Revisiting my 2012 Chinese learning goals

Summer is slowly getting to its end and new semester will start with registration in two weeks. Besides January, Autumn is also a time for a new start and self-improvement. That’s why I’m revisiting my Chinese learning goals for 2012.

Goals I set for my self in the beginning of this year were:

  1. Watch as much Chinese TV as I watch American TV
  2. Read five books this year
  3. Skritter for at least 15 minutes per day
  4. Write a blog post/essay in Chinese every Monday for this blog

I’m great with setting goals, but not as great with sticking with them. But still I’m going to try again, but with some changes:

  1. Watch an episode of Chinese TV a day (Anything from 30 minutes episode to 2 hour movies)
  2. Read five books this year (No changes to this one, I’ reading my second book at the moment and the third is in my bookshelf too. I got three more Chinese books at home as well, but those might be  too difficult.)
  3. Skritter for at least 15 minutes per day (I really wanna make this habit stick as I just paid for 1 year or skrittering to paypal.)
  4. Pass HSK6 in December (Includes finishing two prep books for reading and writing.)

The first three goals I’m tracking with an app called Way of Life. The free version can have only three goals, but I’m already thinking of paying the 30RMB to unlock unlimited number of goals. This is a very simple app, it asks you daily if you have done something or not. So far it seems to be just what I need!

Lets take a more detailed look of the four major goals. (This will be a massive post, so read when and if you got the time!)

Watch an episode of Chinese TV a day

The big challenge is to find interesting TV shows/series as generally I don’t find Chinese TV as interesting as American TV. Yesterday I started watching 北京青年 (In YouTube and in Youku) which seems to be a quite good series, also watching a TV show from Beijing helps me to balance my listening skills as the accent here in Guangzhou is very different.

I’ve also watched some Chinese movies recently, like Love and The Second Woman. I also watched The Founding of a Party, but it was very difficult to follow. Besides being quite a boring movie (not because of the topic), the langauge was still too hard for me. I’m very interested in the 20th century in China, but I don’t have the vocabulary yet to understand Chinese movies or books about the subject.

Read five books this year

I’m lacking in my schedule as I’m only reading my second book, that’s mainly because of poor book choices. I have first bought books that are way too hard for me and it took time for me to admit it. Now I’m only reading books that I feel comfortable with. I don’t read these books in order to learn more vocabulary, I check only a few new words and only if they are essential. I read because I want to create a habit of reading in Chinese and it helps with Chinese skills in general. I also happen to love reading no matter what the language.

The first book I read was Lucy in the Sky/公关辣妹的恋爱札记 and my current book is The Make-Up Girl/ 寻找亚当. I’ve found translated books to be often easier than originally Chinese books. The third book I will try is Twiligth/暮色, of course there’s some special vocab there but in general it seems like a fairly easy book.

Skritter for at least 15 minutes per day

It’s hard for me to make daily habits stick, but I’m just going to try over and over again. I know that Skritter works for me, it’s an amazing tool (app) to keep control of my vocabulary. It helps me to study and review for my 综合 course exams. Besides adding vocabulary from the course’s textbook, I also recently added HSK6, 39 Chengyu and Radicals lists to my study routine.

15 minutes per day is no way enough to pass my exams and the HSK, but it’s a way to make this habit stick.

Pass HSK6 in December

This is the first time I’m saying this goal out loud. First it was just an idea, then something I considered, but now I’m making it a goal. If you follow my Facebook page, then you already know that I got 128/200 points form a listening+reading mock test, that’s 70 from listening and 58 from reading. In the real HSK there is also writing section, but that’s quite hard to score yourself or within a mock test.

What I need to pass the HSK6 is 180 points out of 300, that’s 60% correct answers meaning I have to get about 60 points from each thee sections. I did that with my listening mock test and almost with my reading mock test. And this is without any particular study for HSK6. In December it will be a year since I passed HSK5 and right now level 6 doesn’t seem so impossible anymore. I don’t need a pretty score, I just want to pass.

During the following three months I will be going over prep books for reading and writing. A fellow student at Sun Yat-Sen University recommended these for me so I bought them from a local bookstore.

