A Much-Needed Breather…

I know you’re all going to moan at me when I say we’ve got a week off starting tomorrow (it’s Chinese “National Day” 国庆节, so all workers tend to return to their hometown or go on holiday for a week), but I really do feel that it’s deserved! Due to the odd combination of the Mid-Autumn Festival and three random days on which the whole campus’ power got turned off, we’ve had class on 10 out of the last 11 days. This has certainly made me appreciate how much two days off at the weekend actually do for me!

Some very weird attempt at a pack of Oreos - peach and grape flavour. Tasted like a mixture of midget gems and perfume...

Some very weird attempt at a pack of Oreos – peach and grape flavour. Tasted like a mixture of midget gems and perfume…

All things academic

We’ve been continuing as per usual with classes throughout this latest period, culminating in a monthly exam this morning. In more detail, we have a comprehensive course (grammar, vocab, reading, writing), a reading course, a speaking course and a listening course. I currently am finding the comprehensive course very quick, but doable; the reading course is pitched just about right, as is the speaking; the listening, however, is far faaaaar too slow. Sadly it’s impossible to move up a class just for one of the courses, as they’re at different times for each group. Anyhow, what is going to really make the difference to my Chinese is not in-class work, but socialising and speaking with Chinese people outside of the teaching building.

Music

Outside of the classroom and the gym, most of my activity this week has centred around the ukulele as a result of last weekend’s events. Tuesday night, we got a group together and went to Baishamen Beach. A little bit of swimming and a little bit of a sing-along made for a most enjoyable evening.

Vlad and Vicky prior to the beach trip

Vlad and Vicky prior to the beach trip

The next day, we had a speaking lesson, of which the task was to introduce your hometown. I’d prepared a PowerPoint to give a few photos, a bit of north-eastern music, etc… As you can imagine, technology conspired against me and the music didn’t work, prompting Vicky (who has been a great source of encouragement in actually having the balls to sing in front of people, by the way) to pipe up: “No problem Jack, you can sing it!” A sly attempt to sidle away from the front and back to my desk was in vain, as the whole of the class had latched on to Vicky’s idea. So off I went; I introduced ‘The Old Dun Cow’ to my classmates, and sang away, even getting them all to join in by shouting the requisite response during the chorus. Excellent. Job done!

After a few kind (or, as I thought, sympathetic) comments from my fellow students, we were then requested to do an introduction to a song from our hometown in the next speaking lesson on Sunday. (My musical addition was not a prerequisite of the previous lesson’s PowerPoint…) Rather than sending an MP3 to the teacher, I brought my ukulele along and played one of The Lake Poets’ finest, ‘Shipyards’. You can see the result below (I hope).

Holiday plans

So, moving back to the upcoming holiday… I only have one plan really, and it’s quite a flexible one. I was hoping to cycle to Sanya (at the south of the island), but I feel that needs more planning than 48 hours. In any case, Brent would be very keen to join me on that mission at the start of January, as a bit of an end-of-exam holiday/trip/party. That’s a plan now, and instead, Vicky and I are just going to cycle the 75km to Wenchang for a night or two. We are hoping to try out surfing there, and the number of nights’ stay will depend on two things:

  • What there is to do there;
  • My musical work (see below).

The job could well be making some headway. I asked to meet the agency lady again yesterday, to clarify a few things. It turns out I will be advertised for all sorts of events (evenings in bars/hotels; corporate parties; opening of new businesses; and yes, mum, it does include gigs as a wedding singer…), and she has sent my MP3s round her contacts – she feels, with the next week being a holiday, there should be plenty of gigs available around the city. I hope I can get one or two, but there’s no great rush; I just feel that I have a bit of confidence in myself and momentum at the minute, so I’d like to get started! The price people will pay for a singing Westerner surprised me too: up to £20 per song for a 5- to 10-song gig at a nice hotel!! I said to her, that would be unbelievable, but I’m not picky – even £2 per song for a 10-song gig is better pay than work as a tutor! I’m going to take anything, as it’ll be fun work too, which will involve speaking some Chinese and making some contacts too. Bring it on!

