June 2015’s posts

The Mancunian’s Guide to The Galaxy

2nd June 2015

Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,


The foreign press have laid into mistranslations of recent movies such as Avengers: The Age of Ultron.  Let’s be fair English to Chinese is blooming hard.  Also, one translator, post surgery, was tasked with the work.  Liu Dayong did a job that left the Chinese audiences confused – but it has to be said?  Why does only one man do this sort of billion dollar job?  Why not have a team and some proof readers?  Mistranslated segments such as when Captain America said, “Even if you get killed, just walk it off!” have been changed into Chinese subtitles as, “If someone is trying to kill you, you should run away quickly.”  I mean that does change context massively.  It is worth noting that even the reported so-called news also has misquotes of quotes.  On one website the above film phrase has different words, “Run fast if someone tries to kill you.”  The beauty of two totally different languages and cultures means things do tend to get lost in translation.  The main thing is, it isn’t anything too important like USA-China relations or bilateral talks between Malaysia and China over the South China Seas…


In recent weeks, I have watched Tomorrowland and I, Frankenstein at the cinema.  Neither have been fantastic but the movie going experience here is amazing.  The pre-screening warnings and rules are starting to appear in China.  They look on the most parts, homemade, filmed in a dull basement, probably under the cinema.  At some stage this week, a look in at 末日崩塌 (this means “Doom collapse”) or San Andreas in English is required.  I’ve written about the beauties of going to the cinema here on HubHao – but would like to stress it has been edited (due to the cinema where a photo shoot was taken) having some issues with my tone of language use.  That is fine, after all I don’t want to alienate or upset anyone… especially ahead of going to see Jurassic World this month.


Over the weekend Murray’s FC played out an 11-5 win in roasting conditions at AcTel Tangxia F.C.’s massive football pitch.  The grass was actually too long but the game was a tough one in simmering 34°C heat and high humidity.  The game, an hour each way, with a ten minute break ended just in time for a windy violent storm to sweep through.  Afterwards, showering under a tap, positioned one metre from the ground over a trench in a homemade shower cubicle was challenging.  The cold water was a welcome treat in the warm airs of the evening.  After our team all converged on a 1500-seater cafeteria but opted to head into the town for something more delicious.  The wait within a local bar called Lulu’s was too long.  Hunger set in.  Two slider burgers and a few over-the-top burnt shrimps later and more than half of our squad bailed.  I’m not sure why Murray’s FC favour western-style food after a game.  Granted it tastes good, but with local cuisine you know the fodder is fast and always in great supply.  It is also significantly cheaper than western chow.  After hot-tailing it back to Houjie, a sleep was needed.  A late night viewing of the FA Cup Final at Irene’s Bar was not needed.  I’d correctly predicted it to be a one-sided affair earlier that day. 


On Sunday, good food – and a chance to write about Gigg Club and their array of Thai and Chinese curries – was had.  Monday meant all the teachers in primary school (up to grade 6, the highest age being 12 year olds) and students had the day off for Children’s Day.  Happy Children’s Day (儿童节快乐ér tóng jié kuài lè) could be heard many a time.  Meanwhile, in middle school I had my grade 8 classes, class 803 and 804.  803 have always been difficult but yesterday they were only half-difficult.  804 switched from being very good to just about good.  Both classes have dynamics that mean a quarter of the class try very hard, and to a degree don’t give the others in the class a chance to push on.  As such, the remaining students quieten up and make for a challenge.  On going round and checking with those I feel need a kick up the underside, I usually find they have capable and very good answers on the whole.  Confidence and time to deliver is something they lack.  I try, but in 40 minutes per one class every week, I’m not there enough to give them the impetus to deliver results.  Their form teachers are more than capable of this.  I suspect I was as bad during puberty, I just can’t remember if I tried too hard and suppressed others from trying… or switched off.  I guess I did a bit of both.  Who’d be a teacher?!


Now, I’m not allowed to discuss my contract with Worlda or mention numbers.  It is a sackable offence.  However, in the last two weeks I’ve had two summer job offers, two offers for work at a new company next semester and other part time job offers.  The thing is, I like to keep things simple.  I don’t want to work too many hours within my free time, and then I’d prefer to pursue my own interests or activities.  Within school, I like the rapport here.  It can feel one sided at times, what with the Chinese ability to do a fantastic poker face, but I have learnt, seeking feedback is for those considered as unprofessional!  With respects to self development, I look at the quality of my work one year ago and laugh.  I’m adding new dimensions, testing myself and analysing students’ responses to the material taught more frequently.  Yes, I could earn more at other schools, and I’d probably be just as happy, but I believe in loyalty and my loyalty is to pushing forward with what I have now.  Why not?  I think, come Spring festival, I’ll review my options, but for now I’m happy with my working life.  Staff like Jessie, Casey and Kimmie have made it a very pleasant place to work.  Dao Ming Foreign Language School and the staff within have always been welcoming.


Today, my mind has been totally switched to that moment of landing at Ringway (or Manchester International Airport) come the end of June.  I can’t wait, my bank balance will be hammered by summer but it’ll be worth it.  I have ideas and a list of things I wish to bring back.  Maybe the Mancunian temperatures would be a good starting point.  The rains here replicate Manchester very well already.  The sun inbetween is something else though.


