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Leo's Local Fan Club/A Nice Place to Visit



It appears that Titanic heartthrob and boy-toy megastar Leonardo DiCaprio won’t be very welcome in the Garden City any time soon, thanks to a recent environmental faux pas involving 20th Century Fox, a formerly pristine island bay in Thailand, a bulldozer, and several tons of USDA prime American hubris.

Apparently, Thailand’s Phi Phi Leh Island in the Adaman Sea, with its turquoise inlets, sculpted orange cliffs and lush tropical vegetation wasn’t a perfect enough paradise for the filmmakers at Fox, who decided to make their own improvements to the uninhabited island for shooting the film, The Beach. Despite the island’s protected national park status, Fox paid the Thailand Royal Forestry Department a tasty 4 million bhat (or about $1 million) to widen the beach, tear out native vegetation and plant 60 non-native coconut palms to create a paradise more in keeping with American visual appetites. Thai activists, fearing the erosion that will befall the beach from seasonal monsoons, are outraged that their government caved in so easily and inexpensively to Fox—DiCaprio is reportedly being paid $20 million for the film—and filed a lawsuit against their government.

Missoula environmental activist Bryony Schwan of Women’s Voices for the Earth, who was visiting Thailand last December and January when Fox was bulldozing paradise, decided to release the hounds. Schwan has launched a boycott of the film on the World Wide Web, and thus far has received hundreds of thousands of e-mails in support, more than 300 messages a day. There’s also talk of getting local theaters to refuse to show the film. And DiCaprio thought only the cold waters of the North Atlantic caused shrinkage. •••

When the Indy first started hearing about Montana’s Chinese sister state of Guangxi, we rather pessimistically assumed that the place would be kind of a dump. A similarly despoiled victim of a rapacious extractive economy. Or a trackless waste of wind-heaped silt on the edge of the Gobi desert—basically whatever was left over after all the other states had their pick. “Oh, okay,” we could almost hear Racicot sighing, “we’ll take whatever-it’s-called.”

But guess what—it actually seems like a really nice place. We checked it out in a number of references and every one of them made mention of Guilin—the province’s capital until Nanning assumed that role in 1914—which has been a sightseeing mecca for at least a thousand years and has been described in copious historical accounts as the most beautiful city in the world. And, like Montana, parts of Guangxi are very rugged. Travel guides name a number of popular hills and bony ridges, many of them quite poetic: Wave-Subduing Hill, Folded Brocade Hill, Cock-Fighting Hill, Hill of Piled Silk.

Guangxi’s economic mainstays are agriculture and tourism, pursuits for which it is well-equipped. The province has traditionally enjoyed a measure of autonomy and is home to several non-ethnic Chinese minorities, including the Miao, better known around these parts as the Hmong—just like here.

We were unable to find out if they’ve got a Testicle Festival.

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