While flipping through Netflix, I came across the documentary The Beauty Academy of Kabul. Having been thoroughly entertained by Salaam Dunk, I liked the idea of another documentary based on women in the Middle East and I was not disappointed. The documentary follows the opening of the first beauty school in Kabul, Afghanistan led by 6 American instructors (3 of which were Afghan refugees) and starting with 20 Afghan students. The film depicts the reactions of the refugees returning to Kabul, the hardships that the students go through to get the training, and the culture of beauty that is hidden due to the Taliban regime. The film is really well done and worth the download.
Sheena Iyengar just took me around the world in 18 minutes through her talk, “The Art of Choosing,” on TEDGlobal. Although based at Columbia University, she starts her lecture with an experience in Japan where she tells a story about ordering tea. From there Dr. Iyengar humorously, yet with scholarly background describes how the concept of choice varies around the world in comparison to the U.S. She addressed the following American assumptions regarding choice and how these assumptions hold up in other cultures:
- If a choice affects you, you should be the one to make it.
- The more choices you have, the more likely you are to make the best choice.
- You must never to say “no” to choice.
Her talk reminded me of my experience choosing a college. My dad was pretty determined that I should go to Emory University so I applied early decision, was accepted, and enrolled without applying to any other colleges. At the time I was furious because I felt I didn’t have a choice. It’s a story I tell students often and I always joke at the end that it was the best decision my dad ever made for me (it really was). It’s funny the responses I get depending on who I tell. My American students tend to be slightly appalled that I didn’t decide where to go to school, however, when I’ve told international students my story, I don’t get the same reaction. What are your thoughts on choice?
After a long work week in our household, we decided to spend Friday night in. After some delicious Cooking Light corn fritters, I began to search Netflix and came across Mao’s Last Dancer. I personally haven’t been to China, but it’s definitely on my short list so I was interested. The 2010 Bruce Beresford film depicts the “true story” of Li Cunxin, a ballet dancer who came to the U.S. on exchange from Communist China, and his struggle to remain in the U.S. With flashbacks to his childhood and training in China, the film was full of cultural incidents that really struck me. For example, Li’s parents don’t call him by his name but rather call him Sixth Son (he is the 6 of 7 boys in the family). There is also a great scene with Li and the artistic director of the Houston Ballet addressing American frivolity and excess that was excellent (part of it is in the trailer). If you are looking for an inspirational, cultural film for your Saturday night, I would highly recommend Mao’s Last Dancer.
Recently I was looking for a new book to read on the treadmill and saw The Night Circus while browsing at my local Book Star. After reading the jacket cover, I downloaded the sample on my Kindle and then quickly decided it was worthy of its $13.99 price tag. Hopping from London to Cairo, Paris to Montreal, this first novel by Erin Morgenstern magically took me around the globe and back in time. Telling the story of two young magicians unaware that they are competing against each other, The Night Circus has the perfect balance of mystery, romance, and creativity. Personally I have two ways I judge how much I like a book: 1) how quickly I read it, and 2) if I would read it again. Well, I read this 400 page book in just 4 days and would definitely not mind a re-run.
Last week the IRC here in San Diego did a showing of Salaam Dunk. I’ve never been much into documentaries but one of my students studied abroad in the Middle East and thought we could go together. I have to say that I was highly entertained and moved by their story. The film follows the season of the women’s basketball team at American University of Iraq. The team is in their second season and prior to coming to college, most of the girls had never ran, let alone played basketball. While their record and skills are somewhat dismal, they are redeemed by becoming a team and overcoming the barriers of ethnicity and religion. There were a few things that struck me about the film: 1) I was amazed at their English; most of the girls had perfect accents, 2) they were very honest about the war and the fear it invoked, which made me really think about what they went through, and 3) I thought it was amazing how a simple thing like basketball could be so controversial but also was a vehicle for reconciliation. Check out the trailer: