Kabul from 30,000 feet (and a bangkok downpour)

This is why you don’t go outside and wander around before checking the weather.

Yesterday I was flying to Bangkok (where the picture was taken) when, just as our flight path was about to cross Afghanistan, I watched The Kite Runner. Great film. (Mind you, this is the sentiment of someone watching on a noisy 747 at two in the morning, but still.)

Having read the book, what surprised me was how closely the film followed the original story and, even more, how well it worked. The gist of both is that Amir, a young boy growing up in 1970s Afghanistan, betrays his best friend, only to be given a chance at redemption years later when he receives a phone call asking him to return to his homeland to rescue his friend’s son. (The fact that the Taliban is wreaking havoc at the time tends to complicate things.)

The cirumstances of Amir’s opportunity for redemption bear striking parallels to the circumstances of his earlier betrayal. The big choice the movie presents — the one Amir must make, not once but twice — is between standing up for the oppressed and looking the other way to save our own skin.

I don’t recall exactly what my mental picture of Afghanistan was before the book and the film. Still, both seem to capture really well the country that was zooming past 30,000 feet below. (Not much of a surprise, I suppose, since the author was born in Kabul.)

Also saw another film worth watching, called Lars and the Real Girl. It’s about how a tight-knit, mostly Christian community responds when Lars, who develops a crippling shyness after the death of his parents, begins introducing everyone to his girlfriend Bianca, who in reality is a life-sized doll. The town’s reaction is ultimately shaped by a simple question that can easily sound like a worn-out cliche (especially when it’s turned into a fashion commodity): “What would Jesus do?” The question is asked by the pastor of the tiny Methodist church that Lars attends (with Bianca, obviously). And it’s the community’s response that shapes the trajectory of Lars’ growth or healing or whatever you want to call it.

So… two films and 12 hours later, I was in Bangkok. Haven’t seen too much of the city yet. One of my few ventures outside the hotel was cut short by a storm that led me to spend most of the time under a shelter in a nearby park, standing next to a very bored looking security guard.

Some of the sights here can be disturbing… like pot-bellied, middle-aged Western men everywhere you look, arms draped around Thai girls barely in their twenties (if that). Or the homeless boy taking shelter from the rain, curled up on a sidewalk. He couldn’t have been more than twelve.

Maybe the most jarring thing is seeing it in a towering city that, if it weren’t for the obvious language barrier, could just as easily be Houston or LA. There’s never a shortage of good reasons to fight for a better world. (Assuming we choose not to look the other way, that is. Hang on, I think I watched a movie about that somewhere.)

On a semi-related note, I discovered the perfect antedote to jet lag. It’s called staying awake on the plane and sleeping for 15 hours the next day. Side effects include being awake at 12:30 the following morning and typing out random thoughts on your blog because you’re not the least bit tired.

2 thoughts on “Kabul from 30,000 feet (and a bangkok downpour)

  1. Work sent me. I was there for a conference, meaning we spent most of the time in a windowless hotel conference room. But they let us out occasionally. And the food there was incredible. Redefined my notion of “spicy” but still really, really good.

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