Friday, February 29, 2008


After the testing of Huzhou, we headed North-East into the neighbouring Jiangsu province to its capital, Nanjing. It was going to be a brief island between the two 'family visits', but we were there to meet up with Xin's childhood friends, who coincidentally were having a mini-reunion. I had been to Nanjing twice before but it is a pleasant city to revisit.

In my first visit, I went to the Nanking Massacre Museum. Nanking is the old name for Nanjing and in 1937, the Japanese attacked it with some gusto blasting through its ancient city walls and then 'liberated' and occupied it. This involved killing 250,000 people and causing other unspeakable mayhem.

The ancient city wall remains in sections and it was that which I decided to set as a goal: Walk around the whole ancient city wall. I set off late - as it turns out, too late. It took over half an hour to find my first section and it was difficult to find a way to the top, so I walked beside it for another half hour before I came to a hill next to the wall which had a trail to the top. The top was enjoyable, with people occasionally passing by. I walked for another half hour but that is when I made an unexpected discovery - the wall ended suddenly with no way of getting down. You see, it is not designed to be walked around. So I backtracked 15 minutes, climbed down and walked about another hour in a big circle to get to the next portion. This was a better section and was on it for about an hour before I got down again and walked to the next portion. And then there was no more access to the top of the walls and I just walked along side each section I encountered.

It was obvious by about the early afternoone that even if I had more time, I wouldn't even around 3/4 of the way around the wall. So I decided to get just to the half-way mark and then head back to the room so I could prepare for the reunion. I got there with one hour to spare but on a search for a public toilet down a sideroad, I encountered a retired man who seem rather keen to chat with me in English. I eventually got him to talk mostly in English. He was once an engineer fro Sinopec (the national oil company). He had opinions on everything from Taiwan, to corruption, from the economy to the city wall. Until recently, a section of the wall was standing next to the road we were on. But someone wanted to put up a building and restaurant where that inconvenient section was. Perhaps, some money greased the wheels; perhaps not. One way or another a wall that had been contructed hundreds of years ago, that had withstood the Japanese invasion was demolished for a rather unremarkable piece of architecture. The retiree relived all of his rage and frustration at this sacrilege. He chatted with me for about half an hour before time came for me to get a move on.

After trekking back to the room, we headed off for the reunion at a cafe. It was cool - I chatted with the three who were at my end about all manner of topics ranging from language, traditional values, jobs and controversial topics like abortion and homosexuality. Most of them would regard themselves as being traditional in their attitudes to everything but accepting that others should have the freedom to not follow the traditional rules, i.e. none would live together before marriage yet would not think badly or criticise those who do.

The next day, we were off to Kunming - Xin's birth city and where her grandmother, uncle and cousin live.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Life has been busy lately. In fact up to today there was an unbroken sequence of being on the move and work. It all started with Waitangi day, which I wanted for a day out at the beach, but this plan was eventually set aside for the preparation of what seemed to be a daunting series of weeks.

The Wellington engagement would require either a Thursday evening flight (with a night of accommodation in a hotel) or an early morning Friday flight in. The first two trips down were the former, and yesterday was the latter. The first two trips also happened to coincide with Xin's 3-week art residency in Wellington so for both trips I stayed till the Sunday and flew back to Auckland then.

Going down on the Thursday warped my sense of time as I'd work a normal day, fly down to Welly and then have an evening there and sleep in a hotel. It feels like two different time zones. And the flight gives Thursday a Friday feeling. Then I would work a day (which, after it finished, would feel like a Saturday). Then two days of doing stuff in Wellington and a rush to the airport on the Sunday - a minimal Sunday in Auckland and then thrown back into work on the Monday. The overall effect was rather exhausting and disorienting.

I had my first Friday-morning-in-and-Friday-evening-out yesterday. It was prepared perfectly but was rather frustrating. I had a bad night's sleep the night before and got up at 5:30am to get a 7am flight. At the airport I used their self-service check-in where I got both my tickets for the day in just a minute. That was the good thing about not having check-in luggage. But despite this smooth entrance, the plane I was to travel on was suffering mechanical issues. Various announcements were made and eventually we changed planes and boarded almost an hour late. I was caught in a timetrap. I would be likely to come late and had to tell my 9am student. But it was too early for the reception desk and I didn't have his mobile number. Once boarding the plane of course, I wouldn't be able to use my phone and the plane might after the lesson time. And this was exactly what happened but fortunately it was only 9:05am when we touched down. With the smoothness of Wellington's traffic, I got to the building just after 9:30am and started the lesson shortly after. Ironically it would have been a record day of teaching for me if it had gone smoothly with 8 hours. But the record will have to wait till next Friday.

The work in Wellington itself is varying and challenging but I'm already in a rhythm and I believe all the students are benefitting a lot from the lessons. So far it seems to be sustainable and with my relaxing weekends returned to me, I'll be a bit more laidback than I have been lately. So all is well.