Tag Archives: china

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

Good Art Is like a Good Haiku


Yangshuo, Guanxi

A summer river being crossed
how pleasing
with sandals in my hands!
– Yosa Buson

Haiku poems are short, orderly pieces created in the Japanese tradition. The most common form has 5 syllables on the first line, seven on the second, and five again on the last.

Haikus are very closely related to Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism.

The goal of a haiku is to capture a moment. It does not seek to explain or analyze, but simply strives to present the moment clearly. If the composer is very good, then a certain shade of emotion will also be present in the words.

Good art is often like a good haiku. It clearly presents a moment and emotion without explanation.


The Importance of Stories


Sihui parking garage.

This past week I have been reading the classic A Hero With A Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. Although it is quite academic, it is also an incredibly powerful book. (Hey- people are still reading it past the turn of the century- do you need more proof?)

The book is all about heroes and mythology. The journey a hero must go through, and how these patterns are played out time and time again.

The forward to the 2004 edition (I couldn’t find the author- sorry! – I believe it was Phil Cousineau) talks about how children in the Hungarian countryside were traditionally expected to learn 12 stories by the time they were twelve years old.

Here is the quote-

There was a serious piece of advice given by the very old people in our family. It was that every child ought to know twelve complete stories before that child was twelve years old. Those twelve tales were to be a group of heroic stories that covered a spectrum—of both the beautiful and the hellacious—from lifelong loves and loyalties, to descents, threats, and deaths, with rebirth ever affirmed. No matter how much “much” a person might otherwise possess, they were seen as poor—and worse, as imperiled—if they did not know stories they could turn to for advice, throughout and till the very end of life.

What are we without our stories? How can we live a decent live without this knowledge?

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?

18 Lines and 345 Stations

As of today, Beijing’s metro has…

  1. 18 lines and 345 stations.
  2. 9.98 million people per day ridership (average).
  3. 574 km (357 mi) of track in operation.

In the future, Beijing’s metro will have…

  1. 24 subway lines.
  2. 18.5 million people per day ridership (average).
  3. The potential to be the longest fully automated subway network in the world.


A metro system says a lot about its city.

I used to live in Budapest, Hungary. They have one of the oldest metro systems in the world. It was quite elegant.

American metros are old and rusty. But they work and that’s enough.

Beijing-Shanghai-Guangzhou… they all have shiny, new metros. Great steel monsters. They are packed full of Chinese every morning and every night.

White collar workers playing on phones during the morning commute.

Migrant workers sitting on plastic chairs and laughing together.

Children in uniforms reading their books.

They are symbols of China’s economic miracle.

How To Watch Movies and Learn a Language (Will’s Movie Study Technique)

My Technique For Studying Chinese Via Chinese Movies

Watching movies in Chinese is a great way to improve your fluency in the language.

Similar to learning a language through immersion, this technique forces you to progress via context and setting. If used effectively, this technique will not only increase your listening comprehension, but will also increase your vocabulary and cultural knowledge.


How I Use Movies To Study Chinese

As many of you know, my current target language is Mandarin Chinese. As part of the “campaign to increase the development and prosperity of my language learning efforts”, I have begun to incorporate the practice of watching Chinese movies into my weekly study routine (approximately two nights a week).

This past weekend I finished the classic To Live (活着) by Zhang Yimou (张艺谋), based on the novel by Yu Hua (余花). The movie portrays a man and his wife as they live through 20th century China; a country torn apart by war, politics, and ideology.

Beyond the benefit of immersion, those who make use of movies as a language learning resource also gain valuable cultural knowledge. With each Chinese movie I watch, the deeper my understanding of Chinese culture becomes. In Yimou’s To Live, for example, I contemplated the narrative of a layman’s family during the Chinese Civil War, The Cultural Revolution, and the Great Leap Forward.

This type of knowledge is useful to both understand colloquial sayings (whose roots are in cultural events) and the psychology of Chinese citizens today. Remember, communication is both verbal and nonverbal.

There are many ways to use movies as a language learning resource. However, I find this practice most useful when I use my movie study techniques. Perhaps these can help you make use of movies as a language learning resource as well.

I have broken down my movie study technique into five simple steps below.

Will’s Movie Study Techniques

  1. Use Target Language Audio and Subtitles

Make sure to use your target language for both audio and subtitles. Watching a foreign movie in your native tongue may add to your cultural knowledge, but it will not improve your language level. The audio improves your listening comprehension. The subtitles improve your reading comprehension.

  1. Create a Vocabulary List

Keep a pen and pencil close by to record any words that you don’t know. After the movie you can copy the list down again and translate any words which are unclear. Make sure to label and date your vocabulary list.

  1. Watch Movie Alone

Watch the movie alone to increase your focus. Refrain from inviting a friend or significant other to the viewing. While movies are most often used to relax, don’t forget that this is a study session and it should be taken seriously.

  1. Utilize Context and Plot to Learn Words and Phrases

It is almost 100% guaranteed that you will not understand everything in the movie. That’s ok. The point of this exercise isn’t for total comprehension. The point is that you are focused on understanding. Use the actors body language and scenery to understand what is happening in the movie.

  1. Read Reviews and Plot Summaries in Your Native Language After Watching

After the movie is over read some commentaries and general overviews in your native language. This will reinforce a lot of the cultural points which you might have noticed but are still a little confused about. Allow yourself to consider the main idea of the movie, its plot, characters, and political slant.

Final Thoughts

Watching movies is a great language learning technique that is underutilized by most language learners. While it cannot replace the heavy lifting required of grammar study and raw vocabulary accumulation, it is an effective method learners at any level to increase their fluency.


Below you will find six movies that have stuck in mind ever since watching them. Each is special to me for a variety of reasons, but have mainly served as good resources for studying Mandarin. Perhaps you can find some use in them as well.

  1. Movie: To Live
    Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Live_(1994_film)
  2. Movie: Black Snow
    Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Snow_(1990_film)
  3. Movie: Keep Cool
    Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keep_Cool_(film)
  4. Movie: Saving Mr. Wu
    Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saving_Mr._Wu
  5. Movie: Raise the Red Lantern
    Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raise_the_Red_Lantern
  6. Movie: Beijing Bicycle
    Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beijing_Bicycle

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?