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Mr. White American Man

Posted by on May 12, 2012

Greetings! I have an exciting article today featuring parades, modeling, and being on stage. But first, I want to let you all know that my book/eBook project, New Plateaus in China, was accepted and now featured on the website, Kickstarter!

Kickstarter is a platform for previewing your project to others and receiving the funds to help see it come to life. Writing the book is half the battle. The other is getting it formatted, edited, and published. Check out the project video here: Book project It will open up in a new window.

And now let’s get to this week’s article.

Being in China was more than just about my eyes on them. Sometimes it went the other way around.

Like anybody who is not Chinese, I stuck out. And more than that, I was a white American. This seemed to mean something special to them. It’s not that they aren’t aware that many countries have white people, but they never asked upon seeing me if I was German, Russian, or English. They asked, “Are you American?” And it’s not that they don’t love non-White Americans like Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan, but it seemed that the stereotype, the symbol for them, was the White American, representing the wealth, glamour, expression, and power that they saw in the US.

As a result, throughout my year I was asked to take part in a photo shoot for my school; I was asked to walk in a city parade; I was asked to emcee a Chinese New Year’s celebration. It was one of those things: neat to be recognized and awesome to participate, but acknowledgement that it was all superficial. (Besides willingness and outgoingness, I didn’t earn the attention.)

Cause hey, it’s just a good idea to have a white guy on your English school’s brochures, right?

My school took me and another American girl–a down-home looking young woman from Kansas named Katherine–to a nearby artist’s home studio. Along with us were the child models, three girls and a boy of various ages.

Wearing the school t-shirts and all made up, the kids took to the camera first:

little star

And another girl:

reaching for the stars

The term “Pageant Mom” came to mind while I was there as moms made up their daughters and watched eagerly behind the cameraman. I think the One-Child policy in China helps exaggerate this.

When the kids were done, group shots began. First Katherine and I gave it our team-spirit best, playing the part of excited-to-teach cool teachers:

A couple happy, strong teachers

After that, the kids joined in with us. It was big smiles all around. “Oh, what fun it is to learn at our school!” our faces said. It’s acting, really. So I harnessed the energy from my days on stage at Blackduck High School:

I never actually did this while I taught.

Happy English-learning family

To my surprise, these ads also showed up in larger fashion:

How about some footage of shoot? Check it out:

Out of the studio and into Chinese regalia, I mustered up more acting chops to summon the spirit of Chinese royalty. For the Lantern Festival parade, celebrated on the last day of the Chinese New Year, my school and its international teachers were asked to walk.

A group of us teachers came out on the cool, late-February day. It was drizzly, too–not the best weather. But the show must go on. The parade route spanned the main highway linking north and south Zhuhai. The paraders featured uniformed dancers, uniformed drum ensembles, fun additions like people in cartoon character costumes, some roller-skating high schoolers come to memory, and a group of 10-11-year-olds dressed up in sleek, chicken costumes who did some bird dance when paused in front of city leadership.

It was big deal.

This was further indicated by the hoards of onlookers lining the route.

Us teachers wore classic Chinese clothing while others had on American garb. John, a mustached 65-year-old teacher from upstate New York pulled off a nice cowboy look, a look that never seemed more obvious than while worn in China.

We were given items to hand out to the crowd–coupons and pamphlets. Thankfully one teacher had the sense to bring along a bag of candy that he shared with the rest of us.

The candy went fast, though so did the coupons, because people were so eager to have us come near them and take what we offered. They seemed slightly enchanted by the few Whites in the parade–perhaps Whites who wore cowboy gear; perhaps Whites who wore their gear; perhaps both. I can speak for myself and say that children–not surprisingly–were excited to have me come by and say hello. The mothers–kind of surprising–were also eager to shake our hands. What really stuck with me, though, was how the many men reacted to me coming by–grown men with lit up faces when I simply looked at them and waved.

With the rest of the parade impressing the audience and putting on a show for them to cheer and celebrate, it had me feeling a bit larger than life.

You can tell by my expression in this pic:

'I love you all.' Check out Cowboy John back there.

And was validated by its appearance in the Zhuhai Daily the next Sunday:

Lastly, we go on stage for the biggest event of all–Chinese New Year. My school held their own celebration for the Western and Chinese New Year dates. As such, they had in attendance their Chinese staff as well as English-speaking teachers. With family and friends along, the audience must have been 200 strong. And with the language mix, they were in need of two emcees. I got to be the English host.

I prepared my notes–welcoming the crowd, introducing performers, announcing winners of awards. Meanwhile, my school prepared me in another Chinese costume–a kick-butt jacket that fit like a glove.

The event, which took place at an old theater, was done right. The audience was eager, the stage was lit, the ambiance perfect. Now the hosts just needed to knock it out of the park. To bad we couldn’t communicate–me not knowing Chinese and him, English. Then again, maybe that made for better entertainment.

Here’s some footage of it:

I think China’s admiration for the West is partly due to their homogeneity and isolationism–more so in past years. But it’s also just genuine appreciation for Western art and people.

For me it was a bonus to be able to see this aspect of China, and of Chinese culture in general, from the vantage point of me being the one examined. The insights into life there were great already, and enhanced more so by these and other opportunities in the spotlight that I wan’t able to squeeze into this post.

So as I say each week, these other experiences, as well as more on the above ones, will be featured in my upcoming book, New Plateaus in China.

What I haven’t said in previous weeks, though, was that this project is now launched on the website, Kickstarter. Click here to go to the site and to see the book overview and video preview. And if you’re willing, you can help out and become a part of the project by chipping in. There are some great rewards (like the a copy of the book) for donating.

I hope you can check it out. I hope you get the chance to read the book.

Most of all, though, I hope you have one awesome week.

-Brandon

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