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Archive for October, 2005
I just remembered a really neat thing about Bǎidù. Remember how you used to be able to get MP3’s straight from a search engine? On Chinese search engines you still can. Go to, click on the MP3 at the top, type in the name of the song you want and go.

This second picture has the various search terms labelled in English. Baidu will let you choose what filetype you want to download: .mp3, .ram, .wma, etc… There’s also a lyrics search, and the functionality to hear a sample before downloading the whole thing. It’s the most convenient way to download music I’ve ever seen.

I guess I should warn my readers in the US, the penalties for downloading songs this way could be worse than those for arson, auto-theft, assault, battery, or even manslaughter. With the RIAA successfully suing thousands, including children, it needn’t be said that some things in the US are seriously messed up right now. But hey, in China there’s already more freedom in a lot of regards. If you are American and any of this bothers you, consider contributing to the EFF or the ACLU.

Update: The timing of this is amazing. A grand total of three days after I published this post, Baidu started blocking searches for US songs. Sorry for getting your hopes up everyone.

Back when I was in college, my friends who didn’t like the Backstreet Boys always (basically all of the guys) called them the “Backdoor Boys”. Well, here’s a mockery of them gone too far… Allow me to introduce 后舍男生 (hòu shè nán shēng) or, the “Backdorm Boys”. Be sure to notice the poor “ood roommate out” trying to use his computer in peace at the back.

This is the funniest one I saw.

Here’s another:

And yes, they sing in Chinese too:

This one has sort of a Chinese Marlon Brando thing going…


If you want to see more, Tian’s got it at his site.

At this point, just about everybody who follows the stock market at all has heard of Băidù, the Chinese search engine company whose shares rose from $27 to $150 on IPO day, setting a NASDAQ record. This same company’s site is currently the 5th most visited site in the world. On top of that, the name Bǎidù supposedly comes from some nifty, classical Chinese poem. However, analysts are nearly universal in their critique that Bǎidù is over-valued. Goldman Sachs initiated coverage on Bǎidù last month with an “underperform” rating, valuing the dominant Chinese search engine at $27 a share. The market on the other hand, still values it at about $67 a stub at the time of this writing.

In this post, I’ll investigate two things:

1) What poem exactly did the name Bǎidù come from anyway?
2) Is the valuation fair? Should I invest in it directly or maybe just pursue indirect ownership through shares in google?

The Name

After sniffing around on itself, I turned up this interview with the founder. (Those of you who can’t read simplified characters might like this tool.) After that, it didn’t take too long to come up with the original poem by 辛棄疾:








The man was desperately searching for his loved one in a festival. In the red line above you can see the word 百度 bǎidù appears to be an intensifier. I’m no translator, so I’ll just go word by word:

In the crowd, I searched for her a with an intensity of a thousand-hundred degrees.

Or maybe like this: In the crowd, I searched a million faces (and didn’t see hers).

I can understand how this name would convey the intensity of their’s search for your information, but is this really the image they should give users? Would anyone really want that kind of searching experience? You search a million times in failure, only to find what you were looking for later after you already gave up. It makes a good love poem, but if there must be something about the Chinese psyche I seriously don’t get if those connotations make for an appealing search engine name.

The Valuation

Let’s start by looking at their revenue and income for the last 3 years:

Financial Performance

Revenue Growth238%185%60%
Net Income($2.2)($1.1)$1.5$3.0
Net Income Growth100%

*Through 6/30/2005; revenue and net income in millions. Data from Capital IQ and SEC filings.

That revenue growth is nice. However, it is clearly decelerating. It’s not easy to keep up %50 growth for more than a few years. Looking at these numbers Baidu’s (Nasdaq:BIDU) current valuation of over 2.1 billion dollars looks absolutely insane. Let’s say we assume that BIDU remains a fast growing stock worth a P/E of 40 even after five years. What would earnings need to be to justify a market cap of 2.1 billion? The answer is, somewhere around $54 million per quarter. This would be to achieve zero growth in the market cap. I don’t know about you guys, but I want to see a good chance for at least a 20% yearly growth to even touch risky growth stocks like this one. In order to achieve that earnings would have to be as follows.

