One failing, however, would have to be forgetfulness - suffice to say when I handed her a bunch of flowers and a handful of cards yesterday, she had no idea why!
Jiajia and I have been married for six years now. The traditional gifts for six years are apparently candy and iron. If I were to list all my wife's good points, sweetness and strength of character would make the top three (generosity would be number one, since you ask!). ....admittedly I'd struggle to name more than five (kidding!)
One failing, however, would have to be forgetfulness - suffice to say when I handed her a bunch of flowers and a handful of cards yesterday, she had no idea why!
Today was Children's Day in China and JD's Kindergarten took over the Kunming City Stadium for the morning to allow each class to perform their well-practised dances.
One parent of each student had been drafted in to perform with the children and Jiajia made her excuses. So I was one of four Dads along with twenty-five Mums! We've been rehearsing for 6 weeks.
Our performance today was 11th out of 16, so a certain amount of tedium had crept into the audience as we began to strut our stuff. We started with some hip-hop and then transitioned into traditional ethnic dances. JD did his part this time (having refused to do anything at all at the dress rehearsal, probably because I wasn't able to make it to that practice) and afterwards Jiajia said, "It was beyond my imagination" which I think was a compliment.
My good wife brought our video camera with us too ...and then completely forgot to use it! But they say there will be a professionally put together DVD of the whole event in due course.
Apparently we won first prize ...as did every one of the dance troupes. This is socialist China after all! Altogether it took four hours to get through and then we were told not to bother taking our kids back to school for the afternoon. I'm not sure UK school would get away with that sort of thing!
Jiajia, JD and I enjoyed a nice meal with JD's class teacher yesterday evening. Teacher Gen invited us to join her for a hotpot along with her private student (English name, Grace) and her student's mother who, rather conveniently, owned the restaurant. We had good food and a nice chat about teaching, JD and life in general. I was interested to hear Gen Laoshi say that JD's Chinese is at, or just above, the level of the others in his class and that he often explains things in class in Chinese that he has learned in English (such as how a plant grows or why planes need to travel fast). I know his English is about the level of a 5-year old (and he's not yet 4) too, so in the language arena he's doing well. Less so in the dancing and singing, apparently!
Jiajia, JD and I visited Kunming Zoo yesterday. I was pleased to see they have built new, larger enclosures for the elephants, lions, tigers and giraffes. The smaller animals fare less well (inc a miserable hippo who can barely turn around). Still, a huge improvement on say 10 years ago, helped by the removal of half the animals to a wildlife safari park outside the city a few years ago. JD enjoyed the animals but was most excited about the various rides. So we indulged in a few of those before heading off to a restaurant for a well-earned meal.
I was throwing out some old lesson plan books the other day when I stumbled across this class list from 2008. There in the middle is mention of "Ava". Little did I know I'd be marrying her some three years later! It certainly wasn't love at first sight. I barely remember her, if I'm being honest. I recall she used to get lots of phonecalls in the lesson and have to leave the classroom to deal with them. I know now, of course, that to miss certain calls can cost her business a lot of money but at the time I thought it was all a little bit rude and distracting. (Looking at the list again, there were certainly some oddly named students in that class. Guess I'm lucky I didn't marry "Astor Eagle"!)
JD's Kindergarten organised an outing to a park last weekend, The organised activities started with a team race of Daddies running with their children perched on their feet. Our team won and JD got his first balloon of the day. The second activity was even more inventive. Each team stood next to a large piece of card and their shadows were drawn around. Then the shapes were coloured in to make a unique record of the team. Unfortunately, the sun went behind a cloud when our team were trying to make our shadows so Jiajia and I got to work inventing imaginary shadows which the kids then enjoyed painting [see below]. As Jiajia, JD and I left for lunch in a restaurant with the family of JD's best friend - a cute little girl named QiQi - it just started to rain, so we had certainly got the best of the weather.
It's the wife's birthday today. How old she is depends on which document you look at, since her ever-loving mother had her birth certificate doctored when Ava was a toddler so that she could dump her at school a year early. Nice. Ava is in Shenzhen on business today, but we've got presents and a card lined up for her when she returns tomorrow. Happy Birthday!
We're back in Bangkok. Jiajia has been keen to visit the Erawan Shrine; not the largest temple in Bangkok but the most famous. She said she wanted to pray to the Buddha there (despite me pointing out that it was actually a statue of Brahma, a Hindu god!). Beside the shrine are groups of musicians and dancers who will perform for a fee as you pray. It was fun to watch them, but they must get so bored!
I'd read that the Erawan shrine was the target of a bombing last year, killing 27 people so, when I saw an unattended backpack on a bench, I thought it wise to alert one of the guards. He rather sheepishly explained it was his bag and quickly moved it out of sight. Better safe than sorry!
We've arrived in Bangkok, Thailand and settled into our nice hotel. The swimming pool is chillier than we hoped, but we've been given a free upgrade to larger rooms which is a bonus - JD and I in one, with Jiajia and Ma-in-law next door. We spent today at a rather touristy centre outside of Bangkok.
