Linguist, lexicographer, radio host, public speaker

“Do they know it’s Christmas in Beijing?” by Miro Cernetig, from [url=

“Beijing, Dec. 24, 1998: It’s our first four months in China, and our Mandarin is limited to hello (ni hao), goodbye (zai jian) and thank you (xie xie). Nobody told us—or they did and we didn’t listen—that the city would empty of foreigners at this time of year. So here we are, my wife and I, walking outside of our apartment, staring at a mangy collection of Christmas trees. All are so desiccated it seems a flicker of static electricity—an omnipresent threat in Beijing’s Gobi-dried air—would turn them into a small forest fire. Giving one specimen a shake, the needles stream to the dusty ground. “Mei you wenti,”(no problem), insists the salesman, wearing a robin’s-egg blue Mao suit. “Just add water.” It’s then that one of the trees I’m holding comes straight out of the pot, much like lifting a stick plucked out of a snowdrift. The thing has no roots.”

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Grant Barrett