你有0个朋友

Of all the things to inspire me out of my writing slump, a recent episode of South Park, previewed on iTunes, has done the trick. Entitled “You Have 0 Friends” (that’s what the post title says in Chinese…I think), the episode mocks the culture of Facebook and internet “frienddom,” so to speak, as a whole.

Last week in a TOEFL class I asked my students what they’d done the night before (this was on a Sunday morning). One can easily imagine the numerous ways American teens might explore their burgeoning sexuality/interest in narcotics on a Saturday night, or at least rest assured that little Johnny and co. went bowling in a consciously ironic stab at mainstream society’s expectations. My Chinese kids almost unanimously responded, “I stayed in and studied.” I think one had stayed in to watch a movie with his mom.

Really?

Apparently, yes. On those rare nights of not studying, “playing computer games” is the most popular thing to be doing and it’s done online – with their friends, virtually. “Plants vs. Zombies” is a particular favorite (“It’s from America,” they say, as if that means I have something to do with their asocial proclivities). I asked one of my students who attends university here if she never, at the very least, gets together with her friends in one of their dorm rooms to hang out drinking Fanta and watching High School Musical (un-ironically). No, she said, “we used to, but now our rooms are too far apart.”

Oh, to be young and…distinctly Chinese.

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