How to pass HSK level 1


HSK is the official Chinese Proficiency Test that is a great way to set goals or check your Chinese level. Sometimes having a clear goal in form of a test gets you more motivated to hit those flashcards or strike up conversations with the local Chinese. Taking HSK1 is the first step on your ladder.

Just remember that you don’t study Chinese for the HSK, but use it as a tool instead. Don’t start learning Chinese by buying a HSK prep book, but try the HSK after you have studied Chinese for some time and want to see how you’re doing.

HSK1 has two parts: listening and reading. The level is suitable for those students who have learned around 150 words and basic grammar patterns. If you are studying Chinese part-time one to two hours per week, you can usually pass HSK level 1 in half a year or so.

How to pass HSK1

1) Learn the vocabulary.

As you have been studying basic Chinese at your course or with a private teacher, you have probably learned most of the basic words that will come up in HSK1. Now it’s time to review those and fill in the blanks that you might have!

The best flash card system for Chinese is Skritter that works on your laptop or on your tablet or smart phone. I started using Skritter more than five years ago and have passed many tests because of it. Skritter is also my blog’s affiliate partner. You can try it our for free and see if it’s the best choice for you too.

2) Practice your listening skills

Listening comprehension is perhaps the most important skill in a foreign language and the best way to train any skill is to do more of it! You’ve probably been listening to the dialogues in your textbook, but that becomes boring quite quickly.

Where to find more interesting materials to listen then? Podcasts like ChinesePod are good resources for all levels. For HSK level 1 check out their newbie and elementary levels. On ChinesePod, with a code “SARAJ”, you can get 20% off a premium annual plan here.

3) Do mock tests

Getting used to the test format is also important with HSK and that is easy to do with mock tests. Do an online mock test of the reading section here on the official HSK website or download paper tests. You can also buy mock exams on Amazon.

Always do a mock test with the actual time limit so see how you would do in the real test situation. Find out with a tutor why you made mistakes and practice the section more which is the weaker one for you.

4) Read short stories

A great way to review vocabulary, grammar patterns and general comprehension is to read in Chinese. These days lots of graded readers are available for different levels. For HSK level 1 I recommend the I begin to learn Chinese by Confucius Institute which contains short stories and exercises.

With these four steps I’m sure you can ace your HSK1 exam! Just remember that passing an exam shouldn’t be your sole reason to learn Chinese, but a tool that helps you to set countable goals and make you even more motivated to master Chinese step by step.



A practice round at the hospital


Last Friday I started to get a bit anxious because I felt the baby haven’t been moving as much as before. Me and my husband decided to go to the emergency room to check things just in case. When we got to the hospital I saw a lovely nurse and a doctor, the emergency room was quiet and I didn’t have to wait at all because this was a special emergency room just for pregnant women.

After monitoring the heartbeat and movements of the baby with a fetal monitor after half an hour, the doctor got a bit worried and tried to wake up the baby in case she was sleeping. After that she luckily started moving again and kicking me to let me know everything’s okay. But after another half an hour the doctor informed me that I was having contractions every 7 minutes! I didn’t feel a thing.

The doctor did a check-up and decided it’s best to stay in the hospital as I might be getting into labor! Well, after staying in the hospital for two days nothing really happening, we are back at home waiting for the baby to decide when she want’s to come out. The baby is all ready there, but waiting for the right moment I guess!

During our “practice round” at the hospital I grew more confident that Women and Children’s Medical Center is the right place for me to give birth. All the nurses, midwives and doctors were very nice and caring, taking a very good care of us. The facilities and rooms are clean and comfortable. I’m not that nervous anymore when the time comes to go there and give birth.

So our baby girl might come any day now! We are both super excited to meet her!


How to choose in which hospital to give birth in China?

Not exactly how it looks like...

Not exactly how it looks like…

The first questions that came to my mind when I found out I was pregnant was: where am I going to give birth? Unfortunately I’ve had some bad experiences with Chinese hospitals, so at first giving birth in China felt like the most dangerous thing to do. Later I realized that going back to Finland to give birth was far away from practical and I didn’t want to be separated from my husband for such a long time.

