The Nanfang / Blog

PRD People: Musician and Expat Website Troll The Fred Fong

Posted: 09/5/2014 5:46 pm

Since January when the Nanfang posted his song “Super English Teacher,” The Fred (who also posts under the name of “Fred Fong”) has been one the best known trolls in the China-watching blogosphere. He is mostly known for his cheeky songs that rag on aspects of life in China (mostly foreign English teachers) and his provocative comments on websites such as Shanghaiist, Chinasmack and the Asia Stuff Media websites where he has been a fixture for years.

This is him

He has kindly taken the time to talk to The Nanfang about his career in business, life as a musician in China, why he considers himself superior to English teachers and how he is a “compulsive masturbator.”

The Nanfang: You are a regular in the comments sections of most major English-language websites that focus on China, known as both The Fred and The Fred Fong. You are quite a mysterious man, tell us about yourself.

The Fred: I’ve been coming to China since 1995 and find it fascinating. I’m very inquisitive about Chinese culture and history. Since selling my business in America in 2006, I’ve lived full time in China.

Having a challenge in life is important to me and trying to understand the Chinese puzzle is a challenge because several of the pieces are missing. I’ve started a couple of businesses here and recently sold one of them. I’ve always been self-employed and enjoy a challenge. Now I can relax a bit and write music until another opportunity comes along.

The Nanfang: You’re a long-term China expat, what’s Shenzhen got going for it?

The Fred: I travel between Shenzhen and Shanghai. All cities have their advantages and disadvantages. I’m comfortable and can enjoy myself wherever I happen to be at the time.

The Nanfang: Is Shenzhen’s live music scene any good? If not, why do you choose to live there?

The Fred: I play live music throughout China and the biggest problems is finding capable musicians to write and collaborate with. The other problem is finding venues that encourage original music.

I enjoy playing improvisational jazz/rock or “world” music as some people call it. A majority of the foreigners that come to China that are musicians aren’t very talented and can only play cover/copy music. A majority of Chinese don’t have any sense of rhythm and can’t play impov music because it means you must play spontaneous and creatively in an unstructered yet structured format.

Improvisation is the most satisfying form of live music and when you have capable musicians communicating and interacting together it becomes magical and very satisfying.

The Nanfang: You are something of a China basher in many of your comments.

The Fred: There is no “good or bad” place to live in my opinion. I can adapt to just about any environment, but China is stimulating. China inspires and confuses me daily and I’m pushed to respond to life experiences in some type of expressive way. If people find my comments offensive I apologize. My comments are made for the purpose of provoking thought and debate. Same with my music. Cover-band music and boring comments are not my cup of tea

The Nanfang: You have at least four songs that bash English teachers. Are they the real villains of today’s society?

The Fred: Not really villains, just easy targets. It’s the only group I can insult and joke about without being accused of being a racist or hating women. Its fun to laugh at those that are low on the social and mental spectrum.

The Nanfang: You repeatedly mock English teachers as not being very clean living (e.g. frequenting brothels), are you superior on this count?

The Fred: Yes…I am superior to your average foreign English teacher in China. Generally speaking, most non-English teachers are far superior to your average unqualified, low IQ foreign English teacher that stumbled into China.

The Fred with his guitar

The Nanfang: Do you intend to turn your attention to some other things in China that ought to be satirized?

The Fred: I’m a fan of common sense and when I see irony or a lack of common sense my mind takes note and before I know it a song is written. I can’t write about love or little apples. Common things are quickly deleted from my thoughts. My Songs about English teachers also subtly comment on how Chinese are willing to pay a foreigner that has never taught before a salary far higher than what a qualified Chinese person would get. Chinese not respecting their fellow Chinese is very disturbing to me and it manifests itself through the English teacher scenario…kapow! A new song is written.

The Nanfang: Some of your most popular songs are just flat out silly rather than satirical (“Big Chinese Dick”, “Boycott Bukkake”, etc…). Are you at heart an angry social critic or just an impish jokester?

The Fred: I’m willing to admit something that most artists aren’t willing to admit. I’m a compulsive masturbator…in an artistic sense. I write and record music and make videos for my own selfish enjoyment. For whatever reason…I guess…I’m a big jackoff…and no one can stop me.

The Fred’s latest song, “English Teacher Autopsy”, can be heard here.


Weekend Gallery: English Grammar Tree

Posted: 06/8/2014 10:40 am

English grammar tree As English teachers, we try our best to guide our students and improve their English. However, we can’t visualize what is going through the head of an English student when he or she is speaking English… unless, of course, the student is trying to envision a English grammar tree.

