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Berlin 2011

It might seem quite weird to go to Berlin to take an exam in Chinese, but that still was the principal reason for this weekend’s trip to the German capital. I arrived home safely earlier today after a three-day sojourn, and even though I don’t have much to offer by way of visual impressions of my journey (there are some photos on Facebook) , I still want to write a few words about both the test and about Berlin in general.

The test in question is the standard Chinese test used in Taiwan to assess the language level of non-native speakers and I attempted the highest level. I knew beforehand that it would be difficult (results from mock tests lead me to believe that I had a fair chance of scoring around 85%), but it turned out to be more difficult than I thought in two ways. First, it wasn’t easy to get to the test site in the first place. We went there on Friday evening to make sure I knew how to get there the following morning (our hostel was located in the north east, the university is in the south west). I took us little more than one and a half hour to get there and that included some serious detours.

I left the hostel around 7:30 and thought that two hours and fifteen minutes would be enough. It was, but only barely. It turned out that a station that was open during Friday was closed for construction work on Saturday, so I had to improvise a new route. I don’t know much German and if there is one thing I’d like to complain about regarding Berlin, it’s the lack of accurate information for tourists. I asked staff that directed me in the wrong direction, I spent an hour and finally ended up exactly where I started. I gave up and took a taxi to a station that had a direct link to the university. I ran the last kilometre and arrived on the test site five minutes before the test started, winded and a bit annoyed.

I’m going to write a long, Olle-style analysis of the test itself, so I won’t say very much right now, instead I’ll just say that it was harder than I thought and harder than the mock tests. I don’t think I passed, but it might be close. If I pass, it’s because I’m lucky, not because I’m good. And for those who don’t know me very much, I’m not being humble here. The test was really hard and to anyone who has managed it with reasonable grades, respect. This isn’t something anyone will pass without working very, very hard. To summarise, I will (probably) fail because I cannot parse spoken 成語 (idioms) that quickly and I suck at deciphering single sentences without a context. Also, I my reading speed isn’t up to par. I will lose approximately 10/70 points on the reading part because of this and that’s too much. Still, I’m not very disappointed. This is merely a sign that I need to study more, but more about this later.

What about Berlin in general then? Well, it was cold, seemed to consist only of construction sites and suffered from a lack of decently priced restaurants and grocery stores. Berlin did have some nice things to offer, too, such as several museums and some cool buildings (such as Berlin Cathedral and the new Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church). Still, the city wouldn’t have been worth a visit only for these reasons, especially not in mid-November (it was quite cold, especially on Friday). Fortunately, I didn’t experience Berlin alone, but was accompanied by two friends (Martin and Svante). In their company, the overall rating for the journey climbs above “it was worth it” mark. I probably wouldn’t have gone if it weren’t for the test, but I don’t regret going, even if it turns out I botched the test completely.

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