Going to China, Language Reactivation, and Other Mischief

Greetings from Kunming, China, land of Pu-erh tea! I’ve been offline for a week and feel fantastic.

Kevin Rose, Glenn McElhose, and I are up to no good and having a blast. The above video is the first of several to chronicle our experience exploring the incredible world of tea in China, so be prepared for footage no foreigners have seen before. Not into tea? Don’t worry — it’s an inside look at strangers in a strange land, culture shock included.

This volume covers our trip preparation, Pu-erh tea cakes, and basic Mandarin language reactivation. There is a separate Random episode coming that includes more on language and textbook analysis.

This afternoon, we will head to Beijing for a bit of Bladerunner-style fun and exploration of Olympics-inspired modernization. I haven’t spent real time in the capital since 1996, and I expect the changes will be a shock to the system.

Bonus: If you missed it, here is the How to Tim Ferriss Your Love Life video (6 minutes long) — by request — which details how I outsourced all of my dating as an experiment. Have a sense of humor and enjoy how ludicrous (but effective) the methods were.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

158 Replies to “Going to China, Language Reactivation, and Other Mischief”

  1. Before I say anything else, I gotta admit, the new look is bad ass. You look like a Jason Statham. Anyway, good luck on the trip! I have a few pals that are studying abroad for their last year of high school over there in Hong Kong and part of me still thinks I was stupid for not jumping at that opportunity.

  2. Tim, we’re in Shanghai. Part of the “Ex Tokyo Expats in Shanghai Club”. If you’re in Shanghai, drop us a line! Erik G

  3. I’m going to go ahead and be obnoxious today by saying, where are the previews for your sequel to the Four Hour Work Week. You still have the old version on this website. You should have your blogging friends giving out free chapters and building a pre-launch list.

  4. Hey Tim and fellow Hooligans,

    Hope you have a blast on your trip. I personally haven’t been to that side of the planet just yet, even though I have a few old friends living in South Korea.

    Hope you guys have a blast and enjoy the tea,

    1. Hi Nate,

      I actually sold the company in January, but I’ve used the product since before it was commercially marketed. I have three bottles at my home in SF and now use it mostly pre-workout and for reducing effects of sleep deprivation.



  5. Best wishes in China or wherever. Look forward to catching up on your return. Hit me up when you come thru chicago. have some pretty sick updates and jargon to keep the planets orbiting.


  6. Wow, that’s a lot of bacteria in the elbow! Hope it doesn’t slow you down at all in China. Sure it won’t.

    I had a guy from San Francisco stay at my place a month or so back through AirBNB. He’s a young entrepreneur, and said he sees you every now and then at the local coffee shop. I felt that much closer to the world of Tim Ferris. Ha!

    Thanks for rocking out this blog. Keep up all your great work of making life more efficient.

    1. AirBNB seems like a cool outfit. I watched them get funded in minutes at a Y-Combinator demo day 🙂


  7. Hi Tim,

    On a different note. Have you been able to follow the TED-conference in Oxford, from China?

    Some promising quotes allready on the site:

    ” I thought it might be helpful to cut five years from retirement and intersperse them in my working years.” – Designer Stefan Sagmeister on taking sabbaticals every seven years.

    best, Cleo

  8. SUBJECT: Solution to finding a girlfriend

    Hi Tim:

    Have you examined your dilemma from a perspective other than engineering? I could help you with this if you like.

    Consider the possibility that women are intelligent enough to know when theyare being treated like lab rats during one of your life “experiments” particularly without having consented to such. How might you feel had you been manipulated into contributing time and life energy toward something only to find out that the other person involved was conducting an experiment – something from which to remain coldly detached and above all intending to refrain from making personal investment?

    In conduction of clinical research, there are ethical protocols for collecting data involving human subjects. Although some of it seems extreme, the these protocols are meant to protect human beings from exploitation.

    My sense of humor is extraordinary; very dry and droll. I’ve raised two boys, both of whom were out of control. Let me assure you, my sense of humor is extraordinarily well-developed and surprisingly intact. If anyone would find your shenanigans amusing, I would. However, it’s not funny to use people.

    With great admiration,


  9. Thanks for the video. It definately makes me anxious for a vacation. I love traveling ‘adventure’ style. Now i have to add China to my list!

  10. Hi Tim, hope you will enjoy your wonderful trip in China, when will you be visit Guangzhou????


  11. Hey tim, i hope the trip is going well btw i dont know if you seen this yet but Google has a new APP system in place called Google Wave.

    figure i give you a head’s up is this system time waster or a time saver i dont know yet

  12. [Please be nice, always boss. Now, on to the question…]


    In some ways I’ve heard Mandarin is easier to learn than Japanese.

    Your thoughts Tim??

