While I like the process of learning a language, I also love learning about the culture associated with the language. I find festivals and celebrations especially interesting.
If you have Asian friends (from a wide variety of countries), many will have treated April 4th this year as a special day.
清明节 (Qīngmíng jié) is Tomb Sweeping Day. It's pronounced like ching ming, jair but the words literally mean "clean bright festival".
This festival (or more like a day or remembrance) originated with the Han Chinese. It's on the first day of the fifth solar term in the Chinese lunar calendar. As that's the 15th day after Spring Equinox (in the northern hemisphere), it'll be either the 4th, 5th, or 6th of April each year.
The general concept is that families visit the tombs of their ancestors to pay their respects and to clean the gravesites. It's also common for them to make offerings, generally (from what I've seen) of food but it can also be incense sticks (Joss sticks) or Joss paper.
I love the fact that there's a day where ancestors are remembered like this. So many western cemeteries are in total disrepair and no-one visits them.
I'll write more soon on the best methods for learning Mandarin. If you want to get a taste for it in the meantime though, my current favorite site is iTalki, and my favorite teacher by far is Amy He. If you decide to try it, click here and it's cheaper for both you and me.