Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mandarin Mondays: 包饺子 (Make Dumplings)

A little while ago, a friend of mine taught me how to make (or "pack") Chinese dumplings (bāo jiǎo zi, 包饺子). I've mentioned before that  jiǎo zi are one of our favorite Chinese foods, so it was neat to learn how to make them.

We bought the wrappers from the market, which was really inexpensive here. I am told the process for making the dough goes something like this: take flour, add water and mix until it feels right, roll it out really thin, and cut into circles. Someday maybe I'll learn more about making the dough but for now here is the recipe for filling and boiling jiǎo zi.

Homemade Jiǎo Zi Recipe

  • Jiǎo zi wrappers
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • several cups chopped green onions
  • several chopped cloves of garlic
  • salt
  1. Mix pork, onions, garlic, and a liberal amount of salt together well in a mixing bowl.
  2. Place a small amount of filling in a wrapper. Wet the edge of the wrapper with a small amount of water. Pinch the edges closed. Technically the jiǎo zi are supposed to have the back side be able to lay flat, the front side pleated, and be able to stand up on their own. However, I couldn't quite get the hang of folding the edges just so, and my less beautiful jiǎo zi still tasted just as good.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, place jiǎo zi in boiling water, and return to a boil. Then you add one bowl of cold water to the pot, and return to a boil again. Repeat adding a bowl of water two more times (for a total of three times), and the jiǎo zi are supposed to be done to perfection. 
  4. Remove, and serve immediately with soy sauce, brown vinegar, and/or hot pepper sauce for dipping.

Jiǎo zi can also be frozen uncooked in a single layer on a cookie sheet and then transferred to a plastic bag for longer storage. They can then be boiled at a later date using the same method above; it just takes a few minutes longer to come to a boil the first time.

    Monday, April 16, 2012

    Mandarin Mondays: 面条 (Noodles)

    A Chinese friend of mine came over last week and showed me how to make some Hainan (Hǎinán, 海南) style noodles (miàn tiáo, 面条). I'll share the basic recipe and method with you, but all amounts are very approximate.

    Hainan style food uses a lot of garlic and green onion, but not a lot of other seasoning or sauces. Traditionally they cook with lard to bring in more meat flavor, without having to use a lot of expensive meat. However, most people now use oil. This dish would traditionally be eaten for breakfast (or maybe lunch). But we like it for dinner as well.

    This dish is very simply, and we liked it a lot. The boys especially ate huge helpings and were thrilled that there were leftovers for the next meal.

    Hainan Style Noodle Soup

    • ¼ cup or more oil or lard
    • 3 cloves garlic chopped
    • 1 cup green onion chopped
    • ½ pound lean pork chopped
    • 1 pound fresh or dried wide rice noodles
    • salt to taste (lots if your trying to get authentic flavor)
    • water
    1. In a large pot (guō, 锅) heat 1–2 quarts of water. Cook noodles if dried or simply wash the noodles if you bought them fresh from the market.
    2. Meanwhile in a wok, known as a "fry pot" (chǎo guō, 炒锅), heat oil or lard. Add garlic, onion, and pork, and fry until brown.
    3. Add noodles and a good amount of water to the wok. Bring to a boil.
    4. Salt to taste, and serve.

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012

    Mandarin Mondays: 清明节 (Tomb Sweeping Day)

    I'm a little late posting a Mandarin Mondays post again, but this week all days are a little off here. And this time it is not just due to our latest blessing, but everyone's schedule in this city is changed. This is because this week is Clear Bright Festival or more commonly known as Tomb Sweeping Day (Qīngmíng Jié, 清明节). In the city, they are only officially supposed to get one day off, but many people work through the previous weekend so they have three "days off" for the holiday this week. This does make sense for those who feel the need to travel a long way for this holiday but can disrupt a lot of schedules too.

    For this traditional festival Chinese, people travel (sometimes a long distance) to return to visit their ancestors' tombs. When they are there, they quickly "sweep" or clear away leaves and overgrowth off of their relatives graves. Then they may offer food and burn "pop-up" houses or other objects to their relatives to sustain them in the next life. This is done by decorating their grave with these items. They may then say a prayer to their ancestors before lighting off fireworks (which they don't clean up) and leaving to repeat the process at their next relative's tomb. How much of these practices is done varies widely by the individual, usually related to their closeness to their ancestors and their ancestors' level of affluence. The more respected and affluent a person, the more ornate their tomb, and generally the more ornately decorated each year as well.

