10 Year Chinaversary

It appears to be my 10 year Chinaversary. Thanks to all of you that have congratulated me. It feels very weird, because:

1. Everyone knows exactly how long I’ve been in China because of a nerdy little PHP script I put on my blog a while ago (and refuse to take down)
2. I’ve been in China 10 years (China!)
3. I’ve been in China almost a third of my whole life
4. I’ve been in China longer than some of the Chinese kids I see on the street (and their Chinese language skills will soon be overtaking mine, if they haven’t already)

The script actually rounds up when it calculates how long I’ve been in China. (OK, here’s where it gets super nerdy: mouse over the number on the site to get a more precise calculation.) I originally estimated my arrival in China to be August 20th, 2000, but I just dug through some of my dusty digital archives, and I found some old journal entries. I kept an electronic journal in text files before I ever started a blog. (Ah, those are quite amusing.) Anyway, it appears that my arrival was actually closer to August 8th (how auspicious!), although the first entry is dated August 12th, 2000.

So to celebrate my 10th year anniversary, I’ll post a few snippets from my very first observations of “the real China,” posted by a clueless American 22-year-old who could just barely speak a little Chinese…

> Andrew met me at the airport in Shanghai. His driver picked me up. Andrew’s house is REALLY nice… He said it’s like $5000/month, but his dad’s company pays for it all. It’s sort of a gated community outside of Shanghai. They have Chinese security guards at almost every corner of is neighborhood, and a free bus that goes to and from town on the hour. So, basically I spent my time in Shanghai hanging out with Andrew and his friends. We ate REALLY SPICY Sichuan food one night (I really felt it the next morning), had quite a bit to drink, and socialized with some Chinese girls in a bar. It was nice to get an introduction of China from Andrew. I also got a nice little electronic dictionary. It was meant for a Chinese person, but it’s still quite useful.

> The ticket to Hangzhou was only 29RMB (less than $3!) for a 2 hour ride, and some nice middle-aged lady talked to me the whole time despite my broken Chinese. She knew very little English, but that didn’t stop her from talking to me.

> […]

> Hangzhou is a nice enough city, but I’d definitely call it a city, not a town. It’s bigger than I expected — bigger than Tampa. The Chinese insist on calling it medium-sized, I guess because it doesn’t fit into the silly elite “big” category which includes only huge cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Anyway, it doesn’t have a subway system — only buses and taxis — but it’s big.

> The Chinese are less curious about me than I expected. After being such a spectacle in Japan, I receive relatively little notice here, even though I’ve seen only a few foreigners here in all my jaunts through the city so far. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing — I guess it just means I have to be more active in my interactions. That’s OK with me, I guess… I hope they don’t prove to be completely UNinterested in me, though, because that could be problematical for me and my hopes here.

> [Editor’s note: in a later entry I write: First, let me correct what I said earlier about Chinese people not being curious. I was wrong. They’re very curious. For some reason, though, they seem less curious when I’m with a Chinese person than when I’m alone. These days I’m getting plenty of “hello!”‘s and stares. So I guess all is well in Asia after all. hehe]

> Besides its size, I do feel a little misinformed about Hangzhou in a few other ways. It’s supposed to be such a beautiful city… I wouldn’t call it an UGLY city (although it does have its ugly points), but the beauty of it just doesn’t strike me so much. The famed West Lake is nice, but again, not dazzling. The famous Hangzhou women (the most beautiful in all of China) haven’t exactly wowed me either, although there are some pretty women here. Maybe they hide their finest. So what it comes down to, I guess, is that I think I’m just in a pretty ordinary Chinese city instead of some rare jewel of a city that I had been led to expect.

> There’s been a fair amount of frustration so far… Small frustration at unfulfilled expectations, but greater ones of the linguistic variety. Frustration because when people talk to me in Chinese, I understand some, but don’t get what they mean. Frustration because when I don’t understand them, they talk to me in English. Frustration because they talk to me in English without even trying Chinese. Frustration because if they would just speak a little slower, I really might get it. Frustration because my vocabulary is really so small. Frustration because all that stuff I learned at UF and then forgot was really, really useful stuff! Frustration because my pronunciation — even for things I’m sure of — is bad.

> But these are the frustrations of a student who JUST arrived in China. I know I have to give myself more time.

“More time” indeed.


John Pasden

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


  1. Heh, wait till you hit the 20-year mark and have spent over half your life here.

  2. Congratulations man!!

    “Bigger than Tampa!” That was pretty funny.

    “famous Hangzhou women (the most beautiful in all of China)” Cue the list of Chinese cities that claim to have the prettiest girls in the country

    Lastly, your August 8th date is indeed very auspicious, and I must say, your use of the word auspicious is brilliantly ironic.

    Just like how Americans seem to have stolen the word ‘Entrepreneur’ from the French, I think the Chinese have indeed usurped this word, which was collecting dust on Western shores.

