Ava, JD and I took a trip to WuDing today, with the Dancing Couple. It's about an hour's drive from Kunming, and famous for Lion Mountain which is peppered with temples and lion statues - or so they day. On arrival, we were a little surprised to be required to buy a ticket to climb the mountain and gobsmacked to find it was 100RMB (£10) each. As we climbed the trail, we looked in vain for lion statues. The waterfall had no water (drought). The temples were tiny and falling apart. The "mystical cave" was boarded up. And the tower at the top of the mountain was hidden in scaffolding. All very disappointing.
The trip wasn't a complete washout though. We left the mountain to visit friends of the Dancing Couple who were having a village celebration of a pig being butchered. On the way, JD spotted horses and carts, geese, herds of goats, cows, sheep and lots fo construction vehicles! At the village itself, JD had close encounters with a huge pig and two goats [see photo, right] as well as cats and dogs. We joined in the banquet with about 50 others and left when it got dark. Nice to get out of the city sometimes.
We find ourselves in sub-tropical XiShuangBanna, in the far south of Yunnan near the border with Laos. We were picked up last night by "Dancing" Man and Lady and he bravely drove the 12 hours overnight to MengLa town where we have checked into a rather swish hotel.
The "Dancing" family have good friends down here who are looking after us with banquets, free accommodation and various activities planned. The first of these today was fishing, which JD thoroughly enjoyed, showing no fear of the flapping, sharp-finned little fish!
After a few hours emptying the pond, we wandered around in the countryside a bit, finding a chilly little stream. With temperatures here in the mid-30s, JD couldn't resist, so he took a dip. After ten minutes, and with no warning at all, the heavens suddenly opened and a torrential downpour threatened to drench us before we got to the car - crossing the stream and climbing the bank wasn't as easy as it looked, with sharp stones and thorny bushes!
Once we'd dried off, we headed back to our hotel where JD and I enjoyed a more conventional swim in their outdoor complementary swimming pool, full of kids who had seemingly never seen a foreigner before, let alone a western child!
We managed to spread JD's birthday celebrations over a whole week, with trips to the museum, the play centre and the zoo, and a present and a card each day. It meant that JD gradually got the birthday idea and was able to enjoy each gift properly before being wowed by the next one.
This evening, we shared JD's birthday cake with MaoMao and her parents, plus family friends "Dancing Lady" and her son. I've never seen JD as excited as when he suddenly saw MaoMao and the cake. He can sing along to the "Happy Birthday" song now and, somewhat inevitably, ended up with cream all over his face!
Off to MoJiang market this morning, where they specialise in pigs, and pork barbecues. JD enjoyed the former, while I enjoyed the latter (especially after having had gristly goat and cabbage stew for three meals running!)
This was JD's first visit to the countryside, and he had to endure more than the usual amount of staring, shouting and touching from strangers. He coped well, fascinated by all the sounds and sights, then promptly waving and saying goodbye when he'd had enough interaction.
The drive back to Kunming was a more reasonable 4½ hours, mostly in daylight. There are some crazy Chinese drivers out there though!
A rather surreal day today started in the "Twins Park". MoJiang claims the highest proportion of twin births of any town in the world and makes of that what tourist potential it can, from hosting a International Twins Festival each year (attracting twins from around the world, they say) to having a park dedicated to all things twinly. They claim that the water in the park's wells (two wells, of course) are what give mothers-to-be a better than average chance of having twins. The statues of a pair of twins urinating and vomiting into the wells didn't inspire confidence, however! [oh, and doesn't that urn in the background of the photo above look like a cat!].
MoJiang's other claim to fame is that the Tropic of Cancer runs through it. Thus, everything in the south of the town is sub-tropical, while everything in the north of the town ...well, isn't. The inevitable park shows the Tropic of Cancer line climbing over a mountain. Each level of the stairs is dedicated to another country through which the line passes through - quite a few, as it happens. On the far side of the mountain, the line passes through a replica of Stonehenge. Not sure why.
With all the talk of cancer, it was ironic to find this toy in a nearby toyshop. "Benign Girl" must surely be cancer-free...
I've spent New Year's Eve in many ways, but have never before driving down an unlit motorway, through tunnels and over bridges, weaving between trucks, as one year passed into another. But this year we joined a couple of families for a 3-day trip to MoJiang, a town about 300km away from Kunming. It was supposed to take 3-4 hours to drive there, but an accident tailback and a food stop led to a tiring 6-hour trip, arriving 1.30am. Friends of one of the family had been waiting for us to arrive for hours so, after checking into a hotel, we drove to their house for a huge Hani ethnic minority meal of baby eels, snails and forest foliage, all covered in hot chili and sour root vegetables. We had already eaten on the way and it was 3am - I wasn't really in the mood! But they had cooked so much for us and had waited for hours - we had to show willing.
Ava and I had to visit the hospital together this week, her for a possible thyroid problem, me for my failing eyes! Hospitals in China are a particularly grim place to be but, as ever, our good friend "DL" helped us bypass the queues and get seen in an hour, rather than the usual half a day. Plus these Chinglish examples on the hospital's information board left me chuckling.
Heijing attracts few tourists, at least not westerners, so it has maintained a very traditional way of life; cobbled streets, horse and carts and a market every Sunday. We had fun today checking out the various stalls where local specialities include salt (carved into a variety of shapes), wild mushrooms and pear vinegar. We did make one impulse buy, but more of that tomorrow. In the afternoon, we took a horse and cart to a nearby salt factory, now a museum. The exhibits themselves were a bit ho-hum, but the flowers, dragonflies and water-boatmen (insects that skim on the surface of the water) were fascinating. In the afternoon, I played mahjong with three of the family, holding my own if not actually making any money!
