February 2016’s posts

At McCawley’s a prize awaited…

2nd February 2016

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,


Last weekend was spent in Shēnzhèn (深圳).  It costs just 45RMB to travel from HòuJīe (厚街) to Luōhú, a district immediately on the border of Hong Kong, with two busy crossings.  My journey after the coachride consisted of a 4RMB Line 1 subway ride to Gǎngxià Zhàn (岗厦站).  As convenient hotels go, the Haitian Hotel was well-located on Caituan Lu (彩田路), however I exited at exit B, did a full 270-degree spin of four major roads before heading the few hundred metres to the hotel.  After arriving for 10.30am, I dashed my bag and belongings into the hotel before departing for McCawley’s Bar in Fútián Qū (福田区).  What is with ex-pats and Irish bars?  The first Manchester City Official Supporters Club (OSC) in China have located here, as the Shenzhen Blues.  Katherine Li and Stephen Richardson (of Gorton and the Maine Road generation, who moved to China in 2008) led a building group of expats, Sun Jihai-born fans and founded the local OSC in South China.  Even though, over the border Hong Kong has a growing OSC.  Their focus seems totally aimed at integration of any nationality, upbringing, or when did they start following City.  Together as one.  The reason for my attendance that weekend was to join the McCawley’s Shenzhen 1st International Football Tournament.


After breakfast at McCawley’s where they evidentally have an abudance of hashbrowns, we headed from the bar to the football by luxury people carriers.  McCawley’s Cup poster. A fantastic sight to see how clear the Shenzhen badge of Manchester City Supporters stands out. The Red Arrogant Gits of Man Utd crest looks like a GI Joe style airforce badge.  Our team would wear the dark blue away shirt of Manchester City FC.  Pride in Battle indeed.  The XL shorts, shirts and socks were too tight.  I wrecked my socks in the first game.  Torn to shreds.


So here I joined Alex (Dorset), James (Dorset), Dan (Israel), Kenny (Belgium), Vinny (Australia), Ray and Johnson (both China) with Katherine (China) featuring in the first game.  All had valid reasons for following a club, not quite where they lived.  I admire that.  None had started following City after 2008.  I doubly respect that.  Stephen couldn’t play and a few others too.  I didn’t expect to turn up, play straight away and feature in every minute of every game.  As with organising football, 16 responses of yes can soon become 10 maybes… and when we started the 8-a-side tournament we started as 8 players.  Johnson replaced Katherine after the first game.  Katherine played a brave game in goal for the first game.  When Johnson arrived, she opted not to play.  We had no subs for any games!  MCFC OSC Shenzhen beat Old Boys FC (a Celtic clad supporters team) in our first game.


We were told it’d be tough.  MUFC’s Red Devil fans had won their previous game against Tottenham Hotspurs HK fans. After our first game we faced a non-Mancunian team, fans of ManUre – Shenzhen Red devils. Not one could point out where Manchester was on a map, and despite their unclean play, we won 2-0 in the really-mini-teeny-weeny-tiny derby.  The clean sheet was a great achievement too.  Not bad for only our second ever 8-a-side game together [without any substitutes to hand].  So, MCFC Supporters Club of Shenzhen claimed the McCawley’s 1st Shenzhen International Football Cup with a penalty shoot-out win.  I’d scored from the spot twice that day and felt like I’d worked damn hard at right back/centreback.  Our team gave 100% and played with a calmness of a team that looked mature and used to each other – odd.  China may have invented the game of football but the standards here are lower than Hong Kong.  So to beat two teams at 8-a-side from there was wonderful.  I’ll certainly be adding them to teams Murray’s F.C. should face in the future.


Post-game we went to a beach, kind of, at Futian Beach (福田沙滩), an urban beach bar.  The sausage roll, chicken pie, baked beans, coleslaw and fries with two Asda real ales went down well.  The cool reclining deckchairs, ambient sounds and soft lighting certainly made my tired body want to rest.  Following this it was planned to head back to McCawley’s.  A shower was needed so, I skipped back to Gǎngxià’s paradise and had a shower.


