Today was my final day of the term at YUFE (Yunnan University of Finance and Economics). This last week has been Oral English exams which, for my classes, meant groups of three doing a 2-3 minute role-play set in a restaurant. They all managed to do enough to pass, though some presentations were more elaborate than others (various props, romantic upsets, unusual menu items, etc). Overall, it's been a good first term at my new job, with signs that the students' English language levels have improved, especially in their confidence and fluency. Now I just need to sort out their dodgy pronunciation and idiom-usage. But first, two months holiday!
JD's Kindergarten school held an Open Morning a few days ago where parents were invited to come and observe a "typical" school day. It was interesting to see the sort of things JD gets up to and, on the whole, happily reassuring. You hear horror stories about some Chinese schools - children sitting in their chairs doing nothing for hours on end, rote learning of inane political slogans, physical and verbal abuse, etc. So we were pleasantly surprised at the caring attitude of our teachers, the controlled and free play opportunities and the varied mix of activities. And all the toilet breaks!
One aspect which was all too obvious was how much special treatment JD gets. It's not a big exaggeration to say that he gets as much attention from the teachers as the rest of the class combined, due to his Western looks, cutesy manner and chatty personality. Whether this is good for him longer term we're not sure, but perhaps it will settle down in time. We did wonder what the other parents must think! Still, in a class of 33, at least he's not getting overlooked!
Star of Wonder
Well, it's that time of year again when families gather together and celebrate the coming of the "long-awaited special one" that brings joy and happiness to all. Yes, I'm talking about the new Star Wars film! Showing all around the world to rave reviews ...but not in China. Not yet, anyway. China only allows 34 foreign films to be shown in its cinemas every year and the allocation is up for 2015. So we have to wait until mid-January to see the blockbuster that the rest of the world is raving about. Faced with such uncertainty (we may be on holiday abroad by then) I downloaded a grainy but watchable copy online so I could see it before I'm spoilered to death. All being well, it will be my Christmas treat to myself today, a day which otherwise is decidedly un-Christmassy. Christmas Greetings to all you blog readers (thank you!) and May the Force be with you!
Let's go, Lego
JD's been excited about Christmas (or at least his presents) for some weeks now and, with Christmas Day being a normal school day for him, we decided to let him open some of his presents early over the space of the last week or two. Ava found a boxed set of fake Lego construction vehicles online and so JD has been opening a new toy every few days and then making it and playing with it until the next one. Well, when I say making it, it's actually watching me make it. The models are designed or 6+ year olds and it's been a tough job to complete each one up within JD's hour or so concentration span, especially when they don't clip together quite so firmly as real Lego. But then at 20% the price of the real stuff, we're not complaining too much! And he's loving the influx of new toys.
Grateful for plateful
Robert (of "Robert's School"!) and his wife Rachel have hosted a large Christmas meal for the last few years, cooked over two days by a Canadian ex-teacher who was also a semi-pro chef in the past. As you can imagine, the food is always delicious, varied and plentiful. Nearly 20 people turned up for yesterday's meal at Robert's large house which was decked out with decorations with festive music playing in the background.
With my last remaining Robert's School class being handed over to a new teacher in a couple of weeks, I'm not sure I'll qualify for an invite next year. But here's hoping!
Tree men does
The Christmas decorations this year actually went up in late November. Usually, as soon as my birthday cards come down, the tinsel goes up and, with only a couple of cards this year, there seemed little point in delaying it!
JD is much more interested in the whole celebration this year and "helped" to dress the tree and decide where other decorations should go. He's also tried to open presents from under the tree on three occassions, but only when he's been alone with the nanny. He daren't try it when Mummy or Daddy is about! And he's getting awfully excited as the actual day approaches, though being a schoolday for him and a workday for me, I think we'll struggle to find enough time to open all his presents.
Temperatures dropped from about 10°C to -2°C yesterday and we had light snowfall throughout the day, Picturesque, and a source of great delight for JD, but pretty treacherous on the e-bike to and from work! Still cold today, but no new snow.
