Monday, December 24, 2012
To Have and Have Not (1996)
To Have and Have Not:
How Actress Joan Chen Discovered the Difference
Between Fame and Fortune
in the East and the West
March 5, 1996
She was alone and no one paid much attention to her. That was a new experience for her. She was accustomed to crowds of adoring fans gathering to greet her, to a crush of reporters and photographers, government officials and politicians extending their hands and positioning themselves to be photographed with her, a car and driver to hurry her to a hotel where the staff requested autographs and lavished attention on her. But there was none of that any more. When Joan Chen, the most popular actress in the People's Republic of China, arrived at New York's JFK Airport on August 26, 1981, she was suddenly just another foreign student arriving in America. She carried one small suitcase and she had no money. Only her mother was there to greet her.
Several friends of the Chen family lived in New York, but Joan learned that they were all working at the time -- it was a Wednesday -- and couldn't come to the airport. Even Joan's mother, a physician who was doing research at St. Elizabeth's hospital in Washington, D.C. -- had very little time to take her daughter sightseeing in the city. She had to return to the hospital the next day. "America sure is a busy place," Joan concluded during her first hours in the U.S.
Chen had received a scholarship to attend the State University of New York in New Paltz, a school known for its drama department. She received a tuition waiver and a small stipend -- but not quite enough to live on. So Chen worked in the student bookstore for additional funds. She shared a room in a dormitory with a young woman from Hong Kong. "I got by," she says of her first months in America.
Meals were part of the scholarship and were served in the dormitory cafeteria. "Whatever money I earned in the bookstore I used to buy Chinese food and we cooked it on a hot plate in our dorm room," she remembers. "My first difficulty in America was not having no money," she says. "My first difficulty in America was not having Chinese food! That was the immediate pressing problem. I could not live without Chinese food."
Her single luxury that semester was an inexpensive tape recorder she used to tape all her classroom lectures. Then listened to them later three or four times. She was enrolled in several required general education classes and one drama class. And she loved it. "What more could I ask for at that time," she said. "I was just like all the other students, except I had less money."
When she'd saved some money, Chen and her roommate took the bus to New York City. There, without a penny to spare, they explored the city. "We couldn't even afford to take the bus or subway, we were so poor," she remembers. "I saw the bright lights and the theaters on Broadway. I enjoyed it immensely. But it was not something I'd dreamed about since I could never have imagined it before then. I had never dreamed of making movies in America or performing on the stage, even. After all, I had already achieved my primary dream. That was getting to America. I was here. That was enough for the time being."
During her first brief visit to New York City, Chen experienced one of those rare defining moments that would stay with her always. A homeless woman approached her on the street and asked for money. Joan responded by saying she had none. The woman then asked, "Why don't you have money? Aren't you Japanese?" Chen replied, "No, I'm Chinese." The women then fumbled in her pocket, pulled out a quarter and handed it to Joan. She said, "If you are Chinese, you probably need this more than I do."
Soon after completing her first semester in New Paltz, Joan received a call from Professor Paul Chau at California State University in Northridge, just outside Los Angeles. She was surprised that he was aware of her presence in New York and that he had located the number of the dormitory's only public phone. Chau was a movie fan. He invited Joan to Northridge for a Chinese film festival. They were showing one of her films and Chau wanted her to speak. She hesitated. She had no money for a plane ticket she told him and she would miss one week of classes. "We'll get your plane ticket," he assured her. She was not sure. "There is also a small payment he said." She still wasn't convinced. "We'll take you to Disneyland," he said. She agreed.
Northridge had about a dozen Chinese students, most of them studying engineering. And all of them knew about Joan and had seen her films. They showed her most popular film, "Little Flower" and she gave a short talk about the making of the film. She was introduced to the president of the school and several deans. Then she went to Disneyland and fulfilled another dream.
Shortly after her return to New Paltz, Chau again called Joan and said he'd arranged for her to receive a scholarship to Northridge. It included tuition plus about $2000 a year for living expenses. She could start the spring semester. There was another advantage to Northridge, Chau told her. Not only was there a good drama and film department but she would be a lot closer to Hollywood! She accepted.
