I arrived back in Hong Kong late on January 1st after a lovely Christmas holiday in the US. The next morning, I had to be back at work, so, still exhausted from 36 hours of travel and trying to adjust to the 13 hour time difference, I went in to teach.
At some point in the afternoon my manager mentioned to me offhand. “Tomorrow, there is a celebrity coming. You can just do like 30 minutes of trial class. Some games. And the assessment.”She then looked at me appraisingly. “You should wear something nice and do your makeup.” Um. Ouch.
After many, many questions, none of which was very thoroughly answered, (Who was coming? Why? What was my role in this? How old was this celebrity? Oh, they’re bringing their kid? How old was their kid? Isn’t that too old for our program? Are we not trying to get them interested in the program? Ok, so this is just pretend?) I deduced that we were paying this “celebrity” a lot of money to come to our center and pretend she and her son were interested in/endorsing our program while a photographer and videographer took promotional shots. Because this is Asia.
I was not pleased, especially since I was still insanely tired and jetlagged, but I’ve had my fair share of weird experiences like this in Korea, so I played along. How bad could it be? The next day I wore a nice skirt and a new sweater. I ran a straightener through my hair. I was told the celebrity would arrive at 3:30.
At 2:30, approximately 12 people showed up in my office. For someone with anxiety, everything about this was terrible. A “celebrity” who I had never heard of was here with her entourage. Lots of strangers were speaking in Cantonese, which I don’t understand, while I stood there smiling awkwardly. Then, it turned out, her kid was around 10 and spoke English, not only like a native speaker, but like a native speaker who has his own show on the Disney Channel. Also, surprise! Since they came an hour earlier than expected, I did not have time to apply my emergency I-have-the-anxiety-sweats clinical strength deodorant and there were now pit stains on my new white sweater.
One of my coworkers stepped forward. “I will introduce us,” he said to me. Then proceeded to rattle off a lot of things in Cantonese. I still have no idea what “the celebrity’s” name was. My questions the day before had only yielded that she “used to be a singer.” My coworker turned to me. “Now, talk to them about the program.” Mmmm, ok, sure. I rambled somewhat incoherently about the program that they were neither sincerely interested in nor suited to.
“Now we will go into this classroom and your son can play a game with Teacher Lily,” my coworker announced. The entire entourage filed into the classroom. I had naively assumed that “play a game” meant one of the phonics-based games we routinely played in my classes. But no. A board game I’d never seen before was on the table. “Here. Play the game!” they cheered.
“Ah yes, this game!” I laughed merrily. “We shall play it indeed.” And, on the spot, I made up some rules (which I now know are not in any way close to the actual rules).
After several agonizing minutes of pretending I knew what we were doing, I declared the celebrity’s son the winner. He dabbed in response.
Then my manager rolled out a Twister mat. “Now, we can play Twister!”* she announced brightly. I froze. First off, we are a literacy center, not a playgroup. We don’t play board games in general, and we do NOT play Twister. Ever. Secondly, I was already uncomfortable being in a bunch of promo photos given that I am not feeling very body- confident at the moment. I certainly did not sign up to have a professional photographer take photos of me playing Twister for promotional use. But. There was no way out. The room was full of people looking expectantly at me.
Slowly….oh so slowly…I crouched down beside the Twister mat in defeat. The celebrity held the spinner as her son and I battled it out. I did an admirable job all things considered before I decided to throw myself on my sword and bow out gracefully. After losing the game, I thought I had made it through the worst part. But then, the little fiend** had an epiphany.
“Mommy!” he cried. “You play. I want to be the spinner!” And that is how I ended up with my butt in the air playing Twister with the celebrity while the celebrity’s son (I imagine) cackled to himself, “Dance, my puppets! Dance!”***
*It was actually Blindfold Twister, but thankfully they decided against using the blindfolds.
**He was actually a pretty good kid and very smart, just also very active.
*** The celebrity was both beautiful and kind. Having no idea what level of celebrity she is, I can’t say whether or not I was surprised at how “down to earth” she was, but it was like playing Twister with any other extremely beautiful, doting mother who may or may not have been the Christina Aguilera of Hong Kong once upon a time.