Finding a Wife Chinese Style: The Importance of Guanxi

Recently my wife and I received a pretty cool invitation from the landlord we rent our office space from. He and his wife (we shall refer to as Mr. & Mrs. Wang) had previously had us over to their home for lunch and a discussion about how we could help their son, who had just returned from university in Canada. This last invitation however was for us to visit them in Wuxi, just north of Shanghai. While there were many culturally Chinese aspects of our 4-day stay with them, this post will focus on only one.

 

During the course of our stay I had the pleasure of chauffeuring Mr. & Mrs. Wang around Wuxi in their BMW (别魔我) as some Chinese fondly call them), going out to great meals, walking through their family groves and picking peaches (Wuxi is famous for having the most delicious peaches in China), touring around lake Taihu, and meeting many of their qinqi pengyou (亲戚朋友,or family and friends).

 

Taihu Lake, (太湖)

Taihu Lake, (太湖)

 

Wuxi peaches

Wuxi peaches

But what made this visit particularly interesting was a visit they had arranged with another couple they had never met in person before. We had just finished lunch at their favorite local restaurant when the new couple arrived (we shall refer to them as Mr. & Mrs. Liu). They followed us to the Wang’s home where we spent the afternoon chatting with them and the Wang’s other friends. Everyone was having a great time, except when we arrived Mr. Wang excused himself to go take a nap. Mrs. Wang was with her mother in the hospital, so it was the Wang’s friends, the Liu’s, and my wife and I who spent the afternoon together discussing various topics. A few hours later, while everyone was saying his or her goodbyes, Mr. Wang came out and thanked everyone for coming.

 

So what was going on? Mr. Wang had given us a bit of a heads up, but it wasn’t until the next evening, sitting out by lake Taihu and enjoying the warm summer breeze that we inquired. What we learned was that meeting this couple was one small part of a careful plan for the Wang’s son to eventually marry the Liu’s daughter. The Chinese four-character phrase he used was mendang-hudui (门当户对), meaning  to be equal in social and economic status. So the Wang’s and the Liu’s were at the beginning of a longer-term plan that began on the basis on the hope that their two families were a great match.

 

Wuxi at sunset

Wuxi at sunset

The Liu’s daughter had just graduated from university in the US and would begin her Master’s program in the fall. The idea was for the Wang parents and Liu parents to get to know each other first, build up their guanxi, and then introduce the their children in two years, after her graduation. If they got along well, they would eventually marry and give them the one grandchild they all eagerly awaited.

 

Even more, they had already planned on where they would live (Canada) and what professions they would hold.

Learning Chinese in Beijing? – Top tips on renting a flat – Part 3 – Preparing to leave

Learning Chinese in Beijing? – Top tips on renting a flat – Part 3 – Preparing to leave

(This is the third blog post on renting a flat. Click here for the first and second posts.)

“Why do I need to prepare to leave? But I’ve only just moved in…!”

No, I’m not confused, it actually is important to think right at the start about how you do things to ensure that your leaving process is as smooth as possible. This post came about after one of our former students told us about some of their experiences of moving away from their apartment and some of the things they wished they had known in advance!

View from Huaqingjiayuan flat in Wudaokou

Wudaokou from a Huaqingjiayuan flat.
Road noise can be an issue if your flat doesn’t have good double glazing

Drinking water

Most people arrange to have big bottles of water delivered to use with their water machine. When you first get one of these you will have to pay a deposit (probably 50RMB). You need to make sure that you keep the original receipt for this deposit, because if you don’t, when you come to leave, you won’t get your deposit back! (For further ahead; although they will deliver water, when it comes to leaving, you may need to take the bottle back to them yourself, so be sure to get their address.)

Bottled water - you don't want to drink the tap water

Unless you bring out a filter system for your tap water you will need to buy bottled water for your flat

Utilities

I mentioned this in the last post, but you should keep your receipts for gas/electric and water, so that you can prove to the landlord/agent how much you have paid.

