Old-school Chinese popcorn machine baffles MythBusters but leaves netizens amused

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2013, 1:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2013, 2:47pm

Presenters of the Discovery Channel’s popular science-entertainment television show MythBusters have unexpectedly found themselves at the butt of jokes on Chinese social media.

The show was ridiculed online after the episode Express Popcorn aired in China and featured the hosts testing a traditional Chinese popcorn-maker – while they were clad in protective bomb suits.

The hosts were testing the speed of the hand-operated, coal-fired machine, which is used to make popcorn – a popular street snack usually consumed during the Lunar New Year holidays.

“This actually makes me kind of nervous. It reminds me of water heaters about to explode,” said the show’s co-host Jamie Hyneman during the episode.

The experiment ended with the hosts opening the machine's sealed popping chamber, letting loose a loud explosion and causing popcorn to fly everywhere.

The “cannon firing” of the popcorn-maker is part of the traditional method's appeal. Tourists usually dub the snack “explosive Chinese popcorn”.

Street vendors who sell the snack typically use canvas bags or boxes to catch the flying kernels that blast out of the pressurised cooking chambers.

The Chinese public's reaction of the MythBusters episode was mixed. Seeing the antiquated machine make a rare appearance on international television, many couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for the near-extinct trade of Chinese popcorn making (see video below).

“I haven’t seen such a machine in a long time. Chinese popcorn defined my childhood…such good memories,” someone wrote on microblogging site Sina Weibo.

Others, however, pointed to the hosts' plain ignorance. 

“I am now fully convinced that Americans are truly stupid. We Chinese have made popcorn this way for hundreds of years, with a laundry bag attached to catch popcorn. Americans, you never cease to amaze,” one person said about the clip, which was posted on the DiscoveryNetworks Youtube channel.

Some fired-up netizens even managed to add in a bit of nationalist rhetoric. “Wearing explosion-proof gear? The US imperialists are scared silly now!” wrote one Weibo user.

“Americans are a joke. Have they not seen the world?” said another.

It is hard to say who the joke is on at this point. Chinese netizens – as passionate as they may be – seem to have misinterpreted the show’s “science entertainment” label.

Popcorn vendors and MythBusters alike know big, loud explosions sell.