Practicing Mandarin

Although I’ve learned a decent amount of Mandarin, it will fade if I don’t keep on practicing. It’s difficult to practice speaking, since my Chinese friends in the Netherlands are very busy with their studies and the internet connection with the ones in China is often a bit shaky, but practicing reading, writing and listening I can do.

I have several different readers to practice reading, namely the Chinese Breeze (汉语风) series and the Reading China (中文天天读) series. They also have cd’s for listening practice, which I try to combine with watching Chinese movies. For writing I try to write in Chinese as much as possible with my Chinese friends on instant messengers.

If you also want to practice Mandarin, you should try to make friends with Chinese people. They can help you when you when you’re having trouble understanding something and can correct you if you write something wrong. I was lucky to have an internship in China where I made my first friends, but I found new friends in several other ways as well.

At first I looked on penpal sites, such as interpals.net but I found most on QQ. A Chinese IM service, similar to MSN Messenger. At first I was looking for new friends to help me, but I found that a lot Chinese students started adding me to practice their English, so I didn’t need to look too hard myself. You can also use WeChat, but I use that mostly to connect with friends I already have, so I’m not sure how easy it is to meet new people on there.

Starting to learn Chinese

The first thing you need to know when learning Chinese is which dialect you’ll learn. If you just want to read the characters, it doesn’t matter that much, there are two scripts, simplified and traditional, but once you’ve learned one, it’s relatively easy to learn the other. But, if you want to actually speak, you need to decide which dialect you want to be able to speak in. Since the most spoken dialect is Mandarin, I suggest you start from there. That’s what I did.

My first introduction to Mandarin was over five years ago when I met a Chinese exchange student who thought me some basics, like 你好 (nǐhǎo), 谢谢 (xièxiè) and 再见 (zàijiàn).

Then two years ago I had an internship in China where I was taught some more. We used Conversational Chinese 301, but I practiced later by myself using the series New Approaches To Learning Chinese. (Don’t worry, I’ll put the information of the books at the end of this post.)

What I liked about Conversational Chinese was that after every 5 chapters there was a review chapter that has a conversation that uses all the words you’ve just learned, repeats the grammar rules you’ve learned, has exercises for what you’ve learned and has a short passage to practice reading. Also, near the end of our internship we had to learn The Moon Represents My Heart (月亮代表我的心) that we had to perform in front of an audience, which I thought was fun, but ever since then I’ve had the song stuck in my head.

What I liked about New Approaches To Learning Chinese was that it split up speaking, writing and reading. This meant that I could fully focus on what I found important, but the downside was that I didn’t learn speaking at the same time as I was learning to read characters and I noticed that I should have payed more attention to speaking when I was in China. My pronunciation was still bad and my listening skill was practically nonexistent. Since going to China they have improved, but they’re still not as good as my reading skill.

Both books can be used for self study, but I have found that it’s much better to have a teacher, because they can give you pointers and can correct you when you are doing something wrong.

Books

Conversational Chinese 301 (汉语会话301句)

Authors: Kang Yuhua (康玉华) & Lai Siping (来思平)

Publisher: Beijing Language and Culture University Press (北京语音大学出版社)

ISBN:

  • Volume 1 (上册): 978-7-5619-1403-8
  • Workbook Volume 1 (练习册 上册): 978-7-5619-2060-2
  • CD Volume 1 (配套光盘 上册): 978-7-88703-270-6
  • Volume 2 (下册): 978-7-5619-1404-5
  • Workbook Volume 2 (练习册下册): 978-7-5619-2064-0
  • CD Volume 2 (配套光盘下册): 978-7-88703-271-3

 

New Approaches To Learning Chinese (新编基础汉语)

Author: Zhang Pengpeng (张朋朋)

Publisher: Sinolingua (华语教学出版社)

ISBN:

  • Intensive Spoken Chinese (口语速成): 978-7-80052-577-3
  • The Most Common Chinese Radicals (常用汉字部首): 978-7-80052-576-6
  • Rapid Literacy in Chinese (集中识字): 978-7-80052-695-6

Visiting Beijing

Great Wall, China

Near the end of my stay in China I went to Beijing. I was very lucky for my stay there too. My friend that lives there told me that the summer weather in beijing has three phases, sunny, smoggy and rainy, and I was lucky enough to stay there during one of the sunny phases. The only downside to this was that it was incredibly hot. So hot that even though I was there for only a week, I didn’t go out every day. And when I did go out I tried to travel as much as possible by subway.

