Another in my occasional series of "Flashbacks" looking back at blog entries made before this Weebly version started.
At 5.30am this morning I was woken from my slumbers by the biggest earthquake I’ve ever experienced. The one a fortnight ago was magnitude 6.1 and happened 250km away in Laos - this one was 6.4 and only 100km away (by comparison, the recent one in Kent registered 4.7). My VSO friends, the LEAF family, however, were less than 30km away and had breakages, a College-wide evacuation and lots of after-shocks. At the actual epicentre, a town called Pu’Er, 3 people died, 300 were injured and 120,000 residents were evacuated. My flat was shaken hard, and my heart was pounding for a while, but there was no damage. For a few minutes after the quake, there was an eerie silence. Then, as if someone had flicked a switch, the croaking frogs, chirping cicadas, barking dogs and crowing chickens all started up once again ...and I duly went back to bed (before a number of concerned phonecalls got me up again!).
Another in my occasional series of “Flashbacks” looking back at blog entries made before this Weebly version started.
Last week, reporters from "China Central TV" spent a day shooting a fly-on-the-wall piece about “a day in my life”. They filmed me getting up, making a coffee, heading for the shower, arriving at school, observing a lesson, being driven to a remote school and teaching a model lesson! The following day was a more formal interview and then they packed up and left to edit the piece.
Today my 25-minute documentary was shown for the third time in a week! I'm told the channel has an audience over 20 million! The programme was really professionally produced and the editors had cleverly managed to link the work (and play) that I do with another VSO volunteer (and good friend) Lesley, even though we live in separate towns and have different roles. Now, strangers keep coming up to me and saying, “I saw you on TV”! I may even have my very own stalker – a woman from Shanghai watched me and somehow got my phone number … “I will call you every day” she promised …yikes! Oh, and if Spielberg is reading this (I’m told he keeps up with my news), I’m now available for motion picture work if the script (and price) is right.
After a bit of shopping this morning L.E. and I went to Ava's flat for a delicious home-cooked lunch. But when Ava and Edie disappeared afterwards, Lesley and I suspected a plan was being hatched. Sure enough, half an hour later, we were invited into the bedroom where, to upbeat music, Edie treated us to a fashion show wearing various of Ava's clothes [see photo]. She had mastered the "fashion walk", the "pouting" and the "hip swing". Hysterical, especially when, without warning, one of the tops suddenly slipped down to her waist! Edie is off to Ava's shop this evening for, no doubt, further fashion indoctrination, while Lesley joins me at school to watch my lesson (and hopefully tell me where I'm going wrong!).
The first half (Lesley+Edie) of the LEAF family arrived in Kunming today. They are staying with me for a couple of days while Lesley observes some of my classes as part of the "Diploma in Teaching English as a Foreign Language" course she is studying for. The rest of the family (Ali and Freda) will join them as soon as Freda's passport arrives from the Embassy! After 5 years in China, LEAF are finally moving on. First to Beijing where they are helping a friend set up a Home School business. Then a tour of New Zealand followed, hopefully, by a new job - they are awaiting confirmation of a post being created for Lesley in Malaysia.
I drove the 8 hours back to Kunming yesterday, braving heavy rain, wide-bodied trucks and some outrageous overtaking manoeuvres on the steep mountainside roads! It was probably a rather extreme way to get back into driving after 5 years doing virtually none, but despite Jiajia owning a nice automatic car, she hates driving and was happy enough to let me take the wheel! The trip was definitely worth it though - we had a fantastic time. It was especially nice for me to see Jiajia getting to know the LEAF family for herself before they leave for pastures new. Now we'll both miss them
Our last half-day in Simao and Jiajia was keen to get some souvenirs. So the LEAF family took us to a large market which at this time of year seems to specialise in roots [see photo]. They were on sale everywhere and, even with his encyclopedic knowledge of local foliage and how to cook it, Ali was bemused at what it could all be used for and why it was only on sale at this time of year. But there was also lots of fruit (which keeps Jiajia happy) and we all munched through fresh corn-on-the-cob.
Then we found the "woven items" section of the market. Lesley and Jiajia were in their element (with Edi's help) thinking of alternative uses for what are basically handmade items for farmers; egg boxes become knitting wool holders, bird cages become lamps, etc. I was just wondering how they thought they would get it all back to the car, when I noticed they were all looking at me... Next came the cloth section of the market. Ali and I sidled off to let the girls wear themselves out.
Our arrival in Simao coincided with the last day of a Festival in the main square celebrating the cultures of various local minority groups. Our band of foreigners got as many stares and photos taken as the minority groups did, though they certainly looked a lot more impressive than us in our jeans and T-shirts! We visited each replica ethnic house (think bamboo, rope, grasses) and bought some of the various wares for sale in each.
Simao is a town in the south of Yunnan Province, about 4 hour's drive from JiangCheng where I lived for a year in 2006-2007. It's amidst fields of "Pu'Er tea" [see photo - tea plantations and Simao are top right], which is why the tourist-minded Government tried to rename Simao as Pu'er some years ago (and then had to rename the real Pu'er as Ning'er) ...it hasn't really caught on!
