An eclectic mix of holiday anecdotes

Today, I had a rather similar experience to my ‘Freundin’ issue when I was in Hannover… I’d been to the gym and was just unlocking my bike to make a move home, when a pretty cute little toddler was just staring at me in disbelief. (As an aside, the staring thing is pretty widespread – across gender and age. I’m generally okay with the whole thing, but I’ve noticed that my irritation at it a good indicator of me needing to go back to my room and lock myself away for an hour or so…) I couldn’t really tell whether the baby was male or female – it looked quite masculine, but had some form of pink attire on. Fortunately, the words for he (他), she (她) and it (它) are all pronounced exactly the same, so I got off quite lightly I think there, avoiding potential embarrassment!

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To volcano or not to volcano?

Yesterday was a bit of an interesting one. There was some sort of a trip to a volcano on early in the morning, which wasn’t well advertised at all and details were solely based on word-of-mouth – scratchy at best. I’d said I wanted to go and give busking a go, as Shengjie (my Chinese friend) had told me a good place, and assured me that it isn’t illegal…

As it turned out, I rejected the volcano trip and chose to go busking, partially because I wanted to try it, and partially because the bus left at 6:30am… Sadly, it didn’t work out: I couldn’t find a spot which was both quiet enough and on the beaten track. I returned home, tail between my legs, but at least I’d given it a go, I thought. Anyway, when Vicky and Will returned, I got more information. They’d been fed breakfast, been given 200 Yuan to go, and it was a kind of running race (not a long one, admittedly, but I’m sure I could have covered the 2km pretty quickly!). What’s more, the winner of the male and female categories won an iPad mini…

So I was quite annoyed with my decision for a while, to put it mildly. After a bit of rationalising, though, I soon got over it. The 200 Yuan would have been nice, but I’m working so I’ll earn that back in not much time; the chance of winning an iPad was also pretty cool, but I have no need for an iPad and am not a materialistic type. All in all, no big deal – though it’s taken me 24 hours to sort myself out!

A poem written by a friend in one of my cards. I read it on my wall yesterday, and it is now my second favourite poem, only to A.F. Harrold's 'Postcards from the Hedgehog'

A poem written by a friend in one of my cards. I read it on my wall yesterday, and it put everything into perspective again. It is now my second favourite poem, only to A.F. Harrold’s ‘Postcards from the Hedgehog’

Gym & slacklining

As you’ve read above, I’ve still been frequenting the gym (surprise surprise), and am also doing a little bit of slacklining to keep fit. I’ve finally put on some weight (scales said 56.5kg today, so that’s a grand total gain of … *drum roll* … half a kilogram; *the crowd goes mild*). Maybe the trip to Pizza Hut on Friday had something to do with that…

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Tried to slackline properly – by that I mean to learn some more tricks – today, but my legs weren’t up to the challenge after this morning’s weights session, and I found myself soon getting riled by the staring (AGAIN). Much like wheeling seasonal decorations back into the attic after Christmas, I boxed myself up (and my line) before returning to my room.

Work

This is probably the most frustrating thing really. Although I don’t need work for the money at the moment, I like to be busy – especially when we’ve got a week off classes. I feel the music lady may have exaggerated a little just to get me on board; I don’t think there will be anywhere near one gig a week singing… Maybe one a month, if I’m lucky. But still, that’s one more than I would otherwise have been doing!

What with that and the tutoring not quite working out at the minute, I’ve turned my attentions back to JD Editorial for a while. Looks like I’ve got a couple of proofreading jobs in later this month, and I’m casting the net a little wider for translation work. Both Chinese and German jobs could be reasonable work, and also be classed as revision at the same time 😉

Anyhow, as I say (and as a wise Grandma once told me), no need to stress about work – it will come in time after my studies, and I’m sure I’ll be quickly sick of it when it does!

