August is not kind to workaholics. Emails go unanswered, calls go to voicemail, and the person you really need to speak with is lying on a beach in Montauk playing Candy Crush. So, as someone who prefers labor to Labor Day, I spent the last two weeks of my summer in China because China is simply chock full of people who work during the month of August. I was joined by Sharon Thomas, our Head of Production, on a four city odyssey, visiting Chinese animation studios, internet companies, broadcasters, and officials, all in the name of building Little Airplane’s own little runway in the land of pork buns and moon cakes.
Today I’m flying home from Beijing. I just watched The Last Emperor on the screen on the back of the seat in front of me. My jetlag has left me in an odd, dreamlike state in which the world is framed by a soft-white vignette, not unlike an episode of Caillou. Since I’m in no condition to impart any wisdom about preschool TV (or anything else), I’ll simply share with you a few small things that made big impressions on me in China. These are in no particular order of importance and, given the fog I’m in, they might not be important at all. But let’s start with the fish.
It’s hard being a fish anywhere in the world, but it particularly sucks being a fish in China. Case in point, on the streets of Hangzhou, Sharon and I came across a woman selling what appeared to be plastic key chains filled with little toy fish. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the toy fish were actually live fish entombed inside sealed plastic bubbles. Adding insult to injury, their bubbles were shaped like hearts. When we asked how these fish got fed, we were told that they have enough food in their bubbles to last them a month. I didn’t ask how long their air would last because I did not want to know.
Apparently the octopuses (or is it octopi?) don’t fare much better in China. At a small food stall in Beijing, I came across a peculiar local delicacy. When I asked the Chinese cook lady what smelled so good, she responded with two chilling words that I shall never forget, “Octopus balls.”
One evening I found myself having “chicken and beer” with a lovely group of Chinese and Korean media execs. Here I was introduced to “the bomb,” which is a shot glass of Korean soju placed at the bottom of a glass of beer. The entire drink is illuminated from below with the flashlight on an iPhone, giving it an eerie glow. I am not a chugger by nature (or nurture) but, in an effort to fit in, I surrendered to peer pressure and away I chugged. This resulted in one of the guests slapping me on the back and stating, in broken English, “You are quite a man!” Needless to say, I was very pleased with myself and I gained a whole new appreciation for why people chug.
So, that was August. Or at least my August. I find there’s always one moment on every trip that captures the entire experience for me. This time, it happened while I was checking out of a hotel. I turned to the exit and saw a message printed backwards on the glass. It took me a moment to make it out and, when I did, I smiled. It said, “Happy is being your own life.” Yes, I thought, that is exactly what happy is.