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The grill reflected the twinkling bonfire. Sizzling sounds emerged from the salmon steak and chicken fillet, unfit for my vegetarian stomach. A few people had started dancing, beers in hand, their figures standing out against the dark, velvety sea. The fluorescent lights of the harbor illuminated lonely gantry cranes in the distance. I suddenly felt like I was one of them.
“So, who are you?” The woman at the grill asked, with the professional smile of a hotel receptionist.
Who am I?
“I mean, what do you do? What’s your thing?” She asked the customary follow-up question. She had just finished telling me about her position as a teaching assistant for modern Hebrew. I thought her name was Alex, short for Alexandra and that she was from New York—either the city or the state.
“Well I don’t think my thing defines who I am.” I wanted to avoid talking about film. “Like, people always talk about their jobs and hobbies when they meet, because it’s the easiest thing to talk about. But it’s not necessarily the essence of their identity. You know what I mean?”
“That’s an interesting answer.” She looked surprised. At that moment, Kwan Yin wandered over.
“How’s everything going down here?” She, too, had a beer in her hand. She turned to the woman beside me. “Jan is wondering if you could add some chicken tenders to the grill. Also I see you’ve met my new friend?”
“Yeah, I was just asking what he does,” Alex said.
“Oh, he’s a filmmaker!” Kwan Yin said, sounding proud. “You should tell Alec about your script! It’s interesting.”
“Ah! What is it about?” Alex asked.
“Well, it’s about a girl who wakes up and realizes the door of her room has disappeared, so she just stays there for a very long time.” I felt self-conscious about how uninteresting the idea sounded. “The thing is that it’s going to be one person and one room for the entire film. Once the door is gone, she realizes she never had any real urge to leave the room in the first place.”
“I see. So is it kind of a commentary on our modern world? Like with the Internet and smartphones and everything. We’re living in such a secluded world. And now there’s VR.”
That was not what the film was really about, but I wasn’t sure what it was about either.
“And how did you get into film?” Alex asked.
I didn’t want to talk about film anymore. I had come to Hong Kong to rethink my relationship with film, but I hadn’t achieved anything significant in the past week, and now I just wanted to spend my last four days listening to the seawaves.
“I’m from a small city in west China and my family is working class, so when I was a teenager I thought there was nothing interesting to do.” I said. “Then I discovered film, and I felt like I could connect with the people and places in film more than I could with people and places in my real life. I guess that was my first experience with film. It’s probably all escapism.”
I suddenly noticed the full moon and the ocean twinkling along with the bonfire. “Actually, my parents didn’t let me watch too many movies because it distracted me from my studies. So I would take my little MP4 player to bed with me, wait until my parents were sleeping, and then watch movies under the blanket. I used to imagine that all the young people around the world who watched films under blankets would start a film club together. We would call it 3AM Cinema Club.”
Alex listened attentively. I thought what I had just said was inappropriately sentimental for someone I’d just met, so I appreciated her patience. She was a nice person, but I didn’t know what else to talk to her about. Kwan Yin seemed to notice what was on my mind and started a new topic. Soon she and Alex got into a heated discussion about recent podcasts. I allowed myself to zone out and wondered what my girl-in-the-room would be doing about now.
—Staff writer Tianxing V. Lan's column, "3AM Cinema Club," is a serialized work of fiction set in Hong Kong which follows the protagonist as he works to write a screenplay.
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