26 January 2003 2003 nian 1 yue 26 hao

Journal: Why China?

I can't remember exactly why I started learning Chinese. Perhaps it was motivated by that "I want to learn a language" whim that strikes so many people, and which some successfully procrastinate about for their entire lifetime: "I've always wanted to learn Spanish," they say, whenever somebody starts showing photos of their European holiday. I however felt no desire to learn a European language, perhaps considering it a little passe. My main reason for choosing Mandarin Chinese was the pragmatic consideration that it is the most widely spoken language in the world. Of course, now that I've been learning about Chinese language and culture for a few years, I could give much better reasons for why Chinese is such a fascinating language to learn.

So about three and a half years ago I attended a short evening course, merely seven lessons over seven weeks. The teacher was a native of China, a young guy with a sense of humour. I remember him telling us that Chi le ma? (Have you eaten yet?) is often used as a greeting between friends, but after new marriage laws were introduced in China some young people jokingly substituted Li le ma?, have you divorced yet!

I didn't seriously pursue the language any further until the following year when I carefully weighed up my university, work, and other commitments and then disregarded them all, said "I'm gonna do it!", and enrolled in a part-time course at TAFE. That made Chinese a permanent feature of my life for the three years up until the present. But the class wasn't very challenging, and I managed to get by with very little study between lessons.

The only reason I have any confidence speaking Chinese (however haltingly) is that when the summer holidays came I was worried that I would forget everything that I had learnt, so I posted a notice looking for someone to exchange conversation with. That's how I met Amelia and Kiwi, who have both helped me immensely and remain good friends of mine.

Although I think there are many positive things about travelling, I have never had any passionate dreams about seeing the world. I travelled in Germany a few years ago, but that was only because I was invited to accompany a friend of mine. When I started learning Chinese, I didn't even think about visiting the country. But the idea slowly crept up on me. I wasn't even sure if I would like China, so I figured the sooner I found out the better. About a year and a half ago, I visited Beijing with my brother for 6 days. We were part of a small tour group, with just two other people plus a tour guide and a driver. We saw some interesting sights, the Great Wall being the most memorable, but what I was most excited about was the opportunity to try out my Mandarin on taxi drivers and hotel staff.

After the trip I was content to come home to Perth for the time being, but began to think about returning one day in the vague and distant future and staying for a more respectable amount of time (6 to 12 months). So, on what premise could I get a work visa? I considered joining a company with a branch in China, and getting myself transferred there. Of course, that would probably involve using my qualifications in IT, a field which I have always been interested in but never serious about making a career of. I also knew there were opportunities to teach English in China, but this seemed like an unusual path to take since I have never imagined myself ever being a teacher. However, the idea of teaching language in particular held some appeal to me. I have always been fascinated by language, even more so after studying a couple of units of linguistics at university.

So although work is not my primary reason for going to China, I am serious about the job. I completed a 12-week part-time CELTA course last year, which is a certificate in teaching English. My only fear is that, as a teacher, I will spend so much time talking, correcting, and thinking about English that I will have no opportunity to improve my Chinese.

My primary reasons for going to China are to practise the language, learn about the culture, and of course to have a good time and make new friends.

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