I can go for weeks without meeting other foreigners and hearing "full-speed" spoken English. So podcasts keep me sane! Whenever I have 5-10 minutes spare I can plug my earphones into my phone and listen to part of a podcast - sometimes funny, sometimes informative, sometimes something catering to my odd tastes, be it "Thunderbirds", "Cults" or "Beef and Dairy Farming"!
Last week, for example, I found out all there is to know about the "Georgia Guidestones" a mysterious Stonehenge-like construction in America covered in advice (in eight languages) for how mankind should survive in the future. Fascinating stuff.
Sadly, our long-lived Siamese fighting fish died yesterday. We'd had him for nearly two years (about 22 months longer than most of our goldfish last!). Being a fighting fish, he had to be in the tank by himself, but he seemed to enjoy roaming around the various underwater ornaments. JD named him "Demo" as a nod to the film "Nemo". We now have a replacement "normal" goldfish called, unsurprisingly, "Goldie". RIP Demo!
This little fellow has been causing me a lot of grief over the last month or so. I've never quite known what it is in China that gives me allergic reactions at this time of year but, after a tip-off, it seems "ragweed" is probably the culprit. It's common in Kunming (tick), its sprays pollen out every Sep/Oct (tick) and it causes tears, repeated sneezing and sore throats in those affected (tick).
So if you see tears running down my face as I say goodbye to JD at school each morning, it's not sadness. If you hear me shrieking as I wake up it doesn't mean I've had a bad dream. And if you spot me swallowing hard before talking to my class, it's not a sign of nerves! It's blummin' ragweed!
Before heading back to Kunming we spent a leisurely morning looking around ShiLin's Old Town (razed by bulldozers) and looking out for interesting places, such as the shop above selling hand-made funerary wares - a rare sight in a country where everything seems factory-produced these days. Then in the wet market, we saw these two diminutive "Hani minority" women selling various foods form their village. We bought some free range eggs (only to be told moments later by another nearby vendor that the eggs are the same "battery hen eggs" as everyone else's! Seems you pay a premium for the photo!
ON the way back to Kunming, we visited PanSiWan cemetery where Jiajia's Gran is buried. It was JD's first visit to a cemetery - cue a whole raft of deep questions on the remaining journey home!
Jiajia, JD and I are currently taking a little break for a few days (this week is a national holiday to celebrate China's 70th year as a nation). We decided to use our annual tickets at ShiLin's "Ocean and Snow Park" but, unfortunately, after the 2-hour drive to get there we found out that our passes are not valid on holidays - that small print gets you every time! So we had to fork out for fresh one-day tickets. After bumper cars, the carousel and a terrific circus we headed into the huge sub-zero warehouse for tobogganing, skating and tyre-sliding. Then it was on to the ski run for JD's second "lesson". Last time he didn't quite manage to get all the way down the slope without falling over. But this time, after a couple of early tumbles, he was able to get all the way down a dozen times. And very proud of himself he was too! Mind you, pride comes before a fall and there were a couple of spectacular wipe-outs later as he tried to master "turning"!
JD's Primary School uniform was delivered last week - the boys get a bright pink tunic while the girls get blue!? It's either a very progressive decision or someone made a cock-up!
Jiajia was mumbling about the cost - she found the same clothes online for 50RMB but the school insisted that they have to be bought through the school shop at 400RMB -a clear rip-off.
JD rather likes the uniform though and was keen to be photographed in his "at attention" stance. The constant school "marching and dancing" seem to be having an effect on him!
October 1st is the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China - the country I currently call home. I was one of five teachers from the whole of Yunnan (pop: 50 million) invited to attend the Provincial Government's celebratory banquet in the swanky Green Lake Hotel. A very formal do. I even had to wear my one and only tie!
It was the usual affair. Men in black suits mixing with others from minority groups and nearby countries dressed in their ethnic costumes. A mercifully succinct speech extolling the glories of China kicked off the event. The food was quality over quantity, but more important were the various dignitaries going from table to table toasting each other. Then, after 90 minutes, it was announced that the reception was over and, within a few minutes, the fancy dining room had been vacated and people slowly drifted off home. All very Chinese!
But for all the cultural oddities, it is genuinely a really nice gesture to invite various foreigners along to what is, essentially, an event for patriotic Chinese to revel in the successes of their country. The respect and gratefulness of Chinese people towards foreigner workers can contrast strongly with the attitude to immigrants seen in many other countries...
JD's Primary School continues to be an education to me, if not to JD. Can this really be the top school in the city?? Today the teacher posted photos showing how "well-behaved and happy" the students are. Really?? They look scared and bored to me. JD's first three weeks seem to have been all about "control", with very little actual education. The kids get marked every day - with all the grades being sent to all the parents by phone. Most kids get "As" but JD usually gets "Bs". Why? Well, one day it was for "holding his pencil for a few seconds too long when the teacher had told pupils to put them down". Another day it was for "looking at the textbook when the teacher was talking". And another was for "raising his hand inappropriately to answer a question".
As a ex Primary School teacher myself, the "rows and columns" seating and the publicly published minor infringements seem all about the teacher keeping strict control, rather than having any education value. And woe betide any parents who fail to complete the multiple forms, the homework signing sheets or book purchases. They want control of us too!
[And if you're wondering where JD is in the picture above, we were told he was having a unscheduled trip to the toilet ...another "B"!!]
Electric bikes are a huge part of life in Kunming. If I had to drive JD to school each morning by car it would take over 40 minutes, with many traffic jams on the way. By e-bike, it's 15 minutes. So it's alarming that the local government have recently announced that e-bikes will be phased out over the next 3-4 years. The car traffic, and associated pollution, will surely increase as a result. Crazy.
However, the downside of scooters is, of course, the safety factor. Although I've been driving one for five years without major incident, we were confronted with the reality of the danger a couple of days ago when an e-bike, speeding past us in a bus lane, lost control and crashed into our car. He wasn't wearing a helmet and suffered a bleeding head wound and bruising. Thankfully, nothing worse. In China, the law says that the "larger" of any two vehicles in a collision is automatically at fault, regardless of the actions or situation. Fortunately for us, though, the injured e-biker immediately insisted it was all his fault and even offered to pay for the repair of our car's dent. We declined that offer but were mightily relieved to see him driving away. It could have been a whole lot worse.
Another in my occasional series of "Flashbacks" looking back at blog entries made before this Weebly version started.
I was asked to do some oral English work today to help prepare half a dozen young men and women for their all-important IELTS exam which they need to pass to be able to study abroad. Unfortunately, the list of possible subjects to talk about had been translated from Chinese by a computer and most of the mangled topics left me scratching my head. See if you can work them out. My top ten . . .
JD and I attended a foreign teachers' Mid-Autumn Festival activity the other day to make traditional mooncakes. Other teachers also brought their kids and together we had a sticky, but successful, time with the finished products look pretty professional and tasting jolly good too. My Vietnamese friend Cao [to my right, below] came with her two kids (FeiJi and YoLun) and we realised it was exactly a year since we first met (at last year's cake event).
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