China: Studies – Learning in China
It hasn’t been so long ago when I boarded the plane to Helsinki. I was thinking how I would spend a night before leaving for Beijing. Suddenly, I realized that my stay in China is coming to an end. It was one of these moments when I felt nostalgia and casted my mind back.
Friends frequently ask me if it is better to learn Chinese in China. I don’t say one cannot learn Chinese well in home yet when I remember how easy it was to learn in China… Well “easy” might be bit exaggerated. Like in the Czech Republic, I sat over books in China as well. I wanted to tear apart any paper with even one Chinese letter on it. The beginning was difficult – I knew how to ask but I didn’t understand the answer. All kinds of unknown signs surrounded me and thanks to this learning Chinese became really fast.
When shopping, I realized that I cannot say such easy things like “tooth paste”, or that I would like to pay “with a credit card”. Moments spend on trying to understand labels amounted to hours.
There were some inscriptions one simply must read. All began inconspicuously. First these were simple notes where I should go as a foreign student. And it all ended with long reads about for how long we cannot go to the kitchen due to cockroach extermination.
And then there were inscriptions I hadn’t to read but were interesting. These were names of shops, or newspapers some man read, or what that foreigner’s tattoo means… And advertisements. Ads and posters of all kinds. Posters with words using Beijing dialect with idyllic illustrations. On the other hand, the ads also indice that Chinese begin to be interested in animals as living creatures. Some say that Chinese from south would eat anything with four legs and isn’t a table (well, Chinese in the north say it). True, by European standards (and mine especially) Chinese could eat… many things. Yet when people appeard on the streets with an image of a dog and a small girl saying „What if you have just eaten a loyal friend?” or “What if you have just eaten a loyal guardian?” and images of sharks with Jackie Chan saying “Say no to fish fins,” warmed my heart.
For better mood, I always had read instructing inscriptions ranging from “First step off then get in” to slogans at toilets instructing to flush in time (and many other funny things).
Longs tory short, a stay in China is very helpful to learn the language. If you are in contact with Chinese environment and you don’t speak in English. After all, I know even some of such people- they live in China for long years and they never thought of ordering a rice with meat in Chinese...
Text/photo: Hana Bašová
End of June was about leaves. Since May, my friends had been leaving. Finals were coming and those who didn’t need any confirmation of their study stays and exams passed just packed their luggage and boarded the plane. Other didn’t visit schools because their relatives, and friends arrived. Dormitories emptied.
Weather got better. Perhaps that turtle we helped on the day before in Yuantong圆通spread the word… Anyway, instead of rain sunrays woke us up. We were eager to eat peculiar rice cakes of thick dough which was baked and filled with strange sweet-salty stuff. We recognize only peanuts and spicy pepper.
When we boarded the bus in order to move on from the village of Yunnan minorities (Yunnan minzu cun云南民族村) to Dianchi lake滇池without paying ridiculous fees. We didn’t mean it in a wrong way. We were just tired of anyone trying to get any money from us.
We woke up full of enthusiasm on the following day for we would visit a mysterious temple reminding us a bit of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. No single two people agreed upon instructions how to get there on online forums. However, everybody was convinced that no other option how to get into the temple except hers works.
Next day morning, with thick rice cakes filled with delicious filling we attempted for the second time a trek to the Bamboo Temple (Qiongzhusi筇竹寺). To make matters more unpleasant, the sky was clouded and it started to rain. The bus didn’t arrived. So didn’t other buses.
After couple of days in Kunming 昆明 , the time had come to move on from the city of “eternal spring”. Our next goal was Da-li 大理, a much smaller town in the Yunnan province 云南 (like Kunming, Da-li is also the capital of its province).
Dali 大理, a town in south Chinese Yunan 云南, woke us up to cold sunny morning everyday. Unlike hot and busy city this one was a nice change. We had enough space so we didn’t have to jump from bikers, bicyclers transporting all kinds of goods, furious car and bus drivers, and other perils in the streets.
Our time of departure from Dali 大理 had come. We still liked the place thanks to nice house-lady, her father and their gigantic pup even after several days. We took our backpacks and set off to a bus stop.
Our visit in Lijiang 丽江 in southern China hadn’t started particularly well. My effort to get us to live among the locals was perhaps too much. We were half-an-hour of car ride from the historic center. We couldn’t get to our hostel even by taxi least regular bus. Our landlady was, in truth, not much hospitable. Moreover, it was raining like it was the end of the world.
Last time I have already started talking about Lashihai lake 拉市海. We intended to see it. The lake is to be found at the foothill of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong xueshan 玉龙雪山) at the altitude of over 2400 meters. The lake’s area is around 5330 hectares. Long time ago, an old horse tea road lead through here. Pu'er tea普洱was very important export commodity. Today, over 60 bird species nest on the lake. More than thirty thousand birds fly here in winter. The best time for observation is December, they say.
One day we decided we decided with L. to see “culture,” literally. Chengdu is well known for it Jinsha Site Museum金沙 (literally “golden sand“), (in Chinese Tin-Sha-c po-wu-kuan). The easiest and cheapest way to get here is probably using one of the city buses: right here, buses like 5, 81, 83, 7, or 37.
We gladly left Lijiang 丽江, a small and among tourist popular town in south China. We worried a bit that we would need to return to our hostel on our way back. However, we forget our worries and looked forward to the new adventure.
Kunming 昆明 woken us up to cloudy sky and light rain drumming into our window. It didn’t seem as if the weather was about to get better. We put our raincoats on and set off to adventure.
Even though we tried, we didn’t manage to get nice weather. Smog, that impervious pot lid, held tiring heat above Beijing. But we were determined to prevail.
Beijing, the city of our year-long study stay, did not greet the girls pleasantly. Yet despite all obstacles we faced, we didn’t let it to spoil our mood. We decided to see all the sights, we hadn’t manage to visit during the first couple of days, before our flight back. We counted with some problems in our grandiose travel plan anyway.
The Temple of Eight Immortals (Ba xian an八仙庵) is the largest Tao temple in Xi'an 西安. When we were deciding on what sight to see as the first, the temple was pretty clear choice.
„This is something you have to see!“
„It’s sure worth it!“
„It is world’s wonder.“
Terracotta army in Xian 西安 was truly interesting yet it wasn’t the only thing we saw there. We were, perhaps, bit disappointed from all those people we had met there. Whether they were tourists looking for something exciting, or vendors trying to make profits, and I don’t even mention high admission… We even hadn’t seen any good place to have lunch in. We ate only some snack, got on the bus to get back to the city.
We had last day to spend in Xian. We had tickets not to the opera but for the evening train which would get us to my beloved Chengdu 成都.
It was getting closer to our departure from Xian 西安. With our backpacks we had to move by city bus to a train station. It was pretty easy till then...
In Chengdu 成都 , we visited places mentioned in previous articles. I enjoyed nostalgia, other members of our journey enjoyed great weather – mostly it was raining gently. So it wasn’t hot as it usually is in Chengdu this time of the year.
This whole story which started in the last article had become one of our most favorite stories. In short, it is about how we went from Chengdu 成都 to Chengdu.
Finally we were in the bus. We had to pay some yuans extra yet the likelihood of us eventually getting to Xichang 西昌 on time was growing. We had to catch a train going further down south.
Standing at a box office in Xichang 西昌 at the train station, we heard why we cannot withdraw them. We could only return them and try to buy new ones that would be for a train that doesn’t travel on the route where the landslide happened. When the lady pointed at the endless line, we wanted to pack our stuff and leave on foot for our next destination, Kunming昆明,. It was very fortunate that we remained standing for a while there.
After all struggle we finaly reached Kunming 昆明, the capital of Yunnan 云南, a province in southeast China. My friends told me a lot about Kunming. No wonder that I looked forward to it.
Even though it seems that the fate wants a boulder to fall on us along the road, the driver managed to deliver us safe and sound. We even managed to take couple pictures as if it was the only chance. During couple of following days we realized that it is impossible to get enough of this place…
In a small family hostel near the Leaping Tiger Gorge (Hutiao xia虎跳峡) we had some good night sleep. After our arrival we headed straight to see the wild Jinsha River 金沙. At its narrowest point, a tiger allegedly leapt over it. We were completely exhausted by a walk in fresh air. However, we woke up soon next day morning to enjoy raising sun at our terrace.
Beijing – Datong– Hohhot... and Yinchuan was supposed to follow. As we were amazed that we managed to get some tickets, we didn’t examine it.
The day of our departure from the mountain paradise had come. Luckily, we had whole afternoon at our hands. Therefore, we set off for the last trip. We intended to explore only the nearby area.
It was only couple of minutes before the departure. T and P were about to fly back to the Czech Republic. Me and B were ready to travel to Vietnam for another adventure. There was much to remember. T and P looked pretty tired. It is no easy thing to travel across China in one month. Many say they haven’t experienced cultural shock but still China is much different from Europe.
When me and B were thinking at the airport about all prejudices our Czech friends have, we realized even our Chinese friends’ idea about our culture is not much accurate.
Do you know this feeling when you just want to try something new, different, just set out for some adventure? After spending whole January in Beijing we missed China so much we found the cheapest flight tickets and we decided to spend summer again in China.
The day had finally come. The day of T’s and P’s departure. The girls were preparing for the departure. Me and B had still some time before we left China. The best moments of our one year stay in China were running in our minds and we also give a thought on T and P. They would surely face many questions regarding China.
It was easy to count hours before the departure of the girls (and our as well). Still, we intended to utilize them as much as possible regardless the unbearable heat in Beijing.
We survived the trip on the Great Wall of China. We liked it but ahead would be waiting pre-departure preparations. We were busy packing, me and B. As it turned out, packing one year worth of life in China to one coffer is far from easy and takes much more than just one afternoon. Therefore, I took T and P to their guest house and left them to take care of themselves.
Lijiang 丽江, a small town in Yunnan 云南 province is known as a land of clear sky, clean air, and beautiful landscape. Lijiang truly meets this. And it has even something more to it. It is a tourist paradise. When you pay 80 yuan admission to enter the city center only annoying vendors prevent you from exploring the area.
We managed climbing up the hill very well. We walked through a small village. Some watched us, some obviously had met tourists efore and waved at us. Once we reached a crossroad we suddenly saw its contours. And we also recognized contours of a small shop at the crossroads. It wasn’t overpriced. Surprisingly. We refilled our water and sugar supplies (popsicles). If there exists something like an addiction on popsicles, I was an addict in China.
Our great journey was about to end. But at that moment it still seemed we would travel for couple of more weeks. Imagine a group of four ragged students waiting for a bus while sitting on cobble stone. We were hoping for it to come any minute… Yeah, any minute…
After several weeks on the road we were about to return to Beijing. What a strange feeling it was. B and I felt like we were coming back home even though we lived there only half a year. We took a train from Lijiang 丽江 Kunming 昆明, the capital of Yunnan province 云南. We stayed there for couple of days. Eventually we were even glad we managed to buy flight tickets because it was a last minute buy as we had been waiting for them to become cheaper.
We stepped out of the silent temple in one of Lijiang’s streets and found ourselves immediately among tourist crowds mostly consisting of Chinese. They threw themselves on all delicacies around – from sugar hawthorn to huge baked bones.
We felt like waking up to mornings in mountains veiled in pleasant haze is hardly something we would get enough of. We had already spent couple of nights at our hostel. At breakfasts we wondered if the locals are still so impressed with the mountains.
Surprisingly we survived the journey from the Leaping Tiger Gorge to Lijiang 丽江. We were in the town for the second time and nobody was looking forward to it. We got enough of it when we were there couple of days ago. Thanks to my ingenuity we were accommodated next to Lashihai 拉市海. But it was far from spectacular. Partially, the reason was in the fact we hadn’t even seen the historical center of Lijiang. The reason, on the other hand, for tourists to come in the city.
