Nigerian Vibes

This title might seem a bit strange for regular readers of my blog, but today I’m going to share with you some of my favourite  Nigerian songs. Funnily enough, all these songs (and most African music I know) have been introduced to me when I was in China. There are a lot of study opportunities for Africans in China, and as I make friends with them, I learn about their music…it’s even played in the local bars!

‘Chop my money’

P-Square is a group of two brothers, and they’re also friends with Akon. This song is about giving a girl(friend) money to spend and not minding, because they’ve got plenty of money.

‘Kilo dale’

This song tells the story of Wizkid’s struggle to get noticed in the industry.

‘Sebede, sebede, sebede!’

Actually, this one I first heard when working at Viva la Fiesta in the UK. It’s about him being hungry for more women…like Oliver Twist wanting more gruel.

‘Sawale’ 

This is for all the Qingdao Class of 2013! This is a Nigerian song, sung in Igbo. It’s about a pretty girl.

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Racing for toiletries

Last month, there was a ‘long distance’ running race at our university. A friend of mine helped me to sign up and I asked her how long the race would be, what the route would be etc. Because my regular training route is a 10km lap around campus. But she didn’t know and couldn’t find out any concrete information about the details of the race.

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Me before the race

Race day came and it was only then that I found out that the men’s race would be a 4km lap around some of the university buildings, yet the women’s race was only 2km. I wasn’t very happy and asked why the girls should run half the distance of the men, they told me that it’s fairer like that because most girls don’t like running…well this girl does! I asked if I could join the longer race with the boys and was told ‘no’.

I was also told there would be prizes, which were separated into ten 1st class prizes, ten 2nd class prizes and ten 3rd class prizes for the top 30 finishers, and all participants would get something, even if they weren’t in the top 30. My goal was top 10. What would my prize be, cash? food? running kit? vouchers?

I did a bit of a warm up and got ready, there were about 120 girls racing. After the whistle went, I dodged in and out of people wearing all sorts of strange clothes – Toms shoes, some wearing rucksacks, most in jeans and hoodies – and quickly got to the front of the race where I planned to stay. There was one other girl in front of me (the one who won the 1500m in the athletics meet) who ended up winning the race.

I came second! I crossed the line and took my voucher for a 1st class prize to the desk, where I got given a big bag of stuff. I sat on a bench, eager to open my bag of goodies and see what I had won:

  • a 2l bottle of laundry detergent
  • 8 big multipacks of tissues
  • a bottle of shampoo
  • an animal keyring (a dalmation in my case)

It was by far the strangest prize I’ve ever won at a race but actually quite useful as I had recently ran out of washing powder and tissues always come in handy. Actually, when I won 3rd for the 1500m, I also got a tube of Korean toothpaste alongside my medal, so this school promotes staying clean and exercising.

What strange prizes have you won at races? What do you think about the men’s and women’s races being different lengths?

Communal Washing

There’s one universal problem around the world. It seems in every country I’ve lived in – Spain, Chile and China – where I’ve lived in shared accommodation, there’s been problems with washing clothes. Here are some of them.

Broken washing machines

There’s always at least one faulty washing machine, the one that turns your whites yellow, or is just constantly filled with dark, dirty water. Because they’re communal washing machines, nobody will pay for them to get fixed and the admin departments are also reluctant to get people in to fix these machines.

Washing peak time

Most people have free time at the weekends, and what does that leave time for? Yes, your washing. So at the weekend, you have to get in really early if you want to find a working washing machine.

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Drying clothes on chairs outside in Chile

Drying problems (1) no air flow

Not everywhere has suitable outdoor places to hang washing. Some places I’ve lived in haven’t had washing lines, so I’ve dried my clothes on chairs outside in the sun, hanging over slats of wood by the fire and hanging precariously by coathangers hanging off the curtain rail. When you’re living in a place with bad ventilation and no air moving around to dry the clothes, it’s also difficult, so you may have to use a hairdryer.

