For the past couple of years I have been scared of Chinese, not Chinese people or food, more like Chinese popular culture – music, TV, films, literature etc. Mainly due to the vast amount of Chinese characters and the tones that mean I could hear “My Mum runs very quick” but the actually meaning might be “My horse runs very quick”. That’s the first example that came to my head but there are more serious misunderstandings than that due to a difference in tones.
But now? I’m not scared, well not as scared. I’ll happily sit in my dormitory, doing my Chinese homework with the TV on. When I first arrived in China my TV channel of choice would be BBC World News as it was English speaking but now I always have some other Chinese channel on in the background. Sometimes it’s a dubbed Korean soap opera, sometimes a program where adults interview children and ask them questions about how to lose weight etc and the children have funny methods to solve their adult problems. My recent favourite background TV is CCTV 15, it’s a music channel and the simplfied characters on the bottom of the screen give it a KTV feel without the complicated Taiwan traditional characters.
A few weeks ago all the American dramas I was watching came to an end and I was stuck with nothing to watch, which is a very big dilemma when you’re a student, trust me! Instead of choosing something I wasn’t interested in (Game of Thrones)， I started to watch some Chinese reality shows: 爸爸去哪儿？， 花儿与少年 and my new favourite 花样爷爷. 花样爷爷 sees four grandads (old famous movie stars) go to France travelling, as they are old they are a little impatient and they argue quite a bit, even over silly things like who is the eldest. I love the way Chinese TV is so colourful with so many different things going on. They also have funny sound effects, superimpose pictures and add speech bubbles to the people as well as having the subtitles below.
I often pick up a magazine from one of the news stands in town and whereas before I would just skip through and look at the pictures, if I am concentrating I can actually read a fair amount. I cannot by no means understand every word and every character but I understand the general meaning and that is my aim. It already feel likes I’ve achieved so much just by buying a magazine and having confidence that I will be understand parts of it. Sometimes I look up words that I don’t understand but mainly I just skip them and move onto the next page instead of looking in the dictionary – I would be there forever.
Watching television has definitely been my best part of Chinese popular culture. Not only can I learn new words from it and practice my reading and listening skills, it also gives me something different to talk to my Chinese friends about. Over the past few months I’ve become tired of explaining the differences between the UK and China, telling people my opinion on the one-child policy and trying to argue that the UK still has financial problems. So when I can switch off from all of those and talk about how hilarious it was when that guy from 花儿与少年 begs an American tourist for a sandwich (and gets it), it’s a really nice change.
Sometimes when the weather is really good (or really bad, or when it’s Friday) we watch Chinese films in class and although they don’t have the drama or comedy that the American blockbusters have they’re watchable and are not all kung fu related! I still don’t have the confidence to buy a Chinese book, my excuse is the lack of punctuation and spaces between words. I hope when I get back to the UK I’ll still be interested in Chinese TV as at the moment I really enjoy it and am anxiously waiting for the next episode of Grandads in France to come out!