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A trip to Truckee, the timid maid on the High Sierra

Truckee, northern California, has long been recognized as the gateway into the breath-taking Lake Tahoe, the ski resort plus one-time winter Olympic host Squaw Valley, and Reno, Nevada’s gambling paradise other than Las Vegas. Indeed, My expedition to the town in the High Sierra (at least 5,800 feet above sea level) partially was to answer the Mother Nature’s calling (mind you, not that kind of “Germany’s calling” as Lord Haw Haw howled, which to some extent bore some ironic connotations) if not for the periodical emotional refueling. It also was to tame my hidden / long buried adventuresome nature and my constant interest in history and people’s life / lifestyle.


The AmTrak bus pulled in the Truckee Depot at 1900 on Friday, June 12th.  I was greeted by the historical one-street downtown (Donner Pass Road) with the coy pink sunset tainted with grayish-silver nimbuses in the background. Friday and later Saturday are Truckee’s high noon. Tourists throng Donner Pass Road for shopping, delicious cuisine (in particular seafood obtained from the local Truckee River), preparation for outdoor activities (i.e. fishing, hiking) and/or visits to local artists’ studios / galleries. Though local residents maintain their schedules to turn in by 2200, rejoiced shouts probably turned on by tasty spirits or stimulating conversations over dinner tables do not calm down till wee hours. Truckee hangs up her hostess apron Sunday evenings and resumes to her America’s small town quietness till tourists’ next visit.


The first chapter of Truckee’s history is dim and tragic. The initial group of settlers (emigrants from the Midwest) was trapped in heavy snow in 1847. Lots of the pioneers perished as a result of starvation and those who survived in fact lived on their companions’ remains before rescue teams reached them. Later Truckee emerged at first as a lumber town, thanks to her majestic forest, and then had a big ice business, which provided adjacent agricultural towns ice to preserve fruits and vegetables transported to the east coast in the winter time.  Truckee, regardless of her identity as a timid maid in the High Sierra, once found herself in the limelight in the first half of the 20th century. Truckee’s natural beauty within reach from the downtown area earned Truckee the minds and hearts of numerous Hollywood production companies. Charlie Chaplain shot his classics Gold Rush (1925; re-released with added narrations in 1941) in Truckee. Before the end of World War Two, over 80 movies took advantages of Truckee’s magnificent backyard.


As a Chinese, I was especially interested in the Chinese Diaspora history in Truckee. Chinese were initially brought over to the US to help build the railroad. Chinese immigrants in Truckee, like their compatriots in other parts of the US, faced the fear of being deported or at least unemployed upon the completion of the railroad construction. At first, Chinese were able to find jobs as waiters (as one documentation photos showed in the Truckee Historical Society) but later, it became a law that companies could no longer hire Chinese workers.  Such discrimination stories sound too familiar to people nowadays looking back at immigrant history but all these measures for whites to preserve their living space and resources began in fact in Truckee. Most of the tactics that we have read about with which white Americans managed to sweep away Chinese workers—to burn down Chinese community’s shelters, to set up a rule that Chinese would no longer be paid any stipend after a certain period of time—has been called “the Truckee model.” Only a handful of Chinese remained in Truckee after the governmental action, a sharp contrast to the blooming era when over a thousand were seen in the downtown area. Chinese’s footstep on the history of Truckee seems to have been utterly wiped out, except the Chinese herb shop about few blocks away from the historical downtown, isolated and disserted.


“Palimpsest” has been used to reflect the writing and re-writing of history. People of one historical period write their story over their antecedents’ or their story is over-written by people after them. On this leather plate, we can see numerous different hues with one probably more apparent than another. Such a layering phenomenon can be seen in Truckee. One photo (available in the album) encapsulates this very well. In Brickelltown, the section of Truckee erected during the peek of the town’s period as a lumber center, there sat a wooden house with a signboard “Sierra Cosmetic Laser.” Indeed, the signboard, in particular the words “cosmetic laser” which is the product of our time, is a sharp clash against the house’s old-time modesty. A clash, or co-existence as such, should it be harmonious or not, appears in numerous dimensions not just on the chronological timeline.


We may also find it in the concocting of the Truckee identity and life. I chose Japanese food for dinner my second night in Truckee as a way to balance out the spices I had had for lunch at a Mexican food joint. A nice sushi dinner was what I was longing for. But the menu struck me with a stunning hybridity—while sushi represented only one section of the menu with 4 ~ 6 options for customers to choose from, the chef also offered Thai and typical American cuisines. More interestingly, in an American dish, one could see Vietnamese or British sauces included as part of the content. If I remember correctly, as I strode past the restaurant my last night in Truckee, the restaurant’s special for the day was pizza, which is hybrid in and of itself because one can practically put anything into a pizza. I might be laughed at for taking so long to realize the US as a melting pot or making a big fuss over the fact that the US has been a melting pot to begin with. But I personally think that the word “palimpsest,” at least in the case of Truckee, may better describe the seemingly harmonious hybridity. As I have mentioned earlier, some words or hues on a palimpsest may be more apparent than others, making themselves as the major base or the dominant and the minor, probably able to maintain certain amount of subjectivity, those on the side. The Japanese restaurant’s menu reflected the structure of this so-called “melting pot” status of Truckee. The Japanese restaurant is in actuality an American restaurant tinged with certain Asian flavors. The (white) Americas are the definite majority.