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Drying clothes by the fire in the Chilean winter

Drying problems (2) no space

Sometimes because of the washing peak, there actually aren’t any places for you to hang your washing. The clothes horses are broken and already being used, the banisters have been hogged by someone drying sheets so what can you do? Be creative and find other banisters on the staircase, use the backs of chairs, coathangers hanging from your door handles, find some string to tie between two trees outside…all of these methods require effort and thinking though.

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Hanging clothes from my curtain rail in China

Clothes thieves

No matter where I’ve been, I’ve always encountered clothes thieves, and that’s what led me to write this blog post today. In Chile, I had a pair of jeans and some shorts stolen at the same time. In Spain, my t-shirts would disappear off the shared rooftop balcony. And here in China, I’ve had a dress stolen.

Clothes thieves confuse me in a number of ways:

  • when do they steal the items, when they’re semi dry, or completely dry?
  • do they go through people’s drying laundry looking for a new tshirt or dress, or do they just see it, grab it and go?
  • now, I always wash my clothes inside out, and the inside of my dress was dull and black, so why did they take it?
  • do they plan to wear my clothes? and if so, what if they meet me? that dress was from the UK, so I will know it’s mine if I see it
  • why is is such a global thing?

So that’s it… you spend all this time traipsing each floor trying to find a working machine that isn’t being used, then you have to find a place to hang your clothes to dry and hope that someone doesn’t move them when they’re still damp (another thing which I won’t go on about today). And if you’re lucky enough to be able to wash and dry your clothes, you still have to be aware of pesky thieves, who will steal your jeans, t-shirts and dresses!

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Everyone has the missing socks problem, right?

I can’t blame laundry thieves for my missing socks though, as I always hang them in my bedroom!

 

Do you still remember me?

In China and Chinese universities especially, exchange students from different countries have lots of opportunities to meet Chinese students. I’ve met new friends at school events, English corners, on the bus, on the street, in the canteen etc. When I meet someone for the first time, we usually exchange Wechat accounts as a way to keep in contact [although we won’t always become the best of friends like when I bothered a girl on my first day].

Sometimes I’ll bump into these friends at a later date and they’ll say ‘Hey Leona, 你还记得我吗?’ (Do you still remember me?)

It’s an awkward question to answer, especially for those people I don’t remember. I know it’s probably just a greeting, but the people who ask me seem to people I haven’t seen or spoken to in a while. So I don’t know if I directly answer ‘Yes, I remember you’, it’s like saying ‘yes I remember who you are but I haven’t bothered to get in contact with you because you’re not that important to me’.

So my usual response to those I remember is’yes, I remember you, we met at X, but I can’t remember your name, sorry’, and to those I don’t remember ‘yes, your face is familiar, but I’ve forgotten your name’.

Chinese names are difficult to remember, even for some Chinese students, as I saw when our taekwondo class was split into groups of 6 people and we had to remember everyone’s names. They found it difficult to remember everyone’s names and we had 3 minutes to introduce ourselves. Like my Chinese name, the Li, could be 李、里、理、礼、澧… etc but it’s the first one 【木子李】. The Ou has less options, the 欧 in Europe 欧洲 or the 鸥 in seagull 海鸥。Etc etc, so I think it’s acceptable to forget my Chinese friends’ Chinese names if I haven’t written them down. Many like to use their English names.

Other strange greetings questions include

  • 你早饭吃了吗? Have you eaten breakfast
  • 你吃饭了吗?Have you eaten lunch/dinner?
  • 你去哪儿?Where are you going?
  • 你在干嘛?What are you doing?

I’ve been told that these are just questions and people don’t really care where you’re going or if you ate dinner or not. The same way we often ask ‘How are you?’ but don’t expect to hear anything besides ‘I’m fine, good thanks’.

Is the pen dead? Mine definitely isn’t.

