Short Story Competition
Been to China? Learning Mandarin? Eaten Chinese food? Have Chinese friends? Well then, we are pretty sure that many of you have had interesting/ funny experiences to tell. Why not tell us about it, and be in the running to win a prize? All you need to do is tell us the story in 250 to 500 words. Email us your story with a title, by the 6th of January. There are 2 prizes to be won!
Red Crane Short Story Prize:
20% off a term’s class or private lesson.
People’s Choice Prize:
10% off a term’s class or private lesson.
So, email your story to email@example.com by the 6th of January. We’ll put your story up on our school’s website by the 10th of January, and let the judging begin!* This competition is open to all current students and to the public.
* Redcrane will publish selected entries online.
The Entries. Vote now via email!
No Photos Please - Joseph Ramsay
China is one of the only places where I have ever experienced culture shock. I have travelled far and wide and have grown accustomed to different ways of life. I don’t even bat an eye at dodgy toilets, different food or seemingly strange customs. The first time I travelled to China, I was overwhelmed. It wasn’t my struggles with the language, crowds or staring that did it to me. It was the picture taking.
I was quite surprised that people taking my photo would send me over the edge like it did. I thought that it would make me feel a bit like a rock star, but it didn’t.
My first week in China was spent in Beijing and not one single person even gave me a second glance. I guess that people in big cities around the world are used to foreigners. It wasn’t until I ventured west to Jiuzhaigou National Park in Sichuan where I began to feel like an animal in a zoo.
I made the mistake of travelling during Golden Week. I read that something like 65% of the country is traveling during this time. It felt like all of them had descended on the supposedly peaceful Jiuzhai Valley.
While I was fighting my way through the enormous crowd to buy an entrance ticket, I had my picture taken for the first time. A woman saw me, poked her husband, pointed at me and I saw him turn his camera and deliberately take a photo. It was so deliberate that it left me a little uneasy. It happened maybe fifty more times throughout the day. I kept wondering what people would do with those photos of me once they got home. Would they show their friends saying look at the strange white guy I saw on holiday?
After that, I noticed people constantly taking my photo. Everywhere I traveled, I saw flashes and people stopping to point their cameras at me. I held it together for the next week, but then finally lost it when I arrived in Shanghai.
Since Shanghai was a big city with lots of foreigners, I thought that I would be able to go back to my anonymity. I was wrong. I had spent a long day at the markets and was relaxing on a bench outside, when a young, well dressed couple walked by me. They did the usual double take and the woman walked right next to me and did the classic “peace sign” picture pose inches from my face. I exploded. I started yelling and carrying on. I think I scared that poor woman to death.
Looking back on it now, I don’t know why the picture taking upset me so much. Maybe it was because I had never been anywhere where I felt so different. Next time I travel to China, I will be a little calmer about the whole thing. Also, thanks to my improved Chinese, I plan on asking people why they want to take photos of the strange white guy.
Facing The Truth - Sally Giam
Everyone feels it at the beginning of university, but at the time you feel unique: this is your new beginning and you are on the cusp of becoming someone brilliant!
Quickly, though, you become accustomed to the lifestyle, forgetting by second year why you even chose to study anthropology and politics. And in my case, Chinese.
Nowhere do you feel more Australian than overseas, but at uni it seemed like your otherness defined you. “Where are you from?” was the usual ice-breaker and approval could be won by having asian parents, but growing up westernised in Australia.
My clique became a group of mainly Australian Born Chinese ‘ABCs’, many who actually spoke Cantonese, Shanghainese or Mandarin at home but firmly separated themselves from the international students, by privilege of birthplace. I had been attending Chinese classes all my life, but enrolling in a Chinese language class at uni required a short interview – one the ABCs all passed easily.
The final question was simple enough: “why do you want to learn Chinese? For the marks?” “Yes, for the marks,” I said eagerly, thinking the marks would be fantastic. Swiftly, I was out the door – pronounced unable to learn Chinese at this university. It was hot and bitter, that first taste of rejection. It was the brutality of suddenly being alone. However, the ABCs encouraged me to go back and make my case again, to sign up for the same Chinese classes, to follow. After all, wasn’t it my birthright, as an ABC, to learn Chinese?
