It’s not the ever-present glowing McDonalds sign that best represents America in China. It’s not the hugely over priced Starbucks or artery clogging KFC.
Nope. These chains may be all over the place, sadly including the most culturally sensitive areas, but they’re not what Chinese people want to communicate with you about.
When we happen to randomly strike up a conversation with a Chinese person, they always mention two things: Barack Obama and Kobe Bryant.
Yesterday we had to deal with the bureaucratic nightmare of extending our Chinese visa and needed to have pictures taken. The ‘photo shop’ guy – really a man sitting in a closet smoking a cig – noticed my passport and leaped at me. Pointing excitedly to the big USA holigram, he called to his friend on the street. Both he and the man grabbed my passport and starting excitedly screaming back and forth.
“Shit, this can go two ways,” I thought.
From CCTV9 (the only channel in English) and historic plaques around the country, it appears that America is a capitalist, imperialist enemy. The Korean war is called ‘War to resist US Aggression and Aid Korea’ and there are oddly twisted one-sided stories painting peaceful China as the perpetual victim to US policy.
But Chinese people have been super friendly and more than slightly curious. We’ve had people stalk us with a camera trying to take our photo and Chinese couch surfers were all very interested in the recent elections.
I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but these two guys were already holding my passport. Were they going to run? I checked to make sure I was wearing my sneakers…
A huge mouthful of black teeth smiled at me. They both gave me the thumbs up. “OBAMA!” they shouted at me.
Then the man scurried over to his computer, where he should have been printing out my passport photos, and brought up the Miami vs. Portland game. He pointed to LeBron James, with his huge smile still in place. “NBA!” he proudly exclaimed. “Kobe!“
And that was the extend of this man’s english. “Obama! Kobe!”
I don’t know much about the NBA but I’m learning in China. It seems that everyone wants to chat with you about Kobe and they don’t believe that you’re not into basketball. I didn’t even know what team the man played for, but I do now. Effing L.A.
We’ve discovered some other oddly popular American things: Golden Retrievers, the TV show ‘Lost’ and light rock.