Deposit/Contract

If you don’t already have one, getting a receipt for your deposit is a good idea so you can be sure to get back what is due. Ensuring there is a good inventory of the apartment, including a note of the overall state of the apartment, is also a good thing to do as soon when you move in. (A good rental agency should in theory have already helped you with this…) Now is also a good time to double check your contract to see if there are any ‘hidden’ clauses such as paying a tax for garbage disposal or other fees you haven’t thought of (which your landlord may try to impose on you when you leave). In theory you will have already checked this type of thing out before you sign the contract, but realistically, in the stress of getting everything done, some things may easily be missed. Local friends can be a great source for helping you understand some of the finer subtleties that us foreigners might miss! Finally, if there is nothing in the contract about extra fees being your responsibility, have made a good inventory, and you have a receipt for your deposit, and then as long as you leave the apartment in good shape you should be able to get your whole deposit back! Enjoy your stay in this great country!

One other thing to remember is that China generally deals in cash, so you need to get used to withdrawing and handling large bundles of cash.

One other thing to remember is that China generally deals in cash, so you need to get used to withdrawing and handling large bundles of cash.

Learning Chinese in Beijing? – Top tips on renting a flat –Part 2

(This is the second post on renting a flat. You can find the first post here.) So, you have successfully negotiated a contract, got the keys, moved your stuff in, and registered with the police. Now what?

Renting a flat – Paying for Utilities 

Gas and electric both require to be purchased in advance. Each has a separate card that you will need to make sure is provided for you by your landlord or rental agency. It’s a good idea to check on both the gas and electric meter as to how much credit there is on the cards (Sometimes this will be done by the agent when you move in, as they may want to charge you for this, especially if there is a large credit). If the credit is low, then you will probably want to go and buy more credits sooner rather than later (or risk your shower going cold, or your dinner being half cooked!)

 

Beijing gas meter

Beijing gas meter, generally found in the kitchen

Gas

Your gas meter is likely to be inside your own apartment and so should be easy to find. The available credit will be clearly displayed. Gas can be purchased from the Bank of Beijing (if you have a Chinese bankcard from any bank then you can use their 24 hour self service machines. If you do not have a Chinese bankcard, you will need to queue up and pay over the counter). Gas can also be purchased from designated selling offices (ask your agent or a friend for the location of the one in your area). You need to insert your card into the gas meter for it to register your account, then within 24 hours you can go buy the gas. The easiest way is just to insert the card into the machine immediately before you head out and then reinsert the card into the meter as soon as you return to add your gas credits. Most meters also have batteries that occasionally need to be replaced. Generally speaking, if your gas isn’t flowing when the meter still shows you have credits, then the culprit is likely dead batteries.

 

Beijing Electricity meter

Your electic meter is usually in the corridor outside your flat. Insert your card to find out much credit you have left.

Electric

Electric meters can be a little trickier – they are almost always outside the apartment, and often are grouped together, so the key thing is to work out which one is yours. The suggestion from the official website  is: Way to check the meter of your house: turn off the switch of the meter, if the power in your house goes off means that the meter is connected with your house. I just successfully tried this with ours, and found the switches are in a little box under the meters. However, if you have to try quite a few before you work out which is yours, this may give you some unhappy neighbours, so another suggestion is to turn on your air-conditioning and see which meter starts using more electric. (There is a little red light on the right of the credit display, which flashes ever faster as your electricity consumption goes up. Incidentally, the display will only show numbers constantly once your credit is less than 200, to find out how much credit you have if there are no numbers, just put the card into the machine with the chip facing outwards) Electric can be purchased from many of the banks, including: Bank of China, Bank of Beijing, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). It can also be purchased from any sale outlet of Beijing Electric Power Corporation. Again, you need to insert your card into the machine before you go. Note – you can only top up the electric when it is below 200kWH. The Beijing governments official English website has info on buying electric and is actually pretty useful.

 

Beijing gas and electricity cards

You need to make sure your landlord gives you the relevent cards for putting credit on your electricity and gas meters

Tap Water

Water is the simplest – as it is not pre-pay but is billed by actual usage. Once every two months or so, someone will come round to read the water meter and tell you how much to pay. I have always just paid them directly as this saves a trip to the bank. Previously I know people were sometimes nervous to do this in case the worker just pocketed the money, but they have recently introduced a new system, which means you get an electronic receipt from the person when you pay them (which you can then keep to prove to your landlord that you have paid, just in case they try to charge you!) If you see anything we have missed, please use the comments below to share your experience of renting a flat in Beijing. Our final post should be out in a couple of days, which will include advice on what you need to be aware of at the start so that your eventual leaving process is less stressful.