Life’s road ahead may be bumpy, but I’ll have my worklife to settle me down.  It is 32°C here now.  Turn down the heat someone!


Want to read more about teaching?  A tad later than planned, the second teaching column is online at http://www.hubhao.com/author/john/ under the link Tips for the Classroom. Other bits shall follow at HubHao.


Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.

我来自 曼彻斯特 (Wǒ láizì Mànchèsītè) I’M FROM MANCHESTER.

8th June 2015

Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,


With the new contract signed, the Visa being applied for tomorrow, only 13 more working days, and only 3 grade 8 classes left (I finished class 803 earlier – who I am told shall miss my classes, but shown no real enthusiasm to the class we did), no more classes in grade 7… and exams only remaining… here are some of my Summer plans:


  • Obviously, catch up with family and friends.
  • Have an oven bottom sandwich with roast ham, pickles and cheese on the canal by Gran’s old apartment.  Think happy thoughts.
  • See my best friend Dan, with his lady Vanessa and their bouncing criminal twins in the making.  I’m kidding, they look like future scientists/Manchester City centre forwards.
  • Sell some of my old clutter and belongings.  I have too many things and not enough experiences in life.
  • Cycle somewhere Lancastrian, Yorkshire-like and Cumbrian – as well as the Manchester medal factory that is the National Cycling Centre/velodrome.
  • Watch some football, from pre-season friendlies to ladies football to the world’s greatest football club, Manchester City.  Maybe go and watch Maine Road F.C.
  • Watch some comedy.
  • See the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and one of the Vulcan Bomber’s last flights.
  • Swim in the sea!


List of things to bring back to China for teaching:


  • magnetic teaching aids;
  • giant snakes and ladders;
  • good quality but cheap secondhand story books;
  • simplistic videos or DVDs;
  • more things to do with Manchester and the U.K. in general;
  • prizes for games and competitions;
  • extra and refreshed enthusiasm;
  • wit and humour;


In the last hour a small to medium storm came and passed.  I was rather drenched on my return to school.  I looked soggy and rather rainswept on my return from a local corner shop.  Every time somebody comments on my love for the rain, I feel like replying “Oh, you think rain is your ally. But you merely adopted the rain; I was born in it, moulded by it. I didn’t see the sun until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but TOO HOT!”  To adapt the Bain quote from The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t take much skill.  Staying dry in monsoon rains does.


This weekend was spent in Shenzhen admiring the massive smelly durian fruits hanging from the trees.  If they fell, they’d kill you.  Nearby was some lychee trees with threat of 100RMB fines for each lychee taken.  I followed the rules.  They’re cheap enough in markets.  Beyond that many shield bugs, butterflies and kites were seen on this very sunny weekend that flew by.  That and the legendary single men and women part of the park (Lianhuashan park/Lotus Hill) where parents try to find their offspring partners.  I’d advise not standing still too long in the marriage market… [There’s also one in Shanghai]  You can read about their age, height, job, income, education, family values, Chinese zodiac sign, and personality – in Mandarin, Cantonese and occasionally English.


It is currently 32°C and I smell like a hamster cage.  If one of the teachers in my office could have an oven in here to heat his food, and a heater to up the air temperature to 45°C… and maybe a sauna style cooking pot, he would.  The good news is that next semester I shall change offices!


Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.


15th June 2015

Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,


Last Wednesday night meant watching a massive movie on its release.  Jurassic World is a beast of a movie. It grips you in its teeth and throws you around. The film is laden with humour compatible with the original movie (and translated well into Chinese for some proper belly laughs), a soundtrack new in structure yet with shades of the emotive John Williams score and fills in with some new stories. The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III didn’t need to happen – and this is a fantastic continuation to my beloved Michael Crichton‘s novel adapted into what I can safely say was the biggest movie of my childhood [alongside Ghostbusters and Gremlins]. The characters are built up perfectly and it does not pretend to be something it is not. That was what 3D cinema was made for. And, when you have Crystal, Snowy and Angel almost crying and hiding from every scene with the rest of the Chinese audience, that makes for a good night out. If you don’t like dinosaurs or mild peril, then avoid this bloodcurdling beauty! It even references the novel, but I can’t say how as that would be a spoiler.


Having not played football for a week and a half, my legs felt a little Jurassic.  On Saturday, we had a game in FengTai Guan Shan Bi Shui (丰泰观山碧水) – oddly the English name is mistranslated into the more marketable name of Peninsula.  This mega-apartment and leisure site (there are tennis, basketball and other sports located in the area) hugs the shoreline of the Henggang Reservoir.  The pitch costs 200RMB an hour, so two hours split between two teams made for good news on the wallet.  Water, 2 crates of it, cost around 2RMB per bottle – whilst not cool, it was certainly refreshing in the 32°C heat, magnified by humidity.  Marcelo had picked Kaka and I up from outside Tescos (where a staff strike has rendered the supermarket practically closed… it is open but has no staff, except for security staff.  You cannot buy anything).  Chris, Mikkel and Andreas joined spectators Nikki, Snowy, Angel and Crystal in taxis to the venue.  Alain with Calum and Aron arrived together.  Weng, Max, and Alekaze arrived soon after without Danish.  Danish, Leonardo and a school teacher pulled out on the day.  Rogerio (Marcelo’s dad) and Marcelina (Marcelo’s wife) came to support us.  The game finished 14-4 to Murray’s FC against QiuQi FC despite us surrendering a 2-0 lead to go 2-2 inside 20 minutes.


