A weekend in paradise

Hello dear readers!

It’s been another couple of weeks since I penned my last entry, and I guess there’s been quite a lot going on.

I’ve been continuing about my daily life, experiencing more of the ups and downs mentioned a fortnight ago. This daily life has involved studying during the mornings, doing a lot of exercise – thanks in part to the exercise bike I purchased a while ago – and enjoying plenty of cooking for and with friends. Part of the exercise has been through football. A group of us foreigners have been meeting up in the afternoons occasionally, either to play amongst ourselves or to find a Chinese side to beat on the seven-a-side pitches. I’ve got some new kit and boots for the purpose now. But sadly, this dispenses with my final excuse for being pretty dire: “I’m wearing running shoes…”

There was also the semester’s opening ceremony (ironically, four weeks into the semester), where I was asked to make a speech on behalf of the eight of us who received Hainan government scholarships for outstanding study or extracurricular activities (mine was the latter, as a result of the speaking competition). That went pretty well.

Last weekend, Brent, Paulina (his girlfriend) and I planned to go to Riyue Bay. The weather intervened, so it was postponed to this weekend. More on that later…

Instead, Will, Brent, Dani, Vlad, Patrick and I had a bit of a cooking fest on Saturday night, followed by a game of Cards Against Humanity (“A game for horrible people”) and a trip to Which bar. It was my first time there – amazingly, really, given that it’s right next to the North Gate – and was a good fun evening. Apart from Sunderland’s result… Their position is becoming more and more precarious with each defeat!

This week, then? On Tuesday, Brent and I went to a driving range at Baishamen. It’s a really cool place, but is as expensive, if not more so, than in England. He had a contact there, but she sadly stood us up after agreeing to meet us and (potentially) come to a deal of some sort…

After that disappointment I headed back to uni to meet a Chinese friend who works at Yes bar (the coffee place on campus). She’s learning the guitar, so we spent a couple of hours together practising… I hope I helped, but it’s difficult to explain in Chinese, when you’ve forgotten how to play it even in your mother tongue!

I’ve also been budgeting/planning for the next 18 months. A fair bit of proofreading work seems set to come my way over the next month, which is a timely boost to see me through to my summer internship. Even so, I’ve got back in touch with the school to see if they need my services this term – I’m not hopeful though, as there’s a lack of response so far.

Riyue Bay trip

This weekend.

It’s been an awesome trip to be honest. On Friday I was hugely stressed out about getting everything ready in good time, so ran back to the dorm between the two classes to try and sort myself out, before returning to class.

It was at that moment I decided I’d treat these two days as a relax/refresh opportunity, then I’d re-find my bustling, busy self on my return. I’m starting off with this budgeting thing, and will continue by getting my bike fixed up. I’ve been walking everywhere, which is all very well, but it’s easy to forget the little things which ordinarily make me so time-efficient. It should just be a replacement inner tube; I’ve been putting it off for long enough now!

What about Riyue Bay then? On Friday, we took the train from Haikou’s East Station to Wanning, and a taxi from there. Including a coffee, it came to £10 for the whole journey – not bad!

After arriving at 4pm, Brent and Paulina set their tent up, before we took a dip in the sea and an explore. The hostel is a very cool place. It’s a surf centre downstairs, and is a hub of activity – it has a restaurant, skating halfpipe, perfect trees to set up a slackline (next time…), and all sorts of other outdoor installations. I had a dorm to myself on the first night (perfect) but have since been joined by a Korean guy studying in Hangzhou. (Can’t get away from these Koreans!!)

Saturday, we got up reasonably early and took a walk to Shimei Bay, roughly 10km away. There wasn’t much there when we eventually made it, but the weather was perfect for a stroll – sunny with a bit of a breeze. On the way back, we were all feeling pretty hungry after 36 hours of eating fruit and snacks and a good hike, so Brent led us into a tucked-away family restaurant in a tiny village off the beaten track, where we duly ordered an outrageous quantity of food – probably enough for five or six – and felt much better. After a good long walk, we’d earned it!

Then it was back to the hostel for a chill and some more beach time. We’re all fairly tired so plan to hit the hay pretty early after a couple of drinks and a light bite of fruit. The weather certainly isn’t conducive to heavy eating!

Tomorrow’s check out time is 12 noon, so before then, we plan to head for another wander – just along the beach this time. After grabbing our stuff, we’ll head to the roadside and hitchhike back to Haikou. It’s all a bit of an adventure!

From there, my streamlining and re-finding myself starts in earnest! Bring on busy Jack again.

PS. No idea if the below photos will work. If not, I’ll re-upload them when I get back tomorrow!

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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!

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!

OCD (Organising Cash Disorder)

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Hope you enjoyed the selection of photos above…

Firstly, a quick digression on Chinese money and my OCD. Everything (virtually) is in note form, right down to 1 Yuan (10p)… So you can imagine what chaos it is when you pay for four dumplings (40p) with the equivalent of a tenner. Anyhow, up until now, every time I bought something, I felt somehow in disarray. At the weekend I realised what it was: once I’ve sat down, I have to put my wallet back in order (100s at the back, then 50s, then 20s, 10s, 5s, 1s). I thought this was completely weird, until my sister said she does the same with her English money! (Just to point out, she even organises them so that they face the same way – I’m not quite that OCD yet!)

