Sunday, 14 October 2018

September: The Final Months in China

September 2018

School’s back!

 It seemed like a quick flight back home to China. Beijing Capital Airlines has a new route directly from London to Qingdao. Got window seat and filmed the last images for The Sea Hut. My mother was so good with me in England; even though distraught about Pat my brother and his slow recovery from the stroke, she managed to do a final interview which basically has the film tied up.

Got it in the can!


Of course, I still have animation to do, colour, motion, resizing images, subtitles, before I can really say I have finished. Never done till it’s done, and even then we always think of things we could change, add.

Musings on a plane. One drifts between time zones and clouds, and sometimes one country becomes like a meditation. Russia is huge – it takes 6 hours or more to move slowly from East to West, and then dive onto Turkmenistan, curve around, outer, then inner Mongolia, to China.

By this time, and having watched the only four films on offer, I have remade my world, that of my family, friends, Pat can walk and talk again, and old rifts are healed, books are written, new film projects are started, and I am able to finish everything in China that I need and want to, and can come home to be with the family.


Then reality, as I stand in front of 25 third year students talking about experimentation and what I expect of them this semester. It is the first time that I teach a class alone without Wang Ying. It is an experiment, and we will see how well I do with my odd Chinese and the students’ bitty English. We all know each other, we have grown together for 3 years now, so it is not the first time I have them as students. We are used to each other, but as this is a primary class, the task before me is a bit daunting.

Jeanne and Ying

Class one finished very well. We all have a good idea of where we are heading, and let’s hope by next week everyone hands me in an idea. I showed them some of Thin Blue Line with Chinese subtitles; they loved the fact they could shoot something which is not purely observational, the norm in China in film schools.

Back home
Tattoo girl

If I leave next semester, thrn this is the last documentary class I will take. I feel very sad, so much time given, so much learnt. This is why I look for other chances to keep my soul here. One is The Blue Book of Film which finally came out. All those arduous statistics have finally been put into  grids, and printed, and handed to UNESCO,* - 125 pages.

Wang Ying and I got the book yesterday. They want us to continue with them each year, so, no matter where I am in the world, the Internet breaks down barriers. We have finally become a part of their official team. It makes me so proud, it is all part of the incredible Chinese adventure.

The Blue Book of Film


Outside school at West Gate they are pulling down more homes. I met a man who was scavenging; he invited me onto his patch. I found a few treasures. He lived there last month, now he has moved to the new buildings. Is he sad? Not really he says, they were old and falling down. (They, the buildings, are only ten years old!)

Fiber glass is still used in China, wads of it lying around on the street. “It’s normal,” he says. It is too complicated to go into here, so a good film to view is

also applauded here in China. The director is a gentle and warm person. He came two years ago to the indie festival in Qingdao, and with he left us regarding his work as totally outstanding for its achievement and bravery.


Old stairs 
King for a day
Tiny kitchen 
Here's the cups
Jan and man 

Harvest moon cake time around the corner.

29 September 2018

Festive, greedy, the whole of China eating day long and in between sweet cakes filled with so many types of moon cake that it would take an entire blog to write down each one. 

Walking and ambling is the thing to do. The weather is still sweet, the sun waning but strong, and the sea breeze cooling, while the streets of Qingdao are humming happy holiday songs.

Yuen suggested we attempt a walk from the railway station to Old Stone Man, 40 kilometers along the shore during National Day Holiday. After moon harvest festival, the next holiday is one week for National Day, for the new People’s Republic of China. 

Off we head. 9 am meeting, coffee by the pier, and first stop Badaguan, the old German settlement which nestles on the beach. I am not a tour guide, but this is truly one of China’s most sophisticated cities, charming, old style, old buildings protected so much more than in other cities. One can feel the past, walk the past, and on the way one meets the culture like these holiday dancing ladies - and then the peanut picker laying out the nuts to dry in the seaside sun.

Peanuts galore

Falling everywhere are sheets and blankets hanging out to air.

And children carry the Chinese flag, waving it like a precious toy.

Washing line
Boy with a flag

As we get past the half way mark, 20 kilometers, the seascape changes and we turn into a bay, and I thought I was in the south of France. From now on it is small bay after small bay till we reach Old Man Stone. Exhausted, barely able to walk further.

Night falls and the park is lit up with lanterns. Like a mystical land stretching far beyond us.


Beach marriage

Could be France

October 2018

Wake Li and Jinan

Mid-week, Yuan and I are off to Jinan, 3 hours from Qingdao to film Wake Li, a performance artist, filmmaker, painter, rebel and radical, who has been around the art scene since the 70s. I met him two years ago at the Indie festival and was totally beguiled by him.

Today, at 61, he has an Iggy Pop torso, an energy to die for, a 24 year old girl-friend, and is finishing his latest film

On the way to Jinan

We spend 3 days filming in and around Jinan. In his studio, in the grotto where he has sculpted a huge Buddha, and with his parents. It is almost impossible to keep up with Wake Li, and my Chinese is limited for this type of work, but there is something that shines so deep and so differently, the look in his eyes, the way he moves his body, the paint brushes in his hands, his eroticism, a devoted and daring and very young girlfriend. One does not need a language for this. The man who has made fashionable a toilet plunger hat has won my heart.

