Well, here I am, back for another year of college, refocused and really feeling like I can make Yuan-wei's life mine. There's some ironic foreshadowing going on here, but even with what I'd learn later, I still feel weirdly confident. It tales a bit more than time to make a new life yours, but don't underestimate the power of a few decisions combined with the world just getting used to you.
I can't say that Hong Kong completely feels like "home" yet, though I have enjoyed the last few months there. I've spent enough time hanging out with Yuan-wei's friends that I don't really have much trouble calling them my friends, especially since Jacky is all mine. We go out a lot, both because Jacky and Bingbing are both a lot of fun in their own different ways and because I don't know if I'll ever fit into Yuan-wei's childhood home.
See, as much as it's fun having a lot of room and a staff and all, it's very much Chen-ai's place, and from what I gather, she and the original Yuan-wei weren't really close. Ideally, I'd seize on that as a thing I could improve, but it's like when Benjamin goes to see Benny's family on holidays and stuff - I just wind up missing my own folks more and not wanting to substitute her. I've also always been a city kid, and this place is on the outskirts. I've been biking a lot more, so that's probably a good thing, but there are times I want to ask about maybe renting an apartment downtown. It's stupid, since I'd only use it a few months out of the year (not that this had stopped other bananas actions in the HK real estate market), but going back to live with parent(s) is something I never figured on and which occasionally seems less right than all the other weird stuff the Inn has forced on me.
So, even though it meant an insanely quick round trip that involved a lot of time on am airplane, I was really excited to fly out to Montreal for the film festival where our short film was playing. Well, Cesar's, because the director gets to be the author as far as the world is concerned, but Ernesto and I played the two main roles and I had a lot of input into Ernesto's script (with Benjamin's help) and did a lot of the makeup and effects, so I feel like it belongs to all of us. It would have been a lot different if they'd hired another actress, at least.
What that meant, practically, was that when we had our premiere as the short playing before the main feature which itself was playing in the smaller of two theaters devoted to the festival on a Monday afternoon, Cesar got called up to say a couple words and mentioned that the cast was in the audience, and Ernesto and I waved. I knew it wasn't really going to be a big-time thing, but it was a little less than I was expecting. I mean, shit, why wear a nice dress and heels for that? Well, I guess it did help me make a good impression on the festival programmers and stuff we talked to right before, so hopefully they'll remember me in a couple of years when I've got my own movies to submit.
I didn't have time to ask Ernesto why he was dragging a suitcase until after the show, when I was scanning the lobby for someone else. He said that he and Cesar got kicked out of their AirBNB; apparently the real tenant had not been paying his rent, and "I'm not him, I just sublet it on a site that does nothing to check on if this is allowed" does not fly with a landlord looking to evict. He was naturally pretty upset, since he and Cesar had plans to attend the last few days of the festival and then see the city, but cash was tight enough that they would just barely be able to afford switching their flight back to Florida unless their money was refunded right away.
That's ridiculous, I said, and got out my phone and my check-in receipt, saying I'd handle it. Cesar grabbed the phone out of my hand and said no. I said that was ridiculous, but he just turned and walked away. Ernesto ran a couple steps toward him, looked back at the suitcase I was holding, then said "wait a minute" while coming back to get it, only Cesar didn't. Ernesto looked a bit frustrated, but also sort of glad he now had a moment to apologize and explain. "Sorry, Missy, but you know how he is. Whatever happened with you and him freshman year still has him pretty upset."
Ah, shit. I didn't even think that there might be some inherited reason why Cesar didn't like me. "Not much I can do about that now, but... can I at least get you a room? You were so looking forward to this!"
I tried not to roll my eyes. It's a weird thing, just suddenly having money; you try to use it to help out and folks act like it diminishes them somehow, even though you feel like an asshole when you just sit on it. Still, I had another idea, and pulled the second keycard the hotel gave me from my purse. "Look, I've got a suite. The couch doesn't fold out, but maybe being a little uncomfortable will counter any shit you feel about accepting charity."
"Of course you could. If Cesar gives you any shit, tell him that I wouldn't stop talking about my boyfriend and how he's the best fuck I ever had."
He laughed, said Cesar would totally buy that, took the key, and pecked me on the cheek before heading down into the Metro. I found a wall to lean against and sighed, not noticing the woman who had been keeping a bit of distance but then walked up once the drama was over. "Boys, right?"
I laughed, recognizing her from her picture and so knowing she recognized me. "Don't make me go to old-lady jokes, because I am not above that at all."
She doesn't look like someone past sixty, of course, but rather about half that age. She's Marie Desjardins, née Louisa Torrence, someone who Benjamin met at The Changeling a couple months back and a one-time fixture on this blog, and Benjamin said I had to meet her while I was up here.
I give her a sort of abridged version of what all that was about as we walk to a nearby restaurant. She nods, saying that moving "back" to Montreal has been a minefield for her, because both the original Marie and Elizabeth Kim got to know a fair amount of people, some kind of unpleasant, back in the day, but it's been worth it, because it's hard to live without some kind of roots, even if they're not actually your own.
