Wow – it’s been nearly a year since I wrote my last post on this blog. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then – too much to put down in one blog post, that’s for sure! But I’m now finished my degree (marks will be delivered to us next week), and this summarises my plan for the next 12-18 months at the very least. Here is what I’m up to!
So, I guess this is it. We had a bit of a leaving do last night, as both Renata and I make a move today. It’s been emotional to say goodbye to everyone – a lot of people have gone off for a beach weekend so leaving a deserted dorm this afternoon will be a strange sensation. Anyhow it’s kind of mixed emotions! The last few weeks have been so unbelievably amazing, and last night was maybe a bump back down to earth. With it being the end of exams, people had been drinking and celebrating (quite rightly, too) but it was just a kind of watershed for me. I crashed in the afternoon and let it all wash over me. The evening do turned in to a much larger, louder gathering than planned; however, although this wasn’t my ideal last night, maybe it was a good thing, because it reminded me that though I’ve had the most amazing year ever here, this lifestyle for me is not a sustainable one. I have to go back home and crack on with the next challenge.
The people I’ve met here will be really hard to leave, but there is no doubt in my mind, some of these friendships are friends for life, and we will meet again – sooner rather than later.
One, however, whom I met during the competition… I’m not so sure. I saw the sun setting a few days ago, and it struck me as a metaphor for this friendship. Sadly, my time’s come to leave, and like that beautiful sunset, I don’t know when/if I’ll get to see it again. But in the words of Noah and the Whale, L I F E G O E S O N! So with the awesomeness, creativity and strumming of Vlad, I wrote a song about it – listen by clicking the “play” button below.
Now, as for an appraisal of the year (marks out of ten)…
Consistency – 0
Obviously, I couldn’t rate this as anything other than a big fat zero! Life here is too random for me in general, but a year of being exposed to this degree of “going with the flow” will no doubt be of massive benefit in the future! I’ve learned a lot in this respect, and although I would appreciate a bit more order in my life, it’s been an eye-opener to live in this way for a period of time.
Language improvements – 9
I can’t give this a ten, because I didn’t take HSK, and because I still haven’t got my final grades. As I wrote last time, although I’ve lost a bit of the will to go to some of these more boring classes in the last month or so (especially when things have got busy with the competition). But this has been compensated by spending more time with Chinese friends. I can’t remember exactly what my Chinese was like a year ago, but I am pretty sure that I have made massive massive strides, especially with this semester’s challenges (skipping D class, spending more time out and about with Chinese…).
Variety – 7
Linked with the first point here. Again, the variety has been tremendous. But sometimes, I have questioned whether we could have more going on – especially during the afternoons. It seemed like we had a lot of downtime, even in spite of taking part in so many activities. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, but is worth considering.
People met – 10
I can’t name everyone here, as there are so many amazing people I’ve met, and who’ve been a big part of the best year of my life. I won’t forget any single one of you: from my classmates who I’ve been with, watched films with, eaten with, drunk with, sung with, run with every day for the past year; right through to all the Chinese people I’ve known and met for a very short period of time, including those who took part in this month’s singing competition, of course!
Tunefulness – 9
The only reason this doesn’t get a perfect score is because of some of the poor quality music that gets blared out of random clothes shops when they’re having a sale… It’s like being in the middle of Sinners on a Friday night! But in all seriousness, this musicality is probably the biggest thing I personally will take from this year. Performing, writing songs and playing the guitar/ukulele have all given me an amazing amount of pleasure, and a great feeling of confidence. I don’t want to stop this – in whatever form it might take, I have to keep singing back in England.
Encouragement – 9
As for encouragement for the future, I will draw every lesson possible from this experience. It’s been totally unbelievable. The time is right to come home and move on with life I think now, but I am a more confident, outgoing, happy person. I have also learned to be more patient in whatever I do – this will be particularly useful in the world of work and in my running. (I’ve signed up for the Great North Run, so if anyone else is aiming for a sub-1:30 and would like to help challenge me during my training, do get in touch!)
Unforgettableness – 11
No more needs to be said.
For the last time from room 629 here in Haikou, I will sign off now. See you back in England in 30 hours! X
I have been winding down into my last five days here, so there’s not all that much to report, but it’s been a really cool week. Although we’ve got exams this week, it’s all pretty relaxed. I’ve prepared well and learned the vocab, but I’ve already done well in the first few exam sessions, so really as long as I don’t fail completely, I will have a good enough grade to substitute in for my weakest one last year. This is a big bonus – it’ll do for me!
I’ve been playing the guitar more, and feel I’m improving massively. I have vowed to myself that I have to keep performing and singing – although I’m the first person to admit, on the face of it I’m probably not the most outgoing and extroverted person, I will never forget the excitement, nerves and enjoyment I’ve taken from my performances here.