I recently read an article about how pens, paper and handwriting are all dead in British society, at least. The figures are shocking, reading about how few young people have written a letter, but even with the increase of technology, this isn’t true for me. Maybe I’m a special case, but I can’t see me putting my pens down anytime soon (neither can these hard working students in the library).

At the library
At the library

As I study Chinese, it’s incredibly important for me to keep on top of my handwriting, not only for the weekly dictation spelling tests we have, but also for character recognition and ingraining new characters into my memory. There are many characters that look similar 人 and 入, which look alike but also ones like 休/体, 偷/愉 and semi symmetrical ones like 部/陪, Then there are the really complicated characters like 藏 or 囊,which are usually traditional characters that even China hasn’t been able to simplify.

I find the most effective method of remembering them is by writing them, from 1-10 times on neat squared paper. As I’m on a 20hr/week intensive language course, I have over 100 new pieces of vocabulary to learn a week, some of which are Chinese idioms (成语) which consist of four characters. That’s not even including my homework, notes in class and writing my diary. It’s safe to say,I use a lot of pens and paper here in China.

After spending 20p on each gel ink pen, that I would finish in a couple of weeks, I decided this was quite expensive. I saw refill ink cartridges in the stationary shop which were 10p each, or a box of 20 for £1.60, At first I thought I doubted I would use a whole 20 pens worth of ink, but then I realised I probably would use all of them, so bought the box. Who said the pen was dead?

Another one of my goals for this time in China is to learn some 练笔,joined up handwriting – in Chinese. At the moment, I write like a 7 year old Chinese student, clearly marking each stroke of the character, but this takes time and my Chinese friends don’t write like this. Sometimes my teachers comments are also in cursive Chinese, so I want to learn how to write it in order to read it too. It will save me time when writing down points in listening class and hopefully not affect the beauty of my printed characters.

Cursive Chinese
At the library

How often do you write with a pen and paper?

First Athletics Meet [1500m]

Ok, so technically this wasn’t my first athletics competition I’ve taken part in. In year 7, I was in the Coventry schools athletics tournament, I raced in the 110m hurdles and came last. I came last because we’d been using training hurdles at school, but when we got to the competition, they were raised a few cms higher. I cleared the first one, but fell over at the second, and the third and ended the race crying, with bloody knees. I still have a scar from that day. It was one of those days where wasn’t about taking part, it was more about finishing the race and not giving up at the first hurdle [pun intended].

Anyway, Zhejiang Normal uni, like most Chinese universities, holds an annual athletics meet or 运动会, it’s like a sports day that Chinese people do throughout their school life, so actually by the time they get to university, most students are a bit bored of it all and choose not to watch or take part – which isn’t the spirit!!

As I love sports and am preparing for the upcoming Jinhua marathon in April, I decided to enter the longest distance races available – 800m and 1500m. I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t a 5km* race, but I couldn’t complain/didn’t know who to complain to.

I was the only girl from my department to enter the 1500m, but there would be other girls competing from other departments (engineering, nursery, maths, literature etc). There were 42 female competitors in the end, and I was quite nervous about all of us running at the same time, but then my 负责人 Evelyn (another Chinese student from my department who was appointed to be almost like a PA – taking me to get my race number, telling me the rules, etc) told me how we’d be split into 3 heats. There wouldn’t be a final, so I’d have to run faster than the girls in the other heats to get up on the leaderboard.

I lined up on the starting line and looked at my competitors, some were in sports clothes, one was wearing denim shorts, not all of them had proper trainers. But I dressed the part, even if I lost my race, I wanted to look like a professional athlete from overseas, so wore my matching purple Puma top and shorts, along with my trademark blue headband, blue sunglasses and worn out trainers which probably need replacing.

