Go fourth with joy
One of the highlights of a fairly dull Christmas was two excellent wins by my favourite Premiership team, Everton, taking them to an amazing fourth in the league, one place above our Merseyside rivals Liverpool. All the more impressive too if you believe the BBC sports website where our manager is quoted as saying the other team, Southampton, are "...very god..."! Something of a miracle that we won, then!
Long-term readers might recall a similar blog entry to this some years ago. Ma-in-law was given this 1 yuan note the other day and showed it to me. I've seen one before, but they are rare. The Chinese, stamped on the note in green ink so as not to stand out too much (and deliberately blurred here, just in case), says,
"Everyone should stop being a Communist Party member
or they will meet a very bad ending. Ring the international
telephone number on the right to sign out of Chinese party."
I daren't ring it. But then again, I'm not actually a Party member, so...
Flashback: This day in ...2006
Another in my occasional series of “Flashbacks” looking back at blog entries made before this Weebly version started.
Last week, reporters from "China Central TV" spent a day shooting a fly-on-the-wall piece about “a day in my life”. They filmed me getting up, making a coffee, heading for the shower, arriving at school, observing a lesson, being driven to a remote school and teaching a model lesson! The following day was a more formal interview and then they packed up and left to edit the piece.
Today my 25-minute documentary was shown for the third time in a week! I'm told the channel has an audience over 20 million! The programme was really professionally produced and the editors had cleverly managed to link the work (and play) that I do with another VSO volunteer (and good friend) Lesley, even though we live in separate towns and have different roles. Now, strangers keep coming up to me and saying, “I saw you on TV”! I may even have my very own stalker – a woman from Shanghai watched me and somehow got my phone number … “I will call you every day” she promised …yikes! Oh, and if Spielberg is reading this (I’m told he keeps up with my news), I’m now available for motion picture work if the script (and price) is right.
Christmas Newsletter 2013
For any readers who didn't receive my Christmas newsletter...
Thank you for keeping up with the blog throughout another year.
Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!
[PS ...sadly my Granddad died a few days after this newsletter was sent out]
Father's Father Christmas
Some time ago Robert's School asked me to be Santa Claus at a Christmas Eve Performance they were putting in the largest Shopping Centre in Kunming. Today was the day. The job involved compering a Singing and Acting Show and mingling with the crowds. I tried out my suit with JD first. He didn't seem at all fazed by seeing me in costume and enjoyed tugging at my beard [see photo].
There were two performances, as it turned out, and my role kept changing right up to the start of the first. So my planned script went out the window and I had to wing it. There were large crowds milling about (100-200 for each show) but they were fairly well-behaved until it came time to give out presents to some of the children. At the realisation of freebies, there was a sudden surge of bodies and I was surrounded by manic kids and pushy adults. Some parents even started fighting and nearby policemen had to intervene! For the second show, I gave out my presents more subtley, on the periphery of the audience, to avoid further rioting. In between the students' songs, I was grabbed for photos with many delighted shoppers. I must have been in well over 100 photos by the end of the evening! Meanwhile, the students sang and acted really well and Robert's School got some nice advertising. Seems I did OK too, as a leader from the shopping centre approached me afterwards to ask if I would be willing to compere other events for them in the future! Ho-ho-ho!!
Just following my rearal
If there's one area where Jiajia and I have particularly strong and differing views, it's health and how to deal with sickness. This continues to crop up when dealing with JD. I guess I subscribe to the western view that medicine is to be avoided unless really necessary and then only used in sensible dosages until the problem is fixed. Jiajia has a more "Chinese" attitude which argues that waiting for illnesses to come along leaves it too late - people should take preventative medicine, and as strong a dose as possible for it to be effective (antibiotics are sold over the counter here and prescribed for even the most common of colds). Add to that the age-old conflict between "tried-and-tested" western drugs and "supposed to be good for you" Chinese traditional medicine (...twigs and ground up animals, if you ask me!) and we have an area of disagreement which is liable to run for some time.