We shall come back in December with the beginning of a very, very rough-cut and see what we can carve out. He has given me the use of his films, which will be the backbone of the film. Yuan and I are excited, and I am happy to finally be doing my last piece here on a Chinese artist.

Wake Li


Friday, 12 October 2018

June-August: Europe and Back

June - August 2018

All around me things are changing: the weather, the students, my own daughter who – on the same day my brother Patrick had his stroke - found out she is pregnant.

All these things I think of on the plane back home. Do I stay or do I go?

I want to stay in China. I love China, I love the chance I have been given, the people I know here, the friendships, the heartaches, students’ stories, creating, eating fish and drinking endless beer, still stumbling over this – for me – impossibly hard language, grateful for two wonderful jobs here, grateful to Concordia University and teachers like Marie-Ellen Davis, Marielle Natasloska and Donato Tataro for being such inspiring, giving teachers and keeping their teachings close to heart.

I want to stay, but I also want to go


Tasty food

Home, to where my heart is: my family, mother, daughter, brothers, my love, France, my village of Tuchan. To Summer rolling into September and the grape harvest. To sitting in Narbonne by the oldest shop, where Madame Gracia refuses to give up her commerce – she is 87 and still going strong.

Our Lady of the Garden 


The semester is almost over now. The graduate students have finished their master work - the thesis and 30-minute film. We mentored 5 graduates this past year and the work is good.

This is the final work after 4 years of study. They have to do a complete documentary using all the knowledge they have learnt from year 1 until now. They need to experiment and use innovation. They also need to write a 5-8,000 word thesis on the progress and structure, using film language as well as creative non-fiction. And the big heads come from Beijing to judge and listen to their defence.

It is a dramatic month, time to say goodbye and time to wrap up last minute edits which will then be sent off to various student festivals around the world.

The day of graduation, each student, donned in full regalia, goes to get their diploma and have photos taken, just like any other university in the world. And parents come to thank us, their teachers, and then to a restaurant and merriment all night.

Ying and Meleke


I take my leave again, this time directly to London, home to the family, to the hospital, to my brother who can now sit up and eat and communicate with gestures. He is amazing, he is strong, but the journey will be long, very long.

Friends of the Forum Tunbridge Wells organized a benefit gig/ fundraiser for Patrick, his mates from the music world who love him and gave their time, energy and love to perform for us. It was magical. I am honoured to be his sister.

And time passes. I go to France, sit in Narbonne by the old shop, eat moules frites and drink chilled wine with my gypsy man.



The show off 

I dream a little dream that it was all yesterday and things stand still for a day. But they don’t

However, Patrick’s situation has changed me. Life is more beautiful, life is more important, each smile is more intense, each thank you is more sincere, and each tear is deeper.

The day before I return to China, Pat is moved to Queen’s Hospital in London. I go with him in the ambulance. On the way we stop for a coffee in Blackheath, the sun pours through the window, Pat closes his eyes, and he looks peaceful, calm. Two blackbirds stop just outside the window. I love the blackbird family – crows, ravens, magpies - two for joy.

We take mum up in the car. It is hot, the hospital in Bloomsbury not far, we stroll down to the pub, Pat being pushed in his chair. It is one of those moments, etched into my mind.

And even though I go back to beloved China, my home is also here in England.

I do not ever have to go or stay.

I realize it is not about going or staying,

It is just about being

And then, Pat pulled up my hand and snapped this shot!

Patrick and Jeanne

Thursday, 11 October 2018

May: The Month of Chaos

May 2018
For those interested in astrology, Uranus entered Taurus in April; erratic behaviour will be the result for the next 7 years till it moves onto Gemini. This affects us all personally and globally. Weather disasters, rains, storms, and huge weather changing patterns, money and the way we make it, collapse of some banks, and online entrepreneurship will be on the rise as we find new and innovative ways to make a living, and have that Uranus freedom, but also family issues for many of us will be more prevalent than before. For me, in many ways, this is the month my family were dreading for a long, long time. I will not dwell on it. Those who know me and my family know Patrick’s story; for others, who hap on this blog, I will just enclose the link:

 My dear, sweet and lovely brother, Patrick, better known as Pat, a talented photographer, brave and determined, who has fought so hard in so many ways, overcoming many physical hardships, suffered a second extreme stroke.

 I rushed home, having been given a leave of urgency. At the airport all I could do was pray, as he was undergoing an important, life-saving brain operation.

 I held a silent vigil during that 12 hour flight.

 He made it, and could smile at me, just about. Head opened up, skull cut open, holding on to life.

 I stayed 10 days. My mother, suddenly so small, tiny, like a frail bird holding his life in hers. Yet, as things are, there were moments of great joy, and the sun coming up, and shining so beautifully through the trees in mum’s garden. And the closeness of friends, Patrick’s friends, his girlfriend, family, his lovely, wonderful friends, words, warmth, long nights of just being and sharing stories.

 Then I had to come home.

