaint. If you smiled at someone they smiled back.

My favorite queue was for an airport ladies room where I was engaged in a spirited conversation by a lovely Thai woman. We were, it turned out, the same age, both freshly retired, both traveling to similar places for similar reasons. Yes, it was a pretty long wait. She apparently decided I needed to go more and graciously told me to go first!

All through Thailand and Cambodia, even in the poorest neighborhoods, I found the people to be almost unfailingly humble, smiling, polite. And it was an extraordinary pleasure. In Thailand there is a word that doesn’t really have its own meaning, it is just an”politeness” you add to everything you say. Even if you can’t remember the word for thank you, adding a “kah” to your English “thank you” brought a smile and a return “kah”. And in Cambodia it is the cultural norm to SMILE.

On my return to the states I entered the U.S. at Atlanta where I had to go through passport control/immigration. As might be expected in one of the busiest airports in the world, it was crowded. Airport staff were working hard to control the flow of people and the lines were long. The airport staff looked like dogs that had been beaten, for some good reason. People in line were swearing, yelling, complaining in an amazing show of discourtesy and arrogance.

There is the culture shock, returning to America. We are one of, if not the, youngest developed country in the world. In France people experience individual arrogance from, for example, shopkeepers who don’t like your French accent or non French. But people bring their babies to street protests. It has been many years since I was in Germany (I will be there soon and will update) but my experience was one of politeness notwithstanding that German tourists on holiday can be a bit much. Overall we seem to be the brashest, most arrogant and rudest people I have experienced. How sad is that? And it is only getting worse. I was shocked.

Yet Another Movie

Because I so rarely had gone to the movies in my former working life (subject for another post) I find myself really loving going now. I am choosy, a little. I don’t care for most comedies, fantasies or armageddon movies. I tend to like thrillers and dark emo sorts of movies. I don’t mind shoot-em-up movies if they are fundamentally entertaining. And at this time of my life I definitely do not like romance/chick flicks for the most part. So now you know what I mostly don’t like.

I recently went to see The Mule with Clint Eastwood and Diane Wiest, among others. The people I went with found it slow, lacking movement and didn’t like it much. I don’t mind slow if it is about developing the story or the character which I thought in this case it was. I thought the movie was brilliant but extremely sad and depressing. You knew from the moment it started that it would not end well and it did not, although there was a kind of heroic undertone to the tragic ending.

The movie is, I presume loosely, based on the story of an actual World War II veteran to whom this happened which makes the narrative in some ways sadder but more convincing. Clint Eastwood as an old man was utterly convincing, he is an old man. He retained just enough of his tough guy loner persona to be interesting and not just old. It was sad nevertheless.

He reminded me of my father, a creative smart guy who couldn’t sustain family relationships with wife or children and as a result ended up alone and a bit desperate. His need for social accolades parallels my father’s needs very much. It made me think about several generations of veterans who came home and were unable to talk about what they had seen. Perhaps the need to keep that silence contributed to their intimate isolation. In the movie, very desperate, falling into what he falls into almost by accident but very much as a result of his isolation from family.

I thought it was very much worth seeing but I also left with a sense of real sadness for both the state of the elderly in this country and for the failure of relationship. In the very end it is poignant, sad, illuminating and truthful while being a good and resonant story of our time. See it but don’t expect to leave “entertained” in the usual sense of the word. It did capture my full attention, and you will be thinking about it as you walk out.

I Remember

 

So here goes with another movie. The other night I went to see Bohemian Rhapsody. And I know that Rami Malik got some not so nice and pretty snarky reviews. Some were downright nasty. I, however, thought he was amazing. He utterly channeled Freddie Mercury and held the audience’s attention as if he were the real person. I imagine it is hard enough to play a fictional character, but to re-create a real person must be unbelievably difficult. And he made it look easy, the acting part. Being Freddie Mercury could never have been easy, in the movie or in life.

Of course the music was wonderful, and nostalgic, but that wasn’t what struck me most. Don’t get me wrong, as a musician, the story of any iconic musician is fascinating to me. What struck me hardest was the evocative power of the film to bring me back to those terrible early days of the epidemic. The dark days when the virus was an unknown and nobody understood what it was let alone what to do about it, how to treat it.