Before the race
Before the race

The race started and although my coach told me to stay in the middle, with 5 girls ahead of me, I decided to stick with the first three girls. The four of us broke away at the beginning and we dropped down to three after the first 200m as the girl in grey got tired. I was running alongside the girl in black for a while, keeping a steady pace for a lap. Then her coach shouted at her and she overtook me for a little while, but I could tell that she wouldn’t be able to keep that pace for a long time, so I just stayed with her, stamping my feet so she knew I was coming for her. We’d lost the girl in yellow by this time. I wasn’t really thinking about the other heats, I just wanted to win this race as I had a whole stand full of fans shouting for me. My friends from Sudan, Cameroon, South Korea, China, Ghana and Ethiopia all turned out for me and whistled, shouted and went crazy each time I passed them.

Setting the pace
Before the race

I soon overtook her and she kept behind for a while, until when I got to the final 250m I accelerated, and made my move to see if she would respond. A few seconds later, I couldn’t hear her footsteps, only the whistles from the crowd and people shouting my name. I glanced back at the end of the final corner and saw she hadn’t upped the pace like me. That was it, I’d won! Glory was mine as I crossed the finish line.

The crowd went wild and I was suddenly surrounded by people, my 负责人 Evelyn, gave me some water, and the other people were school journalists, all wanting to interview me. I felt like a pro sportswoman as I told them how this was the first time I’d ran a 1500m race and my usual race is triathlon.

When the results came out later, I saw I’d ran in it 5.59:42mins, so my pace was just under 4mins/km, which was what I was aiming for. But what surprised me more was my standing! I came third overall, which meant I’d go on the podium to receive a medal and some flowers from one of the school’s deputies. It was the first time I’d been on a podium like this, with flower girls, my name being read out on a microphone and a group of paparazzi standing below.

Very happy to be on the podium
Before the race

*it turns out there was a 5km race, but it was only open to students in the sports department, meaning there were only 4 girls competing, I should have been able to race in that!

Breakfast – the most complicated meal of the day

Usually, we are used to hearing how breakfast is the most ‘important’ meal of the day. But I’ve found in China, it’s turning out to be the most complicated meal of the day.

The last time I was in China, there was a small row of shops and food stalls right outside my dormitory, so I could buy fruits and (China’s sweet) bread for breakfast, no problem. Here, in Jinhua, my dormitory is really far from anything. They put the foreigners in the furthest corner of the university, as you can see from my brilliant Paint skills.

Annotated Campus Map
Annotated Campus Map

The orange star in the bottom right corner is our dorm, and to get to the pink star, it takes at least 7mins to get there. At the pink star there is a school canteen and a small building with some small restaurants and a supermarket. It’s ok, but there’s not a great amount of choice. Then there’s the yellow star ‘Beimen’. Although beyond the gate, it looks like there is nothing there, it’s actually where life begins. There is a range of fruit stalls, book stores, coffee shops, restaurants, phone repair shops, nail salons, a gym, KTV, a couple of hotels. Rumour is, anything you need, you can find it in Beimen. Someone once told me there is a place which sells Oreo McFlurries!

There’s no proper milk to have cereals here and don’t even mention the T word. It’s too far to go to Beimen for breakfast (about 1.7km from our dorm) so I go to the canteen in the mornings. In the canteen at lunch and dinner times, it’s quite straightforward – you choose if you want a small or large bowl of white or egg friend rice then go to choose which bits you want – fish, chicken, pork, veg, they have it all on tiny dishes and you get what you see.

But it’s different at breakfast time and I still haven’t figured it all out.

There are bowls of porridge you can get, I like the red one, but not the white one. It’s hot porridge and has grainy bits, like rice inside. Then everything else is like a mystery to me.

包子
包子*

There is always 包子, small wrapped steamed buns containing meat or veg. But often there is no sign to say which type they are. They are on the counter in large steaming circles and once I took two from two different places, thinking they’d have different stuffings, but they were both pork.

They usually have these round bread like circles, stuffed with meat, potatoes or vegetables. But they are all fried and are dripping in oil so I only made that mistake once.

Then the canteen always seems to want to trick me, and test me. They tease me with things that look familiar and then totally ruin it. There was once a round orangey thing that had the character 糕 (cake) in it. There was what looked to be sprinkled bits of coconut on top so I took one. I bit into it, and it was an oily fried circle of sweet potato, with bits of sugar on top – not the cake I was expecting.

