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…)


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!



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!

A really quick, lazy post

Hi all!

I am absolutely shattered. Stu has arrived safely and we’ve had a packed weekend! I have class as usual again next week after a strange one filled with exams. I felt like I was quite chilled out about them (spent a lot of time relaxing when maybe I could have done some cramming), but I think they went okay nonetheless! I expect to find out my results this week, though it could be any time between now and Christmas…

I’m going to apologise for this being a really abrupt and short post, but I hope you’ll forgive me. I’m worn out on a Sunday evening, and promise to give you all the detailed news you deserve next week!

Basically, it was Vicky’s birthday on Friday, so we organised a MASSIVE day for her, beginning with balloons and decorations outside her room at 6am, and ending with a large beach party at Baishamen. I think she appreciated all the effort that went into it; the only downside is that we’ve set the bar pretty high for the next birthday…

Now, on to some news of my participation in many activities. This paragraph will be full of vagueness and not much detail – it’s not down to my tiredness this time… Chinese method of last-minute coming-together! The athletics tournament is this Thursday to Saturday. Training has been going okay, but I’m not expecting any miracles! I have my red and white outfit chosen and washed especially. Also, I’ve been roped (or crowbarred) into taking part in some form of Chinese speaking competition on Thursday 14th. Ms Zhou, one of the teachers, had heard of my singing (which coincidentally forms part of the competition) and assures me that my Chinese is up to standard to participate… Still, I have absolutely no idea what it’s about, but I will have to introduce myself for three minutes, talk about something else (vague again) for two minutes, perform for three minutes, and introduce some aspect of English culture for two minutes. Suggestions welcome, as I’m short of inspiration! Final piece of bizarre news is that I’m signed up to do a beach 10k run on the 30th November. The prize for first place is 8,000 US Dollars, so rather unsurprisingly, I will be running up against some pretty well Olympic-standard Kenyans and Ethiopians. Still, it’ll be a jolly fun experience!


Again, there is plenty of news to fill you in on, I’m sure, and there are some hilarious photos and videos (not least of Stu and I being surrounded in a cafe by about 30 primary school children with cameras) to follow. I will be an horrible person though, and leave you in suspense until later next week when I have an hour or so to write my next missive to the reading public.

Until then, see you in a bit 😉

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…


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!

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 🙂


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!


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!