Just an ordinary girl's life

Post HSK3 reflections

Of all the things the I was expecting to happen for HSK, arriving late at the test definitely wan’t one of them.

Oh. Well.


Considering that I’m never ever late (not for trains/planes, not for tests, not for doctor appointments, again, never), this feels even more ridiculous. There have been a number of factors working against me and all independent from my control – but anyway, this is what happened. Which means that I lost the first 10 questions of the listening part.

I lost more than that actually, because by the time I was sitting in the class I was so angry and dumbfounded that I found it very hard to focus on the ongoing audio track.

So, yeah. That didn’t go well.

I won’t deny it, I was extremely disappointed at how things turned out – I’ve been talking about taking HSK3 for almost two years now, and this definitely wasn’t the way I wanted it to unfold. It was supposed to be a rewarding and exciting experience, and it was not.

Anyway. I’ll get the score that I get, and move on. The significant other encouraged me to consider whether it could be worth taking it a second time, but regardless of the outcome I’ve decided against it. Right now I don’t have the right mindset to prepare for it again, and I’d rather focus on the next target than sulk over it.

So, drama and incidents apart. How was the test?

Well, I can say that I found it exactly the way I expected it to be – doable but still challenging. Reading was ok, characters ok, writing ok even though there was a sentence to reorder that caught me slightly off guard (something that never happened while I was doing the mock tests).

Listening was hard, and I’m not surprised. Partly because as I said I wasn’t exactly calm and focused enough for it, partly because listening is always difficult for me. I’ve improved a lot, this I can say, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

In general, HSK3 is where things start getting serious. By this time I think people start to decide whether they want to keep studying the language or not. Since there’s no pinyin in the paper and you also have to write characters, you either are in or out. I noticed a lot of improvements in my language level while studying for this test – 600 characters is not huge but they definitely can bring you much further than the 300 of HSK2.

Overall I enjoyed immensely studying for this test and, even if the experience has been a bit unfortunate this year, I absolutely haven’t lost my motivation in keep studying Chinese. I’m getting close to feel more confident with the language, and I love it even more than before. I’ve been preparing a HSK3 study resources blog post for quite some time now – I don’t know whether I’ll be able to complete it before new year since I’m quite busy these days, but in case you’re interested wait for it because it’s coming out sooner or later.

Next target now is HSK4 in 2 years time. I’ll take care of getting to the venue at least an hour earlier next time, that’s for sure!


HSK3 -1 day

So here we are. The day before the infamous test 🙂

I feel pretty relaxed about it, mostly because I’ve been doing a few mock tests these last few days and I know exactly were I stand. I also know what I need to work more on from, like, Sunday onwards. Well, maybe not Sunday. I think I’m going to take a day off from Chinese this weekend 😛

As I shared on Instagram, I decided not to overdo it today – there’s no point really, it’s not like you can become proficient if you cram everything in the last week before the exam. Plus I honestly don’t have any kind of pressure – it’s just something I do for fun, because I like it and I want a system to evaluate my progresses (especially now that I’m self studying).

I made a lot of mistakes in this almost 2 years of preparation but I’ve also learnt a lot from them and this is what matters the most to me. I’m definitely going to do better for HSK4, it still won’t be perfect, but definitely better 🙂

There will be posts on the overall HSK3 experience and HSK resources for study and preparation in the upcoming days/weeks. December is always a busy busy month for us Christmas-celebrating people, but I’ll make sure to find the time anyway.

For all of you who are going to take HSK, TOPIK, JLPT or any other language test during this weekend/month: good luck!!


The future of my language learning after HSK3


I haven’t even taken the test yet, but of course I’m here already planning and scheming on what to do next. It wouldn’t be me otherwise 😛

So, what happens after Saturday? Well, I’m going to take a little break, that’s for sure. I’m not going to stop studying languages because I know it would become super hard to pick them up again, but since I have a lot going on right now I feel like I need to take a step back and re-evaluate.

