Thursday, January 20, 2011

Asia's newest TV star...

is me.

I'm joking, of course. Nevertheless--I'd just finished up work on Tuesday when I got a text to come down to the office at AHS from the campus manager, one Ms. Yen (pronounced EEN, as far as my whitey ears can tell.) When I get there, she tells me they have something different for me to do Wednesday, and would I be interested?

Never sign a blank check. I know this. Normally, I don't do it. But one of the promises I made to myself was to be adventurous, to experience as much as I can, to move outside my comfort zone--though not, of course, outside my morality--and try new, even unthinkable, things. So, even though I had no idea what sort of 'something different' was in the offing, I agreed.

Fantastic, Ms. Yen says. She hands me a nametag, the sort all teachers wear at these schools. Apparently, my name is Jovelino...still somewhat confused, I start to ask what exactly is going on, but Ms. Yen cuts me off. She'll email me the details that evening.

When I get the email, it simply tells me to report to the Saigon International University campus at 8:20 Wednesday morning, and that I will be there all day. Oh, be sure to adhere to all Asian High School dress regulations: dark slacks, black shoes, black socks, long-sleeved white dress shirt, red tie.

Getting to SIU is worthy of a post itself, but for now I will content myself by saying this: Lewis and Clarke? John C. Fremont? Livingstone, Burton, Speke, Gordon of Khartoum?

Beginners. They never navigated their way across half of Saigon with malfunctioning GPS, chased by bribe-seeking cops, lost, hungry, alone.

So, hours later, and 300,000VND lighter, I reach SIU. I wait in the office for a while, then am summoned to the front steps where a crowd of people bustle with purpose. They set up rails, cameras, even some outdoor lighting. I blink.

"So handsome," murmurs the cameraman, the director, or possibly a random dude from the street--I have no idea. "Perfect for commercial."

I find myself agreeing without totally understanding, as I do quite often here. Perhaps an exchange of compliments is required? Not that I want the guy to think I'm hitting on him, but... "Thanks. You look good, too."

"Stand here. Talk with student. Act natural." He gestures at the camera equipment.

"Um," I observe trenchantly. "Act natural is an oxymoron." He stares at me. "Seriously. It's like, acting is all about artifice, right? Unnatural. Pretending. So act natural..." He stares some more. "On top of the steps?" He nods, flashes me a toothy grin.

I find myself surrounded by a swarm of fairly attractive coeds in their early twenties. All right, I think. This isn't so bad.

"Talk! Pretend you are teacher, they your student," the cameraman yells.

"I am a teach--never mind," I say. "Hey, ladies..." The girls whisper. I try to engage them in conversation. No luck, they understand me. Really. I'm certain of it.

" all go to school here?" Nothing. "Are you all from Saigon?" Silence. "I'm from California." I keep trying as the cameras roll. The same students walk up the stairs over and over, every few minutes for an hour. Each time, we wave. At first, we pretend to be friends, but by the end, I swear they know me on a deeply personal level, and care about my well-being.

The girls still don't really talk, so I fill the silences. Shooting stops. The director grins, and waves me back inside. Finally, one girl steps forward. "We want to ask you question," she says, with many nervous glances back at her friends. Her English is fairly good.

"Sure," I say. At last: interaction.

"Do you know you spill coffee on your shirt?"

The rest of the day improves upon this moment. I had, in fact, spilled coffee on my shirt (I don't think Marco Polo ever had to deal with the hazards of drinking ca phe sue daa while riding a motorbike on the gritty, crowded, potholed Ha Noi Highway) but only a couple drops, hidden behind my tie. Over the next five hours, I play a chemistry teacher, a progammer, a computer-repair instructor, a wise teacher pontificating in the library, a dynamically-striding young professor surrounded by a coterie of eager young minds breathlessly waiting for me to impart wisdom. I also get more and more bored, and begin inventing backstories for the various roles I'm asked to play.

"Now you are in big meeting with other teachers," the director's assistant says.

"Mmhhm. What's my motivation in this scene?"

"Excuse me? I do not understand."

"Because I was thinking that I could be a Young Turk, hell-bent on remaking the department...or destroying it. Like, my young wife is pregnant, but I'm so driven by The Truth that the potential consequences of alienating the rest of the faculty don't really affect my crusading nature. Or maybe I'm not married, and having a torrid affair with one of the female professors, and that sexual tension underlies this scene--"

"You play teacher in big meeting with other teachers."

"But wait, what about--"

...I ended up playing a teacher in a big meeting with other teachers.

When these commercials air, I will get copies of them; I want to see if the dramatic complexity with which I tried to imbue each character, each scene, shows up. But really, I just want to make sure that damn coffee stain does not.

1 comment:

  1. Hahaha. Awesome. These posts are great...looking forward to hearing more about your trip. I did a commercial for a local school here at home once and I also was not impressed by my character. If you're on a high school set, you think ANGST not "interested in science class." :) Sorry I haven't chimed in yet on your journey, but I think it's awesome you're embarking on an adventure and I'm glad you'll be back for the reunion.

    - Kira