Thursday, January 24, 2008

Quick one.

[Written on Sunday for Cathy]

So it's been a pretty weird weekend. We (the group of other volunteers on the same scheme as me) went to a different part of the island for a bit of a trip, left yesterday morning and came back in time for lunch today. Saw a nice bit of scenery both days: on Saturday we went to this Temple (I'm still not ENTIRELY certain whether it was Buddhist or Taoist) located on a mountain, which meant the walking to the top bit was a little tiring but the views were AMAZING. The actual temple and some of the features (gaudily painted buildings, stone stairs and water features) we heard, were actually a mere several years old, which slightly detracted from the pictoresque charm of the place. (Ancient Buddhist temple, from the Oriental range, available now from an Ikea near you!) Slightly mortifying though was the fact that my camera ran out of juice, pretty much as soon I took it out, all the views were, in that way, wasted on me. Bummer. Will have to instead resort to stealing off others on Facebook, the classy way, eh?Today we went to this lake, which was really pretty, and definitely worth a few photos (Dammit.) but you know how it is, after a while, it just becomes an expanse of water. Skimmed a few stones, ooh'd ah'd then left. Must have spent a good 3 hours in the old minibus these past few days. Awesome.Last night we went to a bar and picked up a stalker! Now, group leads to immense fascination everywhere we go, from random outcries of "Hello!" every now and then to just plain outright staring. But there was this guy who was royally royallly pissed off his head, he spilt beer over someone, fell over and nearly overturned a table. And then when we tried to leave he was a little overfriendly... paying for the pool games a few of the others were playing, and kept following us and offering to buy us dinner and paying for our hotel rooms and so forth. Our native guide (ha!) advised us it would be a bad idea to do so... hardly something we needed telling from the state of him. One of our number, a 6'9" beast of a guy, kept wanting to lamp him, despite/due to being pretty inebriated himself and we had to tell him not to. One of the girls was crying (albeit for good reason, which I will not going into now), one of the guys was... in a bit of a state too. Anyhow, stalker came INTO the courtyard of the hostel and tried to hunt us down, which freaked out the girls no end, to the point where they were frantically locking their doors and locating penknives, which would've been hilarious were they not so upset. He left, later after Martin (our guide, a brilliantly patient and helpful man) calmed him down and convinced him to leave. So, bit of an interesting night really!

Songs that won't get out of my head:
- Apologize - Timbaland and One Republic
- Turpentine - Brandi Carlile
- Can You Feel The Love Tonight - Lion King OST

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Things I'm missing...

It's been a fair uneventful time in Haikou these past few days. We have, for the most part, been having lessons in Chinese (handy!) and teaching (pointless). I have finally opened the little book I brought with me and am now making some attempt at writing a diary. Yes, I may have written only 2 entries, but I'm making an effort! I just think I'd like to have something to read back later on when Hainan is but a memory, something more tangible than fleeting recollections. Though what I classify as noteworthy is fairly limited, though it'll be the little things, the banter, the nights out and the in-jokes that I'd really want to take away with me. Thus far anyway - once I hit China proper in February, THEN I'll have some disgustingly cool memories to take away with me. On that note, I've realised I should really take my camera around with me more...

I have also experienced a little of the awkwardness that I was afraid of getting before I came out here. Shopkeepers expect me to speak Chinese and me, my fellow travellers and the shop assistance all get a little disappointed when I fall completely short. I have also once been laughed at (I felt about 2 feet tall) but overall they're alright with it.

And so, as I have nothing great to report (do you really want to hear about the time I went to the shopping mall and bought peanut butter? Little tragic that shopping for little things is now our life...) I'm going to instead list out things I'm missing about the little island I call home:
- Rather depressingly, the ability to mess about on my iTunes. I have my playlists by mood and so forth, and my moods are changing now I'm out here and I'm having to go back to old ones. IT may sound a little sad, and I daresay it is, but music has always been a part of my life and so the altering of my ability to thus control it is a little frustrating.
- The green of non-tropical trees, grass and plants. Around the area of Haikou we're staying in, there are mainly main roads and heavily neon-ed buildings, but there are certainly no shortage of trees but they're all palms, and there is a street where there are about 12 flower shops where the bouquets are wonderfully colourful, but somehow artificial in their beauty. I miss the deep, darker green of the trees around Victoria Park, not that I could name them for you.
- All you guys. The people here are all pretty sound, though as I may or may not have said, I'm starting to see the divisions forming, not in any kind of harsh or spiteful way, more the sad yet inevitable ebb away... But I can't help but think this experience would be all the better if I had just one or two of you out here. As is rather predictable, I keep seeing and hearing things that remind me of London (to me, London is the Londoners, ie you, rather than, say, the tower of Big Ben) and that gives me a short pang of longing for the familiar voices and faces. For example, I met a couple of the group who have heard and love Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours"... that's not the most common song, so obviously I think of a few of you (you know who you are, if you're reading this, KN, CG, SH...)
- The feeling of complete safety just walking about on the streets. It's rather strange. I'm not at all scared walking about, just a little ill at ease and feeling as if I have to keep alert. In some ways, Hong Kong and Singapore prepared me for this experience but I felt alright there, as if I could get by if I needed to (Singapore more so... the language definitely helps) but here I feel perpetually like a stranger.

