Sunday, February 05, 2006

Peking Opera Blues

William & I arrived in Beijing on a bone chilling winters day. If I were to choose one word to describe the place, it would be 'gray'. Maybe it was just the time of year or maybe that's just the mood I was in. From the weather …to the buildings …to Tiananmen Square…everything was gray, or at least, that's how it all appeared to me. However, a whopping ten million folks including some friends do call Beijing home, so they would no doubt be pretty outraged by my one-word adjective. But I wasn’t gonna wax lyrical about a place that wasn’t doing anything for me.

The municipality of Beijing stretches over an area the size of Belgium. Belgium's a pretty small country, and fairly gray too, come to think of it. But having a city the size of a country is no small feat. It took forever to get from the airport to the centre passing through row after row of tower blocks, each one more faceless than the last. Beijing used to be a lot grimmer when I was here 8 years ago. The central government has been pouring every penny into sprucing it up for the forthcoming ‘08 Olympics. But baby, you've got a long way to go before I would describe you as beautiful, or even pleasant.

There were only 2 reasons to come to Beijing. It was the only direct flight from Toronto on route to Xian & a pit stop for William’s favourite Peking Opera costume shop. Other than that, the blistery cold front blowing in from Mongolia wasn’t doing much in ways of inspiring me to haul out my baby to shoot, especially not outdoors. Call me a Whoost. But it was even too freakin cold to stroll the streets like Kafka’s watch or some other useless thing while looking for late night internet-cafes in the evenings. In day light hours, I risked frostbite (or more appropriately, wind bite) to look for ambient shots... pretending to know how bburr… bbuuurrrr…beautifully the sun would fall while wishing that I could come close to Nestor Almendros’ poetic intuition & find some real rhythm & “music” to this documentary.

I guess I should mention that I’m not just some cynical, armchair, travel writer. I really do have a mission here. I’m really here to shoot ‘THE LAST FALSETTO’. It’s gonna be a really cool doc about the final leg of an artistic journey…of William Lau, Peking Opera Diva Extraordinaire, Canada’s one & only Nan Dan Performer. I’ll be following him around through his trials of anxietie, culture shock, unpredictable existence and uncertain future.

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