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Zhibo: Chicken Grammar, Starbucks, and Pretty Faces

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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.

Poorly-Phrased Assumption of the Week Hey bro, I think you are very like Starbucks.

As I may have mentioned once or twice before, English doesn’t make a lot of sense if you didn’t grow up speaking it – and it especially doesn’t make any sense if you grew up speaking Chinese.

We all (Chinese people included) complain about how hard the Chinese writing system is, but the actual spoken language isn’t all that complex. There’s no tenses, and – yes, I know I’m oversimplifying – you can pretty much just throw words together in a way that makes sense and it will generally work.

The tones are a nightmare, to be sure. But once you actually know the words you’re trying to say, there’s not a whole lot of grammatical hurdles to overcome, nor is there a whole mess of connective words/prepositions/word order/emphasis issues you absolutely must learn or else constantly be at risk of being totally wrong.

For example, consider how important the addition of “are” here is:

You really like that chicken.

You are really like that chicken.

Pictured: someone who VERY much cares about your word order

Or consider how this sentence can take on 7 different meanings depending on the stress:

never said he ate my chicken.

I never said he ate my chicken.

I never said he ate my chicken.

I never said he ate my chicken.

I never said he ate my chicken.

I never said he ate my chicken.

I never said he ate my chicken.


Anyway, the point is, I don’t really like Starbucks. Yes, I know – we were all drip-fed lattes from birth, but Beijing’s café scene – just meaning in terms of ambient places to sit and pretend to write your screenplay, I don’t know anything about coffee – is shockingly impressive. There’s much comfier chairs, faster wifi, and fewer exchange students just about anywhere else you look. But I’m definitely not *like* Starbucks: for you see, I am a human, not a café.

Odd Thing I Keep Seeing Everyone typing “gay” in English

I’ve mentioned before that people tend to make incorrect assumptions about my sexuality on Inke. No girlfriend? He must be gay, or so goes the logic. I don’t mind that (I’m sorry that you’re stuck in a loveless marriage, friend, but that still doesn’t make me gay) but what has piqued my interest is why people keep typing “gay” in English, even when the rest of the message is in Chinese.

As we’ve written about before, Weibo recently had something of a PR nightmare when “I’m gay” (in Chinese) was a big trending hashtag and they announced they were going to ban homosexual content, then they backtracked after a whole lot of outcry – it was a whole big thing.

Online “Clean Up” Continues as Weibo Targets Homosexual Content and Grand Theft Auto [updated]

“The LGBTQ Voice” Returns After Netizens Unite to Support the Cause

Actually, the whole issue of homosexuality in China – while not something I would claim to know very much about – does strike me as a picture-perfect example of the identity crisis modern China faces. On the one hand, here you have a place that literally wrote the book on (one kind of) traditional, patriarchal family values: everyone is expected to get married and have kids and generally not rock the boat.

Now that’s a nice harmonious boat right there

On the other hand, the People’s Republic of China was founded on the principles of Marxist revolution – they’re supposed to be so far left here that we in America use them as our straw men when criticizing Democrats. And while I recognize that America’s particular baskets of social issues don’t necessarily have to dictate what “left” and “right” mean in political systems across the world, the official values of doing away with outdated old traditions in favor of a liberated, educated, modern population would seem to be at odds with outlawing homosexuality. On top of that, there ain’t exactly a bunch of Bible thumpers going around claiming that God cares who you sleep with.

Look, I’m not diving any further down this rabbit hole, but my point is, it’s weird.

Get it?   

Best Message of the Week 好看的拼囊千遍一律,有趣的灵魂万里挑一!

So basically what this means is “there are pretty faces everywhere, but interesting souls are one in a million,” and someone sent it at my request that someone teach me a nice poetic-sounding sentence to express the idea that being interesting is more important than being good-looking. This is, of course, an age-old sentiment that has been widely expressed (with varying degrees of real conviction) by people all over the world for a long time.

What really cracked me up, though, was this brilliant made-for-modern-China translation – brought to me (and now you) by one of my favorite and wittiest regular viewers:

Questionable Compliment of the Week being a friend of urs in real life must be real fun


It involves a lot of singing and drinking and then drinking and singing. It also involves seeing a lot of WeChat posts about my weird streaming thing and listening to me talk quite a lot. So, you know. Meh.    

Weak Trolling Attempt of the Week why don’t you get back America, go back your loser life

I mean, why send the message if you’re gonna answer your own question?

Questionable Assumption of the Week I’m going to marry you
 

You’ll have to find me first.

More adventures in Zhibo-land:

Zhibo: Narcissism, Gross AF Prepositions, and PSY Becomes a Fan

Zhibo: The Great Qipao Kerfuffle of 2018

Taylor Hartwell
Taylor has been living in China since 2014 on the basis that he's already sunk too much into studying Chinese and can't stop now. When not staring at himself on his phone, he can be found writing, teaching and consulting at various schools and companies in Beijing. His Zhibo column runs every Monday on Radii. He tweets @TaylorJHartwell

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