Branching Out For Better Stories: My B-List Celebrity Experience by Laura Grace Tarpley

When I opened the text message asking if I wanted to be in a video about Bao’an District in Shenzhen, I was hesitant.

“The video is about a Western girl who rides her bike around Bao’an,” Jason, the SDE employee, explained in his message. I assumed the “Western girl” was the role they wanted me to play, which put me in a bit of a pickle, because, well…I couldn’t remember how ride a bike.

That’s right. I, a 24-year-old, college-educated woman, didn’t know how to ride a bicycle! I definitely learned as a kid, but my parents sold my bike when I was ten and I never kept up with it. When I tried to ride a bike again years later, I realized I had forgotten how and was really bad at it!

After Jason verified that I would get paid, however, I determined that I could fake riding a bike for money. If Ryan Gosling learned to play piano in only 3 months to star in La La Land, I could pedal a bike for a short video and earn some cash. But little did I know there were other challenges during those two days of filming that ended up being further outside my comfort zone than just riding a bike.

IMG_3905Riding through the alley ways

The film was a promotional video for the Bao’an district that will be publicized all around China. In the video, I am featured riding a bicycle around popular spots in the area. I walk from my parked bike to the camera repeatedly, as the background changes to various familiar spots in Bao’an. Sometimes, a drone captured the video while hovering above me, while other times, viewers could “see” the district from my point of view. In order for people to see the scene from my perspective, I had to wear a bulky, white helmet with a large camera perched on top of it. Thankfully, I had grown accustomed to the stares of Chinese people during the four months I’d lived in Shenzhen. If a foreigner attracts attention by simply walking down the street, imagine what happens when she walks down the street looking like a futuristic Mad Hatter and re-learning to ride a bike for the first time, all while being followed around by a film crew.

IMG_3921Posing with students!

Sporting my new-fangled hat, I explored Bao’an, led by the camera crew. All of them worked for either SDE or the Shenzhen government, so they knew exactly where to go. We were given permission to go into Bao’an Stadium, a sports complex I had always wanted to enter but had only peeked at through the security bars from outside. I rode my bike (slowly) around the empty stadium and felt as though I were on a real movie set.

The second day of shooting, we went back to the stadium and a fellow American, Derek, was giving golf lessons. He agreed to give me a quick lesson on camera to be used as footage. I had to undergo my first golf lesson on camera for a video that would be shown all around China. And I had to do it with that thing on my head. Would you believe me if I told you I hit the ball on my first try? And that it went straight? Maybe I do have a knack for this sports thing!

woohoo‘Secretly’ joined a group dance sesh (Success!)

In every park in Shenzhen, there is at least one group of ladies dancing to music from a boom box. I’d always secretly wanted to join in on these group dance classes but never mustered the courage. I was forced to give it a try when the camera crew coaxed me to join a group while we were filming in Bao’an Park. Originally, they wanted me to participate in a sexy dance being choreographed to R&B music, but that was a bit much for me. We agreed to film me dancing to more traditional music with about ten older women. Of course, my bulky helmet was on my head the entire time.

When I decided to move to China last October, I knew I would step outside my comfort zone on a daily basis. Sometimes, I shy out of it. I speak to someone in simple English rather than attempting Chinese. I frequent the same five restaurants on rotation (one of which is McDonald’s). I go straight home after work instead of participating in one of the school-sponsored clubs. Invariably, though, better stories result from taking the risk to branch out.

When I attend the Monday afternoon Tai Chi club or wander into a funky restaurant, I have an adventure and, more often than not, a good laugh. In those moments, I truly encounter a more authentic China. My stint as a B-list celebrity (or maybe C-list, honestly) forced me to try numerous new activities with locals. As a result, I not only saw the best of Bao’an District, but experienced the best, as well.

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