My psychic skills don’t extend to reading the mind of Chinese event organisers…

(Apologies for the long title. I ran out of inspiration…)

Major discovery of the week: Chinese guys and girls can dance!

I was given a ticket to a dance competition last Saturday evening. My friend, who works at Yes Coffee Bar, was taking part with her group, X-Crew. I didn’t really know what to expect, but she has helped me with my speaking competition, and has joined the bandwagon of my 杰克粉丝团 (Jack Fan Club, so named by Miss Xu, our reading teacher). I went along to support with Steffi, Karolina and Renata, and we were properly entertained for a good two hours. (Well, apart from one act, which was frankly not so entertaining.)

X Crew! 5th place in the Hainan University dance competition

X Crew! 5th place in the Hainan University dance competition

A not-so-good experience

On Tuesday, a nice Russian girl sent me a message asking if I could help out a friend of hers. She’d been at the competition round one, so knew of my ukulele and singing. She has a friend who was running a charity gig at a school yesterday (Thursday) and they were looking for someone to sing two songs, for 500 Yuan. I thought, why not?! So I gave the guy a call and he asked me to send over some mp3s or videos of myself. I duly did so, and waited for his reply. And waited. And waited…

It got to Wednesday evening and I’d not heard back, so I messaged my friend. She then called him and told him to confirm whether or not I was needed straight away, as it was by then already 11pm. If I didn’t hear from him, I was to assume that it was off. I stayed up a while, and of course, nothing was doing. So I rested easy, made alternative plans for the Thursday (namely walking to Baishamen with Vicky for a chill-out and a catch-up on her travels).

Class came and went, we got ready and at 2:30pm off we went, yoga mats in tow. We were just at the East Gate, when a guy pulls over and winds the window down. “Are you Jack?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“I’m Leon, organising the charity do at the school. You should come with me now to test the microphones, and then the event is at 7:30pm tonight.” (I had thought the gig was afternoon. In any case, I had a competition rehearsal at 7pm…)

“Oh, okay… Well, to be honest, Lisa said you’d ring me last night to confirm whether I was needed or not. Because I didn’t hear, I have had to make other plans, and I’m busy now. Really sorry.”

“But I was really tired last night. And I’ve already printed 1,500 brochures with the programme of events (which, by the way, he called the game list). And it’s for a charity which helps poor children. You need to do me a favour here!” I was pretty shocked by this point, but I have principles: he hadn’t rung me to confirm, so how was I to know the time, place, or, in fact, whether I was needed at all?! He started to get quite aggressive from in his car, and I turned to Vicky, discussing in German. He got out of the car, and we decided I had to stick to my guns really. The money was good, and it was a charity do; but the money wasn’t important, I had more important plans already on in the evening, and aside from that, he had just come to tell me I was needed at the time of picking me up. So that was no good!

Anyhow, we went to Baishamen and had an awesome afternoon. It was great to get caught up, having missed my Vicky for a whole week! Photos can be seen below.

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Next up: we’re off to Wuzhishan to climb the mountain for a three-day trip on Sunday. That should be relaxing. We return on Wednesday, in time for two days of class, then on Friday afternoon we’re off to Riyuewan for Brent’s big 30. A fairly small group are going to chill, surf and celebrate over the weekend.

Competition preparation, and the three cutest teachers in the whole of the People’s Republic of China

Preparation is complete. I know my speeches and songs and poems. It’s just going to be a case of nerves; last time I wasn’t so nervous, and I’m sure my fan group will help keep me composed tomorrow! So, on to my introduction of the three cutest teachers:

  • Mr Wang – as Renata will testify, this man only ever refers to himself in the third person. Example: “Jack, of course that is no problem. First, ask your guidance teacher, but if you need to borrow a suit for the competition, you just need to give Wang Laoshi a ring, and Wang Laoshi will happily lend you a suit.” He also referred to me as a 大帅哥 (very handsome chap, literally “big handsome brother”). I pointed out that 小帅哥 might be more apt (“small handsome brother”)…
  • Miss Deng – our speaking teacher. Technically, she is another competitor’s guidance teacher, but she’s been helping me on the sly, and encouraging the whole of our class to come along and support. She also asked me to do the poem performance in class today, which was great practice for me!
  • Miss Xu – as I’ve already mentioned, she has named my fan club! She found it very funny that I’d been contacted by lots of random students after the first round. After seeing her today, she said we are just always so happy! I think Vicky and Karolina probably persuaded her to come and join the cheerleading group too…
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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

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!

Post-ceremony

Post-ceremony

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! 

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!

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 🙂

Freundin or Freundin?

