John Massey’s Red Wedding

The newlyweds in 1979

Aard regular John Massey reminds us that the East is Red.

The colour that Chinese language does not have a name for is pink. Chinese clearly perceive pink the same as Europeans do, and have no difficulty in naming it correctly as pink in English, but in Chinese language it is usually referred to as ‘light red’ or ‘pale red’, which is really not an accurate descriptor of pink.

But red is regarded as a propitious colour in Chinese culture, and that extends to pink as well – so pink is regarded as a kind of continuum with red in terms of it being ‘lucky’.

I had absolutely no problem with my bride being clad in a bright red silk qipao, form fitting and split up the sides to her thighs (she wore a traditional European style white wedding dress for the ‘foreign devil style’ church service in the early morning, then changed into the red qipao for the ‘real wedding’, which went on almost endlessly for the rest of the day and half of the night).

But I was utterly appalled on my wedding night, when we finally got to retire to bed in the early hours of the morning, to find that my mother-in-law had been in and the bed cover and pillow slips were all bright pink silk, elaborately embroidered with dragons and phoenixes. Phoenices. Whatever. Hey, Mum, real men don’t sleep on pink silk pillows! Worse, she had added additional embroidery to them herself, which she was very good at, and had sewn coins into them, in order to invoke a prosperous and productive union. So we fell into an exhausted (and in my case heavily inebriated, because of all of the traditional toasting I had to do all bloody day long with black label whisky) sleep under the weight of a bed cover weighed down with bits of the local currency.

My wedding day was an absolute trial, requiring a great deal of stamina. The bright side was that I played a lot of ma jong at my own wedding, and won quite a bit of money. Also, one of my wife’s uncles was a traffic cop – he drove us, and when we got stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the large restaurant where the ‘real’ wedding was to be held, he calmly got out of the car, stood in the middle of the intersection and directed the traffic until the jam was cleared, then got back into the car again – totally unflappable. Plus, members of the large extended family who attended the wedding in their hundreds had given us a lot of money as wedding gifts, and this police uncle had the foresight to carry his service revolver on him, suitably concealed, so he accompanied me as my armed guard when I went to the bank to deposit all of the cash.

John Massey Eats At Albergue 1601 in Macau


A restaurant review by Aard regular John Massey. Macau is an old Portuguese colony on the southern coast of China.

Albergue has numerous translations, which include “hostel” and “refuge”. “Refuge” is now a suitable translation for Albergue 1601, hidden within the quiet and peaceful historic St Lazarus Quarter with its mostly pedestrian-only thoroughfares, away from the hectic, modern, polluted awfulness and tawdry, glitzy casinos of much of modern Macao. But it is more likely to have carried the original meaning of “hostel”.

It must be accessed on foot up the sloping, decoratively cobbled, pedestrian-only Calcada da Igreja de S. Lazaro. The temptation to follow interesting-looking side diversions along narrow streets in this area is hard to resist, but luncheon beckons. Albergue 1601 is a small establishment, and advance reservations are strongly recommended. Exploring the area would be better done afterwards to walk off the excesses of lunch, when getting hopelessly lost is more in the category of fun than minor disaster, provided you remembered to visit the lavatorio before leaving the restaurant.


Albergue 1601 is not confined to one building. In various capacities it occupies one- and two-storey, well preserved heritage buildings on three sides of a small plaza, which is now dominated by two very large camphor trees which dwarf the buildings. The entrance gateway to the plaza occupies the fourth side.

You can be forgiven for missing the entrance gateway. The legend across the top of the gateway reads SANTA CASA DA MISERICÓRDIA ALBERGUE, but this is now rendered illegible by encroaching vegetation, which no one seems to be in a hurry to remove. The small but conspicuous billboard planted beside the roadway gave the location away, though, or we would probably have walked straight past it.


