Chatting with Dr. Tim Xie

Dr. Tim Xie

Dr. Tim Xie

Dr. Tim Xie (谢天蔚) of California State University Long Beach contacted me a while back. He was doing research for a paper called Blog, Wiki, Podcasting and Learning Chinese Language* (PDF; written mainly in Chinese). He did an e-mail interview with me about blogging in Chinese, part of which I later posted on my Chinese blog.

Anyway, recently Dr. Xie visited Shanghai. He stopped by ChinesePod to discuss some academic issues with Ken, and I also had a dinner with Dr. Xie during which we chatted about the state of academia in the PRC, thesis topics, and other fun things.

During our chat, he talked about what it was like, as a native of Shanghai, to make periodic visits after living abroad for twenty-odd years. Never mind the tremendous changes in the city; here’s an exchange he had with a cab driver:

> Driver: So you’re visiting Shanghai from abroad, huh?

> Dr. Xie: Why do you say that?

> Driver: Well, I know you don’t live here…

> Dr. Xie: How can you tell?

> Driver: Well, first, you speak flawless Shanghainese, but you gape at everything around you like a tourist. Second, you don’t dress like a local. And third, you don’t smell like a local. You use some kind of fancy perfumey stuff.

I found this conversation highly amusing.

* Note that in the paper Dr. Xie translates “podcast” not as 播客, which has enjoyed popularity in the PRC, possibly due to its cute similarity to 博客 (blog). Dr. Xie uses the term 网播 for “podcast.”


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I had the same experience last year when I visited Nanjing. I spoke the dialect there but some people still asked me if I lived in America. I was surprised by their words. They told me I dressed differently and my face is different from many chinese’s. My God!

    Well, you can see my pictures by clicking my name. Please tell me if my face is really different. I think I have a Chinese face.

  2. Very observant cab driver. Was his name Chan Char Li, by any chance?

  3. Da Xiangchang Says: August 7, 2006 at 3:48 am

    It’s the fashion (hairstyle, clothes, etc.) that differentiates Chinese Americans from Chinese. There’s no difference physically between Chinese who’ve been abroad and Chinese who haven’t. It’s just like I can generally tell an American from a European in China. One’s wearing comfortable sneakers, the other uncomfortable dress shoes. And any guy in the West wearing a suit at a tourist venue has GOT to be a mainland Chinese cuz no one else is silly enough to do something like that!

  4. John, curious, how does flawless Shanghainese mean non-native to a native?

  5. Wilson,

    I think it’s the combination of flawless Shanghainese and then not having those other Shanghainese characteristics that tipped the driver off, not the flawless Shanghainese by itself.

    On another note, I personally much prefer 网播 to 播客, if for no other reason than that it doesn’t expose my seeming inability to make a proper second tone most of the time when talking about 播客 and 博客 at the same time.

  6. lol, really amuzing!! i bet the cab drivers seriously can tell. they must have met thousands of people!!
    hey, John, did people in Florida ask you the same question when u went back home? just curious… 😛

  7. Maybe it went like this?

    Driver: So you’re visiting Florida from China, huh?

    John: Why do you say that?

    Driver: Well, I know you don’t live here…

    John: How can you tell?

    Driver: Well, first, your accent is flawless Floridian, but you’re starting to leave out your articles . Second, your clothing has trendy but gramatically strange phrases written on it. And third, you smell. Is it really that hard to find deodorant in China?

  8. Those who live abroad stick out like a sore thumb. Overall, the fashions and hairstyles are very very different. One very common tell tale are hooded sweat shirts and cargo pants. Baggy clothes are a huge tell tale also.

    Vice versa, immigrants from Asia are also a telltale too here in the STates. However, the amount of assimulation into popular american dress is a major factor.

    and smell… America, Hong Kong, and China have very distinct smells. My cousins in HK always talk about he 美國味 when we send stuff to them… I didn’t realize it until I got to HK and smelled the stuff we brought over. It smells remarkedly different in a foreign environment.

    We always think everything from HK smells musty (due to the high humidity)… I thought it was a Chinese thing…. then I went to my Aunt’s family (whos family is very Brit, much more than Chinese and they don’t even cook Chinese food depsite being in HK)…. the smells are exactly same…. typical HK…. so my conclusion was that the climate, air pollution, and construction mateirals have a huge role in the smell. Not to mention sewage systems. You cross the border from HK to Guangzhou and everything smells different again.

    Not to mention that smoking is allowed in so many places in China… that changes how everything smells.

  9. Think body language (in addtion to odor) has something to do with it? Perhaps even that changes after being abroad for many years.

    Anyway, John I’ll support you with the 网播 over the 播客. The fact that they’re nearly the same is rather confusing and troublesome, especially for such new concepts. 网播 makes a bit more sense when thinking about what podcasts are, or at least what their potential is.

  10. Andy,

    That’s really interesting about the smells… I am not consciously aware of a “China smell” (I won’t be rude here), but I have noticed that occasionally I catch a whiff of something in China that can transport me back to the States or even Japan…

  11. Kris,

    I agree with you, although I just wonder if 网播 could be misinterpreted as just regular online streaming media. In associating podcasts with blogs, I think it helps encapsulate the “syndication” concept which is so important to podcasts.

  12. John, I had a really interesting chat with some ppl this weekend about being out of HK for so long, that we haven’t been able to keep up with the lingo. And by not keeping up with the lingo, it’s a dead give away you’re living out of the country. That one must go back to HK every few years at most to get a replenishment of modern lingo.

    One mention was that in HK ppl say, “我 call 你呀” vs. “我打電話畀你呀” or “我打畀你呀”

  13. Regarding smell, there is definitely a distinct smell in China (Beijing/Shanghai are similar), as soon as you get out of the airplane I can smell a kind of musty scent. I also noticed this on a recent visit to Taiwan. I do not smell the same scent when returning to the US. I definitely know when I have arrived in China.

  14. Judging by the picture, his hairstyle looks very mainland Chinese, not North American.

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