Jiajia, JD and I fly to Shenzhen today - our first time away as a nuclear family, and JD's first time to fly. That's assuming the chaos at airports round the country has subsided by then [see Kunming airport "riot" above]. Apparently the air force are randomly commandeering airport runways for a countrywide military exercise, causing huge delays and cancellations to hundreds of commercial flights! Only in China, right?
I've spent the last two days being one of the judges at the "Seventh International Spoken English TV Final Contest" at a local University. I managed to rustle up three other foreign judges for the organisers, to add to another three they had from elsewhere. There were over 300 students in the competition and the foreigners were split into 8 rooms to judge kids of different ages alongside two Chinese judges each. I was assigned to the eldest competitors - Senior School and University students.
Over the 2 days of competition I watched 50+ students do speeches, sing songs, take part in debates, attempt role plays, invent stories from four random words and demonstrate non-English-related talents such as dancing, violins, guitars, flutes, tea ceremonies, paper-cutting, Powerpoint presentations, shadow puppet show, short plays and songs aplenty. Most of the songs on offer to sing were from musicals, cartoons or Take That/Boyzone, but the most popular was called "Shine your way" (from a film called "the Croods"??). And yet not one of the students managed to sing it to the end without forgetting the words at some stage. I've never actually heard the original, but if the students' cover versions were anything to go by, I'll avoid it!
I was sad to read today of the recent death of Eric Hill, author of the "Spot" children's books. JD has two of them and they would both be in his top 5 books to read. He loves the flaps and buttons. I love the choice of very ordinary names for his animal characters - Helen the hippo, Steve the monkey, Sally the dog and Tom the crocodile. RIP.
Jiajia bought some new rugs for our bedroom the other day (off the internet, of course) and after getting them laid down I started to roll up the old ones to dispose of. But then I had a brainwave and realised they were just the right size to attach to our stair railings which JD has been managing to climb up recently! With a 3m (10ft) drop the other side, we've been a bit nervy of letting him roam alone around the balcony. But, with the old carpets cable-tied on and hoovered clean, we now have a climb-proof guard although, as you can see, he's already trying to tunnel through!
Our school invested in a cool little Table Football game for the World Cup and yesterday afternoon held a staff knockout competition for eight randomly chosen mixed pairs. Tina and I managed to get to the final before being beaten. The winner? It was Robert, owner of the school, paired with Mary, organiser of the social event. Hmmm. Robert also won the World Cup sweepstake having drawn Germany. All a little bit suspicious? Some may say so...
After 14 hours of teaching over the last two days, I was ready to head home by 6pm today. But my school had other ideas; a last-minute need for a British male speaker to work alongside a female American to record 20+ pages of dialogue. They will be used in listening tests for half a million graduating Primary School students. It took Cissy and I about 3 hours to get through, which wasn't bad. We only made half a dozen slip-ups between us during the whole thing. The Professor, who has been recording these every 6 months for 7 years, said we were amongst the best pairings he'd used. BBC World Service, take note!
So the World Cup is finally over. I've only really watched England's matches (until they made their early exit) but I've been following the results of the other teams as each of my classes at school had a sweepstake to give the students someone to cheer for (China didn't qualify). But tonight was the final, so I decided to rouse myself at 3am to watch Germany v Argentina. We had a noisy rainstorm about half way through the match which woke Ava and JD, so we all watched the second half (and extra time) together. Jiajia provided the best entertainment ("Why can't they just make the goals bigger?", "Why does the red guy keep stopping the game?" and, after the last-gasp goal, "Which team is white again?"), while JD thought he was watching Wimbledon [see photo]. Overall a good match, though, deservedly won by them Germans again.
JD is growing up fast (cliché, or what!) and learning new words almost daily, it seems. One episode had me confused the other day though. After nibbling a biscuit, he looked at me and said "Mia, mia, mia..."!? I was puzzled and thought it might be Chinese, so I asked the Nanny. No, she said, it's English from his "Dora the Explorer" DVD and it means delicious!? I later watched the DVD and the penny finally dropped when the monkey ate a banana and said "Yum, yum yum...!" which does indeed sound remarkably like "Mia, mia, mia..."! It made for a fun anecdote to tell each of my classes over this last weekend - just the right level of language and humour for them to understand and appreciate.
I've had another article published in the Chinese Cultural Group Merton Magazine. It's on page 2 if you fancy a read!
When negotiating a weekend off work with my boss (to travel with Dave and Esme), I did point out to him that I had only missed one lesson at short notice in seven years working at the school (and that was when I broke my foot). To be fair, he didn't take a lot of persuading. But this weekend was back to work with a bump. 16 hours of teaching with the additional knowledge that, for the next three weeks, I'll be teaching twice my normal amount of hours as our school does its usual end-of-term "doubling up" to compensate for the students daring to have a three week holiday.
I always liked to think I maintain a good level of discipline in my classes, but this photo taken by Dave as he watched me teaching suggests some students are actually up to no good when I'm not looking! Cheeky monkey!
Dave, Esme and I have been in Hong Kong for a couple of days now, and they will head back to the the UK very soon.
One surprise was a neat collection of twice-lifesize famous football players from various World Cup teams (and one from Sweden, who didn't even qualify!). If only the real Rooney had put in this much effort into England's games, right? I watched the first two England games, despite them being at unearthly hours of the morning here in China. I couldn't be bothered with the third. At least the national team had the courtesy of not raising our hopes at all this time. Lost, lost, and out we went. Nice!
Our final evening here has been spent up Victoria Peak. The last time I was here was some 15 years ago, when there was just a viewing area and cafe. Now there are a dozen restaurants and a dozen more retail outlets! But it's still free to go and see the city from surely the best viewpoint ever. We went late afternoon and, after a furtive MacDonalds, saw it once again as the lights twinkled on. Magical.
If you are outside China, you can see all of Dave's photos here.
After a couple of days in Shenzhen seeing Ava at work and enjoying her neighbourhood swimming pool (well, it was 35ºC) and some particularly delicious food, Dave, Esme and I will walk over the border into Hong Kong tomorrow. We plan to see a few sights there before they fly back to the UK and I fly back to Kunming.
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