” People are always going to label that advice controversial “
Reading time: 10 minutes
YouTube in China is an unlikely source of quality ‘vlog-bank material’ considering the Google platform is banned in China, but despite this, those that make it through the barrier seem to ‘make it’ well.
Matthew Tye or ‘C-Milk’, known also by his YouTube name of ‘Laowhy86’, is an American born China-based youtube star who creates content on documenting and reporting about life from within China. With a following of nearly 300,000 subscribers and his most popular video receiving a massive 4.6 million views, you really ought to know who he is if you’re considering taking that first and absolutely toe-nail-nibbling step to China. Remember that you can follow Clueless in Asia over on Instagram and also on Youtube; for upcoming articles on surviving Japan, you can follow Clueless in Asia here.
” this is the kind of stuff I’ve never seen online “
Q. You went to China in 2008, what defining moment, be it good or bad, made you think, ‘the world needs to see this.’?
A. Honestly, it was probably within the first day of just walking down a street where all of this food was unrecognizable [and where] all of the people obviously looked completely different compared to my own country where I lived in a predominantly white neighbourhood in suburban America; I thought, “this is the kind of stuff I’ve never seen online”. YouTube was kind of in its infancy and I hadn’t seen any videos being put out about China. It was just the sights and smells really.
Q. Your ‘Grand Tour-esque’ documentary, ‘Conquering Northern China’ portrayed a landscape and culture that differs vastly from modern day China. What did you personally learn from that trip that you didn’t already know?
A. I had no idea that the predominantly Han culture which you think dominates most of China, is so deluded with Manchurian influences and Eskimo-esque type native people that have mixed in with the population, so, you’d see people herding reindeer and they’d speak in a dialect similar to something you might hear in Alaska or the Native Americans language that you hear in the U.S. [There are] very, very strange and different subcultures that you don’t hear about, …northern China was home to so many more diverse peoples, and I didn’t know that.
Q. With regards to production, what goes into a project and which has been the most rewarding?
A. …A project like, ‘Quest for the Best’, where my buddy, Winston and I toured the U.S trying to find Chinese restaurants that were authentic and then [we] kind of rated them based on authenticity and taste, that was all self-produced and that took absolute [pause] it was insane. You’d call restaurants and they’d reject you, you’d show up, they’d reject you, you film for two hours, get the interviews and audio levels correct, you have to get all the footage organized for a later edit, get it all compartmentalised and make sure you have everything in the right place, let’s say it’s fifteen minutes , that takes about 16 to 25 hours just for the edit, …it’s crazy.
Q. How has travelling changed you?
A. Travelling has changed me to be a more openminded and a more narrowminded person. There’s almost a preconceived notion from a lot of Americans that are just so bored of their lives; I’m speaking on behalf of Americans, that [they think] elsewhere is better and that’s just not the case, I’ve learned to appreciate what the first world has to offer. Whereas adventure has completely changed my perspective in the other way, it’s that when you get out an experience new people and new things, it can flip preconceived notions about everything in a positive way, religion, what you like in food, language learning, and you find things about other countries and cultures to be, not superior, but, you can learn something from these cultures [pause] that’s kind of what I’ve taken away from it, is that I’m a more well-rounded person.
“ People are always going to label that advice controversial “
Q. In a video you published, titled ‘Going to Jail in China‘, you spoke about “mob mentality”, scams, and the dangers of situations escalating, stating, “do not help people if they’re hurt.” How important is this advice for someone who is going to China for the first time and what would you say to critics who label the advice ‘controversial’?
A. People are always going to label that advice controversial, the fact I’m telling people, “not to help others” is counterintuitive, it goes against western values and morals, so, to them I have to say, “you have to experience it first-hand and maybe be burned once yourself”; because the moment that you get into a situation where you could be liable, and that could be any situation, let’s say someone gets hit by a car, lets say someone falls down the stairs, the odds are higher than not that that person may try to take advantage of the situation. You might get away with it, you might have a situation like, I’ve—of course, it’s in my instinct to help people if somebody drops some stuff in the street I’ll help them pick it up, right, and they’ve said thank you, the majority of people are probably nice human beings but you can’t take that risk, because like I said, if it’s something involving bodily injury, more often than not you will be liable for the damages and that can be prohibitively expensive and ruin your stay in China.
” 50% of it would be spitting “
Interviewer: We’re going to do an ‘Inside the Actor’s Studio’ type-round.
Q. If you could record a song, titled ‘The Sound of China’, what sounds or noises would we expect to hear on the track?
A. 50% of it would be spitting and hawking sounds, some of the other sounds would include beeping, a lot of car horns, maybe some shouting and haggling, like the sounds of a market, haggling in the background [pause] and then let’s round that off with some open mouth chewing sounds. I think that would be China.
Q.What is your favourite motto?
A. I don’t know if I have a favourite motto, but I think [pause] I like the advice I give to people, it’s just “don’t be lazy”. I think people waste so much of their life and then complain retroactively that they haven’t done anything, I think that’s actually just one of the worst ways you can go through life, you only get one shot at it. Sounds very cliché but at the same time if I wasn’t constantly doing things and working on new projects I wouldn’t be where I am today and I wouldn’t be happy. I don’t even think that’s down to personal preference, I think most people feel more accomplished when they get more done.
Q. Who are your heroes in life?
A. My heroes in life would be my grandfather and my father who gave me the foundations of how to be a man, [they] taught me everything from a super young age, how to be active, and work at something until it’s finished. Also, Anthony Bourdain is a huge inspiration to me as well, a massive inspiration to me, just because how much effort and production went into his travel shows were a big inspiration to what I do. Other than that, just people I’ve met along the way, people I work with, people like Winston, people who have inspired me along my path.
