2,000km train journey video: Benny gets his Chinese name, makes new friends and meets pandas!

Here it is! My video of the epic 2,000km (that’s about 1,250 miles in “old money” as we say) train ride I took to get to Chengdu, starting from Shanghai. This video shares the people (and pandas) I met along the way! :) Click CC to enable subtitles (in English, and traditional or simplified Chinese) or watch the video on Youku here.

The last videos I uploaded were from Shanghai. From there I got a fast train to Nanjing and you can see me check out the Confucius temple there at the start of this video. Luckily, you can buy your ticket for this train just before boarding it in Shanghai.

Next, I wanted to head on to Wuhan and was thinking of getting the ferry through some of the river between there and Chongqing, but unfortunately, getting to the train station 2 hours in advance wasn’t enough and I had to stay in Nanjing longer than I had planned so extra travels had to be cancelled if I was to continue onward. From then on, I would buy my tickets a little in advance.

After just a day in Wuhan, I got the most interesting train of all, which was a 16 hour ride! I got the “soft sleeper”, so I could get a decent night’s sleep and arrive in Chongqing well rested. Most of this video covers that train ride and the chats I had with those I was sharing the carriage with.

You can see the moment that they gave me my Chinese name! :D What do you think?

本领 (Benling) means “ability/skill”, since my new friend 李慧 LiHui was impressed with my language story. There could have been a word closer to Benny, but in her accent the ‘n’ and ‘l’ sounds are closer, which took some getting used to at first before I could understand her better. I think the confusion is a happy coincidence since it works with my initials B.L. Since I have it on camera as them giving me this name, I think it only fits to stick with it!

To pass some of the time, LiHui read a decent amount of the Language Hacking Guide (which is of course in Chinese too, along with 2 dozen other languages [next addition coming soon as a free update: Esperanto!]) on my Kindle and shared her thoughts with me on camera.

Her party left at around 11pm (they had gotten to their hometown of Enshi), so I turned in and some time later the two girls I talked to in the morning came in.

I stopped in Chongqing for a few days, and on my way out went to buy the ticket for the following week to Xi’an, since my original plan was actually to cover 2,800km by train all the way there. I wanted to take the hard-sleeper this time to see what kind of people I’d meet there instead, despite a poorer night’s sleep. But sadly, all tickets were sold out (including soft-sleepers) over several days that I would have travelled apart from standing room.

Hmm… Standing for 17 hours straight, with no assigned place to put my bags… OR getting a one hour flight that wasn’t particularly expensive… not such a hard decision ;) . I’ll also be flying from Xi’an to Qingdao in a week, to save time and get to know the coastal areas better – I’ll hit the trains again from there, but I’m sure it won’t be as interesting as this longer journey!

Finally, on the last leg of the trip, on another fast train, I made another friend and met up with her here in Chengdu! Yesterday I checked out the famous panda sanctuary, and now I’m ready to head towards Xi’an!

I hope you enjoyed this video, as it shares what the whole point of learning the language was for me in the first place; not speaking Chinese with perfect diction or passing an exam or adding another one to the list, or proving myself etc., but to meet and chat to interesting people as I travelled through this country! Just using English, this trip wouldn’t have been a fraction of how interesting it was!

Thanks for watching and let me know your thoughts on it in the comments below!



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  • WC

    Very nice!

    I found it interesting that your accent in English has changed a bit, and not just when saying Chinese names.  

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      That’s just my commentary voice. Most times I speak English are spontaneous, but this time I prepared some text to fit the video, so it sounds weird since I’m not much of a commentator :)

      • WC

        There’s that, but I’ve heard your commentary voice before.  This accent has some Chinese accent in it.  

        Just to be sure, I just went and listened to a bit of your Leprechaun video.  The difference isn’t as pronounced as I first thought, but it’s still there.  It could just be because you’re preparing to say some names in Chinese, though.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

          It’s more likely because I’m out of practice in English – I’ve just spent 3 months intentionally avoiding speaking it!!

  • http://pioneerofpixels.wordpress.com/ Alasdair

    I agree with WC – your “commentator” voice has a slight tonality to it, probably from the Mandarin!

