Mosaic of China Season 03 Episode 15 — The Incurable Optimist ('DAJIANG', Tourette's Advocate)
Yes, today's episode with Dajiang is all about what it's like to live in China with Tourette syndrome (妥瑞症). But it reminds us that we should always focus on dignity, happiness, and mutual understanding.
D: So I think sometimes surrender is not always a bad thing.
OF: Welcome to Mosaic of China, a podcast about people who are making their mark in China. I’m your host, Oscar Fuchs.
When doing these recordings, I normally ask my guests to try not to move around too much, because sometimes the microphones can pick up the rustling of clothes or the accidental knocking of the mic stand, or the kicking of the table, things like that. But in today’s episode, some of these extra noises are, in a way, the stars of the show. All will be explained as my guest today Dajiang tells his story.
Today’s episode happens to be the halfway point of Season 03, and also happens to be the final episode of 2022. For us international types connected to China, this has been a traumatic year. Many of us simply left, after having lived here for decades. And for those of us who stayed, we have been to farewell party after farewell party, like a never-ending funeral for the lives we all once used to lead. So it feels right to end the year with an episode that speaks to the ideas of forgiveness, acceptance and positivity in the face of those things in life that we cannot control. I can’t wait for you to hear it, so let’s start the show.
OF: Dajiang, great to see you here.
D: Yeah, thanks for having me.
OF: And I'm calling you ‘Dajiang’, that's the name that you go by.
D: Yeah, yeah yeah, it’s my nickname, everyone calls me Dajiang: ‘Big Jiang.’ Whatever, yeah.
OF: Maybe that's my first question. Why do you call yourself Dajiang?
D: 大 [Dà] is ‘big’, right? And my friends called me that, because I'm not that short.
OF: And 蒋 [Jiǎng] is your family name?
D: Yeah, 蒋 [Jiǎng].
OF: Good. Well I will also call you Dajiang. How would you explain what you do here in China?
D: I'm a walking camera.
OF: Ah. Well we'll find out what do you mean by that. First of all, the most important question: what object did you bring that in some way represents your life here in China?
D: It's a lens that I've used for years, you know, since the first time I studied photography by myself. It’s already got some mould on the…
OF: Mould? Oh god.
D: Usually you change your camera often. You know, every five years sometimes. With every evolution of camera, you change it.
D: But the lens… This one has a little bit of a special relation with me. You know, this is the first lens that I bought when I fell in love with photography. So it's just… Just a thing, you know?
OF: Absolutely. Well it's a very direct representation of what you do here in China, right?
D: Yeah, professionally I'm a freelance videographer. Basically, documentary style. I found documentaries, because I made my very first documentary about Tourette syndrome in China. Because I have Tourette syndrome. So this was my very first documentary. You devote yourself for one year filming and editing. Even though in China making documentaries full-time for individuals is kind of tough, maybe I'm kind of like an indie documentarian. Yeah.
OF: Got it. Well thank you for that. And you've already revealed what we're going to talk about today: your work in Tourette’s. That reminds me of the introduction that I had to you from Michelle Qu…
OF: … From last season. So let's take a listen to what she said.
[Start of Audio Clip]
Michelle QU: I’ll introduce you to Dajiang. He's a very funny boy. And he’s very warm hearted. He's our documentary director with - how to say - patients with Tourette’s.
MQ: Tourette’s, yeah.
MQ: He’s trying to make the public accept and understand more about these patients, yeah.
[End of Audio Clip]
OF: That was Michelle. So how do you know Michelle?
D: We both learned percussion from a very famous local percussionist, Yuan.
OF: Yes, OK. That's right, because Michelle is a comedian, but she's also a drummer.
D: Yeah yeah, a very good drummer.
OF: Are you still drumming?
D: In my spare time, you know.
OF: Well, let's talk about Tourette’s. You said that you have a documentary about it.
OF: But why don't we start with your personal story first? Tell me about it.
D: Well it's a long story, but I will try to make it short. I was born and raised in 东北 [Dōngběi], in 辽宁 [Liáoníng] province.
D: Yeah, yeah. First of all, the severity of my Tourette syndrome is not that terrible. You know, you can see I don't have a swearing tic. I don't frequently cough, the vocal tic is kind of like medium/mild. But it did get me some trouble. Many of my classmates, they didn't bully me, thank god. But they impersonated me. You know, they saw there's one boy in the class making these sounds, or doing these facial grimaces, or shoulder twitching. They were like, it was funny. But it just bothered me, and so sometimes I would say “Stop doing that.”
D: But it was lucky that they didn't give me any nasty names for that. You know, they didn't call me ‘Weirdo' or whatever. And then, the second thing about my childhood is that I was born in 1983. You know, nobody - no doctors - could tell my parents what I was. I tried acupuncture, I took different herbal medications, blah, blah, blah. And then finally, they gave up. But I remember, there were several times that my dad wasn’t in a good mood - I was ticking, you know - and he would slap me in the face, because the tic maybe bothered him. So…
D: It’s not like it was very traumatic, but it just hurts a young kid, you know. But I forgive him. Because it was ignorance. He knew nothing about it, so how can you blame him?
OF: Right. Well you said “ignorance”, maybe there are some people listening who themselves don't know what is Tourette’s.
OF: So why don't we rewind, and maybe you can explain what is Tourette’s?
D: Yeah, Tourette's is a neurological disorder - or you can say “condition” - that makes patients have these involuntary body movements. Also, vocal tics. We call them “tics.” Yeah, that means sometimes we can’t help make sounds, or make twitching movements, or something like that. But we can’t help doing it. Yeah.
