Yesterday saw the Lattitude volunteers doing their Teaching Practice. The first half of the training course leads up to this, with practical sessions on Lesson Planning, Games, Using Visual Aids, Speaking, Presentation, etc. And they did really well. The regular teachers - whose classes they took over for an hour - had nothing but praise for the trainees: well-prepared, confident and full of great ideas. We still have three days of training to go, covering Songs, Correcting Mistakes, Listening, and Reading as well as some "background" subjects such as Chinese Culture, Extra-Curricular Activities and Living and Working in China.
After surviving a nasty sickness bug (a third of our trainees were in their hotel rooms vomitting, at one point!), we were back to full numbers today, and tomorrow sees them doing their Teaching Practice at our school. The Chinese language course is proving popular, too. The photo shows the beginner students on a field trip. Having learned how to ask for things in the classroom, we take them to a shop and let them try for real! The shopkeepers have seen it all before and try their best to understand the mangled requests!
The Lattitude training course I'm running these days is going well. I have this afternoon off, while they go sightseeing at the Golden Temple. It's a welcome break for me as the other two teachers who were doing some of the training with me have both had to pull out. Plus, I'm trying to fit in my normal school classes with kids at the same time, as far as possible. It helps that this intake are a particularly punctual, lively and thoughtful bunch. I do enjoy training (even more than teaching, and there is a difference!). There's still ¾ of the course to go, but so far, so good!
With the number of volunteers from Britain, Australia and Canada on the latest Lattitude training numbering 13, we should have expected some bad luck. So it was that I waited for 2 hours at the airport yesterday and a further 2 hours at the hotel for the first volunteer to arrive, only to find out later that he had been detained in Beijing. The customs officers thought the bicycle pump he was carrying in hand luggage looked suspiciously like a pipe bomb! He missed his connection to Kunming and finally arrived 7 hours late! The remaining 12 volunteers arrived this afternoon, a mere 2 hours late. They seem a great bunch - lively despite their looong journeys here! The course starts tomorrow.
After a mediochre season, it was exciting to see my favourite team Everton beat Chelsea in the FA Cup yesterday evening (my time). I say "see", but it consisted of watching text updates every minute online! Still, we came from behind with a last second goal to equalise, and then came from behind in the penatly shoot-out too, to win. Still quite exciting!
The highlight (for me) of the always-dull Spring Festival Gala Show on Chinese New Year's Eve - the most watched annual TV show in the world - was a Chinese magician who made six goldfish swim in synchronised patterns. But there's been a bit of controversy since, with animal rights groups assuming he must have force-fed the fish with magnets and controlled them from underneath. The magician has hit back, saying that any magnets in the fish would have simply pulled them all together into a big fishy ball (I'd pay to see that)! Well, however he did it, it's rare to see a unique magic trick these days, so good on him for thinking it up. And if you're going to abuse animals for entertainment, he chose the right country to debut his performance!
There were a few hiccups in yesterday's Valentine's Day, including a flat tyre (and the discovery that Jiajia's car didn't have a spare wheel in the boot). After some shopping for food and treats though, we did manage to rustle up a rather tasty "Chicken & Broccoli Bake" based on a recipe my Mum sent out a while ago [see photo]. My holiday comes to an end today, with the first classes of the new term starting this evening.
The new term started yesterday with a whole school meeting [see photo, left]. I had to do a little talk about the upcoming Lattitude training course. It was also announced that I have been "promoted", with a new job title of "Director of Studies". It doesn't mean any different or extra work really, but I can now tell the administration staff what to do instead of just asking! Power!! Afterwards, we all went to a posh Muslim restaurant [see photo, right]. Having lamb for a change was a real treat.
I had a fun time this evening, visiting the house of Peter and Monique [left in photo], teachers at my school, for a Scrabble evening with half a dozen other of their other foreign friends (from Germany, Israel, Britain, America, Holland and Australia!). As someone who doesn't often mix with foreigners in Kunming (apart from work colleagues) it was refreshing to meet some new folk. Modesty forbids me commenting on who won all the games!
I took possession of a new pair of glasses today. Quite a different design for me to get used to, but Jiajia assures me they are fashionable. They are lightweight, which helps a lot, though the arms curving up, away from the ears, at the back instead of tucking behind the ears, will take some getting used to! They were a rather expensive early Valentines gift from Jiajia. I think I'd better upgrade my soft toy gift!
A busy month starts next week with catch-up classes, Lattitude training and my parents visiting. I'll need a clear vision for that lot!
Ava and I got an invite to Robert and Rachel's (my bosses) new house today, where Rob's British parents are also visiting at the moment. And what a mansion it is, freshly decorated and occupying no fewer than SIX floors! It even has a private, internal lift! The picture shows the view from the second floor balcony, overlooking the enormous first floor living room [Ava left, Rob's Mum, right]. Four en suite bedrooms above and a roof conservatory above that! Rachel cooked a lovely lamb chop meal followed by a scrummy cheesecake. The Brits then chatted so fast in English, poor Ava got a real taste of what she's in for when she visits the UK later in the year!
