Day 7

8:30 A.M.

After a night with some very odd nightmares, dreams, and calls, I have awoken and I can tell, in peace, the events that transpired yesterday.

After Wednesday, I thought that the "acting" thing wasn't going to pan out, and I was pretty ok with that. I need to study, anyhow, and I didn't know much about where or what this acting entailed. Nor how much it paid.

Thursday morn I received a call, in which itself is odd enough. It was the film fella, telling me that he was outside waiting for me. After getting ready (new record, 8~ min.) I met him, and he explained that he and his friend were going out and about on campus to hunt for some more foreigners, and was wondering if I was still up for it. I stupidly said yes, thinking it'd be interesting, and agreed to meet him at the southern gate of the school at noon.

I met with them at 12:30 (oddly enough, they were the late ones) and the film fella didn't show. It was only his friend, who spoke only Mandarin. Fortunately, there were three foreign students from Haiti who had a firm grasp of English and Mandarin. I reasoned, should we find ourselves in a disadvantageous situation, at least I have someone to argue or speak on my behalf. So, we went out on the street, and I started looking for the bus that'd take us there. I was thinking it'd be a public transportation bus.

Nope. It was a small, suspicious van parked on the side of the street. Small alarm bells went off, but hey, there were other people with me, and they were as clueless as I was. Why this made me feel a little safer, I have no idea. After being reassured that they were going to take us there, where ever that is, and back, we took off. As we do, I take note of the humourous irony of the driver smoking beneath a "No Smoking" sign.

So, we started to take in the sights of the city. Beijing's officials are undergoing a massive undertaking to beautify the city by planting plants everywhere, and it is working. The true goal, I suspect, is an effort to clean the air. I wish them the best, although my limited knowledge of plant biology suggests that either the plants won't absorb the smog, just the carbon within it, or that the plants will wither and possibly die if they do ingest such a poisonous soup.

The buildings are massive, and the Olympic stadium is a very original design,and looks very professional. It looks like an unfinished Death Star. Instead of being spherical, though, it looks like a ball that lost air in the center and is beginning to pancake. It really does look nice, and I'll post an image when I can.

And then suddenly we're in the slums. While no stranger to them, I suddenly felt my iPod weigh rather heavily in my pocket and the earphones felt like large pendulums around my neck. I cursed myself for being stupid enough to bring it with me (I'd left everything else at home) and started to look at the area we were traveling through.

It was sad, yet industrious. Some compounds that I took to be for storage were actually neighborhoods, with the houses set within the walls and the center area to be used for... anything, I'd think. Tons and tons of shops, printing, mechanics, textiles, signs, metal forging, and just about anything that you can do with your hands or a machine. There were many children and women about on bike, with baskets in the front and a platform on the back. This is to carry bottles and other recyclables from the garbage so that they can earn a bit extra. I'll assume they give enough for it to make a contribution to the family, or else why would they bother expending precious time and energy? But this says more about the poor pay they receive at their jobs than it does of the "generosity" of the recycling centers. Many places were in disarray. When you're busy trying to stay alive, the tidiness of your shop doesn't matter much.

These scenes unfolded in front of us as the road and asphalt became consumed by dirt and rock. Several times, I swore we were going to knock a mother and child off of their bicycle, they came so close, but the van seemed to just miss them every time.

And furthered we wandered into this labyrinth of dusty misery and struggling souls, and we suddenly took a right that led down a narrow corridor that appeared to lead to nowhere. Right now, my brow is wet and it is not from the heat, which is not inconsiderable. All of a sudden, we enter a compound that is entirely out of place in this area. It is clearly a filming location, but it is paved, the buildings are painted, and the dust is what'd you'd expect at an industrial place. There isn't much activity, though.

We get out, discuss the nerve wracking trip, and follow our guide into one of the closest buildings. To my relief, I see that there is indeed a giant screen with people doing various Olympic things in front of it with cameras and the usual obnoxious director. Wait, why are we going into a room in the side?

