Movies 电影片 - Intermediate Lesson

Summer is upon us and I just started one on one classes once a week to supplement Chinesepod lessons. To get more out of this dialogue listen to Chinesepod Intermediate lesson Chinese Celebrity: Bruce Lee C0059

A: 晚上有空吗?

Are you free tonight?

lit: tonight have free (time)?

B: 什么事?

What’s up?

lit: what thing (do you have in mind)?

A: 一起去看电影吧?

How about we go see a movie. 

lit: together go watch movie, ok?

B: 好.


C: 你喜欢看哪种影片?

What kind of films do you like to see?

lit: you like see what kind films?

D: 动作片.

Action movies.

A: 那我们看超级战舰把?

well then, let’s go see Battleship.

lit: then we see Super Battleship, ok?

B: 那走吧! 

Let’s go! 

Extra vocabulary regarding movies:

纪录片 Documentary

科幻片 Science Fiction

动画片 Animation 

人物传记 Biographies

惊悚片 Thriller

灾难片 Disaster Film

侦探片 Detective Film (Spy Film)

爱情片 Romance

男\女主角 Actor\Actress

导演 Director

情节 Plot

圆满结局 happy ending

感人的 touching \ moving

表演 v. to act (in a movie, on a stage)

Make Chinese a Breeze

Although the Chinese Breeze Authors aren’t paying me to advertise their books I think its important to get the word out on this valuable series considering there are few books one can read when they know just 300 Chinese Characters. 

Level one books require 300 words, level two 500 and so on. If you already have a Skritter account you can find some of the books 生词 in vocabulary lists ready for you to add and study. For people like me with little motivation to self study using a textbook this is a very practical alternative and an entertaining one as well.

After reading two of the beginner level books 错!错!错!and 两个想上天的孩子 I’m excited about receiving more books from the 淘宝 store where I buy them. 

I only have one complaint about the series and that’s the lack of a working website, if you type in your first guess which might be you are greeted by this upsetting but entertaining announcement from the webmaster. 

Now I cant be certain this was the intended address of the series or even the same series but you do the math, how many times does a foreigner get done over when doing business in China? The websites listed in the book are or both of which do not work. 

So where are my downloadable supplementary exercises Chinese Breeze? 

Ethics aside this series does a great job telling a story at your level while teaching you new vocabulary with a wide variety of stories. When there’s a new word its properly numbered and given a definition in the footnote. 

They also come with a CD which I haven’t bothered to look at (maybe they have those supplementary exercises on there) if you need some listening practice too. 

A simple google search will provide you with several stores to buy from but if you are in China the cheapest prices will be had on taobao. Have fun reading!

Escaping Tianjin - Jixian Excursion

During the summer Samantha and I took a little get-away for expatriates living in Tianjin, Jixian is a mountainous heaven of fresh air, lakes and mountains covered in trees It’s easy to find a bed and breakfast on any one of the mountains and there are plenty of fun things to do even if you don’t want to spend a lot. 

(Don’t worry, that’s not a UFO at the top right)

Upon arrival of our 农家院 (Farm House B&B) we were immediately greeted by several locals serving tourists, riding a horse for around 12 minutes will cost you 30元 and a two lap trip on a quad will run you another 30元. This particular horse ride wasn’t very special, I was simply led by the owner on a trot around the village and back, no running or lesson but it being my first time I was satisfied with getting a feel for the animal, you can probably find a better ride in one of the farming areas where an entire track has been set up, just look for the sign 跑马场 (Horse Race Track).

Before unmounting the man asked me one of the strangest questions I’ve been asked yet.

Local man: “你是哪个国家?” (Where are you from?)

Me: “美国人” (America)

Local man: “你是白人或者黑人?” (Are you black, or white?) 

Me (a little confused): “我是白的,可是我奶奶是墨西哥人“。(I’m white, but my grandmother is Mexican) 

Perhaps his eye sight is starting to go, or he was just making conversation, either way it was one of the more interesting questions I’ve been asked in a while! Although I do have a tiny bit of Mexican ethnicity in me, I look white and definitely not black. But maybe he was just making conversation.  

