Monthly Archives: October 2011

Learning Chinese

I have been taking three two-hour Chinese lessons per week with Grace since about the second or third week we arrived in Wuxi. It seems that the more I learn, the more I realise how much I still have to learn. I haven’t even started learning to read properly yet – just learning to speak is hard enough.

When you first start, you have to learn the different tones (there are four main ones, but actually a few more subtle ones), then you learn the initials and finals. Once you get the hang of that you learn a few nouns and verbs and think you are getting to grips with it. However, then you start learning the grammar rules and everything gets turned upside down. The way the language is structured is just nothing like English, either in word order or in the way words are used – for example there is a different word to mean you are going to do something depending on whether it is definite or just an idea.

I am sure a Chinese student of English would encounter a similar problem in reverse, but at least they don’t have to worry about blummin tones!

I can now just about order basic food and drink, buy fruit and vegetables and ask for directions. I do need to build up my confidence in speaking to people, though. John doesn’t care – he just tries out any new word he learns at the earliest opportunity. This can lead to misunderstandings, for example, in the first week or so he knocked into someone in the canteen and said ‘you’re welcome (bu keqi)’ rather than ‘I’m sorry (dui buqi)’. I like to be a bit more sure of what I am saying.

Learning written words is essential in Wuxi as there is hardly ever pinyin or English on signs or menus. There are online flash cards you can use to learn (e.g. here) but as soon as I learn one set, I forget the previous one! Hopefully after two years I will have made some progress.

再见

Cable car

We went back to Xi Hui park this afternoon with John’s colleague, Lisa. We took the cable car to near the top of the mountain, then walked up a bit further to a cafe.  John wanted to show us the cafe and temple he had walked up  to last week (see Wuxi Frisbee). However, it turned out we were on the other side of the mountain.  After much complaining from Lisa and me, the cafe we finally reached was quite small and a bit grotty. Never mind, we stopped long enough for some tea and sunflower seeds, then took the cable car back down again.

This evening we are meeting Steve, Sarah and Lisa to go to a new Indian restaurant near the Qing Ming bridge area. This restaurant is in a brand new street, which wasn’t there when John and I first visited the area about 6 weeks ago. Wuxi just keeps growing all the time!

Back to school and holiday plans

Yesterday I started back at my Chinese classes. Due to the National Holiday then my visit to the UK it had been nearly a month since my last lesson. I surprised myself (and Grace, my teacher) by remembering more than I expected.

The topic of yesterday’s lesson was ‘buying shoes’, but also included buying other items, bargaining and stating a preference. Learning the vocabulary is fun, but I am finding it difficult getting used to the structure of the grammar. Verbs don’t have tenses the way they do in English. Sentences tend to follow the order of ‘time, subject, verb and then other bits’, except when they don’t!

It was nice to see Grace again. She had been home to visit her parents with her boyfriend during the National Holiday. This was their first meeting and apparently all went well. Grace said she hoped to visit her boyfriend’s parents during the New Year holiday at the end of January. She had previously explained that meeting the parents is a much more significant step in China than in the UK, so I think there will be a wedding sometime in 2012.

John and I have been invited to a wedding at the beginning of next year. One of his colleagues (American, I think) is getting married to a Chinese girl who also works at the school. We are going out for dinner with them this evening to a Cantonese restaurant. They will be able to translate the menu for us, which is a definite plus in dinner companions!

John’s next holiday is from 17 January to 5 February, so we have been planning what to do with this time off. So far our plans look like this:

  • A few days of relaxing in Wuxi
  • 3 or 4 nights in Beijing
  • A few days of relaxing in Wuxi
  • A few nights in Yichang
  • 4 or 5 night cruise along the Yangtze
  • A few nights in Chongqing
  • A week of relaxing in Wuxi with possible day trips around and about
If anyone reading this blog has any suggestions, we would be happy to receive them.

Mosquitoes

One aspect I really don’t like about living in Wuxi is the prevalence of mosquitoes. You would think that as we are nearly at the end of October, they would all be gone by now – but no, they are still buzzing about, sucking our blood. If anyone has any idea when they might die out, do let me know.

I think John must have had a mosquito party while I was in the UK, because when I came back there were eight in the apartment, the most we have ever had. We managed to kill them all in the end, using an electrified tennis racquet thing, but only after John was kept awake all Sunday night being eaten alive. I was also awake, due to jet lag, but had doused myself in mosquito repellent so managed to escape this time.

Since we first arrived in Wuxi, we have both been bitten  a lot, although I have been bitten more than John. My Chinese teacher said it was because my blood is type A which they particularly like.  I think they are just out to get me. I am experimenting by eating Marmite for breakfast every morning. Apparently, they don’t like it.

