Writing letters

Does anybody still write letters? The other day I received some letters from another one of my friends in China. She lives in 临海 Linhai, but has now moved to 杭州Hangzhou for the purpose of education. The envelope was very impressive! -It’s the most colorful envelope that I’ve ever seen (it’s not as sad as it seems). What do you think of it?


On top of that, there were loads of stamps! When I was in Beijing last year one of the things on my shopping list was stamps, but I couldn’t get hold of any and my teacher didn’t know where I could purchase some of the standard type (but I did look through a booklet of Olympic stamps). Nonetheless, the collection of stamps stuck on the envelope was most impressive. Here are most of them, but I couldn’t get the rest into the frame of my photo without including my address so I couldn’t show them 对不起.


The back of the envelope was quite cute as well;


My friend had told me that she purchased some elegant style paper and stationary from online and that she was going to send me some but I had forgotten about it after a week or so, plus I didn’t expect her to send letters along with it. To my surprise the envelope was filled with letters that she told me that she took the time to write despite being busy with her new school, and also a few keepsakes. She gave me a very finely detailed thin metal bookmark, as well as a map that she brought from the Imperial Palace at Beijing (I usually send my international friends a map of London and they send me one back if its available). The map was really big when I unfolded it, so I leaned it against our TV for me to take a picture:


This is what the front design of the bookmark looks like:


I recognize that this post is 70% pictures (although you shouldn’t quote me on the figure), but I thought it necessary to share with you the contents of the letter. These are two of the ‘stationary’ things that she sent;

P1030489Antique coloured paper with ancient Chinese style writing,

P1030491and an A5 size opaque envelope embossed with pink flowers.

I couldn’t take photos of the actual letters because the messages she had written would have been included, but here’s something she illustrated on top of a letter she managed to write on her birthday:P1030490

I’ve been sending letters to my ‘penpals’ for a while now and I have a lot that I need to reply to. Also the first time I sent letters to people in China I was certainly stumped with the format of the address! Just like many other Chinese concepts, the address format is very dissimilar to that of England (the American format wasn’t too bad). I’ll take the opportunity to include a photo of one of the packages sent to me by another friend:

2014-02-11 17.55.40(This was to compensate for the fact that I can’t locate the picture of the package that I last sent to one of my friends).

If you ever need to send letters to people abroad then good luck 世界 :s


九月十六日- 16th Sept

I was going to do the entire post in Chinese, but I thought it makes sense to do a quick intro. One of the ideas I had planned was to occasionally post something in Chinese. I wrote this fairly ‘on the spot’ but I have reviewed the grammar. (The pictures are photos that I took of a postcard I received from my friend in China) Heres a little snippet of my day in Chinese; 现在我有点累。。不知道说什么啊。因为我会跟我的朋友聊天我认为今天过得比较好玩。而且今天的压力比起昨天的压力更少,  所以我很开心。噢今天我还收到了我中国朋友的明信片(我通常叫她姐姐)。姐姐写得英文字太可爱了!你们想看吗? 她写得事情是秘密所以我只会给你看一下。。好吧

P1030468P1030467 P1030465这是她可爱的英文;我认为真是象动画片里的一样,你们觉得呢?


如果你想写中文上你的博客, 世界我祝你好运


The Boat to Redemption

‘The Boat to Redemption’ is a novel by the author Su Tong, who explores grey areas during the time of the Chinese Cultural Revolution of disloyalty, shame and self repression (to list a few). It was one of the novels that I was required to read as part of the Chinese course that I am currently taking and so I took it upon myself to read it during summer to prepare me for the work to come. We were set a task to summarise the plot in a minimum of 300 words, but I’m not sure if anyone else go the memo (quite literally since we have a new teacher in charge of languages at my college). I made sure that I wrote a summary anyway, so I invite you to take a read and see what you think of the story.