Need to Be …

This means that if Baidu were to receive a generous P/E of 40, it would have to grow earnings from its current 3M by 213% per year every year for five years. Looking up at the my first chart you’ll see that it isn’t even growing at that rate now. It seems pretty clear that Goldman Sachs knows what they are doing. Until you look at the history of similar companies when they were making similar earnings, that is.

CompanyYearRevenueNet Margin
Google2000$19.1 million-76.9%
Google2001$86.4 million+8.1%
Yahoo!1996$21.5 million-29.8%
Yahoo!1997$84.1 million-51.6%

Data provided by Capital IQ.

Google needed to get 4 times larger than Bǎidù’s current size before it was profitable. Yahoo had to get even larger than that to become profitable. While Bǎidù’s valuation of 2.1 billion is outrageous by traditional metrics, consider this: Yahoo is capitalized at 46 billion, or about 20 times what Bǎidù’s is. It’s only been nine years since Yahoo was earning 21.5 million, just like Bǎidù is now. Yahoo was losing money then, and Bǎidù is not. Just five years ago Google was earning what Bǎidù is now, and doing so at net losses. Google is now capitalized at 92 billion, or about 46 times what Bǎidu is.

Market Cap
Yahoo!1996$21.5($6.4)$46 billion (9 years later)
Google2000$19.1($4.3)$92 billion (5 years later)

Bǎidù is certainly run more efficiently than its predecessors. Not only that, but it is pursuing a MUCH larger market. The growth of China’s entire GDP has been triple that of the US for decades, and the differential in computer usage uptake is even greater. On top of all of that, tax burdens are MUCH lower in China than in the US.

Just as I’ve made very profitable investments in the past by ignoring the advice of wall street, I plan to do so again. The major firms have research at their disposal that individual investors couldn’t hope to match, and yet their “buy ratings” have underperformed the market consistently for decades. Searching a million times does no good if you’re searching in the wrong place .

Legal Disclai
mer: I own stock Amgen, and Middleby. I previously owned but do not currently own Apple. As of the time of this writing I do not own any interest in Yahoo or Baidu.

In Taibei there are quite a few schools of this type. There are also a few in Taoyuan; I don’t know of any in the south, though. Almost all of these schools are about the same. The first one was Mòdàwèi 莫大衛, started in the heart of Taibei, near Sogo, about 20 years ago by an Australian guy named David. He paid well, and was able to attract foreigners who could speak Chinese, could control a large class, would work hard, and would stay for a long time. As a result of having good teachers who stay from day one until graduation day 3 and a half years later, the students learned well. Studying at Mòdàwèi for one year was nearly as good as putting in three at a big chain school. Amazingly, with no marketing, Mòdàwèi grew into a large branch through word of mouth alone. However, David wasn’t interested in letting other teachers open franchises or other branches. One of the best and brightest of his teachers, a guy named Tom, eventually got tired of making a fortune for somebody else. So, Tom opened his own school, called Tomcat (湯姆貓), across the street. Nearly all of his students came with him. Naturally, being a bilingual foreigner with a great deal of teaching experience, and 200 loyal students, it wasn’t too hard to make a success of it. In fact, Tom later let his most experienced teacher, Rich, take over a branch. Around the same time, an American guy named James, a VERY good example of a black man who has made it as a teacher in Taiwan, was opening another Mòdàwèi clone called Cortland (科特蘭). As of now there are 8 Cortland branches and over a dozen Tomcat franchises. In addition, there have been at least 4 other schools started by former Mòdàwèi employees since Cortland that I know of. Mòdàwèi hasn’t grown much, but it’s still around. More importantly the HFRB (Hard-core Foreign Run Bŭxíbāns) style of teaching is here to stay.

Curriculum & Teaching Methods

These schools have a simple no non-sense curriculum structured around sentence patterns, core-vocabulary, and constant pronunciation coaching. The meat and potatoes of their classes is the Question Around the Room. In this exercise, first all of the students must stand up, then one student makes a question based on a certain grammar pattern. The student the asks another student who must answer and in turn make another question which will be answered by another student. It continues until all of the students have asked and answered a question based on whatever sentence pattern being practiced.

Unlike the big chains, these schools require correct pronunciation and have teachers who can tell the children how to correct their pronunciation. For example, if a kid is saying “How ahh you?”, the teacher will say, “Every time you see an ‘r’, you have to curl your tongue.” And he will say it in Chinese. Also unlike the big chains, KK isn’t taught at HFRBs. Instead phonics is taught the way we learned it back home: i.e. They learn about long and short vowels, basic phonics rules like “when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking”, and so forth.

