Chinese fonts and input in Ubuntu

To whom it may concern. If you install Ubuntu Dapper (for other distributions, see comments below) with another language than Chinese as the main one, getting Chinese fonts and input to work is unforunately non-trivial. Not all steps can be done via a friendly, graphical interface.

First, install the Chinese language support files. You can do this in “System > Administration > Language Support” or via aptitude:

$ sudo aptitude install language-support-zh

This will install input support via smart-pinyin and SCIM, but you will need to activate it for your locale:

$ im-switch -s zh_CN

This creates a link in ~/.xinput.d/ for your current locale. Next time you login you should be able to activate pinyin input by pressing Ctrl+Space. There are also alot of other input methods (e.g. stroke based) which you may want to deactivate.

If you have some Japanese and Korean fonts installed (Ubuntu does by default), you will notice that the Chinese characters you write are shown with a mixture of fonts, which looks terrible (the same occurs if you have more than one Chinese font). Tell the font manager (fontconfig) that you want Chinese fonts by default:

$ sudo fontconfig-voodoo -s zh_CN

That’s it. If you are not using Ubuntu, you’ll want to install the smart-pinyin input method in SCIM. Use im-switch to create the hooks that activate SCIM when you start your desktop. If you have no Chinese fonts, look for the Arphic TrueType fonts. fontconfig-voodoo is part of the Ubuntu package language-selector-common. If you don’t have a similar tool in your distribution, consider copying /usr/share/language-selector/fontconfig/zh_CN from an Ubuntu box and hooking it into fontconfig (you’re on your own).

Shit happens, repeatedly

The initial success with getting vegan food seems to have been beginners luck, I haven’t done so great lately. Every time that I’ve seen the actual food or a picture of it, I’ve succeeded, but every time I’ve only had a menu and a waiter to consult, I’ve failed. Twice I got stuff with egg in it because I only asked for a vegetable dish (素菜). Today, I really confirmed that what I ordered (常家豆腐) didn’t have meat or eggs. After eating a while, I thought that the taste of the white meaty-looking stuff was familiar. I think it was chicken. Either it was a miscommunication or chicken isn’t counted as meat (). I thought a bit about asking what it was and why they had said that the dish had no meat, but I chickened out (no pun intended). I can’t keep failing like this, so I should learn how to ask what the ingredients are and to give a complete list of things I don’t want (meat, bird, fish, egg, milk).

Cooking at home is much safer, but not as fun. The grocery stores actually have lots of cool stuff that we don’t have in Sweden, the most useful being tofu in different shapes, forms and tastes. At the store today I was looking at the bread (not the western kind, more like buns that you steam cook) and the people behind the counter were repeating the same thing a few times until I realized they were addressing me. I just gave them a surprised/confused look and kept on looking. A while later I came back and one guy came up to me and asked me the same question again. I figured he was asking if I was looking for something so I said that I was just taking a look. He went back behind the counter and the others asked him if I had understood. He said I had not. They all seemed somewhat amused and I pretended not to notice.

Chinese South Park

I’ve been watching some TV and found something quite psychadelic. The show is called Bravo东东 and the influence of South Park is quite obvious:

Image copyright someone else, used without permission.

I can’t understand what they’re saying so I don’t know if it’s funny, but it seems to be less politically incorrect than South Park anyway. When searching for some info on the show I stumbled up this news item: Foreign Cartoons to Be Banned in ‘Golden Hours’ (17-20). The policy was supposed to come in effect on September 1, so perhaps this could explain why I’ve been seeing this particular show so often (and perhaps not).

Going to school

It seems I was wrong about the group I’m in, it’s actually beginners level 1, just starting at lesson 16. This is perhaps less than I had hoped for, but we got the books today and the level seems about right. If it’s too easy (which I’m afraid it won’t be) I can move up one class. Actual classes are Monday-Friday 8:30-12:30, starting tomorrow.

