Having lived in China for six years I have found that I’ve started missing some of the things from my American life. For the most part I am not a big fan of mainstream American culture. Things like top 40 music and NY Times Bestsellers were usually avoided at all cost. They were a kind of pop culture pariah that I looked down on as being trailer trash garbage. Another thing that I really tried to avoid in the US was TV. I had a TV but it was only really used for watching movies. Other than that it just sat there collecting dust for years.
Sure it’s not the BBC, but I enjoyed many of the stories and found that it was something that I looked forward to in the afternoon. It’s a collection of stories and news that tends to be a little too North American-centric, but very listenable. We were all using good old 56k phone hookup. Needless to say it was less than desirable.
This was ok too, but I noticed that I started watching movies that I would never have imagined watching in the US. Say what you want, but I was a bit of a snob when it came to movies. I would never watch teen movies or stupid slap-stick comedies that were at the theater for two weeks before being shipped out to the DVD makers to try to make money that way. The longer I stayed the lower my standards got. Reason number one being: the movies were cheap; and number two; I didn’t mind the mind-numbing stupidity of many of the plots anymore.
In 2005 I moved to Beijing. My original intent when coming to Beijing was to be “more active”. Beijing has tons of things to see, I reasoned, and by God I was going to see them. After living in the armpit of Liaoning I was going to get out and start soaking up that 2,900, I mean 5,000, year culture. Needless to say it didn’t happen. What I did see myself doing more and more of was watching TV.
For those of you that live in Beijing, you know, the movie selection in Beijing is just ok. Some cities have movies from classics and 70s and 80s hits to the most recent blockbusters. It’s amazing some of the eclectic movies you can find in some cities. Here in Beijing the most common place to see movies for sale is on the street and they mainly offer two kinds of DVDs, recent blockbusters and TV shows.
I remind you I hated TV just a few short years ago, but now I’ve started to love it. I cannot get enough of it. Even better, now there is a great variety of TV shows on the Internet just waiting for you to download. Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Family Guy, Lost, not to mention every reality show you ever wanted to watch. I started out small, but it just got bigger and bigger.
I didn’t notice it at first; I really had no idea what was happening to me. It was horrible. I was becoming the American I hated and usually made fun of. I started to wonder what made it ok? I couldn’t come up with anything.
Well I returned to the US this winter after not having been back for 6 years. That’s right I have not been in an English-speaking country, except for HK, for 6 years. (Oops, did I say that?) I was really curious how I would react to the whole thing.
It was great at first. I could turn on the TV 24 hours a day, and it was all English, and there was no party crap, and they were all beautiful, and and and…it was boring again. Sure I didn’t have to download it and it was really convenient to watch The Office as it should be, but I missed watching it via download. Furthermore I started not watching them, but rather downloading the shows to be watched when I returned to China.
You may think I am crazy, but I started to realize that it is nice to be able to enjoy some American things without seeing the other people or being smothered by the culture. Instead I can watch The Office or Lost or whatever TV show I want to watch with my friends here and do not have to worry about all that annoying commercial culture that goes with it.
I don’t have to worry about who Anna Nicole Smith’s son’s father is. China is a kind of great big garbage filter for all the Western crap I don’t want to see anymore.
Maybe because I still like hamburgers and the Colbert Report I will never be as cool or “Chinese” as Dashan, but I think it is nice to temporarily escape sometimes to the America that is in my memory, not in reality.
Besides, my America is a much cooler place. Who needs Bushes and TSAs and churches and on and on and on.
PS: Maybe a Taco Bell in Beijing would be cool though.