Studying Chinese

Studying Chinese

So I thought I'd make a blog post about what I've been up to for the last year and a half or so as I've had a few people reach out if I am still alive or not.

So for the last year and a bit I've been studying Chinese here in Taiwan full time. Which didn’t leave me with much time or energy to do anything else, So, unfortunately I haven't been posting much new art. I did try, but I lost the battle, sorry.

I have studied Chinese on and off for years, never really got far with the old self studying. I've attended a couple of language schools, I started one in 2020, covid stopped me in my tracks in that one after 1 term. 

Indeed, Chinese is a hard language - It’s tonal and has zero relation to English, And I’ve never had any interest, talent, or experience in learning languages (a fairly common trait for Brits). So, despite having the intent and taking steps to learn it, progress has been pretty slow.

During covid i was stuck in England waiting for Taiwan to re-open its borders, so i decided to try to tackle Chinese once and for all, and i had quite a bit of success with it. I found a method called sentence mining. Basically repeating spoken sentences. Anyway, after a zillion years I finally got to the point of being able to have conversations, which was pretty nice and really gave me more of an interest in learning Chinese and I knew for sure that i could learn it this time. 

我很聰明 Translation: i am very smart. A joke in Chinese one of my teachers shared. 聰明 'Cong ming' means smart. But 蔥 'cong' means spring onion. The word for smart got switched out with onion.

The language schools i previously went to were only part time courses - 8 hours a week over 4 days (a way better schedule than the full time i later did) 

But, they did not provide a visa. The full time courses did, however they were 15 hours a week, plus homework, plus tests, plus requirements of attendance and punctuality.. but the visa was also a good way to get back into Taiwan, as people with study visas were allowed in several months before the border opened up proper.

So I went for it. 

My experience getting swabbed wasn't as bad as Arnie's in Total recall thankfully.

The day before leaving I was required to get a covid total recall nasal swab test. Over the whole 2 years + since it had been going I had managed to avoid catching it. And then, around 3 weeks before the flight I bloody caught it. I really had no idea if i would pass the test or not, I took the test around a week after recovering from it, I totally got lucky on that one (I passed it)

Arriving in itself was a trip. I was required to have my own personal old man helper at the airport. The dude didn’t leave my side for like 2 hours, helping me get a sim card (which only lasted for a couple weeks) and taking me to do a covid test. Then after that was done with - several hours later I had to take a taxi to a quarantine hotel, and stay there for a week. At this point the only people left who were still required to stay in a (not cheap) quarantine hotel for 7 days were students, migrant workers and fishermen. I was livid about it - clearly a ploy to keep the hotels in business.

The first meal i had in the quarantine hotel, and it was magnificent. 

Despite being shafted by the hotel stay, the quarantine week was actually alright. The meals came at set times. So I was eating my dinner at a respectable 6 o clock. I started to learn how dogs feel. Food arriving was the most exciting part of the day, and I had no say in what it was. Most of it was decent, besides the mushroom burger - no, not a beef burger with mushroom, a burger bun with an egg and literally a thin slice of mushroom inside. 

The hotel staff were not very supportive of my complaints.

Of course we could also order uber eats/ food panda if we wanted to. Which was quite fun to have food and bubble tea and what not just magically arrive outside of your room.

After I was granted freedom I had a couple of days to get myself straight before I had to start school - as per the school's plans - yes they tell you when you can book your flight, you are not allowed to -for example: arrive 2 weeks early to sort your shit out.

The course was pretty fun. I was older than 95% of the other students in the school by a good 10 yrs. ( I was even older than ⅗ of teachers I had) and besides one Russian girl i was the only non asian in all my classes. Which meant we had to use Chinese to chat to each other. So for 1 year and 3 months I have spent at least 3 hours a day listening and speaking entirely Chinese. Which, although in the beginning was thoroughly knackering, but in the end ramped my Chinese up a lot.

Tu lao shi's legendary class. She kindly gave us food or snacks pretty much on a daily. This day it was pizza and fried chicken (because pizza comes with fried chicken in Taiwan.)

In my last schools, my previous classmates were all westerners. The biggest difference is that westerners constantly ask WHY, crack lots of jokes and are generally not shy about asking Qs or speaking up.  Asian kids mostly just be quiet. So me, who is generally a pretty quiet person ended up being the loud mouth of the group.

I also came to find out that Chinese, while massively different from English, actually has some relation to other asian languages as China has historically had a huge influence on the region. So my classmates were progressing and not having such a hard time of it- in certain areas - such as reading, writing and understanding general concepts as I was.

The worst part was having to take tests. Besides my driving test, I couldn’t tell you the last time I took a test. And I can't remember them being a super big part of school or anything growing up.
Well here it's completely different. The whole society revolves around tests. Not only that, they are full of trick questions and designed to F with you. I managed tio pass the first 3 no problem but failed the 4th miserably. 

The 4th term was intermediate level. And even though there was little difference in the actual course, the difficulty of the test (or at least to me) was ramped up. 

Passing a term - and being able to continue on to the next one entirely rested on whether you passed the final test or not. I personally think it was a measure of control from the people running the school to make their students shit their pants with fear at the thought of losing their visa. It was pretty stressful at times. There was even another westerner at the school who was drinking heavily on class breaks to deal with the stress. 

It seems like they come down hard on students since a fair few use it as an opportunity for work. You can legally work part time on the course. But one classmate was washing dishes for 10 hours a day and going mad with it. She even had her own house cleaner.

Bao gaos.

Occasionally we would have to give presentations, known in Chinese as ‘bao gao’. This was pretty fun, usually the subject was introducing something of your own country. So I took the opportunity to introduce the finer things of England, such as bacon sandwiches, black pudding (Taiwan actually has their own version!) sausage sandwiches, paper rounds etc. etc.

The last one I gave was met with silence. Lost in translation I guess. 

From my bao gao about convenience store culture differences between England and Taiwan. Translation: Paper boy.

Anyway, it’s over now and I am very happy to get back to my work, not have big brother watching over me and surprisingly its been nice to self study Chinese too.  I’ll possibly take another part time class in future, as for now though I’m happy to take a decently long break.

Back to blog