Tag Archives: beijing

Literary ADD

Will’s weekly update

Writing is such a curious thing. It is as if in the beginning there is a large boulder you need to push by yourself. Just you, your bare hands, and some geological components. 


This past week has been a big one in terms of writing. I finalized a piece of flash fiction that I have been working on for a while now (will be released in June). I finished a larger piece which I was just kind of stumbling through (not sure if that will ever be released 🙂 ). Finally, I also wrote the first draft of another which I think could be pretty entertaining.

In a way it feels like I have a little bit of literary ADD. So much so that I actually haven’t read anything longer than a web page- besides Robert Greene’s, “Mastery” (and even that I am listening to).

I decided to revisit this book because of a youtube talk show, Creative Live (featuring Robert Greene), that I watched the other day during lunch. (My last blog post was about some of the main ideas in the book).

Sidenote- Greene does not think there is necessarily a correlation between how many words you write a day and your ability to write.

I agree with the caveat that we are assuming said person is still a prolific writer. Interesting food for thought. Actually, to a certain extent, having a tight per day word count can be quite stifling and actually counterproductive.

It could, for example, be easy to fall into the trap of just trying to get words on the page. I know that sometimes we all have to do this, but still, there is a different environment when you are writing for a word count versus the story itself.

I was aiming for a minimum of 2,000 words per day on my most recent piece. I would occasionally find myself at the end of a chapter, only to realize that I needed a couple hundred more words. Eventually, I decided that I should just start on the next chapter, rather than extend the one I was working on. However, it took some trial and error before I came to this decision.

Anyhow, it was a productive week for me, and I am looking forward to an equally productive one this week. Hope all is well with y’all out there in cyberspace.

– Will

Better To Stay Loose

Leaving Seoul today. I knew that it was coming but still, for some reason or another, it’s hard. I don’t want to go back to Beijing. I have responsibilities there.

I am writing this while sitting on the airport express train. That old, peculiar feeling of leaving a place or a friend has sprung up again.

For some reason it always feels like it’s raining on the last day of a trip. Rain drops splatter against the sides of window panes as the questions run through my mind.

What if I don’t leave?

What if I do?

What if it’s all a mistake?

seoul black and white

Hill top in Itaewon, Seoul.

Traveling to a new city is always like living in a dream. You meet new people and see new things. You walk around and imagine yourself in every cafe and on every street corner.

But you know you’re just kidding yourself. You don’t love this city anymore than the last. It’s all just that hopeless romantic side of you. Not made to fit in anywhere because, actually, you enjoy not fitting in.

I mean… what I mean to say is, you don’t like staying anywhere too long. Then the shine wears off and you see that everyone is human again.

Better to stay loose. Better to keep moving.

Modern and Drab Seoul

I recently completed my goal to visit the triumvirate of northeast Asian Mega-cities: Beijing, Tokyo, and Seoul.

Seoul lights in Gangnam.

Seoul lights in Gangnam.

All of these cities are massive. But they are also unique.

Beijing, where I live, is gritty and brutish.

Tokyo is dazzling and unique.

Seoul is…

Seoul is modern.

I knew that it was technologically advanced, but I didn’t expect so many free internet access points and for everything to be so clean. That’s a big plus, especially when you are coming from China’s tight internet restrictions and less than ideal sanitation.

It’s geography is also quite nice. It’s hilly and that gives it some character. Maybe I’m partial because Beijing is so flat.

And while Seoul is ideal for tech and cleanliness, it is also a bit bland. In terms of architecture, at least. The buildings are all pretty similar and leave something to be desired.

(I would also comment on their music/movie scene, but I feel it’s too early for that. They might have something unique there, but it still needs time. I will give them the benefit of the doubt- even though Gangnam Style is a little… OK moving on.)

On the whole, I think it’s not quite a bad place at all. Safe, clean, and technologically advanced. In terms of style it’s no NYC or Tokyo, but that’s OK. I suppose that may be a title not everyone actually wants. 

It’s nice to finally visit all three cities. It took four years and I feel like I now have a really strong breadth of this area. 

Funny that even though I have noticed many unique characteristics, I have found that these three places actually have far more similarities than differences. The food, family values, and culture of face all seem ubiquitous.

While I feel like this trip definitely closes a chapter in my traveling career, I also look forward to visiting these places again someday. Each has a very youthful vibe and it’s almost like you can taste the change in the air.

I like that. I like when people push the status quo.


Questions That Effective Language Learners Ask Themselves

Have you ever wanted to learn something so badly that you studied it all the time?

If you are like me, then you have experienced the point at which studying becomes counterproductive.

When learning something new, it is important to take intermittent breaks. This practice allows you to replenish your “focus muscles” and reflect on your progress.

In fact, this past weekend I took a break from my Mandarin studies.

I knew it was time for the break because I had lost both my focus and desire to sit down with textbooks, flashcards, movies, etc. Moreover this period coincided with a three day weekend courtesy of Qing Ming Festival in China (I live in Beijing).

Qing Ming is a time for Chinese to visit the tombs of their ancestors and pay their respects. For me, it was a good time to let my brain relax.

