近期，美国一档颇受关注的广播节目——美国国家公共电台（NPR）的《美国生活》（This American Life）播出了一档关于在华美籍人士的节目。在对一些精心挑选的定居在中国的“老美”进行采访之后，主持人指出这些人在中国电视上的出镜率奇高。
Foreigners in China: Singing, Dancing and Driving
Last week I wrote about issues surrounding the ebb and flow of foreigners in China, focusing mainly on people, but touching on foreign fish (in this case, piranhas) as well.
As I wrote, globalization has exacerbated a whole host of issues regarding the immigration of people from one region to another, especially across national boundaries, as well as the spread of animal and plant species across borders. The issues are global, although they occur in very different contexts from one place to another.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, huge parts of China were off-limits to foreign visitors. As these restrictions were gradually relaxed, early foreign visitors like me became the subject of great crowd attention and entertainment value on the street, especially in smaller inland cities and towns.
What a shame my singing voice is so awful. I’m also hopeless at ballroom dancing, except when stepping quickly towards the exit — a skill I used a few times to avoid large surrounding crowds of curious Chinese onlookers.
A very well-regarded American radio program, NPR’s “This American Life” recently did an episode on Americans living in China. Having interviewed quite a selection of resident Yankees for the show, the host remarked that an incredibly high percentage of them have appeared on Chinese TV on one or more occasions.
In other words, there still seems to be unusual celebrity appeal even for ordinary Americans, or foreigners in general, in China — especially if they speak Chinese.
This is especially true if the foreigner demonstrates even minimal singing skill, coupled with the ability to avoid saying embarrassing things. As we all know, most foreigners are unusually gifted with the ability to say embarrassing and awkward things, which is swell in the studio or at Starbucks, but not very convenient on Chinese TV.
Turn on the TV some evening and at check out some of those social networking and dating programs on Chinese provincial channels. Lots of them feature foreigners who speak really good Chinese.
On the other hand, the number of young mainlanders who speak really good English is growing even faster. This is good, although it raises the competitive bar in the career stakes, beyond pure language ability.
In other words, prospective employers now also demand that you need to know how to perform some useful tasks. How times have changed since I got started.
In the early days, foreigners travelling in China who spoke Chinese were sufficiently uncommon that their appearance on the street might cause gapers’ blocks and traffic jams. Fortunately, Chinese traffic jams have now become so advanced they are rarely if ever blamed on the foreigners. We cause many other problems, but not this one.
So far I have not heard any stories about foreigners driving in China who got involved in a hit and run accident, and then tried to talk their way out of it by saying “Li Gang is my Dad, too. Really. Honest.” You never know, though. There are so many foreigners in China now, that it’s hard to know just what to expect next.
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