Another time I saw what I thought was a cheese toastie, there were two triangles of bread placed together and although there was batter on the outside (they’d been deep fried) I took one, eager to have my first bit of bread. I bit into a corner and saw a yellow filling inside. Then when I got to tasting the filling, it was the Chinese custard they use in cakes – no cheese and I didn’t know why they deep fried it.

Once I picked up a bowl of white liquid, thinking it was yoghurt. Other students were putting sugar and what I thought was dried fruit into it. I did the same, but the white liquid was a warm solid, jelly-like soya bean thing. And I don’t like jelly. The ‘dried fruit’ was actually pickled vegetables and the sugar didn’t make it bearable – what a waste of 20p, I didn’t eat it.

Sometimes there are nice surprises, like when I got a pancake, opened it and found a fried egg and sausage inside. That was pleasant. I also had a nice nutty squishy triangle thing one time. They change the breakfast everyday, so I still have many things to try in the canteen. It’s sometimes fun, not knowing what you’re going to be eating, but there are days when I would just love a bowl of muesli or some honey on toast.

*Sorry, my USB ports on my laptop have all broken so I can’t upload any of my own pictures until I get it fixed =(

Talented Individuals

I think the Chinese love perfecting talents and performing them on stage. Do you remember the opening of the Beijing Olympics? There was a chance for foreign students to perform dances, songs, stand up etc from their own country, or China alongside Chinese teachers and students at the Mid-Autumn Festival Celebration last Sunday.

I decided to enter, as I wanted the chance to sing S.H.E 中国话 in front of a large audience, as at the Chinese Bridge (汉语桥) competition, I only reached the semi-finals and performing in a classroom to other contestants isn’t the same as a live audience. I rehearsed the rap again and felt confident that I knew 85% of it well and the rest I could just mumble, or make up my own words and nobody would mind too much.

On Saturday, the day before the performance, the organisers messaged me, saying that my act would be much better if I had a Chinese student singing with me, so I met Afra and we split up the lyrics. Of course, I gave her the parts I was struggling with and our rehearsals went well. The show started at 6pm and there was a wide range of acts – acoustic songs from Indonesia and Thailand, an ethnic Chinese opera song, the Chinese song ‘Beijing welcomes you’ 北京欢迎你, dances from Cameroon and Thailand and some other things too. This is mine and Afra’s performance of S.H.E’s 中国话.

If you don’t know Chinese, the song is about the rising popularity of Mandarin as a worldwide, international language. Most of the rap parts are Chinese tongue twisters, which make no sense when translated into English:

There was a small boy called Xiao Du, he went to the street to buy vinegar and sell cloth, he sold the cloth, bought the vinegar, turned around, saw an eagle catch a rabbit, he put down the cloth, dropped the vinegar to chase the rabbit and the eagle. the eagle flew away, the rabbit ran away, he spilled the vinegar and the cloth got wet

This next video is of a traditional Chinese Lion Dance 舞狮, at a basketball match (that never was) on campus. What I didn’t know before is that there are two men inside each lion and when the ‘lion’ stands up, the guy at the back lifts the guy at the front up to sit, or stand on his shoulders. I was totally in awe of these dancers and would love to see one again. Although the faces of the lions are pretty scary and intimidating! What do you think? 喜欢吗?

Wechat Moments (1)

I’m calling this Wechat Moments (1) as I imagine this will be the first of many miscommunications, misunderstandings or strange things that happen on Wechat. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Wechat. It’s an incredibly popular social media app and is huge in China where Facebook is banned. It has an interface like Whatsapp for chatting and voice messages. You can also send animated stickers, photos, music etc. Then there’s your ‘Moments’, which acts like your Facebook wall where you can upload photos and/or statuses, as well as sharing articles by companies that publish regularly. There’s a part where you can Shake your phone and chat to anyone else in the world who happens to be shaking at that moment, use GPS to chat to People Nearby and you can play games too.

