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SunnySideUp

Beihai & Hainan

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SunnySideUp

It'll probably be a while until China starts issuing travel/short-term study visas again, but I thought I'd ask for advice/recommendations anyway. Has anyone ever been to 海南 or 北海? Any recommendations re. language schools? I've read LTL has set up a 北海joint including homestay options - has anyone here done that yet?

 

Am grateful for any kind of tipps... from weather, best time to travel, location, beach life etc. to Mandarin outside the classroom. Ideally I'd like to be exposed to as much Mandarin as possible when walking around (and not just when directly spoken to). But given this is the South I'm not sure if that's even realistic. Probably not. I don't mind accents so much since i feel i will need to get used to understanding them at some point anyway, as long as it's some form of Mandarin. If it's Cantonese though I'll be completely lost.

 

I'm around HSK 5 now (am not following HSK religiously, but do use it as some type of benchmark). However, my listening and speaking abilities are far behind.

I guess a homestay option would be good if i were to choose 北海/LTL...

Has anyone had any (fairly recent) experience with Hainan Premier Language School? They don't seem to offer homestays though.

 

Any input much appreciated!

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Jim

 

47 minutes ago, SunnySideUp said:

Ideally I'd like to be exposed to as much Mandarin as possible when walking around (and not just when directly spoken to). But given this is the South I'm not sure if that's even realistic.

I've read that Sanya is full of incomers from the northeast and they got their start precisely because their ability in Mandarin gave them an advantage in the tourist and other service sectors, but have never been myself to confirm that: https://www.zhihu.com/question/20735164 So you might hear enough Northern Chinese out and about, though how standard I don't know,

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889

How did you come to those two choices? Hainan would not be a great place to spend a week, much less a year. It is not the culture capital of China.

 

My really strong suggestion would be to look to smaller places in central China. Like Yangzhou or Suzhou, though there are many others. Just a world of difference from Hainan. Simply look at a map and see all the exploring you can do on weekends.

 

Anyone know how to say, "It's a no-brainer" in Chinese?

 

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SunnySideUp

Thanks for that input, @889. I'm not looking to spend a whole year in either region - just a couple of weeks/months. I thought if I were able to go in winter/early spring, the South might make for a more pleasant stay at this time of year. Also I'd be curious to see what Chinese beaches are like.

Another plus for Hainan is that it used to be visa free (up to 30 days for a couple of countries). Not sure if this will be brought back, but if so it would allow for a hassle-free, spontaneous short trip to boost my Mandarin. Beihai just came to my attention because LTL is offering this as a fairly new addition to their other programs.

 

Also thanks to @Jim
Very helpful knowing that!

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889

February in a place like Suzhou isn't bad at all; chilly yes but not bitter like the north. Traditionally in China there's no central heating south of the Yangtze, it's that comfy.

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SunnySideUp

Thanks @889, I'll look into Suzhou as well. Although I must say I found the supposed "spring city" of Kunming quite cold in fall/winter... But yeah, obviously not quite as bad as say Beijing during that time of year.

Anyone else who can share their experiences re. Hainan/Beihai?

 

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ChTTay
On 10/7/2020 at 11:34 PM, SunnySideUp said:

I guess a homestay option would be good if i were to choose 北海/LTL...

@zhouhaochen probably has some insight ... 

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zhouhaochen

haha, yes I do, thanks for @ me @ChTTay 😀

 

First disclaimer: I work for LTL Mandarin School (in fact I chose Beihai as our Chinese new school location - will write below a bit more why).

 

1) I think you might have a hard time to find foreigners commenting about life in Beihai, because there are almost none there. It is not complete immersion like Chengde, but the foreign community is very small (about 50) so your chances of meeting one are pretty small. Also while it is quite a pretty city, people outside of China barely know it, so tourists going there are pretty much exclusively Chinese. However, even among most Chinese the city is not very well known. The first thing our Director of Studies in Beijing asked me when I told her about Beihai was "Where is that place supposed to be?".

