Tag Archives: Mandarin

Chinese Characters, by Han Jiantang

I was a little disappointed with “Chinese Characters”, a book by Han Jiantang, who is Professor of Chinese at Tianjin Normal University. The book is full of information about Chinese characters, but unfortunately, it is a little hard to digest at times. The presentation and structure of the text could be improved and the English translation is not always the best. It’s a shame because I was really looking forward to reading it. Having said that, if you don’t mind spending a bit of time searching for what you are looking for, the book is full of interesting information.

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Filed under Books, China, Language, Non-fiction

Besta MT-7000, Chinese-English electronic dictionary and e-tutor

I have finally received my Besta MT-7000! It took me a few weeks to find it. I tried to order it from China and Singapore, but the stocks of the sites that offered it were wrong and after a few unsuccessful attempts I was back to square one. I ended up ordering it on Amazon. The Besta MT-7000 is the best electronic Chinese-English dictionary on the market (This is strictly my point of view.). And it’s not very expensive. I should start by saying that it is much more than an electronic dictionary, as it features lessons ranging from characters to pronunciation, daily and business conversations, and a list of tools from a diary to a calculator, games etc. I love the fact that you can either use a keyboard or write directly on the digital screen with a small pen to look for a word or a character. You can even write sentences and the Besta will translate them for you! I have been playing with it non-stop since it arrived, and I am taking it with me on my business trip to Sydney next week. It replaces many books that I have been schlepping around for a few months. Being small, you can carry it in your pocket and use it whenever the need arises. I highly recommend it to anyone learning (Mandarin) Chinese.


Filed under China, Language, Technology


I highly recommend “Aftershock“, the first Chinese movie to play on IMAX, adapted from a novel by Ling Zhang, and out on the screens in 2010. Feng Xiaogang directed the movie, which tells the story of a family torn apart by the 1976 Tangshan earthquake that killed at least 240,000 people. You may never have heard or remember this terrible earthquake, but I guarantee you will after seeing the movie.

When both her son and daughter find themselves stuck beneath the same cement slab during the Tangshan earthquake,Yuan Ni must choose whom to save. She chooses her son, and this decision will shape the fate of her family for the thirty-two years that will follow. The movie is not so much about the catastrophe than about the emotional journey of a family following the tragedy. The acting is very good, and the story captivating. I found the earthquake episode itself very realistic, if not terrifying (I for one, after spending a few years in an earthquake prone zone, know what it feels like). You cannot help being drawn into the fate of this family and the consequences that their decisions will lead to. I had tears in my eyes. The film also offers some aspects of Chinese life for those who have never been there.

I am aware that there have been fierce critics of the movie. “It is not a particularly honest film,” says Dan Edwards (thebeijinger.com) “Problems, ambiguities and unpalatable complications in China’s recent past are neatly airbrushed out to show a society that has suffered greatly through “hand of god” calamities, but that has overcome these cruel turns of fate to build an ever-improving, ever-more-prosperous China. It’s a vision of the past thirty years that meshes nicely with the contemporary emphasis on nationalism and “looking to the future” rather than dwelling on the divisions of the past.” However, if you forget about this aspect of Chinese history (as well as a few holes in the story) you will enjoy the movie.

I am posting the trailer here, although I find it does not depict the movie very well. It focusses solely on the drama of the earthquake itself, while this only represents a few minutes of the film.

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Filed under China, Movies

Reference material for learning Chinese

I’m very disappointed. The SUPER TYPHOON MEGI, which was heading towards Hong Kong two days ago changed its course and is now about to hit the North Guangdong province. Xiamen is going to get a lot of rain… and today is sunny in Hong Kong! I love typhoons and I was planning to spend a full day revising my Chinese while stuck at home. So here I am instead, planning to go swimming… Tough!

I thought I would post a few words about the material I find very useful to learn to speak and read Mandarin (not an easy task, as many of you would know!).

For learning to write and read characters, I find the following books most useful:

250 Essential Chinese Characters for everyday use (Vol 1 and 2) by Philip Yungkin Lee (from UNSW, SYDNEY!), Tuttle Publishing. These two books are excellent to learn to write the characters and understand their meaning and how they were created. The books present both the simplified version used in Mainland China, and the complex version used in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

To remember as many characters as possible, I use flashcards. Chinese in a Flash (Vol 1, 2, 3 and 4) by Philip Yungkin Lee,Tuttle Publishing, is perfect. I highly recommend them. They allow for quick self testing.

I also use Reading and Writing Chinese (simplified character edition), by William McNaughton, Tuttle Publishing, which presents over 2000 essential characters for reading everyday Chinese. The layout is beautiful, the blue ink for characters works well, the order of strokes is clearly presented and the different meanings and pronunciations are explained. This one complements nicely the material above.

For grammar, I use Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide, by Claudia  Ross and Jing-heng Sheng Ma, Routledge, Bilingual Edition.

For Vocabulary building, I like the visual Chinese English Bilingual Dictionary (Dorling Kindersley). It displays photos and pictures, with arrows pointing to the different elements, the Chinese and English words, and the PinYin correspondence.

I also use Schaum’s Outline of Chinese Vocabulary, by Yanping Xie and Duan-Duan Li, McGraw-Hill Publishers.

It’s hardly enough and it does not replace face to face conversation, but it’s a good start. I’d better get going though, so I’m going to sign off now. Enjoy your weekend!

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Filed under Books, Hong Kong, Language, Travel, Uncategorized

Kaohsiung, the friendly city

I’ve just spent a few days in Kaohsiung. It was my first time in Taiwan, and I must admit and I was impressed! The people are extremely friendly and they welcome the few tourists who go there with open arms (To be honest, we didn’t see more than a handful of them over the four days we spent there). Kaohsiung is the most densely populated and the second largest city in Taiwan after the capital Taipei, with a population of around 1.5 million. It is located in southwestern Taiwan and is a major port, through which pass most of Taiwan’s marine imports and exports. The city has large avenues, without too much traffic (for a Chinese city), and with footpaths that are wide enough for walking (although the heat at this time of the year makes it somewhat uncomfortable). Unfortunately, The FANAPI typhoon passed over the city a few days ago, and some of the vegetation has suffered extensively. We went to the city of Tainan (about an hour from Kaohsiung) and the mountains for a few hours of relaxation in the local hot springs, which I strongly recommend to anyone in need of a good rest. When we left the springs, a storm came over us and in a matter of minutes, the road we were driving on became a river. Very scary.

People in Kaohsiung speak Taiwanese or Mandarin, and some of them also speak English. Things to see and do in Kaohsiung include a walk along the Love river, the Rose Basilica, the Lotus Pond, the former British Consulate at Dagou, the port, and the Liuhe night markets, full of people and food stalls from 5 pm to 5 am every day! One of the highlights for me was the food, which is of amazing quality. I strongly recommend the fried fish, beef noodles, smelly (sic) tofu, mango ice, and some of the delicious cakes to be found in the numerous tea and coffee shops. In fact, Taiwan did remind me a little of Japan from that perspective. I should also mention the KMRT, the 2008-newly opened subway system, which, with its two lines, covers the city well. I have never been in such a clean underground train system in my whole life (see picture below). I will be spending the weekend in Taipei in a few weeks time, and I can’t wait!

The Love River and the city skyline.

The Rose Basilica and the KMRT.

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