Bridging cultures with laughter and song

Updated: 2015-04-20 04:48

By May Zhou and Dong Leshuo(China Daily USA)

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Bridging cultures with laughter and song

Jesse Appell (right), founder of LaughBeijing, and Nicolas Angiers, founder of Innovation! Chinese, perform comedy in Chinese at the program Bridging the Pacific Through Comedy and Music in Atlanta on Apr 16. [Provide to May Zhou/ China Daily]

For hundreds of Chinese language teachers at the 2015 National Chinese Language Conference, what could be more gratifying than watching American students performing Chinese pop song, Chinese music, Shandong Clapper and Chinese stand-up comedy?

Titled Bridging the Pacific Through Comedy and Music, the April 16 evening program was presented at the opening ceremony to showcase the success of the Chinese learning program spearheaded by Asia Society, the College Board and the Confucius Institute.

The performers were talented Chinese language learners with varying degrees of proficiency. Jesse Appell, who has developed a keen interest in Chinese humor and performance, not only hosted the program, but also performed Chinese and English standing comedy by poking fun at both English and Chinese accents.

Appell also performed Laowai Style — Foreigner in Beijing's Gangnam Style Parody. His video of the same performance has had more than 11,000 views on Youtube and 2 million hits across different Chinese websites.

Currently residing in Beijing, Appell has lived in China for almost 3 years. "I was thinking of studying aboard so I learnt Chinese and Spanish. Upon my arrival in China, I found out it was much more fun there. China is very dynamic now, so I stayed," Appell told China Daily.

Appell's work has been seen in both China (CCTV) and the US (CBS). He even founded LaughBeijing, trying to use comedy to bridge the cultural gaps between US and China.

Nicolas Angiers, who had lived in China for seven years, performed Shandong Clapper, a work he created. It displayed his command of the language as well as his understanding of the Chinese culture and its nuances.

"Chinese is the most used language of the world, I think if aliens come to talk to us on earth, they would use Chinese," joked Angiers. He has studied Xiangsheng (Chinese standing comedy) from master performer Ding Guangquan, appeared on various Chinese TV programs and toured throughout China performing comedy.

All joking aside, Angiers said that mastering Chinese "is a big achievement of my life. If I hadn't studied Chinese, I would be a completely different person. It changed who I was. I see the world differently now. When you study another language and another culture, you get a totally different perspective on the world."

In fact, Chinese is now a big part of Angier's work. He founded and is running Revolution! Chinese in Canada, featuring innovative methods of teaching Chinese to students around the world.

Anthony Dodge and Nicholas Biniaz-Harris, both first-prize winners in Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competitions, played the piano-erhu duet The Butterfly Lovers besides each performing a solo.

Biniaz-Harris, currently a freshman at Yale University, has studied Chinese for five years, primarily in the US and spent six weeks in China to learn the language. "When I was in Suzhou, I got the opportunity to study Muslims in China and did a report. It was fascinating. I was able to interview people asking about their life. Once your learned Chinese, you can converse with a billion more people."

Anthony Dodge's erhu solo Horse Racing won applause from the audience. "I have studied erhu for about a year, but I have studied cello for 15 years. So I have a background in music. As string instruments, they are similar and I picked up it quickly. Erhu requires some of the more fine details, like the fingers' movement. I just love erhu, the color of and the sound is different, Chinese music is different. It has a more eastern, oriental, Chinese feel," said Dodge.

Dodge had taught English to underprivileged children in rural Anhui and deemed it the most rewarding time of his in China. As an associate at PwC (Price Waterhouse Cooper), he plans to attend a MBA program at Peking University and pursue an education career in China.

"The performances are fantastic," Xu Lin told China Daily. "It shows the outcome of our 10 years efforts."

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