After Christmas she flew to California and rented a small room in the home of a family near the campus in Northridge. A neighbor who owned a Chinese restaurant hired Joan to work as a hostess on the weekends. Since she had no experience and so didn't qualify to work as a waitress. The restaurant job meant she needed a car. She borrowed money from a friend and bought a used car. "An old one," she remembers. " Old. Very old!" She practiced driving for one day("there was so little time!") and then passed her driver’s test.
She earned a little more than the minimum wage --$4.25 an hour -- in the restaurant, almost as much as she had earned in one month in China. "That was my first real money," she recalls. In addition to her wages, she received tips from customers ordering take out. With part of her new income she hired a private English-language coach. She was determined to improve her English as quickly as possible. She was paying back the car loan and paying for auto insurance as well as for rent and language lessons. She had no money left over at the end of the week for anything else. She saved whatever she could and was happy to break even at the end of each week.
"The money was tight," she remembers. "And my friends knew this. They told me, 'Hey, there's great money in acting in the U.S.!" There had not been great money in acting in China, she knew. She'd thought of making money in the movies in America. And she had no idea how to start. She was, after all, starting all over again.
Chen Chong -- who changed her name to Joan Chen in America -- was born in Shanghai in 1961. Both of her parents were grandfather physicians. Times were very hard in China when Joan was growing up. Despite their professional training the Chens had little money and no luxuries. "When we were children, we spent most of our time at the window, looking out and daydreaming it seems," Joan remembers. She had no toys. In the hyper-political atmosphere the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, toys were considered a bourgeois luxury.
The Chens economized all they could to live on their small income. Joan wore her hair short -- short hair used less soap to wash. It saved money and time. Her grandfather's spacious house was divided up between several families. The Chens -- Joan, her brother, parents and grandparents -- were crowded into one room. She had two outfits to wear-- plain pants and blouse and a child's tattered PLA uniform that was a hand-me-down from her brother.
She was wearing the uniform when, one morning, representatives from the Shanghai Film Studio visited her school. They were looking for a child actress for a film. Chen was asked to recite some lines. She did so -- boldly. The agents noticed not only her boldness but her bright eyes. "She has a pair of eyes that seem to talk," one of them later reported.
At a second audition she recited the words of Chairman Mao -- in English. "I can't sing, I can't dance, but I can speak English," she announced proudly -- she'd learned it from her grandfather who, decades earlier, taught for a time at Harvard University. Nobody else at the audition understood a word she said. But they were struck by her dramatic delivery and she was selected.
So she became a trainee at the Shanghai Film Studio where she earned 20 yuan a month -- about three dollars at the time. It was her first income. At 14 she became youngest performer in the studio.
Her first film, entitled "Jing Gang Shan," was never completed. In it she had one sentence of dialogue -- "Jing Gang Shang is lost!" She practiced the line over and over, a thousand times, she recalls, before the mirror.
In her next film, "Youth" she played a mute and so had no lines, but projected her feelings through gestures and her facial expressions --not unlike Holly Hunter in "The Piano." She received rave reviews and suddenly, almost overnight it seemed, she was a star.
Then in 1978, at the age of 17 she made "Xiao Hua"(Little Flower). For her performance she won the Chinese Golden Rooster Award, the equivalent of the American Academy Award and the people's choice award-- the Golden Horse.
Suddenly, her face seemed to be everywhere in China. She was on the covers of all the movie magazines, in the newspapers and her picture was on billboards and fliers in cities and towns and villages throughout the country. Tens of millions of movie fans pinned her pictures on their walls. Joan recalls walking through the Shanghai business district one morning, looking up and seeing her face emerging from a massive sign being painted on the side of a building. She could hardly believe it. She was amused by the fame but at the same time couldn't quite figure it out. She felt like the face on the posters was that of another person. Fame was strange and at the same time not a very intoxicating experience for her. She thought the people paying tribute to her and asking for autographs had no idea who she was and she had no idea what they were doing. She was not the character in the movies. That was only a role. But the fans didn't seem to understand that. The studio brought out a calendar with 12 pictures of Joan on it. It sold in the tens of millions throughout Asia.
