this is the archive for the ‘in china’ category:


hanzillion, reloaded

some years ago, i thought i was done with chinese learning and dropped my long neglected hanzillion.com domain, where i used to post chinese characters (or hanzi) that i saw on the streets of shanghai… and then regretted it. by the time i checked on it again though, it had already been snatched by someone else. :(

early 2019 found me in the throes of re-learning all the characters, and it made me miss my little hanzi blog like crazy. patiently, i waited and waited, and eventually it paid off because we were able to get it again once it expired — victory! :D i’ve pointed the URL to a simple tumblr blog, and have been re-using old photos from our time in shanghai to post characters now and then. i hope i have enough photos to last until our next visit to asia!

feels really good to once again own the word hanzillion, a word i’ve made up over 10 years ago to describe all the zillion hanzi out there. :)

analogue wednesday #194

the view from our living room window, 10 years ago.

elevator talk

i don’t think i ever told this story, which happened to the boy when we were in shanghai. he was on our building’s elevator with a friend who was also a foreigner. a chinese couple entered the elevator mid-trip, pink cheeks and ruffled clothes.

“what will you tell your husband?”, asked the guy in chinese, while straightening his tie.
“i’ll make something up”, answered the woman.

the boy didn’t get the conversation, but his friend did and told us about it later, with much laughter.

foreign languages — they’re like an encryption protocol for your secrets… unless someone else has the key too. :)

starbucks abroad


i have a starbucks travel mug, which i got in china. it says shanghai in big letters, and i take it to class every day, filled with tea.
one day, a colleague asked me if i’d gone to starbucks in china, to which i replied that i did. they looked at my mug with disdain, and told me that they’d never do that, their voice dripping with moral superiority… it struck me as an odd thing to say, “i’d never do something”… how do they know?

i didn’t feel the need to justify myself to an almost stranger, but thought about it for a while… and then i realized we didn’t go to starbucks because we particularly liked their coffee (though i respect any brand that has the talent to pull a ‘red bean’ frappuccino…). we went there because it was familiar, and consistent. you know what you’re going to get, and how you’re going to get it – which at times was more than you could say for the rest of the places in the neighbourhood. we went there because when you’re out of your element, feeling misunderstood and lost, you want what is familiar and comfortable. big brands do consistency perfectly, and it can be very soothing.

this is what i should have told him. damned esprit d’escalier!

the best description of stinky tofu, ever!

stinky tofu

“It’s late afternoon and you’re exiting the metro into a flock of hawkers; the lady with a bazillion different notebooks, the cart with cages of baby rabbits and birds, and if it’s winter, the yam guy. Then, before you even see the culprit, you encounter a stench that makes you wonder how a beached whale carcass managed to roll this far inland. You spot the source, an idle square of stinky tofu in a wok across the street. And even as someone who professes “don’t knock until you try” and “don’t be an ugly tourist,” when I first smelled stinky tofu two years ago, I just about blurted out, “who the f*** would eat this stuff?”

shanghaiist nails it! :)

we tried it back in 2009, at my chinese teacher’s insistence… you can read what we though of it here.