        I was lucky enough to book a room in the Truckee Hotel, a historical hotel built in 1873 having served adventurers like myself for over a century. More fortunate still, I had the privilege to have a long interchange with Brian, one of the co-innkeepers, who was Japanese adopted by a German-American father and a Chinese mother. Brian, as one of the handful Asians in Truckee, admitted that Truckee had been a white town. “It is a mountain town so you don’t expect to see a lot of Asians here.” He then took one step further sharing with me his and his Asian friends’ experiences of interacting with their white counterparts. While Brian had been taught to love everybody due to his own family’s multi-ethnic background, Brian sensed a certain kind of anti-Caucasian sentiment among his Asian friends. The periodical Asian support group meetings on some occasions were said to almost turn out to be Asian KKK gang gatherings. Indeed, we should not always expect an equal balance in number to be the one and only key to harmony among different groups. Whether an orbit works smoothly enough may be determined by the necessary turns, holds, gives and takes among those different bodies at crucial moments. The conflict between Asians (in this case Chinese) and white Americans seems to have been bygone past. The menu in the Japanese restaurant in Truckee has seemingly proved that the dominant and minority could work harmoniously with the dominant being the absolute majority—after all, the dishes on the table that night tasted all right. But I presume under the table, we may still smell the archaic Caucasian-Asian (in)fighting—if not physical one at least emotional one.


Almost always, when going on an expedition, after dinner, I entertain myself with one sit-com reruns after another. As a historical hotel staying faithful to its good-old-day condition, The Truckee Hotel provided no such entertainment in my room. I highly appreciated such an arrangement because I had more time to self-reflect and examine. I wondered why Chinese went through the trouble to come all the way to the US especially probably having heard some sad tales about their compatriots who had come to the white-man land before them. The modern version of this is the Chinese international students, myself included. What is the American dream anyway? The white man’s version may be that one can succeed as long as he hangs in and works hard. I suppose an Asian’s version requires not only perseverance but also tolerance and endurance…

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Population / 80

A lot of us must have seen the movie Breakdown (1998), a dramatization of a Bostonian upper-middle class couple’s experience of being caught in a Californian desert and the couple’s effort to survive local red-necks’ harassment before being able to slouch their ways out of the desert to return to their “civilized” society. I call the film “dramatization” because we all are victims of car breakdowns at times but I suppose none of us have ever experienced incidents as extreme as what the film has depicted.  The day after Christmas this year, as opposed to going on an expedition alone as I have done in the past, I invited an exchange student to join me on a three-day getaway. Indeed, the academic workload the past semester hasn’t been overwhelming or rigorous enough to make a winter getaway a desperate necessity but it would truly be a treat to get out of the ivory tower, the academic temple, which can be a cage for one’s spirit, mind and most importantly, creativity.

        The exchange student and I rented a car.  We found ourselves racing on Highway 395.  The great fluctuation of altitude turned the driving into a roller coaster ride.  The car slowed down as some wooden shacks came into view after more than 1.5 hours of vast nothingness. No, our car didn’t have a breakdown—we came to this “shantytown” in conventional standard out of our own freewill.

        Randsburg, our destination, was slightly off Highway 395. As some locals of Randsburg put it, one might miss the turn if he/she looked down to check the speed at a wrong moment.  This small village shrouded in hills was built as a result of the Gold Rush.  The official establishment of the village was in 1896 and during the golden era of the village, the village housed 8 thousand residents, mostly miners, firstly for gold and later silver and copper.  In 1905, in view of the town as a potential spot for migrants looking for opportunities from the east, mid-west and even abroad, the village’s hotel, “The Cottage”, opened its door.  Heated hunt for gold waned some time later and the town’s population shrank drastically and rapidly.  Currently, only 80 people live in Randsburg, a lot of them actually from somewhere outside Randsburg.  The local bar owners, a gentleman and his 97-year-old mother, might be the handful of the locals who can be counted as natives; the current owners of The Cottage are a gentleman from Orange County and his wife, who immigrated from South Africa 6 years ago.

        Unlike Colfax / Grass Valley, residents of Randsburg tend not to be the direct descendants of the original miners. Visitors to Randsburg can still see some mining activities going on in Randsburg but these activities are almost all hobby- and leisure-oriented and are carried out by people outside Randsburg. The gentleman who owns the local bar, Eddy, said that recently an Indian company had purchased one mine up on the hill but this deal hadn’t rejuvenated the mining business.  My travel companion and I made it to Randsburg on Friday afternoon.  We visited adjacent ghost towns such as Johannesburg, which is 2 miles down the road, Garlock, which is another 11 miles away, had dinner in Ridgecrest, and returned to Randsburg before 7:00 pm.  By then, the whole town had already been in slumber / hibernation, almost no lights on except a few pathetically dying out flashes at the fire department.  The temperature that night was in its lower 30s and later mid-20s, which to a half-Bostonian as myself, was quite pleasant. But the dead silence truly turned Randsburg into a bleak place after dark. Howls of wolves or coyotes would have been highly appreciated.

