Essential Chinese: Get Online

shang wangMost people in the bars and coffeeshops of Yangzhou have been able to understand combinations of internet, password, and various question-words and point me to the wifi password. (Special thanks to the lady at Sir Coffee who understood my extra-awful Wang lu zai nar?, and didn’t laugh at me. You are my favorite. I realized what I’d said as soon as I said it. Ugh. ) But my goal with my Chinese is to be able to handle my daily life interactions, especially conversations I have repeatedly, with proper Mandarin sentences and not my awkward laowei hua. The proper way to ask about the internet is shang wang.

Shang means up. The line is on the bottom, not the top, and the tone is falling, not rising, just to screw with Westerners who want to apply logic to memorizing characters. You can see this character in the word Shanghai. It’s used more poetically as parts of other words, we up-work when we go into the office, and down-work at the end of the day. This is a three-stroke character, easy to recognize, but one of the perculiarities of Yangzhou accent is pronouncing the sh sound as s, so it can be hard for me to pick it out of an unfamiliar sentence (See previous re: screwing with foreigners).

Wang means internet. It’s one of the first characters I could recognize, partly because it’s two Xs in a net, and partly because finding internet bars was a large part of my first year in Yantai.

Internet me up, basically. I wanted to confirm that shang wang means connect to the internet, so I typed shang wang into my dictionary app. and, yeah, 上网, connect to the internet,  was the second option for that pin yin. Number one was 伤亡, deaths and casualties. Tones are rubbish, you guys.

Build an ‘Immense Army’


Immense Army, playable on CrazyGames, is an upgrade army for your browser. Immense Army resembles the Viking combat game Frozen Islands, with a similar battle and upgrade cycle, and similar adorable combat sequences.

You’ll turn combat victories into resources in an particularly evil way — each victory of supercute heroes over cartoony goblins or orcs will give you prisoners to work in your mines. If you’ve minmaxed your army, and ended up with a wildly overpowered crew fighting a couple of scrappy mountain bandits, use the slider on the bottom to decrease your attack power and increase the number of new captives. Not saying I did that.

You’ll also know right away which battles to try next, since each battle is green, yellow or red. Green means you’ll win, and red means to wait until your army has grown a bit before taking it on.

Immense Army

Since this army is, you know, immense, players aren’t capped at a certain number of swordsman, archers, warlocks or other fighter classes per level. Just click to add another. If you’d like to make this into a cookie clicker game, you can click endlessly and even upgrade your click power for more fighters per click. I didn’t really engage this mechanic much, but it amused me that it was there. That’s definitely one way to amass an immense army. Your fighters will also increase passively, even while you’re in combat, viewing your achievements, or writing on your blog, so you don’t have to click for growth. The best strategy is unlocking all the combat classes as early as possible, and letting the passive increases grow your immense army.


Fans of Frozen Islands and fantasy kingdoms will like Immense Army. You can play it on CrazyGames, or right here:

Immense Army is currently available on CrazyGames, along with plenty of other Flash games like puzzle game 2048, and evil twin 2584, secret vampire makeouts in Twilight Kissing, and cute buttonmashing adventure Mighty Knight.



crazygamesThis post is shared with you in partnership with CrazyGames.

Ma La Tong

Went out last night for a leaving party, one of our students is going to university and one of the teachers is finishing his contract and leaving for a new job. I’d forgotten how much of expat life is leaving parties for people moving away. I was slightly disappointed, because the teacher who’s moving on seems like a great guy, I feel like we just got past how-was-your-class office chitchat, and started getting to know each other, and I enjoyed his company.  And our student, Sean, is a sweet kid who’s not shy about his love for James Franco and geography. Sometimes conversational classes turn into groupthink, so having Sean in a class is always a delight.

Anyway, I was glad my coworkers didn’t hold my drinking game analysis against me. Coworker James, who’s come to China to work on his novel, said he knows a good Florida drinking game called Shots in The Kitchen. To play, go in the kitchen and do a shot. I did not overanalyze that one.


raw ma la tong

Ma la tong is a make-your-own hot soup. Each person grabsingredients from a fridge, most of them are on skewers that might be mistaken for barbecue, and then it’s cooked into individual soups bowls. Prices are between 5 jiao and 1.5 kwai (that’s 8-23 cents, for everyone playing along at home) per stick. I didn’t choose any of the raw meats, but let’s be realistic about these baskets and the cross contamination going on. Actually, let’s not think too much about that. Everything’s getting boiled, it’ll be fine. (James: That C from the health inspection? It just stands for Cool With Me!)