After the game rainforest showers were very pleasing (in stark contrast to a previous away game in Tangxia, where half way up the wall taps were mounted and a communal bucket was needed to douse yourself in cold water).  The pitch itself only had around a foot of space from the sidelines to the fencing but it was certainly one of the better pitches I’ve played at here in Dongguan.


Afterwards we all headed to the bright lights of Houjie for Mexican—Indian food at Munchalot’s.  Ray has always been a great host.  The spread was served gradually.  Indian and Maxican food mixes really well.  Burritos, vegetable kebabs, chiminchangas, fillet empanizado, potato wedges, chicken tikka, naan bread, palak paneer, mutton rogan josh, and ten side caraffes (1.25L) of Budweiser beer were enjoyed by my football team and my invited P.E. teachers.  Not bad for 100RMB per head! [Well the beer was 550RMB on top for everyone]


After the food, we headed down to Irene’s Bar along Yue Fan Shan Street to celebrate his birthday.  They had a barbecue on earlier that day, and Revolution played some music later on.  After this point a few busy drinks at Irene’s meant a return to Munchalots – and an early night around 2am, because I was utterly exhausted.  The constant heat here, and anything that encourages dehydration gives rise to muscle fatigue.  Sunday was pretty much a lazy day watching Marvel’s Daredevil TV series and eating Taiwanese noodles in the evening.  An evening that crept up far too soon.


Now, I am in my office, and soon I’ll be in class 603, finishing their oral English exam papers.  This last week has seen the exams flying by.  Students like Howard in class 607 remind me of Tim Wonnacott (Bargain Hunt presenter) or chairman Tony Bates at Aberystwyth Town F.C. in Wales.  Other students like Lucy or Amy in the same class (607) have extensive vocabularies and can converse fluently without need for prompts.  The latter student is reading the entire collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels, in English.  Then there are students likes Tank and Tuby who are just mischievous, but not in a bad way.  Martin, in class 603, always wants to buy candy from me, even when I don’t have sweets with me.  I suspect he has learnt more English through conversation about sweet sales than via my classes.  I’ve had some students that I’d be dubious about their ability in the spoken oral exams – yet all have performed brilliantly.  Several students from the first semester who did not do well, have bettered themselves.  There has been no need so far, to prompt students or hint at answers.  The task in hand has been clear, and the end product clearer.


To end post 119:  119 is the emergency number in Afghanistan that belongs to police and interior ministry.  Other countries use it to report emergencies too.  119 is also the atomic number of the theoretical element Ununennium.  119 is the sum of five consecutive primes (17 + 19 + 23 + 29 + 31).   The next post shall be post 120.  120 inches is the height of a regulation hoop in the National Basketball Association of U.S.A.  China copy that height for their C.B.A. too, but their players are mostly far smaller in height.


Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye.

With the flow of the dragon boats

19th June 2015

Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,


Will I cry?  Will I miss it?  Will I want to return?  What if… but… maybe… So many possibilities.  “This city is insane; Every possibility; Nothing’s left to chance; They’re throwing rocks and pavings stones; Who says it has to last?” Doves song N.Y.  Inside 12 days, I am going home for the first time since the 11th of February 2014.  That’s 502 days away from the U.K.  1 year, 4 months, and 17 days.  71 weeks and 5 days.  12,048 hours.  722,880 minutes.  43,372,800 seconds.  In the grand scheme of the world, a blink of an eye.  In my lifetime, a fraction (4.2%) of the 11,931 days (32 years, 8 months) I’ll have spent on this planet.


For HubHao, I have been busy and remain busy doing several tasks (last night I went to Liaobu).  The most recent publication is about a sport (cough, cough, I mean drinking game – or do I?) called darts.  Click to visit the article.  The introduction goes something like this:


“Steel tip darts has always held a special place in many of the bars in Dongguan. The introduction of soft tip darts has seen the game start to reach new places and players. John Acton sat down to chat with some of the people who have helped make darts in Dongguan what it is today.”  You can also read it in Chinese here.


There’s also a review of Winners Bar in Hengli (which name means horizontal drain).  In English and in Chinese.  Other articles shall follow via this link.  I’m working on pieces involving extreme cycling, restaurants where the ground moves beneath your feet and places where golf has gone a little over the top.  I also reviewed a shopping street too, mainly focused on sportswear.  Have a good read.


