In 1994, Columbia grad Rachel De Woskin moved from New York City to Beijing to work at a PR company. Two months later — on a whim — she auditioned for the role of Jiexi, a ”manipulative American hussy who seduces a married Chinese man,” on a 20-episode soap opera broadcast throughout China. Surprisingly, she got the job. In a memoir that shares the soap’s name, Foreign Babes in Beijing, DeWoskin, now 32, chronicles her experience.
Foreign Babes was a huge hit in China, drawing an estimated 600 million viewers. Did you get recognized on the street? Everywhere I went in China for three years following the show, people wanted to talk to me about it. Throngs of people came to my apartment. The producer of the show gave anybody who called the studio my phone number and address.
Was that weird? I never felt victimized. If you [figuratively] drop your trou on national television, you’re asking for it.
As an acting novice, did you worry about making a fool of yourself? Of course. Aside from the fact that I’m not a particularly talented actor, it was very difficult for me to get the dialogue. The first time I saw the show, I was paralyzed with horror. I thought I looked like a Muppet.
What was your worst moment of mistranslation? I told [my castmate] that Columbia professors castrate their language students. I was trying to say they’re strict, but the word strict and the word castrate are the same if you get the tones wrong.