July 28, 2009

The first Shanghainese Stand Up Comic

Posted in Chinese tagged at 12:47 pm by The Data Sleuth


“I am Libo Zhou. Welcome to my Shanghai Stand-up Show!”

A man in his early 40’s appeared on stage. He wearing dark suit with white shirt. His short hair was combed back in a very neat fashion. The comedian smiled and bowed several times in front of applauses and occasional “bravos”.

He is now one of the most famous comedian in this city. His show is so popular that the tickets are all gone within one or two days. Each ticket costs about 380 RMB (approximately $55), which means his show could be one of the most expensive in Shanghai. Yet, they are sold out like crazy.

Mr. Zhou’s comedy talent showed up when he was still a child. He was naughty and funny, and soon enough the neighbors gave him a nickname called “Little funny man”.

In 1981, Mr. Zhou was discovered and then recruited by Shanghai Comedian Company, becoming the youngest member of this group (he was 17). The late Mr. Baichun Zhou (not related to the younger Mr. Zhou) was his mentor. The senior Mr. Zhou was one of the most famous comedians at his time. He and his brother Mushuang Yao were the “Kings” of Shanghai comedy stage. Their stage life had spanned for 70 years until their passing.

The Shanghainese comedy, also called “Hua Ji Xi”(Funny drama) is notably different from the Beijing comedy “Xiang Sheng”(Cross talk). It is restricted to Shanghainese and nearby dialect. Comedians use both funny jokes and body languages to make audience laugh. Contrast to Beijing comedies, Shanghainese comedies are more open and liberal. They talked about politics a lot in their plays, while Beijing comedies avoid doing so.

As soon as Mr. Zhou started his career as a comedian, he went famous instantly. He’s young, energetic, and highly talented. He can imitate different singers, actors, and politicians. He can tell jokes and make people laugh. His body language is also superb.

However, in 1990, Mr. Zhou was asking his would-be father-in-law’s permission to marry his daughter but was refused. He was enraged and hit the old man on his eyes, critically injured him. This incident sent him in jail for four year. His once promising comedian career came to an end. After he was released, he disappeared from the stage and made living by doing small business.

In the year of 2006, Shanghainese comedy fell into its low point. “The Kings” passed away and none of the younger generation is talented to inherit their throne. Mr.Zhou had been away from the stage for 16 years. He was really sad to see the once popular comedy scene had declined so much. In the meantime, many of his friends encouraged him to come back. Dongtian Guan, an famous Beijing opera actor, promised to be his agent and producer. Mr.Guan told him, “Now it’s time for the come-back!”

In the late 2006, Mr.Zhou returned to his comedian career. He decided that the traditional Shanghainese Comedy needed a change. The younger generation would not like the old-fashioned, and slow-paced “funny drama”. What they want is something can reflect the ever-changing world. His return was a success. Mr.Zhou landed a regular role in a Shanghainese comedy soap opera called “Funny tales in Colonial era” on TV. His distinct style brought up the rating of this show.

The success on TV raised Mr.Zhou’s morale. His next project is come back to the stage. In 2008, he started his one-man show “30 years of laughs” in Shanghai indoor Stadium. The show is about the changing of this world in the last 30 years. Whether it’s fashion, politics, celebrities, or just day to day life. The show coined the term “Shanghainese Stand-up Comedy”. Mr.Zhou is then hailed to be its founder father.

Each show is 2 hours and 20 minutes long. Mr.Guan serves as the emcee. Although he made his name in Beijing Operas for more than 20 years, Mr.Guan is a funny man himself. After Mr.Guan’s warm-ups. Mr.Zhou showed up on stage in various costumes, either as Chow Yun-fat in Hong Kong gangster movies or as Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible series. Then, he takes off his customes and begins to entertain audience.

Heavily inspired by American stand-up comic, Mr.Zhou has his own style. His jokes is like telling a story, and there was a lot to say before finally reaching the punch line. It may seem to be hard to understand at first time. But as soon as you figure out, it will keep you laughing for several minutes. For example:

“I was driving on a narrow country road. The one only allows one car to drive though. There was this red car tailgating me and honking at me. Because he thought I was driving too slow. So I let him pass me politely. And this dude gave me a finger! Whatever…After 10 minutes, the red car was waiting for me over there. Yeah right he was WAITING for me, with his car BELLY UP!”

Another example:

“I have a friend who hates wearing seat belts when driving. But ya know, cops fine you for not wearing seat belt. So he bought a sling bag with gray shoulder belt and put it on his shoulder. So the cops believes he is wearing seal belts. But one day, he still got fined. Why?
He put his sling bag in AN OPPOSITE WAY!”

