Monthly Archives: July 2007

Learning Chinese with an iPod

John B. recently commented on my how to learn a language article about ChinesePod.com. He suggested I check it out. I was intrigued and signed up for the 15 day trial right away. And I must say, I am impressed. ChinesePod was started in 2005 by several foreigners living in China. They experienced first hand what words and phrases they needed to communicate and turned that knowledge into 595 lessons starting at a beginner level all the way to advanced. I signed up to get a daily RSS feed which sends one lesson a day to my blog reader (Google Reader, if you want to know). Today’s lesson was how to say “what meat is this?”. I have the option of downloading each lesson to my computer and put it on my iPod (if I had one) or listening to it through my computer.

Another thing I like about the ChinesePod is that the website shows the written words your are saying and how to pronounce them. For us visual people, it is immensely helpful to not only hear but see the words we are saying. And of course, you are able to download the lesson in a PDF. Here’s a page from the site that explains how lessons work.

ChinesePod members also have the ability to blog and talk with other members. This is a great way to further your studies. I haven’t experimented with this part of the site yet, but I like that it’s an option as I continue to learn the language.

Question: Has anyone else had any experience with this site? Are there similar sites out there? Let me know your thoughts.

Perfect Packing

Ironically, on Sunday, the Seattle Times posted an article about Perfect Packing. This comes on the heels of my post yesterday and is a great look at packing smarter, using compression bags, and even breaks down the price you pay for an overweight bag on an airplane.  The most interesting part of the article was a link to The Universal Packing List, a site that generates a packing list for you based on a few parameters you enter. The site also gives you helpful tips prior to leaving for your trip. I’d say it’s worth a look.

Traveling with only 10Lbs of stuff

Tim Ferriss is one of those guys you want to know. He’s traveled extensively, spends only 4 hrs a week running an online company, is a Guinness world record holder for Tango dancing, a cage fighter in Japan, speaks 6 languages and now has a best selling book. I haven’t personally met Tim, but have read his book and actively read his blog. One of his recent posts is a perfect example of how to travel without packing the kitchen sink. He subscribes to the theory of bringing only the most essential items and begging/borrowing/buying at the destination anything else he might need. On a recent trip to Maui Tim packs ONLY the following:

-1 featherweight Marmot Ion jacket (3 oz.!)
-1 breathable Coolibar long-sleeve shirt. This saved me in Panama.
-1 pair of polyester pants. Polyester is light, wrinkle-resistant, and dries quickly. Disco dancers and flashpackers dig it.
-1 Kensington laptop lock, also used to secure all bags to stationary objects.
-1 single Under Armour sock, used to store sunglasses
-2 nylon tanktops
-1 large MSR quick-dry microfiber towel, absorbs up to 7 times its weight in water
-1 Ziploc bag containing toothbrush, travel toothpaste, and disposable razor
-1 Fly Clear biometric travel card, which cuts down my airport wait time about 95%
-2 pairs of Exofficio lightweight underwear. Their tagline is “17 countries. 6 weeks. And one pair of underwear.” I think I’ll opt for two, considering they weigh about as much as a handful of Kleenex. One other nice side-effect of their weight: they’re much more comfortable than normal cotton underwear.
-2 pairs of shorts/swimsuits
-2 books: Lonely Planet Hawaii and The Entrepreneurial Imperative (the latter comes highly recommended—check it out)
-1 sleeping mask and earplugs
-1 pair of Reef sandals. Best to get a pair with removable straps that go around the heel.
-1 Canon PowerShot SD300 digital camera with extra 2GB SD memory card. God, I love this camera more than words can describe. It is the best designed piece of electronics I have ever owned. I now use it not only for all of my photos and videos, but also as a replacement for my scanner. I’m considering testing the newer and cheaper SD1000.
-1 coffee harvesting hat to prevent my pale skin from burning off.
-1 Kiva keychain expandable duffel bag
-1 Chapstick, 1 Mag-Lite Solitaire flashlight, and 1 roll of athletic tape. The last is a lifesaver. It’s as useful as duct tape for repairing objects but gentle enough to use on injuries, which I am fond of inflicting on myself.
-1 Lewis and Clark flex lock (for luggage, lockers, zippers, or whatever I need to lock down/shut/together). Standard mini-padlocks are often too cumbersome to thread through holes on lockers, etc.
-1 Radio Shack kitchen timer, which I’ve been using to wake up for about five years. The problem with using a cell phone alarm to wake up is simple: the phone needs to be on, and even if you use vibrate, people can call and wake you up before you want to wake up. The second benefit to using a kitchen timer if that you know exactly how much sleep you are—or aren’t—getting, and you can experiment with things like caffeine power naps of different durations… but that’s another post 😉

I admire his ability to downsize the stuff he takes with him. I’m always torn between traveling light and bringing enough stuff so that I am always prepared for any situation. The debate will continue as August 2008 gets closer and closer.

