Xiao Pin (小品) is the form of Chinese culture that I most enjoy watching and being a part of. It shares a number of similarities with short sketch comedy such as Monty Python or Saturday Night Live. The difference is that the sketches are generally very long (the one I’m showing today is more than 20 minutes long) and the jokes are developed through character and the plot as well as one liners. The style of performance evolved out of Xiangsheng, with the major differences being the use of costumes, props and a background for the performances.
This is my favorite clip, its from the Spring Festival Gala of 2009 and is considered to be one of the best performances of this art form ever. while very long there are a number of sections which are very funny which I list beneath.
The restaurant is Scottish and the waiter is wearing a dress. Chinese don’t have a long history of depicting non-traditional gender roles, so this is a big source of humour. The daughter is a very conservative by very poor and rural girl, and the waiter describes her as “chun yemmer” which means “purely masculine”, this word/phrase goes on to be very popular and is still used today.
Like a lot of comedy in this art form, a big source of humour are the differences between city folk and country folk. The country people find the restaurant very strange and expensive, and the waiter finds the customers to be uncouth.
After they first arrive the grandfather gives the waiter some tips so that he will pretend that the most expensive meals on the menu are not available. This way the grandfather will have a lot of “face” with his guest when he orders. From 9 mins there is a sequence where they are ordering food begins. Initially it all goes to plan, but later the grandfather complains a lot about the waiter and the waiter is in two minds as to whether he should keep acting or not. at 1050 when they just want to get a basic dish, the waiter says “we don’t have any” (as he was told to), then the grandfather says “you can have that one”, to which the waiter responds “no we really don’t have it”.
By far the funniest and most famous quote from this performance, which was referred to again at the just past Spring Festival Gala of 2014, happens at 12:45. The waiter says:
人生可段了，跟睡觉一样儿一样儿 － life is so short, its similar to sleep
眼睛一闭一挣，一天就过去了哈～ – the eyes close then open, a whole day goes past ha!~
眼睛一闭不挣，这辈子就过去了哈～ the eye close but don’t open, the life goes past ha!~
The reason why this is so funny is that the metaphor and message is extremely profound, but the intonation and accent of the waiter is completely ridiculous, and the events leading up to this statement are completely trivial. In particular the ha!~ is funny because it is supposed to be a way of making the statement more persuasive, like saying ‘isn’t that so?” at the end of a statement. Of course the actual effect is the opposite.
The last couple of weeks of reflection and the last couple of days of review have yielded what I believe to be achievable and valuable goals that will help me continue to feel the fullness of all aspects of life. Last year I was still really ‘setting up’ in China, but I feel like 2014 will be the break out year, where I have the skills knowledge and contacts to really maximise my potential.
Two areas of my life that slipped somewhat last year were my studies and health. While my TV career in the short term is the most exciting, I have to continue to prioritize my education career as its the vehicle through which I’ll be able to offer the most to society in the future. Having a firm target of exercise three times a week will be easier to monitor.
So here they are: four categories, and twenty individual goals:
1. Social Well Being
- Remain in contact with friends and family in Australia
- Master social interactions
- Meditate every day and let all the positive energy in
- Exercise three times a week
- Maximize youth and looks: skin care, hair and clothes
2. Education Career
- Internship in and Asian literacy organisation (July or August)
- Finish Jun’s Research – Higher Education, publish
- Read widely on Aust, US & Chinese lang. policy, education policy
- Take the classes and do the readings
- Collect and process the data for my thesis
- Continue to have an amazing career at Leling English School
- 90% fluency in listening and speaking
- 1 hour studying, 1 hour production per day
- Pass HSK 6
- Perform 相声 and 小品
- Master Chinese humour
- Master the 一站到底/ 芝麻开门 knowledge
4. Entertainment Career
- Develop my personal brand – “Seinfeld of China”
- Be a genuinely funny and valuable host, guest, performer
- Put on Weixin, Youku, Weibo, WordPress, FB & Youtube
It’s been a great year, and while the old piece of paper that I had stuck up on my wall with these goals is now almost incomprehensible due to all the cross outs and highlights, I stayed on track for the whole year. 2013 truly was a break out year for me in many ways. Underneath I’ve commented in blue on the goals that I set this time last year. For the original post from last year please click here.
