Friday, May 05, 2006
Becky is an American girl who goes by the Chinese name Zhang Beiqi when she travels to China. Her name in Chinese means Precious Queer, and the name suits her just fine because the queerest things happen to her in China. For instance, one day she saw the film director Chen Kaige on a street in Guangzhou. Kaige was standing at a bus stop, weeping, and pounding his fist over a movie bill of his latest work “The Promise.” Beiqi, with two braids flying behind her just like all the beautiful village heroines from Chinese peasant movies, rushed to her hero Kaige and asked him what was the matter. He sniveled and said, “It’s a shame. My new movie earns box office success at the expense of artistic quality. So hard to make money and art at the same time.” Beiqi made a gesture to offer Kaige a listen on her ipod. “I’ve downloaded music that Jews brought to Shanghai in the 1930s. There was a lot of depression among Austrian refugees who didn’t fit in here or there, and this music uplifts any downtrodden heart. You wanna hear it?” Kaige allowed Beiqi to stick the earphones in his wiggly ears. “That tickles.” He said. He listened to the song and felt relieved. He asked her if she wanted to take a stroll with him on old Beijing Road, a street in downtown Guangzhou that has a clear, fiberglass covering; pedestrians can look down and see layers and layers of exposed roadwork dating back to the Song Dynasty. As they walked, Kaige was asking Beiqi about what it’s like for an American to learn Chinese. “Like the rat who ate books and became literate but then could no longer relate to her rat family and friends. I became literate in Chinese and that alienated me from just about everyone I’ve ever known and loved.” She told him she still hasn’t found a way to bridge gaps and doubts she ever will. “So you have the essence to make art.” Kaige said, nodding and grinning. Then Beiqi taught Kaige her favorite song; it’s a Yiddish, romantic, ghetto ballad called, “I Left My Heart in Little Vienna.” But Little Vienna vanished when the refugees fled Shanghai as civil war broke out in China. When Beiqi and her companion stopped singing, she asked Kaige if he knew of a good place where she could leave her heart.