Once inside the gateway, we had the difficult task of identifying the entrance to the restaurant. It wasn’t easy, being virtually invisible and with nothing to advertise its presence. You might suspect they are trying to keep it a secret, and maybe they are. I certainly hope so – this is the sort of place you want to keep to yourself, for fear of it being overrun by bloated, over-zealous, Instagramming gluttons.

It turned out to be this nondescript little doorway:


Once inside we were invited to sit on welcoming giant leather sofas that are so worn that they appear to have provided a welcome resting place for the backsides of foot-weary travellers for hundreds of years, and probably have, while the staff located our reservation and then beckoned us up a very narrow and rather creaky old wooden staircase to our table, with a pleasant view overlooking the small plaza. We had the small room to ourselves, the seating was very comfortable, the table well and tastefully appointed, with an array of salt and pepper grinders, some particularly fine olive oil and a bottle of vinegar. Service was efficient, pleasant, polite, knowledgeable, quick without rushing and unobtrusive, just the way it should be but frequently is not. As soon as it was clear that we had finished with one course, the next course arrived promptly.

The menu is extensive to the point of confusion and indecision, but we worked our way through it, while our server delivered excellent bread piping hot and accompanied by small dishes of delicious black olive paste with which the sharpen the appetite, if it needed any sharpening. My wife and daughter studiously ignored my advice to choose one of several bacalhau (dried and salted cod) dishes for which Macao is renowned.

There is no need to fear language difficulty with the menu – we were presented with the English version of menus without needing to ask. For starters, I chose the gambas à guilho (garlic shrimps), while the girls ordered salada de polvo (octopus salad) and petingas fritas (baby sardines). Mine turned out to be five very well-sized prawns, shelled (so no messy fingers required) and smothered in an addictively delicious sauce that was adequately but not overwhelmingly garlicky. Having demolished the four prawns left to me after the girls had speared one to share between them, I could not stop myself from scooping up that delicious sauce and eating it spread on bread. I am not a big eater, and that one dish alone plus bread would have sufficed for my lunch. The girls reported that the octopus salad was bland and indifferent – certainly edible but not exciting, but they did very much like the sardines.

For mains, the girls chose the arroz de marisco (seafood risotto) and the secretos grelhados (grilled Iberico pork shoulder). I superfluously ordered the vegetais salteados (garlic mixed vegetables), not realising it was not a side dish. The seafood risotto was easily enough for two, and the girls went about demolishing it very happily and pronounced it to be superb. When cooked with sufficient liquid, the Portuguese strain of rice becomes creamy, and it came chock full of crustacea, shellfish and pieces of fish. My dish of garlic mixed vegetables was embarrassingly very large – the vegetables were delicious and excellent in variety, but I could hardly make a dent in them. The pork shoulder was very tasty but a bit on the chewy side; it came with good parsley mashed potatoes.

We had ordered far too much food for lunch for three, but no matter – the staff obligingly put the pork shoulder, mashed potatoes and garlic vegetables into leakproof plastic boxes for us to carry back to Hong Kong to have for dinner when we got home, too tired to cook, which we duly did.

For dessert, out of curiosity I not could resist ordering the serradura (sawdust icecream pudding), and the girls decided to share a pêra bêbeda (drunken pear poached in port wine). My serradura came as a nicely decorated and suitably modest serving (rather than the diabetes-inducing monstrosity you would be likely to get in the USA or Australia), so once the girls had each stolen their sample spoonful to try, I had no difficulty at all finishing the rest. It was delicately flavoured and excellent. My wife declared the dark purple Poached Pear to be VERY ALCOHOLIC!!! (well, the name did sort of warn her it might be), but I noticed that between the two of them, the girls had no difficulty in consuming all of it, and not too much difficulty walking afterwards.

I rounded out my excellent lunch with what was, without question, the best cup of coffee I have ever had in Macao, which means one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had anywhere. Macao puts Hong Kong to shame when it comes to coffee. Daughter stole a sip and agreed with my assessment, and she knows a thing or two about coffee. She and Wife had tea, which they confirmed was indeed nice tea, but unexceptional.

