(This post is part of a series I am doing called “First Impressions. . . my first few months in Asia“. If you would like to read about this series and other articles, please CLICK HERE.)
Within a few months of living in Asia, I appeared on national TV on three different occasions. This was my second such appearance and easily my most humiliating.
It was our entire group of six foreign students from America. The story began about two weeks after our arrival in this country. Our teacher informed us that part of our “cultural teaching” would be learning how to do this exercise named Tai Qi. You have probably seen this. It is the slow, almost hypnotic motions/exercise that you see being practiced mainly by elderly Chinese people. It is the exercise that looks like Kung Fu, but only in mega-slow motion. It was of absolutely no interest to any of us, but this was one of those “requests” from our university that we were not given the option of refusing.
What our teacher did not tell us was that we would be on TV doing this exercise with about 30-40 others during the National Day festivities. She also didn’t tell us that everyone else that we would be doing it with had been practicing Tai Qi their entire lives.
You see, we had arrived just weeks prior to the 50th anniversary of the founding of the current governmental regime. It was an enormous deal. The entire country had an entire week holiday. There would be national programing as a part of the celebration and we would be a part of it.
So our group of six Americans had a crash course in a part of Asian culture that generally takes years to perfect. They assigned the top Tai Qi coach in our province to do the impossible. . . make a bunch of rag-tag Americans look like proficient practitioners of this ancient Chinese art form. A great guy, and I’m sure a very good coach, but he was no match for our complete and total incompetence. I would not be surprised to find out that he quit his trade after having us as students.
The morning of our big premier arrived. We were told to wear matching uniforms. Best we could muster up were khakis and white undershirts. It was not pretty.
We showed up at the place of our performance at about 7am wearing our matching “uniforms”. Everyone else there was decked out in elegant silk white and pink karate looking uniforms. We looked a little out of place. Actually, we looked like idiots.
We ended up being part of a still larger show. It included everything from Kung Fu exhibitions to diving to water ballet. Our performance ended up being in front of several dignitaries, government officials, and a few hundred school children at an outdoor pool/sports arena. Of course, the TV cameras were there to beam out our butchering of Chinese culture to the entire country. It was awkward, to say the least.
As we walked out, the children did everything from giggle to gawk in amazement. The cameras were almost constantly on us and a five year old boy during the performance. I felt like an uncoordinated zoo animal on display in some kind of alien circus, but we survived. Overall, it was not what I would have chosen, but ended up being a lot of fun.
As I was walking away, a young lady came chasing after me. She was followed by a cameraman and wanted to interview me. I consented and tried to make our university proud.
I never saw the interview on tap delay, but I’m certain people were curious why I had an undershirt on for such an important event.
I learned several things from this performance. First, the locals here LOVE performances. They have performances at all social gatherings, no matter the size of the gathering. Second, I learned that they like having foreigners around in things like this. We looked like morons, yet they were still pleased with our participation. Since then, I have “performed” at untold numbers of like events.
Finally, I learned that it is ok to step out of my comfort zone in order to please my hosts. I grew up fairly shy and scared of performing in front of people. There was NOTHING in me that wanted to get on national TV and do an exercise/dance/art form of which I was terrible. Yet I did. I lived. I had fun. My local friends and the local officials were pleased with us, so all worked out well.
Oh yeah, this performance also confirmed what I had always suspected. . . Pat Ku and Drew Johnson are amazing dancers.