Learn the Japanese ‘alphabets’!

HELLO UNIVERSE!~ (If you get the reference👏)

I have a few posts scheduled to come out before this so I feel like this one will have a ‘blast from the past’ kind of vibe to it when its published because it was written a while ago (25th September). I’m currently finishing a Hong Kong rose milk tea that I brewed a little while ago and feeling a bit hyped. Why? I would blame the tea, but truth be told, I never know. Anyone new to my blog might be wondering why I’m not writing about Chinese. If that’s what you’re looking for, please navigate through my posts by using the search function or the folders on the bottom left and you should find something relevant. Older readers would remember that I’ve branched out into topics about other countries in East Asia in the past and so writing about Japanese is nothing too strange.

I decided to take advantage of my ‘tea fuelled’ madness to write this post whilst I still have the gumption. Few of you who know me well may know that I get easily bored or distracted, even fewer of you have seen this in fruition. Oftentimes when I’m practicing language work it turns into me reading the language in question in weird accents or in sing song. 不瞒你说 it’s actually a lot of fun. Sadly I think this process of writing tamed my hypedness a bit, but I can get back to the actual objective of this post.

Since I’m ‘writing this in past tense’ I’m assuming the previous post was about Japanese versus Korean. As you can see Japanese ₩on for a little while at least. Since I’m starting Japanese completely from scratch I thought I would document some of the steps I took to learn a bit of the basics so you could use that as a beginner starting point for yourself if you wanted to, or maybe to compare learning techniques etc. I’ve been learning Chinese for about 9 years now and during the process I decided not to formally start learning another language on the side because I really wanted to commit to Mandarin. E.g. I chose not to learn Korean with my friends when they decided they didn’t want to read subtitles for their K-dramas. That’s why I took the subsidiary language option (really hoping I wrote the ‘previous post’) so seriously, because I want to similarly commit to the new language on my linguistic plate.

Before you continue, after writing up most of the post already I recommend you read this through once and then a second time more freely if you want to follow my steps to learning the Japanese alphabets. If you want a learning post you can follow the first time round, click here. It will make sense soon.

I’m trying to remember the actual ‘first step’ I took. Well I looked through the resources in the email reply I got from one of the Japanese teachers (if there is a previous post, it might make sense to read it first) and read up on the Japanese alphabet systems, since the Oxford subsidiary course requires the student to learn this mostly through self study. I also talked to a friend who studied a bit of Japanese in the past and then found out that the Japanese alphabets had a lot more than I thought my fragile self could handle x.x -but mind over matter works wonders~~

The next step is the most helpful so far. I went onto this website and pressed the ‘Katakana Stroke Order’. Some of the resources I read through in the first step listed rōmaji (transliteration) spelling for kana syllables so I already tried reading them, but on this site you can also hear each letter being spoken. So I went through the audio for each syllable for Katakana. I also got distracted a bit by instantly replaying some of the audios like のand fake dj-ing. But anyway, I happened to have a spare stack of square shaped note papers available to me and so I used these to make basic flashcards.

After listening to all the audios, following the chronology of letters; I pressed the play button and watched the stroke order, and then drew the letter on to one side of the square paper. I did this using a pink marker (use whatever color speaks to you/you find first). Subsequently I did the same using the Hiragana stroke order section of the site. This time I used a red marker pen. The cards I made were for the basic syllables only and do not include the additional sounds. When I made the flashcards I tried not to stack them in a chronological pile and instead mix them up so that after they were done I could try to lay the cards out in alphabetical order. Once I got to this step I tried arranging the cards in alphabetical order and then the process of correcting the order by checking my notes (I actually mention the notes in the 2nd following paragraph, but I’m writing in a weird order today) was another good subliminal form of revision. After laying the cards out in the correct order I wrote the rōmaji for each letter on the other side of the card. I did Katakana and Hiragana at the same time in order to reaffirm what I had just revised. E.g. I wrote the rōmaji at the back of the cards for あ and アand then moved on to い and イand so on.

I realized that reading this in present tense might come off a bit weird, but I’m going to stick with this since I like experimenting. Next I shuffled the cards and tried matching the Katakana and Hiragana by placing the cards with the same sound next to eachother. E.g. ふ and フ both with the sound ‘fu’. I then checked if I got them correct and rearranged the cards I got wrong. I found this helpful pdf with a chart placing Hiragana and Katana nicely beside eachother and used that to check my answers. I wish I found that a week ago >.> Next I tried the quizzes on the site I used for stroke orders. I even made a little collage of some of the responses I received after inputting my answers…

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On to the next step. In ‘real time’, at this point, I haven’t completed all the previous steps but I didn’t want to forget my ideas so I’m writing them first #Keeping it real. In a notebook (you could use a sheet of paper or a few) I wrote down the rōmaji for all the letters, as well as all the Hiragana and Katakana letters in three sections (I recommend you writing rōmaji on the left column, followed by Hiragana and then Katakan). For easy reference. These are the notes I referred to two paragraphs ago. After that I made a game almost like ‘Pairs’. If you’ve been following my steps with me, you could ‘play’ too.

