Friday, October 22, 2010
The 163 lb White Guy in the Room
Beijing Review flew me and their French foreign expert Guillaum down to Shanghai the other week for a press conference for the DVD release of Days and Nights in Shanghai. Recall from earlier posts (April and July) that I was in Shanghai on business -- this was the reason.
The DVD covers 24 hours in the Chinese city that never sleeps as a promotional tool for Shanghai and Beijing Review's new initiative into multimedia news coverage and projects.
You can watch a trailer of the project HERE. Try using Firefox if your current browser doesn't work.
The press conference went as expected -- the big bosses of China International Publishing Group took turns talking about the project and saying what a wonderful thing it was for Beijing Review. At least I'm assuming that's what they were saying since my Chinese is bu hao (not good), but I did pick up a few "very good" and "Shanghai this" and "Shanghai that" along with "DVD."
One of the producers had asked me the day of the press conference if I had anything to say to the media, since they'd probably ask me a few questions -- this came after she told me the day before that all I had to do was show up wearing a suit and look professional-- so naturally I had nothing to say. So I thought quickly.
I could take the presidential route and throw out an “Ich bin ein Shanghai-er,” following President John F. Kennedy’s jelly-donut remark in Berlin. Or maybe I’d take a comical route with a loud “Goooooood morning Shanghai, China!” No, too cliché. Ah hell, I thought, I'll just wing it, throw in some "I Heart Shanghai" comments and smile for the cameras.
A large, red veiled display was rolled out and uncovered, ushering applause and flashes from numerous cameras. A few people shook hands. And then it was over. Most of the media filtered out of the room in a hurry.
What just happened, I thought to myself. The French foreign expert who had done the French version of the DVD had the same thought.
I shouldn’t have been that surprised. Having foreign employees at predominantly Chinese events to add a touch of diversity to the affairs is fairly common here. But a few companies go to extremes, hiring foreigners off the street to fill is as "temps" to attend corporate functions or pose as employees or business partners. Said foreigners aren’t required to have any background experience in the company’s industry, they just have to show up for the event, shake hands, maybe give out business cards (with their real or stage names) and smile.
It’s like hiring models for a car show or clowns for a kid’s birthday – sans big goofy shoes but requiring nice white faces. It also apparently pays well -- somewhere around $500 with paid airfare per event-- because foreigners are more than willing to take part in the facade for a day and shake hands with businesspeople from around the world. And, I’m not going to lie, I’ve been keeping my ears open for a few opportunities.
But I was glad to be at the press conference with a legitimate employee with a legitimate company in Beijing.
In the end, I got to do a quick one-minute interview with Shanghai’s English International Channel, which you can watch HERE (it's about 10 minutes or so into the program) so at least I got to make a small contribution to promoting the DVD. Maybe if I improve my Chinese to a level where I can say more than “I’m American” or “Are you sure this isn’t dog meat?” they’ll let me give that speech at the next press conference.
SHANGHAI TV: A woman from Shanghai's English channel ICS interviews me about the project
TEAM SHANGHAI: Chen Ran, producer for the project, myself and Guillaum, the French foreign expert, stand in front of the cutout display of the Days and Nights in Shanghai DVD
Photos property of BEIJING REVIEW