Learning Chinese in Kunming – End of the First Week

Keats Language School, Kunming, China


The first week of classes is already over! It may seem to some that we keep going over the same topics – giving directions, reading menus and ordering food, but it takes a lot of practice to be able to do simple things. Each time we go through the role play scenarios she adds new words and phrases building on what I already know. I’m very happy with her teaching style.

Today’s field trip was to a downtown food court. We borrowed a few of the menus, sat down and went through many of the dishes, me reading to her what I knew and her trying to explain the dishes I didn’t recognize. The pictures helped, but some of the dishes are so strange it takes a lot of explaining before I get it. Bamboo stuffed with rice or vegetables, a plate of assorted insects and dishes of animal parts I don’t recognize. 

Park Areas

I’ve discovered some of the “green” areas of Kunming. Besides the big public parks such as Green Lake Park the city is dotted with smaller ones. A canal with a path winds through town through lush vegetation on either side. The Chinese come here to stroll, exercise, chat with friends, and play cards. Surprisingly pretty and peaceful in this city of crowded streets and blaring horns.

Food Discoveries

Shuan cai is a type of quickly cooked vegetable and/or meat. You choose your raw ingredients and they then boil them briefly and serve you a steaming plate of your creation. You can dress it up with various condiments, cilantro, chili and so forth.

MW had taken me to a shuan cai place on one of our walks and I went back for dinner one night. The wait staff was quite nice, telling me the names of the various vegetables and tofu. China has many more varieties of green vegetables than you see in the US and it is difficult to keep them straight when you don’t know exactly what they are. I guess I’ll have to try them one by one.


I tried another neighborhood restaurant that looked small and relaxed from the outside, but turned out to have a whole bustling second floor filled with Chinese chowing down on local specialties. Still a pleasant place to eat alone as they have smaller tables along the window overlooking a tree lined street. The menu was the typical picture book.

The friendly waiter tried to help me pick out a couple of dishes. I tried out a couple of new phrases I’d practiced in class and asked about their specialties. I ended up with a dish of eggplant simmered with other vegetables in a flavorful but slightly sweet sauce and a plate of flash fried bacon, red chilies and mint. I probably wouldn’t have ordered the bacon if I had known what it was but it was tasty, spicy and not too salty.

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

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