Thursday, June 3, 2010

Watching Another Chinese TV Show - 《媳妇的美好时代》 "A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era"

In April, Qian and I devoured the Chinese TV show 《蜗居》- or, in English, "Dwelling Narrowness." I wrote about our experience a few weeks ago. We got through 35 episodes in just a couple weeks. Getting into a Chinese show like that was a great experience.

After finishing "Dwelling Narrowness," Qian and I were set to take on a new show. I'd heard about "Dwelling Narrowness" from my old Chinese teacher, Teacher Ma. Along with recommending "Dwelling Narrowness" to me, she also recommended the show - 《媳妇的美好时代》. Here's what she wrote:
She's basically saying here that this new show - 《媳妇的美好时代》- is getting a lot of buzz in China right now. She hasn't watched it but is planning on doing so.

Qian and I decided to go with Teacher Ma's suggestion and began watching 《媳妇的美好时代》after finishing "Dwelling Narrowness" a few weeks ago.

As you can see from this cheesy poster, this program also has a very Chinglish/stupid English name - "A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era" - much like "Dwelling Narrowness" did.

"A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era" is about a young couple and their young marriage. There are many characters, but most of the story lines revolve around the young groom - 余味 (Yu Wei)- and young bride (and namesake of the show) - 毛豆豆 (Mao Doudou). Almost the entire show is about the young couple and how they relate with each side's family.

Yes, if you're wondering, 毛豆豆 is 海藻 海平 from 蜗居

There are a few wrinkles about Yu Wei and Mao Doudou's families that color the show.

Yu Wei's parents were divorced years ago. The wealthy dad left his neurotic wife years ago and has a young, beautiful wife now. So on top of all the pressures that are inherent in any Chinese marriage, Yu Wei and Mao Doudou have to deal with three sets of "parents." In addition to that, Yu Wei's younger sister - 余好 (Yu Hao) - is dealing with the death of her husband. He died just a few days after their wedding. She is a mess, even a couple years after the death.

Mao Doudou's family is a bit more "normal." Her parents are awesome. Her dad, in particular, is a truly special father-figure. The real thorn in Mao Doudou's side is her younger brother - 毛峰 (Mao Feng). Mao Feng is a magician/playboy/idiot (think a slightly smoother version of Gob Bluth) who consistently does idiotic things to his family and the women in his life.

That's the plot in a couple paragraphs. The show is in Beijing and it takes place in the present day.

I'll try to highlight a few of the things in "A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era" that I found particularly interesting:

1. The show tackled the tricky issue of divorce in China.

As I mentioned above, Yu Wei's parents are divorced. The show did a nice job of showing the heart ache and complexity that goes with a divorce in China. The things that everyone in the show had to endure because of the split up was painful.

The divorce rate of Chinese couples is rising rapidly. The rate is still relatively low compared to much of the world though. And China's is especially low compared to America's ridiculous rate - around 50%. Divorces are more common in China than they were in the past though.

There is strong cultural pressure on Chinese couples, and particularly women, not to get divorced. Looking at rising divorce rates, that cultural pressure is easing.

While it's easy to say that a rising divorce rate is a shame and there is something seriously wrong with China, I don't see a rising divorce rate as necessarily a bad thing. If a Chinese guy has an 二奶 (mistress) these days, there is actually a threat she will leave the guy! And aside from infidelity, the option to end a failed marriage can be a good thing.

Divorce is horrible. Thankfully my parents are still together. Qian and I, of course, are hoping that we'll be with each other for the rest of our lives. But in some cases, divorce the lesser of two evils when compared with an abusive, hate-filled, or loveless marriage.

2. The show touched on attitudes towards nursing homes in China.

I don't think I'm stepping out on a limb by saying that family is more important in China than it is in America. This is especially true amongst grown ups dealing with their parents. The concept of nursing homes are foreign to many Chinese and middle-aged adults living with their parents is normal in China. That is far from the case in the United States.

There is a scene where Mao Doudou, a nurse, suggests to Yu Wei's mother that she think about moving out of their apartment and into a nursing home. The shock, pain, and horror in her face after Mao Doudou's suggestion is hard to watch. Simply floating the idea was a non-starter and caused Mao Doudou significant problems with her mother-in-law.

3. Marriage between city people and migrants can be difficult.

There is a marriage in the show between a man from the city and a women from the countryside. The kind of "inter-marriage" is portrayed in some detail.

At first, the young woman from the countryside was made to look stupid. She was very quiet and appeared clueless about a lot of the basic things of city life. But as the show went on, the viewer saw that the girl wasn't stupid at all. I would go so far to say that she was, as the Chinese often say, "tricky."

One of the funnier scenes in the show was when the country-girl city-boy go to their hotel room after their wedding. The man has one thing on his mind. The woman wants to play around and not, uh, consummate the marriage quite yet. She gets out her camera phone, starts taking pictures and videos of her man, and then logs on to a computer to post the photos and videos to her blog.

The guy can't believe it. Over and over, he says: "YOU have a blog?!! A blog?!!" He can't get over that someone from the countryside would have a blog.