So, for Chinese. I don’t know what my performance with HSK3 will be of course, but I honestly doubt I’ll flunk it. Which means that the next target would be HSK4, which hopefully I’ll be able to prepare in two years (my plan would be to take it in December 2020, since this one would have been expired by then). Hopefully I’ve learnt enough from my mistakes this year and this would be doable 😅

This said, I want to take things a little bit further with my Chinese study. Ok textbooks and whatnot, but I also want to establish a more broad study practice and routine. I would especially like to start using the internet more, both as a source of listening and reading practice. It’s free, what more could I want from the universe?

Then, Japanese. I really, really want to start back seriously with it. I miss studying it and I’ve been feeling an increasing longing for it in the last couple of years, especially when I happen to stumble upon it (people talking down the street, ramen package instructions, dramas on Netflix and so on).

I don’t know yet how I’m going to manage studying two such intensive-labour languages at the same time – if there’s something I learnt this year is that studying takes time, a lot of time actually. I barely managed to find enough of it for Chinese, so it’s definitely going to be a challenge. But I feel motivated enough to do it.

I would probably have to change my overall attitude towards it – less ‘scholastic’ and more real-life and personal-interests prone. I have a huge variety of resources to use to make it more fun and interesting – I just need to be less strict and start enjoying myself (and the languages) more.

So no, I’m not going to study any languages on Sunday 👻 but I’ll be back to it on Monday, you can be sure of that!


HSK3 impressions beforehand

I’ve been doing quite a few mock tests in preparation for next Saturday, and these are my first impressions / expectations on how the exam is going to be:

  1. listening. This remains the hardest part for me. I practiced quite a lot in the last few months (though maybe not in the most efficient way) and, yes, I can see a certain improvement – but it’s still the bit I feel less confident about. I’m usually able to catch the keywords within the dialogues, which allows me to pick the right answer most of the time, but I know I will have to work more on this skill in the future.
  2. reading. Doable, but a bit trickier than expected. I tend to slip in 2/3 stupid mistakes that could be totally avoidable if i just paid more attention to the question. Also, sometimes I find a word that wasn’t on the official word list – so I can just pray this doesn’t happen in the actual test.
  3. writing. Based on the exam drills I’ve practiced with so far, this seems to be the easiest part (it’s also the one that gives less points). The ‘reorganise the sentence’ exercise is usually pretty straightforward, and the characters you’re supposed to write by hand are among the easiest (but I still managed to write 运 instead of 云 the other day, ha!). Just hoping I won’t be asked to write 葡萄. That would be interesting.


So, overall I think I can pass this test without too much stress. Whether or not I’ll do it well, that’s another story. But right now I’m super impatient to get myself tested and see what my actual Chinese level is!

Is it just me, or Google Keep is working like Sh*T?

I’ve been using Google Keep for a while now, and in the course of 2018 it has become one of the few apps left in the digital section of my planning workflow.

The reasons why I like it are obvious: integration with the Google ecosystem, easy and quick capture ability, post-it like format, sync available across platforms. They’ve also polished its look recently, which makes it prettier and sleeker.

This said, since I’ve started using it intensively, I immediately started noticing a few not insignificant glitches:

  1. the reminder function is absolutely not reliable, which doesn’t seem like a good starting point for someone who wants to use the app as a proper task manager. One day I open my Reminders section, and all the due dates set up for each card are gone. Completely. This has happened at least twice since June, and I find it ridiculous and absolutely unacceptable, since I was using Keep as a sort of calendar and all my appointments were recorded only there. Of course after the second time I transferred all my reminders to another app (namely, iCal and Apple Reminders) and I swore not to trust it anymore – but, seriously, wtf Google?
  2. every time I upload a picture from iOS, the iPhone photoroll freezes and I have to force quite the app and then reopen it again. It could be an iPhone problem of course, but since I upload pictures on a lot of other apps (Trello, Evernote, DayOne) and I never have issues, I think my suspicion is valid.
  3. some note re-arrange themselves by adding checkboxes or interspaces I didn’t put in there in the first place. This happens especially when working on notes on one platform (i.e. on the mac), but they were created on another (ex., iPhone). It’s not a major issues of course (though it is irritating), but it is definitely one more example of how things are not working properly here.
  4. some emoji don’t show on the iMac (but I can see them on the iPhone app), while on the Mac it displays other that I didn’t select. Again, not major issue. Again, it goes to show how things are not working the way they’re supposed to work.

