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Zhibo: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Livestreaming in China

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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.

Usually, what I do here is curate a little “best of” collection – the funniest/dumbest/most interesting things I’ve seen in the world of Chinese livestreaming over the past week or so. But today, I’d like to just present you with a single comment that’s really stuck with me:

if I were u I probably already gone crazy long time ago

He might have a point.

But this is of particular interest to me – and hopefully, you – because I’ve recently become fascinated with the benefits of constantly exposing yourself to a barrage of petty irritations.

See, when I first got to China, all I did was complain. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it here or actively wanted to leave – it was more of a love-to-hate kinda thing that’s quite popular (infamous?) in the world of Chinese expats. There are SO many things to get annoyed at: everyone cuts in line, there’s no personal space bubble, people spit and snort and smack their lips, they stare at you on the subway, cab drivers try to rip you off and can’t read maps, those guys keep yelling “FUWUYUANRRR” even though the waiter is right there, and seriously, guys, what is that smell?

There are some questions to which you don’t want the answer

And I’m not – how best to put this? – a naturally shining beacon of optimism. Ok, let’s be real: I haven’t been able to let something go since my 5th grade English teacher wrongfully accused me of reading ahead in The Giver even though the foreshadowing is super obvious and MAYBE YOU SHOULD LEARN TO ASK SUBTLER QUESTIONS IF TRIPPING UP TEN YEAR OLDS IS TOO TOUGH FOR YOU, MR. WILLIAMS.

Ahem… the point is, I’m naturally negative, nitpicky, and combative. I get way too indignant way too quickly and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shot myself in the foot socially because I couldn’t just shut up and enjoy life without criticizing someone or something.

[If you’re the kind of Zen master who has already transcended the need to find fault with others, you’re probably all set and don’t need to keep reading. If you’re a standard-issue mortal, however, I feel you might be able to identify with a bit of this]

So China naturally feeds my worst instincts. Every day here, you run into a dozen situations where not only do you feel the need to get mad about something, but most rational people would agree that you were right to get mad. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s the justified indignation that’s probably the most dangerous. The other day, I spent five minutes grinding a new layer of enamel straight off my teeth as a woman behind me in line just bumped her cart into my back over and over and over again for absolutely no perceivable reason.

Zhibo: Holy Sh@t, You Speak Chinese?

And if you’re wondering what on earth this has to do with Chinese livestreaming, you’re obviously new to the internet – in which case, welcome! Pull up a chair and watch these cat videos while I get your Netflix account set up. It’s a weird and wonderful place, but as you’ll find out as soon as you scroll down that youtube page, there’s no shortage of petty irritations to be found.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the Inke community. I’ve learned more useful terms, slang, cultural references, and idioms in the past year than I did in four years of in-class studying. It’s a great way to build confidence in communication and language skills and I still maintain that you oughta give it a try if you have any interest in helping to build cultural bridges.

See, someone agrees!

But nonetheless, petty irritations abound. Imagine being asked a hundred times a day why your hair is yellow, or that you need to stop drinking cold water because it’s bad for your health, or that the reason you’re so [pick a trait, any trait] is because that’s how *foreign culture* is.

Or forget the vaguely racist stuff and just imagine being asked why you don’t have a girlfriend for the thousandth time in an hour. And then, whenever the audience doesn’t get your reply or disagrees with you, they whip out the old classic, “ah, your foreign logic is quite different than our Chinese logic, you see?”

Zhibo: Why You Should Try Chinese Livestreaming

And yet, I consider this silly streaming thing one of the most important parts of my day – and the annoying nonsense a big part of what makes it so valuable.

See, when the lady in the supermarket bumps her cart up against me, the annoyance feels good. I grind my teeth and mutter under my breath and beg the world to look at me and all my righteous indignation. The more blatantly rude or annoying or stupid a person is being in real life, the more justified it feels to openly roll your eyes, shake your head, and let yourself go to that cathartic place where you’re the lone bastion of civility and sanity in an insane world.

But on Inke, it doesn’t work that way. There’s no one to roll my eyes at. There’s no one to direct anger at. There’s no one whose eye I can catch in the hopes of getting that little “can you believe this f@#kin’ guy” moment when someone is being an idiot. And unlike Twitter/Facebook/other social media, it’s all real-time. Every comment comes and goes in seconds, and I can’t get that hit of dopamine that comes from clicking “share” and writing an ever-so-clever takedown on my wall/feed/whatever.

It’s not fun or satisfying to get annoyed – it just raises my blood pressure and detracts from the stream overall. All I can do, to my intense horror, is take a breath and let it go (and then maybe build myself an ice palace).

You might consider that joke old and outdated, but remember, ’90s pop is still fresh over here

And as a result, I’ve found myself not only voicing fewer irritated complaints while doing livestreaming, but finding myself less annoyed by things in real life. I haven’t reached enlightenment just yet – that lady with the shopping cart the other day certainly reminded me of that – but there’s something magical about taking something incredibly annoying and just chuckling at the ridiculousness of it rather than getting frustrated.

And I don’t just mean pushing the reaction down to the subbasement where you can’t feel feelings – I mean really just dropping the heavy burden of irritation.

It’s definitely true that foreigners in China love to hate things. We’re somewhat famous for it. But it would be silly – and arrogant – to assume that I’ve somehow stumbled upon the most uniquely annoying part of the world. People everywhere are annoyed and angry all the time.

I’m not climbing up on some soapbox to tell you that I’ve transcended pettiness – just that leaning into or even embracing whatever stream (get it?) of inconsequential annoyances you encounter on a daily basis might be worth your while.

More from the wonderful world of livestreaming in China:

Zhibo: Guns, Hitler, and Gay Diets

Zhibo: Are You an Inke Drinker?

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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