Archive for the ‘Good to know’ Category

The order of things

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

A is before B. And U before me. Cz is pronounced “tsh”, but you’ll still find it under C.

The alphabet is great. Not only does it allow us the verbal and written communication – it also gives us the possibility to create completely new word-creations.
However, one talent of the alphabet is completely under-rated until you arrive on the other side of this planet: it’s ability to bring order.

Whether it’s sorting the file cabinet, the CD- or the book shelf – lot’s of people would have a hard time without that alphabet. It eases the checking of the attendance list in class and provides for a clear structure in the mobile phone’s address book.

Want to sort according to the first or the last name? One click and you know where to look for – and find – your friend’s numbers.

But what if you’re not about to sort Tamara and Aaron into some list, but need to deal with 静 and 建国? (let’s ignore for the moment that in China you wouldn’t sort by the first name, but rather by the last name – well, if we can call it “last name” anyway)

Looking for answers we firstly run into the usual Chinese traps: one asks a direct question like, let’s say: “how do you sort things in China?” and wakes up about an hour later, being stuck in an exhausting and hot tempered discussion. A discussion without any foreseeable end or a definite answer.

Still, I’ll give it a try to summarize it from a European point of view:

Luckily, the old times (about 50 years or so ago) are over. Back then pretty much anyone had their own way of sorting. And you don’t want to try and put logic to that. Nowadays two main systems have survived: sorting by pronunciation and by the number of line strokes.

The former is easy to understand: 静 will be sorted under J, because it’s pronounced “Jing”. 建国 will also be found under J, because he he will hear his name being called “Jian Guo”. Unfortunately though, my research was not able to uncover whether Jian Guo would be sorted IN FRONT of Jing, just like we would do it according to our alphabetical understanding. You never know – after the first letter everything could be Chinese-like chaotic…
By the way – most computer systems also sort files this way and therefore, surprisingly, they follow the alphabet. At least phonetically. Except when they don’t, which also happens sometimes. And you guessed it – nobody knows why that is.

Stacking variation #2 refers to the line-count of the Chinese characters. By this system we will find 静 under 14 and 建国 under 8. From a European point of view this is quite weird. Chinese, however, are used to the proximity of letters and numbers. It’s how they look up unknown characters in the dictionary.

China developed a counting system, because of the fact that naturally nobody is able to pronounce a character they have never seen before in their life: So they count the line strokes in the main part of the character (somehow Mister Li and his bunch are able to determine this). And with this information they quite quickly can find the character in the dictionary, which has a look-up table for this purpose. That’s quite a handy thing.

Only our structure-loving Mister Meyer is wondering about two different systems existing in parallel: “But that would mean having to always first check which kind of system is used!” Exactly, Mister Meyer, you got it! And Mister Li casually adds “….so?” and keeps chewing his chicken foot.

If your last name is “Li”, order and regulation are not exactly the main purpose of life. And it doesn’t matter either, people still survive. Our bureaucratic Mister Meyer on the other hand is still startled and orders another beer.
By the way: just like in the West, beer in China is sorted into the belly. Ah, we’re not so different after all. Ganbei!

Main dish on the side

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

“Ok, so we’d like the fried something-fish, those spicy little chicken pieces in the basket, the green beans with tiny minced meat, those pinkygreen cold cucumber slices and the pork with green pepper strips. Honey, what was it that you wanted?”

Mister Meyer raises his head from the menu. His wife however is terribly busy talking with Miss Johnson about the pros and cons of buying fake handbags. “Oh, right”, he remembers, ” we definitely need this potato mountain. You know, the dwarfy fries if you will. Those are just to die for”.

The waiter, a distant brother-in-lawish cousin of second degree to Mister Li’s aunt in the mother side of the family, is duly noting down the order and then returns to look at Mister Meyer with great attention. Mister Meyer, being done with his order, just sits there and looks back at him, not showing any signs of adding something. The waiter is obviously confused. But the reply he gives not only confuses Mister Meyer. It has the same effect on Mister Johnson and would even confuse the ladies, if only they were less busy with their topic.

