It was a very pleasant surprise to get a phone call the other day from "Whiskey", a colleague I last worked with some 13 years ago when I was a VSO volunteer. He was visiting Kunming and suggested we meet up for lunch. Unfortunately the reason for him being here was to have a brain blood vessel checked out, with possible surgery to come. Hopefully he'll be fine - it was lovely to see him again.
P.S. Kunming doctors said no operation needed - misdiagnosis!
This is our new car - an Audi A6L. Well, it's not brand new, but it is new to us. It actually has a higher mileage than the car we've had for the last 15 years but it's ten years younger which means it can pass the emissions test each year and, hopefully, has less rusty bodywork! Plus it has a bunch of features such as sat nav, reversing sensors, powered steering and a working stereo system! It should last us for our remaining time in China.
I was asked to be one of the judges for the first-round of a National Speaking Competition last week. I was told there would be about 30-40 videos to watch and mark but, on arrival, we heard it would be nearer 60. Then, halfway through, an addition 45 "turned up"!? We eventually agreed to take 40 videos home on USBs to watch and grade at home in the afternoon! About 30% of the videos were completely inaudible due to students choosing to record their speeches in echoing classrooms or beside roads or amidst birdsong. And nearly half were displayed sideways or upside-down! You'd think they would check these things?
The second round was equally chaotic, although it was my colleague Jamie's who had to cope. Starting at 6pm, the live speeches from the 50+ qualifiers took over five hours to complete! He didn't get home until midnight! The Finals are this Friday, which we both have to attend. Fingers are crossed, but I'm expecting more poor planning!
I can go for weeks without meeting other foreigners and hearing "full-speed" spoken English. So podcasts keep me sane! Whenever I have 5-10 minutes spare I can plug my earphones into my phone and listen to part of a podcast - sometimes funny, sometimes informative, sometimes something catering to my odd tastes, be it "Thunderbirds", "Cults" or "Beef and Dairy Farming"!
Last week, for example, I found out all there is to know about the "Georgia Guidestones" a mysterious Stonehenge-like construction in America covered in advice (in eight languages) for how mankind should survive in the future. Fascinating stuff.
Sadly, our long-lived Siamese fighting fish died yesterday. We'd had him for nearly two years (about 22 months longer than most of our goldfish last!). Being a fighting fish, he had to be in the tank by himself, but he seemed to enjoy roaming around the various underwater ornaments. JD named him "Demo" as a nod to the film "Nemo". We now have a replacement "normal" goldfish called, unsurprisingly, "Goldie". RIP Demo!
P.S. Goldie lasted just three weeks! RIP Goldie.
This little fellow has been causing me a lot of grief over the last month or so. I've never quite known what it is in China that gives me allergic reactions at this time of year but, after a tip-off, it seems "ragweed" is probably the culprit. It's common in Kunming (tick), its sprays pollen out every Sep/Oct (tick) and it causes tears, repeated sneezing and sore throats in those affected (tick).
So if you see tears running down my face as I say goodbye to JD at school each morning, it's not sadness. If you hear me shrieking as I wake up it doesn't mean I've had a bad dream. And if you spot me swallowing hard before talking to my class, it's not a sign of nerves! It's blummin' ragweed!
Before heading back to Kunming we spent a leisurely morning looking around ShiLin's Old Town (razed by bulldozers) and looking out for interesting places, such as the shop above selling hand-made funerary wares - a rare sight in a country where everything seems factory-produced these days. Then in the wet market, we saw these two diminutive "Hani minority" women selling various foods form their village. We bought some free range eggs (only to be told moments later by another nearby vendor that the eggs are the same "battery hen eggs" as everyone else's! Seems you pay a premium for the photo!
ON the way back to Kunming, we visited PanSiWan cemetery where Jiajia's Gran is buried. It was JD's first visit to a cemetery - cue a whole raft of deep questions on the remaining journey home!
Jiajia, JD and I are currently taking a little break for a few days (this week is a national holiday to celebrate China's 70th year as a nation). We decided to use our annual tickets at ShiLin's "Ocean and Snow Park" but, unfortunately, after the 2-hour drive to get there we found out that our passes are not valid on holidays - that small print gets you every time! So we had to fork out for fresh one-day tickets. After bumper cars, the carousel and a terrific circus we headed into the huge sub-zero warehouse for tobogganing, skating and tyre-sliding. Then it was on to the ski run for JD's second "lesson". Last time he didn't quite manage to get all the way down the slope without falling over. But this time, after a couple of early tumbles, he was able to get all the way down a dozen times. And very proud of himself he was too! Mind you, pride comes before a fall and there were a couple of spectacular wipe-outs later as he tried to master "turning"!
JD's Primary School uniform was delivered last week - the boys get a bright pink tunic while the girls get blue!? It's either a very progressive decision or someone made a cock-up!
Jiajia was mumbling about the cost - she found the same clothes online for 50RMB but the school insisted that they have to be bought through the school shop at 400RMB -a clear rip-off.
JD rather likes the uniform though and was keen to be photographed in his "at attention" stance. The constant school "marching and dancing" seem to be having an effect on him!
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