CITY: Similarities.

Good evening/晚上好

Walk into any Starbucks or anything McDonald’s and you pretty much know what you’re going to get. What if that model could be applied to cities? I live in Guangdong’s Chéngshì Qún (城市群) which is a city cluster or Megalopolis. From Guangzhou to Foshan to Dongguan to Shenzhen with Qingyuan and Huizhou nearby, there’s little escapism from a region also containing Hong Kong and Macau. Zhuhai, Zhongshan, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing add to the largest and most populated region of Earth. That’s a lot of Starbucks.

Last December I was lucky enough time visit Yunnan. I stopped by Shangrila city which was renamed from lesser exotic name like Zhongdian. The first place I travelled in 2020 was Suzhou. I’ve since traversed my way through eastern Shenzhen, walking 15km one day and 19km the next. In previous years I’ve visited Shanghai, Nanjing, Qingdao, Zhangjiajie, Beijing, Beihai, Guilin, Manzhouli, and other places taking me through many different provinces. Many Starbucks along the way.

The land is diverse here. The population is everywhere. The cities are like copy and paste versions of themselves. In summer, I visited Yingchuan, Xian, Chengdu, Xinning, Dali and the more places I passed through cities, the more I loathed cityscapes. Perhaps it’s the sudden and fast development of cities in China. They’re almost all modern. A population doesn’t grow from 540 million (1949) to 969 million (1979) to 1,374,620,000 people in 2020 without cities. Aside from a jump in the death rates (for sparrows too! Four Pests Campaign除四害; Chú Sì Hài) during the Great Leap Forward (大跃进 Dà yuè jìn, 1958-1962), China’s death rates have been steady. It’s birthrates slowed after the one child policy in the 1980s (to 2015). Of the population around 26% lived in cities during 1990. Following 2018, 59.2% of all people lived in cities and the or conurbations. McDonald’s grew and grew.

Of the roughly 102 cities of China, you can expect to see the same derelict and abandoned malls; matching apartment blocks rising like tombstones (less so now Evergrande ran a 355 billion USD debt); dense alleyways; laundry and cycles everywhere; lemon tea shops; fast food stalls; older wet and dry markets; strangled urban villages swallowed by expanding cities; modern architecture of the occupied sense – some rusting, some flappy and tatty, some shiny and unopened; or some older colony remnants. Don’t expect to see a temple devoted to Fǎlún Gōng (法轮大法) though. More likely a Burger King.

Expect a walking street or several. These high streets are often loud and feature the same range of sports or department stores. Jewelry etc. Same, same. The traditional gates, colours and lanterns give great character but battle against golden Ms and green and white goddess logos. Actually forms of cities in the West and East differs very little. It’s the older bits and the modern diversity that stands out. Not the segregation of tool shops, household ware and restaurants. But, cities need a bigger heart beat than Pizza Hut and Nike stores.

Whether the city is historic, a National Central City (国家中心城市), a Provincial Capital (省会城市) or one of the other several types, most cities lack appeal. They have bits and places worth seeing, but overall they’re towers, districts, factories and newness. Grid-lined of not. To the residents, and the communities within, they have hearts and character. But to the touring foreigner, most cities appear the same. They make good exits to proper local cultures, mountains and away from the norm.

“Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.” – Article 36 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国宪法 Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Xiànfǎ, 1982)

The positive atheism here contradicts the multitude of religious hubs found in the U.K. They each bring their lack of character. Here in Dongguan, a Pizza Hut may fill that void. I recall Albania having a growing religious influence and so much colour and character around the culture it forms. Here in Guangdong, KTV is possibly that central axis. Being irreligious has its benefits. Being religious has its benefits. There are constitutional and Confucian beliefs and values. It’s a mixed bag. I don’t claim to understand or know what makes a good balance. I just know there are too many Starbucks here in China.

Maybe after a few decades, each city will develop more character and less commercial faces. Who knows?! There are signs now but everything seems almost the same. The same difference. And Beijing knows that identity is key. The more time I spend in and around cities, the more I question their sustainability for our minds, as well as the environment and culture. Are cities a problem?

To be continued…

再寄/So long

Grasping doubt.

Maybe I should, maybe I shouldn’t.

I wish I could but I feel I couldn’t.

I look deeply into my dreams.

They all don’t seem what they seems.

Parts of the perfection have no direction.