I’d tried ma la tong with coworker Rob a couple weeks ago, but our student, Sean, says the place we went to last night is the best ma la tong in Yangzhou. I did enjoy last night’s more, but I also knew a bit more about what I was putting in my soup this time. That’s basically the summary of this trip to China. Is something in Yangzhou 2015 objectively nicer? Or do I just know myself better, have more Chinese vocab, more reasonable expectations, and I’m actually making it better? Life pondering for another night. For now there’s beer in paper cups.

finished malatong

We walked from the soup place to have drinks, a small crowd of laowei men attracting a certain amount of stares on the way, and wound up drinking wine at a cafe. Walking across town, I had a good moment. This is where I am supposed to be, this is what I am supposed to be doing. It was the wonderful familiarity when another old China hand joked about sitting on stools in the street, throwing back warm beer, and the wonderful strangeness of a long-term expat’s story of scorpion bites in foreign countries. Living in Chapel Hill, I spent a certain amount of time pretending an interest in things other people talked about, and it was really nice not to pretend.

A Retrospective of My Chinese Bathrooms

Remember my Yantai bathroom with no hot water? Remember my Beijing bathroom with the electrical outlet in the shower? Yeah, I haven’t exactly had the greatest luck with Chinese bathrooms.

Two nights ago, I had a little trouble sleeping and heard a small drip from the bathroom. In a city of fireworks and a hotel of carousing, a tiny drip wasn’t going to keep me awake, but I have some experience with Chinese plumbing, so I mentioned this little drip to my contact at my school and asked her to let the hotel know. She said had a lot of the other things to do but if I got her the number of the hotel, she would call. I felt sort of weird about this: I live in the housing provided by the school, and several other teachers and staff members live here too, so it seems really odd that the school has no way to contact them and no ability to look this number up…  I kind of get the feeling my problem wasn’t really a priority. But, whatever, I got the number, and  really hoped that my contact would call.

Last night, I heard the dripping again, but I rolled over and went back to sleep. Aaah sleep. I love you, sleep. This morning, though, I swung my feet out of bed, onto the carpet, and it squelched. My tiny leak had covered the bathroom floor, with an inch or two of water (the floor isn’t really flat in there), and some of it had even spilled out over the doorsill into my room, soaking the carpet. This is no time for politely using the correct channels and maybe getting help from my school, this is time for taking matters into my own (toneless-Mandarin) hands.

I went to the cleaning staff on my floor, and explained my problem in my broken Mandarin (Jin tian wo xing. Wo can shui. Da shui. Qing ni can shui! Today I wake. I see water. Big water. Please you look water.)  I usually like to practice a new conversation a bit and look up vocab words, but see previous re: flood. The housekeepers came in to look, I’m still unsure whether I actually communicated well or they just wanted to know what the foreign lady was so agitated about (By the way, in this story, I was wearing my yoga pants and yesterday’s t-shirt because I just woke up to a flood), and then they got the maintenance guy.

Of course, the maintenance staff doesn’t speak much Mandarin, they speak Yangzhou local dialect. This is quite different from Mandarin, and even when Yangzhouhua speakers switch to Mandarin, their vocab and their falling-rising tone sounds really different to me. Several hundred years ago, the Yangzhou locals consciously stopped speaking Mandarin and switched to speaking their own language when they felt they weren’t getting enough support from the central government, who’d been pretty quick to claim Yangzhou when it was a prosperous shipping port and pretty quick to drop Yangzhou when the economy shifted and it was less significant. Which is really fascinating, but not when I am trying to explain about a flood happening in my room.

So everyone came into my room to try to sort it out. and by the way, I have pictures of Harold all over my room, like I am 16 and he is a pop star, which is a totally mature and reasonable thing to do, and I am not at all embarrassed about it. I don’t have the Mandarin vocab to describe a plumbing issue, let alone Yangzhouhua, so I did a certain amount of pointing and je ge, and the maintenance guy had a look at where the water was coming from, and somehow figured it out, which I can only assume means he is the greatest plumber in all of China. He explained what he needed to do to fix it, not like I would have understood that in the Queen’s English, and ended with mei shi, no problem.

