Another Lattitude course started yesterday. I've run 13 of them over the years. Originally, six volunteers were expected to attend, but two cancelled late and one failed to arrive, so there was only three (plus one extending volunteer who popped in now and again). I'm running the course over just 6 days this time, as we can probably go faster than the normal 7-8 days it takes with 15-25 volunteers. So far the volunteers have maintained a perfect attendance and been very clued-up in class. Next Monday they will fly to Suzhou and Xiamen to begin four months of English language teaching in schools and colleges.
I was back at work today in the Yunnan University of Finance and Economics. Most of my lessons now take place in this rather magnificent looking building. This term, I have fewer lessons than before and all of are on a Monday, which reduces the amount of travelling I do a lot. My first class comprised 40 girls and 3 boys! The second class turned up 45 minutes late due to them being misinformed by their class teacher and the third class was 65 students in a classroom with 50 seats and desks. Hopefully, things will get sorted out better in due course!
JD hasn't been sleeping so well since we got back from the UK, which is pretty understandable with the jetlag etc. It's led to him being quite grumpy during the day, too. I think he's also missing family, chips and slugs! So today, for a treat, I built a little house for him. Now, if he's feeling incommunicative, he can simply crawl inside and mope.
So we've come to the end of our five weeks in the UK. We fly back tomprrow. We spent today packing and I'm convinced all three of our suitcases are overweight, such is the spending power of my lovely wife!
We've had such a wonderful time. JD has really connected with my parents and all his relatives, and we've managed to see everything and everybody we had hoped for, and more. And, importantly, whilst we usually arrive with one or more illnesses to deal with, this time we were all pretty much well and healthy which make a big difference.
Knowing that we are unlikely to be back here for a couple of years is a sad feeling, and a real shame for JD. But Kunming is "home" (for now at least) and I imagine things wouldn't be quite so special if we were meeting up with everybody all the time. All the same, we'll miss you all.
Walking down the High Street of the small, unremarkable town of Bridport, 5400 miles from where I live, I bump into Andy and Liz Rowe who are 300 miles from where they live.
Andy and I were neighbours for three years at College but had largely lost touch over the last 30 years. Now what are the chances of that?
Whilst we are based at our barn cottage, they are camping (in some style) near a pretty water mill and, having been invited to visit, we spent a very pleasant morning reminiscing and catching up on our lives. "Small world" doesn't even begin to explain it...
We spent today in Lyme Regis, a nice seaside town which combines beaches, charity shops, a picturesque harbour and a selection of coffee bars. After the usual picnic on the beach, the other adults went for a wander along the High Street while I watched over JD who had made a couple of "instant friends" and who together were seemingly trying to dig their way to Australia. One highlight for JD and I was watching a very low-flying helicopter hugging the coastline. Boy, did we ever wave!
My parents drove us to the Dorset countryside today to spend a week with the whole of my family in a huge converted barn.
Unfortunately, our journey ended rather embarrassingly when we followed our satnav's directions across a mountain track which gradually got bumpier and narrower. After navigating through various fields and gates we literally ground to a halt. There was nowhere to turn around and we were scraping the bottom of the car on the rutted track beneath. As local cows wandered over for a look, Ava and I headed off to try and find help, eventually persuading a local farmer to rescue us in his Land Rover by offloading passengers and luggage which lightened the load sufficiently for Dad to tentatively crawl down the rest of the track! Not a great start.
On arrival, however, we've been blown away by the barn conversion cottage which really ticks all the boxes - quaint, clean, modern and spacious. Being miles away from anywhere (except an Iron Age fort on a nearby hill), it's quiet and surrounded on all sides by rolling hills. Our bedroom is huge - the photo below only shows half of it - and the kitchen, dining and sitting rooms are big enough for all 13 of us to sit and eat together. It's the first time my family have spent quality time all together for a decade or more, so it will be really nice to relax a bit and "share our families".
Today marks ten years since I started to keep an online blog (7 years here and a 3 further years on a previous platform which got closed down). With entries every 2-3 days on average, I reckon that's well over 1500 posts. Wonder if anyone out there has been reading it since the beginning? Do leave a comment below if so. Happy Birthday Blog!
