“I Love Health,” First Impressions

Posted in Me on TV at 3:40 am by Benjamin Ross

Several weeks ago I began taping for my new TV show with Fuzhou City TV. Before the actual show was to begin, there was the obligatory round of meetings and dinners with the producer. The producer is a Chinese guy named Jason, and he told me that he had wanted to put together a new TV show, and it was going to be called 我爱健康 or “I Love Health.” It was to be a 30 minute show broken down into 5 or 6 segments. I was to be the host of one segment which was called 我爱健康之健康冲浪 (I Love Health’s Health Surfing). The segment was to follow a format where I would pick out news from the Internet and then report it on TV. Jason’s idea was to have a foreigner host to give the show a little edge over the competition.

“This will be like a news show. If it goes well, hopefully we will do some ‘on the spot’ recording, where you might go to…say…a skin care center, get some service and then report live as you are getting it.”

Several days before the show was to begin, Jason gave me a call with some new information.

“We have been informed by the leaders of the TV station that they think it is best to have a Chinese host with you on the show.”

“That’s okay. Why?” I responded. It wasn’t that I minded sharing the program with another announcer, but more than anything was just curious why a decision like that had been made.

“I’m not really sure. You know how leaders are. Maybe they just weren’t ready to have a show completely hosted by a foreigner.”

Fortunately, having another host turned out making the show considerably more interesting as it allowed for dialogue and mutual joking between me and the other host, a young female announcer named Zheng Zheng who was also doing her first full-time TV program.

Zheng Zheng (wearing yellow this time) and Ben, Fuzhou’s latest and greatest TV duo.

On the first day of recording, Zheng Zheng, myself, and the production crew which at that point was at its peak of 5 people met for the first time. Our first meeting took place in a local coffee shop which was to be the background of the show. On this, my first meeting of my co-host, Zheng Zheng, showed up accurately depicted as “dressed up like a strawberry” by one of the cameramen. She was wearing a solid pink dress, pink earrings, a pink headband, and several layers of makeup. This of course was to be expected, as in China the archetypical male/female host duo consists of a girl who looks like a Barbie doll, and a guy with cheesy Chinese hipster button-down shirts and a goofy spiky haircut. Needless to say, I fit the male role to the tee.

All of the scripts are prepared by a girl named Ting Ting, who sends them to both Zheng Zheng and me a few days before the recording. She also directs us as we report. Each 5 minute segment is broken into 3 or 4 short dialogues. They all follow the same general pattern: Zheng Zheng or I begin by asking the other a random question. We then engage in a few sentences before Zheng Zheng relates an element from our dialogue into a news story from the Internet. I make comments or ask a question. Then Zheng Zheng replies. Usually at several points running jokes are included such as me telling Zheng Zheng that she has gotten fat or asking if she is pregnant. Zheng Zheng also takes her turn making fun of my beer gut or calling me old.

Here’s how one of our bits on fibromyalgia digressed.


me: Zheng Zheng, have you ever heard of fibromylgia?

Zheng Zheng: Don’t ask me. Ask an expert student from Shanghai Medical University.

me: I already asked him. He says he doesn’t know. (at this point I give a big “thumbs down” gesture)

me: (on the phone) Is this the hospital rheumatism department?

Zheng Zheng: Oh, in the past, what happened to these people with this disease? (sighs, indicating results not wanting to be talked about)

Ben: That’s right. However last month the American FDA authorized a new drug called lyrica from the Huirui company. It works very well against fibromyalgia. You know Hurui company, right? They were the same company who developed Viagra.

Ben: (in a sly aside to the audience) Listen everybody. Who wants it? Just give me a quick call on my cell phone. I can get you some from the US. Just give me a little fee for my troubles.

This was about as far as we pushed the envelope on the first day. More to come…



My Newest Job: TV Host

Posted in Announcements, Me on TV at 7:14 am by Benjamin Ross

About a month ago I received a call from Xiao Xie in the barbershop.

“There is a customer who wants to meet you.”  These kinds of calls happen a couple times a week.  Usually the customer is either looking for a quick fix to their child’s poor English, or a green card to the US.  Naturally, I am the one called in both situations.

This call was different.  It was from one of the Fuzhou city television station (not the provincial ones I had appeared on before).

“I am a producer for Fuzhou TV.  We are looking for a foreigner to be a broadcaster for a show about health, and it is in Chinese,” the man told me in English.  “We would like to meet sometime and do a practice scene.  Are you interested?”

