Hello from China!
After a long radio silence over the summer, I’m back. I can’t use some of the tools I would normally use for these articles, so it might look a little different, but the words will still be the same! I won’t be able to send out my normal emails, either, so you’ll either have to check Instagram or the Dashing Galoot homepage for updates. And no, the cover photo does not have anything to do with the article, except that I took it. I’ll try for cooler photos in the future.
Anyways, back to the good stuff!
Before I came here, people would usually say one of three things when I told them I was going to China:
- “Why do you want to go there?” (To quote one person: Was it your only option?)
- “Wow! It is going to change you so much!” (Implied: “And huzzah! You’ll be out of my hair for 6 months!”)
- “You’re really going to stand out! I bet people will ask you to take pictures with them!”
Oddly enough, people here still ask me the first one. One person actually said he thought Americans disliked other countries, especially China, so much that he doesn’t understand why I came here. I usually say I came to learn Chinese better, and they pretend to be really impressed at the three sentences I can say. Then they start rattling off Chinese and my eyes widen and they laugh and switch back to English.
It turns out Chinese people are externally very modest and very polite. One thing that stands out is that nearly every car on the streets seems to be 5 years old or newer. Also, there seems to be 3 or 4 massive construction projects within eyesight of my dorm. The city of Zhuhai seems to be doing very well, but Chinese people are too modest. They always say, “You must think we are very poor coming to Zhuhai.”
A few days ago, I went to a group interview to join a club. The club had several branches, but I didn’t really comprehend everything because the emails and group chats were in Chinese, so I had to use the translator feature to figure out when and where I had to be places. Usually it worked well, but not always.
Long story short, I showed up to the interview and there were a few other students there, all Chinese. The leaders explained what was going on in Mandarin. I was a little bit lost, but in those situations I just smile and nod and take educated guesses at what they’re saying. Clearly my smile was more of a dazed grin, since another interviewee offered to explain things to me. We got through the interview – I thought it would be about public relations, but it seemed more about interviewing families who might need money – and they thanked us for coming.
Afterwards, they had some questions about my application form, and wondered if I really wanted to join this club. “Aren’t you only here for one semester?” I reassured them it was ok. They said, “If you change your mind, you can just ignore the follow-up email.” I laughed, but I was a little confused now.
Later, I asked a friend in the club about it. “It seemed like maybe they didn’t really want me to join,” I said. She replied that she didn’t think interviews had even started yet. I showed her the email.
“Oh no!” she said. I had gone to an interview for the wrong branch of the club. Apparently, the branch I interviewed for visited families’ homes to determine who could best use money to support their children’s education. Since my Chinese isn’t conversational, I would have just been a grinning bobblehead for them. I couldn’t have helped at all talking to the families. But they were too polite to tell me during the half hour interview that anything was wrong.
So, Chinese people are very modest and very polite. Also, they might not want to take photos with the tall white guy, but they definitely want to take videos with the foreigners.
About a week ago, my roommate “Freezing” (his Chinese name is 严寒, which, according to Google, means “severe cold”) told me there was a guy who wanted to take a video with me. Of course, I said yes.
We added each other on WeChat and set up a time to film. He said I should wear something “sporty.”
At this point, my curiosity stepped in. The video was for TikTok, except in China it’s not TikTok, it’s Douyin (抖音). There aren’t many differences, except the censorship is a little stricter. Apparently, when guys put up shirtless pics or videos, they have to scribble over their nipples or else they get banned in five minutes.
Anyways, I didn’t have the app, but Freezing was happy to download it and check out my new friend Hubert’s work. We immediately noticed his follower count: nearly 10K. We scrolled through a few videos; it was mostly unsynchronized dancing with other guys and some photo compilations. How was he so popular?
We checked the comments, and the secret came out. Over half the comments were “帅哥” or something similar. This, if you are not fluent in Mandarin, means “handsome guy.” Now we knew why he had so many followers.
Just to be sure, we checked the profiles of a few of the commenters. One after another, they said 男，男，男。That is, male.
No matter! I headed down to the dorm lobby to meet Hubert.
There he was, trendy hairstyle and all, holding a tripod in one hand and his phone in the other. “Where are we filming?” I asked.
He said he preferred somewhere without a lot of people. That made sense. We strolled around our campus until we reached the front of an empty dorm building. Hubert set up the tripod and pulled up Douyin on his phone.
“So… are we dancing?” I asked.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s just look at some dances we could do. Are you a good dancer?”
I shook my head and laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m not good either,” he said. Hubert scrolled through dance videos, pausing for a few seconds before swiping to a new one.
“What about that one?” I said.
“No, too hard.”
It didn’t seem very hard to me. Just a few steps and a kick… but what did I know? I didn’t have 10,000 followers.
Hubert pointed one out. “This one is very popular right now, do you think you could do it?”
“Probably, with a little practice.”
After a bit of practicing, it was time to film. Hubert whipped out a couple pairs of shades. I couldn’t say no, even though it was 8pm. As you know, when in Rome, wear sunglasses; when in China, wear a toga. Or something like that. I left my toga in the US, though.
Anyways, it took about 8 takes and the one Hubert eventually used cut me halfway out of the frame, but honestly I though it would take longer.
There it is. The final project. I won’t speak for my friend, but my dancing in this clip is definitely subpar. As in, how close to par you would get if you used a sub sandwich. Or a submarine. Or a subatomic particle. Or just think of how un-good those metaphors were – my dancing was worse.
I don’t even know what I’m doing. Am I a toddler attacked by mosquitoes? A bird from the Zhuhai forests performing some twisted mating call? Someone who realized too late he ordered the extra spicy noodles? Who knows.
Which is why it’s weird what happened after.
Only an hour later, Hubert messaged me with the video. It hadn’t taken long to edit and post. But within another hour, the video had 1000 likes. Soon it hit 2000, and then 3000. Later, Hubert showed me that the video had hit over 100,000 views. 0.00708% of the Chinese population had seen my dancing! More than the population of Aruba!
This is what it takes to become a celebrity nowadays? My roommate wanted to sell my WeChat to thirsty commenters for 5¥ a pop, but I said no. I’m trying to keep a low profile here, you know.
Only one person has said they recognize me from the video. The rest are too shy to say anything, I guess, but I’ll keep you posted.
I’ll be headed to Shanghai and Fuzhou in a couple of days, so that might lead to some more good stories. Stay dashing and feel free to drop by if you’re in China!