We've arrived in Bangkok, Thailand and settled into our nice hotel. The swimming pool is chillier than we hoped, but we've been given a free upgrade to larger rooms which is a bonus - JD and I in one, and Ava and Ma-in-law next door. We spent today at a rather touristy centre outside of Bangkok.
It was all a lot more expensive than we had been promised but, once there, we felt we had to do some of the activities on offer. So we hired a river boat to see the floating market (most of the shops were on land!) and then JD and I had a short elephant ride.
Temperatures are still below zero here, so JD and I spent yesterday making a castle and then playing with it. I've found myself saving boxes, toilet rolls and straws for just this sort of occasion.
Ava, JD, Ma-in-law and I leave for Thailand later today. It's Ma's first trip abroad - yes, we're taking a risk with her! We're looking forward to having some warm weather there and, perhaps more importantly, a regular water supply. Our neighbourhood cuts off the water supply at the first hint of frozen pipes. We've been on one hour a day of cold water for over a week.
On our very occasional visits to the Golden Arches (or "Old MacDonalds", as JD calls it) I have my usual coffee, while JD pleads for chicken nuggets and "JD coffee", which is a mixture of a little of my coffee and some warm doujiang - soybean milk. For me it sort of sums him up - a bit Western and a bit Chinese. When other children call him "foreigner" he likes to remind them that he is Chinese. But when we watch Peppa Pig, he'll go ballistic if I don't change it to English language!
I was always told snow was a rarity in Kunming and before last year I'd only seen one flurry in 8 years. But it snowed (lightly) a couple of times last winter and has already snowed twice this winter. Odd.
JD was understandably excited to see it all as he's been watching snowy Christmas episodes of Peter Rabbit, Pingu and Thomas the Tank Engine for a month or two now. So I took him outside for a low-key "snowball fight" and to build a tiny snow-rabbit together (not enough snow for a man!). It's supposed to be cold tomorrow too, before warming up again, but I can't see today's dusting lasting very long.
One thing I (usually) love about China is the unpredictability of life. Sometimes it's frustrating, such as suddenly being told on Monday afternoon that JD was not welcome back at school this week (because, it turned out, they felt last week's cough might still be infectious, despite him no longer having a cough and his doctor already having given him the all-clear). At other times it's an unexpected bonus, such as stumbling on a 30+ piece orchestra performing (for free) outside JD's playcentre this morning. Not being able to read the Chinese, I still have no idea why it was there, but very welcome (and very high quality) it was. When they struck up the "Can Can" theme I nearly ran up to the front to start high-kicking but, with JD on my shoulders, it might have proven a bit too dangerous!
JD's been coughing for nearly 3 weeks now and so, after a particularly bad day earlier this week, we kept him off school and took him for yet another visit to the hospital. After a blood test, he was diagnosed as having a "mycoplasma bacterial infection" which requires two weeks of anti-biotics. So he's been at home for most of this week, which put a stop any of my personal work/play plans! Fortunately (I think?), his cough hasn't affected his energy levels, so we've been able to go out and play, visit a museum, go to a park, catch a local train, go on shopping trips, etc. And he's shown a fast improvement since going on the meds, so hppefully he's back to school next week.
The bouquets were out, and the brass band played (...tiddly-om-pom-pom!) down the hill at the weekend, announcing the opening of a new attraction; An ice rink? No. A supermarket? No. A cinema, perhaps? No. It was ...drum roll... a "Smurf House"!? Nope, I have no idea, either. I must find the time to investigate one day soon.
I finally got to see the new Star Wars film at the cinema today - and IMAX 3D at that! Loved it. It was relaeased in China a month later than the rest of the world as Chinese cinemas are only allowed a certain number of western films each year and they had already reached their limit last month. Plus, there's been some controversy, with the Chinese film poster looking subtly different from the original [see below]. The black actor has been made much less prominent and the Wookiee has been deleted altogether. Racism based on colour AND species, it's been suggested. Still, it's taken more money in China this first weekend than any previous film, which bodes well for more to come. MTFBWY.
Ava, JD and I took a trip to WuDing today, with the Dancing Couple. It's about an hour's drive from Kunming, and famous for Lion Mountain which is peppered with temples and lion statues - or so they day. On arrival, we were a little surprised to be required to buy a ticket to climb the mountain and gobsmacked to find it was 100RMB (£10) each. As we climbed the trail, we looked in vain for lion statues. The waterfall had no water (drought). The temples were tiny and falling apart. The "mystical cave" was boarded up. And the tower at the top of the mountain was hidden in scaffolding. All very disappointing.
The trip wasn't a complete washout though. We left the mountain to visit friends of the Dancing Couple who were having a village celebration of a pig being butchered. On the way, JD spotted horses and carts, geese, herds of goats, cows, sheep and lots fo construction vehicles! At the village itself, JD had close encounters with a huge pig and two goats [see photo, right] as well as cats and dogs. We joined in the banquet with about 50 others and left when it got dark. Nice to get out of the city sometimes.
One of my classes at the University were using a dreadful textbook last term which linked to a DVD of associated film clips (which was never guaranteed to work on their computer). Subjects included; "Racism", "Herman Melville", "Tsunamis", "Cyberspace" and "Genetic mutations" - all with vocabulary and listening texts way beyond the students' abilities (and often mine ...what exactly does "cate" mean?). I'm promised a new, more communicative, textbook next term. It was when reading and listening about "Herman Melville" that I spotted this deodorant's name, he being the author of "Moby Dick". Is it a subtle play on words, do you think, or is my imagination working overtime?
A visit to "Metro" (a German cash-and-carry wholesaler - Kunming has just one) ticks boxes for all of us. Jiajia likes to buy new foodstuffs at discount prices. I like looking for Chinglish and those western goodies you can't find elsewhwere in Kunming. JS is on the lookout for forklift trucks in action. It's his favourite of all the construction vehicles and first-hand observation is so much more exciting than watching them on YouTube! He even got a wave from the driver of the forklift we watched the other day.
JD's Kindergarten put on a Christmas Show last week. Ava had helped source clothes for JD and his classmates and was rewarded with two tickets (other parents only got one). I had to be at work, however, so she took a friend. The day before, Ava had been pulled aside by a teacher who explained that they had wanted to put JD up front and central in the performance as he's "so cute" but, try as they might, they hadn't been able to get him to follow the whole dance routine before getting bored and doing his own dance moves! So he was relegated to the back row. As it was, he gave a rousing, if slightly random at times, performance on the day. I have a sneaky admiration for his independant streak - the time spent relentless practising the dance was out of all proportion, apparently. Happy New Year!
Today was my final day of the term at YUFE (Yunnan University of Finance and Economics). This last week has been Oral English exams which, for my classes, meant groups of three doing a 2-3 minute role-play set in a restaurant. They all managed to do enough to pass, though some presentations were more elaborate than others (various props, romantic upsets, unusual menu items, etc). Overall, it's been a good first term at my new job, with signs that the students' English language levels have improved, expecially in their confidence and fluency. Now I just need to sort out their dodgy pronunciation and idiom-usage. But first, two months holiday!
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