    Also I don’t know if it was deliberate but I love how the cut-off on the ‘Read the Rest’ part is right over the sentence where you explain your new name.  “Benling” means Read the Rest! 

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Benling means skilled – maybe there is a different toned version that means “read the rest”, but I definitely wasn’t going for that.

      • Nicholas

        I think the commenter means this:
        “You can see the moment that they gave me my Chinese name!  What do you think?
        本领 (Benling) means Read the Rest!”
        On the homepage the cuttoff before you have to click to read the entire article just happened to be at that point.

        • http://pioneerofpixels.wordpress.com/ Alasdair

          Yeah that’s what I meant. 

  • Maria Holland

    It’s great that you got the chance to take an overnight train – definitely one of my favorite things about China.  It’s not a big deal that you missed out on the hard sleeper though; it’s very much the same as the soft sleeper.  The beds are the same (they’re not actually hard and soft), it’s just that in hard sleeper there are 6 of them in a room, no door, and the lights all go out at the same time – as opposed to soft sleeper, with 4 beds in a room with a door and your own light switch.  

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Good to know, thanks!!

  • Andyexpat

    Hi Benny, I love the blog and these video clips are giving me wanderlust. You have inspired me to start learning Mandarin. I’m already addicted to Memrise. 
    I lived and worked in Russia for 15 years. You should consider a trip on the Trans-Siberian Express for a future adventure.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Could you please read the part where I say to click CC!!!! I also included it in the actual video this time specifically to avoid these requests. It seems more people need to realize that Youtube has subtitles built in if you just press a button.

    • Torstein

      Aaaah. I feel embarrassed! Apparently I dont even know English!

      But with the risk of further embarrassment the cc function seems to be missing from my ipad.

      Good luck further on, meeting interesting people

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

        OK, if that’s an iPad restriction then my apologies, although it would be very strange for Apple to restrict use of CCing. You may want to open the video on a dedicated Youtube app.

  • http://www.facebook.com/fritz.larco Fritz-gérald Larco

    Benny, great video! Thanks so much for sharing, what an experience.
    Have you had a chance to see the Three Gorges Dam??

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      As I said, I was held back in Nanjing longer than planned, so sadly I had to cancel the 3 gorges plan on this trip. Next time I will though, but stuff like that is the kind of travel I prefer to do with others – on this trip my priority is meeting people.

  • Trevor McVeety

    Wow, very good job Benny, I’ll never doubt you again!! 

  • Katharina

    Thank you for sharing this video! It was really interesting to see you chatting to the other people on the train. Hard to believe you were the first foreigner they ever talked to like this! Then again, there’s probably not that many Chinese-speaking foreigners who travel through China by train… hopefully some of your readers will try the same sort of thing soon! It’s definitely more interesting to take your time and talk to the locals than to listen to a tour guide and stick to a pre-arranged schedule. I hope you continue to have a great time!

  • My Travelo

    Great video. Nice to see your language learning being put to use. 
    thanks for share with us.


  • Annette

    Great video!  Thanks so much for sharing it.  Those people look like so much fun.  :)  It’s really great to be able to communicate with people and make friends in their own language.  In the last year or two I have been enjoying getting to know people on the internet who don’t speak English at all, or very little, and it makes me feel very good to be able to know them in spite of that.  For most of my life I was like most native English speakers:  I had to rely on other people’s knowledge of English.  Now I don’t have to do that anymore… at least when it comes to German and Italian.

  • Allan Ngo

    Very entertaining video, Benny. Keep it up. You’re listening comprehension is pretty tight. The Chinese are pretty warm towards 老外 since it is very rare for them to encounter foreigners especially those living in the country-side. It is great to see the genuine pleasure they feel when talking to you. 

  • http://yetanotherlanguage.blogspot.com.au/ Crno Srce

    Great stuff, Benny! This is the along the lines of the sort of video I was hoping to see from you. You’re a brave man for having the courage to ask strangers in China if you can film them, but it worked out well :-)

    Crazy how far in advance those trains are booked out…

    Have fun on the rest of your trip.