Case in point: I caught a cold last week. I was told to wear a mask around JD and his room was duly sprayed with vinegar!? He's been taking Chinese "anti-cold" medicine for weeks now, a bitter liquid which can make him vomit, and yet when he had a few sneezes the other day it was my "western cold" that got the blame, not the obvious ineffectiveness of the "anti-cold" medicine or, indeed, the vinegar spray. He wears 5 layers of clothes beneath his duvet at night, but windows are then opened to let in the fresh air (and the bitter wind outside). My skepticism about Chinese medicine isn't helped by the packaging with its ridiculous English and wildly overambitious health claims [see above and below], plus my own experience with Chinese doctors and their "cures" - visits for 14 separate ailments to date with just 2 certain successes. But "popping into a local clinic to see my GP" just isn't an option here, so I try to turn a blind eye to most strange things that don't actively damage JD's health. I'm hoping that when I do need to put my foot down it will have more impact. That's the plan, anyway!
It's Christmas time at Robert's School. All the classes have been practicing Christmas songs for the last few weeks and performed them for parents over the weekend. Father Christmas has been visiting classes to shower students with sweets and posing for photos in a special school grotto. And then teachers have been doing various Christmas activities with their own classes. Mine have included Wordsearches, Crosswords, Spelling races, Bingo, Colouring competitions, Handicrafts and explaining the Nativity with large self-drawn pictures and a DVD.
As it turned out though, The most popular activity was making paper chains (from pages of old magazines). After ten minutes, the team with the longest chain won and we joined them all together to make a super-long decoration for the classroom. The students loved it and the classrooms looked even more festive by the end.
I'd already said my goodbyes to Granddad on leaving for China twice before, not expecting to see him on each return. He'd been "looking forward" to the end for some time, firmly believing in a heavenly reunion with his wife, my Nan, who passed away a decade earlier. He was a really fantastic chap; hard-working (farmer, decorator), principled (a concientious objector in WW2), constantly cheerful and with a heart for everyone. It's a real shame JD will never meet him.
The photo top left shows Lesley James Harris (JD's first initial is from Granddad's middle name) as a child, front centre. The picture below shows him surrounded by his four children (two with their spouses) and his first two grandchildren. I was his eldest grandchild (bottom right) with my parents behind me and my brother Dave showing off!
Cracking Christmas cooking
One of the big perks of my job is my bosses' hospitality and my colleagues' cooking prowess, which combines to make an outstanding Christmas meal each year. Andrew [far left] is an ex-pro chef, with Julian [far right] a keen amateur. Robert [middle] opens up his huge house and well-equipped kitchen, while his wife Rachel buys copious amounts of food, including ordering Brussel sprouts online!
So, fifteen of us enjoyed a wonderful Christmas meal this evening. We indulged (rather too heavily in my case) in a huge turkey, Brussel sprouts cooked in three different ways, gravy, bread sauce, carrots, beans, pumpkin soup, roast potatoes, stuffing, onions, apple sauce, red cabbage, caramel flan, Christmas pudding and cartons/bottles of various beverages! I think it will take me a year to digest, but you don't often get such high quality western food here, so why not make the most of it?
Kunming hardly ever gets snow. I've only seen a light dusting once in my seven years here. But just see what we woke up to this morning! The temperature dropped fast over the weekend, and my students got very excited to see a flurry of "flakey rain" falling outside the classroom, though it barely qualified as snow. But overnight we've had a proper snowfall.
With our nanny away this week, "health and safety" is somewhat lower on the agenda, so I decided to try and make a snowman for JD. However, the snow started to melt through the afternoon and so it ended up as more of a snow rabbit! JD seems to have caught my cold from last week now (his first illness) so Jiajia and I are having to cope with a grumpy, stuffed-up little baby.
The centre where we take JD to swim each week or so also sells various baby things, including a variety of toys. One of the boxes that caught my attention recently was, "The Noetil Railway", a train set which claims to be nothing less than an "Intellect Railway"!