    I must admit that this is one holiday I am quite grateful I don't have to participate in, because my Greatest Ancestor's Tomb is empty.

    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    Mandarin Mondays: 太贵了(Too expensive)

    Meat Market
    Both my husband and I recently had Mandarin lessons that covered bartering in the market for fruit, so I thought I'd talk a little bit about bartering here today.

    This type of language is really one of the first things that you have to learn here. "How much is this?" (duō shǎo qián?, 多少钱) is one of my most used mandarin phrases, possibly even more than hello, but less than they are not twins.

    When shopping in any open air market or relatively small shop, the prices may be negotiable. If the shop keeper gives you a price that is too expensive (tài guìle, 太贵了) you just say so, and they will either give you a counter offer, ask you how much you want to give them for the item, or tell you no this is really cheap. The last means they won't lower the price, and you can take it or leave it.

    Often food sellers here won't lower their prices unless you are a Kunming native or have developed a good relationship with a particular seller. So in one nearby market, we often have to ask several people for the price of something like tomatoes, until someone gives us a good deal, or go consistently to the same seller who usually gives us a fair price.

    Coming back from buying fruit
    But really, we don't really want to spend a lot of time bartering for a few cents off of vegetables anyway, so if we aren't finding good deals that day we'll usually just pay a little bit more or head to Walmart. You don't barter at Walmart, department stores, or KFC in case you're wondering. And yes, it would be weird if you tried to.

    Things we do barter for are bigger items like furniture from the used furniture market or a rental prices on apartments. Some people will go down a significant amount on some of these things, and you can actually save real money. And sometimes simply walking away or acting disinterested will make the seller want to lower the price all on their own. This silent method of bartering is one of our favorites, as the seller is lowering the price of their own volition and would never tell you a price that they couldn't still make a profit off of.

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    Mandarin Mondays: Lantern Festival (元宵节)

    Today is the last day of the Chinese New Year (known here as Spring Festival), and it is called Lantern Festival (Yuán xiāo jié, 元宵节). This festival is always held on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month of the new year because it is the night of the first full moon of that year. People often go out to appreciate the moon, and round red lanterns are hung to light up the sky as well. Thousands of red lanterns decorate the city right now.

    On this day, people traditionally gather with family or friends and eat a special food that is a ball of rice flour that is sometimes filled with sesame or peanuts. These are called tāng yuán (湯圓) and are eaten boiled in water, similar to the idea of dumplings in soup, but it is sweet like a dessert. The round shape of the moon and the tāng yuán symbolize family and togetherness.

    Apparently, this is also traditionally a sort of Chinese Valentine's day to celebrate your sweetheart. Nowadays in China, there are three "Valentine's Days" though: Lantern Festival (Yuán xiāo jié, 元宵节), the Western Valentine's Day, and Chinese Valentine's Day (Qíng rén jié, 情人节) or (Qīxī Jié, 七夕節), which is on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month and means the night of sevens. A friend of mine says this is bad news for Chinese boyfriends.

    Monday, January 23, 2012

    Mandarin Mondays: Happy New Year (新年快乐)!

    Huge lantern
    Happy New Year! (xīnnián kuàilè!, 新年快乐!)

    Yesterday was the official start of Spring Festival (Chūn jié, 春节), which is Chinese new year. This is the year of the dragon (lóng, ). Dragons, lanterns (dēng lóng, 灯笼), and other red (hóng sè, ) and yellow (huáng sè, 黄色) decorations are all over the city now.

    The week before Spring Festival was very busy in the city. Everyone was buying new clothes, gifts, special food, and lots of fireworks. Going to the store was like shopping on the day after thanksgiving in the States...all week long. Bringing gifts, food, and money in red envelopes back to the family celebrations is very important here for this festival. People from the city were stocking up before they would travel, and people came in from the countryside to do their holiday shopping too.

    Now that the festival has started though, most shops have closed down and the streets are nearly empty. Everyone who is able to has traveled back to the hometown of their oldest living relative. There they will celebrate for several days giving gifts and enjoying family dinners. Not returning home at this time will mean you are considered a bad son or daughter. Our family is wishing we were adapting to the culture and returning home now too, but travel is crazy now with everyone trying to travel at once. So I guess we're bad children right now.