In all (remembering that we drank only a bottle of mineral water with lunch, not wine), the bill came to MOP$ 1130 (USD 140, €124, SEK 1290; the Macao pataca is pegged to the HK$ at the rate of HK$1 to MOP$1.03) – not cheap, but not overly pricey either, and after all this is definitely a “high end” restaurant. And we had ordered enough food for two meals for three people.

After lunch, my curiosity drew me to the other side of the small plaza, where I discovered the Albergue 1601 gift shop, a beautifully appointed small shop selling various canned Portuguese comestibles, special soaps made in Portugal, myriad bottles of mysterious substances for ladies to put on themselves and a confusing array of other things that I couldn’t very well take in – besides, we were travelling very light, so I wasn’t up for buying anything, although I wouldn’t have minded. Next door was a gallery, which was under renovation when we were there – I poked my head in far enough to see that it was a sizeable, uncluttered and very pleasant, well lit space, which I presume is for local artists to display their paintings and sculpture, before one of the tradesmen doing the renovating invited me to remove myself again in a not overly polite manner. Fair enough.


We did all remember to visit the lavatorio before leaving, me struggling to lock and unlock the antique wooden door with its clunky wooden latch, which presented no such problems to my wife and daughter – and I’m the one who is supposed to be an engineer! Even the lavatorio was a pleasant enough experience, though – spotlessly clean and fragrant.

So then, there was nothing else for us to do but head off down the hill, wishing we had time to go poking down all of the fascinating looking side streets, and looking for somewhere we could catch a taxi to take us to the Outer Harbour in time to catch the TurboJet back to Hong Kong, a trip that takes almost exactly one hour pier to pier.

Would I go back to Albergue 1601 again? Yes, in a minute. I give it top marks for food, presentation, service, ambience, physical setting, and anything else a restaurant can get marks for. I am enthusiastic enough about it that I would post something on their Facebook page to praise the place, but I’m kind of trying to keep it a secret. I doubt I will succeed.

Which reminds me – their Facebook page contains their menu:

Norbert Jacques Honeymooning on the Yangtze River in 1912

Chinesischen Fluss
The first edition of Jacques’s Yangtze travelogue

I picked up a beautiful edition of an interesting book at the Alfa Antikvariat closure sale in early February. It’s the Swedish edition of Norbert Jacques’s 1921 travelogue Auf dem Chinesischen Fluss, “On the Chinese River”. The Swedish version is titled På långfärd och fest bland kineser, “Travelling far and feasting among the Chinese”. It has not been translated into English. Chinese, I don’t know.

Jacques (1880-1954) was a prolific writer, screenwriter and journalist from Luxemburg. He’s mainly known today for his creation Dr. Mabuse, the villain of three Fritz Lang movies. His legacy is tainted by propaganda that he wrote for the Nazis around age 65 toward the end of WW2, but he wasn’t sincerely invested in Nazism. In fact, his wife for 26 years was the Austrian Jewess Margerite Samuely, and they had two daughters. Jacques’ 1917 novel Piraths Insel features a love affair between a European man and a Pacific Islander woman. And as we shall see, Jacques appreciated Chinese women too. According to Volker Stotz, he managed to be “inconvenient” first to the Nazis, and then to the Anti-Nazi post-war world.

In 1911 the Chinese Empire came to an end in the Xinhai Revolution. The following year, Norbert and Margerite got married and went on a 16-month honeymoon to China, Peru and Australia. The book I’ve read details their trip up the Yangtze River from Shanghai to Chongqing in the autumn and winter of 1912-13. I don’t know why it took eight years for Jacques to publish his account. Of course WW1 must have played a part, but he did manage to publish eleven other books in the interim, including the first Dr. Mabuse novel!