One other major difference between HFRBs and other schools is that at HFRBs, the kids have to do their homework. If they don’t do it, they fail. Yes, kids actually can fail at these schools. Also, the teacher has to grade books and listen to tapes after class to ensure that the students are doing their work correctly. All of this work is unpaid.


If you are in Taiwan to make money and you are a teacher, there is NO other place to be than bŭxíbāns of this type. At the time of this writing, Modawei, Cortland, and most of the Tomcat schools (but not all franchises) pay new teachers $600/hour during training, and $900/hour for teaching. $50 raises are given every six months up to a maximum of $1100 or $1200. After 2 years at Cortland, or 3 at Modawei, profit sharing bonuses are awarded every 6 months. Tomcat has pretty inconsistent rules about this. Bonuses can range from about $100,000 to $300,000 depending on a variety of factors.

Be warned that unlike lesser schools, these schools usually entail a significant amount of training. In the most extreme case, at Modawei some teachers have spent a full 6 months in training before opening their own classes. While training you can expect to put in a significant amount of time, and only make $65,000 to 70,000 per month. Once you have a full schedule you’ll make $100,000 per month and once you’re receiving the bonus you’ll likely make over $150,000 per month. If you become a branch manager or, better yet, open a franchise, you’ll make even more.


It is only natural that a school that delivers superior education despite large class sizes and pays its staff well will also have high requirements. Unlike big chain schools who will basically hire any living & breathing young westerner they can get regardless of skills, HFRBs are quite a bit more selective. If you want to work at this kind of school you need some teaching experience, the confidence to control a class of up to 30 kids, and enough Chinese ability to teach them well and communicate with their parents. The most difficult requirement of all is that you must be willing to stay for at least 2 or 3 years. Not many foreigners in Taiwan want to do this, but having one stable teacher who can lead the students from ABCs to essay writing is perhaps the strongest point of all for HFRBs

A Word for the Wise

Naturally, businesses don’t tend to speak fondly of their competitors. However the level of animosity some HFRBs hold for each other is downright malevolent. Much of this is rooted in the fact that all of these schools were formed by rouge teachers who, feeling severely underpaid, left their original school and started their own schools nearby with their own kids. As a result, don’t be surprised if you see a non-compete agreement in the employment contract if you interview at one of these schools. I myself ran into a particularly egregious contract problem at a HFRB. My boss brought me into a room with 2 other managers, sat me down, and told me to sign a contract stipulating that ALL creations I make (at work AND on my own time) would belong to his school… OR ELSE! I have done a fair number of personal programming projects (Quake III mods, video editing, etc…) as well as essays, some of which relate to L2 acquisition. Signing this contract would have given them claim over any further works or, in other words, the whole creative output of my brain would have belonged to them. It would have also made it pretty much impossible to open my own school later on since they would claim that any curriculum I wrote was written during my employment there and was therefore theirs. Sometimes it doesn’t matter who is right if you don’t have money to defend a lawsuit. I didn’t sign the contract. About a week later I had an even better paying job at a school started by a former teacher of the school I’d just left.

I wrote the original version of this article in 2005 in order to share some of my experiences working as a foreigner teaching English in Taiwan. Since that time, I’ve taught at a wider variety of schools, designed a curriculum, done sales, managed and then later run a school as a 50% partner. Now that I have moved on from life in Taiwan and EFL, it’s time to share what I can to make the journey a bit easier for the current crop of foreigners moving to Taiwan. That way maybe they won’t have the same bumpy ride I did.

Are you here mostly to make money?

If your main reason for coming to Taiwan was to learn Chinese then obviously you won’t have the same goals as you would if you just finished liberal arts degree and came over here to pay off massive college loans. The same would be true if you came here to get to know your grandparents who didn’t move to immigrate to California with the rest of your family, or if you came because you’ve seen a TV show in Canada that made you want to teach in Taiwan.

