Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Back in December last year Waipo's younger brother died. He had been ill for a long time and it wasn't particularly unexpected, but we didn't tell her anyway as being stuck in the UK may not have been the best place to mourn. Waipo was talking about it the other day and how no-one had told her in the UK, and I didn't know if she was in some way scolding me or just mentioning it. But her main point was that one evening Xixi was throwing a massive tantrum which is not like her. Waipo did something really weird; she lit a piece of paper and let it burn on the floor in the hallway, then picked up the smoking black remains and tried to smear it on Xixi's forehead or neck. It looked a bit voodooish and didn't do the trick and she was only consoled when I held her in my arms (Xixi, not Waipo). Anyway, Waipo told me that that was the day her younger brother had died, and that Xixi's behaviour was an indication of that....

Anyway after leaving Xixi crying in school again I later went to meet Tan and the girls for lunch at the Ming Dian Coffee Language Hotel restaurant. The weather has become properly hot now, though not as humid as when the clouds were ever-looming. Now the streets are emptier during the middle of the day, except for a tall foreigner who insists on going out on his electric bike. I really like the meals they served in the Ming Dian last year and the year before in what looked like a bento box. I asked Tan if they still did these boxes and she said "yes". Then the waitress came and Tan found that they don't do the boxes anymore. What is wrong with "I don't know"?

I asked Tan if Lin Hong had the house keys as I wanted to keep an eye on progress but she said today she was busy at work and didn't have any time. So after lunch I rang Lin Hong anyway and she said she was on her way there: "zhun bei dao le" (just about to arrive). Ten minutes later she did come and explained that she had just picked up the keys to her house today as we had ten days' ago, and she also wanted to check our house. So much for busy at work.

Well there certainly were changes. Unbeknown to me there were now railings all the way to the ceiling on all the balconies. This gives the place a bit of a prison feel to it but it is done purely for safety as there will be kids around. More predictably there were lots of pipes around the place. The floor was littered with water and electric pipes stemming from the mains and going to all the rooms. There was already some electicity built in but I guess we were expanding it. All this will be covered in concrete soon so I managed to get some grainy snaps on my phone camera first.

This is a pile of stones to be used for making concrete for the house, and was donated to us by A Wu. Thank you A Wu

The full-length bars we now have on all the balconies

Some of the pipes that will soon be covered by the floor. Green for water, white for electricity

Back home I had a little nap and when I woke up to get ready to pick up the kids I found that some bastards had hemmed in my little bike between theirs. If I had knocked on of theirs over there would have been an expensive domino effect so I had to be careful and only set off two alarms while slowly getting it out.

Tight squeeze

As there was no space to park in the appropriate zone when we got back I just left the bike near the door, out of the way of anyone else. Later when I popped out I found I had a sticker on it saying something I didn't understand, but along the lines of "Don't park here!". As yet I don't know if there is a fine. I decided to go to the old peoples' place to play table tennis as I hadn't done so in a while. Boss Yang was there along with some mates, one of whom was probably the best player in Pingguo. I sat mesmorised by the quality of play and was sadly aware how far I was behind. It didn't stop them wanting to play against me though and to my credit I did score a couple of points on returned smashes that got rounds of applause.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Took the kids to school again, and on the way back I was enjoying the slight breeze in my face as I rode the electric bike down the long road past the guang chang. I closed my eyes for five seconds which was quite exhilarating at 40kph. I opened them and found I hadn't swerved a foot from where I was on the road. I did another five seconds blind driving and again the same. There was still a couple of hundred yards to go before the lights so I decided to go for ten seconds. By seven I was getting scared...eight seconds arrived a long time later...nine seemed like a minute and the moment I got to ten my heart rate had raised dramatically. A cheap buzz maybe but when I opened my eyes I was in the middle of the road a few feet from running some bloke over who had unwittingly decided to cross the road without looking for some stupid lao wei on an electric moped with his eyes closed. I did swerve and avoided somme embarrassment. I won't be doing that again in a hurry, although it was fun.

A Wu called as I was on the way back to ask me to go to Boss Yellow's factory opening. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a Quentin Tarantino film. I told him "wo you shi" (I have a matter), meaning I was busy. That didn't stop him calling again at 11am saying it was an important occasion. As I wasn't actually that busy I said ok I'd go, just give me 15 mins to get a shower. Surprise surprise 30 mins later he wasn't there, so I called and he said 2-1 was coming to pick me up instead, and to hurry up! Sod that, I got in the car with Mr Football Score and we drove for three minutes to the shop where we're going to buy our tiles from. It transpired we were now going to wait for some other bloke (Mr Pink? who the fuck knows?). We we ended up waiting half an hour for this bloke, during which time we had a nice few glasses of tea with the shop's proprietoress if that is a word. Then I found out this place was outside Pingguo town, on the way to Bangxu, where Tan is from originally.

Tan's 2nd sister's lovely new Mitsubishi Outlander. She doesn't even intend to learn to drive...I hope I will have use of it in Pingguo while she is here as I did a couple of years' ago with her smaller car

As we drove the half-hour route we kept getting phone calls telling us to hurry up. I told 2-1 "an chuan di yi" (safety first), and he was one of the few men who actually seemed to know what I was talking about. I think most of them think driving accidents are all to do with "fate", and they are the ones who won't live to show that that is a load of bollocks. Although A Wu had said I would be leaving by 1pm it was already gone midday when we arrived.

I hadn't actually realised this was such a big deal. I quite like Boss Yellow, and although I couldn't quite work out what his factory was for - something to do with cutting wood judging by the tools - there were a good thirty people there, if I'm not mistaken many of whom were women. They were possibly relatives of Boss Yellow as they were not particularly slim, as most Pingguonese women are. By the time we got there it seemed they had been holding out on eating, but not drinking as they were all half-cut. Well I understand that starting a business is a big deal and this is all part of the culture but I could hardly physically gan bei as much as they wanted me to. I toured every table and gan bei'd with various women and bosses muc hto their delight, before managing to tuck in to some rather nice lamb, beef, chicken and finally some rice.

Where the meal took place

I cai ma'd with a few blokes whom I'd not met before (increasingly rarer now), and was immediately accepted as family as I was able to explain that my wife was from Bangxu, that the food was good, and that I knew they were from Bangxu too, all in the Bangxu language. But I got to the stage where although hardly light-headed I could not drink more fizz, so I went for a walk by the road in the particularly beautiful countryside so prevalent in Guangxi. I'd asked to go home at 2pm but we were apparently waiting for someone to go with us. This person didn't turn up so 2-1 eventually got A Wu's keys (luckily meaning A Wu wouldn't drive but I hate to think of the amount of inebriated people who did drive back that afternoon).

Some of the folks I ate with. Boss Yellow is the one wearing the pink top (obviously).

Afterwards I had a bit of a saw head

Typical road scene in Guangxi

2-1 got me back by three and I managed an hour an a bit's kip before going to pick up the brats. Xixi was fine again despite pulling a tantrum in the morning as I left. She will get used to it. I found out that Tan and A Ni had got back and that they were doing their hair or something. I took the kids to the old peoples' leisure place where I played a little table tennis with a couple of them. But it was hard as both the kids wanted to play too. So I gave up and went home. We went out with Chuan Chuan and Qiqi (Er Jie's kids) for some fried noodles and ducks' tongues outside our house and unusually both Leilei and Xixi ate well. It took a while for them to get to sleep after the excitement of having Qiqi around but finally Leilei dropped off, then Tan came back and gave me a reward for being a good baba.

