Big news here in Kunming at the moment is the blossoming romance between a sheep and a deer at the nearby animal park!? They have recently been spotted kissing, canoodling (and more!). There is now an online vote as to whether they should be separated, or left to themselves. It's nice to see any sort of voting in China, to be honest!
We had one of our occasional school-funded meals out for the foreign teachers yesterday. My boss's wife Rachel [waving in picture] summed up the mood when she said that this is the best team of forigners we have ever had at the school. It's been over a year since any of us have had to provide last-minute cover for any absent teacher, and that used to be almost a weekly occurrence. It's so nice now to know that everyone is reliable and professional, and it helps too, perhaps, that the average age is now 40ish and not 20ish! We are also a very multi-cultural bunch, with teachers from America, Netherlands, Australia, Philippines, Canada, France and England. Our Indian meal was very tasty although, as usual, the appetizers turned up at the every end!
My boss Robert gave me this fearsome-looking device for my birthday. Once your hand is strapped in, it registers your heartbeat and sweat levels and then, as you are asked questions, it works out whether you are lying or not. Anything it thinks is a lie is punished with an electric shock! I used it with one of my classes this weekend and the students loved it. You can only get away with this sort of thing in China, though. Can you imagine the British media backlash if I had been caught "asking young girls embarrassing questions and inflicting electric shocks". I'd be struck off!
(Thought about using it on mother-in-law, but didn't want to overload it!)
In addition to my recent appearance on Kunming TV, my brother Dave was on BBC radio earlier this month talking very authoritatively about housing and homelessness in the West Midlands. Not to be outdone, my other brother Andy was on local radio this week talking about bullying in schools [click here to listen]. I particularly liked his "RAT" advice to kids being bullied. Our next step is to set up our own media company and produce programs about bullying homeless people in China...
About a year ago, my boss Robert was telling me how he feared some legitimate emails to the school were getting lost amongst the huge volumes of spam mail that pours in. He didn't have time to scour the inbox and the Chinese staff struggled to sift the nonsense from the job applications, etc. So, rather rashly, I offered to divert all the school email to my private email address and only send on real emails on to him. So every day now I get 15+ spam emails which usually get efficiently swept into my spam box, but which do need a quick check through to make sure a real one hasn't slipped through. They are nearly all for "organ enhancement" or "money making schemes" and it amazes me how anyone can be taken in by them. Mr Usman (from WAST Africa!?) offers me, a total stranger, over a million dollars [see above]. Now what's suspicious about that?
I taught my adult class the term "spam email" the other day. In their dictionaries, spam is listed as processed meat, so I had to launch into a rather surreal explanation of Monty Python to try and explain where the term comes from. I'm not sure they were any the wiser by the end!
My birthday yesterday started fairly quietly with Jiajia in Shenzhen on business and Ma-in-law having taken herself off to hospital. But once I was at school, I had some lovely surprises. Throughout the afternoon, many of the teaching staff came to my desk, one by one, with a single rose and lovely handwritten messages - 35 in all. I still don't know who co-ordinated that. Later, in the evening, while waiting for my students to arrive, I was told there was a last-second change of classroom. A bit annoyed at the short notice I walked to the new room, only to find my students, their parents and the school administration staff waiting for me with a decorated classroom, birthday cake, presents and a live guitarist playing! I was really taken by surrpise - a lovely end to the day.
My wife, it turns out, can't resist opening presents early, even if they aren't presents sent for her! So within half an hour of receiving an intriguing parcel from my parents last week, I found a furry arm poking out of it. Ava claimed she heard bear-like cries for help from inside!
My parents had sent me "Big Ted" for my birthday. I was given him when I was a baby, and he was bigger than I was then. Twice I've tried to take him back to China and twice had to give up at the airport for lack of space and weight allowance. So it was great that he finally made it, and in one piece. Ava also brought me a puppy for "Wolfie", my toy dog. "Baby Wolfie" does indeed bear an uncanny resemblance. I have also had some less soppy presents though - two books, a fiendish puzzle, some curly-wurlies and a 3G phone which is far too complex for me to work!
Dosed up with cold medications, I managed to get through my four hours of TESOL training yesterday. We started with "Educational Methodologies" (yawn) followed by "Lesson Planning" and "Teaching Speaking". It seemed to go fairly well and we're lucky to have very good bunch of teachers. Three weeks to go.
