My Baptism of Fire as a Foreign Performer in China

My Baptism of Fire as a Foreign Performer in China
Feb 23, 2022 By Michael Webster , eChinacities.com

If you’ve worked in China for any time at all, you’ve probably heard the term “white monkey job” — essentially a role for foreigners that requires little more than being foreign. I took it a step further and took on a couple of “dancing white monkey” jobs. Here’s how I got on as a foreign performer in China.

foreign performer in China

My time working as a foreign performer in China started when I spotted an ad at a Western restaurant in Chengdu. “Foreign Performers Wanted: Call Wang.” Having played the guitar and performed for years, I thought I’d give it a go.

I called Wang and arranged to meet her at the same restaurant the following afternoon. She showed up with another foreigner in tow and a TV crew. She said she was being given an award by the TV station and they wanted to film her with her "foreign friends”, of which I was now one. In hindsight, that fact that she had to lure people under false pretenses to appear on TV with her should have been a warning sign.

As it turned out, Wang actually wanted me and some other foreign musicians to assist her in entering a contest. We were not going to get paid for taking part in the contest, but she promised it would open the door to a world of fame and riches. In our little band there was a Mexican guitarist, a Singaporean trumpet player, a Canadian guitarist (me), a Chinese keyboard player and Wang, who sang. Badly.

Wang told us we really needed to wow the judges, so we put together a martial arts dance to accompany our song. The lot of us were twirling and spin-kicking like the love child of Mikhail Baryshnikov and Jacky Chan.

We soon found out, however, that the contest was called “Teenage Singing Dream” and was aimed at young people who wanted to be singers. Pretty much every other act consisted of one person, alone, singing a cappella.

Naturally we looked a bit silly with a five-piece band and a full-blown kung fu show. The judges told us it was the wrong contest for us, but asked if Wang would like to sing a cappella. The look of pain their faces as she did so was excruciatingly delicious. Did I mention she really, really can't sing?

After our humiliating exit from the contest, Wang next employed me on her path to unimaginable fame as one half of a comedy duo. This entailed me memorizing a script in the local Sichuan dialect. Wang had paid 10,000 RMB for this script and assured me it was funny. There were indeed some funny lines, but I became a little jaded when I realized I was required to play the dumb foreigner. The part that bothered me the most was this:

Wife: When we get to my parents' house, make sure you tell them your Chinese name. (To audience) Would you like to hear his Chinese name? (Audience responds in the affirmative.) Tell them the Chinese name I gave you.

Stupid Foreign Husband (Me): My lovely wife gave me a beautiful Chinese name. My Chinese name is, Gua Wa Zi!

Guawazi is Sichuan dialect curse word meaning moron or idiot. Basically, it’s the equivalent of a Chinese person saying, “My friend gave me a great English name. My English name is, asshole!”

When we finally performed the skit, I was extra disheartened when that line got the biggest laugh of the whole show. I played the dumb foreigner once and vowed never to do it again. I told Wang as much and suggested we could come up with a better script on our own. She refused. I quit. She screamed. “You'll never work in this town again,” she said on parting.

As it turned out, I did work in Chengdu again – as a Rollerblading Santa Claus, of all things. I had a reputation for blading around the city, and my friend, who worked at a local 5-star hotel, thought it made perfect sense to have a foreign Santa Claus on wheels as a kind of Christmas attraction. So, I donned the red and white apparel and fake beard, grabbed a sack of presents and glided gracefully across the lobby handing presents to kids. That was the idea, at least.

In the West, Santa is always on his chair while kids line up patiently to sit on his knee. There’s a reason this method is so commonly employed. In Chengdu that day, when the kids saw a white dude on skates with a big bag of presents, they simply couldn’t contain themselves. I was swarmed by throngs of manic children, who ripped at my bag of goodies while their parents yelled at me to make sure their kid got something good.

In the end I had to barricade myself behind some decorations and throw the presents into the teeming mass. But even when I ran out of presents, the assault did not relent. I had to bodycheck my way out of there like I was trying out for the NHL. I made it to the elevator where the manager stood, beaming. He didn't seem to care that I'd just flattened a few kids. Part one was a terrifying success.

Part two entailed me doing the same thing in the main ballroom, but this time, instead of unruly kids, I was faced with inebriated men. Perhaps the only thing more terrifying to a skating Santa Claus. The plan was for me to enter from the back, skate up to the stage, a good 50 meters away, and hand out the presents from there. However, drunk men behave the same as kids, it seems. The moment they saw me, they charged.

I barely made it five meters before I had a pile of 20 bai jiu-sodden bodies stacked on top of me. I somehow managed to stay upright, which on wheels was no easy task, but I was rendered immobile. I stood there helplessly wrestling my bag of presents from these naughty-listers until security rescued me by forming a box and escorting me to the stage. Once I was in position, they created a human wall, from behind which I simply launched presents into the crowd until my bag was empty. Again, the manager was beaming. Apparently watching Santa get ravaged by raging drunken zombies was his idea of yuletide fun.

Call me a glutton for punishment, but even these hair-raising experiences weren’t enough to put me off working as a foreign performer in China. I still pick up singing and guitar gigs on a regular basis.

But I can promised you one thing: you’ll never again see me as Santa on wheels, and I'll never again utter the line, “My Chinese name is asshole.” I dare say my life is a whole lot richer because I did, though.

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Keywords: foreign performer in China

4 Comments

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1

Nikwestside
comment|84283|1655194

That was a good read. And it just goes to show that being a non-Chinese performer in China pretty much makes you a laughing stock in the most racist sense.

Jun 06, 2022 15:06 Report Abuse

2

techerlydia
comment|83420|2175112

great thank u

Apr 01, 2022 02:58 Report Abuse

3

techerlydia
comment|83416|2175112

multi cultural events and perormances are so imortant to diversify the country

Apr 01, 2022 02:56 Report Abuse

f