Documentaries about the the east are usually a hit in the western world. The bizarre marriage of modern buildings, gadgets and clothes we recognise from home combined with crazy ancient traditions, primitive working conditions and some pretty alien attitudes and values makes for compelling viewing. Gok Wan’s one-off travel documentary ‘Made in China’ for Channel 4 was certainly a fascinating watch.
Everyone’s favourite half-Chinese fashionista went to discover more about his heritage. Despite having ‘Made in China’ tattooed on the back of his neck, Gok confessed that he knew very little about where his family originated from.
So here was, back to try and understand his roots, visit his father’s village and run a little errand for him. The errand, as it turned out was rather interesting. Armed with instructions Gok set off for a ‘paper shop’ to buy an air conditioning unit for his deceased grandmother.
As astonished by the place as his viewers Gok explained that paper shops were where the Chinese can buy a 3D scale version of practically anything, from designer watches to items of food which are designed to then be burned. This ritual burning is supposed to deliver the actual item to the dead, as a gift to a lost loved one. Gok’s dad was worried his mum might be too hot in the afterlife, hence the air con.
Armed with an assortment of items for all sorts of people Gok went to burn them all in front of his family’s shrine in his father’s village. It was a very frank and sweet moment, although he did come quite close to trashing the area and setting fire to himself.
Next Gok went to take a look in a factory that makes jeans, discovering that absolutely every job was done by hand, from cutting pattern after pattern to ironing every single finished pair, 60 every hour. Gok wasn’t too impressed to visit the canteen along with the 3000 workers to find they had no choice of meal whatsoever and had to eat what they were given. As a vegetarian he wasn’t delighted with his pork belly.
His final trips included a visit to the studio of an up-and-coming fashion designer, as well as Thames Town – a whole place built to look like a traditional English settlement, complete with mock-Tudor buildings and an exact replica of a church in Bristol. Fascinating but freakishly off-key, Gok seemed to find it very soulless and ironically it made him feel very far from home.
This was a very enjoyable little travelogue, not deep but a lot of fun. I’ve always quite liked Gok Wan but I never realised how amusing he is. Mincing about unashamedly, cracking jokes and talking to everyone in English then wondering why they were ignoring him, he was a very entertaining host but also shared some quite touching moments with the viewer, which was nice.
The only thing that’s a real shame is that they only made one programme. As Gok said, 7 days isn’t enough to get to know an entire country. China is such an interesting place with so many facets and so much history, they wasted the opportunity to make a whole series.
If you missed it, check out Gok Wan: Made in China on 4OD: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/gok-wan-made-in-china/4od