My First Time on Taiwanese TV
1999. Man, that was a while ago. I was just off the plane from the States, I was a few weeks into my first teaching job in Taiwan, and I was acclimating to the island in general.
At that time I spoke maybe four words in Chinese: xie xie (thanks) and ni hao (hello). I could also recognize the characters for "beef," "chicken," "pork," "noodles," and "rice" from local restaurants. That was about it.
I had a girlfriend named Catherine. I met her in a bar in Taichung, where I was living, and if it wasn't love, at least it was lust at first sight. It was that kind of intense affair that young Taiwanese girls have without the approval of their parents, and I was about as emotionally uninvolved as it was possible to be.
At one point Catherine got tickets (she was invited?) to sit in the audience for a TV show. To this day I have no idea what the name of the show was. The host was that curly-haired man with the beard, and several other Taiwanese celebrities who I'd probably now recognize if I could only recall what they looked like then. It was one of those forgettable variety/game shows, where people talk endlessly, sing songs, and make (bad) puns in Taiwanese.
Catherine asked if I wanted to attend the taping with her. I said "Sure," not really having any idea what I was in for. I don't even know if I'd seen any Taiwanese TV shows at the time. We had no television in the apartment where I lived, and aside from that apartment, the school where I worked, the 7-11, and a handful of restaurants I really hadn't been anywhere.
A week or so later we were on a bus headed to Taipei. The bus took us straight to the TV studio where the show was being taped, and I assume that Catherine bought the ticket (was invited?) as part of a much larger group. Soon after we were sitting inside a studio, in the midst of hundreds of other people, and the two hosts of the show were talking on the stage beneath us. Catherine said they were talking about me, but what they said she never told me. "Keep smiling," she said, "Look happy."
In case you've never been inside a Taiwanese TV studio, let me tell you that they look a lot worse in real life. On television the shows look very shiny and new, but when you're in the studio you quickly realize how much mileage those studios have on them, and how many programs are filmed in the same space. From the bleachers I could see how cheaply constructed everything was, and how the paint was peeling off some of the walls. When filming a TV show, of course, they're only concerned about one or two angles, and if the imperfections in a set don't show up in those one or two angles they're overlooked altogether.
It was also really hot. The lights had me sweating within minutes, and I began to realize what an act of endurance hosting a TV show must be. Wearing a suit and standing beneath those lights without sweating your makeup off wouldn't be easy.
The show continued on, and an hour or so later it was done. On our way out Catherine told me that we were invited to meet the hosts backstage, and a stagehand led us to where various stars were having their makeup removed.
I had a short conversation with a man I later saw on many other shows. I also said "hello" to the curly-headed man, though he seemed more preoccupied with his twenty-something girlfriend. The celebrity I talked with spoke perfect English, and mentioned that he'd gone to school in Canada.
After returning to Taichung, a lot of coworkers told me they'd seen me on TV. They said I looked good, even though I was sweating like a bastard at the time. I figured that if I'd managed to look "happy" through an hour of not understanding what the f*ck anyone was saying I'd done a pretty good job.
Catherine and I broke up a month or so later. If she's somehow reading this (it's possible), I'm sorry for being such a dick at that party, but I knew your parents were never going to be ok with me. Besides that, I was already dating someone else by then. Just the same, thanks for inviting me to be on the TV show. I can't say it was entirely pleasant, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.
I've been on TV (and in the newspaper) a few times since, but it was always work-related, and never particularly memorable. Being a foreigner and showing up on TV happens sometimes, and often for the most random reasons. I've known foreigners who try to be on TV as much as possible - some for money, some for the fleeting sense of fame it offers - but that whole endeavor can get pretty silly. Taiwanese people - through the media - are always aggrandizing foreigners for their own reasons, and one can't take too much credit for being the one foreign person within easy reach of a reporter, television executive, or aspiring politician.
Still, being on TV can be fun. If you have the chance, and you can do it without compromising yourself too much, I'd recommend it. If, however, they're asking you to ham it up, act "foreign," and otherwise conform to stereotypes I'd give it a hard pass.
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