20 iPhones = 1 house, really?

Over the past week there has been much chit-chat on Chinese social media about a young woman living and working in Shenzhen who figured out a novel way of raising the deposit to buy a house in the countryside.


As in many other countries, property prices in China have been steadily rising and it is really difficult for many to afford to buy a place of their own. Add to that the Confucian expectation of many Chinese parents that their child (and it usually is only one child) should provide them with either somewhere to live in retirement, or support them financially, and you have a situation where some young people feel pressurized by parental expectations which they cannot fulfill.

A blogger using the name Proud Qiaoba posted a piece on the popular Tian Ya Yi Du internet forum saying that her co-worker, who she called Xiaoli, had come up with a scheme whereby she asked each of  her 20 current boyfriends to prove their affection for her by giving her one of the new iPhone7 smartphones (which were only launched in China in mid September). Apparently they all did as she requested!   I wonder if they knew about each other?


Xiaoli then took these 20 brand new iPhones and sold them to Hui Shou Bao, a well known mobile phone re-selling website. She raised 120000 yuan by doing so (that’s approximately £14,500.00), and with that she was able to put a down payment on a house for her parents.

Comments on Sina Weibo have been very mixed  with some people calling  her a gold-digger, whilst others have applauded her ingenuity. One young woman wrote rather plaintively that she couldn’t even get one boyfriend let alone 20, and could Xiaoli give her advice about how to get a fella for herself as she was obviously an expert.

Personally, I think the whole story is a con (like so many things in China).  Twenty boyfriends seems rather a lot for one girl to manage – just think of the logistics – whilst also holding down a job; or is having multiple ‘boyfriends’ part of the business she is in, if you see what I mean.

More likely this is a cleverly concocted story to advertise the services of Hui Shou Bao, the mobile phone re-selling company.

Whatever the truth of the matter it is quite an amusing tale and adds to the gaiety of the nation which is always welcome.





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Why didn’t I think of that?

One of the things you discover when you come to China is that everyone has an ‘English’ name as well as their proper Chinese name.   Chinese people firmly believe that no foreigners can pronounce their names so in order to get good jobs and succeed in life they need a name that Westerners will feel comfortable with, and will remember.


In a way this is understandable, it is true that on first meeting it is often difficult to take in and recall a Chinese name. However, Japanese people have equally ‘difficult’ names if you look at it like that, yet the Japanese have never seen the need to equip themselves with a Western name and they get on in the wider world just fine.

This whole English/Chinese name conundrum hit me again this week when a new member of staff joined the concierge group at our residence. She is a delightful young woman who speaks little English, but she is very willing and very helpful.  Her English name is ‘Friday’.  Why did she choose it? or did she, like 70% of Chinese, get given it by her teacher when she was at school.  Should I gently hint that this is not really considered a ‘name’ in the English sense? it could cause all sorts of complications – if an English speaking  resident says to her ‘I expect a delivery on Friday’ or something like that, confusion can set in.

English language teachers here in China are, on the whole, Chinese citizens who have learned the language without ever meeting any native English speakers.  They seem to choose names on a very arbitrary basis, from books, films, western t.v. programmes, advertisements, catalogues and even calendars.  If a student makes it into a good university here in China they may well change their name to one they think is better/more appropriate, but sometimes they jump from the frying pan into the fire – for instance a young man who changed his English name from Gerry to Hitler because he thought that Hitler was a strong, courageous and famous western leader!

Many Chinese have no idea that their name is inappropriate.  My DH was interviewing a very clever, well-educated young woman for a job that would take her to Edinburgh on a regular basis. Her chosen English name was Lolita.  After the interview he felt he had to be blunt, and told her that she could not work in the financial sector in the UK or anywhere else in the west with that name, because  it would give out all the wrong messages, and that she should get advice and choose a new, less provocative, English name.

English speaking Westerners living in China are often asked to suggest names for people. Over the years I must have named a couple of dozen individuals!


Some years ago I was down in Kunming and a young man called ‘Fred’ was introduced to me by his new boss. The boss said very firmly that he had been looking at names, and he thought that English speakers would consider ‘Fred’ to be the name for a labourer, not a new young executive.  Fred had been given his name by his teacher when at school.           We all sat down with some green tea and discussed names, finally settling on Jeffrey. In a nano-second Fred was dead and Jeffrey, like a phoenix, rose from the ashes. He is still Jeffery and now a very successful chap. He always greets me warmly, and whispers in my ear -‘do you remember Fred?’.

In the UK/US media there have been a couple of articles about two young women – one American, one English – who have set up websites to help Chinese parents choose their baby’s English name.  The websites are in Chinese, they are interactive, and after a few tick-box type questions they supply a choice of three or four names. They both charge a flat-fee for the service.  According to everything I have read, business is booming and both are earning a tidy little income.

