China is home to 55 recognised ethnic minority groups and 10 dialect groups.Just a 30 minute drive into the next province can make you feel as if you’ve entered a whole new world. The foods, the accents, the smells and the scenery. All very unfamiliar and different, yet all quintessentially Chinese. Here in Zhuhai, Guangdong province; this area is very distinctive and famous in China for these very reasons.
Even though China’s official language is Mandarin Chinese (普通话 pŭtōnghuà), Guangdong province has a long history of being the home of Cantonese (广东话 guǎngdōnghuà).
Living in Zhuhai so far, it certainly feels like I am at a junction where the Mandarin speaking world and the Cantonese speaking world collides. The large majority of people here can speak Mandarin Chinese, so don’t worry, you can still get yourself places and you won’t starve to death.
For the local people however, when it comes to choosing between Mandarin and Cantonese it feels as though everyone is bilingual. In the working environment Mandarin is the language of choice, but once people are out and about with their friends and family they ‘up the anti’ with a richer, louder and greater variety of tones that is characteristic of the Cantonese language.
In order to implement a standardised language across the country and to promote mass literacy, in 1954 the People’s Republic of China made Chinese Mandarin the official language. With an increasing number of young people choosing to concentrate on Mandarin for greater career options there is concern that Cantonese will be lost with the older generation.
Living and working here in Zhuhai, I personally hope that this is not the case. While I may not understand Cantonese it is a language that has so much history and meaning to the people of the Guangdong province. The language adds a whole new dimension and vibrancy to life in Zhuhai, so much so that I don’t think this place would be the same without it.
Apply here, to experience your own Chinese adventure!
Once you arrive in China one of the first things that troubles you is the language. It sounds very exotic and weird at the beginning. The first impression is that everything just sounds exactly the same. Many people get scared away because the Chinese speaking language is so hard to learn. Admittedly it is quite tough, at least at the beginning.
The fact that there are somewhere between six and twelve regional dialects of Chinese doesn’t make the whole thing easier. Among them you may know Mandarin, Cantonese and Min. Although there are some similarities in terms and common structure between some of them, these different dialects are mostly unique.
The standard Chinese language is Mandarin, the official language of both Mainland China and Taiwan and one of the six languages used at the United Nations. Cantonese is spoken mostly in Hong Kong and Macau. Also many overseas Chinese people speak this dialect, because the first who traveled to the West came from the southern coastal provinces. I traveled to Canada two years ago and the Chinese people there speak Cantonese only, either out of provincial pride or just because they don’t know how to speak Mandarin. In Europe I also met many Chinese students, born and raised in Western countries, but speak their own provincial dialects only.
When you come to China, be prepared that in every province natives do have their own dialects. The good news is that everyone speaks and understands Standard Mandarin. So even though dialects exists in every province just as in any other country, you get along everywhere in China with Mandarin. Our language school offer Standard Chinese courses which allows you to master this exotic language. You can easily combine it with a part-time internship or you can focus on learning Chinese only.
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, those of us who live in China got to enjoy three days off for the public holiday commemorating the “Dragon Boat Festival”. For many Chinese people, this meant having the chance to travel back to their hometowns to visit their families. For others, it meant the opportunity to stay at home and relax for a few days before going back to their hectic schedules. For us at InternChina and many of our interns it meant: road trip!
But… what exactly is the Dragon Boat Festival and why is it celebrated in China? Most of us foreigners have never heard of this holiday before, and even those who have lived here for a few years know very little about it, other than that it has a cool name and it means not having to work for three days.
The name in Mandarin for Dragon Boat Festival is “Duanwu Jie”, and in Cantonese it is “Tuen Ng”. As it happens, it is not only celebrated in China but also in many other East- and Southeast Asian regions, such as Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.
While in 2013, for example, the festival occurred on the 12th of June (and we also had the 10th and 11th off), there is no set date for the holiday on the Gregorian calendar, which is the one used in western countries. Rather, it is based on the Chinese lunar calendar, falling on the 5th day of the 5th month, which is usually at the end of May or beginning of June.
