April 2015’s posts

Monkeys, mountains and a Mancunian

2nd April 2015

From the moment of entry into the classroom, the mood changes.  The students embrace you.  They see you as something different.  You are foreign.  They know that.  You probably won’t understand their native tongue.  They use that to their advantage.  An advantage they don’t understand you can dispel over time.  The attitude of welcoming each class for the individuals within or the collective wits and humours makes the day fly by.  Today, class 602, who are surely the best class in school surprised me with a simple spoken English show that turned into a near Shakespearian rendition of the importance of washing your bag for school and how busy the cast’s weekend was.  In the previous week, a show based on recruiting a goalkeeper has produced an intimidating and menacing restoration piece of Reservoir Dogs.  I don’t know what Miss Jiang, the head of foreign lanaguages does to this class, but it works.  They think outside the box and are very amusing as a result.  Their sharp humour often makes me laugh.  Their English skills are equally fast – and not a single student lags behind.  They are for me a fantastic model class.

Classes of late have been far from dull.  Sometimes the material has been dull.  Try for example bringing to life the topics of charity, volunteering, rules or permission.  They can be hard to understand without examples – and to a degree, examples aren’t often relatable.  The significance of homelessness is denied here, even though many students have or will see homeless people on a near-regular basis.  The air quality is very good, according to many classes, so there is no need to plant hundreds of trees – whilst volunteering.  To quote the recent Spectre movie trailer, “You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane Mr. Bond.”

Over a month has passed since departing the beauties of Zhangjiajie in Hunan and return to basecamp in Guangdong.  Photos have been edited, memories are fresh.  The cool invigorating airs and bracing views seem like both a lifetime ago, yet only yesterday too.  My thirst to visit such a place again is unquenched.  The new interns, Mikkel (of Danish origin), Andreas (also a great Dane), Liane (from Bedfordshire) and Catherine (from up t’ Yorkshire way) are all planning to go to Zhangjiajie in May.  Whilst three days there may be expensive and not a great time period for such a place, it seems like this donkey wants that carrot.

Departing the great city of Beijing on the 21st of February late at night (Air China CA1359.  1462.5RMB per seat. 2.5hours inflight) to arrive in Datong airport on the outskirts of Zhangjiajie was underwhelming.  The taxi journey, after being negotiated from 600RMB to 200RMB, was an experience and entire novel or video could not do justice towards.  On departing the airport the taxi driver gestured us to swap cabs around a few kilometres after entering the vehicle.  The second driver was a distant cousin of Finnish rally car driver Sébastien Loeb.  Or so it seemed.  Overtaking fast moving vehicles on hair-pin bends with oncoming headlights on double track roads is not my idea of fun.  I left handprints in the upholstery from squeezing hold for dear life.  I’m glad I did not need the toilet.  I would have deficated at some of the manoeuvres this driver span.  My heart raced from the first bend to the last roundabout 28 kilometres later.

On arriving at the hostel, check-in was simple.  Wulinyuan Zhongtian International Youth Hostel worked out at 345RMB for 5 nights.  Located midway up the catchily translated North to Zixia Taoist Temple Baofeng Road in Wulingyuan, it was pretty much as well located as anyone could ask for when wishing to explore…  Let’s be fair.  I’ve come to see the beauty of Zhangjiajie’s national park and the local scenic zones.  I haven’t come for luxury.  As hostels go it, it is basic – but that is all I want.  And I say basic loosely.  There’s an air conditioner with heating settings and a TV with cable.  That to me is luxury.  The bathroom featured a shower with very hot water and a wide mirrored sink.  That’s also a luxury.  The bed was double in width and longer than 1.8m.  For us giants, this is a luxury.  Extra blankets accompanied a thick duvet.  Luxury.  The room looked dated and could easily have passed as a budget hotel room but it was more than convenient.  For the price paid, it was very good value.  The WiFi was available and extremely reliable.

During Spring Festival it is considered the proverbial bottom end of winter in this region.  Two weeks ago snow fell.  The air felt mild – damp outside but not cold.  Inside the hostel entrance and the cafe bar style ground reception area, the air felt much cooler.  The host, Victor, explained food was limited at his hostel in the quiet season – and promptly directed anyone to local restaurants, food markets and local eating establishments.  Hunan has rich and spicy food, so a poor choice of places to eat is a rarity.  The location is perfect for many local and regional attractions.  A taxi from the airport is 140rmb but buses are far cheaper.  Ask the hostel for assistance.  The local bus station in Wulingyuan is around ten minutes walk away – with buses to the national park main entrance, the city and other local villages possible.  Victor was a fantastic host, in someways like a tour guide that can set you on your ways.  I will recommend this place ahead of all others.  I will also look to return one day.

What can you do near Wulinggyuan?

Well, the first stop was on a rainy day.  You need to be indoors.  The Huanglong Dong (Yellow Dragon cave; 黄龙洞) allowed just that.  At 103RMB (3RMB is for insurance) and 15RMB to see the stalagmite-stalactite labrynth was marvellous value.  This included a short boat ride and more than two hours of strolling.   After entering via the Huanglong Cave Ecology Square and an excellent set of grounds, the amble through one of Asia’s longest cavern and cave systems is demanded if you’re in the region.  The caves features huge neon lit dry caves, water-filled caves, stalactites, stalagmites, stone blossoms, stone curtains, stone branches, stone canals, stone pearls, and stone macrospores.  There’s certainly some stones to be seen.  There are thousands of stairs too making the stroll a little arduous – yet worthy of labour.