Here’s the steps to my ‘Kana Pairs’:

  • Choose what to focus on (Katakana, Hiragana or Rōmaji)
  • Have the cards faced a certain way
  • Choose a letter to find
  • Pick one of the faced down cards
  • Turn the card around to reveal if you were correct or not

Another thing to note and I can now tell you after coming from the future-ish, is that you will need 92 blank squares of paper if you plan on following the flashcards I made. However size doesn’t always matter and the environment will thank you if you decide on making these small. Do what works for you. Protip: try to write the letters quite big in proportion to the paper size, that way the letters will stick out to you when revising. For bonus points you can make 46 extra cards with only Hiragana and Katakana on either side. This makes for another exhilarating round of KANA PAIRS –kind of, as you get to target your memorization of sounds. I’ll probably make these if I continue to pursue Japanese, but if you make these then the following is how I suggest you use them. Refer to your list of letters and cover the Kana side. Pick the rōmaji letters you find difficult to remember. If you’re also a ‘beginner beginner’ and every letter is bothering you, take turns with the letters. After picking a letter, try finding the matching Kana card. After finding the Kana, intermittently flip between both sides of the Kana and repeat the sound, I would probably end up doing this in sing-song. If you couldn’t find the Kana at the start, uncover the Kana from the list and then find them. After a while you could see if you can spell random words, using Katakana at least.

This game is also versatile. Here’s some variations to help your revision:

  • Hiragana side facing up
  • Katakana side facing up
  • A mixture of both and then the next time swap them around on another round

If my game steps come across quite simple, I wasn’t being sarcastic. Simplicity works with me as I sometimes have the memory of a table. 啊 but a table is a lot in Philosophy isn’t it? Okay I’m losing myself again🙄

In general the letters look really cool to me, but being the true linguist that I am, I appreciate the form of most~ Some of my initial reactions were that certain Hiragana syllables look a bit like the & symbol. シ and ツ look like sassy smiley faces; サ looks like an inverted 也 (although せ better resembles也); ユ and ヨ felt very modern Korean, and I’ve somehow associated ふ with Squidward. What are your thoughts?

Now that I’ve finished this post I think I’ve managed to come up with some great steps for approaching the Japanese alphabet as a complete beginner. If I do say so myself~ I really enjoyed writing this 😀 Before making this I was quite put off learning the Japanese alphabets because of the large amount of letters they have; however after putting effort into making these games and trying the online quizzes I will miss Japanese a bit if I switch to Korean. Part of me wishes there was an option to study both -.-

Lastly I apologize (一点点) for writing like this today. I haven’t in the past, so let’s blame the tea. Apologizing and tea, how British 😂 (but it was HK tea, but then there’s the history of Britain and HK so…). Okay I’m DONE. x ☕️

If you try sharing your tips for learning a new alphabet whilst divulging your overactive mind, good luck 世界。

此致敬礼欣妍 – From Xinyan.

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Heart vs Mind

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I’m going to tell you a secret, sometimes I overthink/procrastinate/delay things due to perfectionism. I had a post in mind for a few months and have not yet written it due to the above. I’ve also started my 3rd year at Oxford now and I’m quite busy with deadlines. However, posting this incomplete post will remind me to return and tend to it. In other words, soon re-write it with the actual content.

If you were looking forward to something new from me, I have got some good news. There’s also a certain post I wrote a few months ago and has been waiting to be posted after this ‘incomplete’ post. I’ve decided to post that in the meantime. The post touches on a decision I had to make recently and so the ‘back story’ so to speak will be detailed in this post once it has been refurbished. Also although it was hinted in this next post, the outcome of the decision will also feature here. Hope you’re following my logic.

不瞒你说 I’d rather be writing this than starting an essay. Despite what my tutor says, writing a blog post and an essay is not the same. I’ve began to drift from the focus of this announcement and will now stop filling you in on what I’m up to, for now at least. Hope you’ve been well. Check back soon for quality content.

If you’re mind feels a bit numb, good luck 世界。

此致敬礼欣妍 – From Xinyan.

 

Beijing Mosque Photos +

Hi again~ This is a continuation to my previous post in which I talked about my experiences as a female Muslim foreigner living in Beijing for a year. I mentioned previously that I would be sharing some photos of some of the mosques I visited in Beijing, so this post shall be a compilation of those photos as well as some others that bear relevance.

The first series of photos were taken at the mosque in 东四 Dongsi. I was in the area with a friend and we happened to walk past the mosque in the evening. It looked closed from the outside but it was the first mosque I had seen in Beijing and was excited to see inside. The groundskeeper then saw us and was also excited about showing us around the mosque so that he could share his appreciation of it with me.