We get to the restaurant and get seated on an outdoor patio. I get this brief feeling of nervousness sitting down because of my dress; despite having been a woman for two years now and embracing it for one, I still tend to sit by sliding down the back of a chair, and in a dress as short as the one I was wearing that day, I have to catch myself doing it pretty fucking fast in order to avoid giving a panty show. That at least reminds me to cross my legs, I guess, although I'm still crazy paranoid when wearing something strapless, feeling like I've got to be Watt more attentive to avoid a boob popping out than I really do.
We had a nice chat, although I have to admit that meeting new people who have been to the Inn isn't nearly as cool for me as it is for, say, Benjamin. I don't know what I'd do without keeping up with Benjamin or Benny on an everyday basis, and Jonah is okay, but I really like being Yuan-wei right now, and I don't exactly want to define myself as not being her.
Not that I said that to Louisa at any point, especially since that's not an absolute thing; I do like having friends that call me Jordan. I was kind of surprised that she resisted the urge to mother-hen me (see what happens when I think of her mainly as "actually old" rather than the life she's living?), and instead talked about the movie. I could tell that it wasn't really her thing, but she let me go on about doing special effects and how we shot it. It was her first time at this festival, although she says she cuts out of work early a lot during the jazz festival.
We had a pretty leisurely lunch, enough so that when I got back to the hotel room and kicked off my heels and ditched that dress, I forgot that Ernesto might be there, so of course he waddled out of the bathroom in time to see me just in my panties. I jumped back and squeaked a little but resisted the urge to Cover My Nipples At All Costs. It's not like he hadn't seen me naked or close to; we've done quick costume changes backstage, he applied prosthetic makeup to me while shooting that sort, and, oh yeah, we've had sex. I also just don't feel like my body is something to be ashamed of. My tits are awesome and I don't want to get in the habit of pretending otherwise.
I didn't wait around to grab a bra out of my luggage, though, and threw a t-shirt and some shorts on pretty quick rather than parading around topless to mess with him. I asked what was up with Cesar, and he said that Cesar was upset that he was sticking around with me but not really angry. Maybe I should have acted more surprised by how the two weren't going to let a girl get in between them, but Ernesto doesn't expect me to be a feminine stereotype.
We spent the next few days hanging out, with me keeping a running tally of how many times as many minutes our "Cast & Crew" badges were showing us to see compared to our eight-minute short. Looked at that way, we got a pretty good return on investment, although that doesn't exactly factor in travel, accommodations, and the time we spent actually making the thing. It's also amazing how useful just standing in line between screenings can be - the badge-holders line has press, other filmmakers, and programmers at other festivals, several of whom said they saw our short and might want to program it. Not a bad situation for a few college kids, and since they met me and Ernesto rather than Cesar, we're the ones they'll remember in the future. Might have been worth letting me pay for a goddamn hotel room, that.
Seeing all those festival movies didn't leave a whole lot of time to just explore the city, unfortunately, which is too bad, because even if it's no New York or Hong Kong, the folks at the festival who don't live there seem to love visiting and Louisa obviously likes it enough to move here even when it could be a minefield. We basically got to spend a morning in the Old Port and a couple late nights hanging out with the folks we met during the day at St. Catherine's Street bars. Fun, and if we do this again, I'm definitely springing for a longer stay, even if it means I've got to fight the urge to eat all the poutine (someday I'm going to have to write about what a fucking challenge it is trying to stay skinny, but today's not that day).
Instead, we stuck with the original plan of heading back Thursday morning - he to Florida, me to Hong Kong. The first leg of that was just the Berri-UQAM station, since that's where the bus to the airport (amusingly numbered "747") starts. We were just about to get on when a guy rushed up and grabbed my shoulder. I jumped, and Ernesto got between us, asking this guy what he wanted.
"I just need to talk with Yuan-wei..." It was pretty clear that English want this guy's first language, although most of the French-Canadians we meet during our stay spoke it pretty well. He seemed a little embarrassed by it, but the way he compensated surprised me, rattling words off in Cantonese more fluent than my own.
Ernesto didn't understand, of course, but I was taken aback, and not just because he didn't look like he'd know that language. I stammered something about how maybe we should talk after all. Ernesto acted kind of protective, asking if he should join us and take a later flight, but I said, no, it wasn't dangerous or anything. I couldn't be sure of that, but given that he said "I know we decided to just live our new lives, but I really want to know how things are back home"... Well, that's not the sort of thing you can walk away from. So I told Ernesto I'd be okay, let him hug me, and waved as he got on the bus.
Then I turned to this guy and asked him who he was. He looked really confused. "You know this; we exchanged pictures a couple years ago. I'm René, but I used to be Bingbing!"
My jaw dropped, as a ton of ramifications suddenly went through my head. "That's not possible - she hasn't been to the Inn, unless you don't mean CHEN Bingbing?"
The confusion deepened for a moment, and then he figured it out. "You're not Carlotta. Oh, shit, why would she--" I started to explain, but he held up a finger. "Not yet. Romain - Yuan-wei - should hear it first."
