Monday, October 10, 2005

Coming home

On this trip to the US I stayed for two weeks, and it took me a week and a half to clear my lungs off the dust deposited by the Beijing air. Pedestrians would turn their heads when my itchy throat involuntarily gave out loud hawks. I often felt like a migrant worker in Beijing under the stare of the nice old American ladies, and had the urge to spit even though I don’t do it in Beijing. Innovative ways had to be devised to dispose the Beijing phlegm in sunshine California.

I spent four days in San Diego attending the San Diego Asian Film Festival where my documentary screened. The turnout to the two screenings was both above and below my expectations. I had been to festivals before and attended screenings where there were barely anybody. But the decent crowd at my screenings didn’t exactly enthuse me either. I thought with the world’s increasing attention on China, my doc on Chinese Americans’ experience in modern-day China would draw big crowd, especially at an Asian American film festival.

Maybe my doc just wasn’t good enough (ok, no maybe here). Maybe I didn’t do a good enough marketing job; it was my first time at a film festival as a filmmaker and I didn’t know I could bring posters and postcards to promote my film. Or maybe for all the media’s hype on China, the average American just doesn’t care that much, as long as they can get cheap stuff at Wal-Mart and outsourcing doesn’t affect their own jobs.

When I boarded the over-booked flight in Newark to Beijing, however, I was surprised to find half of the passengers were Caucasians, a sight I had never seen in the thirteen years flying back and forth between China and the US. At the Beijing Capital Airport, only about a quarter of the passengers passed through the checkpoints marked for “Chinese Citizens”. There were many Asian-looking passengers in the long queues at the checkpoints for “Foreign Citizens”; some were tourists from New York’s Chinatown and Korean Town, and some were Chinese who had naturalized as American citizens.

The world is indeed coming to China. Alas, my poor filmmaking skills are not yet able to capitalize on this trend. I sulked at the realization of my own deficiencies.

I jumped into a cab. As the driver started off, I randomly glanced at the bi-lingual flyer that the official airport taxi dispatcher stuffed into my hand earlier. On the front page of the folded flyer it said in English (note: all typos and grammatical errors are original):

“Dear Passengers:
If phenomenon’s happen on you such as luggage or goods loss, unfriendly service attitude of driver, over-charge, unnormal use on mileage-fare meter and resist for hire, you have right to dial the supervision-Office: 68351150 or the telephone: 87372127”

Inside, there were the “Pay attention” items:

“1 You must check price table attached inside window and drivers Service Supervisor Card:
2 You must pay the highway fee and the bridge building fee if need;
3 You better to come cone down on receipt and remember taxi licence number while you off.”

I laughed out loud reading the flyer – this being the first impression that many first-time foreign visitors would get of Beijing? Either the airport was too cheap to hire a native speaker to check the grammar, or they thought as long as the foreigners could guess the meaning of the English translation, it’d be all right; 差不多就行了。

Still, how could “come cone down on receipt” ever mean “ask driver for a receipt” in the Chinese instruction?

The cab slowed down as it drove into the Beijing traffic. The afternoon air floated in a slight fog, or smog. My throat itched again. I chuckled at the thought that perhaps I’m just like the city, awkwardly exploring a new road with all the excitements and missteps.

Ah, it feels good to be home.


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