I came to Taiwan with the goal of learning Chinese really well. It was slow going at first, but I never gave up. Like many others, I ran out of funds and had to become an English teacher. Like many others, I started at

Big Chain Schools

There are a few really dominant buxibans, or cram schools, in Taiwan. The biggest bŭxíbān is Hess (何嘉仁). Close behind are Kojen, Giraffe (長頸鹿), and Joy (佳音). Sesame Street (芝麻街) isn’t the force that it once was, but they’re still around. Most foreigners start out at one of these schools, and more than half leave within the first year. All of these schools are pretty similar.


They all have a decent curriculum despite some occasional English errors. On the whole, I’d say they’ve improved a fair amount in the past decade. For example, Hess books used to confuse the past participle “gotten” with the past tense form “got”. It would be ok if they were teaching British English, but they claim to be teaching American English (美語). As a north American, I can say it used to sound really weird when kids said things like, “He has already got back from the store.” After having spent most my adult life in Asia and having gotten a lot of exposure to people from England and the commonwealth, it doesn’t so much any more. Aside from these kinds of minor issues, outright Taiwanese Chinglish errors show up in texts from time to time, too. I’ll never forget the time I had at Joy English school when we came across the common Taiwanese mistaken translation of “toast”. According to their books, once bread is sliced, it’s toast. The idea of actually toasting it was alien… and worse yet since the kids had been misinformed by their local teacher, they didn’t believe me when I told them what toast actually means to English speakers! I also remember another mistake in a book for a GEPT prep class that had some passage about a bird escaping its cage during a birthday and “creating a small chaos”. Obviously this passage was not written by a native English speaker. One thing about the big chains is that they usually correct these kinds of mistakes within a couple of years. The problem is that the majority of their curriculum designers are Taiwanese natives who have majored in English. Unfortunately the correlation between a degree and a person’s ability in a foreign language are slim. A P.H.D. in the hands of someone who grew up speaking Chinese rarely means that they can write better ESL materials than native speakers could. So, while the curriculum mistakes are corrected as they’re found, there’s also steady stream of new Chinglish-ridden materials coming from the main office.

Errors aside, a lot of the materials are entertaining and well grounded in teaching the kinds of English that Taiwanese children will be able to relate to. I would love to see more reading as opposed to brute force vocabulary memorization. Unfortunately, most schools expect perfect spelling skills just as soon as students have reading comprehension of a given word.

Teaching Methods

This is the real weakness of the big chain schools. Every single one pushes the “100% English” method, which involves having “real foreigners” (with blond hair and everything) speak nothing but English, flapping their arms to communicate the word “chicken”, and giving dramatic renditions of the actions of “crying”, and “sleeping” if necessary. This method of teaching was very popular amongst linguists about 40 years ago. However, due to very poor results, it has long since been dropped by L2 acquisition linguists. Modern research shows that other methods such as Massive Comprehensible Input are much more effective. The key word here, is comprehensible. By denying teachers the option of using the children’s native language to explain things, the children will either require more time to learn the same material, cover it as quickly but with much worse understanding, or worst of all misunderstand it. Naturally, enforcing homework, inspiring the class and pronunciation coaching all suffer as well. I was responsible for giving entrance tests at a couple of my old schools, and I often saw children who had spent 4 hours a week for 4 years at a big chain school fail the skills we taught in the first 6 months. Sadly, most students who have invested a years of their lives, not to mention their parents’ money, are deficient in all sections of the exam: grammar, listening comprehension, spelling, phonics, and pronunciation.

Effectiveness of the teaching is only one factor amongst many in determining a school’s success.


Most big chains pay about $600 per teaching hour. Usually, if you have 4 hours of paid work in a day, you’ll also have about 30 minutes to an hour of prep work to do, too. Sometimes there are Christmas parties and the such. The biggest schools usually pay for these, but some don’t. If you are interested in finding this sort of job, check out the listings at


In my original writing of this article I said that “if you are white, under 40, eligible for a visa and not hideously deformed, all you have to do to get the job is show up for the interview”. This isn’t as true as it used to be in Taipei. Still, many teachers who have no experience at all a questionable grasp of their own language have few problems getting a job. Most schools prefer Americans, but a British accent won’t stop you from getting a job at any of the big schools or even very many of the smaller ones. After all, many South Africans are doing very well in Taiwan.

Can I still teach English in Taiwan if I’m an ABC?

