The sky this morning looked like it could chuck down rain or turn really hot and sunny. Thankfully the sun prevailed, so Ava picked me up from the hospital (my health is still OK) and drove us to GuanDu - a quaint, old pedestrianised town on the outskirts of Kunming. Despite heavy traffic and getting a bit lost, we made it safely. Once parked, we checked out the multi-armed statues in the temples and spotted this cute toad hiding in the mouth of a stone dragon. A wild dancer with her personal band gave up a laugh with her bouncing around and audience involvement [see photos]. After lunch, we headed for DianChi Lake and a nice cool-breezy embankment walk I'd not been to before. An obligatory ice-cream and I was dropped off at home, sunburnt but happy!
I finished my last class today. Ahead lies holiday, some training, some more holiday and a return to the UK! The last week or so of lessons have been more light-hearted than usual, and for some of my classes this has meant being introduced to Junior Cluedo, where the object is not to see "who the murderer is", but rather "who ate the chocolate cake"! The students have really enjoyed it, and at my insistence, used a lot of English for real purposes eg "It's my turn", "Please pass me the dice", "He's cheating". I've never seen kids playing board games in China, only cards and mahjong, so the techniques of taking turns, moving around a board and formulating a strategy are all fairly new to them. Most get the hang of it pretty quickly - some don't have a clue!
I had a really nice evening yesterday. I'd risked cooking dinner for my good friend, Ava, and she risked eating it! As we settled down to "Potato Surprise" (the hollowed out baked potato had cheese inside!) and "Creamy Crunchie" (yoghurt with banana and smashed up Crunchie bar!) we watched the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest, which my kind UK friends (the Bruton family) had sent out on DVD. We had a laugh voting on the good, the bad and the ugly, and singularly failed to spot the winning entries. In fact, Ava's top two songs eventually came 23rd and 26th out of 26! There's clearly a chasm in musical tastes between Europe and China.
P.S. At the gym this morning, amongst the usual Chinese music, the loudspeakers suddenly started playing last year's Russian Eurovision winning song! Now what are the chances of that happening?
It was my last day of teaching in the DaGuan branch today. Students were in tears as they said goodbye to me... no, not really, just the usual "see you P.J." I like to think they didn't fully comprehend the thought of a whole term without my presence! The teachers had a clearer idea, "We'll miss you P.J. - it will be nice and quiet for a while!". Hmmm...
The floor below our school has been given over to a exhibition of black and white photos taken on Chinese trains. It's really good - capturing the joys, perils and bizarreness of Chinese train travel. Although I tend to fly more these days, I've done my fair share of long train journeys in China in my time, and have seenplenty of "sleeping on a luggage rack" and "entering a train through the window" sights [see photo].
You see very few buildings in Kunming (or other Chinese cities) which are more than, say, 30-40 years old. There is a constant push to upgrade and replace everything. One little haven of antiquity was a tiny traditional house I pass on my way to work. Sandwiched between a modern restaurant and a vets, you could see grass growing on its tiled roof, carvings on the door and, usually, a man chopping wood outside. No more. I walked past it yesterday to find it being smashed to bits, brick by brick. It's progress, I guess - these things are cute to look at but probably hard work to live in. Yet I do feel that something is being lost in the feverish drive to modernise.
We had an odd experience in class the other day. The lesson was about a haunted house. Before we started the students all told me they didn't believe in ghosts but then, as the taped story came to the final twist, the machine suddenly started going slow and garbled. I quickly stopped the tape recorder, to find that it had chewed up the tape inside! The students were suddenly a bit more spooked! I wound the tape back up, poppedit back in the machine and hit play. Suddenly the tape flew out of the front of the machine and onto the floor. The students now started to look very pale and I was a bit shocked too! I never did find out why or how that happened.
I had a nice surprise package of cookies in the post today, sent from Thailand! A few weeks ago (before it was blocked) I read an ex-colleague's new boss's Facebook status, "Baking cookies" and jokingly added, "Send some to China!". Well she did! Despite being individually wrapped and boxed, they got smashed into crumbs en route, but are still very tasty. Thanks Pim!
