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Post Tagged with: Being British-Chinese

One rule for Chinese comedians, another for Iranian ones?

One rule for Chinese comedians, another for Iranian ones?

I have occasionally dreamt of being a stand-up comedian – oh, the fame! the groupies! The nights of travelling up and down the M1 at 2am before parking in a dodgy service station! – and have therefore occasionally pondered on what my opening line would be.

Omid Djalili‘s opening gambit was to come on and be a generic Middle Eastern stereotype, fulfilling various national stereotypes before turning it all in on itself. And I’d figured if it’s good enough for him, it’d be good enough for me. (Aside from the fact I can’t do impersonations to save my life).

So I was surprised to read on the BBC Arts’ Editor’s report on comedy that Joanne Lau, a Canadian-Chinese comedian, was taken to task on comedy review site Chortle for doing pretty much the same thing in her opening act. And that she’s had to change it as a result.

I don’t particularly remember anyone taking Omid to task for doing the same thing when he started out, and it seems to have worked for him. Any particular reason for this discrepancy?

Diversity in the UK, late-70s style…

Diversity in the UK, late-70s style…

Thanks to @bloggerheads and b3ta for pointing me to this amazing late-70s UK video, celebrating the diversity of London by … having the great Derek Griffiths impersonate a Chinese man by pulling on his eyebrows and singing about Chinkies, with a popular UK song from 1969 celebrating the ‘melting’ pot’ of the UK.

Derek Griffiths, btw, was the amiable black host of many a childrens’ TV show back in the 1970s and early 80s. I feel like my childhood has just been urinated on. But I can’t stop watching it…

The rise of Chinese pop culture…

The rise of Chinese pop culture…

When my sisters and I were growing up (younger than ten), we were somewhat discouraged from consuming Western pop culture, ie music and films, by our parents. (Can’t you tell?) Thus, while my schoolfriends were (perhaps) reading Smash Hits et. al., we were listening to Cantopop and comedy films from Hong Kong, procured at great expense and effort from Chinese shops in Liverpool.

One of the tapes we used to constantly listen to on those long drives to Liverpool were albums by Sam Hui, who along with his brothers also used to make knock-about comedy capers like Security Unlimited. They were simple, but had catchy tunes and comedy routines – in the back of my head, I can probably still recall the Security Unlimited way of learning how to drive. Think of a working class Nolan Sisters branching into Carry On films, with no innuendo.

Then we got a radio, I discovered how to control the television set, and I threw myself into UK pop culture (Smash Hits! Neneh Cherry! Doctor Who!) while my parents wondered where exactly they had gone wrong.

Fast-forward 25 years, and a chance Googling reveals that American casinos are so keen to get Chinese gamblers coming in, they book Sam Hui to perform at Las Vegas, and casinos in Connecticut have Chinese-language websites where lots of Asian pop stars perform, for the cash. I’ve seen casinos put up Chinese-language signs in London and Manchester to compel Chinese gamblers to come in, but this takes it to a whole new level.

As for that Security Unlimited – the film my sisters and I must have watched hundreds of times on repeat on a dodgy VHS – is now on YouTube, and also available via Amazon.com video-on-demand. Technology, eh?

Now if only I could speak Chinese.

7m people in Hong Kong. Not one Chinese person?

7m people in Hong Kong. Not one Chinese person?

According to Wikipedia, Hong Kong has 7 million citizens, 95% of whom are Chinese.

According to this BBC News report about Hong Kong’s Mid-Levels escalator system – the “longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world” – there’s not a single Chinese person who could talk about the system. The reporter’s Australian, who interviews another non-Chinese person about the escalators and how they’ve revitalised previously run-down parts of Hong Kong.

It’d be like going to San Francisco, doing a report on the trams there, and only being able to find one Chinese person to interview.

I know it’s not so much racism as the reporter, desperate to file a story, just using her personal contacts to find SOMEONE to interview … but when they said it was one country two systems, they should have said one country, two communities…

UPDATE: The evil former flatmate and Asian-ophile Mr. Fenn took it upon himself to lodge a complaint with BBC News on my behalf (while changing a few details. Like my gender) and the official word from the BBC is:

“There was no intention to give the impression that we were ignoring the views of the residents of Hong Kong. You are right that the reporter was
not herself Chinese – but she was used because she is the BBC’s reporter in Hong Kong and therefore best placed to do the piece. As you also saw we only felt there was space in the piece to hear from one other person – and as it happens, the best interview she obtained on the subject was with the chap who ran the restaurant chain.”

“However I take your point on board – and accept that we should perhaps have made more of an effort to hear something from Chinese residents about the escalator system.”