Learning Chinese in Beijing? – Top tips on renting a flat (Part 1 of 3)

Mid August onwards is the time when many international students start to arrive in Beijing to begin a semester or two of Chinese studies. If your language school or university doesn’t provide accommodation (or if what is on offer there is not what you are looking for), how do you go about renting a flat i.e finding somewhere decent, at a price that suits you and with a landlord that is helpful? What are some of the key things that you need to know to make sure you are all above board, fulfilling all the regulations? What can help you have a smooth transition into actually living in your own place, and what do you need to know at the start that will make it easier when you leave?

Part one in this mini series will look at some of the key things to think about when first looking for, and negotiating a place to rent. Part two will consider things to think about after you have moved in. Part three will help you think about what you are going need to be ready for when you eventually move out.

Firstly, we’d like to point you to a great article that was posted towards the end of July 2013, which gives a really good overview of most of the things you should be aware of when trying to find a place to rent in Beijing/China. http://www.saporedicina.com/english/rent-in-beijing/

One important point to note: it is good to be aware that things here in China have a tendency to change FAST! So advice given this week may not be fully accurate in six months or a years’ time. However, at the time of writing this post we still feel most of the advice in the Sapore di Cina article is up to date, and some of it is pretty timeless.

A couple of things that the article does not mention, or only mentions briefly, are also important to consider.

renting a flat in wudaokou

The modern Huaqingjiayuan housing complex is right next door to our language school 1on1Mandarin

Registration

It is mandatory for all foreigners to register at their local police office within 24 hours of arriving in the country. If you stay in university accommodation or a hotel, this will be done for you. However, if you are renting a place, you will need to personally make sure you register. There is a fine of up to 500RMB for not registering. Previously there was often a degree of leniency in the time, however, over the summer of 2012 there was a significant crackdown on foreigners living in Beijing, and since then the rules are being enforced much more stringently. (Having said that, different local police offices do still have different practices!)

The Practicalities

In order to register you will first need to go to the correct local police office. In theory your landlord should accompany you the first time you go, and if this is the case, then registration should go smoothly. However, if your landlord is not willing to come with you, then you need to make sure that you at least know where to go! Once you get there, you will need to provide a number of documents. (This may vary slightly depending on which office you go to – again, different offices have different practices!) The minimum you will need is:

  1. Your passport, with valid Chinese visa, and date of entry stamp
  2. Your contract

Recently I have heard that you will also need to provide some sort of proof that your landlord has paid his rental tax (*more info regarding the rental tax below). This may be in the form of an official receipt, or it may be a ‘letter of invitation’ (essentially something only provided if your landlord has paid their tax). The easiest way to deal with this the first time is to insist that your landlord goes with you, and that they then provide you a copy of this document for you to use yourself on subsequent occasions.

The post below gives more detailed info as to what is required. (It doesn’t mention anything about proof of tax payment, but the article is about a year old, and this has been much more rigorously enforced recently.) http://www.themiddlekingdom.org/everything-you-need-to-know-about-residence-registration/

Rental Tax Landlords are required to pay a yearly tax of 5% of rental income. If a landlord has Chinese tenants, they will often manage to avoid paying this. However, if a landlord has ‘foreign’ tenants, then as they are required to register with the police, this makes it very difficult for the landlord to avoid paying the tax. There are numerous examples of people trying to register and being told that the 派出所 (local police office) will not register them as the landlord has not paid their tax. (We have personally experienced this twice so far.)

This blog post from last year (2012) is a good summary of this tax, and some of the pitfalls to be aware of (with some info on registration for good measure).  The key sticking point is, that although it is supposed to be the landlord who pays the tax, they often don’t want to, so will essentially ask you to pay it. If it is an apartment you like you will need to come up with some compromise for this or there is a good chance they will just rent it out to someone else. However, you do need to make sure that it is very clear in the contract that you have paid the tax, and you need to make sure that you get the appropriate receipt. Insisting that the landlord comes with you when you first register should take care of this, however, you still need to get a copy of the tax receipt as each time you leave and re-enter (or get a new visa) you may need to take it back to the police office when you register again!

Renting a flat in wudakou - cheaper option

Housing in Wudaokou – old style

Housing agents

If you are renting through an agency, which will be the case for the majority of people, it will not be uncommon to find that the owner of the property does not live in Beijing, or even if they do, they are ‘not available’. In these cases ensuring that you have an agent who can provide you with all the documentation you need is very important. Should you choose to come and study with us at 1on1 Mandarin, we have a good relationship with various housing agents that we trust, so we will be able to give you an introduction, as well as being able to help you out with some of the language difficulties you may face. Just let us know when you sign up that you would like us to help you with this.

