Learning Mandarin to Experience China

20 May

Why learn Mandarin? There are many reasons. Lijiang alone may constitute a sufficient answer for the avid traveler.

There are many reasons to learn to speak Mandarin. I followed the advice of a friend who learned it for different reasons that I and went on a trip far from my home in The Middle Kingdom to get a better feel for what she spoke about.

Down in the south of China, far from Beijing, where I live, in the province of Yunnan there is a city called Lijiang. The words Yunnan means literally The Clouds in The South. Just north of Lijiang there is a great mesa several hundred meters above the city elevation. Against this wall clouds founder and drop a great deal of rain as they rise. The rain might seem to many people only hearing about the city as a hassle, but when you are there they don’t. The heat of this area makes the rain a welcome respite. After all, the gentle summer rain is very different from other types of rain. Furthermore Lijiang would not be Lijiang with out the constant precipitation. The downpour keeps the canals and streams that cross the city everywhere full of clucking water. The city seems largely built around these waterways. The stone architecture that they necessitate is not only beautiful but has allowed the city centre of the old district to remain the same over the centuries.

Lijiang seems perpetually under clouds, but not enough clouds to hide the staggeringly beautiful peaks that surround it. If you have ever seen a Chinese oil painting you probably know what I mean. The peaks you can see when sitting on a park bench in this ancient city are the foothills of Himalayas. That is pretty good inspiration. There are few greater muses than the roof of the world.

As I am writing this I am sitting in Mama Naxi’s Guesthouse. Mama Naxi herself is ever present here. Like a spirit she exists everywhere and handles every question and request that any of the visitors have. I choose this place on recommendation by a good friend that had previously worked for her. My friend, Sophie, acted as a translator for the good Mama for a couple of months when she was traveling in the area 4 years ago. Mama remembered her; of course, she seems to not forget anything. Sophie, who I met back in Sweden, from where I hail, was a major influence in my decision to come to China, so it seemed only natural to visit the part of the Middle Kingdom that she liked the most.

Sophie did not learn Mandarin only to work with China. She came here as an English/Swedish teacher but during the course of the almost 3 years that she spent in China she picked up the language rather well. The reason that she learned Mandarin, or rather the reason that she stayed so much longer than she expected, was to travel. I came to boost my employability. It now seems rather stupid of me to come to this country for only one reason. Sophie came to work with kids, cause she loves to do so, but more importantly; she came to see the country. I have only lived here for about a year, but the motivation to stay and learn Mandarin properly seems to come easier when I think of the notion that it would open up the country in a way that simply learning Chinese/Mandarin in Beijing will not. I included the long description about Lijiang because just as it struck Sophie, is struck me as one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. However, I am not sure that it really captures what I feel. The place would not be the same without me being able to speak decent Mandarin. It is the people here, like the hard working Mama Naxi that makes the place. For me this alone would justify learning at least basic Mandarin. China is a country ripe for exploration.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin Language School in China that is a great option for those that want to learn mandarin, the lingua franca of the growing economic powerhouse. See the program overview page for more information about learning Mandarin in China.

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