My friend Yuan and I go out on her bike around Qingdao. She bought it for 700 RMB – 60$; it dates back to the late 70s. I love the freedom, the old leather seat and Yuan’s road cunning. She told me how you see things so differently on a bike, how intimate life becomes.
Life is different, perhaps more compelling. We push along the pavement, weaving in and out of the Harvest Moon celebrating crowds. Little kids press sticky, fishy-licked fingers into our sides, a baby pulls at Yuan’s hat, the seafront pavement lost and bewildered amongst the loud and happy throng.
I might leave China next year. I think about this as we fly along the backstreets which look more Central Asian than the main Qingdao drag. I begin to ache as if already saying goodbye to my dear loved ones. I feel a real pain in my heart.
So why now, so soon…the journey seems to have only just begun?
Is it the upheaval in Europe that is drawing me back? Times are really changing. Or the fact my daughter has also left Canada to live in Europe?
The school has offered another us 3-year contract if we want it. Ying and I have created our documentary direction, and our days are full of energy and action. We are pushed to create. And to be with youth. Never have I had so many young friends under 25.
|Fu Hao and Gu Ifan filming The Seahut|
Yet, I want Europe too. I have a need to go home and live back in my village in France near the border with Catalonia, which may, by the time I get there, have its independence. To the wildness and back of beyond. To the little house which creaks and groans with her 600 years of spirits and stories.
|Tuchan at dusk|
Go back to my roots.
Make a studio up in the attic where the monks used to write parts of the Bible in the 13thcentury
Make a veggie garden.
Build a cabin with my brother Ivan, to live the summer months in.
Teach film workshops.
Document my village friends.
Learn how to prune the vines better than I used to.
Watch the magpies, woodpigeons and larks.
Squabble with the gossiping geese in the next garden.
Wind up the plastic musical Virgin Mary from Lourdes who blesses the garden from her niche in the wall.
I fell in love with my village all over again this summer, like the very first time I saw Tuchan one chilly, misted, November morning, in 1991.
Falling in love has a strange way of motivating one…and changing one’s direction.
When I left Tuchan for Montreal 17 years ago I had my daughter aged 9, two suitcases and 1,000$.
I was going to my then Iranian husband who had become a political refugee in Canada.
We had lived in Iran together, long before France. He escaped from Tehran with help from Canadian friends, and we knew we would not see each other for a long, long time.
Then one day, the time came, as time comes to one’s doorstep.
He was legally okay and bringing me to Montreal.
Actually, I was running away from the France of 1999 which had become racist and terrible and dark. A France that I could not see any way out of.
Left our home in the alley. Left our family and our dog. Took a bus into Toulouse. My daughter and I slept at the airport, in a corner, on the floor that night. Our plane was at 6 am. I penned a love letter to my village. I found the letter yesterday in boxes I have still not unpacked.
|Tuchan house alley|
I had no education when I entered Canada 17 years ago.Yet, we made it, my daughter and I…
Through weeks and months and years, me to here - Qingdao.
Alyosha back home to Europe. Leaving with our pockets full of Montreal, creation and new hope
Yuan spins us to a halt; she wants to buy hot chestnuts.
From where we stand the sea has brought onto the beach bright violent green algae. A man peers from his tent to observe the autumn swell. The ardent autumn swimmers don their anti-jellyfish headwear.
|The longest hair in the world|
|Pretty as a peach|
|Yuan makes us coffee|
Back to China
I said goodbye to dear Tianhuili (Anna) this summer, who is now at Concordia’s film school doing her MFA. Meeting the same teachers I had ten years ago. How much has been, and yet how much still remains. She loves school in Montreal and does not miss China.
|Tianhuili reluctantly putting on lipstick|
“You can’t cross the water if you stand staring at it.” Yuan translates for me. The chestnut seller is yelling after a woman who has shrugged her shoulders at his price.
I feel immensity proud of Anna, of the Beijing Film Academy, Concordia, and of Ying and myself … Anna has just been selected by the Beijing Festival of Ethnology for her documentary The Zhaxis Family. We will go to represent her. I miss her being around, but Gu Ifan and Fu Hao will replace that friendship.
Time creeping around corners. Qingdao mists and damp evenings mean the wrapping up of yearly projects, putting new goals into the guidelines. Students are happy playing around with cameras and trying out new techniques and are far removed from worldviews and world politics.
|Testing more lights|
|Testing the camera|
Worldviews do not rock China. Catalonia breaking point. Gunman in Las Vegas. Britain at Brexit. Eurozone breaking…
China carries on marching, forwards, slowly, to its future. The National Congress of the Communist Party of China was held on the 18th October. Xi Jiping recognized as only the fourth person to earn the status of "core" leader is revered and the most powerful Chinese leader the country has had for years. Flags flew over the land, down alleys, from roof tops, and patriotic music is played.
So what is the future for China?
Yuan does not want to get married. Yet. She does not want to make lots of money either. Yet. She just wants to ride her bike and work in cafes and hang out with the local artists. And fall in love. Then out of love. She likes to experiment. Moving forwards, through traffic, deep in thought. Working towards her own freedom which is to wake when she wants, sleep when she wants, change jobs when she desires, “and don’t look back.” She says.
|Yuan drinking beer|
Fiona will have to wait till next year to begin her new film. Torn between a young child and a husband who works 6 days a week, 12-hour shifts and a sick mother, she juggles without moaning. “This is my life. I must keep going forwards.” She says. “No point in looking back.”
Doctor Lee married a woman he does not love, but respects. He married her because she will look after his family well when they are older. He is looking forward, and forwards he will go, never minding, ever, he is not really deeply in love.
Yu Li is gay, she told me she has never had a problem living with her lover, Katie, who is from Ireland. Katie has lived here for 10 years, running bars. Katie says it is easier for her to be gay in China than in Ireland. “So I ain’t going back.”
So China marches on. Marches forwards, and does not look back.
|Lady and baby|
|Cockles and mussels alive, alive o!|
|Reflecting in the afternoon sun|
Our department’s film festival was held - The LightStar Awards. Last year Anna was here. The cinematography is stunning, more creative, original and with less after effects. Refreshing. This is the final group work before the students head towards graduation. It is getting harder to put things up using Vimeo. I will bring their work home with me for Spring Break then upload their work then. We are trying to encourage our students to screen their work outside China. They are mostly modest and still don’t quite understand the concept of film festivals.
We hurl down towards the sea. The wind in my hair, sea mist rising just slightly, it is very dramatic, it is all very sensual.
As we turn the corner and onto the beach front, I see my old friend The Monkey King, dancing slowly, alone, in his world. I get off the bike to film him and decide he will be the entr’acte between this post and the next…