I've been giving JD English/Maths work during the holiday (only 30-40 mins from me, compared to the daily 1-2 hours Chinese from the school!) but I try and make mine as interesting and fun as possible. We've worked out how much water is in the local swimming pool, the area of various pan lids and, for English, a project writing up the specs of various aircraft (JD's passion).
But today's homework was for JD to work out how to get to the Wanda Towers (a landmark shopping mall across the city) by public transport in time for a McDonalds lunch! He worked out the best route using my phone app (walk, underground, change trains, bus, walk) and then we went and tried it out. JD took the lead, using underground maps, bus timetables and asking locals for help where necessary. I just tagged along! We arrived 12.10pm - perfect.
We planned a different route back over an ice-cream and got back home two hours later. I am hoping JD might gradually pick up the bug for independent travel as I once did in my teens.
Last Friday I took the 6 hour bus journey to Pu'Er (home of the famous tea) where I'd been invited by my friends LuoHao and his wife "Seven" [see above] to attend a workshop he had organised for 60 Middle school English teachers. On Saturday morning they took me on a 10km walk around a large reservoir. And then, after lunch, the workshop began.
We first watched two demo classes, complete with a class of 50 students. Both of these were surprisingly good, despite being focused on Grammar and Reading respectively. Afterwards I led the feedback session, eliciting the teachers' ideas and thoughts. [see above].
On Sunday morning 5 teachers gave short lectures on various aspects of teaching (in Chinese) before I gave my 1½ hour talk (truncated from the 2 hours requested due to the previous teachers overrunning!). Then, after lunch together, I took the 6 hour bus trip home. It was fun to be in the countryside once again, training young rural English teachers - something which used to be my sole job. But I think I'm getting too old for all this travelling!
My examining week in Lanzhou is finished and I boarded the plane to Kunming last night, tired but generally pleased with my work.
Favourite examinee errors:
"I want to travel to broaden my horizontals."
"I own a small horse now but I'd like to get a big horse when I get older so that my grandparents can live in it with me." [...house!]
Before heading back to Kunming we spent a leisurely morning looking around ShiLin's Old Town (razed by bulldozers) and looking out for interesting places, such as the shop above selling hand-made funerary wares - a rare sight in a country where everything seems factory-produced these days. Then in the wet market, we saw these two diminutive "Hani minority" women selling various foods form their village. We bought some free range eggs (only to be told moments later by another nearby vendor that the eggs are the same "battery hen eggs" as everyone else's! Seems you pay a premium for the photo!
ON the way back to Kunming, we visited PanSiWan cemetery where Jiajia's Gran is buried. It was JD's first visit to a cemetery - cue a whole raft of deep questions on the remaining journey home!
Jiajia, JD and I are currently taking a little break for a few days (this week is a national holiday to celebrate China's 70th year as a nation). We decided to use our annual tickets at ShiLin's "Ocean and Snow Park" but, unfortunately, after the 2-hour drive to get there we found out that our passes are not valid on holidays - that small print gets you every time! So we had to fork out for fresh one-day tickets. After bumper cars, the carousel and a terrific circus we headed into the huge sub-zero warehouse for tobogganing, skating and tyre-sliding. Then it was on to the ski run for JD's second "lesson". Last time he didn't quite manage to get all the way down the slope without falling over. But this time, after a couple of early tumbles, he was able to get all the way down a dozen times. And very proud of himself he was too! Mind you, pride comes before a fall and there were a couple of spectacular wipe-outs later as he tried to master "turning"!
We arrived safely in the UK yesterday after a little hiccup at Heathrow airport (my parents had got caught in traffic and arrived some 20 mins after we did!). After our 24-hour door-to-door journey we took it easy at "home" today - chilling in my parents' flower-filled garden and enjoying some home-cooking!
So begins our month of travelling, shopping, sightseeing and visiting friends and family.
We found ourselves in Edinburgh during their annual Arts Festival - the largest in Europe. So we spent our last morning walking around the centre of the city enjoying the street artists and teasers for many shows. We actually managed to catch an hour-long play based on the "Taming of the Shrew" performed by teenagers and adapted as family viewing. JD loved it, especially when we met the cast outside afterwards and they pointed out that JD had called out more answers than the rest of the audience combined! JD's favourite memory though will undoubtedly be meeting a "real" fairy in the street and having fairy dust sprinkled over him. He was disappointed not to be able to fly afterwards. We had to make do with the train back to England instead.
Today we drove with Krista to a nice pub "mid-way" to our new host Cat and our mutual friend Jo and her family. Cat's family are all away at the moment in various parts of the world, enabling her to open her house to us for a few days. From there we will visit our old friends, the Sams family. So far, JD has coped really well despite the ever-changing friends and beds.
We are spending a lovely few days with my friends Krista and Stuart in their picturesque house in Chippenham. They have arranged some great little outings eg JD getting drenched in the water playground and a visit to a set of canal boat locks including a short barge ride.
We are spending a few nights at this amazing 15th Century house in a small Wiltshire village called Bromham. It's our first time to stay at an Air BnB property and we have been impressed by the warm welcome and comfortable room (despite the original low ceilings and uneven floors). We are enjoying exploring nearby villages and towns.
On our final day in HuiZe yesterday we drove for a couple of hours up a steep road to the top of a nearby mountain, signposted as "Scenic Mountain Grasslands". The summit was at 4000m, some 2000m higher than Kunming, and the drive was interrupted by herds of goats and views which were worth pulling over for to enjoy properly. The mountain ridges were peppered with huge wind turbines which we eventually drove up close to. At the very top, we found our place in a huge car park and bought tickets for a short bus journey through the mountain grasslands - along with hundreds of Chinese tourists! Still, it was a memorable day out in the fresh air and I got quite sunburnt.
