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Ned lay sprawled on his back on the uppermost step before the impressive red gatehouse, slowly panning his bulky video camera across the empty sky, just capturing the edge of the pagoda-like roof. Wow, this is great, he thought, focusing intently on the footage. This is just what the documentary needs. I will admit, I was hesitant to shell out for the trans-Pacific flight, but the film just wouldn’t be complete without live video of this place.
He went to sweep the camera back across the sky when a gray hat encroached upon the image, followed by a confused-looking face and a Forbidden City Security badge emblazoned with the name Hai Wu. Ned frowned at the intrusion and looked up quizzically. His suspicions were confirmed: The police officer in the shot was caused by a police officer leaning over him.
“Good afternoon, sir,” Ned said cheerily, trying not to betray his frustration. “Do you need something from me? I have my U.S. passport and such with me if you want to see them.”
“Please sir, move from where you are,” Hai said in a thick accent. “You are scaring the other tourist. They are afraid to step near you to go inside.”
“Oh, I do apologize, officer! There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Ned said, relieved that the issue was so trivial. “I’m merely getting some footage for a documentary about ancient cities that I’m working on. I had assumed the other tourists were merely being polite, staying out of my shot. No offense,” he added quickly as Hai stepped back a pace.
“You have permission to take video here?” Hai asked.
“Oh yes, of course,” Ned replied, rummaging in the knapsack on the ground next to him and extracting a slightly crumpled document. “I got a man at the Tourism Board to sign it for me.”
“Okay,” said Hai after glancing briefly at the signature on the form. “Fine. Forgive me for asking, but why are you taking video of nothing?”
Ned brightened, always eager to share his cinematography techniques. “You see, I’m getting an above shot of the city, which I’ll display when I talk about it in the film. I’ve been travelling all over the world getting footage.”
“Above shot? Shouldn’t you have a helicopter for that? You cannot see the whole city from here.”
“Well, when I was filming the Pueblo Indian settlements in the United States, I did have to requisition a helicopter,” said Ned. “But you see, China’s on the other side of the Earth, so I can lie up on the ground and film down without needing to fly.”
Hai frowned, perplexed. “Up is that way, sir,” he said, indicating helpfully at the air. “You have to go in the air to look down at the city.”
“No, no, I’m afraid you may have confused your English directions,” Ned said. “Back home in New York City, up is the direction the buildings point – towards the sky. But here in China, on the complete other side of the world, up is into the ground, which is closest to the sky over New York. The buildings here point down.”
Hai sighed in frustration. “Okay, fine, whatever, down is up and up is down. But you are not getting the Forbidden City on film! You cannot just film the sky!”
“Well, that is the proper procedure. In each part of the world, you get a different shot. It’s quite difficult, really; I had to build a tower and rappel sideways on it to the ground to get footage of the Pyramids of Giza. It’s really a difficult profession, you know. Anyhow, I’ve got what I need here, so I’ll be going.” He picked up his pack, stuffing the permission form back inside, and made to stow his camera.
Ned’s phone rang, conveying Paganini in harsh beeps. Ned put his pack down and drew the phone from his pocket. “Hello?” he said. “Oh, hi, Marty, how’s it going? What? You’re not serious. Damnit! Did you tell him- You did? What did he say? Damn!” Ned hung up his phone and slumped to the ground dejectedly.
“What’s wrong?” Hai asked.
Ned sniveled for a minute, then raised his head from his hands.
“All my footage is useless,” he said. “That was my agent, and he said my film’s going to debut in Australia!”