The recent cold weather in Kunming makes the University swimming pool seem a little less chilly, so there's been less shivering as I start my twice-weekly swims. I've never been a very strong swimming (200m certificate at school!) but I did some research on YouTube and bought myself some decent goggles and now I can swim non-stop laps for about 30-40 minutes (breaststroke). I started with 10 laps (500m) but have been slowly increasing the distance and managed 900m yesterday. Hoping for a whole kilometre tomorrow.
JD Sports day
JD had some sort of "Sports Day" last week. Like many Chinese schools, his has no playing fields as such, so it seems that the games involved plenty of controlled running around on astroturf, collecting coloured cones and moving small balls from one container to another with a spoon. I say "seems" as the parents didn't know any of this was happening until it was over. We (Jiajia and I) were lucky that one of the teachers who has taken a shine to JD took some nice photos and video of him and sent them to us.
We actually get very regular feedback from JD's teachers, mostly though Ava chatting with them online, on her phone. They tell us that JD is the "darling" of the school and gets daily hugs from all the staff, even the headmistress who makes a point of taking him out of class each morning for a 5 minute "chat" to cheer her up! JD claims he has no friends at school, but we bumped into one of his classmates at the Saturday play centre he goes to and JD was able to tell me the boy's name, after which they played together for half an hour quite happily. So I think he's more settled than he sometimes lets on.
Hankering the higness
Seven days makes one weak
My homemade "What day is it?" chart was designed to teach JD the days of the week (in English and Chinese) and help him to remember things and plan for the future. But it's our Nanny who seems to be taking the lessons most seriously, repeating the days of the week methodically (if in very mangled pronunciation) and watching intently as I move the slips upwards each morning. JD just looks at the little pictures to see if he is due to be at school or home playing each day!
JD's cough has improved a lot now, and so I took him on a little trip last Saturday. We took a bus to a subway station and then the underground to the North Railway station. There we met JD's ex-Nanny, Molly, and together we rode the train for 40 minutes to ShiZiu - something JD and I have done a few times before, but he always enjoys it. A bonus for us in ShiZui, as we waited for the train to "turn around", was a front-end loader working on a nearby building site. JD loved it.
After the return journey (1RMB/10p each way!), JD and I said our goodbyes to Molly and took a taxi home. JD was asleep within an hour of arriving back.
Last week was a difficult one, with JD off school and needed to visit hospital daily for a nebulizer treatment, me with a return of my gout and Ava/Nanny busy at the store. Hopefully this week will be a little easier.
Can you dig it?
Ava came back from a business trip to Shenzhen last week with a new toy for JD. As usual, the packaging was more interesting for me with some very strange labelling on the construction vehicles in the range. The bulldozer and logging truck on the right are, appropriately, right. But what on earth is a burrow car, a digging the car and a pressure bus? That's hardly "simulating a true style" and I, for one, do not praise or appreciate it!
Isabel necessary on a bike?
I heard this morning that my aunt Isabel died yesterday, aged 91. As I thought a bit about her today, I realised I had more memories of her than at first I thought. She got me my first little part-time job; gardening for her friend at 25p an hour (not a lot even then!). She used to zip around on a moped which, when she got too old, she gave to me. I drove that thing from London to Oxford more than once to get to College. It was only when it finally chugged to a halt and I bought a new moped that I realised quite how ancient, heavy and unwieldy it was. Goodness knows how she managed to use it for so long. And then there was Isabel's music box which was gifted to me in her Will (or to Dave or Andy - my two brothers - depending on whose story you believe!). Isabel worked for a variety of charities and missions during her long life. Sadly her last years were beset by dementia, and so it's with mixed feelings that I heard the news today.
Mist the chance
JD's 3-week old cough got a lot worse yesterday and we decided we should take him to the hospital for a check-up. The head doctor diagnosed bronchitis and so he has to have a week of one oral medicine and another in mist form through a nebulizer. As you can see, despite there being no discomfort or taste, the thought of covering his mouth and nose gets JD all upset, and he's only had two sessions so far. Hopefully he'll get used to it soon. It will be nice to get rid of the cough, for sure.
Next day. A lot less screaming and fighting. It's amazing what difference the addition of some stickers to the mask, and the promise of a visit to the toy shop for a "good boy" makes! One more hospital visit tomorrow and then it's just normal medicine for a week. Some improvement already.
Paul Hider lives and works in Kunming (SW China) and regularly updates this blog about his life there.
Past blog entries