Tag Archives: China

Fortune Cookie

22 Oct

 

Man Drowning

Jon, the producer trying to get me to write a film shot in China, told me a story about one of the Chinese industrialists he’s going to tap for money to finance the film, a friend of his named Yunru.

Ten years ago, Yunru was homeless and friendless, living in a mausoleum in a graveyard outside Chengdu. After seven straight days in the darkness of the mausoleum without a crumb to eat, he became delirious with hunger. Yunru staggered out into the sunlight, wailing, “I’m hungry… I’m hungry.”

In seconds, other homeless people emerged from the surrounding mausoleums, moaning, “We’re hungry, too.”

The others – a group of about a hundred – pooled what little food they had and gave it to Yunru. With his strength restored, the others began looking to Yunru as their leader. He told them he’d go to a nearby factory to try and get them work.

Yunru spoke to the factory manager and said his people would work for half what he was paying the other workers.

The factory manager turned down the offer.

Yunru then said, “Twenty of us will work for free for one week. We’ll show you that we can work harder and better than your other workers.”

The factory manager agreed and at the end of one week Yunru had made good on his claim. The factory manager hired all 100 of the workers from the cemetery. Over the course of a few months, production and profits at the factory were way up, attracting the attention of the factory owner in Hong Kong. He flew to Chengdu to see for himself why this particular factory was outperforming the others he owned. He first spoke with the factory manager who hemmed and hawed and didn’t give a satisfactory answer. The owner then interviewed a worker who said, “It’s all because of Yunru.”

The owner tracked down Yunru and in the course of their conversation asked, “Are you happy working for ten dollars a day?”

Yunru answered, “We only make five dollars a day.”

The owner confronted the factory manager, asking, “What are you doing with the extra money we are sending you?”

When the manager was unable to come up with an explanation, the owner said, “You’re fired. Yunru will take your place.”

As time passed, Yunru eventually had 3,000 workers under his control. He invested in coal when it was pennies a ton – now it’s over $50 a ton. Yunru is a rich man with a beautiful home and family. When friends come over to visit, he breaks out $100K bottles of Lafite Rothschild.

Bad Rain

9 Apr

Devon and I drove into Flushing, Queens this weekend to spend the weekend with Scott.

One of the most apt descriptions I ever heard of my brother was, “Scott likes to run in and out of the raindrops.” He’s managed to sidestep a lot of the expenses and traps most people fall into, but he’d be the first to tell you there’s a price to be paid for living that close to the bone.

Going to Flushing is like traveling to an Asian country, which is the main part of its charm.  Scott shares a basement apartment with Joe, a Chinese guy who works for Scott and who understands very little English. Joe was a published writer in China, a poet and filmmaker.

That evening Joe cooks dinner for us in the basement, loading the table with six entrees and soup, unusual dishes like bitter melon, stir-fried celery and an egg and tomato dish, all cooked “Beijing-style.”

Some of Joe’s Chinese friends show up and it’s a night of conversation refreshingly free of references to consumerism and getting ahead. Joe tells us that the Chinese standard of beauty for both men and women is, “Big eyes and a long, narrow bridge to the nose.” Joe also said that the Chinese like faces that “Go in and out a lot.”

Later Joe brings out a feature-length script he’s written. I take a look at it – it’s been clumsily translated from Chinese into English, there are no slug-lines for scenes, the formatting is wrong, and three other readers have left their corrections and comments scribbled on the manuscript. He wants me to read it on the spot but I tell him I’ll read it first thing in the morning. Scott has already told me that it’s pretty hard going – an allegorical tale flipping the Cultural Revolution so it takes place in the U.S., with Nixon as a Chairman Mao-type ruler.

The next morning I take a cup of coffee and the script out to my car and sit there and read it through. It’s got a pretty good title, Bad Rain. It’s very difficult to get a clear view of the story. There’s a thread of something interesting, especially in the tale being told through the eyes of a tramp who wants recompense for having a pot of boiling soup poured on his head by a member of the Red Guard.

The script is in such bad shape that it’s necessary to first clear the brush and haul out the garbage before you can get a clear view of the property. I write some notes and give him some very basic advice, such as: “Describe your story in three sentences; then summarize it in one page; think visually, etc.” I offer to take another look at the script.

Joe’s level of desperation lays several layers deeper than mine, under a tremendous weight. It will be a miracle if he makes it.