“And for main course”?

Mister Meyer is slightly helpless. Well aware that an uncomfortable pause is beginning to build up, he quickly tries to find a solution for a problem he doesn’t even understand.

“Ehm, well, so we’d also like the lamb with coriander.” It almost rather sounded like a question than another order. As Mister Meyer looks at the waiter again, his confusion is quite tangible. How many dishes would he need to order until it’s acknowledged as a valid meal?

The waiter on the other hand is just as helpless. But he eventually heads off to the kitchen. Another one of these weird foreigner orders…

Here we were able to witness a scene which every day takes place in this country in one way or the other. Our culinary quartet from the West will shake their heads upon leaving the restaurant. They don’t understand why in China people need to order so many main dishes that it’s impossible to finish the plates. The clearing waiter on the other hand is also shaking his head. And it’s because of the foreigners who always order so many side dishes while forgetting so many other important parts of a meal.

The yummy tummy reader probably guessed it: once again everything is different in Li country.

In the West we have gotten used to a very clear food order: Steak with fries, chicken with rice, lamb with sauteed veggies, red snapper with salat on the side. Neatly following formular t as in tasty we call the dish by the meat part and treat the herbal part as secondary level. It’s on the side any way and therefore not too important. But noone cares too much about this, because at the end of the day, in the West we are served a pre-arranged meal all on one plate for a single person.

You may order a starter prior to the main course and that could be anything: hot, cold, meaty or veggie. Being a starter, it has no further description like, let’s say, side-dish-starter or main-hors d’œvre. And nobody cares should you not order any starter at all.

In China people expect you to be able to compse a dinner. You don’t get your all-on-one-plate servings, but need to order every food category yourself. Oh, and of course not only for yourself, but for the whole group. The plates will be gathered on the turntable in the middle and everybody enjoys everything. If it’s tasty. And if it’s composed with sense.

There should be a soup in order to warm up the stomach. A cold starter (there aren’t really any warm starters) should be on the table and of course a number of dishes, covering at least two meat categories. And certainly some veggie plates as well. After all that we turn to the main course. This is usually constituted by a bowl of rice, Baozi (a dough ball with filling) or noodles. Something with starch. Being a foreigner, this can certainly mess up your sense for what terms to use for food. A small bowl of plain rice….and that’s supposed to be a main course? You’d never guess if noone tells you.

Tea is also a must on the table. Or beer for that matter. A clear choice. And with both there is a single principle: The host (we’ll learn who that is in a minute) refills. And refilling means to watch out closely that no cup or glass is ever less than half way full. That constitutes a problem for the peace-loving European who likes to empty the glass or is looking forward to the drinkable temperature of the tea. It’s like consumption stress: much too often will he drink and also way too much, because the glass is always full.

The person to refill the glasses also has to watch out for one more thing: never to place the tea can facing any of the guests. That’s rude, will bring heaps of bad luck and constitutes the beginning of the end of the world. The only strange thing: this seems to be limited to the guests on the refiller’s own table. Nobody gives a chicken foot, should it point directly towards 120 other people in the room.

The host in the role of the refiller needs to be very much up to speed. Should he fail to fulfill the filling, he will be perceived as being stingy and inhospitable. Optionally this arguable fame falls to the younger generation who are required to take care of the oder ones. Regardless of who is the host.

And that brings us to the topic of “who is the host?”. Let’s assume that Mister and Misses Meyer have called up Mister and Misses Johnson to go and have dinner with them. In the Chinese mind, everything is set from that very moment. Mister Meyer is expected to book the restaurant, choose the dishes (at least 2 more than anyone can eat), watch over the drink supply and at the end of the day to pay the bill. Mister Johnson’s task on the other hand is to act like he wanted to take on the check. After that, both should fight for a short moment, only to have Mister Meyer prevail. This enables Mister Johnson to express a friendly “next time it’s on me”.