Once back on the surface many shops, stalls and eateries look for your money.  Amongst them are some fantastic local tastes – and not always spicy!

Victor, the hostel advisor, advised us that out of season the four day access cards for Zhangjiajie National Park had dropped in price to 139RMB.  With that bonus in mind, a walk from the hostel to the Wulingyuan gate of the Zhangjiajie National Park briskly flew by.  On buying your tickets, swiping your card and the park staff taking a thumb print, you then board a bus to Suoxiyu.  The short ride into a more central location of the park winds alongside a reservoir, lake and many streams.  Forestry thickens very soon and Karst rock mountains rise from the ground like giant tombstones.  For the first day a route was calculated along the Golden Whip Stream.  The route passed many paoints with elaborate names:  Jumping Fish Pool, Reunion Tree, Lovers From Afar, Zicao Pool, Turtles Peeking At The Stream, Candl Peak, Monkeys, Golden Whip Peak, Welcoming Rock, Southern Heavenly Gate, Picking Star Terrace, Huangshi Cun, Front Garden, and the Huangshi Pine.  The final exit point was Zhangjiajie Cun – a village featuring the main Zhangjiajie National Park Entrance.  Here a rapid Bus to Wulingyuan costing 10RMB returnsd you in less than forty minutes, complete with memories and a rejuvenated mind, body and soul.  The air quality in the vallies is some of the best experienced globally, let alone in China.  After a full day in the park, there was only one thing needed…

…to return into the park.  The route on the 24th differed somewhat.  After arriving at Suoxiyu and following the previous day’s route, a detour after the Reunion Tree towards the Back Garden walk was had.  On observing monkeys pick pocket, snatch bags of nuts and generally stuff their cakeholes with….erm… cakes, a lengthy climb and thousands of footsteps required scaling.  Some lacked tread and were a tad slippery.  Others lacked consistency in height requiring a shuffle or a stretch.  All pointed upwards.  Each step becoming progressively higher until reaching the Back Garden.  Here many Karst mountains form the Enchanting terrace; the Heaven Pillar; the overcrowded and slow moving pathway that accompanies the Greatest Natural Bridge; before reaching a bus terminus at Shadaogou.  On hopping onto a smaller minibus to Tianzi mountain and winding around the roads, the end point is the Tianzi pavilion.  Here has crept in a McDonalds.  The feet carried on plodding and took a steep downwards pathway to see the Warrior Taming Horse, the Imperial Armchair and pass through the Southern Heavenly Gate, before passing the Echo Cliff and reaching the Monkey Garden bus stop.  That night’s extremely tasty and piquantous food cost 25.5RMB for one serving.  The fact it was served from a market barbecue onto a makeshift seating area in a ground floor of a building site made it all the more magical.

So with two days of service under the belt in Zhangjiajie National Park Entrance, Victor directed the following day’s course in a new direction.  A bus from Wulingyuan to the Zhangjiajie National Park Entrance allowed a fantastic potato based breakfast at that gate.  Hereon the strol banked east – and up.  Always up.  Passing the Yaoying Fortress after seeing some endangered species tablets made for a great photography moment.  This way was simple passing the Wuwei Pass, another Echo Valley and many points around the Yaozi Village including a hairily scarily crumbling and closed pathway – amongst the paths, bridges and ledges.  The names this way included Commenting Freely On A Dominant Position; simply Decent to Golden Whip Stream and the walk eventually led to being reunited by the Reunion Tree, complete with nearby greedy monkesy.  From here a ramble to Suoziyu and beyond gave rise to a ride on a short monorail.  At the far monorial station, I witnessed my second Giant Salamander – in a tiny glass tank (one step up from the one sat in a washing bowl witnessed by a restaurant yesterday).  The saunter back allowed the sights of the sites Herb Picking Old Man; Monkey King Keeping Guard and the Natural Garretts.  That evening demanded more energy and food cost around 76.5RMB each.  It was accompanied by a local beer, which tasted closer to water than bottled water has ever managed to achieve.

The 26th day of February was to be the final holiday day.  The final day in Zhangjiajie.  The final day before returning to Houjie via Guangzhou.  Why take it easy?  A wander to Tianzi mountain, again stopping at the Tianzi pavilion and again avoiding McDonalds was called for.  This time the views were slightly clouded out.  The clods sitting beneth the views at the Emperor’s Throne, the Celestial Bridge, Cock Pecking and other such oddly named views.  The walk down was familiar but far more slippery owing to a fine rain, the sort that soaks you through and through.  On passing the Warrior Taming Horse; Imperial Armchair; Southern Heavenly Gate and Echo Cliff for the bus out, it was clear the disposable poncho sales ibn the area that day were booming.  Sadly, the disposal was less impressive, strewn and sometimes tied to trees, sometimes dumped by but not in a bin, sometimes littering the pathways.  Chinese tourism has boomed in recent years – and on the whole, even the Chinese folk will argue the effects can be messy and nothing to be proud of.  On this trip thankfully solace and solitude was found often.  However, mass smoking groups in non-smoking areas (the risk of forest fires), blazing phones banging out dizzingy dance numbers, and littering are a problem on the busier routes.

