Random post of Random

Orientation week was monster busy so the following post includes some random thoughts I wrote down throughout the week…I’m now in Zhangjiagang so I have lots to report on that as well, but for now, here is a week full of thoughts:

Sooo China.  Hello!  Let’s start with the airport terminal in Chicago and how silly I felt when I had pictured in my head that I would be on the plane with mostly non-Chinese people…why I made that assumption, I’ve no idea, but it was certainly not the case, and it was kind of nice because it gave me my first taste of being surrounded with the language before even leaving the country.

The flight actually felt quite short to me minus one very long minute when I half woke up in whatever REM cycle it is where you’re kind of paralyzed and freaked out in my head a little bit because my half-dream state had me thinking I really was paralyzed, that the plane was going down and that, well, that really wasn’t a good thing.  Otherwise the flight was good and I even watched an adorable movie set in China/in Chinese.

I brought the most stuff of everyone in my group….I was already embarrassed by my one massive suitcase but was hoping I would see others with the same…not the case.  Everyone else who I met at the airport in our program had less luggage.  Oh well…on a fun note, walking out of customs you kind of felt like you were famous or something because you walk down a roped off path lined with people holding signs, I’ve never had a sign held for me at an airport before!

I spent much of the rest of the afternoon/night sleeping and then woke up at 4am, went for a walk with my roomie around 6 and then had breakfast at 7 (this has not happened since…now we wake up at 7:30).  I had forgotten how many flavors I missed from my last visit to China!  However I will post a “first week of food in China” entry later with pics of food and more about restaurants.

So there are about 40 participants from our program, four of us going to Zhangjiagang and about six who are staying in Shanghai…one poor girl is going to the middle of nowhere by herself and she doesn’t know any Chinese…as you can imagine, we’re all tryin to be extra nice and helpful to her…

And oh right, it’s monster hot here.  It doesn’t help that it was all lovely and cool in New York just before I got here, but even if it hadn’t been, it’s  never typically this horribly humid there.  I am actually looking forward to the wet and cold winter at this point just as a reprieve from my hair fluffing up into a giant fro and my face melting off.  However, I have been hearing more and more from people here that it snows very little and that it doesn’t even get much colder until the end of October!

So here’s something great, my Chinese is 80 times better than last time I came to China!  Last time I could read about 25% of the characters on signs around the cities, but now I recognize about 60% and can figure out another 10% from context.  I’m still complete rubbish at tones but these are actually better than last I was here as well.

I currently have a habit of formulating sentences in Chinese in my head to say to people and then find that either I end up standing mute or English comes out of my mouth instead.  Frustrating, but it’s getting better.  My roommate in Shanghai has helped because we’re about the same level of Chinese and so I’m really comfortable talking to her.  She’s a bit better at actually putting words to sentences in the presence of Chinese people, I’m better at characters and vocab.  So we make a pretty good team when trying to talk to anyone.

I am best at Chinese when I am isolated from everyone in our group and confronted with a stranger actually.  I think it’s because I know I don’t have the crutch of some of the others in the group and I’m less nervous because this stranger doesn’t have any expectations of how well my Chinese should be.  We had our physical exam today and I was pleasantly surprised at how well I was able to communicate with each of the doctors (we had to see literally six different doctors who all did different things, including an ultrasound…)

I will try to make less scattered posts in the future, but I’m trying to make up for the past week without overwhelming everyone by jumping back and forth!

I will leave with a picture of our house here in Zhangjiagang:


Farewell to America Post

I haven’t been writing anything because there hasn’t really been a whole lot for me to post other than my feeling stir crazy, unhelpfully washing my ipod, helpfully washing my stuffed animal (the washer ripped its tail off and filled the machine with stuffing…the helpful note being that my bunny now fits in my suitcase), avoiding packing by watching the Spaghetti-Pasta-Noodle-Fork video on repeat and trying to remember what I might be forgetting.

For anyone who likes details:

  • My flight leaves at 7:10 tomorrow morning
  • I have a two hour layover in Chicago at 10:30
  • I arrive in Shanghai at 2pm on Friday
  • I have packed two suitcases, a backpack and a purse
  • One suitcase is absolutely overweight
  • My last American meal was at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, my second to last one was at Kitty Hoynes…which made me feel like I was leaving for Ireland
  • The weather could not have been more beautifully breezy and wonderful today
Good night!