  3. The Andrew’s house-Sichuan-train to Hangzhou part brought back good memories, even if I did it one (and then three) years later than that. Though I must say, Andrew’s house made moving into my own apartment something of a shock (“wait, wait, you’re telling me that I can’t get ESPN2?!”). I see, that you realized the swindle that is 上有天堂下有苏杭 pretty early on, too

    It’s funny, because when we first met in 2003 I pretty much thought you knew everything about China and Chinese, but now, thinking about how little I knew after three years, I realize that must not have been the case at all. 🙂

    Anyway, congrats on a decade. Think you’ll be around for the next one?

  4. Congratulations! (Condolences?)

    Bravo for putting up your early diary. My first blog postings from China are all offline now, and at least most of them will stay that way. Not because of the n00b factor; just because they were mostly not all that good — and because I would feel a bit funny posting them at this point, since I’m no longer the person who wrote those things.

    (Sorry about the double comment – typo in the first.)

  5. Party at C’s in celebration … drinks on John …

  6. I believe you must be the oldes English language China-focued blog aroud, well, blogs were’t even blogs back then. Congratulations! To another 10 years, it’d be magical to see how much will change by then.

  7. wow,, i thought the most impressive thing for a foreigner just arrived here would be the bad hygiene, bad manners of the locals, dirty/messy city environment,etc,,,that sort of things, so i guess you just focused on the language experience aspect. 🙂

    and,, isnt it that girls from SiChuan were generally considered the “most beautiful women of china” ? 苏杭 girls with its 吴侬软语 are of the most 温柔 kind. :p

  8. Kevin Robles Says: August 12, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Congratulations on your 10-year journey! I’m a new reader, but I’m glad for you getting to that great milestone! Kudos from Winter Haven, FL 🙂

  9. Congratulations! I’ll be 9 years in China in September, I also think in the childrens idea (many boys were not born when I arrived) and freak out a lot!!!

  10. 伟大的潘同志,万岁万岁万万岁!

  11. Congrats, man!
    It should definitely not go unsaid that, your blog, the tools you’ve made, your insights, and your work in general has been immeasurably helpful in the Chinese language learning community. You should get award for that shit. Seriously.
    See you soon!

  12. Marilynn Pasden Says: August 13, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Congratulations from home too, John! We’re proud of all you’ve done and are doing, and we love your darling wife. Just wish China weren’t half a world away, or at least that it could be faster and cheaper to visit more often back and forth. You are always in our thoughts, hearts, and prayers.
    Carry on, son!

  13. Congratulations and happy anniversary to you, my friend. I loved reading your early entries. My own foray into China isn’t all that far behind me and it gives me a glimpse of what my life might have been like if I’d stayed.

    Wishing you all the best, and thanking you for being one of my very favorite people in the PRC.

  14. Congratulations John,

    Just moved back to Canada after nearly 7 years in China, and all the memories of my first days in Shanghai keep coming back. (Glad I still have them locked away up there.) I’m certainly glad I was in Shanghai at the time, but would have also liked to try a ‘medium’ sized city like Hangzhou as well. I think I’ll have to keep following your blog and a couple others to still feel plugged in to China, since it’s all starting to feel like a hazy dream.

    Would love to hear more about your first impressions, particularly linguistic (did you find your vocabulary was not in sync with what people in HZ were used to?) but also anything and everything else. Once again, congrats.

  15. I’m a little late to the party, sorry, but congratulations! I passed the ten year mark last October, and it is, indeed, an interesting experience.

  16. Congratulations, John. A decade is super XL!!! And plenty more time to come in China! The majority of westerners can only “last” 6 months before culture shock gets the better of them. Sinosplice is in it to win it.

  17. David Moser Says: August 15, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Congratulations, John. Not just one of the earliest China blogs, but still one of the best. I encourage everyone to go back and browse the archives, as I just did. Dozens of timeless jewels there. As well as some delightful, unabashed trivia. Excelsior.

  18. Ray Walsh Says: August 15, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Congrats again. David (above) is right. Lots of insight on language learning in the archives. Your blog certainly shows the learning curve for Chinese and understanding the Chinese culture (heck, locals have a hard time defining the culture, let alone me)
    Love the comment “I hope they don’t prove to be completely UNinterested in me, though, because that could be problematical for me and my hopes here”

    HA, HA!!!

  19. And I have been reading your blog for the past …. years

    Jesus! I feel old.

    Great post though, a little perspective is always good.

    Keep up the good work!!

  20. Yah! I remember reading through your blogs when I first started studying Chinese in 2005 and have always thought your blog was humble and inquisitive. Your quirky and interesting insights have continuously shaped and inform my own dreams and ideas about this place.

    You’ve been like a big brother to me with China, Chinese language and culture!

  21. I’m a bit late to the party, but happy Chinaversary..10 years is a long time in China’s development..and you’ve had a front row seat! Here’s to 10 (and many) more…Cheers!

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