THE FILMING OF ’6NORTH’ 3/6 Shanghai/China Part 2
Roger treated us to all sorts of Cantonese cuisine at lunch, just see these pictures, now we had enough fuel in our bellies to last us the whole day!
To hear Fuqiang’s voice on Rodger’s phone in China was quite remarkable. Not only was it the first time I was hearing it while in China but he sounded so confident, he was no longer shy having lived with us for months. On his arrival he had been so very shy that it wasn’t easy to relate to him. Most students generally tend to be shy but Fuqiang was extremely so. He had arrived in Adelaide when he was 14 years old and now he is 15. He may stay with us till he is 18, then will decide whether to further his studies in Adelaide or elsewhere. After booking the ticket to Fuqiang’s hometown Shijiazhuang, with Roger’s help, we asked Roger to tell us where to find a shop selling SD cards for our video camera because it had already filled so many cards. So he dropped us off at a large shopping plaza where one floor is dedicated to electronics.
While we were looking for SD cards we were approached by a young man asking if we knew were he could buy an electric razor. Alex is from France and he is studying Engineering in Shanghai. We said we’d help him find out because that is how we help students when they come to study in Adelaide. We found what he needed and did some more window-shopping together and found all sorts of things other than electronics like these cakes which caught my attention because I used to do cake decorating. I guess it was inevitable that I would eventually buy these colourful Macaroons.
We shared the Macaroons with our new adopted son, Alex. We all felt tired enough to take a break and an empty ice cream parlour was too tempting to resist. The three of us chatted for a while when along came a young lady who seemed to be a local, who sat near us.
We were discussing with Alex how were were planning to contact YuJin. Our idea was to get somebody’s help to write in Chinese that we were looking for her so that a taxi driver would be diligent enough to take us to her address. It was a part of town that wasn’t a feature on the tourist map. I turned to this young person and spoke in English gesturing if she could help us…. She introduced herself as Lena and her English was so good that we were all able to communicate freely.
When she said her name I explained that I was fond of Li Na their national tennis champion. So I said to her that I shall remember her fondly too for this reason and we got on really well. She was very willing to help us by writing a note in Chinese for the taxi driver and for YuJin. It turned out that Lena works in China’s TV media! She was very keen to help us in any way with our documentary because it was about cultural understanding and exchange, students and of course food.
We had had so much fun talking that we had lost track of time and it was late. With Lena’s note we felt we had a chance to find YuJin. Finally we thought YuJin will have a letter written to her from us but in Chinese and we felt confident that we will get help to find her. We thanked Lena and said goodbye exchanging our business cards. We needed to have dinner and looked for a cafe with Alex. We found a burger place in the same complex but it was so late that most people had finished their dinner, so we were the late-comers. Alex called his flatmates to say he wouldn’t be home for dinner, they had rung him several times already and he had told them he was with us. We had dinner and then walked towards the exit. Stephen wanted to go to the toilet and doubled-back to find it. While he was away Alex and I were ushered out of the complex by a rude and very angry sounding security guard who was locking all the malls and pointing to us to go to the exit. I stood my ground for a while indicating that my husband is still in there somewhere but the language barrier meant that the security guard won and Alex and I were ushered out of the building and had to wait outside for Stephen. Thirty minutes passed and we still hadn’t seen Stephen come out of the building. It was dark and raining. Something must have happened to him inside. We couldn’t speak to anyone or Stephen because neither he nor I had a ‘phone. Luckily Alex had his phone and he rang Lena and explained to her what had happened and if she could speak to the security guard and explain! Only a few words were spoken then along comes Stephen from a completely different direction outside the complex. Luckily Stephen’s architectural knowledge meant that he could find us. He’d only been in the toilet a few minutes and when he came out all of the malls had been shuttered. He spent most of that time trying all of the fire exits but they had been locked too! Luckily he knew how buildings are supposed to be designed and found a way out via the refuse collection area at the back of the complex and had had to walk all the way around to the front of the complex via the service lanes which were being used by garbage collection trucks! He later told me that the workers were a little puzzled to see a ‘white man’ taking that dirty route but he had smiled and just passed them. I was grateful that he found his way to the front of the complex where we were waiting. If he hadn’t known how to get out through the garbage collection area he would have been trapped in that building all night, which would have meant another hard surface to sleep on. I was relieved to see that he was safe of course but I still scolded him anyway, as I usually do for the unusual things he does everyday. It had not been any of his fault that all of the exits including the fire exits had been locked up.