I met with the producer the following day, and what came out of the meeting is that I was going be the newest host on Fuzhou TV.

This was almost a month ago, but for various reasons I didn’t get a chance to document it on this blog yet.  Working for the TV station has been an interesting experience, and has given me some insight into how TV production works in China.  I plan to retroactively blog about it for at least the next week or so.  If anybody is interested in watching the show, you can see it on Fuzhou TV3 at 6:25 every day.  It’s probably only available within Fujian province.  I’d be curious if anybody in other provinces can pick up the channel as well.



Are you NOT Asian? Do you have a Talent? Chinese TV needs YOU!

Posted in Me on TV, Random Goofiness at 8:58 pm by Benjamin Ross

Several weeks ago, I was interviewed for a story by the Christian Science Monitor on the current rage over foreigners on Chinese TV. As readers of past posts probably know, it isn’t too difficult to get on TV in China, (provided you’re not Asian) as simply looking different is still much of a novelty in the Middle Kingdom. The first time I ever did a Chinese TV show, I remember thinking to myself what the equivalent would have been if it had been done in the US. The image which came to mind was having an Indian who barely spoke English get up on stage and stumble through the words “Welcome to the Kwik-E-Mart. Would you like a slurpie?” as a studio audience of American teenagers laughed at his miserable pronunciation. The ACLU would have a field day, but for some reason, this kind of thing flies in China, so long as it is the gringos who are the but of the jokes.

The omnipresent American Idol-esque Chinese judging panel

The current craze in China is American Idol formatted shows. It started with the Supergirls Show (Hunan TV’s version of American Idol which was a hit all over China), then there was Dream China (CCTV’s own “We’re better than you, Hunan TV!” American Idol singing show). Now however, the American Idol format has branched out into programming which have little to do with singing at all. It is to the point where I would not be surprised if Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell were brought in to judge the 2008 Beijing Olympic Gymnastics competition.

Consider my last show, which was the one reported in CSM. It was essentially a modified craptacular, with the only modification being the addition of American Idol style judges.

Here was the lineup. There was a young female student who played the bamboo flute, 3 young children who did a kung fu routine, a middle-aged guy who rode a bicycle around in a circle while hanging off of it and pedaling with his hands (among other stunts), an even older guy who did tricks with an oversized yo-yo, and my own favorite, a woman who balanced herself barefoot on top of eggs, while spinning a flaming hoola hoop around her waist. Finally, there was me, the white guy who could sing a Chinese song.

Yo-Yo man enthralls the audience with his yo-yoing.

After each performance, a panel of 3 judges, who each apparently had sufficient knowledge of flute playing, singing, kung fu, bike trickery, yo-yoing, and flaming-hula egg balancing, would make judgments on the worthiness of each “talent.” After giving the contestants a run down of their strengths and weaknesses, each judge would give them either a “pass” or a “fail.” If the contestant was passed by 2 judges, they would receive a prize of 1000 RMB. If they failed, they would get nothing.

For my performance I chose to sing the song 挪威的森林 by 五百 (The Forests of Norway by WuBai). WuBai is a Taiwan singer and guitarist who has been around since the 90’s, and is well-known by most Chinese youth. Forests of Norway is one of my own personal favorite Chinese songs, so I had no qualms singing it in front of an audience of several million Chinese viewers. Fortunately, the producers realized that my value as a novelty far exceeded my value as a talent, so they dressed me up to the part, which included a spiky wig, a real guitar (which I fake strummed) and paper maché shark encasing around my mic stand (one of WuBai’s trademark stage props).

The big highlight of the show was that the “Paula” judge was going to be played by a famous actress named Jin Ming. The producers wanted to set up a canned dialogue between Jin Ming and me, and so they introduced me to her prior the show. This is not the first time I have been introduced to a well-known Chinese celebrity and having no idea who they were, had to fake interest. Jin Ming had been the star of a popular sitcom called “Qing Qing He Bian Cao” which apparently everybody in China had been in love with about ten years ago. She had played the young cute teenage girl on the show…like a Chinese Punky Brewster.

hoola hoop eggs
Flaming Hoola Egg Woman displays her talent to an audience of millions.