        I attempted to switch my physical time-clock to the Randsburg style, going to bed around 9:00 pm. However, I found myself twisting and turning for an hour at around 2:30 am before I finally fell asleep again.  I was awakened by thunderous romping of automobile engines some time after sunrise. Some mud bike riding club had come to town. Later, I learnt that these mud bike riders were frequent weekend visitors to Randsburg pricking up the decadent town a bit from stale senility to light liveliness. Otherwise, the one and only general store closes at 4:00 pm and the restaurant attached to The Cottage wraps up by 7:00 pm. Other stores were open only on weekends. The question of where people had gone “after hours” and what they did haunted my mind the first night. I got the answer the second night by an unscheduled visit to Eddy’s bar after dinner. My travel companion peeked through the window and an old man in a cowboy hat opened the door, summoning us to come in by saying, “Hello, strangers!” The gentleman was in fact the owner of one of the antique shops my fellow traveler and I had visited earlier that day. Quite a few people were there—three were chatting at the end of the bar, another group watching a ball game on TV and by the fireside was Olga, the 97-year-old granny. My travel fellow greeted the granny and I stood by the side. Granny recited her family history from the family’s time in Italy before WW1 to present. Enchanted by her tale and life philosophy, I was also amazed by the smooth flow of her narration. Should it not have been a possibility that she was a natural-born storyteller, she must have recited the same tale over and over again to anyone she met for the first time. My expedition companion later adjourned to the bar to join the three gentlemen chatting; I followed. I can’t relate in detail what I heard at the bar as the discussion indeed jumped from topic to topic—One moaned over his shattered acting career before it was even established and one followed with anecdotes about his dogs…All of us had beers in our hands. In fact, after I finished a bottle, a fellow guest offered me a free beer before he left. Everyone was decent and sober, no drunk trouble-makers among us. Outside the bar, a sign read: “Open till not busy.” The bar closed at 8:45 pm that night. What made the visit to the bar interesting was that almost all of the guests at the bar opened up quite quickly. At times, they opened up so quickly that I could be shocked and almost recoil a bit. I wouldn’t find myself talking about my family within half an hour after an interchange with a stranger was ignited by accident. One probable explanation for this rapid baring of mind may be that these town folks see visitors as a good source for emotional outlets. Visitors have no conflict of interest with those town folks and might not return. By confiding to strangers, these guests in the bar receive their free therapies and quite likely these strangers file and forget what they heard right after they walk out of the bar. (Some might not even get what’s been said to them because they are not sober enough to do so.) I’d rather believe that the carrying out of small talk is part of the small town’s way of socializing. Several residents in Randsburg actually work in the city, according to the owner of The Cottage. Randsburg, in this case, the bar in particular, serves as a place for those people working in the city to take off the personae they have to wear during the day in professional settings. Indeed, my relationship with Eddy, Olga and some other people I had the privilege to have contact with should have been maintained following certain business / professional protocols. But in a way, such an expectation would be quite off the track in such settings. To those town folks, the bar is seen as a private space, a counterpart to their work places during the day. There in the bar, they talk about their lives all the time and I just happened to be there that night.

        Before I went on this expedition to Randsburg, I had constantly been haunted by what I saw in the movie Population / 436 (2007), which is about a secluded village’s mystical and devilish effort to keep its population to exactly 436 by imprisoning visitors to the village. Luckily, I came back from Randsburg safe and sound and I should say I truly enjoyed my stay. Some people ask me if I saw any ghost in Randsburg. Of course, I didn’t. But if there was any ghost in Randsburg, that ghost must have been me. Ghost towns got their name because of the coming and going of migrants. I went there and left; those town folks remain…

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Another trip to the Gold Country

The English language often amazes me.  While it is a language formed with combinations of the 26 alphabets, which quite likely allows the production of infinite words, it actually has the tolerance for having one word to bear multiple meanings or to refer to several unrelated objects.  One may accuse the English for being un-creative or lazy but I presume the English may side with Chinese on this subject, calling this un-specificity a nebulous aesthetics.  Among all of the codes or assets stored in my vocabulary bank (which, I am sorry to say, is not rich), one word that baffles me is “alien”.  The word “alien”, as conventional knowledge may have it, means (1) someone from another country / of another nationality (2) an extraterrestrial creature which may or may not bear a human form.  Spielberg has demonstrated to us that an alien looked like a disfigured / smashed computer screen attached to a midget body; the Alien series told us that aliens were super parasites that assumed human forms; on a rather comedic and comical side, aliens have been illustrated as the “little green people”, as in the case of those Martians in Martian Attacks (1997).  But no matter which representation is accurate or faithful to the true color of an “alien”, a person of another nationality certainly doesn’t have a head almost as big as his/her body, is a parasite (in a literal sense at least, if not in a symbolic sense) or is green.