Everywhere she went, people gaped at her, and stopped her and asked for autographs. She recalls a trip to Xian after she made "Little Flower." "It was just incredible," she recalls. "I was there with two other actors. And basically, I can say, we seemed to bring the whole town to our hotel. It was awful. the traffic was at a standstill outside the hotel. You couldn't walk in the street. People looked at me and burst into tears and wanted to touch me. After that, every city we visited, it was just the same."
There were crowds everywhere she went. If she waited for the bus, people crowded around her and asked her for autographs. When she stepped from the bus, dozens of others stepped from the bus behind her. They followed her home. Her private life evaporated. Each week she received thousands of letters. She tried to answer some but finally just gave up.
" I was young then, and I didn't expect much attention from my work. So all of this was not only surprising, it was shocking. But this was the nature of fame in China at that time, I learned. It didn't bring money -- that was for sure -- and it didn't bring many other perks. It just brought attention. People smiled and reached out to you and they had good intentions. And they respected you. But, as a girl, I didn't think this was very important. I mean, I still lived at home. The income wasn't anything to talk about. Basically, if you were a film star, you didn't have to pay for anything, that was what you got. But I didn't think that I really needed anything so I had no requests for anything."
When she was filming, she was sometimes driven home in the evening in a private car--which caused a sensation for the neighbors. It was the most exotic perk of being an actress.
"I had been taught--all of us of my generation had been taught -- not to want material possessions or clothes. We didn't want much more than good food now and then and the studio saw we were fed well. But anything else we didn't want or need. Oh, of course, some officials gave us small presents, but we in turn gave them to others. What we wanted, more than anything else--what was important then, was political excellence. And that meant also political correctness. Whatever you achieved, whatever I achieved, I wanted above all else to be a model citizen.
"That was in my bringing up. We wanted to be model workers or performers or singers or whatever. We wanted to be the one in the district, the one from Shanghai, that was the model, the avatar of the perfect citizen. That was everyone's dream, it seemed, to be the model that other people looked up to. I couldn't imagine anything more than that.
When she was 19 Joan visited Japan as part of a Chinese film delegation. "It opened my eyes," she remembers. "It was a real surprise. I had no idea that there was any another way of life, an alternative to the one I was living. No idea at all. I know that the way the Japanese were portrayed in all the films I saw, they were always the bad guys. So I was surprised at the world of Tokyo and other Japanese cities. The people were very kind, very deferential. It was nothing like what I thought it would be. The houses and the restaurants, the public parks, were just beautiful. It was more than I had ever dreamed. And the film stars in Japan were rich, with their own cars and homes. I wondered about this. I had no idea that life like this, for the individual or for the country, was possible. So naturally I began to suspect that in my education of the outside world I had been, in a word, cheated."
After earning my high school diploma Joan passed her university admissions examination and was admitted to the Shanghai Foreign Languages Institute. Although Chen received no special consideration for admission to the prestigious school and attempted to remain as anonymous as possible during the examination process, she recalls the troubling incident of handing in her paper on exam day. The instructor read her name, looked at her closely and then asked for her autograph.
Joan's mother, in the meantime, had gone to America to pursue medical research. The traditional story says that relatives living in America write home and tell their friends and families about the riches of Gold Mountain. Not the Chens. Joan's mother lived a frugal existence in the U.S. and received only a small stipend allotted to her by the Chinese government. She slept in a dormitory room with six other women. She did not write home about the wonders of the West.
But Joan dreamed of studying in America. She'd watched American movies and seen stories about the U.S. on television and she decided she wanted to study drama and film making and then return to China to work in the film industry. At the same time she wanted to see the world and to escape from the public spotlight for a time. Some of her mother's friends sent Joan an application for admission to the school in New Paltz. When she was accepted, they lent her money for her plane ticket.