Here comes the sun… Mr Sun has arrived.  It sounds like he shall take over the duties of Cherry next semester and he strikes me as closer to how Bright was in the first semester.  He spent the best part of Tuesday afternoon exchanging ideas and visions with me.  He hails from a school in Guangdong’s Huìzhōu (惠州) having originaly graduated from Nanjing Normal University.  He was born and raised in the province of Anhui (Eastern-China).  Naturally the conversation was steered away from the subject of earnings, into one more based on freetime, culture and drinking.  That and we talked about Yuè Fēi, loyalty and weaponry.  All in all, a standard random afternoon at school.  This week I have no classes, just seven exams in grade 6, of which the first class (603) was completed on Monday, with the lowest scores set at 88% and 77% of the class winging in at full marks, 100%.  Other than that, I spent Tuesday working on country profiles for new school signage and education posters.


Class 604’s exams were finished by Wednesday morning, complete with a student called Rex looking well and truly flu-ravished.  I thought the poor kid would keel over, he looked so dizzy and unsettled.  He soldiered through scoring 98%.  On the whole, 75% of his class scored top marks.  The lowest score being 80%.  In class 605, the lowest mark was 90%.  80% of the class scored maximum marks, although I had to stop Raymond turning his exam papers into an airplane – he is such a smart kid, he could answer everything with sentences based around, “I don’t like…” making sure the keyword fitter correctly before answering something more appropriate.  His nodding and sounds of hmmm can be a tad patronising but he’s a witty so-and-so.  Cindy was cheeky as ever and her friend Lucy told me the keyword I read isn’t there, even though it was.  She spent ages questioning it before falling out with me.  As she left the desk, she spotted it.  In that class Willow told me she was sad not because school would soon end, but she was saddened by so many exam papers.  James, in this class, was as humorous as ever – he is destined for a career in Chinese comedy.  For my money, he’d rival any worldwide gurning champion too.


After lunch class 606 stepped up to the plate.  69% of their class gained full marks.  One student set a low of 55% but I could not get him to speak, no matter how hard I tried.  The same kid spends all classes doodling pictures of guns.  This is a worrying craze for some students here in school – in the country with the tightest gun control, thankfully.  Aside from him, nobody scored below 90% in his class.  In class 606, Coine (who I often see with her sister near to my apartments) told me her life story in less than five minutes with some complex sentence structure examples befor Eric said he was afraid, but still managed to sail through the exam with flying colours.  Shortly after this class in class 607 completed their exams, with 82% of the students scoring the big 100%. Four of the six students who missed out on 100% scord 95%.


After Wednesday night’s shattering win for Murray’s F.C. Oranges against Murray’s F.C. Greens, and a slightly exhausting bikeride back, I drank two iced kumquat lemon teas, ate a small pot of ice cream and fell asleep.  I woke up tired, hungry and bizarrely with a sore eye.  On arriving at school, class 601 started their oral English exam papers but did not finish them all.  Class 602 followed after lunchtime, and unsurprisingly they scored high.  The lowest mark was 95%.  Only three students did not reach 100%.  91% got the full marks.  Miss Jiang, or Aaron (pronounced Erin) runs a tight ship in her classes.  The students are always hardworking and always attentative.  Despite the strictness she imposes upon them, they can also be wily and clever impudent little monkeys.  When asked to take my desk outside, Bob asked if I wanted to do the xam by the W.C to enjoy the fresh air.  I declined.  Johnny signed his paper by his class nickname of Monkey Boy.  He is the smallest student in grade six at 140cm, and is ever so slight.  He is 10-15cm below average height, and what he lacks in physique, he expands in vocal adeptness.  Roy, a lazy and fat kid (fat here is not insulting) advises at the weekends, “I sleep because I am fat.  I am lazy because I am fat.  I eat because I am fat.”  He beams joy with every answer.  China’s obsesity epidemic will not be beaten with that attitude.  Sat outside the classrooms in the steamy 32°C shade, alongside wilting, withering and waning plants, I wonder, who waters plants for those who go home in this migrant populated city?  That’s my life business plan, to run a plant nursery that simply minds your plants when you go back home or on holiday.


Today is Friday, next week I have six grade six classes and have to complete 11 student’s oral English exams.  Outside of that, Mikkel, Liane, Catherine, Andreas and I must sing “Uptown Girl” at an end of year show on our final working day.  Friday the 26th will be emotional, but at least I know I’ll be back soon enough.  This weekend is an extra day long for the Dragon Boat Festival.  端午节快乐!  Duānwǔjié kuàilè!  Happy Dragon Boat Festival!


So, there’s a few plans in the pipeline:


Bus to Nancheng then bus 67 to Zhongtang [Machong (final stop)] to see Jiangnan’s Dragon boat parade and races from 10am to 2pm.  [Other buses:  L1 to 58 / 219 to 58A / 213 to 64 to 1 / 222A to 2 to 27.]

From here a taxi, minibus or bus to Wangniudan’s races (Liaoxia River, Dongguan) that run from 12pm-3pm before ending at the Daojiao Food Festival.  The bus or taxi back will be my last concern.



Somehow get to either Hengyong Village River in Zhongtang Town for 10am to 2pm or head to Dongjiang River Liaohe Section at Shipai Town for one of the two races.

