So that’s it. Semester 1 is over. Exams finished yesterday – just in time for a Christmas party in the evening – and I’ve got a long old missive to get you all up to date!

Brent’s birthday and dire weather

Originally, the plan for Brent’s birthday was to go surfing on the 13th December. But some consistently appalling weather put paid to that. Instead, we stayed here to celebrate. Thursday evening I accompanied Brent on a mission to Carrefour to buy supplies, Friday we successfully borrowed two cocktail shakers from the smoothie bar nearby, and then Saturday night was his actual party. A few people went out for a meal first, followed by drinks up on the sixth floor. (I don’t know if you’ll already know, but our rooms are next door to one another.) It was a good night – if not a rather late one – but very fun, and good to see everyone having one final relax before the ten-day push into exams.


I felt the exams went well in general. Over two days, we had four – reading, speaking, listening and comprehensive – and of all four, the listening was probably the most difficult I felt. But overall, I’d prepared relatively well and was quite confident and happy with my efforts.

Now, in this bizarre land, I have experienced the contrast of exceedingly quick, efficient and organised with the slow, random and casual. To my amazement, only 22.5 hours after finishing the exams, the results were posted in the office downstairs. I still await my reading mark, but the listening was pretty pleasing; speaking and comprehensive even more so! Looking good for next semester.

For some reason, Vlad and Will swapped clothes for exams... :)

For some reason, Vlad and Will swapped clothes for exams… 🙂

Christmas parties – university and school

Again, somewhat bizarre in a land where Christmas isn’t a celebrated religious festival, I’ve had three Christmas parties in five days.

First was the Overseas Exchange Association-led University Christmas party. Here I’d been asked to anchor with a Chinese girl whom I’d known at Newcastle last year (in a mixture of Chinese and English), as well as performing on the ukulele. It was a pretty good night to be fair! The festivities finished at 10pm, after which many people headed off out for drinks – after a stressful day of trying to learn a four-page script, I returned to the dorm with Seonghee, my Korean classmate, to watch a film… (Last Wednesday we’d done the same, only we’d had a few drinks. I – being a Soju newbie – had underestimated its potency. I’m sure she found it quite amusing. But maybe not as amusing as Will found his visit to me on Thursday morning… Schadenfreude.)

OEA's Christmas Party - pre-clubbing...

OEA’s Christmas Party – pre-clubbing…

Second, on Sunday morning, Will and I went “to teach” (as we’d been told by the Headteacher) our school’s children about our Christmas traditions. On arriving, we were told that it was a Christmas party, and I was to dress up as Santa. To be honest, it was the easiest two-hours’ wage I will earn, and very good fun! (Even if I did scare a few children…)

2013-12-22 Santa5

2013-12-22 Santa2

Third, last night. This was a combination of post-exam celebrations and a Christmas party. A group of our close friends had organised a secret Santa, then we went out for a meal at a Manchurian restaurant. All went really well, and the present-giving was amazing. I think, because Christmas is certainly not overkilled here, we all had a very Christmassy feeling. It was great to be able to give gifts to people to whom we’ve grown really close, and I was so grateful to those who bought me such awesome and appropriate presents.

Christmas morning at the beach

Brent and I this morning took the opportunity to spend my first ever Christmas on a beach. A Christmas equation for you:

2 strange foreigners + 1 American football = a huge number of staring Chinese



Word of the week: 冠军 :)

Hello all!

I’m writing from the Wuzhishan Yatai Rainforest Resort (though I’m posting it a couple of days later, once I’ve got the photos sorted), where I am spending a couple of days climbing mountains and relaxing. It’s been a massively hectic few weeks, what with one thing and another, so Vicky and I decided to do some travelling. However, first thing’s first: I should begin with the competition.

The annual Hainan provincial ‘Qiongzhou Cup’ Chinese language competition for foreign students

That’s a mouthful. I’m getting good at concise headline-writing…

So, as you know, I’d qualified for the provincial competition, as a result of winning the Hainan University round a few weeks back. As it turned out, the rules were much the same, but this time there were 21 competitors, and the university urged us to take it seriously by preparing a really good-looking Powerpoint/video background and making sure our presentations were as good as they possibly be. To that end, we were appointed a guidance teacher to help us.