(2004)

Empty Fortune Cookie

3 Apr

The next day after my chilly return from China, Ann and I talk. I tell her that after last night, as far as I’m concerned, our marriage is an economic partnership to get out of debt. Once out of debt we’ll be free to go our own ways. I tell her that asking me if I loved screenwriting more than her was strictly high school – like asking if I loved my car more than her. She says that I act like I can accept losing the house, losing everything. I tell her she’s right – to me the house doesn’t represent all that much, the town we live in doesn’t represent that much.  I’m willing to fight to keep the house for her sake.

We keep talking. Maybe there’s a resolve in me she hasn’t seen before – that she realizes I’ve drawn a line in the sand and that the thought of the marriage dissolving isn’t frightening to me. Whatever it is, she begins to tilt back towards me, saying she loves me and wants to work together, that she “doesn’t want to be in a partnership to get out of debt.”

The rest of the night is warm and loving.

But emotions in this house are like the weather in New England, where they’re fond of saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes – it’ll change.”

(2004)

Chopping Block

1 Apr

Arriving home from China, 27 hours from Shanghai to New York, I call Ann from the airport and hear the unmistakable lack of love in her voice. Since I’m broke, I take a shuttle bus into Manhattan and then another bus to North Jersey.

Surprisingly I don’t feel all that tired. I get as far as I can by bus and then call Ann again and she drives 40 minutes to pick me up. On the drive home I can see she’s trying not to unload too much gloom and doom, but eventually  it all comes out. Plumbing problems in the house, the brakes going on the RAV 4, bill collectors calling around the clock.

We get home around midnight and manage to share a few laughs. In bed, when I embrace her she freezes and tells me she can’t be affectionate while feeling this anxious about money. We talk, she admits she’s angry at me, and I tell her, “If we have a strong marriage, we’ll get through this together. If we shut down during a crisis, we’ve failed no matter what happens.”

She accuses me of placing screenwriting above everything else. I tell her she’s crazy – why would I work 60 hours a week for seven years at a job I didn’t like if it wasn’t for the family?

She asks, “What do you put above screenwriting?”

At that moment, I give her the only truthful answer in my heart: “Devon.”

She accuses me of being a dreamer and I’m reduced to saying, “I’m not giving up my dreams.” I tell her there are plenty of guys out there who can provide the security she needs and to go find one if that will make her happy.

She says, “I know there are.”

(2004)

Breaker Box

1 Apr

One thing I’m noticing on this trip through China is the tremendous energy of the Chinese people. Even when standing still they seem to be bundles of suppressed energy.

When I get home I’d like to bring some of this energy into my own life. Our household is pretty much soaked in an atmosphere of defeat and depression. This has the effect of creating a sputtering electrical charge that slows everything down.

In this atmosphere, the least amount of accomplishment masquerades as achievement.

After losing my job I was thankfully delivered from the grind. Instead of filling the time with new writing projects I did what I had to do, which was market screenplays and books already written. Marketing is at least partially a waiting game and I haven’t filled this wait with enough meaningful activity. I’ve gotten soft and probably lazier than I’ve ever been – a terrible condition to be in when my family is being rocked by the biggest economic crisis we’ve ever faced.

When I get home from China I want to step up the pace even if it seems artificial at first. It’s time to get out the whip. It would feel good to crash into bed at the end of the day totally worn out

I would love to provide the security Ann needs, but my life has never put a high value on security. I never made the careful moves to establish a safe career, or to create a fallback position. The seven years I was at Travel Agent Magazine I never even made one deposit into my 401 K. In retrospect it was a dumb move, but I didn’t want to put any energy into staying there.

It’s undeniable that I’m the wrong man for Ann. She was courted by millionaires and she chose me. I’m sure she kicks herself over that one.

 

(2004)

Railroad Gang Chop Suey

28 Mar

 

“Fear is the enemy of logic.”

                    Frank Sinatra


I need some deliverance. Lack of money is reaching critical mass. In three days I go to China on a journalism assignment paying chump change. If it had happened two months ago I would see it as a great chance to experience China for free, a trip worth thousands of dollars. Now it feels like there’s ten days between me and my search for a warehouse job. Hitting financial bottom has frightened Ann enough that she went out and found a job. It’s unfortunate that it took things getting to such a dire stage to get her working. We’ve lost a lot of time.

With a little luck, on my return from China, I’ll have some well-paying writing jobs waiting for me – jobs I’ve been promised. If not, it’s back to the work force, hoping to hold onto our house until a screenplay hits.

(2004)