Sichuan, in Southern China has a culinary delicacy named ‘Málà xiāng guō’, which is a hot and spicy pot dish that has a combination of vegetables, meat, fish, that you pick from the counter. I most often like to have a fish flavored toufu, spinach, mushroom, spongy toufu (I call it so because it actually feels like a sponge) and others. Even after mixing so many veggies and edibles into one big bowl, the Málà xiāng guō has a unique taste. When one might doubt the taste resulting from the combination of all these, the Málà xiāng guō tastes just perfect – with a different taste for each of the items and an overall different taste when viwed as a single dish.
This was not the first time I was leaving for China. But this time there was something else on the cards. I was participating in the 14th Chinese Bridge Chinese Language Proficiency Competition for College students. To start with, I had no idea I would make it to the global finals, up front with students from so many colleges. I had little hope of making through the national selections, particularly because I had only recently recovered from pharyngitis and a very bad sore throat when the selections happened in April. It was both a surprise and a delight when I won a place at the global finals.
Chinese Bridge is the global event conducted by Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban) every year where Chinese language enthusiasts from around the globe compete to become the Hànyǔ míngxīng (Chinese Language Star).
When the plane landed in Kunming it was already past the scheduled time. I got out of the plane as if on a race of the lifetime to catch the transit plane. Out of 1 hour 30 minutes of the transit time, I had already spent 45 minutes flying on the plane due to delayed landing. I was panting and doing some worst case scenario and best case scenario case study in my mind (seems my business major can also help control anxiety). Phew! I somehow managed to get on the plane only to be informed that the flight was one hour delayed. Heavens!
After spending a year in China studying Chinese, I am often eager to converse with the Chinese people using Chinese. Almost after a few lines of conversation with the person to my right, I overheard conversations in the front of my seat. I usually wouldn’t have bothered, but I heard her say ‘Changsha’ and mention some competition for foreigners. I couldn’t stop but tap her on the shoulder and ask if she was going to participate in the Chinese Bridge. Nv Ying was to become my roommate in Beijing.
Beijing always seems like a dream. Traffic jam at 2 AM. Yeah! But the Chinese Bridge seemed like a bigger dream this time. With 133 participants from 97 countries, it was a Málà xiāng guō experience, the only difference being people instead of food. Every another moment you would meet people from a different country. I bet the best geography knowledge would not have been enough! There was only so much more to discover.
Each one with their own flavors, their own stories and yet when put together the whole seemed a lot different than the single part. The amalgamation of all these cultures was a sight to see. Each one of us novel to one another, we were at the midst of discovering new cultures, new friends and fresh memories. Perhaps, apart from the enthusiasm for studying Chinese, the second common thing that time was – jet lag!
Chinese Bridge as a program is broadcasted by Hunan Satellite TV (湖南卫视：Húnán wèishì). Chinese Bridge on TV beings on 27th July 2015, you certainly shouldn’t miss it!
For more about the Chinese Bridge check the official website for Chinese Bridge.