We're going to a temple on a mountain or something like that this weekend and staying over for the night. That should be interesting and worth a story or two... I shall keep you in the loop :)

p.s. Nick, if you read this, I bought seasons 1 and 2 of "How I Met Your Mother" on fake DVD for like one quid, how cool is that?!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Wo xi huan Hainan

And so my little stint in the Motherland continues!

We started the Mandarin classes today. I had a little of an advantage when it came to the initial pronounciation sections, as I obviously have more of a wealth of experience to draw upon, what with the exposure to words and so forth. But as we're now on the process of learning the phrases, any advantage I had has now swiftly disappeared. I still feel the obligation to be at the top end though, it'd be a shame if I wasn't... it's meant to be my mother tongue and all that.

The days here as the same time, oxymoronically (or just moronically? It's late and I've had little sleep!) seem to go really quickly and really slowly. The days seem to extend quite a lot and so as a result we get a lot packed into the days, although a little less so now, as we start to fall into the lesson schedule. Thus far, we've visited, as said, Holiday Beach, Evergreen Park (again reminding me uncannily of Singapore), the tomb of Hairu (apparently one of the early chieftains of Hainan), a few shopping malls here and there, and a couple of small things here and there.

And gone out a fair bit also ;) It's not completely our faults the beer is so cheap, nor that locals insist on buying rounds of drinks and ridiculously priced chips in the clubs for us! Upon requesting that they allow us to get a round in, we get rebuffed and besides which we have been told it would be considered bad manners and poor form to reject them. They're not all ideal though... last night, we returned to 'Allen's Bar' after a terrible terrible mockery of a KTV (karaoke) attempt in the place actually just across the road from us. W.V. we suspect, may have gotten his drink spiked, and as a result was... 'ill' throughout for a long time, to the extent that I felt compelled to stay up with him for until I was sure he was OK, but it wasn't too bad as I did have company for it for the great majority. But that's not the kind of thing Palin would write about is it? :P

What he might have written about is how far the pound stretches out here (the local cornershop sells a crate of 12 700ml beers for a slip over 3 quid), how the locals are for the most part friendly, more than keen, though shy, to talk to us as they would love to be able to tell their peers they spoke to a foreigner. Obviously with me this is a tad less of an issue, though I'm pretty sure I nevertheless bemuse them with my level of English.

I'm not overly certain what to write anymore, which is something of a strange occurence. Due to laziness, sleep deprivation (10 and a half hours in the past few days!) and not a small degree of lack of commitment, I'm obviously adverse to type up the entirety of my day's content, but the more I can write now the better for later, I suppose. And of the experiences I have undergone on a day to day basis, what becomes newsworthy on a daily scale?

However, I AM excited by the:
- prospect of teaching, strangely. I may end up with the opportunity to share a class and take a few adults for a conversational class tomorrow.
- the travelling in February. Myself and WS and CH have decided to travel to Guilin and the surrounding area by train for the few weeks we get off during the Chinese New Year (though they refer to is as the "Spring Festival" here) break. It should be more useful and give rise to more useful stories at a later date, what with the prospect of the awe-inspiring scenery, the Chinese New Year celebrations, and a lack of purpose-filled itineraries. We shall see.

Monday, January 07, 2008

"The Great Firewall of China"

You have to go via a proxy to get to the BBC website! What the heck? Though I'd hope not to the same extremes, surely there is in that something reminiscent of the Second World War, where people on precious stored radios listened to the BBC World Service to get news about the progress of the war. Obviously that's again being somewhat overdramatic, that's just the brief vibe I got upon receiving that particular bit of information.

So it's Day 3, and my interest is still not waning! Woo! Currently sat in a darkened internet cafe surrounded by highly excitable Chinese kids playing Warcraft III and yelling each other in relation to it. It's an improvement on the other night, I suppose, where there was a man sitting in the corner watching porn and... well, he was quiet, and his face intent and his hands not on his keyboard. Ahem.