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Signs outside the entrance stating the location and name of the mosque, ‘halal’ and ‘ancient teaching’

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Inside one of the prayer rooms

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Daily prayer times in Chinese

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The groundskeeper giving us a tour

The second series of the photos are from the mosque in 牛街 Niujie, the largest mosque in China. Niujie is known as some as being the Muslim district of Beijing as it has the most Halal restaurants, and shops close together in one area. This visit took place a week or so before the commencement of Ramadan and it was in one of the Islamic shops that I found a Ramadan timetable. Niujie translates to ‘Oxen St’ which I found ironic as the area became a place of significance for myself, and the name reminded me of ‘Oxford St’ in London, the city that I live in.’Ox’ in general now reminds me of Oxford which is where I study. So it made me think of three places I was living in at the time (but not at the same time of course). I happened to visit with the same friend as last time.

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External view of the mosque in Niujie

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Sign on the left introduces the name of the mosque. The poster on the right is a prayer timetable written in Chinese and Persian

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Due to the regulation my friend was given a some cloth that was wrapped into a long skirt to cover her exposed legs

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The gatekeeper granted my friend and I free entry but I purchased a ticket as a form of support

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One of the inner pavilions

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Views into the men’s prayer hall

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Other rooms in the mosque

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Men performing the evening prayer in the hall

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Left: holy scripture. Right: Man attending the mosque for prayers.

The final photos I have chosen to include make up the “+” in the title.

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Photo of me at the Great Wall of China with the flag of Imam Hussain (a.s)

You may have to zoom in to see the details in some of the earlier photos. I was very happy to look back at these.☺️

I wanted to add that a few days after posting my last piece I changed the title from “The Funeral of Muslims” to “The Funeral of a Muslim”. It’s a very subtle difference but I altered the title due some translations I came across for the novel by Huo Da that my post was based on. The title of her novel 穆斯林的葬礼 was mostly translated as ‘The Funeral of a Muslim’, whereas my translation was a more broad interpretation. As I said previously, the title I chose was symbolic to my experiences in Beijing and once I changed the title it felt like an eery fate as the story became even more personal. You could try to explore the significance of the new title in terms of it’s literal and symbolic meaning, but I at least know what it means to me. Lastly I’m thankful and glad that the post was so well received and was able to dispel a few common misconceptions about Islam.

I really appreciate the fusion of Persian and Chinese architecture in the mosques I visited in Beijing. This design was perhaps most prominently featured at the mosque in 牛街 niu jie and I recommend you visiting the area if you go to Beijing. Let me know what you think of the photos I shared and take care of yourself till we next cross paths.💜

If you create a slideshow, good luck 世界.

此致敬礼 – From Xinyan.

 

The Funeral of a Muslim

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A memorial gravesite I came across when visiting Hangzhou for a group of Muslim workers who died in the province.

Are you Malaysian? Neither am I! Who’d have guessed it? Anyone but China it seems.

Assalamu’alaikum, peace be on to you~ If you read my recent update you would know that I did end up leaving this post till ‘later rather then sooner’ as I’ve been a bit ill, but more so because I’m hesitant to write about a topic that I have such precise standards for. This shall be a lengthy post as I’ve been making small notes for it in my phone since the start of my (now completed) year in China. What I’ve come to realise is that as time goes by, the experiences that influence my personal development accordingly affects my writing style. With this in mind, allow me to share with you my take on ‘The Funeral of a Muslim’.

你猜, does the title sound familiar? It’s the name of a popular Chinese novel (shown in the commencing photo) that was recommended to me by a friend and then gifted to me by another😊 The story covers themes of history and love whilst illustrating some of the hardships faced by a Chinese Muslim family living in Beijing. I haven’t gotten too far into reading the novel for myself just yet, but I do want to know the story. I chose this title as a symbolic point for sharing my experiences whilst I was living in Beijing as a Muslim foreigner. Incase you don’t already know about my heritage I guess it makes sense for that to be my starting point…

First of all I’m British. I was born in and (off term time) reside in London. I am female and a Muslim, and have thus chosen to wear a headscarf. My family come from Bangladesh in South Asia, and so although I may be on #‘team light-skin’, my skin color is brown, not ‘white’.

In Beijing I stood out quite a bit. Most people could tell that I’m not Chinese because whilst my skin has olive undertones, it’s still a few shades darker than the average Chinese foundation. My headscarf tends to be another giveaway. What’s more, my love for art is often reflected in my fashion style, and thus could cause an additional moment of staring. I should point out that whilst getting stared at by Chinese people and being constantly photographed both knowingly and without permission is common ground for most foreigners in China, none of this bothered me so much. I would have to say that my pet peeves are having to repeatedly repeat myself, and being incessantly asked questions. In China I got both of these a lot…combined. Perhaps this should have annoyed me instead, but I tried to observe patience in answering the same questions again and again for two reasons. Firstly I cannot be annoyed at certain remarks or questions if they come from people who have not been informed/do not have accessible means to be informed about much beyond that which concerns their country. Therefore in answering questions about my background etc I carried out the minimum of my duty to pass on knowledge. Secondly I hoped that if more people became familiar with Muslim foreigners through me, it would lessen whatever other Muslim foreigners may have to deal with in the future when they themselves go to China.

