Thursday, December 3, 2009


I've finally started this as I finally had to try and round up some of my time at Nanda so far. So this is what I've sent off, where this blog will go from here I've no idea.

"Our first semester at Nanjing University has focused solely around improving our Chinese language. Through this first semester the fact that has become most evident is that we will probably leave Manchester with a level of practical Chinese rather lower then many of our contemporaries from other universities, due to the fact that although we learnt plenty of vocabulary and grammar, in our second year especially, we were pretty much never made to use it. The four of us here at the moment, of varying abilities, have all been put in the same sets as students who have completed only one, more practical year of study. So it makes sense we study nothing but Mandarin, at least for this first semester.

Outside of study hours I’ve tried to engage in as many activities as possible to make the most out of being in China. For me this year is about getting out and about and seeing China and Chinese culture, and trying to find the confidence to apply my limited spoken Chinese to real situations, rather then sitting in classes learning yet more vocabulary that I don’t have to confidence to even use outside class. To that end firstly I’ve tried a number of Chinese sports classes. Boxing for most of the first semester was challenging. Mainly because of the difficulty of understanding the activities barked at us in Chinese, and also for putting up with the coach rolling his eyes every time I turned up. I was the only girl in a class full of big strong men, and in my delightful penguin t-shirt and Fame-esque leggings he clearly didn’t think I was taking his class, or him, seriously enough. Unfortunately with the winter came my achy knees and Boxing has had to be replaced with Pilates and Yoga which have been far more knee and girl friendly and have provided far more opportunity for actually talking to the other participants.

Last weekend in another change from routine we participated in a Chinese game show. The whole day was conducted in Chinese, from explaining the games to getting hair and make-up done and was certainly a challenge but also easily the most fun thing I’ve done since coming out here. Talking to the host in Chinese whilst being filmed was also probably the most nerve-wreaking thing I’ve done since being out here and I was certainly not at my most eloquent. However I managed to escape from the day intact and paid for my troubles!

The most successful out of school enterprise I have joined in out here was with a few friends organizing a Halloween party with the owners of a nearby hostel. The preparations for the party took us across Nanjing to various markets and outlets, explaining Halloween to everyone we encountered. On the actual day the party was a massive success with not only a sizeable amount of Nanjing’s international community attending but also all the hostels Chinese guests and friends. It was an interesting introduction to how business is conducted in China with Linda, the lovely Chinese lady who owns the hostel, phoning her alcohol supplier at least five times in an hour to scream and whine at him to get a better deal on our Sangria supplies. The supposedly friend-orientated meet and have fun event also turned out to be embarrassingly profitable, between the six of us on the committee we walked away with 500RMB each.

In general at Nanda we are very much stuck within the international community. To try and break free from this English-speaking sphere next semester a couple of friends and I are moving out. Hopefully moving into a more Chinese neighborhood will give us far more opportunity to practice our spoken Chinese. Working with estate agents was another Chinese surprise. We attempted to get ahead of the game by looking now, early December for a flat to lease from January. We were met with surprise and told to come back a few days before we wanted to move in somewhere, this is apparently how they do things out here.

So far my Chinese has progressed very little, and I do realize this is mainly my fault. In lessons I’m fine and on top of the work, but as the entire of the second year at Manchester proved learning new characters and grammar patterns is absolutely pointless unless you are using them regularly and despite being fine in speaking class my spoken Chinese is still fairly unintelligible. At Nanda we have never been offered a chance to integrate with the Chinese students, most peoples main avenue has been through finding language partners, much like at Manchester, not really much of an improvement as they are looking to practice their English. I have quite a few friends who have ended up paying for Chinese tutors; someone who will not speak English to you. It does feel faintly ridiculous that this is the situation I have found myself in, and I am trying to change it, but I find it hard enough to make new friends in English, Chinese is no easier. It would be very easy to turn this into a massive complaint about the standard of Chinese we reached at Manchester or the general unwillingness of ordinary Chinese to try and understand our efforts at speaking Chinese - buying a dictionary yesterday I listened to and pieced together a salespersons fragmented English only to get as far as ‘我要’ before being interrupted with “I sorry. Don’t understand” a rather common and intensely frustrating reaction. However any tirade like that would evade the fact that it turns out to be very easy to live here and speak very little Chinese, pointing, basic verbs and a big smile get most things sorted.

An apology if this has been over flippant, but in my defense at least all of this is true, with no sycophantic ‘I made an amazing Chinese friend and went over to their house for dinner’ lies."

That last bit I really mean.


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