Archives For Culture / Visa


One of hard­est parts of learn­ing Man­darin (apart from speak­ing the cor­rect tones) is being able to read and write Chi­nese char­ac­ters. It’s a slow and painful progress, with no real short cuts. (Although I am hop­ing read­ing Remem­ber­ing Sim­pli­fied Hanzi will help, but you still need to study hard to learn this way). How­ever, every time I feel myself get­ting frus­trated with my progress I remind myself that at least I am learn­ing sim­pli­fied Chi­nese. Tra­di­tional Chi­nese is the orig­i­nal ver­sion, which is still using in Hong Kong, Macau and Tai­wan. Sim­pli­fied Chi­nese was devel­oped dur­ing the 1950s to make char­ac­ters eas­ier to read and write and to increase lit­er­acy across China. You can see from the high­lighted exam­ple just how sim­pli­fied many of the char­ac­ters are from their orig­i­nal tra­di­tional form. The word ‘to know’ (rèn­shi) looks like this 认识 in sim­pli­fied Chi­nese and like this 認識 in tra­di­tional Chi­nese. So hooray for Sim­pli­fied hanzi and thank good­ness I don’t need to learn tra­di­tional Chi­nese characters.

(Blog posted by Ray on April 1, 2014. You can see the original article by following this link to

Aug20_PinyinI recently met some­one who had just started to learn Chi­nese and asked me if it was impor­tant to learn pinyin. He wanted to learn to read Chi­nese char­ac­ters, but thought learn­ing pinyin was a waste of time. How­ever, I explained that under­stand­ing pinyin is really impor­tant to be able to pro­nounce the words. It also helps in being able to prac­tice the right pro­nun­ci­a­tion with the right tone. It’s hard at first, as many of the ini­tials and finals are not spo­ken the way we would in Eng­lish. But it gets eas­ier once you know the basics and then it’s just prac­tice. The best part of know­ing how to write pinyin is using it to type emails and SMS in Chi­nese. Of course you still have to know the right Chi­nese char­ac­ter, which is the hard­est part. How­ever, mas­ter­ing pinyin is an essen­tial foun­da­tion to speak­ing good Mandarin.

PS. There are lots of online tools which are great for learn­ing pinyin and prac­tic­ing tones. My favourite is Chinesepod’s pinyin tool which can be down­load to your desktop.

(Blog posted by Ray on August 20, 2013. You can see the original article by following this link to

Qingming in literature

john  —  April 3, 2013

Qingming was frequently mentioned in Chinese Literature. Among these, the most famous one is probably Du Mu’s poem (simply titled “Qingming”)

Simplified Chinese  English translation
清明时节雨纷纷  A drizzling rain falls like tears on the Mourning Day
路上行人欲断魂 The mourner’s heart is breaking on his way.
借问酒家何处有 Where can a wine house be found to drown his sadness?
牧童遥指杏花村 A cowherd points to Almond Flower (Xing Hua) Village in the distance.
Flying kites

flying-kitesFlying kites is an activity favored by many people during the Qingming Festival (the Remembrance Holidays). Kites are not only flown during the daytime but also in the evening. Little lanterns are tied to the kite or to the string that holds the kite.

And when the kite is flying in the sky at night, the lanterns look like twinkling stars that add unique scenery to the sky. What makes flying kites during this festival special is that people cut the string while the kite is in the sky to let it fly free. It is said doing so can bring good luck and help eliminate diseases.

qingming-celebrationAll in all, the Qingming Festival is an occasion with unique characteristics, integrating sorrowful tears to the dead with the continuous laughter from the spring outing.