I watched the second half of the Paraguay - Japan match with Er Jie's bloke Lao Pan. I know he is the father of their second child but I'm not sure they're married and I was embarrassed to ask. Anyway I got a text from Tan during the match to STFU as Lao Pan was being noisy (he does have a very funny high-pitched laugh for a bloke with a deep voice). So when it was 0-0 after 90 minutes I asked if he fancied going outside to watch extra time. He didn't as he was watching currency movements on his laptop. Since I set up wifi in the house he is now able to connect from any room which he really appreciates. Although his laptop is only a year old there is a problem with the internal wifi (as far as I can fathom with a Chinese OS and having no luck installing updated drivers), so I happened to bring a USB wifi stick that I've installed so he can be online to keep his eye on whatever currency he likes. For what ends I don't know, but Er Jie has a beautiful Mitsubishi jeep that if I understand correctly cost around 40 grand in UK money.

Anyway I stepped outside to watch extra time at my local outside eatery with the big screen. As soon as I tried to order a beer at a table by myself I was invited to sit with the people at the neighbouring table. Well, what could I do? I sat down with them and gan bei'd a little and cai ma'd a little while ooing and ahhing at the footy. We were having a really nice time when Tan rang me to ask what I was doing in the second period of extra time. I explained I was watching the last few minutes of footy and she said Leilei needed to go for a wee as if it was my fault. I mean she complained about me watching the game indoors and now she was complaining about me being outside. She also asked who I was with as if I knew. Maybe she was being protective but certainly too much so. I've been here long enough to know who are ok people to sit down with and share a beer. Five minutes later, during the penalties she rang me again! Bloody hell dear, I said I'd only be a few minutes. Last night she said she was just going out to pick up a book at 9pm and didn't come back till midnight as she decided to go for barbeque without telling me...let's put things in perspective here. Anyway Japan lost unfortunately as they'd been the more entertaining team in my opinion.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Got a call from Boss Yang to go for a late breakfast at around 10.30am. A colleague of his picked me up. On the way to the International Hotel I was asking his name so I could put it in my phone. He said 2-1, and I said I already had his phone number as he had already rung me, I just wanted his name. So he started again, 2-1. I thought my Chinese may not be good enough so I read out to him his own number, then I said "my name is Peng Duoming, what is your name?" (in Chinese) and he started again: 2-1. I was a little bit embarrassed to find out that his name (or least what he is called) is "er yi", i.e. "two one". Don't ask me why.

Me and 2-1 having breakfast at the International Hotel. Too early for the chicken claws for me but the dumplings were ok

A Ni had had an argument with A Wu last night for some reason so her and Tan went to Nanning as ladies do. At least she took the kids to school first. So for the first time in a long time I actually had some time to myself till 5pm, which I pleasantly spent catching up on news online, and a little sleep in the afternoon. Although we gave most of the booze away as presents, I kept a bottle of gin for such pursuits (and it wouldn't be the done thing to give a plastic bottle as a present). It mixes ok with the "shui bi" lemonade but I'd love to find somewhere that sells tonic water. I had to go to the supermarket after dropping of the kids at school as Xixi needed a pillow and a cup, plus a blanket that I took from home. I have found that the local supermarket now sells Gordon's gin plus Smirnoff vodka at around a tenner each for 75cl. Ok it's not particularly cheap (though it is the stronger imported stuff), but it's still a sign of where this place is going. Two years' ago I saw locally produced "Finnish" vodka for sale for the first time, as well as Coca Cola Zero, which meant I had more than one choice of palatable alcoholic beverage for the first time since I've been coming here in 2003 (the wine does not count as palatable). There was one specialist alcohol shop that carried a couple of bottles of western vodka but at highly inflated prices and I don't really like vodka anyway (can only do with sugar-free Coke). I asked the woman in the supermarket if they sold "gui nin shui" (tonic water) and she said "no" obviously, but that I may be able to get it in Nanning.... I will go there this weeend.

In the evening I got a call from A Wu to go for a meal with more bosses...a bit tiresome but as Tan was out and I was with the kids we went with him. Not a great idea. Leilei was behaving badly and I warned him a couple of times that we would go home if continued to do so. He did so once more so I thought I'd better be true to my word and marched him and Xixi out to get a san lun che back home. He was sullen and rude all the way back but unless he knows that I mean what I say he will continue the same way in the future. "I hate you, I hate you!" is a horrible thing to hear but I told him I loved him very much but we just need to behave nicely.

Waipo was home and I left them both with her and went back on the moped. I was glad the kids weren't there as not only was it rather smokey, the blokes were all drinking an insipid yellowy alcoholic drink that tasted horrible and was 22%. I said I'd only drink weak beer so that was forthcoming. But they were quickly trolleyed and I didn't have much interest in staying there. We were in the middle of a long photoshoot with the camera I gave A Wu four years' ago when we stayed at his house for three months, when one of the more pissed-looking men grabbed me and moved me out of the room in a very rough manner. A bottle of beer had been pushed into my hand and he grabbed it and shoved it into the waitress as we left the room. He bid me to go down the stairs and get out, and I realised he'd seen that I wasn't comfortable and that the others were really caned; he was doing it more for my own safety and I really appreciate that.

Back home I got the kids to sleep by 11pm then watched some of the footy with Er Jie's husband (the father of her second child). They all came back yesterday as their son Pan Qi has finished school for the summer. It was all unannounced so once again the house is pretty full.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tan has been told that we're not allowed to charge the electric moped ourselves as if everyone did there would be wires coming down from everywhere and it wouldn't be safe. Not that this is the most safety-conscious place in the world but it does make sense. Instead we need to pay 10 kuai a month to charge up the bike. Bit of a bargain I reckon as I'm sure it would have cost more than that to do it from home. If I was so inclined, I could hide a car battery under the seat and charge that instead and run the house lights off it. But I'm not that way inclined. The way it works is that there is a box attached to the wall where you park the bikes that has a lockable opening to which only the security guards have the key. Inside the top of the box are the slots to put the charger plug in, and at the bottom is a biggish hole where the wires go through to the actual charger. So I tell the guard I want to charge up the bike and he'll come and plug it in for me, then when it's done (this bike takes around 6 hours to fully charge) you just yank the wire out of the box without having to open it. Quite a clever way of ensuring that the security guard only needs to come out once.

Charging a "dian dong che"

With the remaining juice I had in the moped I took Leilei down to "Old Macdonalds" as he calls it. Actually it is more of a KFC place and the only place I've been to where the chicken is tasteless. Waipo and Xixi joined us and at least they had some food. I then dropped them off with Tan and picked up the key to the flat we lived in last year as I wanted to go back to pick up my flipflops. Waipo came with me and we slowly walked up to the 5th floor. The stairs had not been cleaned for months and looked very unkempt. Waipo said she was the last person to clean the stairs, then it dawned on me that she had been away for a year.