        I marched into Colfax, a semi ghost town in the Gold Country with a population of 1100, on June 1st, 2008.  My resounding footsteps produced by my studded / hobnailed boots (brought back from Auschwitz by a US Army sergeant) were never meant to be an intrusion but an intuition told me that they nonetheless had a cracking effect on the life of the Colfax residents.  I didn’t feel welcomed—Accosting three locals for direction as the street names turned out be slightly different from the map I printed off from the ‘net, I was given skyward eyes and these passers-by simply responded with “I don’t know” without even slowing down their paces.  It was around 6 in the evening and it wasn’t Boston or New York.  Unless their dinners all started at 1800 sharp and they wouldn’t get any food even if only few seconds late or some mysterious creatures from some mystic tales would come out to hunt them as soon as the sun dipped under the horizon and the whole town was in curfew, they could have stopped to help.

        I stayed in Colfax all times during my 5-day patronage but I commuted to Grass Valley, a town 35 minutes away, every day by bus, as it was where historical sites I was interested in located.  There were only 3 buses daily each way—the first was around 0900 and the last 1530.  Interestingly, I seemed to ride with the same fellow passengers every day and the driver (or dispatcher, as he was called locally) addressed them by their first names.  The driver even dropped off passengers at spots which were not set to be stops without passengers’ heads-up notices.  I was never intended to blend in but frankly speaking, I tried every effort to be invisible.  I sat in the front behind the driver so that the driver could give me a holler when he was pulling into my stops.  Other passengers went straightly to the back without laying their eyes on me as if I had never existed.  Somewhat I was glad especially given the first-day encounter with those sample Colfaxians.

        Colfax and Grass Valley were established in the 1850s as a result of the opening of The Empire Mine.  Unlike the adjacent towns honoring gold panning, The Empire Mine required specific mining skills.  These skills were originally developed in Cornwell, England; therefore, a lots of Cornwellian (or “Cornish” as they prefer to be called) miners flocked to Colfax and Grass Valley (or shipped over) as a vast boosting need for labor and the highly cherished skills could be foreseen.  The Empire Mine was shut down in 1956 yet unlike some other gold mining towns, Colfax / Grass Valley didn’t die down completely and the offspring of those miners still stick to the place where their forefathers called home, as many local historians / town folks’ recollection of their parents / grandparents’ days in the mine could prove their affiliation with the place.

        Colfax, as well as Grass Valley to some degree, was a typical American small town.  These towns were two closed communities.  It is not that transportation developments blocked the two communities from reaching out to the outside world; this seclusion must have been by choice.  Young people completing basic education tend to stay in town working in local businesses, which, except on rare occasions, serve only local people.  Because those businesses’ cliental pretty much was restricted to their neighbors, professionalism shouldn’t have been expected of them.  Two businesses which struck me as different from their neighboring counterparts were McDonald’s, which, as a branch of a major international franchise, has a certain standard procedure for workers to follow, and Holbrook Hotel, a small abode with a restaurant attached to it and once serving Mark Twain when he explored the Gold Country, which, with its classy design, managed to present itself as a place for the upper-middle class.  While the three sample Colfax locals could choose to abruptly walk away from me, those restaurant clerks, shopkeepers might not have the luxury to be emotional.  Some did try to greet me with sunny smiles they borrowed from their neighbors in California though the enthusiasm was clouded with tension and anxiety, while some swiftly chose something which they could engage themselves in, be it phone calls to business associates, dusting work on merchandises on display, to avoid contact with this “alien”.  Some may expect such a treatment in a white town to the only colored person within the precinct.  I tend not to read those locals’ behaviors racially.  I’d rather say that those people didn’t have the slightest idea how to interact with an outsider.

        Colfax and Grass Valley are closed communities politically or, a better way to put it, are rather conservatives’ domain.  The bus stop where I waited for the commuter bus to Grass Valley every morning was just outside Colfax City of Commerce Office, which on June 3rd, served as the site for registered Democrat voters to pick their best nominee for the Democrat White House contender.  I sat on the bench outside the office for 20 minutes without seeing one single soul checking in; I even managed to peek to make sure that there was not an alternative entrance.  Colfax was a small town and there must not have been many voters but it stroke me as an utter astonishment that the number of voters could be that small or Colfaxians were just lukewarm towards politics in general.  My last bus ride from Colfax seemed to lift the cloud over the whole matter.  A man in his mid-30’s in a gabardine sport jacket and with meticulously done dirty blond curls covering his forehead, rather a sharp contrast to everymen’s dangling bellies, sleeveless T-shirts and brushy beards in town, followed me into the commuter bus.  This gentleman in two minutes actively started to strike up a conversation with the fellow passenger sitting next to him.  The neatly dressed man worked for the Republican Party and his job was to give speeches to communities to strengthen support from them.  He said he was on his way to attend a “business function” and I was quite certain that talking to a passenger was not part of the package.  However, perhaps owing to his passion for his job, he found himself spreading the Republican gospels nonetheless.  He admitted that Bush has done a lousy job as a president but he contended that this was the very reason that McCain ought to be elected.  Republicans knew how to keep the country safe and McCain ought to be brought on board to take over.  The listener nodded enthusiastically and later hoorayed shrilly.

