I guess if you're going to slide on a wet floor, you may as well do it carefully! Wise words of Chinglish spotted in a restaurant the other day
A rather morbid theme to today. China's "Tomb Sweeping Festival" is next week, so Jiajia and I went to her Gran's grave today to beat the crowds. The cemetery is one of the prettiest and most peaceful places in/near Kunming. We also passed a dead dog on the expressway on the way back. Then there was the pile of soft toys dumped by the rubbish bin by Jiajia's flat. They seemed clean and cared for to us. Maybe they were making a bid for freedom, or it was a mass teddy suicide?
It seems a lot of blog-readers were concerned about my parents leaving the UK and returning there, as the two peaks on my blog stats show! March 21st was a new record high - 192 different viewers in a day. A warm welcome to any newcomers. Do make yourself known in the Guestbook (tab above) and keep peeking!
Try to find a bag of salt on sale in the last couple of weeks and you'd have been disappointed. Shops have seen long queues and fights breaking out in order to buy the last remaining supplies
Why? Well, it seems a rumour spread rapidly claiming that radiation from Japanese nuclear power stations was heading towards China and that the iodine in salt would protect people from its effects. Both complete nonsense, of course!
Oh, I am so going to enjoy April Fool's Day!!
Mum and Dad flew back to the UK today. We had made vague plans for a final lunch, but Jiajia's good friend Yang Ping had other ideas, booking us into a very posh restaurant, situated in an ancient courtyard mansion. To the sound of Chinese zithers, we had the most attentive waiters yet, and a lovely variety of special dishes (2-3 of which I'd never even seen before). A fantastic final banquet.
Then we drove to the airport for our final goodbyes. It's been a real pleasure having Mum and Dad here, perhaps for the last time. They've coped really well with spicy food, cold showers, strange weather and various minor ailments! All being well, Ava and I will be arriving in the UK in just four months time to see them again (plus the rest of the family, and friends). It should rush by too as we have so much to get done and prepare during that time (getting married on paper and secuting a UK visa to name but two!).
For Mum and Dad's last full day here, we gave them a few choices of places to visit and, with the weather looking warm and breezy, they plumped for Guandu - an old town on the outskirts of Kunming with a nicely pedestrianised centre containing three active temples, a lively park, two ancient towers and a 600 year old pagoda [see photo].
As you can see from the photo, Jiajia has really got to know my parents well over these two weeks, to the point of feeling at ease insulting my "monkey" Dad and groaning at his jokes! It bodes well for later in the year when we visit the UK. A familiar face or two will be welcome when hundreds of new people turn up to our wedding celebration.
My day's highlight was having my fortune told by a budgie [see photo]. On receipt of 2RMB (20p) the bird hopped onto the rack of cards and picked out one which, apparently, said I could expect a happy and healthy future. Well, one out of two ain't bad!
Mum and Dad came to watch me teaching today. When our students finish a textbook they take a final exam and then have an Open Class to show off their English skills to their visiting parents. I'm used to performing in front of the students' parents, but it was weird to find my own parents watching today too!
Last night was really cold - very unseasonal - but it got gradually warmer today so my parents, JIajia and I spent some time doing a little bit of shopping in the city centre. We decided to cheer the shoe-shining ladies up a bit by having a mass buff! They good-humouredly haggled us up to a total cost of £1.
Then, as an early birthday treat for Dad, Jiajia treated us to a lovely meal at Pizza Hut. Luckily this, and the later tea, was all English food, as Mum had a nasty throwing up fit in the evening, but can't blame it on any Chinese food! Fortunately she'd recovered by bedtime.
Dad was in his element this evening, exploring Robert's huge house (my boss), eating roast lamb cooked by Rachel (my other boss), followed by apple pie and English tea! Then, loosens his belt a notch and relaxes on the comfy sofa in their barn-size lounge!
Back at my flat (tiny by comparison, but cosy), more signs that Dad is around, such as his hand-made sign reminding him where to deposit the toilet paper!
A cold night expected tonight with temperatures plummeting even further. Hard to believe we were complaining about the heat just two days ago!
We drove back to Kunming today in heavy rain, narrowly avoiding a motorway traffic accident which happened to the car just ahead of us. On the way we stopped in the town of TongHai. Ava has a friend there [right in photo below] who is building a shopping complex [see model in photo above] and wanted half an hour of Ava's time to discuss the advertising strategy and branding of the centre.
He then took us all to a beautiful restaurant in the old part of town for a special kind of hotpot meal [right in photo below]. As it turned out we were to need the hot food as the weather got colder and colder on our journey. Yesterday's sunburn turned into a snow flurry in Kunming!
We played a favourite card game of Mum and Dad's last night called "Muggins". The forfeit for the loser was to crawl under a stone bench by our bedrooms. Ava and I got rid of our cards fairly early and were just waiting to see which parent would end up being the biggest mug!
