Everything You Need to Know About Stand Up Planet

 

Stand Up Planet host Hasan Minhaj

 

 

So what is it?

 

Stand Up Planet is a documentary TV show and digital series that showcases life in some of the toughest places on Earth through the lens and experiences of stand-up comics. Indian-American, Hollywood based comedian Hasan Minhaj takes you to bustling Mumbai and India to meet up-and-coming comedians. Their humor helps you learn about their homelands in striking ways. It’s equal parts reality TV, documentary and travelogue. Check out the trailer to see Minhaj and other comedians in action:

 

 

How can I watch it?

 

The two-hour Stand Up Planet special premieres Wednesday, May 14 at 7pm ET/PT on Link TV. (The first hour is a documentary following Minhaj as he travels abroad. The second hour is the comedy showcase, hosted by Minhaj and which features a variety of comedians performing at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood.) You can also watch it on KCET -- premiering 9pm on May 14 -- and on Pivot -- premiering at 10pm on May 14. Click here for more airdates.

 

What comedians does Stand Up Planet feature?

 

In addition to Hasan Minhaj, you’ll see two Indian comics (Aditi Mittal and Tanmay Bhat), three South African comics (Mpho Popps, Loyiso Gola and Kagiso Lediga). Also expect American stand-ups James Adomian, Nate Bargatze and Michelle Buteau as well as comedy legends Bill Cosby, Norman Lear and Carl Reiner.

 

Stand Up Planet cast, left to right: Norman Lear, James Adomian, Hassan Minhaj, Carl Reiner, Nate Bargatze, Michelle Buteau, Aditi Mittal and Mpho Popps

 

What kind of humor are we talking about?

 

Like any comedians in the US, comedians abroad make light of the stuff they encounter on a day-to-day basis. But what’s interesting about Stand Up Planet is how it helps you understand what constitutes a part of everyday life in India or South Africa. Take Aditi Mittal’s literal take on bathroom humor, for example. Did you know that 40 percent of the world’s population doesn’t have access to a toilet?

 

 

HIV and AIDS are widespread in South Africa. But did you know men can reduce their chance of contracting HIV by 60 perfect just by getting circumcised? That decision isn’t so easy, of course. Listen to Mpho Popps’ take on “going to the mountain.”

 

 

So it’s just a comedy show and special?

 

As Hasan embarks on an epic journey of discovery to find some of the funniest stand-up comics in the most unlikely places, he follows their jokes and personal experiences deep into the hard truths and the promise for change in some of the toughest global poverty issues of our time.

 

Aditi Mittal

 

Mpho Popps

 

From rural villages and urban communities in India to the streets of Soweto in South Africa, Stand Up Planet brings you the stories and perspectives of individuals and organizations on the frontlines of social change. Learn more about SUP’s heroes and allies here. And get all the latest information about Stand Up Planet -- the broadcast show as well as the web-original content -- on the show's official website.

 
 

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Fishing for Secrets: Glimpsing the World's Biggest Dolphin Hunt

The car glided swiftly out of Lima, skimming past brightly-lit barrios before plunging into the darkness of the desert road. We were heading for a midnight rendezvous with a shark fishing boat. The owner of the rough and ready vessel had agreed to show us how they catch sharks in Peru: by killing dolphins and using the bloody chunks as bait.

Rumors of an illegal dolphin harvest have swirled around Peru for years, a secret slaughter involving thousands of dolphins, dwarfing the high seas drama of the annual whale hunt in Antarctica.

Known as "sea pigs" by fishermen in Peru, dolphins are reportedly harpooned and diced up on deck, before being skewered onto hundreds of hooks strung out on long-lines at sea to attract sharks. It's a bloody business - but it can save fishermen hundreds if not thousands of dollars in costly fish bait every trip. Dolphin meat is particularly enticing to sharks, and while substitutes are available, to the hard-bitten men who brave these high seas, all that matters is that it is free.

Marine biologist Stefan Austermuhle and his NGO, Mundo Azul, have  campaigned tirelessly on the issue of dolphin hunting in Peru for over a decade. And it was he who offered to help us in Peru finding a boat to take us out fishing. While I sat with my family in Brighton, I received the call from Stefan that I had been both hoping for and dreading: he was able to get a boat to take us out on a hunting trip, in exchange for help with fuel costs, and on strict condition of anonymity.

