Stage 23709

Wun Yip

smile and eyes

It's been 3 months since I moved to Beijing from San Francisco.  I can't help but to fall in love with this city.  People here really know how to put on a great smile.  And on many occasions, I feel as though I can see right into their souls.  You call it 'simple-minded', 'slower pace', 'developing world', whatever that is (and not entirely the right descrīption for Beijing anyway), all I can say people here seem to be quite happy. 

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The TV set sat in the living room for 2 months and the second time I turned it on,  I saw a chase scene set in the 40s in a big city in China.  2 cars drove swiftly down the crowded street and a body was pushed out of the car door, the man in the car said, 'this man is of no use anymore."

About 20 seconds.

It cuts to inside of a house where  a woman is putting a bandage onto the man who was in the chase.  And this is the scene I want to talk about.

She puts a bandage on his face, cuts to the close-up of his eyes, then the close-up of her eyes.  Then back to the medium shot of her finishing up on his face.  And right before she's done, she gave a hard press on the wound on his cheeks and he gave out a cry.

About 20 seconds.

I knew nothing about the story, but from the last 20 seconds, I learned everything I needed to know about their dynamics. 

In the CU of his eyes, I saw gratitude as well as desire, but ever so subtle.

In the CU of her eyes, I saw compassion and resentment.  She's resented him for having done something risky. Did she like him, yes, but it's obvious that they were not together.  They were close yet independent.

From a director's point of view, I thought the acting here was quite brilliant.  And it inspired me to do an acting and directing exercise based on this scene.

Eyes can convey so much.  But how do you tell your actors to speak with their eyes, and to show multiple emotions?  I'll find out in 2 weeks.

I am going to shoot my first  little video here in Beijing.  The scrīpt is ready, so is the actress, Nozomi, but I am still missing an actor.   If you know of someone who loves acting and would like to join this acting workshop, let me know. 

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If I left SF because I didn't see this kind of smile, perhaps it's because I wasn't smiling myself -

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From Home to Home


A little video I made from a few years back.

Synopsis: A traveler sets off with the hopes of filling some gaps where definition of space is in question, and drawing the lines that links the foreign and the familiar - from one home to another.

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My journey started in South Africa, here is an intro story.

I met Gil, a Jewish vagabond from Johannesburg, in Observatory one week before we decided to travel up the coast along the Garden Route together.

Three days after we left Cape Town, I paid my first of many visits to Knysna, a tourist town known for its lagoon, and the lumber industry that founded the town in 1804.

It was in this town where I eventually bought a little wooden hut for USD$150, and for the first time spent extensive amount of time alone.  It was the first month after the new millennium(the reason why I came to South Africa), I just turned 23.

Knysna sunset, the most beautiful I've ever seen.

It’d only been 4 years since the Apartheid was abolished.  People tried to maintain certain normalcy but they were still much segregated.  Township, once a no-entry zone for Whites, was  still rather restricted for Whites and Asians. Much like it is in the States, you just don’t go into certain neighborhoods.  Though it was not my decision, I spent many of my nights in townships during my first visit to Knysna.


The first night upon our arrival, we met a black man, Edgar, and his gang of black and color males in dreadlocks.  They claimed to be Rastafarians, friendly, outspoken, though some with concerned eyes, many were calm and at eased, all high up in the sky.  Perhaps Gil had talked them into giving us a place to stay in the township in exchange for, perhaps, being their driver.

I remember we were driving down the windy dirt roads that weaved around the township, night has fallen and street lights were dim.  People of unrecognizable faces dawdling on the streets where shacks and make-shift houses are up against each other. Street after street you only see dark shadows.  A lone shack standing at the corner lit by a tungsten light bulb, was in fact their general store.  Dogs barking dogs near and far. I did not know where we were heading.

The ride was long and slow.  Our car was packed with people.  Though unclear about our destination, I was trying to be patient and enjoy the moment, the novelty and new friends, that I had never knew existed or thought about.  The ghettos in Fillmore district in San Francisco, or those in West Oakland seemed like filling with luxurious homes. 

Eventually, which felt like hours, we stopped in front of a shack that bore no difference from the hundreds we had seen along the way.  Edgar got out of the car and asked me to come with him, by myself.

Though confused, I was eager to follow him to the back door of a house.  He knocked on the door and we stood for a few moments.  A black man slid open a wood eyepiece and took a long look.  It was so dark I could barely make out his face.  Edgar started to converse with him in their dialect, which later I found out it was Xhosa.  There was a lengthy conversation with multiple exchange of nods.  I remained silent as I was being scrutinized, at least that was how I felt.  The conversation suddenly ended and we got back in the car and drove to Edgar’s house.

I had never found out what that meeting was all about. Was it gang-related, was he a chief?  Who can you trust and how much you can trust someone? The line between good and bad is not always clear in foreign places.

That night Gil and I slept in the same room with two single beds.Gil (Right 2),  Edgar (Right 1) and his gang.We took advantage of the much developed tourism in town by trying to make money off of the tourists. Gil would busk in touristy area similar to a Fisherman’s Wharf by lying on a bed of nails, doing card tricks in bars, or blowing fire on the street in the middle of the night.   We spent the rest of our time ‘missioning’ around with Edgar and his gang, visiting their friends in different townships, camping out, hanging around in the market where many Rasta brothers and sisters sold vegetables along with their spiritual herb.  We spent everyday together until I parted with Gil to travel on my own after 2 weeks.


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photography: what do I do.

(No one has commented on my photographs yet, how come?)

