Mobility.

I turned my lights off to love and you found the switch.

I closed the door to my heart and you found a key.

I abandoned love’s hope on and an island and sailed away. You brought it back to me.

I gave up on wanting a family, for fear of hurt and pain. I pushed away advances. I drove away desire. I kicked out at compliments, flicking them away into the darkness. Until I met you.

Everything will happen spontaneously, that is our heart guiding. I know because your heart spoke to mine.

I know not all can be certain, but I am certain. I feel certain. I know it. It can be. It should be. Connect with me. See what I see. Feel what I feel. Taste the sweetness and long to listen to the beats of our hearts. Beating. Beating fast as one. Beating as our smiles beam brightest. Beat with me. Beat on and on.

The future can be anything we write. Together with our pens and our pencils and our hearts.

I won’t tie you down. I won’t make you change. We can find a balance. If we are to be.

Be the butterfly, free to land in a hand. The hand not clasped. Free to fly. Free time stay. Free to be together. Free to be apart. Endlessly together, somehow, somewhere.

The sky is sending you my hugs. On the breeze. The wind gently blows our words to and from our ears.

Our circles, where family is not present, can be filled. Ain’t that the truth? Friends and hearts as gap fillers, ever reliable.

Thank you for opening, thank you for telling me your heart, thank you for everything you have done for me. Thank you for finding my hope.

Until we meet again, every night I will turn off the moon and dream sweetly.

I feel you.

Never let go.

How can a heart feel so overwhelmed? So deeply touched with hope?

In place of sorrow, fear or worry, a seismic flow of energy erupts.

The sensitivity and lust for such a deep connection is equal to the need for the air.

Mountains, rivers, lakes and fields may divide our being, yet two hearts are beating in synchronicity.

The stars pass overhead casting light down on memories yet to be made.

Don’t look to the past for living; don’t give worry to the future.

We’re here. We are here. Here we are. Here. We.

Stage XII: Serendipity x Terra

Nihao! 你好!Hello!

Lee Child mentioned in his novels, that his character Jack Reacher never goes back to a place he’s visited. It’s a state of mind. I’m not Jack Reacher. I’m too short and not as strong. I went back to Dali’s Ancient town in a car with Qiézi (茄子) and the trio of girls that set out with our driver in the first place. It had only been for two nights away, but such was the refreshment of the trek, it felt longer (in a good way).

I checked into the Jade Emu Hostel once again, who were so busy that they put me into a neighbouring hotel. A room is a room. Then it was time for a coffee at Movie Time Coffee Shop, surrounded by a chilled setting. Qiézi joined me for a cuppa and we talked a little. Two dogs, one tiny and one medium in stature had a fuss, before climbing all over us for hugs and attention. It was a pleasurable end to a good day.

The following morning I met QiéZi with Xiao Jie, one of the girls from the trekking, and we wondered to a set of temples (including Gantong temple and a nunnery) and trails on 苍山 Cāngshān, starting somewhere near Dali University (by Xuefu Lu). The gentle upwardly walks led to BuLuoSi temple and a view of numerous waterfalls. We didn’t return to Dali’s old Town (古城, Gǔchéng) but instead bypassed it to meet QiéZi’s good friends Lin and Spirlo. The once top 13 city (in terms of size – in the year 1000AD) is a sprawl of farms and villages along the Cāngshān range. Lin and Spirlo live at the far end of along road, and down an alley, in a lovely little farmhouse surrounded by gardens rich in vegetables.

We’d gone from orchids, rhododendrons, camellias and birdsong to a relaxed house filled with warmth and harmonies. The six cats with their talented masters of Lin (from Fujian) and her Greek husband Spirlo were great company. Plenty of conversation was had from talking about the didgeridoo to football to camping and trekking.

The final full day involved a filling breakfast of omelette and salmon at Serendipity cafe and diner. It did exactly what it said on the label filling my belly to the brim. Not a bad iced coffee indeed! Then, a wander to drink fruit juice, natter and following that a gander at the market on Sānyuèjiē (三月街) and all the marvelous oddities for sale. A fire festival is due in Dali around about now. After which a spot of planned spontaneity was called for, planned and put into action. A relaxing mix of sensations followed. I’ll write about that another time.

The day culminated with the eating of tiramisu at the Terra cafe. It was by far the best tiramisu I have ever experienced. Qiezi, Xiao Jie and I were eventually joined by Echo. As is very Echo, she broughta new friend along. Farola talked star signs and birth times (08:37, if you aren’t wondering). They ordered more tiramisu but by then I was stuffed like a well-fed teddy bear at a teddy bear factory. I’ve tried many and few have satisfied. It took me a while to realise that Terramisu wasn’t a spelling mistake but a variation on the cafe name in the food type! And, then Qiezi and Xiao Jie bid everyone goodbye. It could have ended there and then, but the magic carried on.

I was invited by both Qiezi and Xiao Jie to Lin and Spirlo’s farmhouse. Qiezi had taken the responsibility to feed their six cats. I pondered the difficulty of getting from there to Dali Railway Station. Echo asked me, “What’s stopping you?” She was completely right. Nothing was stopping me. I hugged Echo goodbye and I’m not ashamed to say a few tears formed in my eyes. Emotions can be high at times of homesickness and when you really appreciate great friends.

Leaving Dali behind, I feel like I will return. There’s much more to explore and within the whole province of Yunnan, there’s too much nature to ignore. I’ll probably be back. The final night lay on the ground staring at stars with Qiezi and Xiao Jie was special. Qiezi made a few very wonderful photos. Sharing the sights of five shooting stars in one night was a unique experience.

Home is where the heart is. Your heart doesn’t have to just be in one place, at one time, or with one person. Hearts are open. Making a connection irrespective of time and space is a wonderful experience. There needs to be more love and peace in the world. In the words of Qiezi, “Everyone is free spirited and an adventurer. Independent individuals but connected together.” It’s been a delightful and unique time in Yunnan. My heart feels warm and my head clearer than ever. Something will travel with me from these days that started in Dali and I leave behind a piece of my heart.

“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.” – Vera Lynn song We’ll Meet Again written by Ross Parker (Mancunian) & Hughie Charles (also born in Manchester)

Zaijian! 再见!Goodbye!

Connection.

No matter what, no matter where: I’m there.

No road is too far or a mountain too high: our sky.

No question is too hard, or too bad: for that I’m glad.

No limits or expectations too ill: you have my will.

No pages too long or words too strong: we belong.

Connection irrespective of time and space: this place.

Blank accommodates more: this feeling is for sure.

Flips the pages of the story book: take a good look.

Free spirited adventurer: forever together.

Poseidon

Deep diving into the depth of discovery;

She has shaken the Earth to my recovery.

Bringing connections irrespective of time and space;

Striking springs of watery emotion to rise up to this new place.

Tomorrow comes to take me away I fear;

One twelfth of Olympians of ancient time are right here.

All hope of blank canvases to accommodate more;

Gave me the feeling I want something unlike before.

Storms, horses, earthquakes and the sea;

These things could not move you from me.

Here is your Mount Olympus you dream of diving;

Well wishers walk by you, some are driving.

Wherever your path leads, I won’t forget you;

Whatever you do, keep diving, and stay true to you, deep down in the deep blue.

Stage XI: Abuji Cuo

你好!Nihao! Hello!

Anticipation surrounded the morning. We after off for a selection of steamed, boiled and grilled breakfast mainstays of Chinese breakfasts (across this huge nation). With that, those without raincoats purchased those disposable rain jackets designed to be worn for an hour or so. The kind that would make Mr Macintosh roll in his grave with tears. Not to mention environmentalists. Sorry Greta!

Abuji Cuo (阿布吉措) sounds Japanese. It certainly seems unlike Mandarin Chinese. It’s surrounded by the Ajiagang Mountains and stands high over meadows and scattered pasture houses. It’s well off the beaten track and fairly clean of trail litter. The name comes from one of the many local Yunnan languages and people but I couldn’t find a true translation or meaning. It is apparently very holy. The China National Highway 214 and Xiangli Expressway (toll road) are to the west. Here a dirt track leads under two bridges (the new Shangri-la railway line).

The car journey led us to a gate. It had a weight on one end and two barriers across the path ahead. Here began the wander. The base camp was labelled just that. The pathway was an old track, now used by loggers as well as the original farming people of these steep damp foothills.

Rounding a bend, the footpath exited the road, passing between free-range pigs and towards a slim yet fast-rushing stream. Our group of six with a local man tagging along crossed the stream over felled logs now doubling as a bridge. Here the path gently led to an open plain standing below the face of the mountains. The phone signal had soon disappeared – something good for the quiet ahead, but unusual on mainland China.

After passing through the deep lush green meadow, the path banked left over several bubbling streams complete with stepping stones and bridging points. Here the path zig-zagged up and across gaining altitude fast. It’s steep sections were marred by slippy sticky clay interspersed by sharp shards of rock. The sides of the path displayed vivid biodiversity with wild gooseberries, something like rhubarb and wild strawberry plants amongst the plethora of greenery.

A local Yunnan man Qī Lín(七林), a girl from Anhui, a student from Guangzhou, a girl from Heyuan, a girl from Hubei, and another girl (from somewhere in China) walked up in light to heavy rain. The thick cloud thinned and grew in almost pulsating slow motion. At times the valley behind seemed hidden. At others it became a tapestry of various green hues.

The imposing mountain to our right shoulder (mostly) could have been Skull Island from the King Kong movies. It’s ferocious face looked brittle and completely impervious to those intrepid climbers who like such nooks and crannies. The artistry of nature had created such a detailed spectacle. The top range of peaks could have been a crown, or a bed of thorns. It truly sets the imagination running as wild as the fight ravines within.

The stream accompanied the walk up, and at times became the pathway giving clear flow to passersby in need of a quenching swig of freshness. After one small lake the path hugs a slope covered in knife-sharp vicious broken rocks. Blue flowers emerge where the rocks allow soil to gather. The rug of land is unforgiving and not a place to stand in awe of the view ahead.

What lies ahead is possibly the greatest lake view I have ever seen. The cauldron of clear green and blue water appears impossibly deep. Local legend has it that there is no bottom to the icy water. It’s entirely believable. The edges look crystal clear but beyond that, well diving would be the only way to know what lies beneath. The surrounding slopes are mixed in terms of harsh angles but most are barren. Life is not easy. We were stood around 4300m and the highest point is about 500m above here.

The caldera-shape of the valley spreads wide and long. From numerous vantage points it’s hard to tell what started this paradise on high. The geological features and lay of the land are mesmerising. It grips your heart whilst choking your throat of air. You can suddenly become breathtakingly awestruck. You look. It stares back blankly. Rumour has it, if you speak to loud then rain will come. Here at the top, for the most part, rain eluded our group. The feeling of healing as you look around you at the majestic landscape is overwhelming. I couldn’t help but feel my heartstrings being tugged and a tear in my eye. There are few places left that are this pristine.

Shangri-la (香格里拉县/Xiānggélǐlāxiàn) is a county and a city that draws it’s English and Chinese names from James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. It influenced China to rename the Yunnan city of Zhōngdiàn (中甸) in 2001 to Shangri-la. The Shangri-la of Hilton’s writing could have been Kashmir, Tibet or anywhere else along the Kunlun Mountains of the author’s description. But, if James Hilton had have travelled to Yunnan and Abuji Cuo to see the steep cliffs, loose and rocky earth scattered with flora and colour, he may have set his chapters here.

