It’s time to announce my next 3 month project, while clarifying what the real motivation behind my Mandarin 3 month project has been!
I am going to travel deep into China – beyond 1,000km inland – by land (no flights), over the next two months, and then travel through Taiwan (outside of Taipei) for several weeks after this. (I’ll also visit Hong Kong for a few days.)
While three months is nothing near what is needed to get to know the unimaginable vastness of land that spans the home of Chinese culture, I hope to understand the Chinese people a little better by July. Not so much by taking photos of their walls and temples, or sampling all their food, but by talking to as many of them as I can.
You see, the point of the last three months was not to simply add Chinese to some list of languages I speak, not to prove any non-existent “claim” about the magic number of how many days/months etc. it takes to learn a language, not to work towards a win or fail of a final video, and absolutely not to impress armchair linguists.
The point of these 3 months was actually to force me to learn as much Chinese as possible as quickly as possible so that I’d be better equipped to have as authentic a cultural experience as I could in this time that I’ll be travelling.
My upcoming China travels
Last year, when I was thinking about how to plan for this coming year, I saw that I could devote up to six months to a single project before I had other engagements. I could have had a “fluent in 6 months” project, while getting to know Chinese culture as best as I could simultaneously, but I found it more efficient to slice it in two: 3 months just for the language, and 3 months just for the culture and people.
While I’ll definitely continue to improve my Chinese over the next 3 months, as I’ll be practising it a lot and of course still studying (maybe an hour or two a day), the priority is to actually use it. I’m not hopping on trains to random towns only to have my head in a book the entire time while there!
This map shows the preliminary (very flexible) plan of the small slice of China I’ll be investigating on this trip: (Edit: I may end up going as far as Chengdu, which is actually 2,000km inland).
I’ll be slowly making my way to Xi’an, which I’ll base myself in for a week or two. It’s one of the oldest cities in China (over 3,100 years old) and where you can find the famous Terracotta army. While I have no problems with being a tourist there and in other on-the-beaten-track places (but at least doing it in Mandarin), the real fun will be in going off in other random directions, and in stopping in many places on the way, to get to hear people’s stories.
If I can convince them, I’d like to ask the most interesting people to share those stories on camera for the blog (as I’ve done elsewhere), so I can share what really makes me passionate for travel with the world; using the local language to see a side of a culture that only speaking English never lets you see.
Afterwards, I’ll make my way up to Beijing, probably diverting from the map towards the coast – likely arriving at the end of May.
Nothing here is written in stone. I don’t have any agencies organizing this for me. The whole point is to attempt to travel this part of China solo, so I’ll be open to spontaneous changes in plan.
Of course, I will check out the Great Wall, but it will be one of the last things I’ll see before I have to leave China (2 month-visa), so by then I’ll have some kind of a real impression of the country, rather than what I might see just on the air conditioned bus to the Great Wall from Beijing with an English speaking guide…
In the third month, I’ll check out the rest of Taiwan – a country I’ve neglected unfairly with my focus entirely on just improving my language abilities. I’ll check out the coastal cities, and then see what all the fuss is about regarding the sun-moon lake and maybe hike the central mountains for a couple of days (doing it in Peru was a worthwhile experience!)
THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is why I’ve had a shitty 3 months only focused on learning the language as efficiently as possible, at all costs, and why I was in such a hurry. The more I learn, the richer the following experience will be!
Of course, there are many dialects in China that are unintelligible with Mandarin, so I won’t be able to eavesdrop on random conversations, but the people I’ll be speaking directly to (as well as formal announcements I’ll hear and anything I’ll be reading) will be manageable in the standardised version that I’ve been learning.
I do plan to learn the very basics (maybe just an hour or so study) in each dialect of a place I’ll be staying in – not so much to aid communication, as to help break the ice, as people always appreciate when you say something in their dialect!
And of course… the better I’ll be able to survive and stay safe, and take care of myself, while still being able to actually talk to people. THAT’s the real reason I was learning quickly; not to impress the Internets
More on the language learning experience, and the point of trying to learn so quickly and what I have to show for it coming up in a later post this week. As you can imagine I have a LOT to say about the topic of specifically learning Chinese and will be writing many posts about it
Hopefully I’ll find someone in Shanghai to help me record a 3 month video – although as you can see there will be many more videos coming up in Mandarin, with content way more interesting than what I’ve uploaded recently.
This is something I’ve been looking forward to and can’t wait to get started! I hope you’ll enjoy reading along
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This article was written by Benny Lewis
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