    But now that many people have left the city, it is quite quiet. That is, except for the massive amount of firecrackers (biān pào, 鞭炮) and fireworks (yān huā, 烟花) going off almost all of the time. Last night (the actual evening of their new year day, instead of new years eve like we celebrate in the West) they lit off tons of fireworks at midnight and periodically all throughout the night into the morning. Literally at midnight our windows shook, but the boys managed to sleep through it just fine. The boys actually love to watch the fireworks and get really excited when they are awake to see them. We can see a lot from our back porch as the fire department lights a bunch off each night, and we are right behind them.
    Fireworks for sale

    We learned later that we were kind of confused on the dates. The actual New Year's day this year was January 23, but the festival starts New Year's Eve, so people refer to this as the start of the holiday. So anyway, the biggest firework day is the New Year's Eve night into the New Year's Day.

    It will be interesting to see what else this quiet/noisy week holds here. Hope you all are have a great week and have a happy new year!

    Monday, January 16, 2012

    Mandarin Mondays: Spring Festival (春节)

    Spring Festival (Chūn jié, 春节), known as Chinese New Year in the West, does not officially begin until the evening of January 21st, but the preparations are already gearing up. All of the stores have special gifts on display. People are buying special food and gifts to take back on their journey to their hometowns. Everyone is cleaning their houses top to bottom to rid them of bad luck and decorating them with lots of red decorations to bring in good luck, and most women have new hairdos to start out the new year on the right foot.

    And perhaps the part of the celebration that Spring Festival is most famous for, the fireworks (yān huā, 烟花) have already begun. People have already begun setting off firecrackers (fàng biān pào, 放鞭炮) and lighting off fireworks (fàng yān huā, 放烟花) throughout the day and into the night. It is a little noisy now, but I'm guessing next week will be really noisy. This will be our first Spring Festival in China, and I think it will be an interesting experience to see all of the celebrations that go along with their biggest holiday. I'll be writing more about the festival over the next few weeks.

    Happy New Year! (xīnnián kuàilè!, 新年快乐!)

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    Mandarin Mondays: 火锅

    Someone told my mom that when they were in Kunming visiting us, they should try the hot pot (huǒ guō, 火锅) with mushrooms (mó gu, 蘑菇), because mushrooms are a signature food of Yunnan. So after Nate and I made a rather amusing attempt of trying to ask a hot pot restaurant for its menu or find out pricing, and it actually looked pretty reasonable, we decided to go there for dinner one night. At this restaurant, you go up and pick plates of want you want to put into the boiling pot of broth that is built into your table. We decided on mushrooms, potatoes (tǔ dòu, 土豆 or, as they say in Kunming, yángyù, 洋芋), noodles (miàn tiáo, 面条), beef (niú ròu, 牛肉), and cauliflower (cài huā, 菜花). We decided to pass on the brain (nǎo, ) and chicken feet (jī zhuǎ, 鸡爪). It was the best hot pot that any of us had ever had. We were glad that this time we were the ones choosing the food that went it and therefore didn’t have fish head or cow hip added to the soup.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Mandarin Mondays: 饺子

    While my parents were here, we took them out for some of our favorite Chinese food: jiǎo zi (饺子) and bāo zi (包子). Jiǎo zi is usually translated as "dumpling," but they are more like our meat filled ravioli. They can be boiled, fried, or steamed. Traditionally, you can dip them in vinegar (cù, ), soy sauce (jiàng yóu, 酱油), or hot pepper sauce(là jiāo jiàng, 辣椒酱). Bāo zi (包子) are steamed buns that can be filled with meat (ròu, ), vegetables (shū cài, 蔬菜), or sugar (táng, ). Everyone had fun practicing using their chopsticks (kuài zi, 筷子) to eat them with. The boys are getting better and better at it.

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    Mandarin Mondays: 再见

    My parents came for about two weeks, and we had a great visit together. We were very busy and did lots of fun things that I'll write more about soon. But the one thing that is always hard is saying "goodbye" at the end of the visit, and I've been thinking I should learn a lesson from the Chinese on this one. Perhaps instead of saying "goodbye" we should all learn to say as the Chinese do "zài jiàn" (再见). Literally this means "again see." Saying "until we see you again" seems more positive to me.

    So, remember how much we love you (wǒmen ài nǐ, 我们爱你), and we will see you again (zài jiàn, 再见) soon, even if it is just on Skype for a little while.