In the seclusion of the lecturer’s office, he confided that they couldn’t accept students who were only learning Chinese for the high grades. Already, many students could speak Chinese and were simply studying it at uni to easily knock a subject off.
The hard truth, the lecturer revealed, was that when people looked at me, they would expect me to be able to speak Chinese and I would never master Chinese with the wrong motivations. Had I been born to Thai parents and raised in Australia, would it be different? Had I been born in China, would it be more different still?
Why did my face dictate my life?
Hot tears dropped onto my knees as I tried to explain the reasons learning the mother tongue would make a difference to me. I was Chinese but I wasn’t Chinese, there was a disconnect and I wanted to plug it right up with knowing everything.
Eventually I was accepted into the Chinese language class at uni along with a group of other ABCs – some of who continued through to achieving diplomas but not fluency and others who dropped out of Chinese in second year, like me. That drive for betterment, the passion for learning, had shrivelled up and I was left wondering why I had even bothered learning Chinese and anthropology and politics.
It was only in adulthood proper that I found the reason and the motivation to truly master Chinese.
TIEN MONG - watching TV with my Chinese-Malaysian grandmother
- Sarah Hui Shi Foster
“Of all the television dramas, Hokkien ones are the most fake-looking” says Mama and she seems to be right. Every night while Kongkong is still at work, Mama and I watch Hokkien shows on Astro. Mama sits in her chair and I sit in Kongkong’s chair with my Chinese-English dictionary in my lap. Mama explains the convoluted plots and teaches me useful new vocab, like ‘smiling tiger’ which means ‘an outwardly kind but inwardly cruel person’. We always watch ‘The Amazing Strategist Liu Bowen’. For weeks I couldn’t figure out what the show was called so Mama and I just refer to it as ‘Tien Mong’ after one of the main characters. (I realised later that Tien Mong is in fact the amazing strategist Liu Bowen but was using the name Tien Mong to create an alter ego to disguise his true identity.) The acting is very camp and exaggerated, it’s almost cartoon like. You can figure out what is going on from the face expressions. It reminds me of American soaps like ‘The Bold & The Beautiful’ or ‘The Days Of Our Lives’ but set in ancient China and everyone has magical powers. There are lots of internal monologues and great hair pieces, and the bad guys wear very high collars.
This guy is evil:
This is Tien Mong:
“He is very handsome and very intelligent” says Mama.
This woman runs an inn in the mountains where everyone seems to be staying. She is loud and bossy. She always flirts obviously with Tien Mong, who is not interested. I like that she is a small business owner. The boy is her son.
After watching Tien Mong we watch a cooking talk show starring a woman who travels around Asia eating tasty street food.
Summer Palace - Clay Burke
My dad and I walked around the Summer Palace’s vast grounds on a hot spring day and made our way to a lake where there were a series of shops. I decided to treat myself to an ice-cream, my dad bought a drink, and I scoffed down that ice-cream and loved every minute of it on that hot day.
Now looking back I can’t say if it was definitely the ice-creams fault, but, just as I made it to the top of the Summer Palace with its magnificent view out over the lake I had a sudden vicious stomach pain hit like someone had stabbed me with a knife and was twisting it around in my stomach. My tummy was very much displeased with something that was in there and was demanding its immediate removal from the premises. I managed to hobble over to a seat and sit down without crapping myself, a real achievement. I realised I was in a real jam as I was at the top of the palace and there were no toilets nearby in this ancient building.
Every ounce of my being drew in to focus on keeping the contents from being jettisoned. My dad came over to me, concerned at the pained expression on my face and sudden paleness. “What’s wrong?” he asked over and over. I couldn’t actually answer him as I knew that if I did that would free up just that 1% that the bowels needed to gain a majority vote and send the contents violently out with extreme prejudice. I just stared in a catatonic state diverting all power to bowel control.
It’s terrible when you come to a realisation that something bad is going to happen and you need to prepare for that. I began to contemplate my options, drop my daks and take a dump on the palace floor then run like hell, or option 2, cop it sweet and just completely crap my pants like a 2 year old, both were pretty terrible to consider.
