Studying Chinese in Beijing

Margaret and Rich at Mandarin Zone School


               Stretch your body   :    Expand your mind.  It is the tag. It is my mantra.   Keep improving, physically and mentally.

               First order on arrival in China are Chinese Lessons with Margaret at Mandarin Zone, her school near the Tuanjiehu station on line 10 in Beijing.  It has been more than two years since my first lesson with her.  Now about six years of study.  What I do not have in intellect I compensate with stubbornness and determination.   Can’t say it’s been an easy process, but fortunately people like Margaret and my first teacher Xin, have stuck with me. 

               From Park Plaza Hotel it is two changes and about forty minutes to the school.  Line 5 change to line 6 at Dongsi.  Line 6 change to Line 10 at Huijialu.  Exit at Tuenjiehu.  Total cost is 3 yuan, or less than a half a dollar, US.  China has put a priority on mass transportation.  Clean trains, clean, well-lit stations, trains running very often at an available price for everyone.  Doesn’t America have the will to serve its people better?  

               Emerge at Exit B, always a critical piece of information in Beijing since there are many exits and the choosing the correct one saves crossing large streets and avoiding attack by Beijing’s crazy drivers.

               The building entrance is in the alley, not on the main street, and a bit dingy.  Two small elevators service a 17 storey building.  At busy times, lines form and it can be two or three elevator cycles before you can get on.  At 9:30 most everyone is already at work, so the line is short.

               We are on the Second Book of the Beijing Language Institute Speak Chinese.  My progress is slow since Margaret reminds me I only have one lesson a week on SKYPE and do miss some.  It is true.  My attention to Chinese when I am at home lags. 

               Margaret is wonderfully kind, accepting my progress, or lack, with poise.  Always ready with positive comments.  What is, is!  During lessons however, she tortures me.  Continual conversation and use of proper grammar.  No error is left unmentioned.  I work hard.  Start sentences and then get lost somewhere in the middle.  Try grammar concepts. Struggle to get it all straight.  Feel happy I completed the sentence and see her face.  “Bu dong,” she says.  “I don’t understand, in English, she says.  Sometimes I try again, sometimes I just give up.  Then she laughs and tells me to try again.  At the start of the lesson I usually try to tell her something that happened to me.  Work on my conversion skills.  After a five minute struggle of confused grammar she says, OK now tell me the whole story again.  Then she giggles as she knows she is torturing me.  But, it does work.

               Truly, I have achieved a valuable plateau.  Basic sentences are ingrained.  Vocabulary has expanded.  Grammar concepts are getting sorted out.  While not fluent, I have a functional level of basic conversation. 

               It is good to see her.  We speak nearly weekly via SKYPE, still the personal experience is different.   Being out and about in China also allows me to test my skills with locals.  While I still do not hear and understand the local people, they understand me.

               Four days, three hours a day in the morning.  All that I have available this trip, but she moved side some other students to make time for me. 

               So we begin.  We spend three days reviewing all of the chapters of book two, 16 to 25 in tow and a half days.  Then we begin the new stuff.  Up to Chapter 28 and “ba” sentences, the last grammar hurdle in this book.  She tells me that Book 3 focusses on conversation and all difficult grammar has been completed. 

               My confidence has improved and I am willing to speak to people, ask questions and get directions.  Yes, I am stopped by many people who are curious about this white haired person.  They wish to engage, practice their English.  I in turn practice my Chinese. 

               I do have a weakness for the children and always offer a “Hello.”  I did learn from JoAnn, see an earlier post, “The Power of Hello.”  The parents always encourage a response.  Sometime we can engage more, and others just say “Hello” or “Ni Hao.”   

               Whatever, I do try to engage.  Practice conversation and improve my ear and my speaking.

On to Beijing – 2019


               At LAX early.  Not going to duplicate yesterday’s error. 

The flight is nearly full, the nearly, fortunately, was the seat adjacent to me.    