Each and every ambition is littered with defection.

So, I sit back, relax and just float along.

Knowing the words and tunes but making not one song.

My actions, my words don’t let me show it.

There’s music in my soul I know it.

Doubt bites at me, it knifed into my soul.

Black dog edging, tearing away at my lifelong goal.

So, what’s stopping has stopped the beginning.

My head is no longer a fit place for winning.

Stop.

Carry on?

Fly Like a Bird of Prey.

Do you recall Kim? Before her Evangelia. Wasn’t there a Jayne too? Nikki wasn’t too quickly. Shirley not? Wendy house? Didn’t you once meet unrequited love? You said you wouldn’t carry on or try again. But, you did! And, who now? Who do you fancy? Is it that Nancy? Or Daisy who drives you crazy? Or Spring, Summer or Autumn? The seasons of choice? Dance with your dreams.

Do you remember that Karst mountain? It rise from the ground like a camel’s hump. You said to yourself it was the most beautiful mountain you’d ever seen. And then you set eyes on Everest. Then Ama Dablam. Then Annapurna one, two and three. Fishtail Mountain. Snowden again and again. Always Winter Hill, but forever dreams of new peaks unseen.

You said you wouldn’t read after Jon Ronson. Wasn’t Jurassic Park the book to end all books? Then Airframe, the Animals of Farthing Wood should. The Jack Reacher series could. Ian Fleming gave you the spy that ended all spies. Pages of love, lies and cries. Yet, you close your eyes and there’s no disguise. Your bookmark never hides.

Back in the day wasn’t Ghostbusters always your favourite? Gremlins and Goonies, two you’d never forget. Watching Jaws, again, without regret! 007 live and let. Leslie Neilson going on and on, I bet. Movies like Gemini Man and iRobot to watch once – no fret. The minds eye full of Skynet.

Things are said one day. Things come and go away. With each passing birthday I say, never betray your display of child’s play. Each day we find a way to convey the driveway of life. Hooray! The outlay does not outweigh what we repay on our stairway to our breakaway. Fly like a bird of prey.

Written in January 2020, in Nepal, on a notepad. Before COVID-19 became annoying.

Refresh.

Craning my neck: stooped harshly.

Deep inside the bowl: placed hands partially.

Turning the pressure to flow: seeking coolness.

In my Chinese house: undrinkable cruelness.

The water here: causing neshness.

Flowing slow water in Manchester: enhanced freshness.

Upstairs at the bathroom: Broom Avenue childhood.

Drinking fast to slow: glug, glug, should, would and could.

Cooler than air, fresher than fair: my share.

After teeth, before sleep: my answered prayer.

I miss that tap: we were raised together.

The tap of life: water from Lake District weather.

Night rider.

The leap of faith: a frog darting between wheels.

The ray of light: shining beams and how it feels.

The foot on pedals: energetic pulsing engines pumping like pistons.

The gripped handlebars: spinning cogs unheard for all who listens.

The rush through dark: air rippling over and under.

The night time cycle ride: a wonder of a wander.

Darkness enveloping: hot air strangling the pathways.

The slick of the wheels: gliding along, down and up every raise.

Trees looking on: witnesses of the rider in the night.

Snakes hiding away: not their chosen spectacles of sight.

Cool air nowhere to be seen: the slick ride of the bicycle abound.

Night rider: over ground, uncrowned and without a sound.

We’re All Teachers

Each and every one of us are teachers. Whether we have bad grammar, a bad grandma or are just plain bad, we can and we do teach. WE all pass something on!

What are we teaching? We’re passing on our habits, manners and cultures through stammers and scammers. We’re inspiration personified and electrified. We’re terrified by teenagers and hormone-ragers. We’re stood-up cowering yet courageous.

We’re teachers, preachers, passionate thrill seekers, and seekers of new, old and bold ways for all our long or short days. We look to heavens, travel to Devon, eat mustard from Dijon. Off we go. Gone. Gone. Gone.

We’re walkers and talkers, hip hop loving, beat box popping, Beastie Boy dancing and prancing, warts and all stabbing, pistol packing, trigger happy, backwards slanting, lazy crazy kinds. Some of us, like parachutes.

We come in all shapes and sizes. Tall, broad, as thin as a sword, looping-swooping PE teachers with all the muscular features, and smiles. Loads and loads of smiles. Shining beaming radiant teeth under a variety of hair styles, or none. Fashion isn’t for everyone, but teachers, we have our own flair for fair and compare. We really give a damn.

