He’s a well-known public figure in China. He’s seen on television as host of many entertainment specials but still goes relatively under the radar here in Canada.
Mark Rowswell’s public persona is Dashan. When I had mentioned to my parents that I was going to have the opportunity to meet him they immediately knew who I was referring to. The white guy who speaks fluent Mandarin. And speaks it really well.
Mark was born and raised in Ontario. He studied Chinese at the University of Toronto and continued with a full scholarship to continue his studies at Peking University. And then….he became an overnight television and on-stage sensation.
I had a chance to meet with Dashan at the rehearsals yesterday for the inaugural Chinese New Year Gala concert with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra where he would be hosting the celebration.
Me: I had mentioned to my parents that I was going to interview you and they were excited.
Dashan: (laughs) well, it’s been over 25 years so I’ve done a little bit everywhere. Of course my main exposure has been through mainland Chinese media. Actually a couple years ago I did commercials for Ford here so they probably saw those too! You know I speak a little Cantonese even! I practiced a week just to learn five lines. (throws down his lines and we laughed)
Me: I think you’re more Chinese than me! But tell me, you had studied Chinese and then went China then stumbled upon the entertainment industry. I’ve read that you consider yourself an “accidental celebrity” How so?
Dashan: When I first started the first appearances were accidental but it’s become a career so it’s like 25 years of accidents.
Me: Did that surprise you?
Dashan: Well, yes because I studied Chinese as I was interested in the language and the culture so even in the 1980s, it was apparent that China was changing and the economy was booming. I think, especially for the younger generations that it appears that China has been booming in the last 10 or 15 years but it’s really been happening for 30 years. So even in the 1980s it was all about how China was awakening and how it was going to shake the world. There was this interest in learning Chinese. I was just interested in the ancient culture but as started opening up I thought it would be an interesting career working between China and the West somehow.
Me: You’ve done a lot of Ambassador and Goodwill type of representation on behalf of Canada including the Olympics in China, right?
Dashan: Yes, and in retrospect that made sense for me. I was at UofT back in the 80s and I was thinking that there was going to be lots of opportunities but I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Was it going to be business or diplomacy or education but when I went to Peking University I had a chance to appear on television. Back then I didn’t realize the impact this would have and it just snowballed from there. That for me answered the question “between China and the West, what am I going to do?” I realized the greatest opportunity for me was in culture and media so that’s what I’ve done since then.
Me: You’ve been very lucky!
Dashan: Yes, it’s been very fortuitous but also a lot of work since then.
Me: So, how often do you come home?
Dashan: I spent a lot of time in my 20s living in China but now this is my home-base as my kids are going to school. One is in university now too. I travel back and forth.
Me: I noticed that you’re getting more into social media and social networks.
Dashan: When you’re in the entertainment industry need to constantly find ways to reinvent yourself unless you’re in a niche market. In all mass media the bulk of your audience is in the 20 to 30 year old range so it’s important to keep up with them and staying current. Social media is good for that. You’re always focusing on that market as they consume the most media.
Me: Okay, us chinese always have to talk about food. So, what’s your favourite chinese dishes?
Dashan: I hardly have Chinese dishes here as I tend to eat more Canadian meals here but I really enjoy the food when I go back to China. Eating out in China is just so much easier and it’s so good. But put it this way, there isn’t anything I won’t eat.
Me: See, you are chinese!
Dashan: Hahaha! I even eaten things like beetles but the strangest thing I’ve ever eaten were goat eyeballs.
Me: Ew. Okay that’s gross.
Dashan: It’s like Jell-O but they taste like lamb. Yeah, you’re right it sounds pretty gross. It’s funny when people say “oh you eat feng-zhua” but that’s nothing! I love them…you just got to learn how to spit the bones out.
You can visit Mark Rowswell’s official website at www.dashan.com
Thank you to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for the incredible opportunity to attend the beautiful rehearsals and for arranging the time with Dashan.
*feng zhua — chicken feet.