A rare glimpse into Ma's previous life as a professional, and fairly famous, Beijing Opera star in Shanghai.
You'd think she might now enjoy participating in one of the multitude of park-based dancing groups that attract so many old people in Kunming, but she dismisses them as "amateurs" and prefers to spend her time gambling with her mahjong friends.
So a new year starts in China. We celebrated with a big meal (cooked by Jiajia - Ma is "dying with cancer" again i.e. she has a sore throat), a visit from Druncle, and JD's fireworks. This time last year we were returning from our holiday in Vietnam and hearing news of a possible new pandemic in China. How things move on....!
Mother-in-law celebrated her birthday this week - her 79th or 80th depending on who asked her. We think she doesn't know.
Ma was her usual "cheery" self on receiving her gifts; a jumper ("Too tight. I don't like the colour"), flowers ("I can't take them home - you look after them") and a home-made gift from JD ("My birthday was two days ago - it's late"). She did manage to fake a quick smile for the camera in front of her birthday cake before declaring, "It's too sweet for me. I don't want any."
Ma-in-law has been weeping and screaming this last week, "unable to get out of her bed" due to a bad back. I've made multiple trips across town to her 7th floor flat in response to phone calls requesting, "a glass of water from the kitchen" or "help to walk to the toilet" etc. She seems somewhat improved now since Jiajia returned from her business trip and a couple of her friends visited and gave her some attention. I'm sure she has some pain but Jiajia and I are both convinced she makes the most of it. There are clues such as the medicine she says she has been taking being on the table in the living room (how does she take that if she can't leave her bed) and signs of cooking in the kitchen. My five-year diary shows this is the third year running she's "gone ill" at this exact time, perhaps knowing that I am off work (term is over) and Jijaia is away. Suspicious timing!
JD and I went to the circus again last weekend, this time with Jiajia and Ma-in-law in tow. At one point in the performance JD blew a kiss to one of the East European dancers and was rewarded with a big kiss blown back, After the show ended, he insisted on running over to get a hug from "his blue lady"! She seemed happy to oblige. What a flirt!
Ma-in-law has been back in hospital this last week. She threw up a couple of times last Saturday (probably having caught the minor bug that JD had the week before) and was straight off to the clinic down the hill for IV drips. She then stopped eating for 2 days and started downing various boxes of medicines. Not surprisingly, she soon felt even worse and rang me on Monday to take her hospital. I first suggested she stop taking random meds and start to eat a little, then see how she felt in a day or two, but no - she insisted on being hospitalised. Jiajia was away on business, so it fell to me to transport her and her clothes/sundries and arrange food and visits. The doctors have done various tests since and said there is nothing wrong with her. But, as usual, she insists she is in great pain and they just haven't found the problem yet. Jiajia arrived back home yesterday so hopefully she can talk some sense into her Mum.
It was Ma-in-law's birthday the other day. We celebrated it along with our UK friends, Peter and Judy, who are visiting Kunming once again.
JD thoroughly enjoyed the event, having chosen a present for his WaiPo from a shop, drawn her a card and gleefully tucked into her special Mahjong cake that Ava had ordered. We think Ma-in-law probably enjoyed it too, though a lack of smiles or thank yous always leaves one guessing!
For the first 40 minutes JD cried non-stop - so much so that the teacher told him she would send me home if he didn't calm down and cheer up. Cue a rather astonishing transformation from JD who instantly managed to get a grip and show just what he's made of. He was first to volunteer to give a talk about "My Mum" up the front of the class [see photo, left], served all the other students with their snacks and lunch, took part in my mini English lesson and led the class in dancing [see photo, right]. I've only ever seen him be sullen and stand still during class dances before. And no tears as I said goodbye. Wow!
When I showed Ma-in-law the video of JD dancing for the first time she said that he was getting it all wrong and the teachers were not good dancers. Ma is an ex-professional Beijing Opera performer.... with a huge chip on her shoulder!
Halloween is here again and though I thought I'd escaped the worst of it having left Robert's School a year and a half ago, I've been drafted back to help them this weekend. They have encouraged existing students to bring a friend and want an experienced teacher to give a demo lesson to these potential new students and their parents for an hour before they head to various classrooms for Halloween games with their invitee friend. It means preparing for classes of unknown numbers of students at unknown levels of ability (and, with Ava away on business, hoping Ma can look after JD during the hours when I am busy). No wonder I'm looking dead tired!
