Archived entries for Uncategorized

Week 1

It’s Sunday morning in Paris. We’ve been here for just over a week. Out in our wasteland of an apartment, Reid has found a space to revise Friday’s French lesson, and the kids are talking to their friends back home under the guise of ‘technology’.

It’s been a big week.

We arrived Friday morning into 34 degrees-with-a-mask (immediately regretting merino). We turned the wrong way out of Charles de Gaulle and spent about 30 minutes trying to meet up with our transport — there was no other way to get 10 massive suitcases into town.

Dominique from the New Zealand Embassy met us at the apartment, made coffee and took us through a safety briefing (pickpockets, what to do if you find yourself between the police and a demonstration — answer, walk quickly the other way).

We’ve got a large apartment, 4 bedrooms, 3 living/dining rooms and a kitchen, and 6 items of furniture, mostly lent to us from the Embassy’s stash. The place is beautiful, but the absence of Stuff makes it echo’y and stark. Two of the rooms didn’t even had any light.

Saturday’s mission was to fix some of that up as quickly as possible, so we Uber’d to an Ikea and bought, y’know, some glasses and a bottle opener. But we also took photos of lots of other things, and the next day bought a bunch of it over the internet so it can be delivered. So far, the legs of a desk and some light bulbs have arrived, but we’re hoping for great things this week.

On Sunday Reid and I walked around our nearest park, the Bois de Boulogne, which is massive – various kings used it for their hunting forest, it as Roland Garros, a number of race courses and equestrian sites, lakes, a massive kids park (more on that later) and the totally amazing Fondation Louis Vuitton building, plus lord knows what else.

Then we dragged the kids up La Siene to the Eiffel Tower and wandered around the 7th arrondissement, heading back via a big shopping street (Zara was thrilled).

Okay, I may need to start summarising — we’ve done plenty, and I think you’ve probably got something more interesting to do.

On Monday we trekked up to the Trocadero, across to the Avenue des Champs-Elysees (oooh, an Apple Store) and down to the Lourve. And learned how to take a bus.

On Tuesday we chilled a little, but walked the kids up to their new schools (same school, two different campus).

On Wednesday we attacked the Louvre. (Relatively) empty of crowds, we ticked off the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and many others.

On Thursday Reid went back to work – her language lessons started at the Australian Compound (where all the Australian diplomats live, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower). And I started my language lessons. Which was in fact lovely (as Tracey, my teacher, is fabulous). The kids are getting a couple of weeks as well. And the Air Freight arrived! With just the important stuff.

On Friday, more language lessons (they are every day – Reid for 4 hours, I have 2, both of us have homework), and I took the kids up to the Bois de Boulogne to scope out the Jardin d’Acclimatation (which was Saturday’s adventure).

Saturday was the aforesaid Jardin d’Acclimatation. 10 minutes away for us is this huge park-within-a-park, opened by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1860, famous of having a zoo which was largely eaten during the Siege of Paris in 1870, and for replacing that with a human zoo (strange folk from Africa, happily not eaten). It’s now an amusement park with rides, lakes, water play, a small zoo (goats, ponies) and other stuff we didn’t discover. Good times.

And today is Sunday.

So — to answer everyone’s question — how’s the COVID? France is now stretching up to above 4000 new cases every day, which is not good. It’s similar to levels seen in May, just before the full lockdown. But this time it’s different.

In May (and the months leading up to it), nobody really knew how to handle COVID. How to avoid it, and how to treat it. The hospitals were overrun. The death rate spiked. It was grim.

This time, even though the case rate is rocketing, the death rate is very low. I think there are only 200-odd cases in intensive care in the whole country. They know how to treat it better now, and (horrible to say), the rest homes and high-risk groups have already been cleaned out.

