I spent another dark, but enjoyable, afternoon at the cinema yesterday seeing two recent blockbusters, with the wife, on freebie tickets. "Men in Black 3" and "Avengers" were both 3D versions, with the first on an IMAX screen. MiB3 was OK, but Avengers was much better, even though I'm not a big fan of superhero films and needed all the back-stories woven into the film. I am a big fan of the writer and director though, Joss Whedon, from his TV work on Buffy, Firefly and Dollhouse. Well worth a watch.
I drove Jiajia and her mum out to the huge flower market on the outskirts of Kunming yesterday afternoon. Kunming is famous for its flowers and the wholesale market is where the flower bargains are.
We bought two bunches of sunflowers for 60p and five large bunches of begonias for a pound. The main reason for going, however, was to buy half a dozen large vases to replace all the plastic ones in the house and on the balcony. Ava fancies herself as a bit of a gardner these days, inspired by my parents' garden on our visit there a year ago. We have much more limited space but, apart from the odd washing line, the balcony is starting to look quite green and bloom-filled. And me? I just drag the vases here and there.
Ava and I hosted a nice evening yesterday with a bunch of foreigners from my school. We offered DIY pizzas (dough bases, with a wide choice of ingredients, as half the visitors were vegetarians or similar) followed by fruit salad and cream. Plenty of snacks, drinks and a silly game of "guessing lists" made for a fun time.
I saw this tiny little beauty outside the house yesterday, about 15cm long and shiny-silver in colour. It ran along a bit like a snake, weaving from side to side. I was tempted to catch it and bring it indoors to deal with any errant mossies, but eventually I just let it take its chances with the local cat population. We had a torrential rainstorm, complete with thunder and lightning, for a few hours two days ago and everyone thought the rainy season had finally arrived. But we've been back to dry and hot weather ever since, with the drought showing no sign of abating.
I tried to take that local train again yesterday, but apparently the one I keep aiming to catch is now permanently cancelled. I'll have to change plans and try for another one, another day.
Instead, I headed down into southern Kunming, partly to visit another park which I'd seen on the map [see photo left] but never visited before and partly to track down more Chinglish [see photo top]. This park was free, and the lake there had a surprising amount of water considering we're in our 4th month of drought, but it was quite small and the little paths had an annoying number of speeding electric bikes to dodge.
This was another park littered with "Emergency" signs. Emergency toilets, Emergency fire extinguisher, Emergency medical treatment, Emergency powe [sic] supply, Emergency goods supply, etc. What sort of emergency are they expecting, exactly?
Our "one hour of trickling water a day" has turned into four days without any water at all. I'm glad I was never able to persuade Jiajia to replace our overlarge bath with a modern shower - baths make a great water storage device. But it won't last forever. We're firmly in the rainy season, so WHERE'S THE RAIN??
I drove 2 hours down to Eshan yesterday with Kelly, a Chinese teacher from my school who is gradually taking over my role of looking after the Lattitude volunteers. Anna and Shannon are two excellent examples. Their devotion to students and school alike was very impressive (daily English Corner's, playing basketball with the English teachers, attending music performances and even politics competitions(!?). After lunch at the school canteen scrum (2200 students, 8 serving hatches) we observed two very different, but equally impressive, lessons.
As you can see in the photo, end of term exams are just two weeks away and students' desks are piled high with textbooks (no lockers!). It's sometimes a convenient way to hide what you are really doing from the teacher. We saw students texting, doodling, doing other lessons' homework and sleeping! To their credit, however, the girls managed to keep 95% of the students interested and involved. No mean feat in classes of 50+.
˙dn ʎɐʍ ʇɥƃıɹ ǝɥʇ ǝq oʇ spǝǝu sǝıɹʇuǝ ƃolq ʎɯ ɟo ǝuo ʎɹǝʌǝ ʎɥʍ uosɐǝɹ ou ʎlǝʇnlosqɐ s,ǝɹǝɥʇ
I had a day off recently and headed to the North Train Station. It only has 3-4 trains a day, serving the suburbs, but I'd been told it was quite fun watching the city traffic come to a standstill as your train passes through the railway crossing, and then seeing city gradually turn to countryside, all for a 2RMB (20p) ticket. In any case, the journey only lasts 40mins and, after shunting the engine round for 20mins, heads back. However, on arrival I found my chosen train had been cancelled and the next one was due 3 hours later.
