ALL CHANGE.

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

August 2020 has seen a few new components to my life. A new apartment. A new place of work. A new kettle. A new model bridge in the balcony garden. And finally, like Star Wars, a new hope. Moving from Changping to Songshan Lake and Dàlǐngshān (大岭山) was relatively straight forwards.

The new apartment sits over the line of the township borders. I live in Dàlǐngshān but I work in Sōngshānhú district (piànqū / 松山湖片区). Dàlǐngshān Zhèn (大岭山镇) is part of Sōngshānhú but these days Sōngshānhú is a very high-tech centre within the 6 townships that surround Sōngshān lake itself. Shilong (石龙), Chashan (茶山), and Shipai (石排) aren’t really that close to the lake area but they’re part of the district. The lake area is mainly surrounded by Dàlǐngshān, Dàlǎng (大朗) and Liáobù (寮步). Sōngshānhú as a town has grown from 2003, from a simple high-tech park to the mammoth green living space around the lake that is now. Huawei and many other tech giants are here. It has a railway station on The Dongguan West to Huizhou railway and will soon join the subway with three stations in Dàlǐngshān on the line 1 route (东莞轨道交通1号线/Dōngguǎn Guǐdào Jiāotōng Yī Hào Xiàn), and one at Sōngshānhú itself. The new line opens in 2022, so I won’t get too excited right now. The subway Line 3 will also have 4 stations in Sōngshānhú but that hasn’t began construction.

The new job has been welcoming, well-paced and full of encouragement. I am confident that this is a new start with great potential. Two former students are following me from grade 3 at St Lorraine Anglo-Chinese School to the new Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS). I’m sure that they will enjoy their grade 4 class – and I will have to work hard as their Home Room Teacher to ensure that they do. Between various conference calls, meetings and introductions there has been good coffee and ample time to down tools to think of a plan of action. I am terribly excited about the coming semester. Even amongst these COVID-19 times there is a lighthouse and beacon when we look in the right places.

Dàlǐngshān town isn’t far away, and in the relatively short time since I first went to Dàlǐngshān, the place has grown and has modern districts, several branches of Lauren’s Pizza and even a Walmart. There are universities and amongst the Guangdong Medical University is just over the road from me and DG University of Technology (东莞理工学院) isn’t far off. The lake has one large section that is completely free of cycles and cars. There is a parallel cycle route below a highway and under a cooling tree canopy. Cycling around the rest of the lake is a must. It is a great spot for tourism with backdrops of Huawei’s impressive European-style town and numerous picturesque places along the way. Lotus leaves, lush green sprawls, flowers and bird call should be abundant. Around the many tranquil pathways, you can see Tai Chi, yoga, dates holding hands and families flying kites. I can’t wait to hang up my hammock sooner or later.

“I feel invigorated.” – Those were my words spoken to a new colleague on Friday. The evening was finished with a leaving day drink for Calum from Murray’s F.C. He’s only moving to Shenzhen but felt the need to arrange a leaving meal and drinks. I didn’t attend the meal as all new team members of Tungwah Wenzel International School were treated to a splendid buffet meal at the stylish Dongcheng International Hotel (owned by Tungwah/Donghua group). Even the coach journey was on a Tungwah group coach. They own factories, gardens, estates, hospitals and schools. They’re a sizable group and well-known in this region. Between the blooming peach and plum trees of Dongguan, the group’s assets aren’t far off. The ministry of optimism within my head is thankful for such a great opportunity. My only regret is not buying a crane from the car park exhibition at the Dongcheng International Hotel. Dahan Construction Machinery have some great pieces, ideal for placing hammocks within.

There are plenty of places within a short cycle ride now. Tongsha lake and the parks around it are just a stone’s throw away. Dalingshan Park is between here and Houjie. I’ve already cycled back to Irene’s Bar for a sandwich. There’s much to see and do in the area that I have yet to explore. On my doorstep, I will find the Tongji Bridge (通济桥 Song Dynasty, 920-1279) and cross that bridge soon. It will help me forget my worries. That’s the literal meaning, I believe.

“Quite apart from its meaty content, we believe we have found a real dramatist” – Gerry Raffles of Theatre Workshop speaking about Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey.

Every story should have a beginning, an end, and some middle parts. There should be a plot, a setting with characters, some form of conflict (because something must happen), and a resolution (the smooth end). Some books carry the resolution or conflict over a series. That is life. Some things drag on. Others happen and fade away. There is no one-size-fits-all story to life. There will le a logical following and flow to a story because they must run smoothly to allow the follower to tag along. British dramatist and screenwriter Shelagh Delaney (who featured on album cover Louder Than Bombs, by The Smiths) intended A Taste of Honey to be a novel. It is a very famous play now. The drunken working-class single mum of Helen, and a daughter called Jo have spread from the monotonous 1958 skyline of a desolate Salford to London’s West End, Broadway, BBC Radio 3 and the Royal Exchange Theatre amongst other places. Peter, the wealthy southern lover of Jo’s mother Helen and a black sailor called Jimmy feature alongside a camp art student called Geoffrey. It is a complex and heavily questioning piece of drama. Class, gender, sexuality, and race are dissected which for mid-twentieth-century Britain was highly risky. The stars have followed the play with Stockport’s Sally Lindsay, a cluster of soap TV stars and Dr Who extras, Joan Ann Olivier, Baroness Olivier, DBE (born 28th October 1929) and notably Dame Angela Brigid Lansbury DBE joining the productions. A certain Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) has also featured on the stage for this production. From Salford to Home and Away to a Galaxy far, far away…

But, right here, right now my story at Dongguan’s Tungwah Wenzel International School has just began.

Statue of Limitation

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

There’s a financial crisis, then there is austerity, the Grenfell Tower disaster, then a global pandemic, and recessions, and environmental disasters, and climate change, before race battles and financial meltdowns and worries. Oh, there are worries. So many worries. A book written and translated in the 1880s is as ever-relating now as it ever was. We have the translation skills of Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky to thank. Following the 1848 revolutions, Friedrich Engels moved to Manchester for around two decades. Through capitalism he was afforded the luxury of revolutionary ideas.