By the end of the show, it's obvious that the woman from the countryside is the rock of their relationship and the spoiled city boy is the clueless one.

4. Many young men don't take marriage seriously and have mistresses.

This show, like "Dwelling Narrowness" has extra-marital affairs as a central theme. I said it when talking about "Dwelling Narrowness," but I'll repeat it again: from the limited time I spent in China and the finite knowledge I have of Chinese culture, infidelity amongst men seems to be more rampant in China than in the US. This might be off-base and I may be reading too much into a few people I met/knew in China and the TV shows (soap operas, really) I'm watching now, but I've seen a lot of cheating going on from Chinese guys.

5. Shady investments/finances can tear families apart.

One of the more interesting stories of the show is an investment-gone-wrong. One of the characters hears of an opportunity to buy a section of a forest that will soon be developed. I won't get into the details, but a lot of people get burned and families are nearly ripped apart.

So many people in China are getting rich and the ones not getting rich are seeing lots of others around them striking it big. This desire to get in on "special opportunities" and make it big can lead to bad investments and scam artists.

That's about all I have on my observations.

Overall, I enjoyed, "A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era," but it was a struggle at times. It was not as good as "Dwelling Narrowness." It's not nearly as edgy or cool or as, I think, realistic.

In fact, there were times where Qian and I nearly stopped watching it. Qian really had real problems about halfway through the show. She repeatedly said she couldn't bear it anymore. There were certain characters - Yu Wei's mother and Mao Feng - she could not stand. I insisted that we keep watching though. Qian kept with it.

I wasn't enthralled with "A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era" in the way I was with "Dwelling Narrowness." But I felt it was worth watching, if for nothing else the language practice. By the end of the show (36 episodes), Qian and I generally liked it and were both glad we'd finished it.

I'm not sure what effect watching Chinese shows is having on my Chinese. Qian and I are speaking Chinese more, but still not tons. I've spoken with her family a little bit recently. I haven't really had a whole lot of practice besides that, unfortunately. We don't have people in Kansas City that we speak Chinese with and it's hard, with everything going on in my life, to keep up with people back in China.

Even if watching Chinese shows isn't helping my language out tons, it can't be hurting it. Even if I'm not getting everything just hearing the language spoken and seeing the characters flash up on the screen is good for me. For what it's worth, I understood a lot more of "A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era" than "Dwelling Narrowness." That might be because the language is simpler and there is less going on than "Dwelling Narrowness" as opposed to my language improving. But regardless, it feels great watching long stretches of the show without asking Qian any questions. I just hope that I don't get too used to subtitles while trying to comprehend Chinese!

Qian and I have started a new show - 手机 ("Cell Phone"). It is the number one most downloaded show on Qian says that it is the TV show of a movie that came out a couple years ago. She liked the movie a lot and we are both liking the show so far. The language is a lot harder for me though.

We're moving a bit slower through "Cell Phone" than we did "Dwelling Narrowness" and "A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era." That is probably a good thing.

Although we're not finished with "Cell Phone," I've already found the next Chinese show I want to watch. Here is the YouTube clip preview of it, from I should warn you that this isn't "work safe:"

Yeah... can't wait to watch that one!!


Vivian said...

I'm finished with 《手机》,it's a good one. Mark, could you please recommend some English TV shows for English learners? Because I've been U.S. for almost 4 years, I still feel like I have huge barriers with communication here, and I'm always wondering can I ever improve my English? Tips for speaking English please. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

We're about 2/3rds finished with 蜗居. I had heard from a student that 手机 was really excellent and she's addicted to it at the moment, so I was considering that for my next one, but now I have a couple of others to think about as well! Thanks. Oh, btw, isn't that Haiping (the older sister)in 媳妇的美好时代, not Haizao?

Vivian: try Lie to Me. A lot of my students loved it, and so did I!

Mark said...

@Vivian - It's hard for me to say which American shows can help you best. For one thing, I haven't been watching many American shows recently. I've instead been plowing through Chinese ones!

The show it seems everyone Chinese person I spoke with had seen was "Friends." That's really old now. I'm not sure there is a contemporary equivalent.

I'm sorry I don't have any better advice for you.

@mouseneb - Enjoy 蜗居. It's really a fun show to watch. 手机 is good, but the language is quite a bit harder. It's inspiring me to start formally studying again. So maybe that's a good thing!

You are right. That is 海平, not 海藻. Mistake on my part! I really like 毛豆豆/海平 in this new show. She's lovely. In 蜗居, she was a difficult character to like.

Thanks on the recommendation for Vivan!

Vivian said...

Thank you, Mark!

Pops said...

A Beautiful Daughter-in-Law Era just started on tv here. It is easier to match actors and actresses if you use their names. In this case Hai Qing (海清 - you can see her name at the top of the poster) played both 海平 and 毛豆豆. I was just in second semester Chinese when Dwelling Narrowness was playing 1 1/2 years ago, and I only watched a little at my teacher's suggestion. I didn't recognize Hai Qing until episode 2 of ABDiLE, but I blame the passage of time for that.