         The US has been in a collective fear for a long time.  Should we not call 9-11 the trigger of this collective fear, we may still be legitimate to name it a key catalyst that has the fear elevated.  Before Cold War was over, the Americans had been constantly living in the fear that the Communists would attack them.  The long-lasting espionage TV series Mission: Impossible and early James Bond movies served as a visual antidote to tackle this fear—by watching the series, the people believed that no matter how cunning the Communists were, the US would always be shrewd enough to combat the Communists who tried every effort to jeopardize American lifestyle.  The end of Cold War then saw the emergence and popularity of extraterrestrial films; the fear shifted from specific others to targets yet to be confirmed.  Some may say the media try their utmost to commodify fear (or in some cases paranoia) but kindly allow me to say that it takes the people’s certain psychical elements to have this fireworks ignited.  The people, marginalized in their countries of origin and now on this “promised land”, would never want to lose one single thing they have and the fewer available sources at their disposals at the moment, more tightly they hold on to their tangible or intangible earthly possessions.  The “promised-land” discourse, collective anxiety plus lack of adequate assets to secure the present may result in a belief in “the world as a dangerous jungle” and a believer in a such system of thoughts is believed to make every effort to safeguard his/her hard-earned bread, shooing away any potential coveters as a dying tiger watching over a prey it got with its last remaining breath.

        My head is not as big as my trunk and I am not green but I am an alien in Colfax / Grass Valley.  I was (again) taken for a Bostonian when I vas on a tour to a museum which was once a Catholic-run orphanage in Grass Valley; my Asian features said more than enough about my foreignness.  This trip was my second visit to the Gold Country; I have gradually learnt to turn off my “self-consciousness” switch.  “They” must have been aware of being watched, my (Asian, scholarly, upper-middle class, etc) “gaze”; probably, they were not watching me…

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Continuum in Vegas 電影學習之旅



About two weeks ago, I was allured into the golden mirage in the desert, Las Vegas.  A constant gambler on this life journey, ironically, I consider even standing next to a slash machine an utter sin.  Prior to this trip, I have been to Vegas twice.  A country boy and a firm believer into modest lifestyle, I have not been enchanted by the glamour of this glamorous city to the smallest degree.  I went there for academic and professional enrichment.  Kathie, the producer who has been kind enough to give me constructive feedback throughout the numerous revisions of my screenplay, had scheduled to shoot some scenes of her film and I was invited to visit her and the film crew.  The original timetable was that crew did their initial check-in on August 9th, the shooting began no later than August 10th and the series of shoot would wrap up on August 17th.  I made it to Vegas on the evening of August 10th and scheduled to take my departure on the early morning of August 16th so that I could get back in town in time to fulfill my research tool requirement at school.  But due to some family emergency, Kathie couldn’t but push back the initial shooting date, my role and participation completely altered.  Originally assuming that I wasn’t but a passive observer of the group effort, I was actually assigned numerous tasks, which truly excited me a lot.  In addition to accompanying Kathie to numerous “field trips” to get the camera, props, and deal with last-minute withdrawal of some crew members, I was responsible for making the prop list for the scenes the team had planned to shoot by the 17th.  To minimize the cost, Kathie would like to make the best use of artifacts available on the set.  My task was to firstly hunt them down and subsequently, for clearance purposes, to remove any identifiable trademarks / label from those objects.  And, I was invited to offer opinions on the color of a set.  My day usually started with standing by around 9 ~ 10 am and it wrapped up around 11 pm.  Frequently, when I go on an expedition, I love crawling in bed after dark entertaining myself with one TV show after another since I don’t have a TV in my dorm.  Yet during my stay in Vegas, each night I returned to the hotel completely drained, finding the TV not having its expected mesmerizing power anymore.  Shower and bed were what I wanted.

        The initial shoot commenced on August 14th.  I was exhilarated.  During the 14th and 15th, I was assigned a new mission.  I was inquired to document the work in process via my digital camera.  Since my digital camera also allowed me to make some short video clips, in addition to taking snapshots, I clicked on the “record” button and followed the film crew and actor / actress as they prepared their roles, put the set together and rehearse.  For 7 hours each day, I held my camera anywhere I went in the hope that I would not let any crucial moment escape my eye.  Eager to portray the team as one whose members enjoyed working with one another, I did my utmost to catch the crew members’ / actors’ / actresses’ sunny smiles.  I wasn’t part of the team but I was privileged to witness the historical moment of the start-up film company.

        Schroeder in Peanuts / Snoopy Strips, in reaction to Lucy’s criticism on his clumsiness as he reluctantly danced with Lucy, bounced back, “Musicians don’t dance.”  Once trained to be a classical pianist and then becoming an amateur composer who writes only to amuse himself, I indeed don’t dance.  An artist of one genre, so much indulged in his own work, probably doesn’t bother to step outside his comfort zone.  But what about critiquing?  It is interesting that, while I write novellas, or at least, I once did, my academic interest now has nothing to do with criticizing short stories.  And ironically, while I am trained to be a “film scholar”, or at least, that is what my advisor calls it, I have never touched a camera.  I have had little knowledge about the filmic language and the utilization of different shots to achieve certain effects.  I read a book about cinematography and the writer had detailed breakdown of how a series a shot achieved continuity.  No matter how hard I tried, I just could hardly make out.  The two-day intensive duties on the set helped a lot.  Now I get it, or at least to some extent.  The director is a senior and experienced film figure, once nominated for Emmy’s best cinematography.  He was also a great mentor, currently teaching at a local university.  It is truth that the director was giving instructions to those crew members, but I benefited from them a lot standing in the back taking notes mentally.  I have gradually acquired the capability to visualize a story.  My past training in English department allowed me to comprehend a story only literally.

        I highly cherished every single second I spent with the film team.  Now Kathie needs to go through the fundraising process again.  I wish her good luck.  I also wish myself good luck!


兩週前, 我去了拉斯維加斯 6 .  我天生不愛賭博.  我連一般的橋牌都不玩.  拉斯維加斯我之前已經去過 2 .  我想該看的我都看過了.  這回去賭城是因為之前指導我修改劇本的製片要在拉斯維加斯拍攝她電影部分的場景.  我應邀去參觀.  原本劇組人員 8/9 報到, 8/10 開拍, 一直拍到 8/17.   8/10 晚上抵達賭城, 8/16 清晨趕回學校做暑修課程的口頭報告.  然而因為製片家裡出了點狀況, 開拍時間延後.  我在拉斯維加斯的前面幾天, 製片還得忙著張羅拍攝的準備租攝影機, 準備道具, 組員臨時退出得另找新人代替忙得不可開交.  我也沒閒著: 我負責根據要拍的幾個 scene 幫忙做道具清單.  可能的話, 就在拍攝地點就地取材.  因為牽涉版權的問題, 道具上面如果有任何註冊商標, 我得想辦法把那些商標去除, 而在去掉商標的同時, 我要確認沒有破壞道具本身. 另外, 製片請我為一個佈景的色調提供意見. 每天早上 9 ~ 10 點出門, 晚上 10 ~ 11 點才回到旅館.  平常我自由行到各地旅遊, 回到旅館就窩在床上看電視, 因為我學校宿舍沒有電視機.  然而, 在拉斯維加斯的那幾天, 每天回到旅館累到連電視都不想看.  唯一一個念頭就是趕緊洗澡然後睡覺.

終於 8 14 日電影開拍.  我很興奮.  14, 15 這兩天我有一個新任務負責替演員與工作人員拍照, 以便製片可以在電影網站上呈現團隊工作的過程.  因為我的數位像機有攝影功能, 我同時拍攝一些導演指導演員與演員排演的短片.  每天 7 個小時, 我就一直拿著我的像機希望不會漏掉任何重要的鏡頭.  同時我希望能讓人覺得這是一個合作無間的快樂團隊, 我想盡辦法捕捉大家燦爛的笑容.  我不是這個團隊的一員.  不過我很高興我能見證這個歷史的一刻.

我唸文化研究, 而我其中一個專長是媒體與電影.  說來很諷刺: 我專攻電影, 可是卻沒拿過攝影機, 更不懂電影語言, 鏡頭的運用.  我之前看了有關電影攝影的書, 裡頭有圖解介紹.  可是不管怎麼看, 我就是不懂攝影機如何運用不同的位置 (尤其在只有一部攝影機的時候) 去造成螢幕上的連續性 (continuity).  這回在拍攝現場待了兩天, 我終於懂了.  導演是一位法國的資深電影人, 曾經得過艾美獎提名最佳攝影.  他本身也是位好老師, 目前在一所大學電影系任教.  雖然他不是替我上課而是對組員做即席指導, 我在一旁從他簡潔扼要同時風趣的解說中受益不少.  我漸漸可以從視覺傳達的角度去理解一個故事.  以前因為英文系的訓練, 我的認知只侷限於文字層面.  想必在賭城的日子對我目前劇本的修改乃至於新劇本的寫作有莫大的幫助.

        我珍惜與劇組人員生活的每一刻.  製片錢用完了. 現在又得開始到處募款以便電影可以繼續拍下去. (獨立製片就是這樣.)  萬事起頭難我祝她好運, 我也祝自己好運!


