We went to a mountainside picnic area where the kids could run around and play. Lunch was a DIY barbecue - you bring your own food and then pay for charcoal and the barbecue grill to cook it on. Fun.
We spent the last couple of days on a final holiday trip before JD returns to school next week. We had been invited to join four other families at a spa resort nestled in the mountains of LuQuan. It's a winding 2½ hour drive there and back, but the views are spectacular. The spa hotel was surprising nice and the various pools were clean and ranged from warm to piping hot. There was also a kid's water play area and an outdoor swimming pool.
And with a good restaurant/snack bar, new friends, dry weather and amazing surrounding scenery - what more could you ask for?
We shared a nice pre-Spring Festival banquet with families of JD's old Kindergarten friends last week. The other fathers got gradually drunker through the evening and were loud and tactile when Jiajia told them I had got my green card ("You are us Chinese", they slurred in broken English, hugging me!).
But towards the end of the meal they insisted on lighting up, as usual, despite me pointing out the very obvious "No Smoking" signs behind them. A fume-filled end to an otherwise lovely get-together.
Our friends returned our recent "conveyor-belt hotpot" treat by inviting JD and I (and another family) to their house, which is in in our neighbourhood, for a home-made hotpot (Jiajia is away on business).
The family live on the top floor of their building and have built a glass frame over the rooftop where they can eat and look out on the city skyline. The reflection in the glass also allows you to look up and see down to your food! [see left]
Their son, Johnny, is in JD's school/year, but in a different class. They both go the the same after-school homework club though and are slowly forming a nice friendship.
We have kept in touch over the 15 years since then. I even visited her once during a typhoon when she was studying at Hainan University!
Cinderella is now married, a mother and a teacher in her own right at the school where I first met her as a student. Recently she asked me to give an online talk and Q&A to her senior school students. The first two attempts were thwarted by power cuts in her school but we finally managed to connect last week and I was faced with a large class of expectant and excited students, full of questions for "the foreigner"!
With a full-time University timetable, IELTS examining and looking after JD I don't normally take up any of the fairly frequent offers I get to do private tuition. However, when a good friend of mine asked for a personal favour on behalf of two friends of hers, I said I'd give a try.
So every Saturday morning I meet Sunny [left] and Wendy [right] in an office not far away for a 90 minute Speaking lesson. They are good fun, committed and happy to accept any advice or corrections, so it's quite easy to teach them. And the money is a little bonus, too.
Yesterday Mr Sun, his wife and son (who JD knows from school) invited us to go climb a nearby mountain and see a partial solar eclipse.As we climbed,the sky was covered by dark rainclouds but, as the eclipse time neared, the skies suddenly cleared and we were able to see the sun being "eaten" by the moon very clearly.
We continued exploring the mountain before returning to our cars and sharing a nice restaurant meal together. The last eclipse I saw was when I was in Primary School, so this will be a very special memory.
We spent yesterday with our friends at a park in the south of Kunming. Although there were a lot of families (being May Day holiday) it was a large enough place not to feel overly crowded and we pitched our tents, and ate our picnic, by a large lake.
Today we ventured out for the first real time in three months, spending the day by a lake in the countryside with two other families whose boys were friends with JD back in his Kindergarten days.
Unfortunately, JD's kite was missing a few vital parts, he brought the controller for his remote-controlled jeep but not the car itself and his glider was missing a tail wing (a lesson learned by JD about last second packing)! But the three kids proceeded to play happily in the sand pit for literally hours and we all shared a barbecue lunch and snacks for tea. It was really good to get some fresh air, for JD to play with friends at long last and for Jiajia to have a good gossip with other parents.
We celebrated Christmas last weekend, since Christmas day itself is a normal school/work day here. JD hung up his stocking on Saturday and left out biscuits & milk for Santa and and a carrot for Rudolph. He then woke at 2.00am, 4.30am and finally 7.00am! Just too excited!
His favourite present this year is a "hoverboard" [see above, right] and he spent Christmas morning whizzing around the neighbourhood!
We also shared a nice meal with our American friends Saturday night which, whilst not quite turkey and brussel sprouts, was still very tasty (Chinese hotpot). We even had Santa photo-bombing our post-meal photo!
We celebrated our Halloween a little late this year due to exams. We invited our American family friends over and played a variety of scary and silly games such as "Get the chocolate out of the flour" game [JD lost - see above], "Crisps on a string" [see below], Pass-the-Parcel, "Treasure Hunt", "Guess the crisp flavour" and a "Feely Box". JD dressed as a fish(?!), while I was Spiderman. Our guests were a witch and a Ninja! All good, but not clean, fun!
It was a very pleasant surprise to get a phone call the other day from "Whiskey", a colleague I last worked with some 13 years ago when I was a VSO volunteer. He was visiting Kunming and suggested we meet up for lunch. Unfortunately the reason for him being here was to have a brain blood vessel checked out, with possible surgery to come. Hopefully he'll be fine - it was lovely to see him again.
