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 😉


Bartering, Chinese-style

Nice one road-painters! Doesn't take a genius to see that 车 is painted back-to-front...

Nice one road-painters! Doesn’t take a genius to see that 车 is painted back-to-front…

The word/idiom for “bartering” in Chinese is 讨价还价 (tao jia huan jia), the literal meaning of which is “say price return price”. I mean, I’m all for asking for a discount with a cheeky smile and puppy-dog eyes at the best of times, but over the past seven weeks, I’ve certainly become accustomed to the Chinese methods. It’s very much a case of aggressive driving-down of pretty high prices, which I suppose are there to catch out any stray foreigners who are too shy to ask! But not I…

My running backpack broke yesterday, and I stumbled across a very large expedition rucksack today in the mall beneath the supermarket. It came with a little mini-version, funnily enough, perfect for running. The price started at 495 Yuan, however, which I felt was a little expensive. I asked what she could do on price, and the reply was 50%. I told her I’d think about it whilst in the supermarket and return.

After buying six pears and five satsumas for 40 pence, I returned downstairs to the lady and said, “Could you maybe do it for 200?” Her reply was: “I’ve spoken to the manager, and we can do 190.”

Okay, so that was definitely 讨价还价, but I think the general principle of 讨价还价 is that I try to push you down and you try to bring me up to meet your margin… Not that I’m complaining – I give you a price, and you knock more money off for me. WIN!

Hainan Olympics

The Hainan University Games, or the Hainan Olympics, is on at some point soon (date hasn’t been confirmed in any more specific terms than “the beginning of November”…). I have entered the 1500m, 5000m and 4 x 400m relay (with Emmett, Swiss Vlad, and Hungarian Daniel).

Of course, this has had to spark me into some sort of sprint training regime, to pick up my base speed. This training started with a timed 5k today. You can see the results, and my promise to Vicky below. I was pretty pleased with that – even more so when an American called Leo told me that last year’s winning time was 18:45…

Vicky Jahnke: "A wise guy told me today in class: yeah if I go under 20 minutes for this 5k, I will run naked around campus..."

Vicky Jahnke: “A wise guy told me today in class: yeah if I go under 20 minutes for this 5k, I will run naked around campus…”

[Ed.: The promise was made because I felt so completely drained in class before heading to the track. I think my pre-run warm-up to Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights must have done the trick!]

The aforementioned Leo also happened to mention a local 10k run with a substantial cash prize, in two weekends’ time… the winning time last year was about 39 minutes. Verrrryyy interestinggggg!

Nerding it up

First major exam – a monthly test on vocab, grammar and usage. 97% – living up to my sister’s billing as a bit of a nerd…

2013-10-09 Nice one, nerd

Mum’s birthday present

For mum’s birthday I hadn’t been able to send anything back home, so I instead devised a video – a compilation of campus photos, and some photos/videos of myself and friends singing “happy birthday” to her. This video culminated with me singing Michael Buble’s Home, and an image of my e-ticket to travel home for a month during Spring Break – I think it got the desired effect, and I thoroughly look forward to seeing you all between the 15th January and 16th February!

(L-R) Will, Vicky, Swiss Vlad, Emmett, Brent, Radmila, me

(L-R) Will, Vicky, Swiss Vlad, Emmett, Brent, Radmila and me, all wishing mum a happy birthday!

A Much-Needed Breather…

I know you’re all going to moan at me when I say we’ve got a week off starting tomorrow (it’s Chinese “National Day” 国庆节, so all workers tend to return to their hometown or go on holiday for a week), but I really do feel that it’s deserved! Due to the odd combination of the Mid-Autumn Festival and three random days on which the whole campus’ power got turned off, we’ve had class on 10 out of the last 11 days. This has certainly made me appreciate how much two days off at the weekend actually do for me!

Some very weird attempt at a pack of Oreos - peach and grape flavour. Tasted like a mixture of midget gems and perfume...

Some very weird attempt at a pack of Oreos – peach and grape flavour. Tasted like a mixture of midget gems and perfume…

All things academic

We’ve been continuing as per usual with classes throughout this latest period, culminating in a monthly exam this morning. In more detail, we have a comprehensive course (grammar, vocab, reading, writing), a reading course, a speaking course and a listening course. I currently am finding the comprehensive course very quick, but doable; the reading course is pitched just about right, as is the speaking; the listening, however, is far faaaaar too slow. Sadly it’s impossible to move up a class just for one of the courses, as they’re at different times for each group. Anyhow, what is going to really make the difference to my Chinese is not in-class work, but socialising and speaking with Chinese people outside of the teaching building.


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!

Time to go!!!

I’m almost ready to go now and the last couple of days, although hectic, have been amazing. They have made me realise how much support there is out there, from such a wide range of people.

I can’t mention everything at this juncture, but particular things that stand out are all the cards I’ve received, the evening with the rowing ladies, and the Saturday morning ritual followed by a visit to the grandparents.