Inside, the place was obviously not lived in and had a musty smell to it. Quite sad as I remember the vibrancy of living there not twelve months ago. I didn't find my flipflops, but I did find my guitar from 2008 still almost completely in tune. And finally I got my hands on my camera battery charger. This is the unluckiest charger I have ever had. I was doing some last-minute charging before leaving for China in 2008 and of course I left it in the UK. I didn't make the same mistake last year except I did in the opposite way, and left it here. Now we are reunited it is a bit quicker to recharge the battery, though I've grown very fond of the makeshift chargers they have here where you just adjust some metal pointers so they touch the battery contacts and trickle-charge just about any battery.

A Wu had invited us all to the fish restaurant in the evening where we had some great beef, duck and lamb. I tried to join in with the men drinking thimblefulls of white alcohol but I just can't stand the stuff. I insisted on beer, and the ladies drank cold, sweet, weak red wine. In typical Chinese style I was led away from the table after an hour or so to sit in another private room with some bosses where we gan bei'd and cai ma'd until it was time to start preparing for the England Germany game.

All I can say is that I'm glad it wasn't a 2.30am start. Apart from the 20 minutes where we came back and should have been 2-2 we were by far the lesser team and didn't deserve anything from it. Oh well, time to take the flags down for another couple of years or so. Booooo.
In the morning Lin Hong called as she needed our new house key to give to someone who is doing the electricity. This is something I find annoying about house-buying here. You are in a bleeding hot place, every house is going to have air-conditioning, and they don't wire the place with sufficiently thick wiring so it all has to be removed by digging it out of the wall. Why can't you just pay a little extra and just get the proper stuff done in the first place? It's a bit like the gas - we're going to pay an extra 2000 kuai just to have the pipes fitted in properly rather than having them clamped on the outside at a later date. Having said that there is the option to go with gas bottles but for future-proofing I've opted for the installed pipes. Actually the 2000 kuai is for registering with the gas company, the work will be extra.

When I got to the house Lin Hong was waiting with the worker - a middle-aged woman carrying a number of 12 foot lengths of pipe I gathered were going to contain the wiring in the walls. There was no way they would fit in the lift so she started trekking upstairs. It would have taken her a month of Sundays on her own so of course I stepped in to help. It's not very comfortable lumbering of 14 flights of stairs on your own in late June in Pingguo. I was dripping by the time I finally got to the top, but it was good exercise. I saw that work had at least started and the wires had indeed been taken out of the walls. Then noticed that the lift wasn't working anyway so made the slightly easier trip back down to meet Lin Hong, where she handed the worker 5 kuai for her efforts (probably more than an hour's normal wage).

Got a phone call from Tan asking me to come to A Hua's beauty salon and make some Pimm's for the ladies. Fair enough I grabbed a shower, put the kids on the bike and went off to buy two large bottles of "shui bi" (lemonade, think it's 7-up), two apples, an orange, a cucumber and a large jug. Found the ladies eating chicken claws and spicy dried beef as you do so joined in for a bit. A Hua had had the foresight to prepare some ice, and also had some home-grown mint so I had all the ingredients I needed. Ten minutes later it was served to the delight of all the ladies. I left them on their third glass with instructions on how to make more. I understand they got rather tipsy during the afternoon.

Pimm's on a summer's afternoon

In the evening I took the kids out to watch the fountain display in the guang chang. The climax is the centre spout that gushes up nearly 90 metres into the dark sky. Strangely, about 20 seconds after each gush, we felt a strong blow of wind. It felt like it was coming from the hills, but it must have been due to the fountain because it happened every time. I don't yet have much of an explanation for it as the water was being push straight up, not sideways. A few seconds after each wave of wind we then got rained on by the droplets which was a bit fun at first and then slightly annoying, so I tried to get the kids to go home, something that took longer than it should when they are both running around like lunatics.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Why do I keep getting up at 6am? Didn't feel much like jogging, so did some clothes washing though there was now a stack of stuff hanging out in a vain attempt to dry. As the electric bike was out of juice, and it was still pouring outside I took the kids to school in a san lun che. Dropped off Leilei no worries, but Xixi, despite yesterday, was not having any of it when I tried to leave. It was a near-repeat of Wednesday, except this time we traipsed around the inside of the school and exercised in the big hall due to the rain. Xixi did hold hands with a boy during the walk (as well as my hand), and when we got back to the class she let go of mine as she followed the others inside. One of the teachers saw this and told me to leave quickly while Xixi's back was turned. This I did, but within seconds I was sure I could hear her screaming her lungs out. It was heartbreaking and all I could do to not go straight back in. I stopped and waited for a few seconds but decided this would have to be something like a rite of passage, and that if she was truly inconsolable the teachers had Tan's phone number.

As per yesterday I walked home as I need the exercise and the rain was less persistent. I was looking for some wire so I could charge the bike from our house directly as we're on the first floor, about 10 feet above where we park it. I didn't find any and as I was walking home I got a call from Tan. I was dreading it would be about Xixi but thankfully she was just asking me to get some breakfast. I bought a couple of huge fried dough things and some soya milk, together with a large bowl of ricey-noodly something-or-other for 7 kuai. The fried dough things were quite nice but awfully oily. I then decided to pop out to look for wire again. This time I tried a different direction and pretty much the first shop I came to had exactly what I wanted. Fifteen metres of the stuff at 1 kuai per metre, plus the bits on either end which of course they fitted for me. I also fancied some lemonade and the next shop had exactly that. Then I fancied a bite to eat for lunch and lo and behold the next shop had exactly that. All within one minute of our house. I got a rolled up noodle thing with meat and greens inside that I sometimes get for breakfast. The woman only wanted 1.5 kuai so I ordered another. 3 kuai for a nice lunch eating out - I love living here! I left saying I would be back, bought a bottle of beer at the lemonade shop, drank it while reading about the amazing Wimbledon game that ended with Isner winning 70-68 in the final set. Then, unlike yesterday I managed to have a nap and wake up before picking up the kids. Note to self: have a beer with lunch if planning a siesta.

Xixi had been fine in school, and slept and eaten well. These Chinese don't just sit back and allow kids to be stroppy and not join in, and I think this approach works; it's a bit more effort at the beginning but it pays dividends and the kids learn that mama and baba are still there after all. Lin Hong was telling me that the first evening she took Xixi out to the guang chang she cried incessantly for a number of minutes, then later just got on with it and enjoyed the evening immensely. Now she'll got out with quite a few people with little or no fuss.

Leilei did very well with his writing - fruits of Chinese school back in the UK

Xixi looking happy with her "Hong Qi" (red flag) - Leilei got one too

Friday, June 25, 2010

Although it was a bit of a late night last night I still somehow woke up at 6am. I think it may have something to do with the weather - hot and humid - despite the air conditioning. As it was too early to get the kids up for school I decided to do something that most people would consider insane, and went for a jog around the guang chang. It wasn't boiling hot outside but I broke into a sweat within 100 yards. However, I was determined and jogged the whole perimeter then back home, for a total time of no more than about 15 minutes. At least during that time I did see others out exercising, though most of them were much older than me.