Following her first semester at Northridge Joan traveled to northern California. There, one of her mother's friends introduced her to film director Wayne Wang, who was shooting a movie entitled "Dim Sum" in San Francisco. He gave her a small part -- a very small part -- in the film. She'd heard there was great money in American movies. But not in this one. Wang was working on a shoestring budget. "We all agreed to work on the film for no pay," she remembers. "Just like China!" She had no speaking lines and was listed in the credits as a "Mah Jong player."
But she had an American film credit. In Northridge once again friends advised her to get an agent to continue her career. She went to the Bessie Loo Agency in Los Angeles, which represented Asian actors. "I told them I had acted in a Wayne Wang movie, so I had experience and had worked. So they took me. The fact was, though, they took anybody who walked into the office. But I had an agent, and my foot was in the door.
The Agency sent her to auditions --"cattle calls" they are termed in Los Angeles. When she showed up at the first audition, she parked, walked in the door, looked around, walked out and drove home. The cattle call involved hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of actresses sent by their agents to simply walk across a stage in front of a casting director, sometimes in a continuous line only a few feet apart. In one door, across the stage and out another door. Like cattle. "All of the girls were gorgeous," Joan recalls. She felt outclassed and felt she had no chance whatever of getting a role in an American movie.
But her agent continued sending her out. Finally, she landed a small part in the television series "Mike Hammer." She played a waitress and had one line in the episode -- "Do you want to have some tea, Mr. Hammer?" It was ironic, she says today, that she did not qualify to work as a waitress in real life, but she could be one television.
Another small part in another television series followed -- a non-speaking role. The two jobs paid scale, which was a pleasant surprise for Chen. "It was an amazing amount of money to me, a working student," she remembers. "A few hundred dollars for one day of work --better than the restaurant, which was better than making movies in China." Equally important, she qualified for membership in the Screen Actor's Guild, the union of film performers. That opened up new doors.
While she found she had what seemed like a lot of money she also had new bills. Her agent took 10 percent, her car loan and insurance and rent and English-language lessons took another chunk of the money. What was left she put into the bank. Chen opened her first bank account--a checking account -- and began depositing her earnings. Still, she says, there was not enough there to worry about managing it.
More television roles followed, She spent a week in Miami filming an episode of the popular "Miami Vice." One week of work netted her $2500 -- so much money, she remembers, that it didn't seem real at the time. And for so little effort. Being a hostess in a restaurant was far more difficult.
"I thought, where else in the world can you make money like this!" she says. I was 22 years old and suddenly I felt like I was on top of the world!"
She auditioned for the lead role for the film "Year of the Dragon," written by Oliver Stone and directed by Michael Cimino. The casting director, Joanna Merlin, was looking for an Asian woman to play the lead. She got along well with Joan and the two became friends. But Joan had some real difficulty at the audition.
"I was young at the time and my English still wasn't that smooth. But I thought it was the only good part available that an Asian was going to get. And I really wanted it." Merlin had her do a reading, then called her back for another reading with Cimino present. And then another. Then another. In the end she fifteen separate readings for the part. But Cimino was unconvinced. Several days after her last reading, Cimino sent her six dozen long-stemmed roses with a note saying he was sorry that she was not right for the part. "He was the only person who ever sent me so many roses to tell me that I didn't get something," she laughs.
"Not getting the part was really traumatic for me," she recalls. "I wanted so badly to get that part and then I failed. I'd never had an experience quite like that before. It was a new American reality for me -- that you want something really bad and you try as hard as you can and you just don't get it and it's gone forever.
"In China I had learned, as a young star, to live with fame. In China and in America I had learned to live with economic hardship. Suddenly I was learning to live with real professional disappointment. It was not an enjoyable experience."