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The single most bizarre weekend of my life…

[Ed.: I feel I should clarify… I have called it a weekend in the title – it wasn’t actually a weekend, but our week was thrown into turmoil by the Mid-Autumn Festival on Thursday. This meant we had Thursday, Friday and Saturday off classes; returning on Sunday. Thus, I begin my tale on Thursday evening, which I am (for the sake of argument) calling my ‘weekend‘.]

Welcome to the whirlwind that is China.

Thursday evening

So, the traditional Chinese holiday of the Mid-Autumn Festival was on Thursday. For those unaware of its significance, it symbolises the middle of autumn (somewhat obviously), according to the Lunar Calendar. You can read more about it here, and can rest safely in the knowledge that copious quantities of mooncakes were consumed in the making of this blog.

A nice moon cake!

A nice moon cake!

Thursday evening, then. A number of my fellow international students had gone out on Wednesday night, and opted for the hair-of-the-dog remedy on Thursday. This probably began at about 11am, continuing right through to a game of poker in the lobby of our dorms at 8pm and beyond into the night. For poker, however, we needed money with which to gamble – the expressions on the fruit vendors’ faces when we asked to buy them all out of all their 1 Yuan coins were a picture.

Poker Night in the Foreign Students' Building

Poker Night in the Foreign Students’ Building

The game went on. Brent – more inebriated than Emmett by this point – went all-in with a pair of queens. Foolish move it was. Emmett called, and won, with a pair of aces. However, we then analysed Vicky’s (my German friend) deck to find that – although there were 52 cards – the quantity of each number ranged from 2 up to 6. There were, for example, 6 queens (which made Brent’s all-in quite a sensible move, actually!). Game over. Chips returned. All results null and void.

Friday

Ahh, Friday. By comparison to Saturday, both of the prior days seem rather tame now, but Friday involved some gym in the morning, some intense flyering for my tutoring sessions at lunchtime (which will also be rendered void once you read Saturday’s events), my first tutor group in China in the afternoon, then a meal out in the evening.

The tutor group consisted of two really nice lads, who wanted a free session to negotiate a price and see if they liked me. They hope to go to Singapore and Australia respectively, to study English. Before we began, I went in starting at £12 per person per hour, and hoping for £10. As it turned out, they really liked me, but the most they were willing to pay was £8 each, which I duly accepted. £16 an hour is better than a kick up the bum, and they (along with Emma from the gym) are looking after me really well in China. We went out afterwards for jiaozi (Chinese dumplings) and karaoke, which they paid for between them. I said, “Next time, I’ll pay,” as a good polite Englishman would, to which they replied, “No. You are our guest in China for the year; it is our duty!” Okay, if you say so…

I then made the journey back to the dorm (I’ve forgotten to mention, they cut off power to the whole campus from 9am until 5pm for some maintenance work), and thought it a little strange that no lights were on anywhere on campus, and it was now 8:45pm. Anyhow, I got back to the dorm, just in time to see the dormitory “aunties” rubbing out 9pm on the board, and replacing it with 10pm. A microcosm of life in Hainan, where the “tomorrow culture” rules.

Powercut!

Powercut!

Eventually we did get power back on, at about half past ten, but in the meantime I got talking to my next door neighbour, Sascha from St Petersburg. I was playing my ukulele on my balcony, when he popped round to say that he had a friend who had helped him greatly when moving here – he owed her a favour, and she happened to own a “foreigners’ modelling business”. Apparently, she was looking for a foreigner to sing. I said I couldn’t sing very well, but I’d give it a damn good shot; he told me to be ready at 2pm on Saturday to go and meet her – and to bring my uke! Night night…

Saturday

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Saturday – the day to end all days of bizarreness – began with my triathlon watch arriving. I was feeling a bit low the weekend previously, so I went online and happened to find a Garmin GPS watch which covers swimming, cycling and running, for £80. I duly purchased it, and it arrived, much to my delight, yesterday morning. I took it out for a quick five-mile spin, and though it was pretty hot and sweaty outside, it seemed to stand up to the test! I’m just awaiting a replacement charger now, as the original didn’t work…

So… 2pm arrived. I went along, ukulele in tow, on the back of Sascha’s motor-scooter thing, and we pulled up to a pretty nice-looking second-floor cafe, not far from the gym I frequent. To cut a long story short, she ordered us a drink and a sweet bite to eat, and asked me to sing and play ukulele. I responded by asking where, to which the obvious answer came: right here, right now, in the middle of a busy cafe. So I did! Three songs later, I have a pay-by-song job. Still not sure how often it will be or when I’ll start, but we’ll get there I’m sure… One thing for certain, I’d rather do that than tutoring!