There is no consensus regarding its origins, and there are numerous legends which, depending on the region, are said to be the source of the festival. The most popular story, however, revolves around Qu Yuan, considered by some to be China’s first highly renowned poet. During the Warring States period, he was exiled from the State of Chu – of which he was minister – for opposing the ruling aristocracy in an effort to protect Chu against the Qin State. When the Qin invaded the capital, he committed suicide by jumping into the Miluo River on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month.
Wanting to pay their respects to Qu Yuan, the people of Chu set their boats on the river and threw zongzi – glutinous or “sticky” rice triangles wrapped in bamboo leaves – into the water to feed the fish and keep them from attacking his body. This is said to be the origin of the dragon-boat-racing and zongzi-eating traditions that customarily occur on this day. Other customs of this holiday include drinking realgar wine and tying perfume pouches to children’s clothing as well as, of course, the mandatory firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.
Dragon Boat Festival Today
An interesting fact about Dragon Boat Festival is that, despite being a culturally important holiday celebrated widely across China, it was not recognised as a public holiday by the Chinese government until 2005. For many young Chinese, this meant properly celebrating the festival for the first time; for the older generations, it meant a long-overdue recognition of the importance of preserving Chinese traditions and culture in a rapidly-changing, globalised world.
Mandarin is the standard language spoken in China. Most Chinese people speak two languages: Mandarin and their regional dialect. People in Zhuhai speak two languages also: Mandarin and Cantonese—the main local language used in Canton province, Hong Kong and Macau.
As an increasing number of people from other regions of China come to Zhuhai to work and live, Mandarin is becoming more and more useful in Zhuhai, even Hong Kong. You can always see “Mandarin is a plus” in the recruitment information for job listings. Most of the employees in Zhuhai companies speak Mandarin as their office language, and Mandarin is also used for business communication with clients.
Mandarin is also very important for living in Zhuhai. When you go to restaurants or go out shopping, waiters or sales assistants will serve you in Mandarin. When you go to the bar, Mandarin will help you make friends with others as well. When you take the taxi or the bus, you have to know the pronunciation of the address or station where you want to go.
Speaking Mandarin in Zhuhai is becoming more and more popular and important, both for working and living. Although some people in Zhuhai have a Cantonese accent when they speak Mandarin, Mandarin is still the main way for people to communicate with each other in Zhuhai as in the whole of China.
Last Saturday we took our Zhuhai interns to the exciting city that is Macau. Being at such close distance – the border is just next to downtown Zhuhai – we can go pretty much any day or time we want (if we have multiple-entry visas), but it’s always more fun when you have a big group and lots of attitude!
Instead of walking across the border, we decided to take the ferry early in the morning, because it is faster to get through and we wanted to make the most of our day. After landing on the other side of the bay, we walked to downtown Macau and up to Senado Square. Macau is a great mix of Cantonese and Portuguese culture, so just walking around and looking at the colonial architecture is extremely interesting.
From there we walked through the alleys around the square, past shops selling typical Macau food like cured sausages and almond cookies. The best part is that every shop gives you free samples, so we were able to calm down our hunger before we went off to lunch.
We then arrived at the Ruins of St. Paul, one of Macau’s most famous landmarks and a very exciting sight for us who come from Catholic cultures, since it is very odd to see a huge cathedral facade in the middle of an Asian town. The fort with all the cannons facing the casinos was also very cool to see!
After checking out the sights in the city centre, we decided it was time for lunch and took taxis to the casino side of Macau. We arrived first at the Galaxy, where we had lunch at the food court. From there we walked to the Venetian, by far the most lavish and extravagant of the casinos.
The boys, of course, wanted to try out their luck so we went inside the gambling area and sat at the electronic roulette. Dina and I – the Intern China interns and the only two girls in the group – are not really into gambling so after a while we got bored and decided to check out the shops around the canal on the second floor. If it’s your first time at the Venetian, you might get a bit disoriented when you realise the sky is actually a ceiling and the great Venetian canal (with gondolas and all) is all a big replica.
As with all games of luck, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and this time the boys had to go home with a few hundred RMB less than they came with. But no one can take away the fun they had betting it all away!
We ended the night on a great note at a small, cozy Portuguese restaurant where we ate a delicious grilled chicken, French fries and salad. Some of us took a chance with the lime-juice-and-chilli sauce: it was spicy, but greatly refreshing after a long day of walking! Then of course, some well-deserved beers and sangrias and soon it was time to cross the border and arrive back home in Zhuhai.
