We spent today driving to, and climbing up, QiPan Mountain in the west of Kunming, with a Chinese family we know well. It was a winding drive and a foresty walk - an hour each. "QiPan" translates as "chess board" for reason which aren't immediately obvious - maybe the many statues placed on a flat area of land?
We got back yesterday from an overnight stay in a village on the outskirts of Kunming. On arrival we headed for the fossils up a nearby hill, somewhere we'd been once before with friends.
Jiajia quickly found a small, but complete trilobite. I later found a large but incomplete one. After a few hours, JD was starting to get frustrated by his lack of luck when he suddenly stumbled across this beautiful, blue-stained trilobite. That cheered him up for the rest of the day! We headed back down to the village with a dozen fossils in various states of completeness.
We'd found a traditional, old house online which offered a homestay bedroom. It was very pretty and the hosts couldn't do enough for us. Unfortunately, there were a lot of biting mosquitoes during the night, despite our precautions, which led to little sleep.
The next morning, we went to the weekly market, but it was a bit disappointing - just half a dozen Yi minority women with fruit and vegetables fresh from their fields. Afterwards we found a carpentry workshop which offered craft lessons to children. So JD spent 4 hours making a wooden knife and sheath, with the help or his patient teacher. He loved it and was very proud of his work.
We drove back to Kunming later in the afternoon. We stopped at a car wash as Jiajia has a lot of vouchers for free valets. While they were cleaning the car, we headed for a nearby Pizza Hut as - you guessed it - Jiajia has a lot of vouchers for free pizzas. The benefits of being a VIP customer at the Bank of China!
It was a fun little trip and we think we might go back again someday to explore a little more, in and around the village. Meanwhile, JD has to prepare for his imminent return to school.
We went to a mountainside picnic area where the kids could run around and play. Lunch was a DIY barbecue - you bring your own food and then pay for charcoal and the barbecue grill to cook it on. Fun.
The flat upstairs started their redecoration and remodeling yesterday and, pretty soon, the constant hammering of the masonry drills drove me out of the house. I headed for a reservoir I'd heard about, a half hour e-bike drive away. It didn't disappoint. A haven of fresh air and greenery just outside the city. And I was surprised to see a dozen folk swimming there too, so it looks like somewhere I might take JD to sometime.
We spent the last couple of days on a final holiday trip before JD returns to school next week. We had been invited to join four other families at a spa resort nestled in the mountains of LuQuan. It's a winding 2½ hour drive there and back, but the views are spectacular. The spa hotel was surprising nice and the various pools were clean and ranged from warm to piping hot. There was also a kid's water play area and an outdoor swimming pool.
And with a good restaurant/snack bar, new friends, dry weather and amazing surrounding scenery - what more could you ask for?
Yesterday, we went with friends to an island town on TangLangChuan (literally "Praying Mantis River") in the countryside, about an hour's drive away. We had home-cooked banquets with friends of our friends and took a pleasant afternoon walk down the riverside to the enormous DianChi Lake. Then, on to a farm where we pulled up fresh vegetables for the evening meal and annoyed a huge goose.
JD's favourite activity was fishing in the river with his new net. He managed to catch three little minnows. For me, it was nice to spend a little quiet time with the wife, with mobile phones turned off!
It's the last day of JD's week off, and so when some of JD's schoolmates invited him to join them in visiting to Kunming's biggest funfair, we could hardly reuse. I'm doing IELTS examining at the moment, so it fell to Jiajia to join the other parents on the trip.
JD is fearless when it comes to big wheels, rollercoasters, high swings, whizzing roundabouts etc. So he had a blast. They also took in a couple of shows, before sharing a big meal on the way home.
Last weekend Jiajia, JD and I went with three of JD's classmates and their parents to a Bai minority village in the countryside. We picked peaches (and pumpkins) and shared a large ethnic banquet.
The drive back home saw some spectacular dusk skies and a curiously vertical rainbow. A fun trip out, despite some intermittent showers.