Welcome to China! We wish you all the best in your new adventure.

Watch out for our second post on renting a flat in the next day or two, which will include advice on sorting out your utilities and how to put credit on your gas & electricity cards.

Book review: My Country and My People, by Lin YuTang

If your aim for learning Chinese is to become accepted as part of the community, your study needs to go beyond just learning how to communicate, instead extending into understanding Chinese culture, why people say what they say, do what they do, and think what they think.

One of our goals at our Chinese language school in Wudaokou, is to support all our students as they not only learn the language, but also gradually develop a fuller understanding of Chinese culture. We can learn culture through observation the society around, through reading books and watching films, and obviously through discussing differences and similarities with Chinese people. With so many books on Chinese history and culture to choose from, we want to help you find the really good books that are worth reading. On that note, here is a review of My Country and My People, by Lin YuTang. Review by Nick D. (a 1on1 Mandarin student)

Here are a few interesting comments:   On the “family system” as the centre of Chinese life: “The Chinese are a nation of individualists. They are family-minded, and the family mind is only a form of maginified selfishness. It is curious that the word ‘society’ does not exist as an ideal in Chinese thought.” (p.169) “It takes the right of contracting marriage out of our hands and gives it to those of our parents; it makes us marry, not wives but ‘daughters-in-law’, and it makes our wives gives birth, not to children but to ‘grandchildren.’ (p.173) “In the end, as it worked out, the family became a walled castle outside which everything is legitimate loot.” (p.177) “There are three muses ruling over China. Their names are Face, Fate and Favor.” (p.191) (Favor from officials or others in positions of power, in contrast to justice – p.192; which can be related to ideas of guanxi, and provides scope for corruption.)

On the problem of communication: “The Chinese, versed in this literary training, have learned to read between the lines, and it is the foreigners’ inability to read between the lines….that causes foreign correspondents to curse both China and themselves for their inability to make head or tail of such cleverly-worded and apparently harmless public statements.” (p.231)

A nice time-warp comment on rural and urban living: “The average poor Chinese in the country has more space of his own that a New York professor. But there are Chinese living in cities as well, and not all of them own huge gardens.” (!!!) (p.322)

My favourite, both for time-warp and for prophecy: “Even if cataclysmic upheavals like a communistic regime should come, the old tradition of individuality, toleration, moderation and common sense will break Communism and change it beyond recognition, rather than Communism with its socialistic, impersonal and rigoristic outlook break the old tradition. It must be so.” (p.75)

Paperback and Kindle versions are both available from Amazon.com Let us know if you have also read and enjoyed this book, or found other similar books particular helpful in understanding Chinese culture.

Without cultural understanding, your Chinese could be useless.

Many students of Chinese recognise that learning Chinese is hard, but they are willing to put in the effort to conquer the mountain that is becoming proficient in Chinese. However, if your aim for learning Chinese is to become accepted as part of the community, your study needs to go beyond just learning how to communicate, instead extending into understanding Chinese culture, why people say what they say, do what they do, and think what they think.

Danger of ignoring culture

If you only focus on the practical side of communication, and don’t take the time to learn the culture, then the communication you do have may end up being laden with frustration, and misunderstandings. You only have to spend a little time reading the blogs of expats to get a feel for how common these misunderstandings are.

Here at our Chinese language school in Wudaokou, it is one of our goals to support all our students as they not only learn the language, and become proficient in it, but also gradually develop a fuller understanding and love of Chinese culture.

Cultural understanding includes the basics of knowing when the festivals are, and what they celebrate, but it goes far beyond that and at its greatest extent includes how 5000 years of history influences their understanding of themselves, and in turn their opinions and behaviour.

So how to learn culture?

So how to learn culture? The best way is to live here, learn the language, make friends, and interact with your Chinese friends as much as you can. Over time you will build up your understanding. But we can also be deliberate about acquiring an understanding of the culture. We can learn culture through seeking to make observations about the society around, and backing this up by discussing our observations about the differences and similarities with Chinese people.

For those who are not fortunate to live in China then reading books and watching films is obviously a good first step.

