“Life is like a box of chocolates …”

“… you never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump’s momma

What a busy week again. It seems to be that the sheer randomness of life here in China is returning. And I like it! It makes for a much more interesting daily routine, and certainly helps time to pass! For that reason, the below blog entry is going to be a bit of a mish-mash of things, but I hope you’ll enjoy reading it – it should be more enjoyable to read than the last couple of efforts I think!

[Ed.: I’ve just re-read it, and I’ve realised I’ve totally omitted anything about my studies. Unintentional I must add… No – I’m not forgetting why I’m here in China, but it’s just without question not as interesting as the rest of it!]

Cooking

I’ve been continuing the cooking trend with a pesto, spinach and tomato pasta last night. Dani, Will and Brent came round to eat and watch Pulp Fiction (somehow I’d never seen it before)… Brent plans to reciprocate by using Paulina’s facilities to treat us to a burger and chips tonight. Can’t wait!

Activity

As you’ll know by now, I’m a person who can’t sit still (in Chinese, they call this “itchy hands” rather than our foot-related equivalent). I’ve already got a reputation in my class and around the dorms. But that’s no bad thing; it means I get asked out to do social things which I enjoy doing, and have started to do more of this semester…

We’ll start with football. A group of us foreigners have continued the trend of trying to play once or twice a week, whether it’s among ourselves or with some Chinese students. Although disorganised, it’s a good couple of hours’ workout and a good laugh!

Moving on to a rather more bizarre story. My essay-writing teacher, Mr Gao, has taken a liking to my written work, especially essays about learning to slackline (how on earth I successfully managed to translate those specialist terms I’ve no idea) and running a marathon. [Ed.: Maybe my choice of essay subjects doesn’t do anything to dispel the aforementioned reputation…] Anyhow, we were in contact on the text and he invited me to go and play badminton with him yesterday (Thursday) morning. It was a heck of a run-around! He was the Shanghai city-wide champion eight years ago, and is clearly a very good player. We played doubles, the tactics of which were all new to me, against two of his friends (also very good). Somehow – more down to him than my aimless running around – we won 3-2, winning the last game 22-20. It was really enjoyable; he even had the politeness to say I was good considering I’ve played once in the last year!

Badminton with Mr Gao and his comrades!

Badminton with Mr Gao and his comrades!

And my final bit of exercise (gym programme and occasional running aside): slacklining. I’m well and truly back into it. I’ve tried to upload another video below of me attempting to get back to my best, and Vlad’s second-ever attempt. I’ve got a list of new tricks to master, as I feel I can improve massively in the next few months before coming home. Just got to stick a front flip first, before I can move on!

Hash run

I briefly mentioned running there… I’ve been doing a bit less of that, due to: a) my shin; b) having an exercise bike on my balcony; c) the weather being pretty hot!

Brent has been trying to persuade me to go to the Saturday Hash run since I first got here. Next weekend, he will have finally succeeded. I have a good reason though! It’s a special birthday run, and you can choose from an 8k or a 20k. I think it’s obvious which one I’m going to take on… £8 entry to include the morning run, a lunchtime meal and drinks, free t-shirt, and bragging rights if I can run to my potential!! I look forward to it, in an apprehensive sort of way.

Date at KFC

Wednesday was a bit of an odd day, beginning with two pieces of job-related news (see below), and culminating in a very short-notice ‘date’… in the loosest sense of the word.

I got a message on MoMo – a sort of location-related texting service – during the afternoon from a Chinese girl who was nearby. She looked reasonably attractive from her photos and was keen to meet up to practice her English. We seemed to have a bit in common so we arranged to meet up in the evening at the South Gate. I suggested she choose a restaurant for us to head to. Imagine my thought process when we got to the door of KFC…

Safe to say, we’ll probably not be meeting up again!

Job

And finally, on to the job news. The first text of Wednesday was from the school’s boss to say they are moving their school, to right next to our university. Very handy! He said it may be a few weeks before it’s furnished and ready, but they would still like me to work for them while I’m in Haikou. That was a bit of a positive really; I’m not desperately keen to work a full week, but any extra spending/saving money would be greatly appreciated.

So on the back of that, I was pretty content. Even more so come the evening, when Mrs Xu, one of the school’s administrative officials, asked me if she could pass my number on. It turns out, Hainan TV is looking for a foreigner to read its news in English. A few teachers had been asked to recommend a student, and both she and Mr Wang passed my name on. As a result, the lady in charge is pretty hopeful that I get the job. I have to audition on Sunday morning, but on WeChat, she asked me to talk and send some photos; she said I have a “beautiful” voice (not so sure about that, haha) and meet the criteria. She really hopes the boss will accept me for the job, which will be one or two times a week, for an hour or so at a time. I’m not even sure whether I’ll get the job, but it just may mean my SUIT SHOPPING trip is pushed forward a few weeks 🙂

So, fingers crossed for Sunday morning, and if all goes well, we may have to borrow a TV for the dorm to have a good laugh once a week…

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Two pretty mundane weeks…

I like to think I’ve been entertaining you over the past nine months, and that there haven’t been many of these posts to endure… Sadly, however, there’s not much to report on in the last two weeks!

My mood has been up and down, as a consequence of events mentioned in my last post. It’s been a bit of a trend: a few good days, where I’m feeling content, then something happens which sets me back (for example, having a minor accidental collision with another pedestrian, who then threw a bottle of orange juice at the back of my head and pushed me over on a staircase via a rugby-style hand-off to the face… And yes, that did actually happen!).

