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!

Spit. Spat. Spitting.

你好 / Nihao! / Hello!

Firstly, I’m a resident in China enjoying a privileged position as a teacher at an international school. I’m a guest in an ancient country rich in history and culture. However,that does not mean I can’t be disgusted by something or other. One such thing often makes me feel sick inside my guts: spitting. [Note: not the light rain]

Spit happens, would make an accurate car bumper sticker in China. Bizarrely for at least seven years (since I arrived) there have been signs forbidding public gobbing. Not that those who do it, see the graphic warning signs. The comic book style head, usually male (or a woman with a very short hair cut), has a tilted head with three or more large drops of watery phlegm projectile in its flight, trying to defy gravity.

With the outbreak of the now devastating, everlasting boredom and annoyance that is COVID-19, especially it possibly (and allegedly) having an origin in China, you’d expect the mask wearing public to obey and end public displays of mouth splatter protection. No. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Aim. Fire! In fact many pull their masks down to fire their sludgy substances.

My first disaster came in Houjie, Dongguan in 2014. I was new to China. I walked past a multistorey building and SPLATT! Some dirty scrotebag had launched their throat contents from high, hitting my arm square on. At the time I didn’t have a tissue on me. A huge faux pas. So, I whipped off my shirt, revealing my palest of pale demeanour and rubbed the shirt sleeve on a wall, then some dirt in a small outdoor plant pot. After that on some tree bark, then on a wall. Then I out the shirt back on, cancelled a dinner with a friend and stormed back feeling like a tut wasn’t enough. Tut.

The women here, and not all, as well as many men have a good throat clearance. It crosses all provinces and all manner of careers. I’ve seen bank managers in Guangdong purge equally as much as a taxi driver in Gansu launch their own weapon of local destruction. In Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia I witnessed a local hotel owner turn an evening gob into ice. It being -30C, I was simultaneously amazed, disgusted and bloody cold. Microorganisms on ice.

Don’t get me wrong, spitting sometimes us necessary like when you swallow a spider to catch the fly that you’d previously swallowed. Or the following animal kingdom members that you swallow to catch the eight-legged freak. Or, when playing sports, that are highly aerobic and need a little clearance. We’ve all seen football players do it. Nobody is perfect. Or, do it in private. Away from others. Hide it. Don’t be so open and show everyone.

On one recent train journey, I witnessed a woman of middle age, whip her mask down, hawk a lookie after about a minute of snarling gasping rasping raking throat sounds. Everyone around her carried on as normal. I was sick in my throat. I had to keep my own sick down. She did this more than once. The railway carriage actually wreaked of her throat’s fragrance.

At Chapel Street Primary School I witnessed a few kids spit on other’s faces. It’s disgusting. I silently vowed if ever anyone did that to me, they would taste a knuckle sandwich. And at primary and secondary school, my fists were raised for such incidents. I’m not proud. Sticks and stones as we know, hurt. Name calling really hurts. Spitting is extremely rude. Contempt and anger should not lead to spitting. That’s something a wild animal may do in fear or aggression. Are you a llama, alpaca or cobra?

Spit is healthy. It’s a lubricant. It fights bacteria. It stops bad breath, sometimes. The bubbling fresh gross spit, that resembles the cuckoo spit, seen often across British grasslands in spring is vile. And across the globe laws are being changed to stop spitting as a weapon. Spitting has been deliberately used against key workers and caused death by contagion. Part of our two pints or so of gob a day should never ever find its way to anyone else’s vicinity.

Good or bad habits are often learned from peers, parents and television. This bad habit of shooting saliva from your mouth may have followed watching Jurassic Park and the Dilophosaurus. Spit being water, salt and antibodies is quite neutral, until the bacteria and viral materials that it’s designed to remove join in the liquid mess. The mass needs removing, for some but not others.

Inhaling hard to force ounces of nasal mucus is something that I find hard to stomach. Some argue smokers need to remove their excessive phlegm. Others say having a dry throat necessitates expectorated contents to soothe an absence. For me, it’s the sound, the lack of sanitary consideration for the dispelled vapour at the time of ejection. Then there’s the where factor. Where are they spitting? Will a child play on that part of the pavement?

The way I see it, is that if you spit in public, you’re spitting on the grounds that your people and family walk. In turn you’re spitting on friends and your civilisation. You have no respect for your flag or heritage. Is my view extreme? Only as extreme as spitting so rudely!

Rant over.

再见 / zai jian / Good bye!

Stage VIII: Chengdu & Don’t

你好! Nihao! Hello!

