On our final morning in Guangzhou, Jiajia and I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King. The 2000-year old tomb contained many artefacts on discovery, including the king himself dressed in thousands of small jade pieces. In the afternoon, Ava took the train to Shenzhen while I flew back to Kunming to catch up with my very own "jadey"!
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!
One of the bonuses of the flat we use in Shenzhen is the swimming pool in neighbourhood. With sweltering daytime temperatures and humidity, it's a blessing to spend some floodlit time in the pool in the evening. As I took JD into the pool for the first time, I was keen to take it easy and let him get used to the experience. Some chance! Within seconds he was laughing, kicking his feet, splashing me and having a truly wonderful time!
As a family, the Hiders have never been the most confident of swimmers. So maybe his confidence was from the dozen times he visited the play centre as a baby, where he floated and kicked with an inflatable ring round his neck? Or maybe the daily splashing in the bath? Anyhow, it was a holiday highlight.
We've spent a fun few days here. Jiajia has been combining our holiday with some work - she visits the factory outlet markets here every month to stock up on the latest brand fashions. JD and I have been spending at least part of the day walking round with her, meeting her various contacts there who have been really thrilled to finally see JD after all the photos. None less so than "Mink Lady" [centre] who treated us to a nice meal alongside her business partner and her son [right and far right]. And JD has quickly got the hang of wandering into total strangers' shops with a beaming smile and leaving ten minutes later with free stuff (grapes, candy, toys, etc!).
We made it safely to Shenzhen yesterday. JD had a lot to cope with; our Nanny leaving for a well-earned week's holiday, long taxi to the airport, some turbulence on the flight, long taxi to a new flat where we're staying and a temperatures of 33-35ºC, with 90% humidity. His curiousity throughout the journey overcame any upset, but he was tired by the evening.
The journey was made a little easier by travelling as VIPs and in first class! Jiajia gets VIP service at airports as a special Bank of China customer and had also earlier spotted that first class was only 200-300RMB (£20-30) more expensive than economy. The extra space and better food were certainly welcome! We'll be in Shenzhen for a week looking after our toddler 24/7 without anyone else helping. Should be fun.
Jiajia, JD and I fly to Shenzhen today - our first time away as a nuclear family, and JD's first time to fly. That's assuming the chaos at airports round the country has subsided by then [see Kunming airport "riot" above]. Apparently the air force are randomly commandeering airport runways for a countrywide military exercise, causing huge delays and cancellations to hundreds of commercial flights! Only in China, right?
The rainy season often leads to some flooding in Shenzhen, the city where Jiajia is currently attempting to get some work done, but this year is earlier and worse than Jiajia can remember in all her years of flying there to buy clothes for her store. The photos speak for themselves!
So Jiajia's holed up in her flat for now, amidst heavy thunderstorms, in the knowledge that she wouldn't be able to get to the markets she needs to, even if she did venture out. She did manage to Skype this evening though, to assure us she was safe.
Jiajia flew to Shenzhen on business 36 hours ago, arriving just before the heavens opened and an almighty rainstorm left 16 dead, with many streets and buildings flooded. Shenzhen airport itself was badly affected [see photo right], although the photo below (also said to be from Shenzhen airport) seems less plausible to me as the airline is one found elsewhere in China. Still, the wife is in wellie boots and mac, rather then her usual flip-flops and sunhat attire, poor thing!
I'm quite good at keeping presents unopened until the actual day itself, be it birthday, Christmas etc. But not Jiajia; for her, presents get opened on receipt, even when they are not actually hers (she claims it's because she never received any as a child).
So it wasn't a huge surprise to find all my presents unwrapped within hours of her returning from her recent stock-purchasing trip to Shenzhen. Two days early. And MY presents! Still, I managed to hide some cards, and open them (and various e-messages) on the right day. Next year will be the "BIG 5-0", of course, but in the meantime I'll enjoy being a "square number" (7x7) for the first time in a decade, and for the last time before retirement!
I bought a small picture book for JD from our local supermarket the other day. Up until now, the books we've bought for him have come from a small factory outlet shop in Shenzhen (near Hong Kong) and, having been made for export to western stores, the English has been impeccable. This book though is by Chinese for Chinese. The English is therefore suspect, to say the least!
Most of the book features simple fruits and vegetables, but a few oddities are included too. I'll give the publishers the benefit of the doubt on the "Nepenthes", though it hardly seems common. "Sago Cycas" may well be right (though don't we call them palms?) while Googling "candock" shows pictures of inflatible pontoons! And surely those are runner beans, not "kidney beans"? But what do I know?
The last two I feel much more confident about. It may grow in paddy fields, but that is rice! And corn is definitely spelled with an "n".
Jiajia and I flew back from Shenzhen yesterday. She has bought as much stock as time allowed and now has a day or so to rest up before all the boxes arrive at her store and she (and her shop assistants) unpack, check and sell it. The flight back was delayed by an hour (as usual) and we nearly missed it even then. We had paid a little extra to have VIP treatment at the airport, which means electric carts carrying you around, no queues for check-in, free food and drink in a comfy lounge, etc. Unfortunately, the staff weren't keeping an eye on our flight and it was only when I spotted that it was "Now Boarding" and asked them if we shouldn't be going that they spotted our details and whisked us off. And just in time - the gate was closing as we arrived!
