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The View from China Part One

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 31, 2012 at 6:26AM

After a week in Russia, I headed for Kunming, the capital of the southwest province of Yunnan, China, where my daughter Nora has been teaching English in a rural village near Lincang. With a population of over 6 million, Kunming doesn't scrape into the Top 20 biggest cities in China (topped by Shanghai and Beijing, both over 20 million).
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Apple Store, Beijing.
Apple Store, Beijing.

Nora's college pal Missy stayed at the much cheaper Hump Hostel downtown; while I wouldn't have wanted to share a room with eight travelers, her solo room was perfectly acceptable.

It was unsettling to see many little dogs running around the streets ungroomed and untended, with neither collars nor owners; they are fed scraps by stores and restaurants. At the Kunming market, dogs were for sale as pets (I think), while at the big produce market in more rural Xingping, cooked dog was for sale; Nora admitted to trying it once and not liking the taste.

Piracy Alert: Kunming.
Piracy Alert: Kunming.

Piracy is rampant of course, as all the video stores were stocked with the latest DVDs, including entire seasons of TV and cable shows not yet for sale in America. With Facebook and Twitter blocked in China, not only to block the content but so that the Chinese will use internal versions instead, Nora has an outside URL--if I wanted to post on Twitter during the China trip, I had to email things for her to post for me. Chinese Television was like going back to the days of variety shows like Lawrence Welk, Hootenanny and Carol Burnett, with sweet pop songs and broad comedy bits making fun of farmers. It was strange to watch the news and recognize that it was utterly untrustworthy--and yet, how "accurate" is Fox News?

James Cameron on China Harper's Bazaar
James Cameron on China Harper's Bazaar

The best meal we ate the entire time was in Beijing, thanks to producer Terence Chang, who took us out to a fancy Peking Duck restaurant, Duck De Chine. The duck melted in your mouth, especially if you took the skin and dipped it in sugar. Decadence. With hindsight, while Nora's Beijing choice, Hotel Kapok, was a well-designed and reasonable hotel near the Forbidden City, we wound up spending most of our time closer to the Sunlitun Bar Street area, home to many stores and restaurants, Beijing's one Apple store, the super-modern Opposite House with its art gallery lobby and CAA's Beijing office, run by Jonah Greenberg, who met us for drinks at Saddle, a popular Mexican restaurant.

Impressions
Impressions

Between Kunming and Beijing we enjoyed a vacation interlude in Yangshuo, home to the stunning karst limestone peaks that inspired the 20 Yuen note as well as Miyazaki's "Castle in the Sky" and Cameron's "Avatar." That's also where China auteur Zhang Yimou's post-Olympic visual stunner "Impressions" unfolds over the water, with ghostly lit mountains behind. The best tableau of the night involved hundreds of bamboo rafts and boatmen and streaming red ribbons. For more details on the trip, see my Facebook photos.

Stay tuned for Part Two, in which I probe the relationship between China and Hollywood.

Yangshuo
Yangshuo

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.