Back home Tan was getting up as I'd warned her that I may not be able to take the kids to school today. So once dressed we all took a san lun che to school as even in China the four of us on the electric bike would have been a bit much. Leilei was fine going to class but Xixi needed mama to stay with her...I feared it would be like my experience yesterday, so I left and had a long walk home. By the time I got there Tan was already home with no Xixi, meaning she was actually in school without one of us! After a lunch of noodles in soup, which is about the most common thing here at this time of day, I went back for a nap but just couldn't sleep. I'd had my first cup of coffee earlier in the morning so I put it down to that.

5 o'clock came around and I took the bike to pick up the kids. Xixi was sitting happily in the middle of the class, though did run to me when she saw me. The teacher said she had been good and had slept for a couple of hours after lunch with the other kids. Also, she'd eaten well which is a good sign. I'd just been told half an hour earlier that today was "Pingguo Friends' Day", whatever that means, but one thing was for sure and that was another meal out. We ate in the restaurant near where we lived two years ago that made its own beer until recently. I guess there was little market for stronger, darker beer in such a climate. At least this time we all chipped in for the meal, rather than someone picking up the tab for all.

Xixi and Leilei after school

The the high point of the meal was the fantastic duck. A Wu didn't like what was served and went to the kitchen himself to improve it - imagine that happening in the UK. I had taken the electric bike to the meal but half way through a torrential thunderstorm decided to join us. The lightning was so constant it was like a flickering giant bulb o'er the hills yonder. Luckily the electricity didn't go though, and when the rain slightly died down I took the bike back home, slower than usual as the battery was running out.

Storm over Pingguo

Then A Ni went into our house to stay with Tan while A Wu and I went to "wash face". Aaahhh I've been here over a week and criminally have not yet gone for this magic experience. And this was the best one I've ever had; hair wash for half an hour, face wash, face mask, face and head massage, back massage with warm soapy water, hand and arm massage...all in all an hour and a half of pure decadent luxury. I was so comfortable I started to drop off now and again but made the effort to mostly stay awake just to enjoy the experience. This was pretty much the bells and whistles version of "wash face" as it cost 50 kuai each, and normally it's 25-30 kuai for 50 mins that doesn't include the face mask. I realise now that what you are paying for is the quality of the materials, not the labour time. In the UK this would have been ten times the price...what a bloody bargain. I will try to do this more often, I may even save more money than the flight tickets cost, which would be some sort of tenuous justification.

I was shattered by the time I got home and it was all I could do to stay up and watch the second half of the Slovakia - Italy but what a cracking game it was! France and Italy bottom of their groups and out, four years after competing in the final!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Up at 6am yet again! Put some clothes in the wash and some out to dry. Although the rain stopped a couple of days ago it's very humid, and the clothes still take forever to dry outside. Well not as forever as when it was raining and I was worried I'd have to re-wear my sweaty boxer shorts again (no, I would have gone to the market to get some new ones).

Got the kids ready for school, Leilei didn't want to wake up so I pretended I was having a spinning top battle on his back thus tickling him awake...that did the trick. Xixi was a little easier as I just had to mention going on the electic bike to school and she woke immediately as excited as a girl would be who was about to go to school at long long last...

Once there I dropped of Leilei at his class and was pretty much ok about me going this time. Then it was Xixi's turn...she suddenly balked when faced with walking into a classroom filled with noisy kids who doubled in volume as soon as they saw her. They were welcoming her but not in a way she understood. However, we went to the adjoining playroom and she played with me for a bit while the others ate their breakfast. Then, one-by-one they came into the playroom to play with her. She wasn't too happy sharing and went to punch one of the kids but at least she wasn't scared of them. After a few minutes all the kids got together and paired-up into a line for a walk around the school. I held hands with Xixi and we stayed at the back. I got her to hold on to the teeshirt of the girl in front as we snaked through the main doors and outside into the main foyer bit of the school. As we were walking around, Xixi spotted a climbing frame and made a dash for it, she was tearful when I brought her back explaining that we were in school now and had to do things together. Then it got more difficult as we passed the sandpit (with dark grey sand) as Leilei's class was there playing in it. That was it, we left the rest of the class to walk to the back of the school as Xixi and Leilei played contentedly with the sad sand. Then a few minutes later I decided she needed to get back with the class, who by now were doing morning exercises in the playground. It was really nice to see this - Chinese of all ages spend a good deal of time stretching etc. But not Xixi today; she wouldn't even let me join in. We then went back to class and I sat on one of the tiny chairs with her, but she wouldn't let me leave her so although it was not yet 9.30am I called it a day and took her home saying we'd try later or tomorrow. Maybe she just is a bit too young now.

Xixi and Leilei playing in the dark sand

I tried to take this without them noticing me for fear of losing a limb

Slightly amusing Tai Kwon Do WTF

At home Waipo was there. I had to pop out to get some stuff and by the time I got back she'd taken Xixi out somewhere. So after some time checking emails I did one of the things I really enjoy here and went for a ride on the "dian dong che" - the electric bike that was given to A Ni years ago that she doesn't use as she doesn't want her skin to get dark. I have appropriated this bike the last couple of times we have been here and ensured it was re-appropriated this year too. I looked around the relatively new basketball stadium and found a group of oldish people brandishing swords. Luckily they weren't threatening me, rather this was more of a martial art I believe. Still, like I said, old and young, they like their exercise.

Back at home Lin Hong (the cousin who's helping us with the house purchase/decoration) rang me to say she was coming round to pick me up to look at tiles for the kitchen and bathroom. Ok, I said, give me 5 mins while I just have a shower and I'll be ready. 30 minutes and a shower later she rang again to tell me she wasn't coming. But I said I was ready so she said she would come...that's the way it is around here. She had a friend/cousin in the car and we went to a friend's tile shop where we looked at the fare. We'll probably go for light brown tiles for the smallish kitchen and Tan and I will have to argue about the bathroom as she wants dark grey and black (v. expensive) and I want a brighter white/yellow. Also Tan wants two "ma dong" - western style toilets - and I want one of each. Lin Hong agrees with me, especially as when we have local guests who might not be used to sitting as opposed to squatting. The Western style one can be the en-suite while the "normal" squatter can be the main one.

From the shop, we took one of the friends to show me her daughter's new house, which had recently been furnished as she had just got married. On the way a slightly funny thing happened. There is a newish pedestrianised area which leads into the housing complex we were going to. It has bollards to prevent cars getting in as many a UK one does. However these bollards are suffiently spaced that pretty much any car can actually get through. And so you see it looks a bit like a normal street except all the cars slow down drastically as it's a tight squeeze. A bit too tight for Lin Hong in the end, as we spent a good two minutes with her holding up traffic trying to line up properly to get through. It was quite embarrassing as a "bunch" (I hate that term but it fits here) of Americans who are here for a week or so walked past at that time, at least it would have been embarrassing if all Chinese cars didn't have blacked-out windows. When Lin Hong finally gave up (I nearly suggested I'd drive through but didn't want her to lose face), she parked on the side of the road and we walked a whole minute to the house in question. It was actually rather a lovely apartment with four bedrooms and very spacious as 148 square metres can afford. We had a look at the kitchen, which I approved of, and the very expensive bathroom (which I didn't), and I was slightly peeved that our place pailed in comparison to this one.

