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Dashan (Mark Roswell) Named Canada’s 2008 Olympic Attache

Even more interesting to me than the headline angle is the revelation in this story by Slam! columnist Bill Lankhof of how Roswell got into this whole “Chinese” thing in the first place. Since Ros-, er Da Shan’s interest in China emerged in the early to mid 80’s, I figured there would be the typical “I liked watching David Carradine in ‘Kung Fu’ as a kid,” or maybe “I was dating this girl from Taiwan and…,” or “In my studies of world philosophy, the Tao and I Ching really spoke to me.”

But not for Da Shan.

He did study Chinese at Peking University–though he expected to stay in China just six months when he first arrived.

Before that he studied Chinese at Toronto University.

But what hooked him into it all first was–definitely not what I would have expected–simply “learn[ing] Chinese phrases from co-workers at a Toronto camera shop.”

So, it’s as simple as that, eh? But of course we’re left to wonder what kind of phrases he was learning; that could be rather telling. ;-)

From Lankhof’s article:

Now 41, Rowswell was born in Ottawa, learned Chinese phrases from co-workers at a Toronto camera shop, decided to study Chinese at the University of Toronto and “the next thing to do seemed to be to go to China,” he says. “Six months of immersion, I figured, and then home to start a career. I was in Beijing two months and ended up on TV and it took on a life of its own. It’s not as if this career was planned.”

That was 18 years ago. Today he’s bigger in China than noodles. He has become the Milton Berle of Chinese TV. He appears on nationally broadcast variety shows and hosts educational programs. But, mostly, he is known as Dashan, which translated means Big Mountain. Images of Dashan are everywhere from buses to billboards. Bicyclists wave. Officials of state-run TV estimate that he is known by 80% of Chinese - more than one billion people. Not bad for a kid who calls North Toronto home.

Since Rowswell captured the admiration of the Chinese as the quick-witted foreigner doing amusing skits in Mandarin in 1988 he has evolved from visitor to beloved public figure and cultural ambassador. Which makes him the perfect choice as the point man for Canada’s Olympic team….

When Rowswell’s teachers at Peking University volunteered him for a 1988 variety TV show, he created Dashan — a country bumpkin character. It caught on and he got his break when he hooked up with Jiang Kun, a master in xiangsheng, the centuries-old Chinese performance art known as crosstalk. “It’s not so much a comedian in the western sense where you tell jokes. It’s a traditional form of Chinese comedy — a bit like Abbott and Costello but not slapstick. It’s erudite, play on words, puns, tricks with the language, tongue twisters.”

Read the rest of the article on the Canoe Network’s Slam! Sports section.

November 2006

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