On the Horse

I’ve been meaning to write about this for awhile, and there’s no better time than today, the first day of the Year of the Horse!

One of my favorite Chinese expressions is mashang (马上), which can be translated as “immediately,” or “right away.” It is used to convey that something is about to happen.

Q:Ni shenme shihou lai?  (When will you be here?)

A. Mashang!  (Soon!)

Or, waiting to see someone in an office….

Qing zuo. Ta mashang lai.  (Please have a seat. He will be with you shortly.)

What’s fun about this expression is that it is made of up two characters (ma and shang). Ma means horse and shang means on. So a literal translation would be “on the horse.”

Q: When will you be here?  A: I’m on the horse.

Please have a seat. He’s on the horse!

As you can imagine, the puns on this first day of the Year of the Horse are coming fast and furious, with New Years greetings making use of this phrase to indicate the imminent arrival of wealth and good fortune.

Nothing illustrates this more brilliantly than this funny video flying around the Chinese Inter-webs: Minions 2014 Chinese New Year / Year of the Horse! (I couldn’t stop laughing!)

(If you receive this post by email, click here to watch the video.)

Here’s a rough translation: 

Horse, horse horse….the Year of the Horse is here!

You’ll get whatever you want.

It’s coming right away.

In the Year of the Horse, you’ll get money, a house, everything!

The Year of the Horse is here!

We Wish You  Happy New Year.

Men, women, old, and young are all happy.

Mashang kuaile! (Happiness is on the horse!!!)

And if I’m ever late to an appointment with you, remember, “I’m on the horse!”



Happy New Year, Beijing!

It’s New Year’s Eve in China, and if I were back in my old apartment in Beijing, this is what I would be witnessing as midnight approaches.

(If you receive this post by email and cannot see the video, click here to watch it.)

Kind of missing China this week.




Here’s a round-up of articles and resources on Chinese New Year. 

China’s Travel Nightmare Begins (Business Insider)

China’s New Year Gift-giving Goes Global (China Real Time)

Chinese New Year Facts: 20 Things to Know About the Lunar New Year (Huffington Post)


Image source: Mashable


Mildred Cable: An Early Traveler in Northwest China

One of my favorite websites is the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity, which posts short biographical sketches of famous Chinese Christians throughout history. Even though it focuses on Chinese Christians, they also include biographies of notable Western Christians.


They recently posted a biographical sketch of Mildred Cable, an OMF missionary who travelled extensively in western and northwestern China in the 1920’s:

“When the Trio asked themselves what China needed next, they felt led to leave their settled mission station for areas which were more remote and unevangelized. They were inspired by a report they heard on the absence of Christian witness for 1,000 miles along the Silk Road from Gansu province to Xinjiang province. On June 11, 1923, the Trio set out for Gansu. When they arrived in Zhangye, their first destination, they had been traveling for nine months and had covered 800 miles.”

Mildred was a prolific writer, chronicling not just her missionary work, but her travels as well.  A number of her books (co-authored by her colleague Fransesca French) are considered ‘classics’  because of their descriptions of life in western and northwestern China in the first half to the twentieth century.

These include the following:

The Gobi Desert – The adventures of three women travelling across the Gobi Desert in the 1920s

The Gobi Desert - The adventures of three women travelling across the Gobi Desert in the 1920s

Through Jade gate and Central Asia;: An account of journeys in Knsu, Tukestan and the Gobi Desert

Through Jade gate and Central Asia;: An account of journeys in Knsu, Tukestan and the Gobi Desert

For anyone interested in northwest China, both of these books are ‘must-reads.’

Image source: Scotwise

Measures, Counter-measures, and Hotel Stars

There is a Chinese saying: shang you zhengce, xia you duice (上有政策,下有对策).  The top (leader) has its  measures, the bottom (people) has its counter-measures. Or, to put it in plain English: The leaders make the policies, and the people find ways around them. (I wrote about this in an earlier post titled Measures, Counter-measures, and Filial Piety).


Recent events once again clearly illustrate this truth. As part of it’s anti-corruption campaign, the Communist Party has banned officials from staying at five-star hotels. This has, of course, hurt business at five-star hotels favored by Party and government officials (redundancy alert).

Solution? Get rid of a star and become a four-star hotel!

CNBC reports:

“A five-star rating may be the holy grail of the hospitality industry, but top-end Chinese hotels are actively working to rid themselves of this prestigious ranking.

This comes as the luxury hotel sector struggles with shrinking revenues following the government’s decision last year to ban officials from spending money at five-star hotels as part of its broader austerity drive. “

In 2013, 56 five-star hotels sought to downgrade their ratings to four stars, state press agency Xinhua reported, citing Chen Miaolin, vice president of the China Tourism Association. 

Problem solved!

Image source: hotels.com


China on the Move – Visualized

January 31 is Chinese New Year, the first day of the new year on the lunar calendar. Because it is the most important holiday for spending time with family, the month-long “Spring Festival” sees a mass migration of people from their places of work or study in one part of the country to their hometowns in other parts of the country. 


The Chinese search engine, Baidu, has launched what they call a “heat map,” that visualizes, in real time, this mass migration that is taking place.

Here’s a description from  Tech in Asia:

Baidu  has launched a heat map of where Chinese travelers are heading to, coming from, and which routes are most popular during Chinese New Year, the country’s largest national holiday.


It’s a time when most Chinese either return home to their families or go on vacation, and it’s the largest annual mammalian migration on Earth. During the 40-day holiday period – which is called Spring Festival in Chinese – 3.6 billion passenger trips will be made across all modes of transportation (Note: most people only get eight days off).