Jacques’s attitude to the Chinese and their culture is complicated, both patronising and slightly awestruck, and certainly intensely curious. Occasionally he waxes lyrical over some vista or building, but he mainly sticks to describing interesting sites and social situations. Me and my wife laughed and cringed though at Jacques’s extremely exoticising and romantic 2½ page description of a young Chinese woman whom he stalked through the alleyways of an unnamed town on 7 December.

“The secret of the Oriental eyes conjured up the riddle of the Oriental Schoß to my imagination, and I followed the foreign one, bound by magic to this coral of the Sichuan town as if under a spell. … A single wish to see, to feel – and then suffer the pain of her insoluble ties to the land and people of the East – To be a melancholy, chaste knight, seeking the path to the Holy Land, pierced by manhood’s eternal never-satisfied longing. Body and soul crucified on the tree of racial separation.”

Jacques went through the Three Gorges, describing lots of places that are now under water. Identifying exactly where he stopped though is complicated. On the one hand it’s made easy by him travelling by river boat all the way to Chongqing. None of the places he visits is far from the river. But on the other hand the identification is made difficult by language. Jacques doesn’t speak or read much Chinese, and the locals don’t speak the national standard Beijing dialect, putonghua. So the names of villages and towns that he records are in local dialects, transcribed by ear by someone from Luxemburg, according to High German orthography. And in the past century, many of the names have changed. This would all have been impossible for me to understand without the aid of Google Earth and Wikipedia. And since there is no map in the Swedish edition I’m reading, I guess most readers at the time would simply have had no idea where in China the guy was.

For example, early in the book the honeymooners go up the “Jangtse” from “Hankau” (Hankou, a precinct in modern Wuhan) to “Jotschau” (modern Yueyang), where they take off up the major tributary “Siangkiang” (Xiangjiang) for an extended stay in “Tschangscha” (Changsha). Then they return downstream to Yuejang, but this time Jacques refers to it by the name of its harbour area “Tschenlingschi”, Chenglingji. There they turn left and continue up the Yangtze.

Here’s an interactive map of Jacques’s travels. Upstream from Fengxiang Gorge the stops become much more frequent. The book shifts from general description to diary form already at Yichang on 25 November, but only from 3 December, at Fengxiang, does Jacques acquire the habit of asking and recording what most places he visits are named. It’s clear that during final editing several years later in Germany, he can no longer identify small Chinese riverside towns whose names he may have heard only once and didn’t record.

I enjoyed the book, which offers a window into the astonishingly archaic China of 100 years ago. The Last Emperor has just been deposed and republican soldiers at city gates check to see that nobody who enters is still wearing the long braid of the former Manchu overlords. And in Changsha, perhaps Norbert Jacques bumps into a bookish teenager from the Fourth Normal School – a boy named Mao.

Guest Entry: Typhoon Mangkhut in Hong Kong

With the permission of Aard regular and Hong Kong resident John Massey, here’s a compilation of his reporting on the impact of Typhoon Mangkhut on Hong Kong over the past day. John lives in Sha Tin in the New Territories, on the Shing Mun River. The times given are local to HK.

Friday 14 September 22:39. Well, that’s quite impressive – there’s currently one unnamed Tropical Disturbance in the Indian Ocean, one Super Typhoon (which everyone except the Filipinos is calling Mangkhut, but which the Filipinos are calling Ompong) about to cross northern Luzon and enter the South China Sea heading towards US!!!, and four Hurricanes in the Atlantic, one of which (Florence) has barrelled into North Carolina, one (Isaac) is heading for South America, and the other two (Helene and Joyce) seem to be trying make up their minds where to go (typical).

Sunday 16 September 12:04. River wall next to our place has just been overtopped, by a lot.

Sunday 16 September 12:33. Mangkhut is currently the closest it will get to HK, so hopefully things might now progressively start to ease off a bit, slowly. They need to. But with the shift in wind direction as it passes, the water levels will get even higher, so the flooding will get even worse.

I suspect the basement car park (where my car and bicycle are) is now inundated, but I can’t get down there to find out, because the lifts have been grounded, so there’s no way to get down to the car park without walking down the fire escape, going outside, and walking down another fire escape, and going outside is really not a good idea at the moment.

