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Hey Foreigners, Check Out The Apartment I Have for Rent

Posted: 11/12/2014 3:17 pm

Luxurious and modern 120 sq. meter two-bedroom apartment with new furniture available for rent in a major Mainland Chinese city. If you would like to view the apartment, here is what you can expect to see if you contact me for a tour:

Furniture is new and tasteless. Also possibly toxic, judging from the strong, headache-inducing chemical odor that fills several rooms of the apartment. I chose all the furniture myself and like to pretend it is expensive and high-quality, as I will remind you every 90 seconds if you come view the apartment.

Living room has a couch that is meant to look like a large banana or watermelon slice, like you’d see on a children’s TV show. During a tour, I will present this to you with a straight face, and say it is expensive and high-quality. A massive, multi-colored glass and plastic chandelier hangs from the ceiling. If you are slightly above average height, watch your head.

There is a large oak entertainment center in the living room that was built to hold a 4×3 television. However the television is a 32-inch Skyworth non-HD model that sits on a coffee table pushed up against the windows. It gets about 50 provincial channels, all with varying levels of static and over-modulated sound. The remote control is well-used but still wrapped in plastic from the factory. If you want cable television, all you have to do is call “my friend” who can install it for you illegally, by climbing around on the outside of the 19th-floor balcony without safety gear of any kind. If he falls and dies, it’s your fault. If he lives, he will give me some of the money you pay him because that’s the deal we have.

The living room has floor-to-ceiling windows which offer a striking view of the adjacent apartment building, located just ten meters away.

The kitchen is small and narrow and can uncomfortably fit one person. It is fully equipped with running water. There are two temperatures, cold and scalding, and nothing in between. In the cupboards there are two plates and a fork the previous tenants left. The cupboards also feature cockroach traps.

The refrigerator is in the living room.

Both bedrooms have gigantic king-size beds that fill the entire room and leave room for little else. Although the beds are too large for the space, it is still possible to move around the edges of the room if you shuffle along the wall with your body turned sideways. The master bedroom also has a closet with no drawers or shelves, like a coffin leaned up against the wall vertically.

There is a large bathroom that feels very small because it is packed with both a free-standing bathtub and a separate shower stall, a sink, and a washing machine that does not work. The toilet has no water pressure and does not handle solids very well. A single square of toilet paper can clog it.

There are three more bathrooms located outside the apartment and down the hallway — they are labelled “elevators.” These public restrooms are mainly used by the building’s children and small dogs. They are also a good place to throw trash. In addition, they provide transportation between floors. Smoking is allowed in the elevator-restrooms.

The apartment complex has a courtyard where unfriendly, suspicious old people will congregate during the day. In the courtyard there are bathrooms everywhere — as in, children and small dogs go to the bathroom everywhere. Security is provided by what appears to be uniformed teenagers. These guard-thieves will be particularly watchful and interested when they see you catching a taxi to the airport with suitcases.

One thing you should know: I am not the actual owner of the apartment, but rather a “friend” of the corrupt, government-connected landlord. Normally I only divulge this information very reluctantly at the last minute, in a roundabout way, if you press me over why my ID copy doesn’t match the home ownership papers, or why I signed the contract with someone else’s name. The real estate agent will help me assure you that this is “very normal” and “no problem.”

Rent: RMB 23,000 / month


Chinese Toddler’s Crotchless Pants So Shocking in America That Woman Calls Police

Posted: 11/6/2014 9:05 am

A kid wearing open-seat pants on the street in China

Yes, a pair of crotchless pants, also known as ‘open-seat pants’ that have a split in the crotch for toddlers, has become a contentious issue in the United States.

The sight of a toddler wearing them in Monterey Park, California was so shocking to some American onlookers that one American woman reported the run-in to the local police.

When police arrived and learned that the onesie is mainly to used to enable kids to answer nature’s calls easier and faster, the newspaper wrote that “the police couldn’t just believe what they hear.” However, when reached by a Chinese media outlet, the local police authority said they have yet to confirm the authenticity of the report.

The pants, which are ubiquitous in China, remain contentious even here, Nanfang Net reported. The anti open-crotch pants camp argues that the exposure is unhygienic and makes the child vulnerable to accidents such as boiling water and sharp knives.

One commentator named Daniel wrote, “wearing open-seat pants will indulge the kids to do their business anytime and anywhere they want.” Others argued that this outfit might draw pedophiles. Another commenter said, “there are so many perverts out there. Once the kids get hurt, you won’t even have time to cry.”

Those who are defensive about the look link it to Chinese culture (though our own research can’t find any particular cultural connection) and threw barbs at “narrow-minded” Americans. A user called Eternal commented, “For those who run naked for some holidays, what grounds you have to criticise us? Open-seat pants are a part of Chinese culture. What the heck do you know?”

Others even argued from an environmental point of view. 知雨 wrote, “wearing open-seat pants spared the use of so many pampers. (Do you know) how much waste we managed to save? Support tradition.”

Photos: Chaos taipei, Zhihuimami


It’s Getting a Lot Harder to Stream Western TV Shows in China

Posted: 09/4/2014 6:45 pm

The Big “Banned” Theory

After yanking four popular American TV series – The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, NCIS and The Practice - from China’s video-streaming websites in April, the country is now set to put even tighter controls on foreign TV shows available on the Internet, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the new policy.

The new policy would allow Chinese media regulators to limit the number of foreign TV shows to no more than 30 percent of content on China’s video-streaming websites such as Sohu, Youku, Tudou and Iqiyi. It did not say whether the 30 percent cap referred to the number of TV shows or TV episodes.

China’s media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, said that foreign TV shows currently account for more than 50 percent of TV content on Youkou and Tudou alone.

An executive at one of the Chinese video-steaming websites told the newspaper that the regulating agency has been collecting data about foreign TV shows from the websites for quite a while to study the new policy.

The motives behind the new regulation aren’t immediately clear, but executives at some of the websites told the Wall Street Journal that the cap would help cool the bidding for licensing foreign TV shows. Last year, licensing foreign and domestic shows cost the websites RMB 4.2 billion ($683 million), up from RMB 3.2 billion in 2012 and RMB 300 million in 2007, according to figures released by EntGroup.

Before the popular comedy sitcom The Big Bang Theory was pulled from Sohu TV, it was watched by 120 million viewers a month over 1.4 billion times, roughly around the country’s total population.

While China’s own state television CCTV was broadcasting Game of Thrones, a sexually graphic TV show, and even Walking Dead, filled with violent and bloody scenes survived the censorship, the choice to ban those four American TV shows in particular was baffling to a lot of viewers. 

The country’s media regulator vaguely explained that the four shows may have violated Clause 16 of the country’s online broadcasting rules, which “prohibits pornography, violence, and content that violates China’s constitution, endangers the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, provokes troubles in society, promotes illegal religion and triggers ethnic hatred,” the New Yorker wrote.

There were also rumors that the reason The Big Bang Theory was banned was because CCTV is looking to broadcast the show on Channel 8 after the translation work is done, Beijing News reported.

We don’t know which of your favourite foreign TV shows will be next in line to be axed, but one thing is clear: sooner or later, the country’s media regulator is going to get them.

Photos: The Blot Magazine; Qianjiang Evening News 


Life as A Lyrical Linguist in China

Posted: 08/12/2014 9:04 am

This article was originally published in ITI Bulletin, the journal of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting ( in the UK. Reproduced with permission.

Most people write poetry or lyrics during their teenage years. Then
most people grow up, get proper jobs and stop. Most people don’t go so far astray as to write and record satirical songs in Chinese.

I had no interest in China until after graduating from university and am about as unlike a professional performer as it is possible to get. But after coming to China in May 2007, I was constantly experimenting with ways of learning the language.

One of these was memorising the lyrics to pop songs, karaoke being among the most popular forms of entertainment in the People’s Republic. In November 2008 I started writing my own stuff, but not until 2012 did I start writing the kinds of Chinese songs that won people’s attention.

While trying to remember that telling stories is more effective than climbing on a soapbox or pulpit, my Chinese lyrics over the past two years have touched upon social issues such as nude photo scandals, food safety and kept women. Admittedly, some are flat-out offensive.

One song, “I hate Hunan the least”, lambasts a different province of China in every line and then ends each verse by saying ‘I hate Hunan Province the least’. Another, to the tune of a rousing patriotic anthem, is titled: “China, China, at least It’s Not India!