  • http://twitter.com/SamLynnEvans Samuel Lynn-Evans

    Hey Benny amazing job! I can’t believe how good your chinese has got. Just started reading all your stuff recently and it has helped inspire me to undertake my own immersion experience in Italy, starting from, well I might just leave next Sunday!

    I’ve been teaching myself Italian for the last month, using your tips, and actually ended up doing a lot of learning through my Phone

    I give some tips on it here; http://samuelstravels.com/2012/05/02/how-to-learn-a-language-on-an-iphone-smartphone-ultimate-guide/

    I hope that anyone finds it useful!

    Much love, keep living the dream


  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Hahaha, what an appropriate video, thanks so much!! :D

  • Thomas Hale

    Hi Benny,

    Impressive level after such a short time, but clearly miles  from fluency. Do you still think it is possible to become ‘fluent’ in Mandarin after 3 months, given that you haven’t managed it?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Yep! Please see my post here about mistakes I made that slowed me down in these 3 months: http://fi3m.com/mistakes/

      I’ll attempt another language with the same goal of fluency in 3 months later in the year, and it will likely not be a European language so the stakes will be about as high. Not sure where I’m going yet.

  • http://www.japaneseruleof7.com/ Ken Seeroi

    Amusing video.  I agree with what others have said, that your English-speaking voice has changed.  You sound like a Travel Channel narrator. 

    Are you still investing time in studying, or simply enjoying China and talking with folks?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      A little time. I’ll finally make it to Beijing for 2 weeks and will have enough stability to get back into studying (need to ditch these books I’ve been lugging around).

  • http://www.facebook.com/bjorn.hallberg.1 Bjorn Hallberg

    I am a great fan – love your blog, gives me so much.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  • Martynas Stepukonis

    Wow! This is so amazing! You can even feel the warmth vibrating out of this video! It’s amazing that you can have a conversation in Chinese with the natives in a few months. Very, very impressive! I’ll be going to Shanghai for about 5 months in like a month. After that, I plan on travelling alone to Beijing! so I find this very inspiring!
    You’re awesome Benny!

  • KimuTaku

    woa you are great man.
    i’m studying chinese right now and you website will probably help me.
    I didn’t know about Pleco for exemple.
    As you said we all have different reason to learn a language.
    I’m french and i learned english to be able to read manga and watch movies some years ago.
    I was at the bottom of my classroom and had bad grade then i spend some month reading english translated manga. I translated every word i didn’t understand with google translate.
    I ended up fast at the top of my class.

    I didn’t learn english to get good grade and i never studied any lesson and probably never will.
    I knew why i needed english and i learned it only for “that” purpose.

    Now i can read books, watch movies or your videos or even speak english to help tourist from all around the world just fine, but it wasn’t my main purpose while studying english.

    I think that we have to keep in mind and learn things for a “purpose” to overcome hardship without feeling that you ruined your life or you wasted your time.

    for exemple:
    I’s easy for me to learn maths, science, music, i play piano, guitare, i also draw well.
    But i failed at getting a scientifique bachelor degree
    why? because i didn’t want to spend 1 second at learning my lesson because i thought i was wrong to learn something without knowing why i learned it. I don’t like maths and science (as teached in highschool) and probably never will.
    I like to know why i learn something because i have respect for who i am. I don’t like to trust other people and let them tell me what is good and what is bad, i need to understand why it is.

    I preffered to talk or play with my classmate; thats what i really wanted.

    I learned to tip on my computer without looking at the keyboard why?
    Because i’m living in a room at the moment with 2 people around me, one guy sleep and i can’t turn on the light ;p need to tip without looking at my keyboard.

    All that to say that you need to keep track of your goal and put yourself under the best condition to achieve that goal.
    or (and)adapt to your condition because you have no other way to do so.

    Sorry for my bad english and you look like a great and fun guy Ben.

    • Joe Gabriel – Fi3M Team

      Way to take control of your learning ;) It’s always important to know why you do anything, especially language learning. Without a clear purpose, you run the risk of getting nowhere