But there was more television work. Her reviews were good. She was sent to a casting call at Lorimar Studios for a "Hawaiian" part. "I got all dressed up and went for the part, and then they took one look at me and said, 'Oh, no, you're not Hawaiian!' What are you doing here?' "I answered, 'you're right. I'm not Hawaiian." And I walked out. It was really frustrating. I didn't even get an audition. Then, as I was walking across the Lorimar parking lot and a car pulled up beside me. The driver rolled down his window and said, 'Did you know that Lana Turner was discovered in a drug store?' I looked at him. Who was this guy? I didn't know who Lana Turner was, first, and second I didn't know who this guy was. I thought he was just an awful man and he was trying to pick me up and he was fairly crude. I didn't respond but walked straight ahead, taking my car key out of my purse as I walked. I continued to drive beside me, slowly, and then he said, 'Do you have any free time this afternoon.' I stopped for a moment and looked at him. I thought I recognized the face. Then it struck me. He was the producer of 'Year of the Dragon,' Dino Di Laurentiis. I was embarrassed for a moment. He repeated, 'Do you have any free time this afternoon?' 'Sure, I said, 'OK. I have a lot of time. I have nothing but time.' 'Can you come to my office at 2 PM?' he asked. 'I want to sign a contract with you!' I said, 'Ok, sure. Sure.'
"I didn't drive back to Northridge. I stayed around Lorimar and then at 2 PM drove to his office. He was straightforward but also friendly. 'Here's the deal,' he said. 'I want you to come in with your agent tomorrow. Then we can sign a contract. Agreed?' I said, 'Agreed' and left."
Chen hurried to her agent's office with the incredible news. "My agent was so scared when I told him what happened. That's the truth. He was really scared. He had never dealt with such a big producer before. He was visibly shaking. This was, how shall I put it, not a confidence builder! When he started to tell me what to do he stuttered badly and he didn't seem to be thinking clearly. This obviously was not only the chance for a big breakthrough for me, but for him too.
"'You should ask him this'" he said and then "'No, you demand that,' and then ' No, you should ask for this.' He was not at all helpful.
" The next afternoon we went back to DeLaurentiis' office and signed a three picture deal contingent on a screen test. I came in the next week and read for his next big film, "Tai Pan," and immediately got the part.
" In the meantime, incredibly, I did a reading for 'Karate Kid II' and got that part, also. It actually paid about $10,000 more than the De Laurentiis film. So all of a sudden there I am with two pictures, filming at the same time. I had to take one or the other and took 'Tai Pan.' Tamilyn Tomita got the part in 'Karate Kid II' subsequently.
Joan's compensation for "Tai Pan," although less than six figures($100,000) was in the in the high five figures -- a quantum leap in her earnings.
"Suddenly, for the first time in my life I had money. Real money. Before this time I had never worried about managing money. No Money, no managing! But now I had something to manage. It was a heady feeling and my response was one that was in my blood. With the advance money I knew what I wanted to do -- invest in real estate by buying a house. That was in 1985 and in 1985 real estate in southern California was still quite reasonable. I went to a realtor and said, 'here is my contract. I have this money in three months time. What can I buy?' But once I did that I had no money left over.
"So he arranged for the real estate loan and I bought a house in North Hollywood for $115,000 -- an incredibly good price then. A house with a swimming pool! I put 20 percent down and bought it and moved in. It was a small house with three bedrooms. Hardly palatial. I had no more money but I had a house and the security of my own property.
"I know other artists might start to take dancing lessons or singing lessons or more acting lessons with their first big paycheck. But not me. You see the difference was that I was an immigrant in America. And immigrants want and need security. So in that regard I was like all other immigrants. And for immigrants, security is always land. I am convinced that this feeling is almost instinctual, especially with the Chinese. You don't even have to think about it. You just don't buy anything else until you first go out and buy a house. And that was true for me. I was an actress with a contract but I was also a Chinese immigrant.
"I have actually very little knowledge of things financial. But this thing I knew for sure--I wanted and needed to buy a house and then all my security would spring from that initial investment. What else, I wondered at that time, could anyone possibly want?
A short time later Joan flew to Macau with the crew and cast for "Tai Pan" and filming began. "We filmed there and in Guangdong province and in Hong Kong. The living standards, during the shooting, were, relative to my previous standards, lavish. In Guangzhou I lived in the White Swan Hotel, which is so beautiful. They put me up in a wonderful hotel in Hong Kong, too. The best hotels and the best food and my own car and driver! So, I was treated not so much like an actress but rather, to my way of thinking, like an empress.