Friedrich Engels dated Irish immigrant Mary Burns. After Mary’s death, his love passed to her sister Fenian (Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB)) Lizzie. They married on her deathbed. In ways he had a Clark Kent and Superman lifestyle. Between riding in hunts in Cheshire, chasing foxes for fixes, he was slipping money out of his accounts to revolutionaries. This Bruce Wayne on one hand, Batman on the other existence was a huge contradiction. Part knight in shining armour and protector to part capitalist imperialist pig. A life beautiful and ugly in the reflection of contradictions.

“social murder”  – Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England

Artist Phil Collins gave Friedrich Engels a home next to HOME in Tony Wilson Place. What was all that about? Our Friedrich Engels was an honorary Manc back in the day. He lived in and around the area for many years. He observed industry at its most brutal and gathered his thoughts in and around the city. The statue of German Friedrich Engels stands outside HOME, an arts and entertainment complex in the heart of the city of Manchester. Phil Colins gave Manchester a piece of its history that is well-documented in paper form, but little seen in the day to day tapestry of the city’s vast structures.

“The way in which the vast mass of the poor are treated by modern society is truly scandalous. They are herded into great cities where they breathe a fouler air than in the countryside which they have left.” – Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England

Whereas Engles came from Barmen, Kingdom of Prussia, the artist Phil Collins moved to Berlin, from Britain. Back in 2017, a 3.5 metre monster of a stone statue, fractured and left for ruin was moved from the eastern Ukrainian village of Mala Pereshchepina to Manchester. As part of the Manchester International Festival, it was unveiled as part of a show called Ceremony, featuring songs and dance, with a ditty by the Super Furry Animals’ frontman Gruff Rhys. In an unassuming carpark, the procession moved over to Tony Wilson Place and all around newbuilds sat and towered above old mills, relics of the Industrial Revolution, and people sipped coffee from Starbucks cups and held Tesco carrier bags. The statue passed by Engels’s birthplace in Barmen, Berlin and was subject to great interest.

“The capitalists soon had everything in their hands and nothing remained to the workers.” – Principles of Communism (1847)

Like Christ, Mohammed and many other Gods, their words have been responsible for countless deaths through misinterpretation or abuse. They have been used by the powerful to suppress or enhance those who choose to use them. Think Trump with Twitter, or Elliot Carver (actor Jonathan Pryce) in the 1997 instalment of James Bond, Tomorrow Never Dies. So, having a legacy or words and ideas, a multifaceted figure arrived to Mancunian soil. A now-outlawed sign of communism may now be outlawed in the Ukraine, but in Manchester this statue of Engels symbolises the then, the now and the future. The scar where the statue was severed in half of the waist is clear. The artist Phil Collins had negotiated the statue as a gift from one community to another. Its journey was documented – with a video commissioned.

The writer of The Condition of the Working Class in England, in sculpture form fits in with the spirit of Manchester. A radical, against the establishment and for the people. The concrete structure looms over the paving slabs below, featuring patches of lichens and a broad beard. The very city he once developed his philosophies in has changed much but many social issues remain. The horrific conditions of workhouses have gone, but in the COVID-19 days of capitalism and struggle, new challenges are present. I’m lucky, as are many Mancs, that we grew up later in better times. Our Engels though, he was here when misery and suffering were commonplace.

“Manchester is a meeting point. It represents both the birth of capitalism and the factory system and the magic of capitalism, the magic of surplus value.” – Phil Collins, The Guardian, to writer Charlotte Higgins (30/6/2017).

Engels had such an influence on what would happen in the 20th century that even today, his relevance and legacy is present. This German philosopher, historian, communist, social scientist, sociologist, journalist and businessman understood Dialectical materialism and Continental philosophy whilst remaining a keen advocate of solutions to class struggle. So, on July the 16th 2017, Engels came home and Manchester had a bash to mark the occasion.

As per the ideas of Collins, he shifted a statue from one space to another, and an idea from one place that once embraced communism to one that in all fairness skirts closer to Labour and Socialism than the media would have you think. Now in 2020, we’re seeing statues of slavers, Romans, imperial figures and all under deep scrutiny. Just as Saddam Hussein and Colonel Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi fell, so to, are the busts of Sir Winston Curchill and co. It’s like a historical hunt in the manner of Operation Yew Tree, but without BBC stars. Just like some of the childhood stars of old, even the big guns of history are there to be torn at with our claws. #BlackLivesMatter is opening a whole range of debates and dialogue.

“That the Materialistic Socialists will improve H. [History] for the poor. Their best writer, Engels, made known the errors and the horrors of our Factory System.” –  Lord Acton, quoted in Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics (1952), pp. 181–82

It has been around three years since we could dress up like Engels, make banners or talk with academics in the then named Engels Exchange at Tony Wilson Place. The statue still stands. The beauty of history is that it has happened. Now we’re in an era when more and more history is being questioned. That’s good. That’s evolution in action. We have to be careful what we do with our history. Some statues remind us of different times and give us a voice for that period. They don’t always need to be celebrated and respected. They stand as a reminder of progress. All symbols must be questioned. It is our right and instinct as a species to want to be better. History shows us that Marx was more celebrated than Engels. As Engels slaved away writing Marx’s notes and supporting the Marx family, Marx had already departed this world. Engels may have come from a wealthy cotton-mill owning family but his time from 1842 to 1844 was profound.

In memory of those who have died in the workhouses and during this modern austerity.

Radical Cowherd

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“Animals are my friends…and I don’t eat my friends.” – George Bernard Shaw

The radical city of Manchester has and continues to change eating habits for many people. Independent food co-op The Eighth Day (111 Oxford Road) has a shop and a café in central Manchester. It’s part of a growing vegetarianism within Greater Manchester. Everything from food festivals (e.g. Plant Powered Sunday), vegan fairs, beer festivals and club nights can be found within the city.

“Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you any more.” – Franz Kafk, German-speaking Bohemian novelist

William Cowherd died in Salford during 1816. He’d lived around that way for some time. Well done him. Salford, for those outside of Manchester, is a city that is west of Manchester. It is part of Greater Manchester, and when the news is positive, we Mancunians claim Salford as our own, but when it’s negative, Salford stands alone.

“As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.” –  Pythagoras, ancient Ionian Greek philosopher

For example, Salford Lads Club (est. 1903), is famous for a photo of The Smiths nearby by photographer Stephen Wright. That’s positive and claimed by Manchester. Murder for example, well that happened in Salford and has nothing to do with Manchester. Salford/Manchester’s William Cowherd advocated vegetarianism and in 1847 his philosophy founded the Vegetarianism Society (in Altrincham, just south of Manchester).

“William Cowherd, the founder and minister of Christ Church, Salford, died 24th of March, 1816, aged 53 years. At his request is inscribed, ‘All feared, none loved, and few understood.’ ” – The words of William Cowherd’s tomb at Christ Churchyard, King Street, Salford.

Popular with his followers, Cowherd gave free medical services, a lending library without cost and soup (vegetarian, obviously). Having trained at Beverley College, Yorkshire,  Cowherd moved to Manchester in the late 18th Century.. Heavily-influenced by 18th Century Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, Cowherd went his own ways after jumping ship from the Church of England to the Swedenborgian church before he went solo.

“Eaters of flesh could you decry; Our food and sacred laws; Did you behold the lambkin die; And feel yourself the cause?” – Hymn against flesh eating

Reverend William Cowherd established the Bible Christian Church in 1809. Located on King Street, Salford, his church broke away from the Swedenborgian New Church. He and his congregation [known as Cowherdites] vowed not to eat meat or other intoxicants. Born in 1763, William Cowherd, headed from his native Carnforth (Lonsdale South of the Sands). A keen writer, Reverend William Cowherd’s work could be found from the New Jerusalem Journal to the catchily named Liturgy of the Lord’s New Church. Various works of his were printed locally at the Manchester Printing Society. Considering Cowherd, which is a strange name for a man who hated eating meat, was only around for 53 years, his church managed to reach America [Philadelphia Bible Christian Church] and push the cause of vegetarianism and form of temperance to a wider audience. Other temples opened around Manchester for the Bible Christian Church, with one on Every Street just down from what is now known as the Etihad Stadium.

“It is my view that the vegetarian manner of living, by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.” – Albert Einstein

So, Cowherd convinced a group of congregates not to eat offal (stomach and intestine) etc. The poor were rarely able to invest in higher cuts of meat. These Cowherdites, his flock, went on and before you knew it meat was murder and the Vegetarian Society was born. At this time, vegetarianism was met with disdain. Nobody knew how the health effect would be. Few had studied it. Few had gone that way. Deaths within the Cowherdites were blamed on a lack of meat and two veg in their diets. Intellectuals throughout urbanisation and cities began to debate the ethics of killing and eating animals. Vegetarian restaurants in Victorian Manchester flourished.

“The thought of two thousand people crunching celery at the same time horrified me.” – George Bernard Shaw

Every acronym & their gunslinger.

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

I’m in China. The net-based citizens here are laughing and joking about freedom being dead in America. From Sina Weibo to Wechat to QQ, it is out there: America’s freedom is falling. After all when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Act like a donkey and be treated like one. Act with compassion and understanding, and…

“Oh Johnny, did you back thewrong horse! Will you hose him please?!” – Bill Murray as Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters II

Conducting the leadership over social media channel President of the U.S.A. (well, the white part, at least), Trump of the White House is now using the military against his own people. Well, if he identifies with them, that’d be a positive start. But this is a man telling state governors that, “you have to dominate”. The top brass is needed, this is a job for the A-Team. Step forwards General Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Trump and his massive cahunas were seen spotted at Lafayette Square (outside the White House) and heading into the slightly burnt St. John’s Church. Right Reverend Mariann Budde told the Washington Post, “I don’t want President Trump speaking for St John’s.”

Tear gas is a reasonable means to scatter peaceful protestors and rubber bullets don’t actually hurt that much. Is this Hong Kong or America we’re talking about? Could be either. Well as long as the free press keep their distance (like Sunrise & #7News from Australia didn’t and CNN failed to sort their acts out). President Trump has directed Attorney General Barr to effectively let all guns rolls. The entire weight of the F.B.I., A.T.F., D.E.A., B.O.P, and U.S. Marshalls are at his beck and call. The Department of Defence and the department of Homeland Security are also deployed to the District of Colombia. So, every acronym and their gunslinger are in town. Clint Eastwood just turned 90 years old and probably had an invitation to the party. Restoring order resembles the first or second invasion of Iraq.

“Hate just hides. It doesn’t go away, and when you have somebody in power who breathes oxygen into the hate under the rocks, it comes out from under the rocks.” – Joe Biden, Associated Press.

In the opposition wings, Democratic Presidential candidate, Joseph Biden has vowed to deal with institutional racism. Would Biden be comfortable removing peaceful protestors just so he can get his photo for the so-called-free-press? Biden is white or Caucasian. I’m white, or Caucasian. Many like him and I haven’t been subjected to servitude or feeling we’re of less, shall we say value, worth or merit than say someone without a title to their name, or land, or property, or a stable upbringing, or a private education – oh go on, let’s spell it clearer. Someone who is black – or Asian – or basically not white. I grew up in Levenshulme, Manchester and attended Chapel Street Primary School. Some of my earliest friends had Pakistani, Irish, Greek, Asian and Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. And? Well, there was no need for an ‘and’ because kids are kids, people are people and not one person should be seen as better than someone because of privilege, or position. Sorry Pope. Sorry leader of boyband al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil Iraq wa al-Sham. Sorry $2.1 billion Twitter user Trump.

“I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world”- Donald Trump, MSNBC, 1/8/2019.