A week after receiving the call I found myself standing nervously on a quayside in a deserted fishing port at midnight on the Peruvian coast next to my friend cameraman Alejandro Reynoso. We were heading for a week in the Pacific ocean with illegal dolphin hunters, embarking on a voyage that would eventually prove that the hunt is real -- but that very nearly cost us our lives.
Jim Wickens/Ecologist Film Unit
Out of sight and out of mind, the Peruvian dolphin hunt carries on to this day. Photo: Jim Wickens/Ecologist Film Unit


A VOYAGE INTO THE UNKNOWN
 
Our vessel for the week was a tiny wooden 40 foot vessel, open-decked but for a little wheelhouse and a cramped hole in the bow with four tiny bunks for six people.

Far from the prying eyes of the police force or customs, the rickety boat crept out of port and into the heaving swell of the Pacific ocean. Despite the discomfort I slept immediately, adrenaline, jetlag and fear temporarily overcome by the lull and sway of the vessel as it began the 600km trek south to where the sharks lie.

By first light, all reference points of land and civilization had gone. I awoke disorientated in a grey fog of clouds, drizzle, waves and wonder; every hour that passed taking us south and into the storm swell that had closed the ports shortly after our departure. Overcome with seasickness, day and night slipped into each other. Somehow time passed: nauseous hours spent on deck, gazing at the blank horizon, or lying in my bunk, dreaming of better places.

When planning the expedition, I'd had naive visions of stringing up a hammock; reading books; or shooting clever images of the fishermen at work while we slugged our way out to sea. It was a hopeless fantasy against the cold, damp reality of life at sea on a Peruvian fishing boat: food twice a day in a dog bowl-shaped silver dish; nowhere to sit, nothing to do.

Peru's parched desert coastline cascades into the cold waters of the Pacific ocean; nutrient-laden currents providing sustenance to vast shoals of anchovy; which in turn attract whales, seabirds and sharks from across the Pacific to feed in these rich waters.

These waters produce 10% of the world's fish catch, predominantly in the form of Peruvian anchovy, a tiny oil fish and a cornerstone of the trophic pyramid that is sucked out of the oceans by the millions of tons every year for use in salmon, pig and poultry feeds around the world. Much of the meat and smoked salmon that we eat will have been fed on fish from the waters we are sailing upon. It is a controversial practice, a crucial ingredient to factory farming meat systems producing the world over, but one that is eroding the health of the ecosystem in Peru say conservationists.
 
Drawn to the cold upwelling of plankton, the vast shimmering shoals of anchovy create enormous buffets for other animals to thrive upon. Journeying through this great feeding trough of the Eastern Pacific, there were moments to lift the heart:  light pouring through the grey and illuminating one of nature's great feeding spectacles - thousands of seabirds dive-bombing anchovy shoals in the ocean while dolphin pods corralled and fed from around the sides; air and ocean-bound predators, utterly at home in the hostile grey waters. Fleeting companions in the isolation, they would merge back into the grey as quickly as they first arrived.

DOLPHIN HUNT

The crew kept busy, fixing ropes, scrubbing decks, storing food provisions, and preparing an enormous steel harpoon that lay on deck. We were settling into a routine, the days were ticking by. Then a cry came up that changed everything.

'Chenchos!'  screamed the captain from the wheelhouse, literally 'fat pigs'; the name that Peruvian fishermen give for dolphins and the plentiful meat that they can supply. It was our third day, and the boat was passing another shoal of anchovy under siege from diving seabirds and dolphins. Only this time a pod of dolphins had broken away from the feeding grounds, and was heading for our boat to bow-ride, half a dozen of them leaping in turns through the water racing to our boat. Within seconds the music in the wheelhouse had been turned down and the crew was poised. The captain stood on the bow clasping a steel harpoon tipped with a double-edged razor-sharp point, attached to rope held by another crew member on the side of the vessel. Ale and I leapt into position to film just behind the hunters. Waiting by the gunwale I could hear Ale on the bow behind the harpoon handler, cursing as he struggled to tried to tie himself to a rudimentary harness with one hand whilst holding the camera with the other as the vessel soared and sank in the lumpy swell.