Here are some phrases you may find useful when traveling in Jixian, try and translate them yourself. 




The B&B had plenty of shade. Rooms were 120元 or 18USD a night. 

Catfish swimming in the sunlight waiting to be our next meal

Mnemonics, Memory Palaces, and Image Association

I bought the book Remembering Simplified Hanzi which helps you remember how to write the first 1,500 most common characters in Chinese using Mnemonics a year ago, the idea behind Heisigs and Richardsons book is visualizing short connected stories for each character so you can quickly pull the otherwise unintelligable characters out of your memory because you’ve associated it with a memorable image. I’ll be honest I didn’t stick with the book for more than 100 characters but a year later looking back at old flashcards I’m surprised at how many characters I hardly ever read but still recognize the story and meaning for. 

What got me thinking about this again was The Mentalist, a t.v. show about a charismatic man who among many other talents can dredge an unmeasurable amount of real world knowledge from his memory that allows him to cold read people and to ultimately solve murder cases. In one episode he mentions that he uses a memory palace to harness his memory. To put it simply, you visualize a place you already know very well in your mind, like your apartment, then you fill that place with whatever it is you’re trying to remember. 

Benny, writer of the Fluent in 3 months blog and author of the language hacking guide seems to combine the above advice which he calls Image Association, he suggests that if you want to remember a word you simply need to create a story for it, including a place you remember well and can easily visualize and then by creating a story that takes place there, at the same time using the word you’re trying to remember. Here is an example I’ll just make up on the spot (warning, I’m new at this):

I want to remember the word attitude 态度 tàidu

On Del Mar beach my former instructor is yelling at his new recruits, every time he shouts “Don’t give me ataitudu!” His head gets bigger and everyone laughs at him for his bad pronunciation, until his head finally bursts. 

This particular instructor I remember quite well, I recall he had the best attitude out of all my instructors I’d had and the beach is quite unforgettable for me as well as is the time and place, like ben suggests I incorporated and changed the word tàidu slightly to fit it into the story.

I personally felt it was hard to remember most of the images out of heins book, and I think that was mostly due in part that the images weren’t associated with places or things I already recognized and had stored in my memory, and unfortunately you are required to follow his images so that they all connect together. 

Have any of you been able to successfully use any of the above methods or some hybrid method of your own to remember words when speaking and characters when writing? I’ll be practicing Benny’s technique regularly from now on.  

Bitter sweet success

I dropped by Nankai’s campus yesterday and was the first of my test group to pick up test results. I’m excited to say I passed the new HSK exam level 3. Here are my scores.

听力 Listening 87 out of 100

阅读 Reading 56 out of 100

书字 Writing 70 out of 100

总分 Total Score 213 out of 300

You need a score of 180 to pass which means you could pass the test without memorizing a single character. Like the title of the post suggests this is bitter sweet success, I went to Nankai again today to 申请 Apply to study this September but learned that if you take the new HSK then you’re required to pass level 4, if you take the old HSK you need to pass level 3. You also have the option of taking the schools exam when registration’s start in August, which is what I’ll be doing. So its not over yet, its time I step it up and start studying twice as hard. 


You can check your score online at if you took the new HSK.


You can pick up your certificate from the guard inside the Chinese College at Nankai’s campus on the first floor. Expect to wait a month for test results. 

Renting an apartment in Tianjin

I’ve rented four apartments in Tianjin in my short 3 year stay here without much incident, I never had to deal with landlords trying to take naps in my apartment or not getting my security deposit back and most of that is likely due to my wife being Chinese. 

For those of you coming here with out a local friend who knows the ropes here is some advice taken from my own experience and from local expatriates. 

The search

Depending on what you want and your language abilities you can search for the right apartment on or on the following Chinese websites:

 I suggest using internet explorer to navigate these websites, with a firewall enabled of course. 

Keep in mind that when looking at these apartments most of them are posted by realtor’s who more often than not increase the price to get a larger finders fee, you will notice this right away when you start seeing the same pictures over and over. However, you can still find an apartment listed by its owner. 

