19 Oct 2003
Matt of the Nanjingren blog (one of the newest additions to the Sinosplice Network) came to Hangzhou this weekend with some of his classmates. Unfortunately I was only able to spend one meal with him because my schedule is rather full this weekend. It’s fuller than usual because I’ve been coerced into participating in Zhejiang University of Technology’s 50th Anniversary Craptacular.
I don’t pretend to invent the word “craptacular,” but I’ve noticed it’s already in common usage among foreigners in China for one simple reason: China loves the Craptacular. What do I mean by craptacular? Basically, it’s an onstage event containing a rather long lineup of acts, most of which fall into one of several categories. The defining features of the craptacular are:
- Hosts. They always come in gleaming male-female pairs, overflowing with bubbly super-standard Mandarin and armed with smiles that make your eyes ache.
- Songs. Solos, duos, or en masse. China loves live singing, be it in the classroom or onstage.
- Dances. Minority dances, folk dances, solos, duos, it’s all here. Whoopee.
- Comedy. Short skits and crosstalk (相声), a kind of Chinese two-person stand-up comedy. Comedy has a comparatively small role, song and dance hogging the spotlight.
- Glitz. Everyone wears bright flashy costumes, the lighting is top-notch, and accompanying stage decorations are a big priority. Whenever possible, craptaculars are recorded on video.
Almost without exception, it’s mind-numbingly awful stuff from the foreigner’s perspective, even if he understands it.
The most famous craptacular in China is the nationally televised Chinese New Year Party (春节联欢晚会). Pretty much every Chinese person I talk to agrees that it gets worse every year, ever reaching new depths of raw bore-power. Yet most Chinese households tune in faithfully every year. (This is one reason I’m not a big fan of Chinese New Year, but I won’t go into that now….) There are minor craptaculars going on all the time for various reasons (or no reason), and you can see them on TV in China all the time. If you have a masochistic streak (or if you just get unlucky as I did in ZhouShan) you can even go see them live. Sometimes universities —
tools of the state patriotic entities that they are — put on their own craptaculars. Thus we have come back around to the topic of ZUT’s craptacular.
The students in the advanced Chinese class at ZUT that couldn’t come up with an air-tight excuse were forced to get involved in the foreign students’ event in the 50th Anniversary Craptacular. So, yeah, that means me. We have to put on nice clothes and get up on stage in front of a huge audience and speak Chinese into microphones. Some of us even have to try to be funny in Chinese doing skits onstage. Fortunately that’s not me. I’m just a host.
So I was not happy about this because it involves a big time commitment. Memorizing lines, rehearsing, and performing not once, but three times! So this weekend I’m pretty busy performing onstage for ZUT.
All that negative “craptacular” talk and whining aside, there were some good points about being in the performance:
- I got to meet some of the other performers, some of whom are pretty cool people.
- Some of the performances really are very good. In particular, I liked two of the songs and the crosstalk performance. Although the crosstalk comedy kind of wore on after a while, it was really easy to understand and quite entertaining.
- There were so many hot girls involved. Now that’s entertainment!