I’ve been playing a lot with QQ, an instant messaging platform that is really popular in China. By “really popular,” I mean that it has over 700 million users. Anyway, there is an English version, and if you sign up, you’ll soon be inundated with friend requests from random Chinese people. Most of them want to make foreign friends and practice their English. I like to make friends, I don’t mind speaking English, and I have met some really cool people this way.

Occasionally you get propositions of another sort. I have been offered the opportunity to purchase everything from insurance to apartments (come to think of it, mostly insurance and apartments). I have been the surprised recipient of earnest–but entirely random–marriage proposals. During times of political upheaval, I have been interrogated by young nationalists about my viewpoints on foreign policy. However, until Sunday night, I’d never been offered the opportunity to star in a movie. “Only need two minutes” was the pitch. “You’ll be advertisement. Pay you 500 RMB.” I couldn’t pry loose any details about the product other than it was music-related, but chalked the mystery up to the producer’s English level (which wasn’t great). After a lot of questions about my background, the dialect of English I spoke, and whether I had any acting experience, she asked to meet. I agreed.

After cancelling and rescheduling on me twice, we finally managed to meet this evening. I gave the producer a specific location to meet me after work but she got lost, so an hour and a half-dozen text messages later, we finally found each other. At this point I was hungry, so I asked her to wait while I grabbed a sandwich. When I returned, she pulled out four Post-It notes covered in English text. This, she informed me, was the script, which we’d shoot tomorrow night in Guomao, on the opposite side of Beijing. It appeared that two minutes was already stretching into two days plus a long commute. I took the script and reviewed it. Although it was in horrible, nearly incomprehensible Chinglish (and mind you, I’ve been in China for 2 1/2 years now and can comprehend most Chinglish), I managed to puzzle out the meaning. They wanted me to record an infomercial for fake Eddie Van Halen and various other counterfeit famous-name guitars.

“Is English OK?” the woman asked me, beaming. “I wrote myself!” I replied (in the measured, face-saving way that is necessary here) “It’s not bad, but is maybe more formal than we would use. I could suggest some small changes.” She nodded eagerly. “Yes, more advertisement, we make Web site! Internet!” At this point, I gently broke it to her. “In America, Eddie Van Halen is very famous. I cannot use his name on your product. He could sue me in the US. I’m an American guy, it is easy for him to do that.” The woman nodded gravely, clearly understanding my concern. In retrospect, I am guessing this wasn’t the first time she’d heard similar concerns expressed. “I will call boss!” she said. A flurry of numbers dialed, harried pacing, an animated conversation with either a person or dead air, and she eventually sat down again. Putting down the phone, she said with an air of finality, “Boss tell you must say this names.”

“Find someone else, then,” I replied, with my own air of finality. “500 RMB isn’t worth being sued by Eddie Van Halen.” A crestfallen look, some quick calculation, and then she shifted the conversation away from business. What was my job? How much was my salary? I really seemed kind, couldn’t I just help her with this small thing? Where does my family live? Do I like to eat Chinese food? Am I married? Was I really sure that she couldn’t persuade me to become an actor? Eventually I finished my sandwich, wished her goodbye, and made a beeline for the subway. My acting career, it seems, is finished before it even started.