The first train from Chaka Lake station left on time. I’d spent an hour or so prior talking to a young your guide called Ethan. His tour group were busy exploring Chaka Lake. He kindly shown me the mine workers’ village and a nondescript shed that doubled up as a shop. Inside it was crammed with fresh vegetables, beers, spirits, dry foods and all the things life needs to survive. The dark shop had a big bottle of water and a bottle of lemon tea. That’s exactly what I wanted for the four hour train ride ahead.

As I went to pay, Ethan, born in Qinghai and a graduate of philosophy, beat me to it. He insisted. It’s hard to fight warmth and kindness from people at times. We sat on his your coach, complete with snoring driver, and talked about Buddhism, Confucius (孔夫子 Kǒngfūzǐ), Muslims (Hui), and harmonious people. He mentioned how one grandfather had fled persecution during the Cultural Revolution, on the advice of fellow villagers and how another had ridden his horse away from the late-World War II battlefield with Japan.

I changed at Xining for the second train. A sleeper carriage all the way to Chengdu (成都). I awoke, still with three hours to kill, flipped open Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries and half-read, half-day-dreamed. Alighting the train at Chengdu Railway Station, I emerged into a world of grey. Concrete and aged. My first impressions lacked enthusiastic joy. I headed down to the subway for a tube train to the Chengdu South Railway Station.

I departed the station’s subway via exit C, emerging into a barren building site. I turned right, trying to find a way to the other side of the surface railway. After about a kilometre of walking, I arrived at the Skytel hotel. I checked in without trouble, then headed out for an exploration of the city’s relics.

My initial impression of the city softened. Littered with monasteries, relics and life, the city of Chengdu became a green established city with limited construction (unlike many other cities) but sadly one that has far too many flyovers and cars. I visited a monument to Zhūgě Liàng (诸葛亮), the one time legendary military leader and prime minister of Shu Han (蜀汉) during the Three Kingdoms period. From there I tasted black ice cream from a black cone. No apparent explanation could be given. The Wuhouci (武侯祠) temple was okay but the modern Jinlin Ancient Street (锦里古街) around it was heavily commercial, in a way resembling so many other cities that have tourism at their hearts. The new version of an old style street is very much a photogenic tourist trap.

The biggest draw for tourists lies to the city’s northeast. The city of Chengdu is famous for the Chengdu Panda Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding Centre. It’s a kind of zoo limited to red pandas (the original panda) and a handful of aquatic birds… and Giant Pandas. The 58RMB ticket seemed a little harsh at first. Every enclosure had a sign saying that Giant Pandas can’t go outside in warm weather. For me it was no problem. For many other fare paying customers, they were angry on the border of irate.

On entering several internal enclosures, I managed to see a few scruffy Giant Pandas. Their housing having turned their white to grey and black to dirty. Usually Giant Pandas sit with their arse to the windows. Maybe to drowned out the think it on the glass by adults and kids alike. Tired looking security staff didn’t seem interested in keeping the noise down. Some opted for megaphone to make sure you didn’t stay still too long and enjoy the majestic mountain beasts.

Cameras and selfie sticks are all fair and good, but waving them around carelessly striking a Mancunian in the face will only result in an ouch and a tut. Said person then asked me to “小心” (xiǎoxin) which means be careful. It was entirely my fault to be stood still and swiped by a careless metal pole with an iPhone begging to be stamped on. But, instead I tutted. Tut!

I observed Sichuan Opera (四川歌剧院) on the way to meet a good friend Momo and also caught up with an organiser of the Dongguan World Cup for beers, a natter and midnight snacks. His former student friends were all policemen and lawyers. It was an interesting insight into Sichuanese language and culture. They were all so very friendly. Just like the Taoist people at Qingyanggong Temple (青羊宫) and Du Fu’s cottage (think Chinese Shakespeare). Most of the food I ate was not too spicy (微辣; wēilà) but often it was too oily and spicy. The midnight snack hotpot from a Chongqing boss (老板 lǎobǎn) was delicious, even though I’d ate earlier!

Sichuan pepper (花椒; huājiāo) isn’t too hot compared to Thai and Indian foods. It’s just a little more drying with a kind of mouth numbing effect. Although for one meal, passing a Scotts Fish & Chip shop I had to try it. For 110RMB, the large cod and chips with a drink didn’t disappoint at all! A huge Tibetan area by the Wuhouci temple also had my belly full far too much. Meeting Momo in Comfort Cafe (British-style) meant my two days in Chengdu featured a balanced diet of hot and bland. A good Ploughman’s is hard to find. Sorry, Comfort Cafe, I didn’t find it. The piccalilli wasn’t bad though.

