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Summer Postcards 2011

A Full House Without Olsens

By Irene Y. Chen, Crimson Staff Writer

TAIPEI, Taiwan—When you travel halfway around the world to learn another language, “total immersion” does not end at the classroom. Dinner must be purchased with wild gesticulations and educated guessing, rush-hour subway apologies must be murmured fluently and, most importantly, primetime dramas must be religiously followed in their rapid-fire Mandarin Chinese.

As I flipped through the channels, which alternate between talk shows with cheesy sound effects and maudlin dramas with predictable plots, the title “Full House” caught my eye: Could it be? Had Bob Saget and the Olsen twins extended their empire across the Pacific Ocean, dubbed in Chinese? Not this time. As it turns out, Korean dramas sometimes choose names identical to those of American sitcoms, and no one thinks it strange.

And so I settled in to watch “Full House,” which stars a bright-eyed, spunky girl who gets duped by her friends into traveling to China while they steal her house and belongings. In the process, she meets a suave, handsome movie star who she soon finds out is her house’s new owner. Then they grudgingly move in together—and, well, you can probably guess the ending from there. The plot was rather thin, and my elementary understanding of Mandarin meant some of the humor eluded me, but I soon found myself unwittingly captivated.

Unlike soap operas in America that are banished to daytime television, Taiwanese dramas—or in this case, translated Korean dramas that also become popular in Taiwan—are thriving. Expanding beyond the sentimental love story, “Full House” pays close attention to issues that American shows often gloss over: maintaining good relations with the in-laws, accepting criticism from others, and resisting the lure of celebrity. For three weeks, I watched every day in rapture, pondering the cultural rift manifested on my television screen.

“Full House” has ended now, but I will continue my study of Taiwanese dramas. Maybe I’m in pursuit of an excuse to veg out, or, assuredly, to navigate the path to some deeper cultural truth. Maybe both. But for now, after a long and hot day of exploring the city, I kick up my feet and flick the television on.

Irene Y. Chen ’14 is an editorial writer in Cabot House.

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Summer Postcards 2011