The best kind of week to have before leaving the country

So it’s just a few handfuls of days until I leave for China, and I cannot think of a better way to have spent one of these past few weeks in the states than the week-long family-rich spectacular-wedding mountain-camping adventure that just happened. 

My wonderful wonderful big brother and gorgeous new sister created a beautiful celebration for their wedding.  The wedding itself was one of the most touching, creative and loving events that I’ve ever been to, set in a stunning state park, and chocked full of all of the family fun that usually comes with my family’s reunions, but with the added bonus of my new sister and her family being just as fun and interesting as ours!  So much joy in my heart from seeing my brother and new sister so happy, getting to reconnect with the rest of my family before leaving, and meeting such a kind new family!  

Excitement for this, nerves for that

Things that I’m getting excited about:  

Fruit!  If it’s anything like my experience in Xi’an, then I’m really excited to get fresh fruit on the sidewalk…especially pears!  I got a huge chunk of watermelon on my way home from class one day in Xi’an and it was probably the most amazing night ever

Karaoke!  We only did this once when I went to China last time, but I loved it (I honestly think my hip was bruised the next morning from whacking a tambourine against it) and fully plan on going any time that I am asked this year

The Movies!  We also only went once when I was last there (we saw Pirates of the Caribbean!) but it was kind of a cool theater, and I actually love watching anything with subtitles

Tea!  I drink tea everyday all day now anyway, but only when I remember to make it…I’m excited to automatically have it at every restaurant I go to!

Ok so little to no one is probably going to be excited with me on this one, but public squat toilets!  Haha kidding, but only sort of because, yes they are usually smellier and the idea seems gross, BUT, picture going to a public restroom in a big city, do you sit right down on that toilet seat or do you attempt to hover because you’re grossed out by how many people have been in this bathroom in the last hour alone?  Chances are, you probably hover, and I have to be honest, if I’m hovering anyhow, it’s a whole lot easier to hover over a massive hole in the ground than an actual toilet…I am NOT, however, looking forward to the lack of TP at public restrooms…that’s kind of super 麻烦 máfan…and cannot deny that I am very very happy that our apartments will have Western toilets…

Chopsticks!  I learned how to use chopsticks as a girl scout when I was about ten.  I haven’t used them with much frequency since because I mean, America is forks aplenty, but I am fully of the opinion that food (that is not soup…) is more fun when eaten with them.  Also, my mum got me this really beautiful set of colored ones for Christmas this past year:

pretty, no?

…and I’m excited to use them more often.  Would it be super lame for me to make a chopstick holster so that I can carry them around to restaurants?  Probably…I’d also probably stab myself with them…

Traveling!  ZJG is fairly close to Suzhou, which is supposed to be gorgeous and has been called “the Venice of the East”.  I’m hoping that I can travel a bit further too, I would love to go back to Yunnan province and seriously any place with mountains.  I was absolutely in heaven every time we went through hilly/mountainy places last time I was in China.

Another weird thing that I’m kind of excited about is joining the gym in ZJG.  Everyone I’ve talked to from there or blog posts I’ve read about ZJG talk about how nice the gym is, haha.  I’ve never belonged to a gym before since A, I dance nearly every night of the week and B, I’m a chicken when it comes to public places where you have to ask people how things work…BUT, I think in this case, I will be less embarrassed to ask people about stuff around the gym because it will be a good way to practice my Chinese, and if it’s a dumb question that I’m asking, I can pretend that I meant to ask something completely different but that it came out wrong with my Chinese!

Things that I am nervous about:

Teaching!  I’m excited, but I’ve been doing such an opposite-type job for the last two years and I keep forgetting that oh right, I’m no longer going to be behind a computer this year, but in front of a classroom full of kids…who will be trying to speak to me in my native tongue…possibly poorly…and instead of laughing at how adorable their grammar structures are, I will have to criticize them.  I’m so very bad at criticism!

Bikes!  I know I’m probably going to get one because it’s going to be the easiest way to get places, but 嗳呀 àiyā am I scared of biking in places where there are cars….and this is gonna be ten times the amount of cars than I’m used to, driving mostly without the rules I’m used to cars following…

Bartering!  I hate this, I realized I hated it less than I thought I was going to when I went last time, but still, I would rather pay an extra dollar than have to argue for ten minutes over a pair of socks and worry whether or not I got ripped off.  I do recall it being slightly fun on some occasions because it felt kinda cool to bring something down in price even if you probably could have brought it down even cheaper, but it’s definitely not on the first list of things I’m super excited about

Cell phones and banks…I’m not really sure why, but I get confused any time I read about how the systems work in China.  These are already on my list of things I will be asking friends to help me with….