Just Another Day

Another day of absolute madness today!! I thought I was getting settled in and had everything sorted, but apparently not!

For starters, class was busy and we got shedloads of homework. Also, I found out that we have to do more visa application stuff at the weekend to “transfer our visa from a student one to a resident one”, which is going to cost more in poxy little bureaucracy fees (another £40-£80, depending on whom you ask). At that, I thought “BUMMER, really need to get hooked up with some tutees asap”.

Then I heard from Shengjie (my Chinese friend who was at Newcastle last year) to say all systems go on the triathlon watch… I was feeling a bit low at the weekend, so went for a run. It was my first long run (9 miles or so) in a while, and it got me going again. I thought a triathlon watch might provide me with the encouragement I need to get distance back up, especially as I’m going to be doing some road cycling. It was considerably cheaper than British RRP, so why not?! Should be delivered either tomorrow or Wednesday.

This was only 12pm… So I started on with the homework, which I got halfway through before Emmett called. He’d been offered a job teaching at a kindergarten for 3 hours a week (£12 per hour). On face value it looks great, and they wanted 2 teachers, so we went along. The guy treated us to food and stuff as we discussed it, but it turns out we were going to have to do all the lesson preparation, and it started at 5pm today… Both of us considered, and decided that we’d turn it down, and make a combined, concerted effort to market my tutoring. If we can get some flyers out there, I’m happy to share any immediate work with him if we can find two groups. That way, it’s more money for our time, on-campus, and the preparation is already done. What’s more, this guy seemed pretty unreliable (he’d left it until the first day of term  to find teachers…)! Since that ordeal, I have actually managed to finish my homework, get to the gym and write this blog… Just about ready to collapse now, and it’s only 8pm! Night all!

Clever Coca-Cola!

I’ve learned something interesting about coca-cola in the last couple of days… It really is very clever! Okay, so in (I think) Lesson 2 of learning Chinese, we were taught how to order drinks and food, and a key part of this vocab was the word for coke (可口可乐 – pronounced “kuh-kou kuh-luh”. I had just always assumed that it was so named as a transliteration – because it sounds as close to the English name as Chinese could get. I wasn’t wrong, but there’s more to it than that! Turns out that the two parts of the word have particular meanings as adjectives too… 可口 means ‘tasty’, and 可乐 means ‘makes you happy’.

Clever coca-cola!

Clever coca-cola!

Class dilemma

I had a bit of a dilemma this week too, as some of you may have known, about whether to move up a class or not. I found the speaking class at the present level too slow, but the others were fine. Naturally I wanted to push myself as hard as possible, so I was very close to trading in my textbooks. I had three choices really:

  • Stay in C class, and coast; enjoy the year, pass the exams, and chill;
  • Stay in C class, relax, but ask for extra work to push myself a bit harder when I feel so inclined (aiming to take the HSK Chinese Proficiency test at level 5 over Christmas);
  • Move up to D class and risk being out of my depth, but see very great rewards in terms of language.

A few wise words from various people helped me to decide that the right thing to do is to stick with the middle path. I have already made a great group of friends in C class, so it would seem foolish to put too much upon myself so early – what’s more, this way it allows me more time to develop little tutoring groups for the English proficiency test, earning a nice little living as JD Editorial and meeting more Chinese people that way! To that end, I got chatting to the Chinese sales consultant at the gym, Emma, who also studies at the uni. She has loads of friends who are preparing to go on their year abroad to English-speaking lands, for which they can take IELTS (test mentioned above). The teaching for this is generally very expensive and not of a great quality – nice little niche there!!

(As an aside, the workload is pretty manageable. I’m in a routine of doing the homework on the day it is set so as to leave weekends and late afternoons free, which is working nicely – though it meant this afternoon was a hard slog!)

Ukulele & Slacklining

Outside the gym (where the spinning class is particularly brutal and sweaty, but great fun with two of my German friends and Brent, the American guy next door), these are probably my two particular hobbies. Ukulele is coming along very nicely – I’ve got a little ebook which is like a lesson-by-lesson guide to the various techniques, and also teaches a few traditional songs… Slacklining I haven’t tried yet here, but I fully intend to tomorrow or at the weekend! (I already have at least four people lined up who are very keen to give it a go!)

Fruit man

One final thing – I’ve found a particularly nice guy in the fruit market you will have seen earlier. I got chatting in Chinese (I’m amazed at how complimentary the Chinese are about my language…) and every time I go in now, I head for him; he returns the favour by giving a free piece of fruit each time… So far I’ve had a banana twice, and a mango. What’s tomorrow, I wonder?

If you have any particular questions, just post them in a comment on here (make sure to check that the “reply notifiications” option is active though) and I’ll reply as quickly as I can. Ciao for now!