The Journey - 2015

Just like Keats in Kunming, CLI (Chinese Language Institute) in Guilin also offers one-on-one classes with accommodation at about the same price. And I had only read good things about CLI! Time to experience it myself.

After my usual four weeks of studies I flew to Shanghai to connect with my good friend Yangjie. The next day we took the train to Hangzhou to meet with his parents and spent a very enjoyable weekend together. I then had a few more days to explore Hangzhou on my own.

My next destination was Taiwan. After working together on a software project for several years, I was looking forward to finally meeting Lisi in person. Maybe go for dinner? We ended up going for many meals and even more hikes and walks during our unforgettable, action-packed week in Taipei and Taroko National Park.

A few quiet days in Nanjing, one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, wrapped up another amazing trip.

Enjoy Guilin and Hangzhou, while I go through my pictures and notes from Taiwan.


Guilin is a "small" city (population over 4.5 million) in southern China, famous for its karst topography. The land is flat except for the mountains that are poking up everywhere. Several are developed as parks. It is always worth climbing the steep stairs chiseled into the mountain. The views are spectacular.

The typical urban setting is interspersed with rural areas, unexpected little pocket villages. One of them was right behind the CLI (Chinese Language Institute) building where I spent the first 5 weeks of my stay. A half-hour walk on a small dirt road led from the school right to downtown. It was one of those places where you spend five minutes and come back with an hour of stories to tell. I'll write a separate article about this unique place on Lingjian Road and the changes over the years later.

My time and learning experience at CLI were outstanding and I highly recommend the school to anyone interested in tackling Mandarin. Just like at Keats, all my teachers were excellent. Besides that, CLI's approach is different in many ways:

  • Every student has three teachers instead of one. Based on 20 hours one-on-one classes per week, the focus is roughly divided in:
    10 hours grammar and general language development
    6 hours reading and writing
    4 hours talking and listening.
  • Interns help students getting settled, running errands like buying a sim card or registering at the local police station (a legal requirement) and are wonderful companions for all kinds of activities and local exploration.
  • CLI's social activities – usually one every day – range from farewell dinners to multi-day trips to the Longji Rice Terraces. What a treat! I'll dedicate separate sections for some of our unforgettable outings on the page for 2016.
  • Teachers and staff often stay for many years, and there is a very positive workplace climate. The 3-teacher-design, interns taking over time-consuming tasks, and having a dedicated event organizer all contribute to a manageable and balanced workload. This also impacts the students' experience: from the welcome at the airport to the final good-bye hugs and beyond (!) I felt like being part of a group of dear friends.

Visited: Seven Star Park – Culture Street - Elephant Trunk Hill - Jingjiang Princes' Palace (Wang Cheng) - Solitary Beauty Peak - Diecai Hill - Zizhou Park - Fubo Hill

Preparing this post was a real pleasure. Not only came the past alive as in all previous articles, it was also a time to reconnect and catch up with my teachers and friends mentioned on this page. We shared pictures, videos, memories, bits and pieces from our current lives and I feel closer to everyone than ever.

Let me start with an unbelievable true story:

At our last class at CLI in Guilin, my teacher June and I talked about our next plans. She was wrapping up things in Guilin to take on a new position in Shanghai. I was going to fly to Shanghai the week after, meet there with my friend Yangjie, stay for one night, and leave for Hangzhou the next morning. Too short for a visit in Shanghai, so we said our good-byes on that day.

I arrived in Shanghai on Friday night. After a lovely evening with a delicious dinner, a short tour at Nike where Yangjie was working at that time, and so much to catch-up on, Yangjie and I headed to the metro station the next morning. Guess, who we met when we entered the subway car? Exactly, June with a group of her new students!

June and I
June and I

Yangjie – very punctual by nature – had arrived about 20 minutes late at my hotel. While waiting for the next subway, we changed our line-up position several times for no particular reason. Coincidence or - as all my Chinese speaking friends would exclaim - yuanfen*?
* 缘分 yuán fèn: fate or chance that brings people together; predestined affinity or relationship; (Budd.) destiny

With both living in the same city and after adding each other on WeChat, I was sure that they would stay connected. It wasn't meant to be. A year later, the three of us met again in Shanghai and we enjoyed a fun-filled day, but that was the end of their strange "yuanfen".

Yangjie and his mom
Yangjie and his mom

Yangjie's parents met us in Hangzhou. We spent the weekend together, walked part of the famous West Lake, climbed the Six Harmonies Pagoda, and enjoyed delicious meals together. Thanks to their arrangements I could stay at the Hupao Mountain Resort which is surrounded by tea plantations in a picturesque mountainous area. Over the years Yangjie's family has done so much for me, taken me to places I would have never been able to discover by myself, introduced and invited me to kind-hearted relatives and friends, and just let me be part of their lives for a while. I know that I will never be able to repay their hospitality and generosity, but I still hope that one day I can welcome them on Vancouver Island and play my part in creating an unforgettable time for them on our beautiful coast.

I then explored Hangzhou on my own for another week.

Visited: West Lake - Six Harmonies Pagoda - Dreaming of the Tiger Spring (Hupao) Park – Zoo - Zhejiang West Lake Gallery - Wushan Square and Wushan Hill - Eight Diagrams Field - Lingyin Temple

I wrote an article about Hangzhou and its environmental challenges a while ago:

Old and new legends from Hangzhou's West Lake