Because it’s so popular and used by pretty much everyone in China, people will ask you for your Wechat ID to continue your friendship. People that ask for your Wechat can vary from your actual friends and classmates, other students walking around campus, your teachers, to strangers on the bus who want to be friends with a foreigner.

The fashionable thing is to have your profile picture of 1) someone other than you 2) a flower or 3) a cartoon caricature. It’s also cool to have your screen name as something other than your name so when people add you, sometimes it takes a while to figure out who it is that you’re talking to.


I got a friend request from LU yesterday, the picture was of a small Chinese child and I didn’t know who this person was. Here is our conversation:

Me: Hello

LU: Hello

LU: How was your weekend?

Me: Fine, yours

I wasn’t going to give this Lu character any actual information until I knew who they actually were. I’ve had some strange spam messages come through before and I didn’t know if this was spam.

LU: Not bad, also hehe

LU: Did you go and play with your friends?

Me: Yes, you?

Again, one word answers seemed the best way to go with this.

LU: I was working

LU: I didn’t go out

Me: Oh, it’s like that (said in Chinese internet slang)

By this time, I looked on LU’s Wechat moments and realised that he’s my Chinese teacher, here at university. So this time it’s not a stranger trying to sell me gynaecological treatments.

LU: Haha, you really can speak Chinese

LU: Great!

LU: Where do you live?

This is where it started to get a bit strange, I didn’t want to tell him my whole address so simply replied

Me: In the international student dorms

I wasn’t going to ask where he lived.

LU: Ok, not bad

LU: Can I see one of your pictures?

Because I want to fit in to Chinese society, my profile picture isn’t me, it’s this cute picture of a panda in a panda cap.

My profile pic
My profile pic

Me: So you want me to send you a photo of me?

LU: Yes, send me one so I can see you

LU: Your level of Chinese really isn’t bad at all

LU: You could directly study a Masters in Chinese

Me: *sends picture*

Me: I haven’t thought of studying a Masters

LU: Oh, not bad

LU: Are you married?

It’s definitely weird now, he’s asked where I live, if I’m married and I’ve just sent him a photo. What if he tries to marry me off to someone?

Me: No, why do you ask?

LU: Just thought I’d ask, hehe

Me: In our culture, we don’t usually directly ask these sorts of questions…

LU: Oh, sorry

LU: Chinese people usually ask these questions, I’m really sorry

Me: It’s ok, don’t worry

The conversation then continued by him asking me to help teach his 3 year old son English, as he’s in nursery and they don’t have English classes. I said I was interested but still don’t know my timetable and if I’ll do other activities in the afternoon as I don’t want to commit to teaching my teacher’s son from the beginning and then encounter difficulties or more awkward moments. He said we’ll discuss it another day.

Top Tips from ZJNU

In the exchange student office today, I found a little booklet titled “Tips for You”, I picked it up and it’s a handbook for students with advice on how to be a good, healthy and happy student. I want to share with you some of the funnier tips:

  • University canteens are better choice for dinner – nice self-promotion of the university facilities.
  • Please contact your parents as often as you can and share your colourful life in the university.
  • Please make full use of the library and enjoy staying there.
  • Make a rational choice about the various clubs – this refers to the societies on campus, not nightclubs, I think it’s trying to encourage a good study/social life balance.
  • The weather changes during a day, remember to dress accordingly.
  • After using the computer or reading books for a long time, please look in the distance to relax your eyes.
  • “A closed mouth catches no flies”. Please clean fruits properly before eating.
  • Sleep well and get up early. This will give you a strong body.
  • Smoking and alcohol are very harmful to your health…do not drink too much in your dormitory.

I wonder if these tips are just for international students, or for all students here at 浙师大. I hope by following these top tips and the others in the booklet, I will have a great time here at Zhejiang Normal University!

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