Down the Rabbit Hole-Stuck in Zhengzhou Part 2

Zhengzhou Rabbit Hole

Sitting in the dark, in a hotel room, in the middle of a town I had never been to before in China. The only sound was the echo of my slightly frustrated and emotional chuckle because seriously this day could not possibly be this bad. The temptation was to just burrow under the covers and pretend it wasn’t happening but that was not going to get the lights back on. I needed to put my big girl panties on and deal with it. Let me tell you how we got from a missed flight, newly booked flight and a hotel reservation to here.

I had a ticket and I managed to call a hotel and get a reservation but I now had to negotiate the taxi line. ThosNice Tourist Signe who have lived or are living in China can commence laughing at me now. Zhengzhou is a smaller town and they haven’t gotten around to regulating airport taxis as of yet so imagine a tiny,irate, exhausted fireball trying to convince a long line of drivers that she wasn’t taking a taxi unless they used the meter. Joke was on me because my driver said he would use the meter then took the long way around so 260rmb, (Chinese dollars), later I finally arrived at my hotel which was a grand total of 3 kilometers from the airport. I arrived at the hotel tired, hungry and riding a very thin line between patience and a World War III emotional breakdown. I would not be the ugly foreigner again. I would be sweetness and light. Ha!
Since the airport did not take Mastercard I thought it would be judicious to ask, before I checked in, if the hotel took Mastercard. “Oh yes, we do, of course!” Except we don’t apparently. The hotel is brand new and the bank hasn’t approved it, they will have the Hard Time Signpermission by the end of the month. I was told this right after I was all checked in and they wanted me to pay. “You can’t pay in cash?” they asked.  No I couldn’t because as a rule I don’t keep that much cash on hand ever. Tomorrow would have to include a trip to the bank to get the money and pay them. Lovely.
I had not eaten all day either, so my next stop after the room had to be a restaurant, room service or a hotel restaurant. There was no room service or nearby restaurants but the front desk informed me there was a restaurant on the 3rd floor so I went there….except it wasn’t open…yet. It is a new hotel, in fact it is so new the elevator still has paint all over the mirrors, so yeah, ok you get the picture.
Thankfully for some reason they had a waitress looking after a restaurant that had tables, chairs, plates, polished flatware and napkinsChina_Funny_English_inscriptions_Summer-Palace-Beijing but no customers. No it is not the Twilight Zone, just a new hotel. They also had a chef. The two of them decided that they would give me food. I think if I didn’t have a husband, I might marry that chef because of his kindness to me. He made me egg and tomato noodle soup and an espresso.  I might marry him even though I have a husband because wow, he knows how to treat a girl.
My day was looking up. It was 9 pm, almost the end of the day, but I am an optimist when caught at the right moment.  I believed the day could still get better. I had a hotel room, I had a flight, I had eaten and developed a very proper crush on the hotel chef. (Don’t worry my husband will understand, he knows all about my relationship with caffeine.) Nothing could go wrong. All was right with the world. I blame the caffeine for this uncharacteristic rush of euphoria.
But… five minutes passed and the power in the whole hotel went out.  My rush of euphoria promptly left and I could only laugh and  I lived in Welcome Zhengzhou Airporthope my flight did actually make it out of Zhengzhou the next day.  I was also thankful for my Chinese language at the moment. Most days I feel that you can make it in China without a lot of language. Today, however, if I could not speak the language I am afraid I would have been stuck forever. To be honest, I am not sure I am going to make it out of this city even with the language. I hope I see you all again, if not, I guess I have moved back to China.

And the rest of the story…

For those of you wondering what happened with the power and paying the hotel bill this is the happily ever after. After looking out the window and determining that it was a whole hotel problem, I started trying to contact the front desk. I had no luck but did find a maintenance man out in the hall a few minutes later who assured me he would have the power back on in 10 minutes, and he did. After a very good night’s sleep, I was taken to the bank the next day by a lovely member of the hotel staff. Not the chef. I arrived and the bank president promptly came out to show me the banks brand new ATM machine. He was quick to point out the English capabilities of the machine and I was very thankful, if a bit embarrassed. I paid my hotel bill and got to the airport where my flight took off and landed in Beijing. I made it through another 18 hours of flights and some layovers and home to Perth.