Prenatal check-ups

Luckily my sister-in-law is a nurse and was pregnant at the same time, so I followed her and started prenatal check-ups in her hospital with her doctor. The hospitals facilities didn’t really convince me, but luckily the doctor turned out to be a very nice woman, although she was very straightforward in a Chinese way, pointing out my weight and not asking any questions of the mental side of pregnancy.

But as my due date kept coming closer, I had a need to decide where I’m going to give birth. The hospital where my sister-in-law works doesn’t allow dads to be present in the delivery room and getting an epidural if needed was far from certain. I also hoped to give birth in a hospital where they have other foreigners giving birth too, hoping they would be more open to different mothers and ways to do things.

Asking for recommendations

I turned to mommy groups in WeChat and asked millions of questions about hospitals and doctors here in Guangzhou. Recommendations are a big thing and the first step to start from when choosing the right hospital for you. What I noticed that different women had different experiences in same hospitals, so you can never find a place that would satisfy everyone. But luckily there was one hospital that had a decent amount of positive recommendations in the mommy groups: Guangzhou Women and Children’s Medical Center.

Keeping in mind the costs

Here I need to point out that without an insurance to cover the pregnancy and giving birth (my student insurance doesn’t cover these) it was out of the questions to visit those international clinics that expats usually prefer. So I was making my pick mostly from public hospitals that we could actually afford.

According to my research online, a natural birth at Guangzhou Women and Children’s Medical Center costs about 6000rmb if you pay everything yourself. In a private hospital the costs can start from 20 000rmb.

Language issues

One thing to consider is of course the language barrier if you don’t speak Chinese. Remember to find out which hospitals have English speaking doctors or at least translators at your disposal. I’ve been dealing with my prenatal care all in Chinese, learning a ton of new specified vocabulary along the way, but I also heard that in my hospital they have English speaking staff and translators for foreigners.

Hospital’s practises

Yesterday I went to the hospital for a lecture in giving birth and pain relief. The main impression I got is that they are very pro natural birth, which is great to hear as many Chinese hospitals and doctors push for unnecessary C-section because they are more convenient, can be scheduled and cost more. In my hospital they seemed to be very against C-sections without a good medical reason.

I also found out that they have two anesthetic doctors at the hospital at all times in case an epidural is needed. Actually it even felt like they recommend the epidural, which of course can be a no-no for mothers who which to avoid medical pain relief.

One important thing for me is also that my husband can be there on my side the whole time, from checking in to the hospital right until we take our baby home for the first time. There’s even a chair that can be opened into a small bed for dads, perhaps far from comfortable, but allows the dad stay for night as well.

Now that I might be getting into labor any day now, I feel confident with my choice of a hospital. Based on my prenatal care and experiences I’ve heard from other mothers, this hospital is well equipped to deal with emergencies and special cases as well if something goes wrong. Of course it’s still a Chinese public hospital and things will be different from back home in Finland, but I have a feeling that me and the baby will be safe there.

I’ll be writing more about the hospital when the baby is here and I can share my own experience.



Living in an urban village


For two and a half years I’ve been living in my husband’s home village. What do I mean by a village? Don’t I live in Guangzhou with a population of 14 million and huge skyscrapers? Yes, but inside this huge metropolis you can find villages with narrow lanes and alleys that take you back in time.

I live in a village that has a history of more than 700 hundred years and where all the original locals share a surname. During my early years in China I dreamed of living in an old house in an ancient village, but now after two years I’ve noticed that living in a village has both it’s up and downs.

Being the only foreigner in the block

A bit more than 8000 people live in this village and I’m the only foreigner. That means that I’m being seen no matter where I go. The long-term locals that live along the alleys next to my home or on my way to the bus stop are already used to me and won’t lift their head anymore.

