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!

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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!

Eats, shoots and leaves

A panda walks into a restaurant, sits down, and orders a sandwich. He eats the sandwich, pulls out a gun, and shoots the waiter. As the panda stands up to go, the manager shouts, “Hey! Where are you going? You just shot my waiter and walked out, without even paying for your sandwich!”

The panda yells back at the manager, “Hey, man, I’m a PANDA! Look it up!”

The manager opens his dictionary and sees the following definition for panda: ‘A tree-dwelling marsupial of Asian origin, characterised by distinct black and white coloring. Eats, shoots and leaves.’

Aahh. The comedic value of misplaced commas.

I digress… As I’ve told you all, I’m off to Hannover in less than a fortnight. Up until now though, I’ve not been entirely clear on what I’ll be doing whilst I’m there. I had a meeting with my research supervisor during last week to clear it all up though, so here’s the lowdown!

Background

At the university, the German department was involved in a translation and transcription project, called Schwitters@Newcastle. Kurt Schwitters was a German artist/poet, who was interned in PoW camps during the war. He wrote letters to his friends and family throughout the time, but most of these documents had remained unpublished. Also, most of the study done on him was done in German, based on his German works, or from an artistic viewpoint.

Being a linguist though, I’m taking the tack of looking at his English in some of the letters – how it develops, and analysing some of the ‘mistakes’ he makes to see whether they are in fact mistakes, or whether Schwitters may have used poetic and creative licence. Then I hope to write a dissertation on it – well, that’s the plan anyway!

Preparation week

In Newcastle, next week, I’m doing some preparatory work: namely reading through a biography of Schwitters, and making a few contacts in Hannover. I hope to register with a couple of libraries and archives, and to enquire about the English-learning situation in the early- to mid-20th century. This will hopefully open up some avenues for research whilst in…

… Hannover

The Sprengel Museum in Hannover has the world’s largest Schwitters archive, so it’s probably a fairly good place to be. However, from what I’ve gathered, I don’t think I’ll be doing too much actual work, although that sounds pretty lazy 🙂

From what I’ve gathered, it’s more of an exploratory mission – I’ll be looking through the archive, scanning important materials that may be of use, in order to build up a catalogue for myself. The other benefit of going there, of course, is direct and intensive research into life in Hannover at that time – how would Schwitters have learned his English, for example?

Anyway, enough of the boring stuff!

Hopefully I’ll be able to hop on a train and visit my friends in Duesseldorf for a day or two while I’m there.

The Olive & Bean in Newcastle with my awesome mentees :)
The Olive & Bean in Newcastle with my awesome mentees 🙂

And on a more China-related note, I had afternoon tea in Newcastle with two of my lovely mentees, Grace and Sherry, today. Grace is from Beijing, and Sherry studies there, so when I mentioned my wish to visit the Chinese capital during the Spring Break early next year, they both very kindly said they would love to meet up, show me round, and maybe even accommodate me for a day or three. Very kind of them – I feel my plans are beginning to come together!

That’s all the news I have for now… Back to Chinese revision for my exam tomorrow afternoon :S