My brother spotted this great T-shirt slogan in Shaxi and it took us a few days before we finally guessed the intended meaning. Can you work it out? [click Read More below if not!]
We spent this weekend on a 36 hour train journey to Shenzhen, near the Hong Kong border, where Jiajia buys her shop's stock from.
We nearly missed the train despite allowing lots of time to get to the station. It had rained torrentially the night before and it took us half an hour to get a taxi. Once we got one it could only get to within a kilometre of the railway station due to flooding and new security procedures (due to the terrorist attack there a few months ago). So we had to wade through ankle-deep water and complete three security checks before finally jumping on the train just two minutes before it pulled away. With only one train a day on that route, we'd have been in some trouble had we missed it!
A few hours drive from Dali is the small town of Shaxi (pronounced "SharrShee", despite what my brother insisted ..."Shaksee", indeed!)
We checked into a charming, traditional house cum hotel [see above] and enjoyed a sunny day in Shaxi walking around the well-preserved old town, which includes their famous ancient theatre [see top picture] overlooking the cobbled town square.
Other interesting sights needed some pointing out, however, such as the old slogan still visible on this house, proclaiming something along the lines of "True progress can only come through Governmental control of the people" - a real throwback to the days of Mao Zedong etc. Behind the main town, building work is taking place to pave and beautify the river front, including this picturesque bridge [see below]. So far, the town seems fairly authentic and untouristy, but that could all change very quickly unless care is taken. We really enjoyed our short stay, though.
Today we decided to tackle Mt. CangShan, albeit by cable car. The trip up affords some spectacular scenery [see above] although the lack of oxygen at that altitude can be tough [see below]!
Once at the top, there is plenty to see (such as a sparkling blue lagoon) and do (the path below takes you all the way around the mountain if you have the time).
There is also some top-class Chinglish to enjoy there. For example, the sign below might (just might) make some sense to a Professor of Geology, but to a layman such as myself it's just a wonderful car crash of unfathomable words!
With my weekend's work done, Dave, Esme, Ava and I headed off on some travels. First a 6 hour bus ride to Dali, a well-visited town which has managed to retain its beauty and identity whilst attracting thousands of tourists a year. We checked into such a pretty little guesthouse we quickly decided to spend an extra night there. That evening, Esme entered retail heaven when she saw the plethora of street stalls selling handicrafts and ethnic minority accessories.
We wandered around happily for a few hours checking out all the purchasing options, which largely seemed to revolve around further decoration of Esme's dreadlocks! I was pleasantly surprised at how few of the items for sale appeared on multiple stalls. The vendors seemed to be selling fairly unique items, by and large. Esme decided to end the day by having a henna design painted onto (into?) her arm to add to her hippy vibe!
While I continued teaching my usual Sunday classes, Dave and Esme joined the rest of the family, along with some good friends of ours, on a trip to an organic farm outside of Kunming. I went myself a month or so ago and blogged then about what a nice place it is, especially the pretty restaurant with tables scattered between various plants, bridges and streams full of fish. They had a really great day there and, once again, our friends managed to find a way to pay for it all before we had a chance!
Dave and Esme spent some time watching me teach today. It was great for my students to meet other foreigners and quiz them.
Some of them thought that Esme was Dave's wife which was quite amusing. They couldn't believe Esme was only 16 - let's just say she isn't as conservative in her looks as most Chinese teenagers are! It was fun for me too, to have Dave and Esme there sharing what is obviously a very important part of my life. And, of course, plenty of dumplings for lunch!
Dave and Esme spent a day with the family today, punctuated by a huge "all-you-can-eat" buffet lunch with over 100 dishes to choose from (including crocodile meat!). In the afternoon, they joined JD at a play centre where he goes most weeks. He certainly enjoyed the extra adult attention as he showed off his climbing, sliding, rolling around and skills riding on various stuffed animals and soft swings!
Afterwards, we took him for his second proper haircut. Much less crying this time. The hairdressers specialise in young children and managed to distract JD while shaving off his hair at an alarming speed!
JD is fast moving into that fun stage of childhood when kids love copying things and showing off their new skills. He's always wobbling around, babbling to himself, and smiling a lot too. Cool little kid.
Dave and Esme have had surprisingly little jet lag and have been keen to get out and about during their first full day in Kunming before heading on to other cities, towns and villages. They started today with a visit to the house to meet JD, ma-in-law and our Nanny. JD quickly forged quite a bond with Esme and was very happy to be held and played with for as long as she had the patience. Then off to Green Lake Park to see impromptu dancing and singing, followed by the more tranquil, YuanTong Temple [shown here, with umpteen turtles]. It's Kunming's largest and most active temple and we enjoyed exploring the various sections. We were also lucky enough to stumble across 25-30 local ladies (and a few men) chanting and hitting various bells and drums as part of one of their services.
My bother Dave and his daughter Esme arrived in Kunming this evening for a long-awaited visit. We've got various travel plans, so the blog might be patchy for a while. But first, there's the little matter of JD getting to meet some of my family for the first time. Let's hope the weather (and the England team) cheer up!