These diagrams have been kicking around QQ boards and the Chinese interwebs for years already, and we thought you’d enjoy seeing another perspective on English learning in China.

If these diagrams are confusing to you because you lack Chinese reading skills, well, they are just as mystifying to a majority of Chinese commentators:

Reading this made me dizzy! I’d rather just learn by rote memorization[picknose.emo]

Completely don’t understand this, does learning English require such lengths? Learning a new language is based on a feeling…

It’s very long, I didn’t read my way to the end[smilingwave.emo]

Really, I don’t have the patience.[dizzy.emo]

I get dizzy the more I look at this[barf.emo]

English grammar treeWhile this looks like a “handy” memorization cheat sheet, it is actually the opposite: a dynamic flow chart to allow someone to quickly navigate English grammar and tenses on the fly—if these diagrams can fit into your pocket, that is, or you can put them onto your iPad..

Guangzhou Daily described the diagrams as so:

Actually, [learning] English is just like this — Learning by rote is not as efficient as using it directly to easily learn and understand English grammar as seen in these English grammar tree diagrams. It’s been said that once anyone finishes reading this diagram, their English will improve…

Many native English speakers didn’t learn English by rote, but instead learned as the result of an adaptive process by which assimilation into a culture was reinforced by daily correcting and testing. If that proves to be outside the limits of your average IELTS applicant, well, there’s always the route of rote memorization.

As an English teacher, you should bear in mind: always see the forest for the trees.

English grammar treeEnglish grammar treeEnglish grammar treeEnglish grammar tree English grammar treeEnglish grammar treePhotos: Guangzhou Daily via Weibo


Chinese Meme “No Zuo No Die” Laughs in the Face of Reason

Posted: 05/21/2014 7:44 pm

no zuo no dieThe culmination of decades of English language training in China has brought us to this point: a massive online meme that can be appreciated by Chinese English students, and only by Chinese English students.

No zuo no die” is a meme on the Chinese internet that only gets better as it continues to make less sense. Originally a Chinese phrase that meant “If you don’t look for trouble, you won’t find any”, the phrase was half-translated over to Chinglish where it retained one of its Chinese characters in pinyin.

Then, things could only get funnier in the same way a deceased horse can be slightly bruised in a variety of fashions..

urban dictionary chinese internet slang entries cultural validationA media buzz surfaced when several Chinese phrases were published in the Urban Dictionary. Online media saw the admission of “no zuo no die” along with “you can you up, no can no bb” and “zhuangbility” as “deserving of applause” for having “invaded a US online dictionary”. Even the People’s Daily boldly said, ”English speakers may soon be saying “you can you up, no can no bb” in response to criticism.”

Are you ready for “no zuo no die”? Because it’s ready for you.

The latest transformation of this meme is into a set of English lyrics that can be sung with a bunch of songs and TV show themes that include “Doramon”, “Sparkling Red Star”, “The Little Girl Who Picked Mushrooms”, “Only Mother Knows Best”, “The Most Dazzling Ethnic Customs”, “I Love Beijing Tiananmen”, and the Mozart hit “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.

The English lyrics go like this:

No zuo no die, why you try
No try, no high, give me five
Why try, why high, can be shine
You shine, you cry, you still go die
No zuo no die, don’t be shy
You shy, you die, you can try
Keep try, keep shine, love that guy
But he only say good night

Whaaa? Still don’t know what to make of these English words of which you are a fluent speaker? Here’s a video using the above lyrics to sing a variety of TV show themes:

Take a bow, English teachers of China: your hard work forging the minds of tomorrow has all come to this point.

Photo: Meilishuo


In praise of…The Mandarin bum

Posted: 04/16/2014 11:00 am

There is Phil from the United States who has the very Chinese affliction of clinking glasses with you every time he takes a sip of booze, which is alarmingly frequent. There is Barry from South Africa who is a black belt in several martial arts and has his hair done up in a Qing Dynasty-style queue. There is also Sam from Canada who came to China in 1999 and for most of the next 14 years would work in Shenzhen without the right visa.

These men have two things in common. They speak fluent Mandarin and they are not professionals. They are examples of what is known in some circles as “The Mandarin bum”. They have spent the bulk of their working lives in the notoriously unstable position of teaching English in China. They are the antithesis of those on corporate packages who live in an “expat bubble”.