The dolphins were under the bow, taking it in turns to surf the wake that the boat was creating. In other circumstances, a beautiful sight - but this time would be different. The crew member clutching the harpoon stood silently, arms outstretched and ready to strike, familiarizing himself with the rhythm of the dolphins as they surfaced for air. A momentary pause, then he threw it down - 30kg of razor sharp tubular steel plunging into the arch of a dolphin's back as it swam alongside the bow. A cry went up in excitement from the crew, and seconds later everyone was scrambling about, Ale and myself gazing on in horror as the line flew from the boat. A dolphin beak emerged 50 yards from the boat, tugging at the taught rope, trying to swim away, it's efforts diminishing as it became gradually enveloped in a thick cloud of its own blood. Two of the crew dragged the line in, the dolphin still desperately kicking its fins, but there could be no miracle escape from its bloody fate. As the boat drew closer, a shiny steel gaff hook was plunged into the soft skin of the dolphin's head, and it was hauled aboard, intestines pouring out of its twitching body. A crew member sharpened a knife and casually began to slice off the fins, tossing them into the sea before peeling the skin off the dolphin's back in long strips, amidst a thick puddle of bright red dolphin blood.

The engine revved up and the crew resumed their work. The salsa music came back on the speaker and a cry for lunch came up from the cook. Crouched next to the warm skinless carcass, a crew member handed me a bowl of soup. I vomited, struggling to contain my emotions amidst the intimate brutality of what I had just witnessed. Ale and I gazed at each other in silence, making eye contact from across the deck, but unable to communicate how we felt about the killing or portray any emotion. To do so could be dangerous, even lethal in the tiny tinderbox-like conditions of the fishing boat 100km from shore. Our vessel ploughed on, sailing ever further south into the dreadful grey swell, parallel to the desert coast en route to the thin sliver of temperature gradient on the chart that was the best fishing ground for sharks. The boat had its dolphin bait.

 

Jim Wickens/Ecologist Film Unit
A Peruvian fisherman slicing up dolphin meat for use as sharkbait. Photo: Jim Wickens/Ecologist Film Unit.


THE PERFECT BAIT

As we neared the fishing grounds, the crew became more focused. The deck was hosed down, supplies repacked and ropes carefully coiled before the bait could be cut up. The dolphin lay flensed in the corner, a long section of the corpse sliced out of it and carefully chopped into long slivers ready for the bait box. While one team diced the dolphin, another pair cut up the fish they had brought with them, salted mackerel, bought at considerable expense, that would be halved before being tossed in with the dolphin in the bait box. Our captain explained the benefits of using the dolphin as he watched over the proceedings from the wheelhouse.

"Dolphin meat is effective for the blue shark. When you cut it, it bleeds a lot. And the blue shark likes fat, and the dolphin is pure fat. I understand that to hunt the dolphin is illegal. But for me, it's a necessity, I do it to keep my bills down. I can minimize my costs, because the bait for shark is very expensive. The majority of boats that fish shark carry the spear gun with the spear ready to use".

We had watched one being killed. But the captain was planning to kill at least two on this trip if he had the chance, one of a dozen voyages for sharks over the year that he planned to undertake. With over 1000 shark boats across Peru at the last count, the figures for this illicit dolphin hunt clock up to almost unthinkable numbers. It's hard to tie down a figure, but experts suggest at least 10,000 dolphins may be killed every year in Peru alone, making it by far the biggest cetacean hunt on earth, almost 10 times higher than the Japanese dolphin drive in Taiji for example, made infamous in 'The Cove.'

An upsurge in shark meat consumption over the last decade within Peru, the high price paid for shark fins from the Far East combined with the ever-rising cost of mackerel for use as fish bait - another species exploited for use as a feed ingredient in factory farms - all play a part in beginning to understand the prevalence of the widespread Peruvian dolphin hunt today.

SHARK HUNT

By dawn we had arrived. With a signal from the captain the first buoy was dropped into place and two crew members crouched in the stern, carefully skewering salted mackerel and bloody chunks of dolphin intermittently on the leaders attached to miles of longline, as the boat slowly chugged away from the first buoy. Two hours later and the hooks - almost a thousand of them - were spread out in the water.  Everyone slept, crammed into the bow as it lulled with the engine off, floating alongside the longline 100km from shore. In the light of the setting sun, the crew donned Waterproofs, welly boots and drank soup enriched with Maca, an energy-giving Peruvian root, to prepare themselves for the night ahead. Shakira soundtracks serenaded us from the wheelhouse speakers, and the crew took up positions ready for the haul.

