Beijing, 15th of December

ChrisLast week (shang4 ge xing1 qi1) I was approached by a guy named Xiao Wang and asked if I was interested in being a paid extra in a Chinese TV programme. At BLCU, Western students are often approached by modeling agencies and film crews. Having studied film at university I naturally jumped at the chance. I was told that the shoot would last a whole day and would be filmed in Hui2 rong2 which is about an hour outside of Beijing by bus.

Too tall to be a doctor

Chris is the captainWhen we arrived the next day, I was led through a maze of fake Chinese villages, ancient temple courtyards and 18th century mansions. When I got to the set I was greeted by two people from costume who looked me up and down in dismay before asking Xiao Wang why he had brought someone so tall (gao1)! I found out I was to play a doctor (yi1 sheng1) and was taken to a fitting room where I tried on various doctors outfits, all of which were too small (tai4 xiao3). I was told I'd have to play a French soldier instead. Luckily the French outfit fitted - just about - and was a colourful 19th century officer's uniform which actually looked quite good (ting3 hao3 kan4 de).Two other foreigners filmed in the same episode. Zamen, from Sri Lanka and Kevin, a Frenchman. These guys spoke Chinese really well which was handy as hardly anyone on set spoke English!

Lost in accents

SetThe film crew were from all over China, and I found it really difficult to understand all of their different accents. This was the first time I'd been exposed to so many different Mandarin accents at one time and for the first few hours I really struggled. Despite this I struck up a good relationship with the other Chinese extras who were playing the soldiers in my company. They were eager to know where I came from and why I was in China and if I thought Chinese women were beautiful (piao4 liang).

A speaking role

Chris and other extrasHaving heard me speak Chinese to the extras the director decided to give me a line of dialogue! I was chuffed by this and more than a little nervous. My role was to play a racist French officer standing guard outside the French consulate. I was to interrogate and intimidate Chinese people wishing to enter and my lines were: Ni3 gan4 shen2 ma?, what are you doing?, and Ni3 shi4 shui2?, who are you?

Stage fright

DirectorWhen we shot my scene I was so nervous my hands were shaking. I played alongside an old Chinese actor (yan3 yuan2) who later told me he'd been acting for 30 years. I managed to stay calm enough to shoot the scene (pai1 xi4) and even got the director's (dao3 yan3) approval. I was given other scenes to do and told I was required to stay the night in a hotel for actors and crew members. I'm not sure I actually had the option of going home but I was happy to continue (ji4 xu4) filming. In total I stayed three days on set and filmed about five or six scenes. Before each scene I was given a couple of hours to try and remember the lines and there were times while shooting I messed up big time, but the director was forgiving and helped me simplify the lines. In fact the other Chinese actors and crew were extremely supportive and friendly and I had a wonderful time. I feel truly blessed to have had such an experience.

Editor's note: Chris is writing Chinese words in 'Pinyin', Latin script, using numbers that indicate the tone of the word. Find out more with our course Real Chinese.

Sent by: Chris


Richard Heathcote 2006-01-11

Chris you are my hero! I shall be in China in about a year as a student so it is fantastic to hear about your expericences.

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Peter Rimmer 2006-01-16

Excellent diary, its really good seeing a country from the perspective of someone who's living there. The acting sounds fun too.

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Zhang Jianbo 2006-01-18

Your diary is really interesting. I am a Chinese student, but there are few English people in my city. Through your diary I knew how English people are living in China.

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Sushen Belbase 2005-12-19

Chris, it's amazing to read about the things you're doing in China. Keep up the good work.

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EosAurora 2006-01-03

Very interesting experience!

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Tim 2006-01-01

Sounds like an outstanding experience. I enjoy reading about your everyday life.

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Shaaron 2005-12-18

Your diary has given me a real insight into 'everyday' China. Thanks.

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Jeff and Grace 2006-02-13

Hi Chris, it's great to hear you're doing so well. It appears you are really embracing the Chinese culture. I admire your spirit of adventure. We look forward to reading the next chapter.

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