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    Mandarin Mondays:交通

    One thing that is markedly different about living in a big city in China, instead of the suburbs or countryside of America, is transportation (jiāo tōng, 交通) around town. Kunming is relatively modern and packed with cars (chē, 车). Some foreigners even drive here, although it takes a bit of effort to get a driver's license here and a bit of an expense to purchase a vehicle. However, if you are spending most of your time within the city, you don't really "need" a car unless you just love to drive.

    The option we use the most for traveling in the city is public buses (gōng jiāo chē, 公交车), which will take you all over the city for a very reasonable price. Once you learn the bus routes, it feels very comfortable to just hop on a bus and ride to your destination. My husband has even used Google maps to figure out bus routes to and from destinations. If we are going somewhere new, we can figure out ahead of time what number bus to catch, if we need to change buses, and the names of the stops we want to get off at.

    Some other foreigners use small motorcycles (diàn dòng chē, 电动车). Motorcycles will probably get you to your destination as fast or faster than any car, but they're not our preferred method of transportation. Regular pedal bicycles (zì xíng chē, 自行车) are more popular and perhaps the most popular method among foreigners. They can get you to your destination on our own schedule quite quickly and have very little fees, other than an occasional very small parking fee.

    I think the last option for getting around town is the simplest, although it will take you longer, and that is simply walking (zǒu, ). We often do this to places nearby, and usually push our little boys in the stroller or use baby carriers to carry them on our backs. This is a great option for things that are close to you. It has all of the benefits of a bicycle, and you don’t have to lock your bike. It will take you longer and you'll be more tired, and obviously it is not a good option for getting all the way across the city, but for a quick run to the store, we like this option best. Walmart, fruit and vegetables markets, and a lot of restaurants are all within easy walking distance from our house.

    Monday, October 17, 2011

    Mandarin Mondays: 地理

    Because of China's National Day (guó qìng jié, 国庆节), we're studying about China this month. Each Monday I'll be sharing a few of the facts we've learned about this fascinating country. This week we're learning facts about China's geography (dì lǐ, 地理). Since China is so big (hěn dà, 很大), it is not surprising that it had very diverse landscapes and climates.

    This vast country has almost every kind of terrain there is. Forests (sēnlín, 森林), coastline (hǎi'ànxiàn, 海岸线), deserts (shāmò, 沙漠), mountains (shān, 山), and even subtropical rainforests (yàrèdài yǔlín, 亚热带雨林) can all be found in different parts of China. From the cold north up by Harbin to the warm island weather of Hainan, China has just about every climate also.

    China also has some of the world's highest mountains and longest rivers as well. The world’s highest mountain, Mt. Everest (Zhūmùlǎngmǎ Fēng, 珠穆朗玛峰), at 29,029 feet (8,848 meters) is on the China-Nepal border, and second-highest point is 28,251 feet high (8,611 meters) and is on the China-Pakistan border. The Yangtze River (Chángjiāng, 长江) is the third longest river in the world, and the Yellow River (Huánghé, 黄河) is the sixth longest in the world

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    Mandarin Mondays: 很大

    Rural meets City
    Because of China's national day this month, we're learning more about this fascinating country, and I'll be sharing some of the facts we've learned each Monday.

    This week we've been learning about how big China is. China is a very large (hěn dà, 很大) country. It is in fact the biggest country, in regards to amount of people. China is the world's most populous country with over 1.3 billion people. They have a saying here, people mountain people sea (rén shān rén hǎi, 人山人海), meaning sometimes it looks like there is a mountain of people and sometimes it looks like there is a sea of people. However much of China is not densely populated; the rural areas are still quite open and spacious. But if you are in a popular place in a big city, you can feel like you've suddenly become part of a mountain (shān, ) or sea (hǎi, ) because of people (rén, ).

    Construction Downtown
    China is also big in the amount of land it covers, approximately 9.6 million square kilometers (3.7 million square miles). China is 3rd or 4th in the world in total land area, depending on how it is calculated. The People Republic of China is a single party state governing 22 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, 4 directly controlled municipalities, and 2 colonies.

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Mandarin Mondays: 国庆节

    Beautiful Country
    This week, China is celebrating its National Day (guó qìng jié, 国庆节). The official National Day is October 1st, which signifies when the People's Republic of China was declared a nation on October 1st, 1949. However, National Day here is a much bigger countrywide celebration than America's Independence Day, and they celebrate for a whole week long. This is one of China's two Golden Weeks (huáng jīn zhōu, 黄金周), week long holidays. The other Golden Week is the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring festival (chūn jié, 春节).