To the Mr Meherans, the Tony Macks, Frau Hodges, Miss Hopkins and Mr Jones of our world, we salute you! Of course, I could list more, but that’s a register, and right now is time to read, plan and prepare. Another day, another dream in the wide world of the imagination dream.

Happy TeachersDay

Treasure!

Treasure! Treasure, I tell you! Jewels of the ocean sent over seas and up the river! Landed to me! Inspirational treasure! Oh, how delighted I am! For my gold, has such value untold. The treasure is the warmth of thoughts shared. To be unforgettable. To dream the unknown future foretold. Tell me dreams. Are you with me? Are you for me? Oh, your unforgettable embrace. My heaven. My dream. One day, I hope you shall return. Until then, I have my treasure. The greatest treasure, however, is your heart and soul. My memories. You are the treasure I seek.

Fuck You COVID-19!

Bad morning. Bad evening. Bad day.

Actually, I want to greet you all positively and wish peace and love. It just doesn’t seem suitable. The title of the writing seems like bad language, but it reflects my mood for an approaching date. My Mum always said that words like fuck, bastard and arse, amongst the plethora of curses are just ways of expression. I agree. When we say that piss and twat are bad words, we empower their misuse. Some words like cunt are extremely terrible. I try my best to avoid usage of all these fecking shite words but some days they are just so appropriate.

I am writing this on September the 4th. It’s fast dawned on me that September the 12th is on the horizon. I want to vomit out the words that are rattling around my head now.

September the 12th hasn’t always represented a bad day in September, and for many there have been far worse. For me personally, it isn’t the absolute disaster of a day. Far from it. I’m sure it’ll be a pleasant and wonderful day indeed. It just marks an unwanted anniversary. It represents exactly two years since I left Mancunian soil for China (via Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region etc). The day after the Vincent Kompany testimonial, Uncle Ed delivered me to a flight, alongside my friend Maria and a shedload of luggage. Who’d have thought that the world would go tits up?!

The summers of 2015 to 2019 have all been enjoyed in Great Britain. In fact 2014, marked the longest I’ve gone without summer at home. It being shortly after the February of moving to China. 2020 and 2021 have not given chance to see family or friends back on British soil. Nor has there been a chance to meet half way or for overseas visitors to call by.

I understand that for many, it is the same. For a many people, losses and tragedies have been their visitors over this pandemic of annoyance and continued uncertainty. It’s the uncertainty that this winter or next summer, mobility to see family and my best friend may or not be possible. I’m optimistic but these days it is better to be realistic as more sensible. Right?

Concluding the writing should not involve a message of peace and love. I’ll always wish you all, friend or for, family, flamingo doing flamenco or fungi, peace and love. Today’s scribbling will partake in a list of fuck you messages. It’s only appropriate.

Fuck you to COVID-19. With all due respect to viruses and diseases globally, you’ve really got on many people’s nerves. Enough is enough.

Fuck you to the origins of COVID-19. Tut. Tut.

Fuck you to the conspiring conspiracies. Don’t believe the truth?

Fuck you to the bullies of Wuhan. It’s a city. It has people. People have feelings. Spread love, not hate.

Fuck you Donald Trump. Profits high? Definitely.

Fuck you to those who divide. See above.

Fuck you to those who profited at the detriment of others during this hugely annoying era. There’s a huge increase in billionaires and millionaires, and wealth shares.

Fuck you Man Utd. Always appropriate.

Fuck you to all nations who have politicised this pandemic. You know who you are.

Fuck you those who failed to act and swept away those who wished to speak. Also applicable to the Afghanistan situation. And Rwanda. And countless other events, mostly involving Team America: World Police.

Fuck you to the silencers of the voices. Opinions may be like arseholes, in that everyone has one, but words are powerful and beautiful things. As Mel Gibson said, in Braveheart, “FREEDOM!” before he got in trouble. Terms and conditions apply.

Fuck you Boris Johnson, the budget Donald Trump. Sniveling little inhumane turd of a shriveled up scrotum of a man.

Fuck you to the dismantling parties of the NHS (a bonafide British treasure). See above.