Mr.Zhou managed to keep all his material clean, without any swearing words. It is totally family-friendly although kids might be too young to understand his jokes. This distinct him from the modern Beijing comedy, which use a lot of swearing and tend to make fun of gays. Mr. Zhou is always straightforward and readily to criticize whatever the Shanghainese culture thinks it wrong. On Shanghainese men are considered “not man enough”, he said,

“Some Northerners think us Shanghainese men are sissy. That is not right. For example, in the old days, all the mafia god fathers are Shanghainese. If they decided to kill someone, you know what they said? (Shanghai dialect) Clean it up! And then all you northerners guns for hire took the order and CLEAN IT UP for those Shanghainese bosses! So think about it. WHO IS SISSY?”


He also made fun of economic crisis:

“The Shanghai Stock Exchange Market is like a magic box. It always turns beautiful things into ugly. Like, ya know. Yao Ming get into the market and then he became Mini-Me! Bill Gates in, Homeless man out; PH.Ds in, Dummies out!” (this part was edited due to cultural differences, some names were replaced)

Mr.Zhou’s shows became a phenomenon instantly. His jokes were quoted thousands of times in newspaper articles, blogs, and even the essay part of the college entrance exams.

Of course his show is made for Shanghainese. Lots of funny jokes were lost in translation, even into Mandarin Chinese. Only Shanghainese understand many of his jokes. He takes pride of being a Shanghainese native and fights back the prejudice and hostility from Northerners. Therefore, comedians from North would hate him guts. Mr. Zhou joked,

“There was this show organizer want me to cooperate with Degang Guo (A famous Beijing comedian). I said no. Well, think about it. A man who drinks coffee is not in the same track with a man who chews onions. Am I right?”

(Most Shanghainese likes drinking Coffee and almost all Northerners like chewing onions)

This statement was immediately protested by Beijing Comedians. Mr. Zhou then explained,

“Some Northerners do not like what I said about coffee and onions. Allow me to explain, please. When you drink a black coffee, it tastes bitter but others think it smells good. Now when you chew an onion. You may think it tastes good but others think it smells pretty bad, right? We Shanghainese like coffee, that is because we want to save the bitterness to ourselves and good smell for others. Am I right?”

His show is very nostalgic. He has enjoyed talking about what happened in the 60’s to 80’s. This made his show attractive to middle aged folks as well as the younger generation. I only have some blur memory about the 80’s while my parents laughed so hard when Mr. Zhou displayed how the 80’s was like.

Then he also talks about the modern days, and he is always amazed how many changes happened in the last few decades. “Poor can become rich, rich can become poor. USSR became Russia, and Saddam became a hanged ghost”.

After his sold out show “30 years of laughs”, Mr. Zhou has plans for more stand up shows. The next in line is “Crazy for money”, poking fun of economic crisis, stock market, and housing market. As for now. his schedule for 2009 is already filled up. As far as we know, all the tickets are sold out, already!


August 27, 2008

I am coming back…

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:34 pm by The Data Sleuth

I am jobless for only one week. After quitting Myriad Genetics Inc, I got an offer from Pharmacotherapy Outcomes Research Center (PORC) at the U to work part time as a research assistant, which is exactly the place I worked for before joining Myriad.

I have a feeling that I am back at my starting point. But it is not true. Just like my friend Jade said, “sometimes you feel your life is repeated, but it is not, it is either an upward or a downward spiral, depends on the phase of your life.” Yes I am back, after 8 months, with some corporate  experience and a brand new career track.

The feeling is great, to see my old workers again and collaborate with them again. I was overwhelmed by the warm welcome when I stepped in the office. I just feel like I am home, once again.

February 24, 2008


Posted in life tagged at 5:16 am by The Data Sleuth

I still can’t get over the fact that Mr. Hu, our family friend, has passed away. It was last Nov. Mom called and told me about this bad news. I was totally phased out. My mind was totally blank. He was only 54.To me, he was the closest friend to my family. We lived in the same neighborhood. Her daughter and I have known each other since kindergarten. We became very close friends, so were our parents.

Mr. Hu was a truck driver. In late 80s and early 90s of China, not many people had driver’s licenses. Every summer, he would drive his truck and sent us watermelons and other fruits. He also took us to nearby resorts for vacations.

In the lazy days of the summer, we visited each other every day. Our houses were about five minutes’ walk. Two families would spend the whole night chatting and laughing. Mr. Hu was a quiet person. He always smiled and listened to our conversations. I can’t count how many summers were spent like this. 10 -12 years, maybe. My family moved to a new apartment when I went to the college. After that, we did not really visit each other as often as before.

Mr. Hu was not lucky. He kept losing his job due to his asthma conditions. My mom introduced him to several jobs. He worked for year or two. Bosses were always satisfied but finally fired him because of his health. Mrs. Hu was diagnosed cervical cancer and chemos made her sick and quit her job. That was the hardest time in their life. They just bought a new house and mortgage was not yet paid. My parents tries to help them financially. They always turned them down, saying. “Your daughter is still in college. The tuition is expensive.” Even though I told them my scholarship covered my tuition. They would not accept our help.

After that, I went to America. In 2006, I went back to China and visited the Hus.