While I relaxed, I noticed how my brain actually had a hard time cooling down. It seemed like I was constantly looking for things- anything I could consume- a book, movie, writing in my diary, anything to distract myself.

(I am very aware of my own preoccupation with being occupied. I find that meditation, exercise, and eating healthy are good ways to keep myself sane.)

But sometimes I still blow up little things, like my language learning hobby, and create new areas of stress.

That’s why I take breaks. And when I take breaks I also ask myself some questions.

I like to reflect and consider these areas of stress within the context of my life.

Once I do this, I can better understand why I am acting in such a way, and then change my behavior if it will help to decrease my stress (or accept it and move on if there is nothing that I can do in that moment).

I wrote down these questions for language learners, but you could also apply them to other subjects/areas in your life.

OK, so here it goes…

1. Why am I interested in learning this language/subject?

The most successful students have a good answer to this question. Such answers normally go deeper than the surface. They are tied to our likes, interests, and backgrounds/childhoods.

In terms of language learning, people who live in a target country have a strong reason to learn. People with family ties to a language also have a strong reason.

Try asking yourself a few questions about why you are learning a particular language.

  1. Do I enjoy the culture?
  2. Do I plan on living/visiting this country in the future?
  3. Do I have familial ties to the language?

2. What are my goals for learning the language?

Tests and courses are popular for learning because they give people clear learning outcomes. They become even more useful when they are tied to industry or academic standards.

People who are studying English, for example, often take the TOEFL or IELTs to enter university or acquire that highly sought after raise. Such reasons are powerful motivators.

These questions should help you judge the efficacy of your language learning goals.

  1. Do I have a professional use for the language?
  2. Will I use the language outside of my job?
  3. Am I interested in the culture that the language resides in?

3. How much time and resources do I have to put towards learning the target language?

People have different amounts of time and resources available at different times of their lives. When you are younger, then you need to consider your studies. As you get older, professional and familial responsibilities take up more of your time.

Tutors, language courses, books, apps are all good resources but they also cost money.

A student, for example, will have much more time than a single mother. A young sales clerk might fit somewhere in between.

Consider these questions to help better understand the limitations of your time and resources.

  1. What are my personal and professional responsibilities?
  2. How much free time do I have and when do I have it?
  3. How much money can I allocate towards learning materials?

Wrap Up

These three questions are a good start to understanding 1) why we are interested in a language (or subject for that matter), 2) what we hope to accomplish, and 3) if we are being realistic or not.

I find that being realistic is perhaps the most important of all the three. If we are not being realistic, then we are apt to either overstretch or underestimate ourselves.

Of course, a large part of this practice is the art of understanding yourself. The more practice you have in learning new things then the easier this will be for you.

Do you use a process similar to this? Is there anything that you agree or disagree with in the article? What language are you learning now?

Watching the Culture of Winter Sports Grow in China

Can China’s increased  investment and development of winter sports infrastructure make it a more attractive country for foreign nationals to reside?

For me, the development of ski resorts close to Beijing has certainly made winters more enjoyable. Furthermore it has allowed me to continue a hobby which I have practiced nearly my entire life. It seems that in China, the growth of ski culture mirrors the country’s ever increasing standard of living.

World Class Riders

A friend of mine has lived and worked in China since 2004. Before moving to China he was an avid snowboarder and, like myself, carried on the tradition after making the transition abroad. This past weekend we visited Nanshan Ski Resort 南山, perhaps the most famous ski destination nearby Beijing.

The mountain is quite small, but they run weekend buses which you can take from two separate locations (in Sanyuanqiao 三元桥 and Wudaokou 五道口 respectively) form the city to the mountain for just 40 yuan. There is also a well-built park. So, if you are like me, you can amuse yourself flying three feet into the air with your eyes closed.

My friend tells me that back at the turn of the millennium, he was easily the best rider on the mountain. Now, there is not even a comparison between him and the best Chinese riders on the mountain. More and more we can world-class Chinese riders on the slopes.

Middle Class Culture

The rising skill level of Chinese skiers and snowboarders shows us how China is in the process of developing a new identity for its middle class spending habits.

Up until very recently if you were living in China then you really couldn’t have much hope of going to a ski resort or golf club. Now there are plenty of both.  Beijing will even host the Winter Olympics in 2022 Olympics in the nearby city of Zhangjiakou 张家口 in Hebei province 河北省.

 China… A Better Place to Live?

I think the take away for people who are interested in China is that, yes… the country is becoming a more and more welcoming place to live.

Although there are many areas where the country does still fall short in terms of outdoor sports (yes- I definitely still prefer to ride in Japan), the recent developments make China a more attractive country for both Chinese and foreigners alike.

Of course there are still many negative issues of bureaucracy, discrimination, and human rights. I don’t mean to gloss over these things. However, if you are completely apathetic to politics, you might find yourself really enjoying a China life.

Skiers and riders alike gather on the slopes of Nanshan Mt’s park 南山 to enjoy a spring barbecue and the end of the season.

What are some changes you see happening in China that are at the same time obvious, yet intriguing? Have you skied or snowboarded in China? What were your experiences?

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 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?