"Close to Eden" in Kazakhstan

Jun 26, 2008, 9:45 PM |

“Close to Eden” is a gem of a foreign movie which came out a year or two before 1992.  At least that was the year when "Close to Eden" was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film for the Academy Awards. It should have won, it is hilarious if you love seeing the big, open steppes of Mongolia which borders China. The plot starts with a Russian man named Sergei stuck in the middle of a nowhere outback. You see, Mongolia is Asia’s version of Montana’s BIG SKY Country!

Three cultures are at odds with each other because of language barriers yet it all comes together in this 109 minute movie to make it a true delight. (In other words, a must-see for those who want to know what life was like outside of any Central Asian city.)

Gombo, the Mongolian shepherd and his family, help Sergei to get his old, blue Russian style truck out of the lake and are hospitable to him until he can get back on the road again. A poignant scene shows up with Sergei remembering his sad past under the Soviet system. This happens in a bar when he is drunk, a way to cope with his maladies. The funniest part is when Gombo crosses the border to China to buy a TV set at his wife’s request so they can watch it in their yurt. As I recall, all they see in the picture is the reflection of waving grass while the TV sits outside the yurt. Gumbo also comes back with something else in an effort to modernize and keep pace with globalization.

I remember when I first saw this film back in 1990 or ‘91, it was soon after I had returned from teaching in China for two years. This movie went by a different foreign name, something like the long lasso or whip that a shepherd uses. Maybe the producers changed it to “Close to Eden” because it is easier for westerners to remember. I sat with my brother and sister in a darkened, sparsely attended theater howling with laughter, really no virtual LOL the whole way through.

Several years ago I had to special order the VHS tape and bought it even before I knew I was going back to the steppes region of Kazakhstan. I always tell my husband when we run out of places to adventure to, that we could always go to Mongolia. At some point in our teaching careers, we just might go to Mongolia. Then we would see if we are any closer to Eden.

As it is, this weekend I’m going to Almaty’s version of Eden at Alatau Sanatorium for a Central Asia Teaching of English Conference (CATEC). I hope to meet some other like-minded educators from all over Central Asia. It should be a fun time, especially once my presentation is over. It is titled: “Orality vs. InfoLiteracy in Central Asia: What’s a Teacher to Do?” All that to warn my dear readers that I might not be posting for a couple of days, “What’s a Blogthor to do?”