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Photo by Kate Gross-Whitaker

Ka Fei Guan Adventure

[Dear reader, the following conversations were (mostly) in Chinese.]

Julia: Ok so the point of the game is that you want to be the first settler to reach 10 points. You can earn points in a lot of different ways, but they all boil down to getting the 资源 (resources; Lesson 5) that you want.

Ben: To start the game you can place two 小村子 (villages; a word we learned while staying in the rural village of 邦东) and 两条路 (two roads). If your village is adjacent to a resource area you can pick up that resource card. You can use resources to building things like new 村子, 路, or 城市 (cities). If your city is adjacent to a resource area you can pick up two of that resource card.


Ben: How do you say “or” in Chinese? Chris & Julia: 或者 (Or).

Ben: Does anyone have any 或者? Chris & Julia: ????

*Ben points at the quarry tile* Julia: Ohhh, do you mean “ore”?

*Checks Pleco, the lovely Chinese-English dictionary*

Julia: It says 矿 (Ore; Not in a lesson, but definitely not forgetting that one).


Ben: I’ll give you ONE ore, or ONE wheat, for a sheep.

Chris: *Thinks about it*

Julia: No!! Don’t give it to Ben! *turns to teachers* Ben’s about to win, so we need to 阻碍 (impede; Lesson 7) his development.

*Chris laughs and turns down Ben’s trade deal* Julia: Phew.


(Julia) Language class is three hours each morning, Tuesdays through Fridays. Each class I submerge into a sea of new vocabulary. You know the feeling when you’re wading through water, how you have to will yourself to move each small step forward? Each time I try to recall a new vocab word, it feels like that. I’m never sure if I’m properly absorbing the things covered in class.

Today’s class was different — we stepped out of textbook learning for our first class excursion. We walked down 文化香, to Salvador’s coffeeshop. Our teachers guided us through reading the menu. They stacked our textbooks on the table, then took a bathroom break. That’s when we spotted Settlers of Catan on the bookshelf.

Our teachers came back to the stack of textbooks topped by a Settlers of Catan box. We wanted to play, they wanted to learn how to play, and so our game began.

I didn’t learn any new words or grammar structures today. What I did learn, is that I am learning.


(Chris) The outing had been a pleasant change of pace for all of us. Not only was the location a refreshing variation on our typical morning, but some smaller luxuries – a morning walk, a vanilla latte (香草拿铁 xiangcao natie), a Catan set – were magnified in appeal cause of their rarity in our current lives; by 11:30 am, we weren’t ready for it to end, especially as a new game of Catan had just fired up. Interestingly enough, our instructors were also at the coffee shop (咖啡馆 kafei guan; my new favorite word) – we had seen the two of them stroll in around 10:30 am.

“Hey, should we ask Jesse and Ling (our instructors) if we can stay here for lunch so we can finish this Catan game?” I volunteered to Julia and Ben. We were supposed to be meeting the rest of our classmates for lunch in just a few minutes, but I wasn’t so keen on abandoning the comfort of the coffee shop.

*didn’t hear me the first time*

“Hey, should we ask Jesse and Ling (our instructors) if we can stay here for lunch so we can finish this Catan game?” I tried again.

“Uh, sure… go for it? Probably won’t work though”, one of them responded.

That was all the encouragement I needed. I hurried down to where I hoped our instructors were still sitting. Fortunately, they hadn’t left yet either.

“Yo… can we just have lunch here instead of meeting up with the rest of the group? We just started another game of Catan with our teachers and I think they kinda want to finish”, I tried.

I can’t recall exactly what Jesse’s response was, but I do know that it consisted of some laughter and an eventual “no”.

Thinking aloud I replied, “well that sucks. Would it have worked if we had sent Julia?” I hadn’t really meant to say that, but to my surprise, our instructors replied with a casual “yeah, probably”.

Once again, that was all the encouragement I had needed. I hurried back upstairs and told Julia to give it a try.

Of course, it didn’t ever end up working. But it was still a funny memory for a fun day. 🙂


Ben: *looking at the menu*: oooh, they have pomelo tea (柚子茶)! I love pomelos! Alas, it’s 30 RMB, maybe I’ll opt for an Americano (美式咖啡; literally, American-style coffee) instead, it’s cheaper.