To my luck my stomach pain temporarily subsided like a birth contraction and for a moment I was ok, but I knew it would be back and so I had to act fast. I have never made my way down so many steps so fast in my life; I don't think anyone’s been down those palace steps that fast ever. I was like a spy in a movie being chased and running for his life, literally tourists were being shoved out of the way and flying in all directions as I barrelled through them like a bowling ball. The pain began to radiate through me again, fortunately a toilet was situated at the base of the palace. I ran inside the bathroom and dived into the only toilet available, the disabled one, which was lucky for me as I needed to hold onto that support bar they had on the side because it was a wild, wild ride.
Not a Big Problem! - Tjon Jeim Kim
I come from Chinese descent, but my parents never taught me Chinese. So I have always been called a banana; yellow on the outside but white on the inside. Chinese in my country Malaysia are described as yellow skinned. The joke is that even though I look of Chinese descent, I am really like a Westerner on the inside because I only speak English. Well in my younger days I endeavoured to prove them wrong!
I had heard enough Chinese (and watched enough TV) to at least know how to say hello (ni hao!), thank you (xie xie!) and you’re welcome/no problem (mei wen ti!). The problem was I was influenced by the many television programmes on at the time. As a teenager, it was not cool to politely reply “you’re welcome” when someone thanks you but to say “It’s cool” or “No big” instead. I found it difficult with my (very limited) level of Chinese to translate “It’s cool” so decided to translate “No big”. At first I came up with “bu da” which means “not big” and “mei you da” which means “don’t have big” which did not make much sense. Then I remembered hearing another reply on TV when someone thanks you: “It’s no big deal”. Since I did not (and still do not) know what “deal” would be in Chinese, I decided my cool reply would be “wen ti bu da!” (problem not big/not a big problem).
The next time one of my Chinese friends thanked me for something, I gave a mischievous grin and set my plan into motion. I replied “O, wen ti bu da” to which a few of my Chinese friends, upon hearing my reply, burst out laughing. They then went on to explain that the message I am sending is that there was indeed a problem in helping them; however the problem is not big. Embarrassed, I learned that although it is good to try and be unique, when dealing with another language it is best to check with someone that the sentence you are trying to say means what you want it to mean.
A New Friend – Nathan Qinlao Williams
I looked up and turned towards the direction of the sound.
Across the narrow Chinese street I could see a young woman waving
enthusiastically from the entrance of a men's clothing store. She
looked about eighteen, dressed in jeans and a yellow hoodie. Dodging
bicycles, and keeping an eye out for cars, I crossed the street to say
hi. After a busy day working in the factory, this evening I had
decided to venture out from the hotel and do some exploring.
“Hello. How are you?” I said in the best Chinese I could manage.
“Wow! You can speak Chinese?”
Just a little, I told her. Her jaw dropped in astonishment. Excitedly,
she ushered me into the shop and told me to take a seat. I accepted
her invitation and sat on a bench near the counter and a display of
trendy sneakers. The shop wasn't busy. At that moment, I was their
only customer. The woman behind the counter came over to chat with me
“Where are you from?”, my new friend asked.
“Wow. Australia! How long have you been in China?”
“One day. I arrived here last night.”
“One day! How come your Chinese is so good? Are you a student?”
“No, I'm here on a business trip. I study Chinese in Australia”
“Oh, not bad. Your Chinese is really good!”
I disagreed because there were still many words that I didn't
understand. I also told them that they had to speak a bit slower for
me and only use simple sentences. They asked whether I liked China and
what I thought about the food. Did I take a plane from Australia? How
many hours is the flight?
My new friends were very curious and asked lots of questions. There
were many things I didn't understand. They found a scrap of paper to
write out the Chinese characters for tricky words I didn't know. I
told them it wasn't any use, because I couldn't read Chinese. I asked
their names and if they could write them down in Pinyin as well. Zhong
Fang Fang was my new friend's name. “Nai Sen is my name”, I told her.
“Can I take a photo?” Zhong Fang Fang asked. I'm her very first
foreigner friend she explained. I agreed, and she took a couple of
photos with her phone.
“Do you have QQ?”. I told her I did, but not on my phone. She
scribbled down a number.
“Here's my QQ. Add me.” I promised that I would and that it was time
that I returned to the hotel.
“Come back tomorrow”, she asked. I promised that I would.
Over the years I've had many positive experiences practising speaking
Chinese. Both in China and Australia. Native speakers are often very
encouraging. The expression on their faces when they first hear you
speak Chinese is fun to watch too!