After a little placement test, I was put in Beginnerís level three.† This is our ĎComprehensiveí teacher Mr Wang.†† We have him every morning for an hour and a half.†

Us, all hard at work.†† There are three students from Nepal, here to continue their postgraduate study as doctors, and three girls from Thailand.† There are a whole load of others mind, but we never know who is going to turn up from one day to the next.†

Our oral Chinese teacher.† Here she is asking for volunteers to recite the text.†

Our funniest Thai student.† Here she is getting a bit confused about whatís going on, bless her...

And our slightly unstable reading teacher.† She might be a bit mental, but actually I quite like her classes as they are really useful if you want to do the HSK examÖ

The Chinese work hard.† Here they all are, at it.†

For some reason I love this place.† Itís a whole row of display boards designed for hanging up newspapers.†

I think the reason I like is so much is that fact that I just canít imagine anyone standing outdoors reading newspapers like this back in the UK.† Can you?†

Sichuan University

In the end, of course, I finally managed to get an HSK certificate, after I passed the exam.† I got Level 4, which while not fantastic, at least means I am officially an intermediate.† Hallelujah.

Itís not the sweat-shop pace like BLCU in Beijing, but hey, the school fee is not sweatshop-tycoon-only level either.† Seven semesters here means Iím allowed to bang-on about what I think about this place, even if no-one else cares.† What the Hell, this website is supposed to be my therapy anyway...†

Term 2

At the beginning we were quite serious.† This is our main teacher, Guo laoshi.† One of our best teachers yet.†

One of my only photos of our reading teacher, who we had twice a week.†

Here we all are, working hard in the lesson.†

At the beginning we were very good students.†

And the boss from the small shop on the corner.† Iím round here for a few bits and bobs and a chit chat every day.†

Here was one of our class activities, making our own countryís food.† Me and the American girl made sandwiches.†

On the right is our main teacher, and on the left is our oral and listening teacher, who has a reputation for being one of the best in the college.† We were lucky with these two this semester.†

This was the class heart-throb, Jin Du-chun, from Korea.† He used to be a fitness instructor.† In fact, there was one time in class when he was answering the teacherís question, and the teacher became faint and had to leave.† Iím telling you, thatís what this guy does to women.†

Breaktime.†† And the crazy French girls.† Stephie was the only student in the class who refused to get a Chinese name, and insisted on using her foreign name.†††††† Iím not saying anything.†

And Thai student Wu Sujia.† Also crazy, but somehow not the same.†

Two of the Korean mums in the class.†† The Koreans with kids were the only ones who usually turned up to class.†

Father Christmas.† Oh no, Rob / Jin Luojian, and his Czech sidekick Keyang.†

We gradually got a bit more relaxed during the term.† Here Jin Qiaolong brings a dog to the end of term listening exam.†

Like I said, more and more crazy as time went on.†

For me, Term 2 consisted of the first stage of Intermediate.

Term 1

Term one was my first introduction to Sichuan University.†† For the Thai students and Koreans in my class it mostly seemed like it was their first trip away without their parents, and they all lived in the foreign studentsí dormitory.† I saw it a couple of times and was glad I had my own flatÖ

Mrs Lei, our main teacher.† We were lucky, another very experienced teacher, and a good sense of humour.†

My typical daily view.† L - R:† Kelsey from the USA, Tagu, the schoolís first student from Armenia, and finally, Li Meirong, from Korea.† She was one of the few from last semester.†† There were lots of others in the class (about 16), I just happen to look in this direction the mostÖ†

Itís been a year and a half since I started my daily commute to Sichuan University.†† So far, there hasnít been one single occasion where Iíve thought, ĎHere we go, another dull day in the rat raceí.†† Somehow, itís just not the same as the M25 at 8 oíclock in the morning.†

Especially when stuff blows up.†

But the big event of the semester was the CCTV Chinese speaking competition.† (CCTV means Chinese Central TV, by the way.)† Here I am practicing for the singing part.†

Me, with a Japanese guy who took part, the singing teacher, and the Armenian girl from my class.† She made it through to the final, and had to get an advance on the prize money from the School Office so she could cancel her flight and go to Beijing for the filming.†

Me having my backing music burned onto CD.†† This guy gave up his career being a doctor to burn illegal CDís for Karaoke at 1 pound a time.†† Only in ChinaÖ†

But this is where it all went wrong on the day - the written exam.†† My speaking was fine, and the singing went OK, but I screwed this up so bad I had no chance.† Never mind, thereís always next year.†† This competition is only open to foreigners studying at university here (got control over them, see), but Iíll still be here next time.†

Term 3

Iím not being morbid though, I have to look interested in crashes just to try and fit in with the locals, like these, who are all looking at the car-fire above.†

In my 3rd term, in the first half of 2010, I took the second stage of intermediate, which is the last level before advanced.† It was time for me to pull out all the stops.†

The consolation prize was making the local paper: page 29 of the Chengdu Business Daily.†

(Here, the word ĎBusinessí in ĎBusiness Dailyí is more like the word ĎSportí in ĎDaily Sportí, the semi-pornographic tabloid, rather than the word ĎFinancialí in ĎFinancial Timesí.)

