This past December I got the amazing opportunity to travel to Shanghai and Guanzhou, China. The school where I take evening Mandarin lessons, Confucius Institute of the University of Botswana (CIUB), takes 2 groups of students to China twice a year in July and December. Some students go for 2-3 weeks and other students go for 4-5 weeks. Each trip is sponsored by the school, the only expense the students cover is the air ticket from Johannesburg to Shanghai and back which is usually between 8000 and 9000 Pula (just over $1000). Only the top 2 students of each class (regardless of level) are selected to go.
I went for the 2-3 week trip though I would have preferred the 4-5 week trip but because of some constraints I was unable to go for the latter. CIUB in conjunction with Shanghai Normal University organise a full schedule of activities with the aim to immerse students in Chinese culture and to enable us to learn more Mandarin. So our schedule included daily Mandarin classes at the University and afternoon activities such as paper cutting, martial arts, Chinese singing, cooking etc.
My favorite activity and oddly enough the one I sucked the most at was calligraphy. I am fascinated by Chinese characters generally. I am interested in their history, meanings, origins and it doesn’t hurt that they look pretty cool! So for me Chinese calligraphy is really intriguing. In the video below, the calligraphy instructor is showing us some basic characters.
It’ll be years before I’m even half as good as him.
In paper cutting class I did much better though. Being beginners we did simple shapes but when it’s done, the end product always looks more complex than the process is. We started with a simple Panda pattern which symbolizes friendship. Then we were given various designs and we tried it on our own. Check out my work below:
And below is our instructor showing off her work, note the complexity in hers!
We also got to give martial arts a go which was quite fun! We all had no idea what we were doing but we gave it our best shot regardless. Our instructor was very patient and a very funny guy, had us in stitches most of the time. In the video below, he is demonstrating the little routine we learnt. Each move/stance has a name and our favourite by far was the sitting stance, mainly because it was the most difficult and made a few of us fall over. Regardless, we eventually got the hang of it.
Here I am in my sitting stance!
In singing class we learnt a Chinese folk song called Kan Ding Love song. It’s an old song that has incredible popularity in China and I have not come across a Chinese person that doesn’t know it yet. Below is a video of our singing teacher singing it, she has a lovely voice!
Another activity we did was cooking. We attempted to make jiaozi or small dumplings. A chef demonstrated how to roll the dough and shape the dumpling then we were given already made dough and a pork filling so we could try it on our own.