That evening Murray’s F.C. face Dongguan Sheraton F.C. in what could be my last appearance until September.  I joined the club in July last year and we had a winter break during the spring festival for four weeks.  We have consistently had one to three games a week in 5, 7, 8 and 11-a-side games.  That to me, seems crazy.  The Chairman, Eddy, and his secretary are working on the appearance stats this weekend… I’d be curious how many games I’ve played since giving up football (in Norwich) [for the second time in my life, the first being after leaving Plymouth].


Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye


That play what I wrote

23rd June 2015

Here’s the completed and published HubHao articles so far…


Shoppers’ Guide To Wanjiang Sportswear Street

Badasses Of Chinese History – Hua Mulan

The myth behind the Disney movie China has one of the longest and most interesting histories in the world. From rebels who thought they were Jesus to beauties that…

Winners Bar – Bar Review

A winning blend of English authenticity The doors were opened wide by two ladies dressed in what appeared to be outfits like those worn by the Royal Guards outside of…

Going For The Bullseye

The growing popularity of Darts in Dongguan Steel tip darts has always held a special place in many of the bars in Dongguan. The introduction of soft tip darts has seen…


How To Survive Going To A Cinema

The cinema is a place of magic, emotions and white-knuckle rollercoaster rides. Often many battles are on-screen and increasingly as East meets West clashes engulf the…

Tips For The Classroom – Part Two

Often we can learn from trial and error, observing others, or good old fashioned teaching. There’s no right way or wrong way, we all develop our own style to learn,…

Atlantic Attraction at Brown Sugar Jar – Arts Review

The atmospheric intro quickly faded into a homely vibrant song. The kind a popular TV show could easily mould into a soundtrack. Before long lead singer Kevin, complete…




Badasses of Chinese History: Zhuge Liang

China has one of the longest and most interesting histories in the world. From rebels who thought they were Jesus to beauties that would put Helen of Troy to shame. Each…

Restaurant Review – Munchalots

I love food. Food experts probably scrutinize food far too deeply. I personally pick satisfaction above all else. In an effort to show you my writing and taste has some…

Tips for the Classroom – Part One


#122: Hanging like a shark in a net

23rd June 2015

Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello,


The end of era; when Maine Road closed down for good; the last broadcast; the final furlong; the final chapter; the last act; the last leg; the ultimate week; the decisive semester; the conclusion of a story; the culmination of my learnings; a cessation and termination of a journey; the closure; an expiration to this story; the completion of undertakings; the grand finale; the week that winds-up the closing stages and brings all to a halt… thankfully, it is just an interruption, a hiatus before the next chapter of life.  As the doors of grade 9 swung shut, they graduated last night and the promotion of grade 8 (to the most senior students on site) happened, I slumped back and enjoyed the final hours of Monday’s holiday day.  My physical condition, battered, bruised and lethargic, with just enough spirit to get through a grey summer’s day, in the humid but cooler 28°C temperatures.  Milky tea and lemon teas have served me well this weekend.


On Friday night, sushi was required, that and a gentle but sleepy stroll after a week that felt just too long and inactive for my liking.  Saturday was met with an early rise.  I met Amy, a teacher from grade 9/grade 3 (at Dao Ming Foreign Language School), and we headed to Zhōngtáng (中堂 /middle hall) in the North West of Dongguan’s townships.  After taking the number 67 bus, we arrived and sought a taxi to get us the last few kilometres to Jiāngnáncun village for the Dragon Boat parade.  Despite local advertising, it turned out there was no such thing that day!  Two more taxi drivers and a local confirmed this so.  Amy’s old students at a school nearby verified it further.  Plan B was turned to…


A short ride on another bus, in the direction of Zhōngtáng bus station meant Amy had put us on the right bus, wrong direction.  I had questioned this earlier.  So, we boarded the same bus and headed away to Wàngniúdūn (望牛墩) via XiaLuCun, MaLiCun and LiaoXiaCun.  On arriving there was a brief wait before the Dragon Boat races began.  Almost as soon as they began Tina, Nikki, Daniel, Crystal and Chris arrived to join us.  Kim was going to join us but got lost in a taxi.  The taxi driver didn’t know the town, let alone the village.  The village did seem to have an unusual amount of dead chickens floating downstream…


After a fantastic hour or so of racing, and the best 5RMB lemon tea I have ever had, with seemingly unmeltable ice chunks, we departed for Daojiao (道滘) and the The 6th Daojiao Food Cultural Festival held at Jichuan Square on the river banks, and amongst the indoor arena.  Here many foods were sampled, drinks drank and a man who has dwarfism was watched dry-humping his colleague on the Hollywood Baby Too stage.  Some blueberry wine was purchased and eventually our band departed to Houjie.  From Houjie we proceeded to a village called Qiaotou, just south of the town centre.