OF: And how do you say Tourette's in Chinese?
D: It has two names. On the mainland, people usually call it 抽动症 [chōudòng zhèng], directly meaning ‘twitching disorder’.
D: I don't know the name. But in Taiwan or Hong Kong or some other places, it's called 妥瑞氏 [Tuǒruìshì]. It's like ‘Tourette’s/‘妥瑞氏 [Tuǒruìshì]’. So it sounds better than 抽动症 [chōudòng zhèng], or something.
OF: Right. So it's just a direct translation of Tourette's.
D: Yeah, yeah. I prefer ‘妥瑞氏 [Tuǒruìshì]’ rather than ‘twitching’, something like that.
OF: I know what you mean. There are some Chinese words where it is a very very direct explanation.
D: Yeah, yeah.
OF: And that doesn't help engender understanding. It almost gives you this identity as someone who is not ‘normal’, shall we say?
D: Yeah. Kind of like a social stigma, you know?
D: And people are more likely to label you by the name of the syndrome, yeah.
OF: Yes. Well, you said about your parents then. Your father, was it quite a common thing that he would hit you?
D: Quite common, not because of the Tourette syndrome honestly. It's because I'm really really bad at mathematics. So every time I did badly in a mathematics examination, the score was low, so I would show him the paper, and like… God damn it, you know, so many parents - especially fathers in China - they expect their sons to be a dragon, which is bull****. And they’re like “My friends’ kids, they're good at this and that. I spent a lot of money funding your tutors for mathematics. Why the heck you…?” But he doesn't know some people are just naturally poor at doing math. So he always beat me for that.
OF: Oh wow. Dear me, that's a whole other subject now.
OF: What about your mother, in that case?
D: Well, she was an angel. You know, she was my guardian angel. You know, usually. I think that's the woman's advantage, you know. Women are more agreeable, you know, less aggressive. Let it go. Even though she did not know what I had.
D: So I think sometimes surrender is not always a bad thing.
OF: Right. Acceptance, right?
D: Yeah. Just let my boy do whatever he wants. Fine.
OF: How were you feeling at the time? Did you feel the stigma?
D: In my childhood, I didn't feel any stigma until I grew up. You know, in adolescence, boys and girls tend to feel attracted to each other. It did bother me dating, because the girls did not know what I was, you know. Like, why does this guy make these sounds and so on? Some girls were polite, and they dared to ask me. But I didn't know either.
D: You know, I just told her that it was a little bad habit. And then she was like “Can you just get rid of it?” Because with a habit, you can easily get rid of it, you know. But I don't blame them, you know.
D: Because they know nothing about it.
OF: Well, how can you blame them when you also knew nothing at the time?
D: Yeah, sure. Yeah.
OF: Well, maybe I should ask you then, when did you understand that this was a condition?
D: It was interesting, because I think I came to Shanghai in 2006. And then it was like 2010 or 2012, I can't remember exactly. It was at a farewell party of an American friend, like a Chinese American friend. I think it was at a disco bar and I was feeling a little bit dizzy, you know, because everyone was drinking. And then there was a person who tapped me on my shoulder, it was an American dude. He was like “You behave like my friend. You and him, you have similar movements and such.” I was like “What are you talking about?” He said “Do you know what Tourette syndrome is? I didn’t know what it was. And then I got an iPad. So I launched it on Wikipedia. And so he pointed out the word ‘Tourette’s’, and then I saw the English explanation for that. I was like “Oh my god! This is it!” It was not from a doctor.
D: Not from the bible. It was some a farewell party, you know?
D: It was amazing.
OF: How old were you then?
D: I think it was just before 30 or something.
D: 29, 28, something.
OF: Wow, you already had been living with this for 25-30 years before…
D: Yeah, it’s my lifetime companion, dude.
OF: Yes. The whole cloud must have disappeared at the time.
D: Yeah, exactly. I didn't feel depressed. I was like “Oh, I’ve got an excuse for all these bad things!”
D: And then you have nothing to blame yourself for.
OF: So when you found out, did you then talk to your family about it?
D: Yeah, yeah, I talked to them about it. And then one week after I knew what Tourette syndrome was, I found a movie called Front of the Class. It's kind of like a Hollywood movie from the nineties I think. It was adapted from a novel called Front of the Class by a real teacher called Brad Cohen. He has a really severe terrible tic. A very serious ‘Touretter’ becoming a teacher, he did it, and he's a miracle.
D: And the movie made me cry badly. And then I was like “OK, I’ve gotta tell my parents what it is.” And then…
OF: Did you share the movie, or..?
D: I shared the movie. I bought them a Chinese translation of the book, Front of the Class. So they spent some time to read it. And then I think my father changed a lot. He was like “Oh, this is something that my son had.” Especially after I made my documentary, I showed them and he was like “Oh my son, he did something to help people, to realise what it is.”
OF: Let's talk about your work then. And this goes back to the object, which I'm still looking at in front of us, your camera lens. Tell me about the documentary you made.
D: After I knew about Tourette syndrome, I searched for Tourette's syndrome in Chinese online, using keywords. I wanted to know what the situation was for people with Tourette syndrome. The search results were not happy, you know. It was all those videos done by the national TV station, or regional TV stations. They did them in terms of curiosity, you know. They just painted us as some kind of pathetic figures… “And finally he or she met a doctor, who gave them some medication or some surgery, and then he finally…” I was like “I don't want my peers to see this. Woah, probably I can be the first dude to make a doc about people like me.” But the first difficulty was finding protagonists, you know, because you can't fake up the protagonists, you have to find the real heroes.
