Chinglish Rocks.

21 01 2018
Chinglish Rocks

The poster for our music night.

Our team and two musically-gifted friends—Li and Jean—formed an impromptu band named “Chinglish Rocks” (we mainly played Christmas songs). We were invited to play at our friend’s restaurant and brewery and it ended up being a really fun night. Our band even did a few of our own songs.

Chinglish Rocks

From L to R: Li, Kayla, Micah, me, Megan, Jean


The name of our band even inspired me to put together many of the Chinglish pictures I’ve collected over the years into a book named 3-Q: The Never-Complete Guide to Chinglish and It’s Wonderful Influence on China. (Let me know if you’re interested in purchasing .)


Oops, I forgot. #1-5

15 01 2018

Countries have different customs, cultures, and rules. The following are five things that are easy to forget when coming back from China to America:

1. Waste basket or toilet?

Two Toilets

Found at an elementary school.

In China, facilities don’t often supply toilet paper for their patrons (in fact, many countries operate in this same way). And after using your compact tissue packet, you can’t throw it in the toilet–it goes in the waste basket. When I first came to China, no one warned me that the drains can’t handle toilet paper, and my toilet was plugged within a week. So when I come back to America, I have to think twice about where to put the paper. Half the time, it still automatically ends up in the waste basket.

2. Honking and weaving in traffic.

Traffic in Kunming

Light traffic in my city.

It’s a normal part of life in China to hear horns and watch people weave through lanes of cars to “get there” first. Because if you don’t take the initiative, you’ll never arrive. And if you don’t honk to tell someone you’re behind, how will they know? I find that returning back to America makes me second-guess when I should honk and when I shouldn’t . . . or if it’s rude to pull into that empty lane without blinking or not.

3. Commenting and Language.

If we don’t speak the same language, it’s easy to feel like I have freedom to comment about life around me. “Wow, that bag looks heavy,” “Um, yes, that is my back you are touching,” “Do you see what his shirt says in English???” But when you’re in America, everyone can understand English . . . and they understand it well. Sometimes that’s hard to remember.

It’s also difficult to remember that, in America, I can’t speak half in Chinese and half in English.  Often, I find it hard to find the correct ways to tell you how “mafan” (a pain) that was, remember that questions don’t end in “ma”, and that I’m supposed to say “right?”, not “shi bu shi?”

4. How do I get there?

In China:

  • Going to the grocery store and bringing back six bags of groceries? Bike. Fill your backpack, balance four bags on your handlebars, and strap the 10-pack of toilet paper to the back. Carry them up at least three flights of stairs.
  • Going to school or work? Bus on rainy days or bike through bumper-to-bumper buses, cars, construction workers, and thousands of potholes on the way.


    Standing in line for a fast train.

  • Going to travel? Rent a public bike or walk to the subway, ride 40 minutes to the slow train, and take a 8-hour sleeper train to the next province over.
  • Going to play a sport? Bike forty minutes (around 8 km) to the nearest open grass field, play for two hours, then bike another forty minutes back in the dark. Good exercise!
  • Visit a friend down the road? Walk. Visit a few of your shop owner friends along the way.

In America:

  • Going to the grocery store and bringing back six bags of groceries? Take the car. Find the closest parking spot to avoid carrying the groceries too far and bring them inside via the cool, covered garage that attaches to the house.
  • Going to school or work? Thaw the car out for ten minutes while you shovel the driveway, then drive on the highway for fifteen minutes. The car will be warm by the time you arrive . . .
  • Going to travel? Ten-hour road trip coming up! Or jump in your car, park, and hop on a plane.
  • Going to play a sport? If there’s not an open field down the road, drive to one and drive back with the music and air-conditioning blasting.
  • Visit a friend down the road? Just take the car! It’ll take, like, ten minutes to walk.

5. Money.

WeChat Image_20180708090818

At first, money from other countries looks like Monopoly money. Then you use it long enough, and money from America starts to look a bit weird. After a while, there are certain things you can’t remember the normal American prices for.

Um, so how much would that be in RMB?

Why are dollars all the same size and color?

Why does America use so many coins?

Wait a second, did I just give you yi kuai (1 RMB) or a quarter?



Red Riders

8 01 2018


This year, I happened to be on a soccer team with a guy whose family was from Mongolia. This man’s business friend flew in a famous singing/dancing group to Kunming to perform for three days. I went to both the more-relaxed meal (where the Mongols honored the guests with blue scarfs and very strong droughts of alcohol and we talked in Chinese and danced together) as well as the more professional performance, which was amazing but not quite as intriguing.

The story I heard about this group is extremely interesting, though I have since found that what I was told cannot be corroborated for thus far. Therefore, you’ll have to decide for yourself if you think evidence can support the following story:

These people are one of the few remaining “Red Rider” troupes, groups formed by Mao during the Cultural Revolution. The main purpose of the Red Riders was to travel around Mongolia, spreading propaganda through song and dance. Today, the groups have little political significance and most have disbanded, but there are still a few who sing songs of national praise for cultural purposes. This group is one of them.


Two particular features the Red Riders display are their distinctive “horse head fiddles”, or morin khuur, and their ability to “throat sing”. Horses are a huge part of Mongol culture, and, when played together, the fiddles can create an upbeat song not unlike a horse neigh or horse race, or a slow, mournful tune. Throat singing is unique to only a few cultures, where singers use circular breathing to create guttural sounds and whistle-like harmonies at the same time. You can listen to a sample of it here.