    During these Golden Weeks many, many people travel because it is the most time they get off in a row all year. So if you don't have to travel during these weeks, you may wish to stay home. Planes, trains, and buses will all likely be packed.

    Much like America, traditional National Day celebrations include fireworks and concerts. In honor of National Day we are doing a China, or Middle Kingdom (zhōng guó, 中国), unit study for the month of October. I plan on sharing a few things we are learning about this fascinating country's history each Monday this month, so we can learn about it together.

    Monday, September 26, 2011

    Mandarin Mondays: 太极拳

    Walking on bumpy walking track
    This past Saturday I got on the bus to go do my English tutoring, closely followed by a man with a very long sword. Now I know my parents and in-laws probably don't like that statement one bit, but give me a chance to explain. I was perfectly safe, so don't start worrying.

    You see people always follow you closely when you get on a bus here; you pretty much have to push or get pushed on. Your other option is to get on last which is what I usually do, but I happened to be in the middle of a bunch of people this time, so that wasn't an option. This still isn't explaining the man with the sword though, is it?

    He was a tall (for here), older gentleman, grandly arrayed in colorful silk. He was followed closely by a petite older lady (who I assume is his wife), who was also dressed in silk and carrying a large sword. But the part that I have been leaving out is that the swords are fake, completely harmless, like toys for big kids or stage props. Things quite often here aren't what they seem to be at first glance. You can see people everyday in the public parks using swords to practice their Tai Chi (dǎ tài jí quán, 打太极拳). I am pretty sure most of them couldn't hurt anyone, even if they were trying really hard.

    The tai chi (tài jí quán, 太极拳) they practice here is not at all how I pictured this "martial art." Sure they use sword as props, but just as the swords and older people are harmless, so are the actions of tai chi (tài jí quán, 太极拳). It is mostly slow, small, stretching movements. They also walk on paths, sometimes barefoot on bumpy rocks.

    In fact the practice that seems most dangerous about this group of exercises is when those who performing tai chi hit themselves. It can be a little alarming at first to see older people hitting themselves all over, mostly their arms and legs, but sometimes even their heads. However, they aren't really trying to hurt themselves, at least I don't think they are. I believe they view it as a massage and a way to increase their blood flow.

    So don't be to alarmed if you are walking down the streets in town and see people carrying swords or hitting themselves; things are not always how they seem. It is important to remember that as someone who grew up in a different culture, things often have different meanings when properly interpreted in their own culture.

    Monday, September 19, 2011

    Mandarin Mondays: 背带

    Here it is very common to see people wear a traditional Asian type of baby carrier to carry their babies around with them. Some women (particularly the poorer women like recyclers, street sellers, or small shop keepers) carry their babies all day. In some ways, I think these kids are the lucky ones, because while they may lack some physical niceties, they get to be with their mom far more than most of the rich kids who are often sent to live with relatives, even in other towns, while their parents spend all their time working to provide for their certain lifestyle.

    However, most people just use these types of carriers to go shopping or run other errands around town. Even though the roads and sidewalks here are much better than most of the smaller cities and villages, there are definitely still times when it is easier to carry little ones on your back instead of trying to maneuver the stroller. This becomes especially true if you want to ride bused or do any hiking off of paved roads.

     This types of carrier is most commonly known as mei tai in the west. This is a version of its Cantonese name miē dài (孭带). In Mandarin they call them bēi dài (背带). Here, they usually just have two really long straps at the top corners of a very large square of fabric.

    We'd been thinking about purchasing some for a while, but they are only sold in small markets, and the price they told me was more than we wanted to pay. Also, a baby carrier isn't something you want to buy the absolute cheapest version of either. So recently, we found the fabric market (they like to group almost all of a type of seller into one section of town here), and I made two myself. I made ours with two long and two short straps because I think it is more secure and spreads out the weight more. I also made sure to stitch the strap reinforcements a lot, a lot, to make sure that they would hold up with our big, sturdy boys.

    We went for a hike two weekends ago and the carriers worked great. We were able to take a really small bus to the edge of town and then hike up a path in the woods. Both of those things are next to impossible if you have to drag the stroller around. We're pretty happy with these carriers. Andrew was even so tired and comfortable on the way back that he fell asleep on the way back in the carrier.

