There's a whole lot of painting going on at the moment. Our neighbourhood is having a makeover, the road markings are being repainted and various public buildings are being spruced up - wonder what's about to happen?
Green Lake is a nice park in the centre of Kunming. It's biggest claim to fame is when, every Winter, hundreds of gulls fly there from Siberia to take advantage of our city's warmer weather. Flocks of them arrive within a few days of each other. Last weekend - nothing. This Sunday - swarming with the winged Russians! And to meet them, hundreds of locals throwing pellets into the lake or holding up bread rolls for the gulls to pluck from their hands while flying past. Great 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!
After two dry months, the heavens opened today and Kunming immediately flooded. The city has never been able to handle heavy downpours. Thankfully they are infrequent. I managed to pick JD up from Kindergarten on my e-bike through the "river" below. Scooters seem better able to cope with deep water than cars can - unless you drop the bike of course!
Some new water drinking fountains have been installed around Green Lake, which is a great idea in the current hot weather.
But woe betide anyone who tries to drink from them! They have been commandeered by the local pensioners who queue up all day long to fill bottles, buckets and pots with the free drinking water! To say elderly Chinese people are "thrifty" would be something of an understatement.
A few years ago in Kunming "shared bikes" started appearing. For 5 Jiao (5p) a day you could use any of the thousands of public bikes parked around the city, unlocking them by mobile phone app where you find them and leaving them wherever and whenever you've finished with them. It proved very popular at first and there are certainly a lot of good things about it. But popularity has waned a little since the early days and an increasingly noticeable problem are the "bike graveyards" - piles of unwanted bikes which you can see dumped all over the city. In theory, the people who run the system should be picking them up and transporting them to subway stations, bus stops and other places where people need to use them. But it's clearly not working very well!
Every year, thousands of Siberian seagulls descend on Kunming's waters to spend the winter in the relative warmth. They are spectacular sight which many people travel from far away to see.
Visitors usually feed the gulls by throwing chunks of bread into the air or holding rolls gingerly in their hands for the gulls to grab while on the wing.
But this year saw something new - a local man donned a whole bread-covered suit and stood somewhat bravely amongst the flocks of birds as they grabbed and pecked him! Nobody knows quite who he is, but a few photos were taken as proof which have appeared on local media. After a few minutes he packed up his bread suit and headed off! Bonkers!
Yesterday saw my last lesson with the Foreign Affairs Department of the Kunming Civil Service. The course was supposed to run for 12 weeks but, due to cancellations and public holidays, it's been 16 weeks since I started. They have been a fun group to teach, but I'll be glad to get my Fridays back again - it's my only JD/work free day each week.
JD and I took the 7½ hour daytime train back to Kunming today. It's been an even more successful trip than I had hoped for with plenty of exercise, adventures, friends and fresh air. JD says his highlight (alongside the boat, the chairlift and the horse riding) was the easy access to various construction vehicles ...each to his own!
I enjoyed watching this YouTube video today - a visitor to Kunming enjoying the sights, smells and tastes of a wet market close to where we live.
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.
JD, Ma-in-law and I went to Kunming's DaGuan Theme Park yesterday.
We walked around in the 28°C sunshine seeing the modern art statues, eating snacks and going on some of the rides. JD loved the bumper cars, the carousel and the digger, but his favourite is the Log Flume. I went on with him last visit, but managed to persuade Ma to take him this time. Ma insisted on paying all expenses - a last fling for her before we head to the UK for a month.
We drove past this enormous building in the middle of the countryside the other day. It turns out to be the main auction house for Kunming's huge flower industry. Buyers come from far and wide to purchase large consignments of various plants and flowers. Apparently it's a "Dutch Auction", which means the price starts too high and gradually gets lower until a buyer decides it's low enough and buys the lot immediately. I'd love to see inside someday.
It's not often a world record takes place in your backyard and you hear nothing about it! It wasn't until I spotted a small report in my "The Week" magazine (which arrives to me in the post about a month after any news) that I found about about six-time Guinness world record holder Ace Kyle, breaking a tightrope world record just down the road from us. Back in May he made a 15 minute walk backwards and blindfolded between two towers 110m apart, 150m above the ground. Not one my colleagues or students had heard mention of it either. Very odd.