I wanted to tell him not to worry, my last Chinese plumbing adventure ended up in a coffeetable book, so I’m sure this will turn out OK too.

“Call The Midwife” Memoir Trilogy Offers More Poplar Details For TV Fans

call the midwife trilogyI wrote some more about how great Call The Midwife is, specifically about the memoir this time.

The popular BBC show Call The Midwife tells the story of a young nurse, Jenny Lee, and her fellow midwives at Nonnatus House. If you’re not already in love with this program, check it out for a binge-watchable character-driven drama, including historical detail, snarky nuns, medical complications, and female friendships, plus loads of adorable babies.

In her memoirs, Worth is matter-of-fact in her descriptions, with a dry wit for commentary. (My favorite is a quiet suggestion that the lack of televisions in Poplar homes may have contributed to the large size of the families.) She is able to describe harsh conditions, from both medically complicated pregnancies to  life in poverty, in a way that’s readable and realistic, not romanticized. Worth keeps both her youthful optimism and her experienced reflection, making the entire book feel like a long visit with the show’s mature Jenny (voiced by Vanessa Redgraves).

Via “Call The Midwife” Memoir Trilogy Offers More Poplar Details For TV Fans | (The) Absolute

And Another Reason Your Drinking Game Is Statistically Flawed

Went out for beers with my coworkers tonight. I like the guys I’m working with, and we went to a lovely bar by the river, where I ruined everyone’s enjoyment of bu shi (the Chinese drinking game where you guess the dice combinations hidden under the cups) by explaining the probabilities of each bid. I am so great at socializing. You should totally hang out with me.

Book Tour: The Zombie Truth

the zimbie truthIn The Zombie Truth, by Vincent St. Vincent, students in Florida start to notice that some kind of evil is spreading, whether it’s random violence on the news, or a strangely aggressive ex-boyfriend.

The Zombie Truth was a rare book where I cared much, much more about the plot than the characters.  Neither Robert or Tara really stood out to me. (They are the protagonists, really, and I had to doublecheck their names for this post) But by the time I realized that Dude and Girlfriend weren’t really my cup of tea, enough strange things had happened that I kept reading to find out what was going on with all these unusual sightings. All these pieces have to be connected, but how?

I don’t want to reveal too much of the story, because discovering how the strange events are connected is enjoyable, and I don’t want to give spoilers. I will say, though, that every time I thought to myself, huh, that’s odd. Wonder why that piece of information was included, that bit always became significant later.

Although the publisher warns that the novel could be “too jarring, disturbing, uncomfortable or perplexing”, I didn’t find the novel gross, and I usually have a low tolerance for blood. (I’ve tried to watch a couple scary movies with my horror-writer husband, and it doesn’t usually go well. It’s entirely possible that Harold is bingewatching all the haunted horror movies while I’m away.) Some of the first violence takes place over a hot Florida Christmas, a really telling image that sets the tone of the rest of the book.

I received a copy of The Zombie Truth to read and review. As always, all opinions on my blog are my own, and ARCs have never stopped me from snarking about a bad book.

Yeah, But Just Wait ‘Til We Raise Our Legions

We got a new guy at work today and we were in the office chatting about what we did before coming to Yangzhou.  I’d forgotten this part about expat life, how it’s already time to say goodbye to one person and meet a new arrival.

“First, I got my degree in a truly terrible subject for finding a job,” my new coworker told me.

“Oh really? What was that?” I asked. As a classics major, I’m always so happy to hear about others who studied what they really liked, especially if that rambling career path leads to China.

“Classical studies.” he said.

The Lost Concerto

After the suspicious drowning death of her husband and the unsolved murder of her best friend, Sofia, Maggie O’Shea doesn’t seem like the luckiest action heroine around. She kind of wants to stay home, drink too much wine, and play her piano, but investigations into both those untimely deaths start to turn up information on both her son’s father, who’s been presumed dead for 30 years, and her missing godson (Sofia’s son). Maybe she’s not just unlucky after all…

Throughout The Lost Concerto, our heroine Maggie suffered slightly from Indescribable Charm Syndrome, an illness that unfortunately affects many novel protagonists. Maggie constantly charms everyone in her path, receiving essential information out of reticent contacts, delighting curmudgeonly secret agents, and generally succeeding where the trained investigators have failed through her pleasing personality alone. Everyone Maggie is just instantly taken with her that the investigation began to feel a little repetitive.