If you are Asian-looking, you may encounter more difficulties at first… especially if you don’t know any Chinese at the beginning. I’ve had several friends in this situation. Take heart, though! Your Asian looks are a tremendous advantage if you want to learn Chinese. I can’t even begin to enumerate the times people ignored my near-fluent Mandarin and directed their replies to my non-Mandarin speaking ABC or even Japanese friends!

And it’s doubly advisable for you to learn Chinese. Once your Chinese is moderately good, you’ll be very employable not only as a bŭxíbān branch manager, but there will also be opportunities as a programmer, fitness trainer, sales rep, journalist or a number of other interesting jobs. I’ve had three Asian-looking foreign friends who were bŭxíbān managers, one who managed at California fitness, and two others who worked their way up at tech companies fairly quickly. Though you will face “reverse” racism as an English teacher, racism will be all in your favor once you make it into management. There is occasionally an odd phenomenon of locals who feel that ABCs are “arrogant” about speaking English, but I think that’s mostly sour-grapes and insecurity. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that ABCs, are at the top of the social ladder. You will be assumed to be more educated, cooler, etc… than other locals. It’s no co-incidence that many of Taiwan’s biggest stars grew up in California.

If you are black… all I can say is that you face an uphill battle. One of my friends from back home came here after completing a degree in linguistics. Despite being more qualified than I am, he had great difficulties in getting a job. It is possible, but you’ll really have to be the best at what you do and dress well to even get your foot in the door. That said, my manager at Modawei was black and he was loved by students and teachers both.

Big Chain Kindergartens

In most ways these are about the same as the bŭxíbāns. The only difference is that you will probably have less prep time required of you, and you’ll have to do more special events like Christmas plays, etc…

Teaching Methods

The teaching methods are about the same as those in big chain bŭxíbāns, but usually with more singing, exercises, coloring and such. Actually most of the big chains run kindergartens in addition to their bŭxíbāns. There are a few big chains like Happy Marion (快樂瑪麗安) and Kid Castle that just do kindergarten.


The pay is sometimes a little bit lower than it is for bŭxíbāns. $550-$600 starting is the norm.


Kindergartens can be hard on the voice; make sure you take care of yourself. Also, don’t expect the kids to learn much. Just try to keep it fun for everyone. One other thing is that even at schools that don’t let you speak any Chinese, you’re better off if you can understand a bit. Otherwise you may find out that Chinese sentence the kid in front of you was saying wasn’t, “what’s that thing?” It meant, “Ughh…. I’m gonna puke all over you.”

Public High Schools

There is definitely a big variety in the English teaching jobs within the public school system. There isn’t much central planning, or if there is, it’s not effective. In theory only high schools can hire foreigners directly, but in practice many middle schools and a few elementary schools do too. At most schools there is only a very bare-bones curriculum and the teacher is left to his or her own devices. Speaking some Chinese is usually but not always tolerated. Classes usually have a HUGE variance in English proficiency. Some students are also attending bŭxíbāns, or did in the past. Those who haven’t are, naturally enough, way behind.


At public schools, there is large variance in not only pay, but also in duties. Many schools require that you stay from 8:30 A.M. until 5:00 PM and grade tests, help the local teachers with their English, or perform other administrative duties. Usually the pay is a salary between $65,000 and $80,000 per month.

For Long-term Foreigners in Taiwan

Do you want to make $1.5 million (about $50 thousand USD) or more a year while only working part-time? Do you want to be on a career path that will allow you to open your own school and make still more while staying in Taiwan? Do you want your kids to really learn to speak English really well? If you’re willing to learn some Chinese and stay at the same school for a few years, there’s another kind of school where you can. I described it in this article.

As a caveat, I should point out that this is not easy. It takes hard work, and a time investment in training that most teachers aren’t willing to make. Once you get through that, though, it’s a pretty great gig to have.

Trends in the English Teaching Market in Taiwan

There are two trends that have made the EFL market much more competitive than it used to be. First of all, Taiwan has one of the lowest if not the lowest birth rate in the world. Last I checked it was 1.1 children per woman. Unsurprisingly, even public schools are merging classes and hiring fewer teachers. As the primary market for EFL in Taiwan has been children, the demand for EFL classes is down. At the same time, there are more westerners than ever living in Taiwan. It’s a wonderful place, people are nice, there’s health care, there are convenience stores on every block… more and more foreigners are deciding to settle down for good. Some are even trading in their original passports for shiny new Taiwanese ones! Since most foreigners in Taiwan don’t learn that much Chinese, their primary long-term jobs are either teaching or opening western style restaurants or bars. The supply of EFL classes is up.

