Chinese tradition says that newly-weds should set up their home with new furniture and household goods during their first year together. Despite Ava already having a furnished house, we have done our bit to upgrade the decor and make the place more homely. Throughout 2011 we bought, or were given, a new cooker, a fridge, framed pictures, a dining table and chairs, an oven, a TV table, two shelf units, shoe cupboards, a bedside table, a microwave, a CD/DVD storage unit, two wardrobes, two hat stands, new curtains and, yesterday, a sink unit [see photo]. Our 2012 plans are to simply enjoy the stuff.
One of the advantages of living in a country where Christmas and New Year are not really celebrated is that the local populace are still working as if it's a normal weekend. So, while Jiajia and I have taken a few days of holiday, we've been able to arrange for new curtains to be hung. We're hoping that having two sets of curtains in the lounge will help keep it warmer (both by cutting down the draft from the large windows and by reducing the amount of space our little electric heater has to warm up). Ava bought the Italian-made material earlier in the year, but it's taken the current cold spell to prompt us into finding various workers to sew them into curtains and hang them up. Eeek - how domesticated am I getting?
We heard the results of our recent training today and all the students who finished the course managed to pass, and gain the TESOL qualification. It's particularly encouraging as it was the first time we had taught the course, and we didn't always get the clearest advice as to what areas we should be covering or how the students' work would be assessed by the certificating body in the USA. It bodes well for future courses though and is a nice encouragement to end the year.
Jiajia doesn't have much family. In Kunming there's just her Mum and an "adopted" Uncle. But there are a few distant relatives in Shanghai
(and one in Laos!) and this week a Shanghai cousin was visiting Kunming on business. We met up with him for a couple of meals and a walk in the park. Bizarrely, the park seemed to be expecting an imminent disaster with almost every sign referring to some unspecified "emergency". Thankfully, we managed to escape with our lives!
I think if I was opening a "western-style food" restaurant, I might avoid calling it "Hitler". This new eatery near our school has raised some eyebrows recently. Apparently the design above the name spells out the Chinese for "Hitler", while the characters "Xi Te Le" rather bizarrely mean "West extremely happy". I'm not sure the pun will be spotted by foreigners though, who might just assume the worst!
A very Happy Christmas to all readers of my blog. I hope you have a fantastic day, and a very blessed 2012. If any of you didn't get my Christmas newsletter by e-mail, you can download it by clicking below.
There seems to be an increasing amount of evidence that the original Santa Claus was Chinese. His beard may be a different colour nowadays, but it's said that Lord Shang Ke who gave bribes to the naughty, and punishments to the good, could have been the inspiration for the Father Christmas we all know. "Shang Ke Lord" may even be where we get the name "Santa Claus" (according to the China Daily Show website, anyway).
Christmas will be a normal working day for me here. The school has organised a Christmas concert in the evening, which I'll need to attend, but before that will be the normal 6 hours of lessons. A few shops around the city have put up decorations, often with Chinglish [see above]. I was annoyed not to have my camera with me when saw a "Marry Christmas" sign! But otherwise you'd be hard pressed to know it was Christmas at all. I made a bit of an effort in the house [see below], but overall I'm not too sad to miss the festival. It's often just a lot of stress, expense and unfulfilled expectations. Bah humbug!!
I usually have a good laugh at all the Chinglish around town but it was with more of a "groan" than a "ho-ho-ho" that I spied the huge posters advertising my school which went up along a nearby road recently. Look closely... I wish it were a rare occurrence, but almost every English document our school produces has mistakes in it (our new door sign says "We will answer all your question" and our festive posters wish folk a "Merry Chirstmas"). Those responsible have been told (in no uncertain terms) that all future advertising featuring any English at all now has to first go past my beady eyes!
I had a second article published recently in the excellent Merton Chinese Cultural Group Newsletter, this one comparing Chinese and UK healthcare. Click below to download a copy.
When I first lived in China, there were no private phones, no mobiles, no computers (let alone an Internet) or CD/DVD players. My College didn't even have a photocopier! I kept in touch with family in the UK by "a month each way" handwritten letters. How times have changed. Today I found myself translating (badly) betwen my parents and my ma-in-law as they waved Christmas greetings to each other through Skype. Technology has advanced so rapidly! Why doesn't Tim Berners-Lee have a knighthood yet?
[P.S. Just googled TBL and found out he DOES have a knighthood - that was quick!]
I was amused by the controls of the microwave at my school the other day. Can you spot which of the options caught my fancy? Buttons for "defrost" and "grill" are fairly standard, of course, but I've never seen one marked "CHAOS" before. Oh, I am so tempted to press it! But what disasters might befall us if I did? Apparently the Chinese characters say pretty much the same thing - translating as "extreme disorder", and we certainly wouldn't want to see that in our harmonious country, now would we?
I've been truant more than I've been in attendance at my Chinese lessons over the last few weeks because of the extra work I've been taking on. Despite the patience of my fellow international students [L to R above: Englishman, Palestinian, Australian and Canadian] and Chinese teacher [below] I've been in constant catch-up mode whenever I've been able to make it, and I do feel I'm struggling a bit as a result. If the lessons weren't free (for me, as a teacher at the school) I would have probably given up by now. The other students are more concientious too, and spend much of the rest of each day practising their Chinese in one way or another, while I'm off preparing or delivering English classes. Anyhow, they are a fun bunch to be with and until they start getting frustrated at me holding them back, I'll be struggling on. It does at least provide me phrases such as, "Calm down a bit" and "This isn't totally edible" which can be useful for ma-in-law!
I saw these sweets in my local shop the other day and it reminded me of when I was young and we would buy little packets of crystal-like candy that crackled and exploded in your mouth as you ate it. Sure enough this is the same stuff. But it was only later when I looked at the packaging more closely that I realised it actually claimed to turn you into the Bishop of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City and leader of the Catholic Church! I tipped some in my mouth. It did start popping but, as yet, no poping. Disappointing.
The month-long training TESOL course is nearing its end. I've really enjoyed the whole process, despite preparing and delivering the materials alongside my full-time job and a low-level cold. The trainees have been excellent throughout - hard-working, thoughtful and up for anything. They did very well on their written tests yesterday and complete their demonstration classes tomorrow. That will end the first course, but we are assured there will be a rolling programme of such courses continuing in the new year. I really hope so. I enjoy "training" more than "teaching" - always have - and would like to move yet further into that area, even it if means fewer lessons with children. Our regular "Lattitude" training course is next on the horizon - thirteen Australian teenagers arriving in February!
Can you guess what the man on the left is doing? If you are a Kunming resident, you might well recognise a collector of "gutter oil". These secretive and unscrupulous characters scrape off large quantities of waste oil residue which has built up on the sewer walls. They take it away, boil it up to remove any obvious impurities and then sell it back to restaurants to reuse as cooking oil. Gross, right?
There's been quite a furore about it recently, with many foreigners being put off using small restaurants altogether for fear that they are cooking with the stuff. Some restaurants even have signs up assuring customers that they use decent cooking oil. The authorities are trying to clamp down on it, but with limited success so far. Gutter try harder, guys!
With Ma-in-law being "too ill to leave the house and meet up with friends", or so she says, Ava and I have had to find little things to keep her occupied. Knitting clothes for the various soft toys in the house has worked well and this week was "Big Ted's" turn. He was sent out to me by my parents for my recent birthday. When he was bought for me as a one year old child, he was actually bigger than me. Now, we're both showing our age a bit, but we've never looked more fashionable!
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