Looking Back on 2012

Wow, this year December has turned out to be very low on posts. I’ve been trying to update twice a week, but I didn’t pull it off this month. I was in Florida visiting family for more than half the month, and blogging just didn’t happen.

While not blogging, I’ve been thinking a bit about how this 2012 went. I came up with two main conclusions.

It was a good year for AllSet Learning.

Again, I have to thank the exceptional bunch of people that have entrusted us to help them learn Chinese here in Shanghai. Our clients are our investors, and thanks to them, we’re going strong.

In 2012 AllSet Learning launched the Chinese Grammar Wiki, which has more than doubled in number of articles while quality of articles rises across the board (more on this later). We also released the AllSet Learning Pinyin iPad app in the first half of the year and the Chinese Picture Book Reader iPad app in the second half. Both are doing well, and I’m just so pleased to be making my designs a reality.

We’ve also had some more awesome interns, a trend which looks to be continuing into 2013. (Thanks, guys!)

It was a bad year for staying in China.

I’ve remained silent on the news buzz about Mark Kitto et al because I don’t really think it’s that much of a story. But the disturbing thing about it all is that this year a surprisingly large proportion of my close friends in Shanghai have either left or announced plans to leave.

It’s not that I expected everyone to stay in Shanghai forever. I always tell people that I’ll be in China as long as it makes sense, and due to the particular career path I’ve chosen, it makes sense for me to stay around longer than perhaps a lot of my friends that have taken up residency here. But it still seems a little strange that so many friends would decide to leave all around the time. I suspect that the “10 year mark” has something to do with it. We humans do tend to attach importance to that number.

The latest to leave Shanghai is Brad Ferguson, of the website BradF.com, which has long since ceased to be his domain, but it’s how I originally got in touch with Brad. He helped me move into my first apartment in Shanghai the first time we met, which I think was a pretty good sign that he was a decent guy.

Brad did one thing before leaving which I thought was quite interesting. He got a Chinese character tattoo. Seems like most of the time the ones getting Chinese character tattoos are white people that have never set foot in Asia, and oftentimes end up inking questionable symbols on their bodies. Brad, however, got a pretty cool Chinese poem tattooed on his arm:

Brad's Tattoo

Not sure exactly about the meaning of a white guy getting such a tattoo on his arm as he leaves China, but it makes me think.


John Pasden

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


  1. Congratulations on a good year for your company, John. 開業大吉!

    And your friend has bad-ass taste in arm art. 賀知章 is beastly. There is a followup to that poem that he could get on the other arm…離別家鄉歲月多 等等 but he probably already knows that.

    For years I thought I’d be one of the people hanging on to the helicopter skids when the last chopper left Shanghai. But I guess I had enough, too. Part of my heart will always live in China, but it’ll never feel like home.

    If you can indulge a pompous fool in a few more lines of poetry, I’ll hand the mic over to T.S. Eliot:

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.

    • Pete,

      Thanks for the comment. I was going to link to your “Poems with Pete” episode (because I know you covered that poem), but then I realized that the audio is behind a paywall now.

  2. Your tattooed mate has his head on upside down.

  3. Bill Yeager Says: January 2, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Hi Guys,

    Nice to see two of my longtime favorite CPod staff members happy and healthy heading into 2013! Yes, I do miss “Poems with Pete.” For me that was one of the highlights of my six year CPod membership.

    As John knows, I’m no longer using CPod to continue my Chinese education. Rather, I’ve a private teacher who lives in China. We Skype and finally, I can write 散文和诗歌 as well as my own 对话。Really, that is a necessary step and one that is missing for most websites dedicated to learning another language.

    It’s a nice reversal. I prepare what we are going to discuss for 30 minutes or so. Writing is a super way to improve ones vocabulary as well as learn the grammar in a 1-1 way. But enough of that.

    John do note that I’ve lots of ideas about learning another language and perhaps we can discuss this offline sometime. I’m fluent in French, getting there in Chinese (my 10 year plan), and was once fluent in Spanish.

    我祝你们新年充满 成功、福、喜乐而平安。I guess that more or less covers the bases :oD


  4. Yes, congratulations John! I’ve been reading about AllSet and watching its progress from afar with great interest. I have to say that you were a pretty darned nice guy yourself, letting me crash at your place and helping me out when I first visited China in 2006.

    I loved it then and had more mixed feelings living in Beijing from 2010 to 2012. In all honesty, I have to say most of my frustrations were related to the internet being so broken. No facebook, no twitter, no youtube and poor VPN reliability made it like going back to 2004. Also it’s worth pointing out that I was working at a tech start-up and our product had deep fb and twitter integration.

    I definitely miss some things about China, but I’m happy to be in SF.

  5. Chinese Grammer Wiki looks amazing, what a great resource John! Mark Kitto article on Propsect is a really interesting read too folks:

  6. Actually I don’t think Mark Kitto has left China yet…

  7. As a long term reader of sinosplice, I really appreciate your posts, especially when they are related to language learning. I prefer to read quality posts as opposed to quantity posts. So there’s no need to fret if post are becoming few and far between.

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