Robert and his wife with host family
Traveling around China
This spring, like many Americans, I found myself in the unemployment line. I had the good fortune to know of my impending job loss many months in advance, and was therefore able to make plans. I have lived in China on two occasions, in 1987 and in the mid 1990’s. I have studied Chinese off and on for many years, but had never had the opportunity to concentrate on my language study….now that was changing. I told my Chinese teacher Willow that I was planning language study in China. She helped me with the planning and made the necessary Chinese contacts. Ron (his story also included on these pages) was also a big help. In many ways I followed his lead. I stayed with the same host family and went to the same Chinese school, Diqiucun.
My home stay was most enjoyable. It is not easy to leave all that is familiar behind and go to live with strangers in a different country. My hostess, Lao Duan, and her family were very gracious. They did all they could to make me feel at home, including helping me with my Chinese. It did take them a little while to realize that I was not Ron, who had stayed with them on at least two occasions. But it only took a couple times of hearing, “Shi Ron didn’t do it that way” and my assurances that I had a different way of doing things, for them to realize that perhaps I was going to be different from Shi Ron.
The Diqiucun Language School suited my needs perfectly. It was inexpensive and the instruction was high quality. I took one hour and a half class. The class size varied from 3 to 6 students. The students were primarily from Korea, but there were also students from Japan, Spain, and Kenya. On the first day I attended about three classes and choose the one that seemed the best fit. I found a class where the teacher interacted with the students and everyone was having a good time. Over the next four weeks I never regretted my decision. The class was conducted exclusively in Chinese, the only language common to everyone, the teacher was always well prepared, and the students cared about learning.
I studied most days at a coffee shop in WuDaoKou. This area is the hub for Beijing’s university district. Bei Da and Tsing Hua Universities are quite close as well as perhaps 15 other smaller institutions. I met many foreign students and heard the same story from more than one. They had come to Beijing either on an exchange program or on their own and were studying at one of the big universities. They expected to have the best instruction and learn a lot of Chinese. The instructors were good but unfortunately had a difficult time teaching. The problem was the other students! Unfortunately it seems that about 25% of the students were not interested in Chinese, but rather the Beijing club scene. I was told that many students would sit in the back of the room and talk to each other or on their cell phones. It was so bad that one of the students I spoke with stopped going to class and hired a tutor—with good results.
After about a month my wife joined me and we traveled around China. My Chinese had improved considerably, so our travels, which are always fun, were just that much more enjoyable. We went from Beijing, to Ping Yao, to Xian, to Dunghuang, and then to Shanghai.