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Meet Yourself (2023) When Adam Meets Eve
The task of rebuilding paradise is a long and often arduous task. The world around Yunmiao Village has transformed so must the methods. It’s often a lonely mission and while Adam aka Xie Zhiyao has strong capable shoulders, a lot rests on them. While he seldom complains, it weighs heavily on him. The villagers aren’t unappreciative but from time to time they question the merits of the journey that he’s embarked on. A lonely prophetic stalwart that must go on despite the seeming hopelessness of his cause. A’Yao, as he’s affectionately known as by his nearest and dearest, isn’t just spearheading the revamping small businesses around town, he literally concerns himself with everything that he’s called upon to do. Whether it’s disciplining his younger brother or settling neighbourhood disputes, his energy to lurch from crisis to crisis is inhuman. The man is ridiculously good at everything and rarely puts a bad foot forward. Indeed he seems to be God’s gift to this world.
However, as the old Biblical injunction goes — it is not good for a man to be alone. So along comes Eve aka Xu Hongdou who labours for the longest time under the mistaken belief that she’s come to Yunmiao Village just for a little rest and relaxation. It’s her mantra said with less conviction with each passing day. Heaven or Fate has other plans for her. First she falls under the spell of the quirky residents that grace the landscape — temporary or permanent. Their stories enchant her. Then she’s sneakily roped into “volunteering” — the lure of free mouthwatering food can do that to perfectly rational people — her services. Who would have thought? Her extensive experience in the hospitality industry is just the thing that’s needed to shake things up at the cafe weighed down by nepotistic concerns. After a couple of missteps, the engine hums like the well-oiled machine that it was meant to be.
Xu Hongdou proves herself to be a good fit for Yunmiao. Or else there’s something magical in the air that has taken her captive. She’s good natured enough to be a listening ear to even the most trying, long-winded nag in the neighbourhood. Bit by bit, it earns her currency with the locals. It’s not long before she becomes the butt of gossip that she and A’Yao are an item because they seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time together. But it was never her intention to fall in love much less make her home in Yunnan. The lady doth protest too much. So how do you make her stay and listen to all you say?
She’s certainly not the only character in the drama that found themselves in Yunmiao for the purpose of finding refuge and healing. It’s certainly becomes a place for the newcomers to escape to, not necessarily to “find themselves” (an expression that brings on the cringe) but more accurately to find healing and carve out a future fraught with uncertainties. Lofty goals indeed. Part of the charm (of which there is plenty) is that feeling of camaraderie with strangers lost in the wilderness together who find solace in one another. And I don’t mean just among the characters who traverse the village and the guest house. Paradise on earth isn’t primarily about material wealth but ultimately about forging community. In order for Adam and Eve to eke out their paradise they must surround themselves with “the right people”. Only broken people with a backstory looking for meaning need apply.
It’s not meant to be a cynical observation but there’s an orthodox school of thought that insists that trauma makes for better storytelling. So it would follow perhaps the more the merrier. Yunmiao the non-speaking character in this is the point of intersection for a motley crew that would otherwise never meet. It’s Shangri-la in the making not offering the elixir of immortality but a healing balm for festering wounds. Old Ma, an entrepreneur, pushed his luck once too often and it all came crashing down. Hu Youyu, a singer-songwriter in the making has struggled with his choices for most of his adult life. Da Mai is racked with doubts about her writerly aspirations. And Nana… what secret is she hiding? What is she running away from? Yunmiao becomes a spiritual home for them — one to return to at various times — a place they found peace of mind and ties that bind forever.
Eve — Xu Hongdou — herself is in need of more answers. Her three months is just about up but she’s not exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of leaving. While she’s found some measure of healing being with A’Yao and Co, she’s faced with an internal struggle of going back to the stability of a 9 to 5 job in the big city and leaving all her new friends as well as the prospect of true love behind. The rationale for a temporary separation makes sense here. She left Beijing (the big city) for what she believed to be a temporary respite from the rat race and now the prospect of leaving Yunmiao Village feels bittersweet. Her priorities have changed. The security of working for someone else no longer has the same attraction it once did. Aside from falling in love with the place and the man at the centre of it all, she’s been bitten by the same entrepreneurial bug that afflicts A’Yao. Not so coincidentally the guest house that’s being built needs a new owner. Hongdou fits the bill like hand and glove with her hotel management know-how. It’s almost as if the guest house has her name written on it writ large, beckoning for her to take ownership of it in this painstaking remaking of paradise.
Before she takes this step, A’Yao is placed in a predicament. He confesses his feelings but he doesn’t try to persuade her to stay because he knows what she’d be giving up. Or does he? Paradise cannot be a place of obligation or coercion. A’Yao made his choice a while back to return but the woman who will become his helpmeet must do so wholeheartedly. She can’t be seen to have sacrificed herself in any way even for love. Paradise must be a place of freedom. The prerequisite for joining the mission of reshaping is first about catching the vision. At the end of the day, it is a calling to rebuild the garden with its thorns and thistles outside the Garden of Eden.