On Friday, the teacher in charge of the competition took us competitors and the organiser girl out for a meal followed by a karaoke trip. It was a really fun night! In the restaurant, Mr Wang was, I think, making a deliberate attempt to bully me and get me drunk… In true Chinese tradition, the beer was flowing and, when someone raises you a toast, there is no way of refusing – you simply have to down your small glass before filling up again. I don’t know whether he’d organised this before, but as soon as he knew I was leaving, he just began to target me – with the help of some of the others! He would ask where I was from, then say, “Oh, British people can drink – I’ll toast you for that! Cheers!” He’d then move on to someone else, before coming straight back to me and finding another reason. A couple of people later, and one of the lads would tag on to the game and pick out some other reason to toast me… By the time we stood up to go to karaoke I was feeling it a little!
But yeah – karaoke with nine other great singers was a good fun experience! Then it got to just before midnight, so everyone had to head back to their dorms before they got locked out. Guanchi had no way of getting back to her campus so ended up coming back, where we watched a film and chatted till quite late. It’s a real shame that we’ve met this late on, as I feel we could get pretty close. But still, I hope we can meet again in the future – we’ll keep in touch, and her English is very good so maybe she’ll even head over to visit or study at some point.
Anyway, we’re up early this morning to watch the World Cup with Brent and Patrick and… OH MY GOOOOOOODDDD WHAT A GOAL! USA, USA! Haha. Shame Big Jozy is out injured; I’m sure he’d have nicked a winner by now.
Off to exams in an hour or so, then there’ll be one more blog post to follow – a conclusion of my year here. Speak soon, and see you back in the UK in five days!
Siyu’s (the student in charge of organising) memory of the competition
This is more for my future reference than anything – I won’t translate the whole thing, but she feels like something is missing now she’s not being woken up at all hours with daft requests about the competition. She writes a sentence about each of us competitors, all of which are very kind! She thanks me, “a gentlemanly cute young man”, and says I don’t realise how popular I am – she hopes my mum and dad know how good a person I am!! She says, maybe to us, she is just a passer-by, but that we will always remain in her memory, having been such a big part of her society involvement and university life this semester. She hopes we will remember the “daft, short-haired girl” who grew up together with us these last few weeks. I read this during the break in class and had to take a walk outside to compose myself and hold back a few tears!
It’s just such a shame that this competition has come at the end of my time here… It’s been a pleasure to meet such an awesome group of funny, intelligent and talented people, and had we met earlier, we could have enjoyed much more of the last two semesters together and become a lot closer, especially to Renee, Guanchi and Lichen! But then the question remains, if this competition were at the start of my time here, would I have had the confidence to sign up in the first place? And would I have been good enough to get through the audition?!
As Chelsea said to me the other day, maybe it’s better this way… It makes it much harder to bear leaving (even though deep down I know I want to and have to), but I would probably rather leave with this amazing memory than to leave on a damp, sour note without much going on and being unable to wait to get back home.
Whether I return to Hainan or not, I hope to meet some of these cool people again – it may be in England, it may be back here, or it may be elsewhere in China. Whatever, they can be sure that I will not forget them; that Sunday night will stay with me forever as the most memorable day from my time here at Hainan University.
Surpassing all expectations, I “went out with a bang” (as Grandma said) and finished in third place in the campus singing competition.
The whole afternoon yesterday was taken up with rehearsals, but oddly, we didn’t actually get to go on stage and sing… Very strange. So as a result, we felt a bit underprepared for the first round – the duet with Renee. On stage, we both felt that it didn’t go 100% to plan, but equally wasn’t a nightmare. When the marks came out, we were sort of mid-table, but looking back at the video, actually we did pretty well! Maybe there was a problem or two with the microphone volume and balance, but all in all, not a bad effort!
Anyway, after singing fourth in that round, I wasn’t on until eleventh (out of 14) in the second round. This gave ample opportunity for the nerves to build up, watching everyone else perform very well. However, fortunately Anze had given me a small bottle of coconut “juice” – about 52% of which was alcohol. It’s probably not the best way to play it, but I’m pretty confident I was quite drunk before going on stage… This helped, in a funny sort of way! I was sober enough to think straight (and walk straight), but just drunk enough not to think about the 900 people sitting watching me. The nerves were still there in the first line, but once I got into the song, it was plain sailing. I felt more in control of it than in the dress rehearsal, and the crowd reaction to the video and my singing was great!
In the instrumental break, I thought I’d show off a bit of Chinese (given that I’d sung in English), and so I said: “I’d like to dedicate this song to my little sister… It’s her birthday in a couple of days, so I’d like to wish her a happy birthday, and see you in two weeks!” At this point, I was moving towards the front right of the stage, towards my ‘fans’, and getting ready to sing the next verse, when two cute little girls came on to the stage bearing flowers. I didn’t really know what to do: bearing in mind I only have two hands, holding a microphone, trying to sing, taking a big bunch of flowers and giving the girls a hug all at the same time was a bit of a challenge. Watching the video back though, I somehow pulled it off! It was very cute, nevertheless!