Fuck you to the sneaky laws and regulations that exploited the pandemic conditions. UK included. The RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) could be fined for saving the lives of migrants? Those laws as are fitting for the 1930’s Nazi Party.

Fuck you to anyone who doesn’t believe this pandemic is real and that COVID-19 is a lie. Wake up! Tackle it. Don’t deny it.

Of course, using the phrase fuck you is negative and wrong. I rescind all of the above. Stay positive.

Until the next time, when I see family and friends, peace and love!

John

Low pulse.

Veins showing boldly, ice flowing through coldly.

The swagger has gone, the light has not shone.

Stone replaces the many beats, without the need for feats.

The temperature rose, now nobody knows.

Beasts chose this path, giving no laugh.

I’m wearing a hollow crown, high over the frown.

Darkness swallows me whole, emptying up my soul.

Growling tormented screams, ending all dreams.

No rose without thorns, these days free of dawns.

Eternally sweltering heat, sleep patterns less neat.

Lonely bedspread of solitude, world emptying seclude.

Where is hope today? It’s gone so far away.

Checking out. Sean Lock R.I.P.

Memories of you.

Remember this too.

Farewell and adieu.

It may be time to go.

How will the remember you?

This only they can know.

So, for me and for thee.

Thy words and actions be.

What you want them to see.

Live as you are free.

Without fear be the true me.

It’s your life to cast wide.

The sands of time’s tide.

Enjoy the rhythm, enjoy the ride.

Live it up and full of pride.

There’s only way to buzz your own buzz.

There’s only way of life (and that’s your own).

You need to be true to yourself.

Live hard, live well and in good health.

Buzz loud like a bee.

Today will be yesterday tomorrow.

Leave behind not one sorrow.

Regret nothing and win love.

The game of life is as a dove.

A symbol of peace flying on high.

When I go, do not cry.

For I have lived, and given it all.

To this day and every call.

Though you passed on and gone.

I spotted you as you shone.

You danced, sang and gave clout to your shout.

Your light never goes out.

Condolences to the family and friends of Sean Lock, British comedian, writer and TV star. Ever since seeing 15 Storeys High starring writer Sean Lock with actor Benedict Wong, I’ve been hooked on this charming word-loving comic genius. His panel show appearances, stand-up comedy and writing for other top-notch acts will be missed.

Sean Lock (22nd April 1963 – 16th August 2021)

Caterpillar tracks.

Creating from destruction;
removing from construction;
stripping away from old walls to create new ones;
shredding parts to create hearts;
the caterpillars may be very hungry, but the leaves no longer are.

Actively inactive, sessile rhythms;
Emerging from darkness into light;
Gone are many legs, now wings to fly high;
Dietary changes, decreased yet increased ranges;
Seek food, partnership, courtship and repeat.

In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf. Hope.

TWIS#1: Back to School

What a wonderful place to be.
What an excellent team to see.
The beginning of another school year.
Facing it without any fear.
Confident in the team founding.
Faithful to the conditions surrounding.
The seasons and reasons full of hope.
To the next climb we have our rope.
Up the mountain and down the hill.
Great days we have to fill.
To the team, teachers, staff and all:
Let’s go have ourself a ball!

Thank you for these days.
May every moment be full of rays.
We’re going to change many a mind.
New roads we can find.
Values and morals we can teach.
Making new avenues in reach.
Guiding one another with the other.
Father, sister, friends, mother and brother.
The family are invited together.
This new week brings bright weather.
Thank you all for sharing all you know.
You’re the community I want to grow.

Junbesi.

One kilometre up. Another one down. Toughest climb and hardest descent of my life. Sweat, tears and muscles burning like volcanic lava. At stages the fumes of my depleted energy switched my head into autopilot. I walked aimlessly and without thought. Vacant. Empty. Even desperation and hunger departed my mind. My soul carried me. Hope hadn’t slipped away completely. Bruised worn feet made it through the darkest evening to night. A bed and a meal waited for the day’s end. A great sleep followed. Two different years, two tough challenging experiences. Twice. Twice, the walk carried on.

Yesterday was such a day. A tiring cycle ride to play football. A testing first half-hour. A stretched thirty minutes followed. A near empty final third. And then. And then the ride back. A thirty minutes cycle ride doubled in time. Ten grueling ten kilometres. Sweat. Pain. Tears. Two cups of yogurt and a litre of water. Knackered. Back against the wall. The cycle bad become the rupture machine. A test of stamina and mind over matter. The Junbesi of Dongguan in high humidity and subtropical heat. I crawled into bed following a shower. The kind of shower that involved slumping and letting the warmer than usual water just hit from above. Careless shower. Even sleeping in bed I fed mosquitoes and didn’t care. Exhausted.