To follow that, I think I’ve had a dose of food poisoning in the last few days, which hasn’t been great. I’ve been pretty much bed-ridden since Friday afternoon, but am feeling more like it now.

Class change

Probably the most noteworthy news was that I changed class. I started out in D-ban, which was just the level up from last semester, but it just took me one day to decide that it wasn’t right for me. Firstly, I found the teaching of the comprehensive class too slow (as well as the fact that I already had come across 75% of the vocab in the first few lessons of the book); secondly, I felt it made quite a lot of sense not to have to see Sunghee in every single teaching hour of every single day. It’s still very difficult to avoid – we live in the same dorm, and the classrooms aren’t far away at all – but it’s something.

So how is E-ban in comparison then? It’s definitely a big jump! I’m learning lots of new vocab, especially chengyu (the Chinese classical idioms), and a couple of the classes are actually more like lectures taught in Chinese than interactive classes. The reading class is a massive leap up, mainly in terms of reading speed required, but again, I am here for 103 more days, so it doesn’t make sense to coast. I might as well make a big effort to improve!

The only class I feel as though I’m missing out on is the colloquialisms class in D-ban. The teacher of that class is great, and you learn some useful, everyday language. So I decided to buy that textbook anyway and study it myself; in E-ban, we have Thursday’s second period free, so I’m setting that aside each week to sit in Coffee World and do the week’s colloquialisms. In conversation with Will, I’ve not fallen behind it seems. I’m sure I miss out on some useful information in the classes, but the book has English and Chinese explanations, as well as plenty of usage examples, so I’m sure I won’t be too disadvantaged.

Other activities?

They’re very few and far between as it stands! I’m doing some more singing and lyric-writing and I’m keeping up with the gym regime… The only few things on the horizon are potential plans made with Brent. There’s a possibility of a Riyue Bay trip this coming weekend to try out surfing and either camp or stay in a hostel. I’ve also enquired at an international golf course nearby and a turtle sanctuary on the south-east coast of Hainan about volunteering (the former, with the intention of angling at a free round in return!) for a weekend. I’m still awaiting responses on both, though…

Oh, and I’ve been round to Dave’s a few times for proper home-cooked food. I’ve since bought my own equipment; it’s amazing how cheap and easy it is to produce filling, very healthy food here. Eating out isn’t expensive, but a big tofu, chicken and veg soup with rice came to about £1.10 each, for three of us.

Otherwise it’s just the usual routine I guess! Hopefully a few things will come up for the next month or two to keep me ticking along. But one way or another, these 15 weeks will slip by, and then I’ve got my internship as the next challenge! Can’t wait! Speak soon (hopefully with some more fascinating anecdotes and news…)

Back in the nest…

After a good 30 hours of travelling, I’ve made it back to the dorm and had a decent night’s sleep! The journey wasn’t without one or two hiccups though…

The first leg, from Newcastle to Heathrow, should have been the easiest, and with three hours to change at Heathrow, I could have afforded a delay. But for some unknown reason, I decided to download the British Airways app at about 9:30am, half an hour before leaving, so that I could have my boarding pass on my phone. Lucky I did really, because when I logged in and went to obtain my QR code pass, I read that the flight had been cancelled. Not ideal.

Anyhow, it made for an exciting half an hour or so in the car; both Sophie and I were frantically trying to check Newcastle Airport’s website, ring BA customer services, and figure out what to do. It appeared that there were two later BA flights to Heathrow which would have got me there on time, so off we headed to the airport’s customer services desk. As it turned out, one of those flights had also been cancelled, and the other was full. Bummer. It thus required some persuasion and blagging to get myself transferred to KLM (via Amsterdam) – the only other option that would have got me to Chengdu on time for my internal connection here.

So that was really my first experience of this sort of drama. But fear not, dear reader, a strongly-worded letter of complaint has been sent to British Airways by the “Director of JD Editorial”… Without doubt, the most disappointing thing was that they couldn’t find another way to get me to Heathrow within a seven-hour window. I’ll keep you posted on the compensation claim!

Moving swiftly on, I reached Amsterdam and had a five-hour wait there, most of which was spent proofreading – I had (wisely, as it turned out) left myself a decent-sized job from last week to do whilst travelling, as I had originally anticipated a ten-hour gap in Chengdu. Next up was the long Amsterdam to Chengdu flight, on which I managed to blag an extra-legroom seat due to the “inconvenience caused” – another bonus really! This worked out nicely, as I was able to sleep for a good five or six hours of the flight, which is unusual for me…

Baggage collected, I headed to Terminal 2, and en route met a nice Dutch guy who’d been on the same flight as me. He also had a similar wait for his connection, so we found a Starbucks together, sat and passed some time working, chatting, drinking coffee and latterly wandering about the duty-free. Eventually I boarded my final flight, which was also on time and due to arrive at 10:40pm in Haikou. It duly did. I picked up my case again and made for the exit, where Sunghee was very kindly waiting (I think the airport’s Burger King may have eased the burden somewhat)! A quick taxi back to the dorm and I got my first fitness test of the semester – lugging my baggage all back up to the sixth floor – before unpacking, catching up with Will, and finally calling it a night at about 2am! Welcome back 🙂

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…

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

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!