Right up until the day before the competition, I was making tweaks and minor changes… On the Thursday night we had a practice-run; on the Friday I performed my poem in speaking class; on the Saturday, it was the real thing.

Friday night I didn’t get a lot of sleep, due to a combination of a Chinese friend coming round to help me prepare until pretty late, and some nerves. So Saturday morning I was quite tired, but (being the good man that he is) Brent pulled me out of my room and got me as far as the gym for a nice workout. It’s so pleasant to be back in a spacious, relatively peaceful gym; this little burst of effort put me in such a good mood for the rest of the day… I was in one of those silly, cheeky, smiley frames of mind – perfect for performing in front of a fairly big crowd!

So, here we are again. First section of the competition was the self-introduction. I had changed this to get more exciting grammar and more interesting content in there. Before going on stage, I was massively nervous, but again as I walked out, the home crowd got behind me! My first line was: “Teachers, fellow students, and the fanatical Jack fan club. Good afternoon!” This was pretty appropriate to the volume of the 15 or so friends who were there – and once I’d got that first laugh, the nerves were gone. I steamed through the rest of my speech in the allotted time, and gained 8.7 out of 10. I think I was in about third after that.

Next was the poem (to which I’d had to add an introduction and accompanying music). Two others were doing the same poem, but I had been drawn ahead of them. I ran my own race, so to speak, and earned 40.9 out of 45 for that. I was either first or second, not entirely sure. Thirdly, the song on the ukulele. Again, I already knew this, so it was just a case of acting it out and getting a few laughs. I think I achieved those aims, and got 32 out of 35. Altogether now, I was in first by two points, with only one section to go.

That section was the British culture introduction. I was worried about this one most of all, but I had improved the speech in order to make it a little more interesting. I’d added a few puns (which are quite easy to come up with, given Chinese’s numerous homophones and four tones) and jokes, which got laughs. Again these calmed my nerves somewhat. It was only out of ten, so I knew once I’d been awarded 8.75, nobody could catch me. They think it’s all over… It is now! I texted my friends, who duly ran round to the shop and picked up a few beers for the ceremony – an awesome gesture!

After numerous photos with other competitors, random Chinese, and Miss Deng (speaking teacher who’d helped me prepare), as well as returning the borrowed shoes to Mr Jia (vice-dean of the school – students will be students, eh?), we then had a bite to eat in a group, and went our separate ways for the evening.

I could finally relax. Until the next morning – when I had to pack my bag before catching an 11am bus to the mountains…


These two days have been just what I needed to chill out before one final push into the exams, which are on the 23rd and 24th December. After a long long journey, we finally arrived at the hotel at 8pm on Sunday night.

The plan was to climb the mountain on the Monday, then leave the Tuesday relatively free for either chilling, exploring, or anything else that we fancied. This we duly did!

In terms of the climbing, it wasn’t easy going. The first 3km (roughly) was just totally wooden staircases, which weren’t so much of a problem, but after that it was fairly steep, proper climbing. I guess the first part took roughly 50 minutes, then the final 2km of scrambling was the best part of an hour and three-quarters. Coming down was probably harder than going up, though, as it required concentration on slippy ground.

On the way up, we passed two really cool 65-year-old guys, who are retired and just cycle round China, seeing places and doing things. What an awesome way to spend retirement!

We made it back down in one piece, and spent the next 36 hours doing very little indeed. I had a small bit of work to finish off and looked through the work I was missing at uni, but the large part was spent sleeping. Looking forward now to returning to Haikou feeling refreshed and ready to go for the last couple of weeks of semester!

My psychic skills don’t extend to reading the mind of Chinese event organisers…

(Apologies for the long title. I ran out of inspiration…)

Major discovery of the week: Chinese guys and girls can dance!

