From Ding Dong to Beijing

The film business, glamorous enough on opening night, is a demanding task mistress for those who follow her call on either side of the camera. Early morning calls follow late nights with alarming regularity. Our farewell dinner the night before with Daqing ended at 10 p.m. We checked out of the hotel this morning without breakfast at 6:45 a.m. Short night, especially for us bloggers who write up the day’s events after the fact. We headed not for the airport but for the downtown train station. Here we filmed several combinations of shots involving Phil and Peter arriving in Lanzhou and being met by Hailu for episode 5, and Phil and Hailu joining forces in episode 6. While the crew set up, we availed ourselves of the KFC next door for breakfast. The coffee and sandwiches were welcome. I rashly ordered orange juice, which Phil and I had sipped from cardboard boxes in our experience with KFC a few days earlier. I expected a similar result but was alarmed when it was delivered in a hot cup. Have you ever drunk your breakfast Tang hot? I have to admit that I prefer my hot Tang to my black KFC coffee!

Today I learned a new word in Chinese: woche means ‘train.’ I try to slowly build on my woeful vocabulary one word at a time. There is no doubt that the public square in front of the train station attracts a motley crowd: elderly beggars working the crowd; a dancing woman with a loose screw to be sure who actually defended us from a beggar;  a man walking around dangling a beautiful red fighting cock by its legs. There was general interest in the filming and the scenes certainly captured some local color, but the interest did not disrupt our work. Finished with the outside work, we took the next logical step at a train station. We said farewell to Hailu (for real not make believe), came inside and boarded a train. We received VIP treatment, were whisked through security, passed through an empty waiting lounge filled with cribs (how family friendly is that?!), and emerged on our platform with our train waiting. More filming on the platform, then Phil and I boarded the train, several times (filmed from the front and from the back). So did Alex (camera number one), Adrian (for sound), Sally and Pip for direction, Eric for logistics and Chinese translation and Daming for camera assistance. Phil and I shared a sleeping compartment for our journey to I knew not where. I didn’t even know where we were when we arrived. There is a certain tranquility in not having to make any travel arrangements and having no anxiety about meeting a schedule. As the filming progressed Adrian occupied the upper berth off camera for sound, and Alex wedged himself near the door so he could film Phil and me on our bench enjoying our lengthy journey across China, compressed into a one hour and 20 minute ride. When we arrived at our stop and detrained, Rob (camera number 2) was there to capture us arriving, along with Kelly our other translator. It was quite an operation.

It seems that we were in Ding Xi, and that if we had stayed on the train we would have arrived in Hong Kong several days later. I don’t know what ‘Ding’ means in Chinese. I do know that ‘Xi’ means west. Now if there is a West Ding I am pretty certain that there is an East Ding as well. This would be called Ding Dong, which is too precious! (If you lived in the eastern suburb of East Ding it would be called Dong Ding Dong. I think a little learning is a dangerous thing). Please excuse my frivolity.

Our next goal was Lanzhou airport. Ding Xi is an hour and 20 minutes southeast of Lanzhou. Lanzhou airport is an hour west of Lanzhou. Setting out at noon, we faced a two-hour drive in our bus. The weather turned balmy, probably in the low 70s. In the warmth a general torpor enveloped the bus. I awoke at 1 p.m. and surveyed the epidemic of somnolence. I mischievously took several photos. Sally got the prize for the most original sleeping position. Petite and flexible, her torso stretched across two seats, jacket over her face, her legs straight up and her feet were plastered against the window!

We arrived at the airport almost at the stroke of 2 p.m., had a surprisingly good lunch at a truck stop, and then resumed work. We filmed an arrival scene outside the airport and a taxi scene. Work completed, we prepared for the flight. Preparation is the operative word. The film crew travels with 32 pieces of baggage! The paraphernalia of on-location shooting boggles the mind. This was the first domestic flight in China for the equipment.

Up to now it had been driven from Beijing to Shandong to Liaoning to Lanzhou (two days travel). It was 300 kg of excess weight at a charge of $3 per kg or $900–just part of doing business. The two hour flight to Beijing was very smooth. I had an open seat beside me for the first time since I left home, and thus was able to blog en route instead of after reaching my hotel room. Tai hao le!

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