Zhangjiajie is one of the best places in the world I have ever visited.  Whilst most of the major pathways are set in stones, thus preventing erosion and furger damage, there are ample places to stride on lesser pathways.  The beaten track can be avoided with ease and sights can be seen with relative peace.  Each person values something differently and here you can find something for you.  Even if it posing with a plastic sculpture of a dragon from Avatar, or enjoying a cable cart ride through gargantuan Karst pikes, this park offers something for everyone.  No amount of words or photos can do it justice.

One hour and a half hours after leaving Zhangjiajie’s Datong airport, China Southern Airlines CZ3382 touched down at Guangzhou Baiyun Airport.  The 968RMB ticket and delays at getting a taxi to the 94RMB a night craphole that was the Super 8 Hotel Guangzhou Baiyun Airport Subway Station Inn took the gloss off an otherwise amazing exploration.

Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.


I’m delicious. Are you?

8th April 2015

The first week of April seen a huge boom in vampire-like mosquito numbers.  Mosquito zapping rackets, sprays of chemicals like deet, anti-mosquito coils, strong-winded fans blowing swirling air, repellent stickers and more have been deployed, often of little effect.  The little bloodsucking bastard flies plod on, their seemingly endless feasts creating many an itch or bitemark on many brave souls, willing to walk, sit down or be exposed to the crowded evening skies.  I have nothing against the short-lived male mosquito, he happens to obey the five-a-day fruit campaign of western countries to a tee.  His bushy antennaes allow him chance to find a mate amongst a huge swarm around dusk.  There are plenty of swarms locally of late.


My mosquito sexism is actually pure hatred for the female of the species.  Her tube-like mouthpart (proboscis) wants to pierce us warm-blooded victims.  I wish she’d pierce off and bother Peirs Morgan or some other non-interesting infamous anti-celebrity.  Her saliva, the drooling winged bitch, causes irritation and sometimes carries vector-born diseases.  Global diseases like malaria, yellow fever, west nile virus and filariasis are the direct result of this girl group on a par with the Spice Girls or other equally talent free girl bands for repetitive irritation levels.  You’ll be left with a small or large wheal (histamines trying to fight off the protein left by the attacking insect).  I personally just want to squash them under a car wheel.


On inspecting a mosquito close up, they can be surprisingly colourful or patterned.  Often each opportunistic species sports a separate brand of colour-schemes.  Their body is alien in shape but surely inspirational in simplistic natural aviation design shapes.  Their crepuscular (dawn or dusk) feeding times means that every day you have the chance to see one here in Dongguan.  Every day, all year.  We also host other species such as the Asian tiger mosquito which pop out during the day to raid you for some sweeeeeeeet blood.


To public health officials the world over, knowing which species is where and what threat they offer is important.  I personally splat them on an equal basis.  Zero discrimination.  Dead.  But who is to blame for the spread of the mosquito and their 3,500 plus subspecies?  Man.  Sudden deforestation, loss of isolated habitats and even scientific studies have carried some nasty biters around the planet, surprisingly mostly by ship, train and aircraft.  Their simple lifecycle from egg, to larva to pupa is often unnoticed.  Once they mature into adults, the war begins.  This is where we humans also mess up royally again.  Most species lay eggs in stagnant water.  Man-made reservoirs, drainpipes, drains, buckets, storm drain channels… oh the list goes on and on… all play their part in incubating the scrounging, sponging species of spectacular survival.


Our most deadly foe has been around since the dawn of time and the battle against these freeloaders shall never end.  The world’s ecosystem depends on them for pollination and they are dependent on us for blood.  So, take up your arms and keep squatting…


Blowing hot and cold.

9th April 2015

Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,




Two days ago the nighttime temperature was close to 27°C, having hit 32°C in the daytime.  Then yesterday morning, temperatures plummeted to 16°C, with much last night rounding off at 15°C.  Today, it is a similar temperature.  The five day forecast shows very little difference.  This cold snap locally has seen a rush for sweaters, umbrellas, warm trousers and slipper sales.  The local hospitals, I imagine, are overwhelmed based on every other native teacher telling me, “I went to hospital last night.”  When I ask the teachrs why, they say headaches, sniffles and ailments back home in the U.K. frowned upon as barely ill.  Their complaints come across as weaknesses and minor complaints so trivial they necessitate no further treatment than a hot drink.  That said, most people here drink hot plain undiluted water anyway.


The drop in temperature has been welcomed by some.  The night of the 27°C temperature saw a poor night’s kip for me.  I don’t think I have woken so many times in a night for a good few months.  The temperature plunge and smattering of light rain showers has for now abated the growth of the mosquito population and bites per square centimetre ratio on my body.  The cool air last night allowed for a better night’s sleep.  That said, after a tough game of football for Murray’s F.C. in Binjiang (whilst we played a game simultaneously at the same time in Dongguan’s Soccerworld some 10km away) which resulted in double defeats and sore ankles didn’t comfort my own sleep.


