It seems that all expats in China all have something in common. It’s not just our supply of Purell, or our shared lust of bread and cheese, there’s also the group hatred of Da Shan.
Da Shan / Mark Roswell is a Canadian who speaks amazing Mandarin. He’s got a language course, a TV show, and he’s on lots of commercials and billboards in China, despite being a pretty normal-looking guy. It’s one of the weird ironies that a Canadian who speaks very good Chinese is a national celebrity, while a Chinese guy who speaks very good English is an engineer or a manager or something.
Edited 11/29/06 I don’t dislike Da Shan because he’s on so much advertising. On the contrary, every time I see his smile on another product, I’m happy. I wear glasses and have no intention of every getting contacts, so I feel like Da Shan’s striking a blow for my team of people-who-don’t-stick-their-fingers-in-their-eyes-for-fashion.
I quite liked Da Shan when I arrived. I watched Travel in Chinese half for the language boost and half for encouragement, reassurance that even a guy who says “aboot” could master Chinese. Watching Da Shan’s show reminded that someday, I could go into a Yantai store or restaurant, and ask for what I wanted. (Whether I’d actually get it remains to be seen)
As more and more conversations turned to Da Shan, I began to dread the sound of his name. Yes, yes, his Chinese is very good. Almost as good as a Chinese. No, he’s Canadian, I’m American. Yes, I have been to Canada, but, no, I haven’t met Da Shan. Yes, his Chinese is very good.
I guess it’s not as bad as it could be. Western guys in China, who bear even a slight resemblance to Da Shan are constantly mistaken for him.
I also began to dread the inevitable comparision of my Chinese to Da Shan’s Chinese. It’s not that I feel bad having my miserable Chinese held up next to Da Shan’s amazing Mandarin, it’s just the opposite. I’m constantly compared in a flattering way, with that false ring of insincerity (that which in other countries I might call lying through one’s teeth). I think that I’ve come to associate Da Shan with that sort of insincere compliment.
So… when I next hear the inevitable “You know Da Shan, yes?” my new plan is to look at the floor, pause, and then say that I don’t like to talk about dear Da Shan ever since we broke up.