Spring Festival & Character Challenge

The fireworks started as my plane was making the final approach to Changsha.  Somebody down below had clearly got wind of my imminent arrival, and managed to get together a few well-wishers to put on an impromptu welcome.  They continued as I waited in the cold in the back of an opportunistic middleman’s car while he arranged a taxi for me, and during the ensuing hour-long taxi journey.  As we reached Xiangtan the frequency started to grow, heralding my return to the university with a sudden and glorious climax as we pulled into the campus.

The real reason, of course, for this prolonged pyrotechnic performance, was Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year as it’s known in the rest of the world.  My plane touched down on the evening of the 9th, and I arrived at the university just after midnight on the 10th, which is the first day of the first month of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar.

I had hoped to spend the festival with the family of one of my Chinese teachers here, but that failed to happen for a couple of reasons; firstly I hadn’t realised that they wouldn’t be spending it in Xiangtan, and secondly they didn’t see my e-mail informing them of my return and so couldn’t direct me to come to their home town instead.  Instead I spent a cold and fairly miserable few days on an almost deserted campus, just managing to avoid death by starvation by frequenting the one restaurant still open, and death by boredom by the presence of my American English-teacher friend.  Since then things have picked up somewhat, with my teacher’s family returning to Xiangtan and feeding me once or twice a day, and life gradually starting to return to the campus.  Still very much looking forward to classes restarting next week.

Character Challenge

I promised a few weeks ago that I would say something about my Chinese-learning goals for the remainder of my time here.  I’ve decided to join the ‘Chinese character challenge’ being organised by fellow Mandarin-blogger Olle Linge, which challenges us to use spaced repetition software in an intelligent way to learn to write characters.  (Spaced repetition is something I’ve dabbled in for a few years, including last term for learning to read characters – it’s essentially a flash card system which allows you to review information at intervals which correspond to when you should theoretically be just about to forget something, and is obviously much more efficient than just reviewing everything every time you study.)  My personal aim is to learn 10 characters a day from the list for HSK level 4.  HSK is the government’s standardised test of Mandarin proficiency for non-native speakers, and 10 characters a day should be about right to get me up to speed in time for June, when I hope to take the exam.

Speaking proficiency is more important to me than reading or writing, and I’m still thinking about possible goals for that.  One idea I’m considering is posting a weekly or fortnightly video of me speaking Mandarin on this blog, which should help to motivate me and provide some means of assessing progress.

Update: I’ve created a page here with a list of the characters I’ve learnt to write for this challenge.  It should be updated daily from Monday the 25th of February 2013 until after my HSK exam.


  1. I like the idea of the spaced repetition. It makes a lot of sense. Even more I like the idea of watching your little videos and hearing your fluency developing.

    Glad your teacher is feeding you up.


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