“I read what seduces me, I write what perverts me. “
– Heather Cai –
–Tian’anmen Building (Beijing, 2015.10)
“The Chinese people have stood up!” These words were announced to the world by Chairman Mao on October 1st 1949 from Tian’anmen Square in the heart of Beijing. For that reason, exactly 66 years later, after writing my first English novel, I made a solo trip to the capital city. Standing on the grand Tian’anmen Building where Mao had stood, I wanted to feel the glorious moment with the thunderous applause. But there was no sense of glory, nor trace of history. The buzzing of the tourist commerce sickened me. My imagination was bombed. I was disappointed.
–Inside the Tian’anmen Building (Beijing, 2015.10)
Instead of standing a long time on the grand Tian’anmen Building, I went down-to-earth leafing from one hutong to another. And in one of the many hutongs near Lemma Temple, I met Lysanne Thibodeau, a Canadian filmmaker. She came with a fancy camera and a bright smile asking me for directions to a place, which I was just looking for on my map.
–We met outside this place (Beijing, 2015.10)
Delighted by such a coincidence, I wondered: have you ever had such a beautiful moment in your life with a strange person from a strange country in a strange city that you could never forget?
–What brings us together? (Beijing, 2015.10)
I couldn’t say that I had a crush on Lysanne, but her appearance gave me the impression of some romance. The afternoon sun seemed to have taken a shine to us in the endless blue.
–It felt like the nacreous cloud that day (Beijing, 2015.10)
With much joy and talk, we headed to 798 Art Zone for a couple of wonderful hours. Till our legs were tired and our throats dry, we shared a taxi to enjoy a cheering drink at a pub in Houhai Park. It was during their Happy Hours, and time slipped through our fingers delicately. Listening to the mixed music, we looked around, talked about casual things and started making jokes. The coolness of the beer refreshed our minds, and Lysanne’s face blushed. She said the alcohol made her burn. I laughed. She laughed.
–Lysanne and Heather in Houhai Park (Beijing, 2015.10)
When the drinks were finished, our stomachs rumbled. We chose a seafood restaurant in a dark lane. All the loud music now sounded distantly behind us. Sitting in a cozy corner with a view of some layered roofs outside, we ordered three dishes very quickly and began to share ideas about what we had seen that day. Both of us were overwhelmed with gratitude as we discussed some possibilities of what it would’ve been like if we never met. Gradually, we talked more openly, and our conversations deepened to the very marrow of our personal life. Lysanne made a video of me, which later she asked for my permission to use for a documentary.
–The Seafood Restaurant (Beijing, 2015.10)
By nine-thirty, we finished our dinner and were both dying for a piss. The only toilet available was somewhere along the dark lane. We hurried there, and found it had no light, no door, but only two holes. One of them was occupied by a girl, who was playing on her phone like a statue. She must be reading something fascinating. The screen almost touched her big nose, and her small eyes were hidden by her neat fringe. The light played a beautiful pattern on the concrete ceiling. The stillness of the rough surface condensed her motionless face – a gorgeous scene that we wished to capture. But we couldn’t help laughing, and we just couldn’t stop laughing. With a muffled voice, Lysanne kindly let me pee first. Eyeing each other and at the “statue”, we laughed even louder. A strange chemistry was flowing in our blood, then steaming to the air. It was a stimulation of some excitement.
–The stimulating lights in Houhai Park (Beijing, 2015.10)
The chemistry climaxed when we ran out of the toilet, with the striking image of the girl remaining as she was when we first saw her. We terribly felt like sharing a cigarette. But neither of us wanted a whole pack, nor a cheap brand. We started looking for one from some passers-by with smart outfits but failed. We then walked back to a cigarette store that was opposite the pub we had been in earlier. I asked the young owner: “Hey Boss! May I borrow a good cigarette from you?” Throwing us a suspicious glance but without uttering a word, to our amazement, he handed me a Marlboro cigarette and helped light it. After taking a long drag, I gave it to Lysanne. She sucked more slowly and more deeply, blowing two clouds of smoke out of her nostrils. In turns, we finished the delicious cigarette, only with more laughter. The night felt light and pleasant. We said goodbye with the aftertaste of a strangely lasting day.
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