But I’m kind of OK with that, because Indescribable Charm Syndrome is usually a trait of sexy ingenues, not grandmotherly musician Maggie O’Shea. An fiftyish pianist, who casually gives her agent-partner the slip when she feels like staying at a more charming Paris hotel? A woman who wears a cringe-worthy musical pun T-shirt at every exotic location of this fast-pased adventure? A woman who looks back on the meet-cute with her lifelong girl friend before setting off to rescue her friend’s son? This is a heroine I can get behind.

lost concerto

The novel moves between some of my favorite places, like Boston, the Massachusetts coast, and Rome. (Does Paris count? I changed planes there once… Yeah, totally counts.) Also, the investigation involves art theft, priceless artifacts, jewels and secret villas. Yes. At first, I thought the Shakespeare-quoting murderer was a bit much, but just go with it, readers, and you will be rewarded. It works. (Especially when “Juliet” rises from her tomb. Nuns are way more trustworthy than that shady friar.)

I received a copy of The Lost Concerto to read and review. As always, all opinions on my blog are my own, and ARCs have never stopped me fron snarking about a bad book.


The other day, I had a new student called Shepherd. I always ask my kids how they chose their English names, for every mumbled explanation that it was assigned in primary school English class, there’s a great story about identity and personality. Shepherd said he got his name from his favorite videogame, Mass Effect, and when pressed, said this was his favorite character of all time.

I’ve thought for a while that it would be the height of game writer success to have someone cosplay one of my characters, but now I think choosing a character name for himself might be the best ever.

Everybody Rise

everybody rise cover artEverybody Rise is a lifestyle-porn New York adventure with a likeable protagonist, a middle-class girl pretending to the world of deb balls and multimillion-dollar getaway cottages.

I love lifestyle and manners novels, with a blatant escapist love for the gorgeous, the exclusive and the expensive, as well as a more socialilogical fascinationg with how one expresses class markers and identifies what matchmaking martiarchs in British novels always call “like-minded people”. (See also: Julian Fellowes’ Snobs, Kevin Kwan’s China Rich Girlfriend, and Candace Bushnell’s One Fifth Avenue.) Everybody Rise has both, with long descriptions of a summer cabin, and then explanations of a guest’s duties: be amusing without stealing the spotlight, play the correct sports, sail capably in whichever position is vacant, and so forth.

A few years ago, I was a wedding dancing with somebody’s handsome cousin when he mentioned going to dancing school as young boy. Of course, I thought. These things are skills, and people learn the skills they expect to need. That’s why I can order a frappuccino in Mandarin and wash all my clothes in the sink. Wait. Anyway. Moving on.

Our heroine, Evelyn, has been to the correct prep school and college, but is slightly lacking in the other skills. Her new-money parents, a gaudy Southern lawyer and a social climbing mom, have done their best to purchase what can be purchased, but the correct ancestors the attitude that accompanies them aren’t for sale. Evelyn carefully memorizes the Emily Post manual and researches debutante balls, and when she has the chance to befriend the pedigreed queen bee, she slightly exaggerates her story.

Evelyn was mostly sympathetic, and the contrast between her father’s mill-town North Carolina roots and Evelyn’s socialite New York (New York is pretty much upper Manhattan, and the Hamptons, of course.) was perfect. So good. I wanted more scenes of her dad ordering the wrong thing in trendy restaurants, while Evelyn cringed.  But as the story progressed, I wanted her to tone it down a little. Pretending to be a deb, ok, but actually opening the debutante ball? Asking for trouble. Tens of thousands of dollars on dresses worn just once seemed ridiculous, but if you’re going to do it, at least sell them off on Craig’s List or Tradesy afterwards. She kept wanting more and more, until it was somewhat difficult to sympathize with her social climbing, underhanded ways, and reckless shopping. Of course, that can’t last, and there’s only so long that North Carolina New Money can pass herself off as something else.

Overall, another great manners and lifestyle novel, where the protagonist is pretty aware of being among the manners-novel elite.

Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford will be published by St. Martin’s Press on August 18, 2015. I received a copy of this novel to review, and, as always, all opinions on my blog are my own.