At Qiaotou, we could see a neatly arranged barrier central in the central Qiaotou Square with tables set aside for judges.  Nothing seemed to be happending.  We were a little early.  So we waited.  Soon after it became apparent that the boxes stacked two metres high and as wide as long as high, were not bottles of water, as I suspected.  It was in fact a combination of fire crackers and bangers.  The square had four sets laid out in the middle and was cleared of any wandering toddlers and small children.  The police and local volunteers all went to several positions, each with a bag full of ordnance.  At which point, my phone rang, Edison, who teaches in this village, “Hello John, where are you?  Do you want to join in?”  Then I lost his words and the call ended.  Several loud fire crackers in close proximity having near-deafened all around me.  Edison called again, “Where are you?  I’m to the left of the square.”  I looked high and low and could ot see him.  Then, “I’m in red, waving.”  My eyes looked left.  Nothing.  I caught motion from the farthest corner of my eye.  He was to the right of the square (in a position, no-one could ever call left, due to the lay of the land and buildings tight to the square).  “Come and meet me.”  I said to the others I’d go and see what he was doing.  I scarpered to meet him not knowing what to expect.  Edison was parked in a place a Police Officer asked him to move from, he gestured to me in the car, “Come!  Quickly!”  I dived in not knowing what was happening – and more importantly where was Edison taking me?!


His four wheel drive car turned right, alongside the square, the square disappeared from view behind us.  It jolted down a bumpy road, alongside a food market and shopping area.  After a kilometre or so, Edison turned his offroad car left, up a bending road, into a chasm of alleyways and then right, over a bridge before parking a further kilometre away near a lake and basketball court.  This end of Qiaotou was not nearly as modern as the end with the Qiaotou Square.  Here buildings struck me as much more traditional and put together with less budget, whilst maintaining as much care as possible to practicalities such as waterproofing and doors before windows.  Air conditioning units hung sadly from walls.  Electical cables formed no order, strung from building to sorry looking building.  Bricks replaced concrete and rubble replaced tarmac.  The earth infrequently offering anything green within this area.  We hurried along to a gran looking village hall.  Here it was much more modern.  The village elders and chairman obviously knowing how to save their funds.  Here I met some of Edison’s family and friends.  Photos were taken and locals taken aback by my presence.  Edison said foreigners never enter this village, and have never had reason to.  There are no multinational production companies in Qiaotou village.  After pleasantries had been exchanged, a XXXXL red (the forbidden colour)  t-shirt was flung at me.  “Welcome to our team”, Edison informed me.  I could not say no, even if it meant wearing red.  I had my purple Manchester City shirt underneath to prevent red t-shirt to skin contact.


The team, one of seven in Qiaotou, was approximately 2500-strong, from toddlers to the near elderly.  The village’s most eldest people watched on from doorways and seats around the area.  Here everyone was given either a branch (to beat the clouds away from the dragons), a flag (the red or yellow colours of the village), a drum (noises to replicate the racing beats), or replica dragon boats (finely carved but festooned with neon lights giving a tacky visual making).  I was an amateur and newcomer.  I was given a branch.  We soon set off, joining the red tribe.  There were yellow, blue, green, orange, black and gold tribes around the large village streets.  The object was to snake around the village.  On meeting the other tribes, firecrackers were thrown at their feet to signify the battle of the racing boats.  The team that did not dance well with those who carried the dragon boats performing their moves, decided without hesitation by the opposing teams, had to turn around and snake another route.  The tradition, I was told, dated back four generations and was brought about due to the drying up of several village creaks and two men who raced, carrying large dragon boats, down a village street.


Over the years, tribalism has rocketed [pun intended] with each clan being rewarded at the central square for their final dance.  The central Qiaotou Square is where the judges convene and do their best Simon Cowel impressions.  The team of kinfolk from Qiaotou that wins, receives honours and a prize for their ‘hood of Qiaotou.  On asking Edison to translate my questions to many locals, it became apparent that this is a totally unique form of this festival nationally.  CCTV, the state television, were in attendance, exclusively offering live coverage of this one-off custom.


At the time, I felt wave after wave of euphoria and privilege to have been invited to such a matchless and rare occurance.  This happens annually but only for a few hours.  Through working for Worlda, I was posted to Dao Ming Foreign Language School, who sent me on a Thanksgiving Day task to Qiaotou’s state school.  Here I met Edison, who has friends involved in this event every year.  A set of links so finite that led to experiencing something so exceptional and spellbounding.  I felt joy, like never experienced for many years before, like a kid at Christmas, unwrapping a present, not suspecting that his parents have worked exceedingly hard to buy them that Lego set the kid dreamed he would never ever reach.  I was that kid once, thanks to my mum, I had that gift – and through her (and Dad’s) gift of life to me, I experienced that moment.  The moment has gone, but every now and then life throws something beautiful my way, wiping out the sight of dead chickens floating downstream…


Around 55km of travels later, after a cold beer at Irene’s Bar with Edison and his girlfriend, home was departed for… and desperately needed sleep.  The badly shot highlights of Saturday can be viewed here in video format. 


