We are currently travelling around Baoshan County (hence less frequent updates until we return in September), visiting some our graduates from last year. We've been enjoying: swimming in Jinghong, village temples, seeing old friends, Dai speciality foods and Baoshan baozi (apparently the best in Yunnan), noodles with green bean paste, friendly people, lots of folk costumes... lowlights: grumpy, fast taxi driver from Dali airport into town, rainy and damp clothes, smokers on buses (until Lesley sorted them out, as usual). The photo shows Leslie, Edie and Freda with Roise and Magda outside the old monks' accommodation at Long Tang Temple, outside Chang Ning of Baoshan Prefecture.

It also appears that the "powers that be" have blocked our blog editing ability (though you should still be able to read it). We hope someone sees sense soon!

On a recent cycle up tea mountain I met this chap, Mr Tang, who was selling handcrafted wooden items from a makeshift craft stall. We got chatting and promised to make a trip out to their wood yard one day. True to our promise we travelled to San Jia Cun, a small village on the outskirts of Simao that's slowly being gobbled up by tower blocks. After a tour of the woodwork studio, kilns and art studio we rummaged through the reject piles, returning with a few boxes and tea caddies. After hanging about the house these rainy days it was great to get out of town and have a small wander. Needless to say, San Jia Cun has changed a lot since we were last there. Half the older red brick houses have been replaced by white-tiled, concrete monstrosities double the size. I understand people want larger, newer houses, but why not build larger brick ones, and just stay off the ceramics? There's no accounting for taste I suppose.

Today we had a visit from Lucia, an English teacher from RSL, the language school where Paul works in Kunming. After coffee and lemon cake Freda and Edie entertained Lucia with their toys, a story and then monopoly, China version. It's reminding me of the 1960s anti-West propaganda whereby Chinese who showed any interest in anything, well, outwith China (people, literature, business) were branded, 'capitalist roaders', as well as other things. They were either sent to the countryside for the rest of their lives (harsh conditions in those days), imprisoned or executed. That was after public humiliation and torture. Let's hope the same fate doesn't await Lucia when she returns to Kunming. At least she's playing the 'China Version', which may act in her defence. That doesn't mean property is equally shared out amongst players - it means (as ever) that the cunning, astute, manipulative elite win. Are we talking of 'capitalism' or 'communism' now?

Fairy home, complete with swimming pool [left], located on our window bars for easy access.
Freda and Edie spent a rainy afternoon making a secret holiday home for the fairies. It comes complete with a swimming pool, cress garden, pets' corner and a private letter box. Instructions read:

"Please eat the food we have given you. The bed covers will be changed if used. Sorry, there are no pets in the pets' corner but there will be very soon. On Saturdays and Sundays you are allowed to watch TV between 1:00 and 2:30. If we have a film night, we will leave you some popcorn."

As it turns out, there were already two pets this morning - earwigs. We wondered if the fairies left them behind.
ELF with Marissa and Tina, about to tuck into some mi xian (rice noodles) and other delights at Ludao Restaurant.
Our recently graduated friend, Marissa, is about to embark on a new journey - she has enrolled for a two-year postgraduate certificate in education at a university in Kunming. Marissa has been involved with lots of LEAF family activities, and celebrated Spring Festival with us earlier this year. She has also tutored Freda during difficult homework periods and looked after Dougal and the fish when we've been on holiday. We've also shared many a meal with Marissa, including some 'Western style' home-cooking. We'll miss her, and wish her all the very best for her studies in Kunming.

Some of the many bottles waiting for disposal at the busy clinic today.
After 24 hours of ill health, Freda was losing liquid faster than we could replace it. She's much better now, after a visit to the local branch of Pu'er People's Hospital, where she benefited from intraveneous rehydration for two and a half hours. She wasn't the first outpatient through the ward that day, as the boxes and boxes of empty bottles revealed. Now she's feeling much better and the black shadows have gone from under her eyes.
Freda with her ward neighbour, Mrs Yang.
We were seen on arrival by Dr Bai, who Freda and Edie have met before. She is a family friend of Freda's classmate Lao Yang, and they all attended Lao Yang's mum's birthday party back in April. After having the drip set up Freda was shown through to the ward, where we met another Mrs Yang and her husband. They are farmers from the village of San Ke Zhuang, where Ali cycled to last year and was treated to lunch by a friendly local. Mrs Yang has an infection in her heal and is spending a week in hospital, at the cost of around 300 RMB, a fair amount of money to a farmer (15% of my monthly income). It's the first time Mrs Yang has ever been in hospital. She gave birth to her three sons at home, with the assistance of a Barefoot Doctor. She only came to hospital this time because the pain in her foot was too hard to bear any longer. This small clinic serves mostly farmers and has no fee to see the doctor, unlike in the main hospital. 

