Kunming's subway system is (very slowly) opening up. At the moment the lines generally go from "nowhere useful" to "nowhere useful", but we've been promised a shiny, traffic-jam-reducing underground network within a few more years. Mind you, we were made the same promise a couple of years ago, too. This latest sign doesn't bode well. Does the last train really stop 5 minutes before the ticket is sold!?
JD seemed to really enjoy his birthday yesterday, perhaps sensing there was something special about the day. We started off by slowly opening all the presents we've received from friends and family over recent days and weeks. He concentrated well and was thrilled by the wrapping paper! But he's received some lovely books, toys and cards as well as some generous Hongbao (red envelope) monetary gifts.
We then played a traditional Chinese game to divine JD's future! Faced with 8 objects representing different possible career paths, he plumped for the abacus (followed by the pen and paper ...and then tried to swallow a dumpling. So, following in his Dad's (maths) and Mum's (art) interests, eh? We'll not go into the dietary side, I think.
JD's present from his parents was a trike which is pushable and steerable by us, but is also convertible to pedals and self-steering as he grows and gets more confident. For now, mastering how the bell worked was his biggest thrill, as can be seen.
This evening we held a small party/meal to celebrate JD's birthday (tomorrow) and invited a dozen friends who have been particularly helpful and generous to us over the last year or so.
JD was extraordinarily well-behaved and outgoing, considering he was constantly being passed from person to person - poked, prodded and persuaded to perform (he has quite a number of cute little affectations now from blowing kisses to Superhero impressions!). In fact, over three long hours he only cried once, for ten seconds, when he dropped his spoon. What a trooper!
After the single candle had been blown out, JD was soon adorned with a faceful of cream - something of a Chinese tradition. He took it well and spent a happy few minutes licking it all off, before tucking into the sponge too! A lovely evening.
I play Lexulous once or twice a day by email with a few friends in the UK. Lex is like Scrabble but with a few little differences to avoid any copyright infringements, such as having 8 letters and the double/triple squares on the board being in different positions. A typical score is about 30-50, so I was rather pleased to get a huge 320 in one go today, with VERBALIZE in two triples! That should be enough to win me the game in one fell swoop.
Another in my occasional series of “Flashbacks” looking back at blog entries made before this Weebly version started.
I got a call yesterday from my old boss, Mr Qing, asking me to interview twenty prospective English teachers for the Education Bureau in JiangCheng, as I did last year. So off I trotted to Kunming Normal University where hundreds of students were milling around the basketball courts and visiting umpteen tables full of education leaders, trying to find someone who would employ them come September. The standard of spoken English this year was better than last year, but many were still making lots of fundamental mistakes (eg I very like, I am coming from...) despite 10+ years of learning English. Shocking really. A few classic answers:
Me: What’s the most important quality for a teacher?
Student: They should be smelly. (I think she meant smiley, but still not a great answer!)
Me: Why do you want to teach in JiangCheng?
Student: I don’t, but maybe I will have to if I can find nothing better. (scraping the barrel, then?)
Me: Tell me about a teacher you had once who you remember.
Student: I remember Mrs Li was an inspiration to me. (blimey ... good English here!) He was for inspire to me where my English speaking made better. (ouch ... you blew it!)
Me: Why do you want to be a teacher?
Student: Back in World War Two (... oh here we go ...) Japan had two nuclear bombs dropped on it by America. Their economy came back very fast. This is because of education. So I want to be a teacher. (... just in case China gets nuked, eh?)
It was quite frightening how few of them could tell me simply why they liked teaching, or why they wanted to be a teacher. There was lots of talk about how China needs education to develop, and how cute children are, but it seemed like none of them had considered the realities of a teaching life or, perhaps, made a specific choice to teach (rather than be forced into it as everything else had failed!). As ever, very worrying.
