A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


China syndrome

If you've read the Last Word essay by Liam Callanan, in the current issue, about his adventures trying to find a Catholic church in Shanghai, you may also be interested in this longer essay he wrote about the primary reason for his trip:

[W]hen a call goes out for schools to help staff a Chinese television show devoted to finding the best English-speaking child in China, my school raises its hand, and then raises mine (I’m a writer, right? Totally fluent).

It was like winning a Nigerian lottery, getting that email: any interest in going to China next Saturday to spend two weeks judging a English language contest on Chinese national TV?

He said yes, obviously. Hilarity ensued.

Call it a translation error, or an error in expectations, but when I arrive at the studio, there is not just one foreign judge—me—but close to a dozen, all from various English-speaking countries and institutions: Australia, the UK. And: Wisconsin. We are to sit in banked rows, a bit like a telethon, except instead of phones we have miniature desk lamps in silver and a button in yellow. Just the one button, but it’s large—about the size and substantiveness of an upturned plastic colander. When pressed, it simultaneously extinguishes itself and illuminates below a large, plexiglas, fluorescent-lit column that we have to pin between our knees to sit comfortably.

I press it. It works. My thighs are set aglow. I press it again. It works again. I am asked, via my translator, to stop pressing the button.

And then the competition started, and it wasn't so hilarious after all. Read about it here.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.

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