Lin Hong then dropped me back home, from where I took the bike to the nearest eatery and ate some noodles with a beer then going for a nice siesta before the evening that was to hold the destiny of English football for the next few days at least.
I didn't wake till nearly 4.30pm, so didn't have much time to get on the bike to pick up Leilei, but I found Xixi sleeping on the couch (she'd had one hour according to Waipo). I whispered in her ear that I was going to pick up Leilei from school and she woke immediately! So she took her position standing at the front of the electric moped and we went to pick him up in the boiling heat that our transport made bearable by providing a breeze. I let the kids play on the climbing frames while chatting on the phone to mum (English mum). I saw our American friend walk past with a couple of his kids and asked if he would be watching the match tonight (USA have an important must-win match too). He said he indeed would be, or words to that effect.

Well this evening we were invited to a meal by Xili for her daughter's first birthday. She'd been born while we were in China last year but we hadn't seen her as it is customary for mother and child to stay indoors for the first month after birth here.
A Wu came to pick up Leilei and me. I had brought some England footy flags and party stuff from the UK, and put two car window flags on A Wu's aging Toyota, surely the only such car for many a mile around! He wasn't too sure about it at first but on the short drive to the restaurant bathed in the attention he was getting from all the people outside!

A Wu and his chavved up car. I told him to wear his England top but he brought his Man City top I gave him a couple of year's ago thinking that was it. I have no problem with that

Xili's daughter's first anniversary meal

The meal was a family occasion and there were three tables in the private room laid out for us. It was in the same restaurant I've already been to four times in the last week but the food is good here generally. As is my wont, I ended up playing cai ma with some of the family I hadn't met before and didn't do as well as I normally do, though in this case it was a good thing as it was not much more than an hour till kickoff. I left before the end of the meal in order to kit out the bar we were to watch the footy at. The waitresses helped me blow up some balloons and stick up the bunting and other stuff, all in all we created not a bad England area around the tv.

Getting ready for the England - Slovenia match in Number 5 Cafe

As 10 o'clock drew, more friends arrived, and unexpectedly (in a good way), our American friend dropped in too. I warned him we wouldn't be showing the USA game but he was fine with that and had come for the atmosphere. Well by kickoff the atmosphere was kicking too; the beers were poured and the party whistles blowing. On 22 minutes Jermain Defoe's goal was met by cheers from all the bar. There were more oohs and aahs from our various missed chances but the better team won on the night. On the stroke of full time one of the barmaids switched to the USA game and a second later they scored the goal that was to qualify them in first place. Amazing stuff for our American friend and although I was not happy about not coming first in the group we high-fived as I'd have taken that result before the match started.
I came back happy but slightly the worse for wear as the neighbouring table had ordered a bottle of whisky and suggested I share a glass or two with them, together with a fair few weak beers.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Up at 7am for Leilei's first day back at school. He was a little reluctant to let me go but no tears. The kids in his class remembered him. I Went out with a list of things to buy for the next three weeks: a towel/cover for sleeping, felt-tip pens, pencils, a writing book for characters and one for something else, plus a drawing book. On the way to the shops Ma Laoban (Horse Boss, honestly, isn't there anyone who isn't a boss around here?), the boss of my local computer shop and good friend for four years shouted out my name "Peng Duoming!", and I instinctively turned around. He asked me if I'd eaten breakfast and I said no, which was an invitation to do so. We had savoury pancakes and a very nice dumpling together with cold soya milk drink which I'm not too keen on. Then he took me to his friend's shop to get the stuff I needed for Leilei's school - 6 kuai for all the pens and books. I then picked up an Aotoman (like a Chinese Spiderman) school bag for 20 kuai from the market and a 55 kuai towel from the supermarket.

I brought the stuff to his teacher and then she told me he also needed a pillow and two changes of top as the kids can get sweaty...could have told me when she gave me the list. She also told me my Chinese was worse than two years ago which didn't please me one bit; most people had said "yue lai, yue hao" which means the more time you spend, the better it gets...oh well...
Had a bite to eat for lunch at home for once and then got a couple of hours' kip before taking Xixi to pick up Leilei. This time we went to the main office again and I said Xixi would soon be 3 (November is pretty soon), so they said she could go to the "Xiao Ban" class (little half?) which I guess is the youngest one. We went to have a look and the teacher was happy for her to come the next day.

Hurrah hurrah! We have the internet again! And it was what I first thought: someone had bloody cut the line outside our apartment while doing manual work on another place.

Finally got the chance to use my bat when I went to the old people's leisure centre at 7.30pm to meet Boss Yang. This time I spent more time concentrating on my serves (backspin) and being highly criticised when any one failed. Also I got in trouble for doing too many backhands when I should have been moving my body more and smashing with my forehand.... I was dripping wet by the time Tan called at 10pm to ask me to look after the kids as she was going out. Leilei was already asleep by the time I got back but the little madam most certainly was not and she was due to go to school the next day. By 11pm I gave up trying to get her to sleep and gave her to Waipo as she'd been asking. Then I sneeked out to watch the second half of France lose 2-1 to South Africe. And thanks to having a connection at home again I could read about the incredible collapse of French football! Here's hoping we won't be the next...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Up at 5am...grrr....still no internet...double grrrr.... Went for a walk at 6am with the keys to our new place and this time went all the way to the top of the building to see what I could see. There was a nice view of the guang chang that gives an idea of its enormity.

The enormity of the guang chang

I happened to bring an England flag with me, as you do when going for random walks around China, and had a chavvy moment and hung it up just inside the window of the living room so that I could see which apartment was ours from the outside. Sorry.

Pingguo Chavs

At mid-morning I went to the Police station with kids to register where we were staying. I should have done this the day we arrived in Pingguo, but the policeman behind the counter, who was the same as last year and the year before, didn't seem to mind, and went back to concentrating on his cigarette as I spent the next 40 minutes filling in the one-page forms for the kids and me, 30 minutes of which was spent writing our address in Chinese characters as I don't have the pin yin version. Then I found I needed passport photos too. From memory this is a big deal in China where you have to go to an official place and they charge about 80 kuai for 6 photos. Well I was prepared and had already got some home-made passport photos thanks to, a godsend for people with young kids (and a printer). I nipped back, dumped the kids and gave the three photos to the bloke and that was that sorted out for this year.

On the way back I topped up Tan's and my phone, and sorted a month's worth of Internet for 8 kuai up to 50MB (pretty cheap I think, so basically have internet/email/IM on the go now). I also noticed a couple of Western women getting their bikes fixed, one of whom looked like the wife of the American family who were living here a couple of years' ago with their three kids, who we got to know.

Back home I got an email (on my phone!) from the husband of the American family saying his wife had noticed someone who looked like me in the street, and was it me? And if so welcome back. They'd moved back last week like us after a year elsewhere to study Chinese properly (I guess Pingguo doesn't have the teachers). I gave him a ring and we arranged to meet up next week for a catch-up meal. He also mentioned that his youngest daughter was going to the "you er yuan" (school) that Leilei went to two years' ago which reminded me I intended to see if we could do the same this year.

