Leaving Lerwick Harbour

你们 好!Hello everyone!

For those of you who don’t know already, my name is Kirsten Keay, or 科思特 (kē sī tè), which is the Chinese name I was given by my 老师.

It’s been three weeks since I said 再见 to my small island of 22,000 to say 你好to my new home in天津, 中国(Tianjin, China). 天津is just west of Beijing in the North of 中国 and it’s  called “small” in comparison to the other cities in 中国but you shouldn’t let that fool you, it has a population of over 15 million! For the most part 天津 is a seemingly flat city (minus the rising skyscrapers) with little to no mountains or hills which is quite strange to me. 天津 is the complete opposite to Shetland, having over 650 times more people. Not only is there a massive change in population here, but there’s the change in culture, cuisine and climate as well. It did take a few days to acclimatise, with the temperature ranging between 20°C to 37°C, it would get utterly unbearable. Having the chance to be in a new place with such a diverse culture and way of life has given me such an appreciation for where I am and the opportunity I have been given. I don’t think it’s fully set in yet that I’m going to be living here for the next nine months!

The past few weeks have gone by so suddenly, being kept busy nearly every day; exploring 天津, going to food markets, different shopping centres, walking around the fountain park and getting new sim and bank cards, as well as having medical checks to apply for our residents permits. I’ve also had the chance to see the Tianjin eye, the ancient culture street, the Italian quarter and the colosseum. That also gave me the opportunity to use what Mandarin I already had and made me more confident when using it with locals, even when it seemed like they had no clue what I was saying. I was be able to show what I meant with the help from the app Pleco, which has been really helpful to me when I don’t know specific words.

The Fountain Park at night

Ancient Culture Street

I instantly got into the groove of using the subway which I’ve found super useful to get around quickly, with trains coming every 5 minutes! It’s very cheap as well, costing between 2-4 Yuan (around 20-50p).

As soon as we got our bank cards, most of us got AliPay and WeChat Pay which are two of the easiest ways to buy anything in 中国 - all we need is our phones! AliPay also lets us hire bikes. I paid 11.20 Yuan (around £1.20) which is very cheap for using the bikes the whole month. I have been using the bikes a lot now, cycling most places that I would normally get the train to and since I’m getting to know 天津more I feel more confident in trying to find my way. The bikes are also a great way to get a better look around and are faster than walking everywhere.

This is especially useful when I’m feeling hungry and want to get food faster! I still can’t get over how amazing the food is here - I’ve not had anything that I’ve not liked! The food is extremely cheap as well costing up to 25 yuan (around £2.50) for a normal meal.

Dumplings, pork and rice

Even though I don’t know a lot of Mandarin yet, food is very simple to order. One of the most useful words I know is 这个, which can be very useful when I don’t know what something is but still want to try it.  I can just point and say, “我要一个这个”! (I would like one of this). I’ve had such a variety of food already; my favourite is the “green packet” and “spicy bread” things (we don’t know their names yet) that we get for breakfast/ lunch which only cost 2-5 yuan. We’ve had Jian Bing, which you would normally eat for breakfast but it’s so filling that I’ve had it for lunch too. I’ve even tried chicken feet too, with 米饭(rice), which was surprisingly nice.

Jian Bing

We had the perfect end to our free time when we were invited to the Tianjin Normal University’s Opening Ceremony two weeks ago. There were lots of singing and dancing performances as well as a few speeches. The ceremony was even full of strobe lighting and the hosts were in big ballgowns and tuxes. It was perfect moment for seeing the main campus (which is about an hour away from our campus) and the ceremony was also packed full of students from all over the world which I found very interesting. It was a good chance to begin to make new friends with the different students. Most of the Scottish scholars came dressed up in shirts, ties and dresses. However, we must have looked quite funny to the other students as they were all in casual clothes and matching Tianjin University t-shirts (which we later got and had to put on over our smart clothes).

Our classes began last week on the 17th of September, and they’ve been really engaging so far. I’m in Monday to Friday with classes in Experiencing Chinese, Listening, Character Writing and Oral. I have three classes on a Monday, one on a Tuesday and two from Wednesday to Friday. Every day, apart from Tuesday, I have to be in class at 8:30! However, the teaching building is right across from my accommodation, so I don’t have to wake up too early as it is just a five-minute walk over. I’m at the Balitai campus, which is very close to the Peking Radio Tower so it’s easy to find our way back home.

Walking to class

I am learning a lot in my classes already, especially as I am getting homework from my teachers every day! All the classes have a mixture of international students in them, depending on the level of the student’s Mandarin.

One night, we had a mini, impromptu ceilidh, Henry and I played some Shetland tunes on a guitar and fiddle that we borrowed from a couple of the scholars. It was a great chance to show the other scholars the music we love to play at home, especially when they can dance to them and hopefully we’ll be able to do it again soon!

We have a one-week holiday that starts next week, in celebration of the 70th National day. I have planned to travel to Qufu, in the Shangdong province, with some of the other scholars. I’m really excited to go and travel as it is the hometown and birthplace of Confucius. Since we have the holiday and are missing school, we have to go into class on the Sunday before the holiday and the Saturday after which is quite odd as I’ve never had to do that before.

Until next time,



老师- Lǎoshī- Teacher

再见- Zàijiàn- Goodbye

你好- Nǐ hǎo- Hello

天津- Tiānjīn- Tianjin

中国-Zhōngguó- China

我要一个这个-Wǒ yào yī gè zhège -I would like one of this

米饭- Mǐ fàn- Rice