This is considerably more flattering than it sounds though, since the three students who had their stories written up were the ones who screwed it up and made complete plonkers of themselves.†

That included me.† Although they at least put a picture of me next to a very photogenic Thai student.†

Term 4

This is my term 4 you understand, not the universityís.† Iím on term 5 (semester 5) of the undergraduate programme, if you likeÖ

Wow, Advanced level three already.†

This term is the first of the four advanced levels.† It was certainly a step up from intermediate.† For a start we had Ancient Chinese, as well as a much harder textbook for the Comprehensive Class, for which our teacher is pictured, although when I looked back it seems I have given up taking class pictures, as this is the only one I have of her.†

She was actually very good, and tried to use some of the western education techniques that we did a little bit on my CELTA course in the UK.† I got a lot out of this semester.† Interestingly, the Koreans didnít like her, and complained, something about her being too energetic in class and getting the students to do too many activities.†††† Nuff said.†

These are some of the Koreans, and are good fun when you get to know them.† I must have taken this photo† a) because several of them turned up, and† b) because they were actually moving.† They didnít normally look as energetic as this though, especially not at 8.30 in the morning, hence the camera I guess.†

Actually, I did start to have a bit of a grumble myself this semester.†

The teaching was fine, but I went to a lot of effort to find out the term dates early, and then booked my (non-refundable) tickets to come home for Christmas, book the time off class officially, all to make sure I got back in time to have a few revision classes and then sit the exams.†

Believe it or not 3 days before my flight home a notice went round saying that the semester would be cut short this year, and that the new dates included the exams starting on Boxing Day and finishing a few days later.† When I translated my response into English for my American classmate there were a lot of ĎFí words in it, although Iím sure it didnít sound that bad in Chinese.† Probably.† Anyway, I thought it was worth mentioning, because this aggravation with Christmas comes up absolutely every year, and itís a real pain for almost all of the Western long-term students.†† Maybe itís a reason there are hardly any of them.† Important or not, that was my main memory of the semester.†

Term 5

This semester was always going to be a big one.† I decided to have a bit of a go at the HSK (Chinese Proficiency Exam) since I hadnít done it for nearly 2 years, and, of course, it was time for the Chinese State TV Chinese speaking competition, in which everyone said I was robbed last year.†

Oh yes, then there was the small issue of Rui popping back from Qatar, and Mum, Dad, Neil and Elaine all coming to Chengdu, spending a week or so here, not to mention a couple of days in Ruiís hometown with her family.† That looks like a pretty full diary to me.†

The family Iíll write about another time, the rest was complicated enough as it was.†

And I was born in the year of the rabbit, and this year is also the year of the rabbit.† According to Chinese tradition thatís either a very lucky or a very unlucky year, and in order to try and swing it Chinese people will almost always try and wear red underwear or a red bracelet, as this helps.† I thought, if the number 13 is lucky in China then either Iím exempt, or its all rubbish.†

The competition was going to be the big one.† I spent a long time preparing my self-introduction, and even went to karaoke by myself a couple of times to get some singing practice in.†

When the day of the competition was getting quite close my bicycle got stolen (again) however, and this did put me off a bit.† I was more annoyed by the School security guard, who clearly couldnít care less, anyway, just a bit of bad luck.†

It was tense on the big day.† This is my Vietnamese friend getting her hair done ready for her Dancing performance, with me as a Ďhelperí.† (This was a sneaky move to make me look good ahead of my turn.)

And below is an accidental if amusing shot of my tutor giving me some advice before going on.†

The dancing with the Vietnamese girl went well.† I was on a roll.†

Or so I thought.† It came to my turn and I forgot bits of my self-introduction, the singing was off key, but mainly the judge first asked me a question so long I didnít have a clue what day it was when he finished, and made a complete tit of myself.† The second judge then gave me another chance and asked, if Prince William came to China to study abroad, what do you think he would choose to study here?† Sadly, the only thing in my head was that Prince William clearly wouldnít end up in a complete dump like we are, and I didnít exactly give a model answer.†

And that was the end of that.†† Out after 3 minutes.†

Not long after, although unrelated to the competition, me and Rui broke up.† Actually, it was her Dad I feel sorry for, you should have seen how much food he ordered when we went there to Zigong.†

Then a couple of weeks after than I was having a shower and the water heater exploded.† After I put the fire out, it was another 4 months before I got round to fixing it, so no hot water.† Actually, I didnít miss hot water as much as I missed my bike.†

