Sunday, December 30, 2007

More Michigan Angels!

We went to the main post office today to pick up not one, not two, but three packages! Was this a good day or what?! The downtown post office (post offices and banks are open seven days) is where the international packages sit until the lucky recipients show up with passports to claim them. The kids (and the big kids, too) couldn't wait to get home to tear into these. Here's what thrilled us:

A big, big THANK YOU to our good friends Jeni, Mike, Nicolas, Alex and Baby Grace for all our favorites. C. and E. love the Scooby snacks, fruit snacks, graham cracker treats, mac/cheeses and magazines. G. is happy beyond belief to have his Nescafe Clasico again (2 jars worth, no less), and I, of course, live for my papers and magazines (btw, those M&Ms are all mine!).

The kids received this wonderful package of goodies from their godparents (and cousins) Stephanie and Cody. What a wonderful surprize! Included were new sweatshirts (everyone is probably getting tired of seeing them in photos wearing the same ol' ones), lots of sweets, some neat toys, cool Christmas themed things and the Shrek the Third DVD (they have the the first two Shrek movies memorized in English and Spanish!). THANK YOU/MUCHAS GRACIAS! Your godchildren absolutely love and adore both of you!

Hugs and kisses to all our angels from G.A.C.E!!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Kindergarten Olympics

To celebrate the new year and to commemorate the upcoming Beijing 2008 Olympics, the Kindergarten held its own version in the fieldhouse on campus Saturday morning.

Opening ceremonies: including the national anthem, required speeches from dignitaries and the parade of athletes walking the outdoor track.

E.'s favorite event - she's been practicing for weeks!

Roll on C.!

The ball toss in a basket was popular with the four year olds.

Preparing for the "wheelbarrow" event: C. and his Papi "took the gold"!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

New Year Party - December 26

The international community of KMUST was treated to a New Year party at a local hotel. It was done in the typical Chinese fashion - food followed with entertainment!

Here's the food:

And the entertainment:

There were student acts of singing and dancing followed by more singing and dancing! Fifteen talented groups and individuals strutted their stuff.

Fifteen seconds of fame for G. and E.! Attendees from the various countries represented were invited to the stage to give a New Year greeting in their native language.

The entertainment began at 7:00. We saw five acts and left at 8:00 in order to get two sleepyheads home to bed. We came via the U. bus, but returned using the public one. Here's a night shot at a bus stop on a Kunming street.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Santa found us!

After first looking in Dearborn (oops! someone else lives there now), then in Jackson (hmmm, the place is furnished, but doesn't have that "lived-in" look), so finally, all the way on the other side of the earth (and the other side of China, no less), Santa finds C. and E.! Bet those reindeer are tired! Here's what the jolly (but weary and possibly somewhat confused) man left:

Checking out the new toys...

Looks like Santa's elves had some time to pick Yunnan Province strawberries on their trip through China. They left these for us to enjoy. Xie xie and Sheng Dan Kuai Le Santa and crew! We promise we won't tire you out next Christmas; please visit us in Jackson next year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad! Sheng Dan Kuai Le!

We wish you and your family a very joyful holiday! As you may suspect, Christmas 2007 will be very low key for us. No classes for me on the 25th, only because the holiday falls on my regular Tuesday day off. For the kids, it's a normal school day. I toyed with the idea of keeping them home for the day, but since there is no school scheduled on December 31 and January 1, there's really no reason to miss the daily fun.

The kids will open gifts in the evening of the 25th. Because they are not constantly bombarded 24/7 by the media with reminders of the holiday, they don't know it's Christmas unless we tell them! So Santa will arrive during schooltime. When we pass by the images of Santa, decorated trees, wrapped gifts and hearing holiday music throughout the city (commercialized Xmas vs Christmas - one would never see a publically displayed nativity scene here - but interstingly, one does hear the Christian themed holiday music along with the secular tunes), E. always lets us know that she is worried that Father Christmas (the local term for Santa Claus) won't be able to find her in China. We assurred her that he will find all the children who have new addresses this year! On the 26th, the International Office is hosting a holiday dinner for the foreign teachers and students to be held at a downtown hotel. Wonder what will be on the menu? All Chinese? All Western? Or a mix?