Ale and I watched in the darkness, cameras ready, as the longline, leaders and empty hooks were picked up and coiled by the crew until the first shout came up. The engine slowed and spotlight shone down into the dark waters below. Our first shark. A svelte, silvery-blue shape gradually appeared in the waters; half-drowned the blue shark appeared drunk, lazily kicking away at the line which drew it ever-closer to the surface. Swimming underwater, the blue shark is astonishingly beautiful, an archetypal ocean wanderer, whose soft-fin features, blue tubular torso and wide eyes endow it with a gentle elegance rarely afforded to sharks.  Hauled over the gunwale, the four foot shark slammed on the deck surface, thrashing in the waterless environment for an instant before the team set upon it. Brandishing a knife, a crew member pinned it down with his knees before slicing off the snout just below the shark's eyes. Its entire jaw had been cut away beneath its soft wide eyes. A long thin rod was rapidly inserted inside the gaping hole all the way down its spinal column and the thrashing ended. Its belly was cut, the insides washed away and the shark was tossed to the leeward side of the deck, the first of a dozen sharks they would catch, kill and butcher during the night. Far from the romance afforded it in recent years from a spate of celebrity chef food programs, I saw in that instant that industrial fishing is little more than a seafood slaughter line, and a bloody brutal one at that.

An hour into the haul the engine slowed amidst excited shouts from the deck hands. All four of them dropped their work to help tug in the line. Excitement built until a vast black shape appeared from the depths. A full grown thresher shark, several hundred kilos in weight with an elongated tail fin 6 feet on it's own. A football sized crater shone deep red in it's head, a wound that I took to be another shark feeding on the line, but was in fact caused by humboldt squid, a large and aggressive species rising from the Pacific depths at night to feed close to the surface, an animal that the crew told us they quietly feared more than the shark.

By three in the morning, an hour when reality begins to slip, Ale and I found ourselves crouching by the mast, fighting sleep and the cold winter wind. Then the cry for squid came up. Struggling to pull the monofilament, the crew grappled and swore, heaving until a dark mass came into view. A humboldt squid in the flesh. Elusive hunters from the deep, this one had risen to feed and had ensnared itself on one of the hooks. As soon as it reached the surface the 6 foot squid began to hiss, it's flailing tentacles ready to pounce. The crew made us move back, carefully approaching the creature as it lay rolling on the deck, it's ghoulish beak opening and snapping ready to bite its attackers. Within minutes it was butchered, sliced and thrown to the back of the boat, a slab of calamari dispatched to the growing pile of carcasses at the lee of the boat. 

Another blue shark came up to the surface, smaller this time but very much alive and thrashing in the water; but in a cruel torturous twist, it had vomited up its swim bladder. Rapidly sliced and diced, I watched as the belly was opened up. Dozens of perfectly formed baby sharks slid out of their mother's entrails, writhing in the waterless expanses of the deck. It was too much for Alejandro and I, having sat back for days and passively observed proceedings on the boat. We both waved at the crew, pleading with them to put the live baby sharks in the sea. It became a comedy for the crew, a novelty as the baby sharks were rounded up and tossed over the side, a torchlight following their first clumsy movements in the ocean.
 
A NARROW ESCAPE

At dawn the captain agreed to take us back to shore before carrying on with their two week fishing trip. The mood lifted as we neared the coast, the crew chattering away in their bunks about the best chicken restaurant they planned to briefly dine at before returning to sea, and no doubt relieved at the prospect of being finally rid of the camera team who had filmed their every move for the last five days. As land neared, two humpback whales surfaced by the boat, we cheered and the light dropped.

About three km from land, I stood on the bow scanning the horizon while the crew lay in their bunks chattering away. What looked like two more whales appeared 100m in front of us, their silhouettes just visible amidst the dying light. My heart dropped. Not whales. They were rocks. I shouted and the captain turned the vessel sharply left and summoned the crew from their bunks.  We motored gently forward. Then a distant roar sounded. Sensing what was about to happen, the captain turned the boat hard to port as the outline of a towering wave appeared in the searchlights of the boat, building up ever higher over a submerged rock directly in front of the bow. The enormous wave rose high above the vessel and broke on top of us. We were all thrown off our feet. A moment of watery silence sliding around in disbelief, and then terror. The crew began to scream. The boat lay limply in the rocky waters, waterlogged amidst a shoal of rocks and pitched at a horrible angle.