Cards galore

To everyone who has written words of support, I’m really grateful – all cards are packed, with a big pack of Blutack. They will cover my walls, providing decoration and strength when I need it most!

Rowing ladies

I remember it vividly – the day the PODS (Parents of Durham School) rowing club was born… Wansbeck LDS, October 2009. Since then, they’ve won regattas and as Lesley has told me, they’ve been unbeaten for the last two years. It’s been great to coach them from the beginning, and we got the chance to get out once more last night, before heading out for a pizza. Again, all the support and encouragement is fantastic; it was nice that so many could make it for the meal, and I look forward to seeing photos of trophies and medals over the next year! As Suzanne so wisely says: ‘Choose your attitude’… My mantra for the year 🙂

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Saturday morning ritual

Early gym session, coffee and toast, a crossword… My Saturday mornings, more often than not with Stu. It’s a ritual which keeps me sane and healthy, and it’s one which has been the provider of great banter, great coffee, and not so great crosswording! Today was no different! On another note, I’ve acquired vast quantities of wine-making kit, which are duly stored, and you can all expect a taste when I return…


What can I say? The best grandparents, uncles and family members in the world!! I’ll miss the endless tuition on the tablet, the afternoon teas, the matchday complaints about the loud music, the gardening into the darkness of night. But we’ll keep in touch, and it’ll not be long till I’m back!

Have a great year to all of you 🙂 祝你们一切顺利!

The Law of the Changing Room

Yesterday was my 21st birthday and (without wanting to put a downer on things) I pretty much feel the same, just one day older… The peril of a summer birthday struck once again though, in that very few friends were available to pop round. In spite of that, we had a pretty lovely few days! Sophie, my sister, is au pairing in Catterick at the minute, but was up for the weekend, so on Sunday we took a trip to the Forbidden Corner as a family.

The Forbidden Corner - strangest place in the world!

Bills itself as the strangest place in the world (and that was before this lot got there…)

If you’ve not been, I’d thoroughly recommend visiting! It’s basically a big garden with a network of mazes, paths and underground tunnels, where the aim is to tick off as many of the sights as possible in the guidebook. There are a few surprises along the way though (and quite a few naked statues…), so it’s a good few hours of fun for any age!

On my birthday itself we were just at home. Soph had been dropped off at work, so it was just mum, dad and me. Got some cracking presents, for which I’m very grateful (the ukulele will come in particularly handy in China), and spent the afternoon with a few more family members and some cake. Had a lovely meal out in the evening, including the requisite embarrassment of ice cream with sparklers and a rendition of “Happy Birthday” in the restaurant.

Another year over with, and life goes on…

I’ve been up to the gym this morning and over the past few years I’ve noticed something pretty spooky about the changing rooms there. I’d like to know whether this is a universal thing, just specific to my gym, or in fact a figment of my imagination. No matter which changing room you pick, and how small a corner you try to hide yourself away in, it is always the spot chosen by at least seven or eight other people on your return. That’s not all though; more people seem to be drawn to the same area, like bees to a honeypot, and join the throng of changing, showering and grooming males.

I mean, the benches are probably big enough for four, and to me, common sense would dictate that I’d choose the most quiet area. What, then, possesses someone to spread their towel (and thereby mark their territory) over the smallest corner of a bench, when there’s a completely empty room next door?! (See below picture…)

A completely empty changing room...

A completely empty changing room…

Anyway, you’ve probably seen my countdown timer ticking away on the right. Just over three weeks to go – excitement is building and plans are coming together! I’ve had most of my injections and I’ve been acclimatising to the Hainan climate with some unusually tropical days here in Sunderland. It’s still a daunting prospect, but once the timer reaches zero, it’ll be counting down from ten months again until I return… SCARY!

Until next time!

Eats, shoots and leaves

A panda walks into a restaurant, sits down, and orders a sandwich. He eats the sandwich, pulls out a gun, and shoots the waiter. As the panda stands up to go, the manager shouts, “Hey! Where are you going? You just shot my waiter and walked out, without even paying for your sandwich!”

The panda yells back at the manager, “Hey, man, I’m a PANDA! Look it up!”

The manager opens his dictionary and sees the following definition for panda: ‘A tree-dwelling marsupial of Asian origin, characterised by distinct black and white coloring. Eats, shoots and leaves.’

Aahh. The comedic value of misplaced commas.

I digress… As I’ve told you all, I’m off to Hannover in less than a fortnight. Up until now though, I’ve not been entirely clear on what I’ll be doing whilst I’m there. I had a meeting with my research supervisor during last week to clear it all up though, so here’s the lowdown!


At the university, the German department was involved in a translation and transcription project, called Schwitters@Newcastle. Kurt Schwitters was a German artist/poet, who was interned in PoW camps during the war. He wrote letters to his friends and family throughout the time, but most of these documents had remained unpublished. Also, most of the study done on him was done in German, based on his German works, or from an artistic viewpoint.

