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Chinese Language Week: Cooking and Mandarin classes a great way to 'travel' during Covid

Sophie Trigger

20 Sept 2020

Learning a new language or cuisine is a great way to experience new cultures while borders are closed, says a Marlborough Chinese language and cooking teacher.

Blenheim woman Mandy Li has been teaching Mandarin and Chinese cooking for the past two years at Marlborough’s REAP house.

During the coronavirus pandemic, New Zealanders were unable to travel, but could still experience other cultures at home, she said.

“When you can’t go and experience different cultures, you can stay home and experience something different, and another part of the world,” Li said.

“It definitely makes your life more interesting.”

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Maintaining her language and culture was something Li was proud of, particularly during Chinese Language week, observed September 20 – 26.

Beginning in 2014, New Zealand Chinese Language Week celebrated multilingualism and the advantages of learning Chinese in a globalised world.

The theme in 2020 was A Taste of New Zealand – celebrating the food and drink links between Chinese and New Zealand cultures.

Mandy Li said language and cuisine sometimes overlapped in her classes.

Mandy Li said language and cuisine sometimes overlapped in her classes.
Li taught different classes for Mandarin and for Chinese cooking, but said it was sometimes difficult to separate the two.

“In the last [language] session I do a bit of cooking and a bit of dancing because you can’t really separate one thing from another,” she said.

Li said Mandarin could be a challenging language to learn because a lot of words required an understanding of the history and culture.

For example, the symbol for “pen” included the symbol for bamboo because pens used to be made out of bamboo.

Mandy Li said Mandarin was a challenging, but rewarding language to learn.

Mandy Li said Mandarin was a challenging, but rewarding language to learn.
“Lots of words involve a lot of background information but it is an interesting language to learn.”

Li’s favourite Chinese dish to cook was dumplings, as it was a great way of involving the whole family.

“If we’re just talking about taste, there are so many things that are tasty,” Li said.

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“But dumplings are a significant dish for Chinese culture … back home people normally make them together, and the whole family gets together.

“Three generations, they make the dishes together, like a family activity. Grandma is doing the dough and the mum and uncles and aunties doing the making, and the grandchildren also helping to make them.

Mandy Li (left) and her mum Li Li prepare Chinese dumplings at the Multicultural festival in 2017.
“That’s how you connect and unite together through making one food. That’s why the dumplings are very special.”

She loved making dumplings in a group class in New Zealand for the same reason.

Originally from Tianjin, China, Li had been in New Zealand for 20 years and loved sharing her language and cuisine with Kiwis.

“I’m very proud of it because I’m a New Zealander but also I’m Chinese,” she said.

“So for me to live in New Zealand and to know that they’re doing a language week in New Zealand really makes me very proud and very happy.”

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