But needless to say, there is lots of COVID, and the French stats are heading in the wrong direction, so we’re treating this a little more seriously than when we first arrived. We’ve now stricter with our mask use (listening to Dr. Bloomfield, not re-using them, etc). We’re going to avoid the Metro and buses all together, restricting ourselves to Ubers, bicycles and walking. And we’re going to avoid places where social distancing is not an option — that’s the last Louvre trip for a while, I think.

The school is taking this very seriously, but is still on track to open in a week, though all parent orientation sessions are now on Zoom, and we won’t be allowed near Zara and Zac’s campus (but can escort Sacha onto hers, which is great).

But best they hurry up with the vaccine please.

Kicking things off

The plan is to move the old posts from Beijing across to this site (the few I can find anyway — they’re scattered around) and post from Paris here.

They say a blog lasts an average of 2.3 entries before the author loses the will to write. Lets go for 3.

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

post

October Day parade and Khao Lak

It’s been a busy month.

First up, we had the 1st of October, 60-years-of-the-People’s-Republic celebrations, which were absolutely amazing. It’s all on YouTube if you want to see what the military cooked up – actually the whole thing was directed by the same Chinese film director that did the Olympic opening ceremony. It went on for hours – speeches, Hu Jintao inspecting the troops, the military march-past (including the airforce and navy, who paraded a huge destroyer out in the harbour), then the civilians did their march-past with floats.

I particularly like Hu Jintao, standing bolt upright in his Chinese limo, being driven along Chang’an inspecting the troops while sticking out of the sun-roof, at intervals bellowing “tongzhi men hao” (“hello comrades”) into the three microphones in front of him. He’s been going for quite a while before this video starts…

And the military march-past was also fantastic. Goose-stepping by troops specially selected for their height, and (in the female department) for their particular hotness, look terrific. You have to wait until about 1:21 into this clip for the goose-stepping to get underway.

Here are the women (note President Hu suddenly stops looking grim and starts waving and clapping excitedly).

In the middle of the clip above they cross to the nearby airforce base where the aircraft are all starting to take off – and then the tanks arrive…

I could go on and on (and will upload some photos of the airforce going past sometime) – but the whole thing was completely phenomenal. That night we went to a friends apartment on the 1-millionth floor of a nearby building and watched the fireworks.

One week later, we all flew down to Khao Lak to spend a week with Victoria. We’d booked this lovely ocean-front villa in a resort, and were pretty happy we did, because we spent most of the week inside – it rained the entire time, apart from Tuesday afternoon (when I got sunburnt) and Friday afternoon (when I was inside getting a massage). Toria saved us from certain madness by arriving each morning with supplies (beer, presents for the kids, mixers for the gin), helping with the kids and leading us off-resort for dinners. It was great to see where Toria has been spending all this time…. but pretty grim to see a huge police launch “beached” about 3 kilometers away from the foreshore – it was carried there by the Boxing Day Tsunami and has been left there as a reminder.

Photos for that coming soon…. and this post will need to continue tomorrow as I have to get ready for dinner immediately – I’m supposed to be at the car in 10 minutes.

October 1 is coming.

In January 1949, the People’s Liberation Army entered Beijing and evicted the Chinese Nationalist Party, who fled to Taiwan taking with them democracy and mountains of trinkets. Mao went on to announce the People’s Republic of China on October 1 – in three weeks China celebrates the 60th anniversary. And the preparations appear to be bigger than the Olympics.

A new village has been created in Beijing for the military who will be participating in the march through Tiananmen – the China Daily this week has been full of pictures of soldiers of identical height working on their goose-stepping. Today it is reported that each soldier has worn through three pairs of boots while practicing.

The airspace over Beijing has been occasionally closed while the Air Force works on their display (unsure what makes the local airspace different from the airspace down the road – perhaps it’s the smog?) and it has just been announced that the parade will feature not only China’s new missile capability but also the mysterious Chinese Special Forces, who are grumbling a bit at having to spend time on the parade ground.

The centre of Beijing has been closed a couple of times for rehearsals – friends of ours who live inside the second ring road are reluctant to leave in the weekends in case they can’t get back – and the windows of Central Park have been cleaned in anticipation of the great day.

