Archive for the Category »Kids Learn Chinese «

I found out that our Chinese school was closed for good the week before it was set to start. I wanted to complain that they didn’t notify us sooner, but I couldn’t find anyone to bark at.

The next best thing to do was to find a new school. I quickly hit up my trusted know-it-all friend we call google, and located another weekend Chinese school in the area. It is no where as close to home as our former school, but still within tolerable driving distance.

I called up the school immediately, and got invited to go to the school that afternoon with my baby. They wanted to make sure that the baby is qualified to enroll in their 8th grade class.

I brought along our old 7th grade class textbook, and the final test paper, where it was clearly marked a 100% for verbal test, and 99% for written test.

Old 7th grade Chinese textbook, and A+ final test paper

Of course we are qualified to enroll in the 8th grade class!!

“Your textbook has pinyin everywhere. Our 8th grade textbook has no pinyin at all.” the Chinese teacher at the new school stated as she flipped through our book. She showed no interest in our proud test paper. This was a bummer.

She walked over to a cabinet, pulled out a drawer, and pulled out a book.

“I think our 6th grade textbook is more suited for her.” she walked over with the book.

My baby took the book from her weakly. The poor child looked intimidated.

The teacher took the book back from her, flipped to a page, and said, “Here, read the first paragraph.”

The baby stared down at the page, and I leaned over to peak at the paragraph. The cursed paragraph was based on a Chinese idiom story starring a Chinese general.

Ancient Chinese general and his horse race

“This paragraph is kind of hard. She does not know how to read “general”, and this general has a difficult Chinese name.” this lame excuse served as my best effort to help out my nervous child.

“Oh yes, this is a difficult lesson to read.” said the teacher, finally showing off that she can smile.

“Here, read this first paragraph in the first lesson.” she opened the book to the beginning.

The baby sent another pleading glance at me.

“What is that” I pointed to the title.

The Star Fruit

“Oh, you don’t know. That is a fruit.” she looked at us, then added, “ well, we don’t have them here. It is fruit that looks like a star when you cut into it.”

The Star fruit. We have seen them up on a tree in Hawaii once.

“She has been out of the school for the whole summer. She forgets everything. I think it is hard to read about something you don’t know.” me, continuing my bid to bail out the pitiful looking thing that sat next to me.

“No problem….” she took the book back and flipped some more, “ Here, how about the Great Wall! Everybody knows that. Read the first paragraph. Or any paragraph is fine.”

The Great Wall of China

“You have been to the Great Wall, remember? You can read it.” I said to the poor baby cheerfully. There was no getting out of reading with this teacher.

The baby struggled with the paragraph the best she could, skipping many characters, red-faced, and sweating on the forehead.

“You guys don’t speak Chinese at home.” she said to me accusingly.

“We do…sometimes…” I fumbled for words, and added, “she understands Chinese very well.”

“Oh, you speak to her in Chinese, and she answers back in English?” teacher.

“She knows how to speak Chinese.” me, insisted.

“The most she can enroll in our school is 6th grade.” she said to me.

The baby and I shared a look.

“Okay.” We surrendered fast.

Previous related posts: Losing Face at Chinese School

Crazy Memorization Week

Chinese School vs School School

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“AI-YA!! You old, confused man. How can you think of such a thing for them to do??” My mother woke up from her afternoon nap, looked out to the backyard and observed my two children engaged in the most unnatural employment.

“This is good fun.” my dad replied easily.

Over Spring Break last week, I had driven 6 hours with my kids to Southern California to visit my parents. The kids were spending a lot of time on their iPad and iPhone while at my parent’s house. One afternoon, my dad called the kids out to work on a project.

In the past, a project typically involves a complicated puzzle, colorful pencils or markers, or a glittering arts and craft kit. They were not prepared for my dad’s wicked project.

An ancient cooking method

Yes, he got out this odd and ancient looking oven thing, and had my 13-year-old build a fire in it. A real fire!

