Tonight is mid-Autumn Festival - the second biggest festival in China. As we prepared the ingredients for the hotpot, Ava, ma-in-law and I realised we had bought far too much food for just ourselves (plus Ava's "uncle"), so we also invited a couple of our foreign friends, Sam and Gemma, who study Chinese at Robert's School. They helped us work our way through perhaps half of the food before we were all full up. Guess what we're eating for the rest of the week...?
As I started to go running the other day, I thought someone was playing their radio a bit loud. But, on my first lap of the neighbourhood, I came across a live 10-piece traditional Chinese band, complete with microphoned, wailing singer. At first I thought it had been commissioned for a funeral or a house-moving, as we've never had an orchestra playing outisde the flat before. But it seems they just chose that spot to practise that day. They've not returned since. What with dodging the crowd that gathered to watch them, avoiding the kid on roller-skates, weaving between two prams, jumping a cat and ducking under a dozen caterpillars hanging from overhead tree branches by spidery threads, I wasn't really able to get up much of a speed. (And that, brother Dave, is my excuse for not beating your recent "10km in an hour" record. That, plus only running 5km ...also in an hour!).
One of my recent challenges has been running a weekly English course for teachers in Kunming's top Primary School. These are mostly teachers of Chinese and Maths who are keen to participate in the school's student exchange programme to Western countries, which requires a basic level of English from the accompanying teachers. (I'm also secretly hoping that getting known in the school might help my child's chances of being admitted there in the future! Can't hurt!).
Initially, I was told it would be a two hour lesson for 30 teachers. That turned into a one hour lesson for 25 teachers on the first week, and a 45 minute lesson for 55 teachers on the second week. Expect the unexpected in Chinese Primary Schools! The English levels of the teachers vary widely, from those who teach some English themselves to others who cannot answer "How are you?". We did manage some pairwork and role-play by the end of the second lesson though [see photo], and the teachers all seemed relaxed and enjoying the class, which is important.
Ava went back to be scanned again today. After two attempts, the nurses said she may have to return again tomorrow as the baby was "jumping around too much" to get a good picture. Then suddenly it stopped moving and swung around to the perfect angle for a snapshot! After the first scan (a month ago) the nurses said they hadn't seen such a strong heartbeat for a long time. This time they said they hadn't seen such an active little baby for ages. Something tells me we have an overactive and overconfident child on the way! Anyhow, the doctor said everything looked good and healthy and we now have a hospital-free month until further tests are done. I just hope the tests are more accurate than the signage [see below].
(...and for anyone getting worried, this blog is definitely not going to dissolve into a "coochy-coochy", "lovely-dovey", "how cute", babyfest!)
Ava and I spent this afternoon queueing for a "routine scan". Yes, for those who haven't yet heard, Ava is three months pregnant and, to be honest, hating every moment so far! Throwing up 2-3 times a day, for months on end will do that for you. It wasn't helped today by a 2½ hour wait in the hospital, beside a smelly toilet, only to be told that our baby was lying in the "wrong orientation" for scanning and we would have to return to try again tomorrow. However, we are both quietly excited at the prospect of parenthood. We know that our age complicates things a little, and I'm feeling a little lost amongst the various odd cultural practices that surround pregnancy and childhood in China (more of that later!) and ruing my poor language skills when dealing with doctors, and assistants in baby shops. But we'll muddle through and see how things pan out. "Dorta" is already getting used to the idea of Mummy giving birth [see photo]!
After two weeks of uninterrupted running water, I feel I can (once again) beathe a sigh of relief and feel fairly confident that our water supply is back for good, or at least until next Summer. It's such a pleasure to be able to take a shower whenever wanted or without having to trek across town. The buckets are still on standby but, with the recent heavy downpours, we remain hopeful ...and cleaner!
I went out for a hotpot meal with Ava and a couple of her friends last night. It was a surreally international affair. One of her friends works for an Australian company, the food was Vietnamese [check out the revolutionary poster on the wall] and the accompanying background music was South African. All enjoyed in China, of course.
