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Saturday, March 12, 2005

可可西里

The insidious nature of Taipei weather appears again. After a pleasant week with temperatures reaching into the twenties, teasing us with thoughts of spring and the end of the rain and cold, the weekend arrives full of rain and wind and temperatures sinking below 10. When did the change occur? Friday lunch time it started to get cloudy, Friday night started to rain, and overnight the temperatures dropped. So much for getting outside this weekend.

Natalia and I went to see a movie today. It is called 可可西里, or Kekexili, and was the winner of the Taipei Golden Horse award for Best Film at the annual film festival held here a few months ago. I remember having read a bit about it at the time, but just in passing, and at the time I had little motivation to check it out. The movie was released today at only two theatres, but to rave reviews, and as one of the theatres is close to my apartment, we figured what the heck…This was a smart decision. The movie is stunning, with some of the best cinematography I have ever seen. It is based on events from 1993-1996 when a small group of men in the可可西里 region of Tibet – one of the least populated places on Earth, and for good reason as the film shows – formed a patrol to stop poaching of the Tibetan antelope – the pelt of which could be sold for good money. In the span of a few short years, the population of the antelope went from about 1,000,000 to 10,000.

The movie centers around the man in charge of the patrol and a reporter who has come from Beijing to report on the situation. Really, though, the main character in the movie is the landscape, which is perhaps the most menacing character I have seen in a long time. That the Tibetan plateau and the mountains of the Himalaya are stunning is without doubt. However, as character after character succumbs to cold, wind, or altitude sickness, one cannot help but feel the hopelessness a man must feel in the face of nature. This is a scene in which a man, alone with his jeep and supplies, returning to find other men of the patrol, walks into a patch of quick sand and is swallowed into the earth, the earth doing the job of killing and burying in less than two minutes.

In the end, nearly the entire patrol were either been murdered by the poachers or have succumbed to the elements. The reporter survived and told the story in Beijing, which apparently created quite a stir and led to the eventual ban of poaching and the 可可西里 being turned into a sanctuary. Today the antelope population has grown to 30,000, and continues to expand.

Having watched this movie, I can not help but wonder at all the unknown stories, fascinating dramas of man versus man and man versus nature, in remote places that few ever reach. Perhaps the stories have not been told, or perhaps they have and I just have not heard them. A thought then, for another dreary Saturday: the sheer greatness of Earth – with its places and stories and landscapes both accessible and inaccessible – the realization that but a fraction can truly be experienced in a lifetime. And then the corollary thought: the unbearable smallness of man.

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