My new employer!

My new employer!

Oh, yeah. And Saturday evening I randomly bumped into another American, Shane. He’s involved with running a road racing cycling team with six or seven Chinese people. I may have signed up to do some biking too, in return for a free helmet (which I need on these roads, trust me!)…

That caps off my crazy 48 hours in this weird land, so to finish, I will post my two favourite “Chinglish” phrases of the week:

Health big bone surface, anyone?

Health big bone surface, anyone?

Totally bizarre. Don't even know what to say!

Totally bizarre. Don’t even know what to say!

Congratulations on making it all the way through this monster essay!

OCD (Organising Cash Disorder)

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Hope you enjoyed the selection of photos above…

Firstly, a quick digression on Chinese money and my OCD. Everything (virtually) is in note form, right down to 1 Yuan (10p)… So you can imagine what chaos it is when you pay for four dumplings (40p) with the equivalent of a tenner. Anyhow, up until now, every time I bought something, I felt somehow in disarray. At the weekend I realised what it was: once I’ve sat down, I have to put my wallet back in order (100s at the back, then 50s, then 20s, 10s, 5s, 1s). I thought this was completely weird, until my sister said she does the same with her English money! (Just to point out, she even organises them so that they face the same way – I’m not quite that OCD yet!)

Just Another Day

Another day of absolute madness today!! I thought I was getting settled in and had everything sorted, but apparently not!

For starters, class was busy and we got shedloads of homework. Also, I found out that we have to do more visa application stuff at the weekend to “transfer our visa from a student one to a resident one”, which is going to cost more in poxy little bureaucracy fees (another £40-£80, depending on whom you ask). At that, I thought “BUMMER, really need to get hooked up with some tutees asap”.

Then I heard from Shengjie (my Chinese friend who was at Newcastle last year) to say all systems go on the triathlon watch… I was feeling a bit low at the weekend, so went for a run. It was my first long run (9 miles or so) in a while, and it got me going again. I thought a triathlon watch might provide me with the encouragement I need to get distance back up, especially as I’m going to be doing some road cycling. It was considerably cheaper than British RRP, so why not?! Should be delivered either tomorrow or Wednesday.

This was only 12pm… So I started on with the homework, which I got halfway through before Emmett called. He’d been offered a job teaching at a kindergarten for 3 hours a week (£12 per hour). On face value it looks great, and they wanted 2 teachers, so we went along. The guy treated us to food and stuff as we discussed it, but it turns out we were going to have to do all the lesson preparation, and it started at 5pm today… Both of us considered, and decided that we’d turn it down, and make a combined, concerted effort to market my tutoring. If we can get some flyers out there, I’m happy to share any immediate work with him if we can find two groups. That way, it’s more money for our time, on-campus, and the preparation is already done. What’s more, this guy seemed pretty unreliable (he’d left it until the first day of term  to find teachers…)! Since that ordeal, I have actually managed to finish my homework, get to the gym and write this blog… Just about ready to collapse now, and it’s only 8pm! Night all!

Where are you, red man?!

A while back, when I was in Germany, I wrote about the damned red man – about how having to wait to cross the road really irked me. Right now though, I wish that damned red man would come back! (Or at least people would pay attention to him…)

Crossing the road here is a complete lottery. Some cars don’t pay attention to the red lights; some pedestrians don’t either; just about all bikes feel they are exempt. Honking of horns is a soundtrack of daily life – fair enough when someone else is going through on red, but when you’re ignoring the rules of the road then beeping at other people… really?! It’s all part of the fun! (As it is when taxis and cars take to using the bike lanes, occasionally in the wrong direction!)

The Daily Grind

A quick update on all things daily, whilst I’m here. I’ve got into a nice routine with Brent, the American next door, of getting up a little earlier and taking turns to make a nice strong coffee out on the balcony. A strong black coffee at 6:50am has a pretty marked waking-up effect when you’re accustomed to drinking it, then go without for a couple of weeks!

