Friday, January 9, 2009

Ni hao, Kai Lan

Before we came down to Kentucky, we hadn't owned a television that functioned as anything beyond a monitor for the DVD player in years.  We would watch movies, and netflixed any TV shows that we actually wanted to see...entire series at our fingertips, without commercials and loaded with special features...it was actually a pretty good arrangement.  The biggest advantage, I found, was that it totally removed the temptation to mindlessly flink through channels, watching drivel - that you don't even like - until 2 am, and then being tired and angry for having done so.  

Now that we are here,  however, the TV has become a bigger part of our lives.  I try to make this into a useful or positive thing, rather than letting it deteriorate into a bad, intellect-draining habit.  We still try to stick to watching just the shows we want, and almost never flip through the channels just surfing for something to snag our interests. (actually, I think we did that all of once and felt so gross we haven't even been tempted since.)  And we're fairly lax about tailoring our lives around the program schedule, especially since its so easy to view missed episodes online these days.  But the biggest question that has come of it is how to deal with programming for Cadence.

Obviously, there are a plethora of television shows out there marketed to kids.  Very few of these, however, are actually beneficial.  In fact, last I checked, the only one that studies the actual effect it has on its young viewers is that tried and true old favorite, Sesame Street.  Independent studies have been done by third parties, though, and what they've found is both surprising, and, well, not at all surprising to anyone who's spent any amount of time viewing the majority of the stuff out there.  Turns out that only a very small percentage of kids' shows are actually doing kids any good...the rest is the preschool equivalent of  The Price is Right or Mama's Boys.  Sesame Street, Blue's Clues, and Barney Ranked among the highest in terms of educational value...I balked a little bit at that last one, my little sister was addicted to that show when she was little, and I hated it...but I have to admit, she did seem to learn from it. [Total side note, we watched about 3 minutes of an episode a few weeks ago, and Barney's voice had changed so dramatically from what it was 10 years ago it freaked us all out.  No pretense of trying to sound like the old barney...I wasn't sure if I should be OK with it or not!]  

Anyway, one day a couple of months ago, I happened to notice a TV listing for a show called Ni Hao, Kai-Lan! on Nick Jr.  Intrigued by the mandarin title, we decided to check it out.  After an initial viewing and some research, we were all quite pleased to discover this little diamond in the rough, and it seems to be pretty well suited to our little lady.  

You probably haven't seen much, if any, Ni Hao, Kai-Lan! paraphernalia, since the show only debuted about a year ago.  It takes the bilingual experience of Dora the Explorer a step further, making Ni Hao, Kai-Lan! not just bilingual but fully bicultural, and then combines that with the structured, interactive format of Blue's Clues.  It's core cast of characters, centering around a young Chinese American girl named Kai-Lan, is rather delightful, and I find that the problems they encounter are often refreshingly realistic, despite the comfortable lack of realism in their world.  For example, in the pilot episode, the main problem Kai-Lan and her friends encounter is a tantrum thrown by Rintoo, the tiger, because he's angry that he lost a boat race.   Focusing on the phenomena of Cause and Effect, each episode pits Kai-Lan against something unsavory - a friend throwing a tantrum, a friend storming out of a party, friends arguing - and then has the viewer help her along while she looks back at the events leading up to the incident, in order to see why it happened.  Once she's done that, Kai-Lan takes steps to figure out how to remedy the situation, often aided by her grandfather, Yeye.  Yeye's pleasant omnipresence lends a sense of saftey to the series, and it is largely through him that Kai-Lan learns and shares her Chinese cultural heritage.  
Kai-Lan is also unique, at least to American television, in that it does not focus on excitement as being the main positive emotion.  In Chinese culture, being calm more often singled out as being the main positive emotion to strive for.  Ni Hao, Kai-Lan!, despite the exclaimatory title, seeks to show a calm, observant enjoyment alongside the excitement.  Creator Karen [nee Kai-Lan] Chau credits her mother for instilling in her, and now her work, what can be found Among Kai-Lan's more American values:  the show has a vaguely feminist streak, which the forces behind its launch hope to use to empower the estimated 60,000 baby girls currently living in the states, all adopted from China...many of whom were given up because their parents preferred male heirs but were under the strict "one child" policy.

But while all of this is important and scores points with Mama and Baba, its the show itself that scores points with Cadie, and that's what brings it all together and makes it great.  She's picking up on the Chinese words Kai-Lan uses {she now says "tiao!" and jumps when anyone says tiao [jump], and counts ...yi, er, er, qi...[one, two, two, seven...]}although the fact that we've started using a bit more mandarin around the house probably contributes to that, she's definitely engaged and repeats things back to Kai-Lan when she is asked.  She loves the opening of each show, where Kai-Lan tickles the sun so he'll wake up and start the day.  And as I said before, the characters are pretty fun...There's Rintoo, a rambunctious little tiger, Hoho, a small but loving little monkey, Tolee, a koala who is obsessed with pandas, Lulu, a pink rhino, who (inexplicably) usually has a red balloon tied to her horn, allowing her to fly.  [as a side note, we've noticed that Lulu seems to play the role of the Chinese child living in the states to Kai-Lan's American-born-Chinese role, as she uses more Mandarin than any other character on the show, save Yeye, and speaks with a thicker accent.] 
Anyway, it is broadcast every weekday morning on Nick Jr (except on holidays, when all tv caters to kids old enough to beg their parents for toys...but I'll save that rant for another day) and we've happily adopted it into our routine.  We're looking forward to Jan. 26th, which is the Chinese new year this time around, when there will be a primetime broadcast of a special new year's episode.  If you've nothing better to do that day, and get Nickelodeon, I recomend checking it out. (I think its at 8/7c.)
to close, I'll post a little (heavily edited) clip from the episode that inspired us to make jiao zi this evening (...mmmm, sooooo goood....sooo fulll!).  It doesn't give you the full idea of it, but its kinda cute nonetheless.  Enjoy!