Along with a miserable looking fan, and a once fashionable ripped jeans from Abercrombie & Fitch, my children were cast with perfection into the roles of some poor homeless orphans in China.

Did you see the fan my 13-year-old is holding?? Apparently my dad had inherited the fan that had once belonged to Ji Gong, the legendary drunken monk.

After a nice fire got going, my dad put a wok on it with some food for my kids to cook.

Cooking like the old days

The kids had banished all thoughts of their iPad and iPhone, and spent the afternoon back in old China, likely on a farm, and cooked themselves a simple meal.

The kids carefully nursed their fire, adding more wood, fanning the flame, and waited for their food to cook.

Nursing their stove with care

“What are you guys cooking?” I asked.

“Earth melon.” 10-year-old.

Ahh…earth melon, of course.

Yams are ready

I had a good laugh. What a splendid idea to cook the yam in this manner! It was one of my favorite childhood foods.

The kids loved their yams. Their previous experience with the yam was limited to the mashed type served as a side dish with Thanksgiving dinners, and the mashed type covered under a blanket of marshmallows at Boston Market.

“Mom, when we go home, you need to make us yams like this. This is so good.” 13-year-old.

“You should ask Wai-Gong to let us take that oven home!” 10-year-old.

The ancient oven

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“Tasterbach! You got Chinese Honor Roll!! I am SO proud of you!” I run over to my baby, rain down hugs and kisses on my 9-year-old, unable to contain my happiness.

The baby was unmoved, just stood still under all my motherly affection, stared at me with an inquisitive frown.

“I just found your Honor Roll certificate from Chinese school! It was in your school bag.” me, pointing at the certificate I just dumped out onto the floor.

Chinese school Honor Roll certificate

“I am so happy that you got on the honor roll in your Chinese school. I can’t believe it!!” me, all smiling and overjoyed.

Baby was curiously stone faced.

“Why didn’t you tell me? I might give you a big present for this.” me, so happy.

“She gave a certificate to everyone in the class.” baby flatly stated.


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Xiao long bao

“Liang ge tian doujiang.” (two orders of sweet soy bean milk)

“Yi ge youtiao.” (one order of Chinese doughnut)

“Yi ge xiaolongbao.” (one order of steamed dumpling)

“Yi ge Shianghai chao nian gao.” (one order of Shanghai rice cake)

“Yi ge tangmian.” (one order of noodle soup)

“Yi ge Shianghai xian chao.” (one order of Shanghai stir fry)

I gave my orders to our waiter without glancing at the menus. I sport a habit of ordering the same dishes at all our favorite restaurants, which makes ordering really easy.

“You used “ge” for everything,” Hubby stated to me, as soon as our waiter took off with our order.

“What?” me.

“You used “ge” for everything. You didn’t use the proper counter words for the dishes.” Hubby.

He is such a nerd. I ignored him.

“Sometimes, they correct you when they repeat the orders back to you. But this waiter didn’t bother.” Hubby kept on going with it.

I stared back him, looking unamused.

Then my 12-year-old caught on to this flaw in my Chinese, and chimed in, “Wait! You don’t know the counter words in Chinese EITHER?!”

“I do!!” me.

“So I used improper Chinese. “Ge” kind of works for everything. I was just being lazy.” I shot a look to my husband.

But both kids were looking at me with wicked purpose. I felt the need to defend myself.

“Liang bei tian doujiang.” (two glasses of sweet soy bean milk)

“Yi tiao youtiao.” (one stick of Chinese doughnut)

“Yi long xiaolongbao.” (one basket of steamed dumpling)

“Yi pan Shianghai chao nian gao.” (one plate of Shanghai rice cake)

“Yi wan tangmian.” (one bowl of noodle soup)

“Yi pan Shianghai xian chao.” (one plate of Shanghai stir fry)

I repeated the order back to the kids with proper counter names. Then added with bitter indignity, “did I ever let you starve when we eat at Chinese restaurants?”

