VIETNAMESE SUPERSTAR: That one time I was almost famous…

Current tunes: Hozier, “Take Me to Church”

I love lists. There’s something so satisfying about crossing things off (especially when the items are color coated with highlighters…so I’m a bit neurotic. Sue me). I think I started making my first bucket list in one of my journals from junior high. If I recall correctly, it had many important goals on it, like see Britney Spears in concert, get a tattoo, and get kissed before I graduated high school (that last one seems desperate and bizarre but if you grew up under the iron fist of a Middle Eastern father like me or know my family at all, you’d understand). Basically a list of life changing things…or so my teenage self thought. Over the years I’ve been pruning it as well as actually crossing things off and I’m happy to announce that I had the opportunity to check off one more thing this past weekend. I was an extra in a movie! It might seem silly but I’ve always wanted to be an extra or be a voice over in an animated film (I’ve been told I’d make a good mouse or something high pitched). If I’m completely honest, my original goal was to be an extra on a Harry Potter film during the whole HP saga. However, to my dismay I learned that J.K. Rowling only wanted Britts to be extras in her films. Which I thought was a load of bollocks. But I’ll settle for a Vietnamese love story.

 

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Wiggin’ out as extras.

After a long week at the orphanage I decided to decompress a bit and hopped on an eight hour bus ride north west to the cooler and smaller town of Da Lat. Yet again, I had a weird and possibly unsafe experience of getting dropped off in front of an alley and was told to follow the signs to my hostel. But this was the suburbs with no street lights so I wandered around with my phone lighting the way. A young man, probably 18 or so, offered to take me and although I insisted I could find it on my own, he continued walking along side me. I picked up the pace and finally saw a lighted sign in the distance. Hallelujah. He stopped and pointed to the sign, said goodbye, grabbed my hands and attempted to get a farewell kiss…I ducked and covered and awkwardly jogged away towards the light. So weird.

I had gotten many recommendations for this particular hostel, the Dalat Family Hostel. It’s run by three sisters and their whole goal is to make you feel like family. I was immediately greeted with cheering, kisses, and a ton of home cooked food all before I even mentioned that I had a reservation. Lovely group of people. However, they really do make us all feel like family as the eight bunks are literally side by side with no space in between. The bathrooms are pretty run down as well. So the facilities aren’t the best, but it provides that family feel you miss whilst traveling alone and for only $5/night, it’s totally worth it.

The next morning I signed up for a water canyoning tour with Viet Challenge.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect but it’s a bit like abseiling except with waterfalls and jumping into rivers and whatnot. I was surprisingly decent at it and picked it up fairly quickly. The scariest parts were the cliff jumping. The tallest jump was 11 meters but I chickened out and opted for the 7 meter plunge. Still a rush nonetheless. We had a really great group on this tour with a mix of Americans, Germans, the ever present English, and even a Spaniard. We started as strangers but a few hours of holding onto each other while crossing rivers and cheering when some one finally made it down a waterfall, we left feeling like family. I had such a blast that I almost considered doing it again the next day, but my tired body and blooming bruises convinced me otherwise.

IMG_3545imageThe next day, my new German friend, Anna, and I were considering catching a morning bus back to Saigon together. But the hostess of the hostel asked if we’d be interested staying for the day to be extras in a film. She had limited English so she couldn’t really explain the process or even the plot but she did mention that we would be compensated. And for backpackers, any extra cash means more opportunity for travel. We saw it as a free bus ride to Saigon with some extra to buy a bowl of pho and a cold Saigon lager? Yes please. Next thing I knew we were on the set of Quyen.

We arrived at some European looking bed and breakfast and were seated with other extras (all Vietnamese and two other foreigners).

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All the extras.

It took awhile to find some one that spoke English but I finally found a guy wearing a USC jacket and was able to get some details about the plot and what was expected of us. I think his name was Sue. He really was a USC alum, studied film for four years, and was now the assistant director of this film.

I learned from Sue that Quyen is the story of a young Vietnamese woman that moves to Germany, opens up a noodle shop, and of course meets a charming German dude with the most brilliant blue eyes. You guys ever heard of Gary Daniels…? Yea, me neither. But IMDB’d him and turns out he was a professional martial arts champ in his younger years and later started to produce martial arts type films. And I guess now makes appearances in the Asian cinema. His last most popular movie was The Expendalbles (an American film but I never actually saw it). I had the opportunity to talk to him for a bit and found him to be really easygoing. He’s originally from London but now lives in Los Angeles.

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So, what was my part? I was slotted for two scenes and in my opinion this was the best extra job ever because all I had to do was eat noodles! I’m not joking. AND I got paid. 600,000 VND ($30 USD) to smile and eat. Ummm…where do I sign up to do this forever? But when they brought me the bowl of pho and chopsticks I kind of panicked. I mean I know how to use chopsticks, but think for a moment about eating SOUP on CAMERA with STICKS. Internally, I started to shout, “Wait are you sure? You haven’t seen me eat before, I’m basically as classy as the sloppy Mia Thermompolis in the Princess Diaries before Julie Andrews whips that girl into shape!” After the first take, he said I was doing fine but I should use the spoon and chopsticks together and eat faster. But he also precautioned to not eat too fast or I may have to eat 10 bowls of pho depending on how long it took to shoot the scene. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not but I did my best.

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http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZANqvXuagO8[/embed
I also found it funny that I had the role of Pho Eating Girl because I do not think I was exactly what the director was looking for when they were searching for tourists to play German locals at a restaurant. In fact, some one on set asked me if I was part Vietnamese. I guess I am used to this. It seems wherever I go people can’t quite figure out my ethnic background, but they see dark hair and assume I am part “whatever country I am currently in.” In Cali they talk to me in Spanish, in Hawaii they ask me for directions, and even in New Zealand they asked if I was Maori. But I must admit, I almost bounced after waiting almost FIVE hours on set doing nothing as I watched them shoot the same scene over and over. Luckily, Anna and I met a lovely Australian couple that the recruiters had pulled off the street and talked with them to pass the time. In the first scene they had me suited up in all jean attire with pants that were about four sizes too big. I literally had to hold them while standing but they said this didn’t matter because I’d be sitting during the scene.

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That jean swag.

In the next scene, Anna and I were given these aged looking dresses and were sent to hair and makeup to get wigs. They didn’t want it to be too obvious that they used the same extras in different scenes. I found the wig to be really itchy, but it was really fun to play dress up even if we looked a little ridiculous. Plus my one job again was to eat and pantomime talking. This time it was steamed noodles and pork. Yum.

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Anna getting wigged by the hairdresser

Overall it was definitely worth it. A little piece of me was hoping I’d blow the director’s mind and get asked to actually have a line. But that would also require me to speak Vietnamese. And after he saw my pho eating skills, I am sure that dream was a lost cause.


Cheers and keep on wishin’,

Miriam

P.S. This post is actually from 10/12/14 but a few days ago my MacBook went into a deep slumber or caught some sort of Vietnamese bug…oh to the Apple store I go!

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