In this round’s judging (I think the crowd reaction and my video will have helped), I was 0.02 behind the girl who won in the end – I got 9.78 or something like that, which left me in third place overall with a late surge up the leaderboard. The girl who won was awesome – she’s in the Voice of Hainan TV competition final. We’re probably going to try and meet up again in the next week because she wants to study abroad in England in a year’s time, so wants to know a bit more about Newcastle.
So then there was the usual presentation ceremony, as usual involving handshakes, teachers trying to speak “broken” English to me, me replying in Chinese by accident, then enough photographs with random Chinese people to last at least three lifetimes… I’d love to know how many Chinese camera rolls I appear in, and what they actually do with the photos! (One of my classmates from Newcastle has seen a family album, containing five or six photos of the mother just with random foreigners – totally bizarre…)
The teacher who organised it is going to take us all out for a meal and karaoke one night this week, which should be tremendous given the standard of singing, and the fact that they’re all a good laugh!
So after that it was, for the last time, back to the dorm for a few drinks and a good old-fashioned relax. Brent, Dani, Renata, Paulina and Will all came up; the ukulele came out and more music was the order of the day. After a 3am bed, it’s safe to say I didn’t make it to class today – the teacher was there last night though… She did say she’d “help me” to get the day off!! Back to the grind tomorrow, may go out to Renee and Rose’s (the girl who won) campus tomorrow pm to catch up. Then a Wednesday exam! So no rest for the wicked – 12 days to go!
It’s certainly not going to be an easy thing to leave here, no matter how much I want to go home and get on with life – this year has given me so much and so many unbelievable opportunities… I look forward to going through it all with everyone when I get back!
That’s all for now.
On Tuesday, I went with Anze to the running track to run 800m intervals. As we got there (roughly 4:30pm), we needed the toilet, so we went to the little building in the corner and found some recently-built efforts which we could use.
Maybe this needs a bit of background reading… From noon until about 4:45pm, not much really happens here to be honest. People sleep, then maybe go to class, but in general they don’t really do any activity until about 5pm.
Okay, on with the story! So we did six intervals before needing another little toilet break. By this time it was after 5pm, so the field was almost full of footballing Chinese. Getting to the toilets, we found that the whole building was closed. Makes sense? No, didn’t think so…
I’ve been arranging plenty of things in the last week or so. Last Saturday, as a thank you to my friends, we had an evening meal together and took the slackline and guitar out, then had a good few hours as the sun went down, chilling and having a bit of a laugh. It was good fun. As Anze says, “We should do this every month…” Shame we only have 16 days left!
The t-shirt saga. Oh dear. I tried to do a cool thing for people by organising t-shirts with names on the back. I thought I could do it fairly easily by getting everyone to come to me and order, give money, etc. So it shouldn’t have been a hassle…
But, as is the way with things here, everything took a turn for the backwards. I was very clear with the guy that the badge was to printed on the front of each one, then names on the back. This was all okay, and he said it would be 30 Yuan each. Great! When it came to the deadline, having collected the money and wanting to order them from him though, he said, “What is this table?” I obviously told him it was the list of names… He replied, that was no good, it would need an extra 20 Yuan per t-shirt to do it this way. So I asked everyone if they would like a standard “Hainan University” (in Chinese) on the back for the 30, or their names for 50. I got a few replies, and then the guy came back to me saying that it was actually too much work after all so he would just stick to the 30 Yuan option. As a result, he lost a few customers, however we still ordered and 25 or so people will get (hopefully) good quality polo shirts!!
As Will will testify, I’ve been “struggling to make it to classes” recently. I don’t know whether I’ve kind of lost the will or whether it’s other stuff taking up my time, but to be honest – Comprehensive class apart – it doesn’t really make best use of my time to go. The last few times I’ve missed classes and have stayed in the dorm, I’ve generally got up on time, done the work covered in the classroom and been finished an hour before the bell would have otherwise gone. I know sometimes it makes more sense to just grin and bear it, but with some of these classes, it’s easier said than done.
Plans for the next 16 days
Only 16 days to go! So after this competition is over (see more below), there will only be 12 days to go. One week of class (in which I estimate I’ll be hungover on Monday, have a culture exam on Wednesday, and may be travelling to a different surf spot with a few beach hostels on Friday), then four days of exams the week after, then Friday 27th I return to the motherland. Should be busy, should go quickly!