Our full-time, live-in Nanny finally left today after two years with us, changing nappies, washing clothes, bathing and feeding JD. Ma-in-law finally saw her off with yet another tirade of abuse a week ago, and we were lucky and grateful the Nanny agreed to stay on for one further week to give us time to find a replacement. After some thought, Ava and I decided it was time to try and "downsize" to a weekend-only Nanny, with me taking the main responsibility for looking after JD throughout the weekdays. So we have welcomed "Molly" into our family [see photo]. She is a biology teacher during the week but will look after JD Friday evenings to Sunday evenings aided (or otherwise) by Ma-in-law. She comes to us from foreign colleagues at work who didn't need her help anymore and she speaks some English too. It will be an interesting time of transition for us all, and it remains to be seen whether the new arrangements will be sustainable long-term. Fingers crossed.
Ma-in-law won't be entering Masterchef anytime soon. Today's lunch [from top right, clockwise] was pig fat, fried pig fat in breadcrumbs, week-old chicken (reheat 'til you eat!), dried chilli, and lotus root soup (with added pig fat). I couldn't stomach much to be honest. So guess what's for dinner later...
I spent an hour decorating our living room yesterday, with ma-in-law hovering in the background complaining that it was all too early and it would mean higher electricity bills (not that she ever pays any bills). I then made it clear to JD and our nanny that, whilst there were various soft decorations around the room which JD could have a little touch of, he was forbidden from touching the tree at all, as it could easily fall over and had electrical lights on it. Less than an hour later, JD walks into the kitchen with a fistful of tree decorations. "He climbed onto a stool to reach them", laughed the nanny. Cue another talk with JD and the nanny about the dangers of grabbing tree decorations AND the danger of climbing onto stools to do it. Never thought I'd end up being the Health and Safety bore!
We flew home today, minus Jiajia who is staying in Shenzhen for a few more days to do her normal work there. The Shenzhen airport have child-friendly luggage trolleys, and JD loved pretending to fly us home before the plane actually left! He has coped really well again with being in a new place, with different weather and routines and without key people at various points. He had a bit of a cry on the plane, but was cheery enough once we landed and got home.
[...and that's the last JD-centric blog post for a while, promise!]
Jiajia, JD and I have been joined by Ma-in-law for a week to Shenzhen - only the second flight Ma's ever taken. It's a chance for her to see somewhere new, spend more time with JD and for our Nanny to have a break from JD (...and Ma!)
The weather here is hot and humid, but expected to dry off and cool down within a day or two. The flat we use in Shenzhen has air-conditioning anyway; one of the many remote controls that JD eyes jealously, loving to press all the buttons to see what happens. We met up with friends in Shenzhen for a welcome meal. JD's preference for self-service eating always ends up as a huge mess, so it's best done on a restaurant where someone else has to do the cleaning!
The nanny and I took JD for a walk yesterday, heading for a temple I'd seen some time ago on the hill behind my house. It's probably less than a kilometre away as the crow flies, but getting there requires a good half hour walk along the road around the hill. Ma-in-law had told me not to bother going, as it was closed today but, as we approached, we smelled incense billowing over the walls and heard the sound of a Buddhist band singing, chanting and crashing cymbals. Then I saw an embarassed nanny:
"We can't let JD go in", she said.
"Why not?" I replied.
"Because your mother-in-law thinks it's bad luck".
"But it's not bad luck. In Chinese tradition, it's good luck. And she's not here anyway. Let's go".
"Yes, I know, but she said I was to stop you."
"I'm not sure, but please leave JD outside or I'll get into trouble"
"But she won't even know"
"...she'll know. She'll find out ...please!!"
So as usual I swallowed my pride and let Ma have her way (even though she wasn't even there!) and had a look-see by myself. It was a small, but reassuringly unrestored and unprettified, temple with a group of surprisingly active and friendly participants. I intend to go back there again properly sometime soon (despite Ma's best efforts to thwart my curiousity) and investigate it in a less rushed way.
Can you see the hidden word in my photos from another temple below:
Ma-in-law decided last week that she was so ill she needed to check herself into the local hospital for tests and IV drips. A less charitable person might question why the illness conveniently started the day after the nanny returned from her holiday. And why someone who is so weak regularly decides to make the 45-minute walk home when she doesn't fancy the hospital food. Or why she tells us her illness is so serious when the doctors say they are just giving her IV drips of sugar and vitamins. I tend to leave this situation to my good wife who knows better than I do how much leeway to give her only close relative, and
where/when to draw the line!