At McCawley’s a prize awaited, a 1000RMB prize!  McCawley’s is located 200 metres from the Ping An Finance Centre (平安国际金融中心).  This skyscraper is 600 m (1969 ft) tall and due to open later this year.  With 115 floors, it is the second tallest in China and the fourth tallest in the world.  On Sunday morning, breakfast was had at the same bar.  It was rude not to.  And on arriving back in costa del HòuJīe (厚街), I met Marcelo and Marcelina ahead of their flight back to Brazil… at Murray’s Irish Bar.  Monday passed by slowly, without anything of note other than Manuel Pellegrini announcing he’d leave at the end of his contract and City then saying Pep Guardiola would replace him.  Transfer deadline day had been hijacked wonderfully by City.


So now, I’m sat here looking at world news, beginning to watch series two of True Detective and relaxing in the cold apartment.  It is 4°C in here.  At the weekend I had some sunburn and it hit 20°C in Shenzhen.  What a weird winter this is?!  I didn’t even know Terry Wogan had died until now.  As a kid growing up someone’s persona and heartfelt words kept me watching charitable programming despite seeing heartache.  He made you feel what was being shown.  He helped you to face and respect many issues most aspects of the media hide in shadows.  Aside from his humanitarian side, Terry Wogan struck me as a practical person, down to earth and respectful of those around him.  His book Those Were the Days was a sweet affair and on reading it, it becomes impossible not to imagine Terry Wogan reading to you.  Impersonated, loved, styled and replicated by many, he was a man many living rooms welcomed and few could change the channel, even if his pun-telling was off at times.  With more than 50 years on TV and radio, the man knew how to adapt and earned the title of national treasure both in his home country and the UK.  Throughout this time he remained loyal to his family and wife, showing a touch of personal class by not forcing fame, and simply being himself, unflashy and sophisticated in equal measure.


In my quest to get away for Spring Festival, I’m now toying with the idea of local journeys only [maybe to see the 26 minute long Chinese New year fireworks at Hong Kong].  When you see 100,000 stranded folk in the transit city of Guangzhou it desn’t appeal to travel right now.  We’ll see.  Tomorrow, I’ll ride my bike again.  The best form of escape ever.


再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye


We interrupt this broadcast to bring you some footballing thoughts…

4th February 2016

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,


It feels good to be playing Leicester on the rise.  They have good fans, down to earth.  They have ambition, they have resource yet seem to know not to go over the top, probably based on recent ownership troubles.  They are balanced in play, refreshing in their team work and effort levels.  Aside from their obvious glamour name Jamie Vardy , who I seen play at Stocksbridge but he didn’t stand out, they have a squad that plays to their strengths.  They don’t mess around, they often play simple football.  Mahrez is an engine in their team that gets praise, but for me liek David Silva of old, he barely gets the plaudits he really deserves.  They carried their form over from last season, like City in some ways, but unlike City they’ve maintained it.  Ranieri is a grand leader, he’s like The Engineer, works out a tactic based on what is availabe to him.  He is modest and keeps his mouth speaking the right words without drawing too much or too little attention.  He has wit and class.  His team breaks lines, they read the game but oddly they sacrifice possession to do so.  I think they’re one of the best counter-attacking sides who know how to intercept the ball, clip possession from players and hit at pace.  The Foxes aren’t here to make up numbers.  It is easy to see why neutrals and even fans of other clubs are rooting for them.  They have points to prove without the pressure of expectation.  If Leicester do get the upper hand and go on t win it, it encourages all 19 teams in the Premier League next season.  Maybe, anyone can do it, their way.  Two league defeats (Liverpool away, Arsenal home) to date shows they’re good enough.  Their 8 draws to our 5 suggests they also fight to the end… even their two domestic cup games were close calls.


To beat Leicester, City need to be absolutely at their best.


With regards to learning Chinese, I’m focusing on the subject of “Where are you from?”  Going for purely basic subjects at a newbie level is helping my confidence and helping me to build on what I am listening to.


