Beijing, 10th of February
My first Christmas (sheng4 dan4 jie2) spent in Beijing was pretty good, although I missed my friends and family from London. Most Chinese people I spoke to here thought Christmas was an interesting concept and were curious as to how we celebrated it in England. Like the English, Chinese people are lovers of tradition (chuang2 tong3) and I was asked if I would be hanging a stocking above my bed!
In Wu Dao Kou, lots of shops had Christmas decorations and waiters and waitresses wore Christmas themed uniforms. I was a surprised by the Christmassy feel to the area and at times it felt almost like home. It was when I ventured to areas outside of the foreign students' quarters that I realised the rest of the city was oblivious to it.On Christmas Eve I had dinner with my classmates (tong2 xue2 men2) at a pizza café and on Christmas Day we went to a Japanese restaurant and had chicken steak. Not what I'd call a traditional Christmas but then China is not the place for a traditional Christmas.
New Year's Eve and New Year's Day were a lively affair and there was a distinctive buzz around the place. I went with my classmates to the Tongan embassy in Beijing for a New Year's Eve party. I have to admit it all sounds rather random but I guess to studenty types like us that was part of the appeal. This season was certainly one of the most interesting and bizarre Christmas and New Years I've spent but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Chinese New Year
And there was more to celebrate - the Spring Festival (chun1 jie2), the biggest event in the Chinese calender (nong2 li4). The Spring Festival is to the Chinese like Christmas is to us. It's mainly a time when people go home and visit their families. This means that most of my Chinese friends who are studying in Beijing but are not actually from Beijing have gone home. It lasts about two weeks and it's common for shops to be closed for that time. During the Spring Festival Chinese people traditionally eat zhao3 zi. This is a kind of dumpling stuffed with meat or vegetables. It's very filling and very delicious.
Red (hong2 se4) is considered a lucky colour in China and there are lots of red posters outside of people's front doors. The posters are showing the character fu2 which means wealth and good fortune. It is usually hung upside down to represent wealth arriving (fu2 dao4 le) as the character appears like a jug pouring out all of its wealth to the home. Kids are especially happy at this time of year because their parents will give them red envelopes (hong2 bao4) containing money.
Since my last entry my acting career hasn't exactly taken off, but I did film an advertisment (guang3 gao4) for a Chinese medicine (yao4). I acted as Brazillian guy who couldn't drink (he1 jiu3) or smoke (chou1 yan1) because he had a bad stomach-ache. After taking the medicine he becomes healthy again and can continue to ... er ... drink and smoke! Very strange but that's what the director wanted me to say. So for 500 yuan I signed my life away to film for two hours of pretty easy and fun work. I'm not so sure about the moral implications. I spoke in English so I'm sure my dialogue will later be dubbed into Chinese.
Acting aside there is usually a lot of English teaching work going around and I have turned down quite a few jobs since I've been here. I did however take a one-off Saturday job that involved travelling to a Beijing suburb (jiao1 qu1) and teaching English to a group of bank workers. This was really good fun and the work involved correcting pronunciation and playing English language games. The Chinese bankers were generally quite young and we had a lot of fun. It didn't feel like work at all and so I agreed to do it again.
Its been almost a year since I taught and not all of my memories of last year's teaching were good but I really enjoyed it this time. I was paid 700 yuan for the day and was not only treated to lunch with the rest of the bankers but also watched a performance given by a Chinese ethnic group. I was even cajuled into participating in a dance where I had to hop between moving bamboo sticks which is more dangerous (wei1 xian3) than it sounds!
My Autumn/Winter course has just finished which means I have a four week holiday before it starts again. Lots of my friends in London tell me that my Chinese must be fluent now ... unfortunately it isn't. I wish it was but there's a long long way to go. I often ask myself why I decided to learn a language that takes a lifetime to learn and another lifetime to write. The answer is simple. In 2006 I can speak to 1.3 billion more people than I could two years ago.
Editor's note: Chris is writing Chinese words in 'Pinyin', Latin script, using numbers that indicate the tone of the word. Find out more with our course Real Chinese.
Sent by: Chris