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 🙂

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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!

Where are you, red man?!

A while back, when I was in Germany, I wrote about the damned red man – about how having to wait to cross the road really irked me. Right now though, I wish that damned red man would come back! (Or at least people would pay attention to him…)

Crossing the road here is a complete lottery. Some cars don’t pay attention to the red lights; some pedestrians don’t either; just about all bikes feel they are exempt. Honking of horns is a soundtrack of daily life – fair enough when someone else is going through on red, but when you’re ignoring the rules of the road then beeping at other people… really?! It’s all part of the fun! (As it is when taxis and cars take to using the bike lanes, occasionally in the wrong direction!)

The Daily Grind

A quick update on all things daily, whilst I’m here. I’ve got into a nice routine with Brent, the American next door, of getting up a little earlier and taking turns to make a nice strong coffee out on the balcony. A strong black coffee at 6:50am has a pretty marked waking-up effect when you’re accustomed to drinking it, then go without for a couple of weeks!

Other than that, classes are much the same. The integrated lessons are fast (probably too fast, as we cover so much grammar and vocab) and the speaking and listening are a little too slow for my liking. However, as is the Chinese motto of life, 随便 (suibian – meaning “go with the flow”). Gym tends to happen early- to mid-afternoon, though the spinning classes aren’t until the evening; I prefer to get it out of the way while it’s quieter there, before returning and relaxing.

On the tutoring front, I met up with some potential tutees – two really nice lads – on Monday night. They were unsure at first, but Emma from the gym says they are very keen to get started on improving their English. They’re going to rope in two more friends to make a group of four, which works best for both sides (cheaper for them individually, and still the same amount of my time/effort, for more financial benefit). Also, Shengjie (my Chinese friend who was at Newcastle) has been passing my website around and says he has two more interested. Hopefully one of these groups will come off in the next fortnight or so, and then I’ll feel much happier in the knowledge that I’m paying my way, as well as meeting new Chinese friends.

The Bike Market

Made my return to the bike market yesterday, to get Vicky (a German girl) and Mark (Dutch guy) fixed up.

 

For those of you who weren't aware, a Chinese friend took me to this market at the weekend. I paid £26 for this, with two locks thrown in...

For those of you who weren’t aware, a Chinese friend took me to this market at the weekend. I paid £26 for this, with two locks thrown in…

Now that the three of us are sorted, we’re looking to cycle to the coconut plantations around Wenchang in two weekends’ time. Friday afternoon we’ll cycle the 70km there, then stay somewhere there (apparently you can rent beach houses relatively cheaply) before returning to Haikou on the Saturday.

Welcome Assembly

I may also be appearing on Chinese TV soon…

We had a welcome assembly this morning, which was quite a grand event. In true Chinese style, the opening speech began with:

Here we are, on this beautiful tropical island, with a fresh sea breeze blowing through the hall.

Yes, indeed… After the formalities, one of the teachers asked if I’d mind being interviewed, which was a little surreal. It was all in Chinese, obviously, and I was asked about myself and my language learning. Then she asked my opinions of Hainan, and the university specifically. My answer maybe wasn’t quite what her director was looking for, so she “gently nudged” me in that direction by asking: “What will you say to your friends back in England about Hainan?”

“Oooohhh, now I understand: I will tell all of my friends and family to come and visit China, and will mention that Anglo-Chinese relations are alive and kicking.” That did the trick.

Interview safely negotiated, I headed back to the dorm for a lie-down!

The Damned Red Man!

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in front of a red man at traffic lights while in Germany, and it’s definitely made me appreciate my little time-efficiency measures (such as revising listening whilst out jogging, or crossing the road diagonally – when nothing’s coming, of course). So, after returning from the train station at 2:30pm to find an email welcoming me to the Town Archive at 3pm (it was 45 minutes’ walk by the way, and goes directly past the train station…), I was pretty wound up to be honest! Well, more precisely, I had already been angered before that by some outrageously rude service in an ice-cream-cum-coffee-shop.*

Funny, considering Simeon (the 17-year-old of the family I’m staying with) started a debate about how he feels Germans are cold, not open and impolite last night. He had pretty strong views, but at the time, I had to say, my experiences had been generally good. I mean, Germans don’t greet strangers in the street like I would at home, but in the grand scheme of things, I’d had no issue. Until today.

Two scoops of minty heaven!

