November 2016’s posts

“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”

2nd November 2016

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

 

The door god stared outwardly at me. Ménshén (门神) is a deity of doors, gates and passages. I entered the tea house (茶館 cháguăn) in HengLi, a district of Dongguan. A teacher from a training centre called Speaker English invited me to observe a few classes, have lunch and go for tea. We had planned to visit the town’s museum but it closed unexpectedly early, so immediately went for a sushi dinner. I caught up with Sam at Winner’s Bar, having chatted to him a week earlier after the HubHao HengLi Cup.

 

Anyway, the teas supped were a very strong but sweet Qimen red tea, initially, Qí Mén Hóng Chá (祁门红茶). Second up, in the cup, was Dongting Green Snail Spring [Dòng Tíng Bì Luó Chūn 洞庭碧螺春]. Finally, the last tea was a Yúnnán Pǔ’ěr Chá (云南普洱). Following all that I needed a wee. Conversation at the teahouse revolved around experiences in China, teaching ideas, and the possibly mythical legend of Xú Fú (徐福). Entrusted by Qín Shǐ Huáng (秦始皇) to see the secret of immortaility, Xú Fú (徐福) was packed off with three thousand virgin boys and girls, not a crate of Heinz Baked Beans in sight, and sought a mountainous elixir of life. Sea monsters stopped Xú Fú (徐福)’s voyage. It is purported that Xú Fú (徐福) never returned. He took a wrong turning and ending up in Japan. He is rumoured to have become the first emperor of Japan, Jofuku (徐福) and that could be how Chinese and Japanese languages have evolved from each other. Anyway, pretty much interesting yet heavy stuff. A later meal of sushi rounded off a great day out.

 

A week flew by. Classes were as normal as could be from Monday to Wednesday. On Thursday, after many hours of construction, we opened the Haunted House experience. Josie, Analisa and Jack worked very hard to create this indoor adventure. To judge how scary, it all was, the light had to be eliminated. Covering over 100 square metres in black bin bags and huge curtains to blacken a brighten music room, alongside three marquees decorated in spiders (affixed on winches), a scary principal’s room and a room of masks. With the lights now out, grades 5 and 6 passed through. Several boys and girls would cry by the end of the day. By grade 3 and 4 the next day, more would shed tears. On my birthday. At school.

 

My birthday was a quiet affair. Simple. Food, a few drinks and minimal celebration. The way I like it. On the Saturday, the celebration continued as I joined Javier and a dozen or so others for wakeboarding and a stag do/pub crawl. We arrived eager and early for wakeboarding, taking the short ferry to a private island antiparadise. After a lengthy wait, by the ill-prepared staff of the catchily named Songshan Lake OPIZ Water-skiing club, we were split into two boats. Boat one’s captain with Javier, Daniel, Gambi, Lucho, Bram and Aaron departed earlier than the second boat. Our boat had novices Calum, John Burns, Alvaro, Abraham and an aggravatingly impatient captain of the speedboat. To prove how much of a bodge job the whole wakeboarding experience was, there was little to none instruction on how to upright yourself and how to remain steady. That said the language barrier and cultural differences probably played into it. Or maybe the boards were too stumpy. The wrong water? After watching everyone try, I readied myself. Or rather, I tried to squeeze into the lifevest. It didn’t fit. I gestured to the speedboat captain. He laughed then frowned. He tried to force an already overstretched clip into another tightly fitting clip. No joy. With this he said we’d get another jacket from the other boat. I had to patient for much longer than I had anticipated. A whole two weeks of excitement about trying wakeboarding had to wait. With that, Alvaro dipped in for a second set of attempts. Low and behold, the boat conked out. Ten minutes of failed engine revs and starting pursued. We were going nowhere fast. The rustbucket of a boat with the continually flashing engine advice of “maintenance” beneath a red letter was dead to the world. Ideal for Hallowe’en weekend in some ways. After he used his 3% battery to call his colleagues back on terrafirma, a jetski pulled alongside. The man from it dived on board. He immediately started the engine. Our speedboat captain had lost so much faith. Instead of going to the other boat, we returned to the shithole of an island we had set sail from. No wakeboarding was to be had. A tad frustrating. Almost like the day my Dad took me to Knowsley Safari Park, and we sat in the carpark eating sandwiches. Unlike that day, I didn’t enjoy this experience. It was grade A, class one bobbins with the premier side option of optimum shite. Like the many dead fish floating over the lake and the dead cat on the island HQ roof, not a pretty sight.

