JD and I shared a nice meal at Swedish IKEA yesterday with a friend of over 20 years, "Nita", and her cute 7-year old daughter "Julia". The last time I saw Julia, she was two years old. Now she speaks some English, thanks to her Mum's ongoing efforts to bring her up bi-lingually.
It was lovely to catch up with them. And share some western food!
I first met LaiLai when I was a VSO volunteer 25 years ago - she worked in the Beijing Office for a year. We last met 15 years ago when she invited me to help on a Red Cross trip to assess the needs of a remote village near Kunming (LaiLai was working for the Red Cross by then). We've kept in touch now and again through the years but it was still a bit of a surprise to get a message from her saying that her family were on holiday travels from their home in South Korea, and would be passing through Kunming on Boxing Day if we were free to meet....
So we shared a nice meal together a couple of days ago, chatting about old times! Her husband is from Devon and was also a VSO volunteer during my time with the charity (though we couldn't recall each other!). JD quickly broke down their kids' shyness and took them downstairs in the restaurant to barbecue "smelly tofu" together!
Today I met up with an ex-student of mine from 20 years ago. "Cinderella" was was visiting Kunming with her son who, very sadly, has a serious heart disease, despite only being 7 years old. They were having tests done at a cardiac specialist hospital here. It was lovely to see her again and play with her cute son.
JD's best friend is a classmate called GuoDingGe ("DingDing" for short). We've been helping look after her a bit recently as her parents are dealing with the death of her Grandfather a few days ago.
DingDIng and JD share similar interests and sense of humour. She is a little more sensible than JD, but he brings out the "silly" in her - so it's a nice mix and they love spending time together. They've spent 3-4 days playing together during the current holiday period, including sleepovers in a den they've built in JD's bedroom!
I first met "Daizzy" when she was a trainee on a teacher-training course I ran in her County, some 17 years ago [ringed in above photo]. We've kept in touch since then and finally met up again yesterday when she visited Kunming on school business. Since that week way back in 2006 we have both got married (different spouses!) and had a total of three children! But we are both still teaching, and it was great to meet her over a cup of coffee and share all our news.
JD, Jiajia and I spent yesterday afternoon at the Secret Forest with one of JD's schoolfriends and his Mum. We had a picnic first and then headed into the woods. I spent a few hours repairing the roof damage in our den, while JD and his friend had a go at building a new den nearby [see below]. It was a very hot and sunny day so, when we left at about 5pm, we were happy to stop at a nearby shop for an ice-cream. Fun day!
We spent an afternoon/evening in the countryside earlier this week, to celebrate May Day with friends' of friends who live there.
The village had a huge funfair area set up with a variety of activities and stalls. JD and his friend Guo Dinger spent over two hours in a big adventure playground. I had a wander round and was intrigued by the ice-cream seller [top right] who used liquid nitrogen to flash-freeze squirty whipped cream! Surprisingly tasty.
We left the park at 6pm and headed for the friends' home where we shared a barbecue on their balcony overlooking the village. Then a 40-minute drive back home, with JD asleep on the back seat!
The family of one of JD's friends invited us all to their new house in ChengGong - a University satellite town of Kunming - to celebrate May Day. We got a lift there by car (it's 20km away) and then JD had fun playing with his friends with pellet guns inside the apartment and fishing outside. They cooked up a nice meal and, fairly late, we returned home by subway - an hour-long trip costing 5RMB (50p).
Good friends of ours showed us an area on the outskirts of Kunming today where you can, if you are lucky, discover some 500 million year old fossils! We had great fun hammering, tapping and brushing for 3 hours and found about a dozen small fossils. The trilobite below (found by Jiajia) was the pick of the bunch.
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 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 to 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.
Past blog entries