The plan was for me to strike up a flirtatious conversation with Jin Ming after my performance. I was to tell her how I used to watch Qing Qing He Bian Cao back in America and was “so honored to finally meet her in person.” This seemed like an ostensibly improbably situation, considering that I, as a foreigner living in China for three years had never even heard of the show, let alone watched it back in the US. Nonetheless, the subplots just added to the humor of the whole situation. I obliged with little reluctance. The stage manager instructed me to begin my conversation with Jin Ming in Chinese, then purposely garble up my words, get frustrated, and ask to speak her in English. This I did have a problem with, since I have already made my rounds through the laowai TV self deprecation circuit, and figured I had graduated to playing with the big boys. But alas, how much of what people see on TV is real anyway? After all, I was already wearing fake hair, playing a fake guitar, and had construed a fake obsession with a TV show I had never even heard of.

bicycle bike flag trick
Bike Man stands on top of a moving bike, while waving his flag at the audience.

Sensing that a 6 foot white guy with spiky hair, an electric guitar, and a mic stand which looked like a leftover prop from Jaws would steal the show, my act was placed at the end. When I came out from behind the set, there was a sea of screaming Chinese audience members all yelling and waving spirit sticks as if I had just scored the game-winning touchdown. This was literally the closest I would ever get to my childhood aspirations of performing on Star Search. I still had not completely memorized the words to the song, so one of the crew members had written the Chinese characters on a poster board behind the cameras. Accordingly, a shot of the teleprompter was conveniently placed into the final edit of the show. Regardless of my lack of preparation, and some slight nerves, I was able to make it through the song, and even added a few raisings of the arms, hip gyrations, and the famous WuBai “AAA aaaa AAAAAAHHHHHH” scream in the middle of the song. The performance was a hit, and I felt comfortable I would “pass” and get my 1000 RMB.

Ben Ross 五百 shark
That’s me with the wig, fake guitar, and giant shark mic stand.

After my performance ended, I had my little chat with the host and hostess which included the typical jokes about my singing and my race, but without the typical Osama bid Laden comparisons I normally draw on TV (I shaved just before the show).

Next it was my turn to listen to the judges. The first judge (“Randy”) told me that my Chinese was good, but that my singing was just okay, and that I needed to improve (I think he meant sing in key). Next up was Jin Ming, the token “Paula” of the evening. Per my instructions, I immediately began gushing in amazement.

“Jin Ming, it is so incredible to finally meet you. I am so nervous to perform in front of you. It is so great to see you in person. Back in the United States I used to always watch your show…your show….ni’ga, ni’ga, ni’ga…uhhhhh…Qing qing…..uhhh…ni’ga, ni’ga, ni’ga….Qing qing he….Qing qing he bian cao.”

Before I go on, I should mention that Jin Ming was probably one of the most humble and decent celebrities I have ever met. She was friendly, well-mannered, and had not a touch of the arrogance which you would expect from a young, attractive, actress admired by an audience larger than the population of Indonesia. And here I was, the new white guy on the block, causing her to lose major face, by forgetting the name of her TV show which I had just professed to love…on national television.

Jin Ming tried to make the best of the embarrassing situation, by talking her way through it.

hosts chinese game show
After my performance, I rap with the hosts before turning to the judges.

“Did you really watch the show? I think you’re lying. You’re a liar.” I looked back at her and decided it was time to improvise.

“I don’t care. I’m still so happy to see you. Can I give you a hug?” I asked. Hugging is still somewhat risqué on Chinese TV, but what the hay?

“Sure, come on up.” Jin Ming replied, going along with my cue. I ran up to the judge’s table, and gave her a big hug–Damage control successful.

Next was “Simon” who per job description pointed out all of the small technical errors I had with my delivery. After all, this was me singing, and you could probably write an entire textbook out of my singing gaffs alone.

After the judges had all given their two cents, they revealed their results. All 3 of them passed me, and I jumped for joy knowing I would be going home with 1000 RMB (approx 120 USD).