Mr. Hu obviously lost some weight. He used to be a big man. Now he seemed to be a size smaller. Mrs. Hu earned her living by babysitting. They looked really tired. A week before my departure to the US. They came to our apartment to visit us. We had a very happy chat. I showed them the clips I took in the US. Everybody was so happy. Everything seems to be back to the good old days. Mrs. Hu bought a papaya, our favorite fruit. Me and mom loved it very much.

When they left, Mr. Hu said to me: “come visit us next time when you come back. We all miss you very much.”

And I would never know that was the last time I saw him.

Mr. Hu went to work as usual. Suddenly, he felt his chest was extremely painful. He parked his car and struggled back to his house.

His wife heard his scream and went down to see what’s happening. She saw her husband lying down on the ground, not breathing. She called the ambulance, but everything was too late. We lost him.

It turns out Mr. Hu had a heart attack three months ago. But he did not let anyone know. He went to the pharmacy, bought bottles of OTC aspirins. That was his heart attack prevention.

After the funeral, my mom browsed through old photo albums. She called me and said:” Honey, you know what, The pictures you took with Mr. Hu are more than those you took with your Dad. There were almost hundreds of his pictures in our album. ”

That is true. Mr. Hu is an indispensable part of our family life. He was a true friend.

And life is so unfair to take him away. or maybe God loves him so much and asked him to heaven so early. Even though I was not a religious person. When I think about this. my sad heart start to recover a little.

I am sure he is looking at us from high above

February 23, 2008

The Memory of the Old Noodle House

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:45 pm by The Data Sleuth

I lived in an old neighborhood in the Old Town part of Shanghai for 19 years. There was an Islamic noodle house across the street from where I lived. The neighborhood had a large population of Muslims. I have many Muslim friends throughout my childhood and teenager years. We even had an Islamic Temple and it is just two blocks away from my house. The temple was called Xiao Tao Yuan Islamic Temple, Xiao Tao Yuan means “Small Peach Garden” in Chinese. Because of the temple, we called the noodle house “Xiao Tao Yuan Noodle House”

We did not know if the noodle house was owned by this temple. Ten years ago there was even an Muslim food store across the street of the temple, but it was closed. Anyway, the noodle house was a great hang out place for Muslims and Chinese in this neighborhood. The house was not big and could only hold 10 tables. It was always crowded. The noodle house provided take out service too. All you have to do is just bring your own bowl or plastic container. Cook would pour warm and hot noodles into your container of choice. You told the cashier how many noodles you want, usually in traditional Chinese weight measurement of “Liang”, 1 Liang equals to 0.05Kg. Usually people would ask for 2 Liang or 3 Liang of noodles, and server would give them what they want.

Back then, my breakfast could have several combinations. I could have milk and a small loaf of bread, or beef noodle or rice with some veggies. I did not drink milk everyday because milk was still expensive at that time. Beef noodle with curry was my favorite in the winter because it warmed me up. It was also very cheap. With 3 Chinese RMB (equal to 0.4 US dollars) we can buy 3 Liang of beef noodles. 2 Liang of noodle was 3 RMB. When I was around 10 I could only have 2 Liang, but as soon as I went to junior high school I started to eat 3 Liang of noodles. That was a lot for a teen. Sometimes even an adult cannot handle that much of noodle. My Mom always joked that this beef noodles buffed me up from a slender little girl into an athletic muscular woman.

For quite a long time the noodle cook was an old woman. We did not know her name but she looked like a Muslim. She was generous to me, every time we went to buy noodle she would say to me :”Eat as much as you can, you are at a growing-up stage and you need nutritions”. So I did. She gave us lots of beef and noodles, probably more than what we asked. I always joked that beef noodle to me was like spinach to Popeye. I just got powered up and became energetic.

We did not move out of the neighborhood until the freshman year of my college. I had this classmate from my department. He was from Yemen. So I took him around my neighborhood on a holiday. I took him to the noodle house for the beef noodles. He loved it. I also asked him about those Arabic characters written under its Chinese name sign of the restaurant. He said it just said “Islamic Noodle House”, not like the restaurants nowadays having fancy and weird signs. This one was so simple and straightforward.

After I got into college, we still had noodle during the weekend. At that time the old lady got retired and replaced by a young man. He did not give us as much noodle as the old lady did. My Mom complained. I thought their business might not be as good as before. As lots of people moved out of this neighborhood over the years. And some regular customers passed away.

In 2006 when I went back to China, the noodle house was still there while most of constructions nearby was pulled down. Some real estate company bought the whole neighborhood including my old townhouse. They wanted to build an upper scale apartment residency in this place. They cannot touch the noodle house because the cleric in the church asking the government to protect it. But last year they cannot protect the noodle house any more. So It was gone too, with all my memory of the restaurant.

Through the years I have been to many noodle houses around China and the US. I still like to order curry beef noodles but they never taste as good as my old noodle house. Maybe because it has all my childhood memory in it, which you cannot find in other restaurants.