The segment, called “Yucky Gunk,” went viral, garnering nearly 1.5 million hits. And all of a sudden a petite blond Midwesterner, who is not Chinese and only began studying the language five years ago, became an iconic translator of American slang for pop-culture-hungry Chinese fans.
“We are so lighthearted. I dance to Lady Gaga and . . . talk about boogers,” Beinecke said of the low-tech show, taped in front of a MacBook in her Capitol Hill apartment. “It’s a one-on-one conversation with an American.”
The popularity of the show, called “OMG! Meiyu” and produced by Voice of America, has not escaped the notice of the agency’s executives, who recognize that hip and eccentric programming is vital to connecting with youths, many of whom prefer to go online than follow the stiffer, more traditional news and cultural programs the agency transmits through satellite TV and short-wave radio.
“We still do the straight-up news, and we’re going to keep doing that,” said David Ensor, the agency’s director. “But part of our mandate is to explain America to the rest of the world, and part of America is the way people speak.”
More youth-oriented programming is in the works, Ensor said, and so far the ideas have come from young people within the organization. For example, Parazit, an irreverent weekly comedy news show in Farsi, which has been likened to Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,”
was started in 2009 by two young Iranian employees and quickly became a hit in Iran.
Beinecke’s two- to three-minute shows appear online only. She posts on Weibo, a Chinese social media site, where she has more than 100,000 followers. For each episode, she sifts through American lingo, introducing expressions and explaining their meanings in Chinese in her signature peppy, comical style.
“You can look up the word ‘cow’ in the dictionary, but knowing what that means, knowing that you can call someone that? In a dictionary, it’s really hard to find,” Beinecke said. The same may be said for “rocking a dress,” “sweating bullets” or having a “muffin top,” expressions familiar to “OMG!” watchers.
Beinecke’s fans, particularly teens and 20-somethings, post adoring messages on Beinecke’s page and eagerly await each installment from the woman they know as Bai Jie, the Chinese name given to her by a friend when she began learning Mandarin in 2006. Only later did she learn there is also a Chinese porn novel called “Bai Jie,” which means white and pure; she kept her name, regardless.
Most of the show’s themes come from viewer suggestions. “These videos serve as a spark for dialogue,” Beinecke said. “Working out and breaking up and eating chips, we all do that. Sometimes we don’t always realize how similar we are.”