Abuji Cuo is about 4 to 5 hours (around 17-20km) up and only accessible from May to October. The gate (near a temple) is manned and access denied at other times to allow ecological balance. Non-slip shoes are essential, although I spied a few people in sport shoes. One unlucky soul was sporting a sprained wrist, leg injury and looked sheepish. Her local guide was guiding her down ever so slowly. The muddy pathways demand good grips. The steep falls are lethal in appearance. And there are yaks. Yaks can surprise from above, and they did on our walk once or twice. Death by yaks would be rather a bad day at the office. The road starts between to Bixiang and XiaoZhongDianZhen.

The hamlets of Nigeria, where we drank milk, and the Niguqe (尼古个) hamlet are sparsely populated so expect to see few people. The nearby hamlet of Gangzhemu (岗者木) is close to a scenic spot called Bitahai (碧塔海景区) but that could easily be a different world. However, it would make a tasty multi-day hike with camping. Scope to return? Head to Bengla (崩拉)?

The walk back down was every bit as unforgettable as the ascent. Ancient woodlands caked in drapes of moss and lichens, the sound of a chorus of different birds and the smell of flowers give your senses a tasty day. After reaching the pasture at the cliff face, a local woman gave us hot potatoes, and well wishes. After that we walked to the road and were greeted by a drift (or drove) of pigs. The curious tail-wagging group led us to discover some local fruits, to which nobody knows the name. QiéZi gave me one that looks like it is shaped like a bottom. Rather cheeky!

Soon after Qī Lín (七林) introduced us to an elderly farming couple. Here we had hot milk, sour homemade yogurt and delicious cheese. The wooden cabin was a good end to a day’s hike and we bid the farmers goodbye before jumping in a car back to Shangri-la. The unique and diverse holy Abuji pasture would occupy our minds for the evening and I’m sure that visiting there, we gained something more.

Grid reference: 27.666254378118495, 99.90886934422305 (Abuji Cuo) to Bixiang village (27.604282621386876, 99.78759058373961). 14km distance as a local chough would fly.

再见!Zai Jian! Goodbye!

Stage X: Shangri-la Too

Nihao! 你好!Hello!

I awoke on Wednesday just after 05:30. I’d had about 5 hours sleep. The rooster may have fell under the category of an unwanted alarm clock. Bizarrely, I couldn’t nod off again. Yesterday evening had been quite subdued. I’d hung out with Echo and QiéZi (茄子) in their funky friend Cici’s juice and snack bar. Over blueberry and banana toasties it was decided that QiéZi and I would visit the legendary Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡/Hǔtiào Xiá) on the Jinsha River (Jīnshājiāng/金沙江) in Lijiang Naxi autonomous county (Lìjiāng Nàxīzú Zìzhìxiàn/丽江纳西族自治县). The chance to see more of Yunnan (云南) wasn’t something to pass up. Besides which QiéZi is a wise traveling companion.

Checking my phone at 05:45, I see we’ve grown to a group of 6 people and we’re headed to a trek somewhere near Shangri-La county (香格里拉县/Xiānggélǐlāxiàn). I have until the 3rd of August to play with, so as the Reverend Gallaghers said:

“You gotta roll with it
You gotta take your time;
You gotta say what you say;
Don’t let anybody get in your way.” – Roll With It, Oasis

So, I gave in to not being able to sleep more, grabbed a coffee at the cosy Song Sisters Bookshop and Cafe before departing the fantastic hospitality of The Jade Emu. Song and Dave are most welcoming owners and have knitted a fantastic community for those wishing to pass through, or stay a little longer.

Nomadic QiéZi arrived with the driver and we set off, with her friend Cici to collect two more friends. The journey began with a chattering driver, who gave so much information along the way, and recommendations. We stopped for hot corn and potatoes – although I declined the corn. The driver also provided yogurt and a selection of fruit. QiéZi gave me a coffee early on too, so a welcome toilet break arrived at an ideal time. No sooner had we left than we arrived, give or take four to give hours of driving.

Our group of six entered a restaurant and ate delicious breads, with a sweet cottage cheese and a meaty potato dish. A jolly day with a few games of wéiqí (围棋, sometimes called Go). The game involves black and white stones and is a territorial game of strategy. There are variations on the original but for this occasion, it was first to five in a row. Simple. Fun. Entertainment.

The evening involved sitting on our arses talking and planning tomorrow. The heavy rain brought about my several freakish weather fronts will challenge the next two days and any potential wanderings. The group have their eyes on Abuji Lake (阿布吉错). This may prove overambitious, but not every journey has to complete. Some off the beaten tracks lack tracks at times. The hard to find details for the trail aren’t exactly clear or enlightening. If the walking starts at Jiulong Yangchang (九龙羊场) then all is good.

Right now the courtyard of Desti Youth Hostel, complete with two big cute dogs isn’t a bad place to chill and await the next day. With a giant screen showing an Indian movie and a variety of games in a covered area, it’s a great place to be.

Zai Jian! 再见!Goodbye!

Stage IX: Dali (and the mysterious Aubergine)

你好!Nihao! Hello!

Salvador Dali has nothing to do with the Yunnan city of Dàlǐ (大理). The draw to Dali has been the art district, cycling, the coffee and cafe culture and my friend Echo. Also, wherever I’ve been in China, everyone mentions the comfortable weather of Yunnan.

Echo or Eck published a poetry little picture book recently. She’s made her nomadic home in Dali. Here she’s honing her artistic talent, existing comfortably and living happily. I dropped by (via Guiyang and Kunming) from Chengdu, Sichuan province to say hello. I told Echo I’d arrive on Sunday but Saturday afternoon, walking by the Terra coffee shop seemed as good a time as any. Yunnan is great for growing coffee and Dali has no shortage of coffee shops.

A good old chinwag and catch up preceded a walk through the ginnels of Dali’s ancient old town to a door in a wall. The door was open and smooth tempting beats were gently rolling out. Ducking below the low entrance, an Old-styled yard with greenery and tables greeted us. Echo’s friend (or should I say complication?) Yali and his brother were serving up delicious pizzas. The pomegranate tree nodded towards the range of locally-produced liquors. Here Echo introduced me to Myrtle Bee, a girl named QiéZi (茄子 or eggplant/aubergine). There were several others but my recollection for names had by now been overwhelmed.

Meanwhile my mouth had been delighted by a cream cheese and tomato pizza, followed by a further shared pizza with zucchini and deliciousness on top. The pesto dip was a smart move. A side salad featured a baked cheese and rocket lettuce. It was a bit too salty for my pallet, but overall very tasty. The funky beats faded and a disappointing bar called King Cat followed. The music wasn’t my cup of tea, but it saved wading through deep puddles and high-bouncing rain. After a later than expected hour, I arrived back to the Jade Emu China Australia International Youth Hostel, only to find my swipe card to enter didn’t work. The matter resolved itself and I slipped off into dreamland.

I didn’t need a sign for Cāngshān (苍山). The imposing green and cloud-kissed range of peaks. The Didi taxi driver from Dali railway station to the hostel had given ample chance to view the waving weaving green peaks. So, with a late rise and a belly full of good food, I set out for a waterfall recommended by a friend. On passing a set of small waterfalls, I headed up a track made by goats or sheep or possibly very narrow humans. The steep track disappeared and I soon found myself jutting between soft earth, trees and huge fluffy plants. By which stage I’d reached a ridge, with a very confuddled water turbine worker, who then directed me up a hidden pathway towards the top ridge. It was a tough but pleasant trail.

The undergrowth swept away to reveal a near-hidden valley tucked between two mountain ridge lines. I wandered down, dipped my feet, watched the butterflies and listened to the idyllic birdsong. One can definitely relax when clouds cuddle the mountains above, and gentle breezes softly drift around your chest whilst your feet are in chilly flowing waters.

Once again Busa called for dinner. Their second opening night led me to catch up once again with Echo, her Yali and other friends. The waitress Hazel, from Changde, took an interest in the book I was reading. A few days later, the tatty and soggy paper back was left for her to read. Echo’s friend QiéZi invited herself to my next walk the following day. Cāngshān (苍山) once again would be the wandering space.

With little barefooted QiéZi (who is no taller than 155cm), we set out towards the Cloud Jade pathway of Cāngshān. Passing the chair lift to our left, then our right, then left again we ascended. Stopping for Pu’er tea, a coffee and a snack at a park Police point seemed reasonably normal. The local boss had her grandson playing with leaves as she served a refreshing brew to us both. We left behind the options of hospitality and wandered paths here, there and everywhere. My pigeon Chinese and a relaxed mood made the afternoon to evening a satisfying and contented ramble.

By about 8pm, after almost eight hours of moving forwards, we descended through dark shadows and paths more at home in the deepest darkest parts of JRR Tolkien novels. Emerging from utter darkness, with only the company of fireflies, seemed to take a while but the adventure was nevertheless a great day out!

The next day (which is today, now) I decided this town needs a little more of my presence. I decided for the remainder of the holiday that I’d be here or there, but not so far from Dali. Why not? A place that puts a smile on your face and opens you to the nature around it, isn’t all bad! Ian Fleming penned some of his books in his Jamaican home of Goldeneye. Perhaps a few days in Dali and I may have found my Goldeneye.

However, a few hours later, I changed my mind. Have shoes, will walk. I will keep looking for answers and smiles.

Zai Jian! 再见!Goodbye!

Spit. Spat. Spitting.

你好 / Nihao! / Hello!

Firstly, I’m a resident in China enjoying a privileged position as a teacher at an international school. I’m a guest in an ancient country rich in history and culture. However,that does not mean I can’t be disgusted by something or other. One such thing often makes me feel sick inside my guts: spitting. [Note: not the light rain]

Spit happens, would make an accurate car bumper sticker in China. Bizarrely for at least seven years (since I arrived) there have been signs forbidding public gobbing. Not that those who do it, see the graphic warning signs. The comic book style head, usually male (or a woman with a very short hair cut), has a tilted head with three or more large drops of watery phlegm projectile in its flight, trying to defy gravity.

With the outbreak of the now devastating, everlasting boredom and annoyance that is COVID-19, especially it possibly (and allegedly) having an origin in China, you’d expect the mask wearing public to obey and end public displays of mouth splatter protection. No. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Aim. Fire! In fact many pull their masks down to fire their sludgy substances.

My first disaster came in Houjie, Dongguan in 2014. I was new to China. I walked past a multistorey building and SPLATT! Some dirty scrotebag had launched their throat contents from high, hitting my arm square on. At the time I didn’t have a tissue on me. A huge faux pas. So, I whipped off my shirt, revealing my palest of pale demeanour and rubbed the shirt sleeve on a wall, then some dirt in a small outdoor plant pot. After that on some tree bark, then on a wall. Then I out the shirt back on, cancelled a dinner with a friend and stormed back feeling like a tut wasn’t enough. Tut.

The women here, and not all, as well as many men have a good throat clearance. It crosses all provinces and all manner of careers. I’ve seen bank managers in Guangdong purge equally as much as a taxi driver in Gansu launch their own weapon of local destruction. In Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia I witnessed a local hotel owner turn an evening gob into ice. It being -30C, I was simultaneously amazed, disgusted and bloody cold. Microorganisms on ice.