OF: Oh, the protagonists. Oh right.
D: Yeah, yeah.
OF: How many did you have in your documentary?
D: There are four episodes, each episode contains one protagonist. I found a cinematographer friend, I said “Hey dude, I want you to make a short video about me. It's like a recruitment movie, I want to find those hidden heroes.” You know, “Come to me! Come and find me!” You know?
D: And then that two-minute video had some impact, you know. People saw it, they said “Oh, this is good!” Maybe they forwarded it to each other? And then…
OF: That’s it, right?
OF: Somebody would see it and say “Oh, this is the same thing that my daughter has / my son has.”
D: Yeah, yeah. And then several people emailed me. And then I selected four of them.
OF: They were already ready to tell their story?
D: Yeah, sure. Yeah, yeah.
OF: Out of all the applicants, how did you choose the four?
D: Interesting question. Because I got probably 40 emails with 40 stories. Some of them were really sad. I was struggling whether I should make it so real - like, so realistic - or whether I should make it a little bit uplifting. You know, I want to give strength to my peers. My instinct told me “Hey, you should make something very uplifting, instead of something too moody.”
OF: To counteract the sad movies that were already out there, right?
D: Yeah. And then I found these four people, they were great. I started crowdfunding - like a Chinese version of Kickstarter - I collected 60,000 RMB. It’s limited.
OF: That’s not a fortune.
D: For a documentary series with four episodes, each episode containing at least 40 minutes, it's limited, you know.
D: But it's enough. Amazingly, most of the money came from the parents of Tourette's kids.
D: Because they care about their kids a lot. So they thought I might be the person who is able to speak for them first.
OF: You had four people. Can you talk to me about let's say one or two of them?
D: Yeah. Every episode, they are like four of my kids, you know. All of them are lovely and adorable. But there are two episodes which really impressed me. One is the first episode. The protagonist is a Taiwanese flower arrangement artist.
D: His is a really lovely story. There are a lot of what I called ‘golden sentences’ from each episode. His cousin said “My cousin Jasper Wu..." You know, the protagonist’s name is Jasper Wu, so… “He could not control his tic. But what he can manage is his life.” It was so powerful. When I interviewed him on the spot, that sentence touched me a lot. “Yeah, me too. Yeah, I can't control my tic, but I can handle my life.” The direction of my life. This guy was really nice to me. You know, he spent a lot of time with me. Because I spent at least one month with every protagonist.
OF: Oh really?
D: It’s not like a one-week documentary. You have to make friends with them, to capture the real moments.
D: It needs time, you know. And you can’t say “Hey Jasper, you meet my schedule.” No, you should experience his rhythm, his groove.
D: And then that was crazy. But it was fruitful, you know.
D: I learned a lot from him. You know, we still are very very good friends. And then he came to the mainland, to my hometown. And my parents met him, and my mom cried. You know, like “Oh I saw Jasper, his Tourette's is worse than yours, but he's such a beautiful, great person.” I think the moment she saw Jasper Wu, I think she thought "Oh, it doesn't matter.”
D: You know, it doesn't stop a person from becoming talented.
D: Yeah. And then also Episode 2, the girl. There was a young girl, I wanted to shoot her. She was, like, 18. She had a really bad relationship with her mom. They quarrelled in front of my camera so badly. Yeah.
OF: This is it. Because you're there for one month, the good behaviour falls off after a few days, and they start to be real.
D: That's the amazing part of documentaries.
D: Because you don’t only want to shoot the happy moments, but you want to see the conflicts.
D: I don't tell them “Hey, quarrel in front of me immediately. 1, 2, 3, go.” They just do it. You're fishing. And then it's a big fish. The most difficult footage to film is how other people look at them in a public locations.
D: But I did come up with some gimmicks, you know. Like, I know how to cover up my big camera, when I shot the girl in 广东 [Guǎngdōng] in the subway. Because I know she was about to tic. So that's difficult footage to shoot, because you have to show the people around her, you know, like “Why the hell are you doing that?”
D: But you can see how much she bears, you know. But the big change was, several years after this documentary, she actually made a drama - like, a stage play - based on her Tourette’s experience. And she did it in 广州 [Guǎngzhōu]. So she became sort of like a Tourette’s promoter.
D: How the documentary changed the lives of those people, that was brilliant. Yeah.
OF: That's one of the things I wanted to ask you. Let's say the mother, after the mother saw the documentary, what did she think about the way she was talking to her daughter?
D: It did help them to change, to improve the relationship a lot.
D: I think it helped, you know. They still quarrel, but not as serious as before. You can't change them.
OF: That might not be Tourette’s, that just might be their personalities.
D: It’s just a single mom and a girl. Sometimes, you know, they have a lot of petty matters.
D: You know, they quarrel like this.
OF: That's part of life.
D: C’est la vie.
OF: Yeah. Tourette’s is not your entire story. It's just one part of your story, right.
D: You’re right, you make a really good point. Because I don't want to emphasise too much the Tourette syndrome.
D: It’s like, you don't want to carry it all the time, you know?
OF: Yeah. You don't want to be “There's Dajiang, the Tourette’s guy.” You’re just Dajiang.
D: Yeah. Yeah. It's just like last year Edward Norton made a movie called Motherless Brooklyn. He played a detective with very severe Tourette syndrome.
D: It’s not a Tourette's movie, it’s a detective movie. You've gotta watch that movie, you know.