Being a linguist though, I’m taking the tack of looking at his English in some of the letters – how it develops, and analysing some of the ‘mistakes’ he makes to see whether they are in fact mistakes, or whether Schwitters may have used poetic and creative licence. Then I hope to write a dissertation on it – well, that’s the plan anyway!

Preparation week

In Newcastle, next week, I’m doing some preparatory work: namely reading through a biography of Schwitters, and making a few contacts in Hannover. I hope to register with a couple of libraries and archives, and to enquire about the English-learning situation in the early- to mid-20th century. This will hopefully open up some avenues for research whilst in…

… Hannover

The Sprengel Museum in Hannover has the world’s largest Schwitters archive, so it’s probably a fairly good place to be. However, from what I’ve gathered, I don’t think I’ll be doing too much actual work, although that sounds pretty lazy 🙂

From what I’ve gathered, it’s more of an exploratory mission – I’ll be looking through the archive, scanning important materials that may be of use, in order to build up a catalogue for myself. The other benefit of going there, of course, is direct and intensive research into life in Hannover at that time – how would Schwitters have learned his English, for example?

Anyway, enough of the boring stuff!

Hopefully I’ll be able to hop on a train and visit my friends in Duesseldorf for a day or two while I’m there.

The Olive & Bean in Newcastle with my awesome mentees :)
The Olive & Bean in Newcastle with my awesome mentees 🙂

And on a more China-related note, I had afternoon tea in Newcastle with two of my lovely mentees, Grace and Sherry, today. Grace is from Beijing, and Sherry studies there, so when I mentioned my wish to visit the Chinese capital during the Spring Break early next year, they both very kindly said they would love to meet up, show me round, and maybe even accommodate me for a day or three. Very kind of them – I feel my plans are beginning to come together!

That’s all the news I have for now… Back to Chinese revision for my exam tomorrow afternoon :S

The Bucket List

Hi guys!

Just a quick disclaimer to start – this post is NOT a bucket list, as such! I learned the reason for the term ‘bucket list’ the other day (a list of things to be done before kicking the bucket, for those of you who were unaware) and I thought it was an appropriate title for my first post, giving you all an idea of my plans, aims and goals over the next 15 months or so!

It’s an exciting time, to be honest (even more so thanks to Sohvi and Laura’s Hainan Doodles from our chat in The Hancock yesterday). This is the first time I’ve felt more excited than scared about the whole prospect of going to China for a year! Anyways, more on China later… Here’s a brief chronological lowdown of my plans, taking me from now through to September 2014:

End of academic year 2012-13:

This is probably the boring part, I guess, so I’ll not dwell on it for too long – a few exams, done by the second week of June.

Hannover, Germany:

From the 9th June, I’m off to Germany for a couple of weeks to do some research into a potential dissertation topic for final year. I’ve been involved in a translation workshop, for the Sprengel Museum’s archive in Hannover, translating unpublished war-time letters of Kurt Schwitters – a German artist who was held as a PoW in Britain. So I’m taking it a step further, and going there to research too!

It’s a bit of a double-whammy though. As I’ve got to go to China for a year, I don’t have the opportunity to go and practice my German at all – this is the next best thing!

Hainan, China:

Wow. What can I say about this? A small island off the coast of Hong Kong, a year’s studying with Will (my flatmate), tropical weather, occasional typhoons, Chinese bluntness…

Jack and Will

Will (right) and me. I’m sure many more silly photos will follow from around China…

Up until now, I’ve been about 75% bricking it, 25% excited. In the last couple of days though, my excitement has been building. It’s certainly getting real now, so maybe it’s just the fact that I can’t put it off any longer, but it’ll be an experience! Still to do before I go: injections, visa, book flights, plan travelling.

One of the major attractions of going to Hainan is the cost of living. Everything seems to be so cheap, for example the train from Haikou to Sanya (north of the island to the south) and back costs about 80 Yuan (roughly £8). For that reason, I’m seeing it as an opportunity to do things I may not get the chance to do again… These include (okay, this post is a sort of bucket list, I guess):

  • Guerilla slacklining (this also goes for Germany and Britain – any location suggestions are welcomed)
  • Visit Yunnan
  • Couch surf around China in Spring Break
  • Cycle the east coast of Hainan Island to Sanya
  • Climb 五指山 (wuzhishan in Pinyin – romanised Chinese)
  • See Beijing’s cultural sites

I’m sure this list will be added to in the days, weeks and months to come, but that’s all I can think of for now…

Summer Internship

When I come back, from the start of July 2014, I’ll be interning in Procter & Gamble’s Finance Department. This is probably going to help me get through the inevitable times of homesickness while away. For those who don’t know me too well, I’m starting to get a bit bored of student life, and am really looking forward to getting out into the real world. I do delve in and out of the business world from time to time (oh, and a quick plug: like me on Facebook!), but the prospect of an internship in a big company – which may well lead to a graduate job in the future – is a particularly exciting one. But there’s a fair bit of water to go under the bridge between now and then…

Roll on the next year, and I hope to keep you all informed of my progress – both linguistic and adventurous – and my pedantry through this blog!

Till next time!