My husband didn’t know a single real word of Chinese until he met me, when he troubled himself with a year and half of Chinese lessons.

My good friend had once told me that his taking a year and half of Chinese didn’t do us any good, and she is right! His Chinese is no where good enough to converse with in Chinese, but just good enough that we no longer feel comfortable talking about him in his presence. And every now and then, he catches my improper Chinese and corrects me.

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Last Friday night, I went to pick up my kids from their Chinese School. My baby emerged out of her classroom door with sad eyes and a pouting mouth.

“What’s wrong?!” I was immediately alarmed.

“My teacher gave us extra homework.” my baby’s voice was grave and barely audible.

“Oh. Is that all? We can handle a little extra work.” I found little empathy towards the baby’s unhappiness, but comforted the child with a little squeeze.

“She told us to write an essay!” the baby’s voice thundered in the staircase.

“In Chinese?” me.

“Yes. At least 30 characters.” baby.

“Well. She is new to our school. She is overestimating you kids.” I blurted out matter-of-factly.

My 9-year-old is enrolled in a 4th grade Chinese class, but she is miles away from writing essays. She is still battling with fill-in-the-blanks on her homework routine, and often loses.

For most of this week, I helped the baby with her regular Chinese homework, and did not press her to do the extra homework. I deemed the assignment unrealistic, and pretended the extra homework did not exist.

On Wednesday night, I was intently watching the presidential debate, totally ignoring the kids to doing their own things when the baby dropped this piece of paper in front of me.

9 year old's Chinese essay

“Your Chinese essay?!” me, incredulous…

The baby was beaming with a wide smile.

She managed all on her own to write an essay exactly 31 characters, many of them repetitive, all using the most rudimentary Chinese characters. Characters that can probably be found on Lesson One in a first grade Chinese textbook.

No one said it had to be hard. This kid is a genius.

Translation of the essay:

My family has 4 people, Dad, Mom, sister, and me. I love them. They also love me. We are very happy.

Related previous post: Losing Face at Chinese School
A+ Hug
A New Low
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Chinese School vs School School

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The most challenging part of my baby’s weekly Chinese homework is the 3 sentences. It introduces three Chinese words, and the baby has to write Chinese sentences incorporating each of the three words.

Every week, my baby procrastinates this assignment until my rescue. I usually start with encouragement, then helpful hints, then total giveaway suggestions, and finally, I write down the sentences on the homework sheet myself.

The baby is 8 years old. I decided it is time to wean the child from this dependency…cold turkey style.

“Tasterbach! You are 8 years old now. It is time you write your own Chinese sentences.” me to the baby.

The baby stared back at me, wide-eyed and disbelieving.

“You can do it! If there are words you don’t know how to write, just come and ask me. But you have to come up and write your own sentences from now on.” me.

All week, that section of the homework was left blank, and I began to feel hopeless.

Then, today, I opened the baby’s worksheet, and found this Chinese sentence written in the most childishly charming way. The word was “If”.

8-year-old's very own Chinese sentence!

The sentence translated into English almost word for word: “If I get an A+, my mom will hug me.”

Ha, ha. That’s for sure! But this baby gets plenty of hugs from me everyday, even without the support of an A+.

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Around this time of the year, all major Chinese grocery markets greet customers with a mountain of Moon Cakes on display. The first sighting of these moon cakes always reminds me of my favorite moon cake memory.

It was many years ago. I was a recent college grad, and had just moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to work and live on my own. One late summer evening, I received a phone call from my Dad.

“Why didn’t you send me Moon Cakes?!” his loud voice pounded at my ear. Dad has the habit of cutting straight into the conversation, bypassing the usual pleasantries.

“Oh!… Mid-Autumn Festival has arrived?” Me.

“Already past!” Dad.