At 8.50am today the street lights, rather optimistically, came on and the recent cloudy skies parted to give us a glimpse of the longest total eclipse of the 21st Century. Admittedly Kunming is only on the outskirts of the path, so we only saw 2/3 of the sun disappear for 5 minutes, but it was still quite special. Armed with clip-on sunglasses clipped to my prescription sunglasses and through a net curtain I watched the sun gradually get eaten up. Yet as I type this, I still have spots floating in front of my eyes (maybe three layers of sunglasses would have been better?). The power of the sun!
Had a nice end-of-term meal yesterday with all my "M" friends... Marie (colleague), Marie's friend (Carol, visiting from MangShi), Mark (new teacher, living with me for the moment), Me, Maggie (one of my Chinese teachers) and Sherry (my other Chinese teacher, who really needs a name that starts with M!).
After the meal, Mark, Marie, Sherry [see photo] and I went to a coffee bar. We ordered a couple of girlie fruit juices and a couple of extra large, strong, manly coffees. However, when they were delivered, the waitress belatedly informed us that there was a "buy one get one free" deal on. So we doubled up our order for free and I later spent many hours in bed trying to sleep with a caffeine party in my stomach! Fun evening though.
I've got less than two weeks of teaching to go now before holidays (I'm off to Sri Lanka in August), training (a dozen foreign teenagers arrive early September) and then heading back to the U.K. for a few months (before returning to Kunming early next year). I've started to feel very at home at the school and it will feel strange to hand my classes over to someone else, even if only for a term. Stranger still to have a few weeks in August and September without any need to study, prepare or work. If I stay well, it should be rather nice, I think!
Being forced to use Picasa to save my pictures before they can be linked into my old Yahoo blog was a right pain, but it did tempt me today to investigate the photo manipulation options built into that program. This collage was automatically created from the various photos I took on Tuesday's trip to the Green Lake with Tina, Nita and Gale. As you can see it was lovely day with the lotuses in full bloom, puppies sunning themselves and the umbrella dancers doing their thing. I should wander down there more often - it's only 15 minutes walk from my flat.
I spotted this sign in Kunming literally years ago, but finally found myself passing it with a camera in hand yesterday. I think it's great - motivating, yet vaguely violent! And the way the word "struggle" gets broken in half, is so apt. Certainly my attempts to learn Chinese are pitiful compared to most other foreigners I meet. After seven years here I should be able to hold a simple conversation, you'd have thought? Yet today at the hairdressers, as usual,three questions in (How long have you been in China? Where are you from? What do you do here?) and I suddenly couldn't understand whatever else he was asking (it could equally well have been about the length of my hair or the state of the Peruvian economy). If my foreign language is indeed a weapon, it's more of a tickling stick than a tank.
This time of year sees Kunming as something of a hub for people heading off for holiday travels. So, despite another two weeks of work ahead for me, it's fun to catch up with friends old and new as they pass through.
Today I met up with Tina [left], her anagram Nita [centre] and Gale [right]. Tina is a VSO teacher and Gale is her colleague from Simao Teacher's College. Neither had spent much time in Kunming before, so Nita and I took them for lunch and then showed them around Green Lake [see photo] and YuanTong Temple. While I had coffee with an ex-Lattitude volunteer who was also in town, the girls hada quick wash and a repack at my flat.Nita headed home while Tina and Gale set off in a taxi to their overnight train to Chengdu.
Tomorrow, Cindy and Gladys are in town for lunch, and Mark arrives in the afternoon to stay a few nights! As I said, sometimes it's all go!
A homework task I recently set for one of my classes was to write a fictional problem letter to a magazine "Agony Aunt". Then, the next lesson, these letters were swapped with another student and the new homework task was be the "Agony Aunt" and give advice back to the person whose letter you had been given. It worked pretty well, but one of my quieter girl students really surprised me with her particularly imaginative letter...
Dear Teenage Advice Page,
I'm a rabbit called Benjy. I'm eight years old and I'm from Animal Country. I'm on the way home, but there is a problem I need your help with. I'm so young that I can't carry more than three carrots at on time. But today is Father's Day and I want to do something special for my Dad. I really need to carry five carrots, for a special treat. It's late, so I have no time to do two trips. Please help me - I don't want my Dad to be disappointed!
Take Care, Benjy
The advice was equally imaginative...
I have three pieces of advice for you:
Yours, Teenage Advice Page
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