[lg policy] =?windows-1252?Q?=91OMG_Meiyu=2C=92_?=a breakout hit Web show, schools Chinese in American slang
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Fri Sep 16 19:33:34 UTC 2011
‘OMG Meiyu,’ a breakout hit Web show, schools Chinese in American slang
By Tara Bahrampour, Published: September 14
A young Chinese woman wanted to know: What is the English word for
that gunky yellowish stuff in the corner of her eyes when she wakes up
in the morning? She turned to Jessica Beinecke, the 24-year-old host
of an online travel video program aimed at young Chinese viewers, and
Beinecke responded with a humorous segment for her show, explaining in
fluent Mandarin and exaggerated gestures all the icky stuff that comes
from the face.
The segment, called “Yucky Gunk,” went viral, garnering nearly 1.5
million hits. And all of a sudden a petite blond Midwesterner, who is
not Chinese and only began studying the language five years ago,
became an iconic translator of American slang for pop-culture-hungry
Chinese fans. “We are so lighthearted. I dance to Lady Gaga and . . .
talk about boogers,” Beinecke said of the low-tech show, taped in
front of a MacBook in her Capitol Hill apartment. “It’s a one-on-one
conversation with an American.”
The popularity of the show, called “OMG! Meiyu” and produced by Voice
of America, has not escaped the notice of the agency’s executives, who
recognize that hip and eccentric programming is vital to connecting
with youths, many of whom prefer to go online than follow the stiffer,
more traditional news and cultural programs the agency transmits
through satellite TV and short-wave radio.
“We still do the straight-up news, and we’re going to keep doing
that,” said David Ensor, the agency’s director. “But part of our
mandate is to explain America to the rest of the world, and part of
America is the way people speak.” More youth-oriented programming is
in the works, Ensor said, and so far the ideas have come from young
people within the organization. For example, Parazit, an irreverent
weekly comedy news show in Farsi, which has been likened to Jon
Stewart’s “Daily Show,” was started in 2009 by two young Iranian
employees and quickly became a hit in Iran.
Beinecke’s two- to three-minute shows appear online only. She posts on
Weibo, a Chinese social media site, where she has more than 100,000
followers. For each episode, she sifts through American lingo,
introducing expressions and explaining their meanings in Chinese in
her signature peppy, comical style.
“You can look up the word ‘cow’ in the dictionary, but knowing what
that means, knowing that you can call someone that? In a dictionary,
it’s really hard to find,” Beinecke said. The same may be said for
“rocking a dress,” “sweating bullets” or having a “muffin top,”
expressions familiar to “OMG!” watchers.
Beinecke’s fans, particularly teens and 20-somethings, post adoring
messages on Beinecke’s page and eagerly await each installment from
the woman they know as Bai Jie, the Chinese name given to her by a
friend when she began learning Mandarin in 2006. Only later did she
learn there is also a Chinese porn novel called “Bai Jie,” which means
white and pure; she kept her name, regardless.
Most of the show’s themes come from viewer suggestions. “These videos
serve as a spark for dialogue,” Beinecke said. “Working out and
breaking up and eating chips, we all do that. Sometimes we don’t
always realize how similar we are.”
After a show featuring the word “sick” — “sick as a dog,” “sick and
tired,” “call in sick,” one viewer wrote, “Woooow, I feel not good,
coz I’m extremely missing my girlfriend . . . How to describe this?
“You’re ‘lovesick’!” Beinecke responded.
They also correct her Chinese. “They say, ‘Bai Jie, you said that
wrong,’ and I go, ‘Oops, my bad,’ and they learn how to say ‘my bad.’
English teachers in China tell her they present “OMG!” to students.
Chinanews.com, an online news site, has reported that “huge chat
rooms” have opened to discuss “OMG!,” with many viewers re-posting the
videos on other Chinese sites. Although the Chinese government tries
to block VOA’s more serious Chinese-language news shows, it tolerates
their English-teaching programs.
Fans seem delighted to hear fluent Mandarin from such an unlikely
looking source. It’s key to her appeal, said Yuyang Ren, 23, a Chinese
native who produces the show. “She looks like just what Chinese people
think Americans look like,” Ren said.
Beinecke, an Ohio native, studied Mandarin at Ohio University and
Middlebury College and in China. After college, she found a job at
Voice of America through Monster.com. After three days of doing
translation and research for the agency, she was asked if she wanted
to try television.
The result was a travel show, broadcast monthly, in which Beinecke
shoots in places such as New York and Las Vegas and talks about them
mostly in Mandarin. But, eager to do something more frequent and
interactive, she developed “OMG!,” which began running in July.
Each show has a theme — relationships, fashion, showering, colors —
for which Beinecke finds American expressions that don’t appear in
most English-teaching curricula. In Chinese, subtle variations in tone
can result in different meanings of words. But as Beinecke points out,
the English spoken by American youth has its own nuances.
When texting, she cautions, don’t confuse BFF (best friend forever)
with BF (boyfriend). Using “BTdubs,” however, is the same thing as
saying “BTW,” which stands for “by the way.”
Beinecke said she hopes her “online friends” will learn that life in
America is not how it appears in the movies. “This is not ‘Jailbreak.’
This is not ‘Gossip Girl,’ ” she said. “We all like to hang out, get a
bowl of noodle soup and talk to our friends, and this will show that
there’s a few English phrases to use while you do that.”
Last week, she ran into a fan, Jiawei Wang, 21, a recent immigrant
from China who was working in a Taiwanese bubble tea shop in
Rockville, where Beinecke was filming her travel show. A marketing
student at Montgomery College, Wang moved to Maryland two years ago
but engages online in a Chinese chat room, where participants discuss
what they learned on “OMG!.”
“American language is quite different from what we learn” in college,
he said in heavily accented English. “We learn how to write papers
about marketing. She teaches us how the young guys talk. Yeah, she’s
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