Zhangjiajie: "Avatar"

Hunan Province

James Cameron
Sierra Retreat
Malibu, California

June 28, 2010

Dear Mr. Cameron, 

Cc: Family and Friends, 

“Avatar! Avatar!”  sing out the ladies at the  Zhangjiajie National Forest Park souvenir stands. They are hawking large holograph photos of majestic karst mountains. 

I hadn’t the foggiest notion why Avatar would be an integral part of the sales routine.  My best guess was that even here, in Hunan Province, far, far west of the modern, affluent cities on the east coast of China, even here in the Wulingyuan Scenic Area the local vendors are aware of recent popular cultural events. 

Then I did a little research.  

Mr. Cameron, I have to confess my ignorance.   Essays on the Internet point out that the mountains here in Zhangjiajie provided the inspiration for the Floating Islands in your movie Avatar.  In fact it appears that Qiankunyizhu, or “Pillar of the Universe,” also known as the “Southern Sky Column” evolved into your own mountain retreat known to movie-goers everywhere as Pandora.  

(Chinese business competition being what it is, a minor civil war has broken out here in Central China.  Huangshan, in Anhui Province, with the Yellow Mountain stone column formations is also claiming to be the precursor to Pandora.) 

Forgive me Mr. Cameron for I have another confession.  I really didn’t like your movie very much.  In my opinion, the plot is puerile, the dialogue derivative, the acting attenuated.  In the darkened theater with the Na’vi flying about, I kept squinting at my wristwatch and wondering when the story would terminate and the credits roll up on to the screen.  Yet, who can argue with your titanic worldwide success? 

However, I do believe a bit of humility is in order.  For centuries, Chinese poets and painters have extolled the beauty of the misty, magical, needle-shaped monoliths of Zhangjiajie.  In fact, as my friends Larry B. and Marty I. have pointed out, we in the West may have thought that the extraordinary poems and paintings were the outpourings of an alien imagination.  It’s only when we visit do we realize that the landscape does exist and must be seen and experienced.  

If there were an Academy Award for Scenery, Zhangjiajie would be an Oscar Nominee. 

Finally, I am sure you will be pleased to learn that the hoteliers, restaurateurs, tour guides and merchants at Zhangjiajie are also garnering their own fair share of the profits.  Thanks to Avatar and Pandora, tens of thousands of Chinese tourists travel to the scene of our own planet’s duel between rock and roots, wind and rain.   

The Zhangjiajie Chamber of Commerce created a fabulous marketing formula:  

“Pandora is far, but Zhangjiajie is near.” 

My best regards to your brilliant Location Managers and my sincere wishes for your continued success.   

Jan (I’m no Roger Ebert) Polatschek      

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