Episode 5: Auntie Guo

Auntie Guo


You can read the transcript below or download here.

Ginkgo Biloba is a tree that produces a nut whose properties have long sense been related to memory. It is only fitting that in a village that worships the ginkgo tree as a god I would experience a memory that would prove impossible to forget.

In the summer of 2017 I was cast in a partially staged reality travel show called (I am waiting for you in Guizhou.) My self and two other unlikely friends one American and one Chinese were staged to travel around the Chinese province of Guizhou experiencing the local culture, food, and people for the better half of two months.

Hot springs, shoveling pig shit, and fossil excavation were among many of the activities we were staged to participate in. Working in a show like this can be quite comical as many events, or disasters have to be staged for the sake of drama or time. But this can also be quite challenging where.

even though we’re trained actors -who are used to pulling off such stunts- often time we have to work with people who have no camera experience.

In one particular episode we arrived in a very remote village called TuoLe, high in the mountains of South Western China. For this episode we were challenged to find a place to stay after arriving sometime passed 11 at night. Of course hotels were booked for us, but to give the illusion of realism the directors had found a local woman and her husband to play as our local adoptive family.

After weeks of working with local people who couldn’t resist the urge to deliver stilted lines looking directly into the camera, thus slowing down our filming, Auntie and Uncle Guo pushing mid to late 80’s. At first glance made me very skeptical to say the least.

Where Uncle Guo was stoic and almost completely silent, Auntie was an absolute natural in front of the camera. Though she was at least 80 in age her spirit was that of an ornery 30 year old. Delivering snappy one liners, skathing observations, and she was as subtle as a brick up side the head. A woman truly after my own heart.

One morning sitting around the breakfast table in front of about 10 cameras Aunty Guo noticed our American Pal Scotty wasn’t eating exactly as much as he should. She asked him why, and with his polite southern drawl he said his stomach wasn’t feeling quite right. She asked if he had diarrhea, common enough response among Chinese. Scotty then said, no, not quite. Without missing a beat Auntie loudly proclaimed, ‘Ah the rooster has to lay an egg.’

This was not the first or last time Auntie Guo got me in trouble for laughing on set.

Auntie Guo reminded me of my grandfather in many ways. ornery, fake grumpy, blunt, a jokester, seemingly callous, but kind, loving, soft.

Her village though very hard to reach is a popular tourist destination, as the people of TuoLe worship the Ginko Biloba tree. Every morning the villagers congregate to pray and tie their wishes in the form of red ribbons to the oldest tree known as King Tree. The tree king boasts an age of over 1,500 years old.

On the morning we were meant to leave Auntie Guo takes us to the tree to dance and sing with all the other village elders. It was a very typically sweet moment seen in many reality television shows. But sometimes reality television even can capture the truth.

On the way back to her house to collect our belongings and say our goodbyes. It happened, the moment I am all too familiar with when visiting older relatives. Especially those in remote parts of the world.

The last day visiting my grandparents on their property in Louisiana was always the saddest, as I only got to see them once a year for such a short amount of time. The clinking of forks and knives filled the dining room where laughter usually did. It was almost easier to say nothing than to pretend to be happy.

Auntie Guo became withdrawn, quiet, heavy. Suddenly all 85 years of age came rushing back to her on this five minute walk back. What happened to the effervescent young woman who I had just been dancing with?

We eventually reached her house after what felt like hours, said our good byes except for Aunty who just sat in a chair silent, and with tears welling behind her eyes we left. Less than a few minutes after leaving I felt something wasn’t right. I walked back to her house and saw all of the directors surrounding Aunty, trying to cheer her up. Saying, ‘we will be back, don’t worry, we will see you again.’

But it was a lie. Not born of mallace, but intended to comfort. But a lie non the less. They knew it. She knew it.

I walked directly up to her. Crouched before her where she was sitting in a chair and I held her hands. She began to cry, I began to cry. I tell her don’t cry because it is over smile because it happened. I tried to stay in that moment as long as I could. I looked around hopeless to the cameramen, the directors, anyone.but there wasn’t anything to be done. We can’t stay in that village for ever. The director tells me I have to leave.

I look at Auntie and I say, I will be back. But that was a lie, I knew it, and she knew it.

So, I left. And it happened just as I was out of her sight. I cried.
Not a single tear pretty for TV cry. A real, open, devestated, guilty cry.

I want to say I don’t know why, but I do. When we as expats travel so freely we have family all over the world, and it’s amazing to know that no matter where you go you have a home. But because our time is limited we miss many things. Weddings, graduations, reunions, births, first birthdays, first steps. Last birthdays, last steps.

When we say good bye to family and friends we always think, ‘this won’t be the last time I say goodbye, it can’t be. It doesn’t feel like the last goodbye.

But this one did. I knew it, and she knew it.

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  1. keaidid
    April 3, 2019

    the story is interesting, I like your chat show very much

    • expatchitchat
      June 9, 2019

      Thank you so much! It means a lot to us here at the show. Thanks for being a fan!

  2. Jane
    April 3, 2019

    It is the impressed experience which I really yearn for . One day,may be I could have chance to have a travel I couldn’t forget.

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