“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…

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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

Athletics competition

I’m going to tell the story of the weekend’s athletics tournament through the medium of modern dance. Or maybe just a slideshow of many many pictures (credit to Karolina, Vicky, a few random Chinese people, and maybe me for one or two of them).

Safe to say, it was such a fun few days. I achieved my aims with times of 4:58 for the 1500m and 18:11 for the 5km, and it was amazing that so many people (friends and others – including, bizarrely, the fruit market man, who gave me my shopping for free as a result…) were there to watch and support. I was cheered on as ‘Harry Potter’; I had numerous friend requests from randoms on WeChat; and finally, a girl in the street said she had some photos to send me. I thought, maybe two or three… Nope – I got back to my room to find all of 37 photos sent to my phone. Little bit weird, I’m not going to lie!

I’m pretty shattered now as a result, but at least I’ve got a colourful balcony! Next up is the Chinese speaking competition on Thursday afternoon, for which I have to introduce myself for one minute, recite a seven-verse poem, sing a Chinese song and play my ukulele, and then talk about the North-South divide in England for three minutes. Best get back to my learning I think …  but then again, that’s what I’ve been saying all day, and I’ve done pretty well at procrastinating so far. I’ve wasted time on just about every activity I could find in my room, apart from slacklining – save that one for tomorrow, maybe!

A really quick, lazy post

Hi all!

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

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

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

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

Image

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 😉

This experience is one long anecdote…

I’VE GOT A COOL NEW FEATURE, EVERYONE! If you click the “Map” tab at the top of this page, it should take you to my Google Map of this year. I’ve placed markers on some of the places I’ve been and where I spend most of my time – just thought it might be nice for you to be able to picture the locations of these places! Let me know what you think.

The China Shuffle & inconsiderate umbrella-users

Gemma, my friend and classmate from Newcastle, will testify that I kind of went crazy at the end of Spring Term last year. I think it was tiredness, but I found myself getting really annoyed when walking through Chinatown by the shuffling noise of feet on the pavement. Back then, six months ago, I termed it the “China Shuffle”. I didn’t expect it to be quite such an epidemic disease… If we were made to walk like that, we would have evolved to have wheels on our feet, so why can’t you just pick one foot up and place it down in front of the other?!

Whilst on a bit of a rant, I’ll continue into inconsiderate usage of umbrellas. I understand that everyone needs an umbrella here, but when you’re walking directly towards someone, it would seem natural to me to tilt/lift the umbrella, or to move slightly to one side. This basically avoids poking that person’s eye out with one of your spokes. Again, no – this is not part of the Chinese philosophy. I resorted to actively pushing an umbrella aside this morning, for the sake of my left retina!

You may get the impression that these rants mean I’m not having a good time here – in fact, I am simply pandering to the needs of you, my dear readers. I think a blog would be a bit boring if I just said “all is well” every week. That’s what my emails to the parents are for(!)… Love you guys 🙂

NFL

My name’s Jack, and I am enjoying following NFL. Two months ago, I would never have imagined it, but thanks to Brent, I’m a true-blue Chargers fan. SAN DIEGO! It’s now on my bucket list to go and see them play live. At least it gives me something to watch when Sunderland are comfortably adrift at the bottom of the Prem.

Mid-term exams

Mid-term exams are in the next two weeks, beginning with listening next Thursday, 24th. The listening exam does, however, seem a little pointless… 75% of it is based on the listening textbook exercises we’ve already done (and which we also have the answer book for). Only 25% of it is new material. Anyhow, I’m not complaining – it gives me more time to write the outstanding anecdote that will follow next!

One thing I am missing more than cheese at the moment - wholegrain bread! Actually, anything that isn't white - noodles, rice, bread...

One thing I am missing more than cheese at the moment – wholegrain bread! Actually, anything that isn’t white – noodles, rice, bread… UPDATE!!! I’VE FOUND GERMAN-STYLE RYE BREAD IN CARREFOUR, SO WENT COMPLETELY OVERBOARD AND BOUGHT 3 LOAVES 🙂

My run-in with the Chinese police

This was Monday, my day from hell in terms of classes. We had comprehensive class in the afternoon too, so I was soooo tired come 4:30pm. Vicky and I had gone to the gym, and then sat in a little cafe, where I nearly fell fast asleep. She went into the supermarket below, while I went to get my bike and cycle back to the dorm for a shower.

I reached my usual parking spot at the gym, and thought: “OHHHHH NOOOO, MY BIKE HAS BEEN STOLEN.”