China may be one of the only places in the world where one’s ascension to stardom can come solely based on racial characteristics. I am now confident that any foreigner can achieve success in Chinese show business as long as he has a decent command of Mandarin, the right numbers on his cell phone, and of course a white (or black) face. Will the novelty of foreigners in China ever dip below the level of acceptable television programming material? My guess is “yes” but that point is still several years away. In the meantime, I will be preparing for my next Backstreet Boy audition.

jin ming  金民
Jin Ming and me after the show




Posted in Me on TV at 5:41 pm by Benjamin Ross

Chinese people watch a lot of TV. Even in very poor areas, the TV set seems to be the one bare necessity when it comes to electronic devices. However, you don’t realize exactly how many people are watching the Chinese airwaves until you are on TV yourself. Two nights ago SuperMe (Fuzhou Foreign Idol) was broadcast on Fujian Southeast TV. I sent out text messages to my friends in Fuzhou to tell them to watch. However, after the show was over, I got a message from a friend in Beijing, and one in Shanghai, who had randomly tuned into my show. This may not seem like a big deal, but what are the chances of not one, but two people, outside of Fujian, randomly turning into my show?…especially when you consider that in Beijing and Shanghai, there are over 40 TV channels available on most sets. For those of you who missed it, I will try to get my hands on a video clip to put up on the blog.



Reality (TV) Bites

Posted in Me on TV, Pop Culture at 3:56 pm by Benjamin Ross

Remember the big boom in Reality TV at the beginning of the decade? Well, CCTV (China Central Television) had one couple years ago, and now it is trickling down to the local Fuzhou stations. Maybe I was a fool to think Super Me (aka Fuzhou Foreign Idol) was an isolated example, but yesterday I got another phone call from the TV station. They are doing a show where 8 Chinese contestants and 8 foreign contestants will be competing in a “marketing competition.” After completing several tasks and answering questions from a panel of judges, a winner will be awarded. The prize…a job with the Southeast Automobile Company in Fuzhou. Yes, you heard me, a real job in a real car company. Who will be the next Fuzhou Apprentice??? After coming in second place in Idol, I will now have another chance to make it big on Chinese reality TV! I expect it to be nothing short of hilarious. More details to come.



Fuzhou Foreign Idol (Part 2)

Posted in Me on TV, Random Goofiness at 7:33 pm by Benjamin Ross

continued from Fuzhou Foreign Idol (Part 1)

After days of anticipation, my latest television endeavor kicked off this weekend. Unlike my first TV show in China which was a lackadaisical variety show designed at showcasing goofy foreigners, the new show was a regimented talent show…also showcasing goofy foreigners. The show was called “SuperMe,” aptly named after Hunan Television’s “Super Girls,” which is a clone of the USA’s “American Idol” which was of course was named after the UK’s “Pop Idol.”

The premise was simple. 8 non-Chinese contestants, 3 judges, and a hard drive full of zany sound effects. We would all sing a Chinese pop song, and at the end of the show, one of us would emerge as the “hero” of SuperMe.

The show began as the 8 of us lined up, dancing in a semi-circle (As I mentioned in part 1, in China foreigners on TV always dance). One by one, we each came to the center, taking turns doing our own little dance. I did my personal version of the Macarena, complete with hand motions and hip shaking. After the dance, all eight contestants were ushered into two rows of seats off to the side of the circular main stage.

Chinese American Idol
Me doing the Macarena in front of millions of Chinese viewers

The format was simple and blatantly derivative. One-by-one the contestants would come to the stage and sing. After their performance, each contestant would have a little chat with the Chinese Ryan Seacrest. Then a panel of three judges would give their criticisms and a score from 1 to 10. Like the entire show, the judges were perfect clones of those on American Idol. “Randy” was a younger looking Chinese guy, with a round face, and a knack for constructive criticism. “Paula” was an attractive young lady, who made more comments on our clothes and cuteness than on our singing. And “Simon” was….. Simon, which meant he was a complete prick most of the time because Simon is always honest and….hey…most of us really were pretty pathetic. Between songs, a guy off to the side of the stage with a keyboard and a laptop, added token sound effects every three to four seconds. From bells, to slap bass, to incessant robot sounds, the soundman would not lay off the effects (nor the ritalin apparently) until every single millisecond of potential silence was thwarted by digital cacophony.

Simon Randy Paula China
the judging panel: that’s “Randy” on the left, “Paula” in the middle, and “Simon” on the right.

“So, contestant x,” booing a ding ding, baaaam. “How do you think you performed?” ring, ring, bangadanga doooooo “Well I thought I did all right.” wooo waa waaaaah. BAAAM…….duh-DUH!. And on and on. I think all of China (Hong Kong and Taiwan included) use the same $5 sound effect CD for producing their television shows, because this obnoxious background flare can be heard on just about any live Chinese TV show.