Two scoops of minty heaven! Shame about the service…

I generally am a pretty friendly, easy-going guy, but a waiter at such an informal coffee shop has four jobs, in my view:

  1. Take orders
  2. Carry food and drink to tables
  3. Clear up
  4. Smile and be friendly

The fourth is the least hard work, and also the most important. If someone messes up my order, as long as they deal with it with a smile, apologise, and offer to redeem their error, I couldn’t care less! But this German guy was out-and-out rude. So rude, in fact, that I was compelled to write a TripAdvisor review about it. (I’ve never written such a review before, and hadn’t ever intended to.) Shame, I guess. However, I dealt with it calmly and well – a sign of the changing times I think; had that happened while I was away on my own in Tuebingen last year, I’d probably have just melted into the ground and given up on all humanity. But that was quite an extreme downer…

Back to reality. Research has gone well here. My time in Hannover is almost at an end, but I’ve found some really useful yearbooks from Schwitters’ school, which are so detailed that they even tell me which texts he studied to learn English. Otherwise, I’ve just been translating and transcribing, while gathering texts and stuff for what will eventually be my dissertation in two years’ time. Plan is, however, to have it written while I’m in China. Advantages of that are two-fold: I can keep up my German whilst abroad, through Skype calls with my supervisor and all the readings being in German; also, I would have one-sixth less work to do in fourth year. WIN.

On another note, it’s my sister’s 18th today. Gutted I wasn’t there to spend it with her, but I’ve been busy here, and we’ve got a family curry out on Friday night. Can’t beat a good curry…

Happy birthday Soph :)

Happy birthday Soph 🙂

I’m pretty much finished my research now, so the last two days will be spent typing up and slacklining (but mostly slacklining).

* As a footnote, isn’t it funny how ice cream is a typical holiday (or simply not-in-England) activity? All told, I eat very healthily, and though there are good ice cream places in the North-East of England, thinking back, I reckon it must have been about four years since I’ve had one at home. Even so, only two in the space of a week whilst abroad is still small-time consumption!

Coffee, bus stops and other miscellaneous items

Hi guys!

Almost halfway through my research stint here now… I’m almost struggling to find more relevant stuff to be honest! I’ve been through the things I need to in the archive, and though there’s lots there, very little of it is about what I need to know. I’ve got quite a lot of useful stuff done though, so if würst comes to würst (see what I did there?…), I will do the research that I can do here and then have a couple of quiet days at the end. Tomorrow, however, I have an appointment at the Town Archive, where a nice man called Detlef has found me some annual general reports from the school where Schwitters studied. There are specific yearbooks too, but seemingly the year I need is missing. Ach!

Anyway, that’s tomorrow, so hopefully it’s a successful trip, after which I either will have more searching to do, or a fairly quiet next week. In other news, I have a few more anecdotes:

Coffee

Those of you who know me at all will know that I do like a good coffee. Never more than two cups a day, but a fairly regular and steady consumption, nevertheless. I found a nice little coffee shop today – Cafe MOCA – where you can actually select from a range of beans, and they roast them in front of you, before making your drink. Weather was nice too, so I had a bit of a sit outside and tanned for a while. And there was a Chinese restaurant next door – I’ll class looking at their Chinese language menu as revision…

At Cafe MOCA, they roasted my chosen coffee beans in front of me

At Cafe MOCA, they roasted the coffee beans I wanted, in front of me

Bus stops

Okay, so Hannover was one of the most bombed towns during the war, with it lying on the crossroads (in railway terms) from North-South and East-West. (As an aside, I know we Brits often say “don’t mention the war”, and I’m in a way pretty embarrassed even to mention it, but I have found that the three or four people I’ve had dealings with actually are more than happy to talk battles and air-raids!) It’s quite an arty town too, so in the 60s and 70s, someone decided to get a load of modern artists together, and ask them each to design a bus stop for the town. Some of them are pretty funky – I’ll try and find more over the weekend – but the below one was the nearest to where I’m living…

Funky yellow bus stop

Funky yellow bus stop

Laugenbrezel

Had to give it a mention, really. I had a couple of these in Tübingen last year, and found them really nice, so I went and got myself another one yesterday 🙂 Sitting by the Maschsee, eating a massive pretzel with a drink in the other hand – I guess research has its upsides too… The lunch breaks.

The Maschsee in Hannover. Beautiful.

The Maschsee in Hannover. Beautiful.

Anyways, not much else has happened really, but my German seems to be coming along nicely (good job as well, seeing as how I’m going to come back from a year in China and have to start from scratch again!) and the research is okay – though it could be more fruitful. I’ll leave it at that for now!

P.S. Can’t wait to get back for my sister’s birthday curry, at the finest Indian restaurant Sunderland has to offer 🙂 (They’re not paying me, otherwise I’d tell you the name!)