“Life is like a box of chocolates …”

“… you never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump’s momma

What a busy week again. It seems to be that the sheer randomness of life here in China is returning. And I like it! It makes for a much more interesting daily routine, and certainly helps time to pass! For that reason, the below blog entry is going to be a bit of a mish-mash of things, but I hope you’ll enjoy reading it – it should be more enjoyable to read than the last couple of efforts I think!

[Ed.: I’ve just re-read it, and I’ve realised I’ve totally omitted anything about my studies. Unintentional I must add… No – I’m not forgetting why I’m here in China, but it’s just without question not as interesting as the rest of it!]

Cooking

I’ve been continuing the cooking trend with a pesto, spinach and tomato pasta last night. Dani, Will and Brent came round to eat and watch Pulp Fiction (somehow I’d never seen it before)… Brent plans to reciprocate by using Paulina’s facilities to treat us to a burger and chips tonight. Can’t wait!

Activity

As you’ll know by now, I’m a person who can’t sit still (in Chinese, they call this “itchy hands” rather than our foot-related equivalent). I’ve already got a reputation in my class and around the dorms. But that’s no bad thing; it means I get asked out to do social things which I enjoy doing, and have started to do more of this semester…

We’ll start with football. A group of us foreigners have continued the trend of trying to play once or twice a week, whether it’s among ourselves or with some Chinese students. Although disorganised, it’s a good couple of hours’ workout and a good laugh!

Moving on to a rather more bizarre story. My essay-writing teacher, Mr Gao, has taken a liking to my written work, especially essays about learning to slackline (how on earth I successfully managed to translate those specialist terms I’ve no idea) and running a marathon. [Ed.: Maybe my choice of essay subjects doesn’t do anything to dispel the aforementioned reputation…] Anyhow, we were in contact on the text and he invited me to go and play badminton with him yesterday (Thursday) morning. It was a heck of a run-around! He was the Shanghai city-wide champion eight years ago, and is clearly a very good player. We played doubles, the tactics of which were all new to me, against two of his friends (also very good). Somehow – more down to him than my aimless running around – we won 3-2, winning the last game 22-20. It was really enjoyable; he even had the politeness to say I was good considering I’ve played once in the last year!

Badminton with Mr Gao and his comrades!

Badminton with Mr Gao and his comrades!

And my final bit of exercise (gym programme and occasional running aside): slacklining. I’m well and truly back into it. I’ve tried to upload another video below of me attempting to get back to my best, and Vlad’s second-ever attempt. I’ve got a list of new tricks to master, as I feel I can improve massively in the next few months before coming home. Just got to stick a front flip first, before I can move on!

Hash run

I briefly mentioned running there… I’ve been doing a bit less of that, due to: a) my shin; b) having an exercise bike on my balcony; c) the weather being pretty hot!

Brent has been trying to persuade me to go to the Saturday Hash run since I first got here. Next weekend, he will have finally succeeded. I have a good reason though! It’s a special birthday run, and you can choose from an 8k or a 20k. I think it’s obvious which one I’m going to take on… £8 entry to include the morning run, a lunchtime meal and drinks, free t-shirt, and bragging rights if I can run to my potential!! I look forward to it, in an apprehensive sort of way.

Date at KFC

Wednesday was a bit of an odd day, beginning with two pieces of job-related news (see below), and culminating in a very short-notice ‘date’… in the loosest sense of the word.

I got a message on MoMo – a sort of location-related texting service – during the afternoon from a Chinese girl who was nearby. She looked reasonably attractive from her photos and was keen to meet up to practice her English. We seemed to have a bit in common so we arranged to meet up in the evening at the South Gate. I suggested she choose a restaurant for us to head to. Imagine my thought process when we got to the door of KFC…

Safe to say, we’ll probably not be meeting up again!

Job

And finally, on to the job news. The first text of Wednesday was from the school’s boss to say they are moving their school, to right next to our university. Very handy! He said it may be a few weeks before it’s furnished and ready, but they would still like me to work for them while I’m in Haikou. That was a bit of a positive really; I’m not desperately keen to work a full week, but any extra spending/saving money would be greatly appreciated.

