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"I Heart Beijing" Shows Expats' Lives in China
    2007-06-22 15:12:40     CRIENGLISH.com

A scene from comedy "I Heart Beijing" focusing on the lives of a group of Americans and locals in the capital, in Beijing City International School on June 15, 2007. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]

Like many expats who came to Beijing to explore the charm of this ancient and modern city, 26-year-old American blonde Elyse Ribbons began work in Beijing after her graduation. However, she has brought her real life onto the stage just as Chinese filmmakers tackled the subject of Chinese struggling to adapt to western culture abroad. Running last weekend in Beijing City International School, the drama "I Heart Beijing" has taken a humourous look at foreigners' lives in this fascinating metropolis.

This comedy focuses on the lives of a group of Americans and locals in the capital. It unfolds with the scene of an American girl named Sylvia who's just moved to a new apartment. Her Chinese flatmate Tingting is a naughty girl brought up in a traditional family in Beijing. She is always caught between her

[Photo: Elyse Ribbons]

family and her desire for western-style freedoms. Sylvia's friend John, a womanizing "Laowai", speaks bad Chinese and has to name all his Chinese girlfriends Apple for the sake of convenience. Lucy, an ABC (American-born Chinese) often doubts whether she fits in Beijing due to her dual-nationality. She also has an orgasm at the merest of mention of Stephen Colbert's name. Tingting's brother Liu Ming, gruff and strong-minded, always finds the group's lifestyle clashes with his traditional sense of morality. Gradually, a romance starts between Sylvia and Liu Ming, but it is undermined, as both of them are unable to compromise - partly because of cultural differences. But they finally get along well and learn from each other more than they had expected. So, life in Beijing seems just as it should be.

Written in a mixture of light and amusing English, Mandarin and Chinglish puns, the drama touches on what "Laowai" love and hate about Beijing. Many vivid scenes from life could be found in the play: laughter, frustration, quarrelling, intrigue, insults and more.

The playwright and director: Elyse Ribbons, who plays Sylvia, is currently working for the US embassy's website. She said the stories occurring in the play were all inspired by her life:

 [Photo: Elyse Ribbons]

"Every single thing in my play is based on either my life or one of my friends' lives or stories I heard from people. For example, on Valentine's Day, I was having dinner in a Chinese restaurant. It was too hot and I just couldn't eat spicy food. Then I asked for a dish called "Paihuanggua", known as mashed cucumber. As shown in the play, what the waitress brought back was covered with peppers. I wish I could yell. But I didn't at that time. That's one of these things. That's definitely from real life."

Though Elyse said audiences could find lots of similarities between Sylvia and herself, the heroine is a little bit different from her real personality, which often troubled her Chinese friends.

"I'm very bossy. Many of my Chinese friends will be upset with me because I'm so bossy sometimes. I usually talk in a loud voice and very aggressively. In America this is considered polite and normal, but in other places of the world, people are offended by it or get scared. They would ask why is the woman yelling at me. It is just the way Americans speak? But in China, I have some difficulties. People think I 'm too forward."

Elyse has been living in Beijing for four and a half years. She said it is hard to describe her feelings towards this city in simple words just as every coin has two sides.

"As you can tell from the name of my play I Heart Beijing. It doesn't mean I love it and doesn't mean I hate it. It's somewhere in between. Some days I really love this city really exciting different and interesting, and sometimes it's so smoggy that you can't breathe and the traffic gets so awful."

Like most of the foreigners preferring to live in the eastern part of Beijing, Elyse thinks Beijing's eastern and western areas differ a lot.

"If you live in the east, things are convenient, everything is close by. Too many "laowais" live in the east. But if you live in the west there are not many foreign restaurants. That's too Chinese. You want something in between."

As a fluent Chinese speaker, Elyse has used a great deal of bilingual dialogue in her play. She attributes her excellent Chinese capability to her Chinese friends.

"My degree in college was Chinese. I 'm a big Chinese nut. I think Chinese is a lot easier than learning French - the grammar is very simple, and so are the verb tenses. People here are willing to teach you Chinese. They love their history and culture. So it is always easy to talk to anyone here. They are more than happy to talk to you about it."
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