SINGAPORE (Jan 15): Our relationship with China is sometimes complex trade and foreign policy strategy, and sometimes it is much simpler. And it is the simple bit that can quickly destroy credibility. A simple mistake can cast into doubt the veracity of previous statements and insights.

Recently, a Western journalist based in China for the past six years opened her lengthy analysis by saying: “In China, the daily greeting is not the standard ‘How are you?’ Instead, people are more likely to ask whether you have eaten yet — ‘ni chi le ma?’” She claimed that this was a generic greeting for friends and strangers alike.

When I first travelled to China nearly 20 years ago, I used this classic textbook greeting. My friends politely sniggered and pointed out that this style of greeting went out of fashion after the Cultural Revolution. Last week, I rechecked with my Shanghai friend and she just sent back “ROFL” (“rolling on the floor laughing”) on WeChat.

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