1. Social Well Being
- Be someone that other people want to help
- Be a beautiful person to all in my life
- Master social interactions (win friends and influence people)
- Meditate everyday
- Develop Guanxi and connections in Nanjing
China is certainly not for the feint of heart. There are constantly people shouting, arguing, driving in the wrong direction, putting their bike where they shouldn’t, taking bikes they shouldn’t. As for their work place ethics here are often tucked so deep beneath the surface that I could only conclude that this is truly a dog eat dog society. While I have been able to develop some working relationships where other people want to help me, they are very mutual. An example is in my TV work, I help the director find participants for a game show, only after he has agreed to give me the best opportunity I can. As far as developing guanxi, part of my learning here has been to know that I can’t really get ‘real’ guanxi. I can get into a position where people do special favours for me because of my track record, but as soon as I stop performing, the relationship will falter or fall away. China has hardened me in many ways, and I am much more attentive to how people ‘respect’ me, rather than ‘like’ me. Being liked is still important, but often when your interests and the others are mutually exclusive, being liked will not be helpful enough. Overall I would say that I’ve developed a lot as a person in this year so I can give myself a tick in this ever changing and immeasurable aspect of who I am.
- 90% fluency in listening and speaking
- Pass HSK 5
- Read and write interesting cutting edge Weibo
Having completed the full year of language study, passing HSK 5 and at least doubling my speaking and listening ability in 2013, I feel I have succeeded in this aspect of my life in 2013. I haven’t spent as much time on my Weibo as I wanted, but I currently have 623 followers and have written 243 posts. I have also gone from not being able to read any substantive article to being able to read academic papers for my course. I cannot say, however, that I have achieved the goal of 90% fluency in listening and speaking. I still have problems with the tones and I struggle to understand lectures. The first half of the class is much better, but I just find it too hard to process after a while and I drift out. Ironically the slides with the written characters are often more useful to me, even though I’d always thought of myself as better at listening and speaking.
- Learn Kuaiban, Jingju and Xiangsheng
- Understand Chinese humour
In this area I’ve certainly been very successful, I learnt enough about kuaiban to know that it wasn’t for me, and got a broad appreciation of Jingju before realising that the complexity would take me ten years to master. Xiangsheng (cross talk) as well as xiao pin are the two traditional art forms that I’m most drawn to and most suited to. I did my first televised cross talk performance in December and it will broadcast during Chinese new year, which is prime time because everyone is home from work and just lying around at home. I have spent a lot of time analysing Chinese humour, and trying to transition out of being funny just because of my linguistic inadequacies, to actually being witty. Because this is a foreign language I feel like I’m in a better position to take a part to structural elements of humor than native speakers, for whom it’s difficult to not just tune in and enjoy. All of my collegues on the TV stations find me funny and I get a lot of work because I’m more upbeat and creative than other foreigners vying for the same opportunities.
3. Entertainment Career
- Look good in skin, hair, clothes, overall health
- Develop my character and personal brand
- Be good enough to model in China
I got a lot of help to pick out cosmetics, clothes and do exercise. While my fashion sense and self-maintenence has improved markedly, the combination of the depressing gym facilities and pollution outside has made it very hard to stay in shape. I’m styling myself on two personalities that I admire: Jerry Seinfeld and Meng Fei. Both are able to relate short narratives about peoples everyday lives in lighthearted and playful ways. Their delivery and ability to reframe discourses in unique and insightful ways allows them to make mundane event seem transcendent. While I don’t have a strong brand, or a strong offering as an individual, I have been able to figure out, who I am and what I have to offer. I’ve also developed the know how and connections to launch in 2014.
- Get as much airtime as possible on TV (50+ programs)
- Be a valuable guest on talk shows and panels
- Be good enough to host/ co-host
- Have as much of that as possible on Youku, Weibo, WordPress, Facebook & YouTube
On all counts this year’s television appearances have been a great success. I have been on a lot of different channels, on big shows with small parts, small shows with big parts. I’ve networked, I’ve been performed and prepared well for everything that I’ve been able to get my hands on, and the majority are on the internet.