Yesterday Mr Sun, his wife and son (who JD knows from school) invited us to go climb a nearby mountain and see a partial solar eclipse.As we climbed,the sky was covered by dark rainclouds but, as the eclipse time neared, the skies suddenly cleared and we were able to see the sun being "eaten" by the moon very clearly.
We continued exploring the mountain before returning to our cars and sharing a nice restaurant meal together. The last eclipse I saw was when I was in Primary School, so this will be a very special memory.
Today we ventured out for the first real time in three months, spending the day by a lake in the countryside with two other families whose boys were friends with JD back in his Kindergarten days.
Unfortunately, JD's kite was missing a few vital parts, he brought the controller for his remote-controlled jeep but not the car itself and his glider was missing a tail wing (a lesson learned by JD about last second packing)! But the three kids proceeded to play happily in the sand pit for literally hours and we all shared a barbecue lunch and snacks for tea. It was really good to get some fresh air, for JD to play with friends at long last and for Jiajia to have a good gossip with other parents.
Spent a few days this week back in ChongQing - smoggy city with a population of some 30 million. After a day of review and practice, I retook the 3-hour Certification Test and this time passed the thing. So I'm now a qualified Examiner for the British Council. I'm heading back to Kunming later today.
Jiajia. JD and I went to an amazing theme park the other day, along with two other families from JD’s school. The attraction has an "Ocean Park" (large aquarium, plus dolphin, seal and beluga whale shows), a "Snow Park" (huge indoor -8ºC building with slides, aerial walkways, train, skating, skiing, "live snowing", igloos etc), fairground rides and a circus! And all this just a few hour's drive outside of Kunming!
JD and I went to a classmate's birthday celebration yesterday. We drove a little way out of the city to a large recreational area with restaurants, a sand pit, swings and these rather cool Mongolian yurts! The focus of the "party" was to climb a nearby mountain. 18 of us set off but only 5 made it to the top, including JD and I.
The views over Kunming were pretty impressive but emphasised, once again, just what a polluted city it is - fairly clean by Chinese city standards, but still covered in a layer of smog.
By the time we returned down the mountain, we were pretty hungry. Undeterred by the goat carcasses and dead fish in the tanks, we really enjoyed a tasty banquet - 20 of us around a huge "lazy susan" rotating table. The kids then continued to play in the sand and on the swings followed by a birthday cake. JD is the youngest in his class - still 5½ while others are turning 6 - but he is still one of the "playmakers" when he gets together with his friends!
JD and I had a fun day out yesterday with five of his classmates and their families. We headed for XiYou Cave with delicious meals before and after the trip. Can you spot JD?
JD and I were picked up by one of the families and driven to the cave. however, the other groups were delayed and so we eventually decided to have lunch before exploring the cave. JD thoroughly enjoyed feeding the fish, spotting and catching insects and tucking into a terrific roast chicken meal [see below]. Afterwards we climbed up a mountain path behind the restaurant until it ended at a locked gate.
Then it was off to the cave. JD and I had visited a year or so ago, but he seemed largely to have forgotten it. It's very commercialised, but the cave itself is very impressive despite being gaudily lit with and various plastic models dotted throughout [see below].
A water assault course, a half-size digger to play on, a cave train and a 0.8km slide to get down the mountain - JD had a blast. Nice day.
We spent today in Cardiff. Unfortunately, Wales lived up to its reputation, and it rained almost non-stop. We wandered around the damp bay area, took an expensive boat ride to nowhere and had a picnic on the steps of the Welsh Assembly building. Later we checked out the funfair before heading for "Technoquest" - an interactive science centre which was fun (but not as fun as the Dr Who exhibition would have been - I was outvoted!). Finally fish 'n chips on the beach (well, BY the beach in the car) before heading back to drier England.
Yesterday we took a train down to Hereford to stay with my brother Dave and his family. A very warm welcome and delicious food.
Today we walked into Hereford centre, where Ava loves the charity shops, with a picnic in the Cathedral grounds. JD is fascinated by the "dead people" in the churches, Cathedrals and Abbeys he has visited and now thinks any and every statue must contain a dead person! He's "clicked" with his cousins really quickly which gives Ava and I a bit of a break at times through the day.
