Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Americans in China

I don't think This American Life is going to have to have to issue a retraction for their most recent expedition in to China.

The radio program, produced by WBEZ in Chicago and distributed by Public Radio International, caused a huge stir this spring when it had to retract its program - Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory - by performer, Mike Daisey. It turned out that Daisey had made up many of the key points of his hugely popular monologue about witnessing abuses at a Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China. Watching the truth come to the surface was a wild thing to witness. I get a sick sense of enjoyment watching people get called out on lying and experienced a great deal of schadenfreude hearing Daisey taken to task as hard as he was by Rob Schmitz and Ira Glass.

Following up their piece from a pathological liar who admitted he knew "fuck-all about Chinese culture," This American Life redeemed itself this week by featuring a line-up of some of the most influential and knowledgeable foreigners living in China. This week's episode, Americans in China, is one of the better This American Life episodes I've heard (although I have to say that my favorite episode is still Somewhere Out There... do yourself a favor and listen to this one that's also China-related).

Kaiser Kuo is the main character in the most recent "Americans in China" episode. He's the host of the Sinica Podcast, a program I've touted numerous times on my blog. His story of being a Chinese American who completely fell for the land his parents came from, moving to China and literally becoming a rock star, having his Chinese band mates turn their backs on him after the Chinese embassy was bombed in Belgrade in 1999 because he's American, and ultimately raising his family in Beijing and working for Baidu is fascinating. I was quite moved by his passion for both China and the US.

The second act of the "Americans in China" episode is from Michael Meyer. His piece is about living in his wife's village in rural northeast China.

I read Meyer's book The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed last year, actually, but never got around to writing anything about it on my blog. I didn't really have anything to say about it. There was nothing overtly wrong or bad about Meyer's book, but I was just, for lack of a better word, bored by it.

My reaction to Meyer's book reminds me of my brother's reaction to Peter Hessler. After a huge amount of hype from me, I convinced my brother to read Peter Hessler's Oracle Bones a couple years ago. Oracle Bones is one of my all-time favorite books. I was so surprised when, a few weeks after he had started it, he told me that he couldn't finish the book. He said that Hessler's seriousness and humorlessness just got to him and that he couldn't continue reading.

I feel that way about Meyer's book and his piece on This American Life. I can't put my finger on it, but I haven't enjoyed his work as much as I have a lot of other prolific China hands'.

Despite not being enthralled with Meyer's piece, it was good to hear such quality programming on Americans in China. Kuo's story, framed by the excellent Evan Osnos, alone is worth listening to. This American Life has gone a long way in making up for whatever it egg it still had on its face from when it featured Mike Daisey.

No comments: