Learn Chinese: Easy as 1, 2, 3 (and 4 Magazines)

IMG_4949China is a country founded on the past and tilted toward the future. Amid the art deco skyscrapers are sensational ancient palaces and temples in bright colors rivaling those of Missoni prints. All women wear high heels no matter how much they have to walk (image is very important over there). Children go to school from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in hopes of gaining entrance into the top universities — for some, it's their only escape to a better future. My father came from a poor farm village in China, and the question, "Why do all of the children from that village seem so successful nowadays?" was brought up.

My father's friend, also from the same village and now living in Beijing, answered, "Because we were poor and those who have nothing learn to fight for something." Point noted.

At a local bookstore in Chengdu, Sichuan, I picked up four Chinese fashion magazines: Harper's BazaarElleVogue and Madame Figaro — all Chinese editions of foreign publications.

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It was delightful to see that Madame Figaro enclosed a pattern (with explicit permission) for making a frock à la Parisian designer Gaspard Yurkievich — complete with instructions in Chinese too! I adore this DIY idea and I wish more American magazines had this feature.

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The truth is, I didn't embrace my Chinese heritage as a child.  I quit Chinese school in middle school, barely scooped up the skills to use chopsticks in high school, had little interest in the Chinese fashion industry (other than sweatshop research and advocacy), and shunned Chinese pop stars (I now embrace Jay Chou — and his abs — with all my heart).

So as I took the taxi back to my room, and with these four magazines in my hands, I gave myself a summer goal.  A real summer goal. (By the way, originally, my only summer goal was to beat all 34 levels of BrickBreaker on my Blackberry — I am only at level 16 right now).

With my giant Chinese-English dictionary by my side, I am going to improve my Chinese language skills by reading these four Chinese fashion magazines. I will not just look at the spreads and advertisements as I usually do, but I will read the articles as well. I will appreciate Chinese journalism. I will learn to read Chinese beyond menus, street signs, and Jay Chou song titles.

ex.oh.ex.oh Miss Couturable

P.S. Speaking of foreign languages, which language should I add to my repertoire in college? Currently I speak English, Mandarin-Chinese and Spanish.  Shall I add French? Italian? Swahili?!

Post reprinted with permission from Miss Couturable