D: I would highly recommended it. This dude nailed it.
OF: He got it.
D: I think he must have spent time with either a Tourette’s friend or anybody with Tourette syndrome. He even did the OCD part of it. I was like “Oh my god, this guy spent time on it.”
OF: What was that movie called?
D: Motherless Brooklyn.
OF: And what was your documentary series called?
D: The Happiness of Tourette Syndrome: 妥妥的幸福 [Tuǒtuǒ de Xìngfú].
OF: You've called it 妥妥 [tuǒtuǒ].
D: Yeah, a nickname.
OF: And where is it available, for people who speak Chinese?
D: It’s on 腾讯视频 [Téngxùn shìpín], Tencent Video. Open source, everyone can download it, you can watch it, you know.
OF: Great. Because I really want people to watch it.
OF: We’re talking about Edward Norton…
OF: … And how he was representing Tourette’s. Are there famous Tourette’s sufferers that people would know about?
D: Billie Eilish. And also the Monkey King, you know from ‘Journey to the West’.
OF: Yeah. What about that?
D: You know, it's interesting. Because one of the Taiwanese neurological doctors, he wrote a book about Tourette syndrome. He’s really good at Chinese ancient literature, or something. So he read ‘Journey to the West’ in its original. So he quoted the original description of the monkey. The monkey, he liked to scratch his face a lot. The author 吴承恩 [Wú Chéng’ēn], he lived at the end of the 明 [Míng] Dynasty, he had a monkey as his pet to observe his behaviour, because the protagonist - the Monkey King - was a monkey.
D: But face scratching is not typical behaviour of a monkey.
D: And also, if you read the original, he's not only doing that. He had eye blinking, twitching, and this kind of thing.
D: It fits perfectly the actions of a severe Tourette's patient.
D: So probably the author 吴承恩 [Wú Chéng’ēn], he might have had a friend, a very close friend…
D: Because all major protagonists in a novel are usually based on a real role model in life. You can ask every author, probably.
D: So in ancient China, people thought maybe he was possessed by the spirit of a monkey ghost, or fairies, or something!
D: So maybe the Monkey King should be put in the Tourette’s Hall of Fame.
OF: Oh I love it. If the Monkey King can have Tourette’s then so can anyone.
D: Yep, yep.
OF: Amazing. And you're saying that there are different levels of Tourette’s, and yours is not so heavy. Tell me about people who you've met in your community…
OF: … Who have stronger cases of Tourette’s. Like, what are their symptoms?
D: I think the worst symptom is the one with coprolalia. Or you can say “the swearing tic”, you know.
OF: Swearing, yeah.
D: They can’t help swearing really badly, but they don’t mean it.
D: It’s funny. If you have a study on all of the cursing words internationally - Chinese Japanese English - they all contain ‘explosives’. Like the word ‘***’.
D: ‘K’. Or in French ‘****’ Most of them - I don’t say all of them - contain these ‘explosives’.
OF: Which you mean like ‘P’, ’T’, ‘K’..?
D: Yeah, like in Chinese ‘****’!
D: ‘****’, or something like that. So it's because I think swearing is one of human’s stress releasing…
OF: Release, yes.
D: Something like ‘Goddammit!’ Or something like that.
D: It doesn't mean you're a really filthy person, you know. Those words help us release our anger.
D: And then Tourette's, why we have tics is because we have to release those kind of things. So those severe ‘Touretters’, I think they can’t help using those things to help them release their disease or something.
D: They pick up the swearing words, you know.
OF: I can understand hiccups.
OF: Right? I can't control it. And it has this noise, which can be annoying, it can be embarrassing. But it goes in 10 minutes, 5 minutes.
D: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
OF: Is that a good equivalent? Or is it very different?
D: Usually I ask people to do a test, to experience how we feel. Keep staring at me for two minutes without eye blinking.
D: Probably you'll feel this feeling of “Oh my god, I can't do it.” Because you have an urge to blink your eyes once or twice.
D: So you can't do it, no way. There's an urge that wants you to blink.
D: Not because you're feeling tired.
OF: And it's not even an urge, it’s just something natural.
OF: Which you can't control. Yes, I see what you mean.
D: But I do find that like, the more comfortable your body and soul feels - like right now, if I'm really focused, I look at your eyes, I’m really focusing on what we’re talking about - it will make the tic less frequent.
D: And you can observe that.
OF: I just saw it now.
OF: You slowed your voice down.
OF: And actually your body was extremely still.
D: Yeah, yeah. Because I feel relaxed and I feel concentrated. You know, Tourette’s does give me a lot of downsides. But the upside is like, sometimes the bad mood will make it worse. So… easy! You try to be less angry…
D: … Or try to eat healthy, try to exorcise yourself. So these are the benefits.
OF: Yes. Because if you are ticking a lot, it means that something is out of balance, right?
D: Yeah. So it's very funny because I told my friends “I can't lie.”
D: Why? Because you can see I’ll start ticking. My physical or mental discomfort…
OF: It shows, yes.
D: … Will be revealed by the tic, you know. I can't hide. Goddamiit.
OF: I must say, that is such a superpower. To actually have something that will tell you “No, I am not comfortable.” You can't ignore that.
D: Yeah. Sometimes I say, I can't be a CEO of a company. Because you can't hide your emotions.
OF: Right. “Everyone, the company is doing well!” And then you start ticking…
D: Also, there are two things people with Tourette's will never do. It's a guessing game. You can guess, there are two careers.