Our small trip to waterfall became a nightmare. Ponies that stood across narrow pathway and deep precipice under seemed harmless. Once I got across these obstacles my landlord appeared. With great enthusiasm he instructed us to other waterfalls. As there was only one road heading to our hostel I had to mentally prepare myself to another and another waterfall.
If we set off to China it is almost imposible to miss out its capital - Beijing. Beijing is full of traces of history but Beijing also lives in the present and future in every of its wide avenues and narrow streets. Beijing is full of fabulous food, noisy traffic... And so on and on. Where would you look for peaceful moments in busy metropolis?
From Bejing to TaZ Pekingu do Datong. From Datong to Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, our second stop on our way across China. We waited on the Datong train station, instant noodles (in Chinese their name is fang-pien-mien, „comfortable noodles“, a really convenient name), we held happily our tickets. There was jing-cuo written on them (“hard seats”).
A journey from Beijing to Datong was smooth, without complications. We arrived at the place few minutes to midnight and the city was unusuallay quiet and deserted. It almost seemed as some sort of furious storm swept through the city and wiped out everything alive. Even lamps were turned off. This made our orientation, if we can use this term for a situation when we had absolutely no clue...
When you set out to Hohhot, it is almost impossible to miss famous Mongolian steppes. There are plenty around Hohhot, we chose Si-la-mu-zhen. With our backpacks we got in a bus and two hours later the driver unloaded us in the middle of nowhere.
One of most popular tourist attractions of the Province of Ning-Sia are royal tombs about 35 kilometers from the center of Yinchuan. It is a landmark you just have to visit. We set out there soon after we get an accommodation. After while we found a bus heading to Shun Hing, literary “western Xia Square”.
As it has been already said in the previous article, Yinchuan is the capital of Ningxia, an autonomous region of the Hui people. Long story short, the Hui people are Chinese Muslims and you may recognize them at first glance for men as well as women wear typical hats.
Days at Chengdu school went by quite quietly. We started at half past eight and ended at noon. Occasionally we had an extra optional class in the afternoon.
At the airport, I get in the bus heading to my university. There are always traffic jam in Beijing. I have a lot of time to think. How it was back then. I had already settled, bought several necessities to get by… and then I just had been waiting for my roommates to show up.
There is much more happening in Chinese parks than in Czech parks. In the previous article it was mentioned dancing and all kinds of performances. But this is not all.
If you are in China, you wont omit to shop in a supermarket. But there is a supermarket supermarket. There are shops of western type, and then there are Chinese supermarkets. And of those, let's say something.
Every once in a while, our University has decided that it is necessary to educate us in culture. Or at least try it. I always then appeared on the bulletin board announcement on various trips. Such notification shall we, though as administrative students who went on a diet mental, more or less perceived as an invitation to tour a huge banquet that this trip will end, all of course in the direction of the school.
After registration troubles in the office, I managed to go through the rest of the week pretty well. I did not have to worry about the housing. Gradually, I was getting to know my new roommate and our new pets – cockroaches.
Our stay in Jiuzhaigou was coming to an end. The last day we devote to exploring the area. While L. was just sitting at the furnace up to one hour and then suddenly stood up and said she was going to the mountains, me and V. we climbed the nearest hill and enjoyed the peace that we so lacking in big cities. We even run to the village and bought a few souvenirs, especially the warm Tibetan scarves.
After some time my life in Chengdu 成都 was becoming quite monotonous. On one hand, every day was quite new but it was apparent that everyone longed for a break.
Another land, another habit. I realized this every day while I was in China. It did not take long. It began when I get out of the plane, continued with unbelievably intense portion of Sichuan pepper that were included in my dinner, and continued once more during - breakfast.
Another place I planned to visit before my arrival to Chengdu 成都 was Luo-Tai. According to the guide and our enthusiastic friends the place was worth visiting.
Who was in summer in China, knows what I am talking about. Once you get off an airconditined airport, its like by a switch somebody turns on sauna. At least I felt like this when I arrived to Chengdu.