There is one other Swede in my class and people from other places like Australia, The UK, Japan, The Philippines and Germany. We all use Chinese names, and mine is 菲利普 (feilipu).


Beijing is actually a MUD (online text adventure game)! Almost all the streets run in east-west or south-north direction and the signs in the intersections are marked with east/south/west/north. The city planners obviously thought in terms of a MUD, thousands of years before those silly computer science students. My route to school is south, east, south, east, south, south, south.

Walking takes about half an hour. The taxi drivers don’t know where anything is and air pollution is a big problem (today is the first day that the sky is blue since I arrived) so I think I might try the bus.

I got the results of the placement exam today and had a small oral/written test and it seems I’m going to be in the beginners level 2 group, which is about what I had hoped for.

I also failed miserably at ordering food today. I went to a restaurant and asked for tofu, having come to believe it’s a magic word. I selected one of the two tofu dishes by guessing. Did I want a bowl of noodles too? Well… OK. WRONG! The noodle soup also had plenty of meat, which didn’t look very nice even as meat goes. I wasn’t sure asking for another bowl of noodles without meat would be of any use (in hindsight, this may not be true), so I just ate the noodles and left the meat. Neither the noodles nor the tofu was very good, so I bought some kind of panfried bread on the way home which tasted better (even if the nutritional value is questionable).

Lesson 2: getting scammed

I did the placement test at BLCU this morning and had the whole afternoon free, so I played the tourist game by going to Tiananmen square fully equipped with backpack and camera. While trying to get a descent picture of Mao I was approached by what I thought was a middle aged couple. They said (in English) that I was tall. It’s not the first time (nor has it happened often) so I thought nothing of it and started speaking Mandarin with them, with varying degrees of success. I asked where I should go because I would get to see Tiananmen later anyway, and they suggested I go to the older parts of the city, south of Tiananmen square. I got the impression that they were tourists from Hubei (why would a Beijing resident subject him-/herself to the tourists willingly?) and they were also going to old Beijing. After some window shopping I was hungry and they suggested we drink some tea before we eat. What the heck. I had actually read all about the teahouse scam before coming here, but felt smart and unscammable, having deflected an attempt at the art exhibition scam only minutes before I met this couple.

Soon after we got to the teahouse warning bells were ringing. Tea was served without a menu being shown, so I asked to see the prices and then drank no more. No doubt a real teahouse with the ceremony and all can be expensive, but why would someone go to one of those with someone they just met? Trying to cut my losses without putting up a fight (I don’t know what would happen and didn’t want to try) I ended up paying a third of the bill, 145 yuan (after refusing to pay first the full 440 yuan and then half of the bill). A ridiculous price indeed, but still not worth a fight. When asked to sign some receipt (obviously so that the couple could come back later to collect their share) I signed “Musse Pigg” (Mickey Mouse in Swedish) in a desparate attempt to regain some honor. On the way out I noticed we had passed through a opticians shop to get to the “teahouse”. Obviously this makes no sense, but I hadn’t even noticed it when going in. Oddly enough they didn’t immediately disappear even though I gave them the oppurtunity to do so, so we actually parted in a friendly fashion. It makes me wonder if they didn’t understand that I understood I was being scammed and were looking to scam me some more…

For an hours work, I got humiliated a bit, got to practice my Mandarin a bit and they get to split 145 yuan between three people. They didn’t exactly fit the description of the typical scammer (young pretty girl), nor were they scared away by my talking Mandarin. So, to anyone else coming to China looking to not get scammed:

  1. You’re not smarter than everyone else (be humble).
  2. Don’t trust people, even if they’re friendly (be cynical).
  3. If you find yourself being scammed, stop.

I’ll make sure to go to an actual teahouse with actual friends when I have the opportunity, it does seem quite promising after all.


Here’s a photo I appear to accidentally have taken of the scammers when they first approached me. It’s not great as portraits go, but still…