Don’t get me wrong, spitting sometimes us necessary like when you swallow a spider to catch the fly that you’d previously swallowed. Or the following animal kingdom members that you swallow to catch the eight-legged freak. Or, when playing sports, that are highly aerobic and need a little clearance. We’ve all seen football players do it. Nobody is perfect. Or, do it in private. Away from others. Hide it. Don’t be so open and show everyone.

On one recent train journey, I witnessed a woman of middle age, whip her mask down, hawk a lookie after about a minute of snarling gasping rasping raking throat sounds. Everyone around her carried on as normal. I was sick in my throat. I had to keep my own sick down. She did this more than once. The railway carriage actually wreaked of her throat’s fragrance.

At Chapel Street Primary School I witnessed a few kids spit on other’s faces. It’s disgusting. I silently vowed if ever anyone did that to me, they would taste a knuckle sandwich. And at primary and secondary school, my fists were raised for such incidents. I’m not proud. Sticks and stones as we know, hurt. Name calling really hurts. Spitting is extremely rude. Contempt and anger should not lead to spitting. That’s something a wild animal may do in fear or aggression. Are you a llama, alpaca or cobra?

Spit is healthy. It’s a lubricant. It fights bacteria. It stops bad breath, sometimes. The bubbling fresh gross spit, that resembles the cuckoo spit, seen often across British grasslands in spring is vile. And across the globe laws are being changed to stop spitting as a weapon. Spitting has been deliberately used against key workers and caused death by contagion. Part of our two pints or so of gob a day should never ever find its way to anyone else’s vicinity.

Good or bad habits are often learned from peers, parents and television. This bad habit of shooting saliva from your mouth may have followed watching Jurassic Park and the Dilophosaurus. Spit being water, salt and antibodies is quite neutral, until the bacteria and viral materials that it’s designed to remove join in the liquid mess. The mass needs removing, for some but not others.

Inhaling hard to force ounces of nasal mucus is something that I find hard to stomach. Some argue smokers need to remove their excessive phlegm. Others say having a dry throat necessitates expectorated contents to soothe an absence. For me, it’s the sound, the lack of sanitary consideration for the dispelled vapour at the time of ejection. Then there’s the where factor. Where are they spitting? Will a child play on that part of the pavement?

The way I see it, is that if you spit in public, you’re spitting on the grounds that your people and family walk. In turn you’re spitting on friends and your civilisation. You have no respect for your flag or heritage. Is my view extreme? Only as extreme as spitting so rudely!

Rant over.

再见 / zai jian / Good bye!

Stage VIII: Chengdu & Don’t

你好! Nihao! Hello!

The first train from Chaka Lake station left on time. I’d spent an hour or so prior talking to a young your guide called Ethan. His tour group were busy exploring Chaka Lake. He kindly shown me the mine workers’ village and a nondescript shed that doubled up as a shop. Inside it was crammed with fresh vegetables, beers, spirits, dry foods and all the things life needs to survive. The dark shop had a big bottle of water and a bottle of lemon tea. That’s exactly what I wanted for the four hour train ride ahead.

As I went to pay, Ethan, born in Qinghai and a graduate of philosophy, beat me to it. He insisted. It’s hard to fight warmth and kindness from people at times. We sat on his your coach, complete with snoring driver, and talked about Buddhism, Confucius (孔夫子 Kǒngfūzǐ), Muslims (Hui), and harmonious people. He mentioned how one grandfather had fled persecution during the Cultural Revolution, on the advice of fellow villagers and how another had ridden his horse away from the late-World War II battlefield with Japan.

I changed at Xining for the second train. A sleeper carriage all the way to Chengdu (成都). I awoke, still with three hours to kill, flipped open Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries and half-read, half-day-dreamed. Alighting the train at Chengdu Railway Station, I emerged into a world of grey. Concrete and aged. My first impressions lacked enthusiastic joy. I headed down to the subway for a tube train to the Chengdu South Railway Station.

I departed the station’s subway via exit C, emerging into a barren building site. I turned right, trying to find a way to the other side of the surface railway. After about a kilometre of walking, I arrived at the Skytel hotel. I checked in without trouble, then headed out for an exploration of the city’s relics.

My initial impression of the city softened. Littered with monasteries, relics and life, the city of Chengdu became a green established city with limited construction (unlike many other cities) but sadly one that has far too many flyovers and cars. I visited a monument to Zhūgě Liàng (诸葛亮), the one time legendary military leader and prime minister of Shu Han (蜀汉) during the Three Kingdoms period. From there I tasted black ice cream from a black cone. No apparent explanation could be given. The Wuhouci (武侯祠) temple was okay but the modern Jinlin Ancient Street (锦里古街) around it was heavily commercial, in a way resembling so many other cities that have tourism at their hearts. The new version of an old style street is very much a photogenic tourist trap.

The biggest draw for tourists lies to the city’s northeast. The city of Chengdu is famous for the Chengdu Panda Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding Centre. It’s a kind of zoo limited to red pandas (the original panda) and a handful of aquatic birds… and Giant Pandas. The 58RMB ticket seemed a little harsh at first. Every enclosure had a sign saying that Giant Pandas can’t go outside in warm weather. For me it was no problem. For many other fare paying customers, they were angry on the border of irate.

On entering several internal enclosures, I managed to see a few scruffy Giant Pandas. Their housing having turned their white to grey and black to dirty. Usually Giant Pandas sit with their arse to the windows. Maybe to drowned out the think it on the glass by adults and kids alike. Tired looking security staff didn’t seem interested in keeping the noise down. Some opted for megaphone to make sure you didn’t stay still too long and enjoy the majestic mountain beasts.

Cameras and selfie sticks are all fair and good, but waving them around carelessly striking a Mancunian in the face will only result in an ouch and a tut. Said person then asked me to “小心” (xiǎoxin) which means be careful. It was entirely my fault to be stood still and swiped by a careless metal pole with an iPhone begging to be stamped on. But, instead I tutted. Tut!

I observed Sichuan Opera (四川歌剧院) on the way to meet a good friend Momo and also caught up with an organiser of the Dongguan World Cup for beers, a natter and midnight snacks. His former student friends were all policemen and lawyers. It was an interesting insight into Sichuanese language and culture. They were all so very friendly. Just like the Taoist people at Qingyanggong Temple (青羊宫) and Du Fu’s cottage (think Chinese Shakespeare). Most of the food I ate was not too spicy (微辣; wēilà) but often it was too oily and spicy. The midnight snack hotpot from a Chongqing boss (老板 lǎobǎn) was delicious, even though I’d ate earlier!

Sichuan pepper (花椒; huājiāo) isn’t too hot compared to Thai and Indian foods. It’s just a little more drying with a kind of mouth numbing effect. Although for one meal, passing a Scotts Fish & Chip shop I had to try it. For 110RMB, the large cod and chips with a drink didn’t disappoint at all! A huge Tibetan area by the Wuhouci temple also had my belly full far too much. Meeting Momo in Comfort Cafe (British-style) meant my two days in Chengdu featured a balanced diet of hot and bland. A good Ploughman’s is hard to find. Sorry, Comfort Cafe, I didn’t find it. The piccalilli wasn’t bad though.

Meeting a student who was travelling alone, I ended up exploring the Panda Museum at the Chengdu Panda Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding Centre with Jason. He explained how he was studying to be a soldier. I didn’t ask questions. Anyway, we tagged along together and ended up going to the immersive Jurassic World exhibition. The 168RMB allowed a wander through some animatronics and simulations. It wasn’t bad and took me back to the first Jurassic Park movie and book. A highly enjoyable contrast to other cultural parts of the days in Chengdu. Chengdu is truly a modern old city with a futuristic outlook.

Next stop: Dali (after a bloody noisy train journey… or three). It’d be nice if the obese woman and her young child that is full on slobbery would stop screaming down their phones. The phone calls are not really helped by the in-out, in-out nature of tunnels and mountains. Almost everyone around them is going on mad. I’ll just tut. Tut!

再见!Zai Jian! Goodbye!

Hard sleeper.

Six cubic square metres. Space teeters.

Six bunks for warm souls. Sheets full of holes.

Sun beating in from the west. No rest.

Mountains to the east. Facing it with a feast.

Crispy chips and crunching cake. Smelly food they did take.

Coughing and spluttering. Aisle cluttering.

Masks off blowing noses. Ring a ring of roses.

Hot as a desert sauna. Flying biting fauna.

Whatever is that smell? Food bell! Food bell!

Smooth until the shunts. Wheels at the stunts.

Clickety-clack along the long track. No way back.

Stage VII: Chaka

你好!Nihao! Hello!

I arrived at Chaka Station (茶卡站, Chákǎ Zhàn) 151km from the gargantuan Qinghai Lake, and 300km from Xining. The smooth railway journey was sandwiched between sweeping views and seemingly endless tunnels. The train ground to a halt on the single track. A chugging diesel engine had swapped with an electrical unit at some stage of the journey. I guess that hour where I had a nap.

The station was immediately at the gate of the scenic area. Chákǎ 茶卡盐湖 Salt Lake (Yánhú) has a salted bed. That’s the reason for such a high level of reflection. There are salt mines around these parts. It’s known as a photographer’s wet dream. For 60RMB (less in off season) and a further 50RMB to board a quaint sightseeing train, there’s much to be seen across the 105 square kilometres of lake. I walked the 3km to my hotel, checked in and then walked back.

Chákǎ is a Tibetan word meaning salt lake. It’s located around 3059m (10,036′) above sea level. That’s probably the reason the Gaoyuanhong Inn has disposable oxygen canisters for sale. That and some salt products. Salt seems to be a thing here, having been mined for three millennia. I read the salt below the water can be 5 to 15 metres in depth. And, every time it rains more salt is brought down the valleys. The once sea area keeps providing. Some claim it is infinite.

There are sightseeing platforms and decking everywhere: a tall 30m tower; a platform with the words ‘I love Caka’; two hearts in love as a platform; and the mirror of sky squares. It’s a real draw for tourism, apparently attracting over a million visitors a year. Sculptures are present and some honour the Wuxian tribes who once harvested the plains and salts of Chaka. Closer to the present there’s an abandoned salt factory and salt-mining transportation hub. There are yachts, helicopters and all manner of ways to see the lake’s splendour.

A smaller lake, Sky Number One Lake, is a little east of Chaka Lake. However, I’m not rushing to it. My experience of saltwater is that it stings broken blisters, makes you really dry and forms a crusty layer over your skin. I’ll take it easy and enjoy the sunrise then have a wander.

Zai jian! Goodbye! 再见

Stage VI: Xining & Kumbum

Nihao! Hello!

The train rolled into Xīníng (西宁) and I skipped immediately down the stairs, found a wee man’s room and had a piddle. As exciting as the journey was, I could not go to the toilet. The views and valleys were something else. The tunnels were also rather long, and I didn’t want to gamble on missing any scenery whilst urinating. Hence, the urgency at Xining’s plush railway station.

Xining is the provincial capital of Qinghai (青海). It is home to Mongols, Tibetans, Han Chinese, and Muslims (Hui). It has a mixture of vibrant cultures. Walking around Lotus Lake (Mayigou Reservoir), I witnessed Tibetan music, Muslims walking and relaxing and Han Chinese carrying umbrellas in the afternoon sun. The train journey into Qinghai crossed huge expanses of grasslands, tight valleys and mountains beyond mountains. There’s nature in and around the area. The WWF (not the wrestling lot) have an office here.