Art, Subway, Beijing, China

An art piece in the Beijing Subway

Art, Subway, Beijing, China

Another wall art piece in the Beijing subway.

 

The first thing I visited was the Forbidden Palace. I went there in the weekend, so it was very crowded. It took almost an hour in line to get in, but it was well worth it. I spent most of that day there and because most major points had a description about what they were for, such as the hall where the emperor received guests, I learned a lot. There were also several exhibits, such as about the accession of an emperor. There they showed parts of a painting about a celebration surrounding the accession and the gifts they would give him, and artefacts that were gifts to emperors. Behind the Forbidden City stands Jingshan park, where I went up the hill for a picture and a short rest, before going out to eat and return to my hotel.

Tiananmen square, Beijing, China

The line started on the other side of the street.

View, Forbidden City, Beijing, China

View on the back of the Forbidden City.

 

The next day I visited the Summer Palace. It was very nice, despite the hot weather. Up the hill and walking around Beihai was a cool breeze, so I didn’t feel to hot. At the top of the hill I got my Chinese name painted in traditional characters. The painter was really amazing, he put a couple of different colours on his brush and with a few swirls and twirls he was done. At Beihai I had my first taste of bingtanghulu, frozen Hawthorn coated in sugar. It’s very tasty and you should definitely try it out if you can. (No picture, sorry)

Calligraphy, Painting, Summer Palace, Beijing, China

Me with a painted 金馬

Friso Denijs, Summer Palace, Beijing, China

Me at the Summer Palace.

Lake, Summer Palace, Beijing, China

Seeing the summer palace from across Beihai.

 

In China there is a saying, 不到长城非好汉, which means that you can’t be a real man if you haven’t been to the Great Wall, so of course I had to visit the Great Wall while I had the chance. On the way there I had a bit of an interesting moment though. There is a direct bus, but on the way there I was stopped by someone trying to convince me that that bus wasn’t going today and tried to get me on a slower and more expensive bus. Luckily I was with someone that didn’t fall for it because, as it turned out, the direct bus was still going. It was really crowded there, so it took all day to walk to one end and back.

Great Wall, China

The Great Wall of China.

 

Visiting Harbin

St. Sophia Cathedral, Harbin, Heilongjiang, China

 

Harbin is in the north of China, close to Russia. So even though it was the middle of summer, it was still comfortable outside. Especially compared to the southern cities, like Xiamen.

Harbin’s architecture has been heavily influenced by Russians and this becomes most apparent in the Saint Sophia Cathedral. A very beautiful church that now serves as a photography museum. It has a lot of pictures of old Harbin and if you visit Harbin it is definitely a place I recommend you to visit.

St. Sophia Cathedral, Harbin, Heilongjiang, China

The St. Sophia Cathedral.

 

Harbin has a famous shopping street called Zhongyangdajie. There are many shops and the side streets have a lot of street food. At the end of that street if you go a bit to the right you will find a ferry that will take you Taiyangdao (or Sun Island in English). It’s a beautiful island that you can spend all day at, which I did. There are many places to see and my favourite was the waterfall. I’m a big sucker for waterfalls.

Zhongyang Dajie, Harbin, Heilongjiang, China

Going into Zhongyang Dajie

Ferry, Taiyangdao, Harbin, Heilongjiang, China

Ferry to Taiyangdao.

Waterfall, Taiyangdao, Harbin, Heilongjiang, China

Waterfall on Taiyangdao

 

I’ve visited several other places like the Heilongjiang Provincial Museum, although it wasn’t as impressive as other provincial museums I’ve been to, and I ended my stay in Harbin with a visit to the Dragon TV Tower. It has an amazing view and if it’s a clear day you can see all the way to the edge of Harbin.

Dragon TV Tower, Harbin, Heilongjiang, China

The Dragon TV Tower at night.

View, Dragon TV Tower, Harbin, Heilongjiang, China

View from Dragon TV Tower.

View, Dragon TV Tower, Harbin, Heilongjiang, China

View from another side of Dragon TV Tower

 

I had a good time and I want to go back to Harbin during the winter, to visit during the Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival to see the sculptures and eat frozen fruit snacks.

Visiting Dalian

View, Baiyunshan, Dalian, Liaoning, China

 

Dalian is known for it’s cherries and I was lucky enough to stay at friend’s place whose parents are cherry farmers, while it was cherry season. Well, the first cherry season. They have one greenhouse and one open farm, so they can harvest two times a year. The cherries are really good in Dalian and if you’re there during spring or summer you should definitely get some.

