I’m kind of a big deal (in China)

I’ve mentioned it several times here of my popularity status in China and so has Stephanie but this last weekend has topped it all off. Since the warm weather is finally here, spring sports had a big kick off at the University I teach at in Xi’an, China. I was asked to attend the spring sports ceremony. For the days that followed, there were various sporting events including running, basketball, and even dancing. It’s much like a field day back at home when there’s no classes and everyone attends the sporting events.

Xi'an, China Sports Meeting for a University

I was told there was going to be two thousand students at the opening ceremony and that this could be the biggest gathering of students I would see on campus. I was asked to be the head flag leader for the international department during the ceremony. That means I was to hold a big flag up while the rest of the students followed me through the field. Although I was excited, I was also a bit nervous. From what I’ve learned in this school (and in China in general), they don’t really tell you things till the last minute and I was nervous about messing something up and having two thousand students make fun of me for it. I later realized it’s impossible to ever mess up because as “the cool foreigner” anything I screw up on will only turn into me being the funny guy or cute (by Chinese standards).

Xi'an, China Sports Meeting for a University

The students that were to follow me were all either current students or previous students of mine. As I arrived at the ceremony, all of my students shouted my name. The usual celebrity status that I have means numerous pictures will be taken everywhere I go. After that was over, the ceremony began. There were several other groups for each department of the school. We were behind the main stadium field and we had to make a grand entrance through the side along with all the other groups in front and behind us. The students behind me were shouting 1,2,3,4 as they marched forward with me. I didn’t know if they expected me to do the same but I just continued walking. I looked at the other groups to see how I was expected to hold the flag and position myself.

Xi'an, China Sports Meeting for a University

With my head straight and trying to keep a straight face, I walked into the big field with all my students behind me. One minute into the field and my named was cheered from all directions. Hundreds of students that I may have never met were cheering my name. Mostly all females were shouting my name (which felt great might I add). Even the teachers clapped and I heard one of them lead a big scream on the count of 4. The straight face didn’t last long and I smiled. I slightly tilted my head on both sides to watch the crowd but I tried to keep my head as straight as I could for the pictures and watch the direction I was going in. It was all a bit overwhelming and unexpected. I took it all in as much as I could because I don’t think I’ll have this many opportunities to be this “cool” by so many people.

Xi'an, China Sports Meeting for a University

Although I am primary a teacher, the students seem to look up to me. They feel they could say things to the foreigners that otherwise would be odd to a Chinese teacher. It could also be the closeness of age that they feel more comfortable in speaking with me or that I may not judge them. The fame I have here is indeed flattering but unfortunately it only exists in China. I’m sometimes a comedian but mostly by accident (at least that’s what I like to think). Today I was asked to do a speech in front of the school and my first line was “I don’t even know what to say” – that broke out laughter. I just go along with it and laugh with them. It feels good that everywhere I go, people are smiling at me.

In your 20’s? Are you a male? Need an ego boost? Come to China.

Michael Tieso

Michael Tieso travels around the world writing, photographing, and filming his adventures. He is the Editor-in-chief of Art of Adventuring.
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