 

Bram and Abraham had to return to inner-city Dongguan, whilst Oggy tagged in and met us at Gecko Restaurant and Pub in Chang’an. Here we had fantastic pizza, some Boddingtons and then walked to Ziggy’s Bar, via a square dance. Having gotten Javier into a rather feminine attire and made him sign autographs to strangers at Gecko Bar, it was rude not to encourage an incursion on the square dance of central Chang’an town. From then on we visited One Stop bar for a 1RMB Tiger Beer, before alighting by taxi to The Treehouse in Wanjiang and then to the heavily crowded Hallowe’en bash at Murray’s Irish Bar in Dongcheng. Being home before 4am assisted in a lazy Sunday.

 

On Sunday, I spent time looking at the varied 17th (X 2) Birthday well-wishes. I have partially ridden a crest of happiness since my birthday. Unexpected messages, a few great thoughts (like a notepad from one student) and some vimto concentrate from Kate in the U.K. have helped me feel positive. That and City’s fantastic win over Barcelona. Sadly, my mind is distracted by news that my mother is in hospital. Mum needs to have an operation to remove something causing her pain.

The notepad received on my birthday, from a student in class 704, has a small quote, in Chinese, it translates as, “You need to succeed in life.” It isn’t up there with such distinctions as Christopher Reeves, “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” However, it does inspire. Inspiration, like trying to push students in class, is key to success.

 

Some more great Christopher Reeve quotes:

“A Hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure inspite of overwhelming obstacles.”

“If I can laugh, I can live.”

“I’m not living the life I thought I would lead, but it does have meaning, purpose. There is love… there is joy… there is laughter.”

“Even though I don’t personally believe in the Lord, I try to behave as though He was watching.”

“A hero is an ordinary person doing things in an extra ordinary way.”

“Either you choose to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out into the ocean.”

“there is a relationship between the mind and the body that can both create a physical condition and enable us to recover from it”

“We all have many more abilities and internal resources than we know. My advice is that you don’t need to break your neck to find out about them.”

“I have to stop this cascade of memories, or at least take them out of their drawer only for a moment, have a brief look, and put them back. I know how to do it now: I have to take the key to acting and apply it to my life. There is no other way to survive except to be in the moment. Just as my accident and its aftermath caused me to redefine what a hero, I’ve had to take a hard look at what it means to live as fully as possible in the present. How do you survive in the moment when it’s bleak and painful and the past seems so seductive?”

“A hero is someone who, in spite of weakness, doubt or not always knowing the answers, goes ahead and overcomes anyway.”

“He was like an untied balloon that had been inflated and immediately released.”

 

And about Christopher Reeve, movie director Richard Donner put it perfectly: “He (Reeve) was put on this Earth for… a lot of reasons. He wasn’t just here to be an actor. He was Superman.” But to me, my biggest hero, will always be my mum. I wish her a speedy and swift recovery.

 

 

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

Relax, take it easy.

7th November 2016

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

 

A good news message arrived last Thursday morning on my WeChat account. Mum’s operation has been completed and was released from captivity that same day (okay, the N.H.S. are not remotely bad) to recover in the comfort of home.

