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The Man in China Archives
December 29, 2007 新年快乐 Happy New Year Everybody The Emperor Walks
Those of you who have been paying attention will no doubt have noticed that the background for many of the pictures on this site is my Beijing Opera robe (Scroll down to Jack and Jill's pictures if my point isn't clear). I bought this magnificent piece of costuming in Guangzhou two years ago, and it's become an essential part of our living room decor. But every once in a while it seems the emperor must climb down from our wall and walk among the living.
This happened on Halloween. As a result, the robe was noticed and tonight it appeared in a wonderful opera performance on stage in the Science Hall auditorium. Come to think of it, the Emperor should be home by now. I was promised that he would be returned before curfew this evening. I think it may be time to phone the students who borrowed it.
The Beijing Opera performance was excellent, as were the traditional instrument orchestra, the dancers, and all the other amazing displays of talent. This is such an interesting and exciting place to live and work.
December 26, Boxing Day - Money out in the Morning, Money in at Night.
陈 蓓 (chén bèi - Jill) and her boyfriend 尹 英杰 (yǐn yīng jié -Jack ) came by this evening to drop off 100 yuan, the addition they had promised to our bursary fund !!! What a delight to see them, and to know that there are young people like them in this world.
Jack is planning to spend a month at the Shaolin temple during the Spring break, studying traditional martial arts. Jill will head home to Yangzhou to spend time with her family. We're looking forward to seeing them both next term.
December 26, Boxing Day and our First Bursary Recipient
We had a wonderful Christmas Day dinner in a new restaurant on campus. Our thanks to the Jiangnan University administration for laying out such a feast. Everybody had a great time, and we even got in some Christmas carol singing, including making it all the way through "The Twelve Days of Christmas"
Dinner was followed by a decadent sherry and shortbread gathering of a few friends at our apartment, with GouGou feasting on a lamb bone I salvaged from our restaurant table. Happy dog. So another Christmas fades quietly into history and is already nothing but a pleasant memory. This morning, our first bursary recipient came by to pick up 300 yuan, which will pay the fee for an Oral English test and repay a loan from a friend. This is ahead of our announced and intended notification date of New Years Day, but there was a deadline on the test fee so we made an exception and committed a bit early.
December 26, 2007 Misunderstandings Caused by the Language Problem
One of my great fears here is that I will say something in class that will get misunderstood, misinterpreted, or taken as criticism of my host or host country. I received this email a couple of days ago:
Jeniffer responded with advice that I should watch what I say in class. Good advice, but not particularly helpful. Communication between languages and cultures is always perilous. No matter how careful I am with my words, they can always be misunderstood by a non-English speaker. It's impossible to stick to bland and harmless subjects in a class teaching news reading.
Merry Christmas Everybody
Yesterday, Ruth and I joined the wonderful Christmas concert program and performed a Chinese song for an audience of at least a thousand students and faculty. It was a delight to be part of such a professionally produced show, and though we had to wait until the end for our turn to perform, this was no hardship. All of the performances were wonderful.
This isn't why I'm calling this the best Christmas ever. I've had a couple of emails that have just made me feel so loved, it's hard to go public with all this emotion. Here's one from one of my Special Class for Non-English Majors students (I've removed the names because, though I don't mind a public life, I shouldn't impose it on others without permission):
So there you have it. Our bursary fund has gone from 4000 yuan to 4100. If anybody out there wants to follow the example set by these two students, you are welcome to contribute to our bursary fund. We're going to keep receipts, and will be able to give anybody who contributes a proper accounting of how money is spent.
That was one email that put a warm Christmas glow in my heart. The other was from my son, Casey. I had sent Casey some money by Interac bank transfer as a Christmas present. He declined to accept it, saying he'd like me to hang on to the money and use it to buy a plane ticket so that I could go sailing with him. I wrote back to say that I'd leave the money hanging for a while in case he changed his mind. Today I got this email from him:
See what I mean? The best Christmas ever.
December 21, 2007 We hope 2008 brings you joy beyond your wildest dreams.
getting a few applications for our bursary fund, though not as
many as I expected. Requests have ranged from a small amount of
money to purchase a blood pressure monitor for a student's father,
to larger sums to allow study in Shanghai during the Spring holiday.
