Chapter Sixty One

Time to go to Beijing. Our flight leaves at seven p.m. It's ten hours in the air, plus we lose eight hours in time zones, arrive at noon. Booked at Raffles, a storied hotel completed in 1915 that's seen the entire cultural revolution.
Thoroughly modernized, it resembles most luxury hotels these days. The Dorchester was foppish, Raffles is muted.
Chloe, "Gee, the suites are large enough."
"I don't know what I expected, more Chinese maybe, whatever that means."
Janah, "Like what? A Great Wall replica? Picture of Xi Jinping?"
"Maybe a wok shaped bathtub, dragon faucets, a copy of Quotations from Chairman Mao in the nightstand."
Oceane wants to stay with Janah and me, so rather than five rooms, we have four, Eloise will bunk with the twins.
Amaya, "Better that way, except Dasha and Daria have early calls, they have no acting roles here, but they're security...wait...that doesn't matter, Eloise is going to locations anyway to handle the drone."
"Oceane can go along if you need another operator."
Amaya, "The cameramen are trained if they want to use two, can even use Daria in a pinch. We even had to get clearance from the government, they were dubious, thought the drones might be spy stuff. One of their civil service drones has been assigned to keep an eye on our drones. Paranoid government."
"All governments are paranoid. With all the major players spying and hacking, the idea of secrets has lost any meaning."
Nikko, "So much food on the flight, I don't need lunch, I need to move around."
We unpack, down the elevator and out on the streets. It's only a two and a half mile walk to Tiananmen Square, which is just outside the Forbidden City. There's nothing remarkable about the square itself, just a sheet of concrete blocks, a big sheet.
"Geez, this is huge."
Janah, "A hundred nine acres or near half a million square yards. About seventy five football fields. The largest public square in the world."
Nothing in Beijing is small, twenty million people live here.  The Forbidden City isn't tiny either, a hundred seventy eight acres. Nearly six hundred years of Chinese Emperors, painting and calligraphy, artifacts, literature. We chew up four hours and hardly make a dent, in no small part to Oceane and I taking over an hour with the paintings. The most popular image is the dragon, symbol of good luck and spiritual power. They are everywhere, the Forbidden City must be the luckiest place on Earth. Even have a  nine dragon wall, perhaps where you want to buy your lottery tickets.
We also discover that, if you're an emperor, your dragons can have five claws, otherwise you can only have four claw dragons. A commoner with a five claw dragon was beheaded, luck and spiritual power only take you so far, then they take you too far.

