I spent a fun afternoon today at a Christmas/New Year festival laid on by an "experimental" school in Kunming's suburbs. I was invited by an ex-teacher of Robert's School who I've kept in touch with over the years. Her school needed a "foreign face" amongst the guests of honour, especially as the school prides itself on having bilingual lessons. The students' English was extremely good and all of the performances, from the younger ones dancing, to the older ones acting, were produced in both Chinese and English. The photo above shows the Big Bad Wolf (left), a Chinese Romeo (right) and Aladdin, the Rabbit Dance and Sleeping Beauty (top to bottom). The 90 minute variety show ended with me and the other special guests being dragged into a High School Musical dance routine!
When we got engaged earlier this year, Jiajia's best friend said she would like to buy us a little oven (something we had been thinking of buying for a while). However, as the months rolled by with nothing received, it became increasingly embarrassing to ask about it, and yet too risky to buy one for ourselves, just in case! Finally, Jiajia dropped a heavy hint last week and our oven finally appeared! We tested it yesterday by making some little pizzas. They were tasty, I thought, but Jiajia's Mum had one bite and pottered off to make herself some noodles! Oh well...
When I finished work late yesterday and got a call from Jiajia asking me to come to her flat for a surprise involving "the birds and the bees", I wasn't quite sure what to expect! But it turned out she had no idea of the usual English usage of that term and was referring to the afternoon she had spent setting up and decorating a Christmas tree with large flapping-winged model birds and bees [see photo]! With my own flat something of a decoration-free zone, it was really sweet of her to get some Christmas spirit going! We exchanged presents too - she bought me a cute soft-toy hippo, while I bought her a large plastic superhero figure... aren't male/female presents usually the other way round?
Then came the bad news. Ava had also pre-ordered a large cake, with ice-piped wording wishing me a Merry Christmas. Unfortunately in trying to juggle the tree and the cake up the hill to her flat, the cake took a tumble and all that was left by the time I arrived were the splattered remains on the pavement [see photo]! She was a bit upset, but I thought it was quite amusing. It looks a lot like abstract art!
I spotted these tails "hanging out" at a local butchers the other day! The shopkeepers thought it very amusing that I should be taking a photo of them! Apparently they are not for eating, but for assuring customers that the meat on sale is from dairy-type cattle and not the gristly water buffalo that you tend to get more in the countryside. I'd have thought a simple sign would have sufficed but I guess, come the Summer, you'd find it harder to keep the flies off the meat with a sign, right?
I bought a large framed scorpion whilst in Thailand earlier in the year, which looked great preched on the top of the book cabinet in my lounge... until last week, that is, when there was an almighty crash and it dived onto the floor, smashing the glass. Now my birth sign is Scorpio and, whilst I don't have the least belief in horoscopes, it surely can't be a good sign for the New Year when my chosen animal commits suicide, can it? Oh my!
There were packs of countryside folk roaming the streets this morning, painting the bottoms of all the trees in Kunming white. I've seen this before in China but have never been able to find the reason for it all. Some Chinese friends say it's to keep the trees warm in the Winter (but then why stop painting so low?), while others say it's to prevent insects climbing the trees (but then why paint them in the Winter when there are no insects around?). When I lived in the countryside, I was told it was to help the cars see the edge of the road at night, but that can't be true in the well-lit city here? Presumably someone pays for it, so there must be a reason? My Chinese teacher, Cathy, has said she'll ask around and see if anyone has any idea why this happens every year.
My 6 year-old shaver finally died the other week, scratching my face in the process. On a whim, I decided there and then to jump on a bus and buy a new one. I decided to buy a decent Philips one as the cheaper Chinese brands aren't so comfortable or long-lasting. Now Ava is a big fan of buying "quality" goods, so when she returned from Shenzhen I proudly showed her my purchase. Stony-faced, she silently left the room and returned with a wrapped Christmas present bought for me, she explained, on the internet a month earlier. Under instructions, I opened it and found another shaver. And not only the same brand and colour, but the exact same model! We'd not previously talked about shavers or, indeed, buying each other Christmas presents so what are the chances of that?
I had a fun time yesterday, helping to celebrate the opening of a new branch of Robert's School (the 5th). This is the first one outside of Kunming, being based in QuJing city - about 2 hour's drive away. QuJing is Yunnan's 2nd largest city, although with a population only 10% of the size of Kunming's 6 million. It holds special significance for Robert, however, as he was posted there some 15 years ago with VSO (at the same time I was starting my own China experience with VSO in neighbouring Guizhou Province). The new school is on the 17th floor of a newly constructed high-rise block which looks pretty grotty from the outside (for now). But the school itself inside is freshly decorated and well-furnished. It's seven small classrooms, with cartoon characters painted on the walls, look very inviting, and the reception area is ready to welcome newcomers [see photo].
The main event was a large, variety-filled, meeting to which leaders, prospective parents and children were invited. There was seating for 200, and a pleasing 150+ turned up. The show included speeches, songs, a great DVD presentation about the school, some juggling, life-size cartoon characters, a domino toppling finale, a short demo lesson and a visit from Father Christmas (the last two of which were my contribution).
It all went smoothly enough (and looked very professional) with the exception of the dominoes, set off by a winding ball bearing run [see photo] which, despite umpteen practise runs, failed to work on the night! The ball simply slowed down and rolled back to the start! Fortunately, the audience were too distracted by the main screen showing a DVD close-up of a previous successful run to notice that the real thing had ground to a halt! The dominoes fell over to spell ROBERT (...or should have done!).
The clear stars of the evening were the Disney-esque cartoon characters wandering around. The children got very excited and the queue for photos seemed longer than the Great Wall of China at times. The actors inside were great, giving umpteen high-fives, posing cutely and managing to ignore the more violent of the boys who thought it might be fun to poke and kick Mickey and his friends!
My brother Dave and his two kids Esme and Josh took part in a "Santa Run" the other day, with dozens of other lunatics dressed as Father Christmas! All in a good cause though. Dave has added info on the charity and amount raised in the Comments. Well done guys! Enjoy the rest of the Christmas build up!
Forget the rescue of the Chilean miners, China was gripped this week by live TV coverage of a baby being cut out of a washing machine after having fallen in and got stuck while playing! The brave fireman wielded their axes and slicers with great dexterity and the girl was removed with barely a scratch (...and remarkably clean). Riveting TV!
My Chinese class decamped from school and met in the home of friends Peter and Judy this last week. Peter has had a nasty bout of pneumonia and is still too weak to travel far, so we "moved the mountain to Mohammed" instead! It means a short bus trip and walk for me, but Judy does provide us with mid-lesson coffee and home-made cakes, so it's certainly worth the effort. Next week the foreign students from all three levels are joining together for an educational outing to Kunming's Botanical Gardens to learn the Chinese names for various plants, most of which I don't know the English for anyway!
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