I will probably think of about million more things I’m excited/nervous about, but for now, I’m excited about my cast coming off in 3 more days!  Irish dance camp!  Annnnnd, most of all, my brother’s wedding!

Some good news!

My visa has arrived!  This is beyond exciting because there was about a week where my adviser wasn’t sure if the government in my province was going to allow my school to send an application for my visa and I am very happy to now be holding it in my hand!

My cast (fingers crossed) is coming off in 9 days!

Not only is there a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Shanghai, but also Gaelic Society.  In addition to these, which were already fun news, there is also an all Chinese “Irish Tap” group called “Celtic Storm”!

St. Patrick's Day parade in Shanghai

Path which led to this information:  One of the founders of Chinesepod is from Dublin and started the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Shanghai (Chinesepod headquarters are in Shanghai).  So I googled the parade, which lead me to the Gaelic society, which then inspired me to email the president of the Gaelic society to see if, perhaps, she happened to know of any Irish dancers in Shanghai that I could swap steps or even just dinner with.

I received a very very happy response.  She told me that she was copying the president of Celtic Storm on her email, and also that “there’s an Irish pub, ‘Blarney Stone’ in Dongping Lu, where there’s great Irish music every evening except Tuesday.”

I die.  Then immediately look up Celtic Storm.  Apparently, the group formed and learned to dance from Riverdance dvds.  I would normally be wary of this because of a less-than-accurate reenactment that one of my ballet schools did when I was 12 of Riverdance after my ballet teacher had watched the dvd (granted, it was equal parts how-is-this-irish-dance, equal parts fun…aaand she taught Russian ballet, so she blended some of the Russian dancers’ choreography from the dvd in with the “Irish” stuff…) .  However, as I read further, I saw that Celtic Storm had met the cast of Riverdance when they toured in China, and that the director was impressed.  Whether or not Bill Whedon really was impressed or not is beside the point because I’m fairly confident that they at least were/are twenty billion steps ahead of my 12 year old dance recital.

SO what’s even more exciting, is that the president of Celtic Storm emailed me back.  And said that he would “arrange my colleagues in the dance group to meet take you to our training and introduce you to the group members”, that ZJG is not too far from Shanghai by train so I could easily drop by on the weekends, and that, dance aside, he’d love to help me as a friend if I needed anything.  Sooo, not only do I potentially have an Irish dance group to dance with, but also both a reason, direction and friends to visit in Shanghai!

This is exciting on about a billion levels.  It’s exciting because I may be dancing in a parade on St. Patrick’s day…in China…It’s exciting because it’s an all Chinese group, so potentially I could learn some Chinese vocabulary for teaching Irish dance, and in this regard, use it when teaching students in ZJG…pluuuus, it would be cool, if I really do get excited students, to bring my Irish dance students from ZJG to Shanghai to dance in the parade or to meet Celtic Storm.

I mean, how much more exciting can this get??  Of course, I’m getting kind of waaay ahead of myself seeing as I first off, am not even in China yet and don’t know how my (and any potential Irish dance students’) schedules, transportation etc will work, and second, I don’t actually have Irish dance students there yet…but still, it’s an overflowing ocean of opportunity and I can’t wait to see how it pans out!

Some words to leave you with:

踢踏舞 tītàwǔ : tap dance (kick, stomp, dance)

建力士 Jiànlìshì : Guinness…FUN note on this one, if anyone knows the history of Guinness advertising, “Guinness for strength” was one of them.  The literal translation of Jiànlìshì is 建 jiàn (to build/construct) 力士 lìshì (a strong man)

爱尔兰 ài’ěrlán : Ireland

The other culture predominant in my life : Irish dancing

I have been resisting the urge to flood this blog with Irish dance information…I will continue to force my focus on China, but since Irish dancing takes up a good third of my life and I fully plan on attempting to teach it whilst in ZJG, I must give an introduction.

I started Irish dancing when I was 13ish.

My dance school circa the millenniumish...before digital cameras became popular so photos had to be scanned into the computer...