Watching even the fictional story of a man dying of AIDS brought to mind all those I lost and all those we as a country, as a culture, lost. And it brought to mind the fear and ignorance, intolerance and distrust with which victims were treated. I remember people sick and dying with no human touch because of irrational and baseless fear. I remember the sorrow I felt and the helplessness, all I could do was hug the ones I knew.

And remembering what that fear and ignorance did to hundreds or thousands made me think of what fear and ignorance are doing to us now. If only there was a cure. But it was a wonderful cinema experience despite all that.

 

 

Random Thoughts & Reflections

Every day my fat kitty gets up on the bathroom counter and he insists on a drink from the faucet. His method of determining if the water is running sufficiently is to place his entire head under the  running water. When he is dripping it is time to drink. More interesting, he frequently sits up there after his drink and gazes into the mirror. So random thought for the day, what does he think it is? Does he think there is another cat there who never comes out to eat or play? Does he think it is a picture of himself? Does he not see it at all and is just staring into space? Silly questions all but I would like to know.

Whenever I get on an airplane and take my seat, I buckle up. If I am on the aisle, I wait until everyone is seated. I grab my book and whatever I need and settle in. And whoever is sitting next to me, man or woman, thin or fat, always feels free to place some part of themselves in my space. Is it because I am a relatively small woman? Is it because I am polite and don’t shove them back? Or does everyone just feel entitled to do whatever they want?

We all stand in line for lots of things. Despite the ubiquitous and broad reach of Amazon. But we still do stand in lines and crowds. Now in a true crowd I understand what I am about to describe, but just standing in line not so much. So I wonder, when I am standing in line, why I can feel the breath of the person behind me on the back of my neck. What happened to personal space? I want to turn around and tell people to back off, but something about my upbringing creates a barrier keeping me from doing it. If you are breathing on my neck you had better be someone I hope will kiss it next.

When I walk, which I do as much as I can, I find myself dodging other pedestrians much more than I used to, often practically tripping over those who won’t or don’t pay attention. And there is a perfectly obvious explanation- everyone is looking down, not up. Everyone is focused on the little screens in their hands. In places I am not familiar with, I sometimes get directions on my phone, but I still try to hold it up and look around me. I have also been practicing looking people in the eye when I pass them on the street or in some random place. If I am lucky enough to catch someone’s eye, they always seem taken aback to be looked at forthrightly, as if it is some very unfamiliar, almost alien, act.

Apparently I have digressed from cats’ reflections on their reflection to the general lack of civility in the world. It’s a stretch but I did title it random thoughts. And the world indeed is full of incivility. Perhaps we should take a moment, and reflect on how our behavior reflects on others. I know after writing this, I will.

Movies~And thinking

Well, now that the highest of the high holy days have passed, I have no excuse.  I am going to do something I have never done before in writing, I am going to talk about a movie.  With the caveat that I actually don’t go very often despite the fact that I love going to the movies.

I went to see White Boy Rick. Yes, I know, you are thinking “really?”.  So just to get it out of the way, Matthew McConaughey was really good, as expected. But anyone can say that.

As I left the theatre I found that the movie had really made me think. And since I was by myself, I was walking along talking to myself about what I was thinking. Don’t laugh. Now there are movies that are pure entertainment, and there are movies the cause us to revisit historical or emotional spaces we are already familiar with but that evoke an emotional response. And then there is the rare movie that makes us think.

This movie, painfully based on a true story, is about many things.  First, it is about the seduction of money and status set against poverty and the failure of ambition. Second, it is about the abysmal failure of the sentencing guidelines that were introduced several decades ago. These draconian guidelines filled the prisons with non violent drug offenders on long sentences and contributed greatly to the growth industry that our prisons have become. And finally it is about the nature of the relationship between parents and children.  In this case an ineffective father trying hard in difficult circumstances to do what he thinks is right. And then he does what he knows is wrong, because he thinks it will be better in the end, which it is not. And it is about the pain of making choices constrained by poverty, hopelessness and constant failure.

So, my first movie review, I thought it was darn good and it made me think, and eat popcorn.