D: No, wrong. I’ll tell you.
OF: Hang on… Politicians?
D: No, wrong.
OF: Oh, wait!
D: Thief and soldier. You know, we can't steal things because you shake, or you make noises. That means we're honest. And you can't be a soldier, you know, because you make noises. You know, you will be killed by the enemy. That means we are pacifists.
OF: There you go.
D: It’s my joke, but…
OF: I need to make friends with more people with Tourette's. These are good guys.
OF: Do you have any future projects coming up?
D: Recently, I've been working with a psychiatrist, a very young psychiatrist. We are thinking about making some kind of creative documentary series about mental sickness. Or you can say “Mental health condition”, whatever you name it. We’re on track, so we'll do it in a very creative way. It will help the majority of Chinese people to understand the lives of people with mental illness.
D: Tourette’s is also sometimes medically considered part of mental sickness.
D: Or mental health, or something. So, yeah.
OF: Are there any connections between Tourette's and other conditions?
D: Tourette's has a comorbidity. This term called a ‘comorbidity’.
OF: Oh a comorbidity, yes.
D: A comorbidity. The comorbidity of Tourette's is OCD or ADHD.
D: So I have a little bit of OCD, but I don't have ADHD. But OCD and ADHD, depression, Asperger syndrome, bipolar… Some doctors, they want to put them into one basket, but I don't care. You know, I think I have empathy. Because after I made the Tourette's documentary, now I care about people with mental health issues.
D: They’re not weirdos. They’re living around us.
OF: Yeah, there's something about the way it's handled in Chinese society where they're just not visible on the street in the same way that I would see them in the West.
D: Yeah, yeah.
OF: Well, I hope you do do the documentary. I mean, you know how to do it, you’ve done it once. So I can just imagine you starting again with your funding, and then going around China. I can just see the future. If you do it, please do let me know.
D: Sure, sure. Thanks for that.
OF: Thank you so much, Dajiang. I feel really happy that you were able to be on this show. I just don't know how I could have found someone better. Who not only can represent this very unique condition, but also can articulate it in English here in China. I feel like you're a very special, unique person on this show.
D: OK, thanks for that.
OF: Let’s move on to Part 2.
D: Yeah, sure.
O: Well, it's the 10 questions.
OF: First question, which comes from Shanghai Daily: What is your favourite China-related fact?
D: I think is back to my 东北 [Dōngběi] love, my love towards my hometown. You know sauerkraut, right. Typical German sauerkraut?
OF: Sauerkraut, yes.
D: But in my hometown in 东北 [Dōngběi], we have sauerkraut even better than theirs.
OF: Is that right?
D: You go to a 东北 [Dōngběi] restaurant in China, it’s called 酸菜 [suāncài], sour cabbage.
OF: I've had that, yeah yeah yeah.
D: It even has a similar colour to sauerkraut. It tastes amazing.
OF: That sounds just like Germany.
D: Yeah, just like Germany. Any Germans, if you feel homesick, go to a 东北 [Dōngběi] restaurant. You will never miss home.
OF: Are you going to now say that the Chinese invented sauerkraut?
D: I don't think so, I don't think so.
OF: Next question, which comes from Rosetta Stone: Do you have a favourite word or phrase in Chinese?
D: 事在人为 [Shìzài rénwéi].
OF: 事在人为 [Shìzài rénwéi].
D: Every successful thing can be achieved by people's effort.
OF: Yeah, it's actually very easy to understand what those four characters.
OF: This makes me ask you, do you think that you became a filmmaker to make these projects? Which came first?
D: I think the idea first.
D: I used to be a graphic designer, I’m a cartoonist and illustrator.
OF: A cartoonist?
D: Yeah, I did cartoons, you know. And some animations, right before I came to Shanghai.
OF: How interesting. Do you still do any animation now?
D: So I'm going to use some animation in the future plan.
OF: Oh great.
D: So, like, a combination of animation with real footage. Yeah.
OF: You can combine all your skills into one project.
D: Yeah, one pot wonder.
OF: Next question, which comes from naked Retreats: What is your favourite destination within China?
D: 新疆 [Xīnjiāng]. No doubt about it.
OF: Oh, that was quick. When were you last in 新疆 [Xīnjiāng]?
D: Oh my god, it was four years ago. I spent half a year there making a documentary.
OF: Half a year?
D: Half a year, six months.
D: ئۈرۈمچى [Ürümqi], قەشقەر [Kashgar], blah, blah, blah. Not every city in 新疆 [Xīnjiāng], but you know, I met a lot of local friends, the ئۇيغۇرلار [Uyghurs]. I would like to know their stories, and their music especially. You know, if you visit قەشقەر [Kashgar] you can see there's a street selling local ئۇيغۇرلار [Uyghur] music instruments. There are about 40 different instruments there, and it was like “Oh my god, amazing.”
D: Beautiful place.
OF: If you left China, what would you miss the most, and what would you miss the least.
D: I think what I would miss the most is my parents and my like-minded friends. The least I would miss - or something I don't like is - our value of determining success. It seems only based on your wealth. But in my ideology, you can't judge a person - whether he or she is successful - based on how much they earn. I mean, it could be a factor, financial earnings. But what about your spiritual earnings?
OF: Yeah. Next question, is that anything that still surprises you about life in China?
D: Foot massage.
OF: Foot massage!
D: Chinese people love taking care of our feet, insanely.
OF: It's true.
D: We don't have a foot fetish. But if you go to 长沙 [Chángshā], 湖南 [Húnán] province, they've elevated foot massage to a whole new level. Everywhere, every street, you see they have a logo of little feet.