Rainfall almost every day for the last few weeks has left people in Kunming wondering if the 4 year drought here might finally be over. Hey, we've even had 24-hour running water in our house for a month (after 1½ years with just an hour or two a day). Bliss!
The rains have dropped the Summer temperatures right down, too. This has given Jiajia an early opportunity to try various winter clothes on JD; Armani jacket, Nike socks, Levi jeans, etc. Even Ma-in-law has been busy knitting a sleeveless cardigan. JD was rather less impressed with his elephant hat, though. One sympathises!
Our full-time, live-in nanny "abandoned" us yesterday (well, technically she took her first few days off work for 3 months to visit her own family!). And so, for three days, JD is being looked after by just Ava and I (aided/hindered by the mother-in-law). Jiajia was pretty nervous beforehand but I was fairly confident that we would not only cope, but actually enjoy the increased contact time with our son. And so it is turning out. Bath-time yesterday was more relaxed and joyful than usual and JD got through it all without a pout, let alone a cry. And we took him for a vaccination today where, despite the size of the needle, he only cried for a few seconds before starting to coo again, to the delight of the nurses and queueing parents!
Last night was my turn to sleep in JD's bedroom. I only managed three hours of sleep - not because he kept me awake, but because he wouldn't stay awake long enough to drink his milk! He was too hungry to settle, and too sleepy to feed - like Father, like son! This morning he was bright and cheery (unlike his sleepy Dad) and even managed to land an unexpected punch on my nose, the little rascal!
Introducing our new nanny, Xiao Zhang. Ava and I decided fairly early on to employ a full-time, live-in nanny for the first few months after our baby arrives. Apart from having read a couple of books, we have little idea how to look after a newborn child! My parents are obviously far away and Ava only has one (unreliable) parent around. We both work full-time, too, and labour is relatively cheap here. So for many reasons it seemed to make sense. Zhang comes through a reputable nannying agency and seems to have fitted in well during her short visits here so far. She moves in properly later this week. She has struck up a working rapport with Ma-in-law and has been introduced to Dorta! What she really thinks about our strange and disfunctional family is anybody's guess.
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!
When I mentioned the recent death of Norodom Sihanouk, the King of Cambodia, over dinner recently, the last thing I expected (on so many levels) was Ma-in-Law casually saying, "...and he was such a playboy when I met him"! I knew Ma-in-law had been something of a Beijing Opera star in her youth [that's her singing in the photo], but I had no idea she'd sung for China's ruling elite (including first Premier, Zhou Enlai - "...also something of a playboy" she says). It goes some way towards explaining why she (and Ava) have such a strong dislike of government leaders and their frequently duplicitous behaviour.
I had a nice birthday last week, despite it being a working day and feeling dizzy throughout (I'm back under the doctor after 6 months of good health). Ava, Ma-in-law and I went out for a local Chinese meal in the evening. Ma-in-law surprised me by buying a rather yummy birthday cake [see photo]. Bear in mind that Ava has never once had a cake bought for her by her Mum and doesn't get as much as a card on her birthday. Maybe my charm offensive is working?
Then, on the following evening, Ava and I went out for a Pizza Hut meal, using her friend's special half-price discount card! Food tastes better when it's a bargain. Ma-in-law may have been a bit annoyed at missing out on this meal, as a lot of the cake had been eaten by the time we arrived home. Dorta was blamed, but the evidence seemed a little bit dubious!
One of the four places where Ava and I had our 2-day "professional wedding photoshoot" a year ago was Guandu's Old Town. After having some pictures taken with the local senior citizens at one of the temples there [see above], we promised to return later with some prints for them. I've felt guilty ever since as, although we made the copies, we never went back to pass them over. So, with a free day on my hands today and Ava in Shenzhen on business, I made the 3-bus, 1½ hour journey back to Guandu to track the oldies down and fulfil the promise. Unfortunately, the rear of the temple is now locked up and there were no OAPs in sight. The monk couldn't help, but an incense seller outside recognised two men in the photos and promised to pass them all on for me. A quick bowl of noodles, a takeaway of some local speciality Guandu Baba (pancake things) for Ma-in-Law and it was back to the buses for the trip home. Mission accomplished!
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