So on the back of that, I was pretty content. Even more so come the evening, when Mrs Xu, one of the school’s administrative officials, asked me if she could pass my number on. It turns out, Hainan TV is looking for a foreigner to read its news in English. A few teachers had been asked to recommend a student, and both she and Mr Wang passed my name on. As a result, the lady in charge is pretty hopeful that I get the job. I have to audition on Sunday morning, but on WeChat, she asked me to talk and send some photos; she said I have a “beautiful” voice (not so sure about that, haha) and meet the criteria. She really hopes the boss will accept me for the job, which will be one or two times a week, for an hour or so at a time. I’m not even sure whether I’ll get the job, but it just may mean my SUIT SHOPPING trip is pushed forward a few weeks 🙂

So, fingers crossed for Sunday morning, and if all goes well, we may have to borrow a TV for the dorm to have a good laugh once a week…

Advertisements

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

Serenity Prayer

Serenity Prayer

Graham sent me this prayer the other day as a source of motivation. It came in handy today when I was told the gym is closed for six weeks. Again, I can’t change it, so I’ll see it as a blessing in disguise – I have to get out running again. The weights can wait!

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

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!

What a week…

It’s been a busy one, alright. Only 7 days ago at 2pm, I left for the airport and had a bit of an emotional farewell with the family and Stu! I’ve got loads of stuff achieved this week, and it seems to have been an extremely busy one! Here’s a quick lowdown on some of my thoughts thus far…

The campus is so cool. There are hundreds of students here – 20,000 to be exact. This is only the same number as at Newcastle, but everyone here lives on campus so there seems to be so many more here! It’s about two miles from north to south, and a mile wide. There are little golf-buggy-bus-type things which can get you around, but walking keeps me active anyhow! I’m coping with the language too… There’s obviously a lot to learn, but I’m understanding slow-speed Chinese fine, and I can express myself one way or another.

Gym

As you’ll have seen from the pictures, the gym is really nice. It’s pretty warm in there, but I guess the air con doesn’t take effect until later in the day. A couple of the other guys (two Germans whom I met yesterday) are also keen to join, so I’m taking them tomorrow to get signed up… Also found a little tea shop downstairs called “Black Tide” which does iced green/black tea for 3 Yuan (30p roughly) and has working free wi-fi, so I think a routine of breakfast, morning classes, straight to gym, study in the tea shop, then back to campus for the afternoon will work nicely! Most of the proper socialising tends to happen in the evening, but because classes start so early, it’s more based around evening meals at street stalls or in student canteens.

Food

I’ve found the food to be awesome here. Not like the Chinese takeaway, but better. It’s healthy, fresh and there’s plenty of choice. My particular favourite so far is called 鸡蛋灌饼 (egg pancake) and this is a link to read about it. I struggled to find the name of the dish, but it is really nice, and I’ve found one particular street stall that does it really nicely, with meat or without, for 5 Yuan.

This was tonight's food - full-on steamed fish and sweet & sour veg... Mmmm

This was tonight’s food – full-on steamed fish and sweet & sour veg… Mmmm

Socialising

I’ve already met some cool people. I’ve had to be more extrovert than I normally would be, but it’s been good! The German people I met yesterday are so friendly (we were talking about my coffee & toast habit, so one of them went to the bakery where she’d bought her jam, and gave me a loaf and some strawberry jam as a gift!), I have a Chinese tandem partner called Summer, I’ve met a couple of other Americans who are big into their fitness, and the group of French people are great (even though I struggle to speak French now)! Also, on the work front, I’ve mentioned my proofreading and English tutoring to a few of the English-speaking gym staff, so hopefully word-of-mouth will help me out there!

Anyway, that’s just about all up to date. My classes start at 7:40am tomorrow, so an early night is on the cards. I’ll fill you all in during next week once I have a moment or two to pause for breath!

再见!Till next time!

UPDATE: Tonight, just after I wrote this, I headed out to North Gate with Will, Brent and Vlad (a Swiss guy). We got chatting to an amiable, yet very scary-looking Chinese guy. Turned out he was from the Chinese police – he showed us his badge and stuff – but we had such a good conversation for about half an hour!! He said my Chinese was great – couldn’t believe that I’d only been here a week – and that if I went to Japan, I might even look tall… Even getting into a bit of Chinese humour now… haha!