Tofu King 豆腐王!

Punctuation malfunction

Bought this gan dou fu from China town the other day.

Have been trying to find this for ages, and it’s nice to see something made in the UK for once, but at £2.99 (30元) a pack it is very expensive indeed.

What caught my attention though was the English name on the pack,  I couldn’t help but laugh at the rather unfortunate name of the manufacturer…

Seems someone needs to find the space key

Reading & writing Chinese on XP

Like many others, I’ve spent ages trying to get Microsoft to show websites correctly and actually be able to read and write Chinese characters on a non-Chinese version of XP.

There’s bits and pieces on the web on how to overcome this but I found them not so useful (especially as I don’t have the installation discs to hand for Chinese character support or ahem.. am running a pirate installation…:-P)

Unfortunately you have to have admin rights to be able to set up Microsoft IME via the control panel and be able to write characters using the MS pinyin imput method. You also need admin access to be able to change windows so it defaults non-Unicode programs to use simplified Chinese – if you don’t do this when you load QQ all you see is squares…

There is a way around this if you don’t happen to have admin access to your machine i.e You’re at work . You can install NJStar CJK Viewer .

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元 v £

It’s just my luck that now I’m working in the UK they value of the Pound to Renminbi has fallen over a third in a little over 3 months. It always used to be around the 15yuan to 1 pound mark, so that 100 yuan was about 7 pounds or so. :clown:

But now 100 yuan is worth less than 10 pounds…I saw a dodgy bureau-de-change in Chinatown offering 8.9 to the pound!! :no:

This makes China suddenly seem that much more expensive! Exporters must be feeling the pinch with this kind of strengthening in RMB – Likewise Chinese salaries don’t seem as poultry as they once did. Personally, I don’t think the Pound will get back to 15 anytime soon, with interest rates here being so low and the economy apparently about to implode… As long as the Yuan is pegged to the US Dollar, and the Pound stays weak against the Dollar this will continue.

Don’t think I’ll be going back to China until the exchange rate gets better! :beatup:

Exchange Rate

Exchange Rate



Olympics Goldfish Trinket

Saw this in the paper this morning – lots of anti-China press on this. I get annoyed reading some of the right-wing rubbish in the papers about China, clearly written by people who have never been there in their life and so nothing about the context of what they are saying.
People here think this is incrediby cruel and selfish as the fish will only have enough oxygen to live for a few hours before suffocating. This is true and it is disturbing that for the Olympic games people are prepared to go so low as to make money from this – but if there is demand for such a product (as there is in china) then business is business.
To most westerners this is an example of the Chinese selling anything to make a quick profit, but people from here do not understand that the Chinese have a different cultural attitude towards animals, and misplace this as thinking the Chinese are cruel to animals.
Having visied the zoo in Changchun quite a few times, I know that almost all westerners would be appaled at the way in which the animals are treated – especially in being made to perform tricks – jump through hoops on fire, ride bikes and even try their hand at roller skates.


Mandarin is the Beijing dialect, or common language 普通话 putonghua, as the communist government like to call it (its called the national language 国语 guoyu in Taiwan). Also it’s known as Han language 汉语 hanyu, or simply Chinese 中国话 zhonguohua. Some people get upset when using the ‘hanyu’ as it denotes the ethnicity of the language (i.e the Han nationality) in certain parts of China there is much resentment towards the Han majority .
I always have to explain to people that you should say Mandarin or Mandarin Chinese and not just Chinese, for a person who is not so familair with China may think you speak Cantonese, certainly in the UK this is the case due to the history with Hong Kong.

For anyone that comes to China, there is an assertion made by most Chinese that Mandarin is the toughest language in the world and that it’s next to impossible for foreigners to understand, let alone communicate.
Sometimes this barrier is the biggest obstacle in trying to communicate with someone as they immediately believe you cannot possibly speak their language and so don’t even try to listen what you are trying to say! It can be a confidence blow when you go outside, try to say something and get a blank face. Often though, only a few seconds later they suddenly reaslise they just understood what was said!

Being in Manchuria there is an accent, but people here are clear with their tones and pronuncition, I think it’s easier to learn here, than in the south of China, where you have to deal with vast pronuniation differences and dialects. Rather like the UK, there are accents everywhere in China, even here in the north east where Mandarin originates, city to city there are marked differences- Just within Jilin Province there are varying accents.

The other issue is the education level and familarity the peson has speaking with non-native speakers. So trying to communicate with a migrant worker is harder than a educated person from the city. I sometimes wonder what I would sound like to a Chinese person – Probably like Inspector Clouseau speaking English, which would explain why people laugh when I speak! 🙂
English and Chinese are both not easy languages in different ways, where English has complex tenses, irregular verbs, Chinese has different tones and characters. There is a good arguement though for saying that Mandarin has considerably more logic to it that English does.
However, with Mandarin there’s a massive initial hurdle that makes most switch off and ultimatly give up, but beyond this initial stage things get easier. After a while you start to be able to recognise characters, sounds and begin to develop a basic vocabulary, then you hit a plateau.