If you are looking for more great ironic pictures of signs in China, try this link

Down the Rabbit Hole-Stuck in Zhengzhou Part 1

I am writing this blog sitting in a hotel in the middle of a dark hotel room in Zhengzhou, China. Zhengzhou is meant to be a stopover between many larger cities. Zhengzhou is a middle point between two places and Zhengzhou5not often a destination, even though it is a capital city. The fact that I am writing this from a hotel in this city says a lot about how my day has gone. First of all let me say that it is no surprise to anyone that I have a love affair with China. I adore this country. I fly, and to say I hate flying is an understatement, so that I can come to this country.  Having said that, there are days when it throws me for a loop and today was one of those days.
I lost my patience today with several people. I will no doubt be referred to as tiny crazy lady, or dragon lady, in this city for a long time because I got a little peeved. I did not yell, but most people who speak Chinese as a second language will say there are some times when it would be better for everyone around them if they couldn’t speak the language. For me today was one of those times. I checked into my flight at Shenyang airport and the flight was supposed to go to Kunming. At check in I was  informed that I would be changing flights in Zhengzhou and it was not just a stopover. I would actually have to get a new ticket and change planes. “OK” I said politely, “Would I have enough time?” The lady at Zhengzhou8the check in counter replied, “Oh certainly, more than enough.” I had my doubts so I later asked at the gate and found that this person thought I would definitely not have enough time if without someone to help me. “Tell the flight attendant,” she said, “she will arrange for someone to meet you and transfer you.” I then asked, “OK, well I have an international flight leaving from Beijing the next day, I am meant to fly to Kunming for a meeting then immediately after, fly to Beijing, so are there many daily flights from Zhengzhou to Beijing?” She replied, “Oh yes naturally!” Newton’s law went into effect here. A little voice said, “Switch airlines or flights now!” But I ignored the voice, I was already checked in and, I thought,I am not that person that screams about broken phalanges and gets off the plane. (Watch Friends the TV show.) So I took the flight, which arrive a half an hour late, and no one met me to help transfer me so, no, I didn’t make my flight to Kunming.



I finally found the domestic ticket desk at Zhengzhou airport, (see picture of airport above to the right), and some people who were reluctantly willing to help me. (At this point I had already gotten put out with the people at the transfer desk who couldn’t help and now was actually power walking mad so their reluctance was very understandable). There was not much they could do though. There were no more flights to Kunming today. The flights the next day were too late to arrive in time for my meeting. Surprise, surprise there were also no more flights to Beijing because there are not, as I had previously been told, many daily flights from Zhengzhou to Beijing. So I cancelled my meetings in Kunming with embarrassment and as much grace as I could manage and moved on to booking a ticket for Beijing tomorrow.
20507975064be68c6999116This sounds easy and it would have been but I am in a city where people are not supposed to stop or do things like buy brand new tickets so I could not pay with foreign currency or used my MasterCard to pay for the ticket. The banks were closed so I couldn’t exchange any of the three other types of foreign currency I had. So, I had to call my husband, have him purchase the ticket online and send me the confirmation while also looking up hotels. Then I had to confirm the flight with the airline which I had been told to do. Shoot to a picture of me still in the airport four hours later.
You may think my story is  finally over, I have a plane ticket for Beijing and a reservation at a trusted hotel chain. “It wasn’t so bad after all”, you might be thinking. You would be wrong because as of this moment the electricity has gone off in the entire hotel and here I sit in the dark writing a blog because that is all there is left to do. You can read about how I ended up in a dark hotel room writing a blog in part 2, coming soon!

Another International Student Success Story

From The Australian 12th September 2014

12.9.2014b 12.9.2014

Where will you go?- Living a life without boundaries

ImageProxy.mvcFor those who choose to study or live internationally the community and support groups that help people are increasing and are increasingly good at what they do. People are finding it easier in today’s world to live internationally than they ever have before. In Australia we see people coming here from several different countries to live, study and work. The trend of living internationally is definitely growing. In the past 5 years the number of expatriates living and working in China has increased 18% and the Indian consulate in San Francisco has reported that from 2009 to 2010 the number of visas issued for Americans going to work in India doubled. Worldwide, according to, in the year 2000 there were 161 million of us living and working overseas and in the year 2010 that number had increased to 200 million.

There are several questions raised by these trends in our global community. One of which is: Are we, as a society, preparing our children for what is happening in the world today?

A person who reaches the top of their chosen career path today will find that in order to be the best or to work with the best they must live and work internationally. They must speak another language or two or three and feel comfortable working with people who hold a variety of cultural perspectives. In sports the top coaches move in international circles. Australian’s recent national soccer coach was from Germany. Yao Ming went from playing basketball in China to playing NBA in the U.S. This is not to mention the many interesting coach and player partnerships in tennis, which seems to specialize in international cooperation. WALMART CANADA - Walmart lance le défi pour étudiants le plus am If you are a chef chances are you will eventually want to study or work in another country to learn more about international cuisine. One example is Manu Feidel from the TV show, My Kitchen Rules. Manu is French but now works and lives in Australian. He also lived in England for a period of time. We tend to think of the manufacturing industry and diplomatic circles as career paths in which knowing another language and international problem solving are great skills to have. However, more and more as we look around this world being free to expand your career means to move amongst different cultures and languages.