A good trick someone over in the forums suggests is to look for listings that don’t have numbers showing up in other listings, ask for a picture of the place before you go visit and before you sign the contract make sure you have a Chinese friend help you read it or ask a realtor, the fee shouldn’t be more than 500元 for most places.  

Price range

Like anywhere else the price will depend on where you are living, the further from the city the cheaper the price will get. Heping District 和平区 prices will be highest, a one bedroom apartment with modern fittings and decoration can be found for 1,600元 a month. Keep in mind that most apartments also come furnished, if not the price should be cheaper than the ones that do.

If you’re looking for a larger 3 bedroom apartment in a place like Nankai district 南开区 you are looking at a price range of around 3,000-4,000元. Google “3,000rmb to usd” or whatever your currency for the current exchange rate.  

As of 2011 Tianjin has no property tax source , but that is likely to change in the near future thanks to China’s ongoing reform to restrict Home buying. But as a foreigner you will be expected to pay taxes which can be done when you take your landlord with you to the police station to register (expect to be back there several times to get everything done). 

With that and inflation always looming, if you plan to stay for a few years be prepared for your rent to go up. 

If you’re looking to live in an expatriate community its not impossible but don’t expect anything like Beijing or Shanghai, Here in Tianjin its still uncommon to see another laowai on the street the same time as you. Koreans make up most of the foreigner’s in Tianjin, so living in one of their communities will give you good chances at finding better amenities and foreigners. Notable places are Sunshine 100 阳光一百, Meijiang 梅江 and a large area around the water park known as 时代奥城. 

Also note that you will be paying an advance of 3 months rent and your deposit will be one months rent. 

For more about living costs go here

Renting & Apartments: U.S. v.s. China 

Right off the bat you will notice the extreme highs and lows here in China, in income, housing and everything between. If you’re on a tight string budget you can find just about anyplace but be prepared to live they way migrant workers might。 Ok, not as bad as that but I’m not talking about the 13,000 millionaires that live in Tianjin alone.

The squatter toilet

At one point I actually started to prefer the squatter, brought me back to nature really. But don’t go freaking out, even most cheap apartments in Tianjin will have a sitter in the bathroom. 

My apartment is also the landlords storage unit!

Every single apartment I’ve rented in here, weather it be in TEDA sharing a room with two other couples or here in Hedong district 河东区 in a nice and cozy 3 bedroom all to ourselves, I’ve always had to deal with landlords storing things in the apartment, treadmills, books and old dusty crap that should just be thrown out. It’s on you as a tenant to bring it up and make sure they take their stuff out before you sign the contract, otherwise its going to be filling up your closets for the rest of your stay. Be prepared landlords to show up unannounced, coincidentally I had that happen to me just now, as I type my landlords daughter and the tenant below are in my kitchen poking their heads out the window to install what’s probably an air conditioner. Be friendly, who knows when the next time you will need their help will be. 

Resume not needed

Lifehacker recently wrote an article on how to land your next apartment by writing a resume, this is one of the great benefits about renting in China, you won’t need to show any prior proof that you didn’t destroy and burn down your last apartment in a satanic ritual. Deposit and an extra months rent is all that’s needed to seal the deal, plus half the rent for one month if you used an agent. That being said its always better to use a realtor from someone you trust. 

Bottled water or Drink from the tap?

Once you have that apartment its a good idea to ask about the water, do they have a purifier installed or a water fountain? If you live in an apartment that’s at or above the standards back home they may still only have a water fountain, the downside to drinking from a water fountain are the bottles themselves, the bottles are hardly ever cleaned if at all. 

Water purifiers can cost just as much as that 4ft tall water fountain, ranging from 1,000元 to 6,000元. I’d suggest sticking with China’s famous brand Media or going with 3M. The water purifier will be installed under the sink, and they will most likely need to drill a hole in the corner of the sink to fit your second faucet, when you’re done you should have two faucets, the old one for washing dishes and the new for drinking water, in which case you will still need to buy a water boiler like the one below, simply plug it in and it will start heating up.

Good hunting!

Tianjin Polar Ocean World

It was a random decision to strike out on an adventure to the new Aquarium in 滨海 bīnhǎi saturday afternoon, and like most unplanned shenanigans it turned out to be most memorable. 