Racism is racism, pure and simple. It is fear or hate or dislike and it is totally unnecessary. I live and work in Dongguan. This last week I’ve played football or rugby with Tongans, Americans, Argentinians, Russians, Ukrainians, Scottish, Irish, South Africans, Chinese, Malaysians, and Brummies. Some of these great people even supported Man United. The world is a huge sphere with many people. These people bring stories, cultures, foods and difference. There is a great tapestry to my lifestyle here in China. I see and hear racism or judgment because I am a foreigner. Do I feel racially abused? No. I feel sad on their part. But, racism as hate – or ignorance, is racism. Xenophobia and fear of change may be deeply routed in nationalism which may or may not explain the global panic over China and Asia’s growth. The smoke of the fires in America is accompanied by a drumbeat by P.O.T.U.S.A. Trump and co.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything … grab ’em by the pussy.” – Trump, NBC, 2005.

Trump the populist-protectionist-nationalist uses his lack of prior military or government service as a badge of honour. A combination of bragging about business experience and success of making America great again has swollen many false or misleading statements often ridiculed by fact-checkers. His racially-charged comments and legal-challenging cowboy style have seen the U.S.A. stumble from Trans-Pacific Partnerships, the Paris Agreement, relations with China. Luckily he has fixed Syria, Russian problems and Kim Jong-un – as well as his own domestic investigations into electoral discrepancies. He seems stable. He can’t be defeated by anything, it seems. The environmental policies, freedom of trade… You could go on all day about Trump. Recent events just dig it all up again and again.

In the last day or so, likely victim of Police brutality, George Floyd’s death has been labelled as homicide. A post-mortem examination of the African-American died in handcuffs, lay face down on a city street. Video footage leapt around social media almost immediately. The Powderhorn community was devastated and Derek Chauvin, the white Minneapolis police officer could be seen kneeling onto George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. Minnesota’s capital Saint Paul is the twin city that borders Minneapolis. Between them there are five Fortune 500 companies based there. As of 2010, 63.8% of the population were white. There is divide, as per any American state, and The Gopher State is ran by Democratic–Farmer–Labor). They’re U.S. Democrats. Trump has beef with that lot. So, trouble on their patch has been ideal for him. If you can’t run your house, here is a blundering hero with orange skin and a comb-over…

Police officers across the U.S. have been shot from places like Buffalo (New York) to St Louis (Missouri) and even Las Vagas (Nevada). Curfews are in place in many cities. Because when a protest gets out of hand, and people get rubber bullets lobbed at them or teargas at them, they don’t feel so great or valued, so a few may partake in looting. It isn’t backing them or promoting them, but if you treat people like dirt, they may act like dirt. A few unprotected watches, TV sets and middle fingers stuck up to the man can and has happened.

One thing about Trump and America, that is positive, well, at least we don’t have him in charge in the U.K. – and at least China’s top man is less trigger happy. Yes, we see privilege in action in the U.K. but rarely so at the end of stomping boots and a rubber bullet-firing gun. We have water cannons in Britain, but thankfully God shone down on us and delivered us near-drought conditions. Our gaffer, Boris Johnson, is state-sponsored as the rest of his cronies, but he doesn’t target people because of their skin or creed. No, he’s pretty clueless to all races and probably hasn’t tasted life in Aston, Birmingham. He’s more Aston Martin, Whitehall.

Instead, right now we should be focusing on the Royal Shakespeare Company cancelling the remainder of the 2020 shows. We should be reviewing why a Sunday congregation in Singapore during January 2020 had such harsh global complications and how to prevent these things from repeating themselves. We should be digging into why Randox Labratories suddenly get a £133 million contract uncontested. Maybe asking Brexiter Owen Paterson would be a good start.

Instead, like many nations, we have to watch America erupt into flames, panic and division as we await the court proceedings of the fired and disgraced police officer. But, remember this, this isn’t about just one policeman or one victim. This is about institutionalised racism – and that’s now evidently in the hands of the U.S. leader – a man who was the focus of The Apprentice, filmed by Trump Productions at Trump Tower, N.Y.C. Trump this, Trump that, Trump, Trumperty-fecking-Trump. The dirty selfish Trump.

I wish all of those who feel persecuted and to have no voice to stand together. Defeat hate and pessimism with optimism and one collective togetherness. The continued flow of racial injustice and brutality by the state or its organs cannot be allowed to go on. There’s a global pandemic and other matters that need our fuller attentions. But, beliefs are beliefs and persecution and racism had no place in the 20th century. We’ve moved on but a few people want to drag us down. Fate hate, with peace and love. Unification is a dream worth humanity fighting for. No more slinging of terror or words of hate. What change will come?

Jump On, Happy Now

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

I recall Mr Jones at Chapel Street Primary School making a simple poem. It was wordplay on my name John. Jump on, happy now. So simple. So memorable. Like other school events. When I was young, our class went to Mam Tor and the Blue John Cavern in Castleton, Derbyshire. I remember very little other than giggling at the name Blue John. The cavern is named after a semi-precious mineral Blue John. The 250 million years old was and is mined for the purposes of jewellery. The cavern sits beneath Mam Tor, a rather tall hill, a 517-metre (1696ft) peak of the world famous Peak District. I never picked up any fluorite (with bands of a purple-blue or yellowish colour) but I do recall the French name of bleu-jaune (blue-yellow). So, my name went from blue to yellow. In China blue movies are called yellow movies.

Our class had walked the 4.8km up (3 miles) from a car park, where our coach awaited. In misty wet conditions we returned, a little soggy. The views across the Edale Valley and Kinder Scout were wasted on us. It was completely shrouded by clouds. The Derwent Moors were less than visible. We even walked to another cave, Windy Knoll, but the entrance was covered by loose rubble. That was invisible to us too. Still we’d climbed up the peak that means ‘Mother Hill’. The brittle shale and so-called shivering mountain also left us shivering in the damp and cold too. As our teeth chattered a teaching assistant rambled on about Bronze Age and Iron Age forts. To kids in a field, drenched head to toe, he mustered zero enthusiasm. We all had ideas of using the caves (Speedwell Cavern, Peak Cavern A.K.A. ‘The Devil’s Arse’ and Treak Cliff Cavern) as a kind of natural umbrella.