Another wave built up and broke onto us, smashing through the wheelhouse windows and throwing the vessel onto rocks. My shoes and glasses has been ripped off by the force of the breaking waves, and in the panicky blur I rushed to Ale who was struggling to hold on to the torn remnants of the steel derrick. We interlocked arms ready to be thrown into the water with the next wave. I looked around in the darkness calculating as best I could. Cold dark waters, unpredictable currents and a host of predators that I had spent the last week documenting, lay within. I rushed to the stern of the boat and made a soggy phone call to Stefan on land. The crew were using poles to lever themselves off the rocks and then, mercifully, a smaller set of waves lifted us off the rocks - floating us away from the danger into the night calm as suddenly as we had being thrust upon them. We scanned for more rocks while the crew frantically dug through the stores, ice, salt, fish thrown overboard in a desperate bid to locate and patch up leaks in the hull. Cold, wet and bruised, unpredictable waves of shock ran through the people on the boat, fighting for our lives amid anger that the captain had brought the vessel so carelessly into rocks, silence from the horror of the giant waves and pain from the torn muscles ripped from holding on to the boat with each crashing wave.

Eventually a small boat appeared on the horizon, skillfully summoned by Stefan to guide us into the port and onto shore. One hour later we bade farewell to the crew. Dolphin hunters, deep sea butchers and now, strangely, friends as well, we hugged and bade the briefest of farewells; before being ushered into a waiting car and driven out of the eye of the port authorities into the silence of the desert.


The author would like to gratefully acknowledge Stefan Austermuhle and Mundo Azul for their enormous help whilst in Peru, and also The Foundation for Deep Ecology, Blue Voice, the Pulitzer Centre for Crisis Reporting and the Victoria Stack Family Trust whose financial backing and assistance helped make this project happen.

 

 

About Jim Wickens:

 

British journalist Jim Wickens helped set up Ecostorm, an environmental investigative unit in 2003 that has pioneered undercover and investigative reporting techniques around the world.

 
 

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Farmers and Markets Team up to Deliver Fresh Produce by Text Message

And in Japan, farm fresh is now just a text message away. Farmers and grocers have teamed up to feed the growing demand for fresh produce through farmer's markets. There are now more than 17,000 of them in Japan. Customers love the cheaper prices and fresh produce. NHK shows us how managers of one market have found a way to ensure their apples are even crisper, and greens even greener.


Reporter:

Every year more than a million people pull into this parking lot in Utsunomiya north of Tokyo. This is one of Japan's busiest farm markets. Last year it sold over 5-million-dollars' worth of produce. There's a huge variety of fruit and vegetables, all sourced from 150 local farms. The big draw is price. Most items cost 10% less than an ordinary supermarket.


Shopper:

There's such a great variety. I shop in many different places, but I always end up coming back here.


Reporter:

The secret to the market's success?  A great selection of produce that's literally farm fresh. Nothing is left to chance. Each purchase is logged and analyzed at the cash register. The data is then sent direct to suppliers, the farmers themselves. Akemi Ikeda supplies more than 30 varieties of vegetables to the market. Even out in the fields she's kept in the loop.


Akemi Ikeda:

It's from the farm market.


Reporter:

Each farmer gets data on their sales sent to them by text message once an hour.


Akemi Ikeda:

Twenty bunches of chrysanthemum greens. I'll pick some more straightaway.


Reporter:

Right away, Ikeda starts pulling up more of the greens. She and her husband tie them in bunches, then rush them over to the market.  This is how the market always keeps its produce fresh, by adjusting supply to meet demand in real time.


Akemi Ikeda:

It's really encouraging to see how much I've sold each day. It's great.


Reporter:

This just in time supply system was set up by the market's manager, Yuzuru Matsumoto. Matsumoto has overseen a sharp rise in business. In the past five years, the number of visitors has risen by over 25%.


Yuzuru Matsumoto:

We try to look at it from the customer's point of view, and give them the service they want. We're always looking to improve the way we do things.


Reporter:

There's another factor that helps to motivate the farmers. The market lets the growers set their own prices for their produce. It takes just a 15% commission. Everything else goes to the farmers. The farmers coordinate closely with the market staff in deciding which vegetables to grow.


Market Employee:

As for the spinach between December 27th and the 31st we were about 300 kilograms short.


Farmer:

I'm thinking of sewing some after my tomatoes. If I put in 2- 300 square meters, that should be about right.


Reporter:

Holding regular meetings like this has changed the way the farmers think about their crops. Makoto Watanabe started working the land 7 years ago. He now grows six kinds of carrots. Most of these are new varieties that he'd never thought of before.


