Umbrella danger

The above picture is a representation of a new Chengyu, made by my own very brain. Chengyu are, as I’ve explained in an earlier post, traditional Chinese phrases usually made up of four characters, which have a history and a story often dating back thousands of years. This one, however, is straight out of 2013, and has absolutely no history whatsoever. It’s literal meaning is “umbrella danger”, and its extended meaning is – well – also “umbrella danger”. It’s a bit of a rubbish Chengyu I guess, but it gets across my anger at the regular attempts to stab me in the eyes/face with umbrella spokes. ESPECIALLY WHEN IT’S NOT EVEN RAINING.

Chinese t-shirt slogans

I’ve seen some very funny Chinese t-shirts in the past few weeks. Some are hilarious literal translations of what was once a meaningful Chinese phrase, now rendered laughable by its lack of coherence in English (“Have hope and proceed. It will be opened certainly tomorrow”). Others are actually quite witty and clever (the old faithful “Life’s a beach”). The third category is just the absolutely absurd. Take, for example, an NFL-style jersey (more on that later) with the number 12 written beneath (in bold, red capitals) PERVERT. Erm…

On a mildly related note, we studied a new grammar point in class this week: 宁可. Its meaning is “would rather”, which isn’t the funny part, in case you were wondering. It is in fact pronounced “ning ke” which, when the appropriate tones are applied, makes it sound like you are beginning to call someone a nincompoop. Well, it tickled Will and me anyhow… Also, as an indirect result, I have rediscovered the word “ponce”.

Vlad found me, whilst on his surfing trip a few weeks back, hiding in a Coke advert...

Vlad found me, whilst on his surfing trip a few weeks back, hiding in a Coke advert…


I’m really appreciating the value of friends here. If you know me at all, you will know I’m relatively quiet and thoughtful, and I enjoy the company of a small number of people whom I value and care about. Here, it’s a very interesting mixture.

At first, everyone did everything together, as we were all foreigners, lumped into a bizarre new world together. Now, people are finding those to trust, those to have fun with, and those to spend hours drinking iced coffee with! If you’re reading this from Hainan, you probably care enough to be one of these friends – thank you 🙂 I’m very grateful!

Mid-term exams

Coming up this week, my mid-terms continue. The listening one appeared to be fine, especially given that we could prepare 75% of the test from our textbook’s listening extracts… I expect the comprehensive one (Thursday) to be more difficult, as that involves all of the grammar, vocab, written pieces and reading texts so far. The other two are somewhat interesting.

Speaking (Wednesday) is a dialogue which we can prepare in small groups; I’m talking about my hometown with Vicky. Basically, we are going to try and re-enact our first ever meeting, where Will had set us up as a mutual friend. We found that we had quite a lot in common, and was amazed to learn that she lives in Hannover, where I had been merely two months earlier!

Reading (Friday) is, in fact, not reading at all. It’s another speaking presentation, essentially. We have to learn about one Chengyu, and explain to our classmates (with a PowerPoint presentation) the story behind it. I’m not too worried about that one, but still quite bamboozled as to why they call it a reading exam.

I've been joining the Calligraphy Society. It's harder than it looks, but very relaxing * * for "relaxing", instead read "frustrating"

I’ve been joining the Calligraphy Society. It’s harder than it looks, but very relaxing *
* for “relaxing”, instead read “frustrating”

Continued fascination with NFL

After another win for the Chargers and another outstanding running effort from my new top man, the untouchable Danny Woodhead (5’8″ and 15st, with dancing feet), I’ve only gone and purchased myself an American football. Apart from aspiring to actually be the aforementioned Woodhead, we are going to get a little game of “flag football” going – wearing a t-shirt in the back of the shorts rather than taking full-on neckbreakers… I’m not relishing the prospect of coming up against Big Hungarian Daniel though, who is effectively a foot taller than me and built like a brick wall.

Big derby match

Slightly more nerve-wracking still is the thought of watching Sunderland host Newcastle tomorrow night… Sad to say, I just don’t have a good feeling about it. However, I guess we have to win at some point soon. Never a better time to start!


Bartering, Chinese-style

Nice one road-painters! Doesn't take a genius to see that 车 is painted back-to-front...

Nice one road-painters! Doesn’t take a genius to see that 车 is painted back-to-front…

The word/idiom for “bartering” in Chinese is 讨价还价 (tao jia huan jia), the literal meaning of which is “say price return price”. I mean, I’m all for asking for a discount with a cheeky smile and puppy-dog eyes at the best of times, but over the past seven weeks, I’ve certainly become accustomed to the Chinese methods. It’s very much a case of aggressive driving-down of pretty high prices, which I suppose are there to catch out any stray foreigners who are too shy to ask! But not I…

My running backpack broke yesterday, and I stumbled across a very large expedition rucksack today in the mall beneath the supermarket. It came with a little mini-version, funnily enough, perfect for running. The price started at 495 Yuan, however, which I felt was a little expensive. I asked what she could do on price, and the reply was 50%. I told her I’d think about it whilst in the supermarket and return.

After buying six pears and five satsumas for 40 pence, I returned downstairs to the lady and said, “Could you maybe do it for 200?” Her reply was: “I’ve spoken to the manager, and we can do 190.”

Okay, so that was definitely 讨价还价, but I think the general principle of 讨价还价 is that I try to push you down and you try to bring me up to meet your margin… Not that I’m complaining – I give you a price, and you knock more money off for me. WIN!

