Ava and I spent this afternoon queueing for a "routine scan". Yes, for those who haven't yet heard, Ava is three months pregnant and, to be honest, hating every moment so far! Throwing up 2-3 times a day, for months on end will do that for you. It wasn't helped today by a 2½ hour wait in the hospital, beside a smelly toilet, only to be told that our baby was lying in the "wrong orientation" for scanning and we would have to return to try again tomorrow. However, we are both quietly excited at the prospect of parenthood. We know that our age complicates things a little, and I'm feeling a little lost amongst the various odd cultural practices that surround pregnancy and childhood in China (more of that later!) and ruing my poor language skills when dealing with doctors, and assistants in baby shops. But we'll muddle through and see how things pan out. "Dorta" is already getting used to the idea of Mummy giving birth [see photo]!
Ava keeps on improving her little balcony garden bit by bit. We bought some old shelves from the second-hand market the other day, which are now decorated and filled with displays of her plants, flowers and ornaments. It's a tiny balcony, also used for drying clothes and storing ma-in-law's piles of rubbish (which she periodically sells to the rubbish collector for trivial amounts). But even so, I'd say it's looking rather pretty these days.
Ava's been moaning about the state of our sofa suite for a year or two now and recently found a possible solution online with a company who can provide dyes which can be painted onto leather. So we've spent the last two days cleaning the seat, two-seater and sofa, applying 3 layers of dye and finally a layer of varnish. They have now been transformed from dirty white to light grey (ie I can't tell the difference), but the wife is happy and that's the main thing. I'm a little worried that over time, increasingly large specks of white from underneath will reappear and we'll end up having to buy a new suite (it is a decade old). Maybe that was Ava's plan all along?
Bangladesh hasn't been the toughest country I've travelled in (Paraguay - I'm looking at you!), but it's probably in the top (bottom?) three! Ava's found it particularly hard - vomitting for days on end takes the shine off any adventure. On the positive side though, it is country #95 for me - one closer to the magic 100 - and it does make you grateful for what you often take for granted (unbroken pavements, clean food, cool climate, etc). It's also been quite cheap and just a 2 hour direct flight from Kunming. But by far the most impressive memory I will take with me has been the friendliness of the people. Some are just "helpful" in the hope of a tip, but the vast majority are genuinely outgoing, curious and delighted to meet a foreigner. The opening question has always been, "What is your country's name?" - an unusual and quaint construction, but eliciting an excited response when England is named ("Britain" gets a blank stare, sorry!) as the conversation rapidly turns to cricket (of which I know nothing). One 20-second greeting stands out for me; on hearing I was from England, an elderly gentleman with remarkably good English simply said, "Ah, England. A land of great civility. Sir, I apologise for our country's infrastructure but hope you will experience the warmth of our people." And with that he smiled and walked off.
Our plans to retun to Dhaka by "gentle river paddle boat" have again been qaushed when we went to buy tickets yesterday and were told the boat no longer reaches Khulna due to the rainy season. We opted instead for an overnight train back. We paid for a first class carriage and at first were pleasantly surpised to find we were the only two in a sleeper with 6 beds. But, at the first station, we were joined by a muslim guy and his two women (wives?). He proceeded to sing his prayers on the floor throughout the night as one "wife" was being sick in the toilet and the other fell out of bed (and amazingly didn't even wake up).
We arrived in Dhaka at 6am to find the city flooded... [see below]
Ava and I have been tied to the bathroom for the last day or so! Today we were determined to get out and see "a sight" before leaving Khulna tomorrow. My guidebook described a pleasant rickshaw/ferry/bus trip to an ancient mosque. We took a rough hour-long rick ride to where the ferry should have been, only to find a huge bridge there now [see top left]. Undeterred, we found a way to get up onto the bridge and started to walk across. Half way, the heavens opened and we were getting drenched, when a motorised "baby-taxi" stopped and offered to take us to the old mosque. The roads quickly turned to mud [see top right] and it took us over an hour to complete the "30 minute trip".
The mosque was quite old, quite attractive [see above] and quite interesting. Nothing very impressive! Despite buying tickets to enter, and being very senstitive about those praying and not eating, we were quickly approached by the Imam (Head muslim) who told us to please leave as soon as we had seen what we had to. Not the welcome we had expected - if you don't want visitors, don't advertise or sell tickets!
A nearby (dull) mosque held an unexpected surprise. Behind the building was a large man-made lake (built for water storage). As Ava and I sat there cooling off in the breeze, a man approached carrying a live chicken. "I wonder if chickens can swim?" I joked, and then to our surprise we watched as the man lobbed the chicken into the lake! And what do you know - chickens CAN swim! As the soaked and exhausted chicken reached the bank, the man picked it up and headed back to the mosque [see photo above left]. I suspect it was a ritual cleansing before a sacrifice ...or perhaps just a prelude to dinner? The journey back was by two big buses in torrential rain [see photo above right]. Ava raised plenty of glances as ever - it has been quite rare to see women in public here, and foreigners even more so.