As for my bed, raised only a foot or so off the floor, the bed here at the apartment is extra long.  It is extra wide.  The firmness of the mattress is a massive downfall.  The mattress is essentially a surface with a slight amount of carpet.  To wake up with a sore neck, paresthesia (whether tingling, tickling, pricking or another sensation) or stiff in the joints are not unusual morning phenomena.  Somewhere along the timelines of history, somebody said sleeping on a firm bed is good for the health.  Beds sat above ovens occurred long ago in northern China.  To my mind, every bed since has tried to replicate the feeling of porcelain experienced back then.  Students at schools often carry their bamboo matting and pillows into classrooms every day of the week for their lunchtime naps.  Firm beds may be proven by scientists or so called experts to be good for spinal support or heavy muscle support, but the bits inbetween should not ache or have reduced circulation.


What is obvious, and to anyone going from a softer western to a hard as nails Chinese style bed, is that they aren’t easy to get used to.  It’s like swapping a nice-as-pie well-mannered and genteel footballer like John Charles for footballing hardman Andy Morrison.  You will notice the difference.  Or you can just have immense nights of slumber often interjected by the idiosyncratic inferior night of sleep, followed by a discontented blog interval.


I’m off for a nap.


Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.

“I said words they mean nothing, so you can’t stop me”

6 seconds ago

Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,


The title comes from Words by defunct Manchester band Doves.


Who’s been reading this blog?  Well it is hard to tell, but no less than 60 hits a week have been recorded in the last year and with a peak high of 212 unique views, that can’t be bad a for a diary-cum-family-and-friend message wall.  Response wise I’ve had emails from ex-colleagues at Aviva Insurance in the U.K.; emails from fellow Brits embarking on that first step to teaching in China or beyond the Great Wall; there’s been messages from Chinese residents welcoming me to China (even a year after arriving, this is very much the norm); the blog has reached South Africans, Canadians and Australians.  Whilst I don’t expect this to be regular, I do find is mesmerising and furthers my desire to write.  Picturing that first novel on the shelf is central to my biggest ambition. 


The blog posts are thinning like the hair on my head.  You’d be a fool to assume that my passion for writing has slumped.  Far from it.  This last few weeks has seen me churn out several works.  This month alone has seen production of five pieces for the new magazine and website of HubHao.


  • My first requested task was advice for teachers.  Several titles were suggested and my students in class 602 seemed to have won it with Teaching with Tofu.  It does have a little tinge of homage to Jonathan Last’s excellent memoir Teaching With Chopsticks (TEFL from the frontline) which I’m hoping he won’t mind.  [That reminds me, did I ever review that book on Amazon?!]  [808 words clocked]  The title of ther regular article has been decided by the Editorial Team and may have changed since.  I also had to submit my blurb and a few other bits to accompany it.  Hopefully my photo won’t scare off readers.
  • The second duty involved eating.  And a review.  So, Munchalots in Houjie, the western-style Indian-Mexican restaurant bar faced the pen.  Some words blended and landed on paper.  [804 words clocked]
  • I thought that was that.  A few failed attempts to make numerous concerts followed.  Eddy from Murray’s F.C. and Editor of HubHao (he previously was an Editor at Here Dongguan) asked me to review Brown Sugar Jar and – two birds with one stone – the band Atlantic Attraction, on tour from the Netherlands who happened to be playing at said venue.  So I did.  Essentially two tasks in one. [461 + 449 words clocked]
  • I noticed Eddy was running around like a blue-arsed fluttering insect for the magazine’s maiden edition so offered my skillz [innit, blood!] or assistance.  With that I found myself learning about Zhūgě Liàng for a website only article (ergo my fifth undertaking).  Eddy wanted 1000-1500 words.  I penned 1955 words.  His job is Editor.  He has a job on.  Zhūgě Liàng and the stories around him are actually very fascinating.

So, here is the one off unedited version, ahead of publication in HubHao and to my smaller but far from undervalued audience.  If only one person reads it, then I have a victory.


Badasses of Chinese History: Zhūgě Liàng (诸葛亮)

Zhūgě Liàng is recognised as one of the most accomplished strategists of Chinese history.  He is often likened to another and much more ancient Chinese tactician and writer of The Art of War, Sun Tzu.


From the years 181 to 234, Zhūgě Liàng walked our fair Earth.  Back then it wasn’t such a fair place to live.  Like Bruce Wayne in popular graphic novel fiction, Zhūgě Liàng was an orphan.  Instead of Gotham City, Yangdu, Langya Commandery (7th century BCE to 7th century CE word for province) made up his fatherland.  Uncle Zhūgě Xuan was his Alfred the butler.  His uncle led him and his siblings to Jing Province before Wòlóng (Crouching Dragon) Gāng became his new nest.  They farmed.  They studied.  Early on, they led a simple life for the best part of a decade.  His sisters married.  His brothers worked alongside him.  Simple.


Life rarely remains simple, in times of conflict.  Liú Bèi, the warlord (and an aspirational figure), came knocking.  Three visits later and he gained a man to his cause.  Zhūgě Liàng was now in the ranks, mainly in a diplomatic capacity.  His Longzhong Plan (隆中對) essentially founded a basecamp in the south with flanking manoeuvres to the north on the cards.  Previous tacticians showed signs of jealousy and were promptly swept aside.  Liú Bèi was a “like a fish that has found water.”


