To Be Frank

One of Frank’s many qualities is that his intuition is the captain of his ship. In combination with his frankness (this word must have been based on him) he opens many doors, and any obstacle on his way seems to magically evaporate into thin air. Somewhat like a giant child who always gets what he wants because he doesn’t allow himself to be confined to certain adult ideas of how someone should act or behave. If I had to describe him in one sentence it would be: “Don’t worry about it, let’s just do it!”
Frank ‘just doing it’ on a 20 meters high ‘bridge’ across the red river.
(picture by Anne Sophie Markus,
Jeanmarie & Frank working on the decor
Around the same time that Andi and Tim met for the first time, Frank was touring with Jeanmarie in The Netherlands and Belgium. In some ways Frank and Jeanmarie are cast in the same mould. Both addicted to working with children, both interested in indigenous cultures, both fascinated by nature, both restless in a nomadic way and both very persistent when it comes to realizing their dreams. Or as Jeanmarie would put it: “We are obviously chasing the same stars.”
Frank had travelled to several Asian countries in the year before and, as he and Jeanmarie were touring Belgium, Frank was already making new travel plans. His previous journey turned out to be kind of an adolescent, coming-of-age, touristy, backpacking event with yours truly. That’s why this time he really wanted to go to Asia to fully immerse into a culture. While building up the stage for Jeanmarie’s performance somewhere in a small Belgian village, Frank realized that it actually might not be a bad idea to acquire some knowledge at a University. Like learning a language, for instance.
Eventually Frank ended up in Ghent for three years studying Japanese, Asian studies and International Politics. And although nobody can deny his boundless enthusiasm, Frank and the Belgian education system have never really been a good fit. During his last year Frank had sort of an epiphany: “I shouldn’t be in Ghent to learn Japanese, I should go to Japan!”.  It didn’t take him long to give up his apartment and head for Japan. While planning his journey, Tim convinced him to stop by in Kunming for a short visit. Another link in the chain of decisions I described in my earlier blog. The short visit turned out to be quite a long one. Frank never made it to Japan.
Frank & his Chinese friends

At first he didn’t really have a purpose: it would have been just as weird to learn Japanese in China as it was to do it in Belgium. Luckily Tim gave him some invaluable advice about how to learn a language first hand, and he introduced him to many of his friends.  Frank’s ideas about using plenty of cigarettes and alcohol to celebrate life perfectly matched those of his newly acquired Chinese friends.  Besides this leading to some rough mornings, it also led to him learning Mandarin Chinese as fast as he could have possibly learnt it.

Frank found work as an English teacher in Kunming pretty quickly and his experience of working with Jeanmarie paid off: Frank developed his own clown-teaching method. In these hilarious classes – the most fun English classes I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing –  Frank acts out ordinary life events (e.g. taking the bus, going to the forest) and lets the children decide the course of events by shouting out the correct english words or phrases. In the past few years Clown Frank, or “Fulanke” as the children call him, became notoriously successful in the classrooms of Kunming and he became a sought-after teacher.
Frank giving one of his captivating and highly effective English classes
Slowly but steadily Frank turned away from the unhealthy habits that had helped him to learn Mandarin so fast. He swapped his motorcycle for a bicycle and forced himself to get up early in the morning. Frank started discovering the beauty of Yunnan’s natural surroundings on his bicycle as he was  looking for a new challenge. The more mountains and hidden valleys he discovered while cycling, hiking or hitchhiking, the more he thought he should find a way to make a living out of this. Not thinking about it too long, he enthusiastically made a website offering outdoor adventure tours to remote corners of the province. (Really worth checking out!) Not surprisingly, the idea took off like a rocket.
A short visual impression of Frank’s magnificent tours into the heart of Yunnan.
(pictures by Anne Sophie Markus,

With pain in his heart, he had to find substitute teachers for his positions in the kindergartens. But, although the touring was his dream job, he couldn’t completely let go of his role in the Chinese education system. He designed workshops to teach Chinese kindergarten teachers to work more with feeling and humor and he started thinking about how he could combine his work with children, with exploring the cultural and natural beauties of Yunnan. Not much later he invited an old friend to come to China. A man who is obviously chasing the same stars. 

Next Blog: about Anne Sophie Markus, the bright young lady who filmed all our stunning footage and who is working with me to make this documentary become reality.