Shenzhen is a huge and modern city [see photo above], increasingly indistinguishable from Hong Kong which it borders in the south. It's hard to believe Shenzhen was just a tiny fishing village 30 years ago. It owes it's astonishing growth to Deng XiaoPing [photo, right] who declared it to be a Special Economic Zone, with meant lots of investment and tax breaks. His 6m (20ft) tall statue strides confidently through Lotus Mountain Park, from where the panoramic views of Shenzhen above can also be seen.
The Chinese lay claim to many of the world's great inventions (gun powder, paper, the compass, table tennis, etc) but I was impressed to see them proudly explaining why graffiti started in China. Apparently hip-hop and rap can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty. Who knew?
I saw this sign (alongside some very tasteful and uplifting examples of said graffiti) at the top of the mountain where I often go running while visiting Shezhen. It's a taxing 45-minute run up a paved pathway, overlooking a reservoir, and then a 30 minute jog back down again. But yesterday I decided to try and continue running over the mountain and on to wherever the pathway led. I took 100RMB (£10) with me and a handwritten note with my address on it, planning to catch a taxi back "home" once I got to the end, or got too exhausted to continue. After 45 minutes running to the top, the pathway started to go downhill. Then uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill... no signs of any exit off the mountain. I finally had to quit after a further hour of running and managed to scramble down the hill. But no taxis - I was walking along a motorway. Finally, I found an underground station but had no idea in which direction I should take, or which station was nearest my flat. I finally spotted "North Railway Station" a few stops away and, sure enough, there was a taxi there which got me home after 2½ hours out and about in the 34ºC heat and humidity.
We've returned to Kunming, largely to escape the racket made by a team of tree fellers chopping down a dozen trees around our Shenzhen flat, and the neighbours drilling walls, presumably as part of a redecoration. The lumberjacks were frighteningly casual about the tree-climbing, chain-sawing and bough-dropping. The main climber has a harness and safety rope, but never bothered to attach it to anything.
We arrived back in Kunming a few days after the new airport experienced chaos when heavy fog descended, with hundreds of flights cancelled (Locals who were interviewed said there is often fog in that area and they told the construction company many times when they were deciding where to build the airport). Kunming is a lot chillier than Shenzhen and, frustratingly, our flat is only getting 20 minutes of running water a day now (and no hot water at all). Ava and I went to see the local neighbourhood leaders today but were told "It's not our fault", "Here's another number to ring", "What can we do?" etc. Naff!
We took the train to Guangzhou today. There are handbag and shoe markets there which give Ava a wider range of goods items to sell. It took seconds to buy a ticket, the train was on time, clean and speedy - British Rail please note! The coffee was a rip-off though; 30RMB (£3) for a paper cupful? On the way home we bought our coffee in advance from the KFC by the station. Much cheaper and just as tasty.
A Shenzhen-based, well-to-do friend of Ava's who enjoys spending a day shopping with Ava when she goes down there took us out for a delicious lunch today. We had "NorthEast China" food - very filling, and not as spicy as we normally get here. The restaurant was decorated with memorabilia from the Mao Zedong era, including this bag embroidered with words declaring how Communist leaders are always working so selflessly for the people!!
We headed for Shenzhen's IKEA today. Ava loves the shopping possibilities there (my role seems to be to put the brakes on the more wild purchase opportunities). As for me, I allow myself to be dragged there for the food. Despite the queues, the cheap and authentic Swedish food is too tempting to ignore. This time I managed meatballs AND spaghetti bolognese (and brocolli, chicken wings, soup, cake, juice...). Great nosh!
I enjoyed this Fire Escape sign. All good advice, except What's the third Taboo? I need to know. Is it something we can't talk about??
Ava and I are spending the New Year in Shenzhen (near HongKong). She has some work and shopping to do here and we both thought we'd benefit from some warmer weather (Kunming's turned bitterly cold recently), some running water (our flat got cut off last week once again) and a break from work and "family". Mind you, looking at this street map, I'm not exactly sure where we are!
I thought I'd rustle up a little surprise for the wife's return (from buying shop stock in ShenZhen), by throwing up some simple Christmas decorations in the lounge. As ever, the festivities in Kunming are sparse (...outside of our school, that is. Robert's School has gone to town on decorations this year, and in good time, too). However, the newsagent's shop near my bus stop, which has had a sign up all year wishing people a Happy Christmas, is finally legit again!
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!
Yesterday Beijing was deluged with its heaviest rainfall in sixty years, killing 77 people, flooding thousands of houses and leaving a UK friend of mine in a plane on the Beijing runway for six hours. Ava is in Shenzhen and rang me yesterday evening during one of the worst rainstorms she has experienced in many years. With the Shenzhen airport closed, and needing to get back, she took a 3 hour bus ride to Guangzhou today to fly back from there. But she's currently holed up in an airport hotel, with all flights grounded there, too. Meanwhile in Yunnan, we are still amidst a drought, with the recent rainfall here seemingly making little or no difference to local reservoirs. My neighbourhood has been without running water for 5 months, and other areas in Kunming are finally having their water rationed too. Crazy weather.
Past blog entries