Ava, JD and I took a trip to WuDing today, with the Dancing Couple. It's about an hour's drive from Kunming, and famous for Lion Mountain which is peppered with temples and lion statues - or so they day. On arrival, we were a little surprised to be required to buy a ticket to climb the mountain and gobsmacked to find it was 100RMB (£10) each. As we climbed the trail, we looked in vain for lion statues. The waterfall had no water (drought). The temples were tiny and falling apart. The "mystical cave" was boarded up. And the tower at the top of the mountain was hidden in scaffolding. All very disappointing.
The trip wasn't a complete washout though. We left the mountain to visit friends of the Dancing Couple who were having a village celebration of a pig being butchered. On the way, JD spotted horses and carts, geese, herds of goats, cows, sheep and lots fo construction vehicles! At the village itself, JD had close encounters with a huge pig and two goats [see photo, right] as well as cats and dogs. We joined in the banquet with about 50 others and left when it got dark. Nice to get out of the city sometimes.
We flew back to China today. Our three suitcases were substantially over the limit, but JD charmed the check-in ladies and they let it slide. And we managed to get away with five items of hand luggage too. Little did we know we were just starting off a series of complications...
The return flight was somewhat less stressful than the outward bound one, as we were given special seats with more leg room and a tiny removable baby bed. JD was technically too heavy to use it, but by then we knew that "too heavy" was negotiable, so use it he did!
Our problems began in Beijing. We found out the connecting Air China flight had been cancelled and they had switched us to a China Eastern flight. However, this left from a different terminal, requiring a 20 minute bus ride (not easy with 8 items of luggage!). Still, we had plenty of time. At the new check-in, it was pointed out that our two bigger suitcases were a total of 8kg too much AND China Eastern did not allow infants a baggage allowance, so the smaller third suitcase couldn't go at all. We quickly deployed smiley JD and begged for some lenience. Finally he agreed to let our two suitcases on and suggested we take the smaller third one as hand luggage (our sixth item!).
It was only as we arrived at security that it dawned on me - we had liquids in the smaller case. The x-ray confirmed about 20 items that weren't allowed and we were asked to remove them all. Jiajia managed to persuade security that 5-6 were needed for JD on the flight, so they let us put those back. Then we politely asked to speak
to the head of security and BINGO, it was a smiley lady. We released the JD charm bomb and five minutes later went through with ALL our lotions and potions! We were last people to enter the plane and our SIX walk-on items raised a few eye-brows. Then, when I tried to put the suitcase into the overhead locker, it was just too big to fit. "Take out some of the contents", suggested a helpful air hostess. So I unzipped the lid and BOOM - twenty illegal tubes, bottles and pots fell out! Ooops. JD was frantically waved like a magic wand as I hastily stuffed them into a plastic bag. Amazingly we arrived home with every single item we had hoped to, despite breaking every rule in the book! Thank goodness for the boy.
His favourite "new" food is yoghurt, partly for the taste and texture, and partly for the opportunity to daub himself and get a few laughs.
Ava is still coughing a lot after her pneumonia, so we're taking things fairly easy these first few days. Rather than travelling around, as originally planned, we're being visited at my parents' house by various relatives and close friends.
We've finally arrived in the UK and are slowly getting over our jet-lag, although with JD waking up at 2am or 3am each morning, wanting to play, it's a tiring business. It's so nice to see him getting to know his Nanny and Granddad who he's only seen on Skype before. Today we were treated to a late Christmas meal, complete with paper hats and crackers. JD is enjoying western food and eating by himself a lot more.
As JD was born in China, he is considered a Chinese citizen by the Chinese government. Therefore, as China only allows people to have one nationality, JD's British passport is not recognised and he has no valid passport to fly abroad. So we recently had to apply for a temporary Entry/Exit Certificate from the local PSB (People's Security Bureau), which came through last week [see above]. We'll use JD's Birth Certificate for the internal flight to Beijing, switch to his Entry/Exit Certificate to leave and return to China, and then switch to his British passport to enter Britain. That's one troublesome little boy (or country, depending on how you look at it)!
I've spent New Year's Eve in many ways, but have never before driving down an unlit motorway, through tunnels and over bridges, weaving between trucks, as one year passed into another. But this year we joined a couple of families for a 3-day trip to MoJiang, a town about 300km away from Kunming. It was supposed to take 3-4 hours to drive there, but an accident tailback and a food stop led to a tiring 6-hour trip, arriving 1.30am. Friends of one of the family had been waiting for us to arrive for hours so, after checking into a hotel, we drove to their house for a huge Hani ethnic minority meal of baby eels, snails and forest foliage, all covered in hot chili and sour root vegetables. We had already eaten on the way and it was 3am - I wasn't really in the mood! But they had cooked so much for us and had waited for hours - we had to show willing.
A few hours drive from Dali is the small town of Shaxi (pronounced "SharrShee", despite what my brother insisted ..."Shaksee", indeed!)
We checked into a charming, traditional house cum hotel [see above] and enjoyed a sunny day in Shaxi walking around the well-preserved old town, which includes their famous ancient theatre [see top picture] overlooking the cobbled town square.
Other interesting sights needed some pointing out, however, such as the old slogan still visible on this house, proclaiming something along the lines of "True progress can only come through Governmental control of the people" - a real throwback to the days of Mao Zedong etc. Behind the main town, building work is taking place to pave and beautify the river front, including this picturesque bridge [see below]. So far, the town seems fairly authentic and untouristy, but that could all change very quickly unless care is taken. We really enjoyed our short stay, though.
Past blog entries