Of course, security has been screwed down again. The internet has not loosened up – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the other subversive websites are blocked. Chang’an Avenue, which is the road through the centre of Beijing (it crosses in front on Tiananmen) has tanks on every corner, complete with soldiers wearing balaclavas. A friend who manages a hotel that can see Tiananmen in the distance reports all rooms with that view will be locked off for the duration, with armed guards posted. And most annoyingly, all outside seating has been removed from Central Park.

The last is obviously the most esoteric. Theories abound on why outside seating (say, a collection of tables outside a cafe) is a problem at this time. Maybe it is untidy? Or perhaps it encourages people to break the ‘more-than-3-people-gathered together’ ban, which has been in place for years? Who knows… but Zara is constantly grumpy that her seat outside the juice shop, a regular stop on the way home from school, has vanished.

We won’t get to see the amazing marching display on 1 October – no bog-standard Chinese citizen will get within miles of it, and even the Ambassador hasn’t had his invitation confirmed yet. We will be watching it on telly with everyone else, looking out the windows at the jets flashing past, smog allowing, and at the fireworks that is sure to follow. Then perhaps we can have some of our internet back, and can sit outside for a cup of cha.

Mao kicks things off, Tiananmen Square, 1 October 1949

Mao kicks things off, Tiananmen Square, 1 October 1949

Invisible Insects and other developments

Just while I’m waiting for a code build to complete, and to prove to my mother that I am still alive – some updates.

Zara has returned to school yesterday, and is very pleased to be back (as we all are, after 7 weeks off). She has started to take invisible insects with her to bed, which is probably scope for a major psychological investigation, and Bambi is her current favourite movie, followed closely by Dumbo then (sigh) the Little Mermaid. Disney really went down-hill for a few years in the 70s and 80s.

Zac is still kinda-crawling, which means dragging himself across the floor commando-style. He sadly still wakes up at about 5.30am, except when he wakes earlier (last night, for example, was 1.30 then 4.30) but is a happy bloke when this happens.

Unlike his parents.

Reid has spent a few nights in the spare room trying to catch up on sleep as a result (I am a lot better at passing back out after an interruption). Zac is loving the solids and is adept at spreading some Apple Custard around entire rooms.

We’ve had a bit of turmoil in ayi-land recently. We’d hired a new cleaning ayi to work under Yu Mei. She came in in the mornings and Did Stuff at a furious pace. Unfortunately the Government kicked her out of her house for some reason (probably redevelopment) and the only new place she could afford was out near the airport, which made the commute hideous. So she quit and we got a new one on Monday.

From the start, there were problems. The new ayi wouldn’t listen to Yu Mei’s instruction, she was hired as a cleaner but actually wanted to cook, she wanted more hours that we didn’t need…. it all finally came to a head yesterday when her and Yu Mei had a furious bust-up for 1/2 an hour while I cowered in the office pretending nothing was happening. Chinese can be a fairly harsh language to listen to, but you should hear a full-on fight going down.

Finally the new ayi stormed into the office and managed a few words of English: “I no work here now”.

So – back to the drawing board there then.

I’m continuing my anti-social workathon, with one month to go before everything is supposed to be accepted for the Thailand project (which does not mean the end of work, you understand, just a milestone. The whole thing then gets the Big Tick at the end of the year). This means two more trips to Bangkok in September, which I know I will enjoy immensely. In fact I am now so committed to the place I have a frequent-flyer card for the train system there.

Finally…. Ikea. The LA Times has a lovely story on how Beijinger’s treat Ikea as more of a tourist destination and play area than a place to shop here, featuring the photo I always wanted to get but never had a camera – the locals testing the furniture.