All this delay meant that it would be midnight before we could go to YuJin’s and that would be too late, even though she was probably home. We had delayed Alex’s return so we promised him a ride in our taxi which he accepted and luckily his stop was before ours. He thanked us for his day of excitement, including the missing white man, and that he looks forward to seeing us someday soon and then we parted ways. Our taxi took us to our apartment. We arrived tired but excited at the prospect that we might actually find YuJin soon, not yet but soon, so near and yet so far still.
That night we knew we would have yet another bad night on our hard mattress so we decided to put the settee’s back cushions on the floor to make a softer bed. Stephen slept on the settee which fortunately was long enough for him, and I slept on the cushions on the floor. What a ridiculous situation, you book an apartment to sleep comfortably on a nice bed only to find out that it was too hard to lie on and you choose to sleep on the floor instead! In the morning we had fewer bruises from an oddly more comfortable night.
The next day we packed our overnight bag for Shijiazhuang. Our flight was going to be at night so we had time during the day to do some more filming in Shanghai. I had planned to visit Changshou Park outside our apartment, this was the park below our old apartment which is shown in my book . We walked there and filmed the beautiful gardens. Stephen found the same statue beneath which YuJin and I sat in one photo in my book. I began to reminisce about YuJin. I thought fondly about the many days we spent there. While filming we were interrupted by a local who spoke with broken English. He asked if we needed any help. We said we were filming a documentary and he was welcome to be in it. He said he preferred that we do not ask any political questions, so we explained what 6North is all about and only then did he agree to be interviewed. We showed him my book which I was going to give YuJin. We told him that part of our documentary was about finding YuJin as well as about students, culture, food and understanding. We interviewed him for quite a while. He relaxed when he felt we were there to learn and share culture, and find YuJin. He shook our hands, congratulated us on our book and documentary and left cheerfully. While Stephen filmed me, our twin camera had been filming the people who had been filming us during the interview. Who were they?
From here we made our way on foot to Stephen’s old office. It wasn’t far, he used to walk that distance everyday. We wanted to ask his staff if by any chance they had been given YuJin’s number at any time after we had left China, so that they could call her, or at least to speak to her mother in Shanghainese on our behalf, if she was still alive. YuJin in the past had met Stephen’s office staff when she accompanied me on numerous times to his office so the staff did know of her.
When we got to the building where Stephen had worked, his old office was vacant, the business wasn’t there anymore. We asked a neighbouring office what had happened and they didn’t know. Their boss offered to find out by searching the local Net. They found that the office had moved to a different building several city blocks away. We were already half way there so thought we might as well walk the rest of the way but actually it wasn’t easy to find this new office. Signposting was not good, building numbers were even more obscure, in fact it looked like we’d never find the place. We saw some security guards near where the building should be and we asked them to confirm for us, then they showed us the way in.
It was a bit of a shock for one of the staff who entered the lift at the same time as us. She looked twice at Stephen and then me and then recognised us both with delight. Six years had gone quickly. She certainly wasn’t expecting to see us at all and neither were the rest of the staff when we walked into the office with her. Our surprise visit was definitely a surprise and they couldn’t believe that we were there! We had a quick coffee with them and they themselves couldn’t try to call YuJin because they didn’t have a number for her either.
In a city of 23 million inside a country of 1.3 billion it is not easy to contact one woman who does not have a mobile or land-line ‘phone or an internet email address. It was becoming obvious that the only way to contact YuJin may be to deliver by hand a written message on a piece of paper to her apartment. We needed something to be written in Chinese too. We asked Stephen’s staff to help us by writing their own mobile numbers for YuJin to call them while we were going to be in Shijiazhuang, and we would deliver that message to her apartment in the hope that she would call them somehow and meet us at a designated place and time. This is the way things used to be done when we were young, before mobile phones and emails. You’d set a time and place and you’d be there.
We decided that the meeting place would be our apartment lobby at 7pm the next evening as we returned straight from the airport from Shijiazhuang. If YuJin could get to the lobby of our apartment building we would be able to see her at last before leaving China to Vietnam the day after. We did not know if she could or would be there. So, equipped with this letter, and the direction letter for the taxi driver, and loaded with my overnight bags, we got a taxi to try to find YuJin’s old apartment to see if she still lived there.
