Monkey see, monkey do…

This is a rant. You’vebeen warned!

The TV crew were in touch again last week; they wanted to film me at my bagua needles class. I said sure, as long as Master Sun agrees. There wasn’t much problem there, as they’ve already been filming Dragoncache and others training with him. So, all cool there.

Yesterday morning, they were in touch again. It was heavily overcast, and they were afraid it was going to rain – so, could we move the lesson forward to 2pm? OK, I said, as long as Master Sun is OK with this. They called back a bit later – sure, all fine.

So, I arrived just before 2, and find the TV crew sitting in their car outside the apartment block. We go up to Master Sun’s apartment, I ring the doorbell… and start getting a very bad feeling… Plainly, no-one is expecting us. Master Sun, his family, and two of his Chinese students are there… the students speak good English, and say of course we couldn’t move the lesson – Mi Lao Shi is still on her way and won’t be here till 3… Of course, at this point I felt terribly embarrassed. Turning up unannounced with a TV crew behind me is not how I like to approach my teachers! Very clearly, nothing had been agreed. I’m increasingly feeling that the director simply lied to me about that. So, at this point, I said very sorry, I’ll be back at 3, left and went outside to train on my own for the next hour. The TV crew emerged very shortly afterwards but, frankly, I didn’t want to talk to them, and they kept their distance.

At 3, Mi Lao Shi arrived, Master Sun and his other students came out, and we got started. The previous hour of practice had helped a lot, so I was pretty warmed up and able to give the lesson my best – which isn’t very good at all! The cameras brought out lots of gawkers, even though they must have all seen me many times before; it’s funny what a media presence does to people! Anyway, so there was quite a crowd. Master Sun and Mi Lao Shi gave me lots of correction on fine details, which will make me look even more clueless on the film, but which was very very useful all the same!

I had a quick chat with Mi Lao Shi afterwards; I wanted to take a break for the summer. I’m not paid when I’m not teaching, so (at that point) it looked like I would be without any income until the end of October. More on that in a later post.

Anyway, at this point things really went off the rails. The whole point of my involvement in this TV thing is that they wanted to profile foreigners in China who are studying martial arts. No problem. I agreed to this, and said that it was fine to follow my life. However, let me be clear that I’m not being paid for my involvement in this. From this point onwards, it became clear that the TV crew had an agenda, and they didn’t want to just film a documentary; they have a narrative they want to tell, and Dragoncache and I are going to be fitted into it,whether we like it or not.

So… after the class I planned to go to the Bookworm, where Dragoncache and I normally meet up. The director had other ideas. She wanted to take me to a martial arts shop. Well, the penny hadn’t yet dropped, and it sounded interesting, so I called Dragoncache, we agreed to see what happened and stay in touch, and so the crew and I went off in two cars. It turned out that we were going to Tiyu Daxue, the Sports University…

We arrived in the wrong place. My car did at least… We came to a martial arts equipment store that I already knew – it’s the same one that my other teacher, Sun Ru Xian, recommended to me, and where I’ve already bought a few things. The cameraman went in to see if this was where he was meant to be going… it wasn’t;he called the director, who was in the other car, and found out we were going to another shop, in the next street. However – the owner came out, and recognized me. Now, once again, I felt really bad. Perhaps I’m taking this too seriously, but because I’ve been given discounts there as a student of Sun Ru Xian, I felt very awkward that the cameras had gone in, turned around, and walked out again – so I insisted we go in and film. And, as it happens, they have some very cool, very high quality – and thus very expensive – weapons there. While we were doing this impromptu filming, Daroncache and his wife arrived, as did the director and the rest of the crew.

We were there for quite some time; the owner gave some kungfu spear demos, and got interviewed. After that, we all left. Dragoncache and I were both really hungry, but we were told that we still had to go to the original shop… “because it was cheaper”…. I have no idea why. We went there, milled around, didn’t do anything structured… and there really wasn’t anything interesting there… The quality of the equipment was much lower. Dragoncache thought it was because they wanted to film us haggling over a purchase, but neither of us wanted to buy anything…

Phew. Finally, we got to eat. They took us to a Shanxi restaurant, and I have to say, the food was good. The crew paid, so at least I’ve got a free meal out of all this… at the expense of any remaining dignity. At one point, someone said something to the effect of “look, they can use chopsticks”, so they insisted we be filmed picking up peas and eating them… Yes, guys, hairy foreign devils can be taught how to use chopsticks, get over it, it’s not a big deal any more….

At this point, Dragoncache and I just lost interest in the whole affair. We made our excuses and got out as soon as possible! His wife and another student took a cab downtown; we headed off to Wudaokou, and finally got to catch up! It’s been a while since we last met, and we had a fair bit to chat about… I’ll talk about that another time, though.

So… on the whole, I don’t think the TV crew are bad, as such. They’re just… media people 😀 It’s been an interesting experience. It may even have another chapter… When they filmed me on campus, they said it was just backup because the weather was poor – but yesterday, they said they may not have time to film ‘for real’… but maybe they’ll come back next Friday, we’ll see. It’s pretty clear now, though, that this programme, if it gets aired, will be basically fiction as far as I’m concerned – goodness only knows what they’ll do with the editing 😦

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