It was all a lot more expensive than we had been promised but, once there, we felt we had to do some of the activities on offer. So we hired a river boat to see the floating market (most of the shops were on land!) and then JD and I had a short elephant ride.
This week, Jiajia has been concentrating on decorating the new flat, bought on behalf of her uncle. I call him "Drunkle", as he's rarely sober. He's 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 plastered walls and only the most basic of amenities. So Jiajia 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 "Valentine's 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 Philosophical world". Quite.
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?
Forget Greece. They "only" owe 375 billion Euros. The Chinese stock market has lost ten times that amount in the last month alone. After years of continual rises in share value, many millions of Chinese have been encouraged to invest their savings in the stock market. But suddenly, within weeks, their profits have been wiped out and the world's financial markets are holding their breath, wondering what the "financial earthquake" here holds for them. Jiajia is just one of those millions who was gleefully counting her theoretical profits from money she invested a decade ago, until last month. Although more savvy than most, she has now seen most of those "paper profits" disappear. The Chinese Government are throwing everything they've got at the problem - having millions of angry Chinese on their hands is not in their best interest - and we're hoping for some sort of recovery soon. Fingers firmly crossed!
Just as I often stuggle to be understood in Chinese I also, fairly regularly, struggle to understand other people's English. Two examples from just yesterday:
I texted my wife with a cheery, "You OK?". The reply was "Down"!? I'll let you ponder what that was supposed to mean (answer below).
And then a student introduced himself by saying, "I live with my parents and grandmother. We are a demonic family"!? What do you think he was actually trying to say?
Turns out my wife thought I was asking whether she had finished her trip to the bank and wanted to say, "Done". And my student believes he has a democratic family. It's not easy living here!
Today is Children's Day in China. Schools usually organise student performances for the parents and games for the children. The Kindergarten where JD has a couple of lessons a week invited him and his classmates to join the older students for their celebrations. The theme was Dai Ethnic Minority culture. We first watched some of children and staff dancing, singing and playing instruments. Then there was an almighty water fight - reflecting the Dai Water-Splashing Festival - before some Dai snack food. JD was most taken with the water chaos, firing his pump-action pistol mercilessly at Chinese and foreigners alike and getting very wet and cold in the process [L->R below: Jiajia, me and JD].
When I pointed out how long JD's hair was getting the other day and offered to give him a quick buzz with our shaver, I was told he just needed a trim. So I snipped off a few of the longer bits myself and left it at that. But when I returned home yesterday, I found he'd been taken to a hairdresser by our Nanny to be given a crew cut. Drastic, or what? If I didn't know it would grow back pretty quickly, I might have got slightly annoyed.
My fears were heightened however, when my wife whisked him off today to the Bamboo Temple to meet the monks. Was the haircut a means to enrol him in the holy order? Thankfully, a quick blessing and some sightseeing photos later, they returned home.
Happy Birthday to my wifey who turned forty yesterday. She had a record number of cards (all from UK friends and family, mind!) and was quite moved by the kind words in them. Ma bought a cake and JD learned how to say "Happy Birthday" and enjoyed playing with the candles. Sadly, Ava shows no sign of getting over her 6-month old cough and is planning yet another visit to the hospital this week. Having had some twenty tests, five different courses of anti-biotics, steroids, inhaler, Chinese herbs, Buddhist and Christian prayers - all seemingly to no avail - we wonder what else there is left to try. In the meantime, Happy Birthday dahlin' !!
We flew back to China today. Our three suitcases were substantially over the limit, but JD charmed the check-in ladies and they let it slide. And we managed to get away with five items of hand luggage too. Little did we know we were just starting off a series of complications...
The return flight was somewhat less stressful than the outward bound one, as we were given special seats with more leg room and a tiny removable baby bed. JD was technically too heavy to use it, but by then we knew that "too heavy" was negotiable, so use it he did!
Our problems began in Beijing. We found out the connecting Air China flight had been cancelled and they had switched us to a China Eastern flight. However, this left from a different terminal, requiring a 20 minute bus ride (not easy with 8 items of luggage!). Still, we had plenty of time. At the new check-in, it was pointed out that our two bigger suitcases were a total of 8kg too much AND China Eastern did not allow infants a baggage allowance, so the smaller third suitcase couldn't go at all. We quickly deployed smiley JD and begged for some lenience. Finally he agreed to let our two suitcases on and suggested we take the smaller third one as hand luggage (our sixth item!).
It was only as we arrived at security that it dawned on me - we had liquids in the smaller case. The x-ray confirmed about 20 items that weren't allowed and we were asked to remove them all. Jiajia managed to persuade security that 5-6 were needed for JD on the flight, so they let us put those back. Then we politely asked to speak
to the head of security and BINGO, it was a smiley lady. We released the JD charm bomb and five minutes later went through with ALL our lotions and potions! We were last people to enter the plane and our SIX walk-on items raised a few eye-brows. Then, when I tried to put the suitcase into the overhead locker, it was just too big to fit. "Take out some of the contents", suggested a helpful air hostess. So I unzipped the lid and BOOM - twenty illegal tubes, bottles and pots fell out! Ooops. JD was frantically waved like a magic wand as I hastily stuffed them into a plastic bag. Amazingly we arrived home with every single item we had hoped to, despite breaking every rule in the book! Thank goodness for the boy.