"I was very optimistic about the future, while we were shooting 'Tai Pan.' But there were some concerned grumbling from the Chinese government that the premiere young actress from China was playing the part of a concubine in a foreign film--the big breakthrough crossover role that was hardly flattering to the Chinese government. But I thought I would be redeemed when the film was released. In that, I was wrong.
"While the movie was being made and edited, I was promised that I was not only going to be a big movie star in the West, I was told that I was going to be the biggest movie star in the West. The biggest! That is what Dino kept telling me. He was so optimistic. 'Oh, Joan,' he told me, 'You have no idea how big you will be. No idea'. He was right in one sense. I had no idea. None. The reviews were not good and I did not become the biggest star in the West, needless to say. In fact, shortly after we stopped shooting I returned to my classes at Northridge. I still believed my future had to include an academic degree and that I would be involved in film making from behind the camera or in writing scripts, but not in front of the camera. I believed that until 'The Last Emperor' came along.
"My big break was 'The Last Emperor.' It was my good fortune that Joanna Merlin was casting director again. She thought of me as soon as she began casting. I had gone through so much with her and didn't get the lead in 'Year of the Dragon' and she remembered me.
"For 'The Last Emperor' they were specifically casting a Chinese part and she as very confident that I was the right actress for it. Before the audition, she sent me to meet Bernardo Bertolucci at his hotel in Los Angeles. At the time I was studying film making and was very dedicated to my classes. I was also bilingual, of course and so I thought that at least I could get work on the film. I didn't at first have the audacity to think that I would land the leading female role, as the Empress. I told Bernardo I would like to work as an assistant on the picture. 'I don't need any assistants,' he said. 'I need an Empress!'"
Chen did a screen test for the film. Bertolucci loved it. She became his 'Empress.' Her friend John Lone was cast as the last emperor, Pu Yi and another friend from Shanghai, Vivian Wu was cast as the emperor's second wife.
"My lawyer and my agent -- my new agent -- arrived at a reasonable figure for my compensation for the picture," Chen remembers. The contract was in six figures, but less than $500,000.
"The Last Emperor" was in fact the breakthrough film for Joan. It won nine Oscars including one for Best Motion Picture of 1987. And it opened the way to other opportunities.
After "The Last Emperor" Joan became a regular in the popular television series "Twin Peaks." "The magic of being in a television series is that an actor is paid for each episode, whether or not she's actually in it," Joan points out. "And each episode was represented five working days. She earned roles in several made-for-television films as well as in feature films. She worked with Academy-Award-winning screenwriter David Peoples in "The Blood of Heroes." She made a film in Taiwan and another in Australia and she starred in Oliver Stone's "Heaven and Earth."
Lucrative endorsements also came along also after "The Last Emperor." "I accepted a chance to endorse Donna Karan products," Joan explains. "I accepted endorsements as long as the product was associated with good quality and status. Ebel watches asked me for an endorsement and to appear in their advertisements and I did. I endorsed Lux soap in Asia. I am still proud to be associated with these products. I was offered the chance to appear in liquor advertisements, and I turned them down. I was offered the chance -- a very profitable chance, I might add, to endorse a brand of popular cigarettes in Asia--and I turned that down. I know what cigarettes can do to you. And so I just couldn't endorse them or have my name associated with them. It's something I would never do. The image I wanted to portray in the endorsements was one of quality as well as elegance. And I think I've done that.
After the release of "The Last Emperor," Chen began looking for a financial manager. "I managed everything myself," she said. "Rather, let me put it another way. I didn't manage it. I just sort of left it there. I still had all my money in a checking account in the bank not even gathering interest. The bank officers kept telling me that this was very strange. 'This much money! In a checking account?' they would say and roll their eyes. They wanted me to invest it with them. But, all I can say is that I was extremely uninterested in the field of investment.
"Then I met with an investment counselor. I rethought what I had been doing. Just keeping my money in the bank in a checking account really was a waste. But at the same time it gave me the advantage of me not having to think about it, and in China and in America to that time I had never thought about it at all.
