Monthly Archives: February 2017

How To Become An Advanced Mandarin Speaker

What Is An Advanced Mandarin Speaker?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a beginner and advanced Mandarin speaker is? Serious language learners know that one of the big differences between the two levels is that advanced speakers not only understand the meaning of words, but the words’ nuances as well.

The better you understand each word and its specific “flavor”, then the more likely you will be to achieve “Advanced Mandarin Speaker” status. 

I recently had the experience of preparing my CV in both English and Chinese. My friend had recommended me to apply (always a good thing) to the company that was interested in expanding their business in China. Translating my CV into Chinese was both a first and valuable experience.

CV copy uses a grade of language that is both professional and straightforward. This was simple for me in English. However, for the Mandarin version, it made me realize both how far I have come, and the large gap between myself and native speakers.

While talking with a Chinese friend about some of the nuances in my translation, two words, “Gu4Wen4” (顾问), and “Zi1Xun2Shi1”(咨询师) both meaning consultant, stuck out to me as an interesting piece of language that other Mandarin learners might appreciate knowing.

The following four points explain the nuances of both words. This knowledge is an important piece of not only business Chinese, but of the language learning process. 

The Difference Between 顾问 (GuWen) and 咨询师 (Zixunshi)

“Gu4Wen4” (顾问) is less formal

顾问 is commonly used for sales people and is decidedly more casual. The sales staff at training centers, phone shops, and other sorts of stores are referred to using this word. Use it as a respectful way to refer to sales people who are not necessarily subject knowledge experts. 

“Zi1Xun2Shi1”(咨询师) is more formal

咨询师 is is used for people who possess highly specialized fields of knowledge. In this same vein it also has a much more academic tone. Research specialists like scientists, engineers, and academics with PHDs are all considered 咨询师.

Of course, this is the word I ended up choosing to use for my CV because the job title I held was in research and development (not sales). Even though I don’t hold a PHD, I still think it is more aligned with the work I was doing.

“Gu4Wen4” (顾问) only appears in titles

Although 顾问 is less formal, it is actually less useful than 咨询师 than you might expect. Mostly it is used to form compound nouns for names, such as a salesperson, legal advisor (法律顾问) or an organization, like the Central Advisory Commission (中央顾问委员会).

“Zi1Xun2Shi1”(咨询师) contains the verb, Zi4Xun4 (咨询)

The word for a research consultant 咨询师 is actually a form of the verb 咨询 (to consult or seek advice from). This verb is actually very common and useful to know in general.

师, the word for teacher, tutor, or master, is simply a way to make the verb into a human noun.

In summary, both words are definitely useful, however it is important to understand the difference between the two. If you can do this, then you will be one step closer to an “Advanced Mandarin Speaker”. I also highly suggest keeping an eye out for other synonyms as you study to increase your knowledge. 

Have you heard these words before? Do you know of any other words that have similar meanings but important differences?

5 Reasons Why I Like Snow In Beijing

Just when I thought it was spring, boom! A day of snowflakes makes it’s way into my week. Wait a minute! I thought that I could put my winter jacket away… And what was that tangyuan article about earlier in the week?

I guess sometimes the lunar calendar is a bit misleading.

I wrote this as it was snowing outside of my office in Haidian (海淀). I even snapped a few pictures on my recently repaired iPhone 6 camera. 


Beijing gets snow only a couple of times a year. And while we never get much, it does have a way of creating quite the picturesque landscapes. I guess history and snow go very well together.

Here are five reasons snow is a welcome distraction in Beijing.

1. Clear Skies

Snow means that it’s not polluted. As Beijing is often above 500 PM 2.5, especially in the winter from coal factories, this is a good thing. 

2. Reminds me of Home

Back home in New Hampshire we get quite a bit of snow. When it snows in Beijing it reminds me of all those moments spent looking out the window and delaying putting on my snow gear to go out and shovel the driveway. Except for here there is no driveway.

3. It’s cozy

Snow covers up everything and muffles all the noise. In this way it has a sense of insulating us from the world outside. Snowfall in Beijing is a good excuse to relax at home and curl up on the couch to watch a movie or read a book.

4. Timeless

Particularly in Beijing, snow is timeless. There is nothing quite like pictures of the Forbidden City (故宫) or Summer Palace (颐和园) covered in snow. It seems there is something about snow on historical objects that enhances their timelessness. 

5. Public Transportation

In America, snowfall normally means slowing down traffic and staying put. While that is true in Beijing to a certain extent, snow doesn’t stop an underground subway from moving. In Beijing, a city with a modern and developing rail system, you can get around quite easily while still enjoying the scenery.

It doesn’t snow often here, so when it does it is worth remembering. These are a few of the reasons why I enjoy the snow in Beijing!

Do you enjoy the snow? I bet a lot of readers enjoy it for the same reasons as me even though they don’t live in Beijing, or even China for that matter.