Passing HSK6 will no way be easy for me but it doesn’t feel impossible either. I’ve been feeling really bad about my Chinese as I got crappy grades from last semester and seem to be so much worse than my classmates. But instead of comparing my self to others, I should see how I have improved. I think my progress have been fairly good:

  • Came to China in Feb 2010 and failed old HSK Elementary-Intermediate exam in April 2010
  • Old HSK level 4  in Dec 2010 (That’s new HSK4 with 192+ score)
  • Old HSK level 5 in April 2011 (That’s new HSK4 with 210+ score)
  • New HSK5 in Dec 2011
  • So it means: Fail > (8 months) > HSK4 192+ > (4 months) > HSK4 210+ > (8 months) > HSK5 210+

Doesn’t that look like improvement to you?

Plan for Autun 2012

  • Stick with my goals
  • Pass HSK6
  • Take fewer courses (I’m gonna be studying my major, studying for HSK and working at the same time.)
  • Be proud of my improvement and feel good about my Chinese skills!

(Wow! That was one hell of a post! But got to get it off my chest.)


2012 South China Book Festival

2012 South China Book Festival opened today on the 17th here in Guangzhou and it was my first time to visit the book festival. It truly is a book lover’s heaven! Books in simplified Chinese for all taste and reader, books written in traditional characters at the Taiwan pavilion and English books section right next to it.

South China Book Festival is open at Canton Fair Pazhou Complex (Area B) until the 23rd. The festival is free and we didn’t even need any tickets to enter the area.

If you are in Guangzhou or close-by and want to buy books, including cheap English books, you should visit South China Book Festival. Besides books you can also find lots of stationary products there.

2012 South China Book Festival   









There are so many books at the festival so it’s hard to know where to start! Most of the books were in some kind of discount, for some you could even get 90% off! The cheapest English books were 15RMB, that’s very cheap.

Books I bought

I bought Peony in Love and Dreams of Joy by Lisa See, I’ve read some of her books before and liked them a lot. I haven’t read anything from Hong Ying before, but her K: The Art of Love sounded good so I decided to buy it. It’s hard for me to resist any cheap books about China! K: The Art of Love is a true love story between Julian Bell and Lin Cheng in 1930’s China.

A true story is also Aisling Juanjuan Shen’s memoir A Tiger’s Heart, which is a story of a modern Chinese woman who was born in 1974. I’ve always liked memoirs and autobiographies from Chinese writers, I’ve read dozens of them, so I couldn’t leave this book behind.

Then I saw A Good Fall by Ha Jin. I’ve heard the name before and had the impression that he is regarded as an excellent writer so I decided to buy his book. And just now I remembered that I have read his The Crazed and it’s in my bookshelf!

The last English book I bought I had been wanting to buy for a while now. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua caused a stir when it was published and finally I can read it myself. Have any of you read it?

Some of you might remember my goal to read five books in Chinese this year. I’m now reading my second book and I have to keep up in order to finish that and three more during the next few months. Because I’ve noticed that translated books are usually a bit easier to read, I decided to buy Twilight by Stephenie Meyer in Chinese! I’ve read the second book two years ago in English when I was in a hospital and seen two movies, so familiar story will make reading easier too. The language in translated books like this is closest to my level so it’s excellent study material even though it might not be the greatest work of art.

My boyfriend asked when do I have the time to read all these books. I replied that he has no idea how many books I have in Finland that I haven’t read! Besides reading, buying and collecting books is a dear hobby of mine. Most of my books are written by Chinese authors or are about China. Some in Finnish, many in English, and hopefully later on I will have many more in Chinese too.


My first day in China

In February the 1st 2010 I landed in Beijing, my adventure in China began. I had five weeks ahead of me before starting my studied at Guangzhou University and I was going to spend those days by traveling alone across China!

I first flew to Paris, where I had to change a plane. I was a bit nervous because I was five years old when I was in a plane the last time! But it wasn’t scary at all and navigating the airports was much easier than I thought. I flew with Air France and their food was really good as was the service.

When I arrived to the Beijing airport a friend of a friend was there to greet me, my friend was maybe a bit worried about me and had arranged someone to help me buy a prepaid phone card and give me directions how to get to my hostel. First I took the airport train and then changed to the metro. Metro in Beijing is really cheap, 2RMB no matter where you go. I ended up buying two tickets because I didn’t know I can even change the line with the same ticket!

