Today we drove with Krista to a nice pub "mid-way" to our new host Cat and our mutual friend Jo and her family. Cat's family are all away at the moment in various parts of the world, enabling her to open her house to us for a few days. From there we will visit our old friends, the Sams family. So far, JD has coped really well despite the ever-changing friends and beds.
We are spending a lovely few days with my friends Krista and Stuart in their picturesque house in Chippenham. They have arranged some great little outings eg JD getting drenched in the water playground and a visit to a set of canal boat locks including a short barge ride.
We're spending a few days at my friend Ratch's. Ratch and I exchange emails once or twice a day while in China, which is more contact then I get from anyone else! It was great to visit her and husband Steve.
JD and I met up with my old friend "Nita" the other day, along with her husband and cute 1½ year old daughter. I first met Nita some 13 years ago and we've stayed in touch ever since. I've known her as a young student, a fresh-faced teacher, a wife and now a mother. They are such a lovely little family and it was so nice to catch up on their news and for JD to meet them again.
JD and I enjoyed a very relaxed and, in many ways, un-Chinese wedding last Saturday. My old friend Lilly Pu married Cedic - a French guy - in a lovely restaurant next to the Green Lake. We arrived at 2pm as instructed and I was pleasantly surprised to find my British work colleague Tom and his Chinese fiancé there too. Neither of us realised we both knew Lilly. It was good to have an extended chat with him as we usually only meet briefly for work maters. Nice guy. JD soon made friends with 2-3 Chinese children and spent the afternoon running around and playing with his toys. Later, there was a short ceremony, some very nice food, and the wedding cake.
A nice shot of JD from our recent trip to the Astronomy Centre, waiting for his turn to look at solar flares. Behind the telescope are Kaiya and Zaden, two American friends of his who we spend a lot of time with.
Zaden (the boy, largely hidden behind the telescope) is exactly a year older than JD. He visited our house today, in fact, to play with JD's Chinese New Year present - a huge military plane complete with soldiers, jeep and a lot of weaponry! JD originally chose a "logging truck" but, after the crane snapped off as we took it out of the box, we had to go back to the shop to complain and he upgraded to a monster plane!
We had fun last weekend, visiting a countryside village with JD's Kindergarten friends. First, we spent a few hours fishing. I only caught a minnow and JD only caught a couple of dead fish floating on the water! But the other parents had better luck and we finished with three large fish which were cooked up for lunch.
After lunch, we went to a small bakery and had a go at making and decorating our own biscuits. JD had watched a film called, "How the Grinch stole Christmas" last week and, when the biscuits came out of the oven, we were shocked to see that one of them looked spookily like the Grinch! See what you think...
Julian had pulled out all the stops for ingredients - half kilo of prime beef, bacon, shallots, mushrooms, cheese, lettuce, fried onions, BBQ sauce and sesame seed sprinkled buns. JD had a blast and, after initially scaring "Bootsy" (their son's nickname) to tears with his over-enthusiastic greeting, slowly started bonding and playing with him. The burger-making and later eating was thoroughly enjoyable too. A lovely visit.
I can often date my Kunming friendships to what I'm called. When I first joined Robert's School a decade ago there was another teacher there called Paul, so I adopted the moniker of "PJ". When the school moved to a new location a couple of years later the earlier Paul was long gone, so I started to be called Paul again. These days I'm called a variety of names; "RouRou" by JD and Ava, "BaoLou" by Ma-in-law, "Mr Paul" by my permanently muddled University students, and so on.
So when I received a text out of the blue referring to me as "PJ" I knew it was a colleague from some years ago getting back in touch. So JD and I shared a nice lunch with "Sophie" [centre] and a few of her students yesterday. She's since married a Danish guy and together they've set up a training school in a town some ten hours drive from Kunming. It's nice to be remembered, even after so many years.
