Coffee Fest Recap Part 2

In addition to the exhibitions, Coffee Fest also offered several free classes (and some paid ones) to help people improve their businesses and increase their coffee knowledge. Because I am one of those people who liked school, and because they were free, I decided to attend the Saturday morning classes. I had to get up at 6:15 to get there on time Fortunately, it was a beautiful clear, crisp morning and the walk to the bus stop was invigorating. The bus from Everett dropped me off a block from the convention center about twenty minutes before my first class started (Side note: Seattle’s public transportation, although primarily buses, is better than its reputation).

The street lights were still on when I got to the convention center

My first class, “How to Effectively Compete with National brands,” was taught by Sol Salzer, one of the owners of the City Bean Coffee in Los Angeles. The first thing he did was to thank Starbucks and the other national chains (Peet’s, Gloria Jean’s, Coffee Bean, etc.) for raising the standards of the coffee industry. Then he spent the next hour talking about how to beat them. He used Starbucks as his main example, telling the story of how he used the Starbucks that moved in across the street to help grow his business. Starbucks brought many customers to the neighborhood, and City Bean was able to capture some of that traffic by effectively targeting them.

Read More

Why Would Anyone Want to Study Chinese?

Some of you have asked me why people come to BLCU for a one-month (or longer) intensive Chinese language study. I’ve been meaning to write about the topic for a while—sorry for the delay. Here are some of my classmates’ stories (unfortunately, I didn’t have pictures of everyone).

The first student I want to introduce to you is Lee Dong-Deuk. Lee is a 53 year-old businessman from Seoul, South Korea. Twenty years ago, he started a business importing wall coverings into South Korea (the company’s website is here). Lee is taking a month off from the day to day operations of the company to come here and study. Lee has studied Chinese in Korea for the last two years with an online Chinese teacher. He is studying because he likes languages and also because he sees potential business opportunities in China. He knows that being able to speak Mandarin will help him build relationships and conduct negotiations with Chinese buyers and suppliers.


Read More


The gray air was back this morning, just in time for our final exams. Appropriate, if you ask me.  Our program had three classes (listening comprehension, speaking and reading) and thus three finals. As I have said before, the classes were hard. The finals were no different, and  I went into them resigned to fail each one.

Our listening comprehension final took place last Thursday. I’m still convinced that the teacher didn’t tell us about it beforehand, but then again, in the past I had misunderstood at least two (out of 4) homework assignments in that class. For the final exam, I was shooting for anything above zero—and I did it! I don’t think I passed, but for me the point of coming to China was to improve, not to pass a test. So I guess you could say I succeeded.

Our listening teacher. . .Don't ask me what she said

Read More

There are No Atheists in Chinese Class

Have you ever heard that "there are no atheists in a foxhole”? For anyone who hasn’t heard the phrase before, I’ll explain it. A foxhole, as you might guess, is a burrow that a fox digs in the ground for a home. In this case, though, it also refers to a small enclosure or shallow trench dug into the ground by soldiers on the battlefield. Often not much larger than the soldiers themselves, these spaces provide a minimum amount of cover from enemy fire. When under attack, soldiers may rise up out of the hole to fire on the enemy and quickly slip back down into the tenuous safety that the foxhole provides. Foxholes can be dug quickly and can be used as a last resort if better cover is not available during a battle. To be under attack with nothing but a foxhole for protection is terribly frightening experience, one that can rattle even the bravest soldiers.

The phrase "there are no atheists in a foxhole” refers to the fact that the fear while under attack is so strong that even the most staunch atheist is willing to pray to God for safety and deliverance from the battle. Today I am proposing a new version. In my case,it is more appropriate to say “there are no atheists in Chinese class” (especially in listening comprehension). You might ask, how in the world could that phrase be related to Chinese class?

Read More

Holy Hanzi Batman! What'd she say?

Apparently, my Chinese placement test went pretty well. Either that, or the teacher who gave the test was playing a cruel joke on me. They put me in level C10, which is an intermediate level. Intermediate sounded about right to me. I imagined that the class would be hard but that I would understand what was going on.  I didn’t. Let’s just put it this way: the first class was hard. I don’t mean “run the Portland marathon” hard, I mean “run the Hood to Coast by yourself hard”. . . . .While carrying your sister on your back. . . . . . .Barefoot. . . . .Get the picture?

From the minute the teacher walked in , I knew I was in trouble. She began right away, welcoming everyone and asking us to introduce ourselves. That was no problem, since our teacher at PSU had drilled us on this a lot, but once we opened the textbook everything went to hell. I’ve spent quite of time studying characters (hanzi) on my own, but mostly without the context of a sentence or paragraph. When I started reading the text, I could not really understand the meaning. Reading the book out loud made my comprehension decrease even more. Our teacher would stop to explain terms to us (all in very fast Mandarin), often writing lots of characters on the chalkboard to make her point.

Read More