Dragon Boat Festival Trip 2012
The third biggest festival in the Chinese calendar is the unmissable Duānwǔ jié (端午節) or Dragon Boat Festival. Incredible boat races, loud firecrackers and delicious Zongzi (粽子).
InternChina Zhuhai is organizing a trip to Guangzhou to see the festival activities, explore some of the city and generally JIA HOU! (floor the gas-pedal)
The Dragon Boat Festival
Among the various contradicting theories explaining the origin, the best held is that the festival commemorates the ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan, who held a high rank in the Chu court. But was charged with treason after opposing the Kings choice of an alliance with an enemy state. Once the
alliance turned sour and the Chu state was overtaken Qu Yuan committed suicide in the Miluo river on the fifth day of the fifth month (lunar calendar). It is thought that the people who admired him paddled out on boats to scare away the fish and/or retrieve his body (the assumed origin of the boat races) and offer him rice cakes for the after life.
These rice cakes had to be wrapped in bamboo leaves to prevent the fish from eating them, which is where zongzi is thought to have originated. Zongzi are pyramids of sticky (glutenous) rice with either a sweet (red bean usually) or savory filling wrapped in bamboo leaves, tied with string and boiled in salt water.
We will arrange a bus to and from Guangzhou and book your choice of accommodation ranging from 65Kuai (dorms) ~ 140Kuai (single private) per night at the following hostel. For more detailed information please contact Beata at email@example.com
Friday 22 (public holiday)
- Depart from Zhuhai (morning)
- Book into hostel
- Optional tour around the city
Saturday 23 (Dragon boat festival)
- Early morning Dragon Boat races
- Optional tour around the city
- Night out
Sunday 24 (return to Zhuhai)
- Optional tour around city
- Pack up and depart late afternoon
Our optional day tours through the citys’ best-known areas is something to look forward to. One of the featured areas is Shangxiajiu or “Walking Street”. As one of the shopping districts of Guangzhou, it providing ample opportunities for nabbing some awesome gifts for the mates/family back home – or just for yourself. Also at night the entire plaza lights up like Bladerunner scene and provide a great backdrop for some awesome Cantonese restaurants. The flavours buzz almost as much as the neon lights do.
Putonghua (also called Mandarin) is the official language of People’s Republic of China. Therefore, if you are or ever will be learning Chinese, the most likely it will be Putonghua. However, Cantonese is also quite widely spoken in certain areas of China. Especially in Guangdong province, where Zhuhai is located. If you are wondering how different these two languages are than I will tell you that they are probably more different than English and German.
So, when I was applying for an internship one of my major concerns was whether I will be able to speak Mandarin in Zhuhai. Wikipedia stated that it was a Cantonese speaking area. However, Zhuhai, its beautiful landscapes, sub-tropical weather and the internships tempted me so much that I couldn’t resist. Thought to myself: I am sure there are plenty of ways of practicing Mandarin as long as you’re in China. It will be all up to me, whether I will look for opportunities or not.
So, here I am in Zhuhai. How’s my Cantonese? I think I’ve heard it in the bus once. Haha. If somebody would ask me, I would say that this is Mandarin speaking area. Wouldn’t even occur to me that I am in Canton. I hear Mandarin everywhere: in the busses, shops, on the radios. Everybody speaks to me in Mandarin. Of course if I would be more attentive maybe I would hear more Cantonese speakers. But only Mandarin catches my attention. And believe me, it’s everywhere. I am not sure how it is in other Guangdong cities, but Zhuhai is very, very Mandarin! So if any of you have concerns about practicing your Putonghua in Zhuhai I can guarantee you that you shouldn’t even think about that. Just enjoy the weather!
As we can´t celebrate Christmas with our families at home this year, we thought of doing something special to compensate the bitter taste.A little bit like women who get up for shopping and buy lots of things, if they are frustrated 😉
But it really worked…
Maybe I should go out for shopping when I feel bad from now on ^^
Yifan arranged a very nice and expensive restaurant for us next to the Olympic sailing center with real traditional Cantonese Christmas food. Just like at home 😉
We even got a private room. We felt really important 🙂
The service there was very good as well.
I couldn’t imagine before that they even have beautiful and big Christmas trees here in China.