China Diary

Day 70: Seventy Days


Wow, 70 days in China! I’m practically a Chinese now! I know four words (“director”, “thank you”, you’re welcome”, “great work”) and I sometimes find myself strutting on the ground like the Chinese do, although my physique doesn’t really give in to that position. I honestly watch with envious eyes the Chinese hip/knee -versatility.

Also, 70 days of blogging! That’s a lot of writing. For myself, but also for you to take a peek into how it is running a project like this, living like an Englishman in New York, an alien in a weird, far off land. I’ve been surprisingly open with my feelings about the production and how I feel being so far from the people I love, and about the problems and issues that are brought forward every day. It’s been cleansing and has given me strength to deal with it all. So thanks for reading!

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My face when I realize I’ve been in China for 70 days.

I’ve had so much Chinese food, such a variety of strange and wonderful dishes I have no idea what they are, but also realized that I really miss the home cooking of Finland, the clean and fresh ingredients and menus I can understand. I’ve had so much of the Chinese white wine I can’t begin to count, but I really miss red wine for dinners. I’ve eaten such things I would’ve never believed I’d touch: a thousand year old egg (it’s just the name, but … also the look), chicken head (I didn’t really eat that), pig feet (that one I did try) and so on.

I’ve gotten to understand a little bit more of the Chinese mentality. They are proud of their country, but they are not very politically active; you can’t really cook up a good political discussion with them easily. They don’t know too much about Europe – to them, Europe is just Europe, just like to us Europeans China is just China. I’ve started to realize it’s just as different going to northern China and then to South, as it is going to Finland then Greece – only the language is mostly the same (well, even that changes, but still).

Seventy days and so many script changes. I’ve worked with the most intensive producer, Max Wang, for seventy days almost daily, and it has been quite a ride. He’s a strong producer with a strong will and it’s easy to find oneself in a crash course with him. But he’s also very intelligent, knows film business and ultimately has a huge drive to make an amazing movie. Even today as I’m writing this, with only three days to go until the shoot, the script is being scrutinized, elements re-touched and polished – and since this all is done in two languages, it can get quite tricky to follow all the changes.

Seventy days of hotel rooms, that’s a lot. I started out in my own little apartment hotel when I came here, a dark apartment which smelled a bit of cigarettes and really crushed my spirit. I moved to New Otani hotel, which was where my soul was at rest. In Qingdao, we stayed at a terrible, rotten hotel for the first time, but the second time they put us to a huge luxury resort. Right now, I’m in a luxurious five-star hotel at a Chinese wineyard, enjoying free red wine and bathing on a tub on my balcony.

Seventy days of Chinese language, the absence of decent English and trying to understand one another. I’ve learned to deal with the production team with nods, hand gestures and thumbs up / thumbs down whenever Lei, Maxine or some other bilingual person is not around. But when real discussions happen, they are in Chinese, and I’m in need of a translation. Everything is slower: you have to wait for the translator to finish, but your mind is already racing at the next topic. It’s really frustrating sometimes, but since there’s no other way – I can’t stick a Babel fish up my ear like in Hitchhiker’s Guide – so that I just have to learn to live with. But boy do I love when the communication is in plain English.

Oh, and seventy days of being the tall, weird western giant in China. I’m a sight of its’ own, people actually stop on the street to take a photo of me. Everyone stares, constantly. I’m like a celebrity, without actually being one. There’s absolutely no place I can blend in, I never will. I’m always seen charged with expectations and prejudice, always a bit feared, looked with a wry smile, never completely trusted and seen as an incompetent western fool (which I, for sure, am!).

Seventy days being away from my wife Annika. That’s the worst part of this all. We call every day, talk for hours, fall asleep over Skype and fret over our relationship more than anyone I know. Strangely, our love has grown stronger and we’ve bonded even better now that we very clearly understand how shitty the life is without the other one around. This separation has brought me the understanding that I am with the one woman I intend to spend the rest of my life, and if this can’t break us, nothing will. And nothing will!

Also, seventy days away from my son. He called in yesterday, all teary-eyed, to ask when I’m coming back home. It’s very hard to tell an 11 year old that as soon as I can, but not right now. He’s missing me so much, and I’m missing him if possible even more, but our longing is different: for 11-year-old it’s very instant and strong when it pops up – but luckily, for most of the time it’s not the one thing in his mind, for 37-year-old-me it’s much more persistent, like knowing I’ve lost my eyeglasses, and although I can operate without them, I know something important is constantly missing from my life.

Me and my wife, we can live through me living abroad for certain amounts of time, that’s what this excursion has proven, but for my son, I’ll never do it like this again. He needs a father around for the next at least ten years, so other solutions for working abroad extensive amounts of time need to be found.

And my parents. Leaving Finland was tearing me apart. Our family had gone through a big tragedy recently, and everyone is still trying to cope with it, and leaving right now felt like I was leaving my family behind when we all would’ve needed each other the most. There was also some sickness in the family – luckily it was treated and healed, but this scared the shit out of me. But nevertheless, I left. I rationalized it, that this is a huge opportunity for me, this is my work and I need to do it now, but at the same time, I felt like I abandoned people I loved when I would’ve been needed. This, and missing my son and wife, created an uncomfortable coating over the fact that I’m doing an exciting film abroad, basically living my dream. I guess that’s the problem with “living the dream” – you’re always giving up something for the sake of yourself, and that eats a piece of your personality away, makes you one bit more self-centric – and I believe there’s already enough of self-centric people in the world for me to become one. (Says he and publishes the seventieth blog post about his own life…)

Seventy days of joy, challenges, sacrifices and self-exploration. It’s not a lot if you see it in a larger perspective, but it’s at a junction in my life where it means bigger than the sum of those days is. And still, there’s another 70 days to go. To be honest, I’m not even halfway done here.

That’s a big thought!

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Last calm before the storm. 

 

 

 

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