Testimonial from Suzi Yoonessi
June of 2007, I step off the plane after my 13-hour flight from Beijing, China to New York’s bustling JFK airport. After closing my eyes and doing my interpretation of a meditative stretch, a short woman in a bright orange sari taps me on the shoulder. “Excuse me, are you Indian.” The same old question I’ve heard since my childhood in upstate New York. “No, I’m Iranian”. A man in a matching orange collared short steps forward, “You look like you’re Indian.” This is her husband. “We’re going to Beijing. Would you give us some tips?” I’m too tired to give tips. “Actually, my boyfriend’s waiting outside.” “Oh, is he Indian?” “No.” There’s an uncomfortable silence. My trip to Beijing was amazing. Thanks to the Rose Group’s China American Festival of Film and Culture, I was sent to Beijing with my short film “Dear Lemon Lima,” as one of three Cross-Cultural short film winners. I start to feel guilty as my mind slips into the memorable experiences … the Great Wall of China where I found a brick that was decorated with a red sparkly heart, Beihai Park which hosts traditional singing, ballroom dancing, Tai Chi and exotic cats, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, the kind tour guide who asked if we’d like to go to Popeye’s chicken after 3 days of Chinese food. Native Chinese food … not America’s greasy fast food chain China Wok that fails in it’s reflection of their fine cuisine. I take a stand. I’ll share one of my experiences with the orange, extroverted Indian couple. It is my duty to reciprocate the kindness and generosity of the Rose Group who gave an amazing and honest insider’s look into the city of Beijing. Words blurt out of my mouth, “It’s the Manhattan of Beijing.” The couple’s eyes widen. They step closer. “Statue of Liberty?” Ummmm, no. How to respond? “No…? But there’s a great statue of Mao.” They frown. My answer is not impressive. “A great statue of Mao next to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.” The wife holds up her “Frommer’s China” guidebook. My inner voice screams ‘I know more than Frommer’s - the Rose Group showed me things and places Frommer’s corporation will never know.’ I try to redeem myself. “The Great Wall.” Orange sari shakes the guidebook again as she turns to walk away. I am desperate for the couples affection and interest. “There’s a roller coaster on the side of The Great Wall.” Orange sari turns; orange shirt beams, “Oh my, that is very unusual.” He pulls a pen out of his shirt pocket and scribbles into a note pad, as his wife raises her eyebrows, “I am not so crazy about games, but you are young - I’m sure you had nice fun-time. I am more historic. You know, culture. Thank you.” She pulls her husband’s arm. Fun time? Whatever. My trip to Beijing was not only “fun-time”. I visited the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower, Soong Ching Ling’s residence, circled the Houhai Lake, and ate at the ***** Huang Ting restaurant after I circled the entire city on a bicycle, weaving in and out of Hutong’s. This was in 1 day. I relay the diarrhea of information to her… trying to keep my cool. She takes her husband’s pen and scribbles the info down, trying to keep her cool too, but desperate to transcribe all of the information into the front page of glossy Frommer’s. “So, you only visited for one day?” My eyes narrow. “No, 7. (suspenseful pause) I’m a filmmaker.” Why did I say this? I thought it made “7” sound more impressive. “Oh!” They say this at the same time. Orange shirt chimes in - “You must be a very busy woman. We must let her go.” I silently nod. Flattery works wonders on a stone heart. He shakes my hand. “It’s a pleasure…” “That is very charming, but what about the arts? (to her husband) She is a filmmaker, she must know of the arts. (to me) No?” She is still not satisfied! Orange sari is insatiable, and my boyfriend is going to kill me. Circling around JFK is no joke. I try a new tactic. “I really have to go. (to her husband) Steven Spielberg is waiting for me to call.” A white lie. I mean to say, ‘My boyfriend Steven is waiting for me to call.’ Oops! She frowns. I can’t leave her like this. I want to spread delight … joy … world peace … “…But, I can’t leave without telling you about the arts. I was very fortunate to have my film show in the Da Shan Zi district which features vast buildings created by Eastern German Bauhaus architects.” She starts to flip through Frommer’s. “It might also be listed as the 798 district. You’ll probably want to take a day to go through all the galleries. And in the evening…” She is hanging on my every word. “You might want to stop by Lao She teahouse.” “Tea?” “Do you like Beijing Opera?” She nods. “Do you like acrobatics?” He nods. “Do you like happiness?” They both nod. My last and most important words to my new friends orange shirt and sari, “Din Tai Fung. Don’t forget to try their mango shaved ice.” With this delicious taste in my mouth and memory in my mind, I walk away from the smiley, satisfied and beaming orange couple.