A week of firsts 20th September 2014

I went to a recital featuring Alexander Suleiman, Dr Bin Huang and Dr Angela Cholakyan. Suleiman was the only musician of the 3 that I had heard of, but Bin Huang shared 1st prize at the age of 14 with Maxim Vengerov at the international violin competition in Lublin, Poland. Dr Cholakyan accompanied both musicians in their varied repertoire, but also played a number of Bach’s solo preludes. Suleiman showed that he is not only an accomplished cellist, but can sing whilst playing too. That was definitely the surprise of the night. What the concert highlighted for me is that I am not a fan of contemporary music, in particular Petris Vasks ‘Book” for Cello.

The concert was held at Dulwich Suzhou’s senior school theatre. Alexander is their “Artist in Residence” as he has taken up a professorship at nearby University of Soochow School of Music. It means that he will be playing regularly with some of his friends and colleagues at the College. Alexander and Martin are also now good friends and he hosts some great parties. 

Eleanor also had her first babysitter that night, Olivia from Denmark who has stayed in Suzhou to do a mandarin course at university. Martin did not come to the concert as he was going to be home at the same time the concert happened. The Eleanor sitter was only required for 90 minutes but at 70 RMB an hour we didn’t the going rate was too bad.

The night of the concert was also the night that I missed the last bus home. Only by 5 minutes apparently, but it does mean that I can’t be at school past 8.45pm as the last 100 bus is about 9.10pm. So with no taxi number and no inkling that I had missed the bus – how did I actually find out I had missed the bus… Well again the kindness of strangers, another lady was at the bus stop. She mistook me for a teacher at Suzhou Foreign Language school. She asked me if I wanted a lift as she lived near to the Hudong Neighbourhood centre. Bingo, that is where I live too, so she ordered a taxi and wouldn’t hear of me paying my share.

Last Saturday we had tried to open up two Bank of China accounts. We failed as apparently we needed work permits. I clearly don’t have one, and Martin’s was at school. On Tuesday, Martin opened up an account at a different branch. No work permit needed, only the picture part of the passport. I ventured back to the first branch we had been to. To make a point. A long point. I was there for an hour, 3 phone calls to head office, the branch Martin had opened his account with and one other phone-call somewhere. With my passport and visa scrutinised I got the magic application form, completed it, handed over 20RMB and was given my Bank of China account. Hurrah – finally a woman of independent means… ok so the money still comes from Martin, but I am not asking him for money every other day. While at the bank I saw a man come in with about 10cms of 100RMB notes in his hand as if it was an everyday occurrence. I don’t know how much 10cms of 100RMB notes is, but when we paid 18,000RMB in cash for our rent it didn’t even come close. So clearly a lot of money! Very trusting.

I was slowly going mad with the hanging around waiting for buses. I suppose for a very big part of my life I have grown up in the countryside where buses are not exactly a frequent occurrence. Magheramorne, where I grew up, had about 3 buses a day – if you were lucky, so rightly or wrongly I have been reliant on cars. Walking was fine in both Aberystwyth and Exeter where I studied as nothing was very far. When I was in Utrecht, the Netherlands, one of my first purchases was a tatty second hand green bike. The tattier the better so that no one would want to commandeer it. So imagine my delight when I realised that in Suzhou they have public green bikes. In 2012 (I think), Suzhou got about 1300 bikes, London had public bikes in 2010 and about 10,000. Suzhou now has over 15,000. I now cycle to and from the nearest metro station for Chinese classes, and I cycled to the nearby supermarket, which was far quicker than waiting for the bus and the 30 minutes on the bus. It was even raining when I did this, showing that I am not a fair weather rider! Monday will be the first trip to school on it. But I am not going to be complacent, I stop for the lights, I look left and right and behind me when stopping, overtaking and generally moving in a forward direction. I watched an e-bike (electric moped) go through the cross roads yesterday, and not once did his head move in any direction. He just ploughed straight on dodging cars, buses and lorries. Amazingly stupid and lucky. There seem to be no rules.

The other first this week is one that I wasn’t looking forward to. I was unsure when it would happen, but knew that it was bound to come sooner rather than later. A trip to the doctor. Not for me, but for Eleanor. Martin was in Beijing and Eleanor and I had planned a sleepover with her friend Sophie. We had spent most of the day with Sophie and her mum at the family fun day that the Friends of Dulwich (FoD) had organised. It was at the Jinji Lake Grand Hotel. The clue of what the hotel is like is in its name. Since 2014, I have only been back once and that was for school’s welcome back dinner in 2017. 

The night before the event, Eleanor had complained of an itchy eye. This wasn’t the first time I have had a complaint like this. Indeed a couple of weeks ago the school nurse phoned me about it (it has felt like the school nurse has a hotline to my phone some weeks.) The puffiness of the eye died down and we moved on having done nothing about it. However Eleanor cried and came into bed with me. I put it down to missing Martin and tiredness. In the morning the eye was no bloodshot but it was puffy just above the cheekbone. We went to the family fun day, but the consensus with the other parents was that I should take her to the doctor. I took her to Gentle Medical, a private doctors – no appointment and on a Saturday – I was told I would need her passport and medical card for the first time. So I went home to get passport then went back to the hotel and picked up the girls.

Registration was a quick and simple process. While I was doing that Eleanor was whisked off (accompanied by Sophie) to have her blood pressure taken, her height measured (113cms) and her weight taken. We then go to see the very nice female doctor with impeccable English. Out we come with anti-histamine drops and eye drops and I haven’t paid a thing.

What happened next was completely accidental…I didn’t fully read the instructions for the anti-histamine drops. (I missed the word ORAL). 12 drops a day… So yes Eleanor had ONE drop in her eye, well not really – I missed, but some of it got near and stung a little (or a lot). The next 11 drops were administered orally. The swelling has gone down and crucially she has stopped rubbing it. So there you have it, I am stupid and won’t make that mistake again, and having two children for a sleepover passed without incident.