Editor’s Note: Two weeks ago, our writer Karl Arney brought us into the world of business aficionado Wojciech Szpakowski in Zhengzhou, China. This week, we are brought into the limelight of American actor and adventure seeker Matt Cool, as part of an ongoing series discussing the lives and lifestyles of both immigrants and nationals of China, in an effort to bring us closer to the Chinese culture and the faces that stand behind it.

It often seems that most Western ex-pats in China can be fitted into a fairly limited variety of archetypes. There are those who are here for a year’s break from “the real world,” who come to teach English and adventure around Asia for a year before going home and getting a Master’s Degree. There are those who claim to hate everything about China and are perpetually one year away from leaving. There are people who stay for romance, people who stay because they thrive in the Chinese business climate, and people who stay because they fancy themselves to be doing God’s work.

Self-described “China Freelancer” Matt Cool (yes, that is his name) is the rare instance of somebody who fits none of those categories, instead staying for little more reason than that he really likes it here. I knew Cool when he lived in Zhengzhou, Henan, and his love of China was already evident then. He now lives in Beijing, and during our online interview it was hard to miss his affection for his adopted home. He refers to himself as a “China nerd,” repeatedly referencing his excitement about his continually evolving understanding of Chinese culture. Four years in, he still sees every day in China as a grand adventure.

Cool’s China story didn’t start off too differently from the average young American teacher-for-hire’s. Raised in Pacific Grove, CA, and educated in International Affairs at San Francisco State University, in 2008 he turned his post-graduate eye to the Far East with vague intentions of learning and exploring.

“I came because I saw China as a sort of frontier,” he explains. “I had just graduated and had a vague idea of spending some time there and learning Mandarin. With two semesters of Chinese and a dubious online teaching certificate under my belt, I began my China experience teaching English classes in a small town in [the] Henan province.”

Only after settling in, and finding that life in China provided all of the cultural and lingual mysteries and adventures he was hoping for, did his story begin to slowly part from the norm. For starters, he possesses an attitude which has suited him well in a culture that often proves frustrating to outsiders. While the staggering population, Communist-influenced mentality, and complex language drive are merely a few elements of life in China that infuriate many Western visitors, Cool views them in a different light.

“There’s still so much I don’t understand about the culture and the language, and it makes everything you do, a personal test in patience and cultural awareness. Feeling like I’ve passed one of these tests and feeling like I’m growing as a person gives me great pleasure,” he says.

Life in Henan, a province often looked down upon even by the rest of China, fascinated him enough to stick around, and before long he started to see the myriad of possibilities of life in this country. By the time he moved to the nation’s infinitely more developed capital, Beijing, China had already begun to return his love in some unforeseen ways.

When I inquire about what he does here, he explains just what he means by the term “China Freelancer. “I’ll pretty much do any job I can find here,” he tells me with a laugh. He runs down a list of past odd-jobs to illustrate his point, a list that includes dalliances in sales, editing, marketing, translation, and entertainment. “Most recently, a lot of my time has been devoted to acting.”

It is that last bit of information which both raises my curiosity and currently occupies much of his time. While it’s not uncommon for foreigners to get offered minor spots in commercials or on billboards simply for looking white and distinguished, it’s far less often that you encounter somebody who has taken it any further. Still, Cool was not without certain pre-existing talents and interests to make him an ideal candidate.

“Back home, performing was always something I enjoyed doing. I was involved in a lot of community theater, school musicals, and a little bit of film,” he reminisces.

His appeal as an actor here also isn’t hurt by the fact that he is a generally good-looking guy – tall, fit, bright-eyed and well-groomed, with short, styled black hair. While this might not mark him as particularly distinguished back home, the combination of those attributes with his white skin makes him a near shoe-in for success in China, where people use whitening cream the way Americans do tanning lotion. Add in his gentle-but-outgoing personality (which lacks the aggression that sometimes turns the Chinese off from foreigners) and Cool was practically a lock.

(Article continued on next page)