I’ve been busy doing nothing…

It’s been a while, and I must first apologise to my readers for not writing last week. Firstly, I thought nothing really interesting happened. Secondly, I didn’t really have time, so I guess something interesting probably did happen after all…

Haikou Beach 10km

So, today was supposed to be the 10km beach run that I’d been looking forward to. However, I woke up not feeling very well. After a brief consultation with my two advisors, I decided that the best option was not to push myself. Instead, I got wrapped up, lay in bed for a while, did some vocab, and then walked to check out the original gym (which re-opened today). It’s all looking pretty smart. Although they haven’t got any new machines, the carpets have been replaced, walls painted, and general decoration work carried out.

Newly decorated and re-opened gym

Newly decorated and re-opened gym

One piece of sad news, however: Emma is going to leave. She’s pretty bored of the job and has earned enough to see her through to graduation. She said that it leaves more time to enjoy herself and spend with her friends, which seems fair enough to me!

Scary way to start any morning...

Scary way to start any morning…

... though not as scary as trying to play 'I went to the shop and I bought...' in Chinese!

… though not as scary as trying to play ‘I went to the shop and I bought…’ in Chinese!

There have basically been three other things occupying my head in the two weeks since I last wrote:

  • Teaching – the teaching job has been going really well. I’ve been on two evenings a week (Mondays and Fridays) as well as a Sunday afternoon session. The class I have had is made up of students from the university who want to either improve their English, or sit an exam to study abroad, and they’re all really nice, keen students. I pick a topic every time, set up a Powerpoint with a few group discussion topics and a two-sided debate. At first I was worried that I wasn’t following a curriculum, but the boss said: “basically, the only requirement is that you get them to practise speaking English.” That, I can do!
  • Speaking competition – the provincial final is a week today, on Saturday 7th, during the afternoon. I’ve kept the same Chinese student partner, and also been assigned a guidance teacher, Mrs Yang, to help me prepare. All four parts are still the same, but I have improved all four of my sections in the following ways… Part one: I am still introducing myself, but have tried to use more flowery Chinese grammar structures and more complicated vocabulary. Part two: the poem is still the same, but they have asked me to add traditional Chinese backing music. I think it sounds really good with the music, and what’s more, it helps me to control the time (the marks are very strictly affected by being each section being too short or too long). Part three: the song. This is pretty much exactly the same, but I am going to try and make it more of a performance and add a few pauses/looks for comic value. Part four: the north-south divide in England. This was definitely rushed last time, so I’ve added more structure. The three topics I’m going to mention here will be people’s attitudes on the Newcastle metro vs the London underground; tea-drinking habits; and queuing. The latter two should, in theory, be pretty funny as I’m referring to conversations I’ve had with Will (who, I expect, will be in the audience, so I can suitably utilise him to make the judges laugh…)! I’ve still got a week to prepare, so I’m pretty sure it should be okay!
  • Bedsheets – I was really getting wound up by my bedsheet being too small for my bed… Every morning I’d wake up and it would be in a right state. Even if I’d slept like a log, the sheet would somehow be on one side of the bed / off the bed / wrapped around my leg. So yesterday, I splashed out on a massive double-sized sheet, and had such a good night’s sleep!
A new bedsheet, orange-scented candle and Christmas decorations - just like home...

A new bedsheet, orange-scented candle and Christmas decorations – just like home…

To end on a sad note, Beimen has been destroyed 😦 As a result of some government decree, the stalls have all been knocked down. No more qingbuliang evenings there for me!

2013-11-28 Beimen is no more

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Chinese speaking competition

As my valued regular readers will know, I was drafted in to take part in a university-wide foreigners-only Chinese speaking competition last night. I had no idea what to expect, but I had prepared as instructed, and at 6pm, I duly arrived at the hall.

I’d expected a 100-seater with a few pull-out chairs. Nope, this was a full-on theatre. Probably about 800 seats in there. Anyway, it was roughly one-half to two-thirds full by the time the thing started. About 15 of my classmates had all come along; I expected a few of them, but not as many as actually came along. They were all sitting in one big group near the back – in case they are among my readers here, I LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH!

So, anyhow – on to the competition itself… We all had to prepare four topics, and it went through one round at a time, in the same order every time. There were 11 other contestants, all of whom were in a higher class than me. For that reason, when I got there I thought: “Ahh well, have a laugh. Enjoy it!” But even so, I was still pretty nervous.

Part one was the introduction of self. When I came out on to the stage, all my friends were shouting for me and I was very close to bursting out laughing. They’re so great (they could have easily not bothered to come along and watch/listen to three hours of average Chinese last night), and the whole experience was just a little surreal. This part lasted one minute; I had prepared a few photos of Sunderland, and of my hobbies. In a somewhat Eurovision-esque fashion, the votes came in and I ended up scoring 9.1 out of 10. I was in third after that. (A quick note on the judges, by the way: there were two guest judges from Beijing University, and four from our school. Two of them happened to be my speaking teacher and the comprehensive teacher. Nice.)

