Why reading is helpful

I know plenty of expats living in China who have deliberately decided not to learn to read Chinese.  I understand where they’re coming from.  Learning to read (and more so, to write) characters slows things down considerably.  However, being illiterate can have some disadvantages.  For example:

I wanted to buy brown sugar at the store the other day.  I was in a hurry and grabbed some off the shelf without examining the package closely.  I should have known better.

Here is what the package says on the front:



If I had tried to read this while standing in the store, I would have come up with:

Woman life red sugar (aka brown sugar)

Month drink month [something]

Now, I might not have made much sense out of this.   ‘Woman life’ is, presumably, a compound word, and without the missing something, the second line is a bit mysterious.  Still, it might have caused me to examine the package more closely.

If I had, I might have looked at the back and found the list of ingredients.  Beyond sugar, I couldn’t read them, but I would have noticed that there were three, which is one or two more than I would expect to see in brown sugar.  At this point, I might have looked at other packages of brown sugar to see if they also had three ingredients.  And I might have chosen a different one.  But I usually assume I won’t be able to read things, so I didn’t do any of that.  Instead, I just bought it.  My husband informed me later that this was not what I intended to buy.

For those of you who can’t read Chinese, the missing [something] above is ‘comfortable’.  In theory, I knew that, but I doubt I would have recognized it in that context even if I had tried.  The claim is something like “drink it monthly, be more comfortable monthly”–yes, it’s just for women.  And for the curious among you, in addition to sugar, the ingredients are red dates and ginger.  I’m sort of tempted to bake with it anyway.  Who knows, it might be tasty.


4 Responses to “Why reading is helpful”

  1. 1 Dave May 13, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    月喝月舒服 seems weird, could be a typo and it should be: 越喝越舒服, as in: The more your drink it, the more comfortable you’ll be.

    as 越 and 月 are the same pronunciation,

    what do you think?

    • 2 Katie Tang May 14, 2010 at 1:26 pm

      It’s not a typo on my part–I double checked to make sure since I am quite prone to those. If you’re asking about the package itself, I couldn’t begin to guess, although my husband, who is sort of a native speaker, didn’t seem to think it was strange.

      Interesting blog, by the way. I hadn’t come across it before.

  2. 3 Dave May 14, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I didn’t mean to imply you’d made the typo, it could actual be on the packaging – it’s possible :)
    I’ll ask my Taiwanese friend later what they make of it and let you know.

  3. 4 Dave May 15, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    I asked about this and you are right. It is a play on words, as the more you drink the more comfortable you’ll be (越喝越舒服) but at the time time, if you drink it every month, you’ll have a comfortable month (月喝月舒服)

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