As Freda's infusion progressed the colour gradually came back to her cheeks. We only needed five trips to the loo in the courtyard, where nails are banged into the wall for the drips to be hung. Her temperature also seems to be back to normal. She had a quick shower to wash away the hospital and retreated to bed with a slice of toast and some watery soup. Fingers crossed. 

Hospital Survival Kit: (1) A bottle of antiseptic gel for cleaning hands. This can also be offered to the nurse between the last patient and you. (2) A thin, cotton sheet sleeping bag to place on the bed, should you need to lie down. This way you'll be less concerned about the grubby bed linen you may have to lie on. (3) Toilet paper and snacks. (4) Friends or family to nurse you, as there are unlikely to be hospital staff available for anything except the basic medical procedures. (5) A good dictionary, medical glossary or an interpreter. (6) Cash - no free healthcare here, even in State-run hospitals like this one.

Lesley and Tina took to their bikes yesterday, in the midday sun, reluctant to let another day go by without starting their new exercise regime. It really is a regime in this heat, requiring motivation, discipline and a degree of masochism. After a long, hot climb [not quite Le Tour but arduous enough) we arrived at the top of Cha Shan (tea mountain), where some wood turners were selling handmade wooden boxes and tea caddies. Lesley bought a round box made from beech and has arranged to visit their workroom in the near future.

In the afternoon the dynamic duo headed into town for some shopping, the main aim to pick up an iron and ironing board for Tina. She was on the point of purchasing a swanky Phillips for a high price when they noticed all the Chinese brands, at least a quarter of the price, that had been relegated to a dusty corner shelf. Perfectly adequate-looking Tina settle for one of those. Lesley couldn't resist buying a replacement facepack. Given the recent controversey in the UK regarding the danger of sunbed use, it's slightly ironic that virtually all the face products here (facewash, cream, toner, facepacks, suncream etc) contain whitening agents. Lesley can't read everything on the packet but if she sees the word bai, meaning white, it goes back on the shelf!

Other news:
Freda and Edie earned 4.5 RMB by taking our empty cans and bottles to the recycling shop.

Lesley resumed work on her Jingdong report, now over 90 pages long; Freda is ill with a fever but as we've been back for 10 days we don't think it's swine flu. Not from the UK anyway.

Mini ants seem to have taken over the house. They are so small they're unnoticeable until they start crawling over your body and tickling.

Lesley discovered she her mobile phone package had been switched to a more expensive one, costing 120 RMB a month for servicees she didn't even want. On investigation at their local shop she discovered this had been authorised by a salesperson after a telesales call, in January 2009. Whenever we receive these calls we politely say, "Sorry, I don't understand.
Goodbye." Perhaps the salesperson thought it a good opportunity to run through a sale. Had Lesley not incurred debt while her phone was out of use for the month in the UK, she would never have known.

The PIE girl after another successful experiment.
If we are what we eat, today we are [in no particular order]: Apple, apricot and date pie; mixed green vegetables and tofu; rice noodles; rice; pancakes.

'Sorry, was this for the salad?'
Lesley's 48-hour game of 'will it or won't it [work]' with the new oven has taken it's toll. She took to bed this afternoon with a mud pack on her face, trying to take her mind off pastry and other recipes. Freda and Edie were shocked to find her in this ghostly state, touching the gooo and asking: "What's that mummy? Can you eat it?" Lesley's not the only one obsessed by food at the moment!

You are what you eat is a new addition to our daily blog, for all of those who ask, "So what do you usually eat in China?" Of course, today's menu of date loaf, oven-baked bread, quiche and banoffee pie wasn't that usual, as the following months will reveal. Nevertheless.....