Decisions will not be easy, but Ruth commented this evening that
this is giving us more pleasure than we ever could get by buying
each other Christmas presents we don't really want or need.
December 18, 2007 Christmas in China and a Bursary Offer
Last night we put up our little fake tree and strung our lights. I was flooded with memories of Christmases past; classic Dickensian childhood Christmas with my mother mixing the Christmas pudding, gifts from grandparents now long departed, Christmas with my own children, Christmas lights, midnight services, white Christmases and rainy Christmases, all coming to mind like a movie montage of fast dissolves.
Ah, the sweet pain of nostalgia.
Then we settled back with some Harvey's Sherry for me, some Bailey's for
Ruth, and some shortbread cookies for both of us to contemplate
the fast approach of our fourth Christmas together in China. A
comfortable contentment settled over us both.
I expect this will be rather painful to administer, but we do want to express our gratitude and thanks to China, to this university, and to the wonderful students here. So, please, feel free to apply if you are a Jiangnan University student. If there are a lot of applicants, four thousand yuan won't go very far. So you can expect to be turned down. But you never know. Applications will be kept confidential and successful applicants will not be publicly identified, so don't worry about embarrassing yourself or your family.
December 17, 2007 Life in China Tip Number 2
If you live in China, the chances are your apartment will have concrete walls. How do you hang anything, or attach anything to a concrete wall? Forget glues and tapes. They won't stick to the paint well enough, and if they do the paint won't stick to the wall well enough. Click here to find out how to deal with the problem.
December 17, 2007 Just Back from a Weekend in Shanghai
The entire campus had electricity shut down from five in the morning to five in the evening on Saturday and Sunday this weekend. It seemed like a good time to get out of town. So we left our friend Jenny in charge of apartment and dog, and took off for a weekend in Shanghai to visit former students from Weihai, Simon and Lü Min. They graduated from HIT in Weihai and now work in the big city.
Ruth waited in line at the campus ticket office to buy tickets on the 2:02pm fast train. We called Ms. Chen and arranged for her to pick us up at 12:45pm at our apartment. But she arrived at 12:00, just as we were serving our lunch, with another student who had a ticket for the 1:05 train. So I sent her off with a promise to return for us at one thirty. That would be cutting it a bit tight, but I figured we'd make it okay, provided Chen wasn't delayed in rush hour traffic. So we had an extra forty five minutes at home, and were waiting for Chen when she pulled up at our apartment gates at about twenty eight minutes past one. The ride to the train station was a bit tense, but we got there with five minutes to spare and made it to the platform before the train pulled in. Then it was another smooth as silk ride to Shanghai, arriving at three ten. From our apartment door to the Shanghai train station in less than two hours. Not bad.
Life in China Tip Number 1: Cabs
Waiting at Train Stations in China Overcharge
We had a great weekend with Simon and Lü Min. Saturday we spent in the ancient tourist market of Yu Yuan, Saturday night we took in a Chinese movie with English subtitles, and Sunday morning we paid a visit to the art gallery district. Shanghai sure has a lot of galleries and artists, with the full range of styles from realism to abstract, from what I call "lawyer's office art" to hard edged social statement. A feast for the eyes and an overload for the brain.
December 12, 2007 Party Tricks
I am both left handed and left
eyed. (To quickly and easily test your eye dominance,
click here.) I do just about
everything left handed, unless the tool or instrument makes that
difficult, in which case I am fairly ambidextrous. For
example, I play guitar right handed and have never had a problem
with Travis picking. But I shoot a rifle or pistol left handed
(which means that the shell casings from an automatic fly into my face),
use chopsticks left handed, and write with my left hand.
Now during our Chinese classes, I work with a pen in both hands. I write the Chinese characters with my right hand and the English with my left. If I can someday learn to do both at the same time, it will make a great party trick.
I already have a party trick of this kind - I eat peanuts with chopsticks in each hand, alternating to bring each peanut to my mouth. It looks pretty silly, but it got a good double-take from our waitress. Certainly not as impressive as simultaneous writing would be.
December 8, 2007 Here comes the 评委 (píng wěi - judge)
Once again we were invited to judge an English speaking contest, this one sponsored by the Bank of Communications for their employees. It is always amazing to us how well the Chinese have mastered English, and how much beauty and talent they can put into a show like this one. Most of the contestants were not English majors in university.
