在家在中国

A Finnish coducator (coder-educator), embarking on an adventure of a lifetime in the Middle Kingdom.

Do-it-yourself China

Experience the Chinese lifestyle without leaving home. Here I will post Chinese recipes, traditions, hobbies to try.

Using chopsticks

Things needed:

  • a hand
  • a mouth
  • patience
  • chopsticks, real or improvised (eg. two pencils)
  • food (preferably in small pieces, which are easy to pick up)

How to proceed:

  1. Have the food somewhere nearby. Gather some strength and take one stick into your hand. You will only use one hand.
  2. Place the stick at the junction between your thumb and index finger. Don’t grab the stick in the middle. This will make its usage difficult. Hold it almost at the end. The stick will now point in a parallel direction with your fingers when your hand is relaxed.
  3. Lower/draw your ring finger a bit towards yourself. You will then put the stick to rest against the side of your ring finger. This stick doesn’t budge: it will stay in its place all the time during the meal. This is the food-supporting stick. The next one is the one you will move around.
  4. The second stick placement is easy. You grab it like you would a pen. You move the stick around with your thumb, middle and index finger, like a pen. This is the food-grabbing stick. Both sticks should be held approximately at the same spot.
  5. Move the sticks towards the food. Keep a wide open angle between the sticks, and besiege the target piece of food with the sticks. Push the food-supporting stick (the one which doesn’t move) against the piece of food, and catch the chosen piece of food with the food-grabbing stick. You should now have the piece of food trapped between your sticks.
  6. Lift the food towards your mouth, and put it in. Eat. Repeat the procedure several times, as new neural connections related to movement need some time to form.

Having a Chinese breakfast/lunch/dinner

Things needed:

  • a round table
  • a Lazy Suzy on the table
  • as many family members and friends as possible
  • chopsticks
  • time
  • a sharing-friendly attitude
  • a small bowl for each person
  • a rice cooker in the corner of the room
  • many, many plates of different foods placed on the Lazy Suzy (eg. bamboo stem/meat/vegetable mix, filled dumplings, a whole fish, tofu, radish and lotus root soup in a larger bowl, at least 5-7 plates/bowls of different foods, NO RICE AT THE TABLE)
  • extra chairs (when more people arrive at the table)
  • glasses are optional (remember, Chinese people seldom drink anything except the soup)

How to proceed:

  1. Cook the food. There are very good recipes online. Put each type of food on a separate plate on the lazy Suzy. Everyone will pick some into their bowl with their chopsticks.
  2. Cook the rice. Everyone will go to the rice cooker and put some into their bowl if they wish. Don’t put the cooker on the table.
  3. Shout/call/text/communicate telepathically to your family members and friends that breakfast/lunch/dinner is served. Wait for everyone to gather at the table. The elders and a possible honorable guest are allowed to sit down first.
  4. Start talking loudly and picking food from the different plates for yourself and others. Pick up an especially good piece and give it to your family member or friend.
  5. Make slurping noises when you especially like something.
  6. Don’t inspect the food too much. For example, don’t start picking bones out of your piece of fish. You take the whole thing into your mouth and spit the bones out later beside the bowl.
  7. When you pause, lay the chopsticks to rest horizontally on top of the bowl. DO NOT under any circumstances stick them to dangle vertically in the food or the bowl. This reminds the Chinese of funeral incenses and means that you wish death upon your family members.
  8. When you’re finished, you can say “wo bao le!” (I’m full!) and pat the stomachs of the people sitting next to you.
  9. Nowadays the rules aren’t very strict anymore, you can leave the table before the elders or honourable guests. The sitting-down phase is more important.

Learning the language(s), written text and/or pinyin

Ingredients needed:

  • curiosity
  • a distinct amount of courage
  • time
  • creative thinking
  • lots and lots of A4-sized papers (which you are going to tear to pieces)
  • pencils
  • an empathetic teacher (optional, recommended)
  • patient family member(s) and/or friend(s)
  • a sound-proof space (for speech/singing)
  • non-judgmental Chinese-speaking friends (optional, recommended)
  • floor space (eventually)
  • HSK level or similar books for studying
  1. The first step is to convince yourself that Mandarin is going to be a useful language for you in the future. Here you’ll get support from the optional Chinese friends and your interest/curiosity.
  2. The second step is to gather some resources for learning Mandarin. The most essential one of these is courage. You are going to change the neurolinguistic wiring of your brain. That takes about 90% more work than the actual learning of the language(s), because you need to shift your linguistic thinking patterns. Also, get a book covering about the A1-A2 levels of Mandarin, and the papers and pencils.
  3. The first thing you need to learn is that you need to use the tones correctly. There are four tones, high (line on top of the letter), low (a v-shape on top of the letter), rising (´, eg. a “huh?” sound) and falling (`, eg. an “aah!” sound). The meaning of a word changes, when the tone changes. The word “ma” means mom, horse, cannabis, or cursing, depending on the tone you use. So “ma ma, ma ma ma?” could mean “is mom cursing at her cannabis horse?”. My teacher complained that because of Finns’ tendency to always use a falling tone in speech, he has been claimed to be a number more times than he can remember. (“Ni hao” if pronounced right means “you are good” or “hello”, if pronounced wrong it means “you are a number”.) In other words, you want to get the tones right. When you need an ego boost, you can talk to your family member(s) or friend(s). They will think everything you say sounds like perfect Mandarin.
  4. When you’ve been learning Mandarin (pinyin is easier than written Mandarin, which is why it’s misleading to read newspapers claiming that Chinese people must be badly educated. You’re considered literate in Mandarin when you can identify ~3000 characters. This means an elementary school level. You can read official articles and newspapers with about 5000. Compare this amount to the Western alphabet, which has 20-30 letters depending on language, and you’ll see why the statistics are misleading.) and you’ve become frustrated enough, you can start tearing the papers to look like small flashcards, like in the picture below. One paper needs to be torn about four times and makes eight small flashcards. On these papers, you will write the character at the front, pinyin behind it, and the translation in your language on the “third” page. When done, put them in your pocket. When you’re sitting on the toilet, on the train, or when waiting for your turn at the bank, take them out, and try to remember what the character means. Then open the flashcard and check if you were right. Also, pronounce the character in pinyin (correctly!). Observe that this behaviour in a public setting will draw curious looks from fellow travellers or bathroom visitors.

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This is what your living room floor is going to look like a few months in.

I will continue on this topic later, hope you’ll get inspired enough to give it a try!

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