So, that was my first time to see the name John in a strange place. Our primary school used to have three Johns. John O’Neill and John Doherty, with myself. Recently, I played football with John Burns and John Crompton. My surname is Acton. So, here in China, we had John A, B and C at Murray’s F.C. It isn’t an unusual name. John is Jewish, or was. It coms from a word meaning ‘Graced by Yahweh’ – a kind of Samarian God. Jack, Jackie, Johnny and Jonathan all come from the name John. Jackie Chan is a wannabe John. also comes from the name John but as a Manchester City striker, I can’t take responsibility for him, and nor should the name John. Johns can be equally good or bad. Everton, not the football team, but the name also comes from the name John. Being a very biblical name, John has been mutated and transpired into Celtic (Ianto), Germanic, Romance, European, Arabic (يُوحَنّا‎), Hungarian, Albanian (Xhoni), Slavic (Ján) and other forms. One of the most common names in English-speaking countries is sticking around hard and fast.

Yahweh is or was a storm-and-warrior deity which explains why I like the rain a fair bit. That and being Mancunian – it’s a kind of Stockholm syndrome. Here in China, as the Dongguan rain lashes down, I can write Yuēhàn (约翰) into my phone to produce a local version of my name that sounds more German than Chinese. My Korean student Kim could write my name as Yohan (요한) and my Japanese student Leon could write my name as Yohane (ヨハネ). Then there are countless feminine forms around the world such as Jone, Johanna, Ghjuvanna and Sinéad.

John is mentioned countless times throughout religion, with the Gospel of John, First through to Third Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation by a certain Saint John the Divine scribbling something down. There were no blog pages in his time. Apocalypses have remained popular in fiction and non-fiction ever since. Well, until the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Gospel of John was the third sequel to the Gospel of Matthew. Mark and Luke were the other members of the Gospel boyband. The Gospel of John has much prattling and something to do with the raising of Lazarus and contrasts Judaism. It’s probably where Christianity broke away, circa AD90-110. Three faith-raising sermon letters (epistles) of John followed much like the Fast & The Furious franchise.

“Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator. Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator. Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator. Wrote the book of the seven seals” – John the Revelator, Blind Willie Johnson

Many kings and queens have taken on the various forms of the name John through time, with prophet John the Baptist (died 30AD-ish), John the Apostle (one of a dozen). John the Evangelist (an author type), John of Patmos (the Revelator/the Divine), John the Presbyter (open to interpretation), another John (father of Saint Peter etc), John of Antioch (a chronicler which is a kind of news reporter of the time), umpteen Pope Johns (at least 21 of them), and several Saint Johns. There are Saint John churches and places as diverse as Cornwall (a parish village with the nearby St John’s Lake SSSI), Malacca in Malaysia, the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador and even the Church of St John-at-Hackney. Wherever a boat could sail, and a missionary could set up a parish, that’s where the name has reached. If you don’t believe me, take a glance at the maps of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and Grenada. Oh, and there are ambulances displaying the saintly name: St. John Ambulance. Mighty Mouse was even a St. John Publications comic character.

Nicknames involving Johns area round us too. My Dad had a friend who was nicknamed ‘John the Ghost’ because of his pale look and I think had a few near misses with death in hid life. John the Hunchback isn’t as famous Quasimodo. Being a General and Politician in Roman times on the flanks of the Eastern Roman Empire wasn’t quite as romantic as being the protagonist of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. John “the Savage” features in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. John “OO” Fleming is a trance D.J. and his music could be heard on a portable speaker sat atop your very own Johnboat (an aluminium hunter-fishing boat). My mate John Petrie shares the name of Arbroath F.C.’s striker extraordinaire – he scored a record 13 goals in a 36-0 win. That’s something to mull over as you listen to former Meat Loaf and Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5. There are countless Johns to plug: I mentioned John Rabe and John Nichols before.

Whether in a campaign, a B-side on a Kylie Minogue with Robbie Williams song, a Giant Cave of Gilbratar, the John’s Langur (Semnopithecus johnii), a famous New York pizzeria, archaic phones, or a show about Tourette’s syndrome, the name John can be used for good or bad. Fritz John made an ultrahyperbolic partial differential equation that carries the name John’s equation. It was pretty bad for my eyes to see it and understand very little of it. Not all Johns make sense. I know that I don’t.

“Be thine own palace, or the world’s thy jail.” – ― John Donne, The Poems of John Donne (Volume 1)

The name John is popular in many ways. Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 from the video game Halo wasn’t an ideal role model for me but he did accompany far too many adolescents through early development blasting the hell out of crazy religious Covenant alien radicals. Almost as great as sending a Dear John letter to tell your loved one that they are a former loved one and now you have a new loved one. Writer Philip Jerome Quinn Barry wasn’t a John but in 1927 the New Yorker published his play called, yes, you guessed right, John. That play was unsuccessful. Bad John. Lil’ Wayne (2011) and Desireless (1988) didn’t write their songs of the same name, based on P.J.Q. Barry’s failed play. They sold around 2 million and 313,000 respectively.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” – John Milton, Paradise Lost.

Other odd uses of the name John can mean someone who uses a prostitute, slang for a toilet (cheers America!), tropical storms and hurricanes, and there are about 13,400,137 Johns in the U.S.A. at any one time. That’s about one in every 25 Americans. On the flipside, John the Ripper is a program used to test the strength of a password. In Morse code John looks like this: .——….-. (which may be useless in the digital age). John Lennon and John F. Kennedy didn’t get any Morse code message of their fate. John R. “Johnny” Cash is one of my favourite Johns, in terms of talented Johns. John Paul Henry Daniel Richard Grimes is not.

Bizarrely the names Eoin, Evan, Yohannes, Ifan, Ioane, Hermes, Siôn, Janes, and Núño have origins in the name John. Jhon is also a real name. I guess somebody couldn’t type or spell, and it stuck. John has grace the rich and famous with numerous kings, Elton John, the late huge-nosed Gottfried John, Dame Olivia Newton-John and (was it personal?) R&B singer William Edward “Little Willie” John having a certain name. That 24-bar blues song Leave My Kitten Alone is so underrated. The Beatles and Elvis Costello copied it at some state too.

