Chinese arithmetic: not that hard, really

Chinese abacus

Chinese abacus



At BB’s Orient Express, the Chinese restaurant at which I enjoy a smorgasbord-style lunch once or twice each week, the ladle-wielding owner/manager cannot count.

No, that’s not strictly true. I ask for a three-choice meal, and she always adds something extra to my plate – a fried wonton, an extra dumpling, a morsel or two of crunchy-battered fish (so melt-in-the-mouth tender) …

There’s no charge for a cup of Chinese tea – or for the little bowl of chicken and sweetcorn soup that often gets added to my tray.

Occasionally, when she’s been busy and someone else serves me, she brings soup to my table as I’m preparing to leave.

A couple of times, she has brought a little white paper bag to the table, and she squeezes my shoulder as I peek inside.

Today, it was after two o’clock when I arrived. Most of the regulars had gone back to their offices and meeting-rooms. I placed my order, handed over my Eftpos card, then reached for a pair of chopsticks. When my plate arrived, there were six dumplings instead of the standard-issue four, and, perched atop the heaped plate, a succulent spring roll with a tender, crunchy wrapping. And soup, of course.

Chinese arithmetic can be very persuasive. In the long run, all my return visits add up.


Chinese arithmetic has a reputation for being difficult for western minds to comprehend – hence the phrase, “Hard as Chinese arithmetic.” The Urban Dictionary explains what the phrase has come to mean, but that is another (tangential) story.

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