Why didn’t I think of doing this?  All this time I have been handing out free naming advice, never thinking the concept could be monetized – obviously I am not a natural entrepreneur – I could have been rich by now….boo hoo!

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Six months of blogger’s block – but now I’m back!

It all started with a very busy summer which involved a great deal of international travel, jet-lag, etc. during which time it was completely impossible to blog.

Then I kind of lost the plot, stared at the screen of my laptop and found myself unable to type anything even though there were so many ideas buzzing around in my head.  The more time that passed, the worse it became.

So I have given myself a stern talking-to and decided that I must dive back in, willy nilly, even if all my regular readers have given up on me and I am just talking to myself.

If you have stuck with me – I am grateful! Normal service will now be resumed.

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Why the Chinese won’t be seen dead wearing Gucci

My children and I once spent a fascinating hour watching a Chinese chap in Malacca (Malaysia) constructing a fridge out of balsa wood and paper whilst his colleague put the finishing touches on a paper model of a car.  These were to be sold at one of the many shops that catered for people buying ‘funerary goods’.

These items are usually sold as offerings to be burnt for the dead so they can use them in the afterlife. In a way this is not dissimilar to what the ancient Egyptians did, being buried with items they could use in the hereafter; or what Chinese Emperors did by commissioning whole armies of Terracotta Warriors for their tombs.

In these ‘modern’ times the practice still continues in China.  Whilst you are less likely to see it in the north and west of the country in the southern seaboard provinces like Guangdong and Fujian and of course in Hong Kong.

In those parts of China ‘funerary goods’ are big business, and these days you can buy a whole lot more sophisticated paper items than those we saw being made in Malacca.


Qing Ming Festival 清明节  (aka Tomb Sweeping Festival) in early Spring is when buying and burning these goods comes to a head. For millennia it has been the custom to spend one of the festival days at the ancestral/parental tombs, clean them and adorn them and leave offerings – fruit, foods etc and to burn Hell Money and  paper goods.paper iphone

mercedes_joss          Whole paper villas with modern kitchens and swimming pools are available to buy. Paper cars with uniformed chauffeurs, Apple laptops,  iPhones,  Louis Vuitton bags,

Paper Gucci bag

Gucci bags and shoes have proved immensely popular.  Of course your dead ancestors might need more homely, practical items – Macdonald’s burgers and fries, new dentures and mouthwash, spectaclesPaper false teeth for the dead, a new watch…all available as paper replicas.  It is amazing what you can buy.

But this year Qing Ming took on a whole new twist when it turned out that in some of the big rich cities, sweeping the tombs of dead pets was becoming prevalent !!!  Rover the dog and Fluffy the cat were trumping the ancestors – wow, that’s something new.

Hot on the heels of that revelation is the news that last week, Italian fashion company Gucci  sent a ‘Cease and Desist’ letter to the Hong Kong shops selling Chinese funerary goods. Gucci claims that the paper replicas are ‘fake’ goods which are therefore illegal. For heaven’s sake – of course they are fake, they are made of PAPER!  Nobody thinks they are the real thing, and in any case people buy them to burn them…they are not exactly a drag on the real goods that Gucci produces and sells at high-end glitzy shops in China.         Gucci is not losing out – except for the fact they are not making the paper goods themselves – maybe they should get into the ‘funerary goods’ business asap.

Because if they can’t wear Gucci – the Dead will wear Prada!




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The Pongiest* Pizza is now available in China.

When you go out for a pizza, or order one to be delivered, what topping do you usually choose?


Quattro Stagioni,  Capricciosa, Margharita, Napoletana, or something a little different such as Durian Pizza?      Durian?…WTF!  the most horrible tasting/smelling fruit in the entire world combined with mozzarella as a pizza topping -whose crazy idea was that?

Two words:  Pizza Hut  ( 必胜客 Bìshèng Kè).

Yes folks, they are the geniuses behind this abomination.


Firstly I should say that whilst I do like a pizza once in a while, Pizza Hut, Pappa John’s and all those other big business pizza franchises are not where I would ever head, their pizzas don’t appeal.  The honourable exception to that view was the British pizza chain Pizza Express which was excellent when it first got going (it is now owned by a Chinese conglomerate).

But for Pizza Hut to come up with the ‘concept’ of durian on pizza beggars belief.

For those of you who do not know about durian, let me give you some background info.      A durian is a large spiky husked fruit with a pungent odour which is grown in SE Asia.     There are 30 species of the genus Durio, but the most common one found internationally is Durian kutejensis.  When ripe the smell of the fruit can be detected over a distance of half a mile by animals ranging from squirrels, mousedeer, elephants and carnivorous tigers – tigers! I kid you not.