Looking at some of the most famous actors and pop singers in Asia will also show this growing trend as many of them were born or have lived in western countries for a large time period before making their name across several Asian countries. South Korea and China even have a pop group named Exo, made of 12 members, 6 Korean and 6 Chinese and they sing songs in both Mandarin and Korean.

Starting early and preparing yourself with international cross-cultural experience and language study gives a person a much stronger ability to live without boundaries. Studying in another country as an exchange student, or later as part of your university studies, gives you the freedom to take your career where you want it to go. To live in the global community the way it is now, with the skills to take you anywhere you might want to go.

Christa Smith

Written by China Promotions Manager Christa Smith

Shanghai Calling – How Not to Behave Overseas

shanghai calling 2Shanghai Calling is a cute romantic comedy about a Chinese American man who moves to Shanghai with no ability to speak Mandarin and no understanding of Chinese culture. I watch TV and movies in Mandarin to help me with my listening abilities but this one made me laugh because it made me remember what I was like when I first moved to China about 15 years ago. It also reminded me quite a lot of some of the expats in China I met over the years. The main character,Sam, assumes that he can fix most of his work and personal problems the same way he could back in the States. He even makes the mistake of thinking his assistant is flirting with him when she is just trying to help him learn the culture. He does learn, eventually, that he has to have help and that he needs to learn more about the culture and the language.Shanghai calling 3

 I liked this movie because the characters were unexpected but they were more like the people I actually knew when I lived in China. The American woman who is more Chinese than the Chinese American man. The child who only speaks Chinese and refuses to speak English. The warm family and caring boyfriend. I really enjoyed the “Awesome Wang” character. A nice guy with a daughter he loves, who is good at helping expats out when they misunderstand the culture or have a problem with work. 

 I think we all need an “Awesome Wang” or cultural mentor. I think that even if Sam had been able to speak and read perfect Chinese he still would have had problems because of his cultural misunderstandings. Moving to a new country for work or working with expats can be difficult because we are not coming from the same culture and there are many times when we miscommunicate. Sometimes these can be humorous, we hope, and sometimes they can be shocking and embarrassing. 

China australia This can even happen when people study English. I watch a lot of movies and TV to help with my language learning but have learned not to repeat the slang I hear because not every idiom or slang word that is said on TV is appropriate for use in conversation or I might use it the wrong way. I also love the way Sam falls in love with the people, language and culture by living there and making friends. I think the best way to learn a language is by immersing ourselves for a short time or a long time in that language and culture. I love the way the movie shows that sometimes falling in love with living overseas can sneak up on you. 

 Christa SmithOverall the movie was a little corny in places but I recommend it as a fun watch especially for those people who are bilingual and will enjoy the way the movie mixes English and Mandarin.

Written by our new China Promotions Manager Christa Smith.

Free Mandarin iPad Apps for Children – Story Based

This one is a bit girly and pink , but if you don’t mind that, its a great app! If you have a little princess at home – this is the app for you. Also good for pre gender stereotyped kids such as my 2 year old boy whose favourite part is the sticker game pictured below.


The interesting thing about this app is that it is story based rather than category based like most of the other apps. You get the story of Snow White for free. There are another 4 books you can buy for $1.99 each: Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.

There are 4 parts – Read, Colour, Play and Sing.

Read: The story of Snow White is presented in book form, read to you in an American accent, with a few Chinese sentenced interspersed throughout. Icons appear on the side of the page as new Chinese words are introduced. These are flashcards that can be clicked on to see the picture bigger, then clicked on to see the Chinese character on the back. The words taught are bird, princess, rabbit, deer, squirrel, 1, 2, 3, my name is, good bye, very good and thank you.


Colour: This is a simple colouring exercise. The only learning component is that as you pick a new colour to use it is said out loud for you to hear.

Play:  (1) Memory – classic game of memory trying to match 2 of the same images. The word is pronounced when a correct match is found.

(2) Bingo – listen to the word, and look at the picture, and find the matching card.

(3) Sticker – 4 stickers to match to the empty shapes in the picture.

Sing: A song about Snow White can be played from beginning to end or section y section using the interactive  buttons.

What I like: A good mix of greetings, numbers and animals all based around a well known story. Lovely colourful illustrations.

princesses learn CHinese

What I don’t like: Really does push the buying of more books as your ‘library’ looks very empty with only one book in it.