I had taken ballet lessons since I was three, but having recently seen Riverdance from the third row, I immediately said yes please when my friend asked if I would be interested in joining a new Irish dance school that was opening in my town.  I will always have a soft spot for ballet, and truly love nearly every kind of dance form, but Irish dance is my passion.  For the first few years, I was mostly excited about learning new group dances and performing at recitals, festivals, sports events and parades.  I started competing, and kept doing so in the summers when I came back from college, but never set any particularly lofty goals for myself.

In college, I wanted to start a team, and found that several people were interested, one girl in particular who was a championship dancer herself.  Although the rest of the interest we got that year and the years to come were nearly all beginners, they were the most enthusiastic and joyful bunch of dancers one could ever ask for and they continue to create, rehearse, perform and laugh together even after I’ve graduated.  I couldn’t be more grateful to them.

These crazy kids...

Upon returning home, I attempted to take what is basically the LSATs of the Irish dance world (the TCRG teaching certification test) and while I passed several sections, I very fortunately did not pass them all.  Fortunate, because it allowed me the opportunity to push myself towards those lofty goals I hadn’t thought much of before, which I now realized were more like essentials to one who wishes to become a true Irish dance teacher.

Incredibly, that year my Irish dance school joined up with another school in order to focus more on competitions, and we also gained an outstanding champion Irish dancer who was about my age and also pursuing becoming a teacher.  With the combined help of my incredible first teacher, new insights from the teacher from the school we’d joined with, inspiration and encouragement from the recently arrived champion and a personal newfound determination, I was finally able to achieve championship level within another year.

The final trophy needed to move up...also, this is what we wear in competition...I could write an entire post on why...

Of course, after pushing myself farther than I thought was possible and learning things I never thought I’d be able to learn, the first three competitions that I tried at Championship level made me realize that I still had even more that I could and wanted to learn.  But that adventure will just have to wait until my foot has decided to properly and completely mend.


When I have healed, I would very much like to train hard in China so that I can compete when I come home next summer.  I will also be training to re-take the parts of the TCRG test that I didn’t pass the first time at the exams in October.  And finally, I would like to heal fully so that I can try to teach anyone who would like to learn while I’m in China!

Where I’m at, would like to and will be

Before I head over to China, I figured I ought to illuminate both everyone reading this, and to be honest, myself, more clearly on why I’m going to China.  I stopped writing in pen and ink journals a few years back because, well, to be honest I’m not really sure.  But I really wish that I hadn’t, because within a year, I meet tons of fascinating people, a million and a half events happen and I go through about a billion and a half new thoughts and emotions…seeing as I have the memory of a squirrel, it almost ought to be mandatory that I put said people/events/thoughts to paper at least once a week.  Apologies in advance for the length…

Where I’m at

I am 24.  This means that I’ve had the past two years to start learning how to function as an adult after being dependent on my parents and status as a student for 22 years, but am still young enough that I can be unsettled for a few more years before having to figure out how to function as a completely independent adult…point being, it’s the exact perfect time to move to China for a year.

I live at home with my parents.  This has been amazing because my parents are two of the most incredibly supportive, patient, fun and loving people ever.  I’m not just saying that because they can read this either, I’m one of those kids that was truly blessed to get great parents and coming back from college to live with them again has been wonderful, but now sad because I have to get used to missing them all over again!

I’ve spent the past two years going on adventures with them, getting to know the company where my dad works better because I’ve been working there (my previous understanding of his job was limited to, “something to do with plastic, purchasing and international business trips”) and having long talks every night with my mum before bed while Trooper tries to interrupt our conversation with loud squeaking of the “dog toy crushed between mandibles repeatedly” variety and Archie slays us with looks and sparky attitude…

I mean seriously...slays

I’m not afraid to go on adventures without my parents, but I will absolutely be thinking of and missing their commentary and company in China and can’t wait for them to visit!

I work at Welch Allyn.  Again, the company my dad works for.  I don’t work in the same building as him, but it’s still just ten minutes away from the house (I am not a morning person so this is heavenly and I will absolutely miss having a job so close to home in the future if I eventually have a longer commute).

It’s a lovely company to work for, full of engineers of the software, hardware, electrical and mechanical variety, business-type people, lazy people, fascinatingly smart people, confusingly smart people, helpful people, scary people, all sorts.

