Sunday, December 24, 2006

news from the wire--by pablo--"the glorious association for foreigner halloing"

WANG JUNMU AND THE FUNNIEST THING ON EARTH

BY PABLO

CHENGDU, CHINA—Wang Junmu, a motorcycle repairman in this city of ten million, begins everyday with a tall glass of green tea and a quick survey of documents prepared by his friends the night before.

“These documents,” Mr. Wang begins, “are probably our organization's most valuable asset. Without these we’d be wandering around aimlessly, blind, like a chicken, a chicken that is also blind, and maybe doesn’t have a head.”

Leafing through the pages of photographs and writing, Mr. Wang discards more than he keeps. “Useless,” he says after looking at one meticulously prepared paper, “Xinjiang people just don’t count. I don’t care how white they are or how big their noses are. Xinjiang people are not foreigners.”

Finally, Wang pulls out a piece of paper and a photograph. “Perfect,” he says, “Grade-A foreigner. Look, you can tell by their appearance. See? They don’t look Chinese at all. Chinese people don’t have blond hair. Also, this person doesn’t have a funny hat on, so we know they’re not a Xinjiang person. This one will do.”

So begins another day for Mr. Wang and his now famous social organization, The Glorious Association for Foreigner Halloing--a group that was formed in 1999 by Mr. Wang and a few of his closest friends and has since spun off into hundreds of sister organizations throughout China.

As Mr. Wang describes it, the group was formed almost by accident. “Well, we were standing around on a street corner one day, watching some old heads play a game of chess, when we suddenly started thinking: this is not funny. What is funny? In fact, what is The Funniest Thing on Earth?”

At first his friend suggested watching cows chew, but that idea was quickly discarded. That was when Mr. Wang came up with the statement that would change their lives, and a lot of other people’s lives, forever. “The Funniest Thing on Earth,” he said, “is saying ‘ni hao’ to a foreigner, in their own language.” According to legend, a fit of laughter burst out from all the men on the street corner, with some falling down from the force of the laughter, and one even running into the street, flailing his arms, and screaming.

“That guy was hit by a car and he died. But that was when we knew we were on to something,” Mr. Wang continued, “that was when we thought of a way to improve our daily lives. A system. A stratagem for humor fulfillment that would be good for our livers, our kidneys, and our kleptoks.”

It took them just a short amount of time to find their first foreigner. “Sichuan University is packed with foreigners, so we just went down their and wandered around the gate a few times. When we saw our first foreigner, a tall guy with red hair, I let out a long, high pitched ‘hallo.’ It was a great time. We all laughed really hard. Plus, my kidney felt great afterwards.”

Since then much has changed in the association. What was once an unorganized and motley collection of friends looking for a laugh has turned into a highly organized, semi-professional band of serious humor seekers. Since most of them have full time jobs, they usually gather together just after dinner at the vestibule of Mr. Wang’s housing complex, then wander off to various parts of the city. “We rotate through parts of the city—let certain districts lie fallow, if you will. We don’t like hitting up the same foreigners twice.”

Since the beginning the group members have been organized into three types. Generally about four men are the "laughers," whose main job is to laugh as hard as possible (“Their job’s not difficult,” says Wang, “considering the humor of what they’re experiencing").

The other three men have more important functions. One is the "spotter," who points out the foreigner. Sometimes he also shouts “Laowai” as loud as possible, so that the entire group knows that one is coming and can prepare themselves mentally.

The next is the “starer,” who chooses the kind of stare group will use. “Foreigners are weird,” Mr. Wang explains, “so we need to stare at them as much as possible. The starer needs to choose the type of stare we’re going to use. There are a number of different kinds, for example: the bovine, the hateful, the stupidly happy, the constipated, and so on. My favorite is the bovine.” Once the men have spotted the foreigner and chosen the correct stare, it’s then up to the “yeller” to finish the job, and shout “hallo.”

Of course, just like with the stares, there are a lot of options for "hallos." The most common is the Roaring Dragon Style. But there’s also a sharper, higher pitched “hallo,” called the Angry Monkey Style, which sometimes startles the foreigner . “That one can be fun if you’re in the mood for a little excitement along with your humor,” Mr. Wang says. His own favorite style, however, is the Bothersome Flying Buzzing Thing Style. “Well, what you do is, you start with a soft, almost whispered ‘h’ sound and then, as the foreigner walks by, you progress with the rest of the word, until your right next to him, and then you finish with a long ‘ooooooooooooo’ sound. It’s difficult to perform properly, and takes a real pro to handle it.”

Overall, the organization has been well received among Chinese, and it has even produced leaflets and handouts intended to educate the greater population on how to say “hallo” to foreigners. There have been some detractors, however. Some argue that “hallo” is not even the correct form of greeting in English, and others argue that, in actuality, not all foreigners speak the same language. As Mr. Wang explains: “One time somebody said to me: ‘do you know that not all foreigners say ‘hello’ in their language?’ To which of course, I replied: ‘no, but then again, I’m not uneducated.’ These people think they know something about foreigners. But how many have they seen? How many have they said ‘hallo’ to?”

Criticisms aside, Mr. Wang feels deeply satisfied with the progress his organization has made in just seven years. “We’ve got a few new branches starting up in Xi’an and Guiyang and we’d even like to expand to America. I have some friends in Chinatown in New York, and we’d like to see if they’d be willing to shout ‘hallo’ at all the non-Chinese there.”

When he’s done choosing his targets for the day, Mr. Wang stands up and walks to his window, where he can look out onto the bustling street below. “So many people,” he says, taking a sip from his tea, “and so many new foreigners. I think we can look forward to many, many more years of foreigner halloing. At least, I hope so.”

We all hope so, too Mr. Wang. We all hope so, too.

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