E_book*THIS WILL CONTAIN ‘SPOILERS’ (it’s quite a thorough summary)*

The novel focuses on the stages of childhood to adulthood of the central character, Ku Dongliang in narrative a style that is similar to The Catcher in the Rye. He goes through life with a careless attitude, which results in him being nicknamed ‘Kongpi’ which can be translated into ‘empty’. The novel is centered on how Dongliang faces his ordeals of living with his controlling father, living a mundane life on the barges, and creating chaos whenever he visits land. The male protagonist narrates in a Romantic style, particularly when describing Huixian who he calls his ‘Sunflower’, which is similar to the narrative voice of Nick Carraway from the Great Gatsby. Their personalities also share similar traits as they both lack confidence and have voyeuristic tendencies that they develop in different ways.

After an investigation concluding that Dongliang’s father was not the son of the revolutionary Martyr Deng Shaoxiang, the Ku family bloodline is tainted and Secretary Ku (Dongliang’s father) is banished from the political party to live at sea. Dongliang chooses to go with his father to live on the barges and leaves his mother on land, where she often sends him letters that he chooses not to reply to.

He later meets the central female character of the novel Huixian as she is abandoned on the ship in her infancy. From then on, members of the barges who had competed to become her surrogate parents bring her up, and Dongliang keeps a diary to record her developments. Dongliang becomes engrossed in compiling the diary with rumours related to Huixian, who she has talked to, what she has worn, as well as some fabricated truths. Eventually Huixian leaves the barges and becomes the lead in a parade with the role of ‘Little Tiemei’, and subsequently gains the affection and attention of people across China. As a result of this, Huixian is taken in by high-ranking officials and is on the path to a secure future and a promising life. However Huixian cannot maintain the image she was once known for of being Little Tiemei and distinguishes herself from her role by changing her appearance and becoming more liberal in her personality. This does not bode well with the officials taking her under their wing and after a few arguments; Huixian is ‘hung out’ and takes refuge in a Barbershop where she becomes an employee. After hearing news of Huixian’s demise, Dongliang makes frequent visits to the barbershop where she works so that he can gain the courage to talk to her, and see if the ‘sunflower’ can reciprocate the love felt by the ‘gourd’ (creative metaphor employed towards the end of Dongliang’s diary compilation). Towards the end of the novel there are new findings in the investigation into the Ku family line, which cause more problems for Dongliang and his now ill father. Dongliang goes to great measures to save his father’s pride in a bid to rescue him from imminent death; however at the end of the story his father commits suicide by drowning with the memorial plaque of Dengshaoxiang held to his chest. The novel then ends with Dongliang being banned from returning to land.

Now that you’ve read the summary what did you think? Another book that I have read is ‘Wild Swans’ by Jung Chang which I personally found more enjoyable (I can try and discuss that another time).

If you ever need to read a novel that isn’t particularly to your taste and then write a summary; good luck 世界!!

从欣妍 – From Xinyan.

29th May 15: Re-reading the summary I wrote again makes me feel quite proud of what I produced in a short space of time 哈哈你同意呢 The novel was a struggle to complete due to the central theme of the narrative, but after reading it a second time and conducting some research I was able to consider deeper meanings of certain episodes I had initially dismissed as absurd. I have already sat my cultural exam (which includes the Literature paper) so hopefully my script is reflective of my efforts, 祝我好运.

Lost my voice

我的说去那? … I’ve learnt from that and moved on.

I found the picture that I’ve posted below while I was going through a folder of some photos from my friends in China. What I remember is that my voice was not in its best condition at the time and I had sort of lost my voice. I cannot remember if the picture that I drew was prompted by a request for an audio message, but it seems likely in my mind. What I had to do as a result of my ‘lost voice’ was translate the message into Chinese. This proved to be a difficult task. If I were to relay the message now I would have improved my translation due to the expansion of my vocabulary, but to be honest I’m still a little stumped. However I don’t feel bad about that because I showed my former Chinese teacher the picture that I drew to ask for his translation…and he was stumped too. You may be wondering why I’m sharing this as it does appear to be slightly out of the blue; but the reason is to show that communication has various forms. During exams we are told that both verbal and non-verbal communication will get you disqualified, just like a simple shrug of the shoulders could communication a feeling of confusion, or frantically waving your arms could be an indication of imminent danger; at times one of the most basic forms of communication that we may come to rely on is drawing.