Many years ago I tried Durian Ice-cream in Singapore – one spoonful was enough to make me gag, and despite washing my mouth out with water five or six times I just couldn’t get rid of the lingering taste. However people in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia seem to love the fruit, and so do many Chinese.

I’ve heard the taste of durian described as ‘eating garlic flavoured egg custard over an open sewer’.  Two of the most famous cookery pundits have described it thus: “the taste of dead babies mixed with strawberries and Camembert” (Julia Childs);  and “its like french-kissing your dead grandmother” (Anthony Bourdain).  And I wouldn’t disagree with a word they sahttps://photos.travelblog.org/Photos/78711/363741/f/3337436-No-durian-sign-0.jpgid.

Most SE Asian airlines will not allow you to take a durian on a plane, Singapore Mass Transit bans them, and many hotels in Malaysia have large ‘No Durian’ signs posted on their entrance doors – I don’t blame them.

But will they be able to ban Durian Pizzas???



*pongiest is English slang for ‘smelliest’ – a pong is a  bad smell.


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Bead counters for Bean counters

Did you, or your children, or maybe your grandchildren have one of these?

My own grandsons have one – it is,of course, a child’s abacus. Coloured ‘beads’ on horizontal rods within a frame. Toddlers love pushing the beads back and forth and have no idea what they are really for.

Abacuses (abacii??) are an ancient form of counting device; prior to their invention stones or beans on a flat surface had been used in many ancient societies to tally numbers – of men, cattle, armaments, money owed etc.they were probably invented in China (wasn’t everything back in the day!) approximately 600BC.  By the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220AD) mathematician Xu Yue had initiated  the first ever concept of “abacus calculation” in his book ‘Memoir on Mathematical Art’.

Hmm… let me digress for a moment to tell you of a thought I had a few moments ago  – prostitutes are often said to be the oldest profession in the world, but I’d bet accountants run them a close second – there has ever been a desire by those in power to quantify money and goods for tax purposes (including the money prostitutes would make by plying their trade), and so the profession of accountancy was born – and accountants need calculators.  Just a thought.

What the Chinese did with this ancient and simple computing method was to put it all onto a flat plate which could be moved; and the Ancient Romans refined it to framework which could be carried from place to place.


Roman abacus

This in turn went back down the Silk Roads where the Chinese changed it slightly yet again.https://i0.wp.com/i.kinja-img.com/gawker-media/image/upload/s--MjouNq5c--/18rpvhglqfo61jpg.jpg

The concept of the abacus  – or sùanpán 算盤 (calculating plate) as the Chinese call it – went from the east through Egypt, Ancient Greece and then to Rome, taking in Russia, Persia etc. en route.  In fact it was the Ancient Greeks who gave the device the name abax or abakon which became ‘abacus’ as westerners call it today. They were widely used across Europe from the 12th century onward.

In recent times three types of abacus have been in common use –  Chinese, Japanese  and Russian.  The Chinese abacus is widely used throughout East Asia (apart from Japan and Korea which used the Japanese version called Soroban).

Staying in Singapore 30 years ago, I recall being gobsmacked by how fast a local shopkeeper could – using an abacus – add up the bill for my purchases.  I even bought an abacus which came with a booklet on how to use it and took it back to the UK. Alas I never mastered the system.  The crucial fact I failed to grasp was that an abacus does not solve the math problem, the human being using it does, what the abacus does is keep a tally of all the numbers as you work it through.

Since the invention of computers and electronic calculators there have been contests held in HK, China and Japan to see which is fastest at helping someone to solve a maths problem, and frequently the abacus beat the other devices.  However the honest answer is that it depends on the skill and dexterity of the abacus user.  Even novices can use a calculator easily, but to be fast on an abacus requires practice and lots of experience.

A Chinese friend of mine who is 30  told me that when she was in primary school and was 10 years old, they were all taught to use an abacus. These days, she tells me, few children in Chinese schools are taught to use it – the electric calculator has won the battle!

The reason for this post about ‘The Abacus’ is because on Sunday afternoon I took my DH to an area of Beijing called Gaobeidian.

Once a village to the east of the city it has now been subsumed into greater Beijing. Gaobeidian was always a village of furniture makers, and what little of it remains – two or three streets – still is.  There are lots of shops, workshops etc where you can find old and new Chinese furniture, and craftsmen who will copy a wooden screen, chair, cabinet etc.    I have spent several happy hours fossiking about in Gaobeidian.  On Sunday we spent two hours browsing around one of the bigger shops ‘Lily’s Antiques’ or  华伦古典家具 as it is called in Chinese.  Measuring tape in hand we were on the hunt for a console cupboard for our hall area.  After we found the perfect piece, we wandered round and found ourselves in a huge room full of shelves of ceramics; tucked away at the back the DH spotted something unusual  – a circular abacus!