I quickly realized the effect of the time of departure on my sleep habit on the long flight. Leaving at 6 AM or so from Boston requires early wake up. Sleeping aboard is easy.  Leaving after midnight, as I did recently to Hong Kong is a natural time to sleep.  At 10 AM departure, I am well rested and alert and not disposed to nap.  Well, lots of reading.

Flight time from LA, Dallas Fort Worth, Boston or New York to Beijing are virtually the same time.  The flight to a stop across the US, via American is wasted travel time, but the network of carriers with American and United offer better pricing for multi-stop travel and this time I am planning to return through Hong Kong.  Although Hainan offers a non-stop between Boston and Beijing, returning from Hong Kong prices this out of reason. 

AA flight 181 is on a Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner.  This plane seems to me a bit more upscale than yesterday’s Airbus.  It is serial number 40653, registration number N834AA and was delivered to American Feb 2018.   It was two years newer than the Airbus of the earlier flight, but a light year ahead in comfort and appointments.   It said it was manufactured in the Charleston SC factory, which I have recently read has had quality issues.  Fortunately, we landed safely so I cannot complain.

 A long but uneventful flight.   Arrived in Beijing on time.  Fast through immigration.  No fingerprints requested of me.  Not sure if because I have been through before.

Driver met me at the exit, no problem.  Dropped me at the hotel, Park Plaza in Wangfujing.  A convenient area.  Went for a walk to buy a SIM card and then get some funds at the bank.  Purchased 5 gigabytes and 50 minutes of time for about $80 USD. We’ll see if this was a wise purchase?

Found a Food Street and indulged.  Not sure, probably octopus tentacles.  Two barbecue sticks for 50 yuan.  Covered with sauce.  Not really high quality, but fast, interesting and cheap. Bought 5 gigabytes and 50 minutes of phone time for $80 USD. We’ll see if there was value in this purchase?

Found a Food Street and indulged.  Not sure, probably octopus tentacles.  Two barbecue sticks for 50 yuan.  Covered with sauce.  Not really high quality, but fast, interesting and cheap.

China 2019 – Once Again


               An inauspicious start.  Short form, I missed my flight.  Did I not get modern technology quite right, or do I need to slow down.

Thought I had scheduled a car pick up (Bless them, Uber) at 4:30 but no one came so scrambled and finally got a car at 5 AM.  Still time to get to the 6:24 flight, but alas, really damn, a major accident on 93 delayed me further.  At the airport check-in; less than one hour to departure they do not accept luggage.  Redirected to a later flight through LA and a connection on Saturday.  One day delay.  More on the implications of this redirect later.

               Modern technology at its best. Immediately on my cell phone contacting the hotel in Beijing that I was delayed a day and not to cancel the room and too reserve a room at LAX.

               Life full of plusses and minuses. 

Flight from Boston to LAX was on an Airbus A321S. Registration number N138AN and serial number 7009. It was delivered to American on April 1, 2016.

               Arrived at LAX fairly refreshed.  Exit into LA weather.  Warmth, a concept net yet arrived in April in Boston.  Fleece and jacket shed stored in luggage, warmth quite a relief.  Surprisingly short wait for Hilton at Airport bus and short ride to hotel. 

               Asked for a room with view of airport runway and got my wish.  Still fascinated by planes flying and coming in to land.  A few molecules of air different between top and bottom of the wing and it is absorbed upwards, more grace than birds, no flapping, seemingly effortless.  Descending, quite linearly, but then  wheels hit ground and a large puff of smoke, friction and it is a large truck screeching to a halt, brakes full on.

               Inside the tube you do not realize the brand design on the outside.  Cigarettes, cookies and airplanes have external designs and passengers, like cigarettes are packaged.  In the brief time, Qantas, how wonderfully colorful and intricate, Korean Air, less artistic but a nice blue, Alaskan Air with mages on the tail and US Carriers American and United with their logo. 

               Next morning, up early and off to LAX at 7:45 for 10 AM flight.  Not going to be late this time.

Stretch your body : Expand your mind