The speaking contest was an all day event. Thirty contestants in six teams, five contestants per team, took turns performing in five separate events - Cross Introduction (each introducing another member of their team), answering question to do with banking (they were all bank employees), "look and say" (they had one minute to prepare, and then talked about a picture with a couple of prompts), a team debate, and finally a team talent show which featured each contestant in turn. The planning, organization, and preparation rehearsal for this event was truly awe inspiring.
The toughest part of judging this kind of event is deciding who, among thirty amazing contestants, really is the best. We were thankful to be part of a panel of judges. It would be far too much responsibility for one or two foreigners to handle. In all it was a very enjoyable show, with a convivial group of interesting people, a delicious lunch, and a generous payment for our time. We felt honoured to be invited.
Since the Speaking Contest took us downtown we ended the day with a bit of wandering around the Wuxi core. Our favourite Wuxi Pai Gu (special Wuxi style ribs) restaurant was still closed for renovations, and I begin to wonder whether it will ever open again. But since it was the one day of the week when we allow ourselves to eat unhealthy food, we found the Ronnie's Australian Bar and had steak and kidney pie for dinner, washed down with Bacardi Breezers. It was too early for the usual bar patrons, so we were alone in the place and could get the angry screaming hard rock music turned off. A great end to a great day.
Special thanks to Elaine again for letting our puppy out for a mid-day bathroom break. We couldn't enjoy this kind of a day without the support of friends like her, and we appreciate it.
December 7, 2007
- foreigner) 饺子 (
- meat filled
Jiaozi are the ubiquitous national food of China. During the National Day holiday week the students invited us to one of the cafeterias to participate in a jiaozi making party, where we learned how to roll the dough for the shells. That lead to the decision to make jiaozi ourselves. From scratch. At home. With no Chinese supervision. This is really working without a safety net, but I searched out a jiaozi recipe for the filling, picked up all the ingredients at the village market, minced a couple of pounds of pork with the butcher knife while Ruth chopped cabbage, and mixed up the dough. We invited a few of our fellow teachers to come over and help us roll and fill the shells.
The dough is dead simple. Stir the salt into the flour. Add as much water as is necessary to form a smooth dough. Knead the dough until it is uniform and soft but not sticky. Form it into a ball and cover. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes. While the dough is resting, prepare the filling ingredients. Add the soy sauce, salt, sherry and white pepper to the meat. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
Divide the dough into 60 pieces. Roll each piece out into a circle about 3-inches in diameter. Place a small portion (about 1 level tablespoon) of the filling into the middle of a wrapper. Wet the edges with water. Fold the dough over the filling into a half moon shape and pinch the edges to seal.
To cook, bring a large pot of water to a boil and dump in the jiaozi. They will sink to the bottom. When they float, they are done, but I gave them a few extra minutes because, after all, we are talking pork here.
And the result? The waiguo ren jiaozi looked and tasted totally authentic. They certainly did disappear in a hurry once they were served. We declared our jiaozi party a complete success.
December 5, 2007 Maiden Voyage of 舟舟 (ZhōuZhou - Boatboat)
(舟舟 ZhōuZhou = Boatboat, a name to match with 狗狗 GǒuGou = Dogdog)
After Ruth's morning class we tossed the bag-o'-boat into the trike/truck and were off on an adventure: Destination GouGou's Island. As you can see from the picture below, I couldn't have planned a better match for the boat and the trike. Ruth's comment was that this is the American suburban cliché, the truck and the boat, China style.
Yesterday Ruth went on a scout and found our launch site, across the road from the number one teaching building parking lot. Easy access to both road and water.
December 3, 2007 My Ship Comes In
I've been telling the students that I bought a yacht (which gives me a great chance to expound on the silliness of a language that throws in extra letters with no associated sound) but that is a slight exaggeration. Okay, it's a big exaggeration. More correctly it would be called an inflatable dingy, the one pictured below to be exact.
purchase of this lovely little craft was arranged by my friend Thomas
Cupples, who has a direct connection to the factory in Weihai.
It cost me 2,380 RMB which is about $230 Canadian, and comes
complete with oars, foot pump, patch kit, floor boards,
seat, painter (rope for tying to the dock), two life jackets, and
carrying bag. The factory shipped it on Friday, last week,
and it arrived at ten this morning, Monday. The nice young
men from the postal service carried it right up our stairs and set it
down in our living room.