Sunday, was a gratifyingly lazy day followed by an intense 7-5 win in football for Murray’s FC against XiLu Hotel FC (West Lake Hotel).  It was our debut at their newly opened pitch.  The win almost killed me.  I raced onto a right wing ball, sprinted beyond the left back and spun a ball into the box.  My momentum carried me forward, unable to stop I hit a fence knee high (full on into my kneecaps), flipped over the fence into the black netting that prevents footballs being lost.  I went head over heels downwards, clattering against the wall, suspended in the net like a shark being fished for its fins.  It was equally as worrying.  For a moment I thought I’d hit my head, I hung dazed, as both teams’ players ran over.  A few moments, and helping hands lifted me up, still stunned and stupefied.  I stood up, assessed I had many scratches and two bruised knees before returning to play the final ten minutes.  I thought I was a goner.  I found out Aaron had graciously stopped the play despite being in a goalscoring opportunity.  That’s our team, through and through.  We work for each other.  Afterwards the opposition players kept asking me “Hao bu hao?” or “Hao ma?” to which I said I am fine, thanks.  What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.


I’ve just been told that a senior school member, Mr Yang has asked me to present certificates to my graduating students in grade 6.  The message should have reached me several weeks earlier.  It didn’t.  The ceremony is next Wednesday.  I am gutted that I will miss it.  Seven classes of grade 6 students (around 37 students a class) doesn’t go into 4 classes of grade 7.  I’ll have to say my goodbyes this week.  How typical that messages never reach me.  Sometimes I wonder of Cherry, my immediate supervisor here, doesn’t pass messages on purpose or shirks her responsibilities out of idleness.  She works damn hard as a teacher but I don’t think she can come to terms with being the link between school and the foreign teachers here.  Liane, today, advised me her apartment drawer is stuck and she cannot get into it, a job for the landlady, yet Cherry “can’t call her.”  I don’t know whether that means she is away, or she doesn’t have her number anymore or anything.  I love vagueness.


And today, we have further been practicing and murdering Uptown Girl by Billie Joel for the school show this Friday morning… Mikkel and I lack enthusiasm, Andreas is giving his all.  Catherine knows her stuff and Liane is very forthcoming with ideas.  But, the song means zip to me…  On the day, I’ll give my all.  Until then, I’ll just wake up and make up my mind.


Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Goodbye


30th June 2015

Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do from Manchester,


Thursday the 25th of June 2015 was the penultimate day of term for me and the other foreign teachers here.  Mikkel and Andreas are off to Xiamen, Shanghai and Beijing from Monday 30th June; Catherine and Liane are also backpacking around China from the Sunday, a day earlier.  Meanwhile Chris, Bryony, Cliadnha, Tina, Kim and Nikki remain teaching kindergarten until the 11th of July.  School term beginning and end dates can vary locally, regionally or even within the same parent organisation – or local government state schools.  Exams are being taken left, right and centre within Dao Ming Foreign Language School and being overseen by external bodies to ensure cheating and malpractice cannot surface.


And on Thursday, I found myself sat in my school office writing a review of the school semester and my experiences for my company.  My mind was semi-blank on the subject, subdued by the lack of action in the classroom of late.  All but one class last week had been cancelled.  Class 602 played games and my final class was an absolute joy.  A few students had tears in their eyes, but on the whole they sent me off, happy and proud to have been part of their lives, even if just for a blink of the eye in time.  That evening I ate with Miss Jiang, Emma, Doris and Nancy in a Guangdong restaurant in the local area to our school.  I found out that Emma and Doris are both leaving school.  That’s a real shame, but I wish them well.  Our loss is someone else’s gain.  Doris is homesick whereas Emma has a job offer in Humen city with a larger school.


On Friday morning, we gathered on the school playground alongside the students of grades 1-6.  The primary school grades each sang a song.  Renditions of Do Re Mi (from the 1959 movie The Sound of Music) by grade two; hilarity and beauty in other songs like You Are My Sunshine (first recorded by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchel in 1939) to more modern numbers like Emilia’s 1998 number, I’m a big big girl in a big big world finally was rounded off by the teachers singing Sunshine After The Rain by Swedish group BWO (covered by Jolin Tsai under the title Ri Bu Luo Cai Yi Lin).  The finale was Mikkel, Liane, Catherine, Andreas and I performing Billie Joel’s Uptown Girl.  I think, considering the lack of passion for the song and practice finally paid off.  The team did very well overall and delivered the song with a degree of energy that received good reception by students and teachers alike.  Following this Andreas read a brief speech and the Principal handed us a gift bag with a porcelain style notebook, biro, business cardholder, USB-pens, and keyring all with the school’s logo on them.


For the morning, I signed autographs, had my photos taken with students and teachers, walked and danced, dictated with actions an English test (as guest teacher), helped students with homework, smiled more than I thought humanly possible and said my farewells.  It was emotional.  The seven classes in grade 6 cannot all return to grade 7, because there is only 4 possible classes.  I do hope to see the majority of the students return and wished every single one good luck, with hand written and personal messages too.  It killed my wrists writing for over 290 students – but that’s the level of respect I have for them.  They work damn hard and if one student takes a tiny amount of inspiration, bottles it for later, takes it with them, or uses it, then my job has been a good one.  The afternoon flowed by, and I slipped out the door quietly before further farewells to teachers.