I have adjusted the quality of the picture but I cannot remember if that was the final drawing. As you can see that is as basic as a drawing can get (-stick people) but having to communicate the idea that I had lost my voice was an amusing scenario so don’t be fast to judge me here.

Translations: The writing in the first box says ‘This is me’. The second reads as ‘My speak…go where?’ And lastly in the third box ‘I do not have speak’.

嘿嘿 (you can translate that in a search engine if you’re curious). The character 说 that I had used in my desperate comic can be translated to say, speak, tell or talk. None of those options quite fit what I was trying to say. Thankfully the fact that I am able to spot the mistakes in those short lines shows that I have improved. For example, now I would at least say rectify the second box and change the text to ‘’我的声音去哪里’’ (wǒ de sheng yīn qù nǎ lǐ) which is a more accurate translation of asking ‘where is my sound?’, or “我丢了我的声音” which literally means “I lost my voice”.

Hopefully you shall not lose your voice and become as frantic as my stick woman who was subsequently led to despair.

If you ever have problems with a language barrier (quite likely to happen) 我说 good luck 世界 (嘿嘿).

从欣妍 – From Xinyan

Mid autumn festival – 中秋节

中秋节快乐(zhōng qiū jié kuài lè) Happy moon festival! The Chinese Mid autumn festival is almost over for this year. The festival typically lasts for three days and today is the final day of this year’s celebrations.

The Mid autumn festival takes its name from the fact that it falls on 15th day of the 8th lunar month during the middle of autumn. It is also called the Moon festival because this is the time when the full moon returns to the sky. I wanted to share with you the story behind the festival but like many other traditions, the Mid autumn festival has numerous origin stories. There are many well-known legends that give reason for celebrating the occasion such as the Jade Rabbit Pounding Medicine, Wu Gang Chopping Laurel Tree and Zhu Yuanzhang and the Moon Cake Uprising; however the story that I shall go on to detail is the most widely accepted story of Chang E flying to the moon.

It is said that in the ancient times there were ten suns that were causing trouble for people due to the intense heat that burnt their plants. This was until a hero called; Hou Yi used his bow and arrows to shoot down nine of the suns from the sky and save the people of the earth. One day while Hou Yi was on his way to meet his old friend, Wang mu the queen of heaven came down and offered him an elixir that would grant him immortality and a place in heaven as a god. Hou Yi did not wish to become immortal because of his love for his wife Chang E, so he asked his wife to look after it instead. Many people came to know of his strength and wanted to thank him for what he had accomplished. People came from far away places to seek him and ask for him to be their Master. Hou Yi accepted most of them as his pupils but some of them did not have sincere hearts, particularly his student Peng Meng. Unfortunately Peng Meng had seen Hou Yi present the elixir to his wife, so three days later he pretended to be ill whilst Hou Yi went hunting with his other students. As part of his plan, Peng Meng went to Chang E and demanded that she hand over the elixir. However knowing that she could not win over his strength, Chang E drank the elixir and became immortal herself. As soon as she drank the elixir she flew out of the window and higher up into the sky till she reached the moon, which is the closest place on earth to heaven. Hou Yi was grieved once he found out what had happened so he called out to the sky and was astonished to see a figure resembling his wife printed on the moon. Soon after, he went to an altar and sacrificed different foods that Chang E had liked to eat, and other people joined him in offering sacrifices once they learnt that Chang E became a goddess. Since then it has become a custom to offer sacrifices to Chang E and pray to the moon for peace and safety.

The main theme I found when researching the different stories was togetherness. One of the reasons why the transport is at its busiest during this festival is because families come together to appreciate the moon and follow the other customs of the festival.