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard, are sweeter” – John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn and Other Poems

The name John is classic. It is a natural and wholesome formal name, refined and well at home in history and equally strong for the present day. It can represent the boring aspects of name history and the simple yet serious mature look of a person. Whether the name represents an author or an actor in Downton Abbey, the name John could likewise be a Canadian prime minister or a character in DC comics. John can be legend or literature, musician or theologian. The name John was once consistently popular in one of its many forms. Now newer names and international culture are heavily influencing naming across the globe. The name John, however, will not fade away.

Johnny Marr is from Manchester and spent some of his years in Ardwick. He probably wasn’t far from another famous John in Manchester. All of the above writing could easily have been a huge and tedious introduction to Manchester’s famous John Dalton. Born in Cumberland at a place called Eaglesfield (by Cockermouth), John Dalton headed for Manchester. He would go on to be a hugely influential chemist, physicist, and meteorologist. He made huge contributions to atomic theory research, the study of colour blindness and dissenting educationalists from church-backed establishments. He was radical.

Buried under Ardwick’s playing fields (former cemetery), Dalton’s legacies are far more than a statue-bust in Manchester’s town hall. The John Dalton Building of Manchester Metropolitan University houses the Faculty of Science and Engineering. There’s a statue of John Dalton outside. John Dalton Street connects Deansgate and Albert Square in central Manchester. There’s a bleu plaque at 36 George Street, his former residence. Dalton published many pieces including work on the Law of Multiple Proportions, Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressures, Daltonism (also known as colour blindness). He earned his Royal Medal amongst many plaudits and lived to study and research. Nowadays his name lives on through such terms as Dalton (S.I. unit), Daltonism, and the Dalton Minimum. The latter was a period of low sunspot count, representing low solar activity, possibly much like the City of Manchester’s exposure to sun at the peak of winter, right?

“John Dalton’s records, carefully preserved for a century, were destroyed during the World War II bombing of Manchester. It is not only the living who are killed in war.” – Isaac Asimov, Writer & Biochemistry professor

Their gaff, their rules?

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington

Before I write any more, firstly, I need to clarify that I hate the idea of animals suffering. Actually, it forms one of the reasons why right now I do not have a pet. If I cannot be certain where I will live within twelve months, how can I look after a cat, dog or hamster? I’ve been lucky enough in my life to be raised around animals. My Dad and Mum gave me Pup, who was with me for about 17 years of my life as man’s best friend, a wonderful dog. There were cats along the way, Basil (think of a detective that was a rodent), Sparky and Tigger (original, right?). I had umpteen hamsters: Bright Eyes, Stripe, Gizmo and Gremlin to name but a few. Astrid, my sister, will tell you of her hamster Doris, and how she selected it on the basis that it bit her bigger brother (me) in the pet store. There were mice, bred and rehoused, with responsible intentions. I had fleeting dreams of being a vet – but for a huge dislike of blood. Then, it was time to study a BTEC National Diploma at North Trafford College and eventually study a BSc Behavioural Biology. Since then, my wildlife and animal passion has evolved into a pastime, set of interests and hobbies. The professional world was oversubscribed, underpaid and hard to escape clicks. It wasn’t for me. Instead I find myself softly influencing future generations and making people think twice.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”- S.G. Tallentyre, The Friends of Voltaire.

Stumbling into education with transferable skills just meant I swapped elephant dung in the morning for a whole raft of new pooh. I’m in China, their gaff their rules. But I can talk freely about some topical issues. What is a wet market? Well, it’s just a marketplace that sells fish, meats, vegetables, and fruits. The produce is not dry (like fabric or electronics). The goods at wet markets are perishable. Not all wet markets slaughter animals or have a fishmongers. Across the Indian subcontinent (e.g. Thailand), China, Japan, Korea and the island countries northwest of Australia, wet markets can be found and are a common feature of daily life. Foods can be fresh, cheaper than supermarkets, and going to these markets themselves can be a huge part of your social life. It is tantamount to culture and traditions for many people. To close many wet markets may be seen as xenophobic and cause more problems. But, will these same wet markets yield the next outbreak?

Wang Mengyun’s video of a bat being eaten in Palau has become infamous. It is disgusting in my opinion. What adds further disgust is that RT and the Daily Mail, amongst many, posted this via news outlets and social media claiming it was from Wuhan. I was even sent it on the Chinese app Wechat. I’m not justifying or defending her, or any other fools eating weird crap. Data and images can easily fit any story, without, erm, actual information. Of course, if China is involved, then there’s always an element of menace and worry from a social point of view. What exactly are they up to over there?

The wet market here hasn’t reopened (and many will never reopen, as many are rumpured as marked for demolition, to be replaced by more sanitized versions) which is great. I’m actually excited for when it does because they have limited the list of edible species right down. You wouldn’t believe the list before. There was no list. It could have been likened to taking a walk in a zoo. Except, that zoo was closer to The Green Mile, and all the inmates were destined for the grimmest of chops. Owls, giant salamanders and frogs may not appear on the menu in Beijing, but across this large nation of China, there are huge differences in diets. Here in Guangdong, it is said that the Cantonese eat everything with four legs, excluding chairs and desks.

Afterall the list isn’t far off what is approved as meat in the U.K. The most exotic things are to be found all over Britain such as ostrich, deer, reindeer, alpaca etc. Sadly, the list still includes fur species: mink, foxes and raccoons. BUT activism and conservation are growing here. Thoughts are changing. Many influential and middle-class people really believe that bigger changes are coming. Conservation and animal welfare are some of the few things people can protest here. The WHO advised China to “sell safe food with better hygiene”. That seems to be triggering a huge revolution in hygiene. There’s revulsion at the rich who can afford palm civet soup, braised bear paws and deep-fried cobra. These rarities are not farmed or caught for everyone. There’s status and face to show off, and keeping up with the Joneses is on the menu. Rebecca Wong explains in her book about the illegal wildlife trade that things are far from simple.