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A Trip to Yosemite– Re-visiting the “Womb”

Virginia Wolfe (portrayed by Nicole Kidman) in the film The Hours said, we would all “go back to where we came from”.  Freud suggested that human beings all shared the collective tendency to return to the original “inanimate” state, which might somewhat echo Asian, in particular Chinese, philosophical view on life going in cycles.  All these notions, probably a product of one’s mental disorder (as in the case of Virginia Wolfe) or of a particular space and time, managed to beautify an individual’s inevitable demise, which, as a result of common human development, brings fear and bears hellish connotations.  I personally find Virginia Wolfe’s idea of “going back to where we came from” quite intriguing yet, once trained to be a mental health professional myself and apt to treat Virginia Wolfe’s words as a mere symptom of her depressive state, I suppose the sentence resonates with me when put in a totally different context.  We all share the desire to “go back to where we came from”—the Mother Nature.  This is what I did the past 4th of July weekend with a dozen of Claremont College colleagues and their families.


The journey, for some adventurous individuals, might be a symbolic treasure hunt in search of something, whatever it might be, which we could never obtain in Claremont.  For me, the trip to Yosemite was a symbolic pilgrimage back to “the womb”, where we came from.  This 7-hour ride led me to the Mother Nature, or any point near it, to have me “de-toxicated”.  I “learnt” to live on as few daily necessities as possible, away from materialistic temptations which have contaminated my mind via socialization.  I wanted my soul healed, my mind purified.


I love adventures.  Indeed, a climb up to the top of the mountain for the source of the magnificent water fall and an expedition between mountains on a raft kept their promise to stimulate the senses.  Yet in addition to all of the excitements, the trip had me washed and cleaned.  Flinging myself into the arms of the woods, I found urban toxins, following the rhythm of inhalation and exhalation, purged and vacuumed; water ebbing and flowing as our raft slipped through pebbles and rocks, I sensed filthy wishes washed off.  I felt refreshed, reborn, redeemed.  I am a new man.


I deem myself a loner.  I have been one and somewhat I enjoy being one.  However, an infant, once out of his mother’s womb, soon realizes that outside the womb there is a dangerous world.  In order to survive, he needs to have company / companions.  Once a firm believer that one could achieve everything should he has set up his mind, I have come to the realization that I have my limits.  There are places and moments in which I can’t help recognizing my weaknesses and vulnerability.  My survival heavily depends on others’ charity.  I have learnt to cherish and be grateful.


I still remember some moments of the trip yet they are nothing except intangible images stored somewhere in my memory bank.  The only physical souvenir is the dust and dirt capping my sneakers.  I am back here, or I should say “out” here, in this urn, proceeding with my cultivation process.  Probably, the dust and dirt on my sneakers are enough for now to make me feel connected to the Mother Nature until the next time when I am once again overwhelmed by a desperate need for emotional refueling from “the womb”….

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A Bostonian comes to Gold Country

Always considering myself a half New Englander or Bostonian to be more exact, even if by doing so I may lay myself open to ridicule, in particular in the presence of a New England native, I have had a dream.  This dream is to release myself from all of the social codes, which I have been espousing as a hallow man’s last reminder of his existence and reassurance of his sense of security, by sending myself to the “wild, wild west”.  I have not the slightest intention to turn myself into a “Robinson Crusoe in the desert”.  I have meant to temporarily set myself loose before any potential burnout might erupt and this voluntary exile, which, as expected, could bring some sense of insecurity, might eventually prick me to realize the social milieu, though not that much perfect, might be where I should reside, and then I would fling myself into the arms of the dear devil once again.


Last December I went on the periodical exile by hiding myself in Hanford for 3 days.  I did get the relief I asked for but the trip wasn’t any bit near my dream.  Hanford wasn’t but merely 4 hours from Claremont.  Such proximity might make the trip more of a vacation than an exile.  Furthermore, though Hanford had a decadent China Alley built in the 1890’s, the main street took pride in its Swedish style buildings, sweeping its adventurous past into oblivion.  I felt somewhat not far removed from “the” civilization I attempted to detach myself from.


Auburn probably didn’t meet my ideal yet was close enough.  In order to peek into the “49-ers’” secret, I hopped up a bus from Claremont at 6:40 am and when I finally made it to Auburn, it was few minutes past 5:30 pm.  The trip would have been easy had the bus taken me all the way from Claremont to Auburn but probably as a way to demonstrate to me how hard freedom could come by or how much this town has been shrouded in secrecy, the route went like this: Claremont à Bakersfield (by bus); Bakersfield à Stockton (by train); Stockton à Sacramento (by bus); Sacramento à Auburn (by bus).  The AuburnNevada Street” Station was overlooked by the local library on the top of the hill.  Outside the Nevada Street Station was a typical country road which was occasionally decorated with signs informing drivers where certain privately owned farms located.  Yes, it was what one, a New Englander, a Bostonian or at least I myself would call “the middle of nowhere”—where I would like to be.