Free Mandarin iPad Apps for Children – Numbers

This is the first in a series of posts reviewing iPad apps for children learning Mandarin. Stacey College run a Mandarin Club for Primary School aged children in Perth, Western Australia. The aim of these reviews is to be able to recommend to parents useful apps for their children to access to support the teaching they receive once a week. These are not sponsored recommendations and are purely my opinion, with testing by my three children aged 11, 9 and 2. I will start with the free apps, then move onto some of the paid apps.

Crazy Chinese Flashcards is my choice for learning numbers. The lite version is free and includes numbers and animals.

Crazy Chinese flashcards

The Game: Flashcards with the Mandarin characters for numbers bounce up onto the screen. As you click on each one you get points and the number is pronounced in Mandarin. Don’t click on the inkpots, but the stars will give you money to spend on extras. This part of the game is pretty simple and is just helping kids to refresh their knowledge. It starts with 1-5 and each round adds an extra number until you get to ten. There is limited time and lives.

Pop Quiz: After each round of catching flashcards there is a reading and listening pop quiz. This will help your kids to know if they actually recognize the characters (reading) and understand the words (listening).

Report Card: A report card can be accessed from the main menu telling you how you are going.

So why not download it today and let me know what you think – or more importantly what your children think of it.

If you love it – the full version only costs $1.99 and includes the categories: numbers, animals, colours, countries, shapes, transportation, stationary and fruit. It also allows up to 4 users to log in separately and save their scores.

Mandarin for Business

Stacey College is now offering tutoring and group classes to better prepare you for your next business trip to China.

See how impressed your Chinese clients are when you show off your new skill in Mandarin!

Seriously though – it takes a long time to become proficient in a new language. What is 5 hours of training going to get you?

It will give you a couple of words in Mandarin to demonstrate to the people you are doing business with that you are interested in their country and culture, and you value their language.

It will improve your understanding of the Chinese culture, attitudes and values.

See our website for details.

Australia in the Asian Century

It has been a pleasure reading the newspaper this morning with all the discussions arising from the Asia White Paper released by the government yesterday.

For Stacey College it is encouraging to hear the call for “deeper and broader people-to-people links with Asia nations across the entire community”. As an organisation promoting language learning, we recognize that languages cannot be learnt in a vacuum, but involve an understanding of the cultures and traditions behind the spoken word. While we see vast numbers of our Asian community coming to Australia to learn English, it is widely recognised that Australians do not have the same passion for embracing the languages of our neighbours. The Asia White Paper has identified  Mandarin, Hindi, Japanese and Indonesian as the priority Asian languages. “The broad thrust of the white paper is to seek educational and cultural awareness and integration at all levels of training and schooling so that business, trade and cultural pursuits all benefit from a systemic increase in knowledge and understanding of Asia.” (Denis Shanahan, The Australian.)

Previously in this blog we have discussed the dismal facts about Asian language learning in Australian high schools (Value in Second Language.) This is not the first time the Australian government has declared that we must be more engaged with Asia, and that Asian languages must become a priority in our schools. Clearly Greg Sheridan from the Australian thinks that this is just another of those times. He describes the white paper among other things as “pure spin. It is an emperor whose nakedness is epic.” Though I thoroughly enjoyed reading his passionately written criticism, I will hold out hope that eventually Australians will get on board with the idea that learning a second language is both fundamentally advantageous and essential to being a player in the global community. Once parents recognise the enormous advantage their children will have by being proficient in more than one language the changes will really start to take place.

On my recent trip to Switzerland the thing that most struck me was the constant hubub of multiple languages around me. In Perth it is easy to go a lot of your time without hearing another language. In the airport, and in Switzerland I was reminded what a big world we live in, and what an advantage it is to know other languages. Flying on Emirates they had staff who between them spoke about 10 languages. The hotel I stayed at had multilingual staff which was fortunate for me because I don’t speak German (yet!).


So as you hear all the talk about The Asian Century I hope that you will see it as an opportunity to learn more about our neighbours and perhaps take the opportunity to learn one of their languages.

If you want to check out the White Paper for yourself you can download it here. I found the slideshow particularly helpful as a summary. There are also fact sheets that can be downloaded separately so you can read about areas that are of particular interest to you.



Teaching Mandarin

In today’s Australian – and I had just been thinking the same thing after a discussion with a Primary School principal who was concerned that Mandarin may be too hard a language for kids to learn. My thought was maybe if we just focussed on helping them learn to speak the language rather than getting bogged down in all the characters. Looks like Victoria beat me too it, and have already decided to do the same thing.

Just click on the newsprint to read a bigger version.