Ikea Beijing - from LA Times

Ikea Beijing - from LA Times

August 20

August 20:

2004 – Delicious, then Crow Bar, Auckland

2005 – St. Mark’s Church, Carterton, then Glenmorven, Morrisons Bush

2006 – Logan Brown, Wellington

2007 – The Green T. House, Chaoyang, Beijing

2008 – Olympic Basketball. Australia versus the United States, Olympic Basketball Gymnasium, Wukesong, Beijing

2009 – Dali Courtyard, Gulou, Beijing

Catch-up

Been a while since I posted – and will be another few months before I get my head above water. The job (meaning the Thailand project) is nearing some sort of deadline, and there is an immense amount of work to be done before then – so any time at the Mac is spent with my head inside technical tomfoolery.

But anyway… a quick catchup.

Zac is still the same relaxed cheerful bloke he has always been. He’s a few weeks off his 6 month birthday and apart from a bout of sneezing a few weeks back, he is all good. This morning he had first taste of something solid (a wee bit of brekky mixed with formula) which seemed to be popular. He is still having his 10pm feed, which gets him through to 6ish most nights, Zara willing (see below). Yu Mei adores him.

Zara is definitely going through the crappily-named terrible twos (a year off schedule). Grumpiness and flagrant disregard of the rule of law is common, which we can all cope with, but the nights are getting grim. If she manages to open half an eye during the night she’ll come crawling into our bed and start complaining about things (bot-bot! nose wipe! bathroom trips!). Sometimes she does this loud enough to wake Zac, who is still in our room. Reid and I are both fair shattered.

So, a couple of days ago we’ve started that stand-by of the olde-school book of parenting, the Reward Chart (using stickers from Auntie Rachel’s Christmas present as the carrot). So far, two stars – but coupled with other grimness as well. Sigh.

To make matters worse, we are only 3 weeks through the summer holidays, which last about 300 years.

My sister Toria has been staying with us for the last few weeks, and will be for another 1 1/2, which has been a fantastic bit of timing – for us – not so much for her. She’s been helping with the kids and the house, relieving some of pressure off us, and will babysit at a moments notice. Just a shame Reid and I are too exhausted to go out much. In between domestic duties she has been showing herself around China, as I have been too busy to go with her – so far she’s knocked off various parks, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen, Bell Tower, Drum Tower, some hutong, plus other sites. Hopefully she’ll be back next year when we’re in better form and will be able to spend more time with her.

In fact we are going to have a full house next week – Nikki’s brother Ben and his business partner are dropping past for a few days.

Reid has been accompanying the new Ambassador on his introductory calls around Beijing – he is working his way through the Chinese leaders and thinkers at the moment, last week seems to be concentrated on Newspaper editors. All very interesting stuff, according to Reid, and she’s also working on some really interesting reports for Wellington, so work for her is going pretty well. Perfection would probably be the combination of her job and adequate sleep. Reid is also keeping half an eye on next year’s World Expo in Shanghai, which will take up a lot of her time as it approaches.

And me? I have been working. Thats about it.

Nuts

Fun and games yesterday.

Zara and I went to a kid’s birthday party at the next-door tower in Central Park.

We were there for two minutes, at which point Zara eats a cashew nut.

Five minutes later Zara erupts in a huge rash and starts coughing and spluttering. I give her some water. She runs off, but then runs back, requires a cuddle and then throws up all over me and after a quick sprint to the bathroom, keeps throwing up until I think there must be nothing left.

Birthday girl’s mum gives Zara and I new clothes and we make an escape. But by the time we get home Zara is awful lethargic and wobbly, so I stuff her in the car and off we go to the doctor (at SOS). Hideous trip. Zara keeps going to sleep in the carseat, and I keep pinching her feet to keep her awake. She still looks awful flushed but I am consoled in part by her snoring.

At SOS I can’t find anywhere to park, and almost write-off a Merc in my hurry. At the door, some poor nurse attempts to screen me for H1N1, and doesn’t respond well to my yelling… and then freaks out when she finds Zara has a temperature. She rushes off to find a doctor while I rip her screening form into little pieces.