I have to admit, a “cultivated” (pseudo) Bostonian could hardly put into practice the sophistication built up through his education in exchange for any possibility to survive in the “wild, wild west”.  As I jumped off the bus at Auburn Nevada Street Station, it hurt me to realize what I got myself into.  While I’ve been used to a few taxi cab drivers lining in queue staring at me with covetous looks as tigers on their preys as I get off a train/ bus, I had to enjoy my solitude at the station for a long time before I ever saw another soul.  Eventually, a middle-aged man walked by and I almost jumped onto him.  I managed to ask the man where I could firstly exchange bills for a few tokens and then where I could find a pay phone with which I could call a cab.  Expected to be taken aback by a stranger’s confrontation, the middle-aged man not only drove me to Albertson’s for tokens but went out his way taking me to my motel.  Throughout the journey, the middle-aged man related to me in detail his wonderful day with his son and grandchildren, which he attempted to add additional excitement by showing me the photos just taken.  I was thrilled by the kind man’s friendliness, quite different from my stereotypical image of a small town’s attitude towards a stranger.


When I first reached Auburn, I felt like John J Rambo wandering in an isolated town, taken as an intruder by the town’s natives.  Indeed, my modified east coast attire appeared in a great clash against the atmosphere.  But later, my tension melted with joy.  Michaelyn, the manager at the Court House Museum Gift Shop, entertained me with her experiences of coming in contact with international students as myself and, surprisingly, her trip to my hometown.  The conversation wrapped up with us two exchanging contact information.  In the afternoon, Betty at one of the Old Town’s antique shops, and Judy at the Old Town Post Office helped me with bus schedules back to my motel.  They could have chosen not to have anything to do with me but I felt included, my stay in Auburn well cherished.


I always want to meet people of every walk of life.  In a way, I have achieved it.  Mikey, a juvenile prisoner going to be 30 in June, is still in friendly term with me, and I am still in touch with Mac, the Vietnam War veteran I met in a chat room 9 years ago.  But up to now, I somewhat still find it hard to interact with some blue-collar folks.  Kindly correct me if I am wrong but I got the impression that Auburn is a working-class town or at least a transit stop for a lot of truck drivers / ten-wheeler drivers.  I consider myself quite liberal on almost every subject even given my two-year education in a Catholic university.  But I turned reserved as I ran into those truck drivers, whose paint-stained jeans, United-We-Stand T-shirts, sneakers and habit of having four-letter words as the one and only conjunctions were in sharp contrast with my country-club style dress, smartly shined Russian officer boots and a psychotherapist’s tone.  I certainly sound like a class-ist.  But frankly speaking, I abandoned short cuts back to my motel room to shy away from those jumbo figures out of fear more than disdain.  I felt intimidated.  Probably this feeling stemmed from human beings’ collective fear towards something bigger in stature than they.  Or it may be traced back to what is similar to Victorians’ common fear towards the unknown, the un-familiar.  Betty at the antique store in Old Town Auburn happened to touch upon commonly shared stereotypical views on those big men in town.  Betty told me, while those men looked scary or even dangerous, “if you get to know them, they are really nice people.”  I came to the realization that, as a person vowing to learn about cultures which is different from his own, I should have given those folks “the benefit of the doubt” as opposed to taking them for their “face values”.  I always ask that distorted representation of Chinese people be rooted in the bud.  I think in return I should have entered those ten-wheeler drivers’ life without previously established misconception though taking a cognitive short cut is often inevitable.


As a person interested in representation and reception, as I traveled to this land dominated by people different from myself, I was very conscious of how I was looked at given my heritage.  Indeed, my background more or less became the centre of some conversations I carried out with Auburn residents.  Unless told where I was born and raised, people who I came in contact with, when discussing American history, always referred to the US as “our country” and US history as “our history”.  I didn’t know why / how it happened and I certainly didn’t want to interrupt those people who were enthusiastically and proudly relating their glorious past to me simply to identify myself.  Maybe those museum volunteers had told the same stories over a thousand times and telling the same stories again was nothing but a mechanical knee-jerking reflex and it never was on their radar to replace “our” with “my”.  But as soon as I got a chance to identify myself, Auburn natives seemed to take constant interest in my background.  I was glad because it was a great chance to challenge some negative images of my people by having myself as an example.  My language skill came in handy as I tried to make my people better understood to my American counterparts.  However, my language ability at times might bring some deductive effect because I was not considered a perfect integrity of what was deemed “Chinese”.  I was taken for a Chinese American as a result of some of my mannerisms.  My unique accent—a peculiar mixture of British and Bostonian—probably did not earn me a label of “the American” but definitely, I was not thought of as a Chinese.  The manager at the motel told me my “professional” way/tone of talking went against her previously formed image of Chinese.  Rather than being annoyed or enraged, I was a bit bewildered.  What is Chinese then?  There must have something beyond replacing all “r” sounds with “l” sounds.


It is the second day since I returned from the Gold Country.  An imaginary adventure in a gold mine or a gun fight outside Placer County Bank still haunts my mind from time to time.  Daydreams as such will fade away.  Now, as a parody of William Holden’s line in Sunset Boulevard, it’s time to be back to reality by way of Harvard and Dartmouth Avenues…




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