A Scouting Life: Ma Ma

March 16, 2010 | Sam Hutchins

The liquor store looked like a possible Kar Wai location. It was a gas station built for the original blue line highways that predated the interstate system. Better, it had been sloppily and gaudily repurposed with no historical regard, and even had its own fleabag motel out back. Perhaps the perfect Kar Wai honeypot.

Walking in, we were engulfed by the hurricane that was Ma Ma. She was a Korean woman of a certain age. Of what age I am not certain, but let’s say 60 would be a conservative guess. A guess which would be the last acquaintance we would have with the concept of “conservative” that morning. She wore a tightly fit black velvet top over leopard skin stretch pants. Chunky black Cha-Cha heels and a yellow silk scarf completed the look. Her personality was even more outgoing than her garb.

“Hey, what you doing here, Chinese man? You want some tea? Hahaha.”

Kar wai warmed up to her like he very rarely does with a person.

“I would, thank you very much. Actually, if you just have some hot water, I would like to serve you a special tea I brought from Hong Kong.”

“Yee-haa, that sounds good! Tell you what, you do that and I’ll make you some noodles I have special from Korea.”

“Oh, very good. I have not had breakfast yet.”

“Come, come. I make for you. No charge! Hahahaha!”

Everything she said was enunciated as a borderline yell, particularly this last bit. It was punctuated by her cackling laughter, as was every other sentence or so that came out of her mouth. She nodded at me.

“None for him, though. He too fat!”

“Don’t worry, he hates Asian food,” Kar Wai said of me. How did he get that idea?

“He should eat some noodles, maybe not be so fat. Hahahahaha!”

“I would like some, if that ees okay,” Darius chimed in.

“No noodles for you. Only noodles for handsome here.” She nodded at Kar Wai.

I started to ask her about taking pictures but Kar Wai cut me off and discreetly shook his head no. I suppose the interior wasn’t that great. White pegboard covered the walls and it was overly bright. Still, it seemed like his sort of place. I wandered outside and took pictures of the mountains, but the view was largely blocked by scattered ugly buildings. A billiard hall, a dusty furniture store, that sort of thing. Nothing with the slightest bit of character aside from Ma Ma’s liquor store.

When I stepped back in, Ma Ma had Kar Wai cornered. She was haranguing him about filming in her place. He had gone from warm to obviously uncomfortable. I did my duty and stepped in.

“We can’t shoot here, Ma Ma. You’re too sexy, you’ll make the starlets jealous.”

“Hahaha, you bullshit me. I no sexy, I no want to be in movie. I want you to film here, pay me lots of money, hahahaha!”

“Okay, the place looks great, but we have other places to see. Besides, we really don’t have much money.”

“Make me offer, hahaha!”

She really had Kar Wai pinned in the corner. I had to take her arm and pull her away so he could slip past. As soon as he had a clear path to the door he stepped quickly towards it. He called over his shoulder as he left.

“Thanks for the noodles, Ma Ma, they were very tasty. See you soon.”

She wasn’t done yet.

“Anything you want, I can get you.” She winked lustily. “Anything.”

My God. Even as we pulled away in the truck she stood on the sidewalk yelling and cackling at us.

“When you come back hahaha? I be here waiting hahaha! Plenty more noodles for you! Make you a good deal!”

I checked the rear view to make sure she wasn’t running down the street after us. Seeing our escape was successful I put the big question to Kar Wai.

“So, we filming there?”

“Location is great, but she is too much too handle.” He gave it a long pause. “Maybe when we film there we say Stephane is the Director.”

We all had a nice laugh and that broke the tension between Stephane and Kar Wai.

I love history, and read it voraciously. A few years ago while reading one of Ambrose’s oral histories of World War II I came across an absolutely amazing story. In the mop-up operations after D-Day American soldiers were registering German prisoners. I forget which beach it was, but it was someplace where Hitler had been certain would not be a landing site. The soldiers there were the dregs of the Wermacht. Amongst them were a few Korean men who did not speak a word of German, let alone English. Subsequent investigation revealed that they had fought the Japanese, been captured and impressed to fight for the Emperor. As Japanese conscripts they fought the Russians, were captured, and agreed to fight the Germans. The Germans captured them and shipped them all the way west were they wound up in a pillbox defending the Continent. I imagined Ma Ma had arrived here by some equally strange chain of events. She was clearly a survivor. What forces of history had washed her up on this mountain where we found her? I pondered this as we descended into the mountain basin where Ely proper sat.

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