I hosted my annual Eurovision party here last night, thanks to a DVD recording sent by my UK friend, Ratch. Only five friends and colleagues came this time, so we had plenty of food and drink to go around. None of us was particularly impressed with the Swedish winning song, "Euphoria", but then the UK entry was no better. We had most fun predicting (with some accuracy) the political voting of each nation!
Fellow teachers Monique and Peter (left) are moving to Morocco next month, so it was a chance to say goodbye to them. Jan and his wife (and fellow teacher) Juvy, in the centre, are having a baby later in the year, so they'll return to the Philippines for that. And our Australian teacher Ross, and French teacher Manou, both left a few weeks ago, too. So there's a big turnaround of foreign staff next term, Emily (right) is a local, so at least I'll see her again. Ma-in-law made dumplings and then headed for bed. Jiajia was working until late and arrived just as everyone was leaving. A fun evening all the same.
I drove Jiajia and her mum out to the huge flower market on the outskirts of Kunming yesterday afternoon. Kunming is famous for its flowers and the wholesale market is where the flower bargains are.
We bought two bunches of sunflowers for 60p and five large bunches of begonias for a pound. The main reason for going, however, was to buy half a dozen large vases to replace all the plastic ones in the house and on the balcony. Ava fancies herself as a bit of a gardner these days, inspired by my parents' garden on our visit there a year ago. We have much more limited space but, apart from the odd washing line, the balcony is starting to look quite green and bloom-filled. And me? I just drag the vases here and there.
Apparently I'm allowed to show you a photo of my peeling leg, but banned from showing you Ava's peeling back, with bikini-shaped white patches. Strange that.
Kunming has been having some lovely sunny days recently. We're still technically in Winter, but our solar-heated water is reaching temperatures of 60-70ºC each day without any help from the back-up electricity heater which makes for a hot shower. Mind you, that doesn't stop one of our household (let's call her "M-in-L") from boiling up a kettle of water each evening for her strip wash. Some habits die hard.
When I first lived in China, there were no private phones, no mobiles, no computers (let alone an Internet) or CD/DVD players. My College didn't even have a photocopier! I kept in touch with family in the UK by "a month each way" handwritten letters. How times have changed. Today I found myself translating (badly) betwen my parents and my ma-in-law as they waved Christmas greetings to each other through Skype. Technology has advanced so rapidly! Why doesn't Tim Berners-Lee have a knighthood yet?
[P.S. Just googled TBL and found out he DOES have a knighthood - that was quick!]
I've been truant more than I've been in attendance at my Chinese lessons over the last few weeks because of the extra work I've been taking on. Despite the patience of my fellow international students [L to R above: Englishman, Palestinian, Australian and Canadian] and Chinese teacher [below] I've been in constant catch-up mode whenever I've been able to make it, and I do feel I'm struggling a bit as a result. If the lessons weren't free (for me, as a teacher at the school) I would have probably given up by now. The other students are more concientious too, and spend much of the rest of each day practising their Chinese in one way or another, while I'm off preparing or delivering English classes. Anyhow, they are a fun bunch to be with and until they start getting frustrated at me holding them back, I'll be struggling on. It does at least provide me phrases such as, "Calm down a bit" and "This isn't totally edible" which can be useful for ma-in-law!
With Ma-in-law being "too ill to leave the house and meet up with friends", or so she says, Ava and I have had to find little things to keep her occupied. Knitting clothes for the various soft toys in the house has worked well and this week was "Big Ted's" turn. He was sent out to me by my parents for my recent birthday. When he was bought for me as a one year old child, he was actually bigger than me. Now, we're both showing our age a bit, but we've never looked more fashionable!
My birthday yesterday started fairly quietly with Jiajia in Shenzhen on business and Ma-in-law having taken herself off to hospital. But once I was at school, I had some lovely surprises. Throughout the afternoon, many of the teaching staff came to my desk, one by one, with a single rose and lovely handwritten messages - 35 in all. I still don't know who co-ordinated that. Later, in the evening, while waiting for my students to arrive, I was told there was a last-second change of classroom. A bit annoyed at the short notice I walked to the new room, only to find my students, their parents and the school administration staff waiting for me with a decorated classroom, birthday cake, presents and a live guitarist playing! I was really taken by surrpise - a lovely end to the day.
Those who know Jiajia well know how devoted she is to her "Dorta" - allegedly the only toy she was ever bought as a child (...though she's made up for it since!). If it ever came down to "Husband or Dorta", I fear it would be me being shown the door. Anyhow, I've learned that the best way to my wife's heart is through her doll. So, when Jiajia asked me to meet her in the market down the hill the other day, I made the snap decision to take Dorta along too, in her newly-bought stroller [see photo]. To the raised eye-brows and perplexed giggles of the locals, I wheeled Dorta around the vegetable stalls until we were finally spotted. Ava was both thrilled and highly embarrassed - a win/win for me!
Now Ma-in-law has got in on the act, knitting Dorta a new jacket and skirt while Ava was away working in Shenzhen [see photo]. I've raised the stakes by buying some tiny pink booties, but Ma-in-law is now threatening to sew together a pair of flowery trousers. Who will win this battle of the gifts ...just Dorta and Ava, I think. Still, if it keeps the women in my life happy, I'm happy to compete! How much are plastic earrings, I wonder?
Ma-in-law pulled out an old photo album the other day and it was great fun to see how Jiajia (Ava) looked before I met her. She doesn't have too many photos, as cameras weren't common in China in those days and her parents weren't often around. But there are some classics (I mean, just how cute is "Baby Jiajia" here?) and I spent an hour yesterday digitising a selection of the tiny pictures.
Some of them have a real "revolutionary" feel to them, such as "Marching Jiajia" and "Dancing Jiajia". Apparently Ava managed to avoid the more arduous physical activity of her compulsory military service by being chosen for the army dance troupe!
This was the most bizarre of the pictures. Why the photographer thought that a tree growing out of Ava's head would be a good idea is a bit of a mystery. Ava hasn't any idea who most of the people are in the various photos, including this old woman!
And finally we can see why Ava has such a thing for her favourite doll. The resemblance between Ava and "Dorta" is a bit spooky, right? [...Ava is on the left!]
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