David Bowie’s ‘China Girl’ says music video changed her life
Video shoot and brief romance with ‘beautiful, just beautiful’ Bowie that followed were like a dream, says Geeling Ching, who last saw him in 2004 when he toured her native New Zealand
In 1983,Geeling Ching was 23 years old and waiting tables at a Sydney cafe when she was chosen to play the lead role in the music video for David Bowie’s China Girl.
She says the music video and the brief romance with Bowie that followed in the 1980s were like a surreal dream and a life changer.
The death of the British rock star from cancer this week at age 69 stunned fans worldwide. New Zealand-born Ching was watching a tennis tournament in Auckland, where she lives, when her phone started buzzing: is it true?
She was already a fan when she met Bowie. As a teenager, she’d put Bowie’s posters up on her bedroom wall and bought one of his albums. “There was something quite other-worldly about him,” she says. “He was beautiful. Just beautiful.”
The video parodies Asian stereotypes and went on to win an MTV award. At the time, the unedited version was banned from New Zealand and some other countries for a raunchy scene on a beach.
Ching says she and Bowie, then in his mid-30s, were naked for the scene, but it wasn’t romantic.
“We got up at three in the morning to shoot that, to catch the sunrise, and it’s the least sexy I’ve ever been in my life,” she says.
Ching says she was freezing and struggling with salt water getting into her mouth. Some crew kept away curious joggers while others stood by with bathrobes. In another scene, she said, she accidentally head-butted Bowie but thankfully didn’t break his nose.
A real-life romance did develop, she says. She was struck by Bowie’s intelligence, his charm and how he was so relaxed in chatting with fans.
After the shoot, she said, Bowie invited her to join him on tour in Europe. She travelled on a private jet and saw the frenzied fans. “It was completely surreal,” she says.
It didn’t last long and Ching returned Down Under. “It’s had the biggest influence on my life that I could have ever imagined,” she says.
Ching’s role in the video opened doors and she took some acting roles, including one in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. But she loves the hospitality industry and now works as a restaurant manager.
In 2007, she ran the New York City Marathon, listening to Bowie’s Heroes album as she crossed the finishing line.
Ching didn’t make contact with Bowie again until he played in New Zealand in 2004. He was doing a photo shoot with executives backstage when he saw her.
“His face lit up,” she says. “He walked away from the photos and said, ‘Geeling, you’re here! Fantastic.”’