Other than that, classes are much the same. The integrated lessons are fast (probably too fast, as we cover so much grammar and vocab) and the speaking and listening are a little too slow for my liking. However, as is the Chinese motto of life, 随便 (suibian – meaning “go with the flow”). Gym tends to happen early- to mid-afternoon, though the spinning classes aren’t until the evening; I prefer to get it out of the way while it’s quieter there, before returning and relaxing.

On the tutoring front, I met up with some potential tutees – two really nice lads – on Monday night. They were unsure at first, but Emma from the gym says they are very keen to get started on improving their English. They’re going to rope in two more friends to make a group of four, which works best for both sides (cheaper for them individually, and still the same amount of my time/effort, for more financial benefit). Also, Shengjie (my Chinese friend who was at Newcastle) has been passing my website around and says he has two more interested. Hopefully one of these groups will come off in the next fortnight or so, and then I’ll feel much happier in the knowledge that I’m paying my way, as well as meeting new Chinese friends.

The Bike Market

Made my return to the bike market yesterday, to get Vicky (a German girl) and Mark (Dutch guy) fixed up.

 

For those of you who weren't aware, a Chinese friend took me to this market at the weekend. I paid £26 for this, with two locks thrown in...

For those of you who weren’t aware, a Chinese friend took me to this market at the weekend. I paid £26 for this, with two locks thrown in…

Now that the three of us are sorted, we’re looking to cycle to the coconut plantations around Wenchang in two weekends’ time. Friday afternoon we’ll cycle the 70km there, then stay somewhere there (apparently you can rent beach houses relatively cheaply) before returning to Haikou on the Saturday.

Welcome Assembly

I may also be appearing on Chinese TV soon…

We had a welcome assembly this morning, which was quite a grand event. In true Chinese style, the opening speech began with:

Here we are, on this beautiful tropical island, with a fresh sea breeze blowing through the hall.

Yes, indeed… After the formalities, one of the teachers asked if I’d mind being interviewed, which was a little surreal. It was all in Chinese, obviously, and I was asked about myself and my language learning. Then she asked my opinions of Hainan, and the university specifically. My answer maybe wasn’t quite what her director was looking for, so she “gently nudged” me in that direction by asking: “What will you say to your friends back in England about Hainan?”

“Oooohhh, now I understand: I will tell all of my friends and family to come and visit China, and will mention that Anglo-Chinese relations are alive and kicking.” That did the trick.

Interview safely negotiated, I headed back to the dorm for a lie-down!

Clever Coca-Cola!

I’ve learned something interesting about coca-cola in the last couple of days… It really is very clever! Okay, so in (I think) Lesson 2 of learning Chinese, we were taught how to order drinks and food, and a key part of this vocab was the word for coke (可口可乐 – pronounced “kuh-kou kuh-luh”. I had just always assumed that it was so named as a transliteration – because it sounds as close to the English name as Chinese could get. I wasn’t wrong, but there’s more to it than that! Turns out that the two parts of the word have particular meanings as adjectives too… 可口 means ‘tasty’, and 可乐 means ‘makes you happy’.

Clever coca-cola!

Clever coca-cola!

Class dilemma

I had a bit of a dilemma this week too, as some of you may have known, about whether to move up a class or not. I found the speaking class at the present level too slow, but the others were fine. Naturally I wanted to push myself as hard as possible, so I was very close to trading in my textbooks. I had three choices really:

  • Stay in C class, and coast; enjoy the year, pass the exams, and chill;
  • Stay in C class, relax, but ask for extra work to push myself a bit harder when I feel so inclined (aiming to take the HSK Chinese Proficiency test at level 5 over Christmas);
  • Move up to D class and risk being out of my depth, but see very great rewards in terms of language.

A few wise words from various people helped me to decide that the right thing to do is to stick with the middle path. I have already made a great group of friends in C class, so it would seem foolish to put too much upon myself so early – what’s more, this way it allows me more time to develop little tutoring groups for the English proficiency test, earning a nice little living as JD Editorial and meeting more Chinese people that way! To that end, I got chatting to the Chinese sales consultant at the gym, Emma, who also studies at the uni. She has loads of friends who are preparing to go on their year abroad to English-speaking lands, for which they can take IELTS (test mentioned above). The teaching for this is generally very expensive and not of a great quality – nice little niche there!!

