A Cultural Void

As a child, I gradually came to understand that I was not English, although it did not bother me much in those early days. Come the confused teenage years, however, and here began the (apparently unending) identity struggle, one that may also be familiar to some of you. 

Was I English? A bit. Chinese? A bit. Mauritian? A bit.

When asked about my background, I would usually dish up the long, drawn-out explanation that "we're ethnically Chinese, but my parents were born in Mauritius and I was born in the UK." Sometimes people would ask "Whereabouts in China?". My answer "Somewhere in southern China" started to sound ridiculously vague, as if I had forgotten where my grandparents were from. 

I had not forgotten. I had in fact, never bothered to really ask.

It was my need for accuracy

alll I wanted was to understand where I was from and to speak Chinese like a 'real' Chinese person.

In 2007 I visited a uni friend in her home country of Cyprus. She took me to a concert  

Between the extremes of Nationalism and

Moiyan draws me towards her as one of her long-lost granddaughters. I am intrigued by this place that is at once both familiar and strange.

My interest in the Chinese language and China led me to spend two months in 2011 having one-to-one Mandarin lessons in Beijing and Chengde, with Live the Language Mandarin School. By concurrently living with native Mandarin-speakers, both my language-learning and cultural understanding were greatly enhanced. Using my new Chinese skills, I contacted long-lost relatives in Meizhou, Guangdong Province in early 2012. To my delight, I was invited to stay with them and spent six weeks of utter amazement living in what could have been my hometown in another life. The emotional highlight was visiting my grandparents' ancestral clan homes with my immediate family.

 I wish to one day work in Mandarin, perhaps live in China, communicate with my Chinese relatives and better understand their culture and viewpoint. I feel that my heart, in fact, my very genetic material, cannot rest until I have learned more. In China I see both my past and future.

Completing the triangle

Yearning to belong

Feeling incomplete

 When I was growing up I understood next to nothing in Hakka. My parents always spoke to us in either Creole or English and used Hakka only when talking to their parents, or when they didn't want us to understand! As previously mentioned, I felt a great yearning to somehow complete myself by learning Chinese, but it was not until I stayed with hosts in Beijing and Chengde whilst having Mandarin lessons for 8 weeks that I finally started fulfilling this dream. My basic level of Mandarin allowed me to get in touch with my family in Moiyan and they kindly invited me to stay with them. Whilst there for 5 weeks, I communicated in Mandarin, but my aural comprehension of Hakka did improve a little and I started recognising baby words and phrases. Like you, I have struggled with Hakka tones, whereas I found Mandarin tones relatively easy. I suspect that this is more to do with teaching and explanations rather than Hakka being inherently more difficult. I would say that in Mandarin I can say basic sentences about myself and family, likes and dislikes etc. but that in Hakka I am almost mute! 

11. My Hanzi learning started as a teenager, when I would study bits of food packaging to try and decipher the meanings (unsuccessfully). I was given a slim English-Chinese dictionary but with no Chinese-->English function, I just flicked through it now and again hoping to find something useful. Eventually I graduated to websites such as www.mandarintools.com andwww.zhongwen.com but the 'drawing' function on www.nciku.com is also very useful. Now that we have an iPad, I downloaded the  Youdao dictionary, searchable by 'drawing' and pinyin.