Summer. Heat. Beijing. Getting a round stamp was the only thing left when I got off the plane. But I have to wait in a queue for some time. Well, I am in China, again.
During walk in Dujiangyan Cityu the school invited us for a generous lunch. All ate properly. Soon they regretted as they had found out that we would go to Mount Qingcheng青城山.
This is how my first three meals that I missed in China the most. Of course, one find out that IKEA is about an hour of bus ride off the campus (in China my perception of what is “near” really changed) and that you can buy there some cheese and chocolate, to feel better there.
Despite the title looks promising there wont be a long description of my acting career. As we promised to the elderly, we came on the following day to another “rehearsal”.
We will live in a small house hand-built by his own cousin, the Tibetian, we call Z. here, told us. Once again he awoke curiosity and enthusiasm in us, partially suspended by a long journey. Except this we were so tired we could fall asleep literally anywhere. Still we could not believe our own eyes when he stopped in front of the building.
Back in Amsterdam when I was waiting for my flight to Chengdu, smiling pandas surrounded me. On the background there was a clear blue sky. No. In reality there were no pandas in every park in the city, no blue sky, so my ideals immediately vanished. I decided to see pandas with my bare eyes.
A queue to get a round stamp seems infinite. Next I have to just pick up my baggage, get on a bus that would take me from the airport and get at the campus. Everything according to the plan. Only with some extra time in queues or in Beijing traffic jams. Two years ago in Chengdu, if my memory is right, it was not that easy...
Bus taking me from the Beijing airport to the place of my stay. First couple of days it is not a school but a flat of my friend. I will stay day until the registration at the university. How will be the school? What about teachers? And classmates?
Several days have passed at Chengdu University. Days went by rather in same manner. Some were less calm and some calmer. We had no trip ahead of us and waited what would happen.
Before you find yourselves in some foreign country, perhaps you would not know what you have to do. Mostly, those are things that are completely normal in your homeland. These things are usually a routine, no one even think about. For example shopping. Lets start right on the street with stalls.
I am waiting for tickets to get from the Beijing Airport. I have to just sit in a right bus. An hour later I am on place. I am really curious about my new place, campus and its surroundings. I have to remember my first campus in Chengdu two years earlier.
In China, there are places famous for their parks and gardens, for example Su-chou州. You can find several parks in every Chinese city. Chengdu成都is no exception.
Before my flight to Chengdun where I had studied for half a year, there were several other trip. One of them took me to Leshan, the place with the largest Buddha statue in the world.
Of course, from time to time one just gets this urge to “bargain”. In case that you consider this rather amusement and you do not have nothing better to do. I even thing that if you are lucky, you can buy many things really cheap at market. Moreover, you will chitchat while doing so.
I have written about one of Chinese minorities, the people of Hui (回族) in one of my previous articles. I praised their cuisine and their kindness and knowledge about the place of my origin.
In couple of articles already I mentioned the same topic – hot water drinking. Since young age I have been frightened to drink hot beverages when ill. It is easier and tastier to use just syrup with water, I had been always saying. And then I left to China.
I am of those people who cannot enjoy shopping. Mostly I have this feeling that the time spent finding something could we spent much more efficiently. When I decide to go somewhere shopping I need time.
When we said farewell to Suzhou 苏州, the train took us to the famous Shanghai 上海. Shanghai is the name everybody things of when asked if they can think of a Chinese city. Once it used to be a small fishermen village.
Before I traveled to China, I had noticed weird mostly roundish buildings on various ad posters. I didn’t understand why would anyone build something like this.
„You study Chinese? So you can read scattered tea?“
„Chinese? Ping Pong?“ „Do you have skew eyes from eating all those rice already?“
I know the old proverb starts bit differently, yet I hold to the opinion that this tweak has some truth to it. At some places I think about this proverb more often. At some places even every day. Perhaps you already realized that by the latter I mean China.
Christmas is the time of remembrance. One remembers passed year, how and with who she spent Christmas and how it was. I couldn’t help myself from such assessment when I saw grey snowless streets. It remined me of my first Christmas outside home, Christmas in Chengdu 成都.