Lately my HubHao contributions include a shoe market guide; Mr Walrus singing Oasis stylings; some Tips for the Classroom (still not named teaching with tofu!) and one about not having an ayi. 39 of the 41 published articles can be found via this link.  The last articles I wrote, to be published shortly are about Hash Harriers, and taxi drivers (although I may be using a pen name for this).  HubHao have yet again failed to pay me (for a while), so I’m looking for a free transfer to either Delta Bridges, HereDG or That’s PRD magazines…



再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye


To Gran and Ernie.

7th February 2016

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,


Two years have passed.  Nobody wants to say goodbye.  Luckily we don’t have to say goodbye.  Those lives who Granny Ivy touched took a piece of her.  Gran was wonderful, endearing, humble and stronger than an Ox.  Gran pushed me to go to China long before I flew.  On the visits to Gran’s flat in Failsworth, we’d sit and talk, about family, relationships, friends, books and ideas.  Often ideas would be banded around, even if combatting Gran’s hearing aid in later years, and one idea was my desire to travel somewhere new, different and out of the comfort zone.  I said how I’d like to understand a new way of life, maybe Japan, Africa or China.  I’d listen to stories of Gran’s life, what the neighbours had been doing and descriptions of health in later years.  Occasionally they’ll be moments of amazement, at hearing Gran describe how she wrestled a refrigerator around her flat, just to clean some dust or how she’d lifted the sofa up and lost a caster wheel.  Gran was extremely independent.  In her flat she had a book that would describe ow to fix or make anything.  I’m convinced Gran was the author.


Gran always had an anecdote to break any silence but in truth she was an entertainer as well as a host.  She had ways to describe the view outside, I never thought possible.  Gran’s eyes and vocabulary always struck me as articulate but so, so modest.  I’ll certainly always covet her oven bottom sandwiches with smoked ham and cheese.  Nobody makes food like grandparents.  Those lucky afternoons and evenings spent looking out that window were some of the happiest moments of my life.  Totally contented and supremely comfortable.  I was at ease and the world could not get me.  No feeling of security has matched it since.


Born in Densmore Street in Failsworth, she’d never drift much further than this for home.  Her school was Mathers Street Council School.  On April the 13th 1939, Granny Ivy became a machinist making night clothes for Smith and Nephew (a Hollinwood based company).  By 1943, Granny Ivy swapped stitches for munitions and aircraft pieces at Avro Ltd.  Granny Ivy married in 1949 to John Hitchin, and by May of that year my Aunty Carolyn was born.  At an early age both Ivy and Carolyn suffered the loss of John Hitchin.  He had a fatal heart attack in 1955.  Granny Ivy was a widow, aged just 30 years-old.  The following year brought loss once again, 1956, Ivy’s mother died aged sixty-nine.  In late December 1956, Ivy remarried, to John Roberts.  John came from a long line of North-Wales men.  Susan Ivy Roberts was born upon the 5th of October 1957.  Soon after, Ivy’s third child Elaine June Roberts was born upon the 20th of June 1961.  Gran would marry once again, in spring 2005.  Ernie Freeman sadly passed away weekly after their marriage.  Fairclough Hospital, in Bury provided a cake and wedding ring.  Imagine being so in tune with someone that you decide to marry on your deathbed in hospital.  Gran being who she was obviously gave Ernie happiness right to the last moment.  I’ve always seen Ernie as Gran as inseparable pair.  After my sister was hit by a car, they looked after me.  They protected me from the pain and uncertainty at the time.  I was young and did not understand, yet they helped me through a tough period of my development.  They met in 1989 and shared companionship until 2005.  Many trips to markets, steam museums, museums and even just sat on Levenshulme station watching trains were to be had.  Ernie and Gran both gave me an expensive and intricate steam engine model one year and I treasure it still.  This summer it will whistle once again.  I’ll clean it up and eat another ham ovenbottom in the Failsworth.


In a way, Ernie’s love of steam nostalgia has rubbed off on me.  I have a deep respect for the olden days.  The final piece of music before we left the ceremony of Ernie’s passing was that of a steam engine puffing up and sounding its horn.  I miss Gran and Ernie dearly.  I will always miss him and will always wish that I’d got to know him better.  He was a very interesting man who I do admire greatly.  Ernie was honest, caring and considerate.  He was witty and a true gentleman.  Though he was not my real biological grandfather, I will always call him my granddad.  Even now, when I see something dismantled or in need of repair, I think of Ernie with Gran.

