There comes a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance, that imitation is suicide, that he must take himself for better, or for worse as his portion. And that "Ni hao kai lan" is the most goddamn awful thing ever in the history of children’s television.
If China does surpass the United States economically, militarily, or culturally, it won’t be for the obvious reasons. It won’t be the trillions in debt we’re in hock to the Chinese government, China’s increasing nationalism, or a stupid, Glen Beck-esque plot to infuse the kung pao chicken at Mr. Wong’s takeout with enough MSG to kill the entire cast and crew of "The Biggest Loser."
No, it will be "Ni hao Kai lan."
Little Boy is obsessed with this seemingly innocuous show, which features a little Chinese girl named Kai lan and her friends prancing across the countryside. Her friends are a tiger, panda bear, monkey, pink rhino and other assorted cute ‘ums that make me want to take up big game hunting.
Their names are, Rintoo, Tolee, Hoho, and Lulu, respectively. That I know their names without having to consult Wikipedia or Little Boy himself scares the living crap out of me.
Before anyone starts accusing me of being racist or trying to poison Sino-American relations, I realize nobody in China actually knows about this show, or is using it as a means to destroy America (we’re doing a great job of that on our own). I also realize that there’s nothing about a show with Chinese characters that inherently is intended to turn little children anti-American (that’s for The New York Times, damnit!).
But in this global market, children watching "Ni hao" become stifled, uncreative, non-competitive robots. They are junkies, unable to tear themselves away for more productive endeavors, like, say, reading. For evidence of this, see below:
The decline of America in 52 seconds
Is your average three-year-old in China or India watching this drek? I think not! They’re translating the "Decameron" from Italian into Esperanto into Sanskrit! They’re doing differential calculus! They’re reading "Bookfraud"!
"Ni hao" is a traditional greeting in Mandarin, and one must hear it repeated approximately 8,403 times an episode. Not to mention hearing the same songs with the same lyrics and same cloying cuteness that would make Hello Kitty herself toss her Tender Vittles.
Also—and worst of all—little ol’ Kai lan says the exact same thing to close every single episode: "You make my heart feel super happy!" as she cups a heart shape around her chest and a giant valentine floats into the air.
Feel free to get sick yourself.
Children of all ethnicities (and both genders) are fanatical about "Ni hao Kai lan." This is about as welcome a development as when Barney the Dinosaur crawled out of his prehistoric time machine and into the hearts of millions of now-mentally disturbed children.
One knows that that Kai lan has cultural currency (among parents of young children, at least) when Anthony Bordain referenced it in his "No Reservations" television show, telling a befuddled Chinese guide in a restaurant how the dumplings resembled those featured in an episode of Kai lan when Hoho urinated on Tolee’s face or something like that.
Of course, my missive in the great tradition of fathers slamming some part of their children’s youth. In my youth, more than one parent probably thought "Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood" was vile, and "Fat Albert" represented a problem as pressing as Watergate or SALT II talks. And I realize that I come across as a major league
asshole curmudgeon in complaining.
But, yes, like Barney before it, "Ni hao Kai lan" is less about teaching our children valuable lessons about life than being as addictive as heroin or crack; turn "Ni hao" off in the middle of an episoide, and Little Boy turns into Raging Maniac. It’s twice as bad when he doesn’t get to see, say, five episodes in a row.
Consider that after visiting Chinatown of a certain city, Little Boy started wailing. And why?
Banality of evil
"Because I didn’t get to see Kai lan," he said, tears running down his face. Even I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth.
Then again, perhaps I’m wrong. He’s always thrilled to see it. There’s no sex or violence. We don’t have to hear about Justin Bieber.
"Why do you like Kai lan so much?" I finally asked him, threatening to shut the show off forevermore.
"Because she’s happy!" he said, literally jumping off the couch.
I put the remote down, marveling at the purity of his joy.
Boy wins, Dad loses. Again.