Cherry farm, greenhouse, Dalian, Liaoning, China

My friend’s family cherry farm.

 

During my stay there I’ve seen many interesting things, such as an old Japanese courthouse, built during the time they had invaded and took control over Dalian, as well as a tower atop baiyushan they had built to keep a look out.

Lushun Japan Guandong Courthouse, Dalian, Liaoning, China.

Lushun Japan Guandong Courthouse

Tower, Baiyunshan, Dalian, Liaoning, China

Japanese tower atop Baiyunshan in the distance.

Qing Dynasty cannon, Baiyunshan, Dalian, Liaoning, China

A cannon we saw on our way to the top of Baiyunshan. My friend told me it’s most likely Qing Dynasty.

View, Baiyunshan, Dalian, Liaoning, China

View from Baiyunshan

 

My favourite place though was Yinggeshi Botanical Garden,  we went there on the last day of my stay in Dalian. We spent half the day there and I took many more pictures than you’ll see below. It was with great difficulty that I picked out the best ones, instead of just posting them all here.

Purple hills, Yinggeshi Botanical Garden, Dalian, Liaoning, China

Yinggeshi Botanical Garden, Flowers turning the hills purple.

Blossoming trees, Yinggeshi Botanical Garden, Dalian, Liaoning, China

Yinggeshi Botanical Garden, Blossoming trees.

Peony, Yinggeshi Botanical Garden, Dalian, Liaoning, China.

Yinggeshi Botanical Garden, Peony

Hanging flowers, Yinggeshi Botanical Garden, Dalian, Liaoning, China.

Yinggeshi Botanical Garden, Hanging flowers.

Pond, Yinggeshi Botanical Garden, Dalian, Liaoning, China

Yinggeshi Botanical Garden, Pond surrounded by flowers

Yinggeshi Botanical Garden, Dalian, Liaoning, China

Yinggeshi Botanical Garden, pink and yellow flowers.

 

 

 

Visiting Fujian

Mao Zedong's statue at Wuyi square in Fuzhou, Fujian, China

 

While you’re studying it’s important to take some time for yourself, and not just during the vacations you may or may not have. So while I was studying in Xiamen I took some time to visit the nearby cities Fuzhou and Quanzhou, which respectively are 2 and 1 hours away from Xiamen by train.

I organised my trip to Fuzhou by myself. I found a cheap hotel online, but when I arrived there were many people advertising their hotels around the trainstation that turned out to be much cheaper. So if you go there outside of a holiday you might want to take that into consideration. But, if you do travel during a holiday I strongly advise to book a hotel well in advance.

I stayed for 3 days, although I arrived late on the first day and left halfway through the third day, so I actually only had one and a half day there to do things.

I first went to Gushan, a mountain that was about half an hour away from the city centre. Half way up the mountain I met a group of middle schoolers that wanted to practice their English. Near the top was a gate to go to the actual top that I needed to pay for, although the mountain was free before that. It turned out to be worth it though. There was rock calligraphy and the view was great. I also met some people that had taken the day off from work to hang out. I went down the mountain with them and joint them for lunch, after which one of them brought me to nanhoujie, which is part of the 3 lanes 7 alleys.

Entrance to Gushan in Fuzhou, Fujian, China.

Entrance to Gushan

Calligraphy rock on Gushan in Fuzhou, Fujian, China.

Calligraphy rock on Gushan

Friso Denijs on Gushan in Fuzhou, Fujian China

Me high up on Gushan with a foggy Fuzhou behind me.

Walking through just that street took the rest of my day but it was really nice. There were many interesting shops, my favourite one being one that sold Fujian style wood sculptures.

Entrance to Nanhoujie in Fuzhou, Fujian, China.

Entrance to Nanhoujie.

Fujian style woodcarving in a shop in Nanhoujie in Fuzhou, Fujian, China.

Fujian style woodcarving in a shop in Nanhoujie.

The next day I first went to Wuyi square, I wanted to see the rising of the flag, which happens at sunrise, but I arrived to late. Luckily I was direct by a local to a temple left of Mao’s statue and up the hill. It was a lovely temple, but sadly I forgot to take pictures there.

 

Mao Zedong's statue at Wuyi square in Fuzhou, Fujian, China

Mao’s statue on Wuyi square.