In a state of shock, I decided the best bet was not to panic. Breathe, breathe – think back to the Newcastle University insurance briefing (good job we all paid our full attention…). I rang the police straight away (as we’d been told to do, in order to get a report and make an insurance claim). Two guys came up to me, and were very nice, but a little scary. Then two more arrived, saluting as they stepped from their vehicle. We all sat down and I answered some questions. I saw Vicky coming down, and went over to tell her what was going on.

As I neared her, it suddenly hit me…  I realised what had actually happened and burst out laughing. Vicky didn’t know at this point, and was a bit bemused: “Oh no Jack, really what is going on?!” I told her to wait a minute, and went back to the policemen. They wanted to take me back to the station to get a description of the bike and see my passport which, I told them, was still being processed as I had to change visas. I asked whether I could take their number and come on Thursday after collecting passport – smoooooooth!

Then I had to explain everything to Vicky – after calling the police out for half an hour, I’d suddenly realised I had bumped into Renata, a Lithuanian girl, on the way. I had abandoned the cycling idea, parked halfway to the gym and walked the rest of the way with her… I don’t know whether it was complete tiredness, or what, but I then had the embarrassing task of ringing the policeman up and explaining. I was very apologetic; he just laughed (fortunately!!) and said to be more careful next time… Got away with that one, but an excellent story for A Pedant Abroad!

Running

One final story for today. I went for a run on Wednesday to Evergreen Park, actually in Haikou City proper and not on Haidian Island. On my way back, I stopped to ask a man for directions. He assured me that the (1.5-mile long) Century Bridge was this way, and that there was a footpath on the side.

He was right about the direction; wrong about the footpath… But a fun experience nevertheless! In the rain, on a main road bridge, running at 10mph and being overtaken regularly by cars, lorries, etc.

Definitely no footpath here.

Actually quite a good exercise/motivation for speed training. I wouldn’t recommend it though.

Bartering, Chinese-style

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hainan Olympics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nerding it up

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

2013-10-09 Nice one, nerd

Mum’s birthday present

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

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

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

OCD (Organising Cash Disorder)

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Hope you enjoyed the selection of photos above…

Firstly, a quick digression on Chinese money and my OCD. Everything (virtually) is in note form, right down to 1 Yuan (10p)… So you can imagine what chaos it is when you pay for four dumplings (40p) with the equivalent of a tenner. Anyhow, up until now, every time I bought something, I felt somehow in disarray. At the weekend I realised what it was: once I’ve sat down, I have to put my wallet back in order (100s at the back, then 50s, then 20s, 10s, 5s, 1s). I thought this was completely weird, until my sister said she does the same with her English money! (Just to point out, she even organises them so that they face the same way – I’m not quite that OCD yet!)

Just Another Day

Another day of absolute madness today!! I thought I was getting settled in and had everything sorted, but apparently not!

For starters, class was busy and we got shedloads of homework. Also, I found out that we have to do more visa application stuff at the weekend to “transfer our visa from a student one to a resident one”, which is going to cost more in poxy little bureaucracy fees (another £40-£80, depending on whom you ask). At that, I thought “BUMMER, really need to get hooked up with some tutees asap”.

Then I heard from Shengjie (my Chinese friend who was at Newcastle last year) to say all systems go on the triathlon watch… I was feeling a bit low at the weekend, so went for a run. It was my first long run (9 miles or so) in a while, and it got me going again. I thought a triathlon watch might provide me with the encouragement I need to get distance back up, especially as I’m going to be doing some road cycling. It was considerably cheaper than British RRP, so why not?! Should be delivered either tomorrow or Wednesday.

This was only 12pm… So I started on with the homework, which I got halfway through before Emmett called. He’d been offered a job teaching at a kindergarten for 3 hours a week (£12 per hour). On face value it looks great, and they wanted 2 teachers, so we went along. The guy treated us to food and stuff as we discussed it, but it turns out we were going to have to do all the lesson preparation, and it started at 5pm today… Both of us considered, and decided that we’d turn it down, and make a combined, concerted effort to market my tutoring. If we can get some flyers out there, I’m happy to share any immediate work with him if we can find two groups. That way, it’s more money for our time, on-campus, and the preparation is already done. What’s more, this guy seemed pretty unreliable (he’d left it until the first day of term  to find teachers…)! Since that ordeal, I have actually managed to finish my homework, get to the gym and write this blog… Just about ready to collapse now, and it’s only 8pm! Night all!