2) That said, Beihai used to be one of the most popular beach holiday destinations about 20 years ago, until the rise of Hainan, which now has completely overshadowed it. Which is precisely why I think its a great place. Its got a nice beach (Chinese style though - its not Thailand), climate and a beautiful old town (for me the most interesting one I have seen in China, because it has not been "developed" or "upgraded" in any way - its just crumbling slowly), but prices remain reasonable and while there are Chinese tourists going of course, its nowhere close to as crazy as Hainan.

3) It is Southern, which means that the local language is not Mandarin but Baihua (a version of Cantonese), however the great thing is that probably by now the majority of the population is North Eastern Chinese climate/pollution refugees. Loads of Northerners bought houses and live in Beihai. When I first arrived my taxi driver was from Hebei, the restaurant owner we ate at from Liaoning and my land lady from Tianjin. All spoke perfect standard Mandarin. That has made Mandarin spoken very widely - however, of course when locals speak among themselves they do speak Baihua.

4) If you like Beihai, depends on you. Personally I love it (which is why we have a school now there). It is a smaller Chinese city, where people are very curious and welcoming towards foreigners, has a great climate, good air, a beach (severally, but silver beach is the prettiest), a lot of interesting places around it to visit and a friendly, relaxed pace of life. Also nobody will speak English to you there, so its great for practice. If you are however looking for a modern, developed international city with western facilities, then Beihai is not the right place for you.

5) In my opinion a homestay is the best way to learn Mandarin, especially when you want to improve your speaking and listening. Especially in Beihai you will find homestay families to be incredibly welcoming, warm and friendly. They get very few foreigners there and so there is a lot of interest.

 

I have spent almost 20 years traveling around China to check out where would be the best places to learn Mandarin (and because its loads of fun) and for a smaller city in China, I found Beihai perfect, which is why we have a school now there. It also helps that prices are much more reasonable than Hainan or other smaller attractive cities (many cheaper cities are also not very nice to live in), so we can offer the same Mandarin programs with a 40% discount (I am not sure if we can maintain that long term, but for now it is really that much).

You will probably also love Anna, our school director there, who is one of the most committed Chinese educators I have ever met - and a proud Beihaier to whom it really matters that you enjoy living in Beihai and will make sure you do.

Currently all our Mandarin programs are online of course, but hopefully travel to China is possible again soon. At the moment it is only possible to go to Taiwan to study Mandarin (with certain restrictions though) in case you want to travel now.

 

So - while I am biased as I was the one to decide to start a program in Beihai - while I like Suzhou and Yangzhou (Hainan less so - too touristy for me) I would definitely go to Beihai if my aim was to learn Mandarin and immerse myself in an enjoyable part of Chinese life..

 

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Singe
20 hours ago, SunnySideUp said:

Anyone else who can share their experiences re. Hainan/Beihai?

 

Can't add a huge amount but spent a few weeks in both areas in 2011 visiting a friend. I do remember being stared at blankly by my efforts in Mandarin, but, in retrospect, that may have been due to my shortcomings. I think Mandarin is even more accepted now than it was, even though this was less than 10 years ago. I seem to remember the beach in 北海 being very big and that this was a real go-to place for many in the surrounding areas. Got the boat to Hainan and really enjoyed the trip and I booked on a two day tour as an attempt to practice the language which was a huge mistake as it was the usual sales stuff going on. Couldn't really understand most of what was being said over the speaker on the bus, even though in Mandarin. All a good experience though.

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abcdefg
On 10/10/2020 at 5:50 AM, SunnySideUp said:

Although I must say I found the supposed "spring city" of Kunming quite cold in fall/winter...

 

Yes, it gets cold in the winter, December and January. Not bitterly cold, but it can be uncomfortable outside if you are not dressed for it. Older apartments have no built-in heating, so that also takes some adjustment and planning.  

 

I've been to Beihai a couple of times for a winter holiday, to get away from Kunming's cold winter weather. Had a freind who lived there. It was a bit warmer, but it was a long way from being "picture book tropical." I think it would be a mistake to move there with images of Thailand dancing in your mind. Excellent seafood, however. 

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SunnySideUp

Thanks very much @zhouhaochen
@Singe
@abcdefg
Your posts are really helpful, thanks! Oh, and I'm not expecting Thai beach life, on the contrary, am quite curious to see what Chinese beach life is like : ) Here's to hoping travels will resume soon.

-

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