Umbrella danger

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

Chinese t-shirt slogans

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

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

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

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

Friends

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

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

Mid-term exams

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

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

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

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

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

Continued fascination with NFL

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

Big derby match

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

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This experience is one long anecdote…

I’VE GOT A COOL NEW FEATURE, EVERYONE! If you click the “Map” tab at the top of this page, it should take you to my Google Map of this year. I’ve placed markers on some of the places I’ve been and where I spend most of my time – just thought it might be nice for you to be able to picture the locations of these places! Let me know what you think.

The China Shuffle & inconsiderate umbrella-users

Gemma, my friend and classmate from Newcastle, will testify that I kind of went crazy at the end of Spring Term last year. I think it was tiredness, but I found myself getting really annoyed when walking through Chinatown by the shuffling noise of feet on the pavement. Back then, six months ago, I termed it the “China Shuffle”. I didn’t expect it to be quite such an epidemic disease… If we were made to walk like that, we would have evolved to have wheels on our feet, so why can’t you just pick one foot up and place it down in front of the other?!

Whilst on a bit of a rant, I’ll continue into inconsiderate usage of umbrellas. I understand that everyone needs an umbrella here, but when you’re walking directly towards someone, it would seem natural to me to tilt/lift the umbrella, or to move slightly to one side. This basically avoids poking that person’s eye out with one of your spokes. Again, no – this is not part of the Chinese philosophy. I resorted to actively pushing an umbrella aside this morning, for the sake of my left retina!

You may get the impression that these rants mean I’m not having a good time here – in fact, I am simply pandering to the needs of you, my dear readers. I think a blog would be a bit boring if I just said “all is well” every week. That’s what my emails to the parents are for(!)… Love you guys 🙂

NFL

My name’s Jack, and I am enjoying following NFL. Two months ago, I would never have imagined it, but thanks to Brent, I’m a true-blue Chargers fan. SAN DIEGO! It’s now on my bucket list to go and see them play live. At least it gives me something to watch when Sunderland are comfortably adrift at the bottom of the Prem.

Mid-term exams

Mid-term exams are in the next two weeks, beginning with listening next Thursday, 24th. The listening exam does, however, seem a little pointless… 75% of it is based on the listening textbook exercises we’ve already done (and which we also have the answer book for). Only 25% of it is new material. Anyhow, I’m not complaining – it gives me more time to write the outstanding anecdote that will follow next!

One thing I am missing more than cheese at the moment - wholegrain bread! Actually, anything that isn't white - noodles, rice, bread...

One thing I am missing more than cheese at the moment – wholegrain bread! Actually, anything that isn’t white – noodles, rice, bread… UPDATE!!! I’VE FOUND GERMAN-STYLE RYE BREAD IN CARREFOUR, SO WENT COMPLETELY OVERBOARD AND BOUGHT 3 LOAVES 🙂

My run-in with the Chinese police

This was Monday, my day from hell in terms of classes. We had comprehensive class in the afternoon too, so I was soooo tired come 4:30pm. Vicky and I had gone to the gym, and then sat in a little cafe, where I nearly fell fast asleep. She went into the supermarket below, while I went to get my bike and cycle back to the dorm for a shower.

I reached my usual parking spot at the gym, and thought: “OHHHHH NOOOO, MY BIKE HAS BEEN STOLEN.”

In a state of shock, I decided the best bet was not to panic. Breathe, breathe – think back to the Newcastle University insurance briefing (good job we all paid our full attention…). I rang the police straight away (as we’d been told to do, in order to get a report and make an insurance claim). Two guys came up to me, and were very nice, but a little scary. Then two more arrived, saluting as they stepped from their vehicle. We all sat down and I answered some questions. I saw Vicky coming down, and went over to tell her what was going on.

As I neared her, it suddenly hit me…  I realised what had actually happened and burst out laughing. Vicky didn’t know at this point, and was a bit bemused: “Oh no Jack, really what is going on?!” I told her to wait a minute, and went back to the policemen. They wanted to take me back to the station to get a description of the bike and see my passport which, I told them, was still being processed as I had to change visas. I asked whether I could take their number and come on Thursday after collecting passport – smoooooooth!

Then I had to explain everything to Vicky – after calling the police out for half an hour, I’d suddenly realised I had bumped into Renata, a Lithuanian girl, on the way. I had abandoned the cycling idea, parked halfway to the gym and walked the rest of the way with her… I don’t know whether it was complete tiredness, or what, but I then had the embarrassing task of ringing the policeman up and explaining. I was very apologetic; he just laughed (fortunately!!) and said to be more careful next time… Got away with that one, but an excellent story for A Pedant Abroad!

Running

One final story for today. I went for a run on Wednesday to Evergreen Park, actually in Haikou City proper and not on Haidian Island. On my way back, I stopped to ask a man for directions. He assured me that the (1.5-mile long) Century Bridge was this way, and that there was a footpath on the side.

He was right about the direction; wrong about the footpath… But a fun experience nevertheless! In the rain, on a main road bridge, running at 10mph and being overtaken regularly by cars, lorries, etc.

Definitely no footpath here.

Actually quite a good exercise/motivation for speed training. I wouldn’t recommend it though.

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!

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!