Learning Chinese in Kunming – Language Lessons Continue

Keats Language School, Kunming, China


After just a few short days MW and I have sorted out what I will be learning and how. It’s not so easy for a language teacher to develop lessons and activities that are both productive and acceptable to the students. Students have ideas of what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, and having  another language teacher as a student may make it all the more difficult. I know I have very specific ideas, but MW is very accommodating.

Lessons remain casual with plenty of time to deviate from the central topic for the myriad questions I have. We focus on practical conversation and related vocabulary. This week it’s asking for directions, buying produce, and ordering in a restaurant.

On the Street Practice

We practiced role play scenarios in class before we took our practice to the street, going first to the downtown Carrefour to check out their produce department. Along the way I was to ask people directions to the store.

Great idea, but most of the time people just pointed or I didn’t understand what they said. This is something I really should do more often on my own but don’t. The produce department produced an overwhelming amount of vocabulary. I really should sift through and pull out the most important, but I don’t and instead write everything down.

The next day we wandered through the backstreets near the school and stopped at some of the local restaurants to study their menus and the small produce shops to review vegetable vocabulary and buy fruit. So many types of food and names.

Lu Cai

Lu cai, for example, is a selection of animal parts, tofu skin, sea weed, dry tofu, mushrooms, potatoes, etc. that have been cooked in a special sauce and are then served at room temperature. They are sold by the pound at window-fronted small shops.

I tried a vegetarian combination of tofu skins, dry tofu and seaweed in a Sichuan pepper sauce. I’ll work my way up to the other animal parts once I figure out which ones I really want to eat.  With my mouth tingling from the ma (Sichuan pepper) this dish is really more about the various textures than the flavor. Certainly a nice lunch alternative to noodles and rice.

Food Market

We stopped at a couple of small stands where I tried to buy fruit; first figs and then peaches. Even with MW there to help me decipher, it was difficult to understand the conversation. I can pick out words and phrases, but miss a lot in between. Like why I needed to buy six peaches instead of the three I asked for. Six, it turns out, is a lucky number, three is not. He gave me three very ripe peaches for now and three less ripe for later. I tried one at lunch, sweet and juicy.


Last night for dinner I stopped in a more casual restaurant with a long list of dishes that you order by number at the front before sitting down. While I was reading through the endless list the counter person offered me an English menu. I tried to explain that I was learning Chinese and was happy with the Chinese menu. She gave me one of those “whatever” looks and left me to my reading.

I ordered a curry dish, pretty bland tasting. The best part of the restaurant, however, is the stir-fry bar, where you can sit and watch them fry up dishes to order. Two guys at the bar ordered about six dishes between the two of them, a sort of mini banquet, squid with vegetables, noodles with vegetables and topped with a fried egg,  a local ham dish, and a small whole fish. Next time I’ll know what to order.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Kunming page.

Comments are closed.