On how I got my Chinese name

If you are reading this blog, chances are you already know what a Chinese name is. If you don’t, here is a very simple explanation. You know how it can be hard for you to correctly pronounce Chinese names, right? Well, this is the same for Chinese people with your name, except because its probably even worst. Chinese has a lot less possible sounds built into it,  so is very likely that your name has sounds they never  have to pronounce before. This is the reason why foreigners that deal with Chinese people often decide  to give themselves a “Chinese name”, so people can call them something that isn’t confusing or awkward to say.

Bridge scene from The Knights of the Holy Grail

“It is Arthur, king of the Britons!”

I had a general understanding of this before, but it was not until recently that I met someone who could not, by any means, understand my name. I was holding off getting my name until I got to a higher level, but because of this incident, I decided it was time to give it a try. Be mindful that this is a recording of my personal experience in choosing my Chinese name, not a step by step guide. There are thousands of great guides around  the internet for doing that, written by people with a lot more knowledge of the culture than me.

First thing I did, and I really recommend anyone on the process of choosing a name doing, is finding a Chinese friend that knows you well to help you. No matter how good your internet guides may be, the input from an actual local will always be more trustworthy on if a name is appropriate or not.

Hilariously bad name

You don’t want to get the Chinese equivalent of this kind of name by accident.

My initial reading on the subject  revealed that names are usually structured on three characters, of which the first represents the family name. This is an important part of the name, because is the one that makes people know this is a name on the first place. Contrary to the last part of the name, this name should be taken from a very specific list, the list of the 100 common family names, as it would make it instantly recognizable. For me, choosing this character was kind of easy. My first family name is Valencia, which is the name of a region in Spain and thus gives me no way of picking a “similar” meaning, but my second family name is Blanco, meaning white. White in Chinese is Bái (白), which is as close as you can get to the pronunciation of “Val”, so it was very clear to me that this was the character best representing my family.

Bái

Bái is the Chinese character for the colour white.

For the second character, there was an advice I heard that was crucial. If this is going to be my name, I should be able to recognize it as such. For this to happen, It needed to be something that doesn’t sound that different from my actual name. Have you seen any of those online Chinese name generators? They may not be very good at making an actual name, but they are great for finding characters similar in sound to your name. Thanks to a liberal use of such generators, and after checking with my friend, I decided upon the character Diǎn (典), which roughly translate to law.

Diǎn character

Diǎn can mean law or canon. Is a character closely related to literacy.

For my last character, things where not that easy. There was no real sound that managed to both capture the way my name sounds, and also sound nice in Chinese. It was at this point when I turned to my friend for direct input. Seconds later I was bombarded by a barrage of possible characters. Now this is the real reason you should get help from a good friend. Of course, having a “culturally acceptable” name is good and all, but the real reason for getting this help is that is both very fun and very exciting for all the people involved. With this crazy amount of options, we went through each revising their meaning, and thinking how would they work into my personal image. Choosing a Chinese name is not just selecting and array of sounds after all, is choosing what is the first impression you will project into people. After a very entertaining afternoon, I ended up selecting Yǔ (宇) as the last character in my name, meaning “universe”.

Yǔ

Yǔ means universe, or cosmos.

Putting the whole thing together, my name ended up being Bái DiǎnYǔ (白典宇). Although this is probably not fully correct, my personal interpretation on the meaning is “Law of the White Universe”, in which I wanted to show my passion for writing and designing worlds, as in “writing the laws of a still empty universe”. My friend’s opinion on the name was that it sounded beautiful and intellectual, and its only possible downside was sounding a bit old fashioned. I was OK with this outcome, and thus decided from that day onward that this was going to be by name. Not one given by someone else, but one I choose myself.

Do you have your own Chinese name? How did you come up with it? Did you get help? Share your experience with naming yourself on the comments! See you next week with more stories about my experience learning in Qingdao!

-Diego/Bái DiǎnYǔ (白典宇)

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Studying at XMandarin Chinese Language Centre

With this article I like to present XMandarin Chinese Language Centre (short XMandarin) to you to show why I chose Qingdao and exactly this language centre to study Chinese.

Let me come to my Chinese Lessons at XMandarin Chinese Language Centre. It is centrally located in the middle of the CBD within a tall building. They have classrooms on 16th and 20th floor. I really enjoy studying there, because the classrooms have large windows with a view over the city. If you have luck you have a room which is facing the ocean and than it is even better to have classes. Wouldn´t you also enjoy having classes while taking a short refreshing look at the ocean every now and than?

 

XMandarin Chinese Language Centre

one of the rooms with view to the sea

I just decided to have private lessons, as I think you can gain the most profit from this as the teacher can focus completely on just one student. Furthermore, I also have the feeling that you make greater progress faster and that you just learn more in a short time.