I would say that it’s a typical workplace, but I honestly have no idea.  My past jobs have been organist, dog walker and dance teacher…not so much your typical workplaces.

It took me a while to get used to it (A large majority of the people who work here are older, of the opposite gender and have actual backgrounds in engineering/business), but now that I have a handle on how things work, who’s who and what questions to ask, I’m really going to miss it.

So what is my current job exactly?  If I have to give a simple answer, I now say “Software Test Engineer”.  If I have to elaborate a bit, I say that I test the software on medical devices to make sure everything runs correctly by writing and running protocols.  If you had asked me 6 months ago, you would have heard quite a lot of stuttering.  I’ve pretty much spent the last two years learning how the company is run, what types of products we make and test, learning how to use the equipment we use to test things, and doing whatever I can to be helpful.

Much to my delight, I have actually been able to use my Chinese here.  They eventually translated the device I’ve been testing into Chinese…

This guy...

and I was able to help out with the characters and to run our basic suite of tests in Chinese just to have a record of it.  SO much fun.

The first boss that I had here had the incredible perception and confidence in me to realize that I could figure out how to exist and be helpful here, and for that, I cannot be grateful enough.  When I first started the job, I couldn’t wait to move on to a new job and any time my dad asked me “would you ever consider working full-time for Welch Allyn?” I scoffed and said that would be ridiculous, I would hate it and why would they ever want to hire me anyway?  About a year or so later when I shockingly was asked by my boss if I might consider staying, it actually ended up being a very hard decision.

Where I would like to be

Why am I now heading to China?  Because when it comes down to it, I majored in Eastern Asian Studies, I’m not ready to settle down yet, not sure where I’d even want to settle down, and will probably not be happy wondering whether or not I could have actually become fluent at Chinese if I don’t take the opportunity now.

So I’m heading to China basically to see where it takes me and to attempt to become fluent at the language.  I have studied on my own, but never really allowed myself to get anywhere because I’ve been too afraid to open my mouth and make a mistake.  So, I’m going to move to a place where everyone around me speaks the language and force myself to start making mistakes until I finally make sense of things.  From there, I’ll stage new goals.

Where exactly in China?  Zhangjiagang in Jiangsu province.  It’s about an hour or so from Shanghai and a few other bigger cities and from what I’ve read from people who have lived there, it’s a smaller city that is very very clean.  Sounds nice to me because, being so close to other big cities, I can still have a chance to experience the cities but will live in a less smog-in-my-face place that’s perhaps a bit quieter?

What will I be doing there?  Learning and teaching.  My job is as an English teacher at a foreign language boarding school.

Main square of the school campus

I don’t know what age of students I will have until I get there (anything between K and 12), but I’m supposed to be teaching conversational English and I will also be tutoring.  Right now, I already have two Korean siblings that I’m going to be tutoring 5 times a week.  I’m excited, but since I’ve never really tutored before, super anxious.  I’m hoping that I will find someone to trade English for Chinese lessons with too.

One more very concrete goal:  I would like to open up an Irish dance school.  I’m very much flexible on the where and when this will happen, but no matter what I end up deciding to do after my time in China, an Irish dance school will definitely be worked into the mix.  I fully plan on attempting to teach lessons to anyone who would like to learn while I’m in China as well.  There is currently an Irish dance school in Beijing, Hong Kong and Taipei and Riverdance and Lord of the Dance have toured all over China numerous times so I’m hoping there will be interest!

A little background on my background in Chinese…

**Note, I’m going to try to update the glossary with each entry, so I may not always define certain words/ideas in the entry itself, check the glossary!**

This is somewhat of a disclaimer to anyone who doesn’t know me.

Yes, I majored in Cultural Area Studies with a focus on Mandarin.

Yes I have been studying Chinese for the past 6 years.

But no, I by no means consider myself to be proficient or fluent.

I have been interested in languages since I was little, and have played with dozens of different language computer programs to sample hundreds of languages (my favorites being German, Korean, Danish and Irish).  When I first visited the College of Wooster, I actually sat in on a Russian class (wherein the only word I recall was for flip flops, which sounded something like “vietnamkah” to me).  I chose Wooster because it had a little bit of everything and I planned on sampling a little bit of everything while pursuing a Music Education major.  I quickly discovered after a single semester of Music Ed. classes that I loved music too much to frustrate myself over it through this particular path of intensive study and retreated from all further music classes except for Basic Repertoire (the most wonderful class ever) and piano and organ lessons.