Today was yet another sunny and dry day. We've been very lucky during our UK visit so far. Rumours of a wetter day tomorrow though. We shall see.
We spent most of today at a mushroom farm owned by a friend of ours. She has bought a disused school in the countryside and set up shelves of fungi in the old classrooms and in purpose-built sheds outside. It felt rather odd for me to be walking around an educational establishment which didn't hum to the sound of students and teachers,
The school's old playing fields have been reworked into vegetable patches and areas for a couple of cows and some chickens. JD enjoyed digging for potatoes, picking runner beans and dragging out squash. He was fascinated by a grasshopper and faced off against the grumpy bull. It's only an hour or so drive from our house, and we were given a very warm welcome, so we are thinking of visiting again quite soon, for the fresh air, fresh food and to give JD a chance to get his hands dirty.
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!
I've long wanted to catch the subway to its final destination and see what there is to see there. It terminates at "University Town", which I'd hoped offered the chance of some campus scenery and cheap eats. JD, Ava and I were joined by our good friends Peter and Judy and their visiting Beijing friend Kiki [looking at JD in the photo] for the hour-long journey. Sadly, the final station turned out to be in the middle of nowhere and we had to get a minibus-taxi to find somewhere that had any food at all. And the food was awful. Ah well, at least we know now!
Ava, JD and I spent a lovely morning at the Golden Temple yesterday along with my friends/colleagues Cindy and Martin, their daughter Liv, and two of their Chinese friends. Liv and JD love each other's company and it's a shame that Cindy and Martin are heading back to Australia in a few weeks. We've really appreciated their support and friendship.
Today was a recovery day after the journey back to China, and a largely sleepless night with an upset and screaming JD. None of which is being helped by a stinking cold with all the requisite symptoms. The school term starts tomorrow and Lattitude, the charity for whom I do teacher-training ever 6 months (starting on Monday), is having all sorts of problems getting their volunteers' visas. So I've no idea how many students, if any, I'll have turn up next week.
But the UK trip was so worth it. We only just made it, with Jiajia's suspected TB and confirmed pneumonia, and plans were changing all the time. But you can't beat family, can you? Or good friends. Everyone rallied round and were so generous with their time, energy and money. JD has a whole new bunch of relatives and he grew up an awful lot in those three weeks. Let's hope there's less trauma when we (hopefully) return in Summer 2016. The countdown has begun!
[PS 27th Feb: I had a fever last night and woke without a voice! Jijaia is still coughing - 5 months and counting. But at least the Lattitude volunteers all got their visas finally, so a full cohort next week]
We are staying with my youngest brother Andy and his family now after a wonderful time with Dave and family in Hereford. Andy has a few surprises up his sleeve for our time and the first was for JD - a fantastic "Thomas the Tank Engine" model steam train ride in a nearby park. JD is a big fan of the TV series and could barely contain his excitement at the trip. We walked around the lake and played in the playground first, to build the anticipation levels and then straddled the engine and puffed our way back to the car park.
JD meanwhile was more taken with the local Fire and Mountain Rescue Team doing various exercises which saw them swimming across the bitterly cold Wye river before coming to each others' rescue with ropes and floats. Something for everyone.
One of the things Jiajia likes most about the UK is the easy access to beautiful, natural scenery. I must confess to sometimes being a little blasé about rolling hills and wide-open spaces but what I do thoroughly enjoy though are her ooohs and aaahs as she sees scene after scene of countryside views. Symonds Yat [below] was well worth the drive that got us there. Stunning views looking down on the winding river below, whilst birds of prey hover above.
I haven't ice-skated since I was a youth, so it was fun to head to a small rink in an industrial estate today to give it another go. Esme and Josh were embarrassingly confident. I looked carefree when pushing JD around on a little sledge - less so without the support. JD loved it though. Sometimes he looked a bit nervy, but whenever I paused to catch my breath he was shouting, "...again, again!".
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