Leaving from the heart of Tianjin in 和平区 Hépíng qū by taxi we first went to 中山门 Zhōng Shān Mén to catch the 轻轨 qīngguǐ the elevated light-rail that can take you from the city all the way to TEDA (Tianjin Economic Development Area). The ride from 中山门 to 塘沽 tánggū will take you roughly 40 minutes of relative boredom and possible pain if you don’t manage to get a seat, so make sure to strategically position yourself for a sprint to the seats if you don’t like dry-humping strangers, but who doesn’t like that right?  

Tianjin light rail 天津轻轨

Once you arrive you will be greeted by scores of food being sold by 新疆人 xīnjiāngrén an ethnic minority group notorious for theft in the city but also known for their great selection of dried fruits, lamb kebabs and the lesser known 果脯糖 guǒfǔtáng literally ‘fruit glucose candy’ shown below. I should point out that 新疆人 aren’t all thief’s as you’d probably already guessed, but unfortunately there’s still an active group of young men working as pick pockets around the 南京路 nánjīng lù  and 滨江道 bīnjiāngdào shopping area that seem to speak for all 新疆 in many peoples minds, expat and local alike. 

Uighur fruit glucose candy 新疆人的果脯糖

Coming down from the platform (making sure you go to the road straight ahead, heading left from there)  you can either take a bus to the bund or catch a taxi straight to the 水族馆 shuǐzúguǎn aquarium. Wanting to see the waterfront first, we opted for the crowded bus and got off at the shopping street to find our favorite calamari kebab stand. 

Tanggu street food 塘沽路边小吃

Tianjin calamari kebab

Tianjin calamari kebab

When being handed my kebab of pork one of the sticks broke off, flimsy as it was, and all the meat slapped onto the filthy sidewalk. The cook naturally pretended he didn’t see a thing, after looking down at the ground perplexed at what had just happened I noticed it wasn’t my fault but the flimsy stick that broke so I promptly asked for another, I’m not sure what he said but it was obvious I wasn’t getting another.

After a bit of arguing I started to walk away but another man standing next to us began to give the grillman a good grilling “你是中国人吗!?” “nǐ shì zhōngguó rén ma?” “强买强卖!” “qiáng mǎi qiáng mài” (Buy and sell under coercion) I’m guessing he felt like the man was making not just himself but all Chinese lose face in the eyes of a 老外 lǎowài white foreigner and he wasn’t having it. The man quickly slapped on a new one for me and I stood there in silence as they continued to give and receive tongue lashings with no end in sight, after a few minutes onlookers began to gather so we had to tell both of them “你们不要生气” “nǐmen búyào shēngqì” don’t get angry.

After that funny fiasco we walked over and got ourselves some fermented tofu you might have heard about, its appropriately named 臭豆腐 chòudòufu Stinky Tofu. 

Tianjin stinky tofu 天津臭豆腐

Tianjin smelly tofu 天津臭豆腐

The 臭豆腐 here was 一半 yíbān not bad, if you get some near Alibaba’s back in the city you can thank me from saving you a bad first impression. We were still hungry so we found this 包子 bāozi shop nearby and ordered us 一份儿 yífèn’er a basket. I love the way the steam billows out of each basket beckoning you to come and devour its plump innards.

steamy dumplings 包子

From there we went back down the shopping street and headed for the bridge crossing the 海河 hǎi river. Our taxi driver took us to the start of the bridge and didn’t charge us anything saying that he couldn’t go over the bridge because they would soon raise it and he wouldn’t be able to get back, so we hoofed it which only took us 10 minutes.

Tianjin aquarium

That thing sticking out is the turtle head (which I’ll leave untranslated). Theaquarium is still under construction, along with the entire area surrounding it. When done it will be a huge shopping center with hotels and other amenities you would expect a tourist trap to have. 

天津海昌极地海洋世界 Tiānjīn Hǎi chāng Jídì Hǎiyáng Shìjiè Tianjin Polar Ocean World

I’ve been to two other aquariums, one in Shanghai and Seaworld in San Diego, California. Considering you can see a killer whale swim right by you in San Diego the Binhai aquarium could definitely see some improvements but over all it was a great experience, we got to see beluga whale, sea turtles and a slew of other animals so if you don’t feel like trekking out to Beijing’s aquarium definitely give it a shot. 

whale and diver

Beluga swimming past a maintenance diver. 