Getting out into the countryside is a real breather from city life. The journey down to Simao goes through some gorgeous scenery with cloud-shrouded mountains, swathes of forests and roads that cling precariously to the sides of sheer drops. It's a cliché, but true, that the pace of life there is slower and the locals are much friendlier. The wildlife is more evident too. This enormous spider, fully 30cm across, wasn't given a second glance by the nonchalant students on the LEAF's campus. For Ava and I, it was certainly worthy of a photograph.
We met up with the LEAF family for a yummy, locally sourced, cooked breakfast before the wildlife interupted us again, with an enormous swarm of bees passing the window [see photo] and settling on nearby roofs and phone lines. Quite a sight.
This weekend I've had the great pleasure of hosting the LEF family (no, not a typo - the "A" of LEAF, Ali, was making his own, torturous, way back to Simao - a twelve hour winding bus trip!). It's been a real privelege seeing Freda and Edie grow from toddlers into confident and outgoing young ladies over the last 4-5 years, and to be a small part of Lesley and Ali's work and family life. As their VSO posting in Simao finally comes to an end within a few months, they will be off to new, and as yet undecided, adventures somewhere in the world. I'll really miss not having the family "down the road". They are my closest friends in China. The photo shows the girls trying to teach my how to play a car-racing game on their iPhone. To hear them nattering to each other in fluent Chinese is so cool. Do check out the family's fabulous LEAF blog website.
I spent a fun morning with the LEAF family yesterday. Ali wanted to explore the older streets of Kunming, particularly in search of a famous old Herbal Medicine shop. With this excuse, we headed into the backstreets and had an informal competition to see who could take the most interesting photos. My first entry was this one: black and white cats in a pincer movement, eyeing up leftovers from two diners.
We found a street specialising in signs and badges. Ali was after a sign that people in the countryside hang over their front doors to show that they are a good and moral household, by collecting stars in each of 12 categories. The first two shops refused to sell one to him (possibly spotting the lack of morals?), but a third shop did the deal when nobody was looking! I spotted my favourite Chinglish of the day, warning of slippery floors [see photo].
We finally stumbled across the Herbal Medicine shop we were after. A fine example of a 150 year old building, all too rare in Kunming these days. It still sells traditional medicine - ginseng, dried twigs, flattened lizards, etc. And then it was off past the KFC, Pizza Hut and MacDonalds for a well-earned bowl of noodles.
I had a reoccurance of my headaches and dizziness throughout today. Maybe it was a reaction from the end of the Lattitude course? Maybe the result of a sudden drop in temperature from the last few weeks of warm, to today's chilly? Maybe some sort of drill boring into my head [see photo]? Or maybe because of Freda and Edie's draining of my silly joke resources for an hour over dinner! Yes, the LEAF family are back from a snowy retreat in Scotland and heading toward Simao, where they have been working with VSO for the last 4 years. They are only staying there for a last few months, while they tie up loose ends and hand over to a new volunteer. After that, their plans become more vague, but seem to include travelling and finding a new challenge in another country. I've seen more of the LEAF family than my own family over the last 4 years, so I will miss having them "down the road" (albeit 7 hours bus ride away!). Their blog is well worth following too - much more informative than mine, and written by various members of their family.
It's a bit surreal when three quite different "areas" of your life and are all suddenly sitting around the same table together. This weekend has seen the LEAF family passing through Kunming on their way to Beijing, where Lesley is to be awarded the very prestigious, "Friend of China" award from the Chinese Vice Premier! A very just reward for the hard work and commitment she and her family have put into their 4+ years with VSO in China. Then Emily, who was my best friend in JiangCheng and helped me so much when I moved to Kunming is back from studying the UK, and it was great to see her today after over a year. And I was, of course, delighted to introduce them all to my girlfriend Jiajia (aka Ava) and then just sit back and see all my best friends getting to know each other! Ava and Lesley then went shoe shopping, while Ali looked after the kids and I played Scrabble with Emily. Such great timing to see them all before I head off to the UK.
[Photo L to R: Emily, Lesley, Edi, Freda, Jiajia, Ali]
We flew back from Guilin today. My chest pains and dizziness have been getting more frequent, so I will go and visit a Chinese heart specialist tomrrow. If that doesn't help, I'll try and hang on until I go back to the UK in under a week. In the meantime, I have an odd few days with visits from the LEAF family (I haven't seen them for 4 months) and Emily who is back from Britain (I haven't seen her for a year). And in between all the goodbyes and meals I need to pack!
A quick plug for the LEAF family's terrific blog. Their comprehensive "old" website has always been amazing to read, but their "new" blog is updated very regularly and gives a real flavour of their life in Simao (some 6 hours south of me, by bus). It's well worth checking out (just click on the bold words above).
Past blog entries