Not only that, but the teacher was really really bad.† There were no end of classes where she actually talked for a full 90 minutes, and not a single student said or did anything.† One week I counted, I said 6 sentences the whole week, across all the classes, including the oral class.† Now that must be a record.†

The following semester none of the Western students came back, apart from one Norwegian girl, and me.†

The Koreans thought she was a very good teacher.†† Nuff said.†

And, I should point out, after the heater explosion I made myself a red-string bracelet.† I wonít be taking it off until Chinese New Year.†

Just before the end of term, but after putting on the red bracelet, I took the HSK.† I got a 6.† Not fantastic, but not too bad either.†† Who knows what would have happened without the bracelet.† Iím a believer.†

Term 6

The theme of this term has been that the departing Westerners from last semester have been beefed up by a whole load of foreign-born / mixed race Chinese who donít know themselves which country they come from, and a couple of Americans, one whoís about 19 and the other about 91.† Very interesting.† The Koreans havenít spoken much this semester, but this time because they canít get a word in edgeways for all the ĎWesternersí talking.†

The teacher is much better too.† She also has a bit of a tendency to talk for an hour and a half, but itís a lot more interesting than before, and she does ask us a lot of questions which keeps us on our toes.†† Itís also interesting that she certainly seems to hate the Party, which makes for a lot of interesting discussion.† She said at the beginning that she wanted to include more culture in the class because when she watched the CCTV Chinese Speaking Competition she thought this was the area that many students failed in.† Now, about that, sheís quite right, although I had plenty of other things to fail about as well, of course.†

Also, this semester has seen my last shot at the old-style HSK.† I got a 7.† Not too bad, but the sad thing is that this old-style exam has now been cancelled and I wonít get a crack at my dream of an 8.† Anyway, no doubt Iíll try the new exam, which is marked level 1 to 6, but although 6 is supposed to be hard, everyone says itís much easier than the old-style exam.† You see, I havenít even left university here and Iím already one of the old-gits harping on about the old-times when exams were really examsÖ

Kevin Munns


Sichuan Uni.

Sichuan Uni.

Text Box: Dancing      Dentistry      Travelling      Contact Me

Donít get me wrong, I had a great time at Sichuan University.† But like a lot of places, I guess, there are advantages and disadvantages.†

But thereís one main reason to come to Sichuan University to study Chinese - itís in Sichuan.† Sadly, that doesnít say much for the university itself, because you could open a toilet in Sichuan, call it Sichuan University and it would still have the same enormous attraction that this school does.†

Actually, for this reason I was right for choosing Sichuan University.† Chengdu is a really great city.† It has all the modern expensive and Western things that make a far away place feel like home, but it also has all the old Tea-houses, the old markets, and the 5RMB restaurants which produce great food.† And almost anyone will stop on the street to talk to a foreigner.† Does that happen in Beijing or Shanghai?† No.†

Why is this important for studying Chinese?† The answer is because it takes a long time.† Forever, roughly.† If you hate living in a place, then you wonít get very far with the language.† So, Sichuan University comes out well.†

The down side?† Have a look at the classrooms in my pictures below.† They havenít seen any cash since my Mum was at school, and bless her, Iím fast approaching 40 myself.†† Add a rather run-down Foreign-Student Dormitory, a remote location from other students in the University, and a recurring fiasco over clashes with exams and Christmas which occurs with more regularity than a Die Hard remake, and foreign students are clearly not high on the list of priorities with the people who matter at Sichuan Uni.† All this despite paying four or five times the school fee of regular Chinese students.

I thought all this was just part of adjusting to life in another countryís university system.† Then I went to the Minorities University about 10 minutes away on a bike.† Crikey have they blown a bit of cash in that place.† Well, you can decide for yourself.† Have a read of my blogs, and decide whether I got more annoyed or more pleased with the place as time went onÖ†

The last one.†

Term 7

This semester had the same teacher, but was a big contrast to the one before.† This year almost everyone had left.† Those who hadnít left were busy writing their final year project and so hardly ever came to class.† And anyway, there werenít many classes in the first place.†

I started to think, however, that our teacher was a genius.† The book we used had all sorts of strange texts, but boy did she bring out the best.† We started a comparison of Confucius, Zhuangzi, who is related to Daoism, and the eternal conflict between the two.† In the end, I thought it was a belter.† The teacher also accidentally let slip that her great-grandmother was a teacher to one of the Qing Dynasty Emperors.†† No wonder her family legged it to Xinjiang Province during the cultural revolution.†

Still, the teacher started to get aggravated by the fact that the Koreans never came to class, and it was difficult to keep the pace up towards the end.† So my time at Sichuan University sort of fizzled out, rather than went with a bang.†

Text Box: I learned most about Sichuan university, though, after I went to the Southwest China University for Nationalities (Minorities in proper English), and discovered what happens when a University doesnít take all the overseas students school fees and spend it in the rest of the collegeÖ 
Text Box: If you like, you can have a look for yourselfÖ