Sunday 16 September 14:17. The typhoon has moved enough so that the wind direction has shifted, so now we are more protected and not getting the very strong wind gusts we were getting. So it’s a lot less scary now.

Plus the water has stopped over-topping the river wall, at least for now. The amusing thing about that, if there is a funny side to it, is that now there is no way for the water to flow back into the river, because it is being held in by the wall, so the flood water is just sitting there, until the work crews can get here tomorrow or whenever and open the gates in the wall to let the water drain back into the river.

Sunday 16 September 14:30. Windows have stood up OK. My study window got hit very hard a couple of times by flying debris, but didn’t break. The much larger windows in the living room haven’t been hit by anything so far, luckily. But they have UV resistant plastic film on them, which helps resist breaking if they are hit by flying objects, and reduces resonance in the wind, which helps to resist breaking from wind pressure/oscillation. Typhoon winds are buffeting, rapid oscillation in wind pressure, so you can get those kinds of resonance effects in larger window panes. The recommendation is to put a big X of adhesive tape on the windows, which I was thinking about doing yesterday until my wife reminded me we already have the plastic film on them. Duh, yeah, I forgot about that. Even so, the living room windows were oscillating alarmingly in the strongest gusts we were getting earlier, but they didn’t go.

So, so far so good. Shouldn’t talk too soon, though, this thing is not over by a long way yet. I need to get down to the car park some time to see if it’s flooded and how the car and bike have fared. I might go down there soon, now that I think it’s OK-ish to go outside for a brief sprint to the fire escape down to the car park.

There are some people with kids sitting in the fire escape in the building, so I’m guessing their windows maybe didn’t do so well, and they have nowhere else to shelter.

Sunday 16 September 14:36. Yep, the Observatory report that the storm surge in Tolo Harbour, which is just down-river from us, reached 4.5m, but it has started dropping, which matches what I see.

Now we just need someone to come and take the plug out of the plug hole in the bath tub. They won’t be doing it today, they have more important things to attend to.

Sunday 16 September 14:58. I’m wrong – I went down to check – the people sitting in the fire escape talking to kids are the female security guard and a couple of the cleaning ladies, talking to some of the kids who live here to pass the time, because there is nothing else they can do at the moment. I guess it’s possible the building entry lobby is flooded with rainwater, which would help to explain why the lifts are out of action.

Sunday 16 September 15:26. There’s a lot of damage around different areas of HK. This being 2018, people are posting videos online, many of which are pretty dramatic. Lots of flooding, lots of smashed windows, lots of scaffolding down, big cranes leaning at scary angles, a couple of partial old building collapses. Several people have been injured, but no reports of fatalities yet. The emergency services are out in force and busy, so injured people are getting treated pretty promptly.

I have to say I think HK has dodged a bullet with this one. It has not been a direct hit, the centre of the storm is skirting about 100km to the south. But it is a very powerful storm, with a very large circulation, so we have still had the worst conditions I have ever seen here, including during the direct hit by Super Typhoon Hope in 1979, so it has been very bad, and it’s not over yet. On the other hand, preparedness has been very good – everyone saw this one coming and knew it would be bad, and most people seem to have behaved sensibly, which is not always the case.

But if it had deviated only slightly on its track and had made a direct hit on HK, it would have been a whole lot worse. If it had threaded the gap between the Philippines and Taiwan, instead of crossing the northern tip of Luzon, which caused it to weaken slightly as it crossed land, it would have been worse. Bad luck for Filipinos, with 21 dead reported there so far and counting, but a bit of luck for HK.

We dodged a bullet with Hato last year when it missed HK by 20km and wrecked Macau, we seem to have dodged a bullet with Mangkhut this year – we can’t keep hoping for the best and relying on luck.

I have now lost patience completely with climate change deniers and do-nothing politicians.