Finally they take us around the side entrance to the emergency room and Zara unbelievably finds something more to throw up. I now need a third change of clothes. However, she is now much more alert and interested in things around her and the doctors are all fantastic, saying it’s probably a reaction to the nut (suspect many years of medical training went into that diagnosis), but not dangerous now – if it was dangerous, she’d be much worse than she is.

After an hour of observation (and more puking – to the point where her stomach was empty) we went home.

We may lay off the nuts in future. And we will do some allergy testing next week.

Today she’s box o’ birds and off to school. And I am 10 years older.

(edited for some significant typos – must have got myself all worked up again writing this thing)

Misc

We’ve all been busy since the last post here, but sadly not much of it has been interesting busy. Just dull busy. With maybe a few highlights…

Two weeks ago I disappeared off to Bangkok for three days. Beijing was in the middle of a huge thunderstorm at the time, and this meant sitting in the plane at the departure gate while we waited for it to stop raining (though seriously, it just looked like an average-to-crap day in Wellington to me). And of course, after we got the go-head to get out of there, we found ourselves in a 20-plane queue for the runway – so it took another hour to actually get in the air.

Bangkok was very quiet, tourist-wise. The unpronounceable airport (go on, have a go. It’s “Suvarnabhumi”) was deserted, and I felt like I had to hotel to myself. A combination of the economic downturn and the political situation I guess. I came back with a lot more work than I left with, with a shorter deadline. Can’t wait to go back.

Last week, the Ambassador presented his credentials to Chinese President Hu Jintao. He was allowed to take four others with him… and since the Deputy Ambassador was ill, Reid got to go, along with the Trade Commissioner, the Defense Attache and a Second Secretary.

Hu Jintao does these ceremonies in job lots, so the Ambassador presented himself between other new-arrived Ambassadors according to ranking in the Diplomatic Corps. Everyone waiting in a small room in the Great Hall of the People until the word was given, then trooped out to shake the President’s hand and the Ambassador handed over the papers (which I believe is a note from our Governor-General saying “this bloke acts for me”).

That done, everyone retired to an adjoining room for a few minutes chat.

I’ll upload the photo of Reid with the President when I get it – however, she is now saying she thinks she met him once before, perhaps when Cullen was in town. Meanwhile, here’s one of a very young Hu Jintao, standing just behind Premier Zhao Ziyang addressing the crowd (via two megaphones) at Tiananmen Square a few weeks before the massacre.

Premier Zhao Ziyang and Hu Jintao at Tiananmen

As an aside, the whole Diplomatic Corps thing is interesting. All foreign diplomatics in Beijing form the local Diplomatic Corps, with seniority based on how long you have been in country. The Ambassador that has been here longest is the Dean of the Corps, which means… well, I don’t know exactly, but if they are all together and someone has to make a speech, it’s likely to be the Dean.

The New Zealand Ambassador arrived just after the Ambassador from the Republic of Djibouti (Africa somewhere, since you asked) and just before the Ambassador from Afghanistan, so whenever they are all gathered together in future and line up for something, he will have those Ambassadors either side of them.

And as a further aside, did you know (according to that font of all wisdom, Wikipedia) that in New Zealand the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps is ranked above the Deputy Prime Minister and Chief Justice?

In domestic news, Zara has been sick, first up with non-specific colds and coughs, then on to vomiting and rather dull diarrhoea (the symptoms of which, entertainingly, only presented between midnight and 6am). This has meant she’s skipped a week or so of school and we haven’t been swimming much, but she’s all good now and we’ve about got to the stage where she actually wants to go to school.

Zac is continuing to be a model, if not rather large, baby who sleeps, drinks and laughs at things constantly (apart from when he rolls onto his stomach and gets pissed off that he can’t roll back). Yu Mei thinks he is a hao hái zi (good child), who is piào liang (beautiful), and they are getting on famously, when Zara lets them.

Here’s a few photos….

June 2009

(click on the photo for the gallery for this post).



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