three manys?

November 20th, 2014

With Xi Jinping visiting New Zealand there is naturally an upspike in mentions of New Zealand in the Chinese press. Naturally, these mentions tend to be about Xi’s visit, but there are other things too. Things like this rather odd little article, attributed to Zhou Qiyuan of Nanjing Daily. “New Zealand has ‘three manys'”, the headline proclaims, “Many sheep, many birds, and many old people”. It then goes on to explain each of those ‘many’s one by one. It’s a pretty short article, so I’ll just translate the whole thing.

It starts with the ‘many sheep’:


New Zealand is a modernised agricultural country. The grasslands through all four seasons. Farm management is advanced, and only cattle and sheep can be seen, but no people. The whole country has a population of four or five million, but there are 20 million sheep. Exports of wool, sheep skin and sheep meat products occupy an important place in the economy. It has been called “a country riding on the sheep’s back”.


There’s lots of interesting news about sheep in the media. Not long ago a sheep escaped from shearing and hid in a mountain cave, living in the wild 2 years before it was found by the farmer. In honour of its tenacious spirit searching for freedom, the farmer announced an amnesty for it: its wool would never be shorn again.


New Zealand has many birds, and the birds like to fly out of the forest. They get along well with people because people like to share delicacies with them, rather than catch them. Wild pigeons, seagulls, sparrows, and other birds search for food in the centre of the capital Wellington. People sit on park benches resting and  breaking bread and biscuits to feed the birds, a sight full of leisure and harmony.

在新西兰,到处能看到老人开车。别担心,他们从年轻时就开始开车,早已轻车熟路。新西兰有一句歇后语就是:“老爷爷开车—四平八稳。”新西兰航班上竟然有 “空中老太”,她们都是以前的空姐、空嫂。新西兰的退休制度比较灵活,有按时与超时两种选择,到退休年龄,如果你愿意延期,而且体检合格,就可以继续工 作,所以这里的各行各业老人有很多。

Everywhere in New Zealand you can see old people driving cars. But don’t worry, they’ve been driving since they were young, and are long comfortable with the car and familiar with the road. New Zealand has a saying: “An old man driving a car – stable and steady”. On New Zealand flights there are “air old ladies” – former air hostesses. New Zealand’s retirement system is relatively flexible, and one can choose between ‘on time’ or ‘over time’. On reaching retirement age, if you want to keep working and you are fit, you can continue to work, so in every industry you can see many old people.

And that’s it.

What a strange, strange article. Granted, it’s been a long time since I’ve lived in New Zealand, so things have certainly changed, but as I’ve been preparing to return to New Zealand I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the NZ media and internet, and nothing I have read, seen or heard suggests NZ has changed quite that much. Let’s look at it ‘many’ by ‘many’:

  1. Many sheep. Yawn. The same old stereotype. At least they managed to update the numbers – when I was a kid it was “3 million people and 60 million sheep”, but economics has intervened since then – there’s much more money to be made in milk than wool, apparently. Still, ‘four or five million’ suggests Zhou hasn’t been overly diligent about getting accurate figures, and last I heard the saying was “built on the sheep’s back”, and applied equally to both NZ and Australia. Don’t forget, Australia’s most populous region is the southeast, the area inside the dog fence, which is traditionally sheep-farming country – for more, see “Waltzing Matilda”, and translate the lyrics into something approaching standard English.
  2. Many birds. On seeing that, I would’ve expected something about NZ’s native avifauna, which is pretty special in many ways. Remote islands do tend to have quite unique ecosystems. But no, pigeons, seagulls and sparrows. Of downtown Wellington. I grew up in Wellington, and I honestly can’t remember anybody expressing any fondness for those birds. Sure, people feed them. Sure, nobody tries to catch them – but why on Earth would you want to? I remember those birds as being seen more as flying rats and a nuisance than anything else. But then again, my wife has somehow got the impression that us Kiwis like our birds. That may say more about me than my compatriots, but she got that impression somehow. Oh, wait, we call ourselves Kiwis…. hmmm…. We have some pretty special native birds, like kiwi, kokako, kea, kereru, fantail, morepork, kaka, tui, pukeko, takahe, weka, whio, and so on, and so on…. But no, it’s people feeding flying rats in central Wellington that left a lasting impression on this reporter.
  3. Many old people. Oh dear. Every country has old people. China is also an ageing country with a lot of old people. I guess one obvious difference here is that widespread car ownership happened much, much earlier in NZ than in China, so the sight of old people who have been driving longer than most Chinese people have been alive is not so strange for a Kiwi, but perhaps a bit of a shock for this particular reporter. But that “New Zealand saying”? I’m going to go out on a limb here and accuse Zhou of interviewing her keyboard. After all, the second half, “四平八稳”, is a Chinese saying. But, sure, I can’t say I’ve heard of anybody being forced into retirement in NZ, although I have heard of that happening here in China.

So, altogether rather strange. Perhaps Nanjing Daily should consider sending a better reporter next time – one with a bit more life experience and keener observation skills, perhaps?

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