Then today I started experiencing major sync issues between the mobile app and the iMac. I was trying to upload the screenshot of the bus route I should follow to reach the Confucius Institute and this is what it has been showing for the last 6/7 hours:

(Also please notice the checkboxes: I didn’t put them in there).

I’m actually pretty fed up by this. I was really happy to have found a new digital task manager (after the sad debacle of Wunderlist) that I could use across platforms and that didn’t have the restrictions of traditional task managers. But this is becoming unnerving, and even more so since Google is not exactly and obscure developer. Has anyone experienced similar issues lately?


大家好!It’s been a while 🙂 Life has been busy (when isn’t) and there has been just a lot going on with the new house and the new city and HSK and everything else.

I have been fairly active on Instagram, and if you want to catch up with my musings on how things have been going with my Chinese studies you can find those here. But I never intended for Instagram to take the place of my blog, so I’m ready to get back to the good old habit of writing about my Chinese adventures.

So after having talked about it for almost two years, I’m now on the brink of finally taking HSK3. I am scared as much as thrilled, but all in all I can’t wait to have it done.

I’m going to be absolutely honest with you: I’m not completely prepared for this exam. I’d say I’m 65/70% ready. Which is good enough at the moment, though the perfectionist that is in me can’t help but feel a bit disappointed.

There are a number of reasons for this, and the number one is that self-studying a language is damn hard. I deeply underestimated how difficult it actually is to devise and follow a clear and logic study plan, and how easy it is instead to think you’re doing a lot we’re you are actually not doing that much.

I struggled a lot in learning both how and what to study,  which means a lot of the time I spent on books and other resources didn’t give back the expected results.

If I could go back I’d do so many things differently – but to be completely honest right now I’m much more interested in what I can do next than in looking back. Seems like I learnt something at least 😅

If there’s one thing I’m super proud about is that I didn’t chickened out and registered for the exam anyway, even if I knew I couldn’t do as good at the last time. Again, for one like me that always wants to have top marks and be the first in her class, this is a huge huge improvement.

I guess my focus and interest is now much less academic and much more towards the real language. And I have to say that now that I’ve mastered at least 600 characters I can see a huge difference in my understanding level when I read things written in Chinese. This is giving me the main boost to keep going and start seriously using the language, not just studying it.

There will be other posts on the whole HSK3 experience of course, for now I just wanted to check in and let everyone know that I’m alive and well 🙂


PS: I’m about to finish watching Black and I can say that after a slow start it has picked up a lot!

{Books} Choosing a fantasy reading for Christmas time

Though I’m often quite random in my reading picks, in my mind I have a sort of seasonal rotation that I follow to a certain extent every year:

  1. winter = classics or contemporary narrative
  2. spring = manga and anime (lol, they’re not books I know XD see this post)
  3. summer = science fiction and cyberpunk
  4. autumn = East Asian authors
  5. Christmas = fantasy

(because Christmas is a separate season in my world, yes)

So now that days are short again, my living rooms smells like vanilla and cardamon for all the candles I’m burning, and Marks & Spencer has started displaying the first gingerbread men boxes, I feel like it’s about time to choose my fantasy reading(s) for this Christmas season.

We have quite a few options, yes.


  1. A Game of Thrones saga. I guess I’m the only one who hasn’t watched the tv series yet, and the reason is that I want to read the books first. I read the first one back in 2011 (Italian edition, which was published in smaller-size books – in short, a hot mess) and then for some weird reason never followed up with it. Since then we have snatched this massive ad quite luxurious edition, which is alluring enough to give me the motivation to fall down the rabbit hole again.
  2. A good deal of Tolkien paraphernalia. Because, seriously. It’s been a while since I read my last Tolkien (2008? 2009?) and there have been quite a few new publications since then. Time to fill in the gap.
  3. The Princess Bride. I’m ashamed to admit that, despite it being one of my Christmas classic movies, I only recently discovered it is based on a book. Which I promptly bought, and then (*surprise surprise*) never read. Will this finally be the right time?
  4. The mists of Avalon. One of my favourite books EVAH. I love it to bits and since it’s already a couple of years since I read it last, I would absolutely love to find the time to give it a second go.