    I’m using Pinyin and I have a feeling the reason you used GR had to do with Princeton??

    1. Chinese grammar is infinitely easier than Japanese, but Japanese pronunciation is much easier (similar phonemes to Spanish), as is the writing. I’d pick whichever you’re most passionate about. If you have friends who are native in one, I’d probably go with that.

      Jia you!


  13. Hey Tim,

    Hope there are too many problems with accessing social networking sites. We’ve had youtube blocked for a long time now here in Shanghai.

    I’m ecstatic to see more exposure on China, especially with some focus on tea. Pu-erh has gained a lot of media coverage, but there are many other great teas to check out – probably cheaper as well. I’m a big fan on Qimen Red (Hong??tea, which is produced near Anhui province. If you have time for a detour, I recommend checking it out. The tea villages in Hangzhou are also pretty cool. Longjing green tea is the #1 produced tea in China. Also recommended.

    I’m sure your guide will take you to some cool spots. I’ll be checking back to gain some insight into where I might want to go.

    I’ve stationed myself in Shanghai now for what has become a quick 2 years almost. I hope the videos and posts will encourage more people to explore the beauty China has to offer.

    Have an enjoyable trip and remember, ???? (ru xiang sui su) = when in rome, do as the romans do ( the equivalent translation of course).

    Re: Roger Ost – If you only want to learn spoken mandarin fast, go to a city in the northeast of China (Harbin is a good place). The mandarin is standard, without local dialects. Fastest way I learned was by going outside and talking to people; I even ask them questions that I already knew the answer to so that I could listen to the way they say it.


  14. Hi Tim,

    it’s my 18-month goal to learn Mandarin from a friend and the methods you suggested, and then to take an immersion course my school offers in Shanghai. I’m also looking forward to taking a tea vacation of my own, so I look forward to watching you’re updates. I always enjoy your blogs. stay well.

  15. Tim.

    If you get a chance, try to go hiking/trekking through Tiger Leaping Gorge while you are in Yunnan. You can get buses from Kunming to the gorge that will take a few hours and can usually stop overnight in Lijiang or Dali.

    The gorge itself is definitely an adventure worth having. Allow yourself about 4 days to walk the return trip from the mouth of the gorge where the bus will usually drop you off at a mini market (be warned this is not a souvenir market – heh but there are lots of delicacies to try) with lots of local tourists. The locals only stay at the markets though and don’t usually venture further onto the trekking routes in the gorge. Take the low path in and take the high path out. You can find guides I think in Kunming or Dali/Lijiang if you want (or just get the map of the gorge when you get there).

    Oh also, when you get to the end of the gorge (theres about three teahouses there in close proximity), you will have the option to descend into the gorge to the river. Descent is by foot and from memory takes about an hour or two. My advice is to come back up by the route you took down. We decided to take the “alternate” route up – which was well marked at first but became easy to lose the track and we nearly fell off a cliff as the ledge of dirt started crumbling under us. heh. The descent route is safe though. Ahhh memories 😉

    Supplies-wise you should be ok. There are several teahouses along the trekking route (perhaps about every 10-15kms) so accomodation should be realtively sorted (you just pay when you get to the teahouse as there is plenty of room). They also have a cooks who can provide simple traditional food and each place I stopped at had their own spin on “firewater” (the local wines made from ingredients grown nearby)

    Anyway, I hope you really enjoy your trip. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer. Just email me.

    Just finished reading your book too (in Sydney). Great work dude!

  16. Oh also, if you do stop in Lijiang and Dali there are heaps of things to do, but make sure you climb the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. There is a little tourist bus that will take you there with the locals. Don’t buy any horse rides etc from the lady in the bus. You can pay the mountain villagers to give you a guide +/- horses. They don’t speak any english so it’s an opportunity to practice your mandarin. The horses are optional. I walked. My fiancee rode a horse. Leave early in the day so you can ascend beyond the start of the snowline (which takes a few hours to reach on horse or foot) and hopefully make the summit. I recommend going on foot. Anyway that’s my $0.02 🙂

  17. From Yorkshire, the best county in England!

    Tim ~ working through your book at the mo. May I advise a trip to South Korea, quite a different kettle of fish to China, is the most wired in the world and has some great mountains! If you do please drop by a fantastic little bar/cafe called Cafe Nicolia http://www.cafenicolia.com ~ very hospitable friends. Regards.

  18. I’m looking forward to hearing how your trip goes- I’m going to be taking a “mini retirement” in Dalian, China in the northeast soon, only it will be six months at the minimum. I’m hoping to receive some great advice for living/traveling in the country from your trip so don’t let me down Tim! Also, if you need a place to stay and I’m up there for January 2010-June or so, know you’ll have a free place to chill if needed.

  19. Hi Tim,

    For some reason the hotspot tool you mentioned earlier it not working out.

