The cast members spent three days in NYC to celebrate the premier of Marco Polo. I hadn’t been to NYC for many years before this trip. The last time that I spent an extensive time in Manhattan was when I directed Autumn In New York in 1999 when Angela was not yet one year old.
I remember filming a scene with Richard Gere and Winona Ryder walking and the Twin Towers were in the background. I’m not sure if I used the shot in the final cut since I didn’t see the film again for over a decade, but that shot jumped into my mind’s eye when I first learned of the tragedy of 9/11.
The NY that I landed in seemed to have no memory of the tragedy that changed the world. There were Christmas lights on every tree and every store front. And the streets were filled with bustling shoppers speaking every tongue under the sun. Christmas carols flowed in the air.
I remember my very first Christmas season in New York three months after I landed in the United States from China in1981. Taking the bus from upstate New York where I was studying to my parents’ friend, Dr. Chu’s house on 73rd and Lexington, I felt forlorn and forsaken. My friend from Shanghai, Rupert Li, met me at the bus station and took me to eat lobster in cream sauce in the kitchen of a little restaurant on Lexington, where he knew one of the chefs who was from Canton. Then we went to see a second run of Body Heat in a shabby theater. The evening of free lobster and a film saved me from the self pity of homesickness and revived my sense of adventure. As E.B. White wrote in his essay Here is New York, “…and you always feel that either by shifting your location ten blocks or by reducing your fortune by five dollars you can experience rejuvenation.”
I was not able to see my family in Shanghai for three years because I didn’t have the airfare, nor did I want to risk not being able to return to the US. The feeling of loneliness and the longing to belong would return every Holiday season for many years until I made a family of my own. As I walked around the street of NY, I could see that lonely girl from decades ago and felt good that I found her a wonderful husband and gave her two beautiful daughters. Most importantly, I secured for her the sense of belonging that she had needed for so many years.
It’s only natural that I have disappointed the young self at times, but it’s not over yet; I am still on the adventure that she started, evolving and striving to be who she dreamed of becoming.