OF: Yes. That's a really good one. And you're surprised by it.
D: I'm not a fan of foot massage.
D: Sometimes I did it, but why feet? Maybe 千里之行，始于足下 [qiānlǐ zhīxíng, shǐyú zúxià]: The very beginning of a 1000-mile trip starts…
OF: … With one foot
D: One foot.
OF: That phrase was the favourite phrase….
OF: … Of a previous guest in the show.
D: Oh, really?
OF: It was Sanford Browne from L’Oréal in Season 01.
OF: I like how that is now connected with foot massage.
D: Oh, jinx.
OF: Next question, which comes from SmartShanghai: Where is your favourite place to go out, to eat or drink or just hang out?
D: There is a really great, lovely, cosy place called the Wooden Box bar. Right now they're looking for a new place.
OF: Oh I didn’t know that.
OF: Oh right. That's a common story in Shanghai, where you can go somewhere every day for two years, and then the next day it’s gone.
D: Yeah, but hopefully they will find a new venue for Wooden Box.
OF: Yeah, yeah. Next question, what is the best or worst purchase you have recently made?
D: I think the best pictures is, living in Shanghai you can order fresh roasted coffee beans anytime easily. Really fresh oven roasted. That's the privilege of living in Shanghai.
D: As a coffee addict.
OF: Now I feel bad for giving you my cheap coffee today. Next question, what's your favourite WeChat sticker?
D: The WeChat sticker is the one I designed.
OF: Oh, tell me what this is. Can you explain it?
D: It's called ‘Brother 哎呀 [Āiyā]’. It's all related to my 东北 [Dōngběi] roots. Because 东北 [Dōngběi] people, we say 哎呀妈呀 [āiyāmāya].
D: It’s like 哎呀 [āiyā] oh gosh.
OF: 哎呀妈呀 [Āiyāmāya].
D: 哎呀妈呀 [Āiyāmāya]. So it's a bunch of stickers. It's not only one, there are 16 of them. So they all start with ‘哎呀 [āiyā]’. 哎呀欧了 [Āiyā’ōule]; 哎呀老妹儿 [Āiyālǎomèi’er], something that that you know. So I called it ‘Brother 哎呀 [Āiyā]’. I did it during the COVID outbreak. I gotta do something.
OF: Well, I can tell that you are an animator and a cartoonist. Because this is professional.
D: Thanks. I designed it, and animated it.
OF: And do you know how far it spread? Like, can you somehow track how popular it became?
D: I have no idea, there’s there's no data.
D: I can’t track it.
OF: Do you somehow get paid for it? Also no.
D: I got paid a little for it. I didn't make money out of it, it was just for fun during boring times, you know.
OF: That's great. Next question, what is your go-to song to sing at KTV?
D: It's a Taiwanese song, a band called 五月天 [Wǔyuètiān], ‘Mayday’. It's called '志明與春嬌 [Zhìmíng yǔ Chūnjiāo]’. It reminds me of my very very good Taiwanese friend called 志平 [Zhìpíng]. So 志明 [[Zhìmíng], 志平 [Zhìpíng], it sounds similar.
D: He used to be my leader in my very first job in Shanghai. And then every time we went to KTV, he chose his song to sing. And then I started to sing this song from him. And he always jokes with me, like “Hey Dajiang, are you insulting the Taiwanese dialect songs?” And I was like “Oh, I’ll keep insulting that. I don't give a **** about it.” And it became our story. So every time I went to KTV, I couldn't help thinking of fun times with him, you know.
OF: Nice. Sing me a little bit.
D: “我跟你 [Wǒ gēn nǐ], 最好就到這 [Zuìhǎo jiù dàozhè] 你對我 [Nǐ duì wǒ] 已經沒感覺 [Yǐjīng méi gǎnjué] 麥閣傷心 [Mài gé shāngxīn] 麥閣我這愛你 [Mài gé wǒ zhè ài nǐ] 你沒愛我 [Nǐ méi ài wǒ].” It’s not in Mandarin.
OF: Yeah! And finally, what or who is your biggest source of inspiration in China?
D: I think the answer is simple. Every walk of life in China is my spiritual inspiration, yeah. Every walk of life in China contains a story. Even those people I don't like, they have their story too.
OF: Well this is why you are a filmmaker.
D: Thanks, yeah.
OF: Thank you Dajiang.
D: Yeah, thank you too.
OF: I will let you go, I've kept you too long. Before you go, tell me who out of everyone you know in China would you recommend that I interview in the next season of Mosaic of China.
D: I came up with a very talented local musician. His name is 张康明 [Zhāng Kāngmíng]. Kangming is definitely one of a kind. He has this unique understanding of both Western and also Chinese music. So he.. He also did the backing music for my Tourette's documentary.
OF: Ah right.
D: His music style is more visual. So I gave him the nickname of the Yanni of Shanghai, ‘the Shanghai Yanni’.
OF: Great. I can't wait to meet Kangming. And if you had one question that you would ask Kangming, what would you ask him?
D: Can you write songs for my next documentary?
OF: There you go, perfect question. Thank you again Dajiang.
D: Oh you’re welcome. I’m really happy.