 

I always find cycling at night, in Dongguan, a little dazzling and overwhelming to the senses. There are square dances, bad trance music blasting from shops, horns blazing, lights flashing here, there and everywhere. So many people moving around and lots of selfishness and lack of self awareness. Maybe it stems from poor education, and maybe it is just laziness, but to have bright headlights in a built up, often streetlit area, is just plain old stupid. A feature on B.B.C.’s website caught my eye. It turns out full-beam drivers are being punished, by dazzling. Well, if punishments are being chosen for the crimes, good luck to Rhino horn poachers…

 

In China, just a few kilometres away, last week, over sveral days, the famous Red Arrows debuted at Zhuhai’s China International Air Show 2016. It is safe to fly here, but not safe to drive as a toddler did through traffic .

 

On Friday, I attended Javier and Carmen’s wedding party at the Treehouse in Batou, Wanjiang. I can safely say, I enjoyed the Vimto far too much. Okay, it was Sangria, but had a kind of fruity-herbal taste to it. For argument’s sake, it was Spanish Vimto, made in China. The food made by the gloriously delicious Al Chile restaurant went down well. Great fun was had by all as we celebrated the coming together of Spanish Harry Potter and his Chinese wife Carmen. A spoof wedding ceremony by Father Aaron has probably lined him up by a lightning strike by God. Whichever God that is. They’re all fictitious in my view. I’m not preaching. Just my view. I departed for midnight, because, A, I am sensible and B, I was pooped, stone cold shattered. The school day previous had been fun but was for the best of it, relentless in pace.

 

On Saturday, I debuted at Snookball, finishing 4th, having defeated Eddy (Ireland) and Andre (Ukraine) but lost to all the South Americans, Erick (Brazil), Daniel (Argentina) and Abraham (Mexico). I enjoyed it so much that on the 17th of December, I expect to enter the Guancheng round of Snookball. It isn’t easy at all, but it is great fun. I said I wouldn’t drink that day but ended up supping three cold Panda Brew ales and a cider from Somerset, alongside a beef and ale pie… and four stilton sausages. Then I had a three-hour evening nap before watching City hammer Middlesbrough 1-1.

 

On Sunday, I went to HengLi, had lunch, then a massage that involved my arms, legs, feet, shouders and head. It was most relaxing. Then, I returned to Houjie and went to bed extra early.

 

My checklist of things I must do in China before I leave here, is getting shorter. I haven’t written it anywhere, but it is sat in my mind, so I’ll begin the checklist now…

  1. Prove I am a man. Bù dào chángchéng fēi hӑohàn (不到长城非好汉) or “if you fail to reach the Great Wall you are not a man” as spoken by Chairman Mao. I have been twice. COMPLETED.
  2. Visit Qingdao, a city my Grandfather visited in World War 2.
  3. Fly a kite.
  4. Have a drinking session of alcoholic beverages with local Chinese people and see who wins. COMPLETED. No winners.
  5. Have a fight when paying a restaurant bill. COMPLETED.
  6. Try your best to understand customs and Chinese culture (中国文化Zhōngguó wénhuà). IN PROGRESS. Massively curious.
  7. Visit the heart of Beijing, Tiananmen Square, Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Gate of Heavenly Peace and the Forbidden City. COMPLETED.
  8. Visit a Hutong in Beijing. COMPLETED.
  9. Watch firecrackers and fireworks in China. COMPLETED.
  10. Visit a teahouse. COMPLETED.
  11. Watch an èrhú (二胡) concert. COMPLETED.
  12. Try Square Dancing. COMPLETED.
  13. Attend Dragon Boat Racing. COMPLETED. Several times.
  14. Visit Hong Kong. COMPLETED. Several times.
  15. Try to learn Mandarin Chinese. IN PROGRESS. Still trying.
  16. Eat foods from every province. COMPLETED. Never stop trying new food.
  17. Visit Harbin for the snow and ice festivals. COMPLETED.
  18. Watch a lion dance (舞狮) festival. COMPLETED.
  19. Travel and see Guilin, the Li River and Yangshuo for the Karst mountain landscapes. COMPLETED.
  20. See Giant Pandas. COMPLETED.
  21. Visit Zhangjiajie. COMPLETED.
  22. Swim the South China Sea. COMPLETED.
  23. Experience extreme winter cold in Inner Mongolia. COMPLETED.
  24. Visit dry and wet markets, various other markets too. COMPLETED.
  25. Hum and enjoy the national anthem. Surely, one of the best national anthem themes in the world. COMPLETED.

 

起来!不愿做奴隶的人们!Qǐlái! Búyuàn zuò núlì de rénmen! Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves!
把我们的血肉,筑成我们新的长城!Bǎ wǒmen de xuèròu zhùchéng wǒmen xīnde chángchéng! With our flesh and blood, let us build a new Great Wall!
中华民族到了最危险的时候,Zhōnghuá Mínzú dào le zùi wēixiǎnde shíhòu, As China faces its greatest peril
每个人被迫着发出最后的吼声。Měige rén bèipòzhe fāchū zùihòude hǒushēng. From each one the urgent call to action comes forth.
起来!起来!起来!Qǐlái! Qǐlái! Qǐlái! Arise! Arise! Arise!
我们万众一心,Wǒmen wànzhòngyīxīn, Millions of but one heart
冒着敌人的炮火,前进!Màozhe dírén de pàohuǒ, Qiánjìn! Braving the enemies’ fire! March on!
前进!
冒着敌人的炮火,前进!Màozhe dírén de pàohuǒ, Qiánjìn! Braving the enemies’ fire! March on!

前进!前进!进!Qiánjìn! Qiánjìn! Jìn! March on! March, march on!

 

  1. Visit Kunming and Yunnan.
  1. See the Terracotta Warriors.
  1. Visit Hangzhou, “Paradise on Earth”
  1. Check out Jiuzhaigou.
  1. Visit Chengdu.
  1. Visit Shanghai, a city my Grandfather visited in World War 2.
  1. Try Chinese art and caligraphy.
  1. Try Kung Fu and Wushu.

I’ll add more in time.

 

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

Lest we forget. The lost lives & futures.

11th November 2016

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

 

11th November is a sombre day in the U.K. At 11 o’clock, bells, canons and clocks mark silence for two minutes. Salutes, moments of remembrance and celebration of ‘The Glorious Dead’ who live on forever in our memories carry a message nationally and beyond to show we will not forget their sacrifice. Our freedom, our choices and our options now have stemmed from their actions, or their inability to have the same options, freedoms or choices we are afforded. For me, I must prepare a very different kind of reflection and silence. I will hold a two-minute’s silence on the roof of school. There will be far more background noise. I will look to the skies and pray (not to gods) to the future, that my generation and generations that follow never need to answer a call, or take a form of action, without choice. I will think about how, in this present day, our human race needs to resolve conflict and end tyranny, for the greater good. I will think of those who came back, sometimes a shadow of their former selves, affected greatly by the stark reality of the ultimate and decisive act of life; death. Without the actions of the few, the many, the turned and unturned, the brave, the bold and the unselfish, we would live in a different world. Times change, attitudes to history evolves. Great losses and their longterm dominoes effect cannot be forgotten. The Great War, the Spanish Flu, World War II, Israel’s fragmented creation, the Russian bloc – a lack of relations between the Western powers and the Kremlin, September 11th 2001, Afghanistan, Daesh, Syria’s civil war, a list of endless genocides and conflict. It must end sometime, surely? The world orders have shifted, but we cannot forget what many gave to give us our today. Our tomorrow is based on their yesterdays. Their final days. It is important to live on and remember, not at the expense of the moment, but to honour those who fell. I can’t imagine how I would feel if my brothers, sisters, best friends and cousins had to go to war. It’d be hard. I would want to be with them and hope to keep them safe. As great as my imagination is, I have been lucky not to be offered the chance to change my mind’s eye into reality. A stark, dangerous and bleak one. Let’s go forwards. Let’s not forget. Lest we forget.