 Mum was amazing, we did the last of the interviews for The Sea Hut, which should be finished by the end of the year. And for this I thank her tenfold.

 And back now to end of school and to the decision I have been putting off:

Do I stay or do I go?

Patrick Pope


Leaving Qingdao

Patrick and mother

Patrick's first writing 

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

February-April: Back to China after Spring Break

February 2018

I left my mother with a red rose in her hands that had been plucked from my garden in France on St. Valentine’s Day.

What will this new year bring, as our new year in China begins?

For a long time I have wanted a new experience, so decided to go and get teaching experience with younger children.

Enter Wall Street English, downtown Qingdao, formal and posh. You know, all matching beige, nice flower arrangements, Ikea prints on the wall, seamlessly and beautifully dressed Chinese teachers with perfect English.

It scared me.

Wandered off to meet sweet Yuan, who took me to AMIO in 4th May Square.

Tucked downstairs is a messy school, children running everywhere, doting mothers waiting by classes. Vera, the head, gave me an instant interview and I was employed on the spot. Pinned on the wall, the head of the international section bio reads:

I started giving my first English lessons in Istanbul back in the days no one cared who you were and what you were doing, and I have never looked back.

This is my place, I knew it.

Employed officially, at the weekends. I now have reinvented myself as primary school teacher.

Panic as I get home and realize I have to learn how to teach young children. Even though I have my TESOL, I have not taught young kids. A new learning curve, and no - it is not easy - one needs that youthful mindset.

So a routine is needed. Get up early. Learn kids lingo - how do I do that? Watch kids. Go and audit a few classes. Ask other teachers. So far so good. All accomplished. Yet the most difficult task is going to be mastering the Chinese computer systems, and changing class every 40 minutes

But life is this, full of chance and choice, and I want so much to learn something new. So, I bought a Udemy course on how to teach kids English in China. Destined for Internet teaching, but gave me some very good hints. So, all set to go, here I am!

For those of you who are interested:

The rose

My sweet Yuan 


John Li

March 2018


I love moving from the beach and film school, my film students, to my school in Qingdao, at the center of the all the action.

It takes me one and half hour to get to AMIO. I leave home at 7.30am. I take the Channel bus from the beach, under the sea, and past the port of Qingdao, to the beach in the city. Once here I stall a moment as the view is unforgettable.

I love to watch the sun come up, then buy a hot potato or yam, a coffee, watch the old man and his orange cat till along comes Bus 26 – my dear friend - which clunks half empty along the seaside and the old German homes.

I sit by the window dreaming of my films, my students’ films, and those kids I will meet at 9.00am. And I fall in love all over again, and think of nothing  and everything.

Two totally different worlds and two different paces.

The kids downtown have demanding and motivated parents. The kids reflect their parents’ views and desires. Study, work hard, do their best, and be a winner. In BFA my students are rebels, playing with gender issues, ideas, theories, love, poetry, and success is measured in other ways. I have always been a dualistic person, so this suits me well, having to change mind set, change clothes so to speak. Pivot from one idea to another.

Oh - playing games - Pin the tail on the donkey! Now when did you last play that - to shrieks of laughter and kids rolling on the floor in hysterics?

Then back to film and students, choosing classes, and meetings with fellow teachers, long drawn out meetings over food, tea and laughter.


Qingdao Beach

Qingdao morning 

Man and cat

Boy on a horse

Film school 

Film school reunion 


Waiting for class

April 2018

The weather is changing, the mists are coming in and out. Been doing the last of the filming for The Sea Hut. I have the story, finally, I know how it will end, and why it ends as it does. It is the most exhausting and time consuming work I have done so far, and for now I cannot talk about it too much, as it is still being carved and loved.

We - Ying and I - have lot of preparation at school for mid terms exams. We have also been asked to do the English translation for the Blue Book of Film, which is an industry standard book on Chinese film growth. We said yes, and are now leaning about trade and stocks and shares and grids. It is gruesome work and tiresome, but a promise made in China is a promise to be kept. 

Blue Book of Film

This is a busy month, putting down foundations for the year, goal setting which we are pushed to do with weekly meetings. I enjoy it, it helps structure our ideas. One idea which has been brewing for a year now is an association.

A friend and fellow filmmaker, Helena Michie, and I are starting an association which will be born and registered in France in May 2018. FILM BANDITS. We both have our homes in southern France and a desire to link with other rural filmmakers, creating ambulant film festivals during the summer in the villages.

One of our goals is to link China with France and the UK via a student film festival.

I need to take the best with me in the summer, so we can view them and begin to brainstorm. We have some interesting work, and Lin, from the independent film festival of Qingdao, will be sending some work too.

Times are busy, fruitful, interesting. Creative.

If any one wants to view some on film-freeway, please contact me and I will give the password.

And finally, important:

The SCO summit will be held in Qingdao.

Wonderful photos here of Qingdao and the spirit of an extraordinary city.

This entire month is a manic last minute clean up. The look of Qingdao is essential to the summit’s success. All outsiders will not easily be able to enter Qingdao, with tight controls everywhere, flowers planted, gardeners racing against time.

Mist from my bedroom window

Ying marking papers


Sleeping gardeners