Meet Mandarin SpongeBob
I searched long and hard for something simple to watch, but every cartoon I found produced in China was either low in quality (on all levels), or incomprehensible to a Westerner. Usually both.
Enter the SquarePants. I discovered him one day while riding the bus during my second year of language school. The small TV at the front of the bus was showing an excerpt of SpongeBob getting a job as a lifeguard. Much to my surprise, I could understand far more of what I was hearing than with any other TV show.
A few weeks later, I was walking through Wal-Mart, and discovered boxed sets. I bought them all and dove right in. After enduring much at the hands of incomprehensible media, I was pleasantly surprised at how entertained I was. I had found a Chinese immersion environment in which I could truly function.
One of the best things about SpongeBob? If you’re watching it in English, it’s one of the worst. But if you’re trying to pick words out of high-speed Chinese, it’s a gold mine: An over-the-top quantity of repetition.
I devoured the first three seasons, then broke open the Season 4 set. On the very first episode, I knew something had gone wrong. After a half dozen episodes, I quit watching. They were horrible. Disgusting. Unwatchable.
I checked into it, and sure enough, there was a change of leadership in its production between those two seasons. So I got rid of the rest of the discs and stuck with watching and re-watching seasons 1-3.
Where to Watch
My all-time favorite episode? It was called “Rock Bottom” (Chinese version, called 石头滩), and my wife and I had used it repeatedly in our Chinese classes. SpongeBob gets lost by jumping on the wrong bus, and ends up alone and stranded. This story had particular appeal to Americans in China trying to deal with getting lost on buses in a strange country, while surrounded by unrecognizable speech.
The CCTV (China Central Television) Mandarin version is hysterical. Several years later, Angel and I watched the English version, and we both agreed: the English version just isn’t as funny. However, be warned: There is at least one more awful, completely un-funny dubbed version out there. Most of the bits and pieces on YouTube are from that edition. Yuck. Avoid.
CCTV has them posted on their website. However, in going back to write this post I discovered that the videos now won’t play, and instead it says something about not being able to stream in your region.
If you want to be adventurous, you could Google 海绵宝宝, or specifically 海绵宝宝石头滩 for the episode I mentioned above. But I claim no responsibility for what you find!
Featured Image: Elijah Wilcott, 2009