My Trip to Minning Town

This family docudrama TV series from China warmed my heart

Meet Mr.Bai, the headmaster of a one-room school in an impoverished, experimental farming community in China’s vast Gobi Desert.  His school needs many material improvements but he’s a devoted teacher, so he makes do with what little they’ve got. One thing he’d love to see is a new playground. He keeps applying for funds from the local district government, but his requests go ignored. 

Impassioned and frustrated, he finally takes the drastic step of going over the local politicians’ heads and complaining in person to the regional government. Before he knows it, he’s thrown into the shark tank of local politics. How much is he willing to compromise his ideals just to get a playground?

Yikes. All of this drama for a village playground could be the comedic makings of a wry satire a la Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People, but this story is set a lot further east, and treats its subject matter with a dignity and respect I found refreshing in our age of cynicism.

Mr. Bai’s passion for a playground is but one subplot among many in the 2021 Chinese TV series Minning (a close pronunciation in English would be Ming-Ning) Town, produced by Daylight Entertainment (Nirvana in Fire, Ode to Joy, Like a Flowing River, The Story of Ming Lan). The trials of the beleaguered Mr. Bai

House of Time

Kalkokkho, written and directed by Sarmistha Maiti & Rajdeep Paul

“Doomsday…Apocalypse…The End of the World…Earlier we used to see these only in foreign films. Apocalypse would happen only in their countries then, and a handsome male hero, just in the nick of time, would save everyone from impending doom. Though it had no relevance in our own lives, it was always great to witness it onscreen through the magic of movies. But in real life, Apocalypse is so boring, monotonous, like a slow-paced art-house film.”

This wry, meta-cinematic line of dialogue from Kalkokkho, or House of Time, the new feature film from Kolkata-based writer-director duo Sarmistha Maiti & Rajdeep Paul, aptly captures the mood many of us felt in the earliest days of last year’s nearly global Covid pandemic lockdown.  I remember falling into a black hole of depression for two weeks or so, lying on my sofa staring at the ceiling, feeling psychologically and spiritually immobilized; tied down, even.  Soon, however, I began to play the Glad Game, count my many blessings, untie myself and get off my self-absorbed butt.  I reminded myself that when the going gets strange, the strange get going.

The Concert for Bangladesh Turns 40

Go, iTunes for showing the The Concert for Bangladesh free this past weekend to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the concert held on August 1, 1971 at Madison Square Garden in New York.  I’ve had the triple album on vinyl for years but had never seen the movie.

Highlights include George Harrison having to explain up front what a sitar is, and for the audience to sit quietly and behave during the Indian music part led by Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and Alla Rakha. Just shows how culturally far the US has come musically since 1971.  Today instruments like the sitar and the sarod are commonplace in American rock and folk music.

Then there are the ubiquitous Coke cans (I’m guessing Coke donated refreshments backstage or footed part of the bill for the MSG rental). It’s hard to believe the product placement is accidental. Billy Preston’s seen with one just before hopping up from his keyboard to go into a dance frenzy (must have been the caffeine), then Leon Russell’s seen with one at his keyboard just before belting Jumpin’ Jack Flash.  There are just these Coke cans sitting around on the stage everywhere that get nicely framed by the cameras when they go in for closeups of the artists.

Also amazing is how many of them are smoking (tobacco) cigarettes. Today they’d probably have to hide that from the cameras to keep the film from getting an NC-17.

Eric Clapton is humble as usual.

George Harrison and Ravi Shankar

For the most part the musical performances aren’t stellar (the simplest and most polished-sounding was George and Eric’s duet on Here Comes the Sun) but that wasn’t the point.  The concert was quickly thrown together and they all did it for free to raise money to aid the grim humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh brought about by their war to break away from Pakistan (who can blame them?) and by the world’s largest tropical cyclone hitting them at the worst possible time. Even without the cyclone, the Pakistani army killed an estimated 3 million, systematically raped thousands of women, and 10 million refugees fled into neighboring India. The concert was intended to call attention to their plight and offer some relief for their horrific suffering.

If you download the concert (the album, not the movie) from iTunes they’ll make a donation to the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF.  Or just go to and donate any amount there. For the month of August all funds raised will go toward famine relief in the Horn of Africa. That’s the famine in Somalia you’ve been seeing on the TV news every night for days.  Why not chip in a little and help them out?  It’s what George and Ravi and Eric and Billy and Leon and Ringo Starr and Bob Dylan and Badfinger would want you to do.