Enjoy the festivities! You are in our thoughts today. We miss you all, but we do not miss the snow one bit! Well, at least the big kids here are not missing it!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Bird and Flower Market

sells just about everything except birds and flowers! The market encompasses several blocks and alleys near downtown. No birds or flowers, but we did see rabbits, turtles, hamsters, mice, snakes, spiders and cockroaches. And a first for us - a squirrel in a cage! Even C. and E. exclaimed "A squirrel in a cage?!!" I should've snapped a picture, but the thought of photographing a common North American critter didn't occur to me, even though it was in a cage. Although we're not interested in finding out what it tastes like, we will look out for squirrel (along with dog) on the menu!

Plenty of fish for the aquarium:

One of the market streets:

And to think we traveled to the other side of the earth for the chance to buy (albeit for far less money) one of these!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Dinner with the Yue Jiang family

Friday night we had the pleasure of dining at the home of Hua, Jin and their son Xue Xi, who is Carlos' classmate. They live a couple buildings from us. It was a wonderful evening of good food and new friends.

The gang and us (from left to right): Yie laoshi (teacher Yie (Carlos' teacher - he adores her)- but we don't know her first name!), her son Peter (and we don't know his Chinese name), Hua, Xue Xi, and Jin. We figured Yie laoshi was invited because her husband was out of town presenting a paper (he teaches in the geography department) and Peter because his English is quite good. Plus, they are two very delightful people.

The "boys" enjoying the first of several potent Chinese-style shots:

Not only can Peter play this traditional flute, he's also a talented pianist. He was still in his school uniform - YUSS stands for Yunnan University Secondary School - a highly competitive Kunming high school. He's one neat kid.

After Peter entertained us with his piano skills, Xue Xi showed us his. For only being five years old, he played some advanced pieces. On the weekends many Chinese children attend some type of extra schooling, ie. music, dance, art, math or English lessons for the elementary school age and math, English or Chinese language, literature and history (the university admission test prep subjects) for the secondary school age.

With all the piano playing going on, our kids had to get into the act. Carlos can sound out a decent melody. He has been drawn to our piano ever since he could reach the keys. Looks like we'll be looking for a piano teacher (and for me, too; I used to play quite well) when we get home!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Here are five inventions

that make life a bit easier here. Of course, these aren't exclusive to China and can be found in other developing nations.

Since machine clothes dryers don't seem to exist, there are a multitude of hanging devices of various shapes, sizes and colors to choose from. A smaller green one came with the apartment, but life is better having another one. I picked up this blue 18 hanger for $1. I enjoy using this; it reminds me of the times helping my mom hang laundry on the clothesline. I don't know if something like this is even available in the U.S., given the prevalence of clothes dryers, but I think I'm going to bring this home and let a few things dry the natural way.

One has to bring napkins everywhere: restaurants, bathroom, etc. These little packets fit easily in pockets. Every package contain 10 packets with 10 tissues - so 100 napkins costs around forty cents. I think I'll bring a few of these home, too, considering the way we go through kleenex!

I had one of these water dispensers in Chile and loved it. (They're also available in the U.S. for a ridiculously high price.) It has hot and cold spouts. The cold option isn't all that cold, so water still needs to be refrigerated. But the hot water is hot and comes in handy for tea and coffee. One sees these everywhere. They are available in the hallways in the academic buildings, too. Students use their dining card to activate it. Five dispensers are available in the Kindergarten. It seems no one dares to drink the tap water! Getting a new bottle is easy. Just a phone call and twenty minutes later a man arrives with a fresh one. He puts the water on the dispenser and takes away the empty one. The dispenser itself is very affordable and a bottle of water costs Y10 ($1.50) and lasts us about five days.

The daily newspaper is available for reading through out the city. The U. has one of these near each entrance.

This one may be uniquely Chinese. Ramps are available at most steps to move your two wheeler. The ramps come in various forms. They can be narrow and be on both sides; narrow or wide and be on only one side; or narrow or wide and in the middle of the stairs.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Additional photos from Sunday

Bamboo trees in the sunhine:

The park in late Autumn:

A simple bell tower:

The weather outside is...