When I fist got here I got hung up over the different tones when speaking; this is something that takes a lot of time to get used to. I’ve learnt just to try to copy the way other people speak and it seems to work.
My personal opinion is that conversational speaking and listening can be picked up pretty quickly. Reading takes some effort but writing takes much time and real dedication. Which is probably why the only thing I can write with a pen in chinese is my name! To become good at handwriting takes years of practice. However, Writing is not of so much use for me, for if I have to use the written form I will use a computer or a phone to write, and this is pretty easy to do if you can read.

I couldn’t live here and not be able to communicate, It hampers your independence and makes it so if you want to do anything worthwhile you need Chinese assistance. I cannot understand the foriegners who choose to live here, yet are uninterested in at least learning the basics of the language. The idea of being helpless and relying on other people all the time annoys me, and it reinforces the stereotype (that some Chinese hold) that foreigners can’t do things on their own.

I’ve read much about the craze to learn Mandarin at schools in the UK, the idea that to do business in the next superpower every child should be learning their ji qi xi, zhi chi shi. The idea of learning a foreign language at a young age is laudable, but ultimatly a language is only any good if it can be practically used- is there an environment for it? I suspect the people behind such initiaves probably have never been to China, and base their ideas on what they read in the press and as such is probabbly a waste or time.
People may say that French and German are not the languages of the future, but the fact remains British people who leave their country at one time or another will be speaking one of these languages on holiday, not Mandarin or Arabic. How many people will come on holiday to China and actually have a chance to use the language effectively?
You may think im a hypocrite for saying this but I make the distinction as I live in the country, It’s useful for me and I have an environment.

As well as this, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to try to learn Mandarin in the UK, outside of China. It is hard enough for Chinese students here leaning English but at least they have an element of outside influence to help them. e.g. Films, TV. Also, I think that if you really want to learn a language well, you must have an interest in it and learning from another country makes it very difficult for students to have that interest.

I’m forgetting that many lucky/rich Chinese are learning English from a very young age, there is a huge national drive towards getting all of the population to be able to understand basic English. This is many, many years away and probably will never happen , but it shows that China is far ahead in promoting English than other countries are in promoting Mandarin.

Of all the businessmen I’ve met in China, not one of them has been able to speak Chinese, English is the language of business and it is here to stay. Learning Chinese is useful for social purposes, but to assume you can get a job just because of it is a little delusional, unless you plan to become a translator, or follow an academic persuit.
I have learnt that It’s essentailly cheaper and easier to have Chinese employed that speak English than vice-verser, even if they don’t quite understand the cultural nuances.

More importantly, I believe, is a deeper cultural understanding that lies beneath the language. To fully understand this one has to have a knowldege of the language, as this allows you to be able to start to understand how Chinese people think. It gives you the chance to communicate with people with whom it would have been impossible before and I find this apsect most interesting – Finding out new things and the reasons behind why people do things in certain ways.


One of the biggest advantages of working in education over other areas is the working schedule. Today marks the beginning of the end of my time teaching here and I know I shall miss the holidays, and not having to be in one place from 8-5. In previous times I have kept myself extremely busy, doing many types of work all over the city, on top of my regular contract.

 This has allowed me to experience much, much more than if I was stranded behind a desk all day, but it also is quite a lone-wolf profession in that I work by myself and seldom have opportunities to network on the job. For the next few weeks- and for the first time in a long time -I am only doing my regular job, Monday to Friday. My schedule is perfect for me to be able to study full time without it interrupting with my other activities. I currently only work in the evenings, therefore I can comfortably study in the morning and do things I want to do in the afternoon. Furthermore, I only live 2 minutes from where I work! actually its 1 minute 40 seconds from door to door, beat that for a commute!)    

In a vein hope to shake off my bad stomach (still feeling the milk 🙁 ), this afternoon I donned my shades (more to stop the dust than the sun) , picked up my camera and umbrella and spent the afternoon exploring. The weather today has been a little wet and windy -very much like the UK in April- most people here don’t like this kind of weather but I think its good to have rain once in a while, as it really does a good job of clearing the air.  Since I live in the centre of town (and I am easily amused) there is much to see.

There’s something about doing things on your own, be it at the market, the post-office, on the bus or any public place really, whereby other people are much more inclined to start up conversations with you.  I’m still trying to work out why this is, perhaps it is that most foreigners do things with others (friends, translators etc), though sometimes I get the vibe that people think that because I am doing something alone (and in a foreign country)  it means that I have no friends and need to be talked to!! :). 

When you are by yourself you are much more likely to be approached and get into converations with people – It has to be the best way of improving your conversational Chinese by far.  