Ah, dressing rooms. After inspecting us, they apply make-up onto me (how you ladies stand this, I'll never know), groom me, and ask us all to change into standard issue white polo shirts.

We are ushered into the studio, where we are immediately put to work with each other. They pair me with one of the students that came with me. I assume they realize I don't know enough to follow orders, and he can translate for me. Also, they take from me my glasses. And hand me a real, on fire, Olympic torch. That I'm supposed to point at somebody. I sweat again, and it doesn't have to do much with the burning metal in my hand nor the flame near my hair.

After much holding of giant Olympic torches, pivoting, smiling hopefully, and raising them towards the sky (no shadows on your face, don't forget to smile!) we finish.

Ah, just kidding. The director is inspired, we do more scenes and shots.

We take a small break as the Chinese actors do their part, and then it's our turn again. Except only me and the other fellow who was not my partner were chosen to sit on this platform with a chinese girl and boy and... sit still, smile, and stare straight ahead while on this rotating platform.

Are done yet? Nope.

In the most humourous exercise that day, and final one, the four foreigners have to sit in what are supposed to be stadium chairs and... cheer on a disabled man who's going to win? I think something was lost in translation there. Anyways, they want us to both cheer and, at times, show sadness, as if thinking of a disabled person.

Thanks to you, my friends, yes you, the reader, you have distorted my sense of humour horribly, and I realize that this day. The chinese girl, in the best english she can muster, begins to tell us the story of a disabled man in order to set the mood for sadness.

All I can do is crack up. I desperately want to communicate that I am not laughing at her accent, nor am I deranged and inhuman. But the word "disabled" makes me crack up like no other. "It's terrible," I yell at myself "that you should laugh at the plight of others! Think of your grandmother!" Which works, since my grandmother is ill.

And then she says "disabled" again and I grin like a loon.

Well, they start filming, and us four start cheering on this piece of white styrofoam board, telling it that it can indeed do it, and the finish line is right there, and come on, yes you can. After repeated, uninterrupted set of these (now sad, sad! now cheer!), we finish. The recording is right there for all to see, and all I can bear to watch is me with my head bobbing like I have a spring for a spine. Damn, I move too much, and it's disconcerting. Weirdly enough, they tell me they liked how I took it seriously. I did try, for sure, but... perhaps they have the same twisted humour I've been imprinted with?

It's over, and we start to head home. Again, we get nervous when we realize our contact isn't coming with us, but when other actors get onboard, we breathe a little better. We take off, and the heat takes an unexpected toll on us; we start to fall asleep. I randomly close my eyes from time to time, but do not fall asleep. As soon as I see the other foreigners fall asleep, I snap awake. Someone has to be awake to yell if something should occur. Like, the bus tipping over.

And we came close several times. The driver had no fear cutting in front of full-loaded construction trucks and garbage trucks, or coming within inches and feet of their sides and corners. Let me say that at the speed we were going, I have no doubt that we'd have been skewered on the corner of those trucks like a kabob.

But we arrived, safe and sound, and went into the university. After breathing relief, two of us parted ways, and my guide (the one that fills me in on what's what) and I go to the local cafe to eat. I feel pangs of regret that I missed my promised chat with my dad (we'd promised to talk at 4, and it's 6-6:30) but what I learn in the next half-hour seems to compensate for it.

Like I mentioned previously, the student is from Haiti. He's here on a full scholarship, and arrived here exactly a year ago with no knowledge of Chinese. None. And he's freakin' fluent, or pretty damned close. He's had a year to see and learn outside the classroom and is more than happy to pass this knowledge on to me.

The stores and restaurants in BLCU are relatively expensive. The same dish that would go for 10-12 yuan outside go for 15-20 here. Everything, from pens to paper, receive a markup solely due to the fact that we are foreigners and rarely know any better. Add in the fact that, even with inflated prices, it's relatively cheaper, and most shops manage to get away with it.