Saturday, June 14, 2014

Ill Met By Moonlight

We now have both children in Beijing, something that we never imagined would happen a second time in our run here. But it's been great so far.

Last night the four of us went to a performance of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Night Dream," produced by the actor Tim Robbins at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, otherwise known as the Egg. It was a fun, lighthearted performance. It was probably good that the theater troupe performed with basically no set, since the idea of a Shakespearean verdant wood seemed odd in a place just steps from the cold barrenness of Tiananmen Square.

During intermission, I heard Joanna say, "Hi!" and saw that she was talking to Tim Robbins, who was standing nearby.

He was smiling. "Where are you from?" he asked Joanna.

"Washington, DC," she said.

I popped my head up. "Hi!" I said.

Bob looked over. "Hi!" he said.

Daniel looked over. "Hi!" he said. "Hey, I have a question. Is there no one Puck character? Why are all the actors speaking Puck's lines?"

Tim Robbins said, yes, there was no one Puck character. Then he got his look on his face that I swear was something like: I was talking to a pretty girl and suddenly I'm talking to her whole family. He slowly backed away, smiling. I never even got the chance to explain how our grown children landed in Beijing this summer, although I'm sure he would have been delighted to get all those details.

Later, Daniel, Bob and I stayed longer after the performance as Robbins and the cast answered questions about the show and about his life as an actor. When we left the NCPA, there were no cabs to be found. The moon was full and shined an odd, polluted golden.

We jumped on the subway, knowing that it was about to close but hoping that our luck would last. (The subway in Beijing closes long before midnight, because why would it be convenient for your citizens?)

We got as far as Jianguomen station where we wanted to change to Line 2. No such luck, so we exited the station where we were accosted by a gauntlet of pedicab drivers. Since there were three of us, we turned them down, still hoping for a cab.

Eventually we decided that we would split up: Daniel would take one cab and Bob and I would take a second. Our pedicab driver was driving one of what we call tin cans, or death-mobiles, or carbon-monoxide mobiles. Added to that was that this driver was quite elderly. He agreed to take us to Chunxiulu, but as we rode along, it dawned on us that he had absolutely no idea where Chunxiulu was.

He kept shouting questions at us over the roar of the cab, in a heavy Beijing accent. So even if our Chinese was perfect, we probably wouldn't have been able to understand him. Bob and I kept saying, in Chinese, "Take us to Chunxiulu!"

The driver drove about at a walking pace (was the battery about to run out?) and stopped three different times to ask people where our street was. All of them gave him detailed directions, and yet he still seemed baffled. Then he paused, pulled out a cigarette, and started to smoke. The smoke wafted into the back of the cab, blocking a bit the smell of carbon dioxide.

The evening was taking a bad turn. Others have had stories of pedicab drivers who deliberately took their fares to places to fleece them. My only consolation was that this guy didn't seem bright enough to pull that off.

Finally, finally, we got to the head of Chunxiulu. We hopped out, paid him his 30 RMB, and walked the last few blocks home, happy to be breathing 184-AQI air instead of the inside of this guy's pedicab. As we walked into the door of our apartment, a line from Puck came to me:

"Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

But now I only have two questions: was it all a dream? And who, exactly, were the fools last night?

No comments:

Post a Comment