Friday, January 25, 2008

Look to Mr. Deng's "blog" and be happy!

In 2001, laid-off dot-commer Todd Rosenberg started posting semi-autobiographical cartoons about his life at and quickly developed an avid following. He scanned and posted all fan letters in 2002 and stopped in 2004.

But to this day, he continues to post letters of his most prolific pen pal, Mr. Deng (closest thing to a picture here). Postcards from Suzhou, China began arriving in Todd's mailbox in April 2004 and while the medium eventually switched to email and photos, his pen pal has written ceaselessly and enthusiastically at least once a month since then. All 3+ years of correspondence are archived here.

If you flip through the archive from the oldest to the most recent, it is easy to laugh at the postcards featuring glaring, Spock-faced Peking Opera singers in Maoist propaganda plays and at the broken English of Mr. Deng (First postcard: "I would make many happy to see this on my internet machine! It say onto your web sight that you will be a television star! That is exciting news you must be full of beans.") . While he talks about "sexing" and wanting to find a girlfriend, he's still seemingly innocent and thus hilarious:
I like to play the electronics and interwebs. But these days t gets to many e--mails these days that say the subject as "your bottle of enlargement tablets is ready." What this mean?Is it joking meaning or nauty?

The Franch man at my company want me to show this statyu photo to you. He think it is very funny, but I do not know why he think so that.
His cultural observations are equally funny. About a French co-worker's arty black-and-white photographs of the town:
The Franch man working in my factory give to me to show you the photo he make this time since I did not take the photo this week. It so strange he do not use the colour, his camera maybe is bad.
But if you keep reading, that naiveté and sincerity of his wishes and advice becomes poignant. While many Americans might commiserate with OddTodd over their crummy or non-existent job, here is Mr. Deng, who uses a nightsoil pot in the backyard, worries if he'll have enough money to fix his bicycle, and works in a factory making shoelaces, sending "Mr. OddTodd" snacks from China, encouraging him not to feel down, and sending him dating tips.

Deng, apparently, has ventured beyond the pages of and established his identity on as well as on YouTube, as seen below.

One writer at The Chinese Outpost says that while the correspondence is highly entertaining, Mr. Deng must be a fraud, due to the childlike handwriting and consistently funny "Chinglish," that he is the invention of a mid-twenties, Mid-western American girl who happens to be living in Suzhou (all the postcards are postmarked). On some recent posts, Todd added the ability to comment and others share that skepticism, even comparing him to Borat. When I first read these opinion, I thought, yeah maybe, but I've seen enough feminine and childlike handwriting out of men, Asian and Caucasian, as well as bad Chinglish to think that these examples could be real, especially in a population of 1.3 billion.

If anything would make me think this was pure fiction, it is the fact that, intentionally or unintentionally, his letters are a gentle satire-- not of China, but of the U.S. The simple things we take for granted are called out in many of his photo essays:
The man carry the recycle bottle on his bicycle. Many people in China earn the money by collect the recycle garbage and take it to the factory to get the money. You should try to do this job in USA also then you will be richer!

This man walk around yelling and fix the shoe. I take this picture from my apartment window. A forgeiner told me you do not have this kind of man in the U.S.A.! How can the People fix the broken shoe then?
While some may laugh at how backwards this seems, I'm sure I'm not the only one who has come away from these photo essays thinking that compared to the Chinese, we are all wasteful, complaining, slackers who don't appreciate what we have. Deng's letters are, in fact, the perfect counterpoint to OddTodd's own funny, navel-gazing animations.

And yet there is no hint of indictment or accusation in his words, only kindness. Every letter ends with some sort of an exhortation ("Please enjoy the life and always try", "Wish you happy forever!") and an invitation to write back, extended not only to Todd, but to the entire world. While he knows parts of his city are ugly and dirty, he shares his pride in the ancient beauty of Suzhou, the modernizations, like long distance telephone and the rash of new buildings and television shows sprouting up everywhere, his growing salary, and his wife's growing belly--yes, there will soon be a Deng Junior.

So I choose to believe he is real. If such a caring, funny man does not really exist, he ought to. I leave you with a typical hilarious and thoughtful translation of an famous American poem from Mr. Deng:

Bean, bean

The musicle Vegtable

The more of that you eat

You will Fart so much

But the bean is very healty so you should eat many bean and you will feel more happy to that.

I change the ending of the song now so the USA people can still like to eat the bean and so the farmer of the bean will not be crying.

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