Jiajia and I spent an hour today (it seemed longer) at Kunming's fake Ikea store! We were looking for wardrobes for when I move into Ava's flat later in the year. Ava was very methodical - measuring the height, width and depth of all the likely contenders and ensuring the colour schemes coordinated well. My role was just to open the doors and check the storage space! Prices were at western levels but the quality seemed quite good and they deliver and fit them. So now we're saving our pennies!
A three hour bus journey yesterday saw Ava and I travel from JiangCheng to Simao. After a night there, we met up with our friend Catherine and her family, to hitch a lift back with them to Kunming. The usual 5–6 hour drive turned out to a nine hour marathon, due various hitches including heavy Spring Festival traffic and half a dozen crashes to negotiate. Still, Kunming is warmer than when we left, and we feel refreshed and ready for a busy 2–3 weeks ahead.
JiangCheng hasn't changed a lot since I left four years ago. There are a few swanky new Supermarkets in town, but you can still find traditional horn and paw medicine on the streets [see photo]. There are traffic lights at the main intersections now, but the tractors ignore them.
The sports centre has been upgraded, though the men still prefer playing "tuolou" - throwing large spinning tops to hit others' tops out of a central circle. The river has a nice new walkway beside it now, lit by fairy lights.
The biggest change perhaps is the huge development to the east of the town. A new expressway is being built through JiangCheng which will eventually reach Vietnam. Shops and houses are therefore being thrown up to accomodate the expected flood of Vietnamese tourists. All the shops now sport new signs in Chinese, English and Vietnamese. JiangCheng may not be the sleepy remote town I recall for much longer. Retaining any sort of character will be a difficult balancing act [see photo!].
Thankfully, JiangCheng's one remaining English teacher(!), Ruth, has been really hospitable and insisted that Ava and I join in all her family meals (being Spring Festival, nearly all the resturants are closed and there's only so long you can survive on instant noodles and fruit!). Ruth's daughter was a toddler when I was living here, and now is a cute and confident young lady [see photo]. Our meals with Ruth's family have been "interesting" to say the least. Bees [top left], wild cat [bottom left] and, as yet uncoooked, turtle!
Ava and I endured an 8-hour bus ride today from JingHong to JiangCheng. I last did the same trip with my parents, four years ago. The road seems less bumpy now, but we didn't get there any quicker. I used to live and work in JiangCheng, training local English teachers with VSO. I was hoping to meet up with some of them but, on arrival and after a dozen phonecalls, it seems only one teacher is in town. The rest are back in their hometowns celebrating Spring Festival with their families. And I've learned my best friend there is now serving a ten year prison sentence! Oh my!
Last night was Chinese New Year. Cathy (my Chinese teacher) kindly invited me to spend it with her family, which was a lot of fun. The food on offer was a veritable feast and everyone got very full, very quickly. Cathy's uncle also got very drunk, very quickly! After the table was cleared, the mahjong and card games started, with the Chinese TV Special rabbiting on in the background.
The fireworks and firecrackers in the city built in intensity as midnight approached. Cathy's young cousins got in the mood by letting off fireworks and I got to wave a sparkler! Cathy's parents' house is in a built up area, and the noise from the firecrackers echoed to deafening proportions as we entered the Year of the Rabbit.
Ava and I had a lay in today, after a late night getting back to the hotel yesterday. We managed to get bus tickets for tomorrow's onward journey, and then heard that my good friend Nita, and her friend Shasha, were soon arriving in Jinghong. We met up with them for another Dai meal in the evening, along with Ava's ex-classmate, Lao Bie. I fear all this Dai food is ruining my recent months of hard work at the gym!
Ava's friend Catherine and her family joined us in JingHong late last night and we set off today to GanLanBa, a group of three Dai minority villages about 45 mins drive away. The last time I was here was four years ago when my parents were visiting me. They visit me again next month, too!
Dai architecture is particularly famous for strange roofs and the peacock decorations on their houses. We enjoyed a selection of Dai dishes in a traditional Dai house before exploring the villages some more and then heading back to Jinghong.
Cathy's Mum drove us to MengLun's excellent Botanical Gardens today. It's the largest in China (indeed, Southeast Asia, they claim) and has an amazing collection of trees, flowers, etc divided into various areas, including an enormous tropical rainforest.
The highlight for me was the "Unusual Plants" section! As well as some very strange looking exhibits, there was mimosa which moves when you touch it and, new to me, a plant which (apparently) dances when you sing. Cathy sang a song to the plant to demonstrate [see photo]. Gasps from the Chinese onlookers and raised eye‐brows from the foreigners who suspected that a small puff of breath might accomplish the same feat! Still, it was fun to watch Cathy go hoarse trying to persuade us otherwise!
I also really enjoyed the wildlife there - quite a change from the norm in China where animals are generally caged, tethered or eaten!
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