Sunday 16 September 17:48. Finally girded up my loins and went downstairs to go out and check on the car park.

Entry lift lobby is fine – one family has taken up residence there, so I presume they have a problem with their flat, but they seem cheerful enough. Maybe they just like it down there. Lifts are out, but I can’t see why – maybe they just shut them down because the building was swaying too much.

Going outside was a challenge – wind gusts are still so strong I could barely stand against them, plus I was wading through 75mm of water ponding on the podium from relentless heavy rain, so strong wind gusts plus slippery underfoot, not a good combination. Whatever, I made it. All that gym training pays off, ya knows.

Only minor bits of flooding in the car park. Car is fine – plastered with wind-blown leaves is all, and they’ll all wash off in the rain as soon as I exit the car park. So I can drive Daughter to the train station to go to work tomorrow – not having her slogging on foot all that way through torrential rain with falling tree branches and bits of buildings, etc., and her chance of catching a taxi will be zero, so Dad’s free taxi service will be operating. I am assuming all storm signals will have been cancelled by tomorrow, but that remains to be seen (but if I had to bet money, I’d bet they will be).

All schools will stay closed tomorrow to give time to assess damage, clean up and make sure the buildings and grounds are all safe before letting the kids go back, which is a very sensible decision. I have to applaud that.

It would actually be a sensible decision to keep everything closed tomorrow, so everyone can stay home while they clean up the whole place and make sure everything is safe, the roads are all clear of fallen trees and public transport is all operating OK, but I predict they won’t do that – the business lobby would scream their heads off about lost revenue; they always do. I’m keeping notes on them – come the revolution, they’ll all be going up against the wall.

Thousands of trees are down, including a lot around our place, big mature trees. Pretty sad. Some have just snapped off at the trunk, others have been shredded, and others have been torn out by the roots.

Mangkhut will cross the coast of Guangdong pretty soon – currently hammering poor old Macau, but should cross the coast by about 7.00 pm, so it will start to lose intensity fairly fast once it does that. So, effectively, it’s pretty well all over for HK, except for a massive clean-up job.

Until the next one.

Sunday 16 September 19:20. Severe flooding reported in Macau, so it’s a repeat of what they got from Typhoon Hato last year, poor devils.

Water levels are dropping all around HK, but some low lying flood-prone areas still have bad flooding. People from those areas were evacuated yesterday before the storm hit, and accommodated in temporary shelters. No fun at all – sleeping on the floor of some Town Hall, getting awful mass-cooked food from some temporary kitchen, and then when they finally get to go home, it’s to a home wrecked by flood water which they have to try to clean up and make habitable again. Water ruins everything, and the whole place stays unbearably damp for months. Everything goes mouldy – walls, floor coverings, everything.

Ten Days In Hangzhou And Suzhou

smog och kanal
December smog over a Hangzhou canal

Yesterday the Rundkvists came home from ten days in China where we’ve been visiting with relatives. We spent eight days in my wife’s home city Hangzhou (pop. 8.0 million) and one day each in the city Suzhou (160 road km away, pop. 10.7 million) and the well-preserved little canal town Zhouzhuang (150 road km away). I spent most of our stay walking and cycling around on my own or in the company of Cousin E who was also in HZ to see his parents & brother over the holidays. Check out my photo album! Here are some impressions.