I know, to a degree, and understand, again only a little, the pains of life Gran faced, and she never, not even once complained or felt sorry for herself.  She stood strong and led for others.  In the face of the disease that is cancer that she battled harda against, she joked and laughed, and smiled right to the end.  She may have suffered but she wanted her family to be stronger for it.  I’ve failed many times in life, made many stupid mistakes and should try harder at everything.  I owe this to the memory of those like Gran, no longer here and to my family here and now.

An environmentally friendly lantern of memory was released here in China, with love and wishes to Gran and all my family.


Similarly, Gran’s love and passion for reading has been passed down the generations.  I’m still working on the novels and one day, one shall be dedicated, “To Gran and Ernie.”



再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye


新年快乐 / Xīnnián kuàilè / Happy New Year


Sink or swim. Xià chén huò yóuyǒng / 下沉或游泳

6 seconds ago

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

That’s the break in my posting to the blog over with.  I have been busy writing a novel, averaging 2000 words a day for 3 weeks.  The core and structure of the novel is in place, with the final dialogue and padded subplots all being woven in.  It won’t be Shakespeare, Dahl or Crichton but it will be above average.  I won’t attempt to publish it otherwise!  Having had two authors read sections of the material and some minor changes, I am quietly confident.

Way back at the beginning of this blog, there was what I referred to as “Blue Monday.”  On the 17th of February 2014, I first stepped into a classroom at Dao Ming Foreign Language School.  Fast forward two years, and today I am back.  I remember that first ground floor class room experience vividly.  I had class 701, the original class 701, who are now in grade 9, opposite my office.  Whilst then I was worried and extremely out of my comfort zone, today I began on the third floor, as a fish is in water.  In classes 802 and 804 today, we discussed Chinese New Year.  The students have just returned and they’ve submitted their winter holiday homework books, received their initial homework sheets and look somewhat taller and a little refreshed.  Comfortable, relaxed, contented and fully at ease.  Whilst I have enjoyed the holiday period to embrace my freedoms, I have missed teaching.  I feel revitalised and ready for the new challenge.  My previously developed material has been deleted, not modified.  I am starting this semester from scratch.  New methods, new ideas and innovation.

This morning, I had the pleasure of welcoming students to school at 7am, followed by joining my new-ish colleagues for the opening ceremony of the new school semester.  Tess has returned from the U.S.A. for her second semester here.  We are joined by Arvid of Sweden (Gothenburg), Jack from U.S.A. (Michigan) and Beth from Kent (U.K.).

Last night, I played my first game for Murray’s FC, in what seems like forever.  We were winning 7-2 when I left, and it transpired the scoreline finished 10-7 in our favour.  Such, is the size of our squad, a second game was played simultaneiously at the same time, with a larger than usual scoring win.  The bike ride there was a good slow roll (swinging by the lantern display in central Nánchéng) but the return ride was tiring!

I’m going to submit job applications with Manchester City’s Chinese offshoot.  There a few points I cannot satisfy but I do have an ability to learn, as these last two years have shown.  I don’t sink.  I swim.


再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye


Add some vim

25th February 2016

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,


When I’m not busy reading about the banning of bizarre architecture in China, I am busy.  I personally think the Guangzhou Circle between Guangzhou and Foshan is pretty impressive.  Anything that livens up the concrete maze of breezeblocks and cubist steel meshes, is in my mind positive.  That applies to all countries and cultures.  We need more modern artistry and more embracement of natural forms.  Nothing can beat the Nordic houses on the Faroe Islands, the castles of old Europe and the majestic ambition of Blackpool Tower.  Expression in buildings can be symbolistic to those around the creation.  The Great Wall, Eiffel Tower, Palace of Westminster and more modern structures like the London Eye or Sydney Opera House all capture hearts and minds.  Banning a curvy, shapely building stifles my mind.  That’s why I am not the leader of a nation… everything would be blue and based on Maine Road or Manchester.