By the year 208 (Han Dynasty), Liu Cong sat down the Jing Province to the powerful forces of Cáo Cāo (fresh from unifying northern China).  Liú Bèi caught wind of this.  His now aggrandised forces had warriors, tacticians and civilians hand-in-hand.  At Changban (south of present day Jingmen, Hubei) battle enraged, on the road to Hànkǒu (then Xiakou).  Liú Bèi sent politician Lǔ Sù and Zhūgě Liàng to Jiāngdong.  It was here that Zhōu Yú, general of Sūn Quán, after perceiving weaknesses in Cáo Cāo’s forces, joined a coalition with Liú Bèi.


Jealousy can either consume or spur on certain people.  The famed story Borrowing Arrows with Thatched Boats 草船借箭 is one of interest.  Zhōu Yú when asked about fighting the opposition on the river suggested bows and arrows as a good combat tool.  Not expecting this to be feasible, he said the assessment was fine but impractical due to a shortage of arrows.  He suggested Zhūgě Liàng make 100,000 arrows within ten days.  The suggested timeframe to Zhūgě Liàng seemed quizzical and the need for readiness demanded a shorter target.  So he advised, “I only need three days.”  Zhōu Yú thought that his new acquaintance was taking the biscuit and mocking him.  Zhūgě Liàng declared he would accept punishment by death if he could not complete the task.  A guarantee was signed at a great banquet.  Three days passed.  Convention was not used.  Lǔ Sù and Zhūgě Liàng contrived a plan.  They catered 300 men between 20 small boats.  Each boat was disguised in dark cloth.  Along the boats’ ports and starboards straw characters lined up.  Three days passed and not a single arrow was made.


On the second day Lǔ Sù and Zhūgě Liàng set sail on the boats with their men.  In thick fog they finally reached the Wei camp.  Under the shroud they beat drums and lined their boats out horizontally.  Three hundred men on their decks, outnumbered, outflanked by better weaponry, in a perilous position.  Fearless shouts bore from the boats.  The calamitous sounds reaching the Wei camps beyond the shoreline.  Cáo Cāo ordered arrows to be dispatched into the thick fog.  Sure enough over 10,000 bowmen released their projectiles.  The arrows flew silently through the fog and embedded upon the straw figures on the many boats’ port sides.  Zhūgě Liàng ordered the ships to turn around 180 degrees.  This they did.  The starboard sides lined with the straw figures received further arrows from Cáo Cāo’s firing bowmen.  A collective thank you was shouted back by Zhūgě Liàng’s men as they set sail on the river’s strong current, complete with their new arsenal.  More than 100,000 arrows were removed.  Zhōu Yú was astounded and conceded, “Zhūgě Liàng had god-like foresight and an ingenious strategy. I am no match for him.”  Zhūgě Liàng had studied the terrain, geography and weather conditions vigorously.  He knew three days was possible.


Later in the year 208, a monumental win for the Sūn Quán/Liú Bèi partnership occurred (giving influence to the 2008 film release of Red Cliff directed by John Woo – and countless books, like Romance of the Three Kingdoms as well as scores of nationally significant verses).  Cáo Cāo scattered with his tail between his legs to Yèchéng.  His family would later return to the fray…


As a result of hard graft Zhūgě Liàng became Military Advisor General of the Household.  Whilst a mouthful, it was a significant promotion.  Lingling (now Yǒngzhōu) was one of his ‘hoods he was tasked with governing, alongside Guìyáng and Chángshā.  His tax schemes helped fund the military.  Liú Bèi in the meanwhile had taken over the Yi Province – and eventually founding the Shu Han state by the year 221.  Zhūgě Liàng came to the fore.  He was soon appointed Military Advisor General.  The boss.


In the previous year, the proverbial hit the fan.  Cáo Pī, heir of Cáo Cāo, had declared himself Emperor, ending the Han Dynasty – and founding the Wei state.  He waged wars versus the states of Shu Han and Eastern Wu.  Liú Bèi declined a similar imperial title before our man Zhūgě Liàng used his persuasive powers.  Zhūgě Liàng succeeded Zhang Fei as Director of Retainers after his death and also shouldered the task of Imperial Secretariat.  Liú Bèi went on an attempted conquest north, failing, he was beaten back in the year 222 to Fèngjié xiàn (then known as Yong’an – and long before any Three Gorges Dam).  At the Battle of Yiling and Xiaoting, the Wu beat the Shu Han.  Liú Bèi died in 223 leaving Líu Shàn as the second Emperor of the Shu Han.  Zhūgě Liàng acted as a father and was awarded yet another title, the Marquis of Wu.  Soon enough, all state affairs were handed to him.


The state of Eastern Wu had become rebellious and Zhūgě Liàng sent envoys to make peace.  His diplomacy spared wars on many occasions.  The reign of Emperor Líu Shàn and his able partner Zhūgě Liàng focused on regaining territory lost following the fall of the Han dynasty.  They could not risk pushing on against the state of Wei without guaranteeing their stomping ground capital Chéngdū remained untouched by infighting.


