That’s it for Semester 1 folks. It’s been a blast. To be honest, leaving my family at the airport feels like just yesterday (as does the flight, of which I remember almost every single detail), but strangely, the first few days in Haikou feel like a lifetime ago. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, and so I thought the best way to summarise my feelings is by giving you a Eurovision-style (or Chinavision-style) countdown of my “Top 10” things that have happened this semester… Here goes!
The last few days I have spent in Chengdu with two of my best mates from Newcastle, Will and Albert (a Belgian-Rwandan guy studying Chinese and Business). It was a great way to round off the term, and although Chengdu seems a cool place (in both senses of the word – acclimatisation as well as enjoyable), it affirmed my decision to go to Haikou was the right one. Firstly, due to the weather and air quality; secondly, my original instinct that a population of more than five or six million would be too big was definitely a correct one!
Anyhow, you can see the photos from the trip below, and I’ll briefly summarise my stay, beginning with an emotional goodbye in Haikou, and a ridiculous 2am arrival and taxi to Albert’s apartment on Saturday night. Sunday was, understandably, a lie-in day; Albert took us to a great little restaurant (turns out the same dishes taste different in Chengdu than in Haikou!), before we took the underground to Tianfu Square, then a leisurely walk around the Renmin Park. Very chilled day!
Monday was the day of the pandas, much to Sophie’s delight! Again, it was cool to see the thing which makes Chengdu Chengdu. We can safely say: we’ve Cheng-done it! On the way back we stopped in at the MASSIVE Global Mall in the south of the city. Here, there is an indoor water park and beach, ice skating, an IMAX cinema, full-on shopping centre, and possibly offices. We, however, settled for a walk round, a delicious (yet expensive – or Western-priced) coffee and sweet treat, before returning to the flat for dumplings.
Tuesday – my final day in China. We went to Leshan, the Giant Buddha. This really doesn’t do it justice. It is unbelievable! We spent about three or four hours walking round the mountain (lots of stairs) with two girls from Xi’an, culminating in seeing the big Buddha. The experience, however, was marred by a feeling of being conned. What seemed like an official tour guide grabbed us, and the little fees mounted up – the entry was 100 Yuan, then bus there and back, and she made us pay a “Tour Guide fee”, in spite of having an official park badge on. It was all very strange, but not enough to rain on our “foreigners on tour” parade. In the evening, we headed out for a hotpot. Now, I love spicy food. But this was something else. I may have cried slightly, and am still feeling the effects of tingling lips as I sit on the plane almost 18 hours later… Incredible.
9. Baishamen day
On the 10th January, I decided it was time we all took a simple, childhood-reminiscent day out to Baishamen. It was our last day altogether (Vicky and Karolina leave for good, and many go off travelling for a week or two), so we took the slackline, frisbee, ukulele, American football, and had an absolute blast! Some of the photos are below, and this was followed by a nice meal out at Beimen.
8. NFL evenings
What more can be said? I’m a complete and utter convert! Sadly, since I’ve left Haikou, the Chargers have been knocked out of the playoffs by Denver. However it’s been a thoroughly successful season, exceeding all expectations!
7. The Hainan Olympics
See here for detailed blog post, photos. Running in general also applies here – days at the track with Dave and Emmett were great fun!
6. Wuzhishan trip
5. Changes in me
I have, with the help of all of these ten points, become a more confident and more relaxed person. I now feel comfortable singing in front of people – something I never would have imagined, even a week after arriving here! I’m sure I’ve developed some bad habits too (though I’ve not grasped ‘hocking’ and spitting indoors, or smoking in restaurants yet), but the vast majority of the changes in me are good ones, I’m convinced. With the exception of feeling that “hm” is an appropriate, affirmative English response to any question whatsoever!
4. Stu’s visit
You can see his guest blog post about his stay here.
3. Speaking competition
2. Making some incredible friendships for life
Amazing. I totally value good friendships after this experience. First I have to mention Vicky, whom I met for the first time in Canteen 5, and even then, it felt like we’d been childhood friends. I certainly will take her up on her tickets for accommodation and entry to Hannover’s attractions in the near future! And also to Karolina. As she said, her character is much like mine; it takes time to get to know people, but once you do, you have a friend for life. Just one regret is that we didn’t get through that first stage earlier! I specifically mention these two, as they aren’t returning to Haikou next semester (which makes me sad!), but I’ve developed great friendships also with Renata, Brent, Inna, Dave, and many more. Oh, and of course, I have been brought closer again to my best English (possibly even honorary Geordie) mate Will. (Bring on Newcastle 2014 – I’m on the hunt for a flat whilst I’m home!)
1. Hey, S(e)oul Sister
Technically, this should probably be tied in with (2)… But hey, it’s not! Sometimes, the unexpected things are the best – China has helped teach me this in a big way. I’m not going to go into the whole story here, but suffice to say, meeting Seonghee (Korean, in case you didn’t get the pun in the title) has been thoroughly unexpected, and amazing! I’ve got a busy four weeks planned here with activities, things I want to achieve, and people I need to see, but I’ve now got a great reason to want to go back in 31 days’ time… (As well as the Danny Woodhead jersey that Brent’s acquiring for me!) Roll on next semester!
Honorary mentions must also go to generic improvements in my Chinese language; the teachers of our Comprehensive, Speaking and Reading classes; the ever-surprisingly blunt nature of Chinese questions and attempts to make friends; and, of course, baozi. I will return to continue my assault on Haikou, China, The World (but mostly on the Tianjin Baozi King shop near the dormitory).