Our school has decked itself out with World Cup flags and various footie activities for the students to take part in (including a sweepstake for the teachers - I picked the USA!?). A table football has been set up in the reception and each classroom has been allocated a country to cheer for. Despite the China team never qualiying for tournaments like this, it's surprising just how much of a buzz there is here, with bleary-eyed students rolling in late saying how they'd been up all night "watching Iran play Nigeria", or whatever. Yesterday I managed to rouse myself at 6am to see England lose to Italy. The next England match starts at 3am which will be even tougher to get up for!
Meanwhile, at Kunming Zoo, a baby lion was asked to predict the winning team for the tournament, eventually plumping for Germany. Not a bad choice all told, and it remains to be seen just how accurate his prediction is...
Another in my occasional series of "Flashbacks" looking back at blog entries made before this Weebly version started.
Teachers are frantically bombarding their students with Exam Practice Papers these days - some have been doing so for months already. Despite my best efforts, this type of lesson remains super-boring for the students and a preparation-free, revert-to-speaking-in-100%-Chinese lesson for the teachers. What’s worse is that the teachers and students believe fervently that wading through literally hundreds of multiple choice questions is teaching them something and will mean better exams results. I doubt it. And then there’s the papers themselves. Despite being produced by a wide variety of publishers they are all, without exception, appalling.
Check these out:
1. “Pick the right picture” (and all four pictures have photocopied as solid black squares).
2. Many multiple-choice questions have two or three quite legitimate possible answers. For example, the perplexing...
Anne and Jenny are my ______
(a) teachers (b) friends (c) sisters (d) brothers
3. And often, the answers are just plain wrong. I saw these “correct” answers today:
She has carly hair. (well, Carly does...)
Is the weather like today? (what?)
Eating apples can made you healthy. (you make a mistake!)
I’m poor so I can’t play for it. (play for the FA Cup, perhaps?)
He’s a straight man. (maybe this one is intentional?)
She is learning Italian dish. (a cook maybe?)
I’ll retire and grow lives. (Nope. Not a clue on this one!)
Penguins are the kings of cats (my personal favourite ...!?)
4. Even the “English Language Revision TV Programme” regularly makes a hash of things:
He ________ harder last year than before.
(a) study (b) studies (c) was studying (d) studied
What do you think? Both (c) and (d) look fine to me, but the programme insisted the right answer was (b)??
JD finally managed to secure one of the special car trolleys at our local supermarket after many previous visits when they were all being used by other children. He had a blast driving it around, shouting" Car! Car!" whenever any customer dared to stray into his path!
JD's other favourite events and places on our supermarket trips are the demo electric organs which he likes to have a play with, the huge fish in tanks which fascinate him, the candy counter where the shop assistants always slip him a free sweetie, the antics of the live frogs (also for cooking) and the streamers twirling above the meat joints - JD swirls his finger around in the air in time with those. Who knew shopping could be such fun?
Recent temperatures have made this the hottest Kunming summer in 70 years. We've rarely been much below 30ºC in the last fortnight (and still only have an hour of running water a day!). Despite this, Jiajia and I resolved to take JD to the zoo yesterday. Last time we went it was packed, being a National Holiday, and JD was stuck in a pram and fairly oblivious to it all. This time he was far more interested and spotted various animals whose name he knows from his books (although many of the lazy beasts were hiding indoors, in the shade). The butterfly area [see above] was particularly fun and JD enjoyed the monkeys' antics too [see below]. His favourite moment, however, was being passed by a small, chugging tractor. He loves tractors. My highlight, apart from a McDonalds ice-cream, was seeing JD get bitten by a rather angry ostrich who objected to his little finger poking through the cage! Hysterical! Does that make me a bad father?
This weekend saw a visit from an old friend of mine, Wang Hui. who was a student who graduated from Qiannan Teacher's College just as I arrived there to teach, back in 1994. We became very good friends though during my time working in Guizhou Province and have kept in touch ever since. She is now married and finally found the time to visit Kunming (an 8 hour drive) with her husband and son. Unfortunately, I was working all weekend, but we shared a banquet on Sunday evening and, along with some other friends, drove to visit a huge organic farm on Monday morning.
The farm has a dozen massive greenhouses, showcasing a wide variety of vegetables and squash [see above]. Also in the grounds were a small animal farm (JD's first chance to see chickens, horses, goats and ducks in the flesh), a statue park, fishing lakes, waterfall features, hotels, garden shops and restaurants. It was an interesting area to explore and JD had great time leading us all around [see below].
After seeing all the attractions for a couple of hours and buying some tasty, but very overpriced, vegetables we settled down to a particularly delicious lunch, featuring all locally grown/raised food.
And being Children's Day, we also had a few nice kids' surprises, such as special plates of food made into smiling faces and animals and a visit from Mickey Mouse ...irresistable!
Afterwards, Wang Hui and her family headed directly back to Duyun, while the rest of us drove back to Kunming. Not surprisingly, JD slept particularly well that evening!
Past blog entries