Question: What’s on your packing list?

Using a Kayak to get to China

kayak.jpgIf you haven’t heard of Kayak.com, you MUST check it out. It aggregates most, if not all, airline/travel sites, saving you the hassle of going to each website to compare price. Even though our trip is a year away, I was curious to see how much flights would cost. I tried different departure and arrival cities and even made flight days and times flexible. My goal was to find the cheapest round trip flight I could for two people. What I found surprised me; Korean Air and Air Canada had the cheapest flights as well as the shortest flight time. 15 hours in a plane is much better than 25 hours. Here’s how the prices broke down as of July 23rd for one person:
Route                                 Airline        Price     hrs 1-way     stops
Sea to PEK                        Korean Air     $961          15                     1
sea to PVG                        Korean Air     $1009       15.5                  1
YVR to PEK                     Air Canada     $1080        11                     0
YVR to PVG                     Air Canada     $1080       12                     0
Seat to Pvg, pek to SEA Air Canada     $1182        18                      1
Seat to pek, pvg to SEA Air Canada     $1182        20                      1

AIRPORT CODES
SEA Seattle
PEK Beijing
PVG Shanghai
YVR Vancouver, BC

If I remember correctly, I could take a flight from Sea to YVR on Air Canada then hook up with the non-stop to China and it only cost $100 more. Totally worth it in my book. I like that Air Canada has non stop flights and the shortest flight time. The longest flight I’ve taken so far was 8 hours and I thought that was a long flight. A 12 hour flight seems excruciatingly long. You can only watch so many movies, read so many books, or sleep so many before you get “cabin fever”.

Question: What has been your experience in flying to China? Are these flight prices normal? How do you pass the time on the plane?

How to learn a new language

language.jpgI would like to have some level of proficiency of Mandarin before I get to China. I have studied Spanish, Greek and Italian in the past with various degrees of success. While researching Mandarin, I came across Tim Leffell, author of Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune: The Contrarian Traveler’s Guide to Getting More for Less and The World’s Cheapest Destinations. Having just discovered Tim, I have not had the chance to read either of his books (but I will soon). What turned me on to him was an article he wrote on the different ways to learn a second language. Here are the various methods he discussed:

1. Community College or Language School Course—$50 to $600 per course
2. Rosetta Stone Language Software $195 to $245 per course
3. Pimsleur Language System $230 to $300 per course
4. Language Books—Free to $100
5. Music, TV, and Movies—Free to $20
6. Word-a-Day Desk Calendars
7. Post-its and a Pen—$1 to $3
8. Web Resources—Free

1. Very good way to learn, though quite expensive.
2. I’ve seen these ads everywhere but have not personally used the software.
3. I’ve recommend Pimsleur for the same reasons Tim’s says; I have the Italian version.
4. Books can only take you so far, you need to hear pronunciation.
5. This is a good supplement but without the basic fundamentals it won’t get you too far.
6. I like this idea and am looking for one, not sure if anyone makes a Mandarin version.
7. Even better idea than #6.
8. I found two free websites here and here. I’m sure there are others out there.

All of these methods can help in learning a language. The best approach would be a combination of some or all of the methods.

Here is my question: Have you tried to learn a language? What study method did you use? Are you still as proficient as when you were studying regularly?

Why start a blog called Crouching China???

One year from August 1st I will be leaving for China to travel the country and attend the 2008 Summer Olympics. I have never been to China, Asia or even attended an Olympic Games. I intend to learn as much as I can about traveling in China and post it here so that I can remember the information. If you have any stories about traveling to China, please drop me a line at crouchingchina at gmail dot com.

Where does the name Crouching China come from? Well China is where I’m going and Crouching is a derivitive of my last name. Mostly I thought it was catchy title.