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Chinese culture

Grilling in the broiler…

There are a lot of words in American English that have confused me at one time or another, cilantro being the first mystery I had to solve. With all this Mexican food, surely they must have coriander! Luckily I now have coriander planted outdoors so I won’t have to go looking for cilantro anymore.


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Talking English

Even though my dad was once a teacher, I never had much interest in the profession. When I was asked to start a conversational English class with Chinese employees, I was only mildly excited but decided to give it a try just for the experience (and the cash…).

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Just one of those days

Sometimes you just get those days weeks when everything goes wrong. Two weeks ago I was on my way home from work and as I was waiting in line at the train station taxi stand I received a call. There had been some trouble in our bedroom (not the kind you’re thinking of). Part of the ceiling had fallen down onto our bed. I was told not to worry and some pictures were on its way. Luckily my phone died before I got into the taxi as it would have been a stressful ride otherwise.

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Kites & tyrants

When you walk around Jinji lake in Suzhou it’s not hard to figure out that people in China love flying kites (they invented them too). The many kite sellers and their customers are a dead give away, although they all seem to be hiding from the heat these days. Of course the Chinese would not be the Chinese if their kites did not have bells and whistles, usually in the form of lights, some so strong that we wondered what in god’s name was flying so high up in the sky on a recent summer evening. Apparently Chinese people like to fly their kites as high as possible and then let go of the string. In an article by CRI English on kite-flying in China Cui Puquan explains why:

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All the way along the wind

Did I mention that I love learning Chinese?

Even though I have been at it for almost a year now and still feel like I don’t speak much, I do enjoy it most of the time. From the start I have been collecting words or sayings that I really like or find interesting and I thought it was time to share some of my favorites!

Here they are:

  • yǒu qián -> lit. have money = wealthy
  • mǎi dōng xi -> lit. buy east west = shopping
  • tíng chē -> lit. stop car = to park
  • – add chǎng (meaning a large space) to make tíngchēchǎng = car park
  • cháng dèng -> lit. long stool = bench
  • kǎo xiāng -> lit. roast box = oven
  • wèn dá jìngsài -> lit. ask answer competition = quiz
  • guò mǎ lù -> lit. cross horse road = to cross
  • bù kěnéng -> lit. not maybe = impossible
  • huǒ huā -> lit. fire flower = spark
  • xiào huà -> laugh words = joke
  • jiǔ ròu péngyou -> lit. alcohol meat friend = fair weather friend
  • xǐ wǎn jī -> lit. wash bowl machine = dishwasher
  • shǒu jī -> lit. hand machine = mobile phone
  • diàn chuī fēng -> lit. electric(ity) blow wind = hair dryer

And lastly yīlù shùnfēng -> lit. all the way along the wind = have a pleasant journey!


Reading about China

I recently dusted off the book Wild Swans by Jung Chang and started reading it again. Rarely do I read books twice but I read this one many years ago and recall it impressed me. It was before I ever thought I would be living in China so I am now reading it with different eyes.

Someone asked me recently if I had read any books about China and I decided to have a look on the bookshelf, both wooden and digital. Apart from the obvious culture-shock-avoiding and roads-less-travelled type of guides, there are a few more books I have enjoyed.

River Town by Peter Hessler, an American Peace Corps volunteer who spent two years in Fuling (Sichuan province) in 1996, teaching English at the local college. He recently returned to the river town and wrote an article about it for the National Geographic: Return to River Town.

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This week I finished my last Chinese class as a ‘Survivor‘. An appropriate title for a beginner course as it feels like surviving most of the time. Keeping my head above the water as a sea of strange sounds tries to drown me!

As I was writing my presentation for the end of the last module (I have survived three) I once again realised how much there is still to learn. Remembering words is easy. Remembering their tone marks, not so much. And that’s of course exactly the part that makes you screw up the pronounciation, gets you strange looks, etc etc. I am considering signing up for the next level 3 HSK exam as this may be the proverbial Dutch stick I need behind the door. On the bright side, I am able to tell a joke and a few taxi drivers have laughed at them. Now you can never be sure they are laughing at the joke as I can imagine my speech is funny to them too but so far the laughing has only occurred at the punch line and not during the whole ‘conversation’ so I think I’m ok.

In the meantime I continue to survive all sorts of things, good and bad, in this strange but wonderful land. From tasty pancakes to floating pigs, when its good its good but when its bad, it really is bad. It makes China very interesting but also hard to comprehend at times. But I continue to the next level of my course which is called ‘Social‘ so who knows I may be able to chat about it over a cup of coffee soon.


Please come again :)


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