Whenever a foreigner is on TV in China, there is a high potential for humor, as the outsider’s unfamiliarity with Chinese customs and language, can provide a wealth of laughter for this mostly homogenous nation. This was going to be different, however. I was not going to allow a hideous performance of a Chinese pop song bring entertainment to the masses at my expense. With memories of my shattered childhood dream of being the sixth New Kid on the Block in the back of my mind, I was on a quest. This was my chance to make it in the world of pop music. I was going to give a solid performance and WIN!

To clear a few things up…I am not a good singer. That being said, I can sing Chinese songs much better than most foreigners in China. Let me explain. Like every American who comes to China, I hated karaoke at first…hated it like the plague. There was nothing worse than having to sing a cheesy Chinese pop song in front of a large group of people whose language I couldn’t even speak properly. As a foreigner living in China, by default, you can expect to be invited out to sing karaoke at least once per month. Rather than sulk and complain about how terrible the songs are and how much I hate public singing, I figured that if I was going to be singing karaoke at least once a month, I might as well have some fun with it, and possibly garner myself some face in the process. Thus, unlike most of the other contestants, who were learning a Chinese song for the first time and reading it in pinyin (Chinese Romanization) from teleprompters, I had a song pre-prepared.

fuzhou foreign idol
Look out Taylor Hicks..Eggroll Patrol is in the house tonite!

The song I chose to sing was called ben pao (click to listen to original) which translates to “run fast.” Of the plethora of horrible Chinese pop songs, ben pao is one of the few which I have found to have a listen-to-able melody and decent lyrics. I had learned it when I had a regular gig playing guitar in a Chinese bar, and have used it as one of my stock songs whenever I want to bring my A-game to the karaoke bar.

I had sung ben pao in public countless times and this was to be my moment to shine. As Ryan and his female assistant explained the structure of the contest to the live audience, I thought to myself about how 24 lucky Americans had fought through fierce auditions and Hollywood Week to accomplish what I was able to achieve simply on account of the fact that I am not Chinese. This was…the one…the only…SuperMe! All I had to do was sing my song in key, and then sit back and wait for the Taylor Hicks comparisons to roll in. After Ryan explained the rules to the live audience, I approached the stage and was handed the microphone. I looked out and saw hundreds of Chinese faces eager to hear the first words come out of my mouth. “What is he going to sing?” “How is it going to sound?”

I’m sure they were all expecting something along the lines of Apu Nahasapeemapetalan singing the Star Spangled Banner. What they probably were not expecting was a foreigner who could actually sing a Chinese song with some degree of respectability.

Chinese audience
The studio audience, armed with spirit sticks.

As I approached the stage, the first few soft notes of ben pao played through the PA. The ensuing cheer of the crowd was so loud that I couldn’t hear the music. I hadn’t jumped in the pool yet, but was already gasping for air. I found my rhythm, and kicked off the first verse. The fact that it wasn’t a complete mess brought even more applause from the audience. This built my confidence. I continued singing, as the mellow verse built up to the chorus….”随风奔跑自由是方向”…Not only did I not suck, but I wasn’t half bad either. When I hit the high note of the song, albeit a half-step flat, the crowd cheered even harder. Arms swayed and blow-up spirit sticks banged together with ever-increasing intensity.

After my performance, the two hosts approached me, and a bit surprised at my performance, asked me how long I had been learning the song. Unprepared to give a witty Chinese answer, and too proud to take the whole thing seriously, I answered them “Oh, just a few minutes.” The hosts faked a laugh, and the joke fell flat on its face. That was permissible. I had sung well, and after all, it was a singing competition, right? Now on to the judges.

idol chris daughtry China
My Chris Daughtry pose

The show’s dialogue was all Chinese and I couldn’t understand everything coming out of the mouth of Randy, but he did say he liked my singing, and that my tone was accurate. However, he said he was more impressed by my beard than anything else. Staying in character, Paula had nothing of substance to say. She gave praise to my singing, and also mentioned that my beard was “cute.” Next came Simon. This guy was classic. He was in his forties, wore a white sweater with a collar shirt underneath, and as I learned later, was a bona fide Taiwan a one-hit wonder pop star from the early 90’s. In total Simonesque manner, he told me that my singing wasn’t bad but it was “a little too karaoke.” Then the beard comments continued to flow as Simon, followed by the other judges listed-off historical figures with beards whom I apparently resemble, Abraham Lincoln, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, etc. As the list grew, I added the inevitable comparison…”What about Osama Bin Laden?” I asked the panel in Chinese. This got the biggest laugh yet out of the crowd. “Ah yes, the American looks just like America’s biggest enemy,” Simon proclaimed. Everybody was having a grand ol’ time.

