Jiajia and I enjoyed a fabulous wedding celebration today. Ava coped admirably with the daunting task of meeting 100+ friends and family, and maintaining her smile. For me it was trying to place the multitude of guests from so many different spheres of my past life - college, work, social, relatives, etc. It was so kind of so many folk to travel large distances to join with us on our special day. If you were one of them - thank you!
Despite minimal preparation (on our part, at least) the day went really smoothly and was full of memorable highlights - the venue (unorthodox perhaps, but with plenty of space to spread out), the bouncy castle (which kept young'uns and a few young-at-hearts happy), my brothers' drama "speech" (all lies, I tell you), the costume changes (Jiajia got through three dresses during the day and looked stunning in all of them - thanks Jo and Krista!), the picnic (guests bringing their own food saves so much hassle and expense!) and the ceremony (mixing formal and informal, traditional and less traditional, Chinese and English, religious and secular - thanks Dad for juggling all that!). Thanks too to all the youngsters who helped with the dress-holding, confetti throwing and car-mangling!
The decorations were expertly arranged (thanks, sis-in-laws) - no mean feat in a building that size. And the cake that my parents sorted out was a fabulous creation, and tasty too. Dave and Andy did such a great job planning and running the day. I doubt many folk would have realised that the final schedule was only decided on the evening before, and the ceremony itself was rehearsed for five minutes just half an hour before the first guests arrived!
The day rushed by for us, but is full of happy memories, aided by the 1000 photos the guests kindly copied for us before they left. Despite having technically got married a couple of months earlier in China, this will be the day we look back on in future as our wedding day.
For more wedding photos, click here.
We travelled down to visit my brother Andy and his family today, in preparation for our Wedding Celebration in a few days. On arrival, they took us to Paulston Park, home of "Peppa Pig" (don't ask!). They go there often, as they have an annual pass for the family and were keen for Ava and I to experience some of the, frankly terrifying, rides. Ava was surprisingly up for it [see top right photo, with Ali and Andy to the right], while I took more persuading [I'm cowering behind Andy in the top left photo]. It was a fun, relaxed way for Ava to get to know my brother's family, and for me to reacquaint myself with Andy and Ali's kids, Louie and Daisy, who have grown up such a lot, even in the 1½ years since I last saw them.
We visited my Granddad today, two months short of his 100th birthday. It was so nice for Jiajia to meet him, since her own Gran had died just before I was due to be introduced to her. It was pointed out today that although I was the eldest of Granddad's twelve grandchildren, I'm one of the last to be married. So Ava was proof that I had finally made it!
Ava and I are in the UK now, having arrived safe but tired yesterday evening. We're both a bit jet-lagged and my gout is worse than before, so we're taking it easy for as few days. Ava is really enjoying the flowers and vegetables in my parents garden, keen to help dig up potatoes and water the roses! I've been enjoying my Mum's cooking and starting to sort out more of my stored boxes in the attic. We have a fairly busy schedule ahead as we approach our wedding celebration on Saturday.
The city of Kunming has finally hit the international news scene. Hooray! American ABC news, Al Jazeera and even the BBC have reported the story of three fake Apple Storses, recently discovered in the city. Despite looking almost identical to real Apple Stores, some small details gave away the deception (such as the shop calling itself "Apple Store" - real Apple outlets just have the logo). Even the poor staff working there were convinced they were employees of Apple. Apple Inc has confirmed they have no official stores in Kunming, and are looking into these fake ones. Nice to know Kunming is famous for something!
I've been living with my wife and her mum for a month now. We're all slowly getting used to each other though it obviously requires a lot of patience and understanding for all concerned. I sometimes do things which Chinese culture deems pretty disgusting (such as drying washed dishes with a tea towel, not rinsing my underwear after removing it from the washing machine or putting tissues back into my pocket for a second nose-blow later!). And I, in turn, find some household routines a bit bizarre (such as "saving water" by not washing with the solar-heated tap water, but boiling up a kettle on the gas stove instead!?). Some things I quite like though. The weekly cleaners who spend a couple of hours washing the floors and dusting. The tree-shaded courtyard outside the house where the local community walk with their kids, play badminton and smile at me as I run around the oval 30+ times! And not many houses in the UK have an altar inside, either. Ava keeps this one [see photo] as a memorial to her much-loved Gran who died a couple of years ago. It all takes a bit of getting used to and I think 3 weeks in the UK will help me get it all in perspective. We fly in just a couple of days.
Ava and I had our first proper guests round last night - a handful of my friends (representing 5 countries between them) to tour the house and watch a DVD of this year's Eurovision Song Contest, kindly sent by my friend Ratch in the UK. We had voting forms, a sweepstake, a bewildered Chinese senior citizen (Ava's Mum!) and refreshments which included 10 varieties of sandwich! We all choose our favourites (both the songs we liked most and the countries we'd drawn in the lottery) and cheered them on (or grimaced as approriate!). Eve [French, left in photo] won the sweepstake, while Monique [Dutch, closest in photo] used her Euro-powers to correctly pick the winning entry. We'd forgotton that the event now lasts over 4 hours, due to the plethora of pseudo-Eurpean countries taking place, and so a late, but enjoyable, evening was had by all. Oh, Azerbaijan won - the one country none of us could really place on a map!