After having a placement test to determine your level of knowledge the team starts to construct the lessons on your knowledge level. This is a really good aspect I think, as they really help you to improve and not to stuck on one step. During the private lesson you can talk a lot and thus learn a lot of Chinese. If I am not in the mood to talk my teacher and I can focus on writing and reading or just learning some useful vocabulary which are not provided in the material, but which are more than helpful to know in the daily communication outside the classroom.

XMandarin Chinese Language Centre

In this beautiful building the classrooms are located

If I have questions concerning the culture or questions concerning some situations, where I do not know how to behave in order not to blunder, as the Chinese culture has many traditions, I can also ask my teacher for advice.

This is what I really like at the private lessons at XMandarin, you are the boss of your lesson, so you can learn what you like to learn and this will give me the best personal outcome to profit from, at least in my opinion.

XMandarin

all the rooms have plenty of daylight

So I just feel very good learning with XMandarin as my teacher is also very friendly and kind and the classes are filled with a good atmosphere allowing you to learn with a better mood.

All in all, after having had some Chinese 1to1 lessons I can definitely say that it helped me a lot and I can only recommend to everybody to take this kind of classes if you really want to make a good progress in reasonable time or if you are very interested in the language or whatever you take the lesson in.

Do you have similar experiences with some faculties or school? Or do you even have bad experiences and you like to warn us? Than just leave a comment.

If you like our blog, do not hesitate to follow us to stay updated to our experience with the Chinese Language, Culture and general facts of life in China.

– Nik

The joy of getting lost around Qingdao

Getting lost in a literal sense is not fun. Not knowing where you are or how to get back, specially if you can’t properly speak the local language, can be terrifying. But to anyone who likes traveling, or like me, who likes adventuring, there  is undoubtedly enjoyment in becoming “mildly” lost. Being mildly lost implies you have a general idea of where you or how to get back, but at the same time, you are not fully aware where your destination really is, so you just end up wandering around. This is something that has happened to me a few times already, and is probably the thing I like the most about Qingdao.

Ugandan Boromir

I failed you my bruddahs, but I enjoy getting lost

The ingredients to properly get lost are all in place for me. Low level of Chinese, coupled with an android phone using google based apps means I “can” find my way if I need to, but requires me to make a conscious effort to do it. To add to this, I’m not the kind of person who likes to plan ahead. I usually just wait to see if there’s good weather on the weekend and them randomly decide to check some landmark (My  Chinese contacts on WeChat are very helpful for this, as they always make great suggestions). This means I many times don’t even know how I will actually get that location on the first place. Fortunately, Qingdao has an amazing subway infrastructure, specially because the subway is fully bilingual, making it easy not only to navigate the station itself, but also to use it as a reference point for finding landmarks.

What you find while you are lost

I had no idea this place existed, but I’m glad I found it

My most recent case of stupidly getting lost happened just this very weekend. My plan was checking out ” Bā Dà Guān” (八大关), “The Eight Great Passes”, a very popular landmark in Qingdao. This should by no means be something difficult find, as there is a subway station very close to the area, but when checking the map, I made a mistake so dumb is even hard to believe. You see, not too far from Badaguanfurther in the south, there is a garden called Baihuayuan. Yes. I did indeed mix up the names. Is not like they are in anyway alike on their written form, but somehow I did it anyway. And you know what? I’m really glad I did. I had no idea about this place, as I did not see during my visit to Zhongshang park, but this place is truly stunning. This is not an opinion as much as its a fact, considering the high amount of couples I saw on my visit that where here to make their wedding photos. The place was not too big, nor was it really far from my original destination, but it became a great sidetrack for my trip. As Bob Ross would put it, “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents”.

We don't make mistakes

This are words to live by

Have you ever experienced the joy of getting mildly lost? Did it help you find some amazing place you didn’t know existed? Share it with us in the comments! I will make sure to keep you informed of any other “little accident” that makes my find great places in Qingdao.

-Diego

My experience with the Chinese Language

As promised before, my article today will focus on the way I cope with the Chinese language in daily life in Qingdao.

Chinese

Food market

Eager as I am, I really want to test my Chinese language skills I learned at school before. In the supermarket or while buying some lunch I tried to use as much Chinese as I can. Unfortunately, it seems like that I need to work on my pronunciation, so that real Chinese people understand it. As many people do not speak in English in the Supermarket, at the Cashier or on the Food Stalls you need to use symbolic language in the worst case. Do not be afraid. This gets better! Believe me. Even after being only some weeks in Qingdao already I can see a progress. If you use the language regularly you can make great steps forward. As my homestay does not speak a lot of English I also have a great opportunity there to speak with them in Chinese and to improve my skills. And I mean for daily communication this is what you need to learn. School never focuses on this or if, than on standard phrases and words, but often the folks just build up there own slangs for greetings, expressions and so on which are not standard language, but colloquial language. These are widely used and just puts you more into the language and the daily communication. It feels friendly to communicate in the way the people are used to communicate. Can you say it like this? I do not know, but hopefully you know what I mean.