How many times can you capture and release an enemy?  The year 225 is one that Zhūgě Liàng allegedly caught the dissident alliance leader Mèng Huò for the first of seven times.  Seven supposed releases followed.  That’s the historical equivalent of The Joker being captured and set loose to terrorise Gotham, episode after episode.  Fans of the early Batman materials will know that such things can and do happen.  Many leading academics including Zhang Hualan and Miao Yue laugh this off.  To some, an embellished story is just as good as any old fiction.  An old adage springs to mind:  “Don’t believe what you hear and don’t believe half of what you see.”


Mèng Huò ultimately swore an oath to govern his people and uphold the southern frontier of the Shu state.  The advance to the north was now conceivable for Zhūgě Liàng.  The thing with the north, in most northern hemisphere countries that is, is that the people are usually hardier.  They often survive harsh winters, lack of farm lands and other such challenges.  History, novels, movies and television warns you, if you go north, you do so at your own peril (that’s why I avoid the Scottish highlands).  So, by the year 228 after years of prearrangements, Zhūgě Liàng led his troops on a march to the Wei state.


Five campaigns would follow.  All but one would fail.  Local strategies and gains were made, although of little value (the impecunious Wudu and Yinping prefectures).  Zhūgě Liàng’s greatest victory was the recruitment of a Wei military officer, Jiāng Wéi.  His Shu army remarkably managed to retain around 95% of its military numbers after each defeat.


Ask many a Chinese person about the name Zhūgě Liàng and the response will be one tantamount to strategy and intelligence.  They may even tell you what a giant of a man he was.  Reports say he was around 195cm tall (or 8尺forearm lengths).  Like his reported size, the stories and tales around Zhūgě Liàng are big and powerful.  Luó Guànzhōng’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms has propagated an already fanned flame.  Legends, myths and history have gradually blurred into the man nicknamed Crouching Dragon into something near-immortal.


On checking my local bookshops, Thirty-Six Stratagems, and Mastering the Art of War, both penned by Zhūgě Liàng stand firmly on the shelves in several prints.  There’s also an abundance of material online.  Shrines are out there too:  the Temple of the Marquis of Wu in Chengdu, and the Temple of the Marquis of Wu in Baidicheng.  One things for sure, his works have inspired bilateral thinking.  The Empty Fort Strategy was an example of his reverse thinking and luring an opponent into the belief a careless leader would not use chance to gain ground.  Sīmǎ Yì’s armies fell for this trick through arrogance and has since been referred to as leaving one’s house doors unlocked (擺空城計).  Entry into the deceptively vacant city of Xicheng (where Zhūgě Liàng’s troops posed as civilians and all flags or banners were discarded with; even the city’s four gates remained open) would have drawn Sīmǎ Yì’s forces into an open ambush.  Sīmǎ Yì’s ordered his armies to retreat in case of being set up.


In the cooler air of the year 231’s spring, times had to change.  As flowers sprang up on the famous Mount Qi (祁山; the mountainous regions near to Longnan, Gansu), much blood was spilled at the Battle of Mount Qi.  Zhūgě Liàng’s death wasn’t to be at the hand of a sword.  It came three years later, owing to illness and stresses.  He fell on Shaanxi’s Wuzhang Plains, aged 54.  He had aimed to fall twelve years later but a ritual to do so, failed – it was interrupted by his inrushing military general Wèi Yán.  On his wishes Jiǎng Wǎn and Fèi Yī succeeded his brilliantly imposing strategic mind.  His final death title was awarded:  Loyal and Martial Marquis by Emperor Líu Shàn.  According to legend his burial tomb was at Dìngjūn Shān.


Zhūgě Liàng’s legacy included 24 military strategy volumes, three sons (one killed in action; one adopted but died early on), four grandchildren (one again killed in action) and long after a Hong Kong based model claiming to be a model (see Marie Zhuge Ziqi 諸葛梓岐).  A primitive landmine was invented; a wheelbarrow-based weapon sprang up; an aerial signalling lantern entered the realm of warfare and a kind of semi-automatic crossbow appeared – again this is debated amongst academics, but all agree it fired with more venom and farther than predecessors.  The Yufu Shore of the Yangtze River by Baidicheng (Chongqing) is the site of the Stone Sentinel Maze.  Whether this was a diversion or a scaremongering tactic remains to be seen.  The rival leader Lù Xùn legged it and conceded he could not defeat such a judicious adversary.


Next time you eat deep-fried mántóu – a popular Chinese dessert served with sweetened condensed milk – remember you’re eating the Barbarian’s head, as invented by non-other than Zhūgě Liàng.  You don’t have to throw 49 barbarian heads into a river though.  Times have changed.



For further reading:

“Zhuge Liang, Three Kingdoms Period”. TravelChinaGuide.com. Retrieved 2015/04/10. Walter Ta Huang (1967). Seven times freed. New York: Vantage Press. OCLC 2237071.

Zhuge Liang; Liu Ji; Thomas Cleary (1989). Mastering the art of war. Boston: Shambhala Publications. ISBN 978-0-87773-513-7. OCLC 19814956.

