ABx wrote:At least one mainland Chinese I've talked to has also said that "wulong" is technically more correct (I've also read something about "oolong" being a bastardization by westerners some time ago, but I digress.)
Wūlóng is the hanyu pinyin for 乌龙 (simplified). The reason it's often romanized "oolong" is because "oolong" is closer to the phonetic pronunciation, and because the use of the word in the Western world probably predates hanyu pinyin anyway (that system was approved in 1958 according to Wikpedia). I don't think it's so much an issue of Westerners bastardizing it (though I could be wrong), as Chinese people needing to write something that Western people could read when they exported products.
"Wulong" is technically correct as a way to write it, however "wu long", with a strong "w" as most English speakers would be likely to pronounce it phonetically, is not the correct way to pronounce it. oo is pretty close, though I think not exactly the same (maybe a native speaker can give a better description). Same for 'wu yi', 'wu shu', etc. (most other u or w sounds, e.g., "wang", have more of a "w" sound, because "oo" as a dipthong with another vowel (like "ah") naturally creates a w sound). The o in "long" is closer to "oh" than "ah".
Better explanation of the basics of how to pronounce pinyin @ http://www.sinosplice.com/lang/pronunciation/01/
(see also the explanation for when "w" replaces "u" near the bottom).
Taiwan didn't (until recently) have a standard system for romanization (many folks there use zhuyin (bopomofo), which doesn't use the western alphabet at all), so Taiwanese often use different systems, or just spell things phonetically. This causes confusion since some of the Taiwanese systems use 'ch' where Chinese pinyin uses 'zh' (the sound is like a "j" with the tongue further back), ts where Chinese pinyin uses 'ch', etc. Taiwan had an official system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongyong_pinyin
) from 2002-2008 that was very similar to Hanyu Pinyin, and according to Wikipedia, Hanyu Pinyin is now the official standard there as well.
I have heard similar horror stories to yours, like the owner of a tea shop who told me that they needed "wu long" tea for weight loss, and wouldn't believe that her "oolong" tea was the very same thing.
My favorite "wulong" related mix up was a site that kept referring to "wu yi" tea, meaning (I'm pretty sure) oolong tea, not the specific wulong teas that come from Wuyishan.
In any event, I typically use "oolong", because otherwise, people pronounce it wrong. Heck, I know how to pronounce it and I still sometimes hear "wu long" in my head when I see it written out that way.
But it's a really tough position for tea vendors to be in, because different customers want different amounts of information. If you write the Chinese name, people will mispronounce it, or won't understand the meaning. If you write the Chinese name in a non-standard way, you make things even worse. If you translate the name, you risk translating it poorly (e.g., "Iron Goddess" for tie guan yin, which doesn't really convey the meaning of the Chinese name properly), or making it difficult for someone who knows something about types of tea to figure out what the tea is.
Even if you provide the tea's name in hanyu pinyin, with the diacritic marks indicating tones, it's still not always possible to know the tea's actual name / meaning in Chinese unless you provide the characters too. Personally, I like it when vendors provide as complete information as possible, but I understand when vendors choose not to.