Jiajia and I are spending this weekend with friends ("DL" and her family) in Heijing, a very well-preserved ancient town, built on the proceeds of a salt mine. Jiajia and I went there once before, 4 years ago, but it rained the whole time which dampened our enthusiasm. This time though we are having lovely sunshine and use of DL's recently purchased property here. And what a place! A hundred-year old, 25 room mansion built for a salt magnate, and later owned by a leader of the Kuomingtang (the army who opposed Mao Zedong's Communists). Each of the rooms has original period furniture and the whole place screams history!
Exploring each room in turn leads to new discoveries and interesting stories. These painted-over panels, for example, extol the virtues of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party - the house wasn't always owned by the Kuomingtang! And at the "back" of the house, a large concrete gateway had once been added, with a hammer and sickle carved above it - now bricked shut again. We had no running water at first (we're used to that!) but managed to get a single tap working later. What DL and family plan to do with this place (and the substantial land that came with it) is anyone's guess but, in the meantime, we are very lucky to have the run of the place.
Both JD and Jiajia came out in a red rash yesterday, so we battled our way to the hospital this morning (40 minute queue just to get into the car park). Thankfully we have a good friend ("DL") in the hospital who took us straight to the skin specialist who said it was probably an allergic reaction to our local caterpillars(!) who are currently descending from the trees near our house in their dozens on thin threads which are all too easy to walk into. Whilst there, I mentioned my "tennis elbow" which has been a constant pain for well over a year now, despite two injections and a course of physiotherapy. DL whisked us straight off to the top bone doctor, who recognised me from 8 months ago. He confirmed that the only long-term treatment continues to be rest (not so easy with a toddler who wants lifting and a mouse on the right side of the computer!) though he said another steroid injection would give me 6-8 weeks with less pain, which would at least help me sleep, etc. And the injection was nowhere near as painful as I made out for the photo, either!
While I continued teaching my usual Sunday classes, Dave and Esme joined the rest of the family, along with some good friends of ours, on a trip to an organic farm outside of Kunming. I went myself a month or so ago and blogged then about what a nice place it is, especially the pretty restaurant with tables scattered between various plants, bridges and streams full of fish. They had a really great day there and, once again, our friends managed to find a way to pay for it all before we had a chance!
This weekend saw a visit from an old friend of mine, Wang Hui. who was a student who graduated from Qiannan Teacher's College just as I arrived there to teach, back in 1994. We became very good friends though during my time working in Guizhou Province and have kept in touch ever since. She is now married and finally found the time to visit Kunming (an 8 hour drive) with her husband and son. Unfortunately, I was working all weekend, but we shared a banquet on Sunday evening and, along with some other friends, drove to visit a huge organic farm on Monday morning.
The farm has a dozen massive greenhouses, showcasing a wide variety of vegetables and squash [see above]. Also in the grounds were a small animal farm (JD's first chance to see chickens, horses, goats and ducks in the flesh), a statue park, fishing lakes, waterfall features, hotels, garden shops and restaurants. It was an interesting area to explore and JD had great time leading us all around [see below].
After seeing all the attractions for a couple of hours and buying some tasty, but very overpriced, vegetables we settled down to a particularly delicious lunch, featuring all locally grown/raised food.
And being Children's Day, we also had a few nice kids' surprises, such as special plates of food made into smiling faces and animals and a visit from Mickey Mouse ...irresistable!
Afterwards, Wang Hui and her family headed directly back to Duyun, while the rest of us drove back to Kunming. Not surprisingly, JD slept particularly well that evening!
Christmas is a time for western children to receive thoughtful gifts. At Chinese New Year (aka Spring Festival) kids here just get a pile of cash! Admittedly it is modestly tucked away in pretty red envelopes but, make no mistake, it's the thickness of the insides that counts! Our friends have been very generous to JD this year [he's pictured here with our friend, the nurse who helped us get VIP treatment for JD's birth], and we've even opened up a little bank account for his stash. He's earned it, mind you, with endless smiles and patiently allowing every other person to pick him up and give him a cuddle. No surprise though, even hongbao (red envelopes) don't always escape the curse of Chinglish!
Jiajia's friend gave us a box of organic vegetables as a Spring Festival gift a couple of days ago and, to my surprise, it contained a small bag of Brussel sprouts. I've not seen them for sale in Kunming before - for Christmas dinner we buy them from Shanghai (1500 miles / 2400 km away!) and get them shipped to us! But it seems there's now a farm in Kunming who grow them, and other vegetables, for export. I asked Jiajia to ask her friend where the farm was, so that we could try and buy some more in the future. Then, four hours later, her friend turns up at the house with a huge box of Brussel sprouts. 10kg (22lb) of them!! Now I like a Brussel sprout as much as the next man, but I think it will take me a year to get through that many! Thank goodness for the freezer. And no naked flames in the bedroom please!!
(Sorry, these pun titles are getting increasingly obscure!)
After 8 months of daily elbow pain, an injection of ozone(!?) and seven weeks of physiotherapy I went to hospital again last week, courtesy of "DL", a nurse friend of Jiajia's who arranged a "jump the queue and pay no money" visit to the top joint doctor there. He had a poke around and agreed it was "tennis elbow", but was concerned it had not improved over the months. He suggested the best way forward was a steroid injection to stop the pain, and a further 3 months of rest to solve the underlying injury. It's now a week later and the elbow pain has indeed gone. Quite a relief. Websites on the treatment suggest that such injections are only a temporary measure however, and I can expect the pain to reoccur in 4-6 weeks. Rest is the only long-term cure (barring an operation), so I need to remember to take it easy for some time yet. It's certainly good to be pain-free at last, though.
Past blog entries