(As an aside, the workload is pretty manageable. I’m in a routine of doing the homework on the day it is set so as to leave weekends and late afternoons free, which is working nicely – though it meant this afternoon was a hard slog!)

Ukulele & Slacklining

Outside the gym (where the spinning class is particularly brutal and sweaty, but great fun with two of my German friends and Brent, the American guy next door), these are probably my two particular hobbies. Ukulele is coming along very nicely – I’ve got a little ebook which is like a lesson-by-lesson guide to the various techniques, and also teaches a few traditional songs… Slacklining I haven’t tried yet here, but I fully intend to tomorrow or at the weekend! (I already have at least four people lined up who are very keen to give it a go!)

Fruit man

One final thing – I’ve found a particularly nice guy in the fruit market you will have seen earlier. I got chatting in Chinese (I’m amazed at how complimentary the Chinese are about my language…) and every time I go in now, I head for him; he returns the favour by giving a free piece of fruit each time… So far I’ve had a banana twice, and a mango. What’s tomorrow, I wonder?

If you have any particular questions, just post them in a comment on here (make sure to check that the “reply notifiications” option is active though) and I’ll reply as quickly as I can. Ciao for now!

What a week…

It’s been a busy one, alright. Only 7 days ago at 2pm, I left for the airport and had a bit of an emotional farewell with the family and Stu! I’ve got loads of stuff achieved this week, and it seems to have been an extremely busy one! Here’s a quick lowdown on some of my thoughts thus far…

The campus is so cool. There are hundreds of students here – 20,000 to be exact. This is only the same number as at Newcastle, but everyone here lives on campus so there seems to be so many more here! It’s about two miles from north to south, and a mile wide. There are little golf-buggy-bus-type things which can get you around, but walking keeps me active anyhow! I’m coping with the language too… There’s obviously a lot to learn, but I’m understanding slow-speed Chinese fine, and I can express myself one way or another.

Gym

As you’ll have seen from the pictures, the gym is really nice. It’s pretty warm in there, but I guess the air con doesn’t take effect until later in the day. A couple of the other guys (two Germans whom I met yesterday) are also keen to join, so I’m taking them tomorrow to get signed up… Also found a little tea shop downstairs called “Black Tide” which does iced green/black tea for 3 Yuan (30p roughly) and has working free wi-fi, so I think a routine of breakfast, morning classes, straight to gym, study in the tea shop, then back to campus for the afternoon will work nicely! Most of the proper socialising tends to happen in the evening, but because classes start so early, it’s more based around evening meals at street stalls or in student canteens.

Food

I’ve found the food to be awesome here. Not like the Chinese takeaway, but better. It’s healthy, fresh and there’s plenty of choice. My particular favourite so far is called 鸡蛋灌饼 (egg pancake) and this is a link to read about it. I struggled to find the name of the dish, but it is really nice, and I’ve found one particular street stall that does it really nicely, with meat or without, for 5 Yuan.

This was tonight's food - full-on steamed fish and sweet & sour veg... Mmmm

This was tonight’s food – full-on steamed fish and sweet & sour veg… Mmmm

Socialising

I’ve already met some cool people. I’ve had to be more extrovert than I normally would be, but it’s been good! The German people I met yesterday are so friendly (we were talking about my coffee & toast habit, so one of them went to the bakery where she’d bought her jam, and gave me a loaf and some strawberry jam as a gift!), I have a Chinese tandem partner called Summer, I’ve met a couple of other Americans who are big into their fitness, and the group of French people are great (even though I struggle to speak French now)! Also, on the work front, I’ve mentioned my proofreading and English tutoring to a few of the English-speaking gym staff, so hopefully word-of-mouth will help me out there!

Anyway, that’s just about all up to date. My classes start at 7:40am tomorrow, so an early night is on the cards. I’ll fill you all in during next week once I have a moment or two to pause for breath!

再见!Till next time!

UPDATE: Tonight, just after I wrote this, I headed out to North Gate with Will, Brent and Vlad (a Swiss guy). We got chatting to an amiable, yet very scary-looking Chinese guy. Turned out he was from the Chinese police – he showed us his badge and stuff – but we had such a good conversation for about half an hour!! He said my Chinese was great – couldn’t believe that I’d only been here a week – and that if I went to Japan, I might even look tall… Even getting into a bit of Chinese humour now… haha!