December 1, 2007 Thoughts on Language
In English we have words that seem to have been invented by a marketing department committee. Take the word "kaleidoscope" for example. What do the components of that word mean? Obviously "scope" is something you look through, like a microscope or a telescope. But "kaleido"? That sounds totally made up.
Here's what the net has to say about it: http://www.4physics.com/phy_demo/kaleidoscope/kaleidoscope-0.html
So there you have it. I sure do love the Internet. The word WAS totally made up for marketing purposes and, presumably because the toy was invented by a physicist, the new name was intended to sound scientific, hence the "scope" suffix.
Last week I discovered the Chinese word for kaleidoscope - 万花筒 (wàn huā tǒng) Which translates literally as "ten thousand flower tube". Now, isn't this a more evocative name than "kaleidoscope"?
Teaching English has made me pay a lot more attention to language,
both the Chinese and my own. Also this past week I bumped into the
verb phrase "fully fathom", and realized that this is from our
English island nation marine heritage. A fathom is a measure of
distance, specifically depth of water, equal to six feet (1.8288
If you fathom something, you
have come to appreciate its depth. Another hidden metaphor in our
Then, just last night during our Chinese lesson we bumped into another marine heritage relic, the word "leeway". The lee is the downwind side of a sailboat. If you have rocks to leeward, you have no room to maneuver or tack against the wind. But if you have leeway, you have discretionary freedom of movement, or as we now use the word as a metaphor, of choice.
November 29, 2007 Cross Cultural Flying Cows
When I was a child my father had a ready answer if one of us said something that sounded a bit farfetched or ridiculous. He'd respond with, "And another cow flew by" Imagine my delight when my friend 王汝龙 (Wang Ru Long) told me that there is a Chinese counterpart to this expression, used whenever somebody is bragging. One of the listeners might look up and ask "Why is the sky so dark?" Everybody will laugh because this is recognized as the first line of a poem:
I take a real pleasure in finding artifacts within the Chinese culture that resonate so strongly with my own.
November 22, 2007 Congratulations to Smile 含笑 (hán xiào )
November 20, 2007 A Sample of Student Writing from Dai Mingxiu
Every once in a while one of our student writes something that is impressive both for the use of language and for the emotional resonance it creates. Here's a sample from Ruth Anderson's writing class student, Dai Mingxiu. Excellent work. If I got this from a native speaker in a Canadian senior high school, it would still be worth an A+.
Ruth also ran an exercise in her oral class. The concept: Students invent an answer and then other students try to come up with a question that would give that answer. Today's best: Answer - There's absolutely no way I would ever let you do that. Click here for the question.
November 19, 2007 Comment on the Gay Marriage Posting of November 14
I received an email from a student this evening. The excerpt I've posted below was very disturbing:
I am both angry and shocked by this email. Here's my reply:
November 19, 2007 Why are the Waiguo Ren Here?
at dinner the other night, said "Teaching English in Asia is
today's version of the French Foreign Legion." It's taken me a
week to mull over this comment, but I can see her point. The
French Foreign Legion was the place a man could go when his heart was
broken, or when the law was demanding his head. It was
famous for attracting a mélange of misfits, losers, high minded
idealists and romantics.
Foreigners are treated with great courtesy in China, but I think
we have a mixed reputation. Too many of the young adventurers just
want to party hearty and meet Chinese girls. Too many of the older
adventurers are emotional washouts who just want to be allowed to drink
and smoke themselves to death in peace, and meet Chinese girls.
Of course the women who come here are a different story, but they
are a mixed bag as well. As a guest in this country, I try
to always remember that all foreigners are judged by my behavior.
Norman Bethune gave Canadians a great reputation in China. Let's
never sully it.
November 14, 2007 a Composition from Sherry
Sherry sent me this composition for my comments. I thought it was worth posting and would like to hear any comments on it. Please send comments to David Scott, themaninChina@gmail.com.
I'm proud of my country, Canada, for being a world leader in recognizing gay marriage. Now that I'm in China I can see that such legislation has influence far beyond Canadian borders.