One of the main customs of this festival is to enjoy eating Moon cakes 月饼(yuè bǐng). A moon cake is a pastry desert, which is traditionally made witha red bean or lotus filling. They usually have a circular shape in order to signify a sense of ‘reunion’ and to also mirror the shape of the moon when it is it’s fullest during the time of the festival. You may also find moon cakes with slightly different ingredients; however they usually share the same colour, texture and engraved designs. I do recall also seeing some frozen moon cakes as well as a special type known as Snow moon cakes. Earlier today I looked in my kitchen cupboard and miraculously found a small moon cake! It was an extra that I had from when I had taken some into college to share with curious students and let them try a Chinese delicacy, and give to one of my Chinese teachers as a welcoming gift.

This is my moon cake still in its packaging:P1030463 You can find more elaborate moon cakes closer to the time of the festival, but I was lucky enough to find this outside of festival season.

A Chinese saying related to the mid autumn festival; ‘’十五的月亮十六圆‘’. The translation is; ‘’The moon of the fifteenth, the roundness of the sixteenth’’ which is used to convey that our life may be better tomorrow, just like the moon on the fifteenth of the lunar month may be not be as round as it is on the sixteenth.

Whilst doing some searches I found a site that has kept records of the date of the Mid Autumn festival from the year 1990 to the date that it shall fall on in 2020. If you’re interested in that then take a look: http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/china/mid-autumn-festival . I also happened to find this video of different animals being fed moon cakes which you can also take a look at over here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsyuSvE6vZE . Lastly I also found an exploration of the customs of the Chinese ethnic minorities during the festival, which I found the most interesting out of the other links that I have provided; http://www.travelchinaguide.com/essential/holidays/mid-autumn-customs2.htm

Now I’m off to try my moon cake (which reminded me of peanut butter the last time I tasted it).

If you ever celebrate the Mid autumn festival, goodluck 世界.                                                                                                     从欣妍 – From Xinyan.

Chinese basics kept basic

Since I have been saying that the main focus of this blog is the study of Chinese I feel that I ought to explain the basics of Chinese so that you can grasp the foundation of the language. I have been studying Mandarin for over six years (‘’time flies when you’re having fun’’) so I shall try my best to pass on some of the knowledge that I have gained from experience, research and of course the knowledge that I have been taught.

Chinese is the language spoken in China and is called 汉语 ‘Han yu’ or中文 ‘Zhong wen’. The two words can be used interchangeably but the first option usually refers to spoken Chinese, whilst the second refers to the written language. There are two forms of written Chinese, simplified and traditional. You can usually distinguish between the two by analysing the level of detail within the composition of the character. As you would expect, simplified Chinese offers a more simple ‘design’ whereas traditional characters may be fashioned with additional strokes. A good example that I can provide you with is the word for China. In both simplified and traditional Chinese the word is read as zhōng guó, which translates to ‘middle kingdom’, most probably to convey their vision of being the epicenter of the world. I have created a table to highlight the differences in strokes:

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 02.09.56

I went with a simple example as you can see that the first character is the same in both versions, but the second character is slightly more complex for traditional Chinese.I tried thinking of other words that have a different composition based on its form and this is the best that I could come up with on the spot:Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 02.08.07

It would have made better sense for me to start with the most basic explanation that is required for you to grasp everything else. If you have read my other posts you would have heard me use the word ‘character’, and in fact I have used it a lot in here as well. A character is almost like the equivalent of an English word. It is the finished product of different radicals joined together. Yes, I am aware that the ‘radicals’ may seem like a strange concept, but bear with me and allow me to explain further. Radicals are the separate components that complete a character and are normally several lines or strokes. For example the character想 ‘xiǎng’ meaning to think/want is composed of three radical parts.The Chinese that I have been learning is simplified Mandarin, which is more widely used in modern China.

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 02.04.17 The radical on the top right means eye, and the one at the bottom is one of the radicals meaning heart (there are certain words that have more than one radical equivalent). In this character and in many others, the heart radical suggests the meaning of the word and the top half of the character provides the sound. There is no definitive way to determine how a character sounds or is to be read, as the radicals will be arranged in different places depending on the character. Therefore you cannot rely on the placement of radicals from a character that you are familiar with to determine where the sounds and meaning are derived. This is one of the reasons why reading Chinese can be difficult at times. On the other hand the benefit of the radical system is that you can grasp the ideas in a text without necessarily understanding what is written because you can engage with the meaning of radicals. E.g. if you saw the claw radical in a leaflet you could assume that the text is being written about animals. The statement that Chinese is a pictographic language sums up this idea.