Our blog: making studying Chinese just that bit easier

Taking all this into account, our aim for this blog is to make your life as a student of Chinese just that bit easier. We continuously check the latest blogs, read the latest books, test out the newest apps and attend the conferences on language learning so that you don’t have to. Anything that we find that will help you in your understanding of Chinese language, Chinese cultural we will share. On top of this we will seek to provide anything else that helps our language students as they live in China and study the language, whether that is advice on balancing your time for most effective study, or sharing about the practicalities of renting a flat in China.

Thanks for reading, look out for new articles on a weekly basis, and let us know what you think.

Study Chinese at our school in Wudaokou www.1on1mandarin.com

 

 

 

Learning from Chinese history

In the west have the phrase: those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. A near Chinese equivalent is 温故而知新 (wēn gù ér zhī xīn) which approximately means that by Reviewing the old we can understand the new.

As mentioned in a previous post, then becoming an effective communicator in Chinese requires developing an understanding of Chinese culture. Our present day communication is always understood within the framework of our past experience. Developing a clear understanding of Chinese history, particularly the history that every Chinese is taught at school is a key step in developing the understanding of what makes up the Chinese sense of self, their values and priorities.

Since attending Chinese school from age 5 is not an option for us, then Laszlo Montgomery’s Chinese history podcasts are a good resource for getting us up to speed. He has already recorded over 100+ podcasts on the history of china, so this is not the resource to go if you are wanting a real quick overview. But for those students who have already done a bit of reading on china, these podcasts add the detail that you might have glossed over, and are able to include the really interesting snippets of history.

 

Easiest way to learn Chinese? ShaoLan shows us one way

The idea of learning Chinese would strike fear into many people. It is commonly seen as a super hard language, especially for western learners, and only suitable for the brightest of the bright.

Whilst it is true that Chinese is harder for a westerner to learn than most other languages. Getting started isn’t necessarily as hard as people think. Today’s students of Chinese have the benefit of many different resources, technologies and techniques that allow Chinese learning to fun and efficient.

This video from a recent TED presentation is a good illustration of the advantage today’s students have. The video clearly demonstrates learning Chinese that it isn’t too hard, even for those with absolutely no background knowledge or experience.


The speaker ShaoLan makes it seem easy by not only being charismatic, enthusiastic and knowledgeable (key for any teacher) but she is putting together a few basic tools for learning Chinese characters into a visual appealing format. She uses repetition, association, mnemonics, and builds more complex characters using the simpler characters you are already familiar with as building blocks. Many other Chinese teachers and study methods adopt similar approaches (e.g. Heisig, Skritter) but possibly not as visually appealing.

 

Giving people an easy first step into learning Chinese is always going to be a good thing. However, there is a Chinese phrase that is relevant here:  入门容易提高难 (rùmén róngyì tígāo nán) which essentially means that in all things starting is the easy part, improving is hard. It is really important when learning Chinese to be really clear on your goals, and ensuring that your study continues to push you forward towards all your goals.

Of course at our Chinese language school in Beijing then we not only have the enthusiastic and knowledgable teachers who can give you individual attention, but also we are committed to keeping our students up to date with all the best techniques and tools. After all everyone would like learning Chinese to be just that little bit easier.

Rote memorisation

I came across two blog posts with polar opposite views on rote memorisation today.

This blog post  reconsiders the value of rote memorisation and repeated reading as a method of increasing understanding with each reading, where as this post includes rote memorisation as one amongst a whole list of things that don’t work for learning Chinese.

Funnily enough, I think both posts have some valuable ideas, and helpful suggestions. The key being that if you are seeking to memorise texts, it is for the sake of fully understanding them and being able to effectively create new content as a result, rather than being constrained to only ever repeat the original text.

Of all the comments I found these comments by Tyson to be the most helpful (especially his point #2 which is that you want to find a teacher who  correct your pronunciation – a strength of all our teachers, and a weaknesses of many big group classes).

My personal experience of learning Chinese, and what we encourage all our students to do is to ignore any of the hype that says that you can be fully fluent in 3 months if you just buy this package, use this technique etc. Chinese is always going to be a hard language to learn, and there aren’t any foolproof short cuts, however there are lots of tools and techniques that work in different situations. We encourage all our students to experiment with all the different tools / techniques and find out what works for them given their personality and learning style.