Luo Guanzhong, Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel: Volume IV, translated by Moss Roberts. page 1889. Foreign Languages Press. Tenth Printing 2007. First Edition 1995. Beijing, China 1995. ISBN 978-7-119-00590-4.

“Zhuge Liang – Kong Ming, The Original Hidden Dragon”. JadeDragon.com. Retrieved 2015/04/10.

Walter Ta Huang (1967). Seven times freed. New York: Vantage Press. OCLC 2237071.

Zhuge Liang style-name Kongming A history of Zhuge Liang and his writings. Including a guide to historic sites in China connected with Zhuge Liang.  Retrieved 2015/04/10.

Works by Zhuge Liang at Project Gutenberg.  Retrieved 2015/04/10.

Works by or about Zhuge Liang at Internet Archive.  Retrieved 2015/04/10.

Empty Fort Strategy at Cultural China. Retrieved 2015/04/10.


Tomorrow, in Dongcheng’s One For The Road it is the HubHao launch party.  It looks pretty good!

Dongguan Hubhao Launch Party

5pm-11pm: Games for the kids, a free BBQ starting at 6:30, and live performances throughout the event. Culminating in the official launch of the Dongguan Hubhao magazine website, app, and monthly magazine. Gift bags for the first 200 register, lucky draw with over 20 prizes ranging from spa days, dinners, trips to Sanya, to a prize of his/hers iWatches.


Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.

Written yesterday…


Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,


One week has passed since the launch of HubHao.  In that week Hubhao.com failed.  The internet uploads of many an article fell on a sword.  The webmasters and extra staff recruited to repair the website aim to get it uploaded within the next few days.  The re-packed, relaunched and complete website will be online for my 32nd-and-a-half birthday this Tuesday.  Last week’s launch party involved drinks and a massive barbecue buffet amonsgt other things.


Between now and the next physical magazine release, and massive web update, I need to collect my 600RMB first month’s remuneration and await the same for three articles to appear next month – plus hopefully one more article on cinema survival, and maybe mosquitoes.


In a week where class 602 and 601 appear to have gone all West Side Story on each other and other classes seem to be lunatics, pre-midterm exam tension has clearly arose.  The fate of a thousand students’ collective ears being bashed by angry parents at anything less than 100% passes rests on the coming week or so.  On Monday of the following week I have one class, 603 (who are several classes behind their counterparts in classes 601/602 and 604-607).  Grade 7 and 8 have exams on Monday and Tuesday.  I have zipped-doo-dah to do and no preparations as such.  On Wednesday grades 6 to 9 all go on a school trip.  I’ve been asked to go.  I will.  Where it is to, is anyone’s guess.  The teachers have all mentioned zoos, nature parks, museums and hiking.  Liam, a teacher at the International School nearby went to a museum in the nearby DaLingShan National Park.  The park celebrates the resistance against Japanese occupation – and is heavily anti-Japanese.  His students come from South Korea, Taiwan – and Japan.  Whoever organised that, did so without thought!  Our trip is probably going to be to the moon at this rate.


Yesterday, I was asked why we didn’t as a foreign language teacher team, do Easter activities.  I tried explaining that last year my grade 7 and 8 students made it very uncomfortable with so many questions as to why – and religion is not something we can teach.  So, I abandoned the plan.  Plus, Easter fell four weeks into the start of the semester, which from an organisation point of view is too soon – and I had no commitment to prize funding or resources from the teacher in charge of liaison between my team and the school, so struggled to get anywhere.  So, to compromise I’m going to organise a school sports day, western-style.  Expect sack races, three-legged races, beanbags between knees, planking, wheelbarrow races, egg and spoon races, target practice, archery, pea-shooting, danceathon, a blind-folded maze, hoopla, spin-the-kid penalties etc.  The Dao Ming Fantastic Fun Day will be… erm… fun and erm… fantastic.


This week has seen me miss football, the pub quiz at Irene’s Bar and pretty much everything inbetween, including Mikkel’s birthday meal and drinks.  Today, I feel dizzy and my nerves are on end.  I don’t know whether it is illness or the heat.  It comes and goes, but is worse in the evening.  It kind of feels like anxiety with a slight headache and a bucketful of muscle aches.  Sometimes it pays to rest to fight another day.


Last Sunday, after going to sleep around 5.30am and waking up at 10.30am, I had an unperturbed day of video watching and then bizarrely went to the cinema to see a film I didn’t want to see, with three of Nikki’s colleagues Snowy, Crystal and Angel (their collective age average is 20, yet they still welcome me).  Kim, bailed and a few others bailed at the very last minute.  I only went to give them the cinema card to get them cheap tickets.  Inexplicably, I ended up watching Fast & the Furious 7 in 3D.  My initial thoughts on the film were very low, extremely derogatory and belittling.  The fact that Jason Statham was in it, and the hype surrounding the death of the main star Paul Walker didn’t help.  I’m highly critical of movies and media hype.  That said my deprecating nature swept aside, the story was simple, the action scenes like a rollercoaster and the lack of acting appreciated.  The finale of the movie was actually very sweet, if not a little drawn out.  I can appreciate the slushiness and mawkishness and it drew me in.  Behind the 3D glasses a tear formed for the buddies that drove away on separate journeys did resonate.  I miss my friends and family back home.  That said, if I leave here, I’ll miss my new friends.


