CHRONICLE OF BEING A FISH
It’s the last day of April in 2006. We have been editing the film in my editor's bedroom for almost three months. Computers are pollution. My skin gets itchy, and my eyes are sore. This morning, I walked into the bathroom and had a long shower, I felt I couldn't get rid of the dirt from my body. Too many thoughts and too many words, no good to start a day. I wish I lived in the silent movie time.
I thought the goldfish in the film would be a funny metaphor. But it turned out rather serious, melancholic. I remember that the real fish had a heavy body, and she swam in her tank very slowly, with her huge brain that was half her whole size. On the first day of the shoot, producer Zhang Qiang moved her from one tank to another. She slipped from his hand, dropped on the floor, and a chunk of her head got chopped off. Looking at red jelly on the floor, our cameraman Lu Sheng said: “What is it today, documentary or fiction?”
After shooting under minus 35 degree in Mohe, northern China, we got back to London. It felt London was even colder than Mohe. Sometimes, walking in a messy Hackney street, I would wonder if, in Rao Hui's quiet home, the fish was still alive. I thought I should give him a call. But then I realized it would be midnight in Beijing. Also, maybe he doesn’t have insomnia anymore.
Finally, in the springtime, Rao Hui flew to London. It was his first time in Britain. “It's great here”, he praised almost every day. He couldn't stand that there wasn't any Chinese pork rib on the dining table.
Eventually, he told me about his fish's fate. One morning, when he woke up and opened his back room to feed her as usual, he found the fish floating belly facing upwards. He was so upset he immediately slammed the door shut. The next day, when the cleaning lady came, he told her to go and have a look. She opened the door, and yelled: “Well, she is dead!”
“Did you flush the dead fish into the toilet, or did you throw her in the bin?” I asked him. He didn't reply. I didn't understand why he didn't want to answer. Does it have something to do with his Buddhist belief, or did he not even remember? I presume that his cleaner must have efficiently sorted that dead soul that morning.
People say plants and animals don't like to be moved around. I believe that. When someone keeps changing flats and buying new plants to decorate, they somehow die easily. Whereas in an old grandmother's rotten garden, they grow lush and wild.
During his month in London, I kept moving Rao Hui from one house to another. “London is too tight, not like Beijing” I explained. He ended up sleeping over a church for a week. He was overwhelmed when he heard the praying from downstairs.
We spent many evenings recording voice over in my bedroom. The last day he went to see the Tower of London, “It’s boring to be a tourist” he said. Then he flew back to Beijing.
The morning he got back to China, he texted me from his Chinese mobile. The text was in English, which never happened before: “hi Xiaolu, I feel better smoking Chinese cigarettes at home. Make a big film next time. Take care.”
London, 4th May 2006