Can you remember that I mentioned in my last article that many people are looking at you? From time to time a person just starts to talk to you, because they are just so interested where you are from and what you are doing here. This is another very good opportunity to get in contact with local people and to test out your skills. Sometimes it is really hard to understand them as they have a dialect, but sometimes you can have a basic chat. Do not feel worried if they keep on talking to you, but you do not get any word anymore from a certain point as it is too deep into the language. Be happy and proud that you managed to have a basic chat with them. Additionally, they won´t be angry, maybe it seems like they than do not understand why you stopped being able to talk with them, but they will recognize that you are on the limit of your skills. Just keep in mind, these chats extend your understanding of the language. So don´t be afraid if someone starts talking to you. Try to use it as one of the best opportunities to learn.

Qingdao

Busplan, so you need to know the Chinese

Of course, it is also hard for me to read at the bus signs the name of the stops or in the supermarket the name of all the products, but some apps on your smartphone just facilitate it and by the time passing along you know some products you like, you know your way home and you start orientating within Qingdao and thus it helps you to know which bus to take and where to get off. With the time you really develop a feeling and this lets you feel home even more.

Do you also experience some situations like talking to stranger in the bus, which help you to extend your skills and knowledge? Or do you have some other advice where to learn like this or in some useful ways? Leave a comment and we are happy to read your experience and advice.

– Nik

What’s up with WeChat?

If you’ve never been to China, chances are you don’t know what WeChat, or Weixin, as they call it here, is. At a first glance, you may quickly dismiss it as a Chinese knockoff of WhatsApp, but here is so, SO much  more to it than just that.

At its most superficial level, WeChat is indeed, a very popular messaging app, or more specifically, the most popular messaging app on the mainland. Developed by Tencent, which also owns the most popular mail services, QQ, as well as various other services such as music and videogame distribution, WeChat is basically a staple in any Chinese smartphone.

Tencent and WeChat

The best thing about Tencent owning WeChat, is that we get cute emojis of the QQ penguin in the app.

But you may be wondering, why would I want to use WeChat if I already have WhatsApp? There is most than one answer to that question, but first and foremost, is simply that you can’t really use WhatsApp. Although It use to work some years ago, recently WhatsApp has been included in the list of restricted services of the infamous “Great Chinese Firewall”, meaning without a VPN service, your messages won’t be able to get in or out of the country.

Convenience is the second reason for you to want to try out WeChat. Depending on your country, you might be more or less familiar with the concept of paying for stuff with your phone, but in China, at least in big cities like Qingdao, this is the prevalent payment method. Shops definitely won’t reject your money if you try to pay in cash, but if you pay attention to your surroundings you will soon realize hardly anyone here takes out their wallet when is time to pay. Why would they? Is so much more convenient to just show a QR code in your phone to instantly pay with either Alipay, or, as we were discussing just now, with WeChat pay. I personally got so use to the prospect of paying through WeChat, that if it weren’t for the transportation card, I would probably forget to pick my wallet everyday.

WeChat functions

WeChat actually allows for third party programs to be attached to it, making in offer an uncountable number of services

WeChat offers a lot more services too, such as online games and music and video streaming, but since most of this services are written in Chinese, I haven’t really tried them out, as trying to navigate through them is akin to trying to navigate an ancient egyptian tomb full of hieroglyphs for me right now.

How it feels to navigate WeChat

Trying to navigate WeChat mini-Programs with just HSK1 be like…

But for all the things that WeChat offers to the users, there is just one that really wants me to recommend it.  Its a very simple fact unrelated to any kind of “advertising” really. There is Chinese people on WeChat. Yeah. I know. Shocking, right? There is Chinese people to chat in a Chinese chatting app? Who could have known! But seriously, if you are interested in practicing your Chinese, this is a godsend. Both writing and reading are  very hard in Chinese, and is very difficult to keep up with a real spoken conversation at a low level like mine without constantly interrupting the speaker to repeat things, but  WeChat allows for instant translation of Chinese characters, and since is a mobile app, it obviously allows for a predicting Chinese virtual keyboard, meaning as long as you know how to answer in pinyin, you can actually hold real conversations easily. Obviously, this is not to say you should only use this to practice, as chatting can’t be compared to having a real conversation, but at lower levels, it’s a really good way  to get familiarized with the most common words you will find in written language.

Have you tried WeChat before? Did you enjoy it, or do you prefer some other app? What’s your favorite way to practice Chinese? Tell us about it on the comments!

