Joe writes:

>Does anyone here happen to speak Mandarin?  I'm probably going to China*
>this summer and would like to learn the basics, or at least a little about
>the grammar before leaving.
>* Specifically Lanzhou, in what I believe to be Gansu Province.  I think
>that's a Mandarin-speaking area.

Are you going on holiday or for some other reason (study?
humanitarian?)? Unless things have radically changed, Gansu has the
dubious honor of being the poorest province in the country. I didn't
actually stay, but passed through by train one year on my way to
Xining in Qinghai, and it looked pretty grim. Too, I saw a
documentary once where they talked about a lack of iodine in the diet
in Gansu, leading to a highly disproportionate number of cases of
goiters and mental retardation. Iodized salt is available but
slightly more expensive than plain ol' salt, and being desperately
poor, the locals don't spring for the extra couple of "fen" to buy it
(Lanzhou being an urban area, one might assume it's slightly less
dire there). I think "desert creep" is also a factor there. So
"Deliverance" goes Chinese -- have fun.

Language-wise, I don't remember specific sites, but I think there are
a fair number of sites that would introduce you to the basics (try a
google search), and then you can address specific questions you might
have to the list -- there are a few speakers here.