M A N D A R I N   S U P E R S T A R

Connie Minett

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

I started learning Chinese when I was seventeen. Ever since I was a young girl, I have wanted to learn another language. When I finished school, I had that chance. My exams finished in November, and by December I moved to Tainan, Taiwan. My first day of class was boxing day! My mum, dad and brother came over to Taiwan with me and we had Christmas together – I can still remember having hot almond milk and you tiao [fried bread-like sticks] on the street early Christmas morning.


Since that first experience, I have spent two and a half years of my life living in Taiwan: both Taipei and Tainan. They are both beautiful and warm; and hold a special place in my heart. In Taipei my love of Chinese tea was born, and I spent many hours in the tea houses whirling away the hours in the company of a friend and an oolong. If you are ever in Taipei I recommend you check out Shijian tea. Dihua street has fantastic old food; my favourite is "old mum's noodle shop". Mimosa tea and coffee is perched on a street corner with rickety tables and a beautiful couple with beautiful smiles. It is perfect place to watch life roll by.  

I like that Chinese is a pictorial language. In English you can try and gather meaning of an unknown word through listening to the sound. In Chinese you can guess by looking at the composition of the character. Does it have the radical for water? For wood? For fire? I learnt traditional characters. They are beautiful.   

Learning Chinese in Taipei was never just about learning a language. It is also learning a new way to be.


To illustrate this, an inconsequential example from my first few months in Taipei. In Wellington I shop at the weekend markets buying everything I need for the week. In Taipei the fresh markets operate every day. The custom is to buy what you need for the day, perhaps two at a push.


I will always remember the astounded faces of my flatmates as I staggered up the five flights of stairs to my apartment with a week’s worth of vegetables, fruits and tofu. It didn’t fit in the fridge.

That time overseas has led me to my current job. I work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade – at the moment within the South East Asian group, on the Philippines, Timor-Leste and Singapore. An interest in the world is essential to both language learning and diplomacy.

I love the hotsprings! In the mountains surrounding Taipei there are a number of beautiful places to soak in steaming water and breathe in the clean mountain air. Taiwan is quite similar to New Zealand in that respect – it is on a fault line and also benefits from natural hot water springs. There is no better way to spend a winter’s weekend.

Learning another language is never regretted. Chinese is melodic. It is deeply historical. And it has become a part of my life.