I was walking through town with one of Keats' teachers, Eric, when he
asked me this question, gesturing to an advertisement that featured
the eight-foot-long head of a smiling, bespectacled white dude with a
"No, I do not know Mark," I answered.
"He is very famous Canadian in . He's really great," Eric said.
In the ad, Mark was shilling a pocket-sized electronic translator. I
asked about his last name, but Eric said he didn't know it. With a
name like Mark in , I guess you don't really need a surname.
I continued to see Mark's big head around town, usually plastered on
the windows of bookshops. One day I watched the morning news on CCTV,
and at 9:15 Mark (Chinese name Da Shan, or "Big Mountain." I'm not
kidding) came on, dressed in a silver silk traditional Chinese shirt.
An animated version of Mark flashed across the screen, introducing his
program, "Communicate in Chinese." I've watched it a couple of times
since, and it pretty much goes like this: He introduces a scenario,
which is then dramatized by Chinese and foreign actors, of the
exceedingly amateur variety. Subtitles show both the characters and
the English translation. Mark checks in to explain the translation and
grammar, and help us build our vocabulary.
The program is delightfully cheesy, but it's also pretty helpful in
teaching simple Chinese phrases. And thanks to Mark's strong Canadian
accent and the hokey expressions of the dramatizers, I stay amused for
the segment's 15 minutes. It's also one of those curious examples of a
Westerner who is unknown to the Western world, but is a rock star in
. I imagine Mark's high school buddies trying to figure out what
ever happened to "that guy Mark," and all the while he's a celebrity
to the 1.3 billion people living here.
In any event, Mark's expectations for me are quite high. Today, after
a short lesson in which a white guy gets directions to the foreign
language bookstore, Mark signed off with this cheerful thought: "We
hope that after watching our program today, you'll be able to get
around with relative ease." Eh?