The best reporting on the Sichuan Earthquake you’ll never see

When I was at the Pusan International Film Festival in Korea, I went to a hotel on the beach to meet a documentary filmmaker from Beijing. I was very impressed by his film, Who Killed Our Children.

Pan Jianlin was frank with his opinions and generous with his time. He chain smokes and makes self-depricating jokes. He offered me a beer at 9:30 in the morning. When I met him he was wearing a Slipknot t-shirt. I asked him if he liked Slipknot; he replied, “Who’s Slipknot?”

I wanted to write about him and his film. Two versions of the story ran, one in US-China Today and the other on The China Beat.

I wrote the headline, also the title of this post. I hope I’m totally wrong on that count.

emerging in California

flight to Los Angeles

After just over a week in semi-hiding, I am proud to say that I’m back in California. It’s been one year and one week of traveling and teaching and writing (and eating) in Asia and it feels good to back where the avocados are cheap and the toilet paper is two-ply, even in public restrooms.

And lucky for me, there are no Korea-withdrawals. Diamond Bar, California (where I went to high school) has two great, very large Korean markets. And just down the road I had a fruity drink and som tum and soft rock with a friend to fulfill my southeast Asia craving.

My semi-hiding week was for family and writing. I’ve found a surprisingly good work space in my sister/grandmother’s room and I’m starting to get back into the routine of writing everyday. A group of reviews from the week I spent in Busan just ran in Asia Pacific Arts, including one of the Malaysian drama/comedy/musical Sell Out! That shout out was just for you, Joon Han.

queuing for movies

They all said the Pusan International Film Festival is the premiere festival in Asia. I’m no Asia film scholar, but it certainly is a big deal here. I’ve never seen teenagers wake up so early to get movie tickets before.

On the third day of the festival, we also woke up early to get tickets to some shows we wanted to watch. My friend Brian Hu is fully accredited and can get tickets one day ahead of time. I, as an Asia Pacific Arts photographer, am not.

Last night I attempted to reserve tickets for shows today. The interesting thing about this festival is that it really is designed for Koreans here to see Korean films and international films with Korean subtitles that they would ordinarily never have access to. If you are a Korean resident you can buy tickets online, at ATM machines and in banks. It’s wonderful to see all the excitement – the festival is visible in one way or another all over the city.

sell_out_thumbail147x200.gifA foreigner, however, needs to queue up. They sell tickets in person only on the day the movie is showing, and the tickets sell out fast. I got in line just after 9 a.m. and by the time I reached the counter at 10:45, more than half the films showing today were sold out. I did manage to get a ticket to the Malaysian film Sell Out! by Yeo Joon Han, which I am really looking forward to. Considering I was tasked with teaching students in Singapore to be creative (no joke), it will be interesting to see Yeo’s lampooning of how corporate interests wreak havoc on creative industries.

I also picked up a ticket to 63 Years On, a documentary by Kim Dong-won about Korean comfort women (sex slaves in World War II) and how their lives are now. I’ve crossed paths with this topic so many times before that the film caught my eye and I thought I’d take a look.

In the coming days, I’m hoping to catch a few more documentaries, and some films from Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. Tan Chee Wee, head of the Signapore Film Commission, gave brief opening statements at the beginning of an event adjacent to the festival, Asia Policy Plus, a two-day conference about film policies in the region. He speaks again tomorrow, so I’ll learn more about how films in Singapore are funded. Today, Tan talked about a bit about a funding scheme for new directors to make their first feature-length films. It seems that the Commission will take a large role in “nurturing” these films — and I hope to clarify exactly what that means. Brian is focusing on Taiwan and Hong Kong films and we’ll both be writing some short reviews for Asia Pacific Arts.

random updates: writing about Singapore, teaching in Cambodia and watching movies in Korea

I had a little bit of an epiphany about my writing life in Singapore a while ago. And I promised I would write more about the country where I live. So, a few months later, I am true to my word and am posting for Global Voices. Will work my way up to longer, reported writing.

I’m also not giving up just yet on my goal to get at least a few of my students reading more. I’m writing for them at npReads. Students, colleagues — if you’re reading this, I’d love for you to contribute and build the site after my fellowship ends.

Next next weekend, I’ll be attending a bar camp in Phnom Phen. I’d like to teach a news writing topic — perhaps about upsidedown triangles or a spiced up lead drill of some sort. Any suggestions or requests? Mostly, I am very excited to meet new people and get to know Cambodia a bit.

In the first week of October, I’ll be off to the Pusan Internation Film Festival with my friend and trusted film maniac Brian Hu. I’ll take some photos and do some writing and try to see as many beautiful people as possible. And get a taste for Korea.

Then it’s off to Los Angeles, home of tacos and burritos and In ‘n Out burgers. And my family too.