Madeleine is from Kunkletown, PA and an alumna of the Chinese 2020 Virtual Summer Intensive program.
The NSLI-Y virtual summer program experience is an experience I will never forget. Not only did I increase my knowledge of the Chinese language in my language classes and participate in wonderful activities in my culture classes, such as dumpling-making and calligraphy, but I had the golden opportunity to meet and converse with college students from China in real time. I made beautiful memories and long-lasting friendships.
During language class, as we did throughout the entire program, we spoke exclusively in Chinese. As an intermediate-high level speaker, I was surprised at how much I could accomplish being restricted to only Chinese. This helped me to open up and ask questions about grammar and vocabulary that hadn't occurred to me previously, which allowed me to learn even more. Homework each day was just as engaging and educational, as I would come back in class the next day with more questions to ask. One of the most important things I learned in this virtual program was to ask questions, because this broadens one's learning experience to the highest extent.
During culture classes, we also had a day devoted to writing calligraphy. I had a bit of experience already in the art of calligraphy, so it was fun writing along with everyone else. At the same time I practiced my skills on parts of calligraphy that I still did not know too well. The class was relaxing and enjoyable. Here is a picture of the calligraphy set ACES sent to us students through the mail when it just came in:
The Simplicity of Chinese Idioms
During my language classes at NSLI-Y, my peers and I were taught useful Chinese idioms. Unlike in many other languages, idioms appear more frequently in Chinese daily conversation than you think. They are extremely important to learn as a Chinese language student because they not only let others know you have a firm grasp of the language, but you also have significant cultural and historical knowledge.
To give learners an overview, Chinese idioms most of the time are four characters long, but sometimes can be five. Some are metaphorical, some are similes, and others are quite straightforward. Some have historical origins while others are from fables. Here are some examples from class of four-character idioms, all of which are very common:
Let me teach you three interesting, easy-to-learn idioms I learned in my NSLI-Y language classes that were new to me at the time.
掌上明珠 - zhǎng shàng míng zhū - (a beloved) daughter.
This idiom is comprised of 掌 zhǎng (palm of the hand), 上 shàng (on top of), 明 míng (bright), and 珠 zhū (pearl), literally meaning "a bright pearl on the palm." To refer to your daughter in a way that you also indicate that you love and treasure her very much, you would use 掌上明珠。This idiom is versatile, as you can also use it to refer to someone else's daughter, or to use it on yourself if you are the daughter of someone's. This idiom is symbolic as it relates a beloved daughter to a beautiful, bright pearl in your hand.
人山人海 - rén shān rén hǎi - crowded; packed with people.
If you are a Chinese learner, you have probably heard of this one before. This idiom is fairly simple and easy to understand; it is made up of 人 rén (person), 山 shān (mountain), 人 rén (person), and 海 hǎi (ocean). This idiom is metaphorical because it most literally translates to "mountains and seas of people". Therefore, it can be easily deduced that it is describing something as crowded. However, as this idiom clearly states the character 人 rén (person), it can only be used with people.
一心二用 - yī xīn èr yòng - to multitask; do two things at once.
A happy fact about Chinese idioms is that many intrinsically describe something. This idiom is comprised of 一 yī (one), 心 xīn (heart, mind), 二 èr (two), 用 yòng (to use). Literally translated as "one mind, two usages", this means precisely what you'd might think: to multitask. Maybe the tricky part for a beginner in Chinese is the character 心 xīn, meaning heart or mind. In Chinese, 心 can mean the heart organ, but in other metaphorical contexts can mean the mind. As you grow in your journey to discover Chinese idioms, you'll also might learn that another character 腹 fù, can mean "stomach", but can also mean the mind as well, for the ancient Chinese considered the stomach as the pit of your feelings. But besides all that, the idiom 一心二用 is a great starter idiom for any Chinese learner.
An At-Home Experience with Making Dumplings
Culture classes in my NSLI-Y virtual summer program provided me a plethora of experiences, such as meeting new friends in China and writing calligraphy. But the one activity that really helped me come into true contact with Chinese culture was making dumplings. It was an adventure all on it's own, since my family needed to locate a Chinese supermarket that had all the ingredients we needed in stock. Luckily, there was one not five minutes away from our house called QQ.
The day when we would gather for dumpling-making was on a Friday. In order to prepare for the virtual event, I researched some of the tastiest recipes online and wrote my own shopping list. At QQ, being the only one in my family able to read Chinese, for the first time I was the one leading my parents around the entire store to find the ingredients.