I digress.

Instead of starting my class sampling with Russian that first semester, I had instead decided to try Chinese first as my dad had gone on several business trips to Singapore and China.

I adored it.  Unfortunately, music is one of those things that comes naturally to me but that I hate studying, whereas language is quite the opposite.  Having toughed out 5 years of Latin, I was well versed in the ability to take hits from a language and continue loving it, and I expected a similar experience with Chinese.  I was not let down.  Chinese was by no means easy, however I did find that the visual of the characters and the lack of conjugations, genders and extensive grammar romance languages tend to possess, actually made it somewhat mercifully easier.  (Case in point, I tried to take a semester of Spanish my senior year of college made it through about a week and a half of conjugations before saying adios…the word that I took from that sampling was, for whatever reason, “puertorriqueñas”)

At any rate, for me, having a visual character as well as a written spelling and visual of the tone via its pinyin for each word helps me retain it immensely.   Of course, it also makes for those frustrating moments where you might be able to look at a string of characters someone hands you and be able to tell them exactly what it means but can’t remember the pinyin to say it out loud.  Or the other extreme, where you see a string of characters or pinyin and can pronounce it out loud perfectly but have no idea what it says.

So how would I describe my level of Chinese? 

I am somewhere between an elementary and intermediate.  When it comes to reading and listening, my biggest problem is that if I get hung-up on one word I don’t know, it makes me confused for the rest of the paragraph that I’m trying to read, or I don’t hear the end of a sentence because I’m still trying to figure that word out.

Chinese is very contextual and native/fluent speakers like to leave out a lot of words because if you know the context, you really only needed those few words.  That’s one of the incredible things about the language, that so much meaning can be packed into just a few words.  But it makes it very difficult when you’re still trying to learn and need all the context and extra support words that you can get!

The other problem that I have in studying language is that I absolutely will not recall something that I learned unless I use and continue to use it right away.  I understand most grammar structures, and when reading or listening can figure them out, but when trying to reproduce them…they just don’t stick.

So my Chinese is not currently great.  But you know what I’m predicting?  I’m predicting that my Chinese will develop like my driving skills did.  I was a horrible horrible driver pretty much up until last year when I got my first vehicle (little blue truck!).  Horrible to the point that I already feared for my future children, worrying that I wouldn’t be able to drive them to all of their extracurriculars because I would still be a horrible driver.  But then I started driving more and more and getting used to more and more circumstances and suddenly I was fine.

I think it’s just a matter of having the confidence to use the skills you already possess, if you hesitate, you could cause an accident.  So I’m hoping that after a year of causing a few minor accidents, I will finally become confidant enough to realize that I possess a whole lot more knowledge than I think and from there, I can really start learning!

My favorite character : 飕  Sōu : the sound of wind, and pretty much most other characters with the wind radical (风 fēng) and/or that pertain to onomatopoeia

My favorite Chinese word to say : 冰淇淋 bīngqílín : Ice Cream

My least favorite words to pronounce : 出去 chūqu : to go out, and 热 rè : hot

My favorite set of similar looking/sounding characters :

  • 辛苦 xīnkǔ – hard, with difficulty
  • 幸福 xìngfú – blessed, happiness

My least favorite characters (I have an entire spreadsheet of them, here are just four sets of examples):

  • 师 shī : teacher
  • 帅 shuài : handsome
  • 市 shì : city
  • 布 bù : cloth
  • 蓝 lán : blue
  • 盐 yán : salt
  • 篮 lán : basket, goal
  • 晚上 wánshang : night
  • 网上 wángshàng : online
  • 知道 zhīdào : to know
  • 直到 zhídào : up until

A few websites that I have found helpful:

www.yellowbridge.com – my favorite online Chinese dictionary, especially because it shows the etymology of each character as well!  Plus it has some invaluable flashcard sets for the HSK/Huayu tests, common radicals and dozens of common Chinese textbooks

www.chinesepod.com – if you’re currently stuck in not China and want to study Chinese, this is the best source ever.  It is full of podcasts chocked full of stories, dialogues and grammar of all levels with vocabulary reviews, forums to discuss each lesson, quizzes and additional sentences for each lesson as well as supplementary audio reviews.  SO worth the money.