The language around here is different, it’s Mandarin but Qinghaihua dialect. Like the language the cultures and food are quite diverse too. Almost as diverse as the routes of water within this province. The three great rivers of China have their sources in Qinghai. The Mekong, Yellow (黃河) and Yangtze rivers all begin here. Xining’s Huángshuǐ hé (river/湟水河) is a tributary of the Yellow River.

I started Monday by moving hotels. My first choice hotel had no vacancies for two nights so I moved to the Xinsu 1357 Inn. I should have stayed here sooner. The wooden and brick lodge was cosy with lovely lighting and Tibetan decor throughout. Even the room key card came in a hand-carved wooden block. Immediately after checking-in, I set out for the Tǎ’ěr Sì (also known as Kumbum Monastery 塔爾寺). Near to Xining, the 14th Dalai Lama was born and he later spent time at Kumbum. As did Peter Fleming, journalist brother of James Bond creator Ian Fleming.

The monastery was dazzling and wrapped in the blanket of history. There were some buildings rebuilt after a fire in 1912 but mostly the temples and shrines dated to the 17th century. The number of monks is residence is close to 300, a tenth of its peak population. The odd cat and umpteen pigeons scattered between the natural bird population seen on the green fringes of the site.

Whilst wandering a passageway, a pretty young girl stopped me. I’d seen her distinctive glow in a courtyard just moments before. Her curious eyes and manner stopped me and asked me a few questions. My favourite question was, “It’s all in Chinese, how can you understand?” I replied that I’d visited many Buddhist places in Nepal and then we talked about travels. Stacey, as she introduced herself, was a recent Masters graduate and worked with the internet. Smart kid. She’d been to France to study and had a bubbly personality. I bid her goodbye and she scuttled off back towards her native Beijing.

The cultural day featured The Great Lama’s Residence, Yak Butter Scripture Temple (a huge butter sculpture in a refrigerator of a modern temple), then the Huangzhong Huanghe Cultural Museum. From there I wandered to Huangzhong County Museum, and a Tibetan Museum by the Mayigou lake/reservoir. I’d already walked the pleasant area around the reservoir the day before. Today I aimed for the food festival site at it’s far end.

I joined a Tibetan family’s stall and ate a kind if bread with lamb inside. This came with a spicy coleslaw-like salad and some rolled dough noodles (擀面皮 gǎnmiànpí). It was all delicious and a fantastic way to feel full on a walk back. That and an ice cream.

Frustrating things happen. That’s life. Some conversations lack progression or clarity. That’s the way of life. The important thing is to be polite and patient.

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*pause*

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*thinking*

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*puzzlement*

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*does not compute*

“Show me your vaccine certificate.”
I complied.

“Did you leave China since coming to China?”
“No.”

“Please wait a moment.”
Minutes pass.

“When did you enter China?”
I repeatedly point at my passport entry date stamp.

Questions about where I was yesterday, the day before, last week follow.
“So, you have no job?”
“I’m a teacher. I am on holidays.”

Guess the next question.
I ignore the train conductor. Until the next visit. This time she has an array of questions…

I was asked why I was on holidays; how I have worked in China since the pandemic; why I have no wife; why I didn’t go back to the UK; why I didn’t stay at home; which school I worked at; do the school allow travel; do the school know where I am; why am I travelling alone. I had an audience around me. One person insisted on translating for me. A kind stranger. One passerby stood an recorded it on his phone. I imagine I’ll be on TikTok/Douyin soon enough. After all of that I was none the wiser as to what I’d done wrong. Perhaps I’d stolen some hotel soap. I didn’t want to leave the bar of soap to be wasted. Perhaps, I didn’t give my first pet’s name?

Tuesday’s 8am train from Xining railway station arrives at Chaka Lake by 12:10. The hard sleeper service cost 275RMB return, but it meant sprawling out with a book would be possible, and not a hard seat for the bottom. The Gaoyuanhong Inn would provide a night’s sleep before returning at 17:10 on Wednesday for a 21:30 arrival in Xining. That should fit in a trip to the Dongguan Mosque (东关清真大寺; Dōngguān Qīngzhēndàsì) before departing Xining…

Chaka Lake and Chaka Khan are two very different things. The latter is a Singer-song writer, born in 1953, famed for I’m Every Woman and Ain’t Nobody. Chaka Salt Lake is often known as the ‘Mirror of the sky.’

Zai jian! Goodbye!

Stage V: Wall’s End (Jiayuguan)

Nihao! 你好! Hello!

The pass at Jiāyùguān (嘉峪关) is the Ming Dynasty‘s western end of the Great Wall of China. From 1368-1644, the Ming Dynasty rid China of Mongols and had 16 Emperors. During which time, 168 years of facial lifts have led the Great Wall to it’s current state of appearance. That and some careful restoration work in the 1980s too. The pass lies on the Hexi Corridor (河西走廊 Héxī Zǒuláng) at the narrowest point, which is a plain between the Tibetan & Mongolian Plateaus.

For the afternoon, I visited the Overhanging Wall (悬壁长城), the First Pier of the Great Wall (长城第一墩; changcheng diyi dun) and Jiayuguan’s original fort area. The taxi driver I had selected had agreed 180RMB for the routes and waiting times. The 120RMB tong piao (ticket) allowed access to all three sites. Although at the pier site an electric car is on offer for 20RMB for those wishing to avoid the baking sunshine. The dry hot sunshine is only comfortable for so long!

The Ming Dynasty’s Great Wall’s western end was a slog down a valley to a closed bridge to look up as the river sloshed by heavily. The River Lai fed by the Qilian mountains gave life to many regions but here few plants braved the unforgiving desert earth. After a while I headed to the museum in the 56 metre high cliff face and the final beacon of the Great Wall. The signposts were published in English, Chinese and Japanese. The English mostly resembled gibberish. Although I ascertained that this part of the Great Wall was built around 1539CE across 18 years. With that I went to the Overhanging Wall, next to a huge desert with military operations under way. Best to avoid that. I looked down from the picturesque wall at a ski slope and wondered how such a hot place could ever get snow!

The final stop was the fortified city of Jiayuguan. The Silk Road’s trading and tax station of old. Rammed earth, yellow and sand-like dried mud mixed with rice pastes, stones and straw have been shaped to scar the landscape around this region. The wall, of course, was a defensive garrison and outpost of a nation growing in strength and stature. It could even be said that some sections would blend into the surrounding desert. For unlucky invaders, trenches would lay hidden on approach to the wall, often filled with hazardous death-and-pain-inducing problems. Gansu’s northwestern city of Jiayuguan is named after the pass. The loess and windswept substrate reflected the sunlight up and at you.

After exiting the ancient walls of Jiayuguan, I found the Great Wall Museum was long closed. It shuts at the odd time of 16:30. It being 19:30, I tottered back to my hotel and ate some local barbecue foods on the way. My aching feet appreciated the early night’s sleep.

Following a good sleep at the Railway Station Ibis Hotel and an okay breakfast, I was lucky enough to hire the same taxi driver for 150RMB. I had initially enquired about the July 1st Glacier and mountain park (七一冰川) but was advised the whole area is closed for safety and conservation reasons. So, a new plan was made. First we stopped at the underground tombs of 魏晋墓葬 (Weijin Muzang). Here you could only visit one of nine unearthed tombs. It being far below the surface. The museum is a little underwhelming as most of the tombs had long been plundered. The few artefacts and coffins on display are nevertheless impressive. On, by cart, to the tomb site, and you alight in a wide open space.

I’m in a wide open space. There’s a wooden shelter. Beside that a concrete block the size of a small garden shed. A mound of earth covered in pebbles and grit protrudes. A small metallic vent sits atop. It looks out of place. The aggressive sunshine beats down. I feel out of place. An electric police cart parks in the shed’s shade. It is out of place. The shed’s metal door opens on aching hinges. A policeman gestures for me to enter. He’s the site security man and ticket officer. He clips my ticket and points to a staircase. I slip down underground. A welcome respite from the heated day overground.

The 36C heat of outside fades in just a few steps. Subterranean coolness wraps around me. After a few dozen steps, I’m at a largely concrete anteroom. Here I see a wall and facade of great detail. A small arch allows access to the tombs beyond. I crouch and enter admiring the majestic brickwork entrance.

Inside the tomb’s tight entrance, the dazzling array of colours leap from the four wall. The brick dome overhead looms over my tall frame. I strangely feel no claustrophobia but do feel calm. The air is still and silent. It’s eerily unmoving. The details of the drawings and the colours envelop my eyes. It’s morbid fascination has grasped me. I visit the three tombs in a line ducking through short archways to enter each ancient gallery. No photography is allowed. The light flickers ever so slightly. I reach for my phone to use the torch function. It radiates a deep pocket within the tomb. The drawings stretch into a smaller tube lined with bricks and stones. It’s a magical piece of history. The region has ruins everywhere to see.

Next the taxi driver kindly visited Yěmáwān Cūn (野麻湾村). This village with a sand and rammed earth fortress nestles between corn and other farmland. Watermelons were being grown across the road. I shuffled around the wire protection fence admiring the sparrows and swifts that had made nests in the crumbling ruins. The front of the fortress faces the main road and the rear is less dramatic but well worth a wander. The flooded farm fields next to this barren piece of earth are suitably contrasting. The modern art of survival alongside the old dried and decayed survival walls. All in sight of the snow capped Qilian Mountains many kilometres away!

The Qilian Mountains (祁连山; Qílián Shān) peaks at Kangze’gyai around 5808m (19055′), not the name of the whole mountain range. Interestingly, the uncle of the notorious flying ace Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen (The Red Baron) had once named the almost 800km long mountain range. Uncle Baron Ferdinand went with the local name of Richthofen Range. He also created the name Seidenstraße which these days we know as the ‘Silk Road’.

My silk road following was almost over. The D2758 train at 11:09 from Jiayuguan South will whistled through Zhangye West  on Sunday passing through a place called Mingle before arriving at Qinghai’s provincial capital city Xining for 14:36. The seat I should have been on in carriage 11, had a sleeping individual across three seats on a packed carriage. His snoring was causing perturbation to other passengers. I should him. Nothing. Again. Nothing. I said excuse me in Chinese. Nowt. So, I moved to an empty seat and hoped for the best.

The Qilian Mountains straddled my right hand view. Their snow caps contrasted greatly with the foreground view if rolling desert hills and the northern reclaimed agriculture on a plain once covered in arid nothingness. That’s all for now. Time to enjoy this train journey.

再见Zai Jian/Goodbye

Stage IV: Rainbow Mountains

How do!