Do these English teachers warrant the label of “loser” that is often attached to expats who fail to carve out a professional career? Well, the “loser” is a concept that is particular to modern urban culture in which the value of a person is measured not by what they bring to the local community, but by the amount of wealth and status they acquire. By this measure, the migrant workers on whose labour China’s economic miracle has been built are also losers.

More important than usefulness

Novelist Alan Garner said in his book of lectures and essays “The Voice That Thunders” that nowadays we learn languages for the wrong reasons. We learn German not to see into the heart of Goethe, but to book a hotel room in Berlin.

Poet Matthew Arnold, who was the son of a headmaster of the famous Rugby School, said education should be about studying the best things that have ever been written and said. He lived in Britain during a time when elite education revolved around Latin and Ancient Greek. This also happens to be the time when Britain ruled the world, but that’s beside the point.

There are plenty of reasons why learning Mandarin makes you a smarter and more interesting person. Reading Chinese aloud activates far more widespread networks of the right hemisphere of the brain than English, probably because of the subtlety of both visual and tonal demands by Chinese, according to Ian McGilchrist’s “The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.”

The pictorial writing system means the language wears its etymology on its sleeve in a way European languages don’t. For example, the character for man – “男” is a picture of an east-Asian field on top of a sickle, which is a symbol of strength. This most likely symbolizes the belief that the societal role of men is to offer strength in the field. The character for woman – “女” appears to be a picture of a demure woman curtsying or crossing her legs. The language is misogynistic as hell, but at least it lets you know.

Moreover, mastery of this language gives learners access to one of the world’s great cultures. It is the culture of the four great novels, Tang Dynasty poetry, The Tao Te Ching, and great scholars of more recent history such as Hu Shi and Lin Yutang.

It is also the culture that gave us the Sui Dynasty poem that goes “In books there is always a golden house. In books, there is always a beautiful woman.” Admittedly, just about every graduate in China is learning that real life is not poetry and it takes more than book smarts to earn enough to buy any house, let alone a golden one. But education is, lest we forget, about learning the greatest things that have ever been written and said.

Why Mandarin is probably not that useful

Will Mandarin ever be a global language? Going to Yangshuo and listening to Russian tourists communicate with Chinese locals in broken English is a reminder that it will take some time before English is supplanted as the lingua franca. In fact, a study by French investment bank Natixis last month concluded that French could be the most spoken language in the world by 2050, leaving both English and Mandarin lagging.

Maybe East Asian languages just weren’t meant to go global. According to linguist Claude Hagege, writing developed in Europe and the Middle East for the purpose of controlling crops, herds, and people. Writing in China did not appear to develop with the same ominous, utilitarian agenda. “The origin of Chinese writing appears to have been magicoreligious and divinatory rather than economic and mercantile,” writes Hagege.

When I met a fellow of the Institute for Translation and Interpreting (ITI) last year, he told me that the Japanese military didn’t bother encoding much of its most sensitive information during World War 2, so confident were they that no foreign devil would ever understand. Japan’s post-war economic rise certainly didn’t lead to the language taking over Yangshuo.

For this reason, becoming fluent in one of these languages is no guarantee that you will get a decent job. As a member of the ITI, I am technically a professional Mandarin translator, but I am neither rich nor powerful. Still, I’m one of the lucky ones. Phil, who we met in the first paragraph, is also fluent in Cantonese but cannot return to Hong Kong because of the six-figure credit card debt he amassed when he lived there.

Escape routes from Mandarin bum status

The Mandarin bum exists, but this article is by no means suggesting that learning Mandarin while working as an English teacher is a dead end. Matt Schiavenza, a senior associate editor at The Atlantic was an English teacher. After attaining an advanced qualification in spoken Mandarin and written Chinese at Kunming College of Eastern Languages in 2008, he (and this is the really important part!) then developed related professional skills that would help him stand out in the job market.

Being a trained journalist is good, being a trained journalist who is fluent in Mandarin is better. Learning English is nothing short of a national obsession in China, so as well as mastering this language, students of it need to think about how they will set themselves apart from hundreds of millions of fellow Mandarin speakers in the job market, but only if that’s what they want.

Expats who manage to go from being backpacker English teachers to professionals deserve lots of credit. But climbing a career ladder is only one of many reasons to learn a foreign language. As the English teacher in the Alan Bennett play and 2006 movie “The History Boys” tells his students: “All knowledge is precious, whether or not it serves the slightest human use.”

And if that notion is corny, then corn me up.