As I just noted, foreigners in China seem to share the feeling of being treated slightly differently for looking notably ‘different’. Sometimes this works in their favor and is instead unfair to the Chinese (i.e. in some job opportunities), however most of us get our share of Chinese-people-being-racist-to-us-without-realizing-it. Of course each individual will have different experiences of the same event, however I noticed that my experience of studying in Beijing was different to my classmates in some aspects due to the contrast in our appearance. For instance on several occasions when I was with some of my Oxford classmates and a Chinese person stopped to talk to us and asked us where we were from. When everyone introduced themselves as being British, it was only me who was asked again as I was the only person of colour in the group.

You would be surprised at how many people failed to believe my nationality due to the way I look. At one point I introduced myself as British and added that my family were immigrants from Bangladesh, as someone once told me that’s how I should explain where I was born and where my parents were born (although my Grandmother was born in India), a.k.a the where I’m ‘really from’. Towards the end of the year my landlady texted to ask for the nationalities of the people living in our apartment. Ignoring how it seemed a bit suspicious I simply reminded her that we were British. She then asked me about ‘the girl in the headscarf’. Awkward😳. I told her ‘she’ was me and that I’m British too. I asked her why, and she just said that people from an ethnic minority were a group that get extra protection. I recall one Chinese person telling my that I cannot be British since I do not have white skin and blue eyes. -In other news, Wechat (Chinese advanced messenger app) has created a ‘Facepalm’ emoticon, and at moments like this I wish it were more accessible-. Further to my surprise, this experience isn’t limited to China. I was recently conducting a private tour in Oxford and was stopped by a waitress in a café who insisted on asking me where I was ‘really from’ when I said that I was British. 😶🌴

The question I was asked most about is my ethnicity and where I’m from. I’m somewhat used to people guessing where I’m from as I got it a lot whilst growing up (a classmate once thought I was from a Himalayan mountain when I was younger…). A few non-Chinese people guessed I was British because of my accent when speaking English, and an American Chinese person I once met in an elevator somehow guessed that I was British Bangladeshi. Besides those few, here’s the most memorable places everyone else thought I was from: Iran, India, Egypt, Arabia, Xinjiang, Nepal, Turkey, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Russia, and Malaysia. The list is pretty much ranked in order of frequency, with the exception of Malaysia as I got that by far the most.

There were a few times where someone would ask if I was Indian and then mishear ‘England’ for ‘India’ and go on to ask a few more times (the first syllable for both countries is almost the same in Mandarin). Some people were shocked to hear me speak Chinese as they expected Arabic. On the day of University enrollment an Egyptian student asked me in two Arabic dialects if I was Egyptian and then also in English. I remember looking up in a daze and tiredly responding in Chinese that I don’t understand until the fourth round where I managed to speak English. One time also at the start of the year a friend was very offended on my behalf for being called out as Iranian whilst the rest of the group were accepted as British. She then proceeded to angrily explain to the man that I was British too, as I thought to myself; “I get that a lot”. I appreciated my friend’s support but I wasn’t angry at the time, the most these guesses ever did was annoy me due to their repetitive nature. It’s quite interesting for people to guess where they think you’re from, but as most parts of England are becoming increasingly multicultural it’s difficult to define our country by a specific ‘look’. The Chinese people I met did not grasp this concept, so long story short: I could not be British since I’m not ‘white’.

One evening I ended up sharing dinner with a clothes seller near my home. As we were talking she held my wrist and told me that my skin is a bit darker than hers, but we’re both yellow (in terms of skin undertones). What I’ll take from what she said is that we are all the same at the core. As a whole it was a truly precious meal.💛

One of the strange things that happened last year was being tricked into attending a nationally televised singing competition on the outskirts of Beijng. [Disclaimer: no danger was involved]. It seemed like from that day onwards people began assuming I was an ethnic minority Chinese. In an audience of a few hundred I was the only person in a headscarf (nothing too strange) and I was the only non-Chinese attendee. Due to this I was photographed like a celebrity during the filming breaks. When people talked to me they thought I was from Xinjiang as I was speaking Chinese and not a foreign language, and since I was wearing a religious headpiece they assumed I was part of an ethnic minority. People have explained to me that whilst there are small groups of Muslims in big cities like Beijing, it is in places like Xi’an and Xinjiang where Muslims blossom in number. Sometimes I got the impression that being from a major city in China and being Muslim was mutually exclusive. For instance the conversation with my landlady gave me the insight that some Chinese people equate being Muslim as being part of an ethnic minority. Fortunately I did visit two mosques in Beijing (the capital of China) and to me the most impressive thing about them was the fusion of Persian and Chinese architecture. I created a separate post to share photos of those mosques, click here to see them. A lot of the female Muslims in cities like Beijing either do not wear a headscarf or tend to style it as a type of turban. Most halal restaurants in China with Muslim staff have female waitresses wearing a headscarf and male waiters wearing a cap (known by some as a ‘toki’ or ‘topi’).