Here we go again…

A little later than expected the Z6207 train rolled into Zhāngyè (张掖) Railway Station. The Lanzhou to Xinjiang Railway (兰新铁路/Lánxīn Tiělù) Service was not expected to terminate there. It would carry on to somewhere along the 1904km (1183 miles) line, perhaps even Ürümqi itself. The train Oliver and I had arrived on was not the train we were supposed to arrive on. We were supposed to have arrived on the 12th by 12:51. Here we were, in Zhangye, on the 13th, at 16:40. Our replacement train had been six hours late leaving Yinchuan in Ningxia, so that had long missed the connection at Lanzhou West in Gansu. We’d looked at countless alternative routes, alternative plans, flights and in the end, just waited. No simple solution presented itself. Many dull hours in Yinchuan station led to us boarding a train and waking in Lanzhou, to then tackle 12306 Chinese Railway customer services, with a handful of crap Chinese and a bucketful of determination. With regret, we opted for a 5 hour train journey in standing room only. By room, there was little room, although for the last hour of the journey, we managed to sit down. The train was cooler than the outside 38°C.

After arriving the local security and medical team at the station made us supply dates of travel, PCR (COVID-19) test results, green codes, phone numbers, places we intended to stay and our pet dog’s mother’s maiden-name. It was just a small hiccup in an otherwise wonderful travel. COVID-19 had seen many people pull their masks up as we approached. A very thoughtful act! Their saliva and spray from breathing could no longer get in our pathway. Some even jumped out of our way. Being vaccinated and the current pandemic has made many question our arrival dates into China. My standard response is, “Wǒ cóng 2020 nián 3 yuè 26 rì kāishǐ zài zhōngguó, wǒ yǐjīng liǎng nián méiyǒu chūguò guóle.” I may get that on a T-shirt: 我从2020年3月26日开始在中国,我已经两年没有出过国了。I have been in China since March 26th, 2020. I have not left the country in two years. Maybe on the back of my new Manchester City shirt?

The first thing we did was say hello to Waits and then go for dinner, an early one, a local dish of chicken in thick noodles and plenty of sauce. Waits had recommended it. We devoured it. Little remained. Following that we enjoyed a walk around the Zhangye Wetland Reserves (a Ramsar site: Ramsar is in Iran and happens to be where the 1971 Convention on Wetlands was held). The Hēihé (Black River or Weak Water/弱水/黑河) banks give this fragile temperate desert environment a surreal edge. It is a set of oases – some small oasis, some huge. I spied a Baer’s pochard (Aythya baeri), some gulls and a stork flying over. The water, in the evening, had cool fresh feel, lowering the temperature of the air around. It gives life in a tough place to live. We talked a little before all retiring to our hotel, leaving Waits to drive the short road home.

On the recommendation of Waits, the Zhangye Pingshan Grand Canyon (平山湖大峡谷; Pingshanhu Daxiagu) became our destination for our first morning in Zhangye. We hired a taxi to the destination for 229RMB. With access, via tickets costing RMB, and paths spanning out to the 1040 square kilometres filled with red-layer Mesozoic Jurassic rocks and sands. Gullies, stacks, sandstone mountains and years of erosion capped with grasses, small shrubs and few signs of trees as the near-sterile mountain swept over an almost-infertile great distance to the barren desert below. Here, Oliver and I wandered and explored the desert area, where it was spitting and cloudy. The toasting desert temperature of 35°C dropped to a pleasantly mild 22°C. After our wanderings we headed to the car park, and the Didi app failed us. We tried in vain to get a taxi. No joy. Not until Oliver managed to ask a hotel to help us. A kind woman taxi driver offered to get us to our next port of call for 258RMB (including an 18RMB toll charge).

Looking back as the taxi car pulled onto the new highway, the towering mountain-scape beyond the canyons looked dark green. The aspens, spruces and cypresses soon disappeared and the bleak desert surrounded the highway for some time. Soon after passing through the tollroad, the car slid into a long tunnel appearing beyond a range of mountains closer to Zhangye’s city. The car slowed and the driver explained something, and that her friend would carry on the journey. Her friend drew alongside our car and we were delivered on the roadside like contraband. Her friend was a talker, and never shut up yapping, even after Oliver and I fell asleep. We awoke as the car skidded to a halt at another of Zhangye’s Danxia landforms. The driver took my Wechat for contacting later and pushed for us to use her taxi on the way back. I declined, because we didn’t want to be rushed. I said I’d order her taxi later and pay. She agreed but still persisted. I said to her, “Do not wait.”

The colourful mountains of 张掖七彩丹霞旅游景区 (Zhāngyè Guójiā Dìzhìgōngyuán/Zhangye Qicai Danxia Scenic Spot) rise and fall like towering sea waves. They are devoid of life. Few plants grow. This is the driest area of the desert. The strata of rocks displays multitudes of colour over an area of around 510 square kilometres (200 square miles). The public access to the park is limited to a handful of areas to prevent erosion. The organic sediments make for a rainbow effect with colours often hard to describe. I went with blue-yellow, but Oliver said it was green. We couldn’t agree. Iron, trace minerals, sands, salts, uplifted sediments and silicilastic rocks make for a vivid and overwhelming landscape. Hematite (a kind or iron oxide), Danxia formations, yellowing metallic sulfurous rock, green chlorite rich clays and purple slithers give the eyes a challenge to decipher the blend of colours. Cameras do not do the region justice. Watching sunset here was a treat, just like the superb market Waits recommended for dinner afterwards! Gansu knows how to do beef noodles!

The shuttle buses, walkways and guided routes of the Zhangye National Geopark are a must. Long may people witness the glory of nature’s Qilian foothills. At first Oliver and I were disgruntled at being corraled along a pre-designated route, but the volume of people (easily tens of thousands) merited the passing of numerous gift shops, cafes and hot air balloon ride areas. The millions of years that have seen dinosaurs and their terrain smashed to smithereens gives us the impressive ‘Rainbow Mountains’. Tourism is under regulation to allow for that to continue. The 74RMB ticket includes the shuttle bus journey. Walking solo is now banned. Walking out of the exit gate after our wander, and checking my phone, I spied I had 8 missed calls from the taxi driver who had got us there. Just as I looked up, Oliver said, “Here’s the driver!” And, she tried to push us to move faster. I purchased some delicious apricots and Oliver browsed the souvenirs casually. Eventually we boarded her car. She had gained another customer who was sat waiting. We went back to the city. She dropped off the man, and he paid 200RMB. At which stage, we were famished, and decided to find food there. We told the pleasant but pushy taxi driver. She then demanded 450RMB! We agreed at 100RMB. She had tried to rip us off.

At 东大街 (Dond DaJie) we found 甘州市场 (Ganzhou food market; Ganzhou is the old provincial name) and ate twisted dish noodles (without fish). Cuōyúmiàn 搓鱼面 looks like fish, beef noodles and a crispy crunchy 洋芋擦擦 (potato wipe?). It was so good, that we went there the next day for lunch and ate like pigs, drank lemon water like it was going out of fashion and chilled in the heat. The day had taken us around Zhangye’s city centre to see the old wooden pagoda (西来寺; 50RMB not well spent), Great Buddha Temple (大佛寺: to see a lay down 34.5m long Buddha; 40RMB well spent) and the Bell & Drum Tower (rebuilt 1668, which now doubles up as a traffic roundabout; 10RMB entry). The city of Zhangye has much to offer, but sadly time was limited. With Waits being busy, I decided, over a cold Dayao (大窑: an Inner Mongolian soft drink that tastes like bubblegum), to depart the day after Oliver.

Oliver departed, on Thursday, by Didi taxi car to the Lanxin Second Railway/Lánxīn tiělù dìèr shuāngxiàn (兰新铁路第二双线) Zhangye West Station (张掖西站) and I turned right from the food market area. His connecting flight in Shenzhen being a week or so away, and my need to carry on wandering led to the shaking of hands and goodwill words. Now solo, I wandered around the city’s many parks and then went for a late afternoon nap. Afterwards, I met Waits for dinner and nattered until late.

Departure for myself came the next morning (Friday), again from Zhāngyē Xī Zhàn. Here I caught the D4011 to Jiayuguan. As it was available, I grabbed a first class train ticket for 125RMB. I wouldn’t usually do that, but as Chester-born comedian Jeff Green used to say, “F**k it, I’m on holiday!” So, I sat comfortably and enjoyed the plains, mountains, and rolling parallel railway.

Ta’ra for now!

Waits (& see: City)

Dear all, interested or not, especially Blues,

I’ve known Waits since I joined Shenzhen Blues way back in 2014-ish. The oddity of it all, is that he and I hadn’t met in person until July 2021. Arriving in the old Zhangye Railway Station I spot Waits by the railway station entrance immediately. His sky blue t-shirt emblazoned with MCFC was exactly what I had expected to see. Us Blues stand out. What amazed me most is that Zhangye is 2865km from Shenzhen. There are no direct flights, and certainly no direct trains. The quickest flights via Lanzhou are 5 hours and 50 minutes.

Brother Waits.

Waits has been following Manchester City for years. We’re not talking about a glory-seeker at all. He latched onto the singers of the blues on the back of a certain Sun Jihai. He’s endured seasons of toil and mid-table football, before the good times came along. He even said he preferred watching City from 2001 to 2009. Most City fans have that romantic lust for those times. The expectation and the angry eye of the media these days can be all-so-consuming. He’s sat up at all hours of day to see the famous sky blue and white team play umpteen teams over land and sea… and Stretford. He’s one of our own.

Submitted December 2019 to SZBs.

Over the years I have acted as his football jersey mule, occasionally sourcing one or carrying his Classic Football Shirt orders from my Mam’s house to China. His collection, his famed home-office (man cave?) is full of City. Tencent and QQ media have interviewed him. He was interviewed for Shenzhen’s live fan gathering at the end of the last season. He’s featured on City’s Inside City shows and other places too. Sometimes, I wonder why Manchester City’s China office hasn’t offered him a position (of remote working). His passion for teaching English and his love of City is for all to see.

Waits reply to his best goal: “SWP nearly zero angle shot”

Waits has translated the poem This Is The Place by Tony Walsh, with permission. The Chinese edition featured in Dongguan’s defunct HubHao magazine and online. Shenzhen Blues also published it to Manchester City fans in China. For years Waits has translated Manchester City’s On This Day information, statistics, facts, stories and tales of City folklore. He’s encouraged young and new fans alike, giving advice, passion and fairness accordingly. He has championed the Champions before they won leagues, cups and trophies (this century). Recently, he translated an interview between Mark McCarthy (Manchester City Match Worn Shirts, MCMWS) and Pete ‘The Badge’ Berry.

这是我和@Waits 还有@二蛋💭 一起运营的公众号,会发一些曼城相关的好玩内容。欢迎订阅!
Miranda, @Waits and @二蛋 are running this public account. It will share some interesting content about City on it. Come and subscribe!Go on!

His favourite game remains City beating Tottenham Hotspurs having gone 3-0 down to come away 4-3 winners. Considering the games that have passed since, he’s sticking to that one game. He even chooses Kevin Keegan as top gaffer over the elite leaders that have managed the Citizens since. He told me once that he translated subtitles for There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble! Hey Manchester City China, “Go on, give it to Waits!”

Shenzhen Blues in Zhangye… and a mad Aussie called Oliver.

Waits has much more to him than football. Whilst he plays it with students and local Zhangye folk, he can often be found strumming his guitar. A few renditions of Blue Moon have been heard over the years. And, in recent years he has welcomed Amos to his family alongside Mrs Waits. The family can enjoy tales of how Waits was raised on a cavalry base by his mother and father. They can discover their Sichuanese heritage, without taking a panda! Whilst Waits asked more questions, than I asked him, when he spoke, he spoke in an articulated way about all manner of things. I learned about Zhangye’s three Buddha statues. One standing, one crouching (tired) and one resting.