And on to the competition now… It’s a bit of an effort to pull everything together. My individual song should be okay (waiting now for my first dress rehearsal and writing this blog), and the duet is coming along. We’ve just been on stage and had a go. In the dorm it is absolutely no problem, but getting on stage is a different story. Not because of the nerves, but more because I’ve never sung harmonies with microphones before. I got the feeling that Renee (my partner) couldn’t quite hear the guitar clearly, so it made it difficult to get everything together as we have been doing when practicing. Anyway, I’m sure we’ll pull it off, but it’s just a bit nerve-wracking! I’ve added the link to the university’s kind-of preview/advertising page with a few very funny trailer videos and photos, and I’ve also uploaded the music video for your viewing pleasure (if you’re going to be there on Sunday night, please turn off your monitors… Or just don’t press the play button in the first place!!).
… No, that’s not a plea for an early departure, but rather me rehearsing!
Since my last post of eleven days ago, a few gallons have gone under the bridge. I was feeling particularly sick of classes – as I have been for the last few weeks, actually – and was finding myself skipping twice a week (listening and speaking, because I literally don’t say a word until the last two minutes, after watching the same video three damned times). This obviously wasn’t good scholarship of me in the first place, but honestly, I have been keeping up with the work! It just takes me about a third of the time when I stay here or find a cafe to study – economies again…
Anyway, I mentioned this to one of my teachers, the lovely Xu Miao, who just replied with her usual wide grin: “No worries, just take a few days’ official holiday, go somewhere and relax. Hopefully you’ll come back refreshed!”
What a lovely thing to say. And don’t mind if I do! Well, that was my plan anyway. It was rudely upturned by the singing competition of Tuesday night. (Yes, I know, I know, yet another competition…)
This, so I’d been told, was the audition for Hainan University’s biggest competition, known as “Top Ten Singers”. Each school of the university could name two or three competitors to audition, meaning there were, in total, 52 auditionees for the 14 places in the final. Oh well, worth a try – go along and enjoy it at the very least.
I played the guitar (which I’ve borrowed from a friend who hadn’t touched it for two years) and sang my mate Martin’s (otherwise known as The Lake Poets – check him out if you haven’t heard his music already) Edinburgh. A quick digression: I have noticed that I am not the most confident in my voice, but as long as I’m hiding behind an instrument I feel much better about singing. Maybe this explains the infrequency of my visits to Chinese karaoke bars, or KTV bars?
It’s a pretty sad song, my favourite lines of which go like this:
I applaud your timing. I applaud your style. (Sarcastic, of course)
I can hear your silence. I can feel your eyes. You can speak your mind but you never will, and now we’re running out of time…
In that Edinburgh bar you said nothing was wrong, but were you lying to me?
How appropriate it was, then, that one young Korean lady was sitting in the audience, there to support her friend who was also taking part. Unsurprisingly, some of the feeling of the song was directed at her, but a glance proved that she wasn’t even able to look in my direction. As mum would say, “eeee well, hey ho”.
Anyway, it was going reasonably well for the most part, with the added emotional thrust. At the end, there was a pretty funny moment which I think will have helped me considerably. The judges had a bell to ring, signifying that your time was up or that they’d heard enough. As I got towards the end of the chorus, I saw a hand hover over said bell. I looked at the judge in the eye and waited for the “ring!”. It didn’t come, so I smiled and we got stuck in a kind of staring match there, nobody really moving. Soon enough the bell rang, so I gave her a nod and a 谢谢 (thank you), then returned to my seat. Video can be seen on my sister’s Tumblr site!
We waited and listened to all the participants, before the results were announced. The standard was pretty high, but I came somewhere between 6th and 10th, thus making my progression to the final, in two weeks’ time (14th June). Huzzah!
It seems like it’s kind of a big deal… The school has applied for £40 of funding to create supporters’ materials (banners, flowers, etc.) and the venue will be full, with just shy of 1,000 people. It’s also broadcast on the university’s Weibo (Chinese Twitter) site, where fellow students can watch and comment… Could be interesting! There will be two rounds to this effort:
Firstly, a duet. We had to draw lots to pick a partner. I drew a girl whose English name is Renee, she’s an English major, and she doesn’t like singing Chinese songs as English-language songs have more feeling. Perfect! Haha. Her voice is probably stronger than mine, so we’re going to perform “Everything Has Changed” by Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. That way, I can accompany and (attempt to) sing harmonies.
Secondly, individual performance. This is going to be the crowning piece of my time here. As I’m currently really looking forward to going home, what better song to sing than Home by Buble?! I will play the piano and sing, maybe accompanied by a violin if I can arrange it. What’s more, we’re going to make a legitimately legendary video. But you can’t see that until the day of the competition… Hehehe!
So I guess I won’t be taking that holiday for at least another two weeks. Could be a busy fortnight, though, so I might need to take old Xu Miao up on it after this final…! Adios for now.