Had a siesta and got up in time to take Leilei to school to see if they would take him for the remainder of the term. Xixi wanted to come too but they both needed a shower. The problem was that while Leilei was having his shower Xixi decided to lock herself in the bedroom. Try as I might I could not coax her to unlock the door. She sounded fine and chatty but just wouldn't play ball and unlock the door. I looked in vain for a key to open the door from my side, but after five minutes gave up and called Tan's 2nd sister to ask what else I could do. There was nothing for it and I told Xixi to stand away from the door. It took a couple of goes but I kicked the door in to find the little madam furiously squirting my expensive Christian Dior eau de toilette around the room with a wicked look on her face; she had already emptied my deodorant. She was completely oblivious to the fact that I'd just kicked in the door.

It was too late to shower Xixi so I took Leilei to school and asked if he could go for the remainder of the term. They said yes so I paid up 285 kuai and said we would come tomorrow, school closes 15th July anyway. Xixi also wants to go to school but the people in the office said at two and a half she was too young.

I took Leilei out to the place with the big screen opposite our house where he actually ate a decent amount of "chao fen" - fried noodles, and a barbequed sausage, and I watched Portugal take a 1-0 lead against North Korea in the first half of the match. Then I got a call to meet Boss Yang in "Number 5 Cafe" with Leilei (I could call him "Boss Sheep" but it doesn't sound so bossy). A Wu came to pick us up even though it's a minute's walk away from where we were watching the footy. He announced he was first taking us to a place to meet some more bosses. I countered that we were already invited to meet Boss Yang but A Wu said he'd told him we'd be a little later than planned. I hate this hijacking he tends to do just to show off his English "big brother". I said I'd do it but not for too long. We arrived at the skanky KTV bar I'd unintentionally visited with Xixi yesterday. It was pretty much the same at night and we went into a large room full of bosses in various stages of inebriousness or whatever it was. Despite having Leilei on my knee they tried to offer me cigarettes, and when I declined they lit up anyway sitting next to me. That was enough. Despite them having ordered some special milk for Leilei I got up and walked out. I didn't care if A Wu was going to lose face - anyone expecting me to bring a five year-old into such a place does not have much of a "face" in my book anyway.

We were opposite the guang chang so Leilei and I played silly games there like chasing after each other (silly because of the heat and humidity). We had a good few minutes together and I ignored the phone calls from A Wu. We made our way to "Number 5 Cafe" to meet Boss Yang, but of course A Wu was already there. I didn't talk to him much, and concentrated on the footy. As it happened Portugal were now leading 7-0 with just a few minutes left for Dear Leader to come on as sub and get an octo-trick to blast his glorious country to World Cup glory (I think I missed that bit when I went to the loo).
I didn't sleep a wink overnight, and worse, there's been no internet at the house since yesterday. There was no connectivity whatsoever from the plug in the wall and I thought at first that the line outside had been cut as there is a lot of work going on in this block. The block is pretty new and a lot of apartments haven't even had work started on them, but the ones that have emit sounds of hammers and electric drills all day long (including Sundays). I don't know if I could get used to a quiet Pingguo now.... Anyway I then got concerned that maybe the internet supplier had got wind of the fact I was using the connection for more than one computer and that maybe this wasn't allowed. Every Chinese house I've been in has just one computer, constantly online - I've never seen a home network except the ones I've created while living here. Then I feared that maybe I had been browsing stuff I shouldn't have such as BBC News (not blocked this year). I asked A Heng to try and sort out the problem and he said he'd call the company tomorrow.

I'd visited the house-selling place we bought our place from a few days ago, and the lady there said that we would be able to pick up the keys on Sunday. I'd given her our contact numbers but rather than wait to be called, Tan, Xixi, Lin Hong and I went there at around 10am and found there was already a number of people there with the same intention. It was the first time keys were available for anyone in the block of I guess 200+ apartments, so we wanted to get there early to avoid queues. It was quite disorganised and Lin Hong helped us a lot by doing most of the queueing and with the paperwork. This was the time of the extra expenses I hadn't been told about such as electricity and water connection fees, and various other taxes. Tan had said it would be a total of 4000 kuai. But when the paperwork came it looked more like 6000 kuai. I asked for an explanation and was fobbed off with some bollocks. Then it actually transpired that it was only 2000 kuai as there was a 2000 reduction because the place was delayed in being built (by 6 months!), and there was a further 2000 kuai reduction as when the finished property was measured it was 0.7 of a metre squared smaller than the official size, and you pay by the metre squared. I didn't argue.

Lin Hong did the queueing and paid via Tan's bank account, so we finally had some paperwork that we could take to the next floor, where a further queue awaited us to actually have the keys handed over. We were given a set of five front door keys, plus two keys that Tan described as ones we should give to the workers who will be doing the decorating so they can get in. I didn't really understand the difference between the two sets, though I'm willing to believe it makes some sort of sense. Maybe you can change a setting in the lock when all the decorating is done and from then on those keys won't work...I'll try to get a straight answer but I won't hold out much hope as this is China. Well at least the lifts were working so we went up to see the house. One issue though - 14 (our floor) is considered an unlucky number in China (it sounds a bit like "death"), so our address is 15A. I asked what floor we were on and the girls said "15A", so what did we see on the buttons in the lift? 13, 14, 15, 16 etc., I asked which floor then and they looked a bit sheepish as they didn't know. Ha. It transpired that it was indeed the 14th floor, but that our address is 15A (all other floors' addresses begin with the floor number). I foresee a lot of confusion here - I hope the post just arrives in a box at the bottom of the's going to be difficult explaining to people that it's 15A, 14th floor...

First tour of our new house, minutes after being handed keys

View from the main balcony to the guang chang and below

We don't get a great view of the guang chang, but it could be worse...

It feels rather high up

I texted Awu to tell him I hadn't slept but that didn't stop him telling me we were going to play badminton in the afternoon and he kept calling while I was doing house stuff to ask if I was ready yet. I eventually relented but explained I needed a pair of trainers so off we drove off with Xixi to the pedestrianised area where his friend's sports shop is situated. I tried on a pair of 361 degree brand leather trainers that were quite comfortable, but then I saw a much lighter pair that took my fancy. I asked to try them on but the young lady said they weren't as good quality. I looked at the price and saw they were 40 kuai cheaper but I wanted them and got her to bring them anyway. They were indeed extrememly light and comfortable so I took them. 200 kuai but a third off due to A Wu's discount card. He got himself a top for 100 kuai that I paid for as he's paid for most stuff so far. We got to the badminton place to find it was closed for lunch (good planning). So we waited around at a KTV bar opposite the sports hall. It was a horrible dark place, eerie as there was music playing and a couple of people singing - I think it was the staff relaxing as no-one does karoake in the afternoon, do they?

Xixi wanted to wander around upstairs and we found a disgusting big room that had not been tidied from the previous night's debaucharies. There was a score of tiny beer glasses, still full, tissues strewn everywhere and a stench twice as bad as any English pub smelt even during the days of smoking. I couldn't even find a clean tissue to wipe Xixi's dripping nose, but while looking noticed a straw and what looked like the remnants of some white powder next to it that Xixi nearly touched. I immediately grabbed her and took her out and downstair from the filthy pit. Luckily the people had arrived to open the hall, but Xixi would not let me play at all - she would run around on court with me rendering it too dangerous to play seriously. Really she wanted her own raquet, and to play with me, so we found our own piece of space and spent 20 minutes with me throwing her the shuttlecock while A Wu and his friends played on. After a while I had a phone call and said I needed to take Xixi to go and sleep, when in fact it was me.