4. Education Career
- Finish Jun’s Research – Higher Education, publish
- Read widely on Australian, American & Chinese language policy, education policy (in English)
- Tohoku Internship (Focus on Japanese educational policy)
Unfortunately Jun and I weren’t able to publish our findings yet, while I’ve written parts of it, the distance has made it very difficult. Equally dissapointing has been the lack of any internship in Japan or anywhere else, or the process of reading widely on language and education policy. These goals will find their way into my 2014 goals unchanged. They remain important, but they didn’t happen this year.
- Enter into Masters of Education Nanjing University
- Become very knowledgeable of every aspect of the Chinese edu. system
I have successfully entered into the Education program, it is the right program for me right now in my career, I’ve learnt a lot about their thoughts on Education, but I haven’t done things like visit high schools and primary schools. I’ve taught a lot of English here, and I’ve improved my abilities as teacher, but that has been at a very high level private tutoring school with exceptionally rich students on weekends. While I came to China to pursue masters in education, you could say everything else here has stopped me from really achieving in this area. This area will need to get more of a priority next year.
Score for the year 3 out of 4.
Beginners of Chinese are most commonly presented simultaneously with vocabulary that contains four distinct parts.
- the English meaning
- the pinyin
- the tones on top of that pinyin
- the Characters
According to Krashen’s Input Hypothesis learners will struggle to acquire more than one new piece of information at a time. The input needs to build on the existing knowledge without too many sudden jumps. The problem facing learners is that they are asked to aquire in essence three, but in practice two. The pinyin and tones can be learnt at the same time, but it’s my beleif that attempting to learn the hanzi and the tones at the same time is too difficult for most students. Chinese is built up of two almost completely independent systems.
I have generally learnt vocabulary with attention to tones, and after mastering that vocabulary orally, sought to learn the written forms. This way I move from no knowledge to pinyin and tones (i +1), then later from knowledge of the pinyin and tones to knowledge of the pinyin/tones and the hanzi (i +1).
After reading about it in one of our textbooks I became really captured by 快板. The traditional artform combines story telling, humour, wit and rhythm.
While I will never be a master, I’ve gotten my own set, and have enlisted a teacher to help me learn the ropes. There are two distinct schools of Kuaiban, one in Beijing, and the other in Tianjin.
It was one of my goals this year to learn Kuaiban, and while I will never be a master, never be good even, I have loved learning it, I’ve improved my Chinese through it and its one more interest I can share in common with the people I meet here.
This is a new documentary! The trees of Yangzhou are exported all over the country, to line the streets of other cities. I go to the hub of this activity, Jiangdu, to find out what contributes to the success and the health of these trees, and also the flowers! These are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met, they wake up at 4am and work all day, they do that every single day of the year. I’m really happy with how this video turned out – again, all in Chinese…
It wasn’t without problems though, I’m usually very vigilant about making sure that my clothes look neat before we start filming, but in the very last speech, I totally dropped the ball — watch from 19 mins. This wasn’t a very big deal but one that I have to make sure I don’t ever make a mistake with again.
We had a lot of trouble finding flowers, and this meant that the director couldn’t tell me when I was going to do one of the longer speeches, and then when she wanted to take it would say – “ok, are you ready”. In my initial videos my longer speeches regularly have inaccurate tones or long pauses. This reflects really badly on me, and I think it detracts from the whole documentary My process has evolved so that I when I get the speeches I first find all the words I don’t know, and write in the meaning and tones. I think seperate each speech onto its own page, and break up the sentences into intonation units. This could be five or six words I say without any pause, so I know exactly when to take breaths. I write this in large pinyin, filling a whole A4 page. I then practice saying each of them. At the start of each day I find out which one(s) I will be saying that day, and practice to the level that I can say them perfectly in the morning. I ask for a minimum of 15 minutes notice before we film the longer speech (出境）during that time I practice saying the speech over and over again until I reach the point where I say the whole lot without any mistakes, or any disfluency. When they say ‘action’ it still takes two or three attempts to really nail it – but the final result is always something I can be really proud of. This was the episode where I refined that process, and I think I’ll stick with it from now on.