 I’ve lost count the amount of times people have tried to help me,  wishing to offer assistance for something or other.  Sure, there are idiots (as there are in any country) that make stupid ‘haaallloooos‘ and those that swear and say bad things behind your back, but this is a tiny proportion and thses type of people can be avoided if you keep aware of your surroundings.

  A good example is the very old lady who stood behind me whilst I was taking a photo of a building being demolished.  She must have been about 4 foot tall and in her 80s, wearing a blue mao-style suit buttoned to the top.  She was looking at me very curiously and then rather surprisingly asked me what I was taking a picture of?  I told her that this was a good example of old and new contrasts and that in my country I can’t see this.  She seemingly understood and said the usual superlatives about my Chinese (this is nothing to do with my Chinese, which is no more than average for someone that has lived here for 2.5 years, it’s just that most Chinese here believe that for a foreigner to speak their language, however bad, is amazing – even more so for those that have never spoken to a foreigner before as I think this lady was.)

Whilst walking down a small hutong I decided that I visit the one of the hundreds of small  markets that are dotted all over Changchun and would try a bit of bargaining -since I haven’t done this for a while. Of course, as any foreigner that has travelled here knows, at times it is frustrating, but also I believe, rewarding.  When you’re Just trying to buy something, often a crowd of people stand around watching the you bargain, knowing full well that they are seeing what kind of price the laowai can get so they can try and come back later and get a cheaper deal! 😀    

Often if this happens I won’t buy the goods because the shopkeeper won’t lower the price to the amount I wish to pay (even tough he/she could) as lots of people are watching and giving away a decent bargained price is a little bit like giving away a state secret. 

I used to find bargaining incredibly annoying and chaotic, the ‘Why can’t he just tell me the price and I pay’ attitude.  For me now, there is no doubt in my mind that bargaining is a huge skill, something that can be used in other areas of life, yet it’s something that we don’t really have to think about in the west.

 Bargaining is like a vein that runs through the very fabric of Chinese society, someone once told me that, ‘in China everything is negotiable’ and that is probably true.

斯诺克 Snooker

In Changchun two years ago not many people had heard of snooker beyond a few hard-core fans.

snooker table

Many people would use the words 台球 taiqiu or 桌球 zhuoqiu (literally means table or desk ball, but really means pool) and others would call snooker 大台球 dataiqiu as the table is bigger than a pool table.

This is a good example of how an English word has been assimilated into Chinese, as it’s simply a phonetic translation from the English name .

Infact if you say ‘snooker‘ in Chinese, it sounds like saying the word with a chinese accent or trying to say the word when very drunk. So Sinuoke 斯诺克 , like qiaokeli 巧克力 (chocolate) bailandi 白兰地 (brandy) and many many others – especially names – has its roots in English. The reverse is also true for words such as: feng shui, chow mian, kung fu, tofu and the the phrase ‘long time no see’

I’ve spent many a time explaining that it’s a different game from pool and last week some of my students started to talk about it to me. They said that it’s popular TV sport but that not many people actually know how to play it, or know what it is beyond a name. I then explained the rules. There is no doubt that snooker is fast becoming popular in China, especially with young people and I’m willing to bet that the next generation of world champions will be from China.

Perhaps the biggest reason behind this is a Chinese player calledd 丁俊晖 dingjunhui who is the first half decent player from China to break into the professional game. The Chinese love sports superstars and it’s seen very much as a part of national pride and that is a good thing I think. Also for the first time (and to my delight) the world championships is being shown live on CCTV5. 🙂

Even in Changchun there are now quite a few new places where you can play not only pool but snooker as well. What put me off before was the smoke and the seedy atmosphere some associate with these places, but things have changed. Where I play there is no smoking and the cost is around the 10 yuan an hour mark, though it can be as little as 4 and as much as 50, depending upon where you play.


I leant this phrase yesterday 道貌岸然 dàomàoànrān. It means when someone says good things, but actually does something else. Literally meaning ‘looking sanctimonious’, On the outside one says they can do something but really this is a facade. On the inside they have no intention of doing so, of course it’s very difficult to know that these people are bad until you are In the bad situation yourself.

I’ve been trying to think of a good equlavant saying for this in English, maybe something like ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ but I can’t think of anything that is nearer, any Ideas?

I’ve experienced this phenomenon time and again right across different areas of life and I have developed a ‘radar’ that helps me sniff-out such things.

Regarding business related matters with people – I know this is cynical – but if someone is too nice to you at first, be suspicious. Look for the deeper reason behind ‘why is this person being so nice to me?’ ‘what do they want?’

99% of the time you can be sure its not just for the benefit of your health!

For me, the many dealings I had with Star Education and simliar like agencies further re-infoces this point. They will be very nice to you at first, promise the world, coax you in, then once you’ve signed up- bang 道貌岸然. My dealings with the good organisations here have been quite the opposite, business-like and straight forward, for they have no need to put on a show.