One of my most frequently asked questions (following the classic ‘where are you from?’) is why do I wear a headscarf. Just like the taxi driver I mentioned in a recent post, some people have even asked me if men have to wear a headscarf as well as women. The answer is no. In Islam wearing a headscarf only applies to women, however the grander concept of observing hijab applies to all genders. A headscarf is a piece of cloth that is used by women to cover their hair, neck and chest. An extension of the headscarf is for women (and men) to dress modestly, i.e. cover their figure. The simple reason is to prevent lustful behavior. Some people refer to the headscarf as a hijab; but to avoid confusion I only refer to the hijab as the spiritual concept of being aware of and accordingly controlling one’s actions and thoughts to prevent lustful actions. In sum, although a headscarf is limited to women, dressing modestly as well as the wider concept of the hijab does apply to all genders.

On a shopping trip to Xicheng, I was ushered into a shop by a seller who saw me pass by. I entered as I remembered seeing something cute as I walked past the first time. After a moment the lady began to talk to me and then sat me down and continued to converse. This progressed into sitting with all three store workers as they enthusiastically tried to get to know me. The first lady who was a bit elderly spent a while telling me to get married, and me telling her that I feel a bit young for that😅. We bonded over my preference for Huawei over Iphone (the only way is Huawei🙌🏽) and eventually she felt comfortable enough to ask about my headscarf. She told me that she doesn’t like Muslims because she ‘sees them hide bombs in their clothing on the news’. I explained to them that terrorists do not practice Islam and we should not generalize such things. She said that I couldn’t be a terrorist since I wasn’t wearing a black scarf. That day I was wearing a floral pink scarf, quite standard for me, but I know that a lot of women like to wear black for whatever reason. I save black for certain occasions, but everyone is free to do as they please. Unfortunately I have received a similar remark from a Professor at Oxford in the past. Worse yet, my classmates can probably guess whom I’m referring to.

My headscarf often sparked curiosity, a teacher of mine even asked me to put one on her one time as she thought they look pretty. On the flip side, my headscarf has also gotten me denied several job opportunities. I wouldn’t say this is because of prejudice alone; perhaps it’s also down to misunderstanding. I know I said earlier that being a foreigner sometimes works in ones favour for jobs, but I realized that’s mostly true for native English speakers with white skin. On one occasion I came across a role for participating in a TV show for China’s predominant state broadcaster; CCTV. After confirming some details with the organizer I was asked about my religion and whether it would be possible to take off my scarf for the recording. I said no. The organizer explained that hats are not permitted during filming, and I too explained how my headscarf is not a hat. I think she understood my logic but was cautious to relay it to her boss, so we said ‘next time’ instead. Another more complicated opportunity was to be an extra in an advert supposedly for ‘Urban Decay’. This time I was quite blatantly denied the job because of my scarf. The filming involved extras sitting in a dimly lit set drinking shots of alcohol, so it worked out for the best that I was not involved; however what bothered me most was the lack of professionalism of the liaison involved. A more positive experience was when I did someone a favour by being filmed for a promotional bank video. I was asked about my religion beforehand but this time it was because the workers wanted to be respectful.

The top question from my friends and family was about what I was eating in China. I’m pretty much a Pescatarian at Oxford anyway and this mostly continued into Beijing. To the surprise of many, there are lots of halal restaurants in China, and probably more in Beijing than Oxford (even if you were to shrink Beijing’s size down to match). Peking University even had a small halal canteen (open to Muslims only at lunch due to the meat expenses, and open to everyone at dinner) as well as a halal counter at one of the big canteens. This didn’t mean that I was eating meat all the time, as I don’t do that in England either, but I enjoyed having a few more options. Every now and then I would use leftover halal meat from a takeaway as a tofu substitute when cooking (ironic huh), especially from the meat skewers that are in every Xinjiang restaurant (and need to be in England). I also came across two food markets with counters selling meat in Chaoyang and Sanlitun (Beijing) and did some cooking with a friend. I visited Seoul and Tokyo at the end of the year and it must be said that it is far easier following a halal diet in China than in Korea or Japan. Although ‘Halal Resteraunt Week’ (I can expand on this in another post if you like) has been running for two years now in Korea, I’ve been told that it’s still difficult to even find vegetarian food in Korea let alone halal meat. In Japan you could at least follow a pescatarian diet a little easier.