So if you can't afford a shop front on Kunming's busiest street, how can you sell your stuff to passers-by? Simple - buy a nearby house, knock a hole through the back wall, install glass doors and add a ladder down to the street. Is it legal? I doubt there is a law that covers that sort of thing. This "shop" is just one of the many obstacles you have to walk around, under or over on the pavements of WenLing Street - ebikes, stalls, cars, open manholes, you name it!
I spent a few hours yesterday with three Lattitude volunteers from the last intake, visiting Kunming over the May Day holiday. I took JD and we met them at Green Lake Park on a warm, sunny day. One area was plastered with photocopied signs and photos. It turns out they were all advertising for a girlfriend/boyfriend, something I'd not seen in Kunming before. There were, as you'd expect, some surprising and amusing things; firstly, almost equal numbers of men and women, secondly all the pictures had been photoshopped with candidates standing by Big Ben, on Bondai Beach, in front of huge butterflies, hovering above the Great Wall, etc! Thirdly, I was initially amazed to see adverts for people aged 86, 89 and 92, until I later realised that these were birth years, not their age! And lastly, it seems your height is the one factor that is vital to include. Most signs had no photo, but all had their height displayed prominently. But not their weight. Odd.
In conversation with our new nanny, Molly, last Friday she mentioned that she was from a town called Eshan. I told her that I had visited the Minorities Middle School there a few times to check on the Lattitude volunteers I had trained. "No way!" she exclaimed, "I was taught to speak English by Lattitude volunteers ten years ago". Small world.
Dave and Esme have had surprisingly little jet lag and have been keen to get out and about during their first full day in Kunming before heading on to other cities, towns and villages. They started today with a visit to the house to meet JD, ma-in-law and our Nanny. JD quickly forged quite a bond with Esme and was very happy to be held and played with for as long as she had the patience. Then off to Green Lake Park to see impromptu dancing and singing, followed by the more tranquil, YuanTong Temple [shown here, with umpteen turtles]. It's Kunming's largest and most active temple and we enjoyed exploring the various sections. We were also lucky enough to stumble across 25-30 local ladies (and a few men) chanting and hitting various bells and drums as part of one of their services.
JD is becoming a lot more vocal these days (especially if you include the screams!). If he is in the mood he can say about a dozen words, and he understands a dozen more. We read 2-3 books together every day and last week we drew pictures for each letter of the alphabet on the path outside the house. Quite a few passers-by stopped for a look throughout the day, with various local children trying to work out what the pictures represented. Of course, if it rains, the gallery will disappear but, since we've been without running water for 2 weeks now, rain would actually be most welcome.
I've had an iPhone since Ava decided to upgrade to a newer one and insisted I'd never regret changing to Apple. She also bought me an iPad for my last birthday which was a surprising and, to be honest, unrequested present! Since then I've been struggling with Apple's odd way of doing things. Some things which should be simple(deleting music from the phone, copying photos onto the phone, sending a text to a group, etc) prove to be impossible and leave me missing my cheap, old phone which could do all these things easily.
However, there's no doubt that Apple machines do other things incredibly well. My iPad "boots-up" immediately, gets great Internet connections for Skype or Facetime and downloads all the podcasts I enjoy listening to without me even asking it to. JD also enjoys the free painting, animal recognition and and letter-tracing apps. But yesterday, I was blown away by my friend Leah's use of an iPhone app I'd not seen in action before. Kunming's taxis need to be flagged down - there's no centralised office to book or request one - and, at busy times or places, that can mean a long wait. But Leah insisted she could get a taxi easily. She pressed a button on her iPhone and her location was immediately sent to any taxis within a kilometre (whose drivers also use the app). Five seconds later she got a call from a nearby driver who asked where we wanted to go and how many passengers. His name and registration then popped up on her phone and two minutes later the cab pulled up. Now that is a mightily impressive use of technology! And all for free.
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