Meeting a student who was travelling alone, I ended up exploring the Panda Museum at the Chengdu Panda Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding Centre with Jason. He explained how he was studying to be a soldier. I didn’t ask questions. Anyway, we tagged along together and ended up going to the immersive Jurassic World exhibition. The 168RMB allowed a wander through some animatronics and simulations. It wasn’t bad and took me back to the first Jurassic Park movie and book. A highly enjoyable contrast to other cultural parts of the days in Chengdu. Chengdu is truly a modern old city with a futuristic outlook.

Next stop: Dali (after a bloody noisy train journey… or three). It’d be nice if the obese woman and her young child that is full on slobbery would stop screaming down their phones. The phone calls are not really helped by the in-out, in-out nature of tunnels and mountains. Almost everyone around them is going on mad. I’ll just tut. Tut!

再见!Zai Jian! Goodbye!

Hard sleeper.

Six cubic square metres. Space teeters.

Six bunks for warm souls. Sheets full of holes.

Sun beating in from the west. No rest.

Mountains to the east. Facing it with a feast.

Crispy chips and crunching cake. Smelly food they did take.

Coughing and spluttering. Aisle cluttering.

Masks off blowing noses. Ring a ring of roses.

Hot as a desert sauna. Flying biting fauna.

Whatever is that smell? Food bell! Food bell!

Smooth until the shunts. Wheels at the stunts.

Clickety-clack along the long track. No way back.

Stage VII: Chaka

你好!Nihao! Hello!

I arrived at Chaka Station (茶卡站, Chákǎ Zhàn) 151km from the gargantuan Qinghai Lake, and 300km from Xining. The smooth railway journey was sandwiched between sweeping views and seemingly endless tunnels. The train ground to a halt on the single track. A chugging diesel engine had swapped with an electrical unit at some stage of the journey. I guess that hour where I had a nap.

The station was immediately at the gate of the scenic area. Chákǎ 茶卡盐湖 Salt Lake (Yánhú) has a salted bed. That’s the reason for such a high level of reflection. There are salt mines around these parts. It’s known as a photographer’s wet dream. For 60RMB (less in off season) and a further 50RMB to board a quaint sightseeing train, there’s much to be seen across the 105 square kilometres of lake. I walked the 3km to my hotel, checked in and then walked back.

Chákǎ is a Tibetan word meaning salt lake. It’s located around 3059m (10,036′) above sea level. That’s probably the reason the Gaoyuanhong Inn has disposable oxygen canisters for sale. That and some salt products. Salt seems to be a thing here, having been mined for three millennia. I read the salt below the water can be 5 to 15 metres in depth. And, every time it rains more salt is brought down the valleys. The once sea area keeps providing. Some claim it is infinite.

There are sightseeing platforms and decking everywhere: a tall 30m tower; a platform with the words ‘I love Caka’; two hearts in love as a platform; and the mirror of sky squares. It’s a real draw for tourism, apparently attracting over a million visitors a year. Sculptures are present and some honour the Wuxian tribes who once harvested the plains and salts of Chaka. Closer to the present there’s an abandoned salt factory and salt-mining transportation hub. There are yachts, helicopters and all manner of ways to see the lake’s splendour.

A smaller lake, Sky Number One Lake, is a little east of Chaka Lake. However, I’m not rushing to it. My experience of saltwater is that it stings broken blisters, makes you really dry and forms a crusty layer over your skin. I’ll take it easy and enjoy the sunrise then have a wander.

Zai jian! Goodbye! 再见

Stage VI: Xining & Kumbum

Nihao! Hello!

The train rolled into Xīníng (西宁) and I skipped immediately down the stairs, found a wee man’s room and had a piddle. As exciting as the journey was, I could not go to the toilet. The views and valleys were something else. The tunnels were also rather long, and I didn’t want to gamble on missing any scenery whilst urinating. Hence, the urgency at Xining’s plush railway station.

Xining is the provincial capital of Qinghai (青海). It is home to Mongols, Tibetans, Han Chinese, and Muslims (Hui). It has a mixture of vibrant cultures. Walking around Lotus Lake (Mayigou Reservoir), I witnessed Tibetan music, Muslims walking and relaxing and Han Chinese carrying umbrellas in the afternoon sun. The train journey into Qinghai crossed huge expanses of grasslands, tight valleys and mountains beyond mountains. There’s nature in and around the area. The WWF (not the wrestling lot) have an office here.

