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Book details
  • SubGenre:Chinese
  • Language:English
  • Series title:Some Ideas Over a Cup of Tea
  • Series Number:1
  • Pages:18
  • eBook ISBN:9781483556406

Learning Mandarin for the Fish and Chips

Learning Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan and Mandarin Legal Work in London

by Hastings Cavendish

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This short, relaxing, amusing book discusses experiences learning Mandarin Chinese in London and Taiwan with some ideas and suggestions.

The wonderful experience of working as a Chinese immigration advisor in England using Mandarin Chinese.

Summer train journeys from Charing Cross station through the English countryside to see clients with delicious lunches taken in restaurants from Bayswater in London to Dover in Kent.

Teaching English in Indonesia and how to write more interesting Chinese characters or learn with memory systems and via language exchanges.


For one reason or another, after I arrived in Taiwan, I became the world’s most serious student. I spent almost every hour in the day memorizing Chinese characters, using special recording machines to listen to the feedback of my spoken Chinese tones and even learning Cantonese at the same time.

I probably went to sleep quite early during this time and all I remember dreaming of was my Chinese characters, but I was often awake or kept half awake waiting for the next creak, crash, bang, unknown sound or occasional fart or throat clearing from the Unbelievable Character that always showed up just after I had fallen asleep and stayed awake until the early hours of the morning playing a symphony on the creaky chair which synced with my sleeping and non-sleeping patterns so that just after I had fallen asleep again, I was again awaken by a particularly loud creak, throat clearing, interminable cupboard opening scrape…a moment of quiet ….some further delay here then………light cough.

Then it started all over again a short while later after I had just fallen into a deep sleep.

I made the most of this so that every time I woke up, I went back to revising the day’s new characters in my mind. I tried to memorize 50 new characters, including all the four essentials, of each character every day. This was alongside all the other things you need to do to learn a language such as doing language exchanges, learning the tones, and many other things.


Opposite this permanently brimming, busy restaurant was another named ‘Heng Tu,’ which was a particular favourite of mine. Whereas the Four Seasons came bedecked with large round white tables and smart efficient waiters Heng Tu was somewhat run down like the Chinese equivalent of an old English greasy griddle café where ham and chips are served for two pounds fifty, the spooky stained wall shadows come for free, the jukebox is 20 pence and you need to check the buttered toast under your fried egg to confirm it hasn’t been burned to black carbon dust before you eat it if you don’t wish to expire from cancer on the spot.

Mrs. Huang came to the UK in 1992 as a student and then overstayed her visa. She had since then disappeared into the thin air. Every attempt by the authorities to apprehend her- attempt, well - there really were no attempts to speak of mind you as they had been too preoccupied with tending the crown estate bonzai trees, climbing ladders to dust off outsized paintings of Lord Curzon, polishing black and white chequered marble floors and knocking back bottles of Tizer while watching the cricket in luxurious mahogany paneled rooms with enormous windows- had been futile until she was arrested recently for selling wonky DVDs. She had then applied to remain as the wife of her now husband who was British, but the Home Office was requesting that she return to home country and apply again from there.

From my own initial learning experiences, I realized that to memorize each character, you need to learn what I called “The Four Essentials” which are:

1. The various meanings of a character - which sometimes even have opposite meanings.

2. The component parts – that enables you to write it effectively.

3. The pronunciation(s) - characters regularly have two pronunciations. 4. The tone(s) - characters regularly have two different tones.

I felt I needed a place to put all these pieces of information, in a more physical sense, so that I would have more confidence I could recall each bit of data when I needed it. I then used a memory room, for example the room where I was staying, and created a character memorization story for each character that I learned within that room. I also tried to vocally repeat the character and write the character many times alongside the vocal representation, and was thus using different techniques to get it to stick in my mind. I used famous people or people I knew as memory pegs to represent the particular sound of the characters. For example, Mr. Chu would represent the sound for ‘chu’.

About the author

He recently started writing this series of books, which hopefully will entertain and maybe even provide some useful ideas.

He spent many years developing his Chinese language skills, alongside working, permanently seeking the holy grail of Cantonese dialect mastery. Failing in that task he sought enlightenment under the higher vehicle of Buddhism at a remote temple in Si Chuan province next to Tibet, but was savagely attacked by stinking, toilet brush werewolf dogs, under the care of the loopy grass pancake eating monk from Beijing.

After a Shanghainese anal rabies shot, and unbeknownst to himself, he busily occupied himself working in a 'fake' job at a Shanghai fashion magazine for a time.

But, life isn't always easy and fun. Sometimes it is very hard to continue. Having used up his sofa goodwill tokens, he was then homeless in the UK for a spell sleeping under lock and key wrapped in warm, prickly, plastic sheets.

His fortune turned when he won the unofficial BEST JOB IN THE WORLD competition becoming a Mandarin Chinese interpreter and official mail reader for the Chinese community in London. This was washed down with barbecue flavored thick fried Ho-fan noodles covered with chewy, slow cooked slathers of beef brisket in a thick, dark Cantonese mushroom gravy sauce all slooshing around with generously delivered swabs of juicy Barry's malt vinegar.

He took hundreds of language exchanges to improve his professional language skills. Under the beady, smart, wise eyes of Mr Wang he learned how to write cool looking Chinese characters that reflected their meanings in the way they were written. For example, how to puff out the character for 'brave', abbreviate the character for 'of' and magnify the character for 'beautiful'.

He took a three year distance learning law degree via the University of London alongside trying to master the intricacies of operating the red hot Chinese immigration law hotline that involved giving complicated legal advice in Mandarin Chinese while trying to decipher people's accents, find inventive ways to keep people talking while he tried to figure out what they were talking about and generally not look like he didn't know what he was doing.

He went on to qualify as a solicitor practicing immigration and criminal law.

This series of books can give you something relaxing to read, ideas for restaurants to visit or food to try and maybe some new angles to think about if you are interested.

I hope you will pass the time reading it enjoyably.