Tag Archives: China
I got home on Saturday night after an arduous four-week trip to China. God, it is great to be home.
Yesterday was a glorious day and other than doing my laundry, it was a day devoted to rest – both physically and spiritually. China had been hard, so my body and mind were in desperate need of doing nothing and having nothing to do. One of the most difficult aspects of being in China for me was losing control over what I did with my time – even my free time. While it was gracious of our hosts to put on banquets in our honor and take us to sites, I grew weary of having to be “on” all the time.
It takes a trip outside my country, to remind me of some of the most simple, yet important freedoms I have, living in the United States. I have the freedom to go pretty much anywhere I want to go and when I want to go there. Sounds simple, and it is but I found out how important that is when I couldn’t do that for the past month. Yesterday, I didn’t have anyone telling me what to do and I didn’t have anything that needed doing. So, I took a drive in the country. I don’t have to go far from home (maybe 10 minutes) to get into the rolling, rural hills of Northern New Jersey. It was precisely what I needed, to get out in the country with no particular place to go.
This has been one of the longest weekends of my life, certainly the longest Saturday. We left Beijing at 5PM on Saturday and arrived in Newark at 6PM on Saturday! The flight had been delayed an hour and a half. After being away from home for a month, it was really hard to hear about the delay, but I went to the lounge and took it in stride. When we arrived in Newark, just past 6 o’clock, I turned on my phone and saw hundreds of tweets that Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese activist was on my flight, after leaving China abruptly to seek a new life in the US. I had been following the news about this Chinese activist while I was in China, other than the times that CNN was blocked. China controls what their people get to see and/or hear about.
It took a long time getting people off the aircraft. The officials needed to get Guangcheng and his family off the plane and away from the waiting press first. While, waiting I was talking to one of the flight attendants, who was Chinese. She had heard me talking about Guangcheng with another passenger and she asked us what he was protesting? She thought Tibet. When we told her, that he was against China’s “one child” policy and forced abortions, she acted surprised.
After getting off the plane and waiting in an endless line for Immigration, I got to baggage claim, grabbed my two bags and headed to exit Customs. The agent at the gate, looked at my tripod bag and asked me what was in it – “clubs?” I said no, it was a tripod and he asked if I had a carnet. I told him that I didn’t since I had been traveling for personal reasons, not business, but that I had my US Customs Registration forms with me with all my gear listed. He told me to go into another area. I walked in and saw almost two hundred people who looked like they had been waiting for a week. I knew I was in for hours of waiting. At one point, after about 15 minutes, an agent came over to the desk, picked up the passports and mine ended up underneath one that had arrived after mine. I was about to say something to one of the authorities and voice a mild complaint, but I stopped myself. I took myself to a more Zen like place in my mind and just let it go. I sat there and watched as a couple went up to an agent with their luggage and were asked if they had any food or alcohol to which they replied “no”. The agent opened their suitcases and found hams, cheeses, alcohol, cigarettes and other undeclared contraband and she immediately summoned SP (whoever they were) who came and started slicing packages with their knives. I was next, and I opened my camera bag, showed my Customs forms and I was out in of there in 10 minutes. I was so glad I hadn’t said anything.
I had learned from a dear friend while I was in China, how to not let other people or circumstances control my emotions. There had been people who tried to control what we did while we were in China; but we didn’t need to let them control our emotions. That was a good lesson that needed reinforcing for me. It usually takes a trip out of the country to remind me of what I cherish the most – my freedom.
It’s early on a Monday morning in New Jersey and I’m just happy to have a good cup of coffee and be able to do whatever I want to today.
Today is Mother’s Day and it’s my last weekend in China. I’ve been in China for the past three weeks, teaching Chinese journalists how to think and shoot in motion. It’s been a tough time and these past three weeks seem more like three years, instead of 3 weeks. I’m missing my home, my husband, my daughter and my personal freedom. Today, I took a well-needed day for myself – to reflect and re-energize for my final week here.
