Chinese beach in July?

If you’re a foreign family in Qingdao, it’s understandable if the thought of spending a summer day at the beach makes you twitch. I mean, come on, it’s July in Qingdao; who’s gonna march their little yangwawas through the middle of this?


Your kids already get more than enough attention on a normal day from the relatively cosmopolitan, local Qingdao urbanites. But throwing them into the middle of a beach that’s packed with domestic tourists like a boiling pot of jiaozi ? That’s just cruel and unusual. And that’s why we know long-term, well-enculturated, fluent-in-Chinese families here who simply don’t do the beach at all.

But when it comes to our family, we’re a little more desperate. Not swimming outdoors in the summer would be… we might as well all be in summer school. So we’ve tried numerous things over the last four years, attempting to make the beach worthwhile. And I think we’ve pretty much got it down. Behold! This is us, on the beach in Qingdao, in July:


Where are all the people? Why isn’t there a ring of photographers around your little blond, curly-haired children? How is it that I can see where the sand ends and the water begins? Over the last few years we’ve distilled a few tricks, like our particular place and times, and the result is that photo (four of those seven bodies are us). We do this nearly every Saturday in not-cold weather from June to September.

A “successful” beach day for us isn’t perfect, of course. On the day that photo was taken I had to politely turn away two requests for photos with our kids, and passive-aggressively angle-out photo attempts from two other people. Drawing a circle around our tent and sandcastle works as an effective barrier on about 95% of the people who pause to look, meaning only one person all day stepped over it to try and get their kid to stand next to ours for a photo (this is pretty much always a domestic tourist from an inland village or small town, where social norms are different). Most passersby don’t stop to look, but those who do merely stand outside the circle for a moment before moving on. An ATV drove up once to check us out. But that’s all in 5+ hours at the beach, which imo is a very reasonable amount of attention to tolerate as a foreign family in a wannabe 2nd-tier Chinese city.

You can see less-successful beach attempts from summers past here:

Summer’s here! Let’s everyone go swimming! 夏天来了大家游泳去吧

The Romance of Han & Leia — in Chinese

First let’s set the relational context by recalling Han (汉 hàn) and Leia’s (莱娅 láiyà) recent romantic history…
…in which Leia calls Han a:
…and then looks at him like this:
Leia (莱娅 láiyà):
真不知道这些幻想哪里来的 zhēn bùzhīdào zhèxiē huànxiǎng nǎlǐ láide
“Really don’t know where these illusions come from”

Han (汉 hàn):
但你没在南侧通道看到我们 dàn nǐ méi zài náncè tōngdào kàndào wǒmen
“But you didn’t see us in the south passage”
她对我倾诉钟情了喔 tā duì wǒ qīngsù zhōngqíng le ō
“She poured out her heart to me”

Leia (莱娅 láiyà):
你这个自大、愚蠢、邋遢的呆瓜! nǐ zhège zìdà、yúchǔn、lātàde dāiguā
“You self-important, foolish, sloppy idiot!”

Han (汉 hàn):
谁邋遢了?shuí lātà le?
“Who’s sloppy?”

Undaunted, our hero Han, who always shoots first, is not about to let little things like kissing your brother or getting called nerf herder slow him down for long:
Han (汉 hàn):
chéngrènba,yǒushíhòu nǐ juéde wǒ hái bùcuò
“Admit it, sometimes you think I’m not too bad”

scoundrelliumangLeia (莱娅 láiyà):
“Perhaps, occasionally”
nǐ zài bù shuǎliúmáng deshíhòu
“When you aren’t behaving like a hoodlum”

Han (汉 hàn):
“Behaving like a hoodlum? Behaving like a hoodlum?”
nǐ xǐhuān wǒ,yīnwèi wǒ shì liúmáng
“You like me, because I’m a hoodlum”
nǐ zhè rén jiù xūyào liúmáng
“You need a hoodlum”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this” — in Chinese

buxiangde yuganEvery single “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” line from the original Star Wars trilogy — in Chinese.

For all those times in China you wish you’d known how to say, “Um, guys? I’ve got an inauspicious premonition about this…”

Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope
星球大战4:新希望 xīngqiú dàzhàn: xīn xīwàng
Luke Skywalker 卢克·天行者 lúkè tiānxíngzhě:
“I have a very bad feeling about this.”
Han Solo 汉·索洛 hàn suǒluò:
“I got a bad feeling about this.”

Both lines translated as:
我有种不祥的预感 wǒ yǒu zhǒng bùxiángde yùgǎn
“I have a kind of inauspicious premonition.”

Honourable mention: 伍基 楚巴卡 wǔjī chǔbākǎ aka 楚伊 chǔyī

Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back
星球大战5:帝国反击战 xīngqiú dàzhàn: dìguó fǎjī zhàn
(The Empire Counter-Attack War)
Princess Leia 莱娅公主 láiyà gōngzhǔ: “I have a bad feeling about this.”

我有不祥的预感 wǒ yǒu bùxiángde yùgǎn
“I have an inauspicious premonition.”

Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi
星球大战6:绝地归来 xīngqiú dàzhàn: juédì guīlái
C-3PO: “R2, I have a bad feeling about this.”

