15 May 2011

“Spell it the Right Way!”

My Chinese handwriting is ugly, so bad that elementary school kids laugh at me.  It’s so bad that I don’t handwrite anything in Chinese anymore (typing is faster anyway) and because of that, I recently forgot how to write my Chinese name at a banquet I went to.  Sad….

When I visit Asia and buy a load of tea, I have to keep track of them with labels (many high mountain teas, for example, are packed in the same type of generic bag for oolongs).  The first time I went to Dong Ding and met one of my teachers, I brought back a significant amount of tea to practice my roasting with.  On each bag, I wrote “Dong Ding X1” so that I knew it was my practice tea.

My teacher doesn’t care what I write on the bag as long as I pay for it!  However, the guy down the street was more particular about my methods.

About a 15 minute drive from my teacher’s house, we met a fellow tea producer and old friend of his.  As I pulled one of the bags of tea from my backpack to share with him, Mr. 8 (I think he had about eight teeth, definitely less than 10) saw my writing on the bottom of the label, grabbed the bag from me and said “This is wrong, you wrote it wrong, spell it the right way!”


Mr. 8 reached into his cabinet and pulled out a box with English words on it.  He pointed to the label, “Tung Ting.”  This was, he said, the correct way to write it.  He wasn’t mean or rude, he actually seemed pretty amused and looked as if he was excited to have the opportunity to share his knowledge.

Tung Ting is from the Wade-Giles system of romanizing Chinese and predates the wider-spread usage of contemporary Putonghua Pinyin.  If you visit Taiwan, you’ll find that there is a mix of several different types of romanization.  The usage of Putonghua Pinyin has increased, but there are many that don’t use it, not just because they don’t know how to, but for various political reasons.  Folks such as Mr. 8 are resistant to mainland Chinese influences and thus, they cling to systems that were in use before the Communists took over the mainland.  Fair enough, if I were to buy tea from him, I’d respect his preference.

Ahlisan wulong and Pingling Pouchong are just as good regardless of how it’s spelled.  Drink good tea and enrich your life.


  1. Romanization in Taiwan is demented. You see examples of every possible system that has ever been invented for it. And a few that haven't.

  2. Yah, it's funny...and confusing when it's a street name. I don't know if it's still this way, but one of the main streets, 中山, used to be called "Zhongshan," or something like Chongsan/Chungsan at different parts of the road. On the topic of addresses, the system of alleys and lanes is still confusing, since they aren't always in order when you walk down a street looking for a certain number....It's all part of the charm :)