After yesterday morning with JD in the hospital, we were delighted to meet up with Fintan - the son of friends of mine - who is travelling around China for the first time, and alone too! We picked him up for a dumpling lunch at our house, before heading for YuanTong Temple (the hundreds of turtles all seem to have gone) followed by people-watching (and JD boat driving) on Green Lake. It was a lovely, sunny day and great to get to know Fintan better. After a "Cross-the-bridge-noodles" dinner, we parted company, although a goodbye meal later today is planned before he heads off on his onward journey.
Last Sunday was a terrific day spent with four of JD's classmates and their parents. We all met at the Kunming Botanical Gardens which was surprisingly quiet and spacious. Everyone had brought picnic food, which we shared, and one family had a small tent which the kids loved. The weather was warm, with a cool breeze. We had expected to stay a couple of hours but finally left after six! Lovely trip.
[As we left, Jiajia fell clean through a drainage grill in the road, badly scraping and bruising her left leg up to the knee. Karma, anyone?]
JD's actual birthday was back at the end of March, but with illnesses, conflicting parties and Jiajia being away we only managed to arrange his celebration this last weekend. JD dressed up in his smartest clothes, including gelled up hair and we met up with six of his friends, and their parents, at a McDonalds for a "happy meal" lunch. After eating, opening presents, playing games, blowing out the candles on a "Frozen" cake (the film, not the temperature) and singing a bilingual "Happy Birthday" we all headed upstairs where there is a large indoor play centre. The kids spent a happy couple of hours playing there before we all went our separate ways.
Lovely to meet up with Cathy yesterday, a friend for about ten years since I moved to Kunming. She and her boyfriend were up in Kunming for some paperwork business and came to the house here for lunch and a chat. Cathy lives in JingHong, a 45 minute flight away, in the sub-tropical south of Yunnan, where she runs an English language school called "Cool School" (my original suggestion for a name). JD enjoyed playing with her, despite him still suffering with a week-long cough and sore throat.
It was great to welcome back old friends Marie and Albert to Kunming yesterday. Marie was a teacher of French and English at Robert's School some 8 years ago and has kept in touch ever since.
We spent yesterday morning walking around DaGuan Park, before a tasty lunch and a walk to the Bird and Flower Market. The day was rounded off with a nice evening meal with them and other mutual friends. They fly off tomorrow - an all too brief visit.
Last Sunday, JD and I visited a lovely American family we are good friends with; Nancy, her husband NamSung, and their kids Kaiya and Zaden. Nancy teaches English at the same University as me and JD enjoys playing with her kids (especially as they speak English!). They set up a fun volcano experiment outside before treating us to a midday breakfast of waffles, bacon and eggs! JD loved every moment.
I took JD to a "Trick or Treat" get-together yesterday organised by an American friend of ours, with about 20 Chinese children and their parents. We visited 10+ flats in their neighbourhood and were duly rewarded with sweets. It was JD's first such event - and mine too!
JD couldn't decide whether to go as Spider-Man or Bob the Builder, but eventually settled for Spidey, although his uncomfortable mask only stayed on for the first five minutes! I managed to freak out a few of the kids with my mask though [see below]. We headed off after an hour or so for a long-promised MacDonald's Happy Meal. Thankfully the recent days of non-stop rain held off for our trip, although the ground was very slippery and JD slipped over three times! He was exhausted by bedtime and fell asleep quickly ...only to wake up twice with nightmares! The joys of Halloween, right?
So we've come to the end of our five weeks in the UK. We fly back tomprrow. We spent today packing and I'm convinced all three of our suitcases are overweight, such is the spending power of my lovely wife!
We've had such a wonderful time. JD has really connected with my parents and all his relatives, and we've managed to see everything and everybody we had hoped for, and more. And, importantly, whilst we usually arrive with one or more illnesses to deal with, this time we were all pretty much well and healthy which make a big difference.
Knowing that we are unlikely to be back here for a couple of years is a sad feeling, and a real shame for JD. But Kunming is "home" (for now at least) and I imagine things wouldn't be quite so special if we were meeting up with everybody all the time. All the same, we'll miss you all.