Now for the results. After considerable chatter between the judges, I was rewarded a 9.3, an 8.7, and an 8.5, not a bad score, but I had no reference point, since I had been the first contestant.

I don’t want to sound cocky, but the next few performers were bad, really bad. I’m not saying I’m Michael Bolton, but at least I sang the melody of my song halfway in tune. One of the contestants, a German guy named Maurice, was so terrible that Simon told him, in accented English, “If I was you, I would kill myself.” The other contestants and I were a little shocked, but the crowd ate it up. Randy and Paula continued with their mercy and constructive criticism. Somehow as terrible as these performances were, the scores remained decent, with most of them hovering around 8. I was distraught. I had memorized the words to my song, prepared in advanced, and had sung with more swagger than the other contestants, but the scores did not reflect this. Was it because I was the first to perform? Did the judges hold back on my score on the false premise that I had represented the norm rather than the exceptional of Fuzhou’s Chinese pop song singing foreigner contingent?

Chinese idol contestants
The foreign contestants eagerly await the results. Who will be the next SuperMe hero?

With seven performances complete, I was still in the lead, by only a fraction of a point. The final performer was a Vietnamese kid who stood about five feet tall, wore a top hat and had done the Moonwalk (admittedly better than my Macarena) during our opening dance segment. He was my final obstacle in the race to become the Super Me Hero. As he took the mic from Ryan and opened his mouth, my heart dropped. Unlike the other foreign contestants who either completely sucked, or like me, only sucked a little bit, this kid could sing. After the performance, he was praised by all the judges, even Simon, and given scores all over 9. There was nothing I could say. The dream was over. I was the SuperMe runner up, the forgotten second place hero, the Art Garfunkel of Fuzhou.

I had come to SuperMe prepared and focused. I had sung my song to the best of my ability. I had given it my all, but still had not accomplished my dream of stardom. Alas, there is always next month, as I have heard rumblings of a SuperMe II coming in April. I will keep you posted.

addendum: I just got word SuperMe will be showing on Friday April 6, at 8:20 PM on Fujian Southeast Television (福建东南电视台). It should be available in most parts of mainland China.

huang an
me and “Simon” after the show



Fuzhou Foreign Idol (Part 1)

Posted in Me on TV, Random Goofiness at 9:23 pm by Benjamin Ross

A few days ago I received a phone call from a friend asking if I wanted to be on a Chinese TV game show. The pay was alright (500 RMB, aprox. $60 USD), and I’m generally not one to give up the chance to make a complete ass of myself to a television audience larger than many European nations.

Chinese TV game show
In China, anybody can be on a game show…as long as you aren’t Chinese.

This won’t be the first time I will have appeared on a Chinese game show. During my first year in Fuzhou, I made frequent appearances on a show broadcast on the Fujian provincial TV station, and shown all over Southeast China. The show was a cross between America’s Funniest Home Videos and Double Dare. Only instead of Bob Saggat and Mark Summers, the show was hosted by a Chinese guy who looked like Mr. Sparkle, and a girl who wore more makeup than a hooker at a costume ball. For each episode six foreigners would be chosen to dress up in traditional Chinese costumes with cowboy hats, and compete in a mix of activities akin to those of Mark Summers’ famed physical challenges. I appeared on the show four or five times, and because the foreigner community in Fuzhou is relatively small, most of the other contestants were people I knew.

The show would begin as two Chinese muscle-men wearing nothing but speedos banged on a large gong on the side of the stage. After each successive bang of the gong, one of the contestants would emerge through a cloud of artificial fog, and dance his way to center stage. (Foreigners on Chinese TV always have to dance.) After all of the contestants had arrived on stage, we would be joined by two Chinese dancers, who would lead us in a semi-choreographed line dance. (see video clip) We would then be divided into two teams and compete in various events which would expose our own respective stereotypes, and emphasize the fact that no matter how long we had lived in China, we still were not Chinese. The events involved tasks such as reading a Chinese poem off a board of calligraphy, or singing a Chinese song into a microphone, while simultaneously listening to it for the first time through headphones.