"The other thing that is often hard for people to understand is that the money did just not seem 'real' to me at that time. Somehow, in some strange way, it didn't seem real. In China and then working my way through school in the US, working in the book store and in the restaurant, I associated a certain amount of real hard labor and sweat with the accumulation of capital. Hard effort results in cash, in other words, to put it bluntly. But in the performing arts, the money seemed to come so easily that it didn't seem real. It was, in a way, very easy money. Too easy. And so none of us who were new in Hollywood -- who were also new to America -- really ever thought of it as real money. We thought about it, I thought about it, as sort of 'easy come easy go.' And I was not the kind of person who thought, 'How do I multiply it or how do I invest that money?'
"Buying my first house and then selling it and buying another was a sort of Chinese instinctual thing. But to invest and actually manage your resources, I hadn't thought about that at all.
"So, with the help of a financial advisor, I began buying stocks. I put all of my liquid capital into stocks. This happened the year after the Gulf War, so the stocks were really going crazy, really doing well. And so stocks became my thing, ever since then.
"My investment philosophy was formed quickly. I bought only long term and in blue chip companies. I was never into trading nor into taking unnecessary chances. That's just not me. I do movies. I know movies. But in the market, I felt that your actions should depend on what you believe in.
"I also began investing in China. I was given a lot of opportunity during the best real estate era in China to buy land, but I didn't. I didn't because at the time I didn't have faith in China, you see. It was about the time of the student democracy movement and the Tiananmen Square tragedy. I didn't have the faith then that one should own land or buildings or real estate in China. And I didn't look at buying land in other Asian countries either.
"But in recent years I have begun in a limited way to invest in China. Now that the Chinese government appears to have turned the economy around, I have much more faith in the stability and future of China. Also, when I was first offered opportunities to invest in China, I had been away for several years. And I didn't know the country and the economy as well as I thought I should have. But now I am investing in China, in business and in joint ventures in land development. I have a strong faith that China's progress will continue.
"I think it is important to say also that I would never knowingly do any business in China that I suspected might not be beneficial to the people of China. It was never my character to do that or even to consider it. Most of the things I am doing now, I am convinced, benefit the population of China and myself too, obviously."
"But If I had it to do it all over again, I would have started investing earlier, of course. But that's 20/20 hindsight. Who in the world would not say that? Yes, I should have invested earlier. Yet you see, in America and the West, as an actress you are really an independent businesswoman, too. I think immigrants who go into acting only come to that realization slowly, unfortunately. I just felt, you know, that there was nothing to worry about. I lived through the lean years, I guess, and I thought I could always get by in pretty much the same way. I think it is, perhaps, an immigrant mentality.
"And there is something else to consider. As a Chinese, you always hear about old age. You must be safe in your old age. I was so surprised by Americans when I first got here. I mean people spend money--they spend absolutely every penny they earn. But me, even when I was earning minimum wage, I saved a little every day. I never ever spent more than I earned and never ran up debts. And I think most immigrants live that way, save as much as they can. You save money, you don't spend money. But eventually you have to make the next step and you have to invest money.
"But the Chinese philosophy is that you want dignity when you grow old, as if that is in fact the real goal of life -- dignity in old age. You absolutely must have comfort and dignity in old age. I always knew that. That is what we live for, to grow old, and that is what you plan for, and eventually you do. It is not difficult for me to say that I have to worry about my old age. That is my responsibility, and, to be a dignified person you have to be well and do well in your old age. You have, therefore, to live modestly and thoughtfully in your youth so you can live gracefully and well in your elder years. You see, even when I was making only $4.25 an hour, I was still saving a little -- putting it aside for that proverbial rainy day. And when I started investing, part of it was to provide for my future and for my old age.
"In this ever changing world, we never really know how secure our future is -- none of us do. We may think we do, but that is an illusion. Good times come and go. I know that and I have tried as well as I can to make sound plans and to stick with them. And now I don't worry as much as I once did. What more could you ask of life?"