We spent a lovely day yesterday with Andy and his family at the Moors Valley County Park, a huge parkland area run jointly by East Dorset County Council and the Forestry Commission. Rather cleverly, I think, they do not charge for entry but there is a hefty car park fee instead. We began by exploring the area on hired bicycles. It's many years since Ava and I rode bikes but, with JD safely tucked into a trailer, we set off through the beautiful countryside cycle paths, stopping only now and then to massage our bottoms and check we hadn't lost anyone!
After the bike ride, we enjoyed a picnic and then on to a huge playground with sandpits, elaborate slides and a model steam train to ride. JD is just loving spending time with his cousins. The park also has lakes, nature trails, a wildlife centre, fitness runs and a very cool "play trail" where kids walk from one large contstruction to another through the forest, each of which has different climbing challenges to try. We were all utterly exhausted by the time we got home for a delicious roast chicken meal, courtesy of chef Ali.
Dave drove us to a halfway point today where Andy picked us up and we are now settling into this huge house which they currently rent while looking for a new permanent home. We'll be sleeping in the large converted attic. Andy and Ali's kids, Louie and Daisy, go to a school literally 100m over the road from the house. Pretty perfect place!
One of my highlights of our UK visit will undoubtedly be my first ever run alongside others. Whilst I go running most weeks in China, it's always by myself. With the rise of free "Park Runs" in the UK, I was determined to join in one whilst here. It was a 5km run, within my range, and so yesterday I set off with about 140 others. In Kunming I can run 5km, at altitude, in about 40 mins. At sea level and with the encouragement of others around me, I hoped to complete it in 30-35mins. To my surprise and delight, I was eventually timed in 27 minutes, coming 62nd. I'm in grey above, running next to Josh (who had to pull out halfway with a sore knee). Great fun!
We're having such a lovely time with Dave and his family in Hereford:
Walks in the countryside, JD's visit to a huge play centre, full English breakfasts, swimming pools, BBQs and picnics, ruined castles, ancient churches, etc. JD is so loving being looked after by his cousins.
We visited this model train centre today, run by some very serious looking hobbyists. JD insisted on two rides around the small park.
We are hoping to buy a house in the Hereford area at some point in the future and, ultimately, to move here to retire. Early days, as yet, but we feel very much at home in this part of the UK.
We are spending a few days with our good friends Peter and Judy Sibley. They are frequent visitors to Kunming where they combine their charitable work with learning Chinese, cooking, sightseeing and visiting their many friends here.
Today they took us to Sudely Castle - less of a castle than a stately home, perhaps, but famous for having been visited by Anne Boleyn (the wife who survived Henry VIII) in 1535. It's set in lovely grounds and there was lots to see and do - especially as we visited on one of their special children's days.
Our first stop was to meet the "Woman of the Woods" [see below] and listen to her various animated tales. We were ready for our picnic after that, and then a quick explore of the adventure playground and extensive castle grounds.
The grounds were spacious and full of variety (mazes. pheasants, flower displays, chapel, etc) while the inside of the castle itself was fascinating. Ava impressed the guide with her knowledge of the Chinese porcelain on display and we all had a good laugh at the padded and jewel-encrusted queenly toilet!
The highlight for me was watching the Punch and Judy show with JD. In the space of half an hour, he went from bewildered to mildly amused to totally enraptured. By the end, his was the loudest voice shouting "behind you" and he's been talking about turning babies and policemen into sausages ever since. Hooray for outdated and un-PC entertainment
We spent today in Cardiff. Unfortunately, Wales lived up to its reputation, and it rained almost non-stop. We wandered around the damp bay area, took an expensive boat ride to nowhere and had a picnic on the steps of the Welsh Assembly building. Later we checked out the funfair before heading for "Technoquest" - an interactive science centre which was fun (but not as fun as the Dr Who exhibition would have been - I was outvoted!). Finally fish 'n chips on the beach (well, BY the beach in the car) before heading back to drier England.
Past blog entries