Jiajia and I were chatting to a car salesman the other day and picking up glossy brochures. We have no intention of buying a new car but their salesroom car park is very close to the second-hand furniture market and we wanted somewhere free to park! Also nearby is this huge "Transformers" landmark. It actually points towards our home, and we wondered if he was admonishing us for blagging our parking space - "Lesson learned, Optimus Prime!"
Jiajia has been gradually buying cooking equipment and looking up recipes for making foreign food. Her latest attempt was for a cheesecake. We didn't have biscuit crumbs though, so made do with crushed waffles. We had managed to find cream cheese, but not sour cream (so, yoghurt) or butter (margarine) or castor sugar (granulated) or vanilla flavouring (give up). So it was a rather "unique" cake that emerged from the oven, and later the fridge. Edible? Just. Cheesecake? Not really. But a valiant first effort in the circumstances!
We're entering our third week without running water. We do get a trickle for half an hour about 6pm (spent running around filling buckets, barrels and baths) which just about keeps us going, though a cold bucket over the head are not quite as nice as a warm shower. Others in our neighbourhood are a bit less organised and queue up to fill their buckets from down the hill [see photo]. Yesterday we heard that other areas of Kunming are starting to get sporadic water cuts too, which somehow makes us feel a little bit better. We were feeling "picked on" for the last fortnight. As ever, the authorities are being very vague about how long this will be going on for. Some rain would help.
The Lattitude course drew to a close yesterday - a tough final day for all concerned, as most of the volunteers had been in "entertainment establishments" 'til the early hours and were far too sleepy to do much at all! I managed to struggle through the last of the sessions, however, and we enjoyed a final banquet together this evening.
This course has been by far the most difficult of the five we've done before, but that's been down to a new and torturous administration process and is no reflection on these fine volunteers who fly (or are driven) to various schools around S.W. China tomrrow for 5 months of teaching English. I look forward to following their progress.
The Lattitude course continues on. The volunteers I'm training this week are a lively and enthusiastic bunch. They get a wide range of experiences whilst here. Chinese language lessons each day, for example, include trips out of the classroom to practise what they've been taught [see photo - here buying pears and mangoes]. Today we went to a local Middle School to observe a lesson and meet the students. Yesterday we watched a video of a previous volunteer teaching a lesson and being interviewed in her rural school (filmed and edited by me). And tomorrow they meet teachers from Robert's School to be given information on what to prepare for their weekend Teaching Practice. So amongst all the class-based theoretical training, there's quite a lot of practical stuff going on too. It's all quite tiring though!
At the end of November last year I blogged about a deer and a ram who had fallen in love in a Kunming Zoo.
Well apparently they are getting married today (it being Valentine's Day). Over five hundred people are paying $10 each to go and watch, and the animals will be dressed up in wedding clothes for the occasion! Cue the corny puns, I fear...
"Doe you pramise to stay together, no ifs no butts....?" "I wool" ....etc
A dozen teenage volunteers arrived in Kunming yesterday doing a "gap year" 6 months with the charity, Lattitude. My job is to train them to be English teachers in 8 days. They're a lively and positive bunch and, as usual, I'm really enjoying training them. This time we are based at a smaller downtown branch of my school as it's been newly renovated and is 2 minutes walk from their hotel. It also has a shower, which is a blessing as we're now 6 days without running water at home. Our neighbourhood actually appeared on the local news today to illustrate how bad the drought here is (not that the rest of Kunming seems to be affected at all).
We're entering our fifth day without running water in the house. Strip washes all round. Only our neighbourhood is affected (nowhere else in the city), apparently because we live atop a hill and there's not enough water to pump up here. Meanwhile Ma-in-law is feeling very vindicated for the many months (years?) of filling her bathroom with umpteen buckets of stored water.