He pulled a phone out and hit the first number on the list, and started speaking in French. I couldn't catch much, but he seemed to be arguing with the person on the other end. The call ended, and he let out a sigh. "Sorry, he's got a new job and he didn't want me talking to you in the first place, but I convinced him to meet us at Place des Arts for a bit."
Place des Arts is the spot showdown that serves as the hub for many of the festivals in a city that has dozens every summer, but it's also just a nice spot to grab some take-out, eat, and talk. We'd just arrived when another young man joined us. Though both were white and looked about the same age - somewhere midway between the 21 I appear to be and the 26 I actually am - their styles were different, with René wearing beat-up jeans and a t-shirt and probably not having shaved in a couple of days while Romain was in khakis and a logo-free polo shirt, with a nice new haircut. They kissed, although Romain was upset enough not to really be into it, and then René started to make introductions despite a lack of information: "So, uh, this is..."
No, I said, you don't. Nervously, I reached out my hand. "I'm Jordan Chang, although I became the new Missy Lee Yuan-wei about a year ago."
Romain looked horrified. "Why would Carlotta go back to the Inn?"
I shrugged. "I'm not exactly sure - I'd always assumed that she was, well, you. That's how her letter made it sound, and she said she'd fallen in love with the person she went to the Inn with, who was going back to his old life. I think now that it might have had something to do with your father--" I stopped short, not sure how much these two had been keeping up with their old lives. "You did hear about that, right?" I did not want to be breaking the news of his father's death on top of everything else, but he nodded. "Anyway, after the police asked to talk to me earlier this year, I wondered if maybe she, who I thought was you, felt guilty and decided to stay someone else because of that. Maybe she still had a hard time living with it."
"Maybe I would have," said Romain, "but Carlotta never struck me as the suicidal type."
"What do you mean suicidal?"
René looked at me like I was completely ignorant. "Going to the Trading Post Inn multiple times is dangerous! Your body becomes unstable after the first time, so doing it a second time is just too much - Carlotta and Giorgia said someone in their group who said he had been there before just melted and they only found this smelly goo in his room!"
"What? That's bullshit! I've been there twice, I've met people who have been there even more often, nobody's just fucking liquefied! Most people keep in touch so that they can arrange visits the next year in reverse order so they can get back to normal."
I said that like I was wrong on the Internet, just intent on correcting some obviously wrong people, not prepared for the gut punch it was to them. Romain actually dropped to his knees, René catching him. It was René who seemed to recover the power of speech first.
We all saw what seemed to have happened - two people suddenly become young, attractive girls with money and their whole futures ahead of them, and the idea of going back becomes unbearable. Sure, there's not much that can force them to go back to the Inn, but if you're an asshole, you assume everyone else is, so you might as well pull some big-time asshole shit to nip it in the bud.
"Not just them - us! We told other people about the melting! All the other people we met at the Inn - they might have been able to get back to normal, but..." Romain looked like he was going to throw up, but held it in. He looked at me strangely. "You're happy as me, right?"
Not where I expected the conversation to go. "It's fun, I've got my first boyfriend, we did that movie and came here, but, like, easy come, easy go, right? I mean, if you wanted, you could probably go back to acting as well as producing, though you might need a new faculty advisor..."
He didn't even seem to hear the last part, just saying that was good, and telling René he needed to go back to work. René said he was in no state, but Romain just kissed him and said he'd be fine, and shook my hand, saying it seemed his life was in good hands, and started walking.
René dropped into a bench. "I shouldn't have said anything, but I thought, if he had seen Giorgia during one of his shifts volunteering at the festival rather than vice versa, he'd have told me, and now he knows all this. Damn it!"
I felt like I was expected to say I was sorry, but also like I hadn't done anything wrong. So I just fidgeted.
He forced a smile. "So, what about me? How's Chen Bingbing doing? I haven't heard from her in ages!"
"She's... She's good, I guess. Going to school in New York. Dating my little brother. Not sure how the fuck I feel about that now!"
"He cute? Maybe I should take the train down and check it out."
"I, uh, don't look at him that way, even if, you know, I have started liking boys and we're not biologically relatives any more. Him looking at me just creeps me out."
He nodded, trying to imagine that, then clapped me on the back. "Well, this had been interesting. You wouldn't mind unblocking us on Facebook, would you?"
I didn't even realize the profile is inherited had certain people blocked, but I said yes, and asked if I could send his contact info to Louisa, since she had been through the Inn and was local to them. He said he'd like that.
I offered to stick around, but he said he knew his boyfriend and that he'd need some time to think. So we said goodbye, with more huffing than strictly necessary, and I stewed about that all the way back to Hong Kong.
Coincidence that "Bingbing" had to leave for New York early enough that I didn't catch up with her in Hong Kong? Probably. But maybe that's okay; I'm not sure what I'll say to her when I do see her. I've asked Benny to watch her like a hawk, though.
As to me... Well, until I hear back from "Romain", I guess nothing's changing. I'm just glad I'm old enough to drink in America now; this whole situation is going t to require a lot of drinks at The Changeling.