  • Though I hardly saw any fellow westerners on my wanderings, HZ’s citizens have become used to seeing people like us. Hardly anyone shouted halou at me, evinced surprise at my strange looks and absurd height or wanted their pictures taken with me, compared to ten years ago.
  • HZ (but not Suzhou) is swamped with cheaply available public bikes belonging to about ten different firms. In order to use them as intended you need a local smartphone and/or bank account. I had neither, but I soon figured out that there are many serviceable bikes with damaged or incorrectly closed locks that anyone can use. Of course, I had to find the ones that let me adjust the height of the seat.
  • Gas-powered mopeds are forbidden in HZ and Suzhou. This extremely wise (draconian, dictatorial) measure has been in place for at least 20 years. Instead people ride electrical mopeds, which keeps the noise level that makes e.g. Hanoi almost intolerable down.
  • Chinese urban planners make no allowance for pedestrians who want to move through the city independently of where cars can go. There are extremely few pedestrian railway crossings. HZ’s newer residential blocks tend to be very large, gated and walled. Gatekeepers never stopped me when I entered a block, but then there was no exit through the wall in the direction I wanted to go. I lost lots of time on my walks trying to move in a straight line towards my destinations.
  • Open Street Map‘s app was extremely useful. I had my location on a detailed map of HZ at my fingertips for the first time. This app lets you download entire Chinese provinces in one go before you head out.
  • Even during these cold and drizzly days in the off-season, the tourist attractions saw healthy numbers of Chinese visitors. I read that during the season, these temple complexes, stately homes, museums, parks and formal gardens are simply packed with people. It’s strange to think that these places were largely created for a small parasitic elite of connoisseurs who made sure that common people had no access. And now that anyone can come and have a look, they show up in such numbers that commoners still can’t enjoy the sites at the time of year when they’re at their best.
  • The presentation of Chinese tourist attractions is largely garish, vulgar and commercial. Most of them are old-time Chinese Disneyland. Inside the Hanshan temple precinct in Suzhou, for instance, the oldest Buddha statue I saw is being used as decoration in the religious souvenir shop. Almost all standing buildings in these cities are recent. I don’t think I’ve seen a single structure older than 1800 in Hangzhou, though this is a special case as the town was torched by crazy millennarian Christian-inspired Taiping rebels in about 1850.
  • The celebrated vistas across HZ’s West Lake are largely obscured by air pollution.
  • Peripherally located tourist sites are far quieter and less commercial, for instance the terraced tea-growing valley of Meijiawu in the hills SW of the West Lake. Here the recently re-developed landscape park and minor religious complex of Yunqi is probably delightful on an early April morning.
  • When there is any public signage in a Western language, it is a small subset of the Chinese version, written in Chinglish (or in some cases even Engrish) by someone with a weak grasp of the language. In addition, the proofing errors often give the impression that the person who made the physical sign knows no English at all and has copied it one letter at a time. The Chinese are in fact sovereignly uninterested in whether foreigners understand these signs or perhaps laugh at the erratic and flowery word choices. The best sign I read was one in French at the entrance to the Shizi garden complex in Suzhou. Not only was it good French, it contained more information than the sign in Chinglish next to it.
  • In town, I like to avoid the tourist areas completely (which confuses my in-laws) and walk smaller, slightly run-down residential lanes and back streets. Here people hang their laundry to dry on the telephone wires next to large carps and pieces of pork curing in the polluted wind. Retirees haggle for fish and vegetables at the corner shops, and the little eateries’ staff clean dishes at an outdoor sink.
  • My greatest linguistic triumph was when I managed to explain to a restaurant owner that a cat was gnawing on the pork she had hung out to cure on a rack behind the building. Wei! Ni hao. Mao chi nimende gan rou. Nimende zhu rou. Though my vigourous pointing out back probably helped a lot. She thanked me and rushed to save her bacon.
  • A lot of the recent architecture is straight out of dystopian scifi movies: hyper-futuristic steel-and-glass skyscrapers that are lit up with digital animation after dark. We experienced a full-on colossal-scale 3D digital acid-trip at Life Plaza in SE HZ one evening, with laser-lit choreographed dancing fountains. As we left, reeling, we saw 30-story Disney characters dancing across the facades towards the river.

For more commentary on things Chinese, see Aard’s category tag for China.

Dynamic Map of Chinese Unrest

The Chinese Twitter equivalent Weibo censors searches for the names of places where there are protests (currently Shenzhen). You could write a script that searches for the main Chinese cities on Weibo and plots the ones that are censored on a map. Presto, a dynamic map of Chinese political unrest! With data supplied by the Chinese government, no less. Who will do it first?

