Learning Mandarin - In Chinese, We Call It....

Posted by Charlie @ Discovering Mandarin Sunday, 11 October 2009 11 comments

This is the next edition of what I now hope to become a regular part of my blog. Guest posts from Mandarin learning friends, explaining why they decided to learn Mandarin. How they have gone about the learning process and where they are now in their journey, learning Mandarin. Today's guest post is from Bill Glover founder of #MandarinMonday who has been a great help and inspiration to me in keeping Discovering Mandarin moving forwards.

Learning Mandarin: So Why Chinese?

I cannot remember the moment I decided to learn Chinese. It was not one of those decisive moments where I said to myself that I was going to learn a new language, it just kind of happened.

I managed to leave school (and university) in stereotypical British fashion, speaking only one language, English. Despite dabbling in Latin, Sanskrit, and to a greater extent Classical Greek, I wouldn’t consider myself a linguist by any means. I tried French a couple of times but spent more time outside the classroom than in and consequently never made much progress. So why Chinese?

Well, there is this girl. Hang on, before you stop reading, she is NOT the reason I started learning Chinese. Challenge anyone who tells you they are learning Chinese because “there is this girl”. If you dig deeper, you will probably find that it’s just an easy way to respond to a casual questioning. When I met my wife (whom you’ve probably guessed is Chinese), her English was excellent. Now, several years on, her English is superb. Yes, she makes mistakes but they are relatively minor and the structure/style of her written English is far superior to mine. And the true test? She can not only argue, but also win in fluent English. So, in short I have no reason to learn Chinese to communicate at home. However, it would be wrong to say that my wife played no part at all. One thing that she did give me was an introduction to China, Chinese culture, and of course the Chinese language.

But what was it that really got me learning Chinese? If I had to put my finger on one thing that really sparked my interest, I would attribute my decision to learn Chinese to one phrase: “In Chinese we call it…”

I remember early one morning walking with my wife (then friend) through Lammas Park (map) in Ealing and deciding to visit the animal sanctuary. One of the inhabitants of the sanctuary was a barn owl.

In Chinese we call it… 猫头鹰 [māo tóu yīng] literally, cat headed eagle

On our visit to The Science Museum in London we spent some time in the computing section looking at the history of computing. One of the themes of any computing exhibition is how “intelligent” computers have become.

In Chinese we call it… 电脑 [diàn nǎo] literally, electronic brain

And then there is the mobile phone. How many people know why it is called a cellular phone? It’s obvious if you know a little about the mobile phone networks work, but in Chinese there is no such complexity.

In Chinese we call it… 手机 [shǒu jī] literally, hand device

Another favourite of ours is the use of butter in cooking. Needless to say I am forever putting too much butter in (or on) everything. So, how do you say butter in Chinese?

In Chinese we call it… 黄油 [huáng yóu] literally, yellow oil

The list goes on, but hopefully you can start to see why the language fascinated me. Yes, I would never be able to read those crazy looking characters, but here was a language that appeared to make sense. And so, I started to look around for online courses. I came across ChinesePod (one of my top 5 tools for studying Chinese) and began listening to the newbie lessons. It all seemed so easy.

Now, several years on I realise that it isn’t easy. Progress has been very slow (people are often surprised at how slow), the list of excuses is endless, but two things remain: I still find the language fascinating, and I still thoroughly enjoy learning it. Since visiting China, I’ve found an additional reason to learn spoken Chinese, and that is to communicate with my in-laws. Most married couples seem to detest the visits to/from the in-laws, but I’m longing for the day when I can have an in-depth discussion with them both in their native language. The only trouble is, their English is improving far faster than my Chinese.

As long as I still find it interesting, challenging and fun, I will continue to learn Chinese. Part of what makes it fun, is the great people I have discovered on my journey. If you are learning too, you are welcome to get in touch. You can find me over on my personal blog, or taking part in next week's #MandarinMonday.

Daily Chinese Proverb: Crane Standing Among Chicken

Posted by Charlie @ Discovering Mandarin 0 comments

This Chinese proverb is about standing out, being so different from everything around you. This proverb is used to describe prominent people with good looks and impressive abilities among a crowd of people with lesser abilities.

hè lì jī qún
a crane standing among chickens

Ji Shao was a handsome and talented aid to the Emperor Jin Hui. When his country was being invaded, he accompanied Emperor Jin Hui in defending the country. Most of the soldiers died or deserted, but Ji Shao stayed with the emperor to protect him. Upon seeing this, the people were moved and said: "Ji Shao is like a crane standing among chickens."

Photo Source: (Sandhill Crane)

South China Mall: Worlds Largest Shopping Mall

Posted by Charlie @ Discovering Mandarin 0 comments

South China Mall : Largest Mall In The World & Empty

The South China Mall is the biggest shopping mall in the world and opened in 2005. It is more than twice as big as the next largest (and previous biggest) shopping mall; The Mall of America in Minnesota. It has leasable space for over 1,500 stores in approximately 7.1 million square feet of total floor area.

The South China Mall is located in Dongguan (东莞) Dōngguǎn near Guangzhou (广州) Guǎngzhōu in Guangdong (广东) Guǎngdōng province in South Eastern China. It’s a glorious place: a gargantuan seven-million-square-foot of retail and entertainment in the heart of China’s southern Pearl River Delta.

Alex Hu, a local Guangzhou boy who made it big in international business, wanted South China Mall to be a hometown monument to his success. Guangzhou has no major airports or highways nearby yet is the largest shopping mall in the world. Four years after its construction, the South China Mall sits virtually empty of both shops and shoppers. It has an eerily empty theme park and shop owners may see one or two customers a day, lucky to make a sale.

South China Mall was built with a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude but the lack of infrastructure has hindered its progress. South China Mall is considered too big to fail though. A government funded group bought the property from the previous owners in order to save it from bankruptcy. Employees are required to line up for flag-raising ceremonies and pep talks about “brand building” before going off to maintain the deserted concourses.

This mall has seven zones modelled on international cities and regions, including Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Venice, Egypt, the Caribbean, and California.

The Arc de Triomphe that stands in the very middle of the South China Mall leads you out of Paris and into either Venice or Amsterdam though this half of the mall has never been finished. The exotic palm trees lining the sidewalk have been invaded by homegrown south-China weeds.

There are of course lots of empty malls throughout America and the rest of the world; there’s even an American website, www.deadmalls.com, where photos are traded of once-great, now-desolate shopping malls. What sets the South China Mall apart from those others, besides its mind-numbing size, is that it never went into decline. The tenants didn’t jump ship; they never even came on board. The mall entered the world pre-ruined, as if its developers had deliberately created an attraction for people with a taste for abandonment and decay. It is a spectacular real-estate failure.

For more interesting facts watch this great documentary which brought this mall to my attention.

Utopia, Part 3: The World’s Largest Shopping Mall : http://www.pbs.org/pov/utopia/

Also this is an insightful article from someone who has been there.

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