How I Unexpectedly Fell in Love with Learning Mandarin Chinese (Even if I HATED it growing up!)

“Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.”

~Oliver Wendell Holmes



This is a guest post from Christa Uymatiao of The Dresden Doll. She is of Chinese-Spanish-Filipino descent and is currently pursuing her passion of learning Mandarin Chinese in Xiamen, China.


Christa Uymatiao of The Dresden Doll

If you told the me from my childhood that one day I’d be in-love with China and in-love with learning Mandarin, that me would probably laugh in your face.


When I was in elementary school, I hated learning Mandarin.


At that time, it wasn’t a language that seemed practical to me as I didn’t speak Mandarin or Hokkien.And a lot of the things I was learning at school were purely memorization, meant to be forgotten after exams.


But somewhere along the way, I discovered a couple of things that unexpectedly made me fall in love with the Chinese language and culture:

1) Reading Chinese-Related Books


A couple of years ago, my mom bought a copy of these two books (Chinese Cinderella and Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah) and since I loved reading books, I happened to discover these books at one time.


Chinese Cinderella

It felt like I was going back to the roots I never felt I had, and then sort of empathizing with characters who were forced into a different environment.


Because I wasn’t born a Pure Chinese, I had bouts of doubt as a kid where I would ask myself if I was born more Filipino or Chinese. Oftentimes I told myself that it was because of this that my Mandarin never actually stuck.


And then I started reading books by Chinese-American authors, Amy Tan and Lawrence Yep, they were mostly fictional but displayed real-life scenarios about their struggles.


It was like looking into how my ancestors must have felt, add in some historical details and you end up with a fascinating read. It helped open the eyes of a stubborn me.


Since I couldn’t speak the Chinese languages well, I started pouring over the China that was portrayed in these books, a China from the eyes of a Chinese-American. And from there, I started investing my time in reading China-related books.


2) Going on my first trip to China.


My first trip to China was sometime in 2004, when my dad brought me to Xiamen.


We lived in my uncle’s apartment instead of at a hotel, so I got my first taste of independence, especially when dad had to go to some business meetings and I was left alone in the flat.


Dad took me around some places in Xiamen, and when my cousin arrived later on, I was able to go to Xiamen University and JiMei University to visit my friends.


Later on, dad took us to Xi’An to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. Even though I hated all the walking we had to do, and the very provincial holes-in-the-floor that we encountered along the way, I was so taken in by the beauty of all the historical buildings and sites. 


It was like being in one of my books, being in a place that I thought I could only see in books or photographs. I think it was during this time that I realized that I wanted to see the rest of what China could offer me, places like the Three Gorges, The Great Wall, Yellow River, etc.


The funny thing about all this, is that my dad used to threaten to send me to China to live with my relatives when I was younger and misbehaved, and since the idea of China didn’t really appeal to me at that time, it was one of the worst threats you could give me.


3) Watching Taiwanese telenovelas


I guess it kind of started with Meteor Garden.



It was in my university days though that I started watching a lot of Taiwanese shows, like It Started With a Kiss and Fated to Love You. I started using the shows as a way to learn a bit of Mandarin and Taiwanese Hokkien, because sometimes, subtitles just don’t give the original words justice.


4) Knowing my roots


Long ago, I made excuses as to why I didn’t like China and why I couldn’t understand the language. It was because I was only half-Chinese, or because I rarely see my Chinese grandparents, those were the kind of excuses I made for myself when I was younger.


Later on, I got more curious about my Chinese side and asked my dad a lot of questions about our relatives, about our hometown in Xiamen, about our coming to the Philippines. I voiced out my curiosities, and dad answered with stories about our family, the relatives I had yet to meet, and so on.


Then I met my relatives in China and I even got to see part of our hometown. I didn’t want our communication with them to end just because I couldn’t speak the language and I didn’t know our history. I didn’t want to end our closeness with my dad’s generation.


My dad knows a lot about our family and our history, and I want to be able to do the same for the next generation when the time comes.


5) Realizing that to get to know Japanese (the language and culture), I first had to know and understand China.


Though I’ve only been a fan-fan of China and Chinese culture in recent years, I’ve always always been a fan of Japan since I was a little girl. I was really hooked on anime and even learning Japanese. 


Christa is a Japanese fan-fan

It was only when I got older that I realized that reading Japanese is hard, but if I knew how to read Chinese characters, it would make learning Japanese a whole lot easier.


Also, a lot of Japanese culture and mannerisms are similar to the Chinese, so I realized the practicality of doing Chinese first, and then moving on to Japanese later on. I’ve not yet given up on learning Japanese, but I’ve yet to be satisfied with my level of Mandarin.


On turning things around with Mandarin Chinese


I guess each person has their own reasons for learning to like something. I’m sure I’m not the only person who disliked learning Chinese in her childhood, and later got interested in it. Discovering and re-discovering the self is a constant process. 


And as I finish writing this entry from China, each day that I continue learning Mandarin, history and culture from the source, I find myself more thankful for the opportunities that learning Mandarin has brought me on this journey.


Christa is a career writer and does her best stress-relieving writing at The Dresden Doll. Don’t forget to catch her amazing book reviews on the site!                                                                                              


  1. “She is of Chinese-Spanish-Filipino descent.” Why is it that alot of Filipino-Chinese claim that they are part Spanish? The numbers of Spanish people in the Philippines were small compared to the Chinese during the 15th towards the 18th century and the Spaniards in the Philippines at that time rarely intermarried with the Chinese and the Malays. Majority of the Chinese in the Philippines married local women who were of non-Spanish descent. Filipino-Chinese need to be proud of who they are, not trying to fake something just to make them look more exotic or so-called high standard following European attitudes. You are what you are and history shows it to be. Just accept it. And it doesn’t matter if so and so claims to have had a Spanish great grandfather or grandmother. That can also be forged/faked and can only be proven through DNA tests.

    • Hi Ken,

      I respect your point of view very much the same I respect the way people present themselves. I admire your conviction in being proud of your identity. And I believe that is the same thing that makes this guest post meaningful.

      A person who is genuinely proud of her Chinese heritage is taking concrete stepsto get in touch with her roots – in carrying our various deeds and not merely in empty words.

      People can present themselves however they want but at the end of the day people will identify him for his true character.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂


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