There seem to be two main ways of getting away with this. The first is to realise that, even in this type of comedy, there is a line. Respecting this line is not so much a matter of towing the line politically, but of knowing that some issues are too sensitive to get a laugh. Taiwan, terrorism and Tiananmen Square are off limits, at least until I am skilled enough to make them funny.

One English song I wrote entitled “Billy” is about a man who thinks that the key to having an abundant sex life is to lower his standards. In China, it is not common to brag about having one-night stands, so the Chinese transposition of this song is about a woman who decides that the way to avoid being left on the shelf is to lower her standards as far as possible.

There is considerable social stigma in China to being a ‘leftover woman’, that is, a woman who is still single after the age of 27. The recently published book “Leftover Women: the Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China” by sociologist Leta Hong Fincher has illustrated the seriousness of this issue, and the lengths that powerful institutions like the Xinhua state news agency have gone to perpetuate this misogyny. In hindsight, I could have handled the issue with more sensitivity and thus been funnier.

The second way to get away with satirising one’s host country is to make oneself at least 70% the butt of the joke. My songs and their videos may make China look bad, but they make their author look a lot worse. Good comedians are often unthreatening neurotics (think Woody Allen). Bad comedians are often smug bullies (think the typical office politics scenario).

The biggest criticism my lyrics come in for is not that they are offensive. It is that they are “肤浅”, which roughly translates as ‘shallow’. In traditional China, a person would take decades to master poetic form, and self-expression in poetry would disappear under a strict schematic pattern. A traditional Chinese lyric will have a rigorous rhyme scheme, under which a world of unspoken emotions is buried. The same cannot be said of my work.

Comedy, particularly satire, tends not to stand the test of time. Some lyrics I wrote 18 months ago already need tweaking because references are outdated. Some issues I sing about will hopefully be irrelevant ten years from now.

Aside from the politics of being a foreigner in China, musical comedy is one of the riskiest forms of entertainment. If a song doesn’t go down well, three minutes is an unacceptably long time for any comedian to go without a laugh. Fortunately, the successful performances have greatly outnumbered the unsuccessful ones.

However, adulation or lack of it is not the point. The point is, we translators go to all this trouble to learn languages, but most of the working opportunities that come our way involve technical copy or business environments when we can’t be ourselves. These lyrics allow an opportunity to win attention while saying something cheeky about my host country. Plus, they are an excuse to continue writing lyrics long after most people have grown out of doing any such thing.


Henan Stages Anti-Japanese Skit to Mark Anniversary of Marco Polo Bridge Incident

Posted: 07/8/2014 12:52 pm

Tensions between China and Japan continue to run high thanks to the dispute over the Senkaku/Dioayu islands, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, and Japan’s latest attempt to revise its anti-war constitution to give it more freedom to engage in military activities when its allies are under attack.

To express their distaste for all things Japanese, women dressed as Chinese soldiers staged a skit on July 7, which marked the 77th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge incident, which kicked off Japan’s invasion of China.

Women wielded their weapons at a pudgy-looking man playing a Japanese solider in Laojun Mountain in Henan Province. The Japanese soldier happened to have a toothbrush moustache inconspicuously placed on top of his upper lip. This facial feature has become a trademark for any Japanese soldier depicted in China’s patriotic anti-Japanese films and TV dramas.


The Japanese stand-in knelt in front of a giant golden statue of Lao Zi, founder of Taoism, and confessed his crimes that included murder, arson, poisoning, and rape. He was also seen “learning to write the Chinese character ren (meaning “human” in English)”, the Guangming reported. The character ren (人) only consists of two strokes, and the newspaper went on to say “it contains profound wisdom of how to be a human”, hinting that the Japanese seem to have failed to comprehend it.

The central government is promoting other campaigns to mark the anniversary, and Xi Jinping has commemorated the event. Dancing grannies in Beijing have even incorporated Japanese-bashing into their dance routines.

anti japan dancing grannies

Most online comments criticized the Henan skit. It was mainly labelled as a ludicrous “travesty“. One Weibo user wrote: “Somewhere, (people) are using their own countrymen to portray a ‘Japanese bastard’ in a movie-style to promote anti-Japanese education. When commemoration becomes a travesty, it is a real distortion of that grim episode of history”.

