The idea of being filmed sounds fine until you’re actually being filmed. You can fool yourself into thinking that you have perfect poise and clipped, clear diction, but that’s before you’re standing in front of a team of people brandishing cameras, lights and booms. You’re expected to act naturally, yet at the same time you’re receiving directions to do and say things you might not otherwise do and say. All of a sudden your legs become filled with jellied eels, your tongue swells to three times its regular size, and your arms become strangers, flailing and flapping about like those tall balloons you see outside car showrooms.
I became accustomed to the idea pretty quickly. After a few takes, I started to relax and forget that the cameras, lights and booms were there at all. This was greatly helped by my genial co-presenters,
with whom I struck up a relaxed bonhomie after approximately half a day of filming. One of them is a genuine celebrity in China – seriously, I can’t emphasise just how revered he is amongst his abundance of followers. He is mobbed – and I mean mobbed – in the street on a regular basis. It was like witnessing Beatlemania firsthand.
The filming schedule was a strange and varied beast. Some days we kicked off very early in the morning, others we were called just before lunch. I thrive on routine, so it was odd to adapt to the absence of routine – or rather, a higgledy-piggledy routine. Even then it’s amazing how quickly you become acclimatised to a new way of doing things. For example, I had a tour guide who carried my luggage. Now, as far as I see it, I was blessed with two arms and hands, so I am more than capable of lugging about my own bags. He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, however, and I was scared to offend him. When I travel further afield, I’m constantly wary of breaking that country’s rules of etiquette, so it seemed much simpler to allow my guide to be a glorified bellhop, no matter how embarrassing and awkward I found it.
If I’m honest, I found mealtimes more of a struggle. There were moments when I was tempted to throw etiquette to one side for the good of my stomach. I ate donkey (amongst other things), (something I suspected only existed in comics, along with Desperate Dan’s cow pie) and jellyfish, neither of which I would recommend or wish to consume again. Chicken, meanwhile, is served with the head still attached – complete with comb. On one memorable occasion, I arrived at a restaurant where I was told we would be served traditional “peasant food”. This turned out to be maggots. Yes, that’s right: maggots. The very same wriggling, twisting larvae with which fishermen bait their lines. I was not – pardon the pun – hooked.
I ate some wonderful food in China, and I ate some truly horrific food. The hardest part was that I could never predict what kind would greet me when I sat down at the dining table. Therefore, each mealtime was preceded by nervous tension and loin-girding as I psyched myself up for eating some unidentifiable foodstuff – sometimes it was better not to be able to tell what was in front of me.
That said, we could all learn a great deal from Chinese hospitality. I was regularly humbled by the warmth and courtesy shown to me by their hosts. And I was forced to remind myself that while I was turning my nose up at the gloop filling my bowl, this was perhaps all they could afford. In fact, on several occasions this was more than they could afford. It pained me to realise how much I craved a McDonalds – there was one outlet on every corner of most towns and cities. I was surrounded by a ancient culture so rich and deep it would take me ten trips to barely scratch its surface, and I was hankering after a plastic, disposable burger. Shame on me.
I could daily feel myself inching out of my own self-imposed comfort zone. This is always a good thing, no matter how many maggots you need to eat to get there.
More to follow…..