The highlight of my school travels was a two week exchange to Germany. I remember my parents telling me, "it could be the only time you go abroad". 93 countries later, it still makes me chuckle. But my youngest brother Andy is putting my recent travels to shame. He may be based at a fairly ordinary secondary school (providing support to problem students) but that doesn't stop him bieng asked to accompany school trips around the world. An exchange to Germany at end of May (yes, they still happen), a visit to America the next week (including ending up in the back of a police car with two students searching for a suspect who had robbed them of their phones!) and then Spain two weeks after that! Alright for some, although our UK flights are just a fortnight away!
I had a fairly light teaching load this week, so I was able to move into Ava's house, unpack everything and sort out (i.e. "throw away") some of the copious amounts of "stuff" she has accumulated over the years. (I found 68 unused or barely used notebooks, for example!) A large house, used by just her and her Mum, has meant there has been little need to find extra space in the past. But my arrival has necessitated some reorganisation. The cuddly toys from around the house have been relocated to the top of the wardrobe, for example [see photo above]. I've also tried to spruce the place up a little. I'm not a natural at DIY, but I can get a bit arty when the mood takes me. Check out the lounge cupboards [see photo below]. Ava returns from Shenzhen late tonight, so we'll see what she thinks of the changes.
After last Halloween, I rescued two large zombie cardboard cutouts, attached them to the doors of our school staffroom and labelled them "Robert" and "Rachel" (my bosses). Oh, how we laughed! But today I found they've been replaced, and replaced by a large poster featuring myself as "Paul" (an alien of the same name which featured in a recent film). All fingers point to the graphics team, though I doubt they got it printed up without sanction from the leadership. Revenge is theirs!
Robert's School has 5 branches now and I've been keen to visit the one in the north of the city for some time. Vicky, who runs it [left in photo], came in especially today to help me find it once I got close, by bus. It has a bright and airy feel to it, but small in comparison to my own branch - they have 7 teachers and 600 students, we have 50 teachers and 3500 students. It's nice to have a mental picture of the place now, though. The branch there is part of a larger office complex which is used by other organisations teaching painting, board games, belly dancing, piano, etc. The Kunming English-speaking Christian Fellowship meet there too and I asked Vicky if she had had any contact with them. Yes, she said, they accused us of stealing their chairs and threatened to call the police! Christians, eh?
On the bus journey home, I had a typically surreal "China moment". I was standing, listening to my MP3 when I realised an old wrinkly man with a white wispy beard was shouting at me, quite angrily. I took off my headphones to find out what I'd done. In heavily accented English, he was bawling, "The Communist Party are corrupt. The Chinese Government have no right to lead us. They do not represent the people!" The other passengers were all staring at him, and at my reaction but thankfully nobody else seemed to speak English! I murmered "Err.. maybe, yes" as I swiftly left the bus. I wish I'd been able to speak to him more, but there's a time and a place, and a public bus ain't it!
Today was set aside for moving into Ava's house. She is currently in Shenzhen buying stock for her store, so the car is free and she can't badger me about throwing away a lot of the stuff she hoards! It's has gone smoothly except for the final car trip from my flat. It was a heavy load, so the gatekeeper unlocked and collapsed the bollard at the end of our alley, to allow me to reverse the car closer to the door. As I drove over the horizontal bollard, there was an awful crunching noise. It seems the car was riding low from the weight of the luggage and something caught on the bollard. Something which has now been ripped off. So I didn't "save money by moving everything myself" afterall! I was really gutted after driving so slowly and carefully amongst all the really closely parked cars near my flat and Ava's house.
Moving into Ava's for good is more of a mental adjustment than even getting married on paper was. Ava's Mum has been very kind and Ava has been very relaxed about me moving stuff around and sorting things to make space. But my little bolthole flat is not mine anymore and this is my new life now. It will take a while to get used to it. A month in the UK will help, I'm sure.
This driver was videod in Kunming yesterday, and the footage was shown on TV today. Frustrated at being stuck in a traffic jam and with nowhere to do a U-turn, he casually decides to drive up the steps of a footbridge, over the road and back down the other side onto the opposite carriage! Pedestrians can be seen looking on in amazed disbelief before diving out of the way. Love it!
I had my last Chinese lesson of the term yesterday with Mr Liu (right) patiently teaching us... [L to R] Ali (Palestinian), me, Sam (Pakistani English) plus [not pictured] Andrew (Canadian) and David (Hungarian). A very international group of students, then, and with varying skills and ability levels. Suffice to say, I would be better off in a slightly lower level class, if there was one!
Ava had a nightmare trip to Shenzhen. I left her at the airport at 8.30pm for her 9.30pm flight. But there was chaos due to a heavy incoming thunderstorm. She texted me at 2am this morning to say she was finally taking off (I was awake anyway because of the ferocity of the thunderclaps). She managed to arrive at her Shenzhen flat at 5.30am, due to catch a bus to her first factory at 7.30am! She must be exhausted, poor thing!
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