Introducing the delights of Sunderland to the Chinese public

Introducing the delights of Sunderland to the Chinese public

Part two – the language performance. Many people chose to sing in this one, a couple of us recited poems. So my poem was called “Goodbye Cambridge” – it’s a really lovely poem about a guy who went to study there and really didn’t want to leave. I had been told by a nice Chinese girl in the cafe (to whom I’d read it) that I didn’t put enough emotion and contrast into it, so last night, I may have gone a bit overboard! I remembered all the bits in the middle that I couldn’t do, then got stuck towards the end on one of my favourite lines. Fortunately, someone in the crowd knew it and gave me a not-so-subtle prompt… My excessive emotion must have gone down well – in spite of stumbling a little, I scored 41 out of 50 which, I think, was the highest. Anyhow, I ended up tied first after that round.

My recital of the poem "Goodbye Cambridge"

My recital of the poem “Goodbye Cambridge”

Part three – arts performance. This round was a mixture of dancing and singing, really. I did my little party trick: cracked out the ukulele and played 对不起,我的中文不好 (I’m sorry, my Chinese is not good – a song about the difficulties of learning Chinese). This went down very well, as it’s a bit of a jokey song and pretty catchy. One of the judges in fact asked if I had written it myself; I had quite clearly explained the song’s background. Was she not paying attention?! Anyway, I scored 34.4 out of 40 for that one, which was the highest by about 1.5 points. So that pulled me ahead, with the last round to go.

The ukulele and song went down very well!

The ukulele and song went down very well!

That last round was to explain an aspect of English/British culture. I chose the north-south divide, because basically I’m totally biased. I got up on stage and first felt it necessary to apologise in advance to Will in the audience. But I don’t think he was too unimpressed – he’s an adopted northerner! No idea what I scored for this round, but safe to say, they told me I had won. We all went up again to have prizes presented. For winning first prize, I got two arty things (one of them may be a cup or a vase, but it’s black and orange, another is a tapestry type of thing, which is actually really nice). Apparently, I also get a place in the Hainan provincial competition – which takes place next month – but I know very little about that as it stands!

Post-ceremony

Post-ceremony

Winner winner chicken dinner - that one's for mum ;)

Winner winner chicken dinner – that one’s for mum 😉

So… once more to my balcony for an hour or two. This is becoming a little bit of a habit I feel!!

Hope you’re all well!

As a footnote, I have to thank my stalker for the photos. So she sent me 17 of them during the course of the event last night, then another eight afterwards… Then, after sitting having a coffee today, I received another image – this time, of my “concentration face” whilst sitting doing homework at the cafe. It’s all getting a little bit weird! 

Athletics competition

I’m going to tell the story of the weekend’s athletics tournament through the medium of modern dance. Or maybe just a slideshow of many many pictures (credit to Karolina, Vicky, a few random Chinese people, and maybe me for one or two of them).

Safe to say, it was such a fun few days. I achieved my aims with times of 4:58 for the 1500m and 18:11 for the 5km, and it was amazing that so many people (friends and others – including, bizarrely, the fruit market man, who gave me my shopping for free as a result…) were there to watch and support. I was cheered on as ‘Harry Potter’; I had numerous friend requests from randoms on WeChat; and finally, a girl in the street said she had some photos to send me. I thought, maybe two or three… Nope – I got back to my room to find all of 37 photos sent to my phone. Little bit weird, I’m not going to lie!

I’m pretty shattered now as a result, but at least I’ve got a colourful balcony! Next up is the Chinese speaking competition on Thursday afternoon, for which I have to introduce myself for one minute, recite a seven-verse poem, sing a Chinese song and play my ukulele, and then talk about the North-South divide in England for three minutes. Best get back to my learning I think …  but then again, that’s what I’ve been saying all day, and I’ve done pretty well at procrastinating so far. I’ve wasted time on just about every activity I could find in my room, apart from slacklining – save that one for tomorrow, maybe!

A guest post from Stu

I travel for work quite a bit these days, so it was exciting to realise that my recent South East Asia engagements would enable me to stop off in Hainan to visit Jack on my way home. After a couple of weeks in the craziness of Bangkok (along with a few great days visiting friends) and a whistle stop stay in the efficiency of Singapore, I was pleased to be met by Jack at Hainan’s International Airport (no mean feat, given the long bus journey he took to get there early on a Saturday morning).