After that I went to the Fujian provincial museum. It had many interesting exhibits, my favourite one being about Fujian opera. I was also very surprised when I saw a diaroma of Dutch people. It was of them surrendering to Zheng Chenggong after he reclaimed Taiwan. After the museum I left Fuzhou and went back to Xiamen.

 

Diorama of the Dutch surrendering to Zheng Chenggong in Fujian provincial museum in Fuzhou, Fujian, China

Diorama of the Dutch surrendering to Zheng Chenggong in Fujian provincial museum.

 

Later in the semester I went to Quanzhou for a day with a group of classmates. We first went to Kaiyuan temple. It’s a temple with large grounds. We spent most of our day there, wandering about.

Pagoda at Kaiyuan temple in Quanzhou, Fujian, China.

One of the two pagodas at Kaiyuan temple.

Mural at Kaiyuan temple in Quanzhou, Fujian, China.

Mural at Kaiyuan temple

 

Friso Denijs standing underneath trees in Kaiyuan temple in Quanzhou, Fujian, China.

Me underneath two crossing trees at Kaiyuan temple

Afterwards we went for a quick visit to Quanzhou museum, but it was nearly closing time and most of us were hungry, so we went out to eat and have drinks. We got back late and tired to our dorms, but we all had a good time.

Quanzhou museum in Quanzhou, Fujian, China

Quanzhou museum

 

Visiting Guangzhou and Foshan

Grave, Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China

 

Although my main purpose in coming to China was to study Chinese, it wasn’t the only thing I did there. I took the opportunity to travel around China as well. Both one of the first and last places I went to was Guangzhou.

The first time I went there was with a group of friends from Xiamen University. We took the over night train from Xiamen directly to Guangzhou, but later I found out that it’s faster if you first take a train to Shenzhen and from there switch to another train going to Guangzhou.

We stayed at the Lazy Gaga Hostel (http://www.gagahostel.com). It’s a comfortable hostel with a large common room and comfortable sleeping rooms. I’ve stayed there both times I went to Guangzhou. Some rooms don’t have windows though, so if you want a window, make sure you ask for one when you book your room.

Lazy Gaga Hotel, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China

Entrance to the Lazy Gaga Hotel

The first day we visited several temples nearby the hostel and the Chen Clan Academy, which was my favourite one by far. That academy houses some very nice artwork, like a giant inkstone, and step-by-step examples how certain artwork is created.

Roof Ornaments, Chen Clan Academy, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China

Roof Ornaments at Chen Clan Academy

Inkstone, Chen Clan Academy, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China

Detail of Inkstone at Chen Clan Academy

Woodcarving, Chen Clan Academy, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China

Example of woodcarving at Chen Clan Academy

We also visited some other places, like the protestant churches and the opera house. The next day I split up with my friends to hang out with another friend that came from Foshan. We went to the mausoleum of the Nanyue king. A museum built on the gravesite of a Han-dynasty king. It has exhibitions about the area, about what was found in the grave and of course, the grave itself.

Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China

Entrance to the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King

Grave, Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, Guangzhou, Guangdong, China

Entrance to the grave in the Mausoleum

The second time I went to Guangzhou was mostly to just visit my friend in Foshan, which are just a short subway ride away from each other. I spent a day there to visit Zumiao temple and Liangyuan park with her. Zumiao temple had several small museums and my favourite one was the one dedicated to Ip Man. The day I went there they also had a lion dance, which was very interesting to see.

Zimiao Temple, Foshan, Guangdong, China

Entrance to Zimiao Temple

Lion Statues, Zimiao, Foshan, Guangdong, China

Lion Statues at Zimiao

Ip Man, Zimiao, Foshan, Guangdong, China

Ip Man Museum at Zimiao

Lion Dance, Zimiao, Foshan, Guangdong, China

Lion Dance at Zimiao temple

At Liangyuan park we walked around the lake, looked at some of the old buildings and looked at the calligraphy exhibit.

Bridge, Liangyuan, Foshan, Guangdong, China

Bridge at Liangyuan

Gazeebo, Liangyuan, Foshan, Guangdong, China

Gazeebo in the Shape of a boat at Liangyuan park

Calligraphy, Liangyuan, Foshan, Guangdong, China

Calligraphy at Liangyuan

After visiting Foshan I still had another day in Guangzhou. I met some people in the hostel and we went on a boat tour on the Pearl River. We saw many sites along the river, the most famous one being Canton Tower.