Subsequently that’s something he should do. And everything starts over from the beginning. With or without main course.

Lighten up with alien glibber!

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

On the last day of February it was time. Time for anniversary. Needless to say, it wasn’t a pretty one, but you just can’t overlook it.

Rustily the fallen ogre raises towards the heavens, stained like the fur of a scabiesious mutt. The metal skin is pervious and bust open at countless places. Steel struts from every corner join to form a crumbled monument. Like begging hands they dramatically raise their silent “why”?

You guessed it – we’re talking about the Mandarin Oriental. It was destined to become the new talk-of-the-town hotel inside the glorious CCTV complex, right at the heart of Beijing. And we all know how that turned out.

Authorities managed to blame 20 wild jumping jacks for the whole premature deconstruction during the course of the past year. Ignoring police advice they indulged in their explosive needs at the time in question and in the courtyard of the CCTV. From now forth they may indulge in splitting that extensively large piece of paper that resembles the bill. A few millions in length. Talking about explosive!

However, the clever reader certainly has already detected a flaw with the date. The five-star fireworks of last year took place on the 10th of February. So, how come the anniversary is this late?

The answer, mind you, lays within the calendar system. 15 days after the Chinese New Year is the lantern festival. On this day the Chinese dig up their last cracker reserves and celebrate the final day of the New Year’s festivities. Not a good day for devotees of peace and quiet. And not a good day for new buildings either as it seems.

So on the 28th it was lantern festival again. And this time it should be well prepared. Nobody wanted another major BBQ event. And so a truckload of signs were erected, cautioning everyone that fireworks wouldn’t be allowed in the city center. Neither close to buildings, places of public interest and best of all would be not to have any fireworks at all. You could call it the “No bang” parole.

But frankly, what do you think that billions of Chinese will do when there are countless sales tents in every larger street, just tempting everybody’s explosive desires?

Well, certainly – they buy. And they do it by the dozen.

This year the country has seen 676 fires accompanying the New Year festivities. Bottom line of damages? 2 Million Yuan. Approximately. Strange enough you can hear the authorities being proud that the death toll was reduced by a staggering 66,7 percent compared to the year before. However, they pre-cautiously don’t publish any total numbers.

Maybe that’s not such a bad idea, given the fact that just in Guangdong 21 people were swiped off the face of this earth in a single explosion due to exaggerated use of fireworks. We better don’t project that to country-wide numbers.

The odd truth is that the lantern festival originated from the will to keep suffering and death away from the country rather than attracting it. To intimidate the evil with red light like from fire and the noise of exploding firecrackers and to embrace the good into your home – this was designed to harvest heaps of luck and fortune for the coming year.

Catering to my endeavor to make the readers of this blog the best-informed on the planet I tried to gather as much information as possible about this special day. Every spot of this country was decorated with red lanterns and so it looked promising. Mister Li’s ancestors, however, have been happy travelers. And so I learned that all the historical rites and customs of the countless regional cultures have been blended into an altogether-now-smoothie.

It’s tasty in a way, but nobody really knows what’s in it or where certain traditions originate from. There was this dragon they had killed. And now the god was in a bad mood. So the Chinese had thought up the clever plan to spoof the almighty mate and thus created a certain theatrical masterpiece. By making the Earth look like it’s already doomed, they had hoped the god would refrain from his revenging plan. Why bother? The humans are already killing one another as it seems. You must wonder though why nobody thought about this possibility: What if that god got up the next day and saw this very Earth calm and in order while looking out of the window and having a godly morning coffee? Wouldn’t Lord Thunder just pick up his revenging plans again on that day? The mumbled answer to this question is a simple: “don’t ask ‘why’ all the time”!

Yes, the Chinese don’t like to ask “why”, they just do as they are told! Not going to the hairdresser until March 17, because this could make your uncle suffer? Well, there’s half an explanation, but no-one really is too sure. Still they obey that rule. Eating dumplings for the New Year, trying to find a coin in them? Come on – we always did this, what’s with all the questioning?

