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Zhibo: We Need to Talk About Donald

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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.

Question of the Year What do you think of Trump?

To be honest, I’ve been holding off on this one. As a political junkie incapable of tearing my eyes away from the car crash, I’m pretty guilty of bringing up ol’ Ratings Machine DJT every five seconds. Personally, I feel that we’re allowing our usual model of *politics isn’t THAT important and therefore people should be allowed to tune out when they want* to hide from the fact that nothing about this is normal… but I also know that we’re all so oversaturated with Trump takes and tirades that we can hardly breathe.

That being said, people on Inke are really, really interested in having this conversation:

Frankly, I’m not trying to say anything new about President Bad Hombre — either on Inke or here on RADII. Yeah, he’s awful. It’s simultaneously humiliating and terrifying watching this clown — a term absolutely no one had any problem using to describe Donald Trump until there were political and financial incentives to start denying reality — have to bluff and bullshit his way through the first real job he’s ever had and never even wanted.

If you’re in the “actually the media has been very unfair to this brilliant man” camp, I do hope your tickets to Oslo were refundable, but I don’t have time (or the space on this page) to recite everything he’s ever said and done to you in the hopes of bringing you back down to earth, so let’s agree to disagree.

(vehemently)

The real question is; how do you tactfully respond to questions about Cheeto Jesus in front of twenty thousand people in a forum where voicing emphatic political opinions is best avoided?

Originally, I simply avoided the subject altogether with a blanket “sorry, I don’t discuss political stuff on here.” Then, I started responding with a simple eye roll or finger-gun-to-head motion to get the point across for anyone paying attention.

And most recently, I’ve actually taken a leaf out of John Mulaney’s book and started responding to Trump questions with tangents about *totally unrelated* topics like how stupid it would be to let a horse rampage through a hospital, how disgusting pumpkins are when they rot from the inside out, and thought experiments about how Heath Ledger’s Joker was simply a moron who stumbled his way to success with crazy schemes that never should have worked out.

totally unrelated

As for the obvious follow-up question — what do the Chinese think of him? — I’m not trying to speak for a billion people here. I’ve seen a lot of comments about how he’s strong or a powerful rich man; and I think it’s probably true that he had a weirdly high level of support from educated Chinese people for a variety of reasons, but “support” just means vaguely in favor without really knowing much about him or — key point — feeling particularly strongly about it.

But the thing is, there’s no propaganda network here dedicated to the Cult of Trump. When he says an obviously dumb thing, no one tries to spin it into gold or new sections of his hair. When he breaks a promise — how’s that wall coming, pal? — there’s not a solid third of the media spending every hour of every day trying to convince everyone that actually he never made that promise and really it was President Hillary Clinton and her ISIS backers who broke it anyway. Chinese news certainly has its own agenda and stuff to spin, but as far as I can see, making 6-time bankruptees who pay millions to settle fraud lawsuits look good ain’t one of ‘em.

As far as I can tell, people here don’t really get why so many people hate him so much — but other than enjoying how he’s making America look bad, no one’s got much of an incentive to like him, either.

I suppose one takes what one can get

And hey, at least over here they know where his ideas are coming from:

Incomprehensible Insult(maybe?) of the Week The boy online looks like a dinosaur egg


I thought for sure this must be the Chinglish literal translation of some term I’d never heard. Chinese people use “bad egg” (坏蛋 huaidan) roughly the same way we do and also use “stupid egg” (笨蛋 bendan) to refer to someone who’s being an idiot. Given that the Chinese word for dinosaur is 恐龙 (konglong; basically, fear dragon or terrifying dragon), I thought for sure that “scary egg” or “dragon egg” simply must be a common insult or compliment or something.

Nope. Thus far, no one I’ve talked to has any idea.

Help me, comment section — you’re my only hope!

Hilariously Naïve Question of the Week are there lots of haters on the American internet?

See above.

Strangest Question of the Week Can you tell us how Americans love their teeth

With the burning passion of a thousand suns! You know, except for all the candy and soda.

Loaded Question of the Week why do you think there is no freedom if you got a girlfriend

Why do you think that I think that? All I did was say that I like my single life. You’re the one who dragged freedom into it.

Strangest Greeting of the Week A: good morning, laowai. It’s better to have your mouth full.

…huh

So for context, “laowai” is the, shall we say, more casual term Chinese people use to mean “foreigner.” People get into the same unwinnable fights over whether it’s racist or insulting that they do all over the world with all sorts of other similar words — but as luck would have it, I happen to be a white male American and therefore have the very real privilege — unfair though it may be — of not being offended by name-calling because in my case, it really is just a word.

That being said, this message strikes me as a great reminder to never get insulted by written messages because it’s impossible to judge tone. Is he insulting me? Is he wishing me good luck in the quest to find breakfast? Is that “laowai” meant to be rude or is he just joking around the way I do? Is “A: good morning” simply a typo or is he actually writing the start of a funny joke he never got around to finishing?

Sadly, I got no follow-up and will forever be wondering what’s inside this Schrodinger’s cat of a comment.

there’s an internet/meme joke in the marble here somewhere but frankly I’m done for this week

More from our Zhibo column:

Zhibo: Chicken Grammar, Starbucks, and Pretty Faces

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