In the latest edition of Things Done Well, I talk to Danielle Sumita, whom some will undoubtedly know from her excellent China-focused Web series, Sindicator.
Can you give us an overview of Sindicator? What’s the premise behind it?
Sindicator is an independent, comedic Web series that looks at popular statistical measurements about China, or a Sino-Indicators, and explains their significance in a wider context. Think Freakonomics meets The Daily Show.
Sindicator is a video answer to the awesomeness that is Sinocism or Sinica. It’s not investigative in the sense of doing original research. It lives on content and research that others provide. Sindicator is an aggregator of this information, and adulterates it with a shiny, sugary, alcoholic, [insert favorite vice here]-y coat of entertainment.
What about yourself? What got you interested in China, and how do you fill the time between producing Sindicator episodes?
Born and raised Chicago, I studied political economy and a bit of Mandarin. I fell in love with the malleability of this country in 2006, and I’ve been engaged in all types of endeavors here for almost four years. My professional alter-ego freelance produces video for corporate clients, but she’s pretty vanilla and soulless.
China’s a complex animal, what are some of the challenges in taking multifarious topics and distilling them down into coherent, concise and fun to watch videos?
Lord. It ain’t easy.
I’m a reasonably balanced China nerd, interested in the fantastic evolution of this country but not obsessive about culture or politics or markets. To reach an audience that is a.) interested b.) can meet me at baseline of China understanding c.) appreciates my brand of dark humor is a challenge. If ‘yin’ represented informative properties and ‘yang’ was the entertaining properties, then imagine every episode as a struggle (triumph?) of finding zen within that duality.
…see what I mean? #cantstopwontstop
Sindicator has covered a range of issues — from hogs to hongbaos. What draws you to a specific topic?
Real-life relevance. Each sino-indicator I examine is a vehicle in understanding the Numbers in the News. If you live here I want to touch on an aspect of your everyday. If you’re an interested outsider I want to make understanding China more accessible, more human. And though one sino-indicator might provide a snapshot glimpse of an issue, Sindicator topics are meant to stay contextually robust, meant to explore systemic complexities using the springboard of one indicator.
Producing a series like this, you must keep up on Chinese news and trends. For armchair China-watchers, any recommendations on where we should be pointing our eyeballs?
Like I said, Sinocism and Sinica do us all a great service. A better-produced webshow called China Uncensored kicks Sindicator’s ass in frequency and insight. Shout out to Hong Kong University’s China Media Project for pulling back the red curtain. Video journalist extraordinaire Jonah M. Kessel’s work for NY Times makes me swoon, professionally speaking. And all my love to Sindicator’s host Beijing Cream, which has built an engaged, informed audience, and a platform for this series.
And finally, what might we expect from the series going forward?
The newest episode explains PM 2.5 and air pollution in China (because: winter gray), the next is a jaw-dropping look at transportation to China-scale, just in time for Chun Jie. On the docket is a look at China/Africa relations, tales of e-commerce, an obligatory crackdown piece in the style of a cop drama, Imperialism via FDI (working title), the auto industry as explored by its lavish customer experience events, and the education gambit.
OMGanesh, and so. much. more.
You can check out back episodes of Sindicator at Beijing Cream. Keep watching for upcoming episodes, which we’ll be SINdicating here at Lost Laowai.