• Jennifer Strube

On Towels, Fame, and Cavewomen


When the corn-dog shaped microphone peered over our rustic balcony, followed by two reporters holding a 30 lb. video camera, there was only one proper response.


“Um, can we put clothes on first?”


I had just emerged from the shower, which doubled as an all-inclusive sink and toilet, covering all hygienic bases. My teeth freshly brushed, my colon newly cleansed, and towel semi-wrapped around me, I didn’t think much of the open hostel door. After all, the trellis showed the stunning veranda view of terracotta rooftops and small garbage fires; I was not missing out on the romantic pureness of rural village China. And besides, we were alone in the Hangzhou forest, where no one lives but darling elderly women, stronger than Popeye, and a few unseen pandas.


And, apparently, television reporters. Who now stood staring at me, my skin still dewy from the shower, my towel being used to wipe inappropriate places of my body. Lara at least had a sports bra on. I thought these minor details might deter their questions, so I smiled and stared at the reporter, who mistook the grin as the cue to bring the microphone into our bedroom. I clutched my hand over my crotch and flapped the remains of my towel against my side. Surely the towel-grasp crotch-hold crossed most linguistic boundaries. I turned to my suitcase and winked at her, in a knowing kind of “please let me put my panties on” way.


“I am very nervous,” the reporter stammered, microphone outstretched like a media zombie, wires pulling behind her as she snuck further into our room. “This is my first interview and my English not so good.” 


“We are very naked,” Lara said, pointing at her bra. “Five minutes to put clothes on?”  The reporter nodded again, as though such a request would cut into her tight interview itinerary with the other travelers (of which they were none), and walked backwards out of our door onto the deck, microphone still outstretched like the golden cross that will crusade Chinese media forward, come towel or high water.


“Are we being tapped?”


“No, we are being blond,” Lara said. 


Such is the truth to all of life’s synchronicities. Everyone waits their entire life for five minutes of fame, but glory never comes when you pine for it. No, fame comes when your towel is agape and you are freshly scrubbed in the forest. 

I did what I could to appear like a clothed American. After all, Baywatch is a global phenom, and I was determined to not let my television premier resemble Mitch and the crew. It’s bad enough I’m a fake blond from California — I didn’t need to perpetuate any further stereotypes by making the news in a mini towel. I threw on the remains of my hiking outfit and combed my hair into a semi-presentable part. 


And then, I got the giggles.


I tried to imagine such an interview occurring in the States, where a stranger approaches me in my toilet/shower, divulges the current state of their emotional shyness, and, with recorder in hand, stumbles toward my semi-working loin cloth. The even stranger part was… this very scenario is no longer strange to me. Being approached for untimely interviews has become rather normal.  And if I were to hand-tailor my future media engagements, I wouldn’t know where to begin. 

I wouldn’t change much really — perhaps I’d opt for an introductory pamphlet of who the company was. A vague schedule would be darling, or even an hour to anticipate the film crew, but really, these luxuries are rather superfluous to me. I’ve become quite accustomed to impromptu camera appearances, without explanation or script. At first, they annoyed me, but after the paparazzi event of Hong Kong, I’ve become quite charmed by the local version of public broadcasting. 


What I haven’t acclimated to is my faulty tongue.


Put me in front of a typewriter (what are those ancient things?) and I will write you brilliant prose. Put me in front of a non-native English speaker, and I will speak non-native English.  Add a video camera, and I become a cavewoman, my language skills reduced to points and grunts.


And I have no control. My face shrivels. I begin speaking in monosyllabic phrases. I even start scratching my bum on camera. (See sadly below.)



I’m sure it stems back to my inner foreign child wounding. Perhaps I was Wilma Flinstone in a past life. Neuroscientists would tell you it’s the mirror neurons, as my body tries to match yours to make you feel more comfortable. Or, it’s just that my English goes to hell if yours does too. Whatever it is, if you don’t speak my language, I will see your broken tongue and match it. I’ll help you help your viewers understand. Which probably isn’t the illustrious narrative the media is longing for.


“How you like China?” she asked.


“Oh, I like very much.”


“First time in (point to Earth)?”


“First time on Earth. Very beautiful.” 

By some standards, it was my most tragic sililoquy yet. The more questions she threw at me, the more I smiled, scratched, and nodded. No wonder she spotted us in the bamboo cabin. She probably mistook me for a Panda.

Before she left, she gave me her card and told me I would air live on May 1st and could download myself on May 2nd. I tried the website but the whole thing is in bloody Mandarin. If I find a broken English translation, I’ll send you the link, as then, all languages would be equal.

Moral of the story: When traveling abroad, be sure to learn the language, especially when it’s your own.


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