Remembering Talk Talk China and the “Cycle of Funk”

A lot has changed in the China blogosphere since I first put (virtual) pen to paper for Imagethief in June, 2004. I can’t think of many blogs that are still around from those days in anything like their original form. The Peking Duck and John Pasden’s Sinosplice come to mind. Even the venerable Danwei has undergone a transformation. In general, the renewal is good. Jeremy Goldkorn (of Danwei), Kaiser Kuo and I talked about this on Sinica in July 2010, when we celebrated the death –and rebirth– of the China blog.

But I thought it was worth revisiting China blog history today because it is, to the best of my knowledge, the fifth anniversary of the shuttering of Talk Talk China. This was the brain-droppings of three anonymous, long-time China expats who went by the nommes-du-snark of Dan, Dawanr and DD (no, I don’t know who they were). For about a year and a half, in 2005 and 2006 it was consistently the funniest, angriest China blog out there, and a wicked channel for the collected frustrations and gripes of the China expat community. This being the days before Twitter vacuumed up “the conversation”, it also had thermonuclear comment threads, as you’d expect.

I remember Talk Talk China not just because of the anniversary of its closing, but because of one post in particular, called “The Cycle of Funk.” It may be to this day the truest thing I have ever read regarding the experience of being a foreigner in China. While many of the rough edges of expat life here have been whittled away by the transformation of Beijing into fairly cosmopolitan city, enough remain so that I find myself thinking of this post pretty regularly.

But also, there has been a general shift in mood among much of the expat community in the past two years, as many foreigners I thought were here for the duration have started talking openly about life beyond China. This is purely anecdotal, and I have no data to back it up, but it’s enough of a trend that several other people I know have picked up on it. Rich Brubaker of the long running “All Roads Lead to China” business blog wrote a post touching on this just yesterday. It would seem that the “cycle of funk” is not just a personal thing, but perhaps a social one.

Talk Talk China is off the air, but thanks to the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine” much of the oeuvre, including the Cycle of Funk is still online. However, it is a pain to nut out. As a public service, and totally without permission, I am going to take the liberty of reposting the Cycle of Funk here. If Dan, Dawanr or DD want to send me a cease-and-desist, they know where to find me:

The Cycle of Funk
May 24th, 2006 by Dan

Y’know, not every day is a bad China day. Sure, at TTC this is the case but for most people, a bad China day occurs only every now and then. However, for my entire time in China, I have noticed a particular trend among all laowai that I call “The cycle of funk”. No matter how much you love China, the little things that bother you will start to gather in a little ball of rage deep within you and sooner or later that ball of hate and spite needs to be released (often obnoxiously). That’s fine. It’s understandable. When it gets to that point no one can tell you whether or not your rage is justified. What is important to note is that this clearly comes and goes in a cycle. I imagine for most people the frequency and intensity of maximum funk decreases with time however the length of maximum funk and the intensity of said funk will likely vary widely for each person.

It is important to note that, in most cases, maximum funk is initiated not by some massive occurrence but usually by some small innocuous thing. Basically, you’re already at the edge and it is the very next thing that sets you off.


Remember, when you’re having a supremely awful bad China day and you are trying to tear the roof off the sucker, try to find where you are in your funk cycle. If you have obtained maximum funk you can relax knowing that it ain’t getting any worse and it will only get better…at least until the next funk hits.

After running less than two years Talk Talk China wound up pretty suddenly for reasons I don’t recall. Sinocidal tried to carry the snark-bucket for a while, but never played at the same level and it has long since gone by the wayside. These days I seem to carry the burden of being the “funny” China blogger (although George Ding of The Hypermodern and now The Beijinger’s back page is giving me a run for my money). Anyway, I’ve thoroughly shirked this burden, as any glance at post count for the past year or two demonstrates. But when they were at their best, the guys behind Talk Talk China were funnier and definitely more succinct than I was. And let’s face it, we need all the humor we can get.

So I commemorate five years since the end of Talk Talk China. For what it’s worth, I’m not in danger of leaving China any time soon. It’s been pretty good to me and my family. Nor am I particularly grouchy about it at this moment. But as anyone who has read Imagethief for any length of time knows, I’d be lying if I told you I was immune to the cycle of funk. And so would you.

Razor wit.

Razor wit.

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