Zhibo is a weekly column in which Beijing-based American Taylor Hartwell documents his journey down the rabbit hole of Chinese livestreaming app YingKe (Inke). If you know nothing about the livestreaming (直播; “zhibo”) phenomenon in China, start here.
One thing that comes up over and over when talking to people about livestreaming is the question of why on earth people are wasting their time staring at strangers on their phones. It’s a reasonable question – but I think the first thing to keep in mind is that very few people are just watching a single streamer do their thing for hours on end. It’s much more like a million-person talent show and I get the sense that most people just use it the way people have used TV for decades; turn it on, flip through the channels, and occasionally focus on something particularly interesting.
But unlike TV, you don’t have to be planted on your couch for this. My instinct has long been that zhibo is primarily a commuting activity – pull out your phone, watch a few entertaining people for a few minutes, answer some texts, and you’re at your subway stop, that sort of thing. Recently, however, I’ve been getting a lot of messages about how oh-so-very-EARLY I’m streaming (around 7:30am – let’s all calm down here) and how “I haven’t even gotten out of bed yet.”
Using my Sherlock-like deductive skills, I have come to the conclusion that a lot of people must be using Inke the same way lots of other people use Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter: laying in bed staring at something, ANYTHING vaguely interesting enough to convince your brain that getting up isn’t necessary just yet.
Nothing clears things up like a survey, however. So this week, I’ve actually conducted a daily survey on the same topic and tried to filter out the people just repeating themselves over and over as best I could:
Option 1: I mostly watch Inke on the subway/while commuting
Option 2: I mostly watch Inke while laying around in bed/generally lounging at home
Option 3: I mostly watch Inke at work/at school when I’m bored
By my count, the option 2s have it – around half of the total responses – but that’s probably at least in part because I’m streaming relatively early in the morning when a lot of people are likely to be on their phones in bed. There is still apparently quite a bit of commute-viewing (around 30%), and I suppose most people either are too worried about their bosses or have better things to distract themselves with at work (around 20%).
My theories as to how this message ended up being so awesome:
First off, 哥们儿 (sounds like “geh-mer”) is a common way of saying “bro” in northern China, basically. But if you’re putting it into a translation app, I assume it would just say “brother.”
Secondly, “The way” is usually the result of attempting to translate 道 or dao, or as we in America for some reason insist on calling it, the Tao (as in, taosim).
Quick (but VERY whiny and petty) sidebar: I get that very few people study Chinese, but you can literally go on Wikipedia and see the correct versions of words like Dao (Tao) and Gong Fu (Kung Fu). Yes, the words came to us at a time where mass media wasn’t a thing and the way we learned to pronounced them got set before anyone knew any better, but – and this is a subtle detail but one I feel everyone can appreciate – we no longer live in that time.
Yeah, yeah, I get it: there’s a million adapted words in English – and that’s a real strength – and no one should be expected to go around learning the original pronunciations of all of the things from all of the places. But we’re talking about one of the most important and well-known philosophical traditions in the world, and it’s not like we came up with a new word for it – we just got it slightly wrong and are unwilling to change because change is hard and uncomfortable and DAMNIT POUNDS AND OUNCES ARE JUST FINE.
The *metrics* on this seem fine.
Whatever. I’m just bitter about all the teachers who yelled at me for using Wikipedia as a source for all those years, most likely.
I try to strike a fine balance with people about my Chinese. On the one hand, I really do feel like mastering the language is an insurmountable task and that, for all my advances, I’m still basically just at step 2 or 3 out of a million. On the other hand, I recognize that always shooting down every compliment starts to get annoying, especially when they’re sincere and heartfelt.
But this isn’t about me and my ego – it’s about the audience. See, compliments about my Chinese – while much appreciated – are invariably the first half of a question about why similar progress isn’t being made on the other side of the aisle, if you catch my drift. People see me blabbing away in what is quite imperfect but nonetheless decent-sounding and confident Chinese and ask why on earth they can’t do that with English… to which my response is that I abandoned my friends and family to go live half way across the world and now spend every morning soliloquizing at my phone.
And on that note:
No sir. No we do not.
Catch up on more Zhibo here:
Zhibo: Pimpin’ and Player Hatin’
Zhibo: Sneezes and Shaved Secret Hair
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