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  Beijing Scene

Beijing Scene, Volume 6, Issue 9, December 10 - 16

Tube Talk

The Chinese equivalent of the TV guide is the meizhou guangbo dianshibao (TV Weekly). But your faithful Comrade knows that not all foreign friends can read Chinese characters. That's why he's prepared this week's shiji (practical) guide to Chinese television.

Believe it or not, there are still some laowai out there who don't get Star TV. Funny how the people who do get Star TV are usually also the people getting hardship allowances from their companies. While the gaogan zidi (children of high officials) are watching CNN and Baywatch, us laobaixing (common folk) are stuck with Chinese game shows where the big winner takes home a RMB5 bag of prawn crackers. I guess that's a suitable prize for correctly answering questions like "Are bats birds?" and "What does an anteater eat?"

First it should be noted that Chinese television jiemu (programs) have a tendency to begin and end at the most xiangbudao (unexpected) times. It's not uncommon for a broadcast to start at 7:08 and end at 7:27, and unless you know in advance what time the show ends you'll never be able to guess from the events in the program itself. Programs often end abruptly while someone is in mid-sentence, or before you've even figured out the qingjie (plot). As a matter of fact, most Chinese TV shows consist of little more than qingjie fazhan (plot development). Like sex at the Comrade's age, rarely is there a gaochao (climax).

At almost any given time of the day or night, you can be sure of encountering the following programs as you flip through Beijing's TV stations.

1. Sporting Events (yundong jiemu). In China, these consist mainly of pingpangqiu(ping-pong, or table tennis), paiqiu (volleyball), zuqiu (soccer, or football if you're from the Commonwealth) and lanqiu (basketball), featuring washed-up foreign basketball "stars" who play on the Chinese teams.

2. Soap Operas (feizaoju). These are good for a laugh, although they're not guyi (intentionally) funny. The next time you watch a Chinese xiju lianxuju (drama series) on TV, count the number of times the leading actor turns his/her head (either slowly and thoughtfully or quickly and excitedly) in one episode. Usually not a word can be spoken in those shows without a head being turned. It's a rule or something. Chinese soap operas include wudapian (kung-fu fighting movies), which also involve a lot of head turning. There's the slow head turn, where the old kung-fu master turns to smirk at his challenger, and the "land-on-the-ground-and-turn-head-quickly-to-look-at-opponent" head turn. The foreign soap operas and drama series chosen for Chinese TV aren't much better. Some popular shows feature a deaf detective who reads lips and a team of fashion models who moonlight as private investigators.

3. Comedy Series (youmo lianxuju). Not as funny as the soap operas, Chinese sitcoms are hilarious if you like to watch people sneeze and fall down. The only way to tell comedies apart from other types of shows is by the laugh track.

4. Book Reading (shuoshu). This concept started as a wuxian diantai jiemu (radio program), until some tiancai (genius) figured out that book reading could just as easily be a hit on TV. Meant for those with really short attention spans, book-reading shows are just that: a show where some guy wearing lipstick narrates a whole book while making exaggerated gestures with one hand and fanning himself with the other.

5. 'Cross-talk' (xiangsheng). The literal translation of this word is "cross-talk," but what it really means is "two guys in dresses talking to each other." The actors are usually Chinese, but on special occasions you can catch a Chinese-speaking Canadian guy shaking his linguistic cakes for cash, cross-talking in Chinese about such absurd topics as what foreigners eat for breakfast.

6. News (xinwen). In order to watch and understand the news in Chinese, the first thing you have to get straight is that wo guo means "China." Rule #2: Anything that at any time in Chinese history was considered bad can now be considered good, provided the words "with Chinese characteristics" are added to the name.

7. Chinese Opera (xiju). Ci er (shrill) about sums it up. Foreigners simply can't xinshang (appreciate) something as complex as Chinese opera, which has 5000 years of history and tradition. It's more than just men and women shrieking on a stage - it's men and women shrieking on a stage in colorful outfits.

8. Movies (dianying). The ones you'll see on TV are mostly geming dianying (revolutionary flicks). These are the old war movies about how the CCP won World War II single-handedly by defeating the Japanese imperialists with farming tools.

Usually the best acting you'll see on Chinese TV is in the guanggao (commercials). The music used in Chinese TV commercials can't be topped: the theme song from Star Trek in a bicycle commercial, a saxophone rendition of "My Way" in an ad for chocolates and that song "All That She Wants is Another Baby" in a commercial for planned childbirth. Which brings me to the xuanchuan guanggao (propaganda commercials), which teach people to be model citizens by explaining how they must learn to be filial from watching the behavior patterns of crows.

Another kind of commercial, the xinxi guanggao (infomercial), is now taking China by storm. Items like automatic potato-peelers or electronic apple-corers which never sold in their home countries are now being marketed in China in a desperate attempt by their "inventors" to get rid of them. What these foreign entrepreneurs don't seem to understand is that people won't spend three-quarters of their monthly salary for a tap water purifying device when they don't even have zilaishui (running water).

One of the few places you can hear pure, unadulterated Mandarin is on television. So if you're not too busy playing golf or sitting in the sauna, try watching Chinese TV to improve your tingli (listening skills).

Previous Stories...

Toilet Talk

Back to Basics

You say potato,
I say potato

Surviving Chinese Weddings

The Dating Game

One Party, Two Systems

Shop till you Drop

What's in A Name

Making friends with Chinese people

Chinese Zodiac Part II

Chinese Zodiac Part I

Everyday Items in Chinese People's Homes

Blood Type

Judging a book by its cover

Losing Weight

Money is everything

The Comrade's final exam

Wining and dinning out

Pekinese in beijing

Using Your Electric Brain

Traditional Holidays

Little Emporer Syndrome

Henpecked Husbands

To Own Real Estate is Glorious