Note for native Spanish readers:

This blog has been written in everyday English and contains phrasal verbs and colloquial expressions whose meaning you will probably not know in many cases. For uninterrupted reading, it is best to study first the vocabulary section at the bottom of the entry. The blog will also feature the top 40 grammar structures in English which make up Dermot McGrath’s books Orange-flavoured Grammar (aka Second Aids – 2A) and Lemon Aids(aka Third Aids – 3A).

All Dermot McGrath’s methodology is grammatically and lexically inter-linked.


When I went to China on business for the first (and last) time, I had no idea of the Chinese language except to say Ni Hao (Hello).  I got by as best I could during the eight days I was there. Well, I should say I got by until the last day. Shanghai has become one of my favourite places and I have visited several times since but not, I hasten to add, on business. It is one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

Shanghai with the iconic Pearl Tower

On that last day while I was making my final shopping purchases before the return plane journey home to Spain the following afternoon, I got friendly with a few stall-holders in a well-known indoor market-place. The bargaining had been fast and furious but that was done and dusted now. They were curious to know what I was doing in China. Apart from their expert sales spiel in English which covered concepts like Hello – American – English – table cloth – buy – sell – suits – shits – trousers – I can give – I have – special price – discount – for you – now -my friend – cheap – very cheap – very good – please plus the numbers up to 900,000, they couldn’t say much more than that. But I managed to get them to understand me when I told them I was a language teacher and wrote books and online courses in English. After calling up my web page on my cellphone, I showed them the Chinese-based version. They were impressed. Immediately they all wanted to buy something. They promptly opened up their own cellphones. I didn’t know what one of the girls was saying but I knew she was somehow trying to tell me it wasn’t my picture. I had to show her my passport to prove that it was, since it was the same photo. But I had to admit it was eight years old (no, not me, the picture!).


Now the tables were turned. I was the vendor and they were they buyers. One of them, called Rooney, who had the most English, bought a course on the spot. He was clearly the boss.  He had to fiddle about with his credit card but was over the moon when his purchase came through and I was tickled pink even though I probably made no more than a dollar on the sale. Rooney said that he’d pass it on to his two female assistants, Merry and Pussy, as well as the rest of his family and friends. And he had loads of mates inside the market. What’s more, he had over a thousand friends on the Chinese Facebook clone called Xiaonei. He would give it to them as well. Wow, nice one, Rooney, nice one!  You’re some guy! I was getting excited. Maybe we could work out some sort of commission here.


“You mean they will all buy it too?” I asked apprehensively (this would just be too good to be true).

He didn’t quite understand me at first but when he did, he replied:

In China buy first time, second time copy.”

He said it nonchalantly as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Indeed it was. Welcome to China.

I got that sinking feeling. This was something which I’d already found out during  the previous week and what had prompted me to abandon any hopes of doing business with the Chinese. What would have made me think that this should be any different?

It was, in the end, just as I suspected. At the rate he was talking, it wouldn’t take long for my method to go viral, then the whole online support system would collapse due to massive overload. My lone programmer wouldn’t be able to handle the avalanche, well  this would be a tsunami, and she was prone to having  mini nervous breakdowns anyhow. I envisaged total meltdown within days as it reached the far-flung corners of China. It was ironic. I would be dying in glory, and alone to boot, but it would be my very own very success that was strangling me. Then these chinks would reinvent it, eliminate my name as the creator and sell it to the world while I would sink into the abyss of oblivion. And all for the sake of one dollar more. I felt glum.

At this juncture I have to say, dear reader, that my GP  voiced certain concerns about my psychological well-being before I came to China and said we would have to speak upon my return.  But more about that later.

I half believed what was flashing through my mind but I opted to heed the saner half and I put it down to a simple and irrelevant delusion.


Then I had an idea. Just for fun, I made a mock-up of a sales promotion for one of my courses called LPMethod. They furnished me with A4 sheets and some markers and I went to work. The Chinese love having their picture taken with foreigners, especially with Americans. I wasn’t American but I would do. I hailed from the Big Apple. There was no point in telling them I came from Ireland because for all they knew it could have been the name of one of the planets. I was telling them what they wanted to hear. A photo with a foreigner is like a notch on their belts and if it’s an American it probably goes straight onto their CV. So we took some fun snaps and they made me promise that I would put them on my blog.  It was no more than a bit of light-hearted ballyhoo and I left them with a pledge that my son would come soon from abroad, like any old Jesus descended from the sky, to check up on their progress. He was coming anyhow on a work project for his company.

As I was leaving the place, laden with plastic bags, it was fully sinking in that I had actually gone into a Chinese market in China and sold them something. That was a turn-up for the books, I thought. It was an experience that money couldn’t buy. I’d cast aside the silly misconception about intellectual sabotage and I left the market in high spirits.

Merry, Pussy, the author and Rooney


It was around 7 pm. On my way to the market four hours earlier, I had no problems finding it on a gloriously sunny autumn’s afternoon.  Little did the Shanghaiese know they were having an Indian Summer but they were having one anyhow. I had no sooner emerged from the depths of the metro station than I noticed a stream of Chinese children walking in the opposite direction from me. It became very clear where the market was because, apart from looking like a pretty straight walk, most of the youngsters were waving flags with the market’s name written in Roman letters. What’s more, they were carrying balloons with the market’s logotype on them. They had obviously been on a day trip there.

But now as I was leaving the market, dusk was thickening fast. In no time the situation had changed dramatically. Notwithstanding this tenebrous scenario, I adopted a gung-ho attitude (hey, I once had to sleep alone in the middle of a forest with only a bike for a blanket). So it was with firm resolve that I began walking towards the metro station.

It would only take me 10 minutes to get there and then I knew it would not be more than four or five stops to my destination although I would have to make one complex change within the labyrinth of passageways  that is common on the big intersections of any underground network in the world but I knew where I was going; I did make sure I studied that.  I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes there. Hmm… pity I didn’t take a photograph to be able to show some passer-by that this was the place I was looking for. Never mind, I would be back in my hotel in no time.

to be continued next week…


NATIVE SPEAKERS: Please do not cross this line. KEEP OUT!