Wandering chitchat Blues

One thing, I can say about Waits is that his English is fantastic. He asked me, “What do you think of my English accent?” I think I hurt him, with my joking response, “It sounds Chinese.” In actual fact, his English is very clear and follows a British tone similar to that found on Downton Abbey and other TV drama shows set in England. I probably have only met a dozen Chinese-born people who have such a great spoken English accent. Obviously, Waits is not speaking Mancunian-nasal tones but his heart is definitely in it! Innit.

A small snack of kidney, liver, stomach, intestines and breads. The local Zhangye food was delicious!

Ode to Hart


Time, flows in passing days,
Memories, flashes now and then,
And my tears, reluctantly falling,
Falling like I’m faking falsely by no means.

No more you on the pitch
No more your passion, your shouting and your encouragement
No more your commitment, no more your fighting, your joy and regret
Because I know, gone is gone
Like your waving to us
Your clapping, and your farewell words

“We are all grown man, we get over with it.”
Happy 30th, my HART. Happy everyday
It’s not something I won’t let go
It’s you.

They may forget, but I won’t
They may laugh, and I won’t
Neither will I forget nor will I laugh
I will keep it in my heart and keep you my SOUL AND HART

 Waits [April 19th, 2017]

Dinner and a local brew.

I hope that the next time I see Waits, we can enjoy a good old chinwag and I’ll get to know more about him. It was good to hear him talk with enthusiasm about how my Mum with Paul visited him on his trip to Manchester to see his first City game. I liked his response to how a City steward offered him tickets to Old Trafford swamp to see that lot play and he flat out refused, pointing to his badge. Pride in battle indeed. Until next time I meet Waits, I consider him a great friend and a wonderful person to know (with great English).

  1. 你为什么追随曼城?Why do you follow Manchester City?
  2. 你最深刻的曼城记忆是什么?What’s your favourite Manchester City memory?
  3. 你最钟情的曼城球衣是哪几件?What are your favourite Manchester City shirts?
  4. 说出你心目中的曼城最佳阵容。Name your all-time Manchester City XI (eleven).
  5. 这个赛季最终的结果将会如何?How will this season end?
  6. 你去过曼彻斯特吗?如果没有,你梦想去那里旅行吗?Have you been to Manchester? If not, do you dream to travel there?
  7. 在中国,你会推荐外国城迷们去哪里参观?他们应该尝尝哪些中国的食物呢?Where do you recommend City fans see in China? What food should they try?

如需提交您的问题或者答案,请发送电子邮件至 acton28@hotmail.co.uk,或者联系微信:acton28

To submit your questions and answers, please e-mail acton28@hotmail.co.uk or send a WeChat message to: acton28.

Stage III: Walls & Fences

Dear curious folk and readers,

I am writing from near the seat of the West Xia Kingdom (1038-1227). The city of Yinchuan is about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) away from the tombs and mausoleum. The bone dry eastern face of the Helan mountain range towers over the mausoleum site. The site spans around 50 square kilometers (19.3 square miles) and approximately 9 imperial tombs, with a huge 253 lesser tombs. They’re still making discoveries to this day.

The tombs are incredible to witness. The museum at the entrance has six very modern galleries full of relics discovered across the site. The lighting, style and interactive nature of the artefacts is we’ll organised. There are plenty of opportunities to visit the a 3D cinema, gifts shops and grab plenty of water for the outdoor experience that follows. From the museum you can walk to a bus transfer. Here we opted to walk to the mausoleums and experience the desert ambiance.

The mausoleum site is spread out, striking and feature-rich. Steles, towers, sacrifice palaces, earth walls, and natural damage by winter floodwater alongside cracks in the earth covered the whole region. Using three-wheeled scooters after plenty of walking, we managed to see huge distances of the area. Sunblock was applied almost hourly, as grasshoppers flew by with clicking sounds and cute Gerbil-like rodents scampered around. With two litres of water, the day was comfortable, but more is advisable in 38 degrees heat! The sun is not your friend.

The day was a great investment in exploring the state’s deep history and culture. A taxi from Yinchuan cost 60RMB and a return Didi taxi car cost 85RMB with entrance fee being about a 100RMB. Just over two hours on the scooters cost 130RMB (but we certainly went off the beaten track).

The following day, Mr Oliver and I set out for the Great Wall. I’d suggested the Ming Great Wall stretch by a place called Sanguankou (三关口明长城). The three passes are about 2.5km apart. We didn’t go there. Mr Oliver found a section using Baidu maps and an overhead satellite photo near to the G307 highway (Ningxia to Inner Mongolia). So, after a Didi taxi car journey we hopped out in searing heat in the mountainous Alxa desert. Having left Yinchuan’s continental arid climate we were now at the mercy of the sun.

We scrambled up a mound of earth to see a watchtower, wandered down the road and looked at the adjacent wall sections. Here we respected every fence and sign. Then we went under the highway and followed a section of wall through fields and over hills. Horses, hares and hawks were frequent witnesses to our hiking. The enigmatic landscape surrounding the wall had so much to offer the eyes.

Fences came and went, so we walked close and far at times. We started trekking at about 10:30am and ended around 19:00hrs. Some sections had the backdrop of a Jeep safari driving range, whilst others had civilian roads with a handful of tourists driving by and saying hello. At some stage though we had to get back to Yinchuan. The map shown a road to the nearby Wuwa Highway and G110 highway. We avoided the military warning signs on a path seemingly headed into the mountains, passing some civilian contractors and wandered (now without any water left) along a bleak ever-expanding straight line slab of concrete. The road was intensely energy-consuming.

Towards the last 3km, just past the tanks, a car with two men gave us a lift to the highway. That journey was curtailed and after three hours of explaining our day’s walking route, photograph inspection and travel document verification we were driven to the village of Minning. The People’s Liberation Army were extremely hospitable. They seemed to understand that we’d strayed into their tank range unintentionally. They appreciated our desire to see the Ming Dynasty Great Wall.

The gate guardsmen gave us hot noodles, a cake and some fruit. And frequent, much needed water. The chief who came with at least three officers and the Public Security Bureau policemen kept apologising for taking our time. It was all rather surreal. We were able to cancel our onward train journey, and hotel for the next night. We also apologised politely and shown our sorrow at wandering into a restricted military zone.

The Public Security Bureau policemen waited with us whilst we tried to get a taxi or Didi car. As it was midnight, nothing was coming, so we spoke with a nearby hotel receptionist. He ordered a car for us. We got in, whilst being watched by the three policemen. They approached then checked the driver knew where we were going. Finally, they checked his credentials and found he was an illegal taxi driver. So, we stepped from the car, “for your safety” and the Police dealt with him. Annoyed by that inconvenience, we started to hike and try to get back. The Police gave up and headed back. Eventually we flagged down a van.

Nestled between chicken feet in buckets, flies on the roof and 400RMB lighter for it, we made it back to the hotel we’d checked out of that day. We retrieved our left luggage and checked-in. All is well that ends well. Our next journey is the 1842 train to Gansu’s Lanzhou city to meet a connection to Zhangye. What waits for us there?

Until next time, goodbye…

Stage II: Shanxi’s Great Wall

晚上好 Good evening (or whatever time it is),

The Great Wall (长城) is massive. It’s length exceeds the distance around the U.K.’s total coastline (I believe). Fact check that at your heart’s content. Heading from Xi’an involved a night train on a soft sleeper bed. The room had old yellowing lights, grim grey walls and no power sockets. It was cost-effective to travel and bunk, than to bunk at a hotel then travel. The selected option had no shower and barely a place to brush your teeth in comfort. The on board restaurant car involved a selection of noodles, room temperature water or baijiu (rice wine).

Having finished Lee Child and Andrew Child’s The Sentinel, sleep was an easy choice. My former colleague Mr Oliver occupied the attention of an enthusiasm kid trying to charge his phone at a busted power point outside our bunker of a room. The lack of ventilation wasn’t so bad because our closest window slid down from time to time. Waking up at 01:30hrs due to a slammer of a man thumping down his suitcase, thrashing his shoes off and generally bumping everything with loudness wasn’t so bad. Until his eruptive snoring. Still, I fell asleep well.

From Taiyuan station we wandered to a bus station, Jiannan Bus Station, bagged tickets and sat down to eat in a Chinese equivalent of a greasy-spoon cafe nearby. The Shanxi pickles were good alongside egg pancakes and eggs. After an uneventful journey with a dab of xenophobia, we arrived at the mining region of Yangquan (coincidentally where I’m writing this now). Immediately a Didi taxi was booked to Niangziguan and the village of ShuiShangRenJia. The water village has multiple bubbling springs feeding babbling brooks and streams. Some pass through and under buildings. Our homestay had such a variety of flowing water over the roof and in the restaurant area.

The above was written yesterday evening and since then there has been an overnight train journey on hard seats. Think little old ladies spitting into metal pans, snoring and general discomfort. On the positive side, some fellow passengers made space for my rucksack and moved from my first seat. Mr Oliver and I drank a few McDonald’s-based beers, pretending to be customers at the American Embassy branch of Taiyuan. It passed some of the three-hour transfer time.

We have wandered through Guguan Pass and Ningzi Pass in recent days. Seeing the old stonework and some newer sections has allowed us to explore a few off the beaten track avenues. Some knee-deep in thorns and prickly bushes, with wasps the size of fighter jets buzzing by our heads. Some horsefly species surely must take their name from that of them being the size of a horse. Scorpions and centipedes have whipped by and so far been avoided. Although mites and spider bites have likely been experienced.

The jagged snaking Great Wall sections at Guguan are far more dramatic than that of Ningzi Pass. The protrusion at the latter have been remade in recent years but sit atop a splendid village and river landscape. At our lodge of choosing, the owners have decorated the walls with photos and artworks of the locality. The waterfall these days is hidden around a river-side theme park and tacky attractions. However, the Great Wall lines an ancient village.

Guguan is an oddity. The wall towers over a fantastic entrance gate. The ground is lined with centuries of horse and cart worn stones. Around the entrance, a highway slides through (under a section of bridge connecting The Great Wall). The scars of industry, mining and the Revolution periods of China’s new era shroud and strangle the Great Wall before releasing it’s higher levels to a combination of wild scrubland and farmlands.

The short stay in Shanxi was a pleasant one with local people gifting us refreshing cucumbers, crunchy crisp pancakes and an abundance of pleasantries. The food was excellent and varied. The people were generally warm and welcoming. The whole visit was delightful, despite the heat! However, I won’t miss the relentless thorn bushes (or the snarling dogs)!

Good night (or whatever time it is)!

Stage I: Xi’an

Departing Shenzhen International Airport for Xi’an city in Shaanxi province proved a problem. The 1050am flight was cancelled. That was a pretty hefty stumbling block. But, in checking the trains, Mr Oliver and I booked a long haul train from Guangzhou South to Xi’an via Zhengzhou East (wherever that is). We hopped in a Didi car and jumped on a high speed train from Dongguan’s Humen Railway Station.

Almost 11 hours later we arrived at Xi’an and used another Didi taxi car to take us to the Lemon Hotel. The wrong one. Turned out there are more than one, with similar names. We almost ended up at yet another incorrect Lemon Hotel. Bitter luck followed us to the right hotel though. Our reserved rooms with given away because we were late. So, we had a family room and checked out the next day rather annoyed.