The taxi driver was thorough and read the explanation note that Lena had written in Chinese the night before. After a while Stephen recognised the streetscape as being YuJin’s area. We had only been there once before six years earlier and in the dark to have dinner with YuJin and her mother.
The story of how I met YuJin is described in my book. At a time when I was sick with a bad cold and wanted to escape China she had helped me to understand how to adapt to Shanghai and she even helped me to learn some Chinese. She showed me how to discover the city by bus when Stephen was working. One evening she had introduced us to her mother who cooked us a traditional meal of fish, vegetables and rice in their apartment, and this was what I began to remember as the taxi slowed down to stop. At that time her father was very ill in hospital so we never got to meet him. When we had first met YuJin she couldn’t afford a computer because she had to spend all of her money on her parents’ medical bills; her mother had started to lose her hearing and her father had been dying in hospital. So, my meetings with YuJin had to be arranged the old-fashioned way in diaries in person or she could use my apartment land line to call.
I lived in China for only six months. It seemed longer, but for most of those months I had shared my experiences with YuJin as my guide and friend. When I returned to Adelaide YuJin had always written to me regularly, it was the only way we could communicate. I had left my computer with her to connect her to internet but she had not been able to afford computer lessons or connection to the Net because her parents’ conditions had deteriorated and their medical care required more financial support from her. She sent us cards in time for Easter, Christmas, our birthdays and our wedding anniversary. Post was the only way she could contact us and she would always write her sender’s address. But, my reply letters never got to her. Every letter that we sent to her never got to her and we don’t know why. We also sent her my book and wrote the address in Chinese as well as in English and it too did not get to her after so many years. I wonder why.
For six years YuJin had faithfully continued to write to us but she never heard from us at all. She must have thought we were ignoring her which was not the case, and yet she still believed in us enough to write without fail. Can you imagine the test that would have been of her faith in us? Now I had no choice but to visit her to tell her that I had tried to keep in contact but my letters never reached her. In YuJin’s recent postcard she had said she had changed jobs, but I had to assume that her home address had remained the same. We researched the name of that new company in the Shanghai business district, and we asked our friend Roger to investigate it before we arrived, but he said he couldn’t find it. We had had many plans to surprise her on camera in her workplace but none of that surprise was going to happen if no one could find her, so, the only other way we could get in touch with her was to visit her home. It wasn’t going to be as much of a surprise as we had hoped to plan because we were having to get other people to contact her beforehand to tell her that we are in town and hoping to see her. If YuJin had still been working at the place where I had first met her it would have been easy for me to surprise her but she wasn’t working at that place anymore because it has been changed into a completely different business. It was disheartening to see the change from what I remember. In Shanghai businesses change overnight. Some are fly-by-night too, you can read about them in my book. We had no option but to go to her apartment this day and if that didn’t work maybe meet her in the lobby the next evening, maybe!
The taxi driver took us to the her apartment block; we weren’t sure if YuJin and her mother still lived there. This was the same address she had always put on her envelopes but there was always the chance that she may have moved recently for that new job before our arrival. Courage was needed when the taxi driver pulled outside her street because no cars were allowed within that old apartment complex. The only way to get in was by foot. There were barriers keeping cars, motorbikes out. The more I dragged my bags the more I began to lose courage because the distance to her apartment grew longer with every step I took and my heartbeat grew faster and faster. Stephen knew where we needed to go.
Her apartment was on the 6th floor at the very back of the complex completely out of sight from the entrance. We remembered that we had to walk all the way up last time. Buildings up to five floor levels do not need to have lifts. In China Ground Floor Level is called Level 1, so we had to go up five levels to get to level 6.
By now my outlook was drained. I was already tired from Japan and Korea, and now China was taking its toll on me. How do I get into the building to go up to the 6th floor if I can’t get through the locked gate on the ground floor?
I asked Stephen! He said you had to wait for someone to come along to open the door for you. For twenty minutes nobody came. On the footpath a man came cycling towards us. We asked him if he could help, then another man came along. We showed them Lina’s note and they understood immediately and then nodded that they would help, then coincidentally someone came out from the door and the second man held it open for us.
