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

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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!

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!

Pre-term update

Hi all!

Everything is ok. Panicked a bit when I missed alarm in the hostel yesterday as Will had already left, but arranged a lift to get to uni. I’ve moved (temporarily) Into an old room, where the plug sockets don’t work and the shower is off the wall. I am, however, using that as a bargaining chip to get into a new room this morning (I hope!), then I can go get internet installed. I hope they stick to their word on that, as I’m just using a coffee shop’s wi-fi for now.

I’ve joined a gym with a really cool American guy called Brent, which only cost £200 for the year’s membership. The gym is awesome: everything is free with membership card (indoor golf range, snooker table, spinning room, classes, yoga, CV machines and weights), and we are both very keen to use it 3/4 times a week. £200 for a year isn’t bad…

A few other things of note that mum asked me about, so you may be interested too:

  • Language – is fine. I’ve been put into C-class, same as Will. I’m finding they speak really fast, but if I keep calm and ask them to slow down, they generally do. I can express myself, if not very fluently.
  • Food – first night we stuck with Pizza Hut but yesterday I tried a street market stall where it was like a traditional Chinese-style thick pancake almost… Lovely. The student canteens are pretty cheap too, and you can get noodles, dumplings, rice, etc. Once I can get room and internet sorted I’ll be happier, as that’ll be all the major expenses dealt with I reckon.
  • Weather – hot hot hot. It’s humid and you almost have to shower twice a day! Our rooms are on the 6th floor, so lots of stairs, but it’s nice. Sun is out today so it’s really warm in the sun. In the shade it’s bearable… Shengjie says in about October it cools to 25ish-Celsius, which will be really comfortable.

My back injury has morphed into more of a side strain, but I think my bags are all moved and upstairs now, so I’ll rest today & tomorrow then hopefully get into gym.

The beard isn’t progressing so well! (N.B! I had a bet with dad – will I grow a beard, or will he be 13 stone by the time I get back? Who’s your money on?!)

That’s just about it for now. Classes start Monday – I’ve got language work 7:40-9:20 and 9:45-11:25, then it’s free from there. I’ve signed up for Calligraphy (2 afternoons per week in October) and Martial Arts (2 afternoons per week in November). Shengjie says the atmosphere in class is very relaxed for foreigners, as long as you turn up and do the basic work!

Hope to get internet sorted in my room so I can reply sooner from then on! Check my Photo Album page for a photo from each day!

Speak soon 🙂