P.S. Kunming doctors said no operation needed - misdiagnosis!
JD and I attended a foreign teachers' Mid-Autumn Festival activity the other day to make traditional mooncakes. Other teachers also brought their kids and together we had a sticky, but successful, time with the finished products look pretty professional and tasting jolly good too. My Vietnamese friend Cao [to my right, below] came with her two kids (FeiJi and YoLun) and we realised it was exactly a year since we first met (at last year's cake event).
Our last little trip to London yesterday. While JiaJia checked out the Van Gogh exhibition at the Tate Gallery (crowded), JD and I walked to the Imperial War Museum where JD proceeded to tell me imaginative statistics and backgrounds to all the various planes, tanks and weaponry (to the amusement of passers-by). Who knew a Spitfire was from Canada and could travel at 10,000mph?
We also managed to meet up with my good friend Miki, recently returned from running a hotel in Poland. We all joined up for a picnic by the Thames before Miki went on her way and the rest of us headed back to Sidcup to start packing for China.
We spent a final day at Vix's yesterday, eating home-cooked and restaurant grub, and meeting mutual friends and family members who I hadn't seen in over a decade.
Before we took the three trains home, we explored a local garden, open to the public but rarely visited. We had intended to visit this time last year, but torrential rain changed the plans. This time it was dry and we enjoyed the various flowers and (rather strangely, often Chinese) trees.
JD had his birthday party today. We had to rearrange the restaurant's balloons on arrival as they spelled "Happy Baithdry"! Ten of JD's best friends came along with their parents. Then, after lunch we headed upstairs to the cinema and watched the live-action "Dumbo" film (3D in Chinese). Everything went really smoothly and JD had a blast!
Then on Wednesday we had to take him out of school for the afternoon to collect his Chinese ID card and have some preventative dental treatment [see above]. Wednesday night JD was complaining of tummy ache again and so we kept him home on Thursday. By noon he seemed fine so I took him out for some fresh air, meeting up with my old friend Emily and her two-year old, Jonathan [see photo below]. Emily and I reminisced about when we had first met. Little did we know then that, some 16 years later, we would not only still be in touch, but watching our respective children play together! We had intended to visit the newly refurbished Science Museum, but a notice on the door said it was closed - decorations still a week away from being finished.
With "tummy ache tears" again on Friday morning we felt it was wise to take JD to the hospital to get his stomach properly checked out. Blood and stool tests later, the doctor said there was nothing obviously wrong and just gave him some digestion tablets to take. Jiajia and I suspect JD is enjoying his days off school a little too much and perhaps exaggerating his pains a bit. But of course you never know. So extra "Daddy homework" on Friday afternoon and no iPad until he does a full day at school again!
Jiajia. JD and I went to an amazing theme park the other day, along with two other families from JD’s school. The attraction has an "Ocean Park" (large aquarium, plus dolphin, seal and beluga whale shows), a "Snow Park" (huge indoor -8ºC building with slides, aerial walkways, train, skating, skiing, "live snowing", igloos etc), fairground rides and a circus! And all this just a few hours drive outside of Kunming!
JD and I spent a fun afternoon the other day playing in a local forest with a Vietnamese family we know. Their Mum teaches Vietnamese at my University and the two kids only speak that and Chinese. So JD had to switch from the English he was using with our American friends yesterday to Chinese! We brought along a small play tent and digging tools and so the kids tried to build a Great Wall with rocks and mud!
We don't get as many visitors here in Kunming as we'd like, so it was a very real pleasure to welcome Josh and his two friends Maisy and Eve to our city yesterday evening. Josh is the son of an old College friend of mine and is currently studying Chinese in Beijing as part of a degree from Newcastle University. The girls are doing similar studies, but in Hainan, in the South of China.
JD and I met them after JD's school (and term) finished today and we shared a meal of cross-the-bridge noodles. Unfortunately, the girls turned out to be vegetarians, but we managed to find some extra vegetables to add to the mix! We then had a wander around Green Lake Park. Josh looks Chinese enough to be ignored by the locals (his Mum is Chinese heritage) but the girls were quickly dragged in to dancing with the locals! It was lovely to meet them all, albeit too briefly - they take planes and trains to new places within a day or so.
JiaJia has long wanted to visit Scotland so, for just a couple of days, we've taken the train up to Edinburgh staying with an elderly couple I have been in touch with since they were fellow VSO volunteers in the 1990s. John and Anna suggested we visit the well-preserved Dirleton Castle on our first morning and drove us there with their dog Joe. In the afternoon we went to a beach on the Firth of Forth but it all got a bit cold and rainy (as Scotland is prone to) so we headed back to their house for some nice home-cooked dinner.
We really enjoyed our day with the Sams today.
Aled is a qualified tennis coach and gave JD a free lesson at his club in the morning, and then teamed up with him at table-tennis in their garden in the afternoon. JD loved it.
A walk through the woods followed by an ice-cream and a delicious barbecue rounded off a terrific day.
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