“Why didn’t you tell me earlier? If you had told me earlier, I would then have sent you the Moon Cakes.” I lacked a certain maturity in my early twenties. They didn’t get their moon cakes, because they failed to prompt me.

“You have grown up. You work and live by yourself. But you must remember that you are Chinese. And Mid-Autumn Festival is an important Chinese holiday. You have to remember this holiday. Every year on Mid-Autumn Festival, you need to send us Moon Cakes.” my dad.

“Okay. No problem.” I agreed.

I kept my promise. I made a point of finding out when the following Mid-Autumn day would arrive, and sent my parents a nice and expensive box of Moon Cakes. The moon cakes were filled with red bean paste with double yolk. My dad’s favorite.

I shipped it to my parents’ home, counted down the number of days until the box would arrive at their door, and waited anxiously for my dad’s call to congratulate me for having remembered this holiday all by myself. Three days later, I got my call.

“Why did you send us Moon Cakes?! And in such a big box!” Dad.


“You told me to!!! Remember, last year, you complained that I didn’t send you any moon cakes!” It was my turn to scream into his ear.

“Oh, did I? He, he, he…” He sounded a little embarrassed over the phone.

“I have 14 boxes of moon cakes here. That’s after already giving away as many boxes as I could. Who can eat that much moon cake! They will go to waste.” he explained himself.

That was a problem he bargained for himself. Moon cake is fruit cake on steroids. No one really likes to eat it, and you don’t have to be invited to a party to give one away. Around Mid-Autumn Festival, people ship and drop off boxes of moon cakes like Christmas presents. And the older you get, the more boxes you receive each year. I have a strong suspicion that my 96 year old grandma is buried under a pile of moon cakes right around now.

“Well, you must eat the box I gave you. They are red bean paste with double yolk. Your favorite.” me.

“Yes, yes, we will definitely eat the moon cakes you gave us.” dad continued, “From now on, you don’t need to buy us moon cakes anymore. Just don’t forget this holiday. That will be enough.”

I have been exempted from buying them moon cakes every since. Then my own children came along.

I decided that it was necessary to buy moon cakes again to impress my American-born children with this important Chinese holiday. I have successfully coaxed my kids into eating moon cakes for several years now, but, like me, they have already discovered that there is not much redeeming taste value in these so called cakes.

Last year, when I brought moon cakes home, the kids greeted them with, “Oh, no!!”

So, I told them, “I know. I don’t like them either. But we only have to eat them once a year…to celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. An important Chinese holiday.”

Our last year's moon cake platter-a pair of mini moon cakes

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“I wish our Chinese school was as much fun as our Chinese camp.” 10-year-old.

“Yeah! That would be awesome.” 7-year-old.

The kids look forward to their Chinese cultural camp every summer with as much zest as they dread their Chinese school. To be fair, there are no tests nor homework in the summer camp. Instead, there are arts and crafts, singing and dancing, fun and games, making traditional Chinese treats, and eating them too.

Model of traditional Chinese home

Art of Traditional Lantern

Paper Chinese New Year Scroll

This week-long camp is conducted in Mandarin Chinese. And every year, the camp organizers offer a new and engaging curriculum to teach young children about Chinese culture, art, cuisine, and ancient history. Their program is not just educational, but FUN. Over the past several years, my children have learned many great Chinese traditions through this camp, and that knowledge has lead to pride in their rich heritage.

My kids just finished their Chinese camp last week. And last Friday, there was a big closing ceremony to showcase what the children learned over the week. For just a one-week-long program, their 90-min Friday show is admirably well organized, high quality, and entertaining. The auditorium is always packed with parents, family, and friends with cameras and video recorders in tow to capture their little performers in action.

This summer’s program featured the major Chinese New Year holiday, Kung Fu Archery (no one got hurt), Traditional Rod Puppets, Traditional Houses, and Making Tofu, just to name a few.

Culture of Tofu!!

