for the last 20 months we have been living in a tiny flat while our main house has been gutted, extended, renovated and redecorated. Finally, this weekend, we moved back. Ten full car trips to take over the last of our basics we are finally all in - if not quite unpacked or tidied yet.
We now have an extended office, central heating, new kitchen (with new oven, microwave and dishwasher), two new bathrooms, two walk-in wardrobes, new floors and stairs, a utility room, under-stairs storage, new furniture and new double-glazed windows. It was a mammoth task designed, planned and overseen by my good wife. She has really stamped her unique artistic sense on every room, from the "random" tiles to two antique doors re-purposed as table tops!
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.
This week, Jiajia has been concentrating on getting her new flat decorated. This was bought on behalf of her uncle who, as a pensioner, qualifies for a substantial Government discount, but has no money to take advantage of it. He's now decided he doesn't want to live there anyway, preferring to stay in the flat that Jiajia bought for him decades ago. So the flat is ours to use. For the record, her uncle (I call him "Drunkle", as he's never sober) is not technically Jiajia's real uncle - just a family friend whom Ava's grandmother made her promise to look after on her death bed. Not that "grandmother" was technically Ava's grandmother either, but that's another story!
New properties in China are sold as concrete shells, with no floor, no pastered walls and only the most basic of amenities. So Ava has been scouring markets and the internet to buy wooden floorboards, tiles, lights, sink, taps, etc. She timed it so that she could buy a lot of things on 11th Nov, which is "Singles Day" in China (11/11, geddit?). As well as remembering those who can't yet take part in "Valentines Day", it is also famous for big discounts in shops and on internet websites. So Ava was up until 3am getting bargains for the flat from, as the floorboard shop puts it, "...the wood of departure Philisophical world". Quite.
We were treated to a visit from Daizzy and her family this week. She was in Kunming for a couple of days from Qiaojia (5 hours away by car - used to be 13!) where she lives and works as an English teacher. I did a week of training there some 8 years ago and we have kept in touch ever since. The weather was hot and warm and her daughter, "Amber", enjoyed playing on the slides with JD in our local children's park. Unfortunately, the following day was suddenly quite cold and wet and, perhaps because of that, I found myself feeling quite dizzy throughout the day (something I suffered from a lot a few years ago, but have been free of since). Hopefully it's just a blip on the health front.
Pleased with the shelving we'd had installed above my office desk some months ago, we decided to add more above Ava's table. The workmen cancelled their visit a few days ago, but turned up just an hour late this morning and fixed the shelves within 20 minutes. The photo [right] is a mixed "before" and "after" shot. We now have so much storage space we don't know what to fill it with!
The list of "things to do before the baby arrives" is gradually getting ticked off. The kitchen is replaced. The old office is now a baby/nanny bedroom. The doors to the new office and bathroom are due to arrive and be fitted today. The wall shelves and self-standing bookshelves arrived yesterday and are already full of stuff. The live-in nanny was due to arrive last Sunday but, whilst driving here, she heard her 21 year-old son had been in a car accident and broken his leg. So we're hoping for a back-up nanny to arrive today. Clothes and nappies are bought. Another scan is due tomorrow. I've planned lessons for two weeks cover at school. And the interminable paperwork required to register a newborn in China is up to date. What have we forgotton...?
[P.S. The photo above makes it look like one very crowded corner of a
room! It's actually 2 separate places in the flat, photo-shopped together!]
It's that time of year again when our school welcomes a group of foreign teenagers for 8 days training, preparing them to be English teachers in Chinese school for 5 months. I do the majority of the training and co-ordinate input from six other teachers and five administration staff. This time we have 29 Lattitude volunteers from 5 different countries - our biggest intake yet. 25 of them arrived safely this afternoon, whilst 3 arrived late due to flight problems. One won't be arriving until later in the week due to passport problems!
Meanwhile, back at home, Ava is coordinating something altogether different. Workers have been in to build a wall (turning our balcony area into a room) and knock a door in our en suite bathroom to allow the nanny and baby to have access without having to walk through our bedroom. Once again, the house is full of tools and covered in a layer of dust. After some painting, we are doing no more major work until the baby is here and settled.
I've spent the last few days turning our office room into a baby room and turning the balcony area into a functioning "office". It hasn't been easy doing all the lifting and lugging by myself, but as the other adults in the house are either too old or too pregnant it's been down to me. Not helped by my dreadful DIY skills, of course. However slowly I take the job and however hard I try, it nearly always ends in disaster:
Drill a hole in the wall? The drill bit broke. Shorten a wooden table top? The saw got stuck and the table snapped. Screw together a bed? Not enough bolts and the wrong size spanner for the nuts. Assembly a baby bouncer? The plastic leg broke. Drag a table across the room? The glass top suddenly slid off and shattered, cutting open my foot. You get the idea. Give me a computer or a blackboard any day!
The kitchen is finally finished. It was, to a large extent, a cock-up from start to finish. Cupboard doors put in the wrong place, extractor fan initially at a jaunty angle, stone surfaces not joining properly, waterproofing layer not put in, drawers too high or too low, a hole to allow electrical acess forgotton and always a complete mess when the workers left for the day such as the man drilling the stone top [see photo, left] who managed to deposit a thick layer of dust throughout the house, despite the kitchen doors being closed and windows open.