Not really been doing anything too hardcore at present, nor have I really been trying out the old Mandarin, but I expect that will swiftly change when we get chucked into schools. We're about to start the learning, of teaching skills and basic Chinese language, and that should be pretty useful. I'm feeling a little too overconfident about the teaching part, I guess my Kumon experience and other stuff has given me more than the average amount of exposure to teaching kiddies, but I expect the scale and so forth of what we're about to do is somewhat different. I have at least lost the feeling the small feeling of dread I had just before I left. Everyone is really nice and it's all fairly close knit. It's actually somewhat reminiscent of Fresher's Week: especially due to the communal dining room we all hang out in and spend the majority of our spare time in the building in.

Had a couple of excursions here and there also, taken a few photos, and still a little uncertain how I'm going to get them onto the old facebook but that's not really an issue. The 'Holiday Beach' about 20 drive away is really nice, but yesterday we only spent a little over an hour there... we intend to go back on our day off on Sunday, should be a laugh.

The whole place reminds me a little of the less developed areas of Singapore, the same sense of the urban being plonked into the middle of a tropical rural area, with the (albeit planted) tropical trees around, the villagers around... it's a very varying area though, with the environment changing from mile to mile down the main roads. The locals treat us,mostly the others obviously, with the expected level of awe. It seems as if they'd been blessed the presence of a unicorn or something. Some are friendly and curious and say "Hi" to us, and grin the widest smile when we respond positively.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?

On a random note, is there a living person who actually knows all the words to this song off by heart? Or the full national anthem for that matter? I'd like to hope that there is, that somewhere exists such a bastion of the Britain of the old school, for it would surely be a shame if not.

So, I actually had a good New Year's Eve this year. I can't even remember what I ended up doing last year, the year before that I was ill with the mumps, and the year before that I was on a plane over probably the Middle East at the time.
Anyhow this year I went to a friend's house for a New Year's Eve party (Thanks L.B. if you ever get around to reading this! It was a truly awesome night) and it was nice to spend the night with a bunch of friends, and more food and drink (muhaha... strawberry vodka...) than could ever realistically have been consumed on that night, and to be honest most likely another one too. I'm going to stop short of giving a full play-by-play account, because it did get rather convoluted and, indeed, confusing at times (eating chocolate while wearing Arctic gear game? Sounds a great deal more fun than it is... the game where winning can in fact just feel like losing). New Year's is renowned as being one of the biggest overhyped letdowns of the year, and ha, to be fair in terms of an ACTUAL New Year celebration it wasn't the most successful. We somehow ended up with two separate countdowns (one from the TV and one of L.B.'s own inebriated imagination) but M.S. made a gallant effort with her inspired provision of party-poppers! But it was a brilliant knees-up, that is not in doubt. Ring of Fire, Guitar Hero 3 after drinks... it was just very very fun! :-)

On Wednesday I had a farewell curry after work. Curry was fine, had a drink and the customary go on the It Box. And tonight, I went and watch "Enchanted" (which, I'll agree is somewhat kiddie and cheesy, but a part of everyone has to love the Disney. Plus, Amy Adams is hot! *shrugs*) and attempt to have a quick sneaky bevvy before I had to go home and sleep (clearly, that's not working out so well, I have to be up in 5 hours! Screw it, I have all of the flight to sleep, I suppose). But that wasn't the point I was trying to make. What I was attempting to get across is the strange feeling I got those times somewhere between my gut and my chest... the same feeling I got in a much smaller measure when I left work for the last time earlier on... I suppose it was preemptive homesickness. Perhaps not in the strictest sense of the word. As much as I love being a Londoner, the Finchley house for some reason hasn't really felt like home for... a while at any rate, and I certainly won't miss the weather... the cruel bitter cold that stubbornly refused to bring at least the consolation snow along with it. But I will certainly miss the people (most of them at any rate)... each of the farewells, some of them over the phone, some of them rushed yes, felt a little like I was a cup, and with each goodbye some of the liquid I was holding was being poured out. At the moment, when the reality and enormity has finally hit me for real, I feel somewhat merely half full (but not half empty!) and it'll take a little bit of time to get back up to full... fullness. A friend tried to tell me that this feeling is fleeting, that while parting may, as it is said, be such sweet sweet sorrow, I shall get over it in a couple of weeks. I don't personally believe this, and half of me wants to believe this is true and the other half not, but only experiencing it will tell, I suppose.

Pardon my melodrama, it is rather late and I am rather tired from my long week! Farewell sweet England, with its green and pleasant lands, and the wondrous people living therein. In less than 30 hours I shall be halfway across the world, and if this blog is lucky, perhaps a little less fond of hyperbolae ;-p

I shall try to keep you posted.

Random musing of the time - should I be like a child or a superstitious sailor and give this blog a name?
Song that won't leave my head - it WAS Muse's "Knights of Cydonia" but now it's "That How She Knows" from Enchanted! It was so thoroughly implanted after the film ended that I unpacked my iPod and put the song on it :P So I'm a crazy insomniac, what else is new? :P