JD meanwhile was more taken with the local Fire and Mountain Rescue Team doing various exercises which saw them swimming across the bitterly cold Wye river before coming to each others' rescue with ropes and floats. Something for everyone.
One of the things Jiajia likes most about the UK is the easy access to beautiful, natural scenery. I must confess to sometimes being a little blasé about rolling hills and wide-open spaces but what I do thoroughly enjoy though are her ooohs and aaahs as she sees scene after scene of countryside views. Symonds Yat [below] was well worth the drive that got us there. Stunning views looking down on the winding river below, whilst birds of prey hover above.
(Bonus points for spotting the double meaning in this entry's title)
JD had his first taste of London today. Wrapped up against the cold, we took a train up to Trafalgar Square and then a boat down the Thames to Greenwich. JD wasn't that impressed with the Cutty Sark, but Jiajia enjoyed Greenwich market. We warmed up in the National Maritime Museum before heading back by boat and train once again.
Jiajia's been suffering from a hacking cough for over three months now and, despite two CAT scans and two courses of antibiotics, it remains as bad as ever. We went to another hospital yesterday for more tests - asthma and allergies this time, hence the amusing nose and mouth appendages! We returned for the results this morning, and a junior doctor said she thought it was a sore throat!? The expert doctor we had hoped to see (a friend of a customer, of course) was in a meeting. So back again this afternoon to see him and find out if it shows anything. As Jiajia said on the drive home "I don't think the doctors have a clue". I tend to agree.
P.S. Jiajia's been diagnosed with tuberculosis. That's put the cat amongst the pigeons in all sorts of ways. Watch this space!
It was just last week that Jiajia told me she'd had toothache for a week or so and was finally ready to see a dentist (she hates dentists and never gets check-ups). Then, the next day, she was chewing on a prune when three teeth suddenly fell out! Yes, three! And none was the one causing pain. Unknown to me, my wife has a row of false teeth and so the following day we went to the dentist (a customer of hers, naturally, so free treatment!) to have the teeth refitted and a filling put in the painful one. Later, I asked her how she came to lose three teeth at once but she claimed not to remember! Hmmm. Biting off a beer bottle top perhaps or losing a punch-up? My wife is a woman of mystery.
"What do you want for Christmas?" my wife asked me a month ago. "A new office chair" I hopefully replied. The various pieces arrived just after Christmas Day and I valiantly tried to assemble it. There seemed to be three screws missing - isn't there always? After some to-ing and fro-ing, Jiajia got the company to send more screws. After a week, new screws arrived - different colour and still the wrong sizes. More angry online exchanges. Finally, the correct screws arrived yesterday and my chair is finally built. Sit down, relax, enjoy.
On our final morning in Guangzhou, Jiajia and I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King. The 2000-year old tomb contained many artefacts on discovery, including the king himself dressed in thousands of small jade pieces. In the afternoon, Ava took the train to Shenzhen while I flew back to Kunming to catch up with my very own "jadey"!
Does the scene above look a bit nativity-like to you? I spotted it in the Chen Clan Temple in Guangzhou yesterday. It's a Buddhist Temple, but famous for its western influences and quite unlike any other Chinese temple I've seen. It's "only" 120 years old but the ornate and coloured decorations have survived really well and the courtyard is full of ancient and more modern artwork. Jiajia and I visited it during a free half-day we had here in Guangzhou following our visa application visit.
We are staying with a lovely couple whose empty flat in Shenzhen Ava uses when she is buying stock there every month. It helps (me) that they both speak great English, so I can converse easily with them. Yesterday evening, they took us on a walk from their flat to an amazing pedestrianised area on the banks of the Pearl River. The surrounding skyscrapers were beautifully lit. The central one below is the "Four Seasons Hotel" and, pretending to be guests, we took the elevator 70 floors up for a free look-see. A very memorable evening.
Jiajia and I have flown down to Guangzhou to apply for her UK visa. Britain doesn't make it in any way easy for Chinese tourists to visit. First, there's the 3000RMB (£300) visa fee for just Britain (or substantially less for a Shengen Visa which allows you to visit all the 27 other European countries!). A ten page online application form must be accompanied by 40-50 pages of supporting documentation (printouts of 6 months of bank transactions, business certificates, tax receipts, ID card, birth certificate, passport, property ownership documents, family passports, a creditworthiness certificate, a letter of invitation, flight ticket scans, itinerary, translations of all of the above, a letter from the translator, etc, etc). And then a two hour flight to the nearest Processing Centre to hand it in, be interviewed, have your fingerprints taken and eyes scanned. And all with no guarantee that they will give you a visa, even if you have followed all the guidelines to the letter. And no refund if not. Hardly a warm welcome. We get to hear the result in three weeks.
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