And so our wonderful six weeks in the UK has finally come to an end. We' spent our last day or so at Mum and Dad's packing our luggage, eating out and saying our goodbyes. Thankfully our suitcases turned out to be under our weight allowance (just!) and our flights back went fairly smoothly. As ever, it was sad to say goodbye to everyone, but our "real" life awaits us here, back in Kunming. For now, at least...
We've spent our last few days in the UK chillin' with my parents - walks in the park, haircuts, visits to garden centres (JD attended a "Pixie and Fairy" event) and various admin - bank, opticians, post office etc
It's been particularly lovely for me to see my small Chinese family
bonding so well with my wider UK family over the holidays.
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.
JiaJia has long wanted to visit Scotland so, for just a couple of days, we've taken the train up to Edinburgh staying with an elderly couple I have been in touch with since they were fellow VSO volunteers in the 1990s. John and Anna suggested we visit the well-preserved Dirleton Castle on our first morning and drove us there with their dog Joe. In the afternoon we went to a beach on the Firth of Forth but it all got a bit cold and rainy (as Scotland is prone to) so we headed back to their house for some nice home-cooked dinner.
My parents remain very involved in their local church, despite laying down various responsibilities over recent years due to their age, so a visit to Sidcup Baptist Church is in order whenever we are in town. JD has shown an interest in all things spiritual in recent months - praying to various gods, saying grace before meals, interacting with fairies etc. So he joined in the service as best he could - singing along and eagerly joining in the children's activities. We always get a very warm welcome from the SBC church members and we feel very at home there, despite only visiting once a year on average!
We're back at my parents' in Sidcup, Kent for another full and fun week. We visited "Lark in the Park" a community event my parents' church helps to put on. JD got his face painted as Spiderman, and took part in various activities such as painting, pets and puppets. We also visited Hall Place, a Tudor house which was hosting a Lego exhibition.
Then at Cooling Garden Centre, we watched a Bird of Prey show and JD got to handle an owl. And finally my Mum and Dad put on a "belated" Christmas celebration complete with a tree, roast dinner, crackers, carols and presents. How do we fit it all in?
My only other Park Run was two years ago when I last visited Hereford. That run was with Josh who dropped out halfway, injured. This time I was joined for the 5km by my brother Dave (and his dog Evie). It was great fun to run with him - running is a hobby we share but had never done together before today. We both made it round in under 30 minutes, though Dave was ahead of me by the end.
We are now staying with my brother Dave and his family in Hereford. We had a nice day out today visiting Skenfrith Castle, swimming in the river there and enjoying a picnic. My nephew Josh used his police contacts to give JD a visit to police station including sitting in a police car and turning on the lights and siren. And Dave set up a visit to a forklift factory allowing JD to ride in one of his favourite vehicles.
We've also enjoyed some yummy food, both at his home and out at restaurants. I may be getting too fat to tackle Saturday's Park Run!
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.
Today we got to see my brother Andy's new house. He and his family have been looking for their dream house for about four years but have now finally found the right home in the right location. And while my sister-in-law Ali took JiaJia to Winchester's charity shops, Andy, Louie and Daisy took JD and I to Winchester's very interactive Science Museum and Planetarium for a fun visit.
A terrific day in the capital today, starting at the London Eye and wandering down the Thames. As planes flew in formation overhead to celebrate 100 years of the RAF, JD was more interested in popping huge bubbles blown by a street artist while JiaJia was busy taking in a Picasso exhibit at the Tate Modern.
Later we explored the HMS Belfast before heading for my Aunt's house for a meal and sleep-over. Open-topped bus and river cruise tomorrow.
Jiajia is a huge fan of UK Charity shops, but found today's Car Boot Sale - her first - even more enticing. Items were even cheaper there, and the sellers were willing to bargain. We wandered around for over an hour and bought all sorts of "unnecessary" items to take back to China. We got a few bargains too - a couple of Chinese plates worth a few hundred pounds for £3 and a new Monopoly set for £2.
We're spending a few days at my friend Ratch's. Ratch and I exchange emails once or twice a day while in China, which is more contact then I get from anyone else! It was great to visit her and husband Steve.
JD was having trouble grasping how long it is until we visit the UK, so I wrote a countdown on a block of post-its and now, every day, he rips off the top one and we stick it up on the top of the wardrobe.
We are all really looking forward to the trip. Six weeks seemed a lot of time for us to fill, at first, but we appear to be squeezing far too much in once again in order to see everyone and do all the things we want to. And of course, we're still waiting to see if Jiajia gets her visa without a hiccup.
JD, Jiajia and I went to the Kunming UK Visa Processing Office yesterday to hand in the various documents required to apply for Jiajia's UK visa. There seems to be less requirements this time, but the online application beforehand still takes about 3 hours to complete, and I had to do it twice this time after we suddenly realised that applying for a 5-year visa wasn't going to work when Jiajia's passport only had 2 years to run. However, last time we applied we had to fly to the UK Consulate in Chongqing and stay a night in a hotel. At least this time there is a processing centre in Kunming. The 2-year visa still costs some £350 though. Not cheap. And, as ever, there is no guarantee we will get the full two years or, indeed, any visa at all. The website asks for various documents, while the processing centre mentions others and whoever you ask comes back with the set phase "We are not able to advise you on what to supply - it's up to you." Hmmm ...so helpful!
So we've come to the end of our five weeks in the UK. We fly back tomprrow. We spent today packing and I'm convinced all three of our suitcases are overweight, such is the spending power of my lovely wife!
We've had such a wonderful time. JD has really connected with my parents and all his relatives, and we've managed to see everything and everybody we had hoped for, and more. And, importantly, whilst we usually arrive with one or more illnesses to deal with, this time we were all pretty much well and healthy which make a big difference.
Knowing that we are unlikely to be back here for a couple of years is a sad feeling, and a real shame for JD. But Kunming is "home" (for now at least) and I imagine things wouldn't be quite so special if we were meeting up with everybody all the time. All the same, we'll miss you all.
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