It's the rise of the Chinese Takeaway generation

It's the rise of the Chinese Takeaway generation

So… Gok Wan came from parents who ran a Chinese takeaway. One of the new dancers on So You Think You Can Dance UK, Gavin Tsang, “helps out in his parents Chinese takeaway”.

Does this now mean that in the unlikely event that I achieve fame, I shall be “Former chinese takeaway runner Andrew Wong” ?

East meets emo…

East meets emo…

I’m watching a Chinese Cantopop music video, which has all the stylings of a Mariah Carey / Britney Spears video shoot. Groovy dancers, a wind machine, and a made-up lead singer in a short skirt.

However, the only English-language lyric I can pick up is “Loneliness is my best friend”. Just to reinforce this fact, it’s repeated about 8 times with subtitles underneath, before reverting back to Cantonese.

Fortunately, with a bit of Googling magic, I can now reveal the song is Bianca Yu’s Still A Wonderful Life

I think I’ve found my new hipster look for 2010.

I’m not too sure Google Translate does a good job with Cantopop lyrics though:

Neighborhood of a person dinner
Lit candles total available radiant
Black linen without a partner
Aroma had a comfortable night with me
Hard to meet the worry-free eating and drinking
Stressed the need to pay attention to Huazhizhaozhan
Fast repair the image of vulnerability
Then instead of hauling your hands I’m ready
Carefree to walk everywhere
* A person is willing to count on cold
Even if a person alone
A cruel diversion program
But I was still a refined *
I do not reason alone a vacation and then the time difference
Concerned about the love off like a light down
There is no road map to do a happy canvas
Random do like my home hotel
No opponent to make ends meet
I am happy every day I received a total shopping
Let me Tim newly installed additional temperament
You do not do not light easily manipulated
Chic is my code

and of course, Cantopop doesn’t have exclusive licence to use the word ‘loneliness’ in inappropriate places:

My Chinese Christmas dinner

My Chinese Christmas dinner




Chinese Christmas dinner

Originally uploaded by almost witty

While you all prepare to tuck into your cliched turkey & cranberry Christmas dinner and bemoan that it’s the same meal every year, bear in mind that I wish, that just for one tiny year, that I could have a turkey & cranberry dinner with all the trimmings. Especially roast potatoes!

Not because it’s particularly tasty – any meat that dry should belong in the Sahara, surely? – but because when my parents do Christmas dinner, it’s … rather different. Fantastically tasty, and as with all home-cooked food it’s heartwarming and fantastic, but for once, I’d like to try a turkey’n’cranberry dinner that wasn’t mass-cooked in a canteen or microwaved in a local pub.

They’ll probably cook the same sort of thing this year, but I really must ask how they produce all that food…

Progress on the portrayal of British-Chinese people in UK media!

Progress on the portrayal of British-Chinese people in UK media!

Finally! Someone does an impression of a British-Chinese person without resorting to sticky tape or yellow-face make-up. On the other hand….

Forgetfulness or racism?

Forgetfulness or racism?

The Evening Standard carries a story about a black couple, outraged that their waitress scribbled ‘black couple’ on their bill, when they were the only couple dining.

The thing is, I’ve kind of done this myself while running my parents’ Chinese takeaway, scribbling descriptive notes on their order because I have a huge tendency to forget which order belongs to which customer. I’ve even done it when there’s only one customer – after all, another one will inevitably walk in and I’ll get all confused.

I’m not so sure I’ve gone as far as just describing someone in terms of their race, but there have been other unflattering descriptions such as baldy, NHS glasses etc. But if I went to a restaurant, and saw that scribbled on my order was “fat balding Chinese man”, I’d be a tad put out to say the least.

It’s certainly racism in the sense of discrimination against or antagonism towards other races, but there are probably bigger battles to fight. Like the woman at Question Time taking Jack Straw to task over African-Caribbean versus Afro-Caribbean while one of Britain’s biggest bigots sits on a panel next to Jack Straw. And then there’s the controversy in China over a “Chinese Idol” contestant who’s half-Chinese, half-black

Ooooh it’s complicated. But I’d rather we just end up dealing with people based on whether they’re nice to us or not…

The Karate Kid – re-done…

The Karate Kid – re-done…

So… they’re trampling over my childhood by re-making The Karate Kid. Only this time, Jackie Chan gets to mentor Will Smith’s son. Which instinctively seems a bit odd for no apparent reason.

Fortunately, Jeff Yang’s fascinating article on how martial arts was popularised in the US by black people seems to actually make sense. Although I’m not sure Jackie Chan will be anywhere near as charming as Pat Morita.

Still, maybe its’ reappearance will finally mean that when I start muttering “You, beginner luck!” under my breath, people might actually get the reference. Certainly, references to The Karate Kid were aplenty during my time in that ill-fated British-Chinese comedy sketch group