Round suanpan 2

It was dusty and dirty but when we hauled it out we discovered a small metal label on the outer frame. It had been made in 1935.  Circular abacuses were in use in the Song Dynasty  (circa 960-1279 AD) and then enjoyed a revival in the late 1920s/30s.  It was going for a song (pun) and I didn’t even bargain, I knew we had to have it.  Now it is hanging on the wall in our apartment, looking fantastic.  Chinese friends who have seen it are astounded, they have never seen a circular abacus before.

When I have finally mastered the complexities of reading, writing and speaking Mandarin, perhaps I will find someone who can teach me to use an abacus!



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Recently I had to take a plate of appetisers as a contribution to a pot-luck lunch party.  The guests were a mixed bunch of Brits, Germans, Chinese and Filipinos, I wanted to make something out of the ordinary which would link Asian and Western foods.
During the Victorian and Edwardian eras in Britain (think Downton Abbey!), posh dinners always ended with a ‘savoury’, which would be served after the dessert and before the ladies left the men to their port and cigars.
Apparently the idea was to cleanse the palate of ‘sweet’ tastes from the dessert course before further red wines and port were served.
Some of these savouries have become classics and have even crossed to the USA; however these days they are often eaten not as end of meal tidbits, but as appetisers.
Amongst the most famous of these savouries are Scotch Woodcock ( a posh name for scrambled egg with anchovies on a snippet of fried bread), Welsh Rarebit, and Angels/Devils-on-Horseback.
When I was doing my regular shop in San Yuan Li market, I discovered that sealed bags of freshly peeled water chestnuts were available from the ladies who sell me mushrooms.
That decided me, I would make a Chinese version of the ubiquitous Angels-on-Horseback (grilled bacon-wrapped oysters) or Devils-on-Horseback (grilled bacon-wrapped prunes). I used fresh peeled water-chestnuts wrapped in bacon and pinned with a bamboo toothpick, and brushed them with a sweet and spicy sauce, then grilled them. This is not new, it has been done before, but all the recipes I’ve seen used canned water-chestnuts and didn’t jazz them up with a Chinese sauce, which is what I planned to do.
Water-chestnuts are not a nut at all, they are the edible corm of a grass-like sedge (Elecharis dulcis) which grows in the underwater mud of marshes.  Once peeled they yield a crisp white ‘nut’ which the Chinese use in many foods to give a crunchy texture. They can be eaten raw, boiled, sweetened or even dried then ground into a type of flour.                        I love eating them in salads, casseroles, stir-fries, spring rolls etc.
peeled water chestnuts
Although they are deliciously crunchy, peeling them is a bit of a chore to say the least; in that way they do resemble the traditional chestnut, which is an absolute bugger to peel.So you can imagine how pleased I was to discover bags of freshly peeled ones in the market!
I don’t think fresh Water-chestnuts  peeled or unpeeled are available in the UK or outside the far east, but you can buy tinned peeled ones* in the World/Asian foods section of most western supermarkets, and they would do almost as well.
Dragons on Horseback 1
I decided these appetisers needed a proper name so I have re-branded them as
They were ridiculously easy to put together, and you can prep them in advance and just grill them at the last minute if you want to serve them hot – but they are just as delicious  if cooked earlier and served at room temperature.
Dragons on Horseback 2JPG
24 pieces
12 rashers streaky bacon (I used smoked, but un-smoked would be fine)
12 peeled water-chestnuts (if using tinned you may need more as they are smaller)
24 bamboo toothpicks
For the basting sauce
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar or runny honey
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2  teaspoon chilli & garlic sauce  (I use Lee Kum Kee brand which is excellent)
Pre-heat oven to 180C
Line a baking tray with tinfoil and oil it lightly.
Cut bacon rashers in half so you have 24 pieces.
Cut water-chestnuts in half.
Roll bacon pieces round each piece of water-chestnut and pin with a toothpick.
Mix the ketchup, sugar/honey, soy sauce and ‘Chili & Garlic Sauce’ together.
Put the dragon rolls into the baking tray and brush them with the sauce.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. You can turn them half way through and re-baste them with sauce.
They look good laid out on a large dish lined with fresh lettuce leaves.
*If you are buying tinned/canned water chestnuts for this recipe, be sure you buy a can that says ‘whole’ water-chestnuts’, sliced or diced will not do. 
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