DELIGHTFUL!! The cold front moved out and for over a week the temps have been in the 60's with a cloudless blue sky and plenty of sunshine. Today was a day to be outside. We headed to Green Lake Park with the intention of seeing the Russian birds (some type of water fowl) that migrate to Kunming every winter. We saw the birds in the air, but couldn't locate their landing spot. (We didn't try that hard - just hoping we would come across it.) But, this is what we did see:

The kids were really impressed with this floating ball "ride":

We were treated to some sweet harmony from these talented ladies:

This sculpture is dedicated to the enviroment:

"Where's my bike?" - a typical parking lot for the country's millions of two-wheelers:

Later, we went to Dico's - China's version of McDonald's. They serve a tasty meal of chicken, rice with mushrooms, tomatoes & cucumbers with a bowl of egg drop soup for Y13 (under $2). The food is tastier, healthier and cheaper than McD's. And the bonus is an awesome playscape at the downtown location. Here's Mr. C. taking a break from jumping and climbing. Meanwhile, his sister wouldn't stand still long enough for a photo op; hence, a no-show from the "I'm too busy" Miss E.:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

KMUST "Gardens"

I'm not sure what the official name is of this area of campus, but I call it "the gardens". To picture the Li Gong campus, imagine a recantangle-shaped bowl. The campus has four tiers - the "rim" or top tier is the woods, the third tier is faculty/employee housing, the second tier is the gardens and the final tier is the flat part of the bowl: the academic/adminstrative/ buildings, student dorms, dining halls and athletic facilities. Here are some scenes:

The university guesthouse: many colleges have a guesthouse/hotel on campus. Seminars and other events take place on campus and the location is ideal for attendees. Sometimes universities also rent out the rooms (two beds, western bathroom, tv) to the public for about Y200 ($26) per night. We stayed in something similiar in Shanghai.

The tennis court is open to anyone affiliated with the U. An additional court is in the "woods".

Ditto for the croquet court, although it's primarily used by the senior set.

Three levels of paths with tables and stools are available. This area stretches the length (north-south) of the university. The Kindergarten is also located on the garden level.

One of the paths that connect the housing "tier" to the academic "tier" via the gardens. This is my commute (a less than 15 minute walk door to door) to and from class.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Soccer Sunday

Gustavo has been playing soccer for about a month now, which makes him one happy guy! The games are on Saturday or Sunday, in venues near and far. He found this group a little late in the season, but they welcomed him just the same. They are all connected to one of the nearby five universities. The season will end this month and a new one starts early March. Here is the motley crew. They're not in unifrom as this photo was taken after a non-league match. It's truly an international group - 10 countries from six continents are represented.

Our social life has picked up. We see the New Zealand couple Lew and Chris now and then. At the KMUST Sport Day event, I met a 50-something American woman, married to a 40-something Chilean man, who are here with two kids - sound a bit familiar?! Even though Susan and Eduardo's kids are older (ages 13 & 16) than ours, we have way too much in common for that to make a difference. Their girls have been raised and schooled mostly in Chile and now attend the international school (English instruction) here. This is the family's third year in Kunming and they are a wonderful resource. Eduardo is also very involved with the local soccer scene, which has opened more soccer related avenues for Gustavo. However, both families are leaving shortly for a 6-10 week stay in their respective home countries. Avoiding winter and enjoying summer in the southern hemisphere sounds like a plan! So, we'll reconnect with everyone after the Chinese New Year, February 7. We are also on friendly terms with a few of the Kindergarten parents. Hopefully that will turn into some friendships too.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Emerald Chicken Park

Since the air was cool and the sun was intense, we went to a new park after lunch: the Emerald Chicken. I have no idea how the park got its name, as we saw nothing that remotely resembled a bright green chicken! Maybe it's one of those "lost in translation" phrases. Some highlights:

The park consisted of a lot of concrete, but it did have grass, trees, benches and a walking path in the middle. On the other side, there is a large flat area of concrete for wheeled activities. Also a restaurant and snack shop is available. We spent most of the time in the exercise/play area.

One unhappy balloon lady. I guess sales aren't going well today.

Nothing like a heated game of mah jong to draw a crowd.

Trying out the equipment: "Twist and shout!" I suggested. Of course, that flew way over these two (very young) heads!

This is one of two dance and music performances going on. Many of the ethnic minority groups often share some of their culture through dances in the parks.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Li Gong Xiao Xue (cont)

The left side of the rooftop gym:

The right side:

One of several cheerfully designed stairwells:

A climbing wall near the playground - the kids love this!

The playground as viewed from the gym. Further behind the playscape there is a wading pool and a maze structure. It's fun to watch the kids tackle the maze because the walls are just above their heads but only waist height of the adults.