I told Sherry that her number seems very small to me. I have read that as much as 10% of humanity may be homosexual, which would mean that China has as many as 130 million gays, not the 40 million she finds beyond her imagination. Also, I told her that I think recognizing 40 million homosexuals is a big improvement over a few years ago when, so I understand, the number of homosexuals in China was officially zero. This is one reason why it was a pleasant surprises for me when I came to China and found a high level of tolerance in the Chinese people and Chinese culture. China is not what we were lead to expect.
October 29, 2007 We're back from the outing to Huang Shan and Hong Cun
just back from a two and a half day all expense paid outing,
courtesy of Jiangnan University Department of Foreign Languages.
What an incredible weekend. Great food. Luxury accommodation
in a five star hotel. Breakfast buffet with coffee. Another
international heritage site and an ancient village that isn't in "The
Lonely Planet" guide. A lecture and demonstration at a tea factory.
Click here for all the pictures and the whole story, but here's a sample:
October 29 Congratulations to Sophia
This just in from Sophia. Great news. Competition for these events is always stiff and it makes us proud to have a part in a win. So congratulations to Ruth too.
October 24, 2007 and finally it's here.
At eleven o'clock this morning the UPS van showed up, delivering the birthday present I bought myself. It's two days late, and should have been four days early, but it's here and undamaged.
This box went from Scottsdale, Arizona to Toronto, Ontario to Anchorage, Alaska to Shanghai in less than 24 hours. It took over a week and the help of Cherry Cai in the foreign affairs office here to move it from Shanghai to Wuxi. That's a distance I can travel in an hour by train. But at least it's here. Cost of item: $1400 USD. Cost of shipping item: $500 USD. Customs fees to liberate birthday present from incarceration by the Chinese government: $160 (My sweetie covered most of this as a belated birthday present, saving me from the soup line until payday. Thanks, love.) . Was it worth it? Probably not unless you are me and wanting to remember your sixtieth birthday. To read the whole story click here.
October 22, 2007 Happy Birthday to Me. 大大卫 hits the big Six Oh
This is really impossible. I'm far to young to be this old. There must be some mistake. I'm sure I'm still in my early thirties. Since my birthday is on a teaching day, we were going to postpone the party until this coming weekend. Now we've learned that the school is laying on another excursion for us - three and a half days to visit Yellow Mountain and the ancient Hongcun Village - so the party will have to wait anther week.
Ruth took me out for a Pizza dinner at Pappy Johns, and for a short while it was like being home. Almost. We invited our driver, Ms. Chen, to join us for dinner. I couldn't prevent her from giving me the fare as a birthday present.
There is a whole drama unfolding around my birthday present to myself. As soon as it resolves, I will post the story. For now, Happy Birthday to Me.
October 20, 2007 a day on the waters of Taihu 太湖 and another English Corner
Another full day here at Jiangnan Daxue. The administration laid on a boat cruise for all the teachers, so we spent an absolutely glorious Fall day serenely gliding over the waters of Lake Tai. I got almost half of my English Writing class marking done in between forays ashore.
Then there was just enough time to grab a bite to eat before the English Corner at 6:30.
This time I was the only foreign guest so I got ALL the attention. Great fun. The wonderful thing about the English Corners is that they are organized by the students themselves, and the only students who show up are the ones who are most enthusiastic about improving their English. At this one there were several students who were not English majors and had never before talked with a real foreigner. It makes me feel very special to be the first foreigner they have ever met.
October 19, 2007 Chinese lessons in our home
Thanks to my young friend Simon, we finally we have a new Chinese teacher. William, a recent graduate in Chinese literature with certification for both teaching and Mandarin, will come to our apartment four days a week for an hour each day. It doesn't sound like a lot, but we see progress already.
William speaks very clearly and usually slowly, and he only uses English when we are obviously not understanding his Chinese. Just getting a good teacher feels like real progress.
October 19, 2007 I do hate losing. Trying not to sulk
Okay. "Global Warming Vacation", the only Chinese finalist in the Filminute festival, didn't win. And that is okay. If we had won, I'd be feeling that it was because of politics, promotion, and the numerical superiority of the Chinese population. The films that did win had either more emotional resonance for more people, or more effort put into the art. I'm still very proud of our work, and proud of the comments it generated, which you can see if you click on the Vote button below.