Chinese is an unconventional language because of the way that it is structured. The major difference between Chinese and European languages is that it does not have an alphabet. Instead Chinese natives memorise and learn individual characters from a young age by re-writing them in ink. Missionaries eventually invented an alternative in order to aid people who were unfamiliar with the official Chinese (as well as foreign speakers), which is ‘pin yin’ 拼音. This is the transliteration of Chinese words that helps people to pronounce characters correctly. Pinyin usually has symbols marked on top of the vowels of the word, which are known as ‘tones’. A word I’m sure you would have seen this in is the French/now English word; Café (pronounced caf-ay). Mandarin Chinese uses four tones, which indicate how you are to pronounce a word by either raising or dropping the tone of your voice (makes sense why it’s called a tone now). I have listed the different tones below and demonstrated them using the letter ‘a’.

  1. ā Flat
  2. á Rising
  3. ǎ Fluctuating (not sure how best to phrase this one)
  4. à Falling
  5. a Neutral -the fifth doesn’t really count as a tone but it exists.

The tones are important because there are many Chinese words that are spelt with the same pinyin, but the tone differentiates between the meaning and obviously the written character. For example 马mǎ means Horse, whilst 吗 ‘ma’ with a neutral tone is used to indicate a question. It takes practice to get right, but you wouldn’t want to face saying the wrong thing one day due to a mistake in the tone you use. Below is a graph I found a while back and also drew in my class book. I find it quite amusing but it serves as a good reminder:


To my understanding Chinese is a sort of umbrella term under which falls the various dialects that are spoken in the cities and provinces of China. Debates have sparked as to whether or not Mandarin and Cantonese are to be classed as dialects or languages and The Economist presents the view that they are both languages. This conclusion was met due to the insult felt by citizens of Hong Kong when it was declared that Cantonese is a dialect and not a language; thus implying that it is unofficial and holds no prestigious value. Although there are many dialects and languages spoken in China (given the large size of the country) such as Hakka, Ping, Yue and Min, I shall only briefly talk about Mandarin and Cantonese, which we have established are in fact languages…unless you are willing to resume the debate.

Mandarin is the official language of the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. The Beijing (China’s capital city) dialect of Mandarin formed the basis of standard Chinese known as 普通话 Pǔ tong huà. Mandarin is also the language typically spoken within the professional sector of China. Cantonese on the other hand is characterized as being slightly more informal in comparison to Mandarin and is widely spoken in Hong Kong where there are also many English speakers. The main difference between Mandarin and Cantonese is the pronunciation of characters which is heavily due to the fact that Cantonese speakers use six tones and Mandarin speakers use four (which is quite enough for me). In addition to this, when reading texts that are in Chinese you may not be able to differentiate between Mandarin and Cantonese at an instant; however Cantonese writing occasionally includes traditional characters, whereas Mandarin sticks to simplified Chinese.

This took me longer to write than I had anticipated because new points kept coming to mind. I tried my best to explain the ‘basics’ of Chinese in order to help you better understand the language so that it isn’t too confusing. It’s a relief that I was finally able to articulate the thoughts that I had been pondering over, and responses to what I get asked to verbally explain.

If you ever need to summarise a language GOODLUCK 世界.

从欣妍 – From Xinyan.

Self intro and why Chinese

Now that I’ve introduced the concept of my blog I felt that it was necessary to do a short self-introduction. Simply put; I am a 17 – year old, female Muslim student living in England who has gradually developed what my mother describes as ‘an obsession with China’. I think that’s hardly true though…right?