I have to admit – in Europe people on the streets would have trouble explaining why there are eggs for Easter and what the deal is with the special biological feature that these are delivered by a bunny. And the turkey for American Thanksgiving? Yea, well, there were these pilgrims and they kinda didn’t find the drive-in….ah, gee, don’t ask so much!

So in Beijing, anyway, at lantern festival they eat this …eh…stuff. For clear identification and to make things easier I dubbed them as “alien glibber”. Those who fancy a more disgusting description may very well refer to them as ‘something like soft-boiled cow eyeballs’. That would be very related to their texture. But it doesn’t help the will to bite into them.

Frankly, this dish carries another thousand years old history full of dragons, agony and valiant virgins. But this tale shall be told another time. For now let’s focus on the taste. It only took a very short year to get used to them (you simply don’t really eat them at any other time in the year) and they are not that bad. Really. Strangely similar to a Squash ball you push the top surface almost all the way down to the bottom, before the laws of physics allow a tearing of the ball and reveal the inside. And that’s where the color contrast awaits the nosy one: a dark black substance oozes out and over the innocently white edges.

“Indiana Jones part 2″ is the first thing that comes to mind. Memories of a childhood, staring at the TV screen. The rental VHS tape in the squeeling player. Harrison Ford, fitted with hat and lash, sitting at the table of horror. Monkey brain, bugs and snakes offer themselves as the utmost delicacies. The first impression is indeed related. How disappointing and boring the truth! There’s no busting chitin armor and no horrible bitter substances are attacking the taste buds. Instead it’s total relief: they are nothing but sticky rice balls filled with a sesame cream. And that’s just how harmless they get acquainted with the senses. A nice dessert. Unfamiliar but not untasty.

When sitting among the happily smacking and chatting family circle, shouting “ganbei” more often than not, there’s a single thing one can constitute at the end: Not even the Western foreigner needs a “why” for cosiness, peace and comfort. The only question coming to mind may be “why not more often”?

Note on the side:

We were able to make use of our private artillery without any unplanned incidences or blazing cultural possessions.

But then again – we only had two very tiny crackers….

(Deutsch) Meckern, Tischkante und das K im TV

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

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(Deutsch) Wo ist denn das jetzt?

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

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(Deutsch) Mal mir mal ‘ne Bedeutung

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

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(Deutsch) Breadkrümels

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

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(Deutsch) Das grüne Blatt im roten Meer

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

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How to: China Mobile + Internet

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

I want a phone service with Internet!
So, you’ve come to China, made it through the first encounter with a taxi driver and even got your working permit and visa straightened out.

Now you want to quit paying those roaming fees with your foreign phone provider, but you have no idea what to get instead. All your persuasions didn’t help: your company is not going to provide you with a SIM card that they paid for. So you’re on your own. Now what?

Well, then you’re about where I used to be for a long time, keeping listening to different people telling different stories. I believe I came to something you may call a solution and so let me try to shed some light onto China Mobile’s(CM) service plans (as I know nothing about China Unicom’s, sorry).

CM has 3 types of products to choose from :


Shenzhouxing (Easy Own)
This pre-paid card is available at most newsstands and supermarkets. It comes pre-charged and works out of the box as soon as you put it into your own phone. Buy top-up cards anywhere to recharge the SIM card when it runs out if money. Very easy.
This card makes most sense if you’re in the country only for a few weeks.

It’s quite pricy as you can imagine, because you’re not bound by a contract. Also, be aware that you are charged a certain amount of money even for receiving calls. You can buy a package for 10 RMB that prevents this and you can also subscribe to other volume services for calling and texting. This is usually done by sending a certain code via SMS to CM. They will then deduct the applicable fee from your pre-paid card at the beginning of every month. Unfortunately, I have not yet found a complete list of the possible services you can subscribe to, so you need to keep digging.