The first ingredient I took care of was the baicai (bokchoy). I chopped it up finely and eventually squeezed the water out of it. The meat stuffing I chose was pork belly, which was a bit hard to cut for me. Eventually I learned that I should have frozen the meat first and cut it with a meat cutter. Because I did not do this, the individual pieces of my meat stuffing were a bit too large; however, the dumplings still tasted good in the end.
After putting the baicai in with the meat stuffing after squeezing it dry, I put many other seasonings and sauces in with the mixture, such as soy sauce, ginger, oyster sauce, Chinese prickly ash, monosodium glutamate, and cooking wine. Other vegetables I put in were Chinese chives and onions.
After having the dough completely rested (a method common in Chinese cuisine when kneaded dough is covered and set aside), I started to make the dumpling wrappings. This took skill I did not have at the time, so they did not turn out as perfect as I thought they would be. However, the final product was still good. The trick is to make the edges flatter than the middle, which prevents the dumplings from leaking when being boiled.
Finally, I started to wrap the dumplings after putting the stuffing inside. This part was surprisingly easy for me. The only thing I wish I could have done better was not put so much flour around the edges. But the edges still stuck together, making decent dumplings.
After making around twenty dumplings, I finally got to the part where they are to be boiled. This is just one method of cooking, however; there are many other ways to cook dumplings, such as steaming and frying.
Making dumplings at home was an adventure, but at the same time it was fun and exciting. I encourage other NSLI-Y students to do the same at their own homes.
Before Beijing: China's History Beyond What We Can See
In addition to NSLI-Y providing me language and cultural knowledge, my Chinese teachers also taught the history of China. Despite Beijing being the obvious capital of China at present time, the capital where imperial China was born, and full of thousands of years worth of history, culture, and food, was actually Xi'an (西安), formerly known as Chang'an (长安).
Xi'an was the first capital of imperial China, governed by the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang Di (秦始皇帝). This started the Qin Dynasty (秦朝), which was imperial China's first dynasty. This is indicated in the emperor's name by the first character "qin" (秦)，meaning the Qin Dynasty.
Qin Shi Huang Di saw an ever-warring group of city-states (hence the Warring States period, 战国时代) that were diverse in every single possible way, which made everyday aspects such as transportation, language, and measurements difficult to reconcile. With Qin Shi Huang Di's annexation of other states leading to the Qin state's victory in 221 BC, China's first empire was born, thus called the Qin Dynasty.
Qin Shi Huang Di was known for the laws of unification he decreed, such as the unification of measurements, written Chinese characters, currency, and roadways. He also ordered the construction of the awed Great Wall of China (长城) to prevent nomadic people (called the Hu people, or 胡人) from invading the newly-constructed empire. Qin Shi Huang Di not only increased China's territory by the use of army horses, but also helped begin the Silk Road (丝绸之路) in the same manner.
But while Qin Shi Huang Di initiated the unification of many things that changed people's lives, he also desired his empire to have one mind, or one way of thought. He saw Confucianism as a threat to his power, so he ordered the burning of hundreds of thousands of Confucian scriptures and the live burial of over 400 Confucian scholars.
Another interesting fact about Qin Shi Huang Di pertains to his tragic death. As mercury was hailed in China, as well as many other countries during this period of human history, as the so-called "elixir of life", Qin Shi Huang Di desired it for himself. But in drinking mercury in such a large capacity, he passed from brain damage. Through attempting to find the way to eternal life, he was ultimately befallen by death.
On a somewhat more cheerful note, he planned his funeral well in advance: He ordered the construction of his own tomb, consisting of 8,000 life-sized statues of soldiers, 130 chariots, and 670 horses, all to protect him in the afterlife. This outstanding tomb includes the oft-visited Terracotta Army. Perhaps the most mind-boggling aspect about this tomb is that each and every soldier is unique; every statue's face is different. In addition to this, their hairstyles, uniforms, and weapons are also varying according to their roles in the army.
In studying Chinese history, it is imperative to learn the importance of the ancient capital Xi'an, the very foundation of the China we know today. So much more culture and history lies beyond the current capital of Beijing, so it is necessary for any Chinese learner to know the roots of China.
Every class was a new adventure for me as a learner, but the most exciting part of this NSLI-Y experience was when I met people from China and talked with them in real time, only in Chinese. It was a lot of fun practicing speaking Chinese with them, but the best part about it was that I had the opportunity to meet and get to know these people on a personal level. In fact, I was so happy to get to know them that I eventually exchanged WeChat account numbers with every one of them. I am so grateful to have met these new friends. Our friendships were so strong that we keep in touch still today.