Are you wondering what halal even means? Halal refers to that which is permissible in Islam. The antonym of halal is ‘haram’. In Islam things are deemed as haram because they are harmful for the body or the mind. Halal meat refers to the way the animal was slaughtered. Proper slaughtering involves performing a short prayer before the slaughter and then killing the animal in the way that would cause it to feel the least amount of pain and produce the least amount of blood. Therefore Muslims eat halal meat because it is cleaner for the body and the mind. However not all meat is halal. Pork is haram because pigs carry out actions that make them unclean. Certain types of seafood are also considered haram because their bone structures do not class them as typical fish, but many people differ on what this list includes. Some of the seafood seen as haram by some are: squid, crab, lobster, octopus, oysters and prawns, which I know is the same for some strict Christians. For this reason I tried to be a ‘pescatarian with limits’ and avoided things like sea cucumber, but I’m guilty of trying some other seafoods. The main substance besides food that is haram is alcohol. Alcohol is haram because it harms your body and alters ones state of mind thus turning them away from God. In addition to what I have just tried to explain, I also learned about the general Chinese understanding of halal. You might learn it for yourself if you go to a restaurant in China as a Muslim and ask if there are any vegetarian options. Expect the response that there are in fact halal options as there is chicken and beef on the menu. A lot of the people I met understood halal food as being anything besides pork, which complicated ordering sometimes. Ordering vegetarian food isn’t always the safest option either as the food is often sprinkled with bits of spam meat. Spam is a fitting term here🙄. A lot of people were shocked when I explained that its more to do with the preparation of the meat than the meat itself, and one person asked me if there is a “halal milk oil”. 🤔

Last year I also spent Ramadhan in Beijing. Ramadhan is holy month in which Muslims fast by abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, as well as limiting activity that draws them away from God. I was able to find a timetable for when to start and end my fasts, but I found it more difficult than fasting in England due to the temperature being so hot (context: maximum heat in England is 30°C, at the time Beijing was around 38°C on average). Although I had a group of Muslim friends, we didn’t meet for Iftar (the meal at which Muslims break their fast) as they lived quite far. Oxford at least has people in the Islamic Society, but in Beijing I was the only person fasting that I knew of around me. It was a new feeling. I sometimes had iftar with friends outside or by ordering takeout, other days I cooked at home. For those who insist on a substantial suhoor (meal before sunrise taken to fuel the next day’s fast), there are a few steamed bun shops that open at early hours, as well as street venders selling food from late at night till early in the morning.

I would like to reassure you that whilst my tone may have come off a bit negative at times, my general outlook on my experiences in China is not negative. The main reason that I created this post is similar to what I said earlier about my attitude to answering questions. Friends and family from England often asked me how I was coping in Beijing with being alone or finding things to eat, and now some of my answers are embedded in this post. In that sense I wanted to share my experiences with other people who may ponder on similar questions. Since coming to England, there’s a lot I miss about Beijing, and actually I was never seriously homesick whilst I was staying there last year. On another note, I will soon be uploading a similar post written in Chinese, so if you can read some Chinese then I invite you to wait for that. The topic remains the same but the content will differ slightly due to the different purpose and audience. I do hope this has been informative to you and if you want me to expand on any points then please let me know~

The title I chose for this post is powerful to me because it’s symbolic in a few personal and public senses. Although my family was worried about me being one of the few Muslims in a place where religious views are suppressed, I felt safer in the East than West as I came across articles throughout the year of increased hate crimes against Muslims; some of which were scarily close to home. Therefore the times we are in do feel like a mass ‘funeral of Muslims’ due to the rise in Islamophobia across the globe, but we should not surrender to fear. It is not my intention to feed negativity, as there are more important things that need attention right now than the racism and ignorance I faced at times last year. I pray that we can all live in peace rather than pray for people to rest in peace once it is already too late.

If you overcome mental blocks in order to write a post that was envisioned under a year ago, good luck 世界。

(此致敬礼) 欣妍 – اَلسَّلامُ عَلَيْكُم – From Xinyan.

*I know that some of my readers and friends really are Malaysian, so my commencing statement does not apply to you, but I’m sure you understand why I started in this way~

**Eid e Ghadeer Mubarak. 💚

Visiting 7 Kings

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Dear reader, I hope you’ve been keeping well. You may have noticed that the flow of posts has been slow on my blog this year. As I’m not one for excuses I will just say that I’ve been wrapped up in some personal things and therefore have not been as efficient in managing my dedication to this site. I cannot guarantee that I will be back to frequent uploads immediately, but I do hope to share more content with you soon. The post I hinted at previously is on the top of my list but I’ve been hesitant to get deep into composing it as I hold the topic in high regard, 不过 I’ll follow my own advice and take it in small steps~

I don’t think I am aware of so many as 7 Kings being in existence, are you? I finished my year abroad at Peking University (Beijing, China) in June, and recently I came back to England after some short travels. Two weeks ago I was invited by a former Mandarin teacher of mine to visit him at the school he now teaches in, Seven Kings. He invited me to meet some of his current students and told me that I could possibly inspire them by my own academic achievements.