Chapter Sixty Two XIII

Back to the hotel, must have covered a couple of miles in the Forbidden City, five miles to and from, good, we'll be tired tonight, reset to Beijing time. We park in the Writer's Bar, more like a casual restaurant, afternoon tea is served here, we're way past that. A round of cocktails and appetizers, we're here, we decide to eat dinner. It's not elaborate, but the sandwiches, burgers and soups are good. More elaborate Chinese dining will have to wait until we're better able to appreciate it.
Nikko, "I'm ready for a shower and bed."
Amaya, "Second that, I am looking forward to that big bed. Tomorrow is work for Chloe, the twins and Eloise. We jump right into filming."
"Where are Matt and Claudia?"
"Here someplace, I do not recall when they arrived, they were booked on a different flight. May have just crashed in the room, or had dinner with Childers."
In our suite, hot shower feels delicious, then wrapped in fluffy robes and channel surf for a while. Oceane is snuggled in between Janah and me on the couch and nodding off. I guide her to bed, snuggled in between us again and out before I switch off the light.
By the time we're moving this morning, the film girls are gone, we're at breakfast with Nikko and Zi, "What do you want to do today?"
Zi, "It's Saturday, not far from here is the Panjiayuan market, a gigantic flea market. The weekend is best because vendors come in from the provinces with a bigger variety of merchandise. Maybe not, we aren't much into buying things."
"We don't have to buy trinkets to enjoy the atmosphere. Oceane will like all the sensations, lots of stuff she can actually touch, unlike the Forbidden City."
Nikko, "Sounds good, no heavy thinking. We'll want to go to the Great Wall, but it's a fifty mile drive, better on a weekday."
Janah, "They film there, we can go when the film crew goes. I'm not sure which day, but it's before you and Zi return to New York."
After breakfast, the hotel provides a car and driver, the market is five miles away, too much walking. He drops us, we'll find a taxi to return. If we lose interest in the market maybe just walk back, it's all main roads and a ton of tea shops and restaurants in between.
"Cripes, there's enough stuff."
The drawback is the hustle. Everyone wants to negotiate the second you show an interest. Oceane touches 'antique' watches, antique in China must mean made in the last couple of months. Vases, plates and figurines are machine milled, not all, some are handcrafted. Most of it is flea market quality, meaning not.
She talks more than I've ever heard, in Chinese, disappointing vendors who insist the stuff is genuine. They argue for a while, then give up after she tells them it was made by a machine a month earlier. We walk the place for hours, it seems endless, so many things not to buy. We aren't souvenir people, most of it is the same thing that's for sale in Chinatown in Manhattan, prices are higher here. Tourists get caught up in a different world, they buy stuff they would walk past at home.
We come across a small display buried in a corner of the market. It's carved wood, dragons, ritual masks, clocks. After the vendor realizes she's not going to pawn off the display junk, she brings out several pieces from a box under her table.
Oceane's fingers run along the carving, she looks up at me, "These are ancient, held by many hands, most gone."
Her favorite is a standing Buddha, about ten inches high, intricate features, small indeterminate animals surround the Buddha. It's an authentic Huangyang boxwood carving, polished by handling, intact, not so much as a dent or chip.
Oceane begins to haggle, the old woman wants a thousand dollars, six thousand yuan. Oceane puts it down, shakes her head no, starts to walk off.
The woman reaches out, "I can let it go for five thousand, almost a gift."
Oceane touches her hand, it reveals the old woman's intent, five is high, "Three."
The vendor spews a litany of rapid fire Chinese recrimination, "You would rob old lady, most precious artifact, very old, three hundred years, I would rather use it for firewood...," bunch of other nonsense.
Janah, "The statue is fairly priced around four thousand yuan, she has almost nothing in it, maybe inherited, more likely found at a deceased relative's home. Still, it is valuable. My guess is it's a fifteen hundred dollar piece in America, maybe even two thousand."
"Then we should be fair, let her think she won, offer forty five hundred."
The woman huffs but acquiesces, I pull out a roll of bills and pay her. Oceane is happy, the old lady is happy, good enough.
We do walk back, stop for tea in a small shop. Speaking Mandarin has advantages, Zi is Chinese, Janah, Oceane and I are fluent. I speak tea, and once we ask enough questions to let the server know we aren't tea challenged, she disappears and another older woman appears. She's carrying a selection of the good stuff. Xi Hu Long Jing and Huáng shān Máo Fēng, both green.Wu Yi Dà Hóng Páo, oolong, Qi Men Hong Cha, black, and An xi Tiě Guān Yīn, another oolong. Oolong is green tea left to dry under a bright sun, but may be roasted as well, imparting it's toasty flavor.
Zi goes for black, Janah and Ocean the greens, Nikko and I oolong. It is excellent tea, properly prepared, dispensed in small cups.
Zi, "Reminds me of home, Manhattan home. These are some of the teas Daphne uses."
"I haven't had An xi Tiě Guān Yīn, I'm going to add it to our list, we have both of the greens and I know we've tried the black, but it's been a while."
Zi, "You should add that as well, Daria and Dasha will like it I'm certain."
Zi and I are wearing long sleeves, we don't display our Shaolin brands in public. But Zi's blouse has loose fitting sleeves. In the course of our discussion, she doesn't notice that one sleeve has slipped up, baring three quarters of the dragon on her right forearm.
Our server stops, stares, drops into a low bow, says in Chinese, "Forgive me Master, I should have recognized a priest."
Zi, "Nothing to forgive, how are you supposed to know? We are simply on vacation, enjoying beautiful Beijing."
"Please, if you will, bless my shop, I have children and grandchildren, will you do me this honor?"
Zi, "Of course, are the children here?"
"One daughter and a grandchild."
"I would be honored to meet them."
Next thing we know, Zi is dispensing blessings of prosperity, long life, many happy children for generations to come.
The girl bows, the grandchild isn't sure what to make of it, grandmother snaps that he should bow to the holy priest who has blessed him with long life and prosperity. Big eyes and a low bow, grandmother will not tell him twice.
The other customers are befuddled, some are Chinese, others are tourists trying to figure out what all the commotion is about. Bags of tea appear, guess I won't have to shop for a while. We are obliged to take the gifts, do so with many bows and thank yous. The check never arrives. As we leave, the three line up at the door, more bowing as we exit, must look like Hasidic Jews at the Wailing Wall.
I suppose the tourists think Zi is a Communist Party official, I hear whispered Chinese 'Shàolín shénfù,' floating around the shop. It means nothing to the visitors, but all the Chinese eyes follow us out the door.
Zi, "I must be more careful."
"What did it hurt? They were honored, you gave them blessings, they gave us gifts, all the proprieties met. It will give them much more satisfaction to tell the story to the family than a few bucks for tea. Plus you made everyone rich and healthy."
Zi laughs, "I wish it were so."
Oceane, "It is so. You had right intention, intention is all."
Zi nods, "I am well instructed."
I mental Janah, "Sounds like Oceane's been talking to you."
"Except she hasn't, not about intention, our young Buddha has come to it on her own."