Tough moments are there to be overcome.

Hope for Home.

The shooting stars made me feel at home.

Your head rested on my body.

My heart beating faster than ever before.

Like a pounding drum.

Your warmth and my heat.

That was long ago.

It wasn’t so long ago really.

It feels like a lifetime ago.

I miss you.

Tonight…

Tonight, I’ll sit and stare at stars.

Even if the clouds come.

I’ll hope and dream.

I’m lonely without you.

I’ll dream and hope that one day it’ll return.

I’ll wish on every shooting star.

I’ll wish for you.

That’s my hope now.

My dream.

Turn off the moon and turn on the stars.

The stars that shoot.

The ones that I shall wish upon.

For you.

For the dream.

For hope.

Alchemy

I laughed out loud in the shop and smiled so widely. A surprise came by me.

The other customers must have thought I was crazy. They looked at me so hazy.

I opened the unexpected packet and my eyes watered. What was inside the packaging I had slaughtered?

I smiled and smiled some more. Could my face have exploded? I pulled out books, unloaded.

I giggled and giggled a little dance. I could hardly believe this chance!

What a wonderfully heartwarming gift of romance. The book to my heart an instant lance.

The love of a book shared from one soul to another. The gift of wise words and places to discover.

The next adventure belongs to all who uncover. This book will be read fast and slow from cover to cover.

We all know that sharing is caring and caring is sharing. This fairing was bearing caring and sharing.

Angels and mothers give books. The keys to new worlds and a new way. Ialways say every day is World Book Day. But, today, I say: “I will treasure this book forever and a day.”

Now, time to turn the first page.

Spirits on the leaves

Look. Look closer. Amongst the undergrowth. Spotted it? Felt the life within? Can you sense the kingdom of plants?

Shapes cast shadows across the nearby wall. The silhouette is as broad as it is tall. Light flickers its forms to reform, deform and sojourn without call. Edges of leaves curve up and over like a ball. Some so thin and long they hang and fall.

Some plants tower. Others hide and cower. Some they flower. The plant pots here are full of colour. Each colour deep in power. Life-giving health abound this ground. Giving Earth another hour. Shaking with every rain shower. Under threat of no mower.

Fragrant flavours emit to air. Their treasure chest they do bare. Each plant at war together but living side by side as if fair. They share the same soil. Some dare to have green hair. Some tuck away in a tiny lair. Some dominate their fair share.

Rustling with every breath of the breeze, gently tap tap tapping, dancing like fleas. Wishing-washing and zipping around, on the platform above the ground. The scaffolding climbing frame with a green game. The same tame with toxins that maim. A plant is not always a friend.

Tasting the saps and sucking out all the moisture, bugs creep and crawl, feeding on it all. Worms wriggle and jiggle, deep in the soil, without a giggle. They all feed and breed and distribute many a seed. Some die and what not. They rot. Their end of time slot.

HEAR THE RUSTLING! The pitter patter of drops of rain bouncing on each leaf. The scraping and brushing if bending stalks and branches side by side. The air expands Nd contracts. It moves between each plant without care. It lifts a leaf here, and drops one there.

The kingdom of the plants. Come visit us. Watch out for the ants! Bring out your best buzz!

“What’s stopping you?”

你好!Nihao! Hello!

No drunken state of mind was needed. No spontaneity other than the heart and mind being aligned at a state of euphoric relaxation. A new experience was had. Better late, than never.

Dali was a place I felt relaxed enough to make enquiries about one of my ambitions. Many people call ambitions a bucket list these days. I haven’t really listed the things I want to do, the places I want to see and the experiences I must have, for two reasons. Firstly, why list? I’ll contradict myself immediately. I love a list and a plan (at times). Other times call for spontaneity. Secondly, things change. We adapt. We live. We learn. We fight problems like COVID-19, negativity, alarm clocks and mosquitoes.

