My friends were already on their way back to Canada in June 2011, while I was still in Beijing, surfing the net and contemplating my options for the remaining three weeks. Hangzhou, Chengdu, and Kunming were definitely places I wanted to visit but the weather forecast for these areas didn’t look good at all. Then I stumbled on an ad for Keats School on Chinese Forums. I have a habit of intentionally ignoring all ads, but this one intrigued me. If it is going to rain as predicted, then I could just learn a little bit more Mandarin in a city that’s on my travel list anyways. Off we go…
My teacher Pei Xi met me at the airport in Kunming and I liked her instantly. For the next two weeks, we would spend four hours together every day working on all kinds of language aspects. We didn’t use a textbook; Pei Xi prepared our study material on a daily basis. This IS intense. But I think it is the best way if you want to see some progress which still feels painfully slow compared to other languages that I have been exposed to.
Pei Xi will always hold a special place in my heart. She gave me my Chinese name, Kāng Níng 康宁. The two characters stand for healthy and peaceful. Picking a Chinese name isn’t quite as simple. All my Chinese friends confirmed that this is indeed a good and suitable name for me. Here you go, Pei Xi, whenever I introduce myself in Chinese, I always think of you!
I have been lucky and always had fantastic teachers. My teacher in 2012 was Zhaoling, and
Sarah was my teacher in 2013. We developed a little ritual and always brought fruit or sometimes cookies to share.
Twice I stayed at a nearby hotel utilized by Keats if there are not enough rooms at the school available. While the rooms at school are a little bit nicer and all have a fridge, the Spring City Star Hotel has a beautiful garden with a pond, a perfect place to sip a tea or coffee and study or relax.
I didn’t take too many pictures inside Keats School, but there are plenty on their website and they all are a true portrayal of the school.
I met a lot of interesting people from many different countries, all age groups, and Mandarin levels at Keats. We first bumped into each other at lunch and dinner, in the common rooms or hall ways, and at various events organized by the school.
With my teachers Zhaoling and Sarah and many of my Keats buddies, namely Genevieve, Lucia, Bob, Irina, and Dan Ut, I am still in touch. Unfortunately, I lost contact with my first teacher, Pei Xi. I’d love to find her again.
By nature, I am not the most outgoing person. Just like at home in Canada, I’d rather check Google maps than asking for directions. During the first few times travelling in China, language also was a barrier.
If spoken to, I’m happy to reply or engage in a conversation but I seldom make the first step. It’s something I’m working on; if I just follow the examples of my two travel companions Lisi (Taiwan, 2015) and Molin (Zhangye, 2016) I will get even more out of my already amazing solo travelling experiences.
People always say: “You should live there for a while and you’ll pick up the language in no time.” I don’t think that just being in another country is enough. While travelling, I check in and out at hotels, maybe have a few questions or requests; I buy entrance and transportation tickets, order food, pay for a few items at convenience stores… that all requires very little communication. I have met people who lived in China for years teaching English but speak no or very little Mandarin.
On the other hand, staying at a school like Keats (or CLI in Guilin) gives me the opportunity to actively use the language for communication more than four hours a day! Teachers, staff, and students are an incredibly rich source of information for anything related to life style, culture, and country. Fellow students are just as eager as I to use Mandarin at our outings instead of defaulting to English. The connections that I have made at the schools have enriched my life immensely! Some people move on, which for me just means there are even more places to visit and reconnect – in China and elsewhere on this planet!
This is how I discovered MY ideal travel style!