Recently I decided on a Chinese name for myself with help from one of my Chinese friends living in Linhai 临海. For the most part I wanted to leave the result to fate, but initiated the process by telling her that I wanted it to look elegant and include an ancient Chinese character. Eventually we came to decide on 陈欣妍 which is spelt as Chen Xinyan (the Chinese norm is to write the surname first when spelling a name, therefore 陈 is my surname). The name means Jade, pretty and joy, and another friend of mine told me that the name looks very pretty (which kind of met my objective) -my teacher also approved once I had shown her.

Previously my ‘Chinese name’ was my actual name phonetically spelt in Chinese which came across as English/Chinese. That’s why I thought it was best for me to decide on an actual Chinese name. Some of the features I like about the name we chose is that the characters are fairly simple to spell, and also that the meaning of the individual characters conveys a sense of majesty. Lastly I can’t leave out the fact that 陈 is the Chinese name of the member; Chen from the Korean/Chinese pop group EXO (he’s my 2nd bias in the group…but I shall not get distracted!).

I am currently pursuing the A2 studies of my A Levels in the UK. I understand that the education systems differ across the globe and it causes much confusion when people from China ask me about my studies, so if all goes well I shall explain that in greater detail in due time. I am currently studying English Literature, Religious Studies and Chinese with the Cambridge Pre U. The Pre U has a shroud of mystery cast over it in my eyes because I was given a vague understanding as to what the course entails; however constantly engaging with the Chinese language, reading all of our prescribed texts in advance and doing additional work seems to be working for me. The course is quite challenging because it consists of numerous units, including a cultural paper as well as a unit on grammar that devotes an entire section to the formation of characters (this includes the order and direction of strokes that are to be followed when writing a character). However being a language and essay-oriented student hopefully should help me perform well in these aspects of the course.

I have been exposed to languages from a young age by being taught Arabic as part of Islamic studies, speaking my home language with family (mainly my Grandmother), listening to lectures in Urdu at my Mosque and travelling around the Middle east where I heard a lot of the Persian dialect; Farsi. In addition to that, I also came into contact with German when I was being child minded during my primary school education. As it was my child minder’s main language I learnt how to count in German and say a phrase about Diddl unt Diddlina liking cheese (you never know when you might need it). I was introduced to Japanese manga around the age of eleven, and then I became more actively engaged in Korean music and culture a few years later. Chinese didn’t really seem ‘cool’ at that point in time, but it was offered as a subject at the Secondary school that I completed my GCSE’s in (this is a UK qualification for students that are due to enter high school). I gradually became interested in the Chinese language as I continued to excel in the subject.

At the moment I am in the midst of drafting and formulating my personal statement, which is required for my University applications. During the time I spent in summer preparing by researching, reading and thinking hard (perhaps a little too hard), I was able to investigate why I am interested in Chinese. While it may seem like an obsession on the surface, I know that I truly appreciate the language because of it’s intricate systems, the heritage it holds, its development and the stories of characters.

I find it quite awkward to discuss my achievements, which is why writing my personal statement can feel like a daunting task. I find that it’s more reliable to go by people’s opinions of you and something that I’m often told is that I’m good at languages. From imersive techniques to cultural roots, I’m thankful for the intellectual journey that I’ve taken up till now and I hope that I can continue to study Chinese at a higher level.

One thing I find myself often telling my classmates is that Chinese is what I like to call a ‘thesaurus language’. By this I mean that a single word usually has several translations with slight differences that can provide a more precise meaning to a phrase etc. For example the word ‘know’ can be expressed as 懂 dǒng, 知道 zhī dao or 明白 míng bái. The first word is best translated as ‘understand’, whilst the second (the option I hear most frequently being used) could be translated as ‘to know’ or ‘to be aware’. Finally the last word is slightly more formal and means ‘to comprehend’. Although the word may have minor differences in the interpretation you choose to go by, it can heavily impact the meaning of a sentence.

I didn’t plan to write so much about what feels like so little, but I do tend to become engrossed in my writing. If you stayed with me till the end of the post the I’m sure you now better understand who I am and why I enjoy studying Chinese.

Next time you have to give a self-introduction; good luck 世界~                                                                                 从欣妍 – From Xinyan.