When I first met my wife Jiajia, she was strictly a tea person. But after trying a coffee with me a few times, she's started to enjoy an instant cuppa once or twice a day (though rarely in the evening for fear she won't sleep). I also read in an online article that more than six cups of coffee a day is actually good for gout, so that's my excuse. But it was disconcerting to find "Dorta" having a sneaky mugful yesterday though. I'm not sure caffeine and plastic mix?
I spent a fun evening yesterday with friends in a seventh storey flat. So we had amazing views of the Kunming skyline and, being the last day of Spring Festival (Lantern Festival), there were fireworks going off outside all evening. After some tasty Chinese food, rustled up by Gemma [right], we played "Bananagrams" (like speed Scrabble) and then "Ticket to Ride" (like Risk with trains). Modesty forbids me revealing the winner of both games!
I'm a regular reader of, (and sometimes contributor to) the website GoKunming which is the main online source of information for foreigners in Kunming. This week, amongst the news and local reports, there was a lovely piece of prose by Colin Flahive, which lyrically summed up his experiences and memories of life there. Having spent many years in rural China myself, it really struck a chord. He kindly agreed to let me repost it here:
Ode to the Countryside
Where meals pull families back together each evening and there's always extra just in case someone else happens by. Where your back is always sore from sitting on hard little chairs while cracking open handfuls of sunflower seeds and sipping on endless cups of strong tea. Where a pig somehow feeds an entire family for a year with sausage and salted pork and where even yak butter tea can be refreshing. Where every cigarette you refuse plants a seed of distrust and where they won't let you leave until you eat just one more meal.
Where they cook for the pigs before cooking for the family. Where somehow cats befriend dogs, dogs befriend ducks and ducks befriend chickens, while cows and buffalo stand around seemingly stupefied by it all. Where the idea that dogs can't eat chicken bones is laughable. Where the proud clucks of a hen that just laid an egg don't go unnoticed by the owner.
Where wearing high heels or a business suit is no reason to stay out of the rice paddies. Where children don't practice the violin for five hours a day and the term 'tiger mom' means nothing more than the mother of a tiger. Where the only traffic is a herd of goats and the only honks are from geese.
Where the ability to chat is an art form and "privacy" is a foreign concept. Where you can't help but feel like a wimp when you notice how worn everyone else's hands are and how manicured yours look. Where everything you eat was raised or grown just a short walk away and even the corn cobs don't go to waste. Where a walk to the neighbors' house might take a couple hours.
Where fire still stokes the embers of life for cooking, heating, disposing, fertilizing and as the vehicle to fill the wallets of passed relatives. Where even with barking dogs, clanging cow bells, early rooster calls and roaring tractor motors you somehow sleep sounder than you have in a long time. Where you can still find your way by the light of the moon and the Milky Way spans the entire sky.
Our new term started yesterday with the usual "whole school" meeting and then the first of the weekend lessons. I've got a particularly busy fortnight ahead, as we have double classes (to make up for our holiday!?) and, from next weekend, I am also training 13 Australian teenage volunteers from Lattitude for a week. Back to work...
A friend asked me last week where the surname "Hider" came from. I told him I'd heard it was a "German-Jewish" name and suspected it referred to the job of scraping animal hides many centuries ago. But on surfing the net the other day it seems more likely it comes from less exotic "Bedfordshire" and means someone who “lives at the hide of something" ie “beside something”. We do have a coat of arms though (looks like a walrus wearing a hat to me) and a motto; "Deus novis haec otio fecit" which means, "God hath given us these things in tranquillity". Quite what things we've been given isn't clear. But I do like a bit of tranquillity, so I'll take them, whatever they are.
Apparently I'm allowed to show you a photo of my peeling leg, but banned from showing you Jiajia's peeling back, with bikini-shaped white patches. Strange that.
Kunming has been having some lovely sunny days recently. We're still technically in Winter, but our solar-heated water is reaching temperatures of 60-70ºC each day without any help from the back-up electricity heater which makes for a hot shower. Mind you, that doesn't stop one of our household (let's call her "M-in-L") from boiling up a kettle of water each evening for her strip wash. Some habits die hard.
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