The return to school has been welcoming.  As always the arms of the teachers are wide open for hugs and cheers of “welcome back!” have been heard.  At least once.  Maybe.  Possibly.  I heard something.  Last Friday, three new teachers arrived to my school.  Arvid is a very tall 19-year old from Sweden.  He seems musically talented and carries a relaxed personality.  He is certainly curious about Chinese customs and teaching.  Then there is John.  Thankfully we can call him by the name of Jack because his father shares his name also.  With his very long moniker, he brings an interest in many sports and has already endeared himself to the local basketball culture.  His talents also include singing.  He has embraced KTV already.  This is good news for the school performances that await us all.  Beth arrived from Kent (U.K.) via Beijing.  Beth has conservative values, a religious background and seems well travelled.  This will certainly assist her in preparing for many classes going forward.  Together with Tess, returning from the U.S.A. (not just U.S.A., add the too!), everyone has been bombarded with requests, procedures, information and much, much more.  Yes, they have had time to adjust to the culture in Beijing but now they swim in the deep end.  There are no sharks here, but buoyancy is key to a good swim.  I’m confident in each and every team member.  They can do it!

On entering my office, on the 5th floor, of middle school, my teaching colleagues were cleaning frantically.  Mice had, and have made the office their new home.  The house of mice has yet to be found.  They’ve nibbled some of my postcards, shredded a textbook and chewed various bits of my desk drawer’s contents.  The little rodentia bastards!  Hopefully they’ll move on without need for any extermination.  I suspect, with teachers present, and food now entering the fray, that they may stay.  After a little catch up over spicy hometown confectionaries (dare I say candies?) and local teas, the ball was rolling.  Into the swing of things with grade eight classes filling Monday.  Tuesday saw the resumption of service in grade 6.  Grade 7 classes stepped into the equation on Wednesday.  On Tuesday we began our foreign language teacher team meetings once again.  This year Wendy, a new teacher, heads and assists us on all things academic and for the interns/Tess, most things domestic.  I met Wendy via the company I work for.  She assisted me at the schools in Baiyun and Nansha throughout those three weeks of teaching biology.  I’m very confident in her ability and her “can do” attitude.  Already, I have seen swifter turnarounds in questions with answers, and action for readiness, for example going into HòuJīe to buy cables to connect a laptop to the overhead projectors.

This last week, I have tried different places for breakfast every day.  This is my new venture, breakfast by chance.  I could happily eat some of the foods I have had for breakfast over that of milk and cereal.  An expensive breakfast has become one of good value, very swiftly.  I think I’ll write more about breakfast soon enough.

John Burns, from Murray’s F.C. returned from Blighty this week.  In his bag were two pairs of football boots for me.  Most importantly he also fetched me a bottle of Vimto and some Lancashire cheese.  Said cheese was applied with sardines to a toasted sandwich last night.  A first sup of Vimto since summer is to my left, steaming away in my insulated sky blue sports bottle.  The teachers here are amazed by the fruity herbal smell of one of Manchester’s greatest achievements (supercomputers, mathematicians, scientific advances, sporting endeavours, technological pathways asisde).  I may share it.

On the football front, Murray’s F.C. played two games, as different squads, on Tuesday night.  My team won 11-1 against a Man U****d supporting team of local descent.  I tested my new boots out and the laces are bobbins, they’ll need replacing promptly.  I played left back and right back that day.  It felt more natural than right midfeld and left back in the previous game.  On the cycle ride there, along a cycle road, I listened to some Chinese music.  It was too mellow to ride with.  I will not make that mistake again.  Around 15-20km each way rides are best with music to push your pedalling ability, not slow it up.  The oddity of it all was, the nexy day, I ached like hell.  Sore ankles, knees tired and thighs strained.  Middle school, a student from class 803, invited me to join the morning exercise run.  Whilst tiring it helped me to stretch out and end the strains of the day before.  I may add that to my recovery going forward.

Murray’s F.C. are assisting a local football ground company Bosom, to formulate a larger than usual tournament for foreign teams and Chinese teams alike.  I’m joining Eddy in a meeting with twenty plus captains and representatives of interested parties on Monday night.  Monday the 29th is the closing date for a position with City Football Group.  I have submitted my application for a social media role based in China.  Fingers crossed.


