Stuff I Really Kind of Like About My Life in China: Being a Minor Celebrity

December 28, 2011

I always thought I would make a good celebrity.

I’m all about people fawning all over me in public and telling me I’m pretty.

I can sign a mean autograph.

And, while I’ve never personally experienced the lap of luxury, I’m pretty sure I’d be a natural at sitting in it.

Despite my obvious calling, I have yet to get my big break. Probably because you actually need ambition or visible ankles to make it in the entertainment world these days.

Sadly, I have neither.

I did have one brief brush with fame while I was working as an intern at Saturday Night Live during my junior year of college. One of the perks of being an intern there, aside from finding out what famous people like Kevin Spacey eat for lunch (Chinese chicken salad, by the way), was that you got to be an extra on the show once during your internship.

I had high hopes for my brief stint on the small screen. Maybe this was finally it – my chance to be discovered!

When I showed up on set for the rehearsal of the scene I was in, the person directing the extras pointed at me and said, “You, behind the door.”

I stared dumbstruck at the man.


Behind the what-what?

Surely they weren’t going to hide this light behind that bushel!

After the initial shock wore off, I scurried off to take my place behind the door.

Because, as they say, opportunity only knocks once. And, heck, if opportunity is going to come around knocking, you might as well be standing behind a door. You know, so you can open the door really quickly and trap opportunity before it runs away.

Given the fact that my big chance at American fame was spent standing behind a large piece of plywood, it’s no wonder that I enjoy being treated like a minor celebrity here in China.

Sure, it can be annoying having people stare at you all the time, but, for the most part, I really don’t mind being the center of attention.

In fact, I kind of like it.

Besides, Fate owes me one. I mean, aren’t we all supposed to get fifteen minutes of fame? Surely, fifteen minutes behind a door doesn’t count.

My favorite part about being a minor celebrity in Asia is being asked to do fun, minor celebrity-type things – things I would never get asked to do in the States.

In Japan, I marched in parades and made an appearance on a local game show. I even had a brief stint as a brochure model.

Very blurry photo from my brochure modeling days.

Let’s just say, stuff like that doesn’t really happen to me in the States. Because, apparently, in the States, models are expected to have ankles.

Then last week, opportunity knocked again.

Or called. Because, really, who knocks on doors anymore?

On Friday, a colleague of mine called to ask me if I wanted to be in a film with her. She said that she had been approached by a guy in a bar claiming to be a film producer. He said he was looking for two foreign women to be in a movie that was being filmed in the area, and he wanted to know if she and a friend could do it.

Okay, so, you know, now that I wrote that all out, I do have to admit that the situation totally sounds major sketchy.

But any amount of healthy skepticism I should really have about this sort of thing is instantly drowned out by the voice in my head that shouts, “Movie? I want to be in a movie!”

Luckily, the film ended up being legit.

Well, as legit as things can get in China.

My friend and I were picked up in a van along with a German guy and an Australian girl who had also been asked to be in the movie. We arrived on set to find lots of old-timey buildings (and you know how I love me some old timey buildings!). There were tons of Chinese people milling around in old timey costumes and even an old timey car. And, then there was the director who chain-smoked and barked orders at his staff.

It was all very Hollywood. Well, the B-movie version of Hollywood where the sets all look like this:

As we all piled out of the van, the guy who claimed to be a producer, pointed at my friend, the German guy and the Australian girl and said, “You, you, you, action.”

Then, he pointed at me. “You, no action.”

Umm, what the what-what?


No action?

Didn’t this guy know who I was?

I was practically Japan’s Next Top Brochure Model!

If anyone was cut out for a life of Chinese celebrity, it was totally me!

My friend and her new acting buddies were ushered off to the costume truck, where they were decked out in their own old-timey costumes, while I milled around the set waiting to see if I would eventually be called into the action.

Maybe they just wanted to give me some time to get into character.

Or maybe they were looking for a super awesome old timey costume for me. Or at least one that would fit.

