An Unofficial Guide to the Peking University Chinese Language Proficiency Exam

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机不可失,时不再来 (jī bù kě shī, shí bú zài lái)

– Opportunity knocks at the door only once.

This is a rough guide on what the Exam entails and how I found it when I took it last September and again in March. Provided the Exam and class placement system hasn’t changed since then, I hope this can be a useful tool to calm nerves and go in more prepared than I was!

Around 50 weeks ago, I was one of the nervous and jet-lagged exchange students sitting in a very large hall about to start the Peking University Chinese Language Proficiency Exam (“Exam” from here on in). Beforehand I had scanned the Internet for any friendly tips about what it might entail and was unsuccessful in my search, so I promised myself I would write a little guide for future students in my situation. Continue reading

Sport in China

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“We are honoured and humbled by the International Olympic Committee’s decision to award Beijing the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.”

China has redefined itself as a sporting nation, or at least as a nation able to pull off great sporting events with aplomb (exhibit a: the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games). The nation seems to be capitalising on this success by competing against Kazakhstan to hold the 2022 Winter Olympic Games and, as of a few weeks ago, winning. When Harry was here over winter, we visited the impressive Olympic Park and witnessed firsthand the lengths that China are going to advertise itself as the perfect candidate (click here for our Chinese skiing experience) – as anyone who watched the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony will remember, the Chinese don’t do grand public events by half. It is an opportunity to impress the world and its wife, not only by throwing money at an event but also by showing the nation’s manpower and ability to coordinate (or coerce) its citizens to mobilise.

Opening Ceremony for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the National Stadium

Opening Ceremony for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the National Stadium

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A Second Semester at Peking University

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一步一个脚印儿 ( yī bù yī gè jiǎo yìnr )

– Every step leaves its print; work steadily and make solid progress.

Boya Pagoda at Peking University

Boya Pagoda at Peking University

This semester has gone by in a flash – it seems like only last month we were retaking the placement test to be set into our classes and buying our books for the term ahead. The Durham and Edinburgh students all took the plunge to choose “gaoji” or advanced class after doing well on the tests, and I vividly remember opening my books in trepidation and seeing the 90 new vocabulary words per lesson. However, being in advanced has its advantages as the elective courses offered are more varied and challenging than those offered in intermediate. We were required to take 20 hours of class and therefore choose two electives from a list of Business Chinese, Newspaper Chinese, Chinese History, Chinese Cinema, Classical Chinese, Essay Writing and Chinese Culture. Our friendship group chose completely varied options (due to interests and different timetables) and I elected to study Newspaper Chinese and Chinese History.

Where our elective classes took place

Where our elective classes took place

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Chinese Smartphone Culture: Bicycles, TV Shows, and Wechat

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After witnessing 3 different people simultaneously cycling while on their phones during my commute today, I felt compelled to write about China’s obsession with the smart phone. These people weren’t simply making a call – they were either instant messaging or watching a TV show, therefore completely unaware of their surroundings. The helmet craze that I was hoping to create also hasn’t caught on, but rather than ranting about the appalling (lack of) road safety, I’ll stick to technology. Continue reading

Fukuoka and Osaka

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Thanks to my Dad’s work travel, I found myself in Japan again in May, and once again reunited with my parents. The trip started in beautiful Fukuoka, a relatively small seaside city in the south of Japan, famous for its baseball team – the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. The trip got off to an exciting start when I realised I was stopping off in South Korea on the way over (it was less exciting when I realised the terminal was 800m long and the stopover was 3 hours, but I still got some nice photos from the plane on the way in).

The view of Busan on my way into South Korea

The view of Busan on my way into South Korea

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A Dali-ghtful Holiday

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忍一时之气,免百日之忧 (Rěn yīshí zhī qì, miǎn bǎi rì zhī yōu)

– If you are patient in one moment of anger you will escape a hundred days of sorrow. (My philosophy when I lost my bag… read on!)

With 20 hours of class a week, starting at 8am most days, us Peking University students take the holidays when we can. A long weekend at the start of May was the perfect opportunity to get out of Beijing so Liberty and I consulted for the cheapest flights to the most exciting places. Hong Kong was a clear winner price-wise, but we decided to push the boat out and pop down to Dali, Yunnan Province instead.

