I’m sure that you, my loyal readers, are aware that YouTube has spawned an odd new set of “celebrities”. These are people aren’t famous in the traditional sense (like TV or film stars) but are nonetheless known by thousands of people. If you live in Vancouver, you might be aware of one of these people. The YouTube personality known as “Peter Chao” is a creation of Vancouver Film School graduate Davin Tong. Peter Chao’s trademark is his heavily accented English. The Peter Chao character was famous enough that a local paper, The Georgia Straight, featured Tong in an article.
The interesting thing is that I once had a similar character that I put on for some select people around 2004. At the time, I was still in graduate school and living in the best graduate school residence in Canada. As a resident of St. John’s College, I made some very close and dear friends. One of those friends was a doctorate student named Patrick. Patrick is Filipino, so he and I had a common understanding of growing up in Canada in an Asian household. I used to tell Patrick that I wasn’t sure if I could get into the video games industry as a software engineer. It was my entire reason for being in graduate school. If it didn’t work out, I’d need to figure out what else to do. I told Patrick that the odds of him getting his doctorate and then getting tenure at a prestigious university were pretty good, so I would be his family servant. I’d run errands for him and his wife, pick up his kids from school, cook meals, arrange for his travel to conferences, and get his laundry from the dry cleaners.
For whatever reason, I decided my servant persona would be called “Chinaman” and I’d speak in heavily accented English. Each time I broke out into my Chinaman persona, I’d describe some aspect how I’d be useful to Patrick in a few years. In character, I’d tell him how I’d picked up his shirts from the dry cleaners, bought the specific ingredients that Mrs. Patrick wanted for dinner, and booked his flight to some conference in New Zealand. I’d always refer to him as “Doctor” while in character. I really went deep into the English with the Chinese accent. Patrick thought it was hilarious whenever I brought Chinaman out. I only really did the character in front of Patrick and one other person, Jin Hee, another resident at SJC. In fact, I think she was more enamoured with Chinaman than my own actual personality.
Anyways, the point of this post isn’t that I think the “Peter Chao” character was taken from me. Far from it in fact. It just goes to show you that sometimes it takes that little bit of extra effort (and luck) to turn something amusing into a real phenomenon.
Wow, it’s been years since I brought out Chinaman. I wonder if he’s still there?