Makoto Watanabe:

It's really fun coming up with new products to sell and ways to create a market for them.


Yuzuru Matsumoto:

I think the producers feel much more involved as participants in this business.


Reporter:

From the field to the market and then straight to customers. It's an approach that works for everyone.

 


 
 

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Could This Japanese Solution Provide Millions of Asians with Clean Water?

And now to a problem that's affecting hundreds of millions of people in Asia. More than 650 million don't have clean water to drink. A city in Japan says it has a solution. Here's NHK with the story.


Reporter:

Regional municipalities operate almost all the water work systems in Japan. The city of Kitakyushu in western Japan provides clean tap water to the city’s 490-thousand households. The city developed a water-purifying machine with the private company 15 years ago. Micro-organisms attached to activated carbon dissolve the pollutants. The machine is half the price of other technologies. It uses less chlorine to disinfect the water. Kitakyushu officials started promoting the technology with private firms from 2010 to emerging economies in Asia.


Kazuya Kubata, Waterworks Bureau:

Kitakyushu has a long history as a city of technology and manufacture. It's our mission to take  action. That’s something we must do.


Reporter:

Kitakyushu officials are now turning their attention to Vietnam. Haiphong is the country’s third biggest city. Raw sewage and industrial wastewater is discharged into rivers. The river water is purified for use in tap water by adding lots of chlorine. But that combination can generate harmful substances. Citizens boil tap water for drinking and cooking. They want clean water that their children can safely drink.


Parent:

I don’t feel safe using tap water. I feel uneasy. Because I have small children. But I don’t have any other choice.


Reporter:

Kitakyushu officials told their counterparts at the Haiphong Water Authority about their water purification technology. The Vietnamese officials liked what they saw and decided to start using the Japanese system. It went into operation last month.

The Haiphong officials based their decision on low cost of the Japanese system and the fact that it uses less chlorine. The machine succeeded in eliminating most of the pollutants.

The Japanese system has caught the attention of officials in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam’s biggest city.

They started testing at this month. That could lead to a deal worth almost 20 million dollars. Seven other Vietnamese cities have also asked Kitakyushu officials to do on site service.


Ho Chi Minh City water official:

Providing people safe water supply is one of our biggest goals. I hope their technology will bring us good results.


Kazuya Kubota:

If we want to get orders from abroad. We need to go into the field with local officials, and talk with them about what needs to be done.


Reporter:

Kitakyushu officials have high hopes for their work in Vietnam. They hope it will encourage Japanese companies to work together to design water resource management systems and win orders from overseas clients.

 

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Pyongyang: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
North KoreaBefore it closed, Kaesong was bringing the North Korean government about a hundred million dollars a year. Re-opening it seems to indicate the regime is anxious to concentrate on economic renewal. And, there are signs the North's economy is getting better. At least in the capital, Pyongyang. Japan's public broadcaster NHK was able to send a crew to North Korea in August and early September. It found some changes -- and some things that haven't changed at all.

Reporter:
This is becoming an increasingly popular way to get around Pyongyang. Just a few years ago the number of taxis were few and far between. But this driver tells me they are now on the rise.

Taxi driver:
Our supreme leader Kim Jong-un says he wants to increase the number of taxis in Pyongyang to 1,000. There are already more than 500 on the streets.

Reporter:
A six kilometer ride costs just three dollars. It may not sound too expensive, but for the average citizen here it's about one-tenth the monthly wage. Taxis are still very much reserved for the rich. But the government says more and more people are becoming members of the upper class. This residential area of Pyongyang is covered with high-rise buildings where only the most privileged classes can afford to live and many more towers are currently under construction. The city plans to build enough condominiums to house 100,000 newly wealthy citizens, people who have made fortunes as the central government started allowing small-scale private businesses a decade ago. Most have capitalized on foreign investment, mainly from China. They can be seen buying imported goods by the bag full. And even buying North Korean made tablet computers. Even though one unit costs five times the average monthly salary.

North Korean citizen:
Pyongyang has changed a great deal. Our comrade Kim Jong-un's initiatives are producing fruitful results.