We left our bags at left luggage, and gravitated towards to Xian city walls. The walls are around 14km around, although I didn’t do the maths. After just under three hours the circuit was completed. There was annoyingly a lot of sunburn. Oops. Major oops. The wall is a seriously good place to feel the city and get close to the historic grounds. However, most is quite commercial and bare. Nevertheless, the city walls and castle features are vast and photogenic.

Breakfast and dinner has been delightful. Xi’an really lives up to its reputation when it comes to variety and delicious foods! It seems everyone wants you to try something new or local. The belly may grow these days…

With the wall completed, and attempt to see the museum was abandoned due to sold out tickets. Some further walking was had followed by a park with an entertaining roller skating rink. Tomorrow, terracotta and upright old fashioned Action Men figures await.

Bow.

Can’t you feel it? The constriction as the noose tightens and the drop comes closer. The darkness is consuming the light, casting a deep shadow over hope. The smell of victory blew away in a storm’s gust. The sound of a clock’s hands tick ever louder and the pendulum swings with urgency raising your heart’s beat to higher peaks. Chalky dry dust whips up to the lips, parched, cracked and dry in the moonlight. Will another day bring a new sunrise?

What am I?

I breathe deeply yet have no air.

I shuffle and jiggle not in a chair.

I play hard, read well but do not share.

I’m round, long and not a fair fare.

I’m the riddle that you tweak and fiddle.

I’m the sound of the tinkling-rinkling piddle.

I’m the puzzle that at night you diddly diddle.

Giggle all you want, I’m the wink at the tiddle.

I’m the value of the bat’s shadowy wings.

I’m the voice the icy valley sings.

I’m the rhyme at a time that brings.

I’m all manner of great abundant things.

Scribbled whilst trekking in 2017.

The Finale (Act I)

Parent page: IB Learner Profile

English A: Language and literature (Cat.1): Module Four – Individual Oral Assessment

IB Course Creator Tim Pruzinsky started his introduction video by saying this final module would be unique and no easy task. Armed with a floppy left arm (following my second installment of the COVID-19 jab yesterday) and a nausea (last weekend’s sickness has caused my appetite since to be largely under the requirements of a half-giant), I set on my studies. To baldly go… (shiny-headed pun intended)

Utterly the Higher Level!

Parent page: IB Learner Profile

Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes

English A: Language and literature (Cat.1): Module Three – Assessing the Higher Level Essay

What is a 4? What is a 5? The line between the two is foggy and at times completely a blur. So, here, I use the benefit of the doubt. My reasoning is simple. The overall piece was well written, clearly thought of in detail and delivered in an informative way. I still had some question. So, I went looking. I found that Calvin and Hobbes ran from 18/11/1985 to 31/12/1995 as a daily comic strip in the U.S.A. and across the world. I’ve certainly never stumbled on this strip, despite it landing in over 2400 newspapers! Humour, satire, politics, and family life mix well with philosophy and judging by the Wikipedia write-up, a dozen of so academics have touched on it too.

CriterionExaminer marksExaminer reasoning
AUnderstanding & Interpretation5/5Broad understanding of Calvin & Hobbes.
Strong appearance and understanding.
Clear persuasive interpretation.
Some focus on satire shows deeper interpretation.
Implications of text explained well bit could have had more detail.
Demonstrates a passion for the text.
Reference use is strong.
Portrays the comic’s intent and purpose well.
Line of inquiry allows for development &/or relevant/focus.
Some openness of interpretation may be conveyed from the chosen language features of the student’s works.
Who, when, what and how answered. The why is a little under-supported.
BAnalysis & Evaluation4/5Graphic aspects needed a little further contextual depth.
Would have benefitted from more language analysis.
Consistent flow with convincing analysis.
Insightful analysis of the text.
Is the reader intended to be active or an observer?
Clear that: Language + style + technique = meaning.
Evaluation of author’s choice clear & concise.
Further development of points possible.
Accurate use of technical terminology.
CFocus & Organization4/5Organised/cohesive, but a little complex.
Integrated example usage.
Adequate development of a line of inquiry.
Paragraphs clear and linear, however some back and forth to the appendix is needed.
DLanguage5/5Clear and well-chosen.
Appropriate register (effective/concise).
Vocabulary strong and supportive. Literary terms deployed.
Grammar usage largely accurate. Some sentence structure errors.
Total18/20

English A: Language and literature (Cat.1): Module Three – Added Extras (Extended Essay)

Firstly, the score weighting is different to previously marked papers, so it allows for flexibility in awarding a final mark. Deciding between a score from four or five is tougher than that of one from six or twelve. An in depth extended essay offers more chance to digest and deconstruct before reviewing and offering feedback. Overall, it is much more demanding. However, for candidate and examiner the process is more exacting and testing. It isn’t a short time task! A cup of steaming cappuccino was required!

CriterionExaminer marksExaminer reasoning
AFocus & Method (a reader should see the beginning to the end)5/6Effective speech chosen.
Culture/context/target language show connection.
In depth analysis versus that of a broader range of speeches.
Good usage of secondary sources as way of support.
Displays good intelligence.
BKnowledge & Understanding (a reader should be informed)5/6Social/political understanding of the speech fully demonstrated.
Subject-specific terminology deployed.
Primary and secondary sources support context.
No digression.
Public opinions over-generalised?
CCritical Thinking (a reader should see thoughts)9/12Research, analysis and evaluation evident and of a high value.
Exploration of the speech could have been furthered more accordingly (to gain full marks).
Concentrating their interpretation would be of more benefit to the writer.
DPresentation (a reader needs it to be clear)3/4Clear.
Some over-general citation use.
EEngagement (a reader should be engaged)5/6Initial topic starts and is abandoned.
Further two topics engage deeply.
Candidate’s voice lacks full bite.
Total27/34

English A: Language and literature (Cat.1): Module Three – Reflection

How can you use the assessment components, the learner portfolio, and more, to help achieve the IB mission?

Papers one and two offer opportunities for student encouragement and development. Each offers skillsets for life. The IB learner profiles can be explored and reinforced. The issues of identity, culture, class, environment and representation, amongst other matters can be explored through non-literary and literary study. Literature is a rich vein for exploration. It offers voices and opportunity to use effectively the approaches to learning skills. Drawing a connection beyond the non-literary and literary gives rise to language exposure and expansion.

Through paper one students can explore global issues across a broad range and bring them to the classroom for debate. Global thinking inquiring minds can be founded within the realm of paper one.

Paper two has a traditional feel to deliver in a form of written communication. That. construct must include balanced analysis, evaluation and be organised in a way that shows complete organisation through good time management and and thorough language use.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes

Parent page: IB Learner Profile

Who watches the Watchmen?

English A: Language and literature (Cat.1): Module Three – Reviewing Examiner Marked Papers

Part One

CriterionExaminer marksExaminer reasoning
AUnderstanding & Interpretation4/5Demonstrates full literal understanding.
Insightful interpretation.
Fully supported/referenced to text.
BAnalysis & Evaluation5/5Convinced analysis of textual/visual features.
Supports how features/choices shape meaning.
Effective use of website provision.
CFocus & Organization5/5Coherent organisation of analysis.
Growth shown from writing’s beginning to end.
Conclusion is strong.
Supports itself.
DLanguage4/5Clear/carefully selected language.
Adequate register/style.
Accuracy in vocabulary, grammar and structure.
Ideas expressed clearly enough, but could benefit from more oomph.
Some grammatical endings likely prevented full marks.

Part Two

CriterionExaminer marksExaminer reasoning
AUnderstanding & Interpretation4/5Demonstrates full understanding of literal text, when combined with visual text elements.
Individual aspects highlighted.
BAnalysis & Evaluation5/5Conveys meaning & evaluation of features.
Highlights choice of word use; drawing details; story development; character choice.
CFocus & Organization5/5No focus on the story’s moral.
Paragraphing very clear.
DLanguage4/5Appropriate use of terminology for graphic novel/comic strip formats.
Notes inconsistencies.
Some tough misuse of punctuation. Tenses/clauses incorrectly used.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes – Latin for: “Who will guard the guards against themselves?”

Thank you kindly, Grade 4!

We started the year as ten eager sets of eyes and ended with a net gain of four extra pairs of eyes. The class has many strengths and a few challenges to overcome, such as not copying poor choices of behaviour from each another.

学年伊始,我们四年级只有10名学生,我从这10个学生的眼里看到了最热切的目光,到了年末,这样的目光又多了四对,14名独一无二的你们组成了最个性的四年级。我们四年级有诸多优点,但也有不足,面临的挑战也不少,比如不要模仿别人的错误行为。

It only takes a moment to be courteous – and that makes smiles.

花片刻的时间就能做到真正的礼貌,而这样会让别人会心一笑。

I read somewhere that it takes seven fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown. Grade four’s students each have the ability to turn days of frustration and worry to days of sunshine and happiness. Bring me sunshine, in your smiles! Just like, when I say the word birthday, and the whole class starts singing ‘happy birthday’ to me in October, May, or June… a running shared joke that carries warmth.

不知道在哪里我曾经读到过这样一句话,微笑比皱眉要少用7块肌肉。四年级的学生都有这样一种超能力,都能把沮丧和忧虑的日子变成阳光和快乐的日子。用你们的笑容给我带来阳光吧! 就像那一次,大概在10月份,当我说到“生日”这个词的时候,整个班开始给我唱“生日快乐歌”,接下来的5月,6月,基本上每个月我都收到生日的祝福…… 在我看来,这是一个温暖的玩笑。

Over the past year, I have seen countless moments of your growth, scenes like photos frozen in my mind.

这一年来,我看到了你们无数的成长瞬间,一幕幕像照片一样定格在我的脑海里

Finding little post-it notes on my desk and tiny little handmade gifts from scraps of paper. These are things we never ask for, yet are rewarded by caring, disciplined and balanced learners.

比如我常常看到在我的桌上放着小小的便利贴和一些纸片做的手工礼物,我从来没有向你们索要这些礼物,但我知道这是有爱心、守纪律、懂平衡的四年级以这种方式感谢老师。

Seeing students tackle texts far above their grade level; dissect and cut open popular quotations; make and share ice cream, cheesecake, flapjacks, and lemon teas.

我看到你们钻研远高于你们年级水平的课文,剖析理解一些著名的语录,制作并分享冰淇淋、芝士蛋糕、烙饼和柠檬茶等。

Seeing bright smiles with swipes of a ping pong bat; hugging each other after a stray Frisbee bumps a head; shooting the ball so hard that your big toe hurts; the glorious teamwork in the cooking room – working through problems together; ignoring me all day because I told you to ignore things you disagreed with, and you took my advice a little too far.

我看到挥着乒乓球拍的你们展现的灿烂笑容;飞盘撞到头后,彼此拥抱的身影;踢球太用力后捂着脚的痛苦表请;以及厨房里齐心协力解决问题的团队精神。我告诉你们学会无视一些你们无法同意的事情,结果你们就整天无视我,我觉得你们对我的建议可能有什么误解。

trusting yourselves and respecting the expression of others; using genuine apologies and acknowledging to yourself that you’ve made a mistake – you’re only human, after all! asking new questions; connecting with authors, museums, and parks in ways others can only dream of; treating each other with warmth and sincerity; sharing your vitamin waters, and my vitamin tablets.