The heat map updates every four to eight hours, showing the most popular destinations, points of origin, and travel routes. It includes a search function so you can see stats from specific cities and time frames. Here’s a few stats as of press time:


  • The most popular destination is Beijing, followed by Chongqing. The hub cities in Hunan and Guangxi provinces tie for third.
  • Beijing is also the most popular city to leave, followed by Shanghai and Guangzhou.
  • The trip both to and from Chengdu and Beijing take up the top two most popular routes.

Last week, the New York Times blog Sinosphere had a post about this annual migration:

Demonstrating a deeply felt need among hundreds of millions of people working away from home to return for the most important festival of the year, a good portion of China’s 1.35 billion people are expected to make over 3.6 billion journeys – by plane, train, automobile, bus, motorized tricycle and probably a few donkeys.


The sentiment of “home at any cost” is summed up by a catchy saying: “Rich or Poor, Home for New Year” (有钱没钱, 回家过年) and the enormous human activity needed to make that happen is called the “Spring Transport” (春运)。


That movement of people strains the country’s transportation system, with tickets hard to buy, controversies over ticket sale systems, black-marketeering by “yellow oxen” (as the marketeers are called), trains packed like sardine tins and fights over boarding, lines and seats. But the end goal – celebrating with family – is considered worth it. This year, New Year’s Day is Jan. 31, beginning the Year of the Horse.

And Shanghaiist published some photos of what a train car looks like at the end of one of these journeys. 


 When people ask me about a good time to travel in China, I tell them NOT during Spring Festival. Now you know why! 


One More Photo

After the post on Tuesday remembering my dad, a friend who used to work with my parents in Pakistan sent me another fun photo. It is of my mom and dad (and my older sister), and Hu and Bettie (and their eldest son) on board a ship bound for Pakistan in 1956.


Aren’t they two fine looking families?

If you’re interested in knowing what life was like for Americans in Pakistan in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I heartily recommend Bettie’s book: The Day The Chicken Cackled: Reflections On A Life in Pakistan

The Day The Chicken Cackled: Reflections On A Life in Pakistan

Their second son, Jonathan Addleton, also wrote a book about his childhood in Pakistan, called Some Far and Distant Place It is excellent!

Some Far and Distant Place

More recently Jonathan wrote a book on Mongolia, which came out of his experience as a USAID Officer and later US Ambassador. The book is called Mongolia and the United States: A Diplomatic History (Adst-Dacor Diplomats and Diplomacy Series). (I haven’t read it yet, but I’m sure it’s good since Jonathan is an excellent writer!)

Mongolia and the United States: A Diplomatic History (Adst-Dacor Diplomats and Diplomacy Series)

Thanks, Aunt Bettie for sending along that photo! I should have titled this post “Books by Addletons!”

Chungking Mansions – a Global Village

Anyone who’s been to Hong Kong is probably familiar with Chungking Mansions, the building that towers over the lower end of Nathan Road and is home to  shops, restaurants, apartments and hostels.


In the 90’s I travelled to Hong Kong at least twice a year, and without fail my colleagues and I would enter the Chungking Mansions and stand in long lines to board the elevator that would take us up to The Delhi Club, a fantastic little Indian eatery on the 3rd floor. Upon entering the building I always felt a bit like I was back in Pakistan since most of the shopkeepers hailed from the sub-continent.

The Chungking Mansions is a unique place in Hong Kong and the BBC recently did a story on the place, calling it Hong Kong’s “favourite ghetto.” 

Eyesore, ghetto, jungle, goldmine, little United Nations. These are all words that have been used to describe Chungking Mansions, a building complex that is seen as both a foreign island in Hong Kong and an important part of the Chinese city’s identity.


From the outside, Chungking Mansions looks like a single, imposing concrete block – 15 identical residential floors on top of a neon-lit, two-storey mall.


Past the front, it is like a maze – there are in fact five separate blocks, 10 lifts and multiple old, twisting stairwells filled with swathes of electrical cable, crumbling concrete and graffiti in multiple languages.


The complex began life as an upmarket residential estate in the 1960s, but has since become a hub for traders from developing countries, backpackers and asylum seekers in Hong Kong.


More than 10,000 people are estimated to enter or exit the building every day, and African and South Asian faces often outnumber Chinese faces – something remarkable in a city where 94% of residents are ethnic Chinese.


The building complex has a somewhat notorious reputation among locals and, until recently, many in Hong Kong were wary of stepping inside.


However, the building has a buzz that most Hong Kong Chinese would also recognise – nearly everyone is there to make money.

Click here to read the entire article and see a great slide show.

I’ve also got this book  queued up on my Kindle: Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong, by Gordon Matthews.

Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong

So, dear readers….do you have any fun memories or stories of The Chungking Mansions?

Photo source: BBC

Iran in the 1960’s

When I was a kid growing up in Pakistan during the 1960’s and early 70’s, going to Tehran, Iran was like going to Paris. It was much more developed and wealthy than Karachi, and had tons more western food (a big deal for us kids!).



I recently ran across some great photos of Iran in the 60’s and 70’s. Thanks to the Asia Society for posting these. 

New York City resident Norma Lee Mahdavi lived in Iran from 1960 to 1967 and served as marketing director for the Iranian National Tourist Organization’s New York office in the 1970s.


Mahdavi recently let us sort through several boxes of official tourism slides taken in Iran during the 1960s and 70s — and we’ve reproduced two dozen of our favorites in the gallery above.


Some of the photos were taken by Mahdavi, and others were taken by professional photographers hired as part of the Iranian government’s tourism and cultural outreach initiatives.

Click here to see all of the photos.

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