A week off is a pretty rare thing for me, and 10 days off is almost unheard of, even if I did have a little left-over work (one-on-one students and the like) to take up some of that time. I hadn’t made any particular plans for the use of this time, and it’s a good job I hadn’t, because last Thursday saw the surprise arrival of 6 of V’s relatives from Hubei – two of her aunts, two cousins and two children, making eleven of us in total. Thankfully our house just about has room for this many people, especially since some of them actually seem to enjoy sleeping on the ping pong table.
As visitors to Beijing they naturally wanted to go out to the centre pretty much every day, and need to be accompanied on the occasionally tortuous journey. I went with them just once, to see the Temple of Heaven, which is ok, but far from spectacular. Most of the time other members of the family accompanied them on their trips and I stayed at home working on my various projects, joining them for meals and occasional evening activities. All very tame but pleasant – naturally communication between them and me was fairly limited since they all use the strange dialect of V’s hometown, and if my Mandarin is poor then my “Wuxuehua” is almost non-existent. I do speak the international language of carrying bags and paying entrance fees though, so in-depth conversation proved unnecessary.
The real entertainment of the last week has been the arguments. I’ve often heard TV pundits talking about family gatherings inevitably involving massive rows, but had previously not believed them. Well, I was wrong. I’ve heard arguments on every conceivable topic from the trivial to the deadly serious, all carried on at the same pitch. Fortunately none of these have involved me or V, so I’ve just kept out of the way and listened to her describe the feuds when the heat has died down or people have gone out. I’m neither bothered nor amused by this, but it’s good to have frequent reminders that, in spite of any doubts I might have from time to time, I’m actually quite well-adjusted, happy and sane.
On the whole it’s actually been a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to taking another trip down to Wuxue next summer. I’ll have to pretend to be seeing everything for the first time as the first trip (where we failed to visit any of them in the three days) is still a secret.

Just one-and-a-half days of holiday left, then, and only two and a half months of this ridiculous schedule to put up with before the promise of better everything next year. Good world news today, so overall a sense of cautious optimism leading into winter.

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