Culture and cuisine are good reasons to learn Chinese, say foreign students While many foreigners rush to learn Chinese to gain an edge in the growing mainland market, Chinese philosophy and cuisine are also good reasons for many to learn the language. 'I'm very interested in Taoism's Lao Tsz and Chuang Tsz,' said American Brian Herczog, a one-year exchange student at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). 'Their thinking can solve many problems in western philosophy, especially metaphysics. 'But many translations of Chinese philosophy are very poor. The translators don't really understand the meaning. I want to learn Chinese so that one day I can read the original passages and get the real meaning.' The 22-year-old philosophy student started to learn Chinese 18 months ago at his university and continued when he came to Hong Kong in August. 'The most difficult part (of studying Chinese) is learning the characters. They look like a bunch of random lines and I have to memorise the random sounds of each of them! Even the simplest character is still very difficult,' said Mr Herczog. His hard work and talent was recognised in the recent Seventh Hong Kong Inter-Tertiary Institution Putonghua Recitation Contest held by the department of Chinese at the HKU every two years, aiming to boost university students' interest in learning Putonghua. Since more foreigners are learning the language, this year the contest has a new category for people whose mother tongue is not Chinese. Each participant had to recite a short passage or a poem. Mr Herczog was among 20 participants in the new category. He read his favourite - Chuang Tsz's Autumn Floods - which earned him the place of second runner-up. '(The competition) helped me because it forced me to check the meaning of every character in this well-known philosophy work and memorise it,' he said. Thirty-three-year-old South Korean Lee Eun Young who won the first runner-up in the competition said her biggest motivation for learning Chinese was food. 'I came to Hong Kong because my boyfriend worked here. But as I didn't have a job and I didn't want to waste my time, I thought I'd better learn something,' she said. 'I like Chinese cuisine but I couldn't read the Chinese recipes so I decided to learn the language two years ago.' Like Mr Herczog, she found Chinese characters difficult to memorise and she also realised that the grammar is quite different from Korean. 'In Korean, the verb is usually at the end of the sentence but it is not the same in Chinese,' she said. Speaking Putonghua quite fluently throughout the interview, Ms Lee added that she is planning to study Chinese cookery next. She hopes to open a Chinese restaurant in Korea or overseas one day. 'I can make the customers believe that I am more professional because I can speak Putonghua,' she said. The winner of the Putonghua contest was an American-born Chinese exchange student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.