I took the metro to Tian An Men Dong station started walking with a backpack on my back and map on my hands. At that time I knew some Chinese and could ask directions, but my communication was still very limited. It took some time but finally I found my hostel.

I had a single room for the first two nights to give me a soft landing to China. Well, not that soft when I realised that mattresses are hard like rocks in China! My hostel was between the Forbidden City and Wangfujing shopping street. On my first night there I went to the night market and gor ripped off when buying something for snack!

This was my very first day in China. I had just made the biggest dream of my life come true and I was all alone in a hostel in Beijing. During the first hours I already got laughed at by school kids and paid way too much for my noodles. Excellent start so to speak!

Do you want to know what happened the next day?


Just a few happy moments from China

I went to one of our local small stores today, as I do almost every week. I had my hands full of things and a guy who works at the shop came to me and said he could take those to the counter for me. I was reminded by that guy how I love those small moments here in China.

Few days back I ordered a past to go from a take away place and had a nice chat with girl working there. She told me how the owner was an Australian originally from Syria. She was so sweet and her shy smile just light up that moment.

I love all those times when small kids call me jiejie,  big sister. I much prefer being a jiejie than an aunt which kids call me in Finland.

Watching my Chinese boyfriend chatting with his friends shows me how natural friendships can be at their best in China. Those guys have known each other since primary school and can talk about anything. They are always so interested in Finland and how I think about things.

A man making Taiwanese wrap on the street every night remembers how I like my wrap, I don’t need to order anymore. I also remember a woman from Nanting village where I used to live, she sells fruits and gave me discount when I didn’t have enough money with me.

Just a few random things that make me happy in China.


Comparing China experiences between foreigners and ethnic Chinese

While studying my degree at the Sun Yat-Sen University I’ve met many ethnic Chinese who have lived abroad and have a foreign passport. I have noticed that both me and them can fail to decide are they Chinese or foreigners. Or is it even necessary to put these people in to boxes?

There are those whose family are from the Guangdong province, but they were born and raised in the USA. Some were born in China but moved abroad, to Japan for example, when they were kids. Then there are a lot of ethnic Chinese whose family have been living in Indonesia for generations. Even south american ethnic Chinese have found their way to Sun Yat-Sen University.

Making friends and studying together with ethnic Chinese have taught me a lot. Some are very critical with China and compare it with their home country. Some are very protective of China and see criticism as unpatriotic. Others have a completely foreign life style, others live their life almost like common Chinese folk.

When asked where they are from they might answer America, Japan, Indonesia.. or they can answer Henan, Guangdong or any other Chinese province. For a completely 100% foreigner as me, it’s interesting to observe how these young adults are dealing with their double identity. Local people regard them as Chinese nationals and only bad languages skills can give them away, if that’s even possible, most of them have excellent Mandarin, or Cantonese might be one of their native languages.

Sometimes I envy these girls and boys because many aspects of learning Chinese seem so easy for them. Why my parents don’t speak Mandarin/Cantonese with me? Why I didn’t study characters in primary school? It would be so much easier! But then again it’s hard for an ethnic Chinese to impress anyone with their language skills (even when it’s impressive), and I get compliments every time I open my mouth. People understand if I make mistakes and can be more patient, but they can get even angry when a Chinese looking foreigner can’t speak proper putonghua.

Some of you know already that I’m made in China (yeah, you read correctly, sorry Mom!) so I kind of have this special connection with China. I had Chinese food even before I was born! But hearing Chinese spoken when still in my mom’s tummy didn’t really help me at all 20 years later when I really started learning Chinese. (And yeas I was born in Finland and didn’t come to China until 2010.)

One big plus size of not having Chinese roots, Finland not having lots of immigrants from China and not having China Towns is that living in China is a much bigger adventure! Xiguan area with its architecture is so much more interesting when I don’t have the same buildings back home, as my Indonesian friends do. Tasting Chinese dishes is more exotic when I haven’t grown up eating it.

This whole China experience (which is turning into China life) seems to be so different for me and for my ethnic Chinese friends. That’s why I hope to learn more about how different kind of expats/foreigners/ethnic Chinese think about their life in China. Please share your experiences and ideas in the comments!