Despite our patient explanations and encouragement to "leave it for now", Ma-in-law never quite grasped the sense in waiting until all the work was complete before trying to clean everywhere. Every day she was waking up early to deep-clean the kitchen, barely an hour before the next set of workers arrived to create more chaos. Still, it's given her something to moan about... "I'm so old and yet I'm the only one who cleans the house!" ...THEN JUST STOP, WOMAN!!
My pet peeve was that all the wood patterns on the cupboard doors matched up with all the others around them except for one [..wonder if you can spot it, above?]. The boss of the installation company explained that wood cut from different parts of a tree leads to different patterns. All very interesting except that, as I pointed out, these are plastic formica doors. The nearest they've been to a tree is the MDF plywood underneath. We lost that battle, but they are going to replace another drawer which doesn't close smoothly. Believe it or not, we didn't skimp on the materials or the installation company - this is apparently good quality work for China!
Five workers, five hours, £500 and we now live in a prison!
After a number of recent burglaries in our neighborhood - one ending in a murder - we decided to bite the bullet and install security bars on all our windows. We should now be safe from thieves, but in all sorts of trouble if there is a fire near the front door!
We also arranged for the workmen to add some extra bars to the rail of our stairs (to stop any toddlers slipping through) and repair our kitchen door which has become impossible to close or lock. All in all, a good half-days work. Something which definitely needed doing but which we had put off for some time.
Ava and I hosted a nice evening yesterday with a bunch of foreigners from my school. We offered DIY pizzas (dough bases, with a wide choice of ingredients, as half the visitors were vegetarians or similar) followed by fruit salad and cream. Plenty of snacks, drinks and a silly game of "guessing lists" made for a fun time.
I saw this tiny little beauty outside the house yesterday, about 15cm long and shiny-silver in colour. It ran along a bit like a snake, weaving from side to side. I was tempted to catch it and bring it indoors to deal with any errant mossies, but eventually I just let it take its chances with the local cat population. We had a torrential rainstorm, complete with thunder and lightning, for a few hours two days ago and everyone thought the rainy season had finally arrived. But we've been back to dry and hot weather ever since, with the drought showing no sign of abating.
We're entering our fifth day without running water in the house. Strip washes all round. Only our neighbourhood is affected (nowhere else in the city), apparently because we are atop a hill and there's not enough water to pump up here. Meanwhile ma-in-law is feeling very vindicated for the many months (years?) of filling her bathroom with umpteen buckets of stored water.
On arrival back from hols, I found water running down the wall of our spare room. It must be a leak from the flat above, but they are away for Spring Festival and uncontactable. As you can see, the various work information I've stuck up over the months is now all soggy. But unreplaceable is the B/W print [top right] which was a one-off and is now destroyed.
Chinese tradition says that newly-weds should set up their home with new furniture and household goods during their first year together. Despite Ava already having a furnished house, we have done our bit to upgrade the decor and make the place more homely. Throughout 2011 we bought, or were given, a new cooker, a fridge, framed pictures, a dining table and chairs, an oven, a TV table, two shelf units, shoe cupboards, a bedside table, a microwave, a CD/DVD storage unit, two wardrobes, two hat stands, new curtains and, yesterday, a sink unit [see photo]. Our 2012 plans are to simply enjoy the stuff.
Traditionally in China newly-wed couples move into a new house, largely furnished by friends and family. Jiajia and I simply moved back to our existing house, though, after our brief "one-night honeymoon". We have been making plans for new furniture, however, with much of it funded through the generosity of our friends. We bought a small oven and two wardrobes earlier this year. A TV cabinet and cupboards arrived yesterday, a new fridge this morning and three shelving units (primarily for Jiajia's 100+ pairs of shoes!) are ready for us to pick up tomorrow. The house is therefore something of a tip [see photos] as we bring in new furniture, reassign or dispose of old furniture and try the solve the "3D puzzle" that is our current dwelling!
I had a fairly light teaching load this week, so I was able to move into Ava's house, unpack everything and sort out (i.e. "throw away") some of the copious amounts of "stuff" she has accumulated over the years. (I found 68 unused or barely used notebooks, for example!) A large house, used by just her and her Mum, has meant there has been little need to find extra space in the past. But my arrival has necessitated some reorganisation. The cuddly toys from around the house have been relocated to the top of the wardrobe, for example [see photo above]. I've also tried to spruce the place up a little. I'm not a natural at DIY, but I can get a bit arty when the mood takes me. Check out the lounge cupboards [see photo below]. Ava returns from Shenzhen late tonight, so we'll see what she thinks of the changes.
Today was set aside for moving into Ava's house. She is currently in Shenzhen buying stock for her store, so the car is free and she can't badger me about throwing away a lot of the stuff she hoards! It's has gone smoothly except for the final car trip from my flat. It was a heavy load, so the gatekeeper unlocked and collapsed the bollard at the end of our alley, to allow me to reverse the car closer to the door. As I drove over the horizontal bollard, there was an awful crunching noise. It seems the car was riding low from the weight of the luggage and something caught on the bollard. Something which has now been ripped off. So I didn't "save money by moving everything myself" afterall! I was really gutted after driving so slowly and carefully amongst all the really closely parked cars near my flat and Ava's house.
Moving into Ava's for good is more of a mental adjustment than even getting married on paper was. Ava's Mum has been very kind and Ava has been very relaxed about me moving stuff around and sorting things to make space. But my little bolthole flat is not mine anymore and this is my new life now. It will take a while to get used to it. A month in the UK will help, I'm sure.
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