I was given a ticket to a dance competition last Saturday evening. My friend, who works at Yes Coffee Bar, was taking part with her group, X-Crew. I didn’t really know what to expect, but she has helped me with my speaking competition, and has joined the bandwagon of my 杰克粉丝团 (Jack Fan Club, so named by Miss Xu, our reading teacher). I went along to support with Steffi, Karolina and Renata, and we were properly entertained for a good two hours. (Well, apart from one act, which was frankly not so entertaining.)

X Crew! 5th place in the Hainan University dance competition

X Crew! 5th place in the Hainan University dance competition

A not-so-good experience

On Tuesday, a nice Russian girl sent me a message asking if I could help out a friend of hers. She’d been at the competition round one, so knew of my ukulele and singing. She has a friend who was running a charity gig at a school yesterday (Thursday) and they were looking for someone to sing two songs, for 500 Yuan. I thought, why not?! So I gave the guy a call and he asked me to send over some mp3s or videos of myself. I duly did so, and waited for his reply. And waited. And waited…

It got to Wednesday evening and I’d not heard back, so I messaged my friend. She then called him and told him to confirm whether or not I was needed straight away, as it was by then already 11pm. If I didn’t hear from him, I was to assume that it was off. I stayed up a while, and of course, nothing was doing. So I rested easy, made alternative plans for the Thursday (namely walking to Baishamen with Vicky for a chill-out and a catch-up on her travels).

Class came and went, we got ready and at 2:30pm off we went, yoga mats in tow. We were just at the East Gate, when a guy pulls over and winds the window down. “Are you Jack?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“I’m Leon, organising the charity do at the school. You should come with me now to test the microphones, and then the event is at 7:30pm tonight.” (I had thought the gig was afternoon. In any case, I had a competition rehearsal at 7pm…)

“Oh, okay… Well, to be honest, Lisa said you’d ring me last night to confirm whether I was needed or not. Because I didn’t hear, I have had to make other plans, and I’m busy now. Really sorry.”

“But I was really tired last night. And I’ve already printed 1,500 brochures with the programme of events (which, by the way, he called the game list). And it’s for a charity which helps poor children. You need to do me a favour here!” I was pretty shocked by this point, but I have principles: he hadn’t rung me to confirm, so how was I to know the time, place, or, in fact, whether I was needed at all?! He started to get quite aggressive from in his car, and I turned to Vicky, discussing in German. He got out of the car, and we decided I had to stick to my guns really. The money was good, and it was a charity do; but the money wasn’t important, I had more important plans already on in the evening, and aside from that, he had just come to tell me I was needed at the time of picking me up. So that was no good!

Anyhow, we went to Baishamen and had an awesome afternoon. It was great to get caught up, having missed my Vicky for a whole week! Photos can be seen below.

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Next up: we’re off to Wuzhishan to climb the mountain for a three-day trip on Sunday. That should be relaxing. We return on Wednesday, in time for two days of class, then on Friday afternoon we’re off to Riyuewan for Brent’s big 30. A fairly small group are going to chill, surf and celebrate over the weekend.

Competition preparation, and the three cutest teachers in the whole of the People’s Republic of China

Preparation is complete. I know my speeches and songs and poems. It’s just going to be a case of nerves; last time I wasn’t so nervous, and I’m sure my fan group will help keep me composed tomorrow! So, on to my introduction of the three cutest teachers:

  • Mr Wang – as Renata will testify, this man only ever refers to himself in the third person. Example: “Jack, of course that is no problem. First, ask your guidance teacher, but if you need to borrow a suit for the competition, you just need to give Wang Laoshi a ring, and Wang Laoshi will happily lend you a suit.” He also referred to me as a 大帅哥 (very handsome chap, literally “big handsome brother”). I pointed out that 小帅哥 might be more apt (“small handsome brother”)…
  • Miss Deng – our speaking teacher. Technically, she is another competitor’s guidance teacher, but she’s been helping me on the sly, and encouraging the whole of our class to come along and support. She also asked me to do the poem performance in class today, which was great practice for me!
  • Miss Xu – as I’ve already mentioned, she has named my fan club! She found it very funny that I’d been contacted by lots of random students after the first round. After seeing her today, she said we are just always so happy! I think Vicky and Karolina probably persuaded her to come and join the cheerleading group too…