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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 August 2018

Chinese soaps on TV dubbed into Arabic? Bring it on

Watching soap operas has always been a communal experience in the family home

Jason Priestley (left) and Luke Perry of ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’. Alamy 
Jason Priestley (left) and Luke Perry of ‘Beverly Hills, 90210’. Alamy 

There is one aspect of this week’s visit by China’s President Xi Jinping to the UAE that I am especially excited about. Some of the mutual appreciation has been extended to the cultural sphere and I am thrilled to hear that more Chinese films are to be screened here and that concerts featuring the country’s pop talents have been discussed, too.

What I am most looking forward to, though, is being able to watch some of China’s leading dramas, dubbed in Arabic, and broadcast locally.

I have to admit, I don’t have the foggiest idea about those soaps, but the prospect of experiencing new storylines unfold is something I relish.

A scene from The Bold and the Beautiful:

I take my soaps very seriously. I even wrote a thesis on them during my time at university in Australia more than a decade ago. Said research paper included interviews with a variety of people. There was the crusty academic who spent every weekend catching up on a week’s worth of the American drama The Young and the Restless and a university student who watched The Days of Our Lives whenever it was on in a bid to relieve himself from the stresses of academia. Then there was my mother, an A-grade drama enthusiast who somehow managed to maintain a single-parent household, run a business, feed her rowdy kids and never miss an episode of The Bold and the Beautiful.

While this trio had their reasons for tuning into these mind-numbing soaps, whether to de-stress or escape the everyday, the most memorable reason came from the student who told me that soap operas brought his family together. This resonated with me because watching television dramas had always been a communal exercise in our household.

My first recollection of soaps dates back to the late 1980s, right here in Abu Dhabi. I never knew what Dallas was or why my mum and auntie hissed at the screen whenever J R appeared. One thing was clear to me, though. The night “her programme” came on Channel 33, I knew I had better keep my mouth shut. The same rule also applied when Santa Barbara was on. The policy was considerably looser when it came to Remington Steele, though.

I developed my affinity with the soap when I was 11. By then we were living in Melbourne, Australia. I can still recall those Sunday afternoons. My cousins and I would sit crammed together in the living room – two of us sharing the big chair, while the other two sat cross-legged on the floor. The shows of choice in those days were The Wonder Years, Beverly Hills, 90210 and Australian show E Street. We’d watch them back-to-back.

A scene from Beverly Hills, 90210:

We all had our favourite characters and looking back, they may have played a part in making me the man I have become. For example, it wasn’t bad-boy Dylan (Luke Perry) I wanted to emulate, but nice-guy Brandon (Jason Priestley). Go figure.

The introduction of satellite television in Australia benefited the family enormously. With more than 500 channels at our disposal, my mum and I bonded over our love of international soap operas. And, with Arabic broadcasters such as Abu Dhabi TV and MBC having dubbed international productions for more than 20 years, we were introduced to a whole new world of dramatic stories from thousands of miles away.

We were scandalised by the freewheeling relationships of the characters in Latin soaps and enjoyed the quirky romances that Turkish dramas specialise in. I’m glad to say it is a bond that remains to this day and has expanded to include Bollywood soaps, too.

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Whether it’s the tense drama of the Hindi Rangrasiya, which followed the growing romance of a police officer and his prisoner, or the tear-inducing struggle of Mary Choy as she attempts to salvage her marriage in the Mexican drama Cuidado con el angel, my mum and I – and the occasional auntie – will keep each other posted on the ongoing developments.

The fact that I can now expand my palette to follow new dramas from China, with their unique set of characters – is an exciting prospect that I’m looking forward to.

And with my mum and friends on the other side of the world also tuning in to follow these stories in real time, I know that home is never too far away.

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