Big news here at the moment is the herd of 17 elephants that have been slowly making their way north from the forests of XiShuangBanna (500km away) to our city of Kunming. They have been marching and munching their way through various towns and villages and are currently some 20km from the Kunming outskirts!
Nobody is quite sure what's prompted this epic journey. Some point to the deforestation in their traditional areas whilst other jokingly mention the "International Biodiversity Conference" being held in Kunming next month! Maybe the pachyderms want to have their say?
Whatever the reason, we'll be keeping our eyes and eyes peeled, just in case!
Despite JD's four regular weekend classes, we still try to find time to get out and about, and the Secret Forest is usually our number one destination while it's still open (it closes in the dry season). Our den continues to grow and develop and JD enjoys inviting different friends to come and get the guided tour. The friend above is "Johnny" who was a classmate of JD's at Kindergarten and recently moved into a flat a few doors down from us. There's always some surprising wildlife too.
Every year, thousands of Siberian seagulls descend on Kunming's waters to spend the winter in the relative warmth. They are spectacular sight which many people travel from far away to see.
Visitors usually feed the gulls by throwing chunks of bread into the air or holding rolls gingerly in their hands for the gulls to grab while on the wing.
But this year saw something new - a local man donned a whole bread-covered suit and stood somewhat bravely amongst the flocks of birds as they grabbed and pecked him! Nobody knows quite who he is, but a few photos were taken as proof which have appeared on local media. After a few minutes he packed up his bread suit and headed off! Bonkers!
Even urban cities in China have the occasional wildlife surprises. I found this 20cm long beauty by the door of our flat yesterday. I moved it to some nearby bushes to give it a chance of survival and it was still there when JD returned form Kindergarten, much to his delight. Although stick insects are renowned for their slow moving I think this one was especially lethargic due to the recent cold snap here. Otherwise he looked pretty healthy.
JD spotted this monster on our window yesterday and we coaxed it inside for a look before taking it out to a hedge and letting it free. JD named it "Dave"! Some investigation on the net revealed it to be an "Asian Long-Horned Beetle (ALB)" - our first new flat visitor! Apparently they are something of a pest though, relentlessly destroying trees and other vegetation. Any spotted in the USA are reported and eradicated. Maybe releasing it into the wild was not such a smart move after all...?
I take JD to the Zoological Museum most weeks. He loves working the lift, shouting out the names of all the animals he knows and pressing all the display buttons. There are also a couple of interactive computer games beamed onto the floor and JD gets very excited, stamping to "frighten fish" and "scare away moles", etc. We're usually the only people there, and we have an annual pass which lets us in for free. The animals are generally very life-like, with the notable exception of this forlorn-looking creature which always makes me chuckle.
JD's favourite section is the entomology display (insects to you and me) where the floor is glass and you can spot various creepy-crawlies under your feet as well as in the cabinet displays. Until recently, his vocabulary only extended to "mayi" (ant) and "bee", but I've been trying to teach him that the bigger insects are beetles. Helpfully , on the way home this week, I spotted a live one - a "stink bug". We popped it in a jar overnight and, pretty soon, JD was saying "beetle" beautifully as he tapped the glass.
Then yesterday at the play park, I spotted this gorgeous praying mantis in a bush. Once again, I found a plastic box and we had a little guest for the night. The Chinese word seemed much easier to pronounce, so JD has now added "tanglang" to his insect vocabulary!
I spotted this cute little chap on our kitchen wall last week, ready to pounce on any ants, cockroaches or mosquitoes that might find their way there. He was about 8cm long. Then yesterday, I nearly stood on a tiny gecko in the bedroom, fully formed but no more than 2cm long. He managed to scamper away before I was able to get my camera out.
Ava bought a fancy blue mosquito-capturing machine last week and we have left it plugged in every night since, to see what happens. Today she had a look inside it and, with a delighted voice, exclaimed "The mosquito machine has got two mosquitoes inside!!" followed by a slightly embarrassed "...but the cardboard box it came in has caught three!"
