We don't get as many visitors here in Kunming as we'd like, so it was a very real pleasure to welcome Josh and his two friends Maisy and Eve to our city yesterday evening. Josh is the son of an old College friend of mine and is currently studying Chinese in Beijing as part of a degree from Newcastle University. The girls are doing similar studies, but in Hainan, in the South of China.
JD and I met them after JD's school (and term) finished today and we shared am meal of cross-the-bridge noodles. Unfortunately, the girls turned out to be vegetarians, but we managed to find some extra vegetables to add to the mix! We then had a wander around Green Lake Park. Josh looks Chinese enough to be ignored by the locals (his Mum is Chinese heritage) but the girls were quickly dragged in to dancing with the locals! It was lovely to meet them all, albeit too briefly - they take planes and trains to new places within a day or so.
After a tip-off that following the PanLong River north made for a nice walk, ending near the Waterfall Park, JD and I set off last Saturday. It was indeed a picturesque route in lovely weather, but a little further than we imagined. After 4km, JD was flagging and we took a subway train and bus to complete the journey. After walking around the largest man-made waterfall in Asia, we headed home by three-wheeled bike, subway and taxi. Later that evening Jiajia and I started to realise that JD wasn't "just" tired from the walking. Turns out he's got "Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease". We've had to cancel his Birthday party as it's very contagious, though thankfully not serious.
JD and I spent a half day at the EXPO Horticultural Exhibition recently (followed by a cable car up the mountain to the Golden Temple and an "alpine slide" down the other side. Despite the immaculate gardens and colourful flower displays, JD's favourite sight was three mobile cranes jointly removing a huge statue! I was gobsmacked to see one of them apparently floating ...until I realised why/how!
After yesterday morning with JD in the hospital, we were delighted to meet up with Fintan - the son of friends of mine - who is travelling around China for the first time, and alone too! We picked him up for a dumpling lunch at our house, before heading for YuanTong Temple (the hundreds of turtles all seem to have gone) followed by people-watching (and JD boat driving) on Green Lake. It was a lovely, sunny day and great to get to know Fintan better. After a "Cross-the-bridge-noodles" dinner, we parted company, although a goodbye meal later today is planned before he heads off on his onward journey.
Last Sunday was a terrific day spent with four of JD's classmates and their parents. We all met at the Kunming Botanical Gardens which was surprisingly quiet and spacious. Everyone had brought picnic food, which we shared, and one family had a small tent which the kids loved. The weather was warm, with a cool breeze. We had expected to stay a couple of hours but finally left after six! Lovely trip.
[As we left, Ava fell clean through a drainage grill in the road, scraping and bruising her left leg up to the knee. Karma, anyone?]
JD had just a half day at school today (due to International Women's Day earlier in the week and the predominantly female staff at his school). So I picked hum up midday and we spent the afternoon with two of his school friends, and the father of one of them. We started in a small University wood where the kids spent an hour digging with various tools and construction toys I'd brought along.
An old play area there had broken concrete slides from another era. The steps to the top had all disappeared and there were worrying-looking metal spikes sticking out through the stone, but we lifted the kids up to the top for a couple of slides, before having a go myself.
We then decided to drive to the larger forest where JD and I often go. We climbed the hill there and JD and I showed his friends the den we had made. Unfortunately, after an hour or so, a forest ranger approached us and, rather embarrassed, said we would have to leave as, during the dry season, people were only let in to visit the temple. Playing in the woods was apparently a fire hazard, despite torrential rain yesterday and none of us smoking or planning a bonfire. Stupid rule, but this is China and when your only job is guarding trees, it's what you do.
So we headed off to the Yunnan University campus where we played chasing games with the boys followed by some drinks and snacks. It was a nice warm half-day and I feel we made the most of it.
JD and I took the subway to try and find the rather grandly named "Children's Paradise Park" today following a tip off from a friend of ours. It turned out to be a fairly low-key fairground in a grassy park setting. Unfortunately, JD was again unable to go on most of the rides he fancied, being too short of young. But we found 2-3 that he could enjoy and decided to leave going on the big wheel until the end, only to find it had was closed for repairs as we ended our day.
Ava, JD and I spent a lovely warm day in HuaShan Park today. JD had helped prepare a picnic earlier that morning and was keen to eat it the moment we arrived. He is beginning to be able to catch balls and enjoyed the open spaces to practise that and do roly-polies down the hill. We finished our trip with some tree-climbing and half hour of boating on the lake before heading home.
We spent today in Hong Kong Park, a very nice, if small and hilly, place. There's a free aviary full of wild birds which, though wild, were surprisingly unconcerned by the line of people wandering through their enormous cage and a multi-level children's play area with a 10m long slide which JD loved. When it started to rain late afternoon, we slid into a Pizza Hut and had a cheese fondue, something Ava and JD hadn't experienced before, but really enjoyed.
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.