Today we braved today's hot sunshine to visit JianShui's biggest temple. In fact, it's the second largest Confucius Temple in China. We didn't see any other tourists there all afternoon and it was peaceful enough to hear the birds singing. The temple grounds are immaculately well-tended and there's a lovely lake with an island connected by a very Chinese-looking bridge. The interior of the temples themselves are less ornate than Buddhist equivalents, but that's Confucianism for you!
The only slightly disappointing temple issue was that Mum and Dad had to pay for entry tickets. I'd been asssured that retirees - foreign as well as Chinese - get into places such as this for free. They were charged in TuanShan yesterday, too. Seems nobody thought to tell them about OAPs.
We drove to TuanShan today - an old but well-preserved tin merchants' village which now has World Heritage status. It was a peaceful and warm day, with only two other tourists in the whole place. After wandering around there (with Dad trying his magic tricks on any unsuspecting child he saw) we drove back, stopping at Double Dragon Bridge [see photos].
The bridge seems to be out of all proportion to the lake it crosses, partly because the lake has largely dried up in the intervening years, and partly because the lake is small enough to be walked around in 20 minutes. Still, the bridge is still an imposing and impressive spectacle.
In the evening we tried Jianshui's famous barbecue. We passed on the bamboo maggots, but Jiajia was keen to try the chicken feet and tongues!
A 4-hour drive today saw us visit JianShui, a town south of Kunming which retains a lot of it's old town whilst not yet deluged by tourists. Jiajia had worked her usual magic, with a friend of hers managing to get us a room at the best hotel for a third of the usual price. And what a hotel is it was [see photos]. . .
We had rooms in the Zhu Family Residence - a 100 year old mansion with a lake, dancing hall, gardens and hundreds of beautifully decorated rooms. Daytime visitors were paying £5 a ticket to view the courtyard where we were staying! The bedrooms were smallish, but ornately decorated and with very modern bathrooms. And in the mornings and evenings the whole tourist spot was all ours to explore. You can explore it too by clicking here.
Trying out our dressing gowns in front of our bedrooms
Mum and Dad are tackling the food here with varying degrees of success. Yesterday's meal at Ava's was thoroughly enjoyed, and we've been to our fair share of Westerny restaurants too. But when typical Chinese food is the only option, there have been some issues! One is the chopsticks, which they can do really well for 5-10 seconds and then it all goes to pot and the spoons and forks (brought along) are broken out! The other is the food itself which is either too dry, too wet, too hot or too cold! Dad tried to out-stare the duck [see photo], but the duck won!
We had fun this evening being taught how to fold and stick the perfect dumpling! Jiajia's Mum had already prepared over 50 for us to eat [see basket in photo] and we attempted another 10-20, with mixed success! After boiling them, we shared a nice meal with extra dishes prepared by Jiajia. It was really nice to see the future parents-in-law working together with good humour on a joint project, despite no common language.
My parents and I spent this morning in Kunming Zoo, with Jiajia and her Mum [see photo]. The zoo has recently (thankfully) had many of its larger animals removed (they were not at all "comfortable" last time I visited, some 12 years ago), shipped off to a new safari park to the North of the city.
The main attraction now, at this time of year anyway, is the amazing cherry blossom. We also liked a garden containing 15-20 peacocks, who were very happily showing off their plumage. Dad also enjoyed the WW2 American fighter plane!
Today is Ava's birthday. A few weeks ago I managed to smuggle her favourite childhood doll out of her flat, and took it to various locations around town, photographing its "Big Day Out" as I went [see photos]. I put the resulting 50 photos in an album and gave it to Ava yesterday. She really seemed to like the cheap, but unique, present!
I still try and keep up with 10 games of online Scrabble, (well, the similar-looking Lexulous) playing a move or two each day. I had a few "firsts" last week:
First, there was the innocent-looking word "vitamers" [see photo] which earned me my all-time high score of 193!
And then in another game I managed to score a 7-letter word to start with, and then another and then another... after seven consecutive 7-letter words, the game was over and I'd scored over 600. A fantastic run of lucky letters. Unfortunately my long-suffering Scrabble-pal, Ratch, was the player on whom both were inflicted. But she's still playing, which shows grit, determination or just plain masochism?
If a fire does breaks out, don't spend too long studying this poster, spotted in a hotel last week. Apparently you need the "four abitites" to "dismiss hidden fire risks", "orgnize to put off... disasters", "orgnize emergent evacuation" and "propaganda firefighting knowledge"!? Thank goodness for the pictures!
Yesterday's training included a visit to a local Middle School to watch a Chinese teacher deliver a lesson to her class of 65 students. Our trainees can just be seen at the back of the classroom. Then we went for a dumpling lunch...
Back at our school, Cathy (one of our teachers) gave the volunteers a tea ceremony demonstration. These were both new additions to our 8-day
This evening we had a Farewell Banquet and the Lattitude trainees leave tomorrow to become English teachers for six months in various countryside schools. And after I've written the Final Report, I can relax for a few days!
Past blog entries