We were pleased to be inside until we saw inside. Rubbish was strewn around the stairwell, someone’s dead fish was waiting there in the corner to be scaled. It was warm too and at one stage I couldn’t breathe. I had climbed about two floors but I simply couldn’t breathe. I felt so unfit, lack of sleep and dehydration were setting in. Stephen told me to stop and and rest at every floor landing to catch my breath so that anxiety didn’t engulf me! Of course I was emotional, anxious and fragile. What was worrying me most was that after months of planning everything that was necessary to do this documentary on a shoestring budget may have been a waste if I couldn’t find YuJin again before I leave China and that worry was weighing me down even more than my exhaustion.
Finally we arrived on level 6 and I asked Stephen to wait so that I could catch my breath and compose myself to be presentable. We rang the door bell but nobody answered. We rang again but still nobody answered, we wondered if it was unoccupied. I was already panicking that we had made a big mistake with my 6North journey. We knocked hard on the security screen door this time and oh boy! did we get a response then! An old lady’s voice shouted very loudly in Chinese! We couldn’t see her face through the thick security mesh but judging by how she was screaming she was deaf and I am sad to say sounding quite senile. She shouted and gestured for us to go away and she shut the door!
We rang the door bell again. This time very hesitantly and the same scream came from inside yet again. Then we showed her Lina’s note from our side of the screen. What happened next is on the film. We couldn’t explain quickly enough and she threw Lina’s note at us and threatened to call the Police. It was all getting very loud by now and her neighbour came to her door and asked what was going on. We explained that we are friends of YuJin and that her mother doesn’t seem to remember us. YuJin’s mother was extremely agitated by now and had shut her inner door. The neighbour was very helpful after reading Lina’s note. Fortunately she understood and trusted us enough to give us a phone number to contact YuJin and we thanked her. She indicated to us that YuJin’s mother was not able to hear well and gets frightened easily. This information helped us to stay calm.
Then we gave her a note that we had written for YuJin in English. It asked if she could meet us the following evening in our new apartment lobby at 7pm after we returned from Shijiazhuang. It would be the only time we could have with her before we leave China. It also gave her the numbers of Stephen staff for her to arrange to meet with them at the same time. We felt that if this neighbour had not come to her door we surely would not meet YuJin on this trip and we had no idea how many years it would be till we return to China again. This showed us how fortunate we were that people were at the right place at the right time to help us on our journey.
It was sad for us to think that in the six years that we had been away from China YuJin’s mother’s hearing, eyesight and her sense of security had declined to the extent that she was so fearful of anything that was out of the ordinary, and that she could not see or remember us at all. We had told her neighbour in our poor Chinese that we were trying to arrange a meeting with YuJin for the next evening. After showing my book to the neighbour and pointing to a photo of YuJin she had understood that our journey was of friendship. I knew how to say ‘friend’ in Chinese which YuJin had taught me. I felt like leaving copy of my book with YuJin’s neighbour but then felt that it would be better if YuJin received it from me. I wanted to give it to YuJin in person to explain how much she meant to me.
We left YuJin’s place a little more hopeful that we had spoken with someone who understood us and in return there was a chance that we will get to meet with YuJin again and that if we did meet her again then we would no longer be ‘finding YuJin’ but would have ‘found YuJin’.
We still had time to catch the taxi to the subway and to have something to eat before boarding at 9.30pm to meet with Fuqiang and his family in Shijiazhuang/Herbei. While making our way to the subway we looked for an eatery below the department store and we found one that we liked. While waiting for our food to arrive we made friends with two local girls who immediately fell in love with my book and wanted to hear all about the story behind it. We explained that our journey had nearly back-fired because we had almost not made any contact with YuJin today and with sympathetic ears they listened and this gave us the purpose to carry on with our documentary journey.
We made our way via the subway to the International/domestic airport Hongqiao from where Stephen had flown to 32 different regions with his architectural work in 2008/9. The airport looked very different, it had had a make-over. I found the escalator to be extremely steep to the point that I couldn’t look down while going up! In 2008 we flew to Inner-Mongolia from the original airport and at that time it had looked very run-down and crowded but today it is as modern as any other that I have seen and is more like an international airport than the tatty old domestic one it was previously, well done Shanghai! Finally we flew to Shijiazhuang where we were received by Fuqiang, his parents, and his cousin. They had waited late in the evening for us. Fuqiang’s cousin could translate better than Fuqiang and this was going to be very helpful because there were going to be many questions from both sides of this new friendship. Today Fuqiang has improved his English so rapidly that it is so pleasing to be able to communicate with him easily. We thank Fuqiang’s family for coming to pick us up from the airport so late in the night! What came next will be in Part 3.