5 Reasons I’m Excited for Spring in Beijing

Li Chun (立春) and Yuanxiao Festival (元宵节)  

Li Chun (立春) is the first solar term of the lunar calendar and signifies the beginning of the spring season in China. Yuanxiao festival (元宵节) marks the first full moon of the lunar new year, immediately following Li Chun.

As for me, I don’t follow the lunar calendar but it is always interesting to understand it better as it provides more context for understanding Chinese culture.

During Yuanxiao Festival I ate sweet dumplings made from glutinous rice flour served in boiling water with my coworkers. In the north they are called Yuanxiao (元宵), in the south, Tangyuan(汤圆).

While the weather is still fluctuating in Beijing, everyone can agree that it is getting warmer. I find myself thinking about this spring and what it will bring; my memories of all those previous Beijing springs come flooding back like a southern monsoon. 

Li Chun, Yuanxiao Festival, and all those delicious glutinous rice balls have inspired me to make a list of five different points to outline why I am excited for this spring in Beijing.

5 Reasons I’m Excited for Spring in Beijing

  1.      Wearing spring jackets

I can finally begin to wear lighter weight spring jackets and skimp down on my cold gear accessories. That’s great in Beijing because I don’t have a car and I often take the subway to move about the city.  Walking through the subway with a winter jacket is bulky and make me feel like a marshmallow man. Furthermore, it isn’t especially great to use my office chair as a coat hanger.

  1.      Flowers and grass

Flowers will bloom and the grass will become greener. Last spring I attended a rigorous Chinese language program. I remember every morning as I walked into class I would see more and more lilacs blooming. Nothing says spring quite like the return of nature.

  1.      Korea Vacation

This spring I will travel to Korea for a couple of weeks. During this time I will attend a Vipassana meditation retreat and a few days in Seoul as well. I am super excited to see the last of the East Asian trinity, (I have already traveled through China and Japan extensively).

  1.      Hikes Outside of Beijing

Beijing’s outskirts are full of mountains. In the past, Chinese royalty travelled there to be alone in nature and hunt. Nowadays whether you are visiting the Great Wall or perhaps a famous temple, Beijing’s countryside is ideal in the fall or spring. I am very excited to get out and explore.

  1.      More Sunshine

I remember the first time I came to Beijing I thought everyone looked so pale and unhealthy. Well, now I am one of those pale people that I smirked at upon my initial arrival.

Now the days are getting longer and there are more opportunities to spend time outside when it’s not polluted. This is a great way to combat SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and increase my serotonin levels.

So, with the passing of Li Chun and Yuanxiao Festival we enjoy tangyuan and many other pleasant surprises. What are you excited for this spring?

My Chinese New Year

春节 Chun Jie (Chinese New Year; CNY)

This Chinese New Year was good. Very low key. I stuck around Beijing for the week and enjoyed the quiet.

Of course you can’t only sit around during the holidays and on a couple of days my girlfriend and I went out to see some of the famous sites in Beijing. Even though I have been living here for almost three years now, I still enjoy visiting tourist spots.


Beijing is definitely not the most livable city in terms of modernity. It has high pollution, traffic is quite congested, and the weather is less than dry (it being located in a valley).

However, where Beijing loses in it’s fight for livability, it makes up for in rich history. Although it has not always been the capital of China, it has a number of remarkable sites that express Chinese culture. Some of the most famous are the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Lama Temple, and so on.

During our Chinese New Year we first visited the Lama Temple. This is an incredibly beautiful temple that is both pleasant to walk through and convenient to get to. I suppose that is one of the main reasons it’s so frequently visited. I have been there three times myself.

We also visited the Bird’s Nest, up north of the Fourth Ring Road. Although this area, like the Lama Temple, was swamped with tourists, it was still very nice to go and see.

The Bird’s Nest, a modern metal stadium originally used for the Beijing Olympics in 2008 has become a symbol of Chinese modernity in the 21st century. While we didn’t go inside, it is very nice to visit and walk around.

We also tried to go to the Forbidden City, but like every other time that I have attempted such a feat, the lines were too long and we decided against it.

It is interesting that while the Forbidden City is Beijing’s, (and arguably China’s), most well known cultural site, it is also a pain in the neck to visit. While some people might scoff at me for not having ever successfully entered the palace throughout the entirety of my stay in Beijing, I also know many Beijingers who have never entered in their entire lives.

On the last night of the Lunar Calendar we attended a friend’s Jiaozi celebration close by the Summer Palace. We didn’t go inside the park but we did ride a moped through the Tsinghua University and my girlfriend freaked out about the fireworks. Then our moped died after midnight on the way home and I had to push it back. 🙂

All in all, it was a good CNY. It’s funny how that the longer you stay here the more normal the celebration begins to feel.

I remember in my first years that it felt quite odd and I didn’t understand it. Now, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of relaxation when it approaches. Probably it is because the longer I am in China the more and more I adjust and adopt its culture.