Our old friends (that's "long-term" old, not "ageing" old) Peter and Judy are back in Kunming, and kindly managed a long trip across the city to join us for dinner this evening. It was lovely to see them again, introduce JD (who wasn't even "a twinkle" when they were last here) and catch up on each others' news.
They came very laden with gifts. I told them it felt like being visited by the three wise men. Except there was only two of them... and they aren't both men.... and their presents were much better than myrrh etc. They are certainly wise, though. I recall they gave Jiajia and I an hour's "marriage counselling" before we'd actually got married (and yet we still tied the knot!). And what gifts! Books and sweets and biscuits for JD, fashion mags for Jiajia, a collectable plate for Ma, sweets and cup-a-soups for me, a birthday gift for Jiajia, a birthday gift for JD, a British newspaper for me, etc, etc! Very kind indeed.
Today's BBC China webpage has the heading "China begins land search for plane", with a map showing a possible route right over the top of Kunming! I'm pretty sure I didn't see Malaysian flight MH370 overhead last week, but you never know. And what a strange mystery it is. Of course one has sympathy for the relatives of the missing passengers and crew but, for the rest of us, it's just a very intriguing puzzle. How can something so huge (with all the tracking equipment on board and with satellites up there able to see Osama Bin Laden's rubbish bins) simply... disappear?? If it had sunk without trace to the bottom of the ocean you could understand it. But the story changes every day, and now they are talking about it being stolen!? Well, I'll keep my eyes peeled on the way to work, but...
Did you hear about the Chinese city, slowly turning light brown?
My school have decorated the entrance stairs with various large signs and I was a bit taken aback last week to find one of them devoted to me! I'm just hoping it doesn't become an overly famous shrine with people travelling from far distant lands to pay homage and lay wreaths. They'd probably block the fire exits for a start...
It was International Women's Day yesterday (What do you mean you had no idea? It's huge here!). It was also the wife's birthday. She had a clutch of presents and cards from my family/friends in the UK, and from JD and I [see below]. From her Mum, a shop-bought cake. From her brother, nothing. Not even a "Happy Birthday, sis!" as he scoffed down a slice of cake. (He turned up unannounced a month ago from Laos, where he lives, and has been kipping on our sofa ever since). Jiajia wasn't particularly upset though - she hadn't ever celebrated her birthday before going out with me. And she did get Birthday Wishes in texts from her bank and three airline companies!? It's a strange family I've married into.
I've had another article published in Merton's Chinese Cultural Group magazine. See below, page 2
The Lattitude volunteers enjoyed a final banquet together last night and then, this morning, I woke at 4.30am to drive the first two to the airport. They had an early flight to catch, with the remainder leaving by coach at a more reasonable time, later today. Our nanny also left for four days this morning, so somewhat different duties lie ahead for the rest of this week!
Tomorrow is the last day of my Lattitude training course. It's been a week of ups and downs. The volunteers' class attendance has been better than usual, but then so was their attendance at local nightclubs, until the knifing incident. They enjoyed a relaxing half-day in the sun at the Golden Temple last week, but showed signs of stress during their first Teaching Practices this weekend. There are mixed feelings too about leaving "dangerous" Kunming (surrounded by friends) and heading off to their various projects around China (surrounded by strangers).
No sooner had I told the Lattitude volunteers, at their Health and Safety briefing, just what a safe city Kunming is, than news starts filtering though of a gang of masked terrorists bursting into Kunming Train Station this evening and, in an obviously coordinated attack, knifing 29 people to death and injuring 130 others. It came totally out-of-the-blue and seems utterly senseless. Latest news is pointing the finger firmly at "Uighurs" from XinJiang Province, Muslims who claim to be a persecuted minority there. Kunming is a soft target for them and innocent train passengers clearly have no way to protect themselves. The police here shot 4 of the terrorists dead and captured another, but we hear 5 or more are still on the run. There is now an unofficial curfew in the city with businesses (including my school) being "asked" to close down after dark until further notice. All very unnerving.
Past blog entries