Campus life

Beijing, 22nd of June

campusLife as a student living on a campus in a foreign language university is both fascinating and comfortable. The campus seems to have everything a hapless foreigner needs to survive in Beijing: you2 ju2, a post office, yin2 hang2, a bank, xi3 yi1 dian4, a launderette, and dozens of restaurants offering Chinese, Korean and Japanese food. It has tennis and basketball courts, a gym, a running track and a football pitch. It feels like a small village where the common language is Chinese. On one occasion while sitting at a café, I was asked if a chair was free by a guy speaking Chinese with a thick Italian accent!

The classroom

classIt is the policy of the university to split up dong1 fang1 ren2, East Asians, and xi1 fang1 ren2, "Westerners" at beginner levels. Therefore there are two sets of classes. One full of "Westerners" and the other consisting of Asians from countries such as ri4 ben3, Japan, han2 guo2, Korea, Indonesia and Thailand. I was told by my Chinese teacher that this is done on the basis that Asian students pick up Han4 zi4, the Chinese characters, quicker than Westerners. I can't say I'm fully convinced as I understand Japanese writing is similar to Chinese but Thai writing is totally different! This segregation has made it difficult to make friends with Asian students, but thankfully not impossible.My class has about 18 students ranging from ages the ages of 19 to 60. We have three teachers and the classes are split into listening, speaking and a general class. All our teachers are Chinese and during lesson time only speak in Mandarin – and they speak it at a lightning pace! This was really difficult at first and a lot of the time I was just guessing at what they wanted us to do. I was forced to learn useful phrases like qing3 zai4 shuo1 yi2 bian4, please say that again, di4 ji3 ye4, which page?, and of course the old favourite wo3 ting1 bu4 dong3, I don't understand. Learning to understand my teachers has certainly improved my listening skills.

East and West

teacherOne thing I have discovered during my time here is that there is a tendency to split the world into East and West, with many students and teachers making generalisations such as: "Westerners don't like spicy food and Asian culture is more traditional". In one class I asked our lao3 shi, teacher, whether fei1 zhou1 ren2, Africans, and nan2 mei3 zhou1 ren2, South Americans were both classified as Westerners. Our teacher replied that she didn't know and agreed that dividing people into East and West was indeed problematic. I really like our main Chinese teacher and only wish I could understand more of what she said in class. Hopefully I will in time!

Text messages

Every two weeks or so, I need buy a phone card for my shou3 ji1, mobile phone. I bought a mobile phone in China last year and discovered that it was not much cheaper than in England. I paid 900Y, about £60. Most phones here use a kind of pay-as-you-go system where you can buy shou3 ji1 ka3, a phone card, from most street venders for Y100 (£6) or Y50 (£3). A 100Y card can run out pretty quickly - especially when my mum calls from London. When you make or receive a call both caller and receiver pay for the call charge so it doesn't pay to be too popular here. Most people just send fa1 duan3 xin4, text messages. I remember when I was teaching English last year, my Chinese students had a competition to find out who could send the fastest text message. As I recall it brought them great amusement, more than my classes ever did!

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


Richard Heathcote 2005-10-16

I have just applied to study Mandarin Chinese at university and having read this I can't help but feel I have made the right choice.

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Qian 2 Yu 3 2005-08-29

It's really interesting to see 'Westerners' use numbers to indicate the tone of Chinese characters, very creative, well done!

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Jim Faherty 2005-08-28

I'm 20 and am teaching English to Chinese students, but trying desperately to learn Mandarin too. The tones are difficult to master, and there are a lot of sounds that I'm unfamiliar with. It's great fun trying though! Oh, I have a Chinese name already: Long Tao!

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Brad Berry 2005-10-22

Your diary is very interesting. Languages are my hobby. I'm American and I'm conversational in Thai, and like you say, Thai writing is different. It's alphabet based. There are 44 consonates and 20 something vowels written before, behind, below, and above consonates. I would like to learn Mandarin myself.

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Kim 2005-07-16

I enjoy reading your diary since I am interested in Beijing. I'm looking forward to reading your diary.

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Bian1 Yu2 2005-07-07

I like the stories very much, and as a Chinese learning in UK, I understand your struggling at the beginning. But believe me, it will definitely get better!

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Tony 2005-07-05

I have enjoyed reading of your experiences and look forward to reading more.

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Stacey Duahney 2005-07-03

Interesting comments here made by Chris. A real eye opener as to what goes on in that part of the world.

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Yingjiu Chen 2005-07-03

Hi, Chris, you are making good progress. To master the pinyin system is a shortcut to master the language. Good luck.

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Qin qing 2005-06-30

I appreciate your China diary very much. I am a Chinese student in France and I have the same experience studying a foreign language - French and English. I was in a class where there were many Spanish people and I thought it's less difficult for them to speak French.

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