You can subscribe to GPRS packages, but they will not get you www service, only access to WAP, which usually is not what you want, because it’s very limited: view only WAP sites from CM.


This is the most-people-have-it solution. It’s also a pre-paid system and you need to charge it regularly. You can only get this product in an official CM store, not in a market. Also, they need your passport and address to register you as the owner. However, since it’s pre-paid, there’s nothing you need to cancel in case you leave the country or just don’t want to use the SIM card any longer. It’ll stay active for 3 months and will work as usual once you recharge the number again. If you don’t – well, then nothing’s going to happen.

You are required to book at least one package as a monthly subscription. This must be a text or voice plan. Data services are extra. Voice or text plans start very low at something like 11RMB, so it’s nothing to be majorly concerned about.

GPRS works out of the box (see possible necessary settings for your phone below), but you should get a volume package instead of using pay-as-you-go, because the KB prices aren’t exactly cheap. GPRS packages start very low at about 5RMB and go up to 200RMB, depending on your needs. The CM store will have a list with the latest rates to choose from. Bring some time…
Or else check out this link beforehand. I got it from and it lists the available GPRS packages. It’s in Chinese, so you might want to run it through Google Translate or similar.


This is what I’d call a business-oriented plan. They offer post-payments and are directed towards people who use voice more than text messages and who call lots and lots, national and international. If you get this, then you need to cancel your contract once you don’t want any further service. Otherwise the bills keep coming.

The packages available are mainly directed towards lots of calling minutes and make those much cheaper, I’m not too familiar with the rates though.

Same story as M-Zone.

Still doesn’t work?
If you already happen to have an M-Zone or GoTone SIM card, have entered the settings I showed you down below and still get no connection, then you need to go to a CM store or simply let a Chinese-speaking person call 10086 to have them activate GPRS access for you. Your card simply may not yet be authorized.

Already have a Shenzhouxing and want to keep your number?
That’s no problem. Well, maybe that’s a point of view. Firstly, you need to still have that credit card-sized plastic framing from which you originally broke out that small SIM card. This one contains all sorts of authorization numbers on the back that the CM representative needs on order to do the trick.

So take that and your passport when you go to a store. They’ll do the switch from your Shenzhouxing plan to one of the other without problem, BUT: you need to wait until the beginning of the following month for the whole thing to take effect. Until then everything will stay as it is, so no GPRS for the rest of the current month.

Be patient for about 30 days
The one month waiting period is the case with anything official or GPRS-related. CM doesn’t do these kind of things right away, so even if you have an M-Zone or GoTone and want to have a GPRS volume package, you’ll have to wait for the 1st of the following month for it to take effect. Until then you’ll stay on the expensive by-KB rate. Make sure to be clear about whether or not you have an active package to avoid costly surprises.

Lots of phones can actually use the GPRS access without further configuration, but some might need a tweak. Here are the settings for both, Internet and MMS for you. The latter is needed especially if you have an iPhone, which will simply not show MMS ability until you enter this information and completely reboot the device:

Cellular Data network service settings for GPRS access:

APN: cmnet
Leave username and password blank or use ” guest ” for both if you phone requires an entry.

APN: cmwap
MMS proxy:

On the Apple iPhone, you’ll get to this by tapping the SETTINGS icon on the home screen, go to GENERAL, then NETWORK and then CELLULAR DATA NETWORK. Don’t forget to also enable MMS in SETTINGS – MESSAGES by putting the slider “MMS Messaging” to ON.

I hope this helps anybody who’s been trying to figure this out without success like I did for a long time.

(Deutsch) 15 dingens fuffzich

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

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(Deutsch) Benimmsisch für Anfänger (3)

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

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(Deutsch) Benimmsisch für Anfänger (2)

Friday, January 9th, 2009

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(Deutsch) Benimmsisch für Anfänger (1)

Monday, December 8th, 2008

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(Deutsch) Aus 6 mach 7

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

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(Deutsch) Was nicht passt…

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

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