Thursday, January 8, 2009

Strange Taiwan Jobs: A taste of Paris - Taiwan style

A couple of weeks after the condom ad we had the apartment building complex shoot outside of Taipei.

“Jesus. Why am I a waiter again?” complained Eric while we were on the way.

“It is your fault, you choose to be the waiter in the bar ad,” answered Pierre. "Now you are type-cast. You Americans should understand that principle: all French are arrogant gigolos, and English psychos or gays, no?"

“Hey, less of the gay thing,” interrupted John.

“What are you looking at?” said Pierre, as for a moment we all thought the French stereotype was spot-on.

I continued,“You will always be remembered affectionately as the waiter dude.”

"Harvard to waiter," said Eric, "just glad my parents won’t see."

“Besides, I have to be concert pianist because I can actually play the piano,” said Pierre.

“I don’t think they will require you to play,”said Eric not prepared to give up quite yet.

“No he is right, he has to do it – even if you wear a dinner jacket you will still stink of a baseball cap and trainers. He has the big nose and the stuck up look that is unmistakably European,”said John.

“And you can’t do since no concert pianist ever looked like he can bench press the piano, and will rip it apart with his bare hands if it doesn’t listen,” replied Eric.

“Exactly," replied John. "That is why I am the gym instructor and lifeguard.”

“Anyway, you know I get the best paid role, because I found the work,” said Pierre who was no doubt thinking we weren’t grateful for the work he had given us.

A few weeks back Pierre had met a girl who was an agent. She asked him if he wanted to pretend to be a French doctor promoting this strange cream that would apparently make your breasts bigger, and he hasn’t looked back since. That was what kept us hanging around with Pierre: he spoke perfect English, his limited Chinese had perfect pronunciation; in short, his extreme confidence seemed to have due cause.

As we arrived at the shoot, I looked up at the name of the apartment complex we were going to do the advert for, 'Taste of Paris.’That was why I liked the Taiwanese, they weren’t afraid to pander to national stereotypes: If you were selling watches get a picture of a little blonde girl on a mountain; wedding clothes shops were always called Taipei-Paris or Taipei-Rome (which was a bit like saying Paris-Wigan); and, anything to do with engineering, a big fat guy with an over large moustache. Westerners - well, in fact Americans - were regarded as being creative and outgoing and cool, so if they were naming a new restaurant, or bar, or coffee shop and were trying to bring in young hip crowd, they had to call it California Dreaming, or Californian Heaven, or California something... And then you hired a couple of Westerners to hang around pulling exaggerated facial movements (remember all Westerners are very expressive).

In this case, to keep with stereotypes, all new apartment projects had a European architectural theme, and names like “Tuscan Dream” or ‘Bordeaux Chateaus’ to evoke images of European grandeur of old. Today, a minibus had picked them up in Taipei and then headed out the city, got off the freeway, onto a road wide enough for just one truck, cutting through some rice fields, past a couple of traditional red brick courtyard houses, and a defunct ball bearing factory – they had to go this way because the road connecting the community up to the freeway was still being built – before suddenly arriving at a ‘Taste of Paris’, this new upscale apartment complex in Taipei County. There were eight tower blocks surrounding a courtyard; fountains, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, spa baths, a fitness center, basketball court, obligatory convenience store and cash machine, and even its own cinema.

Twenty minutes later we had started to film our parts. The first was John so we were walking to the gym to shoot his part.

“Hey, it is John...Yes? Hah, so strong. Very good,” said the director. "So where are you from?”

“England, mate,”replied John.

“Very good. Oh – a gentleman.”

“Hmm, something like that,” smiled John because he didn’t exactly fit the gentleman stereotype.

But the director wasn't finished.“Hmm, I think you more like the American.”

“So I have heard,”said John now bored to indulge the discussion. I was also British and so had heard this before: it seemed all British were supposed to be lily-livered, wimps, scared to say boo to a goose; Hugh Grant had a lot to answer for!

Two minutes later, they had arrived at the gym in the basement. The slim model who came with them would have to lie on the bench press while John taught her how to use it.

“Ok?” asked the director.

“No problem.” This was John’s second assignment so he got the idea about exaggerated actions. The model pushed out one repetition and John gave her a long high clap in front his face followed by a thumbs up.

“So now you push the weight. Show how strong you are,” asked the director who was taking a more than professional interest in John.

John benched the whole stack.“Wow! You sure you not the American?”exclaimed the director.
“Very sure, mate.” John swore if he ever saw Hugh Grant or any other member of the Four Weddings and a Funeral cast, he would -.

Outside by the pool.

“Hey, what is up with this girl?” asked Eric because the model in the swimsuit he had to serve cocktails to wouldn’t stay on her sun bed. Every time the scene had a hold up or went longer than twenty seconds, she broke away into the shade.

“She wants to stay white. If she gets some suntan she cannot get any other work for a while,” replied the translator.

“Selfish,” replied Pierre. “You think I am happy in this heat. These people just aren’t team players. It is the top-down structure here that stops them being able to work together. We are more flexible - will just get on with things.”

“The director is asking if someone can move the sun canopy nearer her,” said the translator moments later..

“Sure, man,” replied Eric. “Come on Pierre.”

“We don’t need to do this – we are the actors - superior status,” said Pierre.

“Just lift the fucking canopy.”

“So have you managed to get your stuff yet?” asked John to Pierre who had left half of his belonging in his old apartment when he moved.

“Typical Taiwan story. The girlfriend phones me and says the boss has asked her to go to work on Saturday and Sunday...It is very important, apparently. You know, I am actually sympathetic. Well at first I got angry, and she started to cry - So anyway I ask her, if he said why, and she says no. So I asked her why she didn’t want to challenge the guy, find out why she had to give up her weekend. That is what we would do, right? At least you ask why you have to do something? Am i not right?”

“Hmm, what does this guy want us to do now?” asked John bored with the subject. He was supposed to be the lifeguard, but all he had done for half an hour was stand in the sun. “Do I have to rescue someone later?”

Pierre:“Fuck, I don’t know. Just hang around and follow whatever he says is my attitude.”

“Cut,”screamed the director and the cool Taiwanese enjoying the good life lounging by the pool, soaking up the sun, and drinking cocktails, sprinted inside out of the sun and into the aircon.

At six 0'clock the sun went down and they were ready to do Pierre’s part.

“So you pretend to play the piano,” instructed the director to Pierre. Pierre was sat at the grand piano surrounded by all the Taiwanese who had earlier been lounging around the pool. However, now they wearing dinner jackets, trying to ignore the mosquitoes, and preparing to listen to Pierre’s piano recital, above the noise from the freeway.

“I don’t need to pretend.” Not one to miss a chance to show-off Pierre played a couple of verses of Beethoven. Then, because of it, the finish, the walk around the tables of applauding Chinese being toasted with champagne for his performance, was more genuine than expected.

“It is weird how a man can be so talented and stupid,” said Eric.

“People always manage to surprise,” replied John.

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