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.
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!
Our nanny and I took JD to the Train Museum yesteday afternoon. It was always quite a good museum, but was refurbished and reorganised through last year and is now really excellent. The half a dozen real trains on display have been moved inside the museum itself (they used to be in a nearby covered siding) and all the exhibits have been spruced up, with English translations added. JD has finally twigged the difference between a bus and a train. The only disappointment is that you are no longer allowed to climb inside the trains and carriages as you were before. Oh, and the cafeteria charges 10RMB for a can of soda (2.5RMB in the shop outside!). Otherwise, we were chuffed...
Today was a sunny day, so we (Jiajia, Nanny, JD and I) decided to head up to the hills and grab some fresh air. We drove to a vantage point, avoiding the rather crazy driving on blind bends by some of the Chinese drivers, and then walked further up until our legs ached.
Our Nanny proved rather sprightly on the mountain paths, no doubt the result of her countryside upbringing, while I managed to keep up despite having the baby on my back. Ava lagged behind a bit as her fitness suffered during the pregnancy! Spectacular views of Kunming from the top.
Kunming hardly ever gets snow. I've only seen a light dusting once in my seven years here. But just see what we woke up to this morning! The temperature dropped fast over the weekend, and my students got very excited to see a flurry of "flakey rain" falling outside the classroom, though it barely qualified as snow. But overnight we've had a proper snowfall.
With our nanny away this week, "health and safety" is somewhat lower on the agenda, so I decided to try and make a snowman for JD. However, the snow started to melt through the afternoon and so it ended up as more of a snow rabbit! JD seems to have caught my cold from last week now (his first illness) so Jiajia and I are having to cope with a grumpy, stuffed-up little baby.
A few bus stops down the road is "Lotus Pond Park" (or "Pund" if you prefer!) which is fast becoming a favourite. It's not particularly famous within Kunming, so gets less visitors than some places. But enough for there to be plenty to see and do. It's really well-laid out, with a large lake, pagodas, bridges, covered walkways and little secluded areas to explore. JD enjoys the raucous seagulls (freshly flown in from Siberia)
Nanny and I took JD to Green Lake Park yesterday afternoon as the weather was warm and breezy. The park is in the centre of town and an easy bus trip from our flat. It's particularly popular at this time of year as it hosts hundreds of seagulls who fly here annually from Siberia. People visit from all around Yunnan to feed them. JD watched them attentively for 2-3 minutes before deciding it was, afterall, quite a scary thing and threatening to cry! So we walked on to other areas of the park, which was buzzing with life due the fine weather. It really is a top-class place for people-watching and interacting. Let me share a few moments of our time here...
Large areas of Green Lake Park are occupied by singing, dancing and instrumental groups. Some are clearly well-rehearsed and enjoy having an audience [see JD enjoying one, below]. Others are more amateur, inclusive and spontaneous. One of the largest consisted of a tape-player hanging from a tree playing a simple ethnic minority tune, surrounded by 50-60 people in a circle, doing simple dance steps to the rhythm. As gaps appeared in the circle, passers-by would join for a few minutes before moving on. Even JD had a try. It's clearly popular as a social and exercising activity, yet not one of the dancers showed even the slightest smile. Odd.
So, ethnic music, traditional Chinese music, musicians practising alone, disco music, warbling soloists, 10 piece bands, buskers - all doing their thing within eyesight and earshot of each other. Like a free musical smorgasbord. Very strange, yet immensely uplifting.
At one point, a young monk ran up and gently touched JD on the forehead, handing over a small plastic amulet. "For luck", he intoned. "For free?" I asked. "For good luck...", he smiled. "And no money?" I pressed. "For your son. For good luck". "Hmm, no thanks", I decided. "Then BAD luck!", he snarled and stomped off. I saw him later with three other "monks" sitting under a tree, having a smoke and counting the proceeds from more naive day-trippers.
Most of the folk in the park seemed to be senior citizens or mothers/grandmothers with babies. (I find myself close to being in both camps!) Half a dozen Chinese ladies with babies held their nerve to make a connection with the "foreigner baby" and exchange coos and boos. The baby in the picture above is just 3 weeks older than JD, complete with 4 teeth. You can sorta see why the Chinese doctors say that JD is not growing fast enough (and no teeth yet, either). But on the positive side, JD always seems to have so much more energy and social skills than the similarly-aged babies he meets; bouncing up and down, waving, smiling, maintaining eye contact. Other kids seem almost zombie-like in comparison.
Later, four students sidled up to us and, in broken English, asked me a few "standard" questions before rather sheepishly asking if they could take a photo with me and JD. No problem. And moments later, one of my own students from Robert's School and his English-speaking mum spotted us and came running over to see the baby. No wonder JD fell asleep towards the end of our visit. And so, bus home, bottle of milk and straight to bed (...for me, while the Nanny looked after JD!).
Ava and I bought a new mattress for the nanny's bed the other day. The old one wasn't that comfortable but, more annoyingly, made all sorts of squeaking and creaking noises as you moved around on it, waking the baby. (We bought it new, a year ago, for just 150RMB (£15) so what did we expect?) The new one was 850RMB and is, not surprisingly, a lot better. It comes with its own Chinglish too. "I wish to present my dearing bear to you"! Should that be "dear" or "darling"?
With the return of our nanny after her week's holiday, Jiajia and I decided to get away for a few days before starting work once again. A newly opened line of track now links Kunming to Mengzi - a town where I lived and worked for a year with V.S.O. back in 1996. So, we took the early train this morning for a busy but fairly pleasant four hour journey through towns, countryside and tunnels. The train terminates at a station some 14km from the actual town (the line is due to be completed by the end of the year) and is, rather bizarrely, situated atop a hill, so you have to climb down 200 steps to get to the road where buses/taxis will complete the journey for you
Mengzi itself has seen huge expansion since I lived there. A vast new development to the west has increased the size of the town fourfold. It's not a town anymore - it's a city. I used to take a horse and cart from the College where I worked to the main shopping street. Now there are flashy public buses connecting you to shopping malls and enormous government buildings. On arrival we found a great hotel; clean, quiet, friendly and only 220RMB (£22) a night, including breakfast. Ten minutes walk from the lake and the old town. We'll explore them tomorrow.
Jiajia and I have been blown away by the generosity of friends and family since JD's birth. Despite the multitude of things one has to buy for a new baby, we are only now beginning to dip in to the personal money we had saved up during the pregnancy. The biggest expense has been, and remains, the live-in nanny. But boy, is she worth it! With both Jiajia and I having extra work this month and Ma-in-law in hospital (for various imagined ills), we would be in dire straits were it not for our gallant nanny keeping the daily feeding, clothes washing, bathing and nappy changing routines going. Jiajia and I are hoping there will be more chance for us to play and bond with JD next month when we have a few week's holiday.
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.
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