The China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation is pushing for an end to meats from wild sources. Many cities such as Shenzhen and several provinces are banning the sale of wild-sourced meats – yet China only has a temporary ban in place (and that excludes use for Traditional Chinese Medicines – T.C.M.). Is the ban effective? Well, The Daily Mail, managed to get images and a journalist into Guilin, Guangxi province and show dogs alongside cats, with T.C.M. posters showing bats. The W.H.O., the U.N.’s Convention on Biological Diversity, have called on China to do more.

China’s Wildlife Protection Law to permanently make catching and eating wildlife as a food into a criminal law will follow. The decision’s first real steps had been made on February 24th 2020. It is expected the list of 54 wild species bred on farms will be further reduced. Do people really need to eat hamsters and bird of prey? Do these horrific farms need abolishing? Does the farm license from The State Forestry and Grassland Administration conflict with their interest in wildlife protection? Places like Guangzhou and this province of Guangdong will need to seriously rearrange their eating habits. Chinese news sources, backed and owned by the state, have decried the practice of eating wildlife. One such piece, China Daily, went further than most with an English opinion piece by author Wu Yong. He correctly pointed to the Institute of Virology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (home base: Wuhan) and their publications warning of the next big outbreak, following SARS in 2012. There are voices from within China banging a drum to the same beat: stop eating wildlife (50% of people surveyed in 2014 said wild animals should not be eaten). And should the laws come how vague will they be? How will provinces, cities and local areas enforce the laws? Who will steady the balance books of those who need the income?

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” – Benjamin Franklin

It is easy to say that wild animals carry viruses, and should they not be eaten by people, then there is little to no chance of these zoonotic viruses affecting human lives. If we do, then the viruses are with us. But, how many viruses start on farms from long-term domestic animals? Think Pandemic H1N1/09 virus and its outbreak from Mexico/U.S.A. in 2009 that killed about 151,700-575,400 people globally, according to the CDC. The problem is that for some their eyes are bigger than their bellies. They don’t want you and I, or others telling them what is right or wrong. For some status and entitlement is paramount. Why can a rich U.S. hunter go and shoot a lion in Africa, when a poor villager can’t catch pangolin in Vietnam to support their family? Will bans work? Will the trade go from loosely regulated to completely underground shady dealings? “Psst, wanna but a civet?” What is a civet anyway? I imagine many having seen a pangolin too. Look them both up. They’re wonderful little critters. Just don’t grill them!

“It is clear that not in one thing alone, but in many ways equality and freedom of speech are a good thing.” – Herodotus

China has endured food safety scandals, unusual additives being included in food, a distrust of food regulation, corruption and countless public health appeals and campaigns seeking to improve standards. If you live here long enough, you’ll know having diarrhea tablets to be most useful. Food poisoning happens and at public ad even private restaurants, finding hand soap can be a miracle. Everyone carries hand sanitiser and tissues, but few look forwards to visiting an outside toilet. To get to the modern regulation systems of the U.K. standards, the U.K. under the name of Great Britain and its Empire had many flaws and faults. Many want change but it will take time. Not every country is perfect, some wash their chicken in chlorine, don’t you America? Tradition and odd ingredients need talking about, at least. Without conversation and debate, how can we as people strike a balance between nature and need?

This pandemic is always going to throw up many questions. Should all wet markets adapt and abandon tradition in favour of hygiene and high standards? Yes, for the sake of humanity, surely! Should we be searching for the next big pandemic? Should we be vaccinating our pets and our zoo animals when the cure to COVID-19 arrives? Will the virus replicate and mutate in other domestic animals? Have we ignored the warnings (2017 and so on) for too long? Will wildlife poaching rise in the shadow of little eco-tourism? How many more lies will the internet spread about handwashing?

“We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them, maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some way. Somebody will say, ‘Oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.” – Donald Trump, Twitter user.

Keep talking. It’s the only way to progress.

 

The cover image: chicken anus on a stick. From a Taiwanese takeaway store, in China.

 

Thanksgiving Day.

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“And I was taught to feel, perhaps too much, the self-sufficing power of solitude.” – William Wordsworth, The Prelude.

So, my trek in Nepal was over. I’d passed through up to 28 ethnic groups of people, notably Thakali, Gurung, Magar, Chhetri, Bhotia and some Tibetans. I’d seen Annapurna II, Manaslu, my favourite haunt of this trek, Pagunda Danda and other great mountains. I’d passed through areas housing maybe just 45,000 or so people in a short distance and across great swathes of area. The river Marshyangdi had been by my side from beginning to the end, and never more than a few kilometres away from my wanderings. I’d tread along a world-renowned trekking destination that needs great care, for peril lurks at every ridge. Remarkable waterfalls, dense forests, and other climatic wonders had lined the sub-tropical, temperate, sub-alpine and alpine bio-climatic zones. These imposing regions offered diversity in both mammal and bird species, and plants that I’ve never seen anywhere else before, and no doubt will never see somewhere else. The barks of musk deer, the swoosh of vultures, the tweets of life from tree to tree, and flashes of Himalayan Langur will stay in my memories.

I’ve met people connected with agriculture, animal husbandry, tourism, the military, conservation, Buddhist monks and other labouring forces. These stirring moments reminded me why I love to visit Nepal. There have been moments when I’ve looked in shame at crumbling mountain sides, ripped open by new roads, and power lines draping over great scenery. The price of a modern world has cut open a blend of people in need of the new age, with as many in fear of what will arrive. Can these ethnic groups survive the new ways in, and the new exposure to the outside world? Will everything change too fast for some to understand? Will education and investment bring new opportunity? Can the high pressure on natural resources be reduced? Will an unequal distribution of tourism wealth and benefits leave some people behind? Poverty is there, but can it seriously be eradicated? Will Chinese hydroelectric dam projects benefit anyone if they have mostly Chinese workforces? Will Indian investment be reduced as Nepal juggles the money of China over India?

