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Zara’s school report

For those desperate to read some highfalutin Montessori teacher-speak, here is Zara’s second school report.

(Zara loves school, and adores her teacher, Kay, who is fantastic).

Photos of snow

After the big dump a few weeks back Reid had a walk around Ritan Park and took some photos…. and I went snow boarding.

Shanghai and Tong Li

(Pardon the repost – the last version was a little garbled…. and this was actually written a couple of weeks ago: am a little slow with the ‘Post’ button)

We’ve just had three days away from the kids in Shanghai. It’s been fantastic – but as I write (in Pudong Airport departure gate #8, waiting our boarding call) I have to say it will be really nice to see to see Zac and Zara again. We missed those guys – but Helen (Reid’s mum) has been keeping us updated via txts on how they are, and the only crises seemed to be when the DVD didn’t work (momentarily).

Anyhoo (now onboard the flight back up to Beijing)… we left on Tuesday morning, taking the car to the airport as the snow had caused all taxis to evaporate. In Shanghai we checked straight into the unbelievably fabulous Jia Hotel (Home Hotel) and started our tourist experience as we meant to go on, with lunch and a wee kip. A little later we managed to struggle down to the fairly underwhelming Shanghai Museum of Modern Art (a once-great building now looking a little tired, with content to match), and a brisk walk around the People’s Park and some shops… then back to the hotel to defrost and a glass of wine.

Then dinner. At the famous and much lauded M on the Bund, which (in summer) offers dinner on a terrace with incredible views over the Bund, the barges plying the river and the madhouse lights of Pudong. In winter, these things can been seen a little less dramatically from the warmth of the dining room. So – view: great. Dinner? Not so much. It ended up being another one of those incredibly expensive but not-that-terrific Western restaurants in China, where the size of the bill makes you think of how many times you could have eaten better at Logan Brown for a third of the price.

Wednesday… by about 11 we managed to extract ourselves from the lovely Jia to walk across to Tai Kung Lu, off which runs a network of twisty crowded lanes lined with shops and places to eat. It’s changed a lot since we went there last (with Marion and Mum in 2008) – the shops have got more touristy, I think, but that didn’t stop us buying some shoes for Zac and a dress for Zara (and eating a lovely lunch). Then back to the hotel for another snooze.

That evening we took the metro to Pudong, and had a drink at Cloud 9, in Jinmao tower. It’s quite high. First you take a lift to the 54th floor (ears popping all the way), where guests at the Hyatt inside the hotel can check in. You then take another lift to the 85th floor, where guests can eat at a cafe. You then take yet another lift to the 87th floor where you can have an expensive drink and try and convince your craptacular camera to do justice to the stunning view (I ‘enjoyed’ the lifts so much I had to have two drinks to help me back down).

We then had dinner at Hamilton House, which had been recommended by the Wallpaper Guide, and also by visiting Wellingtonians who said it was like the Matterhorn. It isn’t.

And today… was all about trains. We took the metro to the Shanghai Railway Station, where we got a really tiny taste of what railways stations all over China must be like during Chinese New Year (when everyone trains back to their home village). Thousands of people constantly flowed in all directions like migrating birds. After a couple of false starts, we managed to buy two ‘soft seat’ tickets to Suzhou and joined the hordes flooding toward Waiting Room #4, where we all bunched around the departure gate like expectant lemmings. Eventually the gate was opened and we all pushed our way down the stairs and onto the flash train, which ticked on to Suzhou at 200 kph quietly and efficiently. Once in Suzhou Reid practised her Chinese on the ticketing staff and got us sorted for the return, and we hired a bloke and his van to take us to Tongli, the Venice of the Orient.

Tongli is beautiful. It’s an 1000 year-old town laced with canals on the edge of a lake, populated by about 25,000 people who have managed to turn their town into a tourist destination without completely wreaking it. Reid bought a pair of boots for Zac off an ancient old cackling crone and we a great time strolled around the canals looking at houses that were building during the Qing dynasty. It must be awful during the summer rush, but in winter it is quiet and rather peaceful. We bought three paper-cut pictures as souvenirs from the Park of Eternal Solitude, then headed back to Shanghai by van, 200 kph train and metro to get our bags from the hotel.

Another metro trip later we transferred onto the MagLev, Shanghai’s white elephant of a bullet train. This wheel-less beast goes 30kms from a metro stop in Shanghai to Pudong International Airport, and can do it in 7 minutes at speeds up to 450 kph. For us, it took a more leisurely pace – about 300 kph. In Japan they’ve managed to get one up to 500 kph, and say they could go faster than airplanes if they could build one in a tunnel without any air in it.

Anyway, the Shanghai MagLev is a little useless since it doesn’t really go anywhere, and was really built to encourage the Chinese to install more of them – perhaps putting one in from Shanghai to Beijing. Unfortunately China went for a conventional fast train for that route, and they’re now having problems expanding the existing one, since the locals are worried the magnetic radiation can cause sickness.

Still, from a tourist point of view it was terrific, and that brings me to now, an hour into the return flight. Around me several exhausted guys have fallen asleep, snoring like beached walruses. I’m slightly worried I can’t remember where the car is parked. Or even if we will land at the terminal the car is at. And Reid is reading this rather dull and verbose missive with an impenetrable expression, so I may stop now. We seem to be descending through a snow-storm anyway.

Here are some photos….

New Year’s Eve 2009 – domestic update

It’s 5pm on New Year’s Eve. The kids are downstairs somewhere with the ayi, Reid is having a nana-nap…. all is quiet- hopefully time for a quick update before witching hour begins.

The big news of the last few weeks is poor Yu Mei was hurt in a bus accident – the bus jammed on the breaks to avoid a car, and Yu Mei, who was a passenger in the bus, fell over and hurt her neck. She was taken to hospital in an ambulance and, much testing later, her neck was put in a brace. Obviously she can’t work, so she’s been relaxing at home getting better – sending her son over to us to deliver vegetables and fruit (fairly sure it’s supposed to be us sending her stuff?).

Anyway, she’s getting better, and has appeared at the apartment a few times to see Zac, who she misses a lot (and to have a coffee). We think she may be back next week, but don’t really know at this stage.

In her absence I completely panicked and over-compensated with childcare. Zara’s teacher offered to keep Zara in school for the whole day (finishing at three), and I rounded up three more ayis, plus extended the hours of the cleaning ayi we already have. Zac was starting to get a ridiculous amount of attention – but now everyone’s hours have been reduced a wee bit and things are approaching normal.

Isn’t this domestic stuff interesting? Perhaps I should move on…

Nikki’s medical adventures have settled down, but she was considerably more ill then we thought she was going to be. A sad offshoot of all this is for a while she was unable to pick up Zac or Zara, so for a few weeks there was no discussion on who was going to see what the problem was at 3am (yes yes, it’s all about me really).

She finished for the year on the 24th and is taking three weeks off over Christmas as Helen (her mum) is in town. Next year is going to be all about the Shanghai Expo, which will be madhouse busy for her, so holidays next year will be few and far between.

Zara has finished school for the year and also has three weeks off now. The week of full days at school left her completely munted at the end of each day, but the school does do very cool stuff in the afternoons (art appreciation, modern dance etc), so there is thought we’d try and extend her hours next year. The cost is positively frightening….

Zac is crawling around the house like a little demon, and particularly enjoys investigating the toilets and unloading dirt from the pot-plants. He is standing by himself for minute periods, and likes pushing around chairs and buggies while standing up – it’s only a matter of time before he loses the supports. He is still a lovely bugger, and occasionally sleeps in until 6.30am. Bless.

And me? Well, I’ve been busy working. And yes, I know you all ask, and yes, the answer is the same: no, I have not got paid (for anything yet), but hope springs eternal in the human breast.

In recent events…. for Christmas we started with champagne and kid-related consumer madness here – Zara was very excited this year, once we’d explained that Santa could take the lift to get the apartment since we didn’t have a chimney. For lunch we moved to a friend’s place (Tushka and John), and ate considerable food with a few other families, retreating home at 6pm. Kids asleep by 7, parents shortly after.

The next day Helen arrived – she’s been completely monstered by Zara who has demanded (and received) lots of attention. Helen is here for two weeks, so last night Reid and I snuck out for a night leaving her in charge (supported by Ayi Miao). We booked a room at the Graceland Courtyard Hotel, a 8-room hotel in a hutong west of the Forbidden City, went for dinner at the Da Li Courtyard and a few drinks at the East Lake Jazz club. It’s our first night away from kids since Zac was born – and the time before that was that trip to Chinese fantasyland, Qiqihar. Fantastic.

