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, Ava fell clean through a drainage grill in the road, 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 Ava 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.
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 Sherbourne 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 Brithday" 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!
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 accomodation 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!
Today is Mid-Autumn Festival in China and Ava's family celebrated with our good friends, the "Dancing Family", and their relatives in a Muslim restaurant yesterday evening. JD and Ava are front right. The woman in green, centre, is Ma-in-law who is still begging to be allowed to live with us again after her "final straw" outbursts a couple of weeks ago. On her left is "Drunkle", Ava's permanently drunk pseudo-uncle whom JD calls "Smelly Man" as he never washes. Yes, we do have a rather weird and dysfunctional family here!
As ever, when the most of the food has been eaten and the conversation gets too fast or heavily dialect for me to keep up with, I usually take JD out for a look around the restaurant grounds. We both get bored at these sort of events after a while. This sign caught my attention, with it's completely unnecessary "mess" in the middle". Now what's all that about?
JD's best friend, Liv, turned three today, and JD turned 2⅓ yesterday so, with Liv and her parents leaving for Australia in a few weeks, we thought a little party was in order.
Balloons up, home-made cake prepared, snacks ready, presents wrapped, party hats made, poppers popped, pass-the-parcel poised and toys galore. The kids played really nicely together and JD belted out the "Happy Birthday" song which he'd been practising for weeks before prematurely blowing out Liv's candles - JD thought it was his birthday and, rather bizarrely, so did Liv! It was such a shame when Cindy & Martin had to leave with Liv, knowing that JD may never see his little friend again. "JD very sad" he said as the door closed. Jiajia and I are starting to wonder about a trip to Australia in a couple of years....!
Ava, JD and I spent a lovely morning at the Golden Temple yesterday along with my friends/colleagues Cindy and Martin, their daughter Liv, and two of their Chinese friends. Liv and JD love each other's company and it's a shame that Cindy and Martin are heading back to Australia in a few weeks. We've really appreciated their support and friendship.
Today was a recovery day after the journey back to China, and a largely sleepless night with an upset and screaming JD. None of which is being helped by a stinking cold with all the requisite symptoms. The school term starts tomorrow and Lattitude, the charity for whom I do teacher-training ever 6 months (starting on Monday), is having all sorts of problems getting their volunteers' visas. So I've no idea how many students, if any, I'll have turn up next week.
But the UK trip was so worth it. We only just made it, with Ava's suspected TB and confirmed pneumonia, and plans were changing all the time. But you can't beat family, can you? Or good friends. Everyone rallied round and were so generous with their time, energy and money. JD has a whole new bunch of relatives and he grew up an awful lot in those three weeks. Let's hope there's less trauma when we (hopefully) return in Summer 2016. The countdown has begun!
[PS 27th Feb: I had a fever last night and woke without a voice! Ava still coughing - 5 months and counting. But at least the Lattitude volunteers all got their visas finally, so a fully cohort next week]
About the blogger
Past blog entries