China annually holds a contest called ‘汉语桥’ (Hanyu qiao). In English it’s called ‘Chinese Bridge’. This is a contest for foreign college students, competing against each other, where they have to show their proficiency in the Chinese language. It is broadcast as a reality show on Chinese national television every year. The event is promoted by Hanban, which is the Chinese national office for teaching Chinese as a foreign language. The selection process for competitors starts about half a year before the actual competition in China. Many countries have a ‘Confucius Institute’ which holds the national competition; in March 2014, I took part in the Norwegian national competition in the Confucius Institute in Bergen, and got 1st place. This was very unexpected, as I mostly participated for fun and certainly didn’t aim to win!.
The trip was from the 15th October-3rd November. There were competitors from all over the world, across a wide range of ages – there were competitors as young as 13 years old who spoke fluent Chinese. I thought my skills in Chinese were quite good, but realized that I was probably one of the least fluent. While most competitors had studied Chinese for 3-6 years, I still felt proud to be participating with my one year of study.
The programme they put together over the course of the two weeks was very hectic, but extremely interesting. We visited famous places, such as the Great Wall, The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven and many more impressive sights. We were taken to exclusive restaurants serving traditional Chinese food and I got to taste one of Beijing’s specialties, Beijing Roasted Duck. The first five days were focused on sightseeing in Beijing and we later flew to the south of China, to Kunming in the province of Yunnan. It was here that the competition would be held. In the competition, we competed in teams of two.
It was very interesting being part of this. As I’ve never been part of any kind of reality-show before a lot of things were very new and unexpected. I can give an example: the first day, when our group arrived at the airport, there were cameramen to film us. They recorded us walking out of the airport, but approached us and told us to go back into the airport and do it again – but we were to act really surprised and curious. We had to repeat this process four times! Another interesting thing happened at the closing ceremony. Together with some other competitors, we were asked to sing at the closing ceremony. Some days before, we recorded our voices in a professional studio. At the actual ceremony, we were given plastic microphones that weren’t real – we were in fact only lip-synching. I found this quite weird, but still very funny.
I feel that this trip gave me many things. All instructions were given in Chinese, so I really had to pay attention. This helped me improve my Chinese, and I can now understand it more easily when hearing Chinese being spoken fast. I also made many new friends, and bonded with people I will remember in the future. After being a competitor in this competition, I’m also eligible for a 6-month long scholarship to study Chinese in any university in China. I am very grateful to have been given this opportunity, and will definitely make use of it.