Yesterday, there was a knock on my hotel room door. I opened it to a wet (it was raining), but smiling woman, holding a big bouquet of flowers. Tom and Erin (my husband and daughter) found a way to get flowers delivered to me, clear across the world. Those flowers will give me strength to get through each day this last week here in China – even as they begin to wilt. Like a faded photo of loved ones, carried in my wallet, they will remind me of my support system in my life – my family.
My mom is no longer alive, but her spirit is always with me, especially during the hardest of times. I wish I had told her when she was still alive, how much she buoyed my spirits and gave me strength on my lowest days – I wish I had told her more often how much I loved her. She knew that, even when we disagreed – we connected in unspoken ways.
My daughter, Erin lives in Chicago now, ironically the city I was born in. I had planned to take a trip out to Chicago to see her and her apartment that she moved into almost a year ago. But that trip was canceled, along with my appearance at a screening of Opening Our Eyes at Northwestern, Erin’s alma mater, due to this trip to China.
I knew that this teaching job in China was going to be difficult, I just didn’t realize how difficult it would be. To be honest, I needed the money, making a film has not only been a huge time suck, but one on my finances as well. I didn’t set out to get rich off this movie – anyone can tell you that you are a fool to think you can make money by making a documentary. I set out to make this film because I felt there were some things missing in my own life, but I also felt that “we” (human beings), especially the collective “we” in America, had gotten off course in the last 20-30 years. We had become a “what’s in it for me society” and at the same time become unhealthy and unhappy. Our “successes” and “things” weren’t making us happy. We had become frustrated and yet didn’t even know why – ask any “occupiers”.
In the process of making this film, I not only found my purpose in my life, but also formed an incredible bond with my daughter on our journey and made me grateful for all the things I have in my life that I had taken for granted. Essentially, making this movie saved my life. At the same time, I feel that I have alienated and annoyed friends by talking about it too much and promoting the festivals and awards too much. I sense that I have oversaturated the market and yet I feel the need to stay the course of our ultimate goal of this film and that is to make a difference with this film by motivating and inspiring others as to what they can do to create a shift in our society to become less selfish and self-absorbed. It’s ironic that in doing so, I’ve lost friends because I’ve become too self-absorbed in the process. A filmmaker I met recently told me “you never finish a film – but there comes a time when you are ready to let go”. I’m slowly getting to the point that I can let go – and give up this fight.
Perhaps it took coming to China for me to get to this point. I thought I would have the support of my team while I was here, but in fact for the most part, I felt I was on my one. I will admit that I’m not the easiest person to be with. I have a strong personality and generally say what’s on my mind. On the other hand, I have an extreme sense of loyalty and my true friends know that while I may say things to their face that may be jarring at times, I’ll never do things behind their backs that can undermine them. I never abandon my friends, even when they have hurt me. In fact I often will do things I don’t like because I will put myself second if it means not hurting someone else’s feelings. I have found that by living my life this way, I find out who my true friends are – I have been surprised many times by people who I thought were friends and I found out otherwise. Even at those times, I somehow find myself giving them the benefit of the doubt and believe that after time has passed and wounds have healed from disagreements, our friendships will mend.
There is a lyric, in fact the title of a song “love the one you’re with”. Last week, while struggling to get through the challenges here and missing my family, I got some well-needed support from my students. These nine young Chinese students not only formed a bond with each other to overcome their own challenges of learning video but they became my family. I commented that Sunday was Mother’s Day and that I was missing my family. On the last day, I walked into the classroom and saw that they had drawn a caricature of me on the whiteboard and underneath the drawing they had written “mama”. It took everything I had not to cry. Later when I handed them their certificates of achievement I gave each and every one of them a hug. We had formed our own family that week and we pulled each other through. The word “mom”, or “mother”, or “mama” took on a greater meaning and we all felt it.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the “moms” and our collective mom – “Mother Earth”.