Pearl River boat tour in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China

One of the boats to take a tour on the Pearl River

Canton Tower in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China, as seen from the Pearl River.

Canton Tower, seen from the Pearl River

 

Studying in Xiamen

Xiamen Univesity, Xiang'an Campus, canteen

As I said in my previous post, I studied Chinese on the Xiang’an Campus of Xiamen University. It’s a campus that is still partially under construction, but it was already quite big. It took me about 15 minutes walking from my dorm to my classrooms.

Xiamen University, Xiang'an Campus, Building, Classes

The building where I took my Chinese classes.

 

There were already many buildings, the biggest one being the library, but there are still many more to be build.

Xiamen University, Xiang'an Campus, Library

Library of Xiamen University, Xiang’an Campus.

 

The campus is being constructed in several phases. The first one was already complete and the second one nearly. I’m not sure how many phases there will be after this, but from what I’ve seen on the map, there will be at least one or two phases more.

Xiamen Univesity, Xiang'an Campus, canteen

The big canteen. Referred to as 一期 (yī qí, first phase) by the Chinese students.

Xiamen Univesity, Xiang'an Campus, canteen

The small canteen. Referred to as 二期 (èr qí, second phase) by the Chinese students.

 

They were also still busy planting trees, but they still looked weak and young, except for one. But, I think in 5 years or so it will look really good.

Xiamen University, Xiang'an Campus, Tree

The largest tree I found on Xiang’an Campus

 

The books we used were from the Developing Chinese series (发展汉语), published by the Beijing Language and Culture University Press (北京语音大学出版社). They are the following:

Elementary Comprehensive Course (初级综合) I by 荣继华

ISBN: 978-7-5619-3076-2

Elementary Listening Course (初级听力) I by么书君

ISBN: 978-5619-3063-2

Elementary Speaking Course (初级口语) by 王淑红 么书君 严禔 张葳

ISBN: 978-5619-3247-6

 

I think they were very good. Although to focus on reading and writing you’ll need another book in the series, named Elementary Reading and Writing Course (初级读写) I, the Comprehensive Course does have some writing practices in it, but it focusses mainly on vocabulary and grammar. Listening and speaking focus on just that, but the vocabulary between the three books don’t match up completely, chapter per chapter. You can use these books for self-study, but I think you’ll get the most out of them if you have a good teacher as well.

 

If you’re also interested in studying at XMU, follow this link: http://english.xmuoec.com

 

Edit:

After asking for their permission to use their names I can now tell you that depending on their availability and whether or not they teach classes at your level, try to get in the classes of 苏芸 (Yún), 吴茗 (Wú Míng) and 肖宁遥 (Xiào Níngyáo). They were my teachers for Comprehensive, Speaking and Listening respectively and a lot of my improvement was due to their guidance.

Visiting Xiamen

Xiamen is a city in a south-east province, Fujian, of China, where I spent the better part of the past half year studying Chinese.

I studied at Xiamen University. The main campus is in Siming district, which is in the city itself, but I studied at the campus in Xiang’an district, in a rural area, which was still under construction when I left. In my next post I’ll write about my lessons there.

During my stay in Xiamen I visited several landmarks, but the ones that stood out the most to me were the Tulou outside of the city.

Tulou are ancient buildings throughout Fujian province, made from earth, which is where the name tulou comes from. The characters for it are 土楼, meaning Earth and Building respectively. I have visited several and the most well known ones I saw were the ones in the Tianluokeng cluster. You can see them in my picture. When you look up images of tulou online these are the ones that you’ll find the most.

Tianluokeng Tulou cluster in Fujian, China

Tianluokeng Tulou cluster, seen from the top. One square Tulou surrounded by four round Tulou.

 

To go there I rented a taxi/tour guide with a group of friends. It took about 3 hours to go there from Xiang’an campus and we stayed in that area for another 4-5 hours. Besides that cluster we also visited another tulou which we saw up close and went inside and a village temple. I would strongly recommend to get a car to go there if you can or get a tour guide with one of those little tour busses. The places are far from where you buy the tickets and from each other, if you would go walking then you would be there all day.

But if old buildings aren’t your thing, there are many more places to go. I’ve been told that Siming campus of Xiamen University is the most beautiful campus of China. Nearby that campus are Nanputuo Temple and the Botanical Gardens, which are also definitely worth checking out. There is also Gulangyu, an island with many western building and several more attractions, and Zhongshan Road, a shopping road where you can wander and shop all day if you want to.