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Archive for September, 2007

Chinese Dialects

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Chinese People Talking

One of the lessons I found out early on during my initial stint in Taiwan was that there was more than one form of Chinese, in fact a LOT more! I found it odd that when people spoke to me, I could make out what they were saying, and they seemed to understand what I was saying to them. However, when I tried to eavesdrop on people talking to each other, more times than not, I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying!

We all know that Mandarin is the official language for China and Taiwan. However, each region within these places has their own unique dialect that can differ greatly from typical Mandarin. In Taiwan for example, most residents speak Minnanhua (also knows as Taiwanese) which is similar to the dialects spoken in the Fujian province of China. In fact, most regions in China have their own hua or local dialect. So when local residents speak to each other, that is usually the language they will use. It is what is used at home among family members as well.

Many generations ago, the Mandarins of Imperial China came up with an official language to unify the country and allow people from different regions to be able to communicate with each other. This is why Mandarin is called Putonghua (the common language) in Mainland China and Guoyu (the country language) in Taiwan. It is the language used to teach in school, on the news and to conduct business in (which makes it a good language to learn!)

Because for most people, Mandarin is formerly taught to them in school, it is also a sign of good education if you can speak proper Mandarin. So don’t be surprised if someone compliments your Chinese by saying “It’s very standard!” If you want to really fit in with the locals, learn a few words of the local dialect. If you think being able to speak a few words of Mandarin will impress them, imagine if you spoke a few words of the local language - that will be sure to floor them, as they know there are no books on the subject - the only way to learn it is to pick it up off the street, just like they had to.

As this course has shown, there are differences between pronunciation patterns from different regions in China. Learning about these dialects helped me better appreciate the differences in speech between different speakers. Just like it’s possible to identify where a person comes from by their English accent, it is also possible to do so by listening to a person’s Chinese.

Chinese Tea Culture

Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

Chinese Tea Culture

While many may know that tea is popular in Chinese culture, many may not know how important and how integral it is as part of daily life. Tea is offered by the host to his guests as a sign of respect towards them. When visiting someone’s house, expect to be served tea when you are first seated. Going to a business meeting? Expect to be served tea before and during the meeting. Getting a haircut? It’s not uncommon for tea to be offered to you there as well. Tea ceremonies are also an integral part of Chinese weddings, where the new bride and groom offer tea to their parents and in-laws as a show of appreciation.

There are several different kinds of tea available, some more common than others, depending on the occasion. Green tea is a more natural form as it maintains the original color of the tea leaves. This flavor is found not only in tea but also in everything from chewing gum, medicines, cooking, soaps and even toothpaste! The green tea extract has many healthy properties, so it is common to extend these properties to other products of daily use.

Black tea (or red tea as it is known in Chinese) gets its color after fermentation of the tea leaves. Wulong tea is a cross between green and black tea, as a result of partial fermentation. Other types of tea include scented varieties such as jasmine tea, created by mixing flowers during the processing of tea leaves.

So why is tea so popular? In the summer, tea is known for dispelling heat and producing a cooling and relaxing sensation. Tea is also considered to have chemicals that aid in digestion, as well as removing nicotine and alcohol from the body. There is a fascinating process of how tea is served, involving constant pouring and repouring of hot water from the teapot to the teacups to provide the proper tea color and aroma. This process is especially used at tea shops, when customers are sampling different types of tea for purchase.

When served tea, it is best to follow the gestures that others around you use to show gratitude to the host, as these can vary from region to region. In general however, expect the host to make sure your tea cup is constantly refilled, so if you have had your fill, it is best to take a sip and let the rest sit in your cup.