I did manage about three hours' kip from 4-7pm though did not feel like going out to KTV...but A Wu had insisted because all the big bosses would be there...he likes to show off that he has an English friend but it gets trying at times. The celebration was ostensibly for A Wu's birthday (from three weeks' earlier), and although I got there at 9pm sober, the other "bosses" trundled in at various stages of drunkeness. At least there was some football to watch. I gan bei'd as little as I could and joined in a bit of the singing and dancing but it's not fun with little sleep and a still dodgy tummy. I made my excuses and left by midnight, by which time people were throwing the cake into each others' faces which may or may not be part of the culture... A Wu rang me 10 minutes later when he realised I'd left but by then I was home and free. Got to sleep by half midnight.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Slept till 1.30pm after the disaster that was England Algeria.

Went to eat late lunch with Awu and Boss Yang and a couple of others, then Awu went to have a rest and I went with Boss Yang to get my table tennis bat. We went to a shop that sold sports equipment and he looked at the bats without any rubber on them before deciding on one that was about 250 kuai, or getting on for 30 quid. He explained that it had two layers of carbon in it but I didn't quite understand how that made it better however I'll take his word for it. He chose red and black rubber skins, and left it with the owner to sort out.

We then went to "Number 5" coffee shop, which is a nicely decked out place that serves coffee along with tea and various alcoholic drinks the likes of which I'd rarely seen outside of Shanghai, such as western whisky. I was talking to the boss and saying it was a little similar to European style drinking places, which I meant as a compliment. I said in Europe you would often get free wifi in such establishments as people could work there and would stay longer and order more drinks. He then told me that there was wifi and he proceeded to give me the password for it. I suggested he may like to advertise the fact he had wifi - I'll check when I go next time. And there will be a next time as the place was pretty dead and I would be able to get some work done from there if our internet goes down as I'm sure it will. While we were enjoying a fresh coffee someone came in with my new bat in its new cover. 300 kuai in all and it's lovely...very comfortable to hold and I can't wait to use it. Boss Yang wouldn't let me pay for it saying it was a present from him! I estimate that China is on average four times cheaper than the UK (hard to generalise but I do my best), down from 4.5 times last year. That would mean my bat would have cost 120 quid in the UK.

Unfortunately my tummy was starting to get a bit funny. Not in the ha ha sense unless you find diarrhoea funny (I should have learnt to spell that word after so many times in China). I can't normally squat but in cases like these I make exceptions and made my excuses while walking quickly to the squat loo in the cafe. I came out feeling better but knowing that was not the last time today by a long shot.

A bit later we went to Boss yang's office to drink tea but tummy troubles continued. After a couple of trips to the squatter I explained I'd better go home. I had intended to go to the supermarket to get some milk and cereal for the kids but once outside I could not even face going there and just went home feeling very sick.

I told Tan about the tummy and she told me to go to A Xia's clothes shop where A Ni would get me some medicine. This was in the form of vanilla flavoured dust in tiny packets about the size of a light tampon cover. I don't know if it did any good; it certainly didn't help instantly.

Later could not eat tea but had to go to KTV (Karaoke TV) for A Hua's birthday celebration. I had very very few beers, just enough to be polite, and my cai ma is good enough to not get drunk on. Later at home I was not tired, so took the bike outside at 2am to see what I could see. There was a large screen with a projector just opposite our house showing pre-match build-up of the next World Cup game so I decided to sit down at a table and have a quick beer. I asked the waitress how long they would stay open till. She pointed to the table with the most people and said "until they leave". That table happened to be next to mine and as soon as my bum had hit my seat I was invited over to have a beer with them. It transpired that two of them were Tan's mum's sister's sons and we were quite close relatives. That was more than an excuse to have a few beers, and we ended up eating and drinking till 3am, when I pointed out it may be a good time to get home. It was agreed that at this time it was a good idea, so we exchanged phone numbers and I hope to catch up with them soon.

What finding relatives at 2am might look like
At 7pm I went to play table tennis in the old people's social place next to the guang chang (where I passed two Indians looking slightly bemused). I guess this is a very important building as although all around it there are newly built high-rise apartments, this place has remained untouched with its paltry three floors. I noticed they were playing croquet and volleyball too. They actually take it pretty seriously, at least they have a referee and proper scoreboard. I met Boss Yang and we went upstairs to one of the table tennis rooms. Now these are not air-conditioned and you can imagine it gets extremely sweaty. I asked Boss Yang why he was allowed to come to the old peoples' place to play and he explained that he teaches there. I'm sure it is very unofficial, but it is true that all the regulars know him and like him, and he really does train you well with no time for politeness.

Today I was learning how to do proper forehand. Hold the bat at a 45 degree angle at all times and move your arm properly. It's amazing how effective this was. I remember him teaching me two years ago but not exactly what he taught, so it was somewhat back to basics. I felt I'd improved 100% within half an hour. My serves were still crap though but he said we'd look at that another time. I got beaten by two or three old-timers who popped in to watch, but wasn't too embarrassed - they had a great teacher. Boss Yang said he'd help me get my own proper bat tomorrow - I was using his but it was not very comfortable as I use the European grip as opposed to the Chinese grip, and Boss Yang's bat has a much shorter handle as it was made for the Chinese grip (that's my excuse anyway).

Tan called me at 9pm screaming that there was no electricity in the house or in the surrounding area and it was pitch black; apparently Waipo knew and this was going to happen and had not told her. In all honesty she had said something to me about electricity earlier in the day but in my defence I didn't really understand what she was talking about. So I told Boss Yang I had to sort stuff out, and sweating like a cold glass of beer in a hot pub garden I leapt on the bike and rode to a place I know that sells lights. It was quite eery riding through the town - I've known Pingguo with parts of it devoid of electricity for periods of time but it seemed like the whole place was dark. And quiet. No pumping of Chinese rock music from the mobile phone shops or hawking of various wares. I got to the shop I knew and explained that we had no electricity at home and realised at once that was about the most stupid and obvious thing to say as the boss turned on his torch to walk inside his shop to find me something. He came out with a couple of rechargeable torches at 12 and 13 kuai each. Thankfully they were at least partly charged. I got home and found that the place was candlelit, so much for pitch black. Tan had presumed that there would be no hot water but I hadn't so I took one of the torches into the bathroom and had a nice shower before being called by Boss Yang saying he was going to take me out to watch football at the only bar in Pingguo with electricity. Shit. The England match was on later (much later at 2.30am) - would the electricity be back by then?