Bing Kafei

I have an electric kettle in my room, so one of the first things I bought was a package of those Nescafe instant coffees. They’re nice, of course, but not even the most optimistic expat could mistake it for brewed, fresh coffee. Fortunately, there’s a KFC just under a mile from my room, which serves real, brewed coffee. That also means that when I walk there, I can convince myself that I just spent all the calories in my iced coffee!

bing kafei

Hey, did I tell you guys how much I love this iced coffee and ice cream drink from Chinese KFC? Oh, yeah, I did, 9 years ago:

I figured I was finally benefiting from a Chinese error, but it turns out that this ice cream coffee is not given to weird foreigners but actually on the menu! Amazing! I could go on about the joys of this KFC coffee but I’ll sum it up:

Times I visited KFC in my entire life before coming to China: 4 or 5

Times I visited KFC in China: 5 or 6

Times I visited KFC solely to drink the amazing ice cream coffee: 7

That number is a lot higher than 7 now.

Retro Point-and-Click “Theropods” on (The) Absolute

theropods for SP

I have a new post over on The Absolute, talking about Therapods.

Theropods is a simple point-and-click adventure game about a cavewoman battling dinosaurs, but the game is surprisingly adorable. Our story opens when a peaceful evening at the neolithic campfire is interrupted by hungry dinos. Our proto-human heroine, with stylish fur bikini and flowing red hair, will need to grab and creatively use items around her to survive, so get clicking.

Via Survive Amongst The Dinosaurs In The Adorably Retro “Theropods” | (The) Absolute


Earn to Die 2: Exodus


earn2dieEarn to Die 2 is another CrazyGames browser game, this time a zombie survival game from Not Doppler. You’re a survivor of a zombie apocalypse, trying to make your way to the last flight to safety, and so you’ll need transportation and fuel to get there.

I haven’t actually played the original Earn To Die, so I’m not sure if I was supposed to recognize the protagonist, but it’s a simple zombie survival game, so it doesn’t much matter if I missed the backstory. Your little dude is a hurry to get past hungry zombies and on that last flight. (Not sure why he waited for the very last flight. Poor planning there, survivalist dude.)

I got my little dude a car, and immediately started driving into zombies to get to the escape point. Players can choose different paths, but all the paths are full of zombies so… Earn to Die 2 is more of an endless-runner than a choose-your-own-adventure. It doesn’t quite feel like you’re surfing the subway or running through a temple, since you’ll need to stop for fuel way too often to really feel like an endless runner.

googple play screenie

Hitting zombies and boxes is fine, but hitting barriers or flipping your car causes damage, and in a zombie apocalypse, you can’t call AAA. (Really should reconsider that whole waiting for the last flight out, dude.) So you’ll have to be careful when driving your survivor to safety.

I played this on CrazyGames, but there’s also an iOs version and an Android version for mobile gamers, and you can play if right from this page. Earn to Die 2 is playable on CrazyGames along with plenty of other Flash games like puzzle game 2048, and evil twin 2584, secret vampire makeouts in Twilight Kissing, and cute buttonmashing adventure Mighty Knight.

[Here comes the game]

Credits: Crazy Games


crazygamesThis post is shared with you in partnership with CrazyGames.

Anne of Arkham Asylum

Inspired partially by Julia’s post about getting all the Anne of Green Gables books on the Kindle, and partly by a chat with a coworker about Prince Edward Island (Australian coworker: They’ve assigned me to teach a class on Canadian life… you’re not Canadian by any chance, are you?), I got Anne of Avonlea out of the library. I remembered really enjoying the whole series as a young girl, when Gilbert Blythe filled the role Mr. Darcy would someday occupy.

The gossipy Avonlea villagers were just as charming this time around, and Gilbert was still patiently waiting for Anne, and I fully appreciated just how hilarious Anne’s plans as an idealistic schoolteacher were. But I discovered that as an adult reader, young Davey is not so much adorably mischievous but actually a terrifying sociopath. How did I forget that he locks his sister in the neighbor’s shed and leaves her there, kills animals for fun, and torments other children in order to hear their screams?

Casts a bit of suspicion on the way everyone (mother, father, uncle… all the relatives closer than their third-cousin-by-marriage, Marilla) around 6-year-old Davey and Dora has died.