Touchdown in Beijing and I’m Already Famous: How Confidence, Pre-selection and a Camera Can Up Your Game
~ This Just In: Starlight on China Daily TV ~
It has been all of one week since I arrived in Beijing and I’m already famous. Ok, maybe that is a bit of an overstatement, but I’m still reeling from the events of today which culminated in me being filmed for a featurette by China Daily TV!
So for the last 5 days I pulled back from the whirlwind of activity that accompanies four back-to-back Love Systems workshops, each in a different country. I’ve been studying Chinese four hours a day at one of China’s top schools, and getting to know all my new classmates, eating spicy Sichuan food twice a day and generally chilling out.
But the truth is, I was just waiting for the weekend to roll around so I could back out into the sea of people that I love to swim around in. And that is definitely a fitting metaphor for China, where the concept of “personal space” hasn’t exactly taken root yet. Following a couple days of heavy rain, the skies opened up and were crystal clear. Sun shining down on the capital city, and we all headed out to Hou Hai, which is a man made lake in the center of Beijing, surrounded by bars, restaurants and labyrinthine alleyways called Hutongs.
Bounding down narrow alleys in the back of a rickshaw, climbing the bell tower to look out across the city, and taking a boat ride in the lake; it was the perfect release after studying hard all week. Then, as the sun receded behind willow trees and ancient ornamented walls, my mind turned towards girls, beer and adventure.
One of the great things about being a student is the opportunity to leverage The Hub and Spoke Model I wrote about before. Essentially, by cherry picking a good group of guys and girls to go out with, irrespective of whether I’m hitting on any of them, there is built-in social proof and pre-selection. This helps tremendously in reducing approach anxiety and general inspires me to do pull crazy ass stunts to keep things interesting.
So, we’re sitting on the docks of Hou Hai as the twilight wanes, and I notice two people about 30 feet away with a professional looking camera on a tripod. I wander over to investigate. In fact, it is a camera crew for China Daily TV, one of the state-owned media behemoths in this sprawling country. I’m intrigued…and the anchorwoman is cute.
The following takes place in Chinese…or, to be honest, Chinglish:
“Hey, how’s it going? Looking for a good story?”
“Doing good, thanks, you?”
“Yeah, I’m good. Just chilling with a bunch of classmates” …and I wave over to about 20 people lounging by the lake.
“Oh yeah? What are you guys doing?”
“Well, let’s see, we rode rickshaws through the Hutongs and sang ‘Beijing Huanying Nin’ (2008 Olympic theme song) on the lake, and now…”
“Haha, you’re such a tourist”
“Um, I like to think of myself as a traveler, but anyhow…so, you guys breaking a big story here at Hou Hai? I got one for you; Tall white guy leaves the comforts of America to take his chances in the heart of the Middle Kingdom”
“What’s the angle?”
“That I’m awesome, and I’ll do pretty much anything on camera”
…at this point, one of the cuter girls I was hanging out with comes over and pokes me asking if I’m flirting with another girl. The camerawomen, who we’ll call Red Star, asks if it’s my girlfriend. I just roll my eyes and say, “Oh man, here comes 20 questions, at least roll tape” or something like that.
And we banter on for a while, but I made enough of an impression where Red Star agreed to film us. But a little later on. So I get her number and we break off and she gets back to her regularly scheduled programming, while we take a sunset boat ride on the lake.
Then an hour later or so, I ring her let her know we’re back in the area and ask if they’re free. Green light.
So we meet up in front of the main gate to Hou Hai amidst hundreds of Chinese both young and old kicking around what looks like a cross between a hackey sack and a shuttlecock. Red Star and her cameraman get the gear set up and she switches to “work mode” which I find totally hot:
“OK, heres the deal. We’re going to ditch the study abroad bit and talk about the World Cup game tonight. Be enthusiastic, smile a lot and look at the camera”
Fine with me. Here is a little secret. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about. The fact that I’m standing in a highly visible area on a Friday night, getting interviewed by China Daily TV is social proof on steroids.
Lights. Camera. Action! There is a mic in my face, a crowd is gathering and I’m talking in mixed Chinese and English about how much I want Brazil to kick Netherlands ass tonight in the game. Then Red Star invites some of my friends into the shot and we all cheer as if we’re watching the game.
Then things get weird. Here is a vignette on “cultural differences” for you. All Chinese TV stations are owned by the state. And they will not broadcast anything other than very happy, smiling faces, excited to be alive and happy to be in China. So we do 30 seconds of filming where we are just cheering and dancing (with no music playing) and now there is about 100 people gathered around us watching with bemused, albeit stoic, looks on their faces.
Red Star studied in America. She speaks perfect English. And it was cool to see a girl that knows what freedom tastes like, but also knows how to play the Chinese media game to a tee.
We wrap up the shoot by inviting some nearby Jordanian Tae Kwon Do fighters into the shot and we’re all cheering for Brazil. I’m front and center holding the mic. Signing off. Aaaaaand, that’s a wrap.
Literally 10 kids rush up and ask to take pictures with me. I feel famous for about 30 seconds. It’s cool.
Then we all exchange contact details and when Red Star and I have a moment of relative isolation I tell her I’d like to get together again and ask if she would like it if I gave her a call. The answer is yes. We hug and give each other a faux kiss on one cheek. I rejoin my friends and we cruise back into the throngs of people walking alongside Hou Hai to grab a beer and laugh about it all.
“This is Jesse Starlight, signing off from Beijing”
Aside from this being pretty damn fun overall, there a couple key takeaways here. Did you catch them? My confidence and generally unaffected attitude when I approached piqued Red Star’s interest enough to give me the time of day. And even though I wasn’t really trying to hit on the friends I was out with, I’d bet 5-to-1 that the girls in the group just formed a very different impression of me than they had when I was studious Starlight all week long. In the end, maybe I’ll get Red Star and the cute chic that came up to us when we were first talking. But the means to that potential end involves putting myself out there with the very-real chance that I’d crash and burn and embarrass myself at anytime. Yes, that totally happens sometimes. But I really don’t care too much, or think about it for more than a couple minutes when it does happen.
Public Service Announcement: Go out. Do something crazy. Make your unborn grandchildren proud of you decades in advance of their arrival. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Oh yeah, and it’s whack that Brazil lost…
Peace from Beijing,