Next summer, we think we might move to a higher apartment. At the moment, we are on the fifth floor, but we have been told that the higher you are the fewer you get inside. We will be looking for something on the 50th floor.

 

Back in Wuxi

I am now back in Wuxi after two weeks in the UK; apologies for the ‘blog-silence’ during this period. I flew via Doha with Qatar Airways again. The flight was fine; everything was on time, my luggage all made it and so on. I think years of having to travel via Easyjet and similar budget airlines has lowered my expectations of flying, so it is a pleasant surprise when the air hostesses are really helpful and don’t try and sell you scratch cards.

It was great to see John waiting for me at the airport. We took the Maglev train part of the way, stopped for a quick noodle (Japanese) lunch, and then got a taxi to Shanghai train station. We had to wait some time for our train and Shanghai train station isn’t the best place to hang around (don’t mention the toilets). However, when our train arrived it was quick and clean and we were easily able to get a taxi at the other end.

Despite missing John and having to take an exam, I had a nice couple of weeks staying in Matlock with my parents and with Charlotte in Manchester (big thanks). I was able to meet up with quite a few people, which was great, but there never seems to be enough time to see everyone. I was disappointed not to be able to get over to Macclesfield for a dance with Waters Green (maybe next year?) Thanks to everyone who patiently listened to my ‘Tales of China’ and for feedback on this blog. It is great to know people read it, although I do now feel pressure to make it more interesting.

I currently have terrible jet lag, couldn’t sleep at all last night then slept all day today. I need to find some kind of job, but if I carry on like this it will have to be on the night shift!

Shanghai to Matlock

Lights on Nanjing Road

Lights on Nanjing Road

Last week, John and I spent a couple of nights in Shanghai before I flew back to the UK to take my exam. It was great to have some time to look around one of the biggest cities in the World. By the end of our stay our feet felt like we had walked most of it.

We stayed at the Ibis Hotel in Yu Gardens which is a budget hotel in a city which can be really expensive. The room was clean and had everything you need (shower, kettle, amazing view) and the location was amazing. Yu Yuan Garden is in the centre of Shanghai surrounded by antique/souvenir/tat markets and within walking distance of The Bund.

During our short stay, we ‘did’ all the real touristy things: travelling the city on a tour bus, walking along The Bund to look at the lights, going up to the 94th floor of the World Financial Centre building. It was brilliant.

John’s favourite area was Pudong with its futuristic skyscrapers (most of which had only been built in the last 5 years). I really liked Xintian Di – the refurbished old town full of upmarket shops and expensive restaurants. I suspect I might need to be earning some money before we go back there.

Feeding Koi Carp in the Jade Buddha Temple

Feeding Koi Carp in the Jade Buddha Temple

Shanghai is so busy and densely populated, but you can still find pockets of peace and quiet in the temples and gardens. We will certainly be back for a longer stay in the near future.

So, now I am back in the UK being spoilt by Mum and Dad while attempting to revise. Wish me luck for Monday!

National Day and Great Big Buddha

Today is China’s National Day, so John has a whole week off school – woo hoo. In my Chinese lesson yesterday, Grace asked me (in Chinese) when Britain’s National Day is. I had to tell her that we don’t really have one – which is a shame really. Celebrating National Day seems to involve putting up lots of flags and setting off a lot of fireworks, so it is a very good thing.

Last night, John and I went to the Blue Bar (an expat bar in the city centre) and met up with some teachers who work for the same company as John, but for a different school in Wuxi. Their school runs the American AP programme, so the teachers were all American. They were quite a mixed group, but all very nice. Living here in China is giving us the chance to meet people from all over the World, which is brilliant. One of the teachers pointed out that in the US, Independence Day is a lot like the National Day in China in that lots of fireworks are involved. I am very jealous and will start campaigning for a National Day if I ever move back to the UK.

Today we got up early and took a taxi to the Lingshan Buddha. The Buddha was built in 2007 and is 88m tall. The Buddha is very impressive and well worth a visit. The temperature is much cooler at the moment, even a bit rainy, so we were able to walk up all the steps to the highest point (the Buddha’s toes). The site doesn’t feel very spiritual, though. I think I would be a bit disappointed if I was a Buddhist. It is too commercial and you feel it is just a way of raising money so they can build an even bigger Buddha somewhere.

We have been making all sorts of plans for this week to make the best use of John’s time off. On Wednesday, we are off to Shanghai for two nights – we can’t wait. Then on Friday night, I fly back to the UK to take my final Open University exam.