Q. When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
A. I see a well-weathered man [laughs] I think I’ve aged quite a bit since moving to China. I see someone who finally has an authority on some things like China, some things like travel, language ability, mandarin ability, things like this; whereas I think a lot of people walk through life thinking that they have a strong opinion on something without actually having earned it. I feel proud, I see a proud person.
” China is lawless, it’s anarchic “
Q. You were recently in Taiwan together with fellow co-star, Winston, how different or similar do you find the two warring factions (China and Taiwan)?
A. The only similarity between China and Taiwan that I found is really just language and basic culture, so things like face and being indirect, [are] very very much Taiwan and China, but, everything else is wildly, vastly different, down to the societal values, down to health care, down to food even. Keep in mind I also lived in Taiwan for a while, so this is from living experience. Taiwan is much more westernized, democratic, people feel like their say matters which is very different to China. China is lawless, it’s [pause] anarchic in a way, it’s a capitalist authoritarian dictatorship [but] Taiwan feels like a modern democracy with its head on its shoulders. Very very different countries.
Q. What three qualities do you think you share with your co-star, Winston?
A. Three qualities I share with Winston would be, decisiveness, attention to detail and perseverance. If I could throw another one on there it would be that we’re both massive workaholics.
Q. You’re obviously very much in touch with your fanbase, but what about those who disagree with you and are vocal about it. Has there been any particular comment online that’s stood out?
A. Honestly, in terms of people that disagree with me, it’s 90% of the time paid Wǔmáo’s [Internet commentators, hired by Chinese authorities in an attempt to manipulate public opinion to the benefit of the Chinese Communist Party] that get paid by the government to actually just spread garbage all over the channels and the comments section, so those are to be dismissed. In terms of ones that really hit home [pause] it’s usually [pause] Chinese people that are in different countries that also fail to fit in, I think it’s not that they necessarily disagree with my videos or my message, but they’ll tell me stories about how they had this dream that they would go to America or Canada and then tell me some pretty sad tales of either how they were bullied or despite all their efforts they just couldn’t fit in. They can be quite critical of some of the messages that I have about not fitting in. Those typically hit home for me.
Q. A subscriber wants to ask, “In a previous video, you told the story of how a trusted friend stole your motorbike, did that change your perception of Chinese people and did it influence how you form relationships in China?”
A. Believe it or not, after I got my bike stolen by one of my best buddies up there, it taught me the difference between blindly making friends like I would back home [in the U.S] and blindly making friends in China, because in the West I wouldn’t typically screen someone or look at their personal relationships or what they do necessarily, at least on the surface, I wouldn’t pay attention to all those kinds of things before becoming friends with someone. But in China it’s much more important to do that because friendships are very much earned over a long period of time, so, to form a bond with someone that had a few warning signs, [for example] his upbringing, where he was from, what he did, I should have been much more careful. So, that definitely taught me a very very hard and fast lesson to, not to screen people for who they are, but to be a lot more careful and to look into who a person is and what they do and why they do it.
“ we were questioned and detained. ”
Q. What difficulties arise as a YouTuber who creates content about China? Have you ever experienced pressure from the Chinese government to stop what you’re doing?
A. We experience pressure from the Chinese government pretty much on a daily basis through comments [on social media], but, there’re also forums that people start personally on the Chinese internet; they’re probably paid by the government, there are some very slanderous things about us, they try to start rumours that we’re spies and that we work for the C.I.A and all this kind of crap. In terms of physically being approached, I’ve had knocks on my door, I’ve had police rifle through my house and go through my documents, I’ve been pulled over on numerous filming occasions and told that I’m not allowed to film or that I’m going to be in serious trouble if I continue to stay in a certain area or certain region. We particularly had a lot of trouble while filming ‘Conquering Northern China’, [whereby] despite not really doing journalistic things and [instead] just experiencing culture and food, they were very much against our presence. They sent the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] over to mess with us for a few days and we were questioned and detained.
Q. What recent event in China, political or otherwise, has affected you the most?
A. The biggest effect I’ve seen recently is the rampant nationalism, …the mass populous is not very fond of foreigners in their country now, so despite me not changing whatsoever, I’m doing exactly what I’ve always done [I’ll get] dirty looks, people saying things as I walk by, being told to “go home”, these kinds of racist or derogatory remarks. It’s something I didn’t deal with for the past eight or nine years, but this year has been particularly bad. I guess I saw a big change two years ago and now it’s gotten much worse under the current leadership, so, I think the leadership and the way that the government is persuading its people that the outside world is the problem, has made a big change and effect on me and society.
Q. With another child on the way and with the recent controversy in China regarding the vaccine scandal, does this influence your plans for your future in China?
A. Absolutely it influences my future plans in China, I do not plan on having my second child in China. We’ll be giving birth, or I guess I won’t be giving birth [laughs] my wife will be giving birth, in the U.S, in my home state of New York and we’ll pick up the pieces from there. I have a lot of things on the way, a lot of big plans.
“ I’m a proud CEO now “
Q. If you left China, would ‘LaoWhy86’ still be creating content and if so what would it be about?
A. If I were to ever leave China, permanently, I would be back frequently to not only film but to stay relevant in societal issues, to talk with friends [and] to meet people because I’m very much invested in the country, I love the country, I can say I grew up there, my past ten years of my adulthood were there. So, it [the content] would be very much related to China, and also keep in mind I’m married to a Chinese woman, deal with a Chinese family all the time and try to balance different cultural aspects within the way I raise my child and in my personal relationships, so, I think the channel would get more personal. That being said, I recently just started a corporation called ADV Media Inc, I’m a proud CEO now. I’ll be working together with SerpentZA [Winston Sterzel] on many upcoming projects that will involve China but also many other countries around the world. We’ll see what the future holds, it’s quite up in the air right now.
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