Bangladesh is a country half the size of the UK but with twice the population. Ava and I arrived here yesterday after having our first flight cancelled and the second - a day later - delayed by two further hours. We arrived at 4am and, after few sly backhanders, I managed to get my visa. Since then we've been somewhat overwhelmed by the heat, the noise, the humidity, the begging, the traffic and the pollution of Dhaka - the country's 10 million strong capital city. We've arrived in the rainy season and amidst Ramadan - the Islamic month of fasting. With 85% of the country being Muslims, few restaurants are open and we have to be careful where to sip our bottles of water so as not to give offence. Our pre-booked hotel is filthy and broken, so we hope to move to a better one tomorrow. We had planned to take a 36 hour river boat to the south of the country, but we found the ticket office shut today and not due to open for 3 more days. So we'll try a bus.
I hosted my annual Eurovision party here last night, thanks to a DVD recording sent by my UK friend, Ratch. Only five friends and colleagues came this time, so we had plenty of food and drink to go around. None of us was particularly impressed with the Swedish winning song, "Euphoria", but then the UK entry was no better. We had most fun predicting (with some accuracy) the political voting of each nation!
Fellow teachers Monique and Peter (left) are moving to Morocco next month, so it was a chance to say goodbye to them. Jan and his wife (and fellow teacher) Juvy, in the centre, are having a baby later in the year, so they'll return to the Philippines for that. And our Australian teacher Ross, and French teacher Manou, both left a few weeks ago, too. So there's a big turnaround of foreign staff next term, Emily (right) is a local, so at least I'll see her again. Ma-in-law made dumplings and then headed for bed. Ava was working until late and arrived just as everyone was leaving. A fun evening all the same.
Kunming's brand new airport opened yesterday. ChangShui is the 4th biggest of China's 500+ airports and expected to compete with Bangkok to become the "hub of S.E. Asia" air travel. Ava had coincidentally booked her latest flight to Shenzhen on the opening day, so we decided to get there early for a look-see. It seemed fairly quiet - a lot of the people we saw milling around seemed there to take photos. But it did look amazing though - like a large golden bird taking off (though Ava didn't like the colour scheme!). And it's certainly huge - five floors high, with two runways and a urban light railway link which opened on the same day. Unfortunately, what used to be a 30 minute journey to the old airport will now become a 90 minute trek, which will make Ava's monthly trips to Shenzhen even more tiring. But when the new underground network is finished (still a couple of years away), it should get easier. Kunming is certainly a happening city!
Ava bought a fancy blue mosquito-capturing machine last week and we have left it plugged in every night since, to see what happens. Today she had a look inside it and, with a delighted voice, exclaimed "The mosquito machine has got two mosquitoes inside!!" followed by a slightly embarrassed "...but the cardboard box it came in has caught three!"
When I married my darling wife, I always knew there would be "three of us in the marriage" (to quote Lady Diana), with Jiajia's mother living with us. I hadn't quite bargained for our needy fourth resident though. "Dorta" seems to get as much attention as I do and a lot fewer complaints. Her latest gift is a rocking horse which Ava spotted in Shenzhen and couldn't resist buying and shipping back to Kunming. Ava's spending habits tend to rise when I'm not around, and nothing is too much for her "Dorta"!
I spent another dark, but enjoyable, afternoon at the cinema yesterday seeing two recent blockbusters, with the wife, on freebie tickets. "Men in Black 3" and "Avengers" were both 3D versions, with the first on an IMAX screen. MiB3 was OK, but Avengers was much better, even though I'm not a big fan of superhero films and needed all the back-stories woven into the film. I am a big fan of the writer and director though, Joss Whedon, from his TV work on Buffy, Firefly and Dollhouse. Well worth a watch.
I drove Ava and her mum out to the huge flower market on the outskirts of Kunming yesterday afternoon. Kunming is famous for its flowers and the wholesale market is where the flower bargains are.
We bought two bunches of sunflowers for 60p and five large bunches of begonias for a pound. The main reason for going, however, was to buy half a dozen large vases to replace all the plastic ones in the house and on the balcony. Ava fancies herself as a bit of a gardner these days, inspired by my parents' garden on our visit there a year ago. We have much more limited space but, apart from the odd washing line, the balcony is starting to look quite green and bloom-filled. And me? I just drag the vases here and there.
We drove back to Kunming today in CAL's car. Most of the 11-hour trip was on expressways but, at the beginning, we had to tackle some mountain roads. We crawled over the swaying 50 year-old bridge [above] and, further up the road, under the huge new expressway alternative being built [below]. China doesn't do things in halves!
We spent this afternoon at the Ancient town of Heshun. Ava was somewhat disappointed, as she had been there 6 years ago and it was a genuine, picturesque, working village. Now there is an entrance fee, electric cars carrying tourists around and every other house is a restaurant or hotel. It's fast "turning Disney" which is a shame, but fairly inevitable. I enjoyed it though. The weather was lovely and there were plenty of scenic little photo opportunities. And it was a lot less crowded than I expected considering today is a national holiday.
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