The language around here is different, it’s Mandarin but Qinghaihua dialect. Like the language the cultures and food are quite diverse too. Almost as diverse as the routes of water within this province. The three great rivers of China have their sources in Qinghai. The Mekong, Yellow (黃河) and Yangtze rivers all begin here. Xining’s Huángshuǐ hé (river/湟水河) is a tributary of the Yellow River.

I started Monday by moving hotels. My first choice hotel had no vacancies for two nights so I moved to the Xinsu 1357 Inn. I should have stayed here sooner. The wooden and brick lodge was cosy with lovely lighting and Tibetan decor throughout. Even the room key card came in a hand-carved wooden block. Immediately after checking-in, I set out for the Tǎ’ěr Sì (also known as Kumbum Monastery 塔爾寺). Near to Xining, the 14th Dalai Lama was born and he later spent time at Kumbum. As did Peter Fleming, journalist brother of James Bond creator Ian Fleming.

The monastery was dazzling and wrapped in the blanket of history. There were some buildings rebuilt after a fire in 1912 but mostly the temples and shrines dated to the 17th century. The number of monks is residence is close to 300, a tenth of its peak population. The odd cat and umpteen pigeons scattered between the natural bird population seen on the green fringes of the site.

Whilst wandering a passageway, a pretty young girl stopped me. I’d seen her distinctive glow in a courtyard just moments before. Her curious eyes and manner stopped me and asked me a few questions. My favourite question was, “It’s all in Chinese, how can you understand?” I replied that I’d visited many Buddhist places in Nepal and then we talked about travels. Stacey, as she introduced herself, was a recent Masters graduate and worked with the internet. Smart kid. She’d been to France to study and had a bubbly personality. I bid her goodbye and she scuttled off back towards her native Beijing.

The cultural day featured The Great Lama’s Residence, Yak Butter Scripture Temple (a huge butter sculpture in a refrigerator of a modern temple), then the Huangzhong Huanghe Cultural Museum. From there I wandered to Huangzhong County Museum, and a Tibetan Museum by the Mayigou lake/reservoir. I’d already walked the pleasant area around the reservoir the day before. Today I aimed for the food festival site at it’s far end.

I joined a Tibetan family’s stall and ate a kind if bread with lamb inside. This came with a spicy coleslaw-like salad and some rolled dough noodles (擀面皮 gǎnmiànpí). It was all delicious and a fantastic way to feel full on a walk back. That and an ice cream.

Frustrating things happen. That’s life. Some conversations lack progression or clarity. That’s the way of life. The important thing is to be polite and patient.

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*pause*

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*thinking*

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*puzzlement*

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*does not compute*

“Show me your vaccine certificate.”
I complied.

“Did you leave China since coming to China?”
“No.”

“Please wait a moment.”
Minutes pass.

“When did you enter China?”
I repeatedly point at my passport entry date stamp.

Questions about where I was yesterday, the day before, last week follow.
“So, you have no job?”
“I’m a teacher. I am on holidays.”

Guess the next question.
I ignore the train conductor. Until the next visit. This time she has an array of questions…

I was asked why I was on holidays; how I have worked in China since the pandemic; why I have no wife; why I didn’t go back to the UK; why I didn’t stay at home; which school I worked at; do the school allow travel; do the school know where I am; why am I travelling alone. I had an audience around me. One person insisted on translating for me. A kind stranger. One passerby stood an recorded it on his phone. I imagine I’ll be on TikTok/Douyin soon enough. After all of that I was none the wiser as to what I’d done wrong. Perhaps I’d stolen some hotel soap. I didn’t want to leave the bar of soap to be wasted. Perhaps, I didn’t give my first pet’s name?

Tuesday’s 8am train from Xining railway station arrives at Chaka Lake by 12:10. The hard sleeper service cost 275RMB return, but it meant sprawling out with a book would be possible, and not a hard seat for the bottom. The Gaoyuanhong Inn would provide a night’s sleep before returning at 17:10 on Wednesday for a 21:30 arrival in Xining. That should fit in a trip to the Dongguan Mosque (东关清真大寺; Dōngguān Qīngzhēndàsì) before departing Xining…

Chaka Lake and Chaka Khan are two very different things. The latter is a Singer-song writer, born in 1953, famed for I’m Every Woman and Ain’t Nobody. Chaka Salt Lake is often known as the ‘Mirror of the sky.’

Zai jian! Goodbye!