I saw this tiny little beauty outside the house yesterday, about 15cm long and shiny-silver in colour. It ran along a bit like a snake, weaving from side to side. I was tempted to catch it and bring it indoors to deal with any errant mossies, but eventually I just let it take its chances with the local cat population. We had a torrential rainstorm, complete with thunder and lightning, for a few hours two days ago and everyone thought the rainy season had finally arrived. But we've been back to dry and hot weather ever since, with the drought showing no sign of abating.
It's Chinese, it's really ugly, it destroys trees and it's coming to an English forest near you! No, it's not the wife, it's the Asian Long-Horned Beetle which has recently been spotted in southern England, probably having arrived in wooden packaging cases from China. It bores into trees to lay its eggs that hatch into larvae and eat their way through the tree trunk undetected, gradually killing the tree. Thankfully it only affects birches, beeches, sycamores, maples, horse chestnuts, willows, poplars, cherry, apple, plum and pear trees. So oaks are OK....
Earlier this week I had dinner at the house of a Chinese teacher from my school and was fascinated by their large aquarium - home to fish big and small. Unlike many such tanks in China, it also had a nice selection of real plants, so the fish looked like they were in a more natural setting. It reminded me of my recent snorkelling in the Philippines.
But yesterday Ava and I visited a friend's house for dinner and discovered a much more unusual pet. A baby owl! It was very tame and apparently likes to fly around their large flat. But with the wife due to have a baby in a month, I sincerely hope the bird doesn't grow too much bigger or hungrier.
The other big surprise in their flat was a whole room devoted to Buddhism. The husband is a keen devotee and it felt like walking into a mini-temple with incense burning and recorded chanting in the background. Luckily, the evening meal did include some "meat for the visitors"!
I went to a very interesting (and free) exhibition in Kunming today, covering the geography, flora and fauna of Northwest Yunnan using about a hundred large photographs, amazingly with English translations.
Equally fascinating (to me, at least) were the examples of typical Kunming folk "on display". Two giggling schoolgirls taking photos of the photos with their mobile phones. A very old and smiley guy loitering near one of the pictures, ready to share some story or background about it to anyone coming too close (I escaped with the universal hand gesture for "I don't understand"). Then there were two chefs in aprons and tall white hats, presumably on a lunch break, munching snacks as they wandered around. And a studious-looking guy noting down all the animal information in a small notebook, whilst clearing his throat and spitting on the floor at 30 second intervals (I timed him).
As well as the photos, there were the usual amusing examples of Chinglish. One frog was said to have "a worrisome habitat due to over-catch" and a picture of assorted bugs was entitled "Some inspects shot without intension". My favourite, I think, was this monkey photo with a sign that explained, "Deep love. The growth history of each child is a history of hardness of his/her mother. There is no exception".
Simao is a town in the south of Yunnan Province, about 4 hour's drive from JiangCheng where I lived for a year in 2006-2007. It's amidst fields of "Pu'Er tea" [see photo - tea plantations and Simao are top right], which is why the tourist-minded Government tried to rename Simao as Pu'er some years ago (and then had to rename the real Pu'er as Ning'er) ...it hasn't really caught on!
Getting out into the countryside is a real breather from city life. The journey down to Simao goes through some gorgeous scenery with cloud-shrouded mountains, swathes of forests and roads that cling precariously to the sides of sheer drops. It's a cliché, but true, that the pace of life there is slower and the locals are much friendlier. The wildlife is more evident too. This enormous spider, fully 30cm across, wasn't given a second glance by the nonchalant students on the LEAF's campus. For Ava and I, it was certainly worthy of a photograph.
We met up with the LEAF family for a yummy, locally sourced, cooked breakfast before the wildlife interupted us again, with an enormous swarm of bees passing the window [see photo] and settling on nearby roofs and phone lines. Quite a sight.
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