But I can always spot who is new to the area by how long they stare at me. Lot of workers from outside live in the village because of the cheap accommodation options or they come in to build new houses for the villagers. Unfortunately they see a foreigner as a rare zoo animal that can be stared at and occasionally I hear a loud “haaalooou” behind my back. That makes me uncomfortable and I usually just ignore them.

When it comes to school kids and children, there is a primary school close to my home, I don’t mind their curiosity and greetings. If they wave at me I’ll wave back with a smile on my face. There is this one neighbor’s kid with who I always a have a short chat when I see him, I like how he seems me just like any other auntie around.

Old-fashioned ideas and habits

Many, perhaps most, people living in this village have been living here for generations. They rarely leave the village or even if they do, their social circles are here. This is their comfort zone and not that many are ready to leave it. They enjoy being the big fish in a small pond, not ready to try anything new in case it fails or it makes them feel small.

The villagers do things as they have always done and expect you to do too. They have been amazed how fast I walk by them right until my last month of pregnancy, telling my mother-in-law how I don’t seem pregnant at all! (Besides that huge belly of mine) They criticize my sister-in-law for living together with her parents with her husband and son, because married daughters shouldn’t be coming back home. They don’t understand why me and my husband chose to live in this old house, when my in-laws has a big four-story new house next door.

They probably chit-chat a lot about me, things that I will never hear. Perhaps it’s better that way.

Continuous construction site

One of the most imprint possessions of a villager here is big house. Everyone who can tears down their old house and builds as big of  house as possible. Little by little the ancient villages turn into an urban village (城中村)where the sun light never reaches the ground between houses that are build right next to each other.

I see some effort being made by the local government to promote tourism to the village, but if all the old buildings are being teared down to build new ones that are identical to their neighbors, I can’t see how anyone would like to visit here in a few years.

Of course there are good days when I love living in the village, sometimes I even feel a sense of belonging. I love our Chinese style house and having a place that we can make our own. The village has adorable little alleys that you can wander on and get lost too. The pollution isn’t as bad as in the city center and next to us we have great places for biking and taking a walk.

That being said I’ve also come to learn the more realistic aspect of living in a village and what it entails. Having a baby on the way makes you question things, one of them being what is the best environment for your kid to grow up. But that is a topic for another blog post.



A path to China


The other day I was discussing with a friend of the different roads one chooses to follow in their lifetime, the crossroads where you need to decide if you turn left or right. I came to think of my own journey to China, to Guangzhou and to this house that I’m sharing with my husband and our cats (soon with a baby on top!).

I’ve always been a big fan of everything Chinese, a passion that started early on as my parents used to live in Beijing before I was born. It took more than twenty years and a nasty break up to finally take the crucial step forwards and move to China. Living here in he Middle Kingdom isn’t always “dancing on the rose petals” as we say in Finnish, but it surely has allowed me to go on amazing adventures.

One of the biggest journeys of life was to get married to Alan, to continue our path together next to each other. What I love about him is his feeling of responsibility towards his family and how he encourages me to evolve and grow as a person. He is always striving towards improving himself in health, skills or business.

During our discussion my friend mentioned regrets, what if the road you choose isn’t the right one? I think there is no insurance to tell you what you should do or that if you do this you will surely success. Sure I’ve wasted time in a company that wasn’t healthy for me, but I came out as a stronger person who knows herself a bit better. I’ve chosen to do the things I love and found out that teaching Chinese is my biggest passion career wise. I was afraid of failing, but after I started I realized it’s what I want to do and believe can do well.

Moving abroad is always a big decision no matter if you are coming alone or with your family. I’ve gotten many emails to ask me if it’s the right choice to move to China or what to do when the new future in China scares you. All I can say I was scared as hell too right before I moved! I think it tells us that it’s an important step for us and thus we might feel a bit intimidated by the chance. But in the end moving to a new culture teaches as so much about us and others, me and you.

If you decide to come to China I won’t promise that you’ll love it, but I can promise you’ll be in an adventure that will stay with you for the rest of your life.