So, on my, it’s in my head bucket list, I wanted a bee tattoo. Following the atrocities of the Manchester Arena bombing, the bee has undergone a resurgence in its representation of God’s favourite city: Manchester. I say God’s favourite city, but I mean the Gods of rain. All of them. It’s been about two years since I experienced Manchester in the drizzle. And Vimto fruit cordial on ready availability.

So, Echo recommended a friend called Lin for just black or blue tattoos. I wasn’t so keen. It’s a commitment. Bees are colourful after all. A further friend, Zhao, was put in touch and suddenly the bee idea was gaining momentum. Not only that but I wanted to incorporate bats, to symbolise flight and misunderstood mammals. Then, I had to add an aubergine, because QiéZi (茄子) has helped me relax and rediscover myself. Do you believe in resurrection? Then I wanted some lyrics. I toyed between the music of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. Bring me sunshine? Echo offered to draw the tattoo too. I declined. Maybe the next one…

I settled on The Levellers and their track One Way, which has been there so long and I completely agree with the lyrics, “There’s only one way of life and that’s your own.” Perhaps I owe royalties now. I’ll donate to their chosen charity or cause. It needed a font. So, Helveticamazing was selected. It’s a very Mancunian font. At this time, the bee evolved into the colours of Manchester City. Well, the sky blue aspect anyway. Sadly, Zhao didn’t have purple so the eggplant needs finishing another day. Or, it could stay white, like white eggplants. Why not?

Being on a tattoo bed face down, having a pinching, scratching and sometimes sharp sensation was oddly relaxing. At first I was experiencing discomfort but soon found myself lost in John Le Carre’s The Mission Song. With QiéZi and Xiao Jie looking on, at times, I must have napped because they disappeared then reappeared later.

Zhao spent around two and a half hours defacing my skin. QiéZi has two artworks that each required ten hours of work. One on her thigh is a huge colourful fish imagery. Another is the Greek Olympian Poseidon. And her feet, arms, back all have interesting smaller complimentary stories. If a twenty-five year old can be so relaxed and patient, to complete that much fine artwork, so can I. My decision had been made years ago to get a tattoo. The actions needed to be in the right place, at the right time and accompanied by the right people.

再见!Zaijian! Goodbye!

And here it is…

Buzzing.

Transference.

Is it guilt biting away inside my gut? Am I but a projection of unfinished business? I wander far and wide searching but seldom finding. I stumble. I fall. I get up again. I dream by night. I dream by day. I dream to find that elusive other way.

Do I know the answers are deep in side me? Do they hide behind a cloud of misjudgment? Are they tucked under a rock of class hope? How do I drill down into the well of dreams? I so very much want to mine them.

Hope arrived on a wind of change. As soon as it came, it departed. In the blink of an eye the Universe unravelled and left me praying for more. I know it will come, yet insecurity claws away at my dearest hope. Did I let my guard down too soon? Would it be better to burrow down into the cold earth and hide my heart?

Yet the moon rises after sunset, and the sun rises the next day. Sometimes the moon sneaks into daylight. There’s rarely a day without one or the other. One as a heart. The other as a mind. Both giving energy. Both giving freshness to the day. The winds of change and the light of belief.

Here I stand. You’re out there. I know it. You know it. We both want it. We both need it. It beats from hearts into the air and through all it passes. The message is clear. Have not one fear, for you and I are here, my dear.

Always hope.

Mobility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel you.

Never let go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stage XII: Serendipity x Terra

Nihao! 你好!Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zaijian! 再见!Goodbye!

Connection.

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

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

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

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

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

Connection irrespective of time and space: this place.

Blank accommodates more: this feeling is for sure.

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

Free spirited adventurer: forever together.

Poseidon

Deep diving into the depth of discovery;

She has shaken the Earth to my recovery.

Bringing connections irrespective of time and space;

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

Tomorrow comes to take me away I fear;

One twelfth of Olympians of ancient time are right here.

All hope of blank canvases to accommodate more;

Gave me the feeling I want something unlike before.

Storms, horses, earthquakes and the sea;

These things could not move you from me.

Here is your Mount Olympus you dream of diving;

Well wishers walk by you, some are driving.

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

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

Stage XI: Abuji Cuo

你好!Nihao! Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

再见!Zai Jian! Goodbye!

Stage X: Shangri-la Too

Nihao! 你好!Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zai Jian! 再见!Goodbye!

Stage IX: Dali (and the mysterious Aubergine)

你好!Nihao! Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zai Jian! 再见!Goodbye!