Chapter Sixty Three

Our next few days are spent in tourism, the film girls all over the massive city doing location shots. The smog sucks, but we got a couple days of breeze that blew it someplace else. Today's the day they do the Great Wall scene. Matt's character is meeting a contact he thinks is working with the Chinese at China's request, but is in fact a CIA operative. Matt is cornered by the duplicitous contact and three CIA contractors, read mercenaries.
Chloe isn't in this scene. This is one part of the film that makes the Chinese happy. Chloe's character made a friend in the Ministry of Public Security, China's national police force and their version of the FBI. She suspects Matt's contact is setting him up. After a meeting with him, the MPS puts Matt under surveillance. The Chinese win twice, save the American and arrest rogue CIA spies operating in China.
The Great Wall provides a neat backdrop for the clandestine meeting.
Matt is in the middle tower block, busy getting himself pummeled. Chinese security forces come rushing from the upper and lower towers and trap the bad guys. The CIA baddies try to make it seem like Matt is the spy, the Chinese are all over the story thanks to Chloe. To make sure it's as ingratiating as possible, the officer in charge is a highly regarded actor in China, fluent in English, handsome and sophisticated. He tells Matt that Chloe is responsible for saving his bacon by alerting the MPS, which wraps the scene.
Amaya wrote it that way to smooth Chinese cooperation, the actor has two scenes, one with Chloe, the other with Matt. The scenery is Beijing's best, the people of China are industrious citizens, she kept the seedy locations in London. It's a sanitized version, there's no smog, no horrendous traffic, locations depict what's right, not what's wrong. Needless to say, the production crew is offered every accommodation. Politics.
Oceane spent the time examining bricks in the wall, "Each one has a story, countless men who worked here, countless more visitors. The bricks talk of pain, suffering, joy, war, blood, love. One brick tells a thousand stories. As I move along, different stories appear, yearning, greed, anticipation, loss, courage and cowardice. In a hundred lifetimes I couldn't hear them all."
Amaya, "My story is I need to find a drink."
She has to wait for a couple of hours, we need to get back to the hotel. This part of the wall isn't the closest one to Beijing. Still, we make it back for seven, they knock back a round, then a second, on to dinner. Tonight Jaan, fine French cuisine.
A South African chef specializing in French cuisine in a Beijing hotel restaurant, the world has truly gotten smaller. The meal is excellent, superb even.
Dasha, "Ees more than food, presentation ees peerfect, like Ultra Violet. Every dish ees like advertising peecture."
"I'm going to have to raise my game."
Chloe, "You and Dasha do splendidly. The dinner was delicious, but it's more fun to have dinner at home, I can function just fine without adzuki and mung beans. They just look like red beans and edamame."
Amaya, "That is not the point, Vesnushki. Now you can refer to adzuki and mung, as if you are internationally sophisticated."
Matt and Claudia appear, "I see you have experienced Jaan, food's great here."
Dasha, "We haf to leesen to Eemaya talk about aszooky and monk bean like she is beeg expert girl."
Matt laughs, "As long as she keeps churning out wonderful stories."
Claudia, "Working on one?"
Amaya, "Thinking over possibilities. I want to expand the twin assassins to their own book and film. For revenge, I will have the one with the over the top Russian accent rave about adzuki and mung beans. Dasha will have to eat her words."
Matt, "Dasha and Daria are naturals in the roles you've created, emotionless, direct, neither nonsense nor tolerance. Did I say ruthless?"
Amaya, "Because they do not have to act. I taught them humanity, believe me, it was challenging. Daria just went along, the other Communist had to ask why this and why that a thousand times."
Dasha, "Da, Eemaya says, 'because I say so' ten thousand time. Ees okay already, she ees make us reech American girl, best clothes, making up, styling hair, paint nails wiz OPI, Jeemy Shoes."
Matt, "What are Jimmy Shoes, who is opy?"
Claudia laughs, "Jimmy Choo, the footwear and accessories designer. OPI is high fashion nail polish. The twins always look elegant, Dasha is crediting Amaya for that."
Matt, "Interesting compliment."
Claudia, "Men are so obtuse, it is obvious that Amaya has the highest regard and affection for the twins, and they reciprocate. It's the girl version of men trading verbal jabs in the locker room."
Matt, "Ah, I get it. What I usually hear around Hollywood is girls complimenting each other in person, the knives come out after they separate. Dasha and Amaya are what girls do who truly like each other. And you're right, that's what male buds do, give each other grief, but face to face. When guys don't give me a hard time, I wonder what they're up to."
Claudia, "Real friends plow through our pretension, not enable it. The sad cases in Hollywood have an entourage whose job it is to tell the star they're cool, no matter what kind of ass they make of themselves."
Matt, "You never tell me I'm cool."
"Now you know why."