And with that schmaltziness, I need to decide this week whether to return to Blighty for good, or go on a Summer holiday to the U.K. for a month or so – and return; or opt for something new… Thailand?  Cambodia?  Japan?  South America?  I need to be crystal clear on the next move… and I’m not so good at decisions.  Or am I?!


More importantly, I need to jump back on the saddle.  Two weeks ago I had my fourth puncture in as many weeks.  The old therapeutic rupture machine needs to be ridden.  My psychiatrist is my bike.  It is my escape, my ease of pressure, my vessel to self evaluation and discovery.  It sits upset down awaiting either a new tyre or new innertube.  Tomorrow, it rides, it rides all day.  A week is too long to not ride, two weeks is practically unheard of (the spring festival break was four weeks without riding and that damn near killed me).


And this week I formatted my laptop because Word and Powerpoint kept freezing the system.  So, with this week and new battery it’ll determine if a new system is required… or not.  I do worry the laptop has passed the shelf life, but time will tell.  Locally, HP and Dell laptops are hard to find.  Acer, Lenovo, Asus and many other Chinese brands sit out there – and all have bad reviews.  I need a workhorse and each laptop I have seen has 2GB-4GB of RAM, mine has 6GB – so I won’t take a step back.  Some lack VGA ports and have no DVD drives.  I think finding genuine versions of Windows, etc is an issue.  I need to get back to the U.K. and make a life decision and a laptop decision.  Oh well, no pressure.


Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.

After Sun Jihai


Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,


[Written in December, I think, but thought lost, only to be recovered from my laptop yesterday]


One chilly afternoon after a bike ride, I sat down to read a book, with my bicycle stood beside me.  After maybe twenty minutes or so later, I became aware of a man sat next to me.  The man introduced himself as Zhang Wěi Tāo (family name always precedes common names).  Tāo means wave and Wěi means big or great.  Disappointingly, though he wasn’t born by the sea.  He said is friends called him Tāo.  Tāo talked about himself a little and then asked me why I wear such a light colour of blue.  He said he rarely sees this colour.  I explained the colour was sky blue, like the sky above our heads, and was very common in Manchester, with the reasoning.  Tāo asked, “Why do you support Manchester City?”  I could have said, “I just do” and left it at that.  But, being a passionate City fanatic, I gave him a run down.  I explained about Our City, why I’m a blue, defining moments, City legends, highs, lows and more lows… he still seemed keen to listen.  I expanded about favourite players, derby day, other rivalries, away day trips… Tāo explained he knew of Sūn Jìhǎi playing in England; Li Tie (once of Everton, now assistant manager of Guǎngzhōu Héngdà Táobǎo); another Evertonian player Zhèng Zhì (who still plays at Guǎngzhōu Héngdà Táobǎo); and Dǒng Fāngzhuō (who I’d never heard of until searching online – he played for Manchester U****d, once).  He said Chinese players rarely travel, they’d miss their families too much!  Impressed by Tāo’s English ability, he asked for more…


Next I told of managers, the Premier League years, being Champions, the Football league, the Champions League… “Please tell me more.”  He listened with an intensity and interest level I have never experienced.  I ran great goals past him, cup runs, the FA Cup, friendlies, folklore, famous fans, families at football, great friends at games, talked about terracing, seating, Maine Road and the Etihad.  Tāo told me how he sometimes plays football with his students but they have no goals.  They have to use jumpers.  I smiled.  That is proper football!


Tāo asked, “Do you miss going to games?”  “Yes, very much.”  He could see I was somewhere else now, my mind wandering away, so he asked, “Do City value the community?”  I smiled, and explained City In The Community, school programmes, groups and supporter clubs in and beyond Manchester, City Giving, City and their representation at home and abroad, in World Cups and the like.  He then talked of his football memorabilia and his own experiences of football – and barely knowing who 曼城 Màn chéng (Manchester City) was and where we’re from.  His football memorabilia, was tucked in his wallet, transpired to be one simple ticket from a game between Brazil and Argentina, held in China.  He had saved up for many months to go to this game.  He talked with utmost fervency about the game.  I stole in, explained that three of the players who played that game, Demichelis, Agüero, and Zabaleta play for City.  I glossed over Robinho’s short stay at City.  “I keep the ticket.  One day I will go to Brazil and watch the same game.”


I looked at my watch (a City one of course) and noted we’d been chatting for one hour.  I decided I had to get back, wished him well at his cousin’s wedding and happy new year (the purpose of his gargantuan trip).  Tāo said he was an English teacher in Nánjīng and he’d offer me a job if ever I visited.  I said, maybe one day, just maybe, but not today.  Today, I am happy.  As I had a t-shirt (it is quite cold cycling at times in the recent 10°C to 21°C temperatures) underneath my football t-shirt, I gave him my football t-shirt (although large) as a gift.  I told him to use it as a goalpost next time he plays football back home.  Tāo said he thinks no matter what, City will win the league, “for your fans are so passionate and speak so clear with love for your club.  I won’t support your team but I will wish them luck.  Tell all your friends and people at the football, in China you have our best wishes.”

Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye

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