We’re going to try again next week, on a longer trip to Shanghai.

Anyway. It’s now 6.30. I’ve pushed some pasta into Zara and she is now watching Harold and the Purple Crayon. Zac is starting to nosily head toward bed after clambering around under my desk unplugging stuff. I’ve been taking photos of the Blue Moon that is rising through the clearish-skies. Reid is making coffee in an attempt to amp up – as we now have to get geared up for a New Year’s dinner and drinking, being careful to dress appropriately as it is already -7 outside, and getting colder.

Happy New Year y’all.

Final medical update

(wishful thinking perhaps).

Nikki arrived home Thursday night, delayed by an hour because of the Beijing snow. Queasy and nauseous, she headed straight to bed but sadly spent the night puking – the results, she thinks, of a naughty prawn in the Hong Kong business lounge. A trip to the doctor on Friday confirmed she hadn’t ruptured anything while dry-retching at 4am and she is now not allowed to eat until lunchtime Saturday.

So. She’s sore, hungry, full of tea but on the mend. And happy to be home.

And in the other medical drama this week, Zara’s school (I may have mentioned) sent a note to all parents alerting them to the case of Influenza A detected at the school on Thursday. The result was a 50% attendance on Friday. Lucky they didn’t give the name of the kid – I suspect everyone would be off to her house immediately with lit torches and pitchforks.

Further medical adventures – Thursday

Nikki has checked out of hospital and been ferried to the airport in an enormous Mercedes. Because of her condition she has been bumped up to Business Class, and her flight back here has just taken off – an hour late because of the snow in Beijing, which has been drifting down all day. She’s pretty uncomfortable but enjoying the wheelchair.

At this end I have a pass to meet her at the gate – I’ll set off in an hour or so.

But! More news…. an hour ago Zara’s best friend at school was confirmed with Influenza A, which apparently gives her a 98% chance of having H1N1. Her family have been quarantined (at home, happily) for 7 days.

The school has already sent out an alert and we’ve all been warned to keep an eye on each other. Both kids have had miscellaneous snuffles for weeks so…. And apparently Tamiflu is not always recommended for kids of 3 years (it disrupts their sleeping for a start! Ha!), so even if they get it, we’re likely to be just be quarantined as well.

Steady as she goes then.

Reid update – Wednesday

Hi all… thanks for all your messages from the last post.

Nikki has spent the night without pain-killers (after some pills on Tuesday that almost knocked her socks off) and managed a shower this morning – but is still in a fair bit of pain. She’s had blurry vision since the operation, which is apparently normal (!) so hasn’t been txting or emailing much, but this is improving. Last I heard she was about to start an expedition down the corridor, to get some walking practice in.

Current plan has her flying back up here tomorrow afternoon – I will pick her up at the airport, and should be able to get a pass that gets me past security so I can help her with her bags. Unfortunately it is scheduled to snow again tonight – the last dump closed the airport for a while, and also closed the airport expressway. So. Lets just hope that doesn’t happen again.

Send her an email at nikki [at] eightwire [dot] com if you’ve got a moment.

(And because you asked – that’s how you post email addresses on blogs that can be seen by the general public. This is because there are nasty spambots out there that roam around the internet collecting things that look like email addresses, so they can forward you invitations to purchase performance enhancing drugs and physical enlargement techniques. Fnar fnar).

Medical Monday

Zac has got the sniffles, a fungal rash on his leg and a bloodshot right eye. Zara has got split feet from the dry Beijing air and the snuffles as well. I’m getting a cold (which will quickly develop into a crippling case of man-flu, no doubt). But the big news is Reid.

She’s been slightly under the radar on this one – yesterday morning (that’s Sunday) she flew down to Hong Kong and today checked into hospital to have a post-caesarean incisional hernia removed (at least thats what I’m guessing it was called). She’ll probably be in hospital all week.

The hernia was a thank-you present from Zac who left it behind on his way out in February. Reid’s specialist in Wellington spotted it during the warrant of fitness check before we came back here, and recommended she get it fixed up when she finished breast feeding. The MFAT medical advisors said she had to get it done in Hong Kong, and at 3pm today, she had a general and the surgeon got busy.

A couple of hours ago I got a text – “alive” – so it appears things went okay. I’ve had a fair garbled one after that so suspect the pain killers are all good fun. I’ll post again tomorrow after I’ve talked to her.

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



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