JD and I have been enjoying a free flight simulator app on the iPad for a couple of weeks now. You can earn in-game money by completing ever more difficult missions and then spend your accumulated wealth on larger and more complex aircraft. We started with a Cessna, began to make real progress once we earned a Lear Jet and then progressed through glider, spitfire, military jet, stealth bomber and Boeing 747. I actually managed to land the 747 on an aircraft carrier this other day - technically impossible (due to the high approach speed, short runway and wide wingspan) but after about 50 attempts I finally did it. Little things...!
A nice shot of JD from our recent trip to the Astronomy Centre, waiting for his turn to look at solar flares. Behind the telescope are Kaiya and Zaden, two American friends of his who we spend a lot of time with.
Zaden (the boy, largely hidden behind the telescope) is exactly a year older than JD. He visited our house today, in fact, to play with JD's Chinese New Year present - a huge military plane complete with soldiers, jeep and a lot of weaponry! JD originally chose a "logging truck" but, after the crane snapped off as we took it out of the box, we had to go back to the shop to complain and he upgraded to a monster plane!
We arrived back from Laos today. The holiday didn't end too well for me when I put my back out lifting JD onto a bed yesterday morning. I was in a lot of pain throughout the day, despite taking painkillers. It has eased a little today and doesn't seem as serious as I first thought. The flight to Kunming was very turbulent but we made it safely, and a taxi took us home. But a little later I went to drive Ma-in-law to her flat, only to find our car has a very flat tyre. I managed to get Ma home on the back of my e-bike. But with Chinese New Year upon us there's little chance of the tyre being fixed for a few days.
[P.S. JD and I managed to swap it with the spare tyre next day]
We're back in the Laos capital, Vientiane, after a long but beautiful drive back from Vang Vieng.
We've been to some distinctly average Chinese restaurants whilst here (largely to keep Ma-in-law happy) but the Laos meals we have had have been exceptional, especially the DIY all-u-can-eat barbecues. Laos food is similar to Thai food, but without the mouth-burning chilli dishes or the stomach-turning sour dishes.
We drove north for 3 hours yesterday to spend a few days in Vang Vieng. When I was last there 12 years ago it was just a small town catering for backpackers. Now, whilst there are still plenty of young foreigners there, it has expanded a lot and offers a wide variety of activities such as kayaking, off road buggies, caving, hot air ballooning, motorised hang gliding, river tubing etc.
We went on a speedboat down the river yesterday [see below], and spent today at three different lagoons, swimming, exploring caves, doing high dives and rope swings into the pools, etc. JD loved it.
We were in a cheap (£10 a room inc breakfast) but very pleasant hotel last night but, after our day at the lagoons, Li insisted on finding a "better" spa hotel he'd heard about, some distance north of the town.
It turned out to be nearly three hours drive away and, as we arrived in the dark, they told us they only had one room free! The nearest alternative hotel was further 20km and so eventually they allowed all 6 of us to sleep in the one room. Bad enough, but the room was awful; flooded bathroom, stains on the linen, bugs in the bed, torn curtains, numerous daddy long-legs flying around. We made a relieved escape the next morning after a quick swim in the hot spring. A disappointing end to an otherwise really nice trip into the Laos countryside.
We visited the Buddha Sculpture Park in Vientiane yesterday. I was last there was in 2006. It's a bizarre collection of sculptures, religious and fantasy, which JD thoroughly enjoyed climbing on and in! It's hot here (30ºC today) and after meandering through the park we sat by the Mekong Rover and ate ice-creams.
Jiajia and her brother "Li" haven't always seen eye-to-eye in the past, but he and his new wife have been surprisingly hospitable and generous so far. His Laos wife "San" doesn't speak English or Chinese, but has been making every effort to connect with JD. It helps that they have a pet monkey! Li works as a taxi driver, but has been transporting us around instead this week (and obviously missing out on fares).
It's been refreshing to see Jiajia and Li laughing and joking together.
Jiajia, JD, Ma-in-law and I all flew to Laos today. Jiajia's brother lives there with his "girlfriend" (we later discovered they are recently married and expecting a baby). It's a new country for everybody, except me, and Jiajia is keen to escape Kunming's recent cold snap.
Laos is only a 2½ hour flight from Kunming, and a one hour time difference. So, on arrival, Jiajia's brother "Li", whisked us straight off from the airport to 2-3 tourist sights in the Laos capital of Vientiane - "Victory Gate" and a couple of temples - before heading out of town to his house to unpack and have a rest.
Despite only having one bed in the house, Li's insisting all six of us sleep there, using sofas and floor. Frankly we'd prefer a nearby hotel, but he seems very insistent on showing his hospitality!
There were three young men smoking in the toilets at Walmart, despite the signs forbidding it. I picked on this guy, tapping him on the shoulder and pointing to the sign above his head. He just shrugged and went back to looking at his phone. So, to the amusement of his friends, I held my camera phone right in front of his face and took this photo. Most Chinese apologise and quickly put out their cigarettes when you mention the "No Smoking" signs, but clearly not the younger generation who seem more liable to ignore (or pick a fight with) the interfering foreigner!
This question was recently spotted on a Primary School exam paper. The translation is, "If a ship has 26 sheep and 10 goats on board, how old is the ship's captain?". Online commentators have asked what on earth the teacher was thinking and whether there could possibly be a meaningful answer for the students to reach.
After some research, I think I've narrowed down the possibilities. The total weight of 26 sheep and 10 goat is 7,700kg, based on the average weight of each animal. In China, if you're driving a ship that has more than 5,000kg of cargo you need to have possessed a ship's license for five years. The minimum age for getting that is 23, so he must be at least 28. It's a start...
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