Me and Adeline Yen Mah, just a computer away

I don’t know if most of you know, but back in my days in elementary school…I hated studying Chinese. It was one of those daunting tasks you had to do at school because it was a class. It was one of those classes that you never really took seriously, where most of the stuff that we were tested on were a bunch of Chinese words we memorized before the exam and forgot after the tests. Or well for most, that’s what it felt like. Because we only spoke English at home and didn’t even practice Hokkien when speaking to one another, I felt like Mandarin was something that wasted my time. I remember spending hours and hours with my tutor, trying to memorize the words and answers to the vocabulary, comprehension, and Q&A parts of the quizzes and exams. It was hell. Of course, not knowing Hokkien made it worse because I couldn’t compare words and ideas to their Hokkien counterparts which would have probably made studying a tad easier.

That was my frustrated Chinese phase in life. Even being Chinese was hard because I felt like I didn’t look the part, and besides practices like wearing red on birthdays, eating noodles on birthdays, wearing white for wakes, me and my family weren’t really Chinese-Chinese. And then in the 6th or 7th grade, I discovered Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah. It was actually from my mom’s library, and it was just lying around the house so I took it and began reading it. That’s where it began. After that, I discovered my mom’s copy of Falling Leaves (by the same author), and later on other Chinese-related books by Amy Tan and Lawrence Yep.

That’s where it began. I started taking Chinese lessons in High School much more seriously. I tried speaking more Mandarin with my tutor, tried conversing with my Dad in Hokkien, even volunteered to talk to my Chinese relatives once in a while. And in one of my years in High School, I even accompanied my dad to Xiamen (my first time on the Mainland)!

Basically, to cut the long story short, I discovered I liked Chinese. I liked learning about Chinese history, reading about Chinese culture and traditions, reading English books about China, and so on and so forth. Heck, I even took up Chinese Studies as my major in university!  I can distinctly say that one of the sources of my discovering my love for all that, all began with Adeline Yen Mah and her books.

See that picture up there. That’s what I call a life achievement – UNLOCKED. I’ve been following Adeline Yen Mah on goodreads (not her personal official account)  and I discovered she had this website called Chinese Character A Day.Com where she teaches Mandarin for free. It’s not the kind of place where she has a course laid out with things to follow. No. What she does is that she gets interested readers to use her book – China Land of Dragons and Emperors as a basis for her lessons. So on site, she has stuff like excerpts from her book that she writes in English but has inclusions of Chinese characters. After each entry, she has this part where she has a vocabulary list of the words that had Chinese characters attached to them. She even has this audio file of how she pronounces each word. After each entry, she also has an audio file where she recites the excerpt ENTIRELY in Mandarin. She even has a few games on the site to test what you’ve learned.

So the reason for this post is not to tell you how excited I was to discover this site and to advertise it as a place to learn Mandarin (though it’s a plus) or to tell you the course through which I hated Mandarin and then learned to love it. No. The reason I made this post is because I left a comment on her comments area on the site, you know…just one of those things you think NO ONE would answer because she (Dr. Mah) probably gets lots of comments from readers. But the day after I made that comment, she approved it and even replied. And she says to give her suggestions for the site! I know it’s nothing to be super excited about, and she does reply to most everyone who goes on her site and leaves comments, but knowing that me and Adeline Yen Mah just had something of a short conversation, albeit it being on a comments page, just makes me giddy to the bones.

Oftentimes I wonder to myself, what would have happened if I didn’t discover that I liked all those Chinese stuff? In what direction would I be taking my life right now? It’s not just a small thing that affects a small part of my life. I would have taken a different major in college, I could have spent that year in Beijing doing something else, I could be doing something else right now, and I wouldn’t have met a lot of the people that I’ve become attached to during that year abroad (and the summer I spent in China as well for 9 credited units).

It makes you think, doesn’t it…about the small things that make a big difference in your life. For now, I’m just giddy over the fact that me and one of my favorite authors have had a short correspondence. I hope to think of something to suggest for the site so that we can continue talking.

Anyway, that is it for now. I’l update you guys when I have more interesting news to share! 🙂


2 comments on “Me and Adeline Yen Mah, just a computer away

  1. Hi, Christa.

    I like this post very much. I could totally relate with your experience with Mandarin learning. The “si-tak” methodology of learning Mandarin is really ineffective and makes learning the language such a chore!

    It’s very interesting how you turned your perspective of Mandarin Chinese from reading a book. I never really thought that was possible before 🙂

    I believe having a genuine interest in the language and culture is probably one of the biggest factor in learning Chinese.

    I am happy that you were able to communicate with Dr. Mah. As an avid reader myself, I could just imagine the joy and elation I would feel if an author that influenced my decisions in life responded to me directly. It would definitely feel surreal.

    By the way, where in China did you study?



    • Hi Allan! Thanks so much for taking the time to read that really long story of me and my relationship with Mandarin.

      I think discovering a book, alongside realizing how interesting Chinese culture and history are, and my trip to China when I was in High School, really opened my eyes. The change is not really about that one book, though I think that anything is possible and I’m sure somewhere out there, someone read a book that really changed their life. I guess growing up a bit helped me look at things from a different perspective. And yes, interest is definitely a factor when learning anything, especially when you’re forced to learn a language you don’t even use on a daily basis.

      Glad to hear I’m not so shallow after all, getting giddy over a mere internet conversation. Now, if that became something like an email correspondence or something, I can’t imagine how I’d possibly react. Haha.

      I spent a year in Beijing’s Tsinghua University, studying under their Chinese Language Programme. 🙂


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