This means that teaching jobs are harder to come by than they used to be. It’s still not difficult by any means, but just being a foreigner doesn’t yield the bargaining position that it did 10 years ago… or that it does for teaching in China now. When I moved to Taiwan at the end of 2002, it was probably the best place in Asia for a teacher to save money, along with Korea. Now it’s just the best place to live.

Interested in learning more about making the most out of your move to Taiwan?
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I’ve noticed a bunch of you are looking for teachers or jobs in the comments.

Here’s a document for you to add yourself to instead 😀

It’s been less than a day since I opened this blog, so imagine the joy I felt upon checking my page and seeing that I had two shiny messages in reply to my post about the letter “x”. Oh, how quickly that joy turned into something else once I saw that one “wasn’t a scam” that really could make me rich, while the other was an exciting post about Japanese highway construction-related products I could purchase… WTF!!!? Spammers, you’ve already earned a special place in my heart for rendering my email account helpless against your barrage of 400 emails a day. Now, you’ve earned a nomination for your own very special place on the deathlist.

As many readers realize, the pronunciation of many English consonants change based upon whether or not the preceding consonant was voiced. For example, consider the word “cards”. The pronunciation of z and s is the same, except for the fact that z is voiced and s is unvoiced. The same can be said for d and t, g and k, v and f, as well as several other pairs. The s in “cards” is pronounced as a z because the preceding d is a voiced sound.

An “s” at the end of a word is pronounced like a “z” when it follows a voiced sound.

In “carts” on the other hand, the s follows an unvoiced letter, and so the s sounds like an s. Observe the words “beads”, “beets”, “rags”, “racks”, “stops”, and “snobs”. The rule is is apparent from these words. In fact if you tried to pronounce a word like “beads” with an s instead of a z it would become very clear how strong this rule is in English.

“But a “ce” is pronounced as an “s”, almost never as a “z”

Note: The above rule doesn’t apply to every voiced consonant. An r for example, can be followed by either s or z sounds. An example of this would be the words “peers” and “pierce”. In such situations it’s impossible to tell from the spelling alone whether an s is pronounced as an s or as a z. In contrast, ce is always pronounced as an s. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine which voiced consonants can be followed by unvoiced consonants in the same syllable. If anyone’s really interested in the answer, just post below.

“The pronunciation of an “x” depends on whether or not the syllable is stressed. It doesn’t matter if the preceding sound is stressed or not.”

Okay, all of that is stuff I’ve known for a long time. However, I came to a new realization last month while I was tutoring my one of my boss’s daughters. There’s also a rule about when x is pronounced as a ks and when it’s pronounced as a gz. Surprisingly it is not based on whether the preceding letters are stressed or not. It’s based on which syllable is stressed. In “exercise”, “Mexico”, “mix”, “axle” and “extra” the syllable ending in x is stressed. In each of those words, the x is pronounced as a ks. In contrast, “examine”, “exalt” and “example” are stressed on a syllable starting with x, and the x is pronounced as gz in all three words.

If an “x” is at the end of an accent stress, pronounce it as “ks”.
If an “x” comes before an accent stress, pronounce it as a “gz”.

Can you think of any words with “x” that don’t follow the rule?

Update: Thanks to Mike’s comment, there’s an addition to this rule:

If a word begins with “x”, the first syllable is stressed and the “x” is pronounced as a “z” instead of the normal “gz”.

Well, I must say I’m a bit bummed out that the address I wanted, daotingtushuo is taken by some Singaporean fellow who isn’t even posting on it. For those of you who don’t know Chinese, dàotīngtúshuō (道聽途說) means “street-hear, path-say” or “rumors/groundless talk”. And that pretty much sums up the kind of blog I want.

Since I couldn’t get dàotīngtúshuō̄, I just bastardized it into doubting to shuo. If the doubting to is taken as dàotīngtúshuō, the title means “hear speech on the street and just say it” as I wrote above. However, if only the to is converted to Chinese, we have doubtingtúshuō (途說). This would mean “doubting the rumors”, which is, nearly the opposite meaning.