October 18,2007 an invitation to a Book Launch party
Sometimes it feels like there is so much going on here that I could spend all my time just updating this blog to keep up with it. Thursday night we were invited to a launch of a book about Wuxi. Another free dinner, this time at the Hoff Brau restaurant. Excellent German style buffet and even better beer. And then there was the entertainment, a group of singers from the Philippines with a selection of golden oldies. Life is tough when you are an "honoured guest".
October 9, 2007 student writing that makes me happy to be here.
I've edited these words a bit, but not the sentiment. Sometimes these kids can just grab your heart strings.
For some insight into what life is like for some of these students, Read the entire original.
October 8, 2007 summing up a great holiday.
We're back in Wuxi after the week off for the National Day holiday. High points of the holiday: a feast with my student George's family, and a day of sailing in Weihai.
Thomas and Marina sent us home with a roast duck from their favourite Korean restaurant. It came in a double clay pot, but we left that behind because we didn't want to take it on the airplane. This evening we shared the duck with Elaine who looked after our dog while we were away. Of course the duck was delicious, perfect for three people. What food we've found here. And what friends.
October 2, 2007 Students Bearing Gifts
Such sweethearts, my
students. Here's 尹英杰 (Yǐn yīngjié - Jack, one of the stars
of last terms video) and
Natalia Kuznetsova ,
a student visitng from Russia, who dropped in with belated
Teacher's Day gifts, a bar of Russian chocolate and a beautiful
I haven't acknowledged all student gifts on this site, so that's an embarrassing oversite (and a pun that my spell checker doesn't think is funny). We've received several packages of moon cakes to help us celebrate the mid-autumn festival, as well as some charming decorations for the apartment. The students seem to be constantly giving us signs of their appreciation, and we really do appreciate this. Now I'm afraid to start thanking those who deserve thanks, for fear of missing somebody. So, to those students who have not been publicly thanked on this site, you know who you are. We really do thank you for making us feel so welcome and valued.
October 1, 2007 旧的不去新的不来 jiùde bù qù xīnde bù lái
Friends in Canada sent us this
link to a slide show from a book about to be published,
photographs of the vanishing city of Shanghai.
to Weihai to visit friends on Wednesday, via a flight to Yantai.
Ruth bought the tickets online through Elong, but we are outside
the delivery area so needed a quick trip into town to pick them up.
Traffic around the train station was a horror show, but Ms. Chen,
one of our favourite drivers, finally found the address, 88 火车站路
(huǒ chē zhàn lù - Train Station Street). We walked confidently
into the obvious office, which was obviously a travel agency,
only to be directed next door and told to go to the third floor.
Next door turned out to be a hotel lobby, where the clerk mistook
our intention and tried to book us a room. After a few minutes we
cleared that up and repeated our request for directions to the Elong
ticket pickup office. Once she understood what we wanted, the
hotel desk clerk directed us back to the first office. There a
young lady volunteered to escort us to the third floor and the correct
office, via the hotel lobby elevator. Unfortunately,
the office workers on the third floor were unclear on the concept,
and began booking our tickets all over again. By this time we were
regretting telling Ms. Chen that we would only be a couple of minutes,
and regretting that we hadn't asked for specific address details and
perhaps a contact person. Time to get on the phone to the Elong office
and talk to the nice lady with the perfect English. Once in touch
with her, we gave my mobile phone to the third floor lady, who
carried on an interminable conversation with the Elong lady before
handing us back to our escort, who took us back downstairs to the
original office, where we found our tickets waiting for us.
ticket office adventure, we had Ms. Chen drive us to 梦之岛 (mèng zhī
dǎo Dream Island), the big electronics center, where I spent
an hour considering choices before buying a new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W90.
The Sony won out because it was the only point and shoot camera with a
response time that would catch Ruth mid-frame as she walked across the
room. With the others, I'd click and after a moment of black
I have a picture of the room but no Ruth.
Note the menu items on the wall of the stairway leading to where the restaurant used to be. I'm not sure why I find this so evocative, but I do. Maybe because it reminds me that people actually walked up those stairs, with a destination, and lived where only the floors and walls now outline the spaces.
My homepage is starting to load too slowly, so I've finally had to split off some of this blog. If you are interested, there's some pretty good stuff in the archives. I'm particularly happy with the double language puns you'll find there. It so much fun to find a pun that only works if you speak both Chinese and English.