The pains of learning Chinese as a modern day banana.
Chinese has never been our strong suit at school, constantly scolded by teachers at school for bad grades, and barely making it past the compulsory Higher Chinese O Levels. So you can imagine why a show like 晚安你好 (Wan An Ni Hao) – The Late Night Show with Xiao Ming, about the struggles of learning Chinese by someone not attuned to it, caught our attention, with its potentially relatable content, perhaps even revealing something deeper and more introspective about being awful at our mother tongue than we thought.
Produced by new theatre company Impromptu Meetings, The Late Night Show with Xiao Ming sees the group using Zoom to present a digital version of their previous show (2019’s The Chronicles of Xiao Ming). Taking the form of a late night talk show, Miriam Cheong plays host ‘Xiao Ming’, a self-confessed ‘banana’ (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) who went from acing Chinese at PSLE, to flat out refusing to commit to it in upper secondary, opting for the ‘easier’, CL ‘B’ syllabus instead.
Addressing us affectionately as ‘Zoom 朋友s’ (Zoom friends), over the course of the show, Xiao Ming takes us through sketches poking fun at Chinese as a subject in Singapore, from conceptualising a ‘sponsor’ publishing all-powerful, instant-translation English-Chinese dictionaries, to recalling an Rube Goldberg machine-like plan involving McNuggets to effectively cheat during exams (sadly, ending in failure). These sketches take on various forms, from pre-recorded short videos, to interactive segments where audience members participate in simple multiple choice quizzes using the chat function.
While individual sketches have the potential to be entertaining, The Late Night Show with Xiao Ming still feels relatively underdeveloped as a concept, with the show needing a stronger hook to tie it all together beyond just being bad at Chinese. One wonders if the show has legs, and whether it could go beyond just poking fun at our secondary student days, and perhaps even pass comment on our strange ‘banana’ cultural identity.
One of the most promising segments is titled ‘Mad Libs with Xiao Ming’, where audiences contribute words to a dictation passage Miriam ends up performing as a kind of interpretive dance at the end. The most fun part winds up being the interaction with fellow audience members, along with Miriam reacting to the responses in real time, rather than the final product, which comes off more absurd than anything else, and again, just serves to reflect her inability to understand the Chinese language.
Ultimately, one appreciates the experimental spirit that Impromptu Meetings has, and hopes that The Late Night Show with Xiao Ming continues to explore its form and presentation, going beyond its simple concept to really ask more difficult, thought-provoking questions about our education system, or push even harder at its potential to take the late night show format to its absurd limits.
晚安你好 (Wan An Ni Hao): The Late Night Show with Xiao Ming ran from 8th to 10th January 2021 online. More information available here