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 in push to hire hundreds of new English teachers

Posted: 08/30/2013 9:32 am

A new government push to get native English teachers in 125 of Shenzhen’s public schools is good news for local expats, who will likely benefit from the increased employment opportunities as the plan continues to be phased in.

Shenzhen’s public schools are set to receive 175 new foreign teachers for the start of this academic year under the Center for Teaching and Learning in China (CTLC), according to a report by Shenzhen Daily on Wednesday.

A new five-year plan, released Monday, aims for all public schools in Nanshan District — and half of the city’s total public middle and primary schools — to offer English teaching from native speakers by 2018. The current crop of fresh recruits are TEFL-accredited and have two years teaching experience.

“CTLC is a U.S.-based organization that recruits, interviews, trains and supports teachers for public schools in China. CTLC is the first and largest nonprofit organization to work directly with Shenzhen to place foreign teachers in public schools. CTLC sent its first 13 foreign teachers to Shenzhen in 1998,” the Daily said in its report.

But it hasn’t been all good news for English teachers in Shenzhen this year. Many will remember that earlier this month The Nanfang picked up on a report that an unspecified number of undocumented English teachers were arrested in a crackdown in Nanshan District.

“At present, there are about 13,000 foreign residents living in Nanshan District, accounting for 42 percent of the expatriate population in the city. According to the Shenzhen Administration of Foreign Experts, about 11,000 foreigners with valid work permits were employed in Shenzhen last year, accounting for about 60 percent of the city’s foreign-worker population,” the Daily reported August 13.

In related news, an online startup by a former English teacher from New Zealand that teaches Chinese students via face-to-face Skype has received very strong investor backing, The New Zealand Herald reported Tuesday.

Perhaps some of the English teachers arrested in Nanshan would have been better off working for such kinds of online startups. Because, as The Nanfang shared in a report yesterday, you don’t want to get on the wrong side of the law in China.

Photo credit: ChinaSMACK


Cops arrest undocumented English teachers in Shenzhen

Posted: 08/13/2013 1:07 pm

It seems the Public Security Bureau isn’t playing around anymore when it comes to proper work permits.

One of the foreigners suspected of working illegally. (Shenzhen Daily)

The Shenzhen Daily is reporting today that “several” foreigners were arrested at English-training schools in Nanshan District, home of Shekou and a large population of foreign residents. The arrested teachers were apparently “taken away” by the PSB’s Nanshan District Sub-bureau for “illegal employment”:

The bureau did not reveal how many foreigners had been arrested or give further details as investigations into the cases are still continuing.

At present, there are about 13,000 foreign residents living in Nanshan District, accounting for 42 percent of the expatriate population in the city.

According to the Shenzhen Administration of Foreign Experts, about 11,000 foreigners with valid work permits were employed in Shenzhen last year, accounting for about 60 percent of the city’s foreign-worker population.

As always, the city is reminding foreigners they must hold valid teaching certificates and proper work visas to be employed in Shenzhen. No word on what kind of punishment these teachers may be in for.

China is starting to take the issue of visas and work permits a little more seriously after some convicted criminals from overseas have found their way into teaching positions at Chinese schools.


Another Brit leaves comfortable expat life in Shenzhen for UK’s depressed job market

Posted: 08/3/2012 7:00 am

Have you seen the scene in Independence Day when all the traffic is leaving Washington except for one car which is going the other way? That seemed to be a fitting metaphor for Alastair Dickie who left Shenzhen for his native UK last month, but as we told you last week, this may be turning into a trend.

An alumnus of the prestigious Manchester Grammar School, Dickie graduated from university just as the recession was starting to affect the job market. Now youth unemployment in the country is at its highest in decades. Coming to China was a way of getting some work experience without having to do one of the unpaid internships which are the gatekeepers to many of the best careers in the UK

After initially enjoying English teaching and getting a promotion, Dickie soon realised that China’s ESL industry was no place for the upwardly mobile. But there were other factors involved in his decision not to stay in China long-term.

An English Literature graduate, most of Al’s humour is langauge-based, so there were limits to how much he could connect with even the most linguistically-gifted locals. For that reason, he decided early on not to enter a relationship with a Chinese girl.

Moreover, as a musician who regularly performed with The Nanfang’s own Rue Moyer, Alastair often had to suppress his desire to play the music he wanted in order to please bar owners and patrons. Manchester has one of the world’s great music scenes, and he observed how far this city has to go to have a grassroots music scene of its own, the deciding factor his demand, he told The Nanfang.


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