    Monday, September 5, 2011

    Mandarin Mondays: 家人

    Hello little sister
    Mèimei hǎo (妹妹)
    After you learn how to use basic greetings in a foreign language, it it a good idea to learn how you should address or refer to the people you come in contact with. Just and in America, you don't want to say, "Hey Dude" when you should be saying, "Hello Mr. So-and-so." You don't want to address people in the wrong way in a foreign language.

    Here it is very common to refer to everyone using family terms. This means that in general you would refer to everyone, unless it is a very formal situation, the same way you would refer to your family (jiārén, 家人). It is fine for me to refer to anyone who is the age of my grandparents by the names for paternal grandparents. For children especially, it is almost expected that they will call all adults, grandpa (yéye, 爷爷), grandma (nǎinai, 奶奶), uncle (shūshu, 叔叔), or aunt (āyí, 阿姨) based on the particular adults age.

    Perhaps the first question asked about any child, besides asking if our boys are twins, is their age. And then if they can't figure out the gender (because the kid isn't wearing split pants, and/or hasn't gone to the bathroom publicly lately), they will ask if it is a boy (nánhái, 男孩) or a girl (nǚhái, 女孩). This is in part because here they have separate words for older sister (jiějie, 姐姐), younger sister (mèimei, 妹妹), older brother (gēge, 哥哥), and younger brother(dìdi, 弟弟), and usually children call all other children by the appropriate relational term.

    This can take a little getting used to, because we don't usually refer to strangers as family in the US. However, it does have the advantage of not having to remember quite so many names. Which is really good for me, because I am having a horrible time remembering Chinese names.

    Does anyone have a question about the language or culture here? Or a topic idea you would like to see for future Mandarin Mondays? I have a list of ideas started, but I'd like to make sure that I am writing about things that others would find interesting as well.

    Monday, August 29, 2011

    Mandarin Mondays: 你好

    Babies greeting each other with a universal cheek pinch.
    Perhaps both boys' cheeks have been pinched too often
    by Chinese Grandmas greeting them.
    Greetings are usually one of the first things you learn when studying a foreign language because how are you going to have a conversation if you can't start one? While it is very good to know how to greet someone, or respond to their greeting, that doesn't always mean that greetings are the easiest thing to learn. Often they can be complicated, because how you normally start a conversation varies a lot culturally, and often there is no good direct translation for what a phrase means.

    When you see someone any time of the day here you can say, "Nǐ hǎo (你好)." This literally means "you good," but culturally it means something much closer to our "hello." You are not really asking how they are doing, and they won't respond by telling you how they are doing, but will usually just say, "Nǐ hǎo (你好)," in response.

    Now there is also the formal way to say hello, "Nín hǎo (您好)" and the way to say hello to more than one person, "nǐmen hǎo (你们)," but these are rarely used in daily conversation. In fact while these phrases are the most grammatically accurate, unless you are in a very formal setting, you will likely sound out of place using them. This isn't something you can learn from a textbook, but from everyday life, or perhaps a really good Chinese teacher or friend.

    Exchanging greetings at English corner
    Similarly, while English speakers usually ask "How are you," after saying hello, the direct translation of "how are you" (Nǐ hǎo ma, 你好吗) is almost never used here. Actually, I think outside of a Chinese lesson, I have only heard it spoken by foreigners here. It is much more common to use the phrase "Nǐ zěnme yàng? (你怎么样?)." This means something like our phrase "how are you doing," while the literal translation comes out quite strange: "You how way?"

    The Chinese people here have trouble with our greetings too. Most of the children here have learned the following greeting (even if it is all of the English they know): "Hi, how are you? I am fine, sanks." They do not have the th sound in Mandarin, so most people cannot pronounce it correctly, much like we have trouble with the multitude of sounds in Mandarin that English does not possess.

    At least we are not alone in our language difficulties. Hopefully, the Chinese people will give us grace as we work continually on improving our Mandarin.

    Monday, August 22, 2011

    Mandarin Mondays: 学校

    Today is the first day of school (xuéxiào, 学校) for kids here, so I thought I'd write a little of what I know about the kids (hái zi men, 孩子们) and schooling on this side of the world. Like everything else, it is quite different from the West.

    Generally speaking here new momthers (māmā, 妈妈) stay in bed for one month after giving birth.  In fact, they are not supposed to do anything, even shower or read books.  After one month, they usually give their new baby (bǎo bǎo, 宝宝) over to the paternal grandparents (zǔ fù mǔ, 祖父母). Usually the baby lives (zhù zài, 住在) with the grandparents for the first few years of their life, even if they are in a different province from the parents, and the parents may visit as they have time. There are of course exceptions to this, but this is a widely accepted practice here.

