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One of Life’s Great Mysteries Solved

There are many little everyday mysteries in China. Some I know I will never crack, others reveal themselves to me gradually, as my knowledge of the language and the people increases. Yet others hit me with a blinding flash, like this one.

Every single day of my life in Shanghai so far has been punctuated by the sound of a recorded male voice saying something unknowable in mandarin. It’s played from a tinny portable cassette player attached to a small loudspeaker, and mounted on the front of a non-descript motor-scooter. The motor-scooter driver rides slowly up and down my lane with the drone of this mysterious sing-song message ringing in my ears. It sounds to me like ‘kung now, dee now, bin yang, she ye my my’ 

What does it mean? Is it a communist slogan to cheer the masses as they go about their daily drudgery? Is it a kind of motivational message? I later realise that there is a whole army of scooter messenger-givers, going up and down every street, lane and alleyway in the city every day. What does it mean? Will I ever know?

So last week I’m enjoying a pleasant ramble in the Old City, and I lose myself down an alleyway of old lanes I’ve never been in before. Suddenly, I come across a forest of second-hand whitegoods. Every little store front is packed to the brim with old fridges, old washing machines, old TVs, airconditioners and computers. Then I see one. A scooter-messenger. With an old fridge strapped precariously to the back of his scooter. A light bulb goes off in the dim recesses of my Basic Mandarin brain – refrigerator is ‘bing xiang’. At the speed of…oh…..paint drying my brain pieces together the other bits of the puzzle……..I’ve got it!!

‘Kong tiao, dian nao, bing xiang, xi yi, mai mai’

Loosely translated as a message, not from Chairman Mao as I had thought, but from the whitegoods market sellers: 

‘Air-conditioners! Computers! Refrigerators! Washing machines! Buy and Sell!’

I’m going to make it the basis of my next manifesto………..