Tianjin Pinguines

Pinguines chillin out with a snowman. 

Tianjin sea turtles

One of the three sea turtles swimming around the underwater walkway. 

Tianjin aquarium stadium

The seal and 虎鲸 hǔjīng (a black looking whale) show started at 3:30

Tianjin dolphins 天津海豚

The dolphins weren’t a part of the day’s show but you could see them jumping in and out of their tanks.

Tanggu barbecue 天津烧烤

By the time the show was over the park was shutting down, we took a few minutes to look at the jellyfish tanks where you can buy a moon jellyfish for 100rmb. Before the park closed at 5p.m. we left to get some dinner. Careful of the taxi drivers waiting outside, they’re more than willing to give you the laowai price.

Theres a hole in the wall 烧烤 shāokǎo grill diner back at the waterfront where  we had our dinner, you won’t find these in the city because of the filthy floors and walls adorning the establishment, but if you’re not deterred by trivial things like that take a look at the map below and go try it for yourself. 

chicken skin kebab 烤鸡皮串

I couldn’t think of a better treat than 烤鸡皮串儿 kǎo jīpí chuán’er Chicken Skin Kebabs to end the day with. 

Catching a cab in Tianjin

If you’re trying to get a cab in Tianjin you may be getting the phrase 去不了qùbúliǎo and a brush of the hand for you to leave which can be quite frustrating if you’re not from a city that has taxi’s swarming everywhere. Here is the Taxi etiquette in Tianjin as far as I’ve come to know it.

1. Have 零钱 língqián on you to pay your fare, it may not get you a cheaper ride or even a less frightening one but it’s a common courtesy customers extend.

2. Don’t pay that extra 五毛 wǔmáo. If your fare is 8.50 simply give 8元. If you give them a ten they might just give you 2元 back, but I’ve found more often than not they will give you your change.

3. If you do get a taxi driver telling you 去不了 after you’ve told them the destination it could be for several reasons, maybe you’re not on the side of the road that’s leading in the direction you want to go, simply cross the street and try again. It can also be because its rush hour and your destination is too far or in an area they don’t know well, it can easily be the opposite, they are looking for a fare over the standard 8元 and you are simply not going far enough, this is especially common when people are getting off work.

4. Prepare another means of transportation if the forecast shows rain, it’s notoriously hard to get a taxi in Tianjin when it does, but this is probably true for most city’s.

5. This one might seem as a no brainer, but make sure they flip the red oval sign down once your on your way, the starting price for a taxi as of 2010 is 8元.

Things to listen for:

要票吗?yào piào ma? Do you wan’t a receipt?

看着点儿啊. kàn zhe diǎn’er. Look out / Watch the door

(look behind for traffic before opening the door).

Tianjin Dialect

If you live and study or work in China you can’t escape all the non standard Chinese being spoken, so to help those in Tianjin I’m making a list here that I will update as I personally learn the nuances of the local Dialect otherwise known as 天津话.

The following list is in order of which words I learned first. If you wan’t to find a certain word easily simply hit Ctrl+F and type in the standard 普通话 to bring up the 天津话 variant. All 天津话 will be written in pinyin.

普通话: 这儿 / 这里 English: here

天津话: zhè’er hè’er 

普通话: 好了 English: ok; good

天津话: ōlei

普通话: 我的天 English: oh my god

天津话: wǒ de mài a

普通话: 这个真好吃 English: this tastes really good

天津话: zèi ge zhèn hǎo chī

Word of the day - 放炮吗?

Noun: pào  Definition: firecracker MW: zuò 

Every spring festival I go to the country side to stay with my wifes family, its tradition to 放炮 fàng pào set off fire works on new years eve the same way its tradition to do so in the states on the 4th of July. 

If you’re having a hard time memorizing the word try using these pictures I took from a fireworks stand, not sure why they put the Swastika on his head… was he a Nazi or Hindu? 

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