One of the things I like about living in Asia are the little perks we get from time to time. Some really entertaining work can come your way if you’re interested and you make yourself available.
For example, in addition to being a full-time singer in China before moving to Taiwan, I’ve also done radio work and modeling. I’ve performed as an extra for movies. I’ve done TV commercials and live talent shows, children’s shows, even interviews for books and magazines. The jobs have paid well and the work has been relatively easy and fun. I’ve never felt like I’m making a fool of myself and I’ve always been shown respect for the work that I do. I’ve tried to reciprocate and remain professional in these situations.
However, this week a situation arose where, for the first time ever, I was forced to act in an unprofessional manner by pulling out of the job a week before it was scheduled to be taped. I just couldn’t do it and didn’t want my name associated with the work. This was not a show that required me to play a different character. I was asked to do this show because of how I teach. Last month, they wanted me to be me…at first. Then last week, I was told that the creative vision I had been asked to bring to the show was not what they wanted. They wanted me to change my teaching style, and they wanted me to look and act completely out of my comfort zone.
Let me back up a bit. About a month ago, I was asked to help record a children’s TV show. I was a bit skeptical at first, but was reassured that it would be a very simple affair. The pay was quite low, but I agreed because a friend had asked and I didn’t want to disappoint her.
The next day, I spoke with a few Taiwanese friends who had also been asked to do the show. I was reassured once more that it would be quite simple and that the reason I had been asked was because the company wanted a broad range of teaching styles on the show. I was one of two foreigners asked. The rest of the people on the show are Taiwanese teachers from around the island. After some of my questions were answered, I asked to see what I was required to teach. I immediately asked for all the props and flashcards that went with the lessons so I could prepare for the lesson. I was told to ask for whatever else I needed. Four weeks later and less than five days out from the taping, I still didn’t have any props to work with and was expected to go to the studio the day of the show to see what the company had made available.
About two weeks ago, the real hassles began. I study Chinese and pay for my lessons ahead of time, so I needed a firm booking with the TV studio because I don’t have a lot of free time to play around with. Within the last two weeks, the date has been changed four times. That means I’ve had to rearrange my schedule four times.
There was no mention of a costume when I was asked to do this. I assumed I would be wearing something similar to what folks wear back home on children’s TV programs. Then I got a glimpse of the costume I was required to wear. My heart sank. I never dreamed in a million years that they would try to put me in a bubble gum pink mini skirt with matching suspenders, red knee socks, a mint green T-shirt and all those little do-dads that girls love so much here.
I said no flat-out. I’m 33 years old and I do not want to be dressed like a little girl.
Not only was the outfit really tacky, but I felt it was very inappropriate for me to wear this kind of outfit in front of children. Perhaps for the Taiwanese, these types of outfits are the norm, but I felt extremely uncomfortable with the whole idea. I had, what I thought, was a long discussion emphasizing that I didn’t mean to be picky or cause trouble, but these kinds of costumes were not what I had in mind when I agreed to be on the show. I asked them to show some respect for me and my culture when choosing what I would be wearing on TV. It seemed to go in one ear and out the ear. After listening, they asked if I would wear a white tennis outfit. I agreed reluctantly. At this point, I was starting to have major doubts about being on the show.
Things culminated last week when I was asked to do a short demo of how I planned to teach on screen. All along, they have touted the need for having different teaching styles. When I started demonstrating how I was going to teach the vocabulary and sentence patterns, using the same techniques that I use at my school and which my co-workers love so much (without flashcards, markers or a teleprompter I might add), I was immediately told that I needed to teach the vocabulary the way the Taiwanese teachers do.
I’ve never seen a foreign teacher teach vocabulary like this. One of the main reasons we’re in the classrooms is to teach proper pronunciation, so I was absolutely shocked to hear that they wanted me to teach like a Taiwanese teacher. Why then, had they asked me? They simply could have asked a Taiwanese teacher to teach and act the way they want them to. I suggested that perhaps I wasn’t the right teacher for this job.
They reassured me I was perfect for the part and then told me I had to translate the entire show in Chinese. This was the first mention of translating from English to Chinese. It happened six days before we were supposed to start shooting.
I went home that night absolutely livid. I had been given a CD of the first show to be taped and was asked to emulate the teacher on the CD. When John and I watched the tape in its entirety, we couldn’t believe it. I thought about it all weekend, and with less than a week before the taping, I decided to back out of the production. It wasn’t the most professional thing to do, but had I been given all of this information in the beginning when I asked for it, I never would have agreed to do the show.
About an hour after backing out, I received a call from the director of the show asking why I had backed out. I gave her my reasons for doing so and she told me that the studio had found a new costume for me and I could teach the way I wanted to. She told me if I didn’t like the costume, I could wear my own clothes. She made me feel bad about letting them down so close to the taping, so I sucked it up and agreed to meet her on Friday for the taping.
Less than an hour later, she phoned me back and told me the studio had changed the date and I had to come in a week later! That meant cancelling yet another Chinese lesson. Then I got a look at the new costume they had chosen and the only thing that had changed was the color of the skirt. Nevertheless, I had committed to it, so I accepted the decisions without comment.
Sure enough, within the hour, they had phoned back again to tell me that there were conflicting issues with Thursday’s date, and I would only be taping two segments, which meant I would be receiving half the pay. They asked me which segment I wanted to do. I gave them my answer and then they phoned back again twenty minutes later to tell me that someone else would be doing that segment and I was stuck with the other one!
And, that was it. I was out. My decision after that was easy to make.
This was my first experience with a television production in Taiwan and after all the problems raised, it could very well be my last. I wish the show and its producers good luck, but as far as I’m concerned, good riddance.