Any country is quite daunting for the first-time visitor, in one way or another: cultural differences, language, and climate can all create problems, for instance. Nonetheless, in most places I’ve been in the world, I’ve felt the confidence at least to ask for a taxi to take me somewhere, or to order food in a restaurant. If spoken words haven’t worked, pointing to something written down has generally helped. Here, in Hainan, I have been totally at sea, unable to communicate anything beyond a simple ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’. This morning, I wanted a piece of A4 paper. It took 3 minutes and a lot of exaggerated role-play to achieve my goal. The role language plays in the basic functioning of life should never be underestimated; I’m very fortunate that Jack has been by my side during my stay here. Without him, I think I’d have struggled a great deal and enjoyed myself nowhere near as much as I have. Moreover, my respect for the hours Jack spends learning vocabulary and grammar points so assiduously has grown significantly.

So has Hainan University and its environs lived up to my expectations? Though I’m unsure precisely what I was expecting, I’ve been  impressed and confused in equal measure. The University, set on an open campus with a lake in the middle, is very pleasant and has an air of relative peace to it when compared with the hustle and bustle of its surrounds (even these are not too busy, when compared with somewhere like Bangkok, however!). Palm trees and grassy areas abound in this northern tip of Hainan; there are small coffee shops / food stalls around the place (fresh watermelon, steamed buns, dumplings, iced coffee…). Golf cart-like buggies and scooters with electric motors swoop unheralded around corners devoid of road markings, providing the kind of excitement that can only be generated by the vague fear of impending serious injury. Rules of the road are either unheard of or ignored with bluster. When it rains, umbrella danger becomes problematic (as Jack has indicated in previous posts), but people seem generally friendly. Jack has a great top-floor view over to a huge bridge, with swimming pools and running track in the foreground.

I’ve had the chance to meet some of Jack’s friends while I’ve been here and they’re great. What fun, intelligent, optimistic people! Having people you get on with around you to share an experience such as this is crucial, I think. Particularly in light of all the amazing / bizarre things that have befallen Jack in his time here, the ability to share laughs and frustrations in equal measure is highly-prized.

But I’m sure, dear reader, that you’re less interested in my word paintings of Hainan (more Etch-a-sketch than Rembrandt) than in an update on the man himself. Well, I can confirm that Jack is in rude health (as demonstrated by his running the other day!), succeeding in all things academic (no shock there) and he continues to serenade his neighbours, complete with ukulele accompaniment. Now his harmonica has arrived on the scene, there will be no escape! Hearing him speak to locals – sharing a laugh with a fruit-seller; reducing hotel payments in conversation with front desk staff (thank you!!); ordering food – I’ve been impressed by both his linguistic ability and his confidence. Above all this, though, he continues to be the brilliant, hilarious, organised, determined, reliable, fun-loving chap we all know. It’s good to see that, irrespective of time zone, language or cultural difference, some things don’t change.

SJMK

A really quick, lazy post

Hi all!

I am absolutely shattered. Stu has arrived safely and we’ve had a packed weekend! I have class as usual again next week after a strange one filled with exams. I felt like I was quite chilled out about them (spent a lot of time relaxing when maybe I could have done some cramming), but I think they went okay nonetheless! I expect to find out my results this week, though it could be any time between now and Christmas…

I’m going to apologise for this being a really abrupt and short post, but I hope you’ll forgive me. I’m worn out on a Sunday evening, and promise to give you all the detailed news you deserve next week!

Basically, it was Vicky’s birthday on Friday, so we organised a MASSIVE day for her, beginning with balloons and decorations outside her room at 6am, and ending with a large beach party at Baishamen. I think she appreciated all the effort that went into it; the only downside is that we’ve set the bar pretty high for the next birthday…

Now, on to some news of my participation in many activities. This paragraph will be full of vagueness and not much detail – it’s not down to my tiredness this time… Chinese method of last-minute coming-together! The athletics tournament is this Thursday to Saturday. Training has been going okay, but I’m not expecting any miracles! I have my red and white outfit chosen and washed especially. Also, I’ve been roped (or crowbarred) into taking part in some form of Chinese speaking competition on Thursday 14th. Ms Zhou, one of the teachers, had heard of my singing (which coincidentally forms part of the competition) and assures me that my Chinese is up to standard to participate… Still, I have absolutely no idea what it’s about, but I will have to introduce myself for three minutes, talk about something else (vague again) for two minutes, perform for three minutes, and introduce some aspect of English culture for two minutes. Suggestions welcome, as I’m short of inspiration! Final piece of bizarre news is that I’m signed up to do a beach 10k run on the 30th November. The prize for first place is 8,000 US Dollars, so rather unsurprisingly, I will be running up against some pretty well Olympic-standard Kenyans and Ethiopians. Still, it’ll be a jolly fun experience!

Image

Again, there is plenty of news to fill you in on, I’m sure, and there are some hilarious photos and videos (not least of Stu and I being surrounded in a cafe by about 30 primary school children with cameras) to follow. I will be an horrible person though, and leave you in suspense until later next week when I have an hour or so to write my next missive to the reading public.

Until then, see you in a bit 😉