Beautiful Dali

Beautiful Dali

Yunnan Province is very far south – much further than we realised when we consulted a map having bought the flight tickets. With the prospect of warm southern weather looming, I proceeded to pack my entire summer wardrobe to make the most of the sun. This completely backfired when disaster struck at 3am when we arrived at Kunming airport to find that my bag hadn’t arrived. After consulting the lost baggage service (they were really helpful and it was good Chinese practice) we concluded there was nothing we could do except get a bit of sleep before some more travelling the next day.

Dali is another 5 hours away from Kunming by bus, so we were able to catch up on sleep and recover from the stress of our elective exams the week before. We stayed at The Jade Emu Hostel upon a recommendation from a friend, which is situated just outside the picturesque Ancient City of Dali. After dumping Liberty’s bag (*sob*), we made the most of the afternoon by exploring the walled city’s boutique shops, craft stalls and eateries before deciding on “The Good Panda” for dinner. A Dali delicacy is goats’ cheese, and this combined with hot stone beef and onion made for a sublime first meal in our holiday destination. The homemade fruit wine was less delicious, so we sniffed out a cute little café with a veranda, and watched the world go by.


Liberty in the Ancient City


Another view of the Ancient City


Distant view of Cangshan Mountains

For our first full day, we rented bikes to cycle around the lake and explore the area and various villages a little more. After convincing the hostel staff that we did not want to do a two-day cycle route, we found our bearings and were on our way. Erhai Lake is surrounded by 17 small villages, so it made for beautiful and interesting cycling as we passed through. We also made friends along the way, and stopped for chats ranging from Xi Jinping to life in Xi’an. Some of the lake-side resort hotels looked absolutely beautiful, and has once again given me wanderlust to explore more of China.


Erhai Lake




Chats about governance and life


Our other cool friends

After three hours of cycling, we made it to Xizhou. According to, Xizhou has almost 200 national heritage listed private houses dating from the Qing Dynasty but our first priority was to find somewhere to eat and shelter from the sun. While it couldn’t compare to The Good Panda, it filled a hole before we recommenced sight-seeing and exploring. Liberty’s blonde hair got a lot of attention (Dali and the area surrounding it attracts lots of Chinese tourists) and we ducked the cameras while sussing out the local snacks on offer.


Delicious looking fruits at a market


On our wonderful bikes – they had gears!

The entrance to Xizhou Village

The entrance to Xizhou Village


Lollies on the way back

After reapplying suntan lotion, we were back on our way to Dali. The fierce sun led to us both burning so it was a relief to be back in the shade of the Dali Ancient Town, hobbling along after over-doing it on the bikes. Although the temptation to go back to The Good Panda was great, we decided to try something different and found another unassuming but lovely restaurant down one of the many winding alleys. To return to the lost bag saga, it was on this day that my bag finally arrived (two days into the trip) so we celebrated this fact, and Liberty’s college room allocation, with wine and good food.

Reunited with the bag!

Reunited with the bag



Although tired from the cycle, on our third day we decided to walk along Cangshan Mountain to see the Erhai Lake and the Ancient City of Dali from a different angle. Upon hearing that there was a minority festival, we rushed from our delicious diner-style breakfast in search of beautifully dressed ethnic women and unique cultural performances. Unfortunately, China-style, we were rewarded with crowds of thousands and not much else so we searched instead for the chairlift to take us up Cangshan.


Throngs of people at the festival

We were successful in meeting on lovely lady dressed in minority clothes, who hesitantly approached us to ask for a photo (we thought this was hilarious, as we’d been wanting to ask her the same thing) before getting the chairlift up the mountain. We had a brief pit-stop at the top for delicious home-made food before starting our hike along the Cloud Traveller’s Path. The view was stunning, and the path was beautifully laid to snake along the mountain beside temples and waterfalls (yes, it was that idyllic). While the lack of toilets 3 hours in was alarming, a typically awful port-a-loo came to my rescue as we reached the Seven Dragon Pools. These are a series of beautiful mountain stream pools of various colours and Liberty made ‘friends’ while posing for photos in front of the pools.


