Family ties bind us together in visceral ways, but the forces of modern life often seem to drive parents and children apart. Elderly Mr. Shi (Henry O), a widower and a retired scientist, has arrived from Beijing to spend time with his divorced daughter, Yilan (Faye Yu). He hopes to help her sort out her life in this strange new country. That, after all, is his duty as a parent. Twelve years ago, Yilan came to the United States to study, and ended up staying and working at the local university in this unnamed Midwestern town.
Mr. Shi finds her daughter too quiet, living in a nondescript apartment complex and leading what seems like an empty routine existence. To learn more about her, he goes through her things while she’s at work – listening to a CD on her bureau, looking in a drawer. In the evening he cooks up multi-course dinners for her, and tries to engage her in conversation. Yilan remains cautious; she doesn’t want to share her private life with him. His prying and lecturing are becoming a nuisance.
Mr. Shi cannot understand what is happening. He comes from a generation when parents remained part and parcel of their children’s lives, as long as they lived. The only person he feels close to in this cold new universe is Madam (Vida Ghahremani) , an elderly and vivacious Iranian woman living with her son and his family. They begin to meet regularly on a local park bench. Since they can’t speak much English, they end up conversing in a mix of their own language and a smattering of English words. The miracle is that they seem to communicate easily while Mr. Shi and his own daughter find themselves at an impasse.
One evening Yilan doesn’t come home – she says she’s staying with a friend. The next day Mr. Shi takes a bus to her university to try to find her. There he can’t get beyond a security guard. Back at the apartment, he waits for her at the bus stop, but bus after bus go by without Yilan. Late at night he finally sees her – getting out of a car driven by a man. It’s clear they are having a lover’s tiff.
At home Mr. Shi forces her to explain herself. It turns out that Yilan has been having an affair with a married man – a Russian whose wife and daughter are in Russia. Tonight Yilan has told him to reconcile with them.
The divide between Mr. Shi and her daughter is generational and geographical; it is also in the language. For Yilan, expressing herself in English is far easier than in Chinese. “If you grew up in a language in which you never learned to express your feels,” she says to her father, “it would be easier to talk in a new language. It makes you a new person.”
Mr. Shi has his secrets, too. He’s doesn’t like to talk about the past, particularly the painful events of the Cultural Revolution. Although he tells everyone he was a rocket scientist – it impresses them – it turns out he was demoted when suspected of having an affair with a co-worker. In the puritanical state, a married man being friendly with an unmarried woman was a no-no. “We didn’t even touch each other,” Mr. Shi tells Yilan.
With the air cleared, they have a calmer conversation outside on a park bench. The next day Mr. Shi sets off on a train journey to see a bit of America before he returning to China.
2 min 8 sec
August 17, 2008
September 19, 2008
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