CORVALLIS - After a friend back home asked Xiaomeng Zhong to come up with an idea for an online Beijing radio production, the Oregon State University student developed "Kung Pao Fries," a fast-paced humorous concept comparing Chinese and American culture.
The Beijing radio man moved to Australia before Zhong was able to present him with her plan, but after her hard work, she wasn't going to let "Kung Pao Fries" die. After teaming up with OSU student radio guru Michelle Bennett and refining the idea, the pair's production hit the Oregon airwaves as a regularly scheduled weekly show on the OSU student-run radio station KBVR-FM in the fall of 2003.
An immediate regional hit, the show has just been honored with the 2004 National Student Production Award for best regularly scheduled program by New York-based Collegiate Broadcasters. The national competition judged entries from student radio stations across the country in recognition of student pursuit of excellence through active involvement in electronic media.
"This is the first time we have even entered these awards and we were able to take home one of the most competitive awards," said Ann Robinson, assistant director of OSU Student Media.
Zhong, who uses the first name Christina on campus, said she wanted to address some of the misconceptions between cultures, but she didn't want the show to get bogged down with deep philosophical questions.
"We tried to make it really funny," said Zhong, a senior studying computer science and new media communications. "When I thought about this, I thought it would be interesting to introduce American culture to China."
As work developed, Zhong, who is spending her second year in America, realized some of the deep misunderstandings between the cultures.
"Many Americans, their views have been shaped by old televisions programs and other inaccurate portrayals of Chinese culture," she said. "They think of China and they think of people flying around doing Kung Fu moves. And in China, there are similar misunderstandings about America."
So, Zhong, station manager of OSU's KBVR-TV, and Bennett, station manager of KBVR-FM, set to work to use the technical tools of broadcast as a bridge to cultural understanding.
"We sat down together with the idea that 'Kung Pao Fries' would be a lighter way to learn about a different culture," said Bennett, a graduating senior in interior design.
"Our show has three segments," Zhong explained. "It starts with a short piece on the random topic of the day where we start out by talking about something interesting that we have heard or seen, or maybe that has happened to us. In the second segment, 'Culture to Go,' we pick some topic we like and talk for 20 minutes about comparison between the cultures, such as dating customs or names, or diet, or maybe tattoos.
"For the third segment, 'Slang of the Day,' we spend five minutes with Michelle teaching me American slang."
International visitors often have trouble with common slang terms no matter what the country, Zhong pointed out. Common American phrases such as "He showed up in his birthday suit," can be real puzzlers.
"Michelle was really the mastermind of all of our show - especially the whole technical part of radio. She worked at putting the music behind it and she came up with the actual format of it all. We would meet for hours at a time."
"When Christina approached me about this, I thought it was great idea and was more than willing to put in the time," Bennett said.
While the women have put aside the show for the time being, neither of them rules out a return of "Kung Pao Fries."
"We are busy, but we may give it a try again - maybe next term," Zhong said.