Chapter Sixty Four

Working girls go to their rooms, Janah, Oceane and I are in our suite. They have glasses of sparkling wine, I'm sipping sparking water, Evian.
I ask Oceane, "How does Beijing feel?"
"The air is heavy."
"Well, they do have an air quality problem."
Oceane, "No. The air is heavy with heartbreak, fear and greed. It is that way everywhere, but more here."
Janah, "Sad to say, isn't it?"
Oceane, "Not everyone. My family is not in pain, there is no fear or greed. Their kami is not good, our kami is good."
"So you feel the essence of the kami?"
"Yes, doesn’t everyone?"
Janah, "Where did you learn about kami?"
"From Amaterasu-Omikami."
"The Sun Goddess spoke to you?"
Oceane smiles, "She lives in me, and is full of light. Benten lives in Amaya and Chloe, the kami of music and the arts. Ebisu is in Nikko, Daria and Zi, who bring prosperity. Susanoo is within Daphne, the storm kami, who both brings and protects from disasters. Haciman is with Daria and Dasha, the kami of war. All the kami are with each of us, but some are stronger in one than another."
"No wonder it feels crowded in my head."
Janah, "And do you ask the kami for guidance, or help?"
Oceane, "Kami takes into account our temperament at each moment. If what we ask is in harmony with our temperament, the kami may guide, if not, the kami may do just the opposite. Kami is not predictable. Everything is for the best, but not always simple or safe. I don't ask Amaterasu for anything, she gives or withholds. I wouldn't know what to ask for anyway."
Nikko, "You learning about kami?"
"How long have you known? Or I guess I should ask, is it just folklore?"
"If it was folklore, where did she find out? Not from me, she doesn't read books or  go on the internet, and when the TV is on, she doesn't pay attention."
"True. I've never even heard of kami, Janah has but she never mentioned it."

Nikko, "I don't have any belief in the gods, but kami is also like qi, energy, essence. Everything has kami. In ourselves, kami is the manifestation of our true state of being at the moment. What they call evil kami is our evil nature taking over even when we think we are kind, rational people. When we do good, it overcomes the evil kami."
"So kami is a projection of us, or a deflection from an us we don't like."
"You may say so."

"So, what Oceane is hearing is her own nature."
"That's the way I see it."

Interesting, sort of conforms to my philosophy. We are driven by our brain, there's no I in the driver's seat. We perform an action only after neurons fire, we don't make them fire first, no little me behind the curtain directing traffic. The entire trick of consciousness is creating the illusion of an I that's running the show.
Oceane ditched her clothes the minute we got to the room, she's in between Janah and me on the couch. Janah gets up and heads to the bedroom, I've been licentiously eyeing Oceane's long swimmer's legs.
Oceane, "You like my legs."
"I like you, that includes your body."
"You want to touch me, that would be nice."
So I do. Hand roams smooth thigh, she uncrosses her legs, cocks one towards me. Now hand roams inside thigh, geez she's silky.
We both say 'that feels good' at the same moment, then laugh. My fingers brush between her legs, her eyes close.
"Feels good."
I assume she means with my fingers, I add slight pressure, stroke the softness.
Oceane, "Warm, a tingle in my tummy."
She stretches out on the couch, "Kiss me there."
Okay, I lean forward, nuzzle, kiss, I hear a whispered moan. This is working out wonderfully, my tongue gets busy, more moans. God she's delectable. I go slow, too good to rush a climax. Small gasps, then a tremble, then a rush as she sails over the edge into orgasmic free fall. I orgasm giving her an orgasm, hold the spot until the aftershock shudders subside, look over her tummy to her glistening eyes.
Oceane, "Sparkly warm."
"I'm good with that. Thank you for the pleasure of pleasuring you."
"I am the same and not the same. I walked through a door into another world."
She sits up and kisses me, then again, long, sliver of her tongue in my mouth.
"Slippery sweet," she leans in for another, she's right.
"I want to kiss all our family."
"They are in for a treat."
She stands, "To bed, I will kiss Janah."
Janah has been following in my head, I feel her smile. Oceane hops on the bed, straddles Janah, leans in and goes at it. I lay next to them, I like to watch, voyeur monk. Then another surprise. Oceans kisses down Janah's chest, tummy, then parts her legs, does for Janah what I'd done for her.
I particularly love to watch girls do Janah, her adorable face sheer sultry sensuality. I kiss her while Oceane does her thing, then Janah ignites. Her waves of pleasure give me waves of pleasure, a simulmax, oooohhh.
Ocean's head pops up, "Janah wants me."
Janah, "Janah does," and she does.
Oceane squirms and squeals, sails off again and takes me with her...wow, thrice orgasmed without so much as being touched. That's a first.
Oceane rolls between us, "I want to feel you on me."
Our legs over hers, arms crossed on her chest. As I drift into sleepy twilight, I hear her making out with Janah.
"Slippery sweet."

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Nine Dragon Wall

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