我也看到你们能够相信自己并尊重他人;能做到真诚地道歉,勇敢地承认错误——毕竟,人无完人;我看到你们善于从各种新奇的角度提问问题;会用别人意想不到的方式与作家、博物馆和公园建立联系;我看到你们真诚相待,愿意分享你的维他命水和我的维生素片;

helping to tidy up the classroom after someone else; building a tin can cable car to help your teacher; explaining the many difficult Chinese stories and words in ways that I can relate to; and multitudes of wonderful moments that cannot all be documented or photographed. No matter what you think, it has been an honor to work with and for you all.

我还看到你们帮助他人整理教室;用自己建造的锡罐缆车帮助老师;用我能理解的方式解释许多难懂的中文故事和词语等等等等,还有更多无法被定格的精彩瞬间。不管你们是怎么想的,但是我想说能和你们在一起,为你们服务,是我的荣幸。

You can bring more sunshine to the world. Stay positive. Smile in the face of difficult and testing feelings. Put on the bravest face. Be more Superman than Super Monkey! Now, knuckle down, work harder, play hard and dance like nobody is watching. You are all butterflies in a hand. Free to fly away, but safe to stay and learn from the hand that holds you.

你们可以给这个世界带来更多的阳光。保持积极的态度。微笑面对困难和考验。摆出最勇敢的表情。比超级猴子更像超人!从现在开始,认真努力地学习,尽情恣意地玩耍,旁若无人地跳舞。你们就像手中的蝴蝶,可以自由飞翔,也可以安心停留于托住你们的手掌。

Grade five is one final step and one big leap in primary school. Give it all. Every bead of sweat, every gram of energy, every waking moment, every electrical charge of new reading. Pick up books. Pick up more books. Turn bookshelves into book mountains. Drink the words like water.

五年级是小学的最后一小步,也是迈入中学的一大步。请把你们的每一滴汗水,每一点能量,每一刻清醒,每一丝热情,都献给你们的五年级。拿起一本书,拾起更多的书,将一个个书架垒成一座座书山,像喝水一般汲取每一个词语带来的营养。

Swim in the stories. Let the tales and information of each page become part of you. Never ever stop reading! Question? Answer it. Find a new question. Spread love for reading. Let’s read together in the new school year. I look forwards to seeing you well-rested, eager, and ready to show your teachers, new and old, why I believe that you are all set for big things! To the future scientists, explorers, chefs, and every possible job going, I say: Do your best and that’s all we ask. C’mon you sausages!

在故事的海洋里畅游,让每一页的故事都能融入你的生命,变成你的一部分。永远永远不要停止阅读!有了问题就去找答案,然后再发现新的问题。传播对阅读的热爱吧!让我们在新的学年一起阅读。期待看到你们以整装待发,跃跃欲试的姿态迎接你们现在的, 新的老师,我相信你们都会设立自己的远大目标。现在,我想对未来的科学家、探险家、厨师以及所有可能的职业,说一句,尽你所能!这就是我对你们全部的要求。加油!

Thank you to all the teachers involved with this class, especially Miss Jenny for her support with our blooming grade 4 class of flowers.

最后,非常感谢所有四年级的任课老师,尤其是Jenny老师对四年级的帮助和支持!

The above speech was presented at Dongguan T.W.I.S. during the ‘Moving Up’ ceremony. Translation by Jenny Wang.

“There’s only one way of life; And that’s your own” – The Levellers, One Way

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrn-UD5UngdU-aS0AdifWSg

https://www.facebook.com/TWIS.Dongguan

Module 3: Paper II: One try.

Parent page: IB Learner Profile

English A: Language and literature (Cat.1): Module Three – Marking Rewards Content

Before tackling this, I hate red pens. I refuse to use red pens. I like to highlight in sky blue, what needs to be praised. I use orange (or pencil) to draw attention to something that needs reflection and evaluation. I use pencil where corrections can be made. So, my marking is looking to reward what happens to stare outwards and not what is missing. Marking should encourage students and not destroy their confidence.

Knowledge, understanding & InterpretationCriterion A7/10Shows knowledge about works.
Evidence of narration.
Experience of characters evident.
Comparatives used.
Contrasts clear.
Evident connection. Linked clearly to the question.
Generalisation overpowers specific areas of closer comparison.
Analysis & EvaluationCriterion B8/10Includes textual features.
Analysis connects technical features to texts.
Analysis shows connection of different perspectives.
Evaluates the chosen text.
Encourage use of explicit answers.
Encourage analytical terminology.
Focus & OrganisationCriterion C4/5Not very smooth in flow. Few conjunctions in use.
Focus seems to lack sharpness. Overall
Conclusion: vague.
Sentence length and structure needs revision.
What exactly is etc?
LanguageCriterion D3/5Some repetition of key points. Some repetition of key points.
Register appropriate.
Some spelling, punctuation and grammar faults. Proofreading would have removed these errors.
Encourage a wider range of vocabulary and terminology.
Lacks evaluation voice.
Total marks: 21/30

EDIT: Following the above work, I was allowed to read the below (which gives more guidance):

It shall pass.

Just as the hour seems darkest;

and your energy seems the lowest;

with your mood at its most testing;

remember, it shall pass.

As darkness battles hope;

raging on relentlessly;

Crushing and pushing your boundaries;

take note, it shall pass.

Because your heart is stronger;

and all before you is more powerful;

we’ve been here before;

it too, it shall pass.

Kneeling down regurgitating water;

grasping the walls as your sphincter trembles;

convulsing on an empty stomach;

soon be over, it shall pass.

The wind of hope messages;

kind acts replenishes;

a moment of support noted;

I believe, it shall pass.

Non-Literary Unit of Study

Parent page: IB Learner Profile

English A: Language and literature (Cat.1): Module Two Wiki

Notes: It is important to use questions: WHO / WHEN / WHAT / WHY / HOW / WHICH / DO / DID / etc.

ConceptIdentity
Who is Boris Johnson? What was his political background? How did he rise to power? What roles did he have? How do you measure his success? Based on your analysis of several magazine and newspaper covers, is it possible for you to comment on his character? To what extent do these covers reflect his identity? Has he stylised his approach to that of Sir Winston Churchill?
Communication
Political parties and their members need communication methods. A voice within a newspaper column can have a great effect on the potential electorate. Every word is carefully written, edited, drafted and calculated.
How do people remember words from speeches?
How do people see written text and compare this to spoken dialogue through various sources?
Culture
Negative campaigns and advertisements are characteristic of certain cultures. Some cultures take these techniques much further than others.
§ How do texts in this unit compare to the election & political culture in your country?
§ Are they more negative or less negative than what you are used to seeing?
§ How are trends in negative advertising changed over the years in your country? Why is this?
Global issuePolitical landscape – battles of power
Area of ExplorationReaders, writers, texts
What are the different ways in which people are affected by texts and their attached imagery?
Time and space
What is the influence of cultural contexts on how texts are written and received?
Intertextuality: connecting texts
Which diverse texts have features in common?
Assessment ObjectivesHow are notions of political power constructed by the media? (Local, regional or international influence?)
How do newspapers play a role in shaping public opinion? (Or, to try to remain unbiased?)
How do politicians use language to persuade voters? (Or to dissuade?)
What kinds of debate techniques and argumentation fallacies are common in televised and political debates? (Is it civil? Or, closer to that of a talk show? Or, akin to that of Jerry Springer?)
In what ways do politicians use language to tear down their rivals? Is it respectful to the viewing audience’s collective maturity and intelligence?
Respond to non-literary texts to demonstrate an understanding and develop a personal interpretation (Paper 1)

1. Gather ten political figures on different magazine or newspaper covers. Review the presentation, first impressions and back-up their opinion using the material evidence.
2. Observe a debate video. Discuss their answer. Refer to their arguments. Discuss fairness and tactical language usage.
Non-Literary textsMagazine covers
Front pages 
Debates (ITV News: Corbyn v Johnson) (BBC Newsnight: Johnson v Corbyn debate analysis) (Johnson declines debate) (Debate regarding Bexit deal)
Ads (Love Actually parody) (12 Questions) (Greenpeace: Wasteminster) (Boris vs. Obesity)
Overview & ProcedureText typesHow to develop activities / expansion ideas / Links to TOKthings to consider
An introduction.

See column 4.

Link to oral exam: YES/NO.
Video 

Social media source

News feed

Article

magazine piece

Speech

Transcript
Discuss the connection between:

Discuss the relationship between:

Compare the differences between:

What/how do we differ between right & wrong?

How do we know information is clear and accurate before voting at an election?

Do politicians lie?

How can you be certain your vote counts?

What are objective facts?

Is there an appeal to emotions in order to shape public opinion?

Do we have an ethical obligation to understand political issues/events/global issues?

Should language be simplified for the benefit of voters or the general public?

Should language and campaign materials be fact-checked and cross-referenced before being made public?

Is misinformation legal?

How far does freedom of speech go before it becomes libel?
audience

diction

mode

genre

register

rhetoric

purpose

linguistic relativity

stereotypes

receptive

interactive
images below belong to the publication title (as per their cover) – these are selected from Der Spiegel / GQ British edition / The Mail On Sunday magazine Live / The London Magazine / Elle / Panorama – Canberra Times / Time / The Sunday Times magazine / The Big Issue / New Statesman / The Guardian Weekly / The Spectator / Daily Mail / Private Eye / The Economist / The Philadelphia Trumpet
Wrap-up/reflectionWhat aspects of this activity resonated strongest with you?
How could I have improved this Non-Literary Unit of Study inquiry?
Has anything changed the way you look at the world?
How important is it to know what is fair or unfair?
Is there an aspect you would like to explore further? Why?

Review examples (1) (2) (3) (4)

Created by: Ahmed, Acton, and Olivia. Published at: INSERT LINK Submitted to: IB PD website on 21st JUNE 2021

English A: Language and literature (Cat.1): Module Two Reflection

  • “How did your thoughts about what you might teach change based on the TOK debate?”

The debate opened up new avenues of exploration, exposure to other influences shared by other teachers around the globe and created a wider lens to look at teaching options. The wider the scope of texts, the broader the issues that can be covered in comparative assignments.

  • “What is your role in creating an internationally minded literature syllabus?”

Turning negatives into positives, examples of adversity can be shown to create inspirational and deep characters. I believe I can highlight equality and inequality as a stepping stone from their comfort zones to the wider world around them, using relatable issues and examples. Trying to make students feel part of something or connect is a challenge and one that needs to be handled compassionately with complete empathy, and not through a patronising lens. We’re not trying to feel sorry for others. We can relate and encourage critical thinking and higher order thinking that seeks change for the better. We don’t want every issue or problem to overshadow the mood and emotion of study.

  • “Do you believe it is more important to teach canonical works or a diverse set of texts? Why?”  

Diverse foods create good tongues. Diverse music taste influences good listening skills and music knowledge. Diversity in reading creates a reader that can handle texts from numerous countries, cultures and backgrounds.

  • “And finally, what are you most excited about teaching and why?”

I am most excited to get students lifting new unfamiliar texts, through their own choice and confidence. In turn, I want to see each student set unique challenges and bring their own interests, choices to the classroom.