Last week I asked Jiajia to help me book a dental appointment for my annual check-up and persuaded her to have one too (she hasn't been in years). My previous dentist is too far away now so we registered at a new clinic that boasts English-speaking dentists. Bizarrely, however, the very next day, I chipped one of my teeth and the day after that, one of Jiajia's fillings dropped out. So yesterday, instead of going for check-ups, we both ended up having work done. It's as if our teeth were just waiting for a suitable moment to break. Was that lucky or unlucky?
(I spotted this nice "BirthAday" Chinglish in town this morning!)
Ava will be in Shenzhen for my birthday this year, and so she gave me her home-made card early. "TinTin" is one of the many names she has for me(!) and, of course, Spielberg's "TinTin" movie is about to be released too. I'm not sure the original TinTin had glasses though? She also gave me a new mobile phone to replace the one I had stolen earlier this month.
Our school's first TESOL course started today, with Robert doing the first 4 hours (aided by fellow teacher Monique, who taught for 40 minutes in Dutch to give the trainees a flavour of how it felt to be a bewildered student once again). I attended and joined in for the afternoon to get a feel for the trainees and learn their names. It seemed to go very well. But as the day wore on I started to come down with a bad cold and by the time I got home this evening I was sneezing, coughing and running a temperature. Straight to bed - my four hours' training is the day after tomorrow!
This last week I, along with my boss Robert, have been putting together a 32-hour course for "ATI", the American TESOL Institute, who recently opened a branch in Kunming. They are accredited to grant the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate - an internationally recognised teaching qualification. Our course starts this Monday, so we've only had a week to put it together, and I'll be teaching half of it. Hopefully it will go OK, but it's had to be something of a rushed job. Fingers crossed!
A while ago I was contacted by a "Chinese Cultural Group" in Merton (UK) who had heard about me through a friend of a friend. They asked if I'd be willing to write an article about life in China for their rather well-produced magazine. Apparently it was well-received and I've now agreed to write a regular column. If you'd like a look, you can download it below.
Old college friends of mine, and their growing families, meet annually at a beautiful old country house in Britain and, although I can't join with them often these days, they always think of me and send me photos of them having fun. This year they sent me a little puzzle - they had lined up for photos in three different groupings and challenged me to guess the reason behind each order. The first two are fairly easy, but I struggled with the third. For guesses and the answer click on "Comments" above.
Amidst the more common "Hapy Brithday" and "Robets School is tenth" comments on the posters lining the entrance to my school (which recently celebrated it's 10th year anniversary) I spotted this rather odd one yesterday. I don't know who "Regina" is, but she may need to see a therapist. Or even an exorcist?
I saw this diagram on my brother's blog and liked it a lot. It neatly encapsulates how I try to view difficulties in life - not always successsfully. I'm all for cogitation, anticipation and preparation, but I don't think that worry itself ever achieves anything. However, compared to many, I have a fairly controlled, predictable and comfortable life. I probably wouldn't be so logical and dispassionate if I was living on the breadline or in a warzone. I'd be interested in any comments you have.
Those who know Jiajia well know how devoted she is to her "Dorta" - allegedly the only toy she was ever bought as a child (...though she's made up for it since!). If it ever came down to "Husband or Dorta", I fear it would be me being shown the door. Anyhow, I've learned that the best way to my wife's heart is through her doll. So, when Jiajia asked me to meet her in the market down the hill the other day, I made the snap decision to take Dorta along too, in her newly-bought stroller [see photo]. To the raised eye-brows and perplexed giggles of the locals, I wheeled Dorta around the vegetable stalls until we were finally spotted. Ava was both thrilled and highly embarrassed - a win/win for me!
Now Ma-in-law has got in on the act, knitting Dorta a new jacket and skirt while Ava was away working in Shenzhen [see photo]. I've raised the stakes by buying some tiny pink booties, but Ma-in-law is now threatening to sew together a pair of flowery trousers. Who will win this battle of the gifts ...just Dorta and Ava, I think. Still, if it keeps the women in my life happy, I'm happy to compete! How much are plastic earrings, I wonder?
Past blog entries