My pretty apartment does not just have the groovy oven; it has all the amenities you would expect to live the high life in China. There are potable water faucets in the kitchen and bathroom, thermostats to control the air and heat in every room, there actually *is* air and heat, maid service twice a week, there’s a laundry room with washers AND dryers in the building… it even has underground bicycle parking with controlled entry.
Like any “well-to-do” Nanjinger, my apartment also sports a big television and, of course, satellite tv. Now, I’ve never even had so much as cable before, but suddenly I have the wonders of the satellite opening up the world to me. There’s never nothing on, either. I get all the Nanjing channels: Nanjing News channel, Nanjing film channel, Nanjing Life, Nanjing Amusement, Nanjing Information, and Nanjing Education. Then there are the provincial channels: Jiangsu Satellite Television, of course – I’m in Jiangsu Province – but also the Jiangsu Children’s Channel, Jiangsu Education Channel, Jiangsu Arts, Jiangsu Films, Jiangsu Public, and the Jiangsu News Channel. But there’s more! I also get Hubei Satellite Television, Dongnan Satellite Television, Shandong Satellite Television, Jiangxi Satellite Television, Sichuan Satellite Television, Qinghai Satellite Television, Shanxi Satellite Television, Heilongjiang Satellite Television, Guizhou Satellite Television, and Hunan Satellite Television (my favorite). We even get the Military Satellite Television feed. Then there’s CCTV 1, CCTV 2, CCTV 3, CCTV 4, CCTV 5, CCTV 6, CCTV 7, CCTV 8, CCTV 9, CCTV 10, CCTV 11, and CCTV 12, CCTV music (this is not Mandopop, though, which is sort of a bummer), CCTV children and CCTV news. (In other places, CCTV means “closed-circuit television” – here it’s “China Central Television.”) It’s a cornucopia of entertainment options. Of course, every night around 6:30 all of these channels simultaneously broadcast the same newscast. It’s sort of surreal; no matter how much you flip, it’s the same people, speaking the same sentence.
Well, actually, in addition to all this we also get CNN International and Star World Asia, the latter of which is the only channel to come in in black and white. I have no idea why, but I am somehow unsurprised by this. Star World Asia is mostly reruns of Jimmy Kimmel Live, old episodes of Friends, and assorted reality tv programs from the US – nothing that makes color necessary, at least. It would be sort of a bummer if they decided to show The Wizard of Oz one night, but other than that, I don’t spend much time on Star World Asia.
But of all these options, Hunan Satellite Television is far and away my favorite. It’s not just that I have a history with this channel, though I do – I attended their Chinese New Year Extravaganza in Las Vegas in 2007. (Yes, on purpose: I liked the bands playing.) They also broadcast Taiwanese soap operas on weekends, and have an impressive lineup of Korean soapers during the week. But what’s got me hooked is this one program on Hunan Satellite Television every night at 9:00.
For an hour, we watch people attempt to run an obstacle course. It’s a big, fancy course built up with a moat of water around each obstacle; runners get one chance to go through it, and if they fall off any part into the water they’re out. It starts out with contestants running a treadmill with hurdles on it. If they clear that, they swing over water to a platform, where they run across three circular platforms turning in opposite directions. From there they have to cross a rocking balance beam, grab a bar and glide down to another platform, where they jump on spinning logs across the water. If they make it that far, all they have to do is make a basket with a basketball and hoop to win a new cell phone… but almost nobody makes it that far. For an hour every night, however, I watch people try.
Unlike American reality programs, there are no extended behind the scenes sob stories about the contestants’ personal lives. We barely get to know them at all – depending on how quickly they fall into the water, there could be 20 different people running on a given night, all of whom we see for about two minutes. I also love the fact that it is the same obstacle course every night, over and over again. The fact that you’ve seen people attempt and fail at this course dozens of times before somehow in no way negates the fact that you want to see what this next person does on this run. It’s almost hypnotic. And then, every once in a blue moon, someone makes it to the end. I’ve seen the show about a half dozen times now, and I’ve seen someone succeed twice. And yet, I keep watching.
And of course, now I sorta want to run the course, too. I wonder if I’ll be able to make a trip to Hunan this year…