On Saturday, the day passed far too soon, with great company and teary eyed goodbyes.  Hong Kong style food and wanderings emptied the day of time.  In the evening, tired, weary and still not packed I went to Irene’s Bar, said my farewells and drank some beers.  Michael, the careless-with-money shoe business man paid for everything.  Crazy!  He also had some sky blue light up shoes that just shouted, “Oi look!  I am rich!”  Anyway, after the ever hospitable Irene slammed a millipede’s worth of chicken legs on my plate and a shank of beef, I tried to sit back and relax.  It was pleasant to say goodbye to those leaving like Josefin, Catherine, Andreas, Liane, Liam and Mikkel.  Andrea, Chris, Kim, Nikki, Cliadhna, Peter and a few others will remain in the locality for next semester.  I hope to keep in reasonable touch with those who are leaving.  Kira, who left in spring had an article published recently and shared this, but it is in German…  So, exiting to Frank Sinatra’s rendition of New York, I went home to bed.


For Sunday, day 502 away from the U.K., I was up early, packed my rucksack and hand luggage.  I went out and had a breakfast before returning.  Catching a taxi-limo across the border from the Hyatt Garden Hotel in Houjie to Hong Kong International Airport cost 210RMB and was totally hassle-free.  Having tried the train, the walking route and other coach/bus options to cross the border, I can safely say the Trans Island Limo service offers value for money, comfort and is stress free.  They even do services from Houjie to Disneyland, downtown Hong Kong and generally anywhere within the region.  After arriving, I sat with a lovely roasted vegetable sandwich and we discussed world politics.  Not really, I ate it!  Watching aircraft land and depart is relaxing.  The busy airport that is Hong Kong definitely has air traffic.  The extremeness of one of the runways is very clear to see.  After stroking a police sniffer dog, I checked in my baggage and smoothly slipped through the customs gates.  I boarded my flight at 1830hrs and the flight departed shortly after at 1855.  Up into the sky.  Away from Hong Kong and southern China.  Due west.


In flight I enjoyed three movies.  Black Sea being the first.  I usually dislike movies with Jude Law but here he shows depth and range in his acting.  At first I questioned whether it was even him.  With co-stars as talented as David Threlfall, Tobias Menzies, and Michael Smiley – to name but a few, this film could have been lost at sea.  It is a dark but beautiful tale of dreams, shatterings of society and greed. Get on board.  Before watching that I accidentally selected Big Eyes, due to turbulence.  Christoph Waltz really is a disturbingly talented actor.  Amy Adams is beautiful and very good at drawing you into her charcter.  The movie is based on a real life story that is truly wonderful.  My first selection of the flights was Kingsman:  The Secret Service which was very witty indeed.  Aside from an early message on the first flight, “Is there a doctor or nurse onboard the plane?” the journey was uneventful.  There is only so much you can do strapped to a seat on a flying metal tube in the sky.  Thankfully the man who needed a doctor as the Etihad Airways aircraft departed Hong Kong wasn’t so serious and just needed oxygen and some tablets for his angina.  My journey involved a change at Abu Dhabi International Airport.  Almost drifting away to sleep, I boarded the plane, found my seat and promptly passed out.  I awoke once, a bearded middle-Eastern man to my left awoke me to pass me the inflight food.  I ate this and properly felt alive again.  I began chatting to the man, who hailed from Oman.  We talked about China, the U.K., his new place of study (Nottingham), the green forests of Ain Sahalnout, Salalah and many more subjects.  The last three hours of the flight… flew by.  Collecting my bags swiftly, passing through arrivals and being greeted by the waft of Gregg’s Bakery, I met Mum and Paul.  They were late, or as I found out, I was early!  We went for breakfast at The Milson Rhodes (Wetherspoon’s) in Didsbury before a short walk around a garden centre, a cup of green tea and then met my sister Astrid.  A combination of time slipping away, dizziness from jet lag later and I awoke at 6am.  I’m sat back, swigging a machine filtered coffee right now.  The Weetabix and fresh milk from within my bowl have long since disappeared.


I’ve been reading up news, local and international whilst trying to shake away the jetlag.  Notably I found out my former Aviva work colleague Vicky Aspinall and her posse aren’t backing down to fear.  I hope they enjoy their holiday.  One brutal and stupid act of terrorism will have a massive regional and international effect on people’s livelihoods in the affected area of Tunisia.  I wouldn’t say that I’d want to stay there in that situation, only you can decide such things at such times, but hats off to Vicky for staying there and trying to support the local economy.  Calm waters don’t make good sailors, but sailors who don’t shirk away from big waves often make great sailors in the sea journey of life.


And now I’m booking things, looking at things to do… I might skip Bakewell’s Baking festival.  Although the custard pie fight sounds fun.  I’ve booked tickets for £10 to see MCFC’s City LiveCity Live, at the G-Mex (or Manchester Central) will feature former Doves singers’ new band Black Rivers amongst new signings being unveiled, the Etihad Player of the Season award, the Nissan Goal of the Season, the LG EDS Player of the Season, the EA Sports Performance Index award, and the Vitality Fitness Award.  It seems a long time since City had a big club with a small club mentality… and a lifetime since half-hearted Thomas Cook Trophy games.

And now for another jet lag inspired nap…


Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra from Manchester / Goodbye

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