I saw my first Kunming protest march last week. They were moving too fast down the road to try and make out their bannners, but I later found out it was one of a number of coordinated protests throughout China cities, lambasting Japan for laying claim to some islands, which China also claims. Feelings are running very high about it all, even in sleepy Kunming, with a Japanese restaurant trashed and some Japanese cars attacked. At the weekend, quite a number of my students asked me what I thought about it. They have been fed passionate rhetoric and one-sided potted history lessons about the islands for a few weeks now and I very much wanted to ask them how independent they felt their news sources were. Instead I pointed out that they had never heard of these islands a month ago and I predicted they would be forgotton within a further month. And did they realise that the leadership in China was changing at the moment? Coincidence? Revealingly, although most students had heard the name of the man tipped to take over the leadership, none knew anything at all about him. With imminent leadership changes in Japan too, one wonders just how orchestrated this neighbour-bashing is?
Construction work in Kunming continues at a phenomenal pace. Even long-term residents here say they've never seen anything like it. New airport, new train station, four new bus stations, new satellite suburb for Government workers and University students, new subway, new pavements (to "beautify" the city) and high-rise flats springing up everywhere. No sign of a recession or economic slump here just yet. Mind you, I'm not sure I'll be visiting this particular area [see photo] once completed, though. What do you think?
We've had two days of heavy rain here, and 24-hours of running water in the house each day. The temptation is the drain the bath (ie cold water storage reservoir) and use the hot running water for a shower. But we've been there before - thinking the water is back for good and then getting it cut a day or two later. Without our full bath, we have to start ladling water out of buckets and collecting rain. Oh, the mysteriousness of it all. Oh, the humanity! If only we knew the Government's intentions. If only they would tell us. If only they knew themselves!
We took the volunteers to Kunming No.1 Middle School on Monday as part of their in-country training. Before they observed a typical Chinese lesson they were fascinated to watch a whole-school assembly, with 3000 students on a huge playground being told to clap and thank their teachers for all their hard work (it was "Teacher's Day").
The volunteers fly or get driven on to their placements today, completing their transformation from happy-go-lucky teenage students to professional teachers. That's the plan anyway. They have been a good group overall and I think there will be few problems over the next 5 months. Their final-day written and verbal feedback on the training course was particularly complimentary too, which is really encouraging.
Yesterday saw my 15 Australian Lattitude volunteers doing observations and an hour's Teaching Practice with "live" students. Pleasing results overall, with nobody arriving late or unprepared, and the normal class teachers giving largely positive feedback about the volunteers' performance. We have two final days of training now before they head off to their various project placements around China.
After a busy day yesterday with the volunteers I finally got home at 10pm and did a quick online scan of the day's news. It revealed there had been a sizeable (5.6) earthquake in Yunnan at around noon. Having felt nothing in Kunming, I shot off a quick email to Lattitude Australia to tell them they could reassure any worried parents there that all was well. It was only then that I investigated further to find out where exactly it was. And it turns out it was 13km from the town where I used to work as a volunteer with VSO, JiaoKui. The BBC video showing the afternath even shows my old Middle School [white, left in the photo above] and students milling around in the playground. About 80 people are thought to have died so far but, after some quick texting, thankfully none of the friends I still keep in touch with there.
The fifteen Aussie volunteers are half-way through their training course. The first 4 days have been building up their skills with a view to their Teaching Practice at the weekend, where they will switch from being students to being teachers, giving an hour's lesson to a class in Robert's School.
This cohort has been the usual mix of attentive, hardworking trainees and those with more of an eye on the evening socialising! We've also had an explosion of ipads, smart phones and wifi laptops this time which seemed like useful resources at first but have been a bit of a distraction at times. There's always a fine line between encouraging the volunteers to focus on the lesson without being patronising or treating them as children. We'll get there!
My recently-published article in the Merton Chinese Cultural Group Newsletter contrasts China (where I live) with Bangladesh (where I visited last month). Click below if you'd like a read
I spent 2 hours getting to the airport this morning to meet an early-arriving Lattitude volunteer only to find out on arrival that he had missed his connection. He'll try again tomorrow. So another 2 hours back to school to prepare the room for the 8-day training course which starts tomorrow [see above]. The other 14 volunteers arrived safely enough in the afternoon (met by a colleague) and we enjoyed a tasty Welcome Banquet together this evening [see below].
Past blog entries