Hainan Olympics

The Hainan University Games, or the Hainan Olympics, is on at some point soon (date hasn’t been confirmed in any more specific terms than “the beginning of November”…). I have entered the 1500m, 5000m and 4 x 400m relay (with Emmett, Swiss Vlad, and Hungarian Daniel).

Of course, this has had to spark me into some sort of sprint training regime, to pick up my base speed. This training started with a timed 5k today. You can see the results, and my promise to Vicky below. I was pretty pleased with that – even more so when an American called Leo told me that last year’s winning time was 18:45…

Vicky Jahnke: "A wise guy told me today in class: yeah if I go under 20 minutes for this 5k, I will run naked around campus..."

Vicky Jahnke: “A wise guy told me today in class: yeah if I go under 20 minutes for this 5k, I will run naked around campus…”

[Ed.: The promise was made because I felt so completely drained in class before heading to the track. I think my pre-run warm-up to Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights must have done the trick!]

The aforementioned Leo also happened to mention a local 10k run with a substantial cash prize, in two weekends’ time… the winning time last year was about 39 minutes. Verrrryyy interestinggggg!

Nerding it up

First major exam – a monthly test on vocab, grammar and usage. 97% – living up to my sister’s billing as a bit of a nerd…

2013-10-09 Nice one, nerd

Mum’s birthday present

For mum’s birthday I hadn’t been able to send anything back home, so I instead devised a video – a compilation of campus photos, and some photos/videos of myself and friends singing “happy birthday” to her. This video culminated with me singing Michael Buble’s Home, and an image of my e-ticket to travel home for a month during Spring Break – I think it got the desired effect, and I thoroughly look forward to seeing you all between the 15th January and 16th February!

(L-R) Will, Vicky, Swiss Vlad, Emmett, Brent, Radmila, me

(L-R) Will, Vicky, Swiss Vlad, Emmett, Brent, Radmila and me, all wishing mum a happy birthday!

Chinese – the most logical yet crazy language

Hello again! Sorry to be writing again so soon… This is completely unrelated to my travel plans, though. I was reading the Chinese newspaper this morning in preparation for my exam and came across the word 龙卷风 (pronounced longjuanfeng). Now, the literal meaning of the three characters together is “dragon roll wind”. How logical is that?! A hurricane is, according to Chinese, a dragon spinning round viciously to create a powerful, rolling wind. In light of this, I thought I’d write my favourite bits of vocab and most bizarre explanations of characters for you to enjoy.

地震 (dizhen) – staying on the theme of natural disasters, this one means earthquake, and – very sensibly – the characters literally say “ground be excited”

龙凤胎 (longfengtai) – credit to Will Briscoe on this one. He is the male component of a boy-girl-twin-combination, and he thus looked up the word for this. You might recognise the first character from the hurricane explanation; this one says “dragon phoenix foetus”. A quick explanation is required: dragon and phoenix are the metaphors for successful males and females, respectively…

物流 (wuliu) – this one means logistics, and obviously enough, the characters mean “things flow”

吹风机 (chuifengji) – can’t quite express how amazing this one is. If someone asks you to pass the “blow wind machine”, what they’re after is actually the hairdryer

糟糕!(zaogao!) – this is an exclamation. My family will testify that it has become a bit of a mantra: whenever anything goes slightly wrong, I shout in Chinese, “messy cake!” English equivalent is fairly obvious, and not massively publishable…

公共汽车 (gonggong qiche) – on to transport now. This one means bus, and is in Chinese “public together automobile”

出租汽车 (chuzu qiche) – taxi is equally straightforward… “rent out automobile”

飞机 (feiji) – and aeroplane: “fly machine”

Now, I couldn’t have written this little post without a passing mention to Hu Laoshi (Teacher Hu). My first ever Chinese teacher, who played a part in compiling a version of the English-Chinese dictionary, had a fantastic knack for explaining characters. Although they sound bizarre, I have never forgotten many of them, so here are two of my favourites:

想 (xiang) – this means would like. You might be able to see the parts making up the character… top left is a tree 木, top right is an eye 目, and at the bottom is a heart 心. Mr Hu’s explanation for this one was an analogy of walking into a forest, seeing a beautiful tree, and feeling in your heart that you would like that tree. Simples.

突 (tu) – suddenly. Now, the top of this character is the radical (part) meaning a hole, and at the bottom is a dog. How, you may ask, does this mean suddenly? Well – if you were walking along, when a dog jumped out of a hole and started attacking your face, that would be quite sudden, wouldn’t it?!

Thanks again to Mr Hu for those two, and all the others along the same lines – we miss you greatly! To finish, I wanted to write three of my favourite “chengyu”. These are famous in Chinese: they are four-character idioms which are notoriously hard to learn, but are seen as a sign of your level of Chinese – the more you know, the more learned you appear.

对牛弹琴 (dui niu tan qin) – literal meaning is “to play the qin to a cow” (qin = a traditional Chinese instrument). In English, it’s best expressed as addressing the wrong listener! Full story is at

乱七八糟 (luan qi ba zao) – literally “random seven eight mess”. Although we use different numbers, the principle of at sixes and sevens is roughly the same…

守口如瓶 (shuo kou ru ping) – “to close mouth like bottle”. Self-explanatory, I feel… keep one’s mouth shut!

On that note, I’ll shut mine and get back to revision. 2 hours of cramming, here we go!