So, my time in Hannover is almost up. 19 hours until I head back home, and I’ve really enjoyed it to be honest. I’ve found out a fair bit of stuff for my dissertation, I’ve met a really nice family, I’ve spoken German for two weeks, and the weather’s been outrageously nice. To give you an idea, I woke up at 3am as I needed the loo last night, and the thermometer in my room (with windows open all night) read 28 degrees Celsius.

Tomorrow, then, it’s back home for two months of a proper summer holiday – bowls, cricket and proofreading (of which I may have quite a lot I think, as I’ve had four enquiries whilst I’ve been here…) – before China.

Learning foreign languages is great. This trip has been totally justified by the fact I’ve been immersed in German for a fortnight, and at least four people outside of my host family have said how amazed they are: firstly, that I chose to learn German; secondly, that I have learned German to such a good level. Good stuff, I suppose! And they’re right – when you think about it, it’s not the easiest language to study, as demonstrated by a confusing few minutes a couple of days ago…

I came back in from the town, just as a girl was leaving the house. As it turned out, she was in the orchestra with Simeon, and they’d been practising for a concert this weekend. I went in, put my bag down and got chatting. “War das deine Freundin, denn?” I asked. The meaning, I thought, was clear enough (“Was that your friend (female) then?”). What I hadn’t thought about was the fact that the word for a friend, who happens to be a female, is exactly the same as the word for a girlfriend. So when Simeon answered in the negative, I too was a little confused. About a minute later, I twigged. “Aaah, also sie war nicht deine Freundin, sondern deine Freundin!” (“Aaah, so she wasn’t your female friend, but she was your female friend.”) See what I mean?

The moral of this story is thus. To avoid any confusion at all, if you want to ask about someone’s girlfriend*, say “deine Freundin” with the appropriate emphasis (and potentially raising of the eyebrows). However, if it’s about someone’s friend who just so happens to be a girl, say “eine Freundin von dir” (literally “a female friend of yours”). German – it’s a simple language.

* In case you’re wondering, by the way, there’s exactly the same problem when talking about boyfriends…

Coffee, bus stops and other miscellaneous items

Hi guys!

Almost halfway through my research stint here now… I’m almost struggling to find more relevant stuff to be honest! I’ve been through the things I need to in the archive, and though there’s lots there, very little of it is about what I need to know. I’ve got quite a lot of useful stuff done though, so if würst comes to würst (see what I did there?…), I will do the research that I can do here and then have a couple of quiet days at the end. Tomorrow, however, I have an appointment at the Town Archive, where a nice man called Detlef has found me some annual general reports from the school where Schwitters studied. There are specific yearbooks too, but seemingly the year I need is missing. Ach!

Anyway, that’s tomorrow, so hopefully it’s a successful trip, after which I either will have more searching to do, or a fairly quiet next week. In other news, I have a few more anecdotes:

Coffee

Those of you who know me at all will know that I do like a good coffee. Never more than two cups a day, but a fairly regular and steady consumption, nevertheless. I found a nice little coffee shop today – Cafe MOCA – where you can actually select from a range of beans, and they roast them in front of you, before making your drink. Weather was nice too, so I had a bit of a sit outside and tanned for a while. And there was a Chinese restaurant next door – I’ll class looking at their Chinese language menu as revision…

At Cafe MOCA, they roasted my chosen coffee beans in front of me

At Cafe MOCA, they roasted the coffee beans I wanted, in front of me

Bus stops

Okay, so Hannover was one of the most bombed towns during the war, with it lying on the crossroads (in railway terms) from North-South and East-West. (As an aside, I know we Brits often say “don’t mention the war”, and I’m in a way pretty embarrassed even to mention it, but I have found that the three or four people I’ve had dealings with actually are more than happy to talk battles and air-raids!) It’s quite an arty town too, so in the 60s and 70s, someone decided to get a load of modern artists together, and ask them each to design a bus stop for the town. Some of them are pretty funky – I’ll try and find more over the weekend – but the below one was the nearest to where I’m living…

Funky yellow bus stop

Funky yellow bus stop

Laugenbrezel

Had to give it a mention, really. I had a couple of these in Tübingen last year, and found them really nice, so I went and got myself another one yesterday 🙂 Sitting by the Maschsee, eating a massive pretzel with a drink in the other hand – I guess research has its upsides too… The lunch breaks.

The Maschsee in Hannover. Beautiful.

The Maschsee in Hannover. Beautiful.

Anyways, not much else has happened really, but my German seems to be coming along nicely (good job as well, seeing as how I’m going to come back from a year in China and have to start from scratch again!) and the research is okay – though it could be more fruitful. I’ll leave it at that for now!

P.S. Can’t wait to get back for my sister’s birthday curry, at the finest Indian restaurant Sunderland has to offer 🙂 (They’re not paying me, otherwise I’d tell you the name!)