The Chinglish on the packaging is less spelling mistakes (though if you can tell me what "NOETIL" is supposed to mean I'd be thrilled), but more just the randomness of the word selection. So we get "Let us put together to pack!!" - surely these are opposite tasks? And, "The good gifts for the children and have a good time! So let us play together and you will so clever. Come on! Everyone!" And my favourite, "Go king more power speed modern design". That just about covers everything, I think!
My two younger brothers and their families has a nice Christmassy get-together recently [see photo above]. It's very frustrating not to be able to join in with meet-ups like that, especially at this time of year.
Meanwhile my parents were coping with the aftermath of a large tree from next door crashing down into their garden and smashing two fences. The tree's now been cut up and removed [see photo right] but the clear-up continues!
A park we're "fund" of
A few bus stops down the road is "Lotus Pond Park" (or "Pund" if you prefer!) which is fast becoming a favourite. It's not particularly famous within Kunming, so gets less visitors than some places. But enough for there to be plenty to see and do. It's really well-laid out, with a large lake, pagodas, bridges, covered walkways and little secluded areas to explore. JD enjoys the raucous seagulls (freshly flown in from Siberia)
When I lived alone in China, I never used to bother with Christmas decorations. I was, truth be told, fairly happy to be away from the commercialisation, over-expectation and disruption to normal routines! However, with a baby on the scene and a wife who loves to buy stuff, I've had to show a bit more enthusiasm and do my bit! So I have decked out the lounge in rather fun Santas (this year's wifely purchase), a tree with computerised lighting system (JD can stare at this for ages) and a couple of presies. Barred humbugs!
Great and not so great
My parents had a clear-out of their attic the other day and sent me some photos from my youth, many of which I'm pretty sure I''ve not seen before. This one is me and my great-grandfather, of whom I have no memory. JD is unlikely to meet his great-grandfather sadly - he's reached 102 years but is failing fast apparently. The three school photos below record just how easy it is to go from sweet to swot to geek! A warning to all.
Not so grand
I finally managed to snap a photo of the top Chinglish sign in our local supermarket, advertising the GRAND OPENING of a new jewellry section within. As I took the shot, the lady at the jewellry counter asked me what I was doing. I rather sheepishly explained that the English was so wrong it was funny. She looked forlorn. "I found OPEN in my dictionary" she said. "It's the rest of it that's all wrong," I explained, adding, "If you do another one, you can ask me to check it". "I will," she replied, "Thank you". I should charge her "two crnand", right?
Finally arrived hair
Many thanks to my UK friend Vix, for a postal-delayed birthday present which arrived last weekend. Vix always comes up with unusual presies and unique handmade cards (this year's featuring an "Everton Lane" street sign). Her presie was a selection of comical clothes and hair drawings on sticks which can be held up in front of a camera to alter someone's appearance (without the need for Photoshop!). I thought it was a rather a clever low-tech idea, though Jiajia was not at all impressed!
Trek, buy cacti
Jiajia had a craving to buy some cacti the other day (...that's just not normal, is it?) and dragged a couple of friends and I along for the trip (to be honest, the others were really excited about it and ended up spending more than Jiajia did). We drove in two cars for about 40 minutes outside of Kunming to a large farm with 5-6 huge plastic-covered greenhouses, full of 100+ varieties of cactus. They were all such different shapes, sizes and colours - round, pert, prickly, bulging, droopy, leafy, some tinier than my little finger, some larger than me. I never knew so many varieties existed. All pretty ugly in my opinion, but it seemed I was in a minority of one there!
After the cars were filled to the brim with a few thousand yuan of cacti (£200+) we all headed up to a mountainside restaurant for lunch. One of the signs near the toilet was a bit scary, though it turned out the Chinese should have been translated as, "Be careful of the slippery floor"! Phew!
Paul Hider lives and works in Kunming (SW China) and regularly updates this blog about his life there.
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