    At about 3 years old (sān suì, 三岁) kids begin a sort of preschool or kindergarten. This first step in formal schooling is usually about 9 hours a day. The toddler will usually still live with grandparents and/or parents and have the evenings free to spend with family (jiā rén, 家人). Usually, these schools are nearby, although they may commute an hour or so to attend a better school. Getting into a good school is a big deal here, even for preschool. Sometimes getting into a really good school requires special "gifts" that can cost thousands of dollars (USD). This may seem strange, but the preschool they attended could help determine what primary (elementary) schools the child may be allowed to attend and ultimately what colleges they are allowed to go to.

    Next comes primary school. I think most children start at about age 6. Primary schools are also usually about 9 hours a day, but the children have a lot of homework (zuò yè, 作业) for the evenings also. These schools are still local and the children continue to live with the grandparents or other relatives.

    High school dorm
    (housing about 10 girls)
    Children typically leave their family home for the first time, when they begin middle school. Most middle and high schools are boarding schools, and children live there, sometimes all year round. A lot of schools have a middle and high school on the same campus. Generally for these grades have classes morning (shàng wǔ, 上午), afternoon (xià wǔ, 下午), and evening (wǎn shàng, 晚上) during the week, and just morning and evening classes on weekends (yes, both Saturday and Sunday). They have about a two hour break for lunch and dinner, as well as many other shorter breaks throughout the day, but the children's time is quite scheduled.

    Students in a classroom
    (in Lanshan, Hunan)
    The middle school and high school children attend is a really big deal, as there is often a limit of the number of students from each school that can get into a university (dà xué, 大学). The better the high school, the more students will be allowed to attend, and the better each students chance at getting into a good university. Geographic location also plays a big part in this since schools usually take more students from their area as well as from bigger cities. Because of this, students may go to middle or high school quite far from their parents or grandparents, if financially possible. They might travel home for holidays or stay with another relative who lives a little closer.
    Boys playing with a friend at English Corner

    English (yīng wén, 英文) plays a large role in getting into a good university. The university entrance exams (gāo kǎo, 高考) have large English sections, so students are often interested in improving their English through private schools or other means. Here, where there are a lot of foreigners, there are often "English corners" in public parks where people go at a certain time each week to practice speaking English. We all have fun going to these sometimes.

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    Mandarin Mondays: 天气

    Something that a lot of people seem curious about is what the weather (tiān qì, 天气) is like here in Kunming (昆明). Kunming's weather is one of the mildest climates around. It is far enough south that it rarely gets too cold (tài lěng, 太冷), and its high altitude (1,900 m above sea level) keeps it from getting very hot (hěn rè, 很热). In fact, it is often called the "Spring City" or the "Green City" because of its mild weather and lush vegetation.

    Right now in summer (xià tiān, 夏天), it is warm, not hot, with average highs about 75 F and average lows about 62 F. Summer is the rainy season, and it does rain a lot: 7–8 inches a month on average. It can get quite chilly here when it rains (yǔ, ). In fact they have a saying here: "It's winter when it rains." But it warms back up when the sun shines, and this keeps it from ever getting too hot here. Apparently the record high was 90 F.

    The rains begin to taper off in September (jiǔ yuè, ). September (jiǔ yuè, ) and October (shí yuè, 十月) are supposed to be still very nice with most days still in the low 70s. Fall (qiū tiān, 秋天) is very mild here.

    In November (shí yī yuè, 十一月), the average highs begin to drop to the 60's, and the rains slow to almost nothing. In winter (dōng tiān, 冬天), the average highs are about 60 F, and the average lows about 36 F. The weather can be a little crazy at times, and occasionally there are freak snows (xià xuě, 下). We actually experienced one in March (sān yuè, 三月), but this is quite rare. The record low was 18 F.

    In spring (chūn tiān, 春天), the temperature climbs back up to 70–75 F for highs and 45–60 F for lows. Usually in May (wǔ yuè, 五月), the rains begin again.

    This climate is great for agriculture and gardening. Kunming is famous for it's horticulture. It produces a lot of different fruits (shuǐ guǒ, 水果) and vegetables (shū cài, 蔬菜), and much of China's flowers (huā, ) are exported from this area.


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