With our minority friend


At a Daoist Temple


View of Lake Erhai


Cloud Travellers Path


Lib with the lakes

Our walk continued like this for six hours (we joked that we’d actually been on boot-camp and not a holiday due to the ridiculous amount of exercise we’d done) so the view of the cable car to take us down was a very pleasant one. It was with a heavy heart that we had our last meal in Dali, incredibly sad to leave this beautiful place.


Our cable car


Dali is so beautiful!

However, our final day brought new adventures as our predicted 10 hour bus journey only took 5 hours, so we had 5 hours to play with in Kunming before our flight. We found a delicious café and then lugged our bags to Green Lake Park in 30+ degree heat before making the miraculous discovery of pedal boats for the lake. Within 30 seconds we were chilling in the lake, finally giving our backs some respite from our entire summer wardrobes. Although lacking in tourist attractions (maybe a good thing?), Kunming seems like a really lovely place to live or work. With tree-lined streets and lots of water and parks, it reminded me slightly of Shanhai’s French Concession, or an improved Guilin.


Green Lake Park


Lib relaxing


Gorgeous flowers in the park

After our hour of chilling on the boat whizzed by, we made our final tourist stop at Yuantong Temple. Although we had to hike up to it with bags in tow, it was absolutely worth it as we entered the tranquil Buddhist temple, located in a protected natural depression. I can honestly say it’s the most beautiful temple I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, and that’s a large claim considering the amount I’ve visited this year! The Yuan Dynasty architecture is stunning, and the ‘Free Life Pond’ holds golden fish and hundreds of terrapins. Spending an hour in the temple was a wonderful way to end a simply Dali-ghtful weekend away.


The Temple Gate


Tired after our hike

Yuan Dynasty Architecture

Yuan Dynasty Architecture

Credit goes to Louise Moon for ‘Dali-ghtful’. Thanks also go to Alexander Martinelli, Charlie Rowlands, Francesca Ridout, and Liberty Brown for their suggestions!

How to spend a week in Beijing (feat. the Finch family)

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北京欢迎你! (Běijīng huānyíng nǐ!)

– Beijing welcomes you!

I fell in love with Beijing all over again when my family came to stay and had the most wonderful week as their tour guide, showing them the best that Beijing has to offer. Due to the wonderful weather every day was perfect, so here is a day-by-day guide about how we made the most out of this beautiful city. Continue reading

A weekend in Guilin and Yangshuo

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桂林山水甲天下 (Guìlín shānshuǐ jiǎ tiānxià)

– Guilin’s mountain and water scenery is the best under heaven.

Heaven on earth?

Our first travelling adventure this term took us to the wonderful Guilin and Yangshuo, in the south of China. It is honestly the most beautiful place I’ve ever had the opportunity to visit, and I’d urge anyone planning a trip to Asia to put it on their list. It was particularly lovely for us having spent an intense first month back in Beijing as Guilin and Yangshuo are so completely different. It felt more like South-East Asia (for reference, we could have gotten a 10 hour bus to HK – that’s how far south we were) but with the added convenience that we could use our Chinese to get around. Continue reading

“Exploring the Spring”

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人逢喜事精神爽 (rén féng xǐshì jīngshén shuǎng)

– A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance.

I’ve recently gotten to know a lovely Chinese family, and last Sunday they invited me to go to the Beijing Botanical Gardens with them in order to “explore the spring” and see the cherry trees in bloom. Jack is 8 and I thought that “exploring the spring” was the best homework ever. I later found out that he would have to write 250 characters about his experience after the event. A typical example of intense Chinese tuition…

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

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Thoughts on returning to China

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It’s come to the time when I have to pack (my least favourite pastime) to return to Beijing for my second term at Peking University. It’s been lovely to be back In Guernsey and England with family and friends for such a long time, and I’ve made the most of the time by getting in some legal work experience, a football match for Trevs women, and of course a Durham formal! I also celebrated my 21st birthday with a wonderfully surprise-filled weekend, but I think that it deserves an entire blog post to itself, so look out for that. Whilst it feels odd to be leaving normality to return to the intensity and craziness of China, I’m super excited to see friends out there and eat all the kung-pow prawns. The below is basically a summary of my thoughts about going back: Continue reading