再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye


Not quite Weetabix.

25th February 2016

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,


Breakfast is tremendously important to me.  If you were to ask my friends Pete and Dan, both will recall me eating Weetabix from a porcelain mixing bowl.  The 12 Weetabix would soak up the milk, but not fast enough to turn to mush.  I devoured them far quicker.  A sprinkling of sugar on top added sweetness, or a few slices of banana when possible.  Honey may have entered the bowl, but not so often.  Anyway, when not ploughing throught wheat fields, corn flakes of many variaties and tastes would be subjected to a multiple bowl refill treatment.  Without breakfast, I was and remain pretty much non-functional.  Even a bacon barm on its own is inadequate preparation for the day ahead.  Coffee has not been necessary, in fact since I left the U.K., coffee has barely featured on the menu.


Things I’ve had for breakfast:

·As popular as diǎnxīn (dim sum 点心) is, I rarely eat it.  The small moist offerings are okay but not hearty (despite the Chinese meaning “touch the heart”).

·Zhōu (congee粥) is a weak porridge that the Scottish would label as pish.  It sometimes is pish in taste, sometimes delightful.  I’ve had chrysanthemum flavour, jujube flavour, pineapple and coconut flavours.  If you like soup, this is the breakfast to hit.  Expect odd bits of vegetables, fermented tofu, peanuts, eggs, and meats as toppings or in the mix.  This is no substitute for those who love Shredded Wheat.  It comes in a cup and costs around 3RMB.

·Bāozi (steamed stuffed buns 包子) sounds like the name of a small canine companion but they often have ground pork pastes, aubergines, eggs, spinach and so much more in them… some can be a surprise or a blend of surprises.  The fear of finding one with corn inside doesn’t deter me.  It happened once.  The less said the better.   These cost around 1RMB.

·Guilin rice noodles or various other noodle types.  Upto 8RMB should be expected.

·Fried dumplings (Jaozi) cost around 3RMB.

·Yóutiáo (油条) are very oily like sticks of dough.  This resembles a bread stick, but softer.  These are often 1RMB each.

·Húntún (馄饨wontons) are dought pouches in an oily broth.  I like the textures, the fragrances and the fillings.  Mushrooms, shrimp and beef make for great fillings.

·Jiānbǐng (煎饼) are almost like crepes.  The wraps can have a filling of almost anything.  I particularly enjoy a beef, carrot, corriander and honey variety.  3-5RMB well spent.  More fillings equal more pennies spent.

·Tāngyuán (汤圆) are round doughy balls.  They are important at the time of the Lantern Festival (the end of the Spring Festival).  They often have white sugar, red bean pastes, walnuts and jujube pastes inside their thick sticky rice flour.  I think if you eat many of these, you will soon resemble a large round ball.

·Dòuhuā (豆花) means bean flower.  It is tofu based and sometimes sweet.  Sometimes it is sour with soy sauce.  Sometimes it is salty like the sea.  Locally, it is served alongside a scrambled egg and ginger.  It isn’t terrible.

·Zòngzi (粽子) are best left to Dragon Boat festivals for me.  They are glutinous, stocky and sticky.  The dumpling of rice, is wrapped in bamboo leaves and then steamed.  It isn’t that bad every now and then, and by every now and then, I mean annually.  It will never replace eating Rice Crispies.  3RMB will almost certainly have been spent.

·Dòujiāng (豆浆) is a standard drink to be had.  It is sometimes sweet or savoury.  Simply made from good old soy.  Great warm.

·Fanshu (sweet potatoes) are charged on weight.  I usually pay 5-10RMB for a large one.

·Then there is the global basis for a hearty breakfast, boiled eggs!


Breakfasts here are quick, on the go usually.  They are seldom eaten at home.  Most people choose to eat their breakfast in the street.  It may be purchased at stalls, food vendors or to be taken away.  Morning drinks do not include tea or coffee – soy milk is mostly drank, as well as bean juices.  People who skip breakfast are treated like lepers.  Many of the foods are stodgy and heavy, some are not.



再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

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