 

11th of November in China is far different to this date experienced back home. In recent years, it has been marked up as 11.11. A clever advertising campaign targeting singletons and those with little common sense to swat promotions away like the annoying fly that it is. Online shopping goes through the roof [About 12 hours into the event on Alibaba, sales had reached 82.4bn yuan ($12.1bn; £10bn)]. Double 11, or Singles’ Day is everywhere, every shop, every phone and spread over social media. The four ones of 11.11 symbolise bare branches. This day was intended to console. An allowance to buy and treat oneself to something luxorious. Shops and websites dived on that pretty swiftly. I won’t be investing. I have my poppy and poppy pin, purchased in advance at Manchester’s Pop-In shop, in summer. The Poppy Appeal, and Remembrance Day, for me, is more important than say Christmas or Easter. Whilst they are great times for family and friends, the absence of partying and solemn reminders of Armistice Day give sober reflection to what we are capable of, and what we should avoid. It isn’t a day of gloom and dullness, but a day of contemplation, a manifestation of memory and tribute. A chance to understand and learn. A chance to remember. Lest we forget.

 

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

The big interview – Felipe Scolari!

14th November 2016

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

 

“One must learn by doing the thing, for though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try.” Aristotle inscribed that, somewhere, and not even in English. Somehow in time it was translated. Time is good. Time changes things. If everything was the same, or simple, it’d be dull. Right?

Felipe Scolari sat upright on a wooden seat, his arms almost draped over the curved armrests. To look at Felipe, revealed little signs of his age. You could say he has been on football management but outwardly shows no strains of the game. Stress may have visited him like a bunch of angry away fans. Not one iota of nervous tension appeared now. I sat opposite him, having been introduced by a member of the kindly P.T.G. Dongguan Veia group. On an assignment from HubHao, I was presented with a wonderful chance to interview.

I led in with the first question, “You started your youth football in 1966, have travelled with many clubs and nations, why did China appeal to you?”

The questions flowed freely, “How do you find Chinese culture?”

“What was it like to find such a large expat community of Brazilians? Did it help you to settle here?”

“How important is having Gaucho culture on your doorstep?”

“Are you afforded more space to be free or anonymous here than in your home country?”

“How does the atmosphere feel to you at Chinese football grounds?”

Then, there was ten questions focused around football, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, and very casual questions before I ended with, “Why didn’t you want to move to Manchester in 2008?” Scolari had been reported to have been appraoached by Manchester City.

However, the above was a dream. It never happened. Eddy called me at 2 o’clock to say we have an interview with Big Phil. I departed by subway, grabbed a taxi, met our photographer and arrived swiftly at the Tangla Hotel. An hour wait for another film crew there to talk with some amazing and famous Gaucho singers who performed there the night before. On waiting outside we were eventually told, that due to contractual reasons, with his football club (Guǎngzhōu Héngdà Táobǎo/广州恒大淘宝), and possibly the Chinese Super League, Mr Scolari was not allowed to give interviews. He was stood on the otherside of the glass, probably and rightfully unsure as to who I was. He did not want to get into trouble. I said, we could conduct this without using football questions. On this, our liaison man Junior went to discuss. He returned. That idea was also scuttled. With that Ched and I trudged out of the hotel. Nobody had considered the emotional damage of rejection. I can’t believe that the legal aspect of conducting said interview was not checked before I left a warm cup of coffee to go cold at my apartment.  In my mind, it was the best interview I had ever prepared for and I’m sure it would have made Mr Scolari laugh and smile. As Oasis sang, “you’ve gotta roll with it…”

 

So, I went for sausage rolls. Quiche, sausages and cider with blackberries too. Alan’s World in Dongcheng was holding a third anniversary. Anniversaries of businesses in China seem most important. Food, cake and free cider was most welcome. I completed my article from the night before, on PTG’s dinner and dance, and relaxed. Eddy arrived and we nattered a little. I said I would bill HubHao for my abandoned cold coffee.

 

Anyway, this morning I have emailed Guǎngzhōu Héngdà Táobǎo/广州恒大淘宝 in the hope that they will grant an interview. As Sir Winston Churchill said, “Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes you must do what is required.”
再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

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