Today we are
: Above items plus soluble multivitamins and echinacea - Ali's got a cold he's trying not to pass round.
Alleged gang member before the incident.
Xinhua News today reported a Scots-Italian raid on Lanhua Market, in the southern tea city of Pu'er, Yunnan. What first appeared to be an innocent shopping outing from this international gang appears to be more serious, according to local reports. Due to the immediate lock-down of Pu'er by the Public Security Bureau, who earlier this year interrogated one of the gang members for photographing a street demonstration, we are relying on brief reports. A by-stander sent this message to a journalist in Kunming, who forwarded it to Xinhua:

"Hey, you'll never guess what happened at Lanhua market today. These two foreigners walked in and started wandering around looking really weird. Everyone was staring at them and ducking behind their vegetable stands 'coz they looked really suspicious. I've never see anything like it. It gets better. Guess what happens next! The woman walks up to a farmer, has an altercation over the price of the bamboo then buys, shoots and leaves."

On receipt of his friend's text our source immediately alerted the press and local police contacts, who rushed to the scene. By this time the culprits had fled though a County-wide search is now on. Preliminary enquiries suggest the gang is operating from Simao Teachers' College, masquerading as volunteers. Market vendors report having seen at least one of the gang members regularly over the last four years. Previous visits are now thought to have been part of their long-term surveillance before today's attack. Lack of clear evidence or motives is not hindering the authorities' attempts to flush them out. The Bureau is currently spreading rumours of the gang's infection with Swine Flu following a recent visit to the UK. This is hoped to prevent local friends and colleagues harbouring the fugitives. The public have been advised to avoid any direct contact and to alert others if they feel threatened. Mobile phones may be used to report sightings to the authorities, preferably with photos.

Roast vegetable and goat's cheese flan
Meantime Lesley stayed at home with her apron on and continued her obsession with the new oven. You may have guessed by now that this must be about more than just food, or eating. Being able to recreate British homecoooking is very symbolic after four years of living with simple soups, canteen dinners and local noodle bars. We love Yunnan food and our crockery consists of small bowls and chopsticks. The fact is, it never occurred to us until now to make pizzas, flans or fruit loaves, although we have managed the odd biscuit-base banoffee.

Perhaps we're missing Scotland a little. Perhaps we're missing the independence in our lives outside China. Sure there are restrictions in any country, but on a day-to-day basis we were relatively free in the UK. Even a visit to a doctor in China involves roping a friend in for trannegotiation of the convoluted stages and for interpreting - that's if we want any meaningful interaction with the doctor on more technical points. Nor can we drive here and if we leave home for more than 24 hours we are supposed to register with the PSB (Public Security Bureau). Hotels do this for you but staying with friends is (not coincidentally) much harder, if one is to avoid possible trouble. Except from at home, we are either under intense scrutiny  yet, in some ways, even our closest of friends don't really know us; don't know how we live our lives in the UK. How we are (or come across) as people is, to some degree, shaped by the given environment. Eating with chopsticks involves different behaviour than eating with knives and forks. Crossing the road involves more assertiveness, as does bargaining in a shop or going to the post office. It sometimes feels like we are only partly ourselves here and that the other half is boxed away in Scotland. It's not a case of good or bad, better or worse, just different. Hard to explain, although I'm sure it's possible to understand this feeling even without living in China. It's merely a form of isolation and estrangement, which can occur anywhere. Anyway, this oven means more than baked food. It means creativity, challenges to adapt something known to a new context. It means bringing a bit more of our old selves and old lives into being in China, breaking free from the obvious confines  

The most recent experiment was with shortcrust pastry, used for the flan pictured above. Oil was used instead of butter/marg and it seems to have worked. A bit more successful than yesterday's banana and date loaf. The second batch of pastry is being used for tonight's banoffee pie. The first course will be Ali's Dai dish - sour fish and bamboo shoot soup.

Ceremonial cutting of the first pizza.
No, the LEAF family isn't expanding. We have much more exciting news than that! For years Lesley has been craving an oven, though they only appeared in the supermarket here six months ago.

We finally took a leap of faith and optimism, yesterday purchasing a dinky little Galanz that now sits on top of our microwave. A suitable-for-stir-fries-but-not-much-else hot plate is our only other means of cooking. Although lack of suitable ingredients may yet hinder our attempts at home cooking, we got off to a flying start with pizza. The cheddar cheese was bought when we passed through Kunming last week. We have become used to products seeming high quality and breaking or looking good and tasting horrible (to our palates, that is). A 200 RMB (£20) risk seemed acceptable. The good news is that the albeit small loaf of bread I baked this morning was also a success. A new culinary era lies ahead.

Our new appliance with this morning's fresh loaf. Pity butter is so expensive (12% of the cost of the oven for a 250g block!)