As a journalist I’m used to being the one asking the questions and staying out of the limelight. So it came as a bit of a shock to suddenly become a local celebrity in China.
I was volunteering at a school for deaf children in a city called Kaifeng, which doesn’t see too many international visitors passing through. So after a week I’d already become a bit of a local attraction as the headteacher’s 16-year-old son Tim came to pick me up on his little electric bike every day (whether that was due to the fact that I was the only person who screamed as we turned into oncoming traffic I’ll never know…)
My main aim at the school was to try to help the staff with their PR and advertising, especially internationally, as most of the 70 children at the school come from poor families so funding is difficult. However no one at the school spoke English apart from Tim, so when he wasn’t around I spent a lot of time being totally confused about what was going on. This was especially true the day the journalist came to visit.
Ya Ge School for the Deaf had received a donation of old computers from a local business. As well as much excitement amongst the children and staff, this also called for a full-on press conference with the managing directors of the company.
As one of the first volunteers at the school I was proudly introduced to everyone but was also doing my best to try and stay out of the way as I had no idea what was being said during the many speeches. We’d also spent the morning cleaning ahead of the arrival of our special guests so dressed in my poo pants and with my hair scrapped back and no makeup, I was definitely not looking my best. So it came as a bit of a surprise, as I was lurking at the back of the hall, to be approached by a man holding a notepad. I, of course, had no idea what he was saying but Tim explained that he wanted to write a story about me. It seemed that the journalist’s main angle was essentially that a foreigner was volunteering in the city. His questions seemed to imply surprise that anyone from another country would want to volunteer in China. Poor Tim’s brain must have been hurting by the time he’d translated the journalist’s questions to me and my answers back. Who knows what I actually ended up being quoted as saying?
But the worst thing of all was the photos. I’ve never a big fan of having my photo taken at the best of times but especially not when I’ve spent the whole morning cleaning in the baking heat. However, that did not seem to worry the journalist who started taking a whole photo shoot of me. I had to pretend to do washing in the laundry, demonstrate making a bed, play with the children and the staff even insisted on me washing one of the kids in the bath – a picture which would never even be considered for a British newspaper. By the end of it I was ready to die of embarrassment.
A few days later there was such excitement at the school as the article was produced and translated for me. It must have been a slow news days, as my story covered an entire page. I also have no idea what Tim said but he basically must have made me sound like a saint as in the piece the journalist had essentially described me as the next Mother Teresa. That’s artistic licence for you…