(Source: Chinadaily, April 3, 2013)

Learning Mandarin For Flying

john  —  September 28, 2012

I use to travel very frequently for business in China, sometimes flying every week. Nowadays my schedule is more relaxed, but knowing Chinese for travelling, is one of the most practical uses of the language. In China most business travellers want to sit as close to the front of the plane as possible; so they can get out first and save vital minutes. You will even see passengers trying to get up and get there luggage the second the planes wheels hit the runway and it’s yet to come to a stop. Whenever I fly I always tell them I want to sit at the back of the plane, as there is more chance that I can get a spare seat beside me. So I couldn’t understand why when I flew the other week they put me in the middle of the plane. Then I saw the blue luggage tag and realised I was flying Premium Economy Class, 高端经济舱 (gāo duān jīngjì cāng) which is just behind business class. China Southern Airlines is only airline domestic to offer this class, but is quite commonly for international airlines on long-haul routes. The seats are the same as in economy, but you get more space and legroom in front, which makes a big difference in comfort for not that much more money. I’ve now added these new words to my list of travel phrases, so I won’t be so confused next time I check in. Unless they put me in First Class, as I don’t yet know how to say that in Chinese ;-)

(Blog posted by Ray on September 11, 2012. You can see the original article by following this link to

It’s been almost three months since I started my career break from my branding career to learn Mandarin. I thought I would have more time to relax and do all those things I have been putting off like writing more frequently on this blog. However studying Mandarin six hours a day in class, (one-on-one with a teacher) as well as homework has turned into more than a fulltime job.

I have joined the 40 million other people around the world who are learning Mandarin. It is the world’s most spoken language and probably the hardest to learn, especially if you want to read and write it. But I do have an advantage that I live in China and have a Chinese wife. Although it doesn’t make the process any easier, but it does mean you can practice in everyday life.

My first experience of branding in China was over fifteen years ago when I lived in Hong Kong. Since that time I have worked with many of China’s leading brands. However, I have always had to present with my colleagues translating or through the use of an interpreter. Having lived and worked in Beijing for the last four years I became tired and frustrated of this situation. After all there is only so much you can contribute and communicate through this method.

So I decided to take the plunge and invest a year of my life to become fluent in Chinese. My ultimate goal is to be able to present and discuss design and branding in business situations. Though I realise now, that it is a Himalayan Mandarin mountain to climb. Therefore it will take much longer than a year to be able to speak fluent Chinese at a high business level.

However, like any uphill journey you just have to take it one step at a time. And try not to look up to often otherwise you will be discouraged by how far you still have to go. Learning Mandarin is not a straight upward climb. It is made up of many smaller hills and valleys punctuated with plateaus. On a good day, you feel like you have made some progress and on a bad day, like you are walking downhill backwards.

With this in mind I wanted to share with you my top five tips for learning Mandarin. I have accumulated these from my studies and extensive reading and research online. As well as talking to many teachers and other long time language students and Chinese speaking expats. I am sure many readers will have there own, but these are my fundamental ones.

1. Learning Mandarin is a constant journey and not a destination.
I use to hope (and sometimes still do) that one day I will be able to speak fluent Mandarin. However, I realized that you can’t wait for that one day to come along. As it never will, unless you start speaking it today. It doesn’t matter how little you speak. You can start with one word or one sentence but you have to speak it everyday. If you take it one step at a time you’ll make small improvements everyday. But you’ll make big gains over the long term.

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Happy Mother’s Day

john  —  May 13, 2012

This Sunday, May 11th, is a special date in the calendar. It’s Mother’s Day, a day when we should show our moms just how special they are.


If you want a uniquely Chinese experience while you travel in China, the Chinese traditional medicine called cupping is ideal. Cupping is very unusual, relaxing, fun, easy to do and does not take long . This makes cupping an ideal way to enjoy an evening after a hard day seeing China’s incredible sights.

To help you understand what cupping is and how it is done, I have included photos of a cupping session I had several nights ago.

What is Cupping?

Cupping is when heated cups are pressed against your skin on acupressure points and the cooling air in the cups creates a vacuum. This vacuum causes a suction effect that makes the cups to stick to your skin.

Normally the cups are placed on acupressure points on your neck, shoulders, back and upper arms. Cupping can be done on other parts of your body but it should only be done on soft muscle tissue and should not be done on your face, abdomen or on the lower back of pregnant women.

The sucking effect is said to literally suck toxins out of your body. Cupping draws blood to the surface of your skin and this is what causes the red circles you can see in the photos. The darker the circles on your back, the more serious the health problems you have.

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