Lotus Flowers, Heat…

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June to August is the time of lotus flowers. Hangzhou’s West Lake is nicely decorately with a sea of lotus flowers. The city also hosts a lotus flower festival featuring activies such as lotus dinner or lotus picking.

The bad news is, the city is unbearably hot from June through September. So be warned that you may have to see lovely flowers in the midst of sweltering hot. And don’t go to the West Lake on weekends when the lake area is swarmed with domestic tourists, especially in groups. You may not know that West Lake is among the top destinations for China’s domestic tourists.

Odd Requirement for Mandarin Teachers

I’ve highlighted one issue in my previous discussions about learning Mandarin in China: quality of teaching, and would like to dwell on this topic a little more in this post.

If you have ever read recruitment advertisements of mandarin teachers posted by language schools or institutions in China, you may find one thing quite weird or absurd. You don’t need to be a graduate in Chinese language or teaching Chinese to foreigners to be qualified for the post. All you need is possession of a degree in English or being fluent in English. The rationale: the foreign students have to have an English-speaking teacher for them to understand the lessons.

It is an obvious sign of ignorance on the part of school/university management and poor standard of teaching. Given this, how much hope will you have of good teaching in store for you? Their logic goes something like this: teaching Chinese is not a professional job. Every educated Chinese can teach Chinese, as long as you can speak good English.

I was once involved in the Chinese language school business in China and was asked numerous times questions like “Can your teachers speak English?” “Can your teachers speak Japanese?” Then I would start my rantings and ask them to ask themselves a simple question: If you go overseas to study English, would you expect the teacher to be able to speak Chinese to teach you English?!

The fact is, Chinese schools in China simply ask English teachers to teach Chinese to international students. And they will hide the fact from you, telling you that they are experienced teachers.  I know cases likes this personally.

So one pointer to good Chinese language schools/institutions: their teacher ads don’t require the potential candidates to speak good excellent English. If you don’t get the chance to see their ads, which you most likely don’t, ask them who their teachers are. If they say they are university graduates of English majors, forget them!

But please be warned that there are many lies around, and be smart enough to do more research and ask for the former students’ contact for information before you jump into the boat!

Back in Guangzhou

I spent the day in Guangzhou in order to pick up a friend and accompany him to Hong Kong. Guangzhou is my birth place and strangely, I do not seem to have any nostalgic feeling about the city. Maybe it is because it has changed so much that I can hardly recognize it any more.

The city population has undergone great change and become very much mixed, a result of government’s migration policy. You hear mandarin on the street all the time nowadays. Back to 30 years ago, the din of cantonese was the order of the day.

People were simpler in those days. Now the allurement of material wealth is giving rise to a host of problems, including bad security and thefts.

Sitting in a MacDonald’s restaurant to wait for the arrival of my friend, I found two guys acting suspicious. They were not eating or drinking anything, just taking in the customers who walked in, and moving from one table to another. I was in no doubt that they were thieves when one of the guys moved to a table next to a businessman with his suitcase placed on the ground. He kept turing around and peering at the suitcase, gauging the chance and success rate to steal it.  There were quite a few customers sitting right across from them and it was hard for him to do anything, so he left after a while.

……

I was at the west end of the square of Guangzhou Train Station, waiting for my friend to come out of the exit gate. I could not help but recall my childhood when I was eager to come to the same train station to greet my big auntie from hong kong who would bring  with her a lot of nice candies and clothes. Those nice candies and clothes were great excitements for a kid living in a time of simplicity. Anything from Hong Kong, a capitalist place, was looked upon as exotic and precious.

At that time, the exit gate was at the other end of the square…probably the same clock overlooking the square….

The best tea house in Hangzhou

If there is anything you must do in Hangzhou, it has to be teahouse visit. In many of the teahouses here, interior decos are nice and there is snack buffet which you can have with the tea drinking.  You can sit back and while away your time drinking tea and having snacks for the whole afernoon or evening.

The one teahouse I often went to in Hangzhou is called “qing teng” (green rattan), at Hubin road, right next to Yuan Hua Shopping Mall and the West Lake. The location is undoubtedly convenient and excellent.