我有种不祥的预感 wǒ yǒu zhǒng bùxiángde yùgǎn
“I have a kind of inauspicious premonition.”

Han Solo 汉·索洛 hàn suǒluò: “I have a really bad feeling about this.”

我有种不好的预感 wǒ yǒu zhǒng bùhǎode yùgǎn
“I have a kind of not good premonition.”

BONUS! Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens
星球大战7:原力觉醒 xīngqiú dàzhàn: yuánlì juéxǐng

P.S. – The list of lines comes from Wookieepedia.

P.P.S. – Character names came from Baidu, so no guarantees.

P.P.P.S. – More bonus!

“May the Force be with you”
yuàn yuánlì yǔ nǐ tóngzài

And if you’re with your small laowai kids at a Chinese restaurant or your neighbours’:

“May a fork be with you”
yuàn chāzi yǔ nǐ tóngzài

Brace yourselves: China’s coal season is coming

Every fall, we stock up on a new shipment of these things, and start the cold season with freshly-equipped, cheap D.I.Y. home air purifiers:
Strap-on HEPA filters
Find out how you can pass the winter in China while cheaply shaving less years off your life than you would otherwise:

China Essentials: DIY Air Purifiers

Chinese Tourist of the Year

This summer, during our family’s first visit to North America in three years, we shared the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria with a literal bus-load of Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourist in Canada

I’m giving this guy from Yunan, who was really nice and took pictures for us, the Chinese Tourist of the Year award for coordinating his Canada hat and Canada shirt with the Canada flag. Full points for Canada enthusiasm! Just warms my frozen Canadian heart…

“…tear gas, or as it’s known in China, ‘the sky'”

It’s that special time of year again:

The Colbert Report clip embedded below about a lot of severely inconvenienced Beijing pigeons and Some Event Which Must Not Be Named has reminded me that it’s time to order new filters for our DIY air purifiers. Because winter is coming to China. And that means the annual airpocalypse.

And we’ve got everything you need to know right here:

China Essentials: DIY home air purifiers

Because “…tear gas, or as it’s known in China, ‘the sky’.”

(You’ll need to set your VPN on a U.S. server to see the video.)
(We’ve gotta to do something about the pronunciation of Chinese names in mainstream English media.)

Foreign baby in China essentials: DIY AIR PURIFIERS

(It’s been a while since I cried on the blog about China’s air pollution. But this time we have a solution! Your salvation is at hand…)

Out our windows in Tianjin.

Our first child spent her first month outside the womb in neonatal intensive care. We brought her to China as a 4-month-old. As soon as we’d landed in Beijing the passengers sitting around us started muttering about “…污染…!” because the smog made it hard to see the terminal from the plane. Part of me wanted to take our little preemie right back to Canada.

Air purifiers were on our original list of Foreign Baby in China Essentials (along with imported formula, VPNs and friendly stranger finger shields). But I never wrote the air purifiers post because we quickly discovered that air purifiers are insultingly expensive.

Instead we moved to a less polluted city. But triple-digit air pollution is still not uncommon in Qingdao (you can see and smell anything over 100), and we do get the occasional 400 or 500+ days. Here’s what 172 looks like on a cloudless day in our neighbourhood (that mountain on the left should be crystal clear):

It’s always bothered me that we weren’t doing anything about the air aside from an outrageous amount of air-friendly house plants, especially for our kids. But thanks to PhD student Thomas Talhelm, now we can. Why I did not think of this myself I’ll never know. That’s the Fulbright scholar difference, I guess.

(Click for a larger view.)


If you can handle between $200 to $2000+ per room for commercial air purifiers, yay for you. But that’s tough to swallow for middle class peasants people like us, despite the real worry of raising young children in truly dystopic air quality. Thankfully, it’s cheap and easy to build your own air purifiers that apparently work at least as well.

Buy a pre-assembled kit from Mssr. Talhelm for .. wait for it … 33 bucks (200元). Or get the filters and fans yourself on taobao (if you have taobao kungfu like Jessica) for 50元 less per unit. We’ve made four.

Buying the kit is obviously the most convenient way to go. But either way, a monkey could assemble these things. All you have to do is stick a HEPA filter onto the front of a fan. See how to build one here and here. You need: a fan, pliers/scissors, HEPA filter, and a strap.

“But but but… with DIY purifiers you don’t get the monitoring electronics or the aesthetics or the ionizer or all the other things we’re selling that you didn’t know you needed!” Ok, but do they work? The proles People like us are willing to sacrifice peripherals to save hundreds of dollars.

According to the results of Talhelm’s tests, which are easily reproducible for anyone who doesn’t trust people who sell things (if anyone does do their own tests please let me know!), our $25 air purifiers perform as good and possibly even better than commercial units where it counts.

(Click for the full test results.)

Despite what the high prices suggest, air purifiers aren’t magic. They blow the air in your room through a filter. It’s not like doing rocket science or trying to figure out how to make your 4-year-old not get up to pee 500 times a night.

Here’s one of ours, which cost $25:

‘If there is hope,’ wrote Winston, ‘it lies in the proles.’

About China’s apocalyptic air quality:

About having a Foreign Baby/Kid in China:

(Click to get the free China Air Pollution app.)