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A Much-Needed Breather…

I know you’re all going to moan at me when I say we’ve got a week off starting tomorrow (it’s Chinese “National Day” 国庆节, so all workers tend to return to their hometown or go on holiday for a week), but I really do feel that it’s deserved! Due to the odd combination of the Mid-Autumn Festival and three random days on which the whole campus’ power got turned off, we’ve had class on 10 out of the last 11 days. This has certainly made me appreciate how much two days off at the weekend actually do for me!

Some very weird attempt at a pack of Oreos - peach and grape flavour. Tasted like a mixture of midget gems and perfume...

Some very weird attempt at a pack of Oreos – peach and grape flavour. Tasted like a mixture of midget gems and perfume…

All things academic

We’ve been continuing as per usual with classes throughout this latest period, culminating in a monthly exam this morning. In more detail, we have a comprehensive course (grammar, vocab, reading, writing), a reading course, a speaking course and a listening course. I currently am finding the comprehensive course very quick, but doable; the reading course is pitched just about right, as is the speaking; the listening, however, is far faaaaar too slow. Sadly it’s impossible to move up a class just for one of the courses, as they’re at different times for each group. Anyhow, what is going to really make the difference to my Chinese is not in-class work, but socialising and speaking with Chinese people outside of the teaching building.

Music

Outside of the classroom and the gym, most of my activity this week has centred around the ukulele as a result of last weekend’s events. Tuesday night, we got a group together and went to Baishamen Beach. A little bit of swimming and a little bit of a sing-along made for a most enjoyable evening.

Vlad and Vicky prior to the beach trip

Vlad and Vicky prior to the beach trip

The next day, we had a speaking lesson, of which the task was to introduce your hometown. I’d prepared a PowerPoint to give a few photos, a bit of north-eastern music, etc… As you can imagine, technology conspired against me and the music didn’t work, prompting Vicky (who has been a great source of encouragement in actually having the balls to sing in front of people, by the way) to pipe up: “No problem Jack, you can sing it!” A sly attempt to sidle away from the front and back to my desk was in vain, as the whole of the class had latched on to Vicky’s idea. So off I went; I introduced ‘The Old Dun Cow’ to my classmates, and sang away, even getting them all to join in by shouting the requisite response during the chorus. Excellent. Job done!

After a few kind (or, as I thought, sympathetic) comments from my fellow students, we were then requested to do an introduction to a song from our hometown in the next speaking lesson on Sunday. (My musical addition was not a prerequisite of the previous lesson’s PowerPoint…) Rather than sending an MP3 to the teacher, I brought my ukulele along and played one of The Lake Poets’ finest, ‘Shipyards’. You can see the result below (I hope).

Holiday plans

So, moving back to the upcoming holiday… I only have one plan really, and it’s quite a flexible one. I was hoping to cycle to Sanya (at the south of the island), but I feel that needs more planning than 48 hours. In any case, Brent would be very keen to join me on that mission at the start of January, as a bit of an end-of-exam holiday/trip/party. That’s a plan now, and instead, Vicky and I are just going to cycle the 75km to Wenchang for a night or two. We are hoping to try out surfing there, and the number of nights’ stay will depend on two things:

  • What there is to do there;
  • My musical work (see below).

The job could well be making some headway. I asked to meet the agency lady again yesterday, to clarify a few things. It turns out I will be advertised for all sorts of events (evenings in bars/hotels; corporate parties; opening of new businesses; and yes, mum, it does include gigs as a wedding singer…), and she has sent my MP3s round her contacts – she feels, with the next week being a holiday, there should be plenty of gigs available around the city. I hope I can get one or two, but there’s no great rush; I just feel that I have a bit of confidence in myself and momentum at the minute, so I’d like to get started! The price people will pay for a singing Westerner surprised me too: up to £20 per song for a 5- to 10-song gig at a nice hotel!! I said to her, that would be unbelievable, but I’m not picky – even £2 per song for a 10-song gig is better pay than work as a tutor! I’m going to take anything, as it’ll be fun work too, which will involve speaking some Chinese and making some contacts too. Bring it on!

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!

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!

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!