Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wellington and the things

Wellington is now a state of mind. It is a little bit of a vortex which my world plummets toward every week. With strange new efficiencies, I have my lessons planned ahead and on Wednesday night go to sleep knowing that I'll be just opening my folder, pulling out a lesson plan and teaching for the Thursday in Auckland and the Friday in Wellington.

Trips to Wellington almost always mean seeing famous people: Raybon Kan (twice), Geoff Roche, Jermaine Clement, Edwin Liu, Keith Quinn, Laura Preston, James Belich, Jo Goudie and some TV faces. Trips to Wellington means seeing that kiwis can be fashionable (in an arty student kind of way). The young do not necessarily go for the urban boredom of jeans and t-shirts like up here in Auckland. Trips to Wellington forecasts great weather for Wellington as it has never been poor weather for my days down there.

The students are great; I'm enjoying it thoroughly and feel I'm progressing them well; Even 8 hours of teaching seems a breeze; and they have a TV to watch cricket on in my breaks. The theoretical 9 hour day is still floating around and may be encountered prior to ANZAC day. I look forward to it and hope I'm healthy and prepared.

There was something hidden though, a weird misunderstanding between an HR person and me that cast a shadow over the venture. But I've 'forgotten' that now and I've negotiated a deal whereby I organise and book everything (flights, parking, accommodation and food) for a fixed fee. This was how it should have always been, if I had been smart, that is. By doing so, I accept a little bit of the cream on top but also avoid the awkwardness of making my client accept the responsibility for my cancellations (which was how it had developed). It will mean that if I stay healthy and don't cancel at all, I'll be able to earn a reasonable sum of extra money to justify the loss of a day.

One bad thing about being in business for yourself though is an increasing preoccupation with money, receipts and expenses. I feel myself thinking about how much I'm earning each day; I try to work out how much prices are less GST and with the eventual tax rebate; I know my credit card number back to front (I've always despised credit cards till now).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

And back and back!

Flying back to Shanghai was something of a relief. My health regrettably gave way shortly after getting back. It had held its own for so long despite the skepticism of Xin's mum but after the Kunming weather 's desiccation of my throat and then the stress from those in Kunming, a cold virus was obviously a bit too much for me.

The days there were a return to a shopping frenzy. Xin in particular was caught in taking her last retail opportunities. All I really can remember is walking, buying and eating.

And then we were packing. The biggest challenge was when it became obvious that a 101 little items weigh more that 30 kilogrammes. After a lot of rearrangement, we lugged everything to the airport where we had discovered our plane had been made earlier. Our early arrival was hence even more of a mad-dash. And with the late check-in was the unexpected drawback of being seated apart. After boarding, I set about watching the end of the Bourne Ultimatum and seeing the helplessness of Control. Sleepy, I wanted to sleep. Trying to sleep, I failed to get a wink, all the way back to Auckland; Back to the warmth of the morning, back home sweet home.

Friday, March 07, 2008


Kunming was the final stop before we headed back to Shanghai. It is the capital of Yunnan the Southwesternmost province of China, a 3-hour flight. Despite being in the tropics, it is cool due to it being on a 3000 metre plateau, and neighbouring Tibet and the Himalayas. It is also the Xin's birth-city.

Her mum had warned that Kunming had been unseasonably cold; it wasn't that warm when we were last there so we packed for the worst. As we descended into Kunming, the pilot did in Chinese exactly what they did in English, explain in detail the weather of the destination. The strange thing was I could have sworn that he said 29 degrees. I asked Xin. Xin was not paying attention. As we disembarked, my ears proved to be right.

On the last trip, we went on an odyssey around the province, but this time it was to be mainly with the family. And as related earlier, we landed into a tense environment; but that didn't mean there wasn't fun. As soon as I arrived, I spied a ping-pong table and that was the beginning of me taking both the uncle and the cousin to the cleaners. I was undefeated that night. It was also the second time I had a good nightview. The uncle's home was rather cool in that it had the top floor and a huge area that was open to the sky. The Pot extended right over us but I couldn't figure out the North Star and no-one could help me.

One destination that had been etched in stone was a visit to a hotspring. Apparently it was a newly developed one and well-worth a visit. There was talk of swimwear being required so I assumed that it was a little like Waiwera or Parakai, and not Japanese-style (i.e. getting naked, washing well, and then bathing in a pool communally). So, I was anxious about purchasing togs as I hadn't brought any to China (and it would have been good to purchase a new pair anyway). But no-one was particularly interested in helping me and saw no urgency. This confusion continued until we were arriving at the little town, when I asked about a place to buy a swimsuit. Suddenly everyone treated it as a silly question. You need a swimsuit to swim in the swimming pool but we would be mainly bathing in the bathing pools. So there was a guys' pool and a girls' pool. And you don't have to wear anything. Silly Daniel. Oh. Cheers. Thanks for the explanation.

Upon entering the (primitive) facility, it revealed a long rectangular pool seemingly hewn from rock. Either side of the pool was a margin of about half a metre to change out of your clothes; at the far end was a set of five showerheads; and in the pool were about forty people all staring at yours truly. Newly developed as a tourist site yet long used by the locals, it was quite possible that I was the first European to visit it. And as was often pointed out to me, people are quite curious. They don't see foreigners everyday; and less so in the all-together. At first I took it in my stride but it was getting ridiculous. Some would stride down the middle of the pool seemingly for the showers before their heads turning downward in my direction for a gawk. Another elderly man was rubbing the back of a guy near me but his eyes were far from what he was doing. Sigh.

That night again we stared a the sky, but still I could not locate the North Star. How could the only star that was fixed not be locatable? The whole northern sky revolves neatly around it. I was profoundly disappointed.

In the morning again, the plan was to bathe, but I led a dissenting faction that wanted to go mountain-climbing. It was a good walk and we even ascended to a dog-breeding area (!) before coming down. Xin found some interesting mushrooms. After descending, we headed back to the pool and yes, it was pretty much the same. I did have a conversation although it started in a potentially dodgy way. I swam across from one side to the other with freestyle arriving near a middle-aged man. He gesticulated backstroke in my direction.
"I prefer freestyle, thanks."
He continued to gesticulate and then possibly having just realised I was using Chinese, said I should do backstroke, but I just insisted otherwise. After that, we had a proper conversation talking about springs, the curiosity of people and China in general.

I love Japanese-style hot springs and my best experience was at a spring in Wulai, Taiwan. We were there for about two hours sliding from one pool to another, moonbathed in the freshnight air and chatted with some friends. I floated out that night. This experience, however, was not good.

We returned back to Kunming to engage in another passion of mine: tea. My person mission was in fact to buy and drink a lot of tea and especially learn how to brew pu-erh tea properly. This, I succeeded in. We went to a tea market where we had a brilliant show and explanation of all things tea and even an incidental trip to an artist featured the beauty of tea preparation.

As our stay drew to an end, I found her cousin's childhood encyclopaedia, which had the method for locating the North Star. It needed two constellations, one which was high in the sky in the evening and another that was high in the sky in the morning. I needed just a few observtions and bingo! There it was. It hung low in the north. I stared out at it several times throughout the horrid last night and it was there every single time. When we woke in the morning for our flight, it was still there hanging perpetually.

And so, we left, back to the coolness of Shanghai.