These are all pretty chunky books (as the genre requires), so I doubt I’ll be able to give myself to all of them [though that would be the perfect way to wrap up this 2018]. I’ll do my best and then I’ll leave everything I can’t manage to read for next Christmas 🎅🏻


Chinese Summer Goals Review


Good news: during the months of August and September (so far) I’ll be following meticulously my summer study plan, and I’ve also tracked and evaluated my progresses in my planner.

Bad news: I’m behind on all accounts, meaning, I have completed not a single task on my list ._.

Breaking it down:

  1. finish one audio course: I completed the first round, which was listening to the first 15 tracks of Learn Chinese 888, and I’m about halfway through the second phase (reviewing the notes and transcript from the dialogues). I haven’t completed the third phase, which is listening to all the track a second time and see how much (if?) I’ve improved my comprehension.
  2. review all HSK 3 words and characters: about halfway through it. I started well and strong but then slowed down a lot. As usual, the first 200 characters are much easier to review than the following 400.
  3. finish studying all A2 grammar points on Chinese Grammar Wiki: this is the goal I failed the most at, I think I’m not even at a third of the process. It takes a lot of time and a lot of focus, and I realised I can’t deal with more than 3/4 grammar points a day.

Now, I’ve been in Italy during the last 10 days so I would had probably accomplished more if I had been home instead, but I still wouldn’t have completed everything on the list.

What is good about this is that it’s super helpful to realise how much I can actually get done in a week/month. Plus I’m super happy that, even if I didn’t complete it, I was able for once to follow a clear, goal-oriented study plan.

So now: today is the first day of fall (YAY!), and we’re also slightly more than 2 months away from the test. My plan is:

  • in this last 7 days of September, focus on finishing the listening course (notes and audio tracks) + the wordlist. I want to have all the characters reviewed thoroughly at least once and then keep them fresh until the exam;
  • from October 1st (marking exactly 2 months before HSK 3), start with a proper fall study plan – which will probably be divided in two (a plan for October and a plan for November). It will have its own post of course.

I’m still overall happy about the progresses I’m making, but time is passing fast and I need to start thinking about wrapping things up, which is kind of scary. It is also true that pressure can be a quite valid form of motivation 😅


Back home & the status of my Language Learning

It’s 7:10am and I’m sitting at my desk with a cup of steaming herbal tea and a blanket.

When we left Florence yesterday afternoon it was about 32 degrees Celsius. By the time we landed in Edinburgh, it was 8° with strong western winds and pounding rain. Ha!

Feels good to be home anyway.

While I was in Italy language learning wasn’t exactly my focus (stuffing my mouth with delicious fruits and veggies and seafood was – though for some reason I didn’t have a single ice cream 😟 NO. FREAKING. WAY.), but I haven’t let it slip away either. I’ve maintained my 189-day streak on Duolingo [kinda proud of it if I do say so myself] and I’ve also been fairly active on Instagram this time, which is something I don’t do for likes and followers but rather to keep myself accountable/inspired/motivated.

So this has been my study routine/attempt while I was away:

  1. as mentioned, I practiced Chinese Duolingo everyday. Sometimes I did just one lesson because I had too much of the rest going on, sometimes I managed to do 3 or four skills in a session. I found it to be a pretty useful resource for when I’m out and about and I don’t have either the time or the occasion to spread out dozens of notes and textbooks on my desk.
  2. for grammar and listening, I’ve re-started attending the HSK3 prep course on Coursera since I hadn’t finished it last time. I have to admit I’m already a week behind (😅😅😅), but I was nice to have a quick and easily accessible resource like this for those few times I felt like having a bit more in-depth study session.
  3. I also found some time to have a look at Chinese resources in a big bookshop downtown. I know that this doesn’t technically count as study activity, but considering how much I love books in general, browsing bookstores it’s always a good motivation boost for me – so it does count in a way.
  4. unfortunately, I haven’t studied a single word of Japanese while I was away. Considering that I had limited time and limited resources, I consciously decided to give priority to Chinese (only 72 days to HSK3!!!). I expect that less and less time would be devoted to Japanese from now to the date of the test, but I have plans for it once I’m finally done with HSK3.