My visit was timed to coincide with a trip by a class of Beijing high school students who came to England to experience British schooling. This had me fortunate enough to experience the day from a few more cultural perspectives. For instance in one class where students were prompted to guess my age most of the British students assumed I was either 15 or maybe even 17, whilst the Chinese students thought I was 23 or 25. I revealed that I’m actually 20 years young, and told my teacher I was once almost denied entry to a 15 rated film because the usher thought I was 12 (until we showed her photos from my at the time ‘recent’ 18th birthday celebrations😅😑).

I experienced a lot in a short day~ I first met my teacher’s colleague and sat in on a meeting with the visiting Chinese teachers. After a brief tour through sections of the school we met some of the students taking a “D&T” class (Design and Technology), and I must say the display of some of the students’ creations were most impressive. I then joined a few of my teacher’s lessons (more on that soon), and afterwards was brought to have lunch in the staff room. Who knew that teachers have their own hot food served to them by a singular lunch lady!? It was a strange privilege to have found out through experience haha!

Whilst having lunch a member of staff who had been eager to talk to me when she saw me during the morning tour approached me. In the morning she thought I was the Translator for the Chinese group and couldn’t think of an excuse to chat. I was humbled by her eagerness to meet me and by the things we spoke about. As a fellow Muslim wearing a headscarf she told me she was proud that I could speak Chinese and that I attend Oxford. I told her a bit about the year in Beijing that I had just completed, and how my experience seemed quite different to those around me as it was to an extent seen through the veil of my headscarf. Just as I told her, this is something I hope to share with you at greater length in due time. Whilst I was humbled to see how our conversation made her so happy, it also felt a bit strange. Perhaps I felt undeserved of the extent to which I was complimented throughout the day; however I discovered that whilst my achievements may not be so special in my own eyes, at the very least they have certainly inspired a lot of people, including those whom I don’t know personally. After introducing myself to one of the classes I met, a teacher explained to me that the students were especially excited that a ‘brown person could speak Chinese’. So what I’ve come to realize is that whilst it might not mean much to myself, some of my accomplishments have motivated people who don’t necessarily have ‘blonde hair and blue eyes’ to dream outside their comfort zone. I can’t see anything wrong with that. In fact I just recalled that on our way back home from the airport our taxi driver happened to be talking about me at one point, not realizing I was sitting at the back seat of his car. I won’t go in to what he said, but what I learnt from that strange experience was that our stories reach people without us realizing, and we can inspire people without intending to. This isn’t just about me, you should know that there are people out there who recognize the things that you have done and probably look up to you in ways that might even seem small. Just keep trying to try your best and let the rest happen naturally~

After lunch I headed back to my teacher’s class to assist with a few more lessons. The lessons I came to were mostly Mandarin, with the exception of one French class. The students were from Year 8 to 10, roughly aged 12-15, and each year group came with a different vibe 😛 I forgot what it was like to be taking my GCSEs (end of High School qualification in the UK) so whilst joining the Mandarin classes, it was quite refreshing to revisit vocabulary and sentence structures from when I first started to learn Chinese.

All the lessons I assisted in involved introducing myself to the class, opening the floor to questions, and helping the students with their work. For Mandarin, the students were revising the exam topic of ‘jobs’ before commencing their summer holidays. In one class as part of a class exercise, the Chinese visiting students asked the British student they were sitting with about their ideal jobs. My teacher also got a student to test me from across the classroom. They asked “你想做商人吗?”/ “Do you want to be a business person?”. I said no. “In my opinion earning lots of money is not what’s most important; I would like to take opportunities that will make me the happiest”. I’m sure I’ve said this before and of course this opinion will differ from person to person, but I myself am on the pursuit of happiness.

The day was filled with memorable moments, like the year 8 class’ reaction to my self introduction 😂, and also some of the questions I was asked by students. Something that stood out was a girl asking me “Can someone who’s stupid but works really hard get into a posh University?”. It’s sad because she clearly wasn’t ‘asking for a friend’, and I’m sure I asked myself something similar in the past. I told the class that no one is ‘stupid’, and no matter where you’re from or where you are all that counts is hard work. To another student who had ample compliments for my so called intellect I said; “we’re both students, we just have different textbooks”. It’s true isn’t it?