Or maybe they had recognized me from my work from behind the door while on Saturday Night Live, and they knew an actress of my caliber was meant for better things than a measly role as an extra. It’s possible their scriptwriters were hurriedly writing up a whole new character just for me.

So while I milled around and waited for opportunity to knock on my door (or at least tap me on the shoulder or something), I took lots of pictures of the old-timey buildings.

And of the director and his crew.

And of the extras doing their extra thang.

And of the old timey car.

And of a random goat that just happened to be around. Because every movie set should really have a goat.

I also struck up a conversation with a cute, French actor who had a speaking role in the film. He seemed confused as to why I was wandering around the set for no apparent reason. I’d like to think his confusion lent me a certain je ne sais quoi.

Unfortunately, for the three hours that I spent on the set, I never did get my chance to be on film.

But I haven’t given up all hope that I may get my big break in China one day.

After all, I did give the producer my phone number.

You know, just in case opportunity wants to send me a text message sometime.

Have you ever been almost famous? Tell me about it. And then send me your autograph.

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On December 28, 2011 at 1:13 pm Bybee said:

    Oh, Unbrave Girl, I love your writing. If it were up to me, you’d be so famous, you’d have a big ugly callus on your writing hand from signing so many autographs.
    Bybee recently posted..The DNF Files: Three Generations – Yom Sang-seop

  2. On December 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm MaryAnne said:

    I’m sure at some point I must have had at least one brush with fame but I can’t for the life of me think of any examples. Dang it. Let me get back to you on this one…

    PS Loving the blog redesign. It really is inspiring!
    MaryAnne recently posted..Nothing to See Here; Kindly Move Along

    • On December 29, 2011 at 4:26 am Sally said:

      Umm, didn’t you say you got recognized by one of your blog readers at the grocery store or something? That’s famous! I have yet to be recognized in public by a blog reader. I should start wearing a cape so I look more like my logo.

  3. On December 28, 2011 at 2:52 pm Alexandra said:

    Agreeing with Maryanne! Loving the new design! Your writing is so nice to read I didn’t even skim it, I was so interested to see whether the story ended in fame or not!? You are pretty famous in the China/travel blogging world though so for sure no worries 🙂
    Alexandra recently posted..A Very Chinese Christmas

    • On December 29, 2011 at 4:25 am Sally said:

      Aww, shucks, I wouldn’t say I’m famous in the China/travel blogging world… but I’m happy with you saying it! 🙂
      And glad to hear you like the new design. I’m pretty smitten with it myself.

  4. On December 28, 2011 at 6:24 pm Steve said:

    My biggest brushes with fame are leaving comments on Unbrave Girl posts. Maybe I should aspire to being a behind the door actor.
    Obviously they are saving your skills for something bigger. Hollywood will come looking for you soon, and not just because you haven’t delivered the lunch yet.
    Steve recently posted..Best of 2011 – Biggest Disappointment

    • On December 29, 2011 at 4:23 am Sally said:

      Behind the Door Acting is the new Method Acting, dontcha know? I can see it now. I’ll be on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” and James Lipton will ask me where I got my start and I’ll say, “Behind the door.” *Cue applause.*

  5. On December 28, 2011 at 7:00 pm Roy | The Riding Dutchman said:

    Awesome story! And those set pictures omg!
    Roy | The Riding Dutchman recently posted..How to Lose your iPhone in Antwerp

  6. On December 28, 2011 at 7:06 pm Maria said:

    Proof! If you’re open to things as they arrive you’ll have a more tasty experience. Nothing bland for the unbrave! Kudos.
    Maria recently posted..When a Stranger Calls

    • On December 29, 2011 at 4:20 am Sally said:

      Yes, I find myself signing up for lots of new things just for the experience. Iwas actually thinking I wouldn’t even do it as I was enjoying a quiet day at home in my new bathrobe (ahhh, kitteny bathrobe!) but I figured, “Hey, it should at least make for a good blog post.” And did it ever…