Traditional Rod Puppet

Traditional Chinese New Year's Eve Meal

Camp Song and Dance

Camp Show Skit

Here is my previous post about this camp: Our Favorite Summer Camp

  • Share/Save/Bookmark was founded from a passion for reading.

Before my life was blessed with children, I devoted much of my leisure time to reading. On lazy weekend afternoons, I enjoyed hugging a good book on the couch, while sipping on a cold drink. My reading list would please any English teacher or professor, for I only have an appetite for books that are well written.

I love classical literature. I have read and re-read the classics by Charles Dickens, Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, etc. One of my favorite books is Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I have read this book 3 times post college, and even named my second child after one of the book’s main characters. Friends used to joke about only buying me a book if its author is dead.

Actually, I have enjoyed a number of books by alive and well authors as well. I loved John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany; The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini; The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee; The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and recently I even branched out to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy by Stieg Larsson, and loved it.

When my two children came along, I found that I had virtually no free time left for myself, and had to put reading on hold for a few years. But having children introduced me to the fascinating world of children’s books.

When my first child was born, friends and family far and near sent us gifts, and many were baby books. We got a total of 7 new copies of Goodnight Moon!! I got the hint that Goodnight Moon must be special. And it was!! It was my baby’s favorite book. The first and only book that was able to capture my infant’s attention. As I read the simple text on each page, I found my 2-month-old stared at the pages with purpose. I think it was the black and white, and the bold red and green colors that attracted my baby. It was this book that kicked started our family’s nightly reading routine.

Goodnight Moon’s favorite status was long lasting. Despite the fact that we quickly built up a huge library of picture books, Goodnight Moon was tirelessly requested and read well into my baby’s toddler years. My favorite memory of this book was when my child was two, and my mother-in-law came to visit. At bedtime, my mother-in-law offered to read to my child. When I walked by, I heard my two-year-old reading Goodnight Moon word for word and page by page in that cute baby tongue to Grandma! (From memory of course! My 2-year-old could not read.) Even today, whenever I see the familiar Goodnight Moon book cover, I react with special warmth for the book.

A good friend from Taiwan often visited and stayed with us in the summer over the years. She always brought books over for my kids. She is a mother too, and gave us really good books. It was then that I recognized the added bonus of reading to my children in Chinese, especially the old favorites from my own childhood.

Our nightly reading ritual was a much cherished part of our everyday family life. And there is no getting away with reading for just 5 or 10 minutes with my kids. They expect to read until the wee hours every night. They were good at taking turns begging for just one more book.

Reading to the kids was always a blast! It was hardly an event to induce sleepiness, especially when they were younger. I often made special sound effects for them, and the children often participated in acting out the scenes in the books in their silly and sometimes frivolous ways. I used my children’s names instead of the names given on the book, and the kids loved being the main characters in their favorite stories. Once in a while, I would surprise them by making up a twisted ending of my own to their favorite books, and watch their little frowning faces fade into giggles.

My children are older now. They are no longer easily impressed by the silly twists I could throw into the books. Actually, they are good readers themselves now. At bedtime, they can just grab their books and go upstairs without me. But they still do need me!! They can’t read Chinese. They still recruit me to go upstairs to read them the next chapter in their Journey to the West book, the next story in the Chinese History Stories. My 7-year-old has an unusual fascination with scary stories, and is anxiously waiting for me to start reading stories from the Strange Tales of Ancient China book.

In 2006, I quit a career I loved to start my own company with a great deal of uncertainty. Today, I love what I do now even more. I feel very blessed and lucky to have founded I still get childishly excited when I come upon a good book. I still get to read with my children, and even have time to start reading to myself again.

Garage Warehouse in 2006

Expanded Warehouse in 2011

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“Wait! Don’t you get your test papers back tonight?” I gasped suddenly in our otherwise quite drive to my children’s Chinese school last Friday evening.

“Yeah…” 10-year-old replied from the back seat.

