The International Steam Pages

Jiaojiehe, The Final Curtain, 2011

For convenience I have now grouped lifestyle illustrated features by topic:

2010 was our 'annus mirabilis', we had effectively sold up almost completely in China and had new homes in Penang, Malaysia and Mitcheldean, UK. If getting together in 2004 represented a 'new life' for both of us, then two new homes on different continents also represented another 'new life' too.

I have explained elsewhere in a masochistic piece why 2011 has so far been our 'annus horribilis', here I take an affectionate look at Jiaojiehe for what seemed likely to be the last time when I first wrote it, but even now our own personal soap opera keeps getting new ideas for scripts and just maybe some of our friends will have the total use of the house in future which would be an excuse for Yuehong to drag me back again. If you like these pictures then there are now more of the same on another page...

We arrived at the end of April rather later than usual, knowing that there was no chance of the garden being overgrown as this part of China is experiencing a prolonged drought and there had been no significant precipitation for over 6 months. Those plants with deep roots were celebrating warmer days, while there was the autumn's dead wood to be carefully burned off in a giant bonfire. It's not actually our house any more and you'll have to read the link above to see why we were here at all, nevertheless we do feel some sense of responsibility to maintain the standards we have set for the last 5 years since we moved in.

Every year brings another unexpected eyesore to our village although this year it was even more of a surprise to me than usual. The new owners of our former #2 house are putting up an extra bedroom and kitchen, and apparently converting part of the main house into two extra bedrooms for their guests (ours, if we have more than two at a time have to sleep on the floor which tends to keep the numbers down). They are using traditional materials but the whole balanced tone of the place is being lost (not to mention several trees). That inviting open area (seen on the left below back in 2007)  is going to contain a large fish pond and as for the other lawn in the foreground, who can tell at the moment? Grass lawns are hard work in this village. Next door, #3's has perished too and parts of the small front garden are now lined with roses which would meet with Yuehong's approval, but there are signs of a new attempt at a lawn. Good taste is in short supply in this part of the world, I'm quite glad I shall not be around to see the final result.

One conspicuously missing 'item' was our near feral cat 'Lili' who was absent for over a week - we feared the winter had finally got her as it had undoubtedly last year's ginger boyfriend. However, after a week she turned up complaining we were late back this year, demolished a plate of biscuits and next day re-appeared with this year's beau, a very sleek black tom who, despite his behaviour, looks like he comes from a good home in the village... As usual she pretended he was nothing to do with her. She's now eating ravenously, but we'll be gone before this year's brood appears.

The biggest losers from the dry spell were undoubtedly the lawns, it was a real shame we had our arrival delayed. They were put under immediate special measures but still after four weeks there are more bare patches than green grass and the strong overhead sun makes it a real battle to keep it growing even with twice daily watering. Once again, I have to confess the camera lies, standing on the wall instead of leaning on it would have produced a rather different result.

While the grass has had a bad year, conditions seem to have suited the roses perfectly, the dry atmosphere has kept down the number of pests so far and the blooms are absolutely astonishing in size and quality. Every year a few are lost to the cold but those that survive have quite simply got better and better. Unfortunately, they will be at their peak after we return to the UK shortly.

There are many, many aspects of living in China which I shall not miss at all, but there are elements of Jiaojiehe which are very special. Most things in China are best viewed from a distance (did I hear someone say from space?) and Jiaojiehe is no exception.

For Yuehong there are some compensations from a stay with almost nothing to do apart from having her friends come up for yet another 'last farewell', the latest was the fifth I can recall. Normally this consists of trouncing me at her favourite board game which for some reason I can't get my head around. She is always delighted when I agree to play, but when it goes wrong she is just as bad a loser as I am and while she says in this case she was just going off to water the garden, the body language says otherwise.

And this is our latest 'last farewell to JJH group picture', a full house of all our best Chinese friends; now if even only 10% of the rest of China shared their values, it would be a far more pleasant place to live in.

Having eaten and talked for more than 24 hours non-stop, two of the ladies had to go back to work even though it was a Sunday. The rest earned their keep, despite their apparent absence, the other ladies were involved too. Most likely, we shan't all be together again like this but we shall be meeting somewhere 'on the road' through life, hopefully we shall have a chance to return some of the kindness they have shown us during what has been a pretty tough few months.

Finally, one grand old man of Jiaojiehe without whom, none of this would have been possible. Back in May 2004, once he had told Yuehong that the garden did not end at the wall in front of his house and had shown her just how far it did extend, she made him an offer he couldn't refuse. These days he lives up at the other end of the village with his extended family and we don't see too much of him, but from time to time he drops by to see the old place as he did out of curiosity when he saw the gang at work:

If this has left you wanting a little bit more, I've added a Jiaojiehe 2011 epilogue.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson