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That Day I Was Treated Like a Celebrity


I'm a 'foreign consultant' here in China which pretty much translates to a glorified English teacher. But one of my responsibilities is traveling with my company to recruit students to join our flight attendant training program. About a week ago, I had the experience of going on my first recruiting trip for the company that I work for. Here is the story....

Translation: You won't be abel to see your dear New Yorker today, study hard!
Everything started off normally. I was traveling with my 
supervisor, Maggie, and an intern that Alexis (the other American in my office) and I named Christy because she just looked like a Christy. A van arrived outside our office around 8:00am to take us, I was told, an hour north of the city to a district (county) called Hechuan. The first bump in road came about half an hour into our journey while we were still in the city proper. Traffic.

Our driver having a smoke during the traffic jam
Now, we're talking about China here people so if you're thinking, oh I've sat in frustrating traffic before, Jared. I know exactly how horrible that is. Stop. Just stop. You think bumper to bumper molasses crawl on a road is traffic? Try literally four hours of not moving. At the beginning of the trip I was having a great time just looking out the window and seeing the city go by. When we came to a stop, that activity quickly died. But I didn't realize anything was wrong until our driver decided he was going to 'go for a walk' and just left the car running in the middle of the road. So I decide to nap, when I wake up almost TWO HOURS LATER we still haven't moved and our driver is enjoying a cigarette outside. At this time I panic just a little and envision myself emerging from this van/jail with a cast-away-like beard and squinting at the first daylight I've seen in days. But I tend to overreact and after about another hour, things finally start to move. Let me tell you, after sitting there for that long, the jogging pace that our car reached felt like we were flying. Then there were other small adventures during the car ride.

For example, the scenery. The countryside around us is so insanely green. There are mountains everywhere and small farms in between what look like normal neighborhoods. Rural China (if I can say I've seen that) really is as beautiful as the pictures. Unfortunately it's hard to capture it in a short video taken on an iPhone.

And then there's the radio. Easily the most bizarre mix of Chinese pop and American music I've ever heard. There was everything from Joni Mitchell to Michael Jackson with traditional Chinese music in between. It's like the DJ had a split personality between an old Chinese man and a young American girl. 
Next, because we were traveling for so long, we arrived in the late afternoon instead of morning and decided we needed lunch. These people dropped ¥800 on lunch. Considering that I spend about ¥15 on dinner and I'm stuffed afterward, this was a little excessive. But I wasn't complaining since I didn't pay for it myself. 
Finally we get to the school and I find out that we're set up in a sort of job fair at a vocational college. We're pretty late and everything is already underway, but we find our booth and begin hanging signage and putting out stacks of information. At this time, a few girls have gathered about fifteen feet in front of our both, all nonchalantly staring, waiting for us to set up so they can find out what's going on. We finish setting up our table, with help from some volunteers from the school. By now there are a few groups of four or five people, mostly girls, standing in front of our booth. I think nothing of it, after all, we do recruit flight attendants and the vast majority of them are female. The crowd is growing but no one seems willing to actually approach us. Instead, they stand in small circles, looking over their shoulders and making me feel pretty uncomfortable. The other tables have consistent participants, but we've just got something of a hesitant crowd now. Maggie starts taking selfies and Christy is not really paying attention, instead she's on her phone. I'm watching the crowd. There's one girl, probably my age, standing in the closest group. She keeps looking over but not really speaking to the rest of the girls she's with. They all look like a herd of timid deer or something so I decide to take out the weak one.  I call out in Chinese "Why don't  you come over here and we can have a talk?"
Biggest mistake I could have made. As if those dozen words were a rock I threw at that hornet's nest of a crowd, they literally began to swarm. "Did you hear that?" "He speaks Chinese!?" "What did he say?" "I can't believe it!" "I'm going to ask him something..." I turn to Maggie, "What did I do?" She just rolls her eyes, "You opened your mouth". Then they start coming up one by one. This is what I meant when I talked about being The Great White Whale in my last post. In the United States I was just some random guy, but here I'm apparently fascinating. Our 'recruiting' trip quickly dissolved into the most bizarre experience of my life. I had so many people coming up to me asking to take pictures. First they wanted group shots. We posed at least half a dozen times with different groups of people and took countless numbers of pictures. I can only guess as to what happened with those pictures, but I'm waiting for them to resurface somewhere and haunt me forever. Once they were done with the pictures, I had a guy approach me and ask me if I would write my name on a piece of paper for him. I assumed he couldn't understand my English name (most people think it's Jerry), so I literally spelled it out for him. But when he looked at it, he didn't seem pleased. He spoke to Maggie briefly who explained that he wanted my signature. 
You'd think I learned my lesson and would have politely declined, but no. Soon, I was stuck there signing everything from their resumes to their hands. The entire time I kept thinking, these people really don't understand how UNfamous I am. They don't understand that back home no one would care if I showed up to a job fair, no matter how well dressed I might be. But I guess this is China and it's just something you get used to as a foreigner? Also, being in a small town in the southwest of China rather than a big city explains a lot. There are plenty of foreigners in Beijing and Shanghai, even in central Chongqing, but not in the more rural areas. One girl told me I was the first person she'd ever seen who looked like someone on TV. 
So family and friends, lesson learned. If you give something to someone, you have to give it to everyone. And in China, that means you've got to give A LOT. Next time I'll just keep my head down and pretend I don't understand anything that anyone is saying. To my credit, once I was done with the awkward pictures thing, I used my apparent charm to get some decent recruits for our company. I realized that I could use what I didn't know I had and I practically forced girls to sign up for our program by telling them to sit down and show us their resume. I think this made up for the time we wasted posing for pictures, but to be honest, Maggie and Christy really didn't seem to mind the attention either.



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