Update same day: Daniel Becking points to the highly informative web site Blocked On Weibo. It has a wide remit. The most recent entry explains why the two characters for “pantyhose” are blocked.

Fazer Chinaman Gone, Leaves Hat

Fazer's old packaging

Fazer has removed the cartoon East Asian from one of two versions of the packaging for their chocolate-covered puffed rice. Only the conical straw hat remains, an “abbreviated motif” as Karl Hauck would have put it. Tørsleff still has the guy on their gel agent. Gabob recently published the fine boardgame Wok Star which is full of cartoon East Asians.

Tørsleff's gel agent

Thinking about these images, I’ve decided that I don’t find them racist. The old Fazer and Tørsleff cartoons are certainly outdated, since few people in East Asia wear conical straw hats or queue hair any more. The Wok Star images are up-to-date. And none of the images denigrate East Asians in my opinion. Granted, it’s hard to understand why there’s a cartoon Chinaman on the gel agent, but the chocolate has rice in it and is named “Kina”, and the boardgame is about a Chinese family restaurant.

The Wok Star boardgame

I’m thinking that when Chinese cartoonists draw friendly caricatures of their own people, then they probably look a bit like this. If we can’t allow cartoons of people with non-Europid features, then we just make them invisible in part of the public space.

What do you think, Dear Reader?

Update same evening: Dear Aard regular Christina points to an ongoing fracas in Canada where a South Asian woman depicted on a draught for new paper money was replaced by a Europid woman.

China’s Tech Is Independent Of Its Ideology

I had a brief but interesting conversation with a distinguished Chinese art historian the other day. He’s my age but has been far more successful than me despite relocating to Sweden. We were talking about science and superstition, because apparently someone had described the Swedish Skeptics that I head to him as “The Swedish Anti-Superstition Society”. Anyway, he told me this (and I paraphrase).

“I’m not sure China is going the right way now with its emphasis on Western science, technology and capitalism. Just look at the environmental degradation and rapid urbanisation. If my country hadn’t been forcefully opened to these influences by the Opium Wars, we might have chosen a way of our own.”

He didn’t make it clear just what this Chinese way might have been, other than that it would be less scientific, less technological, less capitalist, not communist, and more like imperial China. Thinking about this, I’ve concluded that he’s getting it all mixed up.

To begin with, there is no such thing as Western science. There is only one world and science is the only semi-reliable way to find out how it works, regardless of what culture you operate in. From this follows that there is no such thing as Western technology. Technology is the application of scientific knowledge to the solution of engineering problems. And so, if China hadn’t lost a war against technologically superior opponents when it did in 1860, it would have lost the next such war. No amount of imperial ceremonies or Buddhist meditation would have helped.

As for capitalism and communism, neither of them is a necessary corollary of scientific and technological advances. Imperial China could have started the scientific revolution long before the 17th century when capitalist Europeans did. But we must remember that although China’s current capitalism and its recently ended communism both led to atrocities, this was in fact a continuation of a tearful history reaching back to the dawn of recorded Chinese history. Being a majority farmer or worker in China has never so far been a pleasant way of life. So my guess is that any continuation of the imperial Chinese civilisation would have been pretty draconian too.

Scientific advances lead to improved technology. And improved technology tends to improve living conditions at the expense of a degraded environment. But the way out of this is to improve technology further, not to sit down and meditate or dream of the lo-tech past.

People Messhall Pickled Cabbage


My wife’s from Zhejiang province, and so is this can of pickled cabbage that she bought yesterday. I like the label a lot. It’s not quite Engrish: of course, we would say “people’s mess hall”, but the Chinese characters actually denote an extremely basic canteen-like eatery. A mess hall, a canteen, maybe a refectory; very latter-day Maoist. It’s a correct translation.

I endorse the pickled cabbage of the Chun’an Qiandaohu Nongxing Food Co., Ltd.. It is by far good enough to be served not only in mess halls.