Photos:, Weibo


Japanese Executive Besieged in Dongguan over Pro-Japan Remarks

Posted: 07/1/2014 6:51 pm

The Japanese president of the Dongguan-based Chang’an automobile factory is trapped in a conference meeting room as more than 1,000 Chinese workers gathered outside to demand an apology over his remarks brushing off the Japanese invasion of China during World War II.

The Japanese executive was on a visit to the factory this morning (July 1) and told several executives in a meeting that Japan did not invade China during the war, but emancipated China from American colonialism, Guangming reported on July 1.

The remarks immediately drew a reaction from a Chinese executive named Zhang Hongquan, and quickly stirred up anger among other executives. By 11:30 am, about 1,000 employees gathered to tell the Japanese boss exactly how they felt about this remarks.

Apparently, the executive has offered to apologise.

Photos: Guangming 


Slick New App Gives You Pollution Data With a Bit of Attitude

Posted: 05/21/2014 5:40 pm

In most parts of the world, people check the weather before they go outside. That may happen in China too, but the more important question is, “What is today’s PM2.5?”

The fact we even know what that means is a sad commentary on the times we live in. While most of us (though not all) have clearly made peace with China’s lung-blackening pollution levels, we still want to know when it makes more sense to watch a movie rather than go for a run. To help with that, a slick new iOS app called Airpocalypse has been released detailing pollution levels in 16 Chinese cities, including Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong (Zhuhai clearly not needing it).

There are many apps out there already, but this one adds the current temperature, forecast and the pollution report, and does it all with a bit of ‘tude. The app’s slogan? “The air in China sucks. We hate it too.”

You can download it here (iOS only at this point). Check out the screenshots below.


In Praise of…Teaching English in China

Posted: 04/2/2014 10:05 am

While the Chinese word for teacher “老师” (laoshi) is an antiquated term full of respectful connotations, the word for foreign teacher “外教” (waijiao) is a recent addition to the language. This little piece of linguistic apartheid says much about what website Middle Kingdom Life (MKL) called the “de-professionalised” status most expats have when they come to China to teach.

Such blogs as Beijing Kids, Chinasmack, and Shards of China have all discussed the problem of unqualified foreigners working as English teachers due to poor quality control. So lax is the regulation and so great the demand for white faces to teach English that it emerged last year that two foreigners linked to child sex scandals in their home countries had been teaching in China for years.

Those are extreme examples, yet beg the question why so many people travel so far to take such an oft-criticised job? Firstly, in being relatively low on status and pay and relatively high on work/life balance, it is the opposite of more traditional careers and involves advantages that they don’t.

The opposite of investment banking

Because the pressure to excel tends not to be high, the amount of free time provided enables foreign teachers to pursue hobbies and side projects with the kind of dedication that wouldn’t be possible for people with more demanding jobs.

Plenty of foreign teachers have done interesting, worthwhile things such as travel and voluntary work, one prime example is Guangzhou’s own Albert Wolfe. Plenty of others have used the time to learn valuable skills like Mandarin that have boosted their employability and led to successful careers, not to mention giving them more stories to tell than a person who had a more conventional career trajectory.

But all this talk about self-improvement takes away from something even more fundamental – job satisfaction. Although decidedly falling down on the negative side of the fence, MKL acknowledges that the job can be hugely rewarding. “Those who have a healthy degree of self-esteem to begin with — and do not require recognition and approval from their superiors — are able to find enormous satisfaction from the appreciation of their students and so they stay year after year,” one of the site’s editors writes.

For me, keeping in touch with students, some of whom I haven’t seen since 2007, has been the most helpful way of learning about China and the unique path it is on. For New Yorker correspondent Peter Hessler, it provided the bulk of the material for his second book, “Oracle Bones.”

The dead-end question

Since moving to China I have come to dislike the Eagles song “Hotel California.” This is partly because of its ubiquitousness and partly because the line “You can never leave” is an unwanted reminder of the situation of so many expats, particularly teachers.

Investment bankers do have to work hard, but once they’ve established themselves, the pay does increase and the hours do decrease. The lack of room for career advancement and sparsity of opportunities to lay down roots is a worrying thing for English teachers in the middle kingdom.

