August 5, 2003
We are driving in the rain to an out of the way dive that serves Chinese buffet on the outskirts of Lima. Chifa San Luis’ owner Maria Yiu is no longer in the prime of her youth but she still has the air of a flamboyant has-been pageant queen. She catwalks into the joint like Cher in her push-up bra, skin-hugging jeans and cockroach-killer high heel boots.
Maria is now fifty and has spent more than half her life in Peru. Unlike the well-settled and grounded Luis Yong, she still feels transient and foreign. My camera has played psychiatrist to quite a few lonely old dudes lamenting their youths, past loves and loves lost on this tour. Maria will be the first and only woman to grace me this honour, as she laments about her lost youth and feeling trapped in Peru. Cheuk is up to his usual trick. When he asks if she has any regrets, the floodgates of her tears burst open. Cheuk signals me to continue rolling and I know he wants the close-ups.
It’s the day I’ve been waiting for. I’m shooting “a day in the life” of Luis Yong at his daytime television cooking show extravaganza. The TV station was surprisingly far away. It took awhile driving through some seedy neighbourhoods that we never came back out of.
I was more surprised when we arrived at the rundown ghetto building where the station operated. Ajay, my sound guy and second camera, had never seen anything so Third World in India either. The master switcher room was literally a closet with an old analogue Marantz deck. The studio that operated two different live shows was a claustrophobic space with ceilings so low, what minimal lighting they had if you can qualify it were banging against everyone’s heads.
Ajay and I are more surprised with the consumer cameras and dangling naked light bulbs used in the studio. I think they were no more than single chip. This has given a whole new meaning to guerrilla television. There’s a film in here somewhere.
Luis and Chola, the shows hostess badger back and forth like the two chipmunks from the Looney Tunes. Luis does his Oriental mystique act on the medicinal benefits of Chinese food cures. Somehow this all fits into the new age theme with the fortune-teller at the next set. The funniest part was when they invited Cheuk up at the end of the show and the cameras turned on me to get a shot of me shooting. So we both got our Andy Warhol five seconds of fame on Peruvian guerrilla television.
Ajay and his wife Sarada are heading off to Machu Picchu after we wrap things up in Lima. They’re trying to get me to come along, but I’ve committed myself to a salaried contract back in Toronto next week and need to be back on time. But most of all, I just need to get back to be with Fai.
Four years, thirteen countries, fifteen stories, countless bowls of rice and more mileage than Che’s motorcycle can rev up… we concluded our diaspora road show on August 5, 2003 in a Lima hotel room sipping champagne and smoking some good Andean pot.