The very first place where I lived on my own for the first time, was a pseudo-commune in San Francisco.  There I met a photographer who was my neighbor at the time.  He got me into photography.

I shoot mostly transparencies and color film, B&W once in a while, some digital.  I mainly print color though I have yet to find a darkroom for transparencies.  I don't have too much experience but it's definitely one of my favorite things to do.

I use primarily Fuji Reala, Velvia and Provia, which all act similarly.  I have used it for 10 years so I know it well, though I haven't explored too many other types of film stock.

All my photographs are hand-held, shot in natural light, including the ones shot in night time.  I might soon go into studio photography because I have been living in the same  city for many years that I feel like I have become desensitized to the light, which is the primary  factor  that makes me pick up my camera.

(Hong Kong, TaiKoo Shing, Reala film)

Photography is costly.  For further investment, I am torn between paying for darkroom fees and materials, and a digital camera.  I am one of those photographers who has played with film long enough to become attached, yet also know the digital world well enough to easily switch over.  But man, it's not an easy decision to make!

Color darkroom is pitch black.  You rely on your sense of touch to get things done, and hence you develop a strong relationship with the space - the darkroom.  If my studio closed down for some stupid reason I'll be very mad, or at least feeling uneasy printing somewhere else in the beginning.

(Allan, South Africa)

I do fine art photography, and I also have a collection of my travel shots.  Most of my work, if I were to put it, is about atmosphere, shapes and color; a lot of walls and random objects that form patterns or shapes; many are about color, I must say.

(Hong Kong)

I might never exhibit or publish some of my travel photographs because I am still having a hard time with them.  I feel like they don't belong to me.  If I get a grant I'll make prints of those people that I took pictures of, travel back to those places where I took them and give them a copy, or donate to the city.

(Xinjiang, China)

I am trying to put a show together some time soon, perhaps at the end of the year.  Hopefully they won't be displayed behind glass.  If I could, I much rather displaying them as pieces of photo paper because that's what they are (matting and framing is a whole different school).

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I started hitchhiking when I travelled in South Africa, where I spent the Millennium. Since then I've hitchhiked in Thailand, Kyrgyzstan and the U.S.. People always ask me why, especially when I am on

I started hitchhiking when I travelled in South Africa, where I spent the millenium. Since then I have hitchhiked in 3 other countries: Thailand, Kyrgyzstan and the U.S.. People always ask me why, especially when I am on the road.  This is the first time I put it down in words....

I am not really sure how I got into hitchhiking.  I haven't written much of my experience yet, perhaps because I have always been reluctant to start a blog, and blah about all the amazing people I have met randomly over the years.

um....I will leave my stories for next time.  This one will be about why I do it.

I ponder about it and people constantly ask me.  I am not a dirt poor traveler, a gutter punk, or a vagabond.  I am not trying to prove anything, make my parents mad, or suicidal.

It seems to me a test of trust between people.  An experience so rewarding that it's worth the risk.  And it's a great way to collect stories!

I have told my friends, the moment they see you on the road with your sign up, to the moment they stop the car is about 20 seconds or so.  Within these 20 seconds, they have a to make decision.

I am sure most travellers will agree with me that when you are on the road, you get the opportunity to develop a traveller instinct.  When you are hitchhiking, you depend upon this instinct more than anything.  

When they stop, I also have a very short time to decide.  Base on 2 things I decide if I get into his/her car or not: their eyes and their coherence in speech.

They can lie but their eyes won't comply.  If they have a plan and their brain is working it out, their eyes will show. So I look right into their eyes, trying to see if there's anything going on behind them.

It is as much of a risk for me as it is for them.  They do it out of generosity or compassion; I do it as a test of faith and trust.

I get a short glimpse of people's lives, sometimes through conversation, other times through silence.   A random stranger come and go, but something very solid and real remain inside of us.  The power of trust.

Some parts of the world where hitchhiking is a means of transportation, it's much more natural to stick out your thumb.  And I don't need to justify or explain my action.  Some parts of the world people stop for you out of concern, especially when they realize it's a 5'4'' Asian girl on her own.  Once, an old South African lady stopped her Mercedez. As I was putting my backpack in her trunk, she asked me, 'what if someone hit you in the head?' I felt embarrassed because I didn't have an answer for her.

I admire those who have picked me up in countries where there's much violence, such as South Africa and the U.S.,  that's a much bigger risk to take.  In the U.S., many of them were once in the military, or used to hitchhike back in the good days when it was safe, or religious people, mostly Caucasian men.

Many of them tried to dissuade me, some preached at me, many more invited me to their homes, some offered money, jobs, food; others tried to get laid; quite a few just wanted company, someone to talk to.  Many wanted nothing.

I wish I could let them know that even as time goes on, they stay in my heart.  I live off of these encounters They offer me strength and act as constant reminder of the beauty of people and this world, where often times distrust and skepticism are the norm.

I recently got mugged for the first time - my first experience of physical violence.  I wonder if it would scar me in some way.  Well, I think until one day something really bad happen to me, which I am prepared for, I will keep filling my days with these encounters.   I'll retire if it need be, but it's worth the risk!

        Care to share some of your travel experience with me.
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Won't babble

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Wun Yip

Director , Screenwriter , Photographer


My favorite things: HK trams (叮叮), soy beans, dark room (埋頭苦幹), film sets, things that make you sweat(流汗不止),dreams, Bali Shag (戒不了),gummi, surrounded by trees, ...Read more

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Traditional Chinese Name 葉韻
English Name Wun Yip
Languages Spoken english, cantonese, mandarin