JD's Kindergarten organised an outing to a park last weekend, The organised activities started with a team race of Daddies running with their children perched on their feet. Our team won and JD got his first balloon of the day. The second activity was even more inventive. Each team stood next to a large piece of card and their shadows were drawn around. Then the shapes were coloured in to make a unique record of the team. Unfortunately, the sun went behind a cloud when our team were trying to make our shadows so Jiajia and I got to work inventing imaginary shadows which the kids then enjoyed painting [see below]. As Jiajia, JD and I left for lunch in a restaurant with the family of JD's best friend - a cute little girl named QiQi - it just started to rain, so we had certainly got the best of the weather.
Despite predictions of heavy rain, JD and I went out to try and find a new park with what is said to be Asia's largest man-made waterfall. After a bus, subway, electric bike journey we found it. The park still being finished, so entry was free. And the waterfalls were indeed very impressive, 400m wide and a mixture of cascades and straight drops. My photo below seemingly managed to catch an image of a ghost, too, which is a little bit worrying!
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!).
Jiajia and I spent this afternoon walking round Mengzi's famous lake (after a very lazy morning snoozing in the hotel). This bridge is reputed to be the one where, in the mists of time, a devoted wife used to bring her husband his lunch each day as he studied on the lake's small island. But regularly finding the noodles cold by the time she got there, she hit on the idea of bringing him a piping hot bowl of broth with a thin layer of oil to retain the heat, and then adding the ingredients (thin meat and vegetable slices, etc) once there, to cook in the still hot soup. Thus, "cross-the-bridge-noodles" was invented.
After the lake, we headed into the old town where I started to recognise certain buildings and shops from my time there, 17 years ago. We also spotted some ladies in their distinctive minority groups clothing, though a lot less than I used to see. As clouds darkened, we headed for the new museum.
The HongHe Prefectural Museum was huge and largely deserted. The first few floors were a little dull, but the last floor had some excellent displays of ethnic minority clothes, musical instruments, tools and traditional ceremonies. Ava particularly loved the embroidery and silver decorations on the various costumes and baby-carriers. Outside, there was a huge thunderstorm and we spent a few minutes watching the lightning, from the safety of the museum!
I tried to take that local train again yesterday, but apparently the one I keep aiming to catch is now permanently cancelled. I'll have to change plans and try for another one, another day.
Instead, I headed down into southern Kunming, partly to visit another park which I'd seen on the map [see photo left] but never visited before and partly to track down more Chinglish [see photo top]. This park was free, and the lake there had a surprising amount of water considering we're in our 4th month of drought, but it was quite small and the little paths had an annoying number of speeding electric bikes to dodge.
This was another park littered with "Emergency" signs. Emergency toilets, Emergency fire extinguisher, Emergency medical treatment, Emergency powe [sic] supply, Emergency goods supply, etc. What sort of emergency are they expecting, exactly?
Our "one hour of trickling water a day" has turned into four days without any water at all. I'm glad I was never able to persuade Jiajia to replace our overlarge bath with a modern shower - baths make a great water storage device. But it won't last forever. We're firmly in the rainy season, so WHERE'S THE RAIN??
I had a day off recently and headed to the North Train Station. It only has 3-4 trains a day, serving the suburbs, but I'd been told it was quite fun watching the city traffic come to a standstill as your train passes through the railway crossing, and then seeing city gradually turn to countryside, all for a 2RMB (20p) ticket. In any case, the journey only lasts 40mins and, after shunting the engine round for 20mins, heads back. However, on arrival I found my chosen train had been cancelled and the next one was due 3 hours later.
So instead, I pulled out my map and decided to walk for an hour to TanHua Park. I'd spotted it on the map before, but never made it. The 5RMB (50p) entrance fee was a bargain - a surprisingly nice find. Old folk were sitting in the many nooks and crannies, playing cards or mahjong [see photo above], but otherwise the park was quiet and pleasantly uncrowded. At the top of the hill was an impressive pagoda tower, sadly locked [see photo right]. The grounds were well kept, though the rusting funfair rides had seen better days! Another hour's walk and I returned home trainless, tired but tanned.
I spotted a nice looking park from a bus I'd not taken before whilst heading towards a friend's house the other day, and decided I should return and explore it sometime. So yesterday I found my way back to "Lotus Park", only to discover that I'd been there before but had entered through a different gate! Still, it made for a nice afternoon out in the sun, amongst the blossoms of trees and flowers and with the screeching sounds of amateur Chinese Opera never far away!
Jiajia doesn't have much family. In Kunming there's just her Mum and an "adopted" Uncle. But there are a few distant relatives in Shanghai
(and one in Laos!) and this week a Shanghai cousin was visiting Kunming on business. We met up with him for a couple of meals and a walk in the park. Bizarrely, the park seemed to be expecting an imminent disaster with almost every sign referring to some unspecified "emergency". Thankfully, we managed to escape with our lives!
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