  7. On December 28, 2011 at 8:34 pm Rease said:

    hahaha aw you really do get shafted all the time! Sorry you didn´t get to be in the film. You should just go to a film school, people always need extras there! I have been in several student films, mostly just because I am ethnically ambiguous and fit nicely into whatever ethnicity they want me to be!
    Rease recently posted..The Whitelaw Hotel: Affordable Art-Deco Miami Hotel

  8. On December 29, 2011 at 1:39 am Katherina said:

    this is certainly embarassig: when I was about 14 I got on to he local radio station with my best friend claiming we had a new music band. we sang. not very good. but had a few own songs. I thouht nobody had heard it – but turns out everyone did. Somehow even the boy I liked then did too – I was famous! (for 15 minutes)
    Katherina recently posted..A Very Merry Christmas from London

  9. On December 29, 2011 at 2:03 am Ken C. said:

    Wow! Neat looking blog pages…”I like what you’ve done to the place,” as they say.

    Too bad you weren’t actually cast in that period Chinese film/drama; the settings and costumes looked pretty nice… But, it’s good to have these humbling experiences; it’ll add “human interest” to your biography [after you make the Big Time].

    Not famous, but my dog thinks I’m the cat’s meow [“the cat’s meow” being a great old-timey saying].

    • On December 29, 2011 at 4:16 am Sally said:

      Yes, I figure all my misses at becoming a Hollywood starlet will only make for good book fodder. Everyone loves an underdog… not that I’m calling myself a dog. Oh, yeah, that didn’t turn out right.

  10. On December 29, 2011 at 2:13 pm Kate said:

    Haha I loved this, but was also so excited because I JUST had a minor celebrity moment in Sweden!! Coolest thing ever. I got to go on the radio… broadcasted nationally… and talk with two well-known comedians about the differences between Swedish and American Christmas. So awesome!! (You can listen to it hear if you want: … yes, I’m a little over-enthusiastic about this)

    Anyway, I had to do it in Swedish, and I would say that I express myself with the precision of a jackhammer rather than a scalpel. End result, they put a picture of me with the hosts on the radio homepage with a banner on top: “Swedish people celebrate Christmas totally wrong.” Uh… Did I say that? Ooops. I think those will be my only 15 minutes of fame in Sweden.
    Kate recently posted..You’re Celebrating on the Wrong Day!—and other things you didn’t know about Christmas in Sweden

  11. On December 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm Stephanie - The Travel Chica said:

    I love that you are a brochure model in China. Way cooler than modeling in the US.

    My brush with fame was being shown on screen in the stands when The Ohio State University won the football national championship. People noticed it because I was wearing a shirt with something inappropriate on it about “that school up north” 🙂
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..The Hardest 34 Kilometers

  12. On December 29, 2011 at 3:49 pm Diana said:

    Ha ha ha ha, this was fantastic. I think your Chinese fame is coming soon! (And you have come much closer to fame than I ever have!)

  13. On December 30, 2011 at 1:47 am Chris Velcro said:

    Sometimes, seeing how things work in the background, is better than being under the lights. Then again, I majored in production. (Slight bias)

    They filmed portions of the movie Matinee starring John Goodman in my high school in Orlando my 9th grade year. A lot of the movie revolves around high school kids in the early 60’s so they figured they’d save a few bucks and use the kids ALREADY in the school as extras.
    Some of us even got to go to Universal Studios to film some of the other studio scenes. As a 15 year old, it was a cool experience and not a bad gig at $50 a day and an excuse to ditch class.

    The movie isn’t that great, but I did make it on the big screen a few times and know almost everyone in the background of the hallway and classroom scenes.

    Here’s the link to the movie: The only thing I really took from the experience is the knowledge that John Goodman is an asshole.
    Chris Velcro recently posted..TV Greats

  14. On December 30, 2011 at 7:30 am Torre - Fearful Adventurer said:

    When opportunity comes knocking, I tend to hide under the coffee table. Limelights are scarier than sharks.