Some events involved eating and drinking. One of our personal favorites was a Chinese beer drinking contest, where we would race to see who could polish off a tall glass of Qingdao in the shortest amount of time. In one of the more Double-Dare-esque events, we would compete in a dumpling eating contest, only the dumplings had to be fed to the contestant by one of his teammates who would stand behind him and operate the chop sticks.

Fuzhou Fujian TV show
Wily (cut) and I (white cowboy hat) pathetically attempt to act out “Aladdin.” Rolf of course, doesn’t get it.

In another silly event, one team member would stand and face the audience, while a giant screen behind him projected an English word. The other two contestants would then have to act out the word, while the other one had to guess it…in Chinese. Usually the words were quite simple, such as names of animals or fruits, but sometimes they would come up with obscure words such as “astronaut” or “Aladdin.” On one occasion when I was doing the acting, the word “cock” came up on the screen. I was lost for actions until the host reminded me that “cock” actually means “male chicken.”

The end result was usually a train wreck, which was exactly what the producers wanted. To put it in an American perspective, imagine a game show where an Indian immigrant who barely speaks English, has to sound out the words “Welcome to the Kwiki-Mart, Would you like a slurpie?” from a large sign board as a crowd of young American children laugh and cheer him on. All I can say is that if our game show ever came out in the US, the ACLU would be all over it like Fred Phelps at a gay pride parade.

From an artistic standpoint, the show (like most Chinese TV) was pathetic at best. However, it was amusing to be able to turn on the TV every Sunday night and watch people you know get buffooned in front of millions. It was also amusing to be introduced to my students’ friends and families, only to find they already recognized me from TV. All in all, the mockery was fun and games, and you only got humiliated if you took it seriously, which nobody did.

Chinese TV foreigner
more word guessing game, and first rate acting

As one-dimensionally entertaining as the first show was, it was finally cancelled about a year ago. This came as bad news to most of the Fuzhou foreign community, who not only got a kick out of being on TV, but also enjoyed the 400 RMB (approx $50) paycheck for each appearance. So it was good news to all to hear there will be a new foreigner show on the airwaves in Southeast China. The new show, which is on a different network, is going to be a singing competition between eight contestants who will all be foreigners. The contestants will be judged by a panel of three judges, who will rate them on their singing ability, and give an award to the best one. Hmmm…I don’t think ANYBODY has ever done a show like this before. Presumably, we will all suck, and this will provide entertainment to millions of Chinese people who watch this ridiculous programming simply because there is nothing better on the tube.

This time though the show is going to be different. Yes, it is still a competition, and yes, it will still derive its humor on the folly of the non-Chinese, but this time I have a plan. I am going to WIN! No more embarrassing cultural gaffs, no more fumbling over words, no more goofing off. This time I am in it to win it, and get the last laugh. I have been honing my skills in Chinese karaoke rooms for the past two years, and now is my chance to shine on the national stage. The competition will be fierce. It consists of two German guys, an Indonesian girl, an old guy from the Philippines, a Scottish girl, my former colleague Wily from Canada, a Vietnamese kid who does a mean Michael Jackson impersonation, and a guy who’s name I can’t even pronounce. They are all going down! I will be representing the USA, and I will be the next Fuzhou Foreign Idol!!! Who will join me in my quest? Results should be in by Tuesday. Stay tuned.

continued in Fuzhou Foreign Idol (Part 2)



Fuzhou Media Circus (Part 2)

Posted in Me on TV at 11:32 pm by Benjamin Ross

So after a week of waiting, Sunday night finally came, and it was time for our 8 minute segment on the Fuzhou News. Because we don’t have a TV, we had to go to a neighborhood shop to watch the segment. We weren’t expecting much, but after some decent editing, the segment actually came out pretty nice. There are shots of Mel and I teaching class, an interview with me, and interview with several students. I will put it up online as soon as I get a CD from the News station, and you can see for yourself. So as if this wasn’t enough media exposure already, we got a call the next day from a Fujian provincial magazine who wanted to make me the “Foreigner of the Month” or something like that. They came to our house and did another interview, and I will likely have another cheesy story about me in yet another medium.

The funniest thing about all this is that because of one simple newspaper article, Mel and I have been basically elavated to rockstar status around Fuzhou. Between interviews, media photo shoots, and banquets with new people who saw us in the media and have requested our services, I’m starting to think we need a secretary. So tomorrow, the magazine is coming to our class to do a photo shoot, and then next week we have an appointment to do the voices on a TV show. I have hardly even had time to write any blogs, but I will try to keep everybody posted as this situation becomes increasingly hilarious.



