I traded in my phone and wallet, and in return, they gave me a microphone connected to a battery pack.
Then, they put a camera on me.
I waved goodbye to my driver and followed the director. Little did I know, I was saying goodbye to my identity.
Hold on. Let me rewind and give some background.
Two weeks prior, I sat silently in the director’s office during my audition for a Vietnamese reality show. Apparently the show’s ratings had been down, so for the first time ever, they wanted to bring a foreigner to spice things up. He spoke for a few minutes at a time, but it seemed like hours.
I couldn’t understand a single word.
His secretary translated it from Vietnamese to English, but the show still didn’t make much sense to me.
“You can travel to places in Vietnam that foreigners don’t go before, and maybe after it’s over you can have more jobs on TV and maybe be a camera man!” she said.
“Okay, but I don’t want to be a camera man. If I don’t like the show, if I am not happy, can I leave whenever I want?” I asked.
“Ah, no. You stay for 21 days minimum. After 21 days, you go home, no problem.”
It was suppose to be an audition, but most of it was them explaining the concept of the show to me. It seemed crazy. But, I still couldn’t understand.
At this point, this is all I knew:
Three girls and four boys go on a journey on a huge pink bus and into remote areas of Vietnam that no one ever travels to. We do everything together. We’re not allowed to have any contact with the outside world. No phone. No wifi. No money. Well, the group will have some money, but just enough for everyone to eat, and we have to share it.
There's some sort of love story incorporated, but I'm not sure how it works. We're not allowed to leave the group EVER. We get one two-minute call a week. But, since we’ll be in areas with out wifi, I won’t be able to Skype my family back home.
And they kept telling me that it everyone in Vietnam would love me after going on this show, but I didn’t buy it.
I knew they had a hard time finding someone to willing to do this. There aren’t that many foreigners in Vietnam that can speak Vietnamese. Of the ones that can, a lot of them have been here for many years and have a Vietnamese wife, or a job and other commitments that makes it difficult to disappear for three weeks with out any way to be contacted.
My Vietnamese was okay. I could get around and order food. But, my accent was horrible and I was still a beginner. I had been in Vietnam for about 10 months at this time. I love learning languages, but I never hired a tutor, took classes, or even bought a grammar book. I knew a good amount of vocabulary and I could communicate what I wanted, but I could barely put sentences together.
My weak Vietnamese didn’t seem to bother them. They handed me a stack of forms, all in Vietnamese, and asked for my signature. I understood less than 1% of the rules.
I wasn’t about to sign my life away for 21 days with out thinking about it first.
Or was I?
Part of the reason they liked me is because my passion for adventure and my ability to live in any conditions. They said I may have to sleep on the floor, wash my clothes by hand, take bucket showers, and this actually got me excited.
I told them about my experiences and highlighted the 5 months I spend living in Ghana, West Africa.
“No air conditioning. No fan. No electricity. No problem.” I said.
But when it became time to sign the dotted line, they sensed my hesitation.
“We have many foreigner come who very want. But, we think you will be best!”
I told them to give me 24 hours and I would make a decision.
I wasn’t sure. 21 days is a pretty long time. And, I also wanted to do a background check on this show I knew nothing about. What if it was a scam? What if they were kidnapping me? Plus, even though I lived on the other side of the world, I still wanted to make sure my parents were okay with it.
After consulting a few of my friends, this seemed like a crazy, but also cool opportunity. My Vietnamese friends said it was a legit show and that I’d be safe.
I was in.
Informing my parents wasn’t exactly easy.
My mom was supportive, but worried, and she had every right to be.
She didn’t like the idea that I was going to be gone for so long. She didn’t like the fact that she wouldn’t be able to call me and hear my voice. But, I love my mom, and she trusts my instincts. I assured her that it’d be a great experience and that I’d be fine.
I hopped on a Skype call with my father in the USA from my apartment in Saigon, Vietnam. This put things in perspective.
“Dad, how’s the connection? Can you hear me? Okay. Good.
I’ve got some exciting news. I’m going on a Vietnamese reality show!”
“Wow. Reality show? What kind of show is it?” he questioned.
“I’m not really sure. But I know it’s safe,” I stated.
“Where are you going?” My dad is a lawyer and is not easy to convince.
“The entire show is a secret. They don’t really tell us anything…”
He started to get skeptical, which is to be expected by a parent on the other side of the world. Plus, he’s a lawyer.
“Do you get paid?”
“No. We’re not allowed to have money. But, the show covers all of our expenses.” I reassured him.
“How long does it last?”
My confidence slowly dwindled.
“Um, I’m not sure. I’m required to stay for at least three weeks, but it could be as long as a few months. I’ll get one phone call a week, but we’ll be in the mountains with no wifi connection, so I’ll have to call a friend who is here in Vietnam and have him e-mail an update to everyone.”
“How’d you find out about it.” His tone got serious. What started out as questions slowly became demands.
“Um, from a Facebook post. They said they were looking for a foreigner that can speak Vietnamese to go on a TV show. So, I wrote them an e-mail, passed my audition, and that was it.” I responded.
“How many other people are on the show? Will anyone else on the show speak English?” He barked.
“There’s 7 people total. I’ll be the only foreigner. The show has been airing for 7 years, so it’s legit. But, I’m the first foreigner to ever go on, so I don’t know for sure. They said to expect that no one else knows how to speak English. I’ll be fine; don’t worry! They’re not gonna kill me…"
“Are you crazy!” he shouted.
Call me crazy (maybe I am), but after having this conversation, I signed the Vietnamese forms that I didn’t understand (generally never a good idea) and agreed to participate on this Vietnamese reality TV show called, “Love Bus”.
I had about a week to prepare. But, how do you prepare for the unknown?
Well, at the time I was working as a freelance videographer and also performing music. So, I had a lot of work to do in order to finish my current projects and send that awkward e-mail to my clients explaining that I’ll be off the map for at least three weeks and possibly a few months.
The production company kept contacting me to make sure I wasn’t running away. They feared that I would wake up one day and think to myself, “What the @#%^ am I getting myself into!?” and tell them that all bets were off.
Well, they were partially right.
After the first day, those were my exact thoughts.
Once I discovered what I had agreed to, this reality TV show truly became my reality. For better and also for worse…
(to be continued)
**I'll be posting more stories that will share everything I learned as the episodes are released. So, enter your e-mail below and don't miss out!