First registration procedure was successfully done. I had a Chinese bank account, submitted about eight passport photos, and other required documents, and while tired I read through the instructions in my room. When I found out that there is a difference between the Chinese and English version, I decided to trust the original, in Chinese.
„To terminus? What will you do there? There is nothing! “
Upon our difficult arrival at Hangzhou 杭州 we had crammed schedule ahead. Right in the morning, we went to explore how to get to our other goal the village of Longjing 龙井 that is famous for its tea plantations.
Our stay in Yunyongyao云永谣 commenced with a funeral, not particularly traditional way to begin one’s trip. Most of the locals took part in it. Some right in the procession, others just watched from afar. Soon, however, cracking and music ended. Only streets covered with red papers could tell the story.
It is true that I base my articles on my experiences and remarks of my friends, yet I have this feeling that everyone gets to the point when he needs to leave the big noisy city for fresh air in the countryside.
First, I have to say that I come from a small town. Arrival in Prague was a large shock for me. When I was then hustling in Prague in darky morning trying to find the right address, I had no idea such an experience was not my last time. Next time it would be more intense.
When we peaked out to the street in the morning, it was truly alive. The digger was demolishing houses, and people were engaged in their work. I sought to protect my breakfast against omnipresent dust. It was clear now what we would do on that day. We had to get as far as possible.
When returned to the hostel we were decided to get up early, get on the roof and start the day with a look at Suzhou in the morning 苏州. Right with the alarm clock ringing we started cursing the idea. Because we did not want to be lame in front one of another we get from warm duvets, and headed to the roof.
Perhaps everyone who has visited Beijing and had little spare time paid his visit to famous Summer Palace (Yiheyuan 颐和园), northwestern Beijing. Less tourists, however, know, that near the “new” Summer Palace is also Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan圆明园).
Our trip to see the famous tulou 土楼 was great. A strange van appeared and it was not strange after all. Chinese tourists stepped in and we stepped in as well because they said that the last bus had just left and the van driver would give us better price.
As I promised myself on my exploration tour to the campus I fulfilled that promise. At the beginning of September I trotted to my future campus.
After all the information we gathered from our friends and teachers about Suzhou 苏州, everybody would look forward to see it! “Up is paradise, below are Suzhou, and Su Chang and Hangzhou" (in Chinese hang you tiantang,
xia you Su-Hang 上有天堂，下有苏杭) we heard when we were mounting green city bikes, and rode through narrow streets near our hotel. The streets were crowded with various stands that lured us to stop (many of them at least). But we didn’t want to miss delicacies of Suzhou.
When you are studying in China and you want to learn more than you would at classic lessons you can ask about optional classes. There are usually many as such at universities. You can choose everything from sports, literature, or trivia to calligraphy or local dialects.
Days in Beijing passed by merrily. School in the morning, studying, chats with friends… Everyday routine was diversified with weekend trips. Summer Beijing was not very magical, to be honest.
After while, during our search for tulou 土楼 we went off the tourist-luring village with never ending music. Chinese tourists took pictures of each other wearing traditional and nontraditional clothes rented for horrible money. All of a sudden, everything went quiet around us. We were approaching local hills on a narrow road.
We were returning quite disgruntled from the village of Longjing 龙井. The intrusive lady reminded us again that we are still tourists in China – and given my face, I still will be one.
When before the departure from Chengdu I decided to final packing of my things, I found out that I have a lot more than a few things.
For as long as I had travelled in China, my main reason was studying the Chinese language. As more and more people ask me how learning Chinese in China is going I am going to spend some time explaining how it is.
Certainly there are lists of the most used words in any language. We learn what words we use the most in our mother tongue. We do not wonder as those are mostly words that are logically the most common as well.
It wasn’t bad in Beijing. Yet sometimes a time comes that one just want to go somewhere else. Anywhere. The break of the first May was coming and we had already forgotten how crazy it is to travel in China, especially when even others have holidays. But this time we were bit smarter. We learned how to buy train tickets on the Internet.