Fuzhou Media Circus (Part 1)

Posted in Me on TV at 11:42 pm by Benjamin Ross

Being a member of a minority in a country where the minority (in this case people who aren’t Chinese), is a fraction of a percentage point of the total population, comes with a few perks. One is a much greater likelihood of being picked up by the local media….not in the creepy Dick Cheney Big Brother kind of way, but more so in the Bob Sagat America’s Funniest Home Videos kind of way. And as one of the several hundred honkies in a town of 6 million Chinese people (yes Ron, I know there are black people in Fuzhou too), I have had my share of exposure. Although after several game show appearances, a news interview about the Spring Festival, a promotional infomercial about underground cable, and an appearance in the “Foreigner of the Month” section of the Fuzhou Evening News, nothing has compared to the current media extravaganza surrounding of all things…an English class

Two months ago, Melody and I began teaching a small neighborhood English class out of our apartment. The class was designed to provide a relaxed environment for neighbors (mostly young professionals) to learn English, and provide Mel and I with a chance to get better acquainted with the community and make a little extra cash on the side. We got our first batch of students through postings Mel made to our neighborhood’s Internet message board. The response was big at first, but we ended up with a modest 6 students who actually showed up for our first month-long ‘semester.’ After the first month was over, it was our plan to have our first 6 students continue on to our “middle level” class and at the same time, find a new crop of students to make up a “beginner level” class. The response was pretty weak, with only 2 students who said they were interested actually showing up.

The situation looked pretty grim until we got a call from the Fuzhou Strait News who wanted to write a story about our class. The article (translation will be up soon) was pretty cheesy and included some rather gross misinformation, but as soon as it was printed, we began receiving random knocks at our door from people who had read the article and wanted to find out information about our class. It wasn’t just in the house. Everywhere I went whether it was eating at a restaurant, buying groceries, or getting my haircut it was “Hey, aren’t you that foreigner with the English class. I saw you in the newspaper.” I really had no idea how many Chinese people read the newspaper until this happened. I even overheard a Chinese friend of mine when talking to me on the phone refer to me as “that foreigner in the newspaper.”

After all the exposure, Mel and I were quite satisfied. After all, we were able to fill up our new class with 8 students, and add 2 more to the “middle level” class. The hype was beginning to die down until yesterday we got a call from the Fuzhou TV station. They told us they had seen the article in the newspaper and wanted to do a short interview with us about our class. We told them they could show up before class on Thursday, interview us, and listen in on class. Mel and I were a little surprised to have received so much hype over a simple English class, but we had no idea what we were in for.

The two journalists showed up at 7 (class begins at 7:30) with full camera and microphone equipment. They asked us some basic information about class, and told us they wanted to film the whole process (students coming in the door, us greeting them in English, teaching the class, etc.) Presumably because of the rain, we only had 3 students show up to class, so it quickly digressed into a rapid fire interviewing session with us and our students. It was also at this point that the journalists told us that they weren’t doing just a short clip about our class. It was to be a 5 to 8 minute segment about Me and Mel and our life, as if we were some kind of superstars. They asked us all kinds of personal questions about our relationship, how we met, how often we fight, and what kind of cultural obstacles we face. After the students left, they filmed us as we cleaned up our house and re-created our pre-lesson preparation so that 6 million people could get a glimpse into our “everyday life.” Then we took Zhao Zhao for a walk, and the obligatory number 2, which was also caught carefully caught on camera. The journalists then followed us to the nearest store where we bought orange juice and rice cakes. As if this wasn’t enough to capture the sheer thrill and excitement of our lives, they told us that they want to meet us again tomorrow downtown to film us walking around shopping.

Throughout the whole night, Mel and I kept looking at each other in humorous disbelief in regards to the extent at which they were covering our lives like we were some sort of celebrities. I don’t think Arnold Schwarzenegger got this much coverage the last time he was in China. And if this wasn’t enough, I’m scheduled this weekend to do another interview with a magazine who wants to do a 6 page spread. This is all pretty overwhelming, ridiculous, and humorous, but I’m willing to ride the wave as long as I can get a few good laughs and stories to tell. More updates to come as the situation unfolds.

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