Of course a reality show is never going to feel especially authentic, but the de-emphasis of actual rap this season just makes it feel like any other singing show - and there are plenty of those already. It's not just me; a lot of the 弹幕 (bullet text) commenters feel the same way. There's only so many times you can try pass off an R&B or pop ballad with a 10 second spoken-word breakdown as rap. The funniest 弹幕 has been guys imagining the disgust of GAI (ex-gangster and last year's winner) at some of the weak-ass performances.
There are still two legit rappers in the competition. One of them is the squeaky clean Xinjiang virtuoso whose most recent performance was half in Uyghur and half in Mandarin. One of them is a Sichuan guy who to me comes across as a bit of an arrogant jackass, but there's no denying his skills on the mic. Either of those two win, it's cool with me. The rest, eh. It feels like the producers just set up a bunch of generic idols to coast through the last few episodes. The general consensus is that real hip-hop has gone back underground.
So with Rap of China falling off, what's the next show i can use to practice my Chinese? Well, the biggest hit of the year is some fucking period drama about palace concubines or bla bla i don't care. I am not interested in stories about the aristocracy, or about poor people scheming their way into the ranks of the nouveau riche.
Aside from shows about the rich, the latest buzzy reality thing is Dunk of China. Original name, eh? The Chinese name is more amusing: 这，就是灌篮 - This is... slam dunk!
It sounds like a discount 90s eurodance compilation.
Dunk of China is on Youku, which once upon a time was seen as the Chinese version of Youtube, but nowadays is more of a Netflix-style streaming media site owned by Alibaba. It's not as good as iQiyi. The UI is shit, the streams randomly cut in the middle, and there isn't any setting for 弹幕. Like, i am not expecting Bilibili-style customization where you can change the font size, transparency, which directions you want it to scroll, number of lines, etc. I just want to slow it down a little bit because Chinese is not my first language, damnit. Keeping up with both subtitles and bullet text at default speed is a struggle.
Side note: i don't think i could go back to a streaming service like Netflix where they don't have bullet text. I get lonely when i watch torrents these days. I miss all my bullet text friends making sarcastic comments and overflowing the screen with emoji spam during epic moments.
Anyway, Dunk of China. Traditional sports tend to bore me, because professional wrestling combines the same athleticism with an added hook of larger-then-life characters and curated storylines. But of all the traditional sports, i think i enjoy basketball the most. Especially in the NBA there are moments where the guys forget they're supposed to be winning and just goof around or set up plays that are more about entertaining the fans than scoring a point. I can totally get how some enterprising producer figured basketball would be a good fit for a sports reality show.
The challenge is how do you break the expectation of viewers that don't want to watch something "fake"? Well, first of all they only do street basketball. This takes it away from the professional game a little, plus having all the action down one end makes it more exciting. Second of all is to embrace dramatic editing. It's clear that matches have been re-cut to make them seem closer than they were in real life. The editors have also spliced plenty of "nothing but net" Hollywood finishes to shots that were most likely rebounded or messily tipped in. But that's okay, because getting 3 different slow-motion angles on a game-winning shot - complete with epic BGM - helps tell a story in a way that just watching some random kids play ball doesn't.
That said, i still haven't figured out if there is a main story. I am not sure if it's the narration or the pacing or just the number of ads and general bugginess of Youku, but i am having more trouble following the storylines in Dunk of China than i did in Rap of China. The theme seems to be more about one-off comedy spots and highlighting awesome plays than developing an arc. So, in my ignorance, i have decided to invent my own running storyline: amw vs Jeremy Lin in an epic 1-on-1 battle of street Putonghua.
Now, for those of you who don't follow basketball, Jeremy Lin is an honest-to-God NBA superstar and one of the judges on the show. I am not sure how much Mandarin he learned growing up in America - his family is Hoklo so perhaps he was more exposed to Hokkien - but right now his vocabulary is pretty thin. It's interesting hearing him do the talking head segments, because occasionally he can't find the Chinese word so he drops to English without a break. Since everything in China is subtitled anyway, if you weren't paying attention you probably wouldn't even notice he was code-switching. What's most fascinating to me is that despite not appearing to have the depth of vocabulary that i do, he speaks far more comfortably and confidently than me. And he definitely follows the conversation better.
So what's the difference? How did he get to that level? I mean, being on a reality show where everyone around you is speaking Chinese all the time, i guess after a few days of filming you'd get into the groove. Presumably he has also done media appearances in China before. But he lives in America for fuck's sake. I have been in China for a full year now and i still can't grok conversations the way he can.
And, as the show progresses, it seems his Mandarin is improving, whereas mine plateaued months ago. Linsanity triumphs once again!
It's really frustrating to me that even on my new team (which is about half Chinese) i am still not getting any Chinese practice in at work. Except for one colleague whose English is abysmal, everyone switches to English when i am in the conversation.
Outside of work i socialize with literally nobody. It's a lazy Sunday afternoon. I haven't left the house all weekend. I am too tired. Soon i will exchange a few words with the baker at the grocery store when i pick up my 千层饼. I will return home, do my flashcards and pass out. Then i will go back to work again.
I need to get out and talk more, somehow.
I wish i could improve my language skills without having to interact with anybody.
Or, more to the point, i wish i didn't have to work so i would have the energy to interact with people.
I want to write an entry about work, prompted by binge-watching Lodge 49 this week. It's a cheerfully weird thing along the lines of Dead Like Me or Wonderfalls. It features a bunch of child-free working-class folks and underachieving millennials. I identified a lot with the characters and their stories. I wish i could find a show like that in Chinese, but i guess the CPC wouldn't approve of TV shows that glorify 丧. Oh well.
I may write more on work later, this entry has gotten long enough.