So instead, I pulled out my map and decided to walk for an hour to TanHua Park. I'd spotted it on the map before, but never made it. The 5RMB (50p) entrance fee was a bargain - a surprisingly nice find. Old folk were sitting in the many nooks and crannies, playing cards or mahjong [see photo above], but otherwise the park was quiet and pleasantly uncrowded. At the top of the hill was an impressive pagoda tower, sadly locked [see photo right]. The grounds were well kept, though the rusting funfair rides had seen better days! Another hour's walk and I returned home trainless, tired but tanned.
Being gout-free for the last three months or so has enabled me to exercise more regularly - mostly running and weight lifting. That, and having less and fresher food each day (thanks for that mixed blessing, ma-in-law!), has helped me lose some weight at last. A year ago I was over 100kg (16 stone). Six months ago I was down to 95kg and I'm now under 90kg (12½ stone) for the first time in decades. The internet informs I'm still technically "fat", but no longer "obese"! Naturally I'll be celebrating this with a KFC bucket....
It's Chinese, it's really ugly, it destroys trees and it's coming to an English forest near you! No, it's not the wife, it's the Asian Long-Horned Beetle which has recently been spotted in southern England, probably having arrived in wooden packaging cases from China. It bores into trees to lay its eggs that hatch into larvae and eat their way through the tree trunk undetected, gradually killing the tree. Thankfully it only affects birches, beeches, sycamores, maples, horse chestnuts, willows, poplars, cherry, apple, plum and pear trees. So oaks are OK....
I drove down to Yuxi today (90 minutes each way) to hand-deliver a replacement passport to a Lattitude volunteer who lost his some three months ago. Getting the new one has been a very long and tortuous process. For example, the Australian Embassy insist on a personal visit from the applicant despite being 1500km (900miles) away ...and knowing nobody can fly or take a train in China without a passport.
Driving in China is very different from the West. In the city cars generally go very slowly due to congestion and the random driving of other vehicles. Traffic rules seem more like vague suggestions, with the huge numbers of bicycles and mopeds apparently exempt anyway. The expressways are often quite empty of traffic, but some drivers see this as an excuse to put the pedal to the floor and weave recklessly around other cars and trucks. You can usually see at least one accident every 20-30km.
In my experience, the top three worst drivers are:
Minibuses - often from the countryside and rarely with functioning indicators or drivers with brains. But they know all other vehicles are worth more than their junk-heaps, so we all give them plenty of room.
Black Santanas - a very common car here and, for some reason, always driven by idiots. Steer clear and expect random braking.
White-Plates - private cars belonging to soldiers, police, leaders, etc get a special white registration plate [see photo]. The rules of the road genuinely do not apply to them, as they will never get stopped, fined or prosecuted by the traffic police. So they happily drive through red lights, up one-way streets the wrong way, down bus lanes, etc. Any accident involving a White-Plate is always the other person's fault, and don't they know it. By far the worst drivers in China.
I'm ashamed to say this story kept me chuckling for hours. A girl walks along the street in China - and then promptly falls through the pavement! Click here for the video footage.
What are the food treats I can't buy in China and miss the most? Well, in order, pork pies, Branston pickle, Curly-wurlies, cup-a-soups and Weetabix. But maybe not for too much longer. A Chinese company has just bought the U.K. company that makes Weetabix. So maybe soon YOU will be asking ME to send you packages containing your favourite cereals! Ha!
There was an odd selection of food on offer in TengChong. At the top left of the photo are little fish (so fresh they wriggle for a while as they are skewered and placed on the barbecue). Bottom left and middle are flattened chicks(!?) and bottom right are stickfuls of grasshoppers. Which would you opt for? No choosing the apples, now!
We drove back to Kunming today in CAL's car. Most of the 11-hour trip was on expressways but, at the beginning, we had to tackle some mountain roads. We crawled over the swaying 50 year-old bridge [above] and, further up the road, under the huge new expressway alternative being built [below]. China doesn't do things in halves!
We spent this afternoon at the Ancient town of Heshun. Jiajia was somewhat disappointed, as she had been there 6 years ago and it was a genuine, picturesque, working village. Now there is an entrance fee, electric cars carrying tourists around and every other house is a restaurant or hotel. It's fast "turning Disney" which is a shame, but fairly inevitable. I enjoyed it though. The weather was lovely and there were plenty of scenic little photo opportunities. And it was a lot less crowded than I expected considering today is a national holiday.
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