Walking down the High Street of the small, unremarkable town of Bridport, 5400 miles from where I live, I bump into Andy and Liz Rowe who are 300 miles from where they live.
Andy and I were neighbours for three years at College but had largely lost touch over the last 30 years. Now what are the chances of that?
Whilst we are based at our barn cottage, they are camping (in some style) near a pretty water mill and, having been invited to visit, we spent a very pleasant morning reminiscing and catching up on our lives. "Small world" doesn't even begin to explain it...
We spent a fun day up in London today in the company of my good friends Paul (the other one) and Elaine Bruton. I wanted to show JD the actual London sights that he'd become familiar with through a London-based storybook he'd been sent some time ago.
So we took the book along with us, pointing out the pages and the corresponding real places. We started at Trafalgar Square, where we got told off for trying to sit JD on a lion statue (unlike when I was a child and unlike the heroine of his story!). Then on to the changing of the guard at Horseguard's Parade. A salute from JD got the usual blank stare from the guard on duty, but a mounted policeman later let him stroke his horse and feed him (the horse!) a sweet.
We wandered down the Mall to Buckingham Palace and then walked back through St. James's Park, just about made it to the Houses of Parliament in time for Big Ben to chime 12. JD knows the tune off by heart as the supermarket down the hill from our Kunming house playes the tune electronically on the hour and we've paused to listen to it many a time. This was the real thing, though - a lot louder! Our attempt to take a river bus down to the Tower of London was thwarted by a police evacuation of the embankment, so we took a tube and saw the castle and Tower Bridge before a well-earned cup of coffee overlooking the Thames.
It was a tiring, but rewarding day. And great to catch up with the Brutons. Elaine was one of my best friends before leaving for China in 2005, while Paul is one of this blog's regular readers and most frequent commenters. Thanks guys for a great day.
Today was our Open Day where we invited a lot of friends and family to come to my Mum and Dad's house for a chat over food and drink. We welcomed ex-work colleagues [eg Susie from Futurekids and Alan from National Power, in picture, left], family [eg cousins Maureen and Dorothy, left side below] and friends from College days [eg Ratch and Catherine, below] plus many others. It was a lovely event, held outside in the sunshine with a gazebo for those who preferred the shade. Thanks to everyone who travelled from near and far to come see us. It was terrific to catch up with you all again.
The Sams family took us to a large National Trust stately home yesterday in Stourhead. We met up with Krista [see left], a mutual friend, and her Mum for a lovely day walking around the grounds and admiring the "Capability Brown" designed gardens [see below]. We enjoyed beautiful sunshine as we explored the area and finished the day off with ice-creams. Just as we drove back it started to rain - so far, the British weather has been very kind to us!
We are spending a few days in Dorset with our good friends, the Sams family. We're squeezing this visit into the start of our holiday as their eldest son (Aled, the ginger below) is off to Nepal for a volunteering challenge within a few days.
We are staying in the Sams' house - a huge place with a steeply rising back garden which backs onto a forest and a lovely park area. We've had a very warm welcome and when, on arrival, JD was shown to a huge toy railway their youngest son Ben had prepared, he gained a friend for life!
We spent our first half-day in pretty Sherborne village, full of charity shops (for Ava) and the Abbey above (where JD played "spot the dead person"!).
A ping-pong tournament (JD cheated, see below) and a BBQ ended off the first day's fun.
JD had a busy, but thoroughly enjoyable, day yesterday. He spent the morning running wildly around the play centre with his two friends, Kaiya and Zayden, while I chatted with their mum Nancy, a university colleague of mine who I get on very well with. Then lunch at "Old MacDonald's" (as JD calls it) and home for a nap. After waking, we were off to Summer's birthday meal. Summer [centre in photo] is the one year old daughter of Kelly [left in photo], with whom I run the Lattitude training. JD was the most enthusiastic singer of "Happy Birthday" once the cake arrived and is already getting very excited about his own birthday in a couple of weeks. First is Jiajia's birthday tomorrow, though. She's in Shenzhen!
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