-Diego

First days in Qingdao

After being some days in Qingdao already I just decided to write about my first impression/s of Qingdao, before going into the topic of studying Chinese here and using the Chinese language. I hope this is fine with you and I have more time to get experience in it.

As I told you in my last article I was fascinated by the City Qingdao on my first day already. However, now I had some days to settle down and to explore the city a bit more.

Qingdao has so many places to explore and to look at. It will keep me on a good “explorer-trip” for some time.

On one day I just walked along the seashore with my homestay-mum, 14km, but it was worth it. There was so much nature along the coast and you just went through different parts of the city.

baozi

baozi

Additionally, together with my homestay-mum I ate really tasty Baozi (包子) in the historical part of Qingdao. It seemed to be an insider tip as the restaurant was not really recognizable from outside, but inside it was super busy. After lunch we kept on going exploring the coastal walk. The closer you get to the Central Business District the higher the buildings get and even the more modern they are. 

On my first impression Qingdao is a really beautiful and multifaceted city. It can offer you many places to enjoy a nice beach day, there are various styles of architecture and different buildings from different decades. Even so, along the beautiful coastal walk you can spot many little nature parts and parks. However, there is more. On my to-do-list is the big zhongshan-park or the Maunt Lao, the highest coastal mountain in China. So Qingdao still has a lot of nature to offer, making the city an attractive place to live.

It is just so different from big cities like Shanghai or Beijing (I have never been in Beijing, but from what I know…). In Qingdao things are still changing. You mostly travel by bus as there are only two metro lines yet as they are still building up new ones. Therefore, the Bus network is really good maintained. There are buses to every place and you can easily catch them.

Qingdao

some nature within the big city Qingdao

historic city Qingdao

historic city Qingdao

Also supermarkets and shopping malls can be found at many places, making it easy to get your daily supply. Well, I do not need to go there often, as my lovely homestay family prepares traditional Chinese dishes for me, but on the weekend or if I am on the road to explore China I sometimes like to have a snack or lunch. So you can just live normally.

learnchineseinqingdao

St. Michael’s Cathedral

However, one aspect I recognize is, that you really look different compared to a Chinese person. Wherever you go, people look at you. Maybe they do not see as many western persons as in Shanghai, Guangzhou or Beijing, but they really are fascinated and just keep looking at you. I will need to get used to it.

From my first days I can really say I feel home already in this beautiful city with all the aspects it can offer.

How do you cope with adapting to new places? Tell us about this in the comments. And if you like our blog we are happy to see you as a follower.

-Nik

HSK1 out, looking forward for more

On my last post, I mentioned how I have finished the HSK1 level book, but I didn’t really enter into detail on what it felt like actually doing the HSK1 exam. Here is my personal experience and my thoughts on facing the basic level exam on Mandarin Chinese.

HSK 1 Exam

HSK is the most well known exam to certificate your knowledge of Mandarin Chinese

First of all, I should clear up that I had no idea what to expect of the exam. My  experience with official language exams is limited to the Cambridge First and Advance certificates of English. Because of this, I was really scare of what the exam was going to look like. Although I had no trouble keeping up during classes, in the exam I wouldn’t be able to ask questions to my teacher. I was to do the exam on my own, and this was certainly the part that worried me most.

With no previous knowledge of the types of questions and exercises I would find, I got ready for the worst, yet what I found when the exam started surprised. The surprise didn’t come from the actual exam itself. The format was very intuitive and the level asked was more than reasonable. What surprised me is how easy was for me to keep up with it. Even though I already explained how great my teacher is, I also mentioned a few times how terrible a student I am. Despite my best effort to try to hold conversations in Chinese, I still constantly find that I’m lacking in vocabulary, and often times I even forget the vocabulary I should technically know. Despite all of this, None of the words I found on the exam were new to me. From sentences structure, to verbs, to different words on the exercises, each and every one of them were things I was, to my surprise, very familiar with.

Book for HSK1

This is the book I used to study for this level at Xmandarin Chinese Language Center

For those of you familiar with Cambridge exams, at least as far as I can remember, there isn’t really a “list of words” corresponding to each level. Of course there are structures and rules you are expected to know, and there is also a bunch of specific expressions you are supposed to learn, but with pure vocabulary, you are just expected to know it beforehand. Of course this is not much of a problem in general. By the point you reach this level of English, you’ve been using it, and listening to it, for quite long. But this is obviously not the same for the HSK1. This exam is the first step into a completely different language from anything a European has ever heard. This is the reason I’m so grateful to the dedication put into the lessons to slowly, but steadily, introduce the appropriate vocabulary that you will eventually find on the exam.

Did you have any experience worth sharing during a language exam? Have you taken a HSK exam before? What did you think about it? Let us know in the comments. I really want to learn other people’s opinion on this topic.

–  Diego