But school teachers and career advisers often neglect to mention that some people just weren’t meant to have a normal life. As Scottish academic Alastair MacIntosh wrote in his memoir/polemic “Soil and Soul,” the mainstream manufactures people as a monoculture. “It turns us out like cloned rows of apple trees on pesticide-manicured fields. The mainstream ‘trains’ people by pruning. It forces growth in standardised ways. The song that we sing from within the mainstream is thereby not our own song,” hymns Macintosh.

The song I find captures the spirit of people coming to China to teach English in a much more pleasing way is that sung by Tex Ritter for the 1956 Western “The Searchers.” I particularly like the way it begins by asking “What makes a man to wander? What makes a man to roam?” then declines to answer its own questions, simply howling “ride away” in the chorus.

Why it’s right for some people

One of the tools that education is supposed to provide is the knowledge that there are myriad ways of finding meaning and identity in the world. Even some career teachers may find teaching English in China to be right for them as it simply involves teaching. It is very rare for a foreign teacher in China to have to deal with parents nights or office politics, as there are few office hours and extremely high turnover anyway.

This blog post “How to Find Your Dream Job” offers a viewpoint that the English teacher-bashers might find repulsive but many English teachers might relate to. “You won’t get promoted, which is a good thing. Promotion means more responsibility, more out-of-work stress. It also means more money, but you’ll end up spending most of that on travel, junk food (you’ll have less and less free time to prepare real food), medicine for when you get ill from junk food or increased stress, and entertainment and drugs to numb the emptiness that defines how you earn your food tokens,” argues Dan Bartlett.

And lastly, as one English teacher stated on a Shenzhen forum in 2011, if you disrespect teachers all that much, there’s a period of China’s history in which you would have fit right in.


Shenzhen weekend: open mics, British poets, house music, and learn improv

Posted: 02/27/2014 3:07 pm

The week’s coming to an end so now’s the time to start planning your weekend:

Feb. 27th – Thursday Frisbee Throwing Training by the SZUPA – Join the SZUPA Thursdays if you’d like to learn the basics of throwing and catching a frisbee.

Feb. 27th - Open Mic Night @ Raps – One of the liveliest open mics in town that runs late into the night. Great for blowing off some steam.

Feb. 28th - Open Mic Night @ XPATS – Open Mic is every Friday at XPATS. Come enjoy a beer, and keep drinking those beers till you have the courage to go up to perform.

Feb. 28th – Performance by DRAM @ XPATS – British Folk Funk Rock Poets DRAM return to expats for another fun performance.

Feb. 28th – AfterGlow @ Atmosphere presented by White Cat – Live Standup comedy is back and in Futian. Voted the best entertainment in Hong Kong and a hit here in Shenzhen, too.

Mar. 1st - Improv Comedy Workshop – Play some games and learn some acting skills from some aspiring improv comedians.

Mar. 2nd - Ultimate Frisbee in Futian! Sunday Pickup 12:30PM @ Bianfang – The SZUPA meet every Sunday to play Ultimate Frisbee. This week we will meet 12:30PM at the Bianfang football pitches. Afterwards we’ll have food and drinks together at Frankies American Bar.

If you attend any of these events, please email me at [email protected] and we may include some of your reviews in a future post. Let’s keep your event organizers working to provide better and better events!

(Editor’s Note: We’re looking for dining and nightlife writers in Guangzhou and Dongguan. If you’re interested, please get in touch with us at [email protected])


Smoking rules get tough in Shenzhen

Posted: 02/14/2014 11:11 am

Shenzhen is starting to take the lead in restricting smoking in public places. The city has released a list of venues where smoking will be completely banned starting in March, according to Xinhua.

According to a notice issued by Shenzhen Health and Family Planning Commission, smoking will be banned in all public government offices, meeting rooms of state organs, nurseries, kindergartens, schools, hospitals, libraries, archives, exhibition halls, science and technological museums, art galleries and other exhibition places, theatres, cinemas, parks, banks, shopping malls, hotels, restaurant, elevators (finally!) and exhibition centres.

While it might seem like common sense to ban smoking in places like kindergartens and nurseries, Shenzhen does plan to take this a step further in the future. The regulations point out that smoking will be “limited” in other venues such as bars and cafés, but not until 2016.

Home page photo credit: The Guardian

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