We’ve eaten very well in China; in Shanghai we had great dim sum, including these dumplings that are filled with broth so explode in your mouth. Apparently aficionados puncture them with a chopstick, then sip the broth, then eat the dumpling. Easier said than done, so I stuck with the shove-it-all-in technique.
In Beijing, we had traditional duck pancakes and barbecued meat on a stick (including, at Dayo’s recommendation, chicken cartilage on a stick. The best thing I can say about it is that it is actually edible if you persevere).
Also in Beijing, we went to a ridiculously lavish Sunday brunch. We’d seen lots of exhibitions about the dowager Empress Cixi, who would order 108 dishes to be prepared for every meal. This is the modern version. The boys quaffed champagne and I even tried caviar. Well you kind of have to if it’s there, don’t you? I didn’t really like it.
It was the mid-autumn festival while we were in China, and so we tried the traditional moon cakes.
In Guilin we ordered something described as beef with peppers. There was some beef in it, but as you can see, it was 90 per cent peas. I think the mischievous chef just wanted to put our chopstick skills to the test.
It was lesson 4 of our Mandarin course this week, which means we are now over half way through the course. We were learning how to ask and say the time. About halfway through the lesson, Mr Beet did an enormous sigh, as if to say that nobody could possibly learn this stuff in a million years. It does feel a bit like that sometimes.
As I left the class I said “Xie xie, zai jian” to the teacher, which is “Thank you, goodbye”. There were a couple of people waiting in the corridor and one said to the other “That sounds impressive.” Of course, they don’t know that I’m mangling these phrases horribly, but I was still mildly chuffed.
Maybe my Mandarin techer read my blog last week where I said “I can’t yet say yes or no or 1,2,3 but I can say I love you” because this week we did numbers. I can’t remember how to say them all, but I can remember the hand gestures for 1 to 10 (different to what you’d think) so maybe I’ll just use those instead. It goes; one, two, three, four, five, call me, pinch, gun, tiny penis, black power.
And the reason we haven’t learned yes and no is that it’s a bit more complicated than that. If someone says “Do you want…?” you don’t say yes or no, you say “I want” or “I don’t want”.
…means I love you in Mandarin. I can’t yet say yes or no or 1,2,3 but I can say I love you. I’m not so sure it’s going to come in handy in my trip next year, but you never know.
In our lesson this week we were learning to say our name and nationality (Wo jiao Lauren, wo shi Yingguoren, wo zhu zai London) and we had to do an exercise where we got given pictures of famous people and had to introduce them. Straw poll – can you name the people below?
The first one is Hu Jintao, the Chinese leader, which I didn’t know and the other people in my group did, so that made me feel a bit of a dunce. But then I was the only one who knew that the second one was Jackie Chan, so at least I was contributing something!
Mr Beet and I had our first Mandarin class yesterday in preparation for next year’s excursion.
The teacher came in chatting away in Mandarin. I thought that she just didn’t realise we were the beginner class, but she said it would help us get used to hearing the language, so she continued to say most things in Mandarin and then English. I’m sure it will help us in the long term, but we did feel a bit out of our depth. Especially because she kept looking at Mr Beet as if she expected him to reply to her Mandarin questions.
We learnt a bit about how Chinese words are structured and the Pinyin system (phonetic written Mandarin using the Roman alphabet). We learnt just a few words, and spent most of the time practising pronouncing the new sounds we’ll need to actually be able to say the vocabulary.
As well as some different consonant and vowel sounds to what we have in English, they also have different tones. So if you say something in a different tone of voice, it’s not just a different form of the word – it’s a whole new word. For example “ma” means mother, hemp, curse, horse or question, depending on the tone of your voice. So we spent quite a long time saying “ma, ma-ah, maaaa, mah-a” to each other. We sounded like goats. I think that by the end of the course the aim is to sound like Chinese goats.
It was really fun, although massively more difficult than learning a European language with a familiar alphabet and sentence structure, and where you can make an educated guess at a lot of the vocabulary. And the tone thing is really tricky – I’m sure that however much we learn, to a native speaker we will always sound like this.