We just had a 2 week break from our Chinese school, and the previous Friday before that was our Chinese school’s big 2nd trimester test night. I vaguely recalled that my 10-year-old had mumbled something about not doing well on that test. This was a bad sign.

I adore Ms. Jiang. We are fortunate to have had her as my 10-year-old’s Chinese teacher for the last three years. But she is very strict, and has a passion for teaching these kids Chinese that I sometimes consider over-zealous.

Ms. Jiang’s Chinese tests are impossibly hard. In order for children with even superior intelligence to do reasonably well requires exhausting parental assistance on a daily basis for at least 2 weeks. Therefore, the fault of children who fail her tests lies strictly on the mothers. And Ms. Jiang has the habit of lecturing such mothers on such occasion.

I am against being lectured by Ms. Jiang. She doesn’t even pull you aside, and do it in a discreet manner. No! She does it in the middle of her classroom in her regular lecture volume. Since she can only catch the parents right before or right after the class, usually, other parents in addition to her students get to witness the embarrassing exchange. I decided that I must avoid her that night.

“Meet me at Tasterbach’s classroom after class tonight!” I quickly turned to my 10-year-old, and issued this order.

“Why!” 10-year-old.

“In case you bombed that test! Your teacher will want to complain about me.” me.

“Oh.” my 10-year-old has witnessed Ms. Jiang barking at various parents a number of times, so no further explanation was required.

At the school, I parted ways with my 10-year-old, and lead my baby into the 2nd grade classroom.

Oh, no! We had the wrong school bag with us, I had my 10-year-old’s bag. It was still 10 minutes before class, perhaps, Ms. Jiang will not be in her classroom. I told my baby to grab a front row seat, and rushed to the 5th grade classroom to swap the bags.

As I pulled the heavy door open, I came to face Ms. Jiang bending down at her teaching desk to shuffle what appeared to be the children’s test papers. She turned her head and saw me.

“Jiang lao shi, ni hao!” I quickly summoned my big smile and greeted her.

She straightened herself and smiled in return.

“Tested very poorly.” Ms. Jiang stated dryly still wearing her smile.

I paused to consider this half sentence…not sure if she meant specifically my kid or her class as a whole, perhaps I am in good standing thanks to a low curve.

Ms. Jiang still looking and smiling at me, waiting for my response.

“Do you mean my child or the whole class?” I had to ask.

“Your kid. But I am talking to YOU!” Ms. Jiang.

Oh…what a jinx! My earlier fear was coming alive.

“Oh, sorry, sorry. Next time, we will do better. Next time, sorry…” as I made my apologies, I quickly ran over to my child’s seat, exchanged the bags, and ran out of the classroom as quickly as I could.

I had two very good reasons for retreating from Ms. Jiang as quickly as humanly possible. One, it is never a good idea to extend a conversation that lacks a happy ending with certainty. Two, if I linger long enough to appease Ms. Jiang, there is a good chance that her A or B students will arrive with their moms, and Ms. Jiang would seize the opportunity to rub it in some more by complimenting those Moms on their children’s good grades. She would then proclaim the “A” kid’s mom to be the model mother for her classroom.

When I heard her classroom door shut, I slowed down my pace in the hallway. For a brief moment. Ms. Jiang’s tactics had its presumed desired effect on me. As I headed back to my baby’s classroom with the right bag, I considered methods to become a better drill sergeant for Chinese tests, and try to whip an “A” out of my 10-year-old the next time. For once, I would like to be the model mother in Ms. Jiang’s class!

I met my 10-year-old in the hallway at the end of class. My worry-faced child immediately handed me the miserable test. A 53%…that’s the 6th letter of the alphabet. As I counted this ruthless test was eight pages long, I did not have the heart to bark at my child. I held my child close, and said, “It’s okay. We will do better next time.”

The test papers with 53%

Here are my two previous posts about Chinese School: 1) Chinese School Vs School school 2) Crazy Memorization Week

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