We can’t stop watching Chinese television. I suppose it’s partially the jetlag which inclines us to sloth; it might be that TV is a way of seeing a bit of China without the stress of navigating the busy streets unable to communicate. And, it’s pretty fun to watch unfamiliar commercials and programs and try to decode their meaning. What product is this commercial advertising? Plastic? Shopping malls? Education? Without the voice-over, it could be any of the three. Is this program a variety show? A game show? Some other genre we haven’t encountered before? Is this odd cartoon with the poorly drawn traditional characters – “traditional” in the Fu Manchu sense – serious or ironic, or something else? Is *that* character actually supposed to represent Chairman Mao? He sure looks like him.

And, of course the Kid and the Guy are keen to follow the Eurocup, now underway. Italy beats Germany 2-1. This much we understand very well.

There is one channel broadcast in English – the programming is primarily news and documentaries. The news is more international than we’re used to. More time on Syria, Nigerian pirates, and of course the American Supreme Court’s health care decision than on domestic politics. It was only in trying to identify exactly what feels so different about *this* news that it dawned on us how much of Canadian and US news is concerned with domestic politics. The other big difference – CCTV (the Chinese network) has no entertainment news/gossip. We might actually escape the Kardashians for a full two months.

Despite the international focus, two domestic stories are big here right now – the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to “the Motherland” and a return of a different sort – that of a Chinese spacecraft carrying the country’s first ever female astronaut. The tone of the reportage for both stories is jubilant. Things are very good in China. According to Hu Jintao, who strangely resembles Ricky Gervais in the soundbite they keep playing, the “one country, two systems” policy is working extremely well (The western media’s account is more mixed, as was the account of the exasperated Hong Kong-born Canadian woman who was getting the run-around in Toronto’s Chinese visa application centre the first time I visited.), and the country’s space record establishes it as a scientific powerhouse. This morning on a chat show, a Chinese authority opined that scientific leadership requires innovation. It made me a bit sad – both the discovery that even here “innovation” is the watchword (At least, there was no mention of synergies or transformational thus-and-so. For now at least, some of the Western buzzwords have been contained.) and my realization that, as a value, “innovation” – literally “making new” – is exactly at odds with China’s Confucian emphasis on tradition. …as if the sky scrapers and ubiquitous cell phone ads didn’t already make clear this shift in Chinese values.

There’s still a hint of the Confucian in the Kid’s favourite Chinese TV show, apparently a kind of “Chinese idol,” but one in which the hosts and judges (Are they judges? Is it a contest? It’s hard to judge. Every time we think we’ve figured it out, they do something that undercuts our hypothesis.) also sing and dance. The show opens with a song by the eldest judge, who sings a traditional-sounding song while the magnatron behind him flashes images of him when he was a young star. The show concludes in this way as well. The clear message is – enjoy the Chinese dubstep and hiphop, pop and yodelling (Seriously. Not throat singing – yodelling) all you want, but never forget that Chinese culture begins and ends with tradition.

N.B. — Speaking of Chinese television, here‘s what the Guy has to say about our new digs.