I don’t think there’s an exact ‘moral’ to this whole story, I would just like to remind you that you are only limited by your mindset. Oxford is one of the best academic institutions in the world, of course its amazing, but at the same time it’s just a name. Many things are just names with ideas attached to them by different people with mindsets shaped by their experiences of the world. I hope you can follow what I’m saying. The area you’re from, a stereotype that may be attached to you, you’re dream destination; when you get down to it they’re all just names. All that is important is working hard, and the extent to which you can achieve this is based on the mindset you choose to adopt. It’s not always easy, but that’s why I’ll repeat what I said earlier. You just need to sincerely try to try your best, for yourself; and leave the rest to fate. 💜

If you become an assistant teacher for a day, good luck 世界。

此致敬礼,欣妍 – From Xinyan.

The picture I included at the start is from one of the group photos taken with one of the classes of British and Chinese students. I chose to edit the photo, as it felt more sensible to cover people’s faces for Internet safety, rather than share a photo of a group of children without their individual consent. I’m sure you can understand this~

Update

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Heya 🙂 It’s been a while since my last post and of course a lot has happened since then so I decided to put out a little update. I haven’t really planned anything for this, but I just wanted to talk to you without the pressure, you know?~

I did forewarn that my blog would undergo a lack of scheduling from the beginning of my year abroad in Beijing onwards, but I’ve had some topics in mind that I wanted to write about and just never did. The reasons are that I’ve been a bit ill, very busy; and kinda stopped wanting to post for a while. The last reason is probably linked to the first, but it’s nothing to worry about~ I noticed that there have been more new followers to my blog over the last few months, welcome and 谢谢!^^ I also thought you guys, and those who read my blog as a whole deserves reassuring that my page is still active~

A few more things to add. Theres a post that I gradually compiled notes for during my first term in Beijing and should have been up at least a month ago, but hopefully sooner rather than later 😁 The theme is something to do with identity and I have a feeling that you’ll like it, so please look forward to that~ Recently I have been reflecting more actively about taking a subsidiary language during the next academic year of my course (Chinese Studies) and I am deciding between Japanese and Korean. If you have any opinions or advice on this decision than please do share! 🇯🇵🇰🇷 If I can convince myself to translate my thoughts into words, you could expect a post on that too once I return to Beijing for my second term. Fyi: I’m on ‘Spring break’ at the moment and have returned to England, but due to return soon! 🇬🇧🇨🇳

I have lot’s of stories from what’s happened so far this year, but we can save them for another time😋Let me know how you’ve been and if you want me to research anything specific whilst I’m in China etc!

If you have a lot to do, good luck 世界。

此致敬礼,欣妍 – From Xinyan.

八月三十一号 - 31st August

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这个帖子是我上个星期写的但是我的博客在中国被屏蔽了所以处理这个问题给我带来麻烦,我就是想告诉你。而且我刚才写完了我最近情况写着英文的帖子,你在这儿可以看一下

这是我第一次独自旅游,只有一些同学跟我一起 (坐在一样的飞机). 我觉得今年的经历当然会给我们更多的独立,已经快要过两个星期而且我觉得自己长大了很多。比如最近我们给了房东付钱。。。那么多钱啊都在我手里 x_x都给她了,看起来省钱没有办法 T.T 但是我总是说‘杯子是半满’是吧?~所以办法就是星期一去北大登录以后我打算去银行开户头,希望将来能减少上个星期的困难一下(其实我们经历了很多嘿嘿)。

在这个阶段我认为同学之间的支持和鼓励很重要。我很幸福得可以告诉你我们都安全。而且我想,除了一些压力以外我们都开心。我自己也很激动因为我特别喜欢说汉语所以住在北京已经给了我很多机会提高我的口语~ 并且很多人(我同学和不认识的中国人)告诉过我的汉语很棒原来如此我也很开心😊

我最近的帖子包括比较一样的内容可是我想翻译成中文(但是我就开始了从写着中文哈哈)。分享什么故事?噢,几天以前一位女人给了我工作。我在衣服商店站着跟服务员问问题当时这位女人就来给我回答。然后她跟我一直在聊天,觉得我的汉语听见北京人一样 o.o 简单的说她对我很有兴趣^^结果她想我给她女孩儿教学英语(帮助她考试的准备)。第二天我们就见面了在她的办公室!她在清华大学做工作,太牛了!不过因为我被北大录取所以我觉得北大是第一名!我和她女孩儿的个性有很多一样的特色但是我不知道我们的计划。我对这份工作没有那么好的感觉,一方面我能继续这份工作练习我的教学能力另一方面如果我退职这份工作我相信将来能接受另一个更合适的机会。

你呢?你最近的情况怎样?忙不忙?我在英国的朋友还有一个月到他们才开学的学期。我们已经到了二年级😱太奇怪了哈哈。你今年有考试吗?记得吃饭,注意身体!你有我的支持^^。好了,写到这儿~

如果你很快就要做独立生活,世界我祝你好运。

此致敬礼欣妍。

还有:因为这个帖子发的比较晚现在我当然体验了更多,结果我要写得多,不过我下次可以给你聊聊~