OF: In case you were wondering, the doctor who came up with the theory linking Tourette’s to the Monkey King is called 林宝华 [Lín Bǎohuá], check out the transcript from today’s show on mosaicofchina.com to follow the link to him. If you’re watching the video version of the podcast right now, then what you’ll be seeing as I’m speaking now is the trailer of Dajiang’s 妥妥的幸福 [Tuǒtuǒ de Xìngfú] documentary series, with the sound off of course. And if you are in one of the WeChat groups for listeners to the podcast, then you’ll see a link there for how you can watch the full series in China. Ping me a message anywhere on social media, you can find me either on mosaicofchina or oscology, and I’ll point you to where you can find everything.
When I say “everything”, this also includes information on where you can listen to the PREMIUM version of Mosaic of China, where there’s exactly 19 extra minutes of content for today’s show. I’ve added up all the extras from Season 03 so far, and it totals 262 minutes, which is almost 4 and a half hours of extra content from Episodes 01. I’m about to go on a short break for a few weeks before releasing Episodes 16 to 30 of the Season, so there’s no better way to spend this hiatus than subscribing and listening to all the things that you’ve missed. Here are a few clips to show you what I mean, from today’s show:
D: In China, 4 million are suffering from Tourette’s syndrome on different levels.
OF: Oh really.
D: I can't help them medically, but I think I can help them spiritually.
D: You don't have to be shameful for being a divorced woman. Just tell the man “I'm divorced”, “I'm a single mom”, that's fine. Same with Tourette’s.
D: People say “Shanghai has more skyscrapers.” I would say “No, the happiness index does not depend on the number of skyscrapers.”
D: They have no clue why people have Tourette syndrome.
OF: If you said “I have Tourette’s" to somebody in China, would they understand what that was?
D: Still no. It hasn’t changed that much.
D: I’m very against giving medication to young kids.
D: Every year I hold a Shanghai-based local ‘Touretter’ get-together.
OF: It comes down to PR. Do you have the right PR for your particular condition?
D: You’re right, you're right.
[End of Audio Clips]
OF: Mosaic of China is me, Oscar Fuchs, with artwork by Denny Newell. After the music, you’re going to hear updates from Michelle Qu from Season 02 Episode 20, and Sabrina Chen from Season 01 Episode 26. All that remains for me to say is a big thanks to you for being with me over the year. I think all of us deserve a little rest, and that includes me. So goodbye 2022, and I’ll see you again before too long in the new year.
[Catch-Up Interview 1]
MQ: Hi Oscar.
OF: Hi, good to see you.
MQ: Yeah, nice to see you again.
OF: Yeah, we've run into each other a few times on the streets since our recording.
MQ: Yeah, on the street, yeah.
OF: But we haven't had a proper chance to talk this whole time, so it's great to see you.
OF: Well, I think our original recording was about 18 months ago. Tell me what has been your life since then?
MQ: Wow some updates, OK. So my improv playing is still continue.
OF: Good, because that's what we talked about. For people who did not listen to our original episode, we mainly talked about your life as an improv comedian.
MQ: Yeah. After our last talk, we joined a very big comedy company in China. So we got the chance to have a bigger stage. So we now have a place to have rehearsals, we have more chance to give our classes to more people, to have more students. So I think things are going very well. We have more new blood, and fresher things.
MQ: Yeah, we can do things that are more professional than before. Like music, like things with the theatre, with the stage, with the audience. Yeah.
MQ: Yeah. And also I will tell you, over these two years I have started to study again, studying with clown teachers.
OF: Hang on, I don't understand.
MQ: Clown teachers.
MQ: Clown, yeah.
OF: Clown teachers.
MQ: Yes. And puppets.
OF: Oh my god.
MQ: A lot!
OF: I kind of am not surprised, because you're always learning new things. That’s… that’s classic Michelle Qu.
MQ: So I think these things I study, it's like you just enter a big palace. And then “Oh, there’s another door in the palace. I’ll just open it, maybe I'll find something interesting. And more, and more, and more.”
MQ: Yeah, it’s a big palace.
OF: I don't know how you get the energy, honestly. Because what people might not realise - and it wasn't very clear in our original episode - but this is not your full-time job. You have a full time job, right?
MQ: Yes I have.
OF: This is just everything you do in your spare time. So we never talked about your full-time job. What is your 9-5 every day?
OF: And you're still in the same company?
MQ: Yes, still the same. I have a very great boss. At the end of last year, he just told us “I don't suggest that you quit your job right now, because for the next two years it will be a hard time in China.”
MQ: I believe in him!
OF: He was right! Smart.
MQ: That was a really good suggestion.
OF: Has he ever seen any of your shows?
MQ: I don't think so.
OF: Does he know that you do it?
MQ: Yeah, some of my co-workers, they know my interests.
MQ: My hobbies.
OF: Well, they should know. Because I think being productive at work does have a correlation with being happy in your life.
OF: Now I have a surprise for you. Stay there.
MQ: Oh, a surprise.
OF: Yes. Now, I'm holding up a bag. And this is the bag that I used to carry to the studio. And I had this bag when you and I did our first recording.
OF: So what I want you to do is to put your finger in that front pocket. You can feel the bottom of that pocket. Feel the bottom.
OF: And then if you keep on going, there's a little bit at the end, where you think it's the bottom…
MQ: But there’s still some space.
OF: So things get lost in that pocket. Guess what I found in that bag?
MQ: Wow! Thank you!
OF: Can you explain what this is?
MQ: Yeah, this from a very famous Japanese temple.
MQ: I bought it four years ago.
OF: Right. Then you left it in the studio.
OF: And you said “Hey Oscar, I couldn't find my lucky charm.” And I said “Oh there's nothing here. I don't know where it is.” So I'm so happy to give it back to you.