It is also the largest tea house in Hangzhou, with an area of thousands of square meters. It is elegantly decorated with water, bamboo, lamps and wood bridges. The furniture is wood and the waitress are all dressed in elegant Chinese style dress – not cheongshang, but the dress worn by Chinese women in the early 20 century.

You order a type of tea from a wide variety and a pot of hot water is always on a small stove next to your table so that you can always refill your cup of tea. The snack buffet is delicious, ranging from congee, nuts, fruit to chicken feet and fried noodle. The food comes in quality.

There are two sessions daily. 10am to 4pm is one session; 5pm to after midnight is another session. You can eat and drink as much as you want during the session and you are charged for 50 yuan (or more) only, depending on the type of tea you choose. For 50 yuan, you can choose good tea, like Longjing tea, so 50 yuan is really a bargain.

How to Choose Where to Study Mandarin in China

I was very much involved in Chinese language school business in China so am in good position to offer a few tips for those thinking of going to China to study Chinese.

Generally speaking, there are two main choices, either going to universities or private language schools. Universities such as BCLU (Beijing Culture and Language University) are among the earliest universities in China to run Chinese language courses for foreign students. The university (BCLU) is famous but does not guarantee that its course suits every one’s needs. For one thing, the course is run on a semester basis, to peg with the university timetable. So is the course design. So if you want to join a short-term course, say for two weeks or two months, the course is just not right for you. You can of course still join it, but since the course is designed for longer term, your study result cannot be too promising.

Also this type of university course is more focused on comprehensive training in speaking, listening, reading and writing. That means if you are for short-term study, how can you achieve anything given that Mandarin Chinese is such a difficult language to learn and to master all these capabilities is an impossible task in a short period of time. Many foreign students just want to train their speaking and listening abilities when they stay a while in China. This kind of university course cannot satisfy their needs.

So if you look to study mandarin Chinese in China for a few weeks or months, consider going to private language schools, which are springing up in China, especially in Beijing and Shanghai. It is a new business so the government is yet to issue license to these schools which are not officially certified. They cannot give you government-approved certificate when you finish study with them.

There are many such schools in Beijing and Shanghai, and some in Xiamen, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, kunming, Qingdao, etc. When choosing the schools, it is advisable to ask two questions : are they run by local Chinese or foreigners? If it is local chinese, who are they? This is important because if they do not know much about Westen style of education, the teaching method will be very oriental style and you will be just drilled in the classroom. You will be taught a lot in the classroom, but at the end of the day, you are not getting anywhere. I know of a couple of schools in China that are run by foreingers and are very successful, welcome by foreign students.

With centuries of communist and authoritarian rule, China’s education system stifles free spirit and creativity. The Chinese language teachers, despite their professional knowledge, come from the same education system. Can you expect them to be creative and dynamic in meeting foreign students learning needs? Very hard. I don’t deny there is exception, but that is exception.

The quality of teaching is something that there is still much room to improve in China, especially in the field of teaching Chinese to foreigners. Teaching Chinese to foreigners has become a new profession in China and universities across the country are offering the course. Guess what the students have to study majoring in teaching Chinese to foreigners? Theory of Communism!

So if you want to sign up for a language school, do ask for the former students for their comments about quality of teaching.

Another question you need to ask is, how many classes do they have? This is yet another very important question to ask. The private language schools are usually run on a weekly basis, or bi-weekly basis, meaning that students can enrol in the class every week or every two weeks. If there are not enough classes catering for a whole range of levels, how can you be sure that you can find the class that is right for your level? Some schools jus want to make money so they don’t care if you fit into the right class. They put you into the class that is operating regardless of your level and you end up with people of different levels in the class. How can you learn?

In a word, when choosing a Chinese language school, ask who is running behind, ask for former students for comments on quality of teaching, and ask how many classes/levels they have at the moment.

When choosing a university for studying Mandarin, the quality of teaching is important. Do check out this. On the other hand, it is usually more established and there are more classes to choose from.