Incy Wincy Chinese Spider….

I am not an Arachnophobe; I don’t really mind spiders and am not terrified of them – to be honest that does not mean I would like a whole lot of them crawling all over me – but on the whole I think they are a vital and fascinating part of the natural world.

So I was interested when an ‘old, very rare’ spider was found in Sichuan Province a few days ago.  What really caught my attention was how it looked. 3A9C2E9100000578-3956784-image-a-10_1479727306847.jpg

Li Wenhua found it on his small farm in Pujiang county, Sichuan Province – down in the south west of China. He thought he had spotted an ancient relic on the ground below his orange trees, it was only when he went to pick it up that he realised it was a spider.cyclocosmia-ricketti.jpg    The spider has a very distinctive ‘plate’ on its abdomen, and the plate which is about the size of a small coin, has a very unusual pattern on it which appears similar to a carving. You can see why Li Wenhua thought he had found some kind of cultural artifact lying on the ground,


The spider in question is a Chinese Hourglass Spider (Cyclocosmia Ricketti), which is a member of the group called ‘Trapdoor spiders’. The females are approximately 28 mm long and the ‘disc’ has a radius of 16mm. This specimen is only the 6th to be seen since 2000.

Trapdoor spiders live in the ground, they build a trap lined with their ‘silk’, and when some creature that they fancy eating goes past they rush out, inject them with venom and haul them back into their trap hole for a tasty dinner.

This species of spider was first documented in China over a thousand years ago, and is thought to be the spider referred to in some Chinese literature. In China a spider is considered an auspicious symbol – there are a couple of  words for spider in Chinese, and one of them is xizi  虫喜 子 where the first character has the same pronunciation as the word for happy – xi  .

We are constantly being told  that mankind has damaged the natural world so badly that whole species are becoming extinct day by day, so it is encouraging to find such a small creature, that, despite the odds – pesticides, pollution, growing populations, erosion of habitats etc – is still hanging in there.  I reckon that insects will survive long after the human race has perished!

At the moment all I can think is ‘ain’t Nature wonderful’ – what a world we live in, we must take care of it.

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English olive-ball game: Rugby in China

The Chinese word for Rugby is   英式 橄榄球yingshi gan lan qiu)ie: ‘English Olive-ball game’- obviously because the ball is the shape of an olive.


It has not been a particularly popular game here compared with other Western sports such as basketball, tennis, football (aka soccer). It is mostly played by ex-pats, but is also played by members of the Chinese military who think the game is great for instilling team-work and toughening up the players.  When they leave the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) many men and women who have played the game and come to love it have set up their own small Rugby clubs.chinese_rugby_football_association

Now it has had a MASSIVE boost.  The sports division of AlibabaAlisports, headed by CEO Zhang Dazhong  – is ploughing $100 million ( approx £80.5 million)  into rugby in China over the next 5 years. This will pay for the training of coaches, referees, players etc…..and the numbers are huge – 30,000 coaches, 15,000 match officials and                1 million players by 2021 is what they aim to achieve!


Why are they doing this?  Interesting question. Not being an expert on rugby in China (or anywhere else) I consulted my dear friend Robert Costello who has lived, worked and played rugby in China for a number of years.  He told me:

‘..much of this is due to China’s desire to play a greater role internationally in not just the key hard-power areas of foreign policy, military presence and investment but also in soft power areas such as sport. One of the key developments we had was Rugby 7s being made an Olympic Sport for the 2016 Games in Rio this summer and with China still very driven on defining its sporting prowess through the number of gold medals, the Chinese government will want to boost its chances of making rugby another event to add to its medal tally in future Olympics.’

Robert went on to say:
The fact that China has never qualified for a Rugby World Cup, and its dismal position in the world rankings (it is currently 68th behind absolutely tiny nations such as the Cayman Islands and the Cook Islands, although we know that population numbers don’t necessarily mean success given the fact that New Zealand, a country of barely  4.5m, absolutely dominates the sport) is most likely a sore spot.
Especially when the largest growth in audience numbers for the 2015 Rugby World Cup came from Asia with viewership up over 200% and rugby growing very strongly around the world.
So know you know;  and if you notice that China seems to be climbing the Rugby rankings you will understand why.

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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 sa

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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