  15. On January 2, 2012 at 8:58 pm The World of Deej said:

    Well I haven’t exactly been famous, unless you count that time I nearly caught a foul ball and wound up on Sportscenter, but I do know the feeling in China. I’m pretty sure I took more pictures with random people in those 5 days than I did in all my years before combined…
    The World of Deej recently posted..Review: Club 33 – Our Visit To A Disneyland Icon

    • On January 2, 2012 at 11:19 pm Sally said:

      I love when random people take pictures of me. Not only does it make me feel like a star, but it means I get to take pictures of them (especially if they’re wearing some wacky outfit… as they are wont to do in China)… and post them on the Facebook. (I like to take things one step further).

  16. On January 5, 2012 at 12:17 pm choi kum fook said:

    I believe, one day a producer will come to you and knock your door, if you sustain your blog writing all the way! On viewing of your photos in action on facebook,definitely you can be a good performer or actress! So go ahead without hetitancy! Strike lucky!! Miss Sally!

  17. On January 12, 2012 at 6:53 am Serena said:

    Wow, I’m surprised at how gracefully you seemed to handle the whole not being picked to be in the movie thing…. well at least it sounds like you handled it gracefully by the way you wrote it. I don’t suppose you’re polishing up the truth a smidgen? 😛 My favorite line from a Jimmy World song (probably taken from elsewhere) is “the past is told by those who win” and considering you have an awesome blog and have lived in/traveled to a lot of countries (in Asia, the best place!) I’d sure say you’re winning in life. Keep on keeping on 🙂

    • On January 12, 2012 at 7:26 am Sally said:

      Me? Polish the truth? Never. Actually, I wasn’t that surprised that I got the boot. That kind of thing happens all the time in China (and well anytime you live abroad). You think one thing is going to happen… and then something totally different happens. Oh well, at least I got to chat up the cute French actor! That doesn’t happen everyday…

  18. On January 22, 2012 at 10:22 pm Tom Thelen said:

    Sorry you didn’t get the big movie roll. I will verify, though, that you really were on Saturday Night Live and I even saw your hair when the door opened for a brief moment during the skit.
    BTW: Happy Birthday! I happen to know how old you are….But I won’t say.

  19. On February 21, 2012 at 5:58 am Ceri said:

    Didn’t that director know who you were???? *tut* Ridiculous!

    I got super star struck the other day. I was walking around my area and realised that there were cameras everywhere and big movie trailers ready for scenes that were going to be shot there that night for a Mexican film. If I hadn’t been with friends, I would have sat there and watched ALL DAY and NIGHT.
    Ceri recently posted..Return to Blogging (with a Vlog)

  20. On March 13, 2012 at 10:44 am Jack said:

    Hilarious! I meant this photo :

    Incase you can’t read Chinese, that poster on the wall reads:

    “These two girls said…Suck this suck that – he is still the best!”. I am honest, that’s whats on the poster! 😀 (I suppose “he” meant the cigrette, but its the wrong as it should be “it”)

  21. On April 4, 2012 at 11:32 am Alex said:

    Oh, the joys of being a foreigner in China!

    Just by virtue of being a tall, blond foreigner, I’ve gotten to become the newest tourist attraction at the Longmen Caves and Songshan mountain. Isn’t it so surreal to have people randomly walk up to you and ask to take your picture?

    The other foreign English teacher and I got to represent our school at the opening of a new sports arena. We were on TV, in the pouring rain, with the dean of our school. It was a nice break from class, and an entertaining event to boot!

    I think the weirdest thing that’s happened to me in China so far has been coming across a massive poster of the other foreign teacher and myself advertising our school. The teachers thought it was hilarious when we wanted our pictures taken with it!

    • On April 8, 2012 at 9:25 am Sally said:

      I’m usually not that much of an attraction, where I live, to be honest. People stare a lot, but I don’t get people asking me for photographs. Probably because it’s pretty cosmopolitan here and I’m pretty boring-looking as foreigners go. But, this past week when I was in Qingdao, I caught a lot of people taking my picture & even had people come up and ask to take their picture with me (this was the first time I had this happen in China! I know!). So I guess I just need to go on trips more often so I feel more like a celebrity!


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