The bar was pretty rocking. Most people had tables close to the large screens for the Slovenia - USA game, and there was one free a bit further away but right next to the air conditioning unit. In typical style various friends including A Wu came to our table during the course of the evening. Boss Yang's wife was there too - she is about 8 month's preggars and I normally wouldn't be too happy about her sitting in a bar where most men were smoking but because the air-con was blowing away from us we were pretty smoke-free. I love the fact that the Chinese have really got into the World Cup, despite not qualifying. They cheer every goal and are genuinely excited about the whole thing. We stayed till well after midnight consuming copious amounts of "qi du" beer. This is one of the "Li Quan" brand beers and is only 3.1%, but more expensive than the stronger ones due to something that I have yet to understand. The leccy was still down, but A Wu found that his house was in one of the few places that still had it, so he and A Ni drove there at some time after 1am. There were one and a half hours to kill but he had beer in the fridge so we made use of it on a slower scale as we were getting weary. Eventually the game started and as far as I remember I've never seen such utter crap in a competitive game from England in my life. You stay up so late and are treated to that. Pathetic. Tan texted me just after the second half started to say the electricity had come back and I told A Wu I'd walk home rather than watch this shite, but of course he insisted on driving me as the streets were not safe blah blah blah. Back home I watched the rest of the match online, not thinking for a minute we'd score and being sadly shown to be correct. Got to sleep at 4.30am.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I didn't really feel like going out for lunch, but there was no food in the house and the wife and kids were going to meet A Ni in the Ming Dian hotel. We took a three-wheeler to get there but we were a little late as Tan couldn't find her sunglasses and refused to leave until she did. A Hua was also there waiting for us. Then A Wu and Boss Yang came too, moaning about having drunk too much last night. There was another westerner having a meal in the restaurant too...seems like Pingguo is becoming quite international. After the meal I took the kids back for a siesta...a near necessity in this heat.

A Wu invited us and a number of other friends to a nice big dinner at the same restaurant as a year ago when A Wu started his company. There was a table for the ladies and kids, and one for the blokes as it should be. Actually the one genuine good thing about this arrangement is that the kids and ladies don't get exposed to nearly as much smoke as they would otherwise. We played cai ma and I once again won more than I lost. Now I can even beat A Wu half the time. Boss yang reminded me that he had taught me some table tennis two years ago, and now I remembered him properly. He invited me to play tomorrow and I accepted eagerly. I really enjoy this sport despite the fact that here I've been beaten by pensioners.

The ladies' and children's table at A Wu's meal

Xixi getting my attention

We later moved on to KTV - the same people were invited but there weren't quite as many people as at the meal. I had to do the traditional party pieces of "Pengyou" in Cantonese and "Ni shi wo de mei gui hua" in Mandarin, plus the chorus of a new song I'm being told to learn "You mei you ren ceng gao su ni" ("Did anyone tell you?").

Our bill at the karaoke place. A Wu had written my name as he thought it was (Doin nike). I signed my name in Chinese about 3/4 of the way down slightly on the right (should read 彭多明)

The main plus point about today was that I managed to set up the old wireless router I'd brought from the UK to work with the internet connection here. I was doubtful that it would work as the house just has an ethernet port in the wall, and the router is meant to be used as a DSL modem/router. However I thought I had nothing to lose by putting an ethernet cable from the wall into port 1 of the router, and configuring it as I would for a normal DSL line. Hey Presto it just worked! I ran an ethernet cable from the router to the house's PC, and then set up wireless security and we had connectivity for my laptop, Tan's netbook and both our phones. It sounds geeky but it's really important to have that link to the family and the rest of the world.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Slept for only 2 hours and woke up at half time during the Brazil v N Korea match. Leilei woke up shortly after so we watched the second half together and saw the North Koreans score a good goal and only lose 2-1 - amazing stuff! As the first free shuttle bus to the airport wasn't until 6.30am, and our plane was at 7.50am, we decided to get two taxis there at 6am to be sure. I'd packed the eight bottles of duty-free booze into our check-in luggage as we have to do here. When in discussions with the bloke in the duty-free in Heathrow he found out that adults could take two bottles each to China if staying under six months. then I realised Waipo was going to be staying a lot longer, I mean indefinitely, so reasoned she was able to take another two, so we got a couple of bottles of Pims for more friends. This did mean we were really weighed down, and the internal flight had a limit of 20kg per person compared with the 23kg Virgin allowed to HK. My bag weighed nearly 30kg and I was concerned until the lady said it was 5 x 20kg with no limit per-bag. After all bags were weighed it came to exactly 100kg so I breathed a sigh of relief. Just as well I didn't bring a bread-maker and toaster...

We arrived a little late at 9.30am in Nanning with lots of friends to greet us. By 9.45am we were in the cars - Er Jie's (Tan's 2nd sister) was a new Mitsubishi jeep even though she can't drive, and A Wu brought his old Toyota Zefiro. We drove straight to Pingguo where we met others for a meal and beer of course. Afterwards we went to Er Jie's house where we're going to be staying, and on the way I saw a couple of Western women in a san lun che (don't see that very often).

I slept for four hours before an evening meal in our house then A Wu called and said he was picking me up in 2 mins - this is true A Wu style. We drove to his work and gave his workers two cases of beer to go with their meal and then sat down to eat and drink with them. A Wu explained that it was good to treat your workers well as they will like to work for you and produce the goods, one of the few times I have really agreed with him. Then we drove the 10 minutes back to Pingguo to join yet another meal with some bosses and I had to do a lot of gan bei'ing and cai ma'ing...this went on till midnight by which point most of the bosses were very drunk. However we did get to see Spain being beaten by Switzerland.

When we got back Tan and the kids went to sleep but I wanted to use the internet on the computer in what I thought was the spare room. I wanted to stay to watch the S Africa - Uruguay game but fell asleep well in advance. But at 2.30am (when the game was to start) I was awoken by A Heng (Tan's big brother's son) coming back from wherever he spends his evenings (he's about 20). Apparently it was his room. He didn't seem to mind too much and just went to the living room to sleep on the sofa where Waipo was too. As I was awake I decided to watch the footy but I probably lasted 15 minutes before falling back into the arms of Morpheus.

Some photos of Tan's second sister's house in Pingguo where we're staying

Living room tv

Comfortable sofa, if not my choice of colour

Dining table, with front door in background

Nice simple kitchen
Back Again!

Here we are again. Barely a year ago we were leaving from HK, and we just arrived this evening on flights nearly double the price (June rather more pricey than September but still cheaper than July). The kids were ok on the flight and slept a good deal of the way - much nicer than when a few months old. I even managed a couple of hours and Waipo didn't have her usual travel sickness (maybe because she vomited most of whatever she had in the taxi to the airport). Although I'd checked online that the last ferry to Shenzhen airport was 9.30pm, it appeared that it was in fact at 7.50pm. Lucky then that we arrived nearly an hour early, and very convenient that we didn't actually disembark in HK, rather we just gave the luggage details to the boat company and they arranged for our suitcases to be put on board the ferry.
Was good that the airport had wifi so I was able to send a few emails to family to say we'd arrived so far so safely, then we took the hour-long ferry journey to mainland China. So nice and easy compared to normal entry into China. Thankfully our luggage was all there so no waiting around a carousel, just pick it up from a storage unit once we'd arrived. Then no more than five minutes getting through immigration. At customs I started putting our suitcases through the x-ray scanner but I was told not to bother and before we knew it we were waiting for the free shuttle bus to the airport. It was a bit of a long-winded way to get to the hotel as there was another free shuttle bus for that, but at least it was waiting at the airport. So we were in our rooms by around 10pm, but Tan was hungry and the hotel had stopped serving food. Never a problem in China. We walked out and found a place within 50 yards, where the kids were admired by all the patrons despite their non-perfect behaviour.
Back in the hotel I got James to sleep in our "men's" room, while the ladies got showered etc in theirs. Didn't manage to sleep till 1.30am.