The Curated Commute is a series where I pick interesting podcasts or other audio treats to accompany you on your commute. Hopefully they’ll entertain you and maybe even help you learn a little something while you’re en route…
Today’s featured podcast comes from This American Life. In three parts, Ira Glass and crew follow the stories of various Americans who’ve living in China.
The first act explains why so many Americans in China have been on Chinese television. The second act chronicles the story of one Chinese American’s rise to music stardom and fall from grace over his public difference of opinion regarding US actions under the Clinton administration. And, the third story is about a writer living in rural China, specifically in Manchuria, the village his wife is from, and the questions he typically gets asked as a foreigner living in China.
Not surprisingly when it comes to This American Life, I didn’t want to stop listening when it was time to get off the bus. My commute is considerably shorter than 57 mins… Thank goodness! And the compelling stories and charming wit from this particular episode of This American Life kept me company on more than one commute.
Here’s one of my favorite sections of the dialogue, and the one that inspired the title…
Ira Glass: … The four different Americans I talked to used the phrase “performing monkey” to describe the experience of being on Chinese TV. Benji’s been on singing competitions as a judge and as a contestant. He’s been on dramas in some pretty big parts. He’s been on talk shows, which he describes this way.
Benji: When foreigners go on TV shows, the most common thing is, they like to dress them up in old Chinese garb, like the Tang Dynasty clothes, and make them sing some old Chinese song and say some ridiculous phrase in Chinese. And then the host will come out and just kind of make fun of them or like talk back to them in a really bad Chinese accent, kind of like we– which in America, if we were to speak to somebody back in their accent in English, it’d be considered kind of rude.
Like I’ve heard that in Chinese TV, the things that get the best ratings are children, animals, and foreigners, which just kind of says it all. It’s just that foreigners are considered cute and adorable. It’s kind of like a baby who can’t take care of himself and needs to be loved.
Ira Glass: Oh, so it’s not ridicule. It’s more like–
Benji: It’s more like oh, they’re so cute. Yeah, oh look at that cute foreigner. He’s trying to speak Chinese. It’s so adorable.
For other podcasts to enjoy while commuting, check out the new For Your Commute page.
Photo by ernop. In Dongzhimen, Beijing.