MQ: Wow, thank you for this, thank you for your bag.
OF: I'm very very sorry. It wasn't my fault, but I had it.
MQ: Wow wow wow, I think it’s a very great moment you've given me. I had another one, but I lost that one in 云南 [Yúnnán], in the mountains.
MQ: Yeah. So your brother now is now in 云南 [Yúnnán], in the mountains.
OF: You know what? Somehow that one in 云南 [Yúnnán] will come back to you. I know it.
MQ: I believe it! Now I believe it.
OF: Before you go, I need to ask you two questions. The first one is about the lady who recommended you, Sabrina Chen from the dance studio, from Season 01 of the podcast.
OF: Have you been in touch with Sabrina?
MQ: Yes, sure. Every day.
OF: Every day?
MQ: Every day, we share pictures.
OF: That’s so nice.
MQ: Every day, yeah.
OF: Well, I'm grateful to Sabrina. Thank you, Sabrina. The second thing is, of course I will be releasing this catch-up at the same time that I release the episode of Dajiang in Season 03…
OF: … Who you recommended. So have you been in touch with Dajiang?
MQ: Yeah, sure. Every day!
OF: Wow. I feel like I'm in your friendship group now. That’s so funny you said that, because…
MQ: Yeah also, we have some of our own jokes, because we're both from the north of China.
OF: I can see when he posts something, you always comment. When he posts something, you always comment. And not just one comment, but you have a conversation.
MQ: It’s a lot! Yeah.
OF: It’s been lovely to see that interaction. I do feel like I've got to know both of you pretty well over the last few months. So thank you, of course, for your recommendation to Dajiang.
MQ: Thank you Oscar, for this chat. And for the surprise.
[Catch-Up Interview 2]
OF: Aha! Hi Sabrina.
SC: Hello Oscar. I'm honoured to be here.
OF: Thank you for being on the line. You couldn't make it to come and meet me in person, so we're doing this over Zoom. But actually you are still here in Shanghai, right?
SC: Yes, I'm still in Shanghai.
OF: Good. And for anyone who didn't hear your original episode, you are from all the way back in Season. And at that time, you were the Programme Director for the theatres at the International Dance Centre. Are you still doing that right now?
SC: Yes, yes, I'm still doing this. I think I mentioned this in the last episode: we had to focus on local artists, which is actually a good opportunity for the local artists, because we didn't pay a lot of attention to them when we were able to invite international groups. And they can actually combine their traditional culture with contemporary concepts, which is a really good thing. And it's fresh, it's a new thing for the foreign audience as well. And I think through contemporary arts, they can know about the Chinese - know about China - much better than just reading history, and what the textbooks say. They borrowed some elements from Chinese traditional culture. For example, the 汉 [Hàn] Dynasty and the 唐 [Táng] Dynasty: I know a Chinese choreographer who particularly studied dance from that period. She learned some movements from wall paintings.
OF: Oh right
SC: … Or history books. And she borrowed from history. When she creates her own work, these are only the tools. She's using the history as a language, but she wants to tell the story of modern Chinese people. Not just stories that have been told many times.
OF: Exactly. It's trying to repurpose the past, for the modern contemporary audience.
SC: Yes, yes.
OF: Well, I always think it's impressive when you can talk about dance using words. Because it’s…
SC: It's difficult!
OF: It's very difficult. It's such an abstract art. So congratulations.
SC: Thank you! I tried my best.
OF: What about you personally? Obviously you enjoy dancing, I remember we talked about your love of Argentinian tango. Did you manage to keep that up? Were you doing some of that during lockdown, or are you moving on to something else in your personal life?
SC: Um, I haven't been dancing for a while, of course because of COVID. But I will, I think I will catch up.
OF: Yes. I should ask you actually, is my voice still being used in the theatre at the dance centre? Do you remember, I recorded…
OF: It is?
SC: Yes it is.
OF: Oh my god.
SC: Yes, you can hear it.
OF: Honestly - because that recording was a kind of COVID announcement, where we talk about how everything is safely sterilised and all the different precautions - I would love it when the time comes that you don't use that recording. Because that means that we are officially out of the COVID times.
OF: So I'm praying that you will stop using my voice sometime soon.
SC: Maybe I'll invite you to record another one.
OF: Well if you haven't been able to dance, I hope that you have been able to at least follow your other passion. Which is of course, your obsession with cats.
OF: How many cats do you have nowadays?
SC: I still only have one in my house, and one at my parents’, and one at my mother-in-law’s…
OF: And one…
SC: One in our office.
OF: Yes! Well I'm glad to hear that at least there are some things which are consistent. Before I let you go, I should say that we are going to be releasing this update at the back of our Season 03 episode. So you referred Michelle Qu to Season 02.
OF: And then she referred Dajiang to Season 03. Do you actually know Dajiang as well?
SC: I don’t know Dajiang.
OF: So that's the idea of the Mosaic. You will now be connected to Dajiang in Season 03.
SC: Oh great.
OF: By Season 11, this will be a very interesting web of connections.
OF: Are you in touch with Michelle?
SC: Yes, through WeChat Moments. Yeah, you remind me I need to meet up with her someday.
OF: You see, this is the power of the Mosaic.
OF: It keeps everyone together.
SC: Yes, exactly. You are a bridge.
OF: I've been called much worse. Well Sabrina, thank you. It's great to have this excuse to talk to you again. You will forever be part of this project, and I look forward to having another chance to talk to you again in the future.
SC: Thank you, thank you for the interview. See you soon.