Reporter:
But then there's the North Korea the government doesn't want you to see. Driving out of the capital is like going back in time. The road turns from paved to bumpy. A steady stream of cars replaced with ox-pulled carts and vehicles that run on charcoal. Most people still rely on bicycles to travel around. But North Korean officials don't talk about these issues. They'd rather focus on what they say is the country's rising rich, and government policies that have stimulated economic growth like this ski resort about three hours from Pyongyang. Currently being built by some ten thousand soldiers and students, officials say it's expected to be completed this year. It will boast 11 ski slopes, a high class hotel and a heliport.

Won Kil-u, Physical Culture and Sports Vice Minister:
This resort aims to be profitable. But it's also a place where the North Koreans, including the young can enjoy skiing.

Reporter:
And there's this project, already complete. A suite with an ocean view at this beach resort costs USD$262 for a night.

Resort Guest #1:
We came from Pyongyang.

Resort Guest #2:
I feel very good. People can enjoy themselves at resorts like this thanks to the profound love of our leader Kim Jong-un.

Reporter:
A luxury getaway for North Koreans lucky enough to benefit from the government's economic reforms. Officials want to give the impression the entire country is booming. But the contrast between the capital and the countryside are just a different story.
 
 

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Are Chinese Voting with Their Feet?

 
 

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Stock Fights: Korean Store Owners Push Back Against Corporations

 
 

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China's Right vs. Left Debate Reignited: Perhaps A Little Too Convenient?

 
 

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Japan: Nuclear Disaster Fallout Still Felt in Power Industry
FukushimaAs Japan's citizens prepare for the next disaster, the fallout from the last one continues to influence Japan's nuclear power industry. The operators of four power plants want permission to restart their reactors in July. The units have been kept offline because of the accident at Fukushima-Daiichi. On May 28th, Japan's public broadcaster NHK reported on the latest in the struggle over Japanese nuclear power.

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Reporter:
Officials at Kansai Electric power Company and Kyushu Electric Power Company say they want to restart two reactors each. Executives with Hokkaido Electric Power Company say they hope to bring three back online. And those with Chikoko Electric Power Company are planning to restart one.

Makoto Yagi:
We hope to restart reactors as soon as their safety is confirmed.

Reporter:
Operators will be required to introduce tougher measures against accidents and natural disasters. They have to study the potential height of tsunami and the possibility of a volcanic eruption. And they'll have to present safety measures to deal with the risks. Officials from the nuclear regulation authority will study their applications and decide whether to permit any restarts. All but two of Japan's reactors are offline following the accident in Fukushima.

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Of the 50 commercial reactors in Japan, only two are currently online amid safety concerns after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi plant disaster.
 
 

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Violeta Went to Heaven: The mother of Nueva Canción has a film at last

We can listen to a song and think we know the singer. And in the case of Violeta Parra (1917-1967) perhaps this is so.

 

She seems to spring fully formed at us, an autodidact revolutionary and creative to an impossible degree. She was the mother of the Nueva Canción movement, tirelessly researching the rich folkloric music of Chile, taking nourishment from it, and going on to create her own uncannily free, sophisticated yet utterly passionate songs. Her artworks were exhibited at the Louvre, and she single handedly legitimized her native culture in the eyes of the world. All this, in a country where women were first given the vote in 1952.


This is no news for Chileans. But perhaps it is news for you. Have I whetted your curiosity?

 


 

Violeta Went to Heaven, a film by Andres Wood, and starring Francisca Gavilán as Violeta Parra will be opened at New York's Lincoln Center Plaza Cinemas and Quad Cinema March 29. It may go on to play at a cinema near you -- or maybe by now you can rent it!

 

I am so glad that I was able to interview the director, because his film is an open-ended work of art in many ways. Wood has not attempted a documentary, nor for that matter, the kind of narrative style that might keep us in our comfort zone. He gives us Violeta's world, a world in which happiness is bliss and every sorrow is a mortal wound. It is a vivid cinematic improvisation, much as Violeta's life was an improvisation. Francisca Gavilán delivers a performance that is deep in its understanding of character, and faithful to Parra's soul and musicality. I must also commend the arrangement for "Arriba Quemando el Sol," which lifts the song out of its simpler (but powerful) harmonic folk base and onto another, higher plane that speaks to the kind of pivotal life change that the film's story requires of it.


Kino Lorber has kindly given me the music clips I requested which speak for themselves, (be sure to watch them!) and Andres Wood was eloquent in answering my questions. Here is my report.


If you love music, great acting and challenging cinematography, see this film.

 

For more of Michal's world music videos visit inter-muse.com.

 
 

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