A Country Very Different from My Own! – University of Copenhagen

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22 August 2019

A Country Very Different from My Own!

- A film director's reflections from her first visit to China.

By Marianne Blicher, film director. 

My first experience with China was still on Danish soil. The Chinese Visa Application Service Center. Oh my! All our documents had to be printed out on paper and when we had to send an e-mail inquiring about our visa status, it was to a Gmail address. And China has the fifthmost advanced technology in the world? My first thought was that this was a relic from the past, a system built to make jobs and to make people respectfully wait for hours... NOT the perfect start for my China adventure! Surprisingly, my prejudices were put to shame. China is so much more than I ever imagined!

After sitting nine hours completely curled up on a direct route from Copenhagen to Beijing I landed, on my birthday, together with my producer Klaus Byskov Pedersen. We celebrated by eating Biang Biang noodles. And I must say that “Isted Grill”, the local China grill in my neighbourhood in Copenhagen, is painting a false picture of the Chinese “cuisine”, which, to my surprise, makes the most amazing fresh food in every price range and is both modern and traditional. Everything we ate was fireworks in our mouths.

Anyway, back to why I was in Beijing. We had been invited by The Royal Danish Embassy and the Danish Culture Center, who made us feel like rock stars, to show and discuss our short film “Odd Job Man” for their diversity week, to put focus on diversity and LGBTQ+ rights through talks, movie screenings and panel discussions.

Our film “Odd job Man” is about an older man who gets fired from his job and is left by his wife. By chance, in his search for new possibilities, he ends up in an unfamiliar environment filled with colourful drag queens and cabaret. It's a new sparkling world, but does he dare seize the opportunity and pursue a dusty dream?

- If you are interested, and for ThinkChina readers only, you can see the film on Vimeo with English and Chinese subtitles: https://vimeo.com/354888252 Using password: ThinkChina2019

At both our events, one at the Danish Culture Center and one at the Royal Danish Embassy, I didn’t know what to expect - and the unexpected always gets me a little nervous, but luckily in a good way. What I knew beforehand about LGBTQ+ rights in China wasn’t much. Only that to go against the stream can be complicated - especially with the heavy restrictions against freedom of sexuality, religion, press, access to the internet etc. But my main concern at the time was if the people present would be too polite and respectful to ask questions, share their stories and discuss openly, so that we can learn from each other. To my surprise, we had some deep and profound talks and from what I heard both evenings, many people from the LGBTQ+ society in Beijing are scared to be who they are, because they sense that deviations from the norm can be dangerous, and they don’t feel that they have the same protection and legal rights as heterosexuals. And they told us that some people believe that LGBTQ+ persons are contagious, that it is a disease. Here we have to remember that it was first in 1981 that the Danish National Board of Health removed homosexuality from the list of insanity diseases, and it wasn’t before 2017 that the transgender diagnose was taken off the list.

I explained that everybody in Denmark have the same legal rights and that in my opinion, and for most people in Denmark, sadly not all, we believe that people are people and love is love no matter what sexual orientation you have, what the color of your skin is or what religion you have, which created a bit of hope. And in the safe space at the Danish Culture Center and at the Royal Danish Embassy, where the evenings turned into nights, we talked about dreams under the stars and we agreed that information is knowledge – AND that we, together, with respect, warmth and a little bit of humour can move boundaries!

The fight for equal rights and acceptance is not over - not even in Denmark, our road is not as long and difficult as the brave, warm, fun and inspiring people I met in Beijing, but it is still there. And here a few weeks later back in Copenhagen, I must conclude from what I experienced on my brief visit to China, that maybe we aren’t that different – we are all just humans after all!