Fishing for Cancer Sticks, Chinese-style

I think we’re all familiar with the “claw crane” arcade game, whereby players are suckered into spending lots of coins trying to pluck a stuffed animal or plastic-encapsulated toy out of an enclosed box using a (very hard to control) mechanical crane.

What I’m not familiar with is seeing boxes of cigarettes as prizes (with a fairy Hello Kitty on the machine, no less). I saw this in a backstreet in Shanghai the other day:



The two main …

Watermelon Man’s Secret

I was tempted to use a title like, “You think this guy is just selling watermelons, but you won’t believe what he does next!

Anyway, on my morning commute, I passed this dejected-looking vendor, eyes downcast, as he shirtlessly watched over his truckload of watermelons. He was staring at his scale, and I imagined he was thinking about how absurd it is that this electronic device determines his income.


As I got closer, I saw what he was …

Dragon Boat Festival: who needs the boats?

One thing that many non-Chinese may not realize is that the average Chinese person doesn’t really care about dragon boat races on Dragon Boat Festival. Sure, we call it “Dragon Boat Festival” in English, but the dragon boats (龙舟) are just the easiest part of the festival’s traditions to translate. In fact, Wikipedia uses the name Duanwu Festival for its English article, reflecting the Chinese name 端午节.

Duanwu Jie truth

The most visible tradition of Duanwu Festival for …

“C” is for “Women”

Here’s a little puzzle for you. Why is this women’s restroom labeled with the letter “C”?

"C" is for "Women"

Here’s another clue: the men’s room is labeled with the letter “W”.

It took me a few minutes to work this out, but eventually I solved it. It’s like this:

  1. Men’s and women’s rooms in China, when the traditional “” for “men” and “” for “women” are abandoned for a more international feel, are often labeled simply with a letter

Summer Nap in Jing’an Park

I couldn’t resist snapping this picture in Jing’an Park:

Summer Nap in Jing'an Park

It’s been an unusually short/cool summer in Shanghai. I guess that makes it easier to fall asleep in public with utter abandon? (But then, Chinese people are typically pretty good at that…)…

yex, AKA HX

For the longest time, I wondered why 恒鑫茶饮 used the English name “yex.” Here’s the logo:


Doesn’t it seem like “Heng Xin” or something related would make more sense for a company called 恒鑫茶饮? Eventually it dawned on me that “yex” is actually “HX” in “fancy lettering.”

Which one do you see?…

Camus on China


Albert Camus was my favorite of the authors we read in high school; The Stranger (局外人》 in Chinese) was my favorite book. Recently I was reading some of Camus’s famous quotes, and I was struck by how applicable many of them are now to modern China:

“At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.”

“Culture: the cry of men in face of their destiny.”

“The society based on production is

The Rare Chinese Font

You know “the Chinese font“? The one that just screams Oriental, because it looks like it’s made out of bamboo pieces (?), mystically arranged by a wispy-bearded kung fu master?

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me remind you:

The Pagoda

Chop Suey

Long Wong's

Well, the above font is one that, in my experience, you’ll be hard-pressed to find in mainland China, especially in Chinese. (Anyone out there have a different experience?) Most typed Chinese here is in …

Ruined by Popularity

I remember when a big new Carrefour supermarket opened down the street from my Shanghai apartment I was quite happy about it at first. The convenience! Everything I needed, including a few imports, and for reasonable prices, right down the street.


Photo by Ek Chin Tan

As it turns out, that Carrefour was too popular. It was absolutely packed, all the time. I never wanted to go into that madhouse. Eventually I learned that there were certain times when …

Default Social Activity: Murder!

It wasn’t until after I’d been in China a while that I started thinking about a culture’s “default social activities.” Friends like to get together, and there’s often no special occasion, so they tend to rely on the defaults. If you’re sports fans or gamers, you might have ritual activities, but most people I knew growing up in Suburbia, USA relied on a small number of default activities:

  1. Go to a movie
  2. Go to a bar
  3. Go to a party
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