There are a lot of things I want to do and I’m excited about this fall. I want to intensify my commitment to language learning in general, starting with doubling efforts for Chinese. In a couple of days I’ll post about how my summer goals went, what I want to do next and my fall study schedule. My to do list for the day is quite long so I’m happy I took advantage of my habit of waking up before 6:30am to write this blog post 🙂 #earlybirdpride

{Beauty} Summer skincare routine


护肤的时候!A few months ago I decided to try out some products from The Body Shop, which were light enough for the summer period [not that we have all that heatwave here in Scotland, but still]. I’m still on the lookout for the perfect skincare routine so I enjoy experimenting with different products from time to time.

As my 洁面乳 I’m still using a foam cleanser from Kiko Milano – foam cleansers are not the right product for my dry skin, but I still had one bottle left and I didn’t want to waste it. I also use this micellar water (which tbh is one of the best I’ve ever tried), the iconic COSRX snail mucin essence and a couple of other products (serum and eye cream) from Bottega Verde.

All these steps feel necessary since the foam cleanser dries out my skin quite a lot, but even though I really enjoy taking the time to pamper myself and take care of my skin, in the last few months I’ve started feeling like all this is a bit too much. Once I finish the foam cleanser I hope that my skin will feel much less dry and tight, and I’ll then be able to simplify and streamline my daily skincare process.

Back on topic, these are the products from The Body Shop that I’ve been using since May:

  1. Camomile gentle eye makeup remover – it’s really gentle on the eyes and has almost no scent, which is good – but I find it’s not quite enough to completely remove my eye makeup, even though I’m not using waterproof. I’d say that this is a nice pre-cleansing product, but I always need to use something else to remove my make up completely afterwards, plus I find that if you have a nice cleansing balm you really don’t need a product specific for the eye area. Nice but won’t repurchase.
  2. Camomile sumptuous cleansing balm – this is a really good cleansing balm, and honestly, I think it would have been one of my staples, if only. It comes in a velvety buttery consistency, it’s not greasy at all, and in contact with waters it becomes a gentle cream that is very easy to wash out. As I was saying, it’s a good product and I enjoyed using it – but just not as good as the Botanics Cleansing Balm. I’ll probably repurchase in the future, but for fall and winter I need something more dense.
  3. Vitamin E hydrating toner and Vitamin E aqua boost essence lotion – these products are fantastic and I will definitely repurchase them both. They are really hydrating and work wonders on my sky after using my not-so-gentle-for-dry-skin cleanser. The essence has a lovely milky consistency which makes it really easy to apply it on the skin directly with my fingers, and even the toner is slightly denser than the ones I’ve tried in the past. I’ve used it for the 7 skin method and I’ve been very pleased by the results.
  4. Vitamin E sink moisture sleeping mask – so, I’ve been willing to try out a sleeping mask for a very long time since I have pretty dry and tight skin (especially during very windy day – hello Scottish weather), and this one seemed perfect for the purpose. I can’t say I don’t like it – but I don’t love it either. I guess I was expecting a more heavy and greasy consistency (which is something people usually don’t like, but I do) since it’s a product that has to work during my sleep and has all nightime to sink in. I like it and I enjoy using it and I really really want to love it – but I don’t know if I can. I definitely want to try out something else before repurchasing.


Fall is approaching (can’t wait) and I’m super ready to put out my heavy oils and balms 🤣 I would also like to try out some new products from East Asia, but I still have to exactly figure out which retailers sell them in the Uk (Amazon hasn’t a much wide variety, unfortunately). If anyone has any suggestions in terms of both products and stores please let me know 🙂