    Here in Guangzhou still no facebook and youtube.

    I’m to desperate I guess.

    @ roger, my experience: learn words, and practice with as many Chinese people you can find. Do not, I repeat, do not try to be perfect.

    Have a lot of patience, speaking Chinese is an experience.

    have fun!,


  20. For getting around the Great China Firewall, forget about proxy servers, they get blocked all the time. Try a VPN. UltraSurf works well and it’s free, and for 50 USD per year Witopia can’t be beat. Just Google these names for the websites. Note that if you are already IN china you cannot access these home pages.

    As for learning Chinese, most serious students who live here recommend ChinesePod which is based out of Shanghai. Their newbie lessons are free. Very good lessons that use real-life, everyday phrases and expressions. And they cover real-life topics that you’d normally run into living here in China.


  21. Tim-o

    I have a friend in Perth, Western Australia who teaches you how to speak Mandarin without a pen and paper…! and he gets you speaking basic mandarin sentences within half an hour.

    He was inspired by a teaching trip to China, and upon his return quit his job as an engineer to start teaching ppl Mandarin and consequently has built a business out of it; last i heard he lectures at business universities.

    I highly recommend his services if ur in need: alexfoo1@yahoo.com.au


    P 🙂

  22. Hi Tim,

    I am Mandarin teacher and running a Chinese language center in Guangzhou. I am very interested about your language study methods. Can you come to Guangzhou?


  23. I can’t stand Pimsleur. Michel Thomas is okay, but I can do without it. I prefer to get a basic course (teach yourself, colloquial) finish that and then move straight to native materials…

  24. Hey Tim!

    Just want to say that I LOVE the background image in Glenn McElhose footage, the poster for ‘FREE Laura Ling and Euna Lee’. I am so glad they were returned safe!!!! Thanks for showing your support! Can’t wait to see your next video!

    (you guys are a great trio!)

  25. I have recently read your book, and it hit me like a brick. Really opened by eyes on living my life NOW instead of waiting until I am older. I am 34 years old, and been self employed for the majority of my duration.

    I have recenlty transitition into info product creation, and on a whim (without even thinking about it) booked a trip a hawaii in April 2010, and then decided that was too long to wait so I booked on Jamicia during Thanksgiving.

    I am going to live life on my terms from now on!

  26. I your elbow healed well by now.

    I have never seen Bladerunner but I know it’s supposed to be futuristic. If you need help remembering your Chinese, you could also use r osetta stone. Might be too late for that though. But for future reference, it’s a good idea.

  27. Well, this is a very late comment, but I saw the word “puehrh” and you got me. I LOVE puerh, but I’ve never been to China. I just order the mini bricks from puerhshop.com and brew them in my cup using a teaball strainer. I’m sure that’s not the proper way! Bottoms up.

  28. Tim,

    Not sure if you’ve covered this elsewhere; is Hakka necessary to familiarize yourself with in Hong Kong or will Mandarin get the job done? Also, any recommendations on learning characters? I’m kicking off a mini retirement by traveling from Hong Kong to Shanghai and I want to be prepared.

    You’re a true inspiration Tim. Can’t wait for the new book!


  29. Hi Scojo,

    Cantonese is spoken in Hong Kong, not Hakka. You can get by in HK with English and Mandarin, as most people speak a bit of both.

    I’d therefore suggest that you learn some Mandarin as you are going to Shanghai after. Have look around my website (medlockchinese) if you are looking for free Mandarin lessons.

    (Sorry if that sounds a bit spammy)


  30. To learn Mandarin grammar and vocab rapidly, I used the free podcast by Serge Melnyk available via iTunes.

    Try it out. I think you’ll like it.

  31. Was that a copy of Nelson I saw on your bookshelf?

    One of the best dictionaries ever printed. And you have the red version.

    Kudos to you, sir. Kudos.


    Tokyo, Japan

  32. When I saw your note “Blade runner-style fun”, was like “wow”. Not many people get my Blade Runner reference when I talk about the feeling in big Asian cities.

  33. Tim,

    I never thought that I’d be this much influenced by you until I’m writing this.

    With all the natural beauties and San Francisco-like weather, Kunming is an easy place to fall in love with. So much so that I’m starting a study abroad service company to help foreigners locate to Kunming to study Chinese. Fingers crossed!

    On Mandarin reactivation, I was inspired by your 80/20 principle and started an e-Chinese learning platform.

    If you have any down time, I’d love to speak to you and get your thoughts on what I’m doing.



  34. Tim, your Chinese pronunciation is really good! Also a good method that helped me a lot to learn this language is pattern drills. It means instead of learning single words you learn complete sentences. Chinese expressions can have many different meanings, so learning them in context helps you memorize them faster, and you can immediately start using these sentences for communication with other people.