With hunting, poaching, pollution, loss of habitat and humans getting ever closer to wildlife, can the Annapurna or Manaslu parks be improved to reduce these problems? Will climate change, flooding and increased tourism add greater strain to the region? I read that 18% of the world’s plant species can be found in the Annapurna Conservation Area. The project there highlights that 58% of Earth’s birds are present. A staggering 33% of Earth’s reptiles have refuge in the region. Amphibians (20%), butterflies (53%), and flowering plants (18%) represent significant proportions of Earth’s species too. There’s much more to Annapurna than snow leopards and possible yeti sightings…

To have walked through the largest protected park of Nepal was a privilege. I sat down to a cold coffee in Pokhara and stroked my sore head. I decided I would fly from Pokhara to Kathmandu. My friend Jodie was to visit Kathmandu a day or so later. I decided the long arduous coach journey was too much for me. Besides I like to fly and the price wasn’t too bad (732RMB) – and bookable via my Wechat money and Trip.com application. After a few wanders from the now ghostly quiet Pokhara, I was ready to fly.

Before doing so I took in the sights of Pokhara, a bat cave and the Gurkha Memorial Trust. Since joining the British Army in 1815, after showing valour in the battlefield against the British, the Gurkhas have enjoyed great connection with Britain and India. The museum itself was alike almost every museum and trust collection, with cabinets of medals, regalia and factsheets. Photos of hundreds of faces, stories and campaign information could be found throughout the large building. I was welcomed by two former Gurkha soldiers in full uniform and shown to the ticket desk, then set free to enjoy the words of regimental life, the sounds and read about Victoria Cross winners. A history sheet was handed to me and I spent a good couple of hours perusing the displays. I had passed the museum by chance, and prior to walking to Bat Cave in the direction of Mahendra Cave not even know there to be such a museum. I did not expect to be so detailed and well-constructed. The passion of many had created their space to inform, educate and celebrate. Here I learned the name Gurkha comes from the hill of Gorkha, and not from a specific race of people. Better to die than be a coward, is the Gurkha motto. Their history attains to that. Long may they have the welfare and care of those who respect them.

Now, Bat Cave is called that on every sign. I could see signs for the religious Mahendra Cave frequently. Those signs had Nepali Sanskrit and English on. The Bat Cave just had English. Bruce Wayne had no chance of hiding a Batmobile and Batwing in there. Green foothills surround the cave, but before you get there, a gate, with a kind of turnstile not out of place at a 1980’s football ground and a pay booth await. Here they try talking you into hiring a guide. I resisted that. I wanted tranquillity. He handed me a large lamp. I handed that back and shown him my simpler headtorch set. In I went. After a few steep steps, a dip and a ducked head I was in the main cavern. Alongside me were around 70-100,000 horseshoe bats. I dipped my torch and gazed on enjoying the cold humid chamber underground. The floor is slippery, the air is whiffy (it is a home to nature, after all), and my good footwear helped me a great deal. I reminded one small group to stay quiet, and they respected my wishes – and that of the bloody great big sign saying to be silent. There was a tiny passage for an exit, but I doubled back without trouble. I wanted to avoid a bump on the head.

After the 20km round-trip walk, I headed back to Obey Guest House. The family were really very nice. Sushil’s place had been recommended to Srirang and I by Livia on our first brief stop in Pokhara. Each time I’d stayed, I ended up the same room: up the stairs, first right turn, first room. The big clean room had a double bed, coffee table, hat stand, two small chairs, a bathroom with a steaming hot shower and a sink for a proper scrub down. There was a tiny balcony and the door would open to allow me to put my stinking walking boots outside. On the top floor, there are several levels to appreciate the panoramic views and a place to sit with a garden table. The family were really welcoming, warm and friendly. They check on you and make you feel at home. Sushil had washed some of my laundry before the trek, and it was waiting in a bag for me, alongside some trainers I’d left behind. The lodge is a tall pink building up a road from Lakeside. It’s easy to find. There’s Wi-Fi and the family pointed us to a simple and tasty breakfast place at the top of the road. Every morning I awoke to beautiful bird call, and at night I enjoyed peaceful ambience. I had several good sleeps there. Sushil pointed us to the nearby TIMS office, other amenities and gave great advice throughout. If you want to stay somewhere peaceful without hassle and worry, then obey me and look up Obey Guest House.

I do have to apologise to Obey Guest House because I stupidly left my smelly walking boots on the balcony when I left… I hope that they turned them into a plant pot! They probably couldn’t be repaired, and they certainly won’t be now! Sorry Sushil and family!

So, with the wheels lifting off the Pokhara runway, flight YT676, operated by Yeti Airlines departed, I assume. I’d been shuffled onto an earlier departure that eventually departed later. Not to worry. It was a good flight. The flight comfortably descended into the Kathmandu valley and once again I was in the cradle of rapid urbanisation. Here I enjoyed more days at Northfield Café and hotel, met a good man to embroider my travelling shirt, and enjoyed a haircut. With room in my bag, eight Lee Child novels filled my bag and that was that. I was ready to go. Goodbye Nepal. Thanks to Srirang and Livia for great company. Thank you to all of those people I met. See you again.

 


 

Almost 54 days later, I am writing this piece. I should have been in Hong Kong and heading over to Dongguan, China on the 15th of April. Here, I am in Dongguan, preparing to end my time in quarantine. If my PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test comes back as negative tomorrow, I will be allowed to go to Dongguan’s Changping town, to fill in more forms and scan a QR code to show that I am virus-free. I’ve penned a letter to the management and local government officials here. Maria and Waits translated it for me. It’s as per below:

 

二零二零年四月八日
8th April 2020

 

给相关人士 To whom it may concern.

 

诚 挚 地 感 谢 

T H A N K   Y O U   K I N D L Y !

我从心底里感谢你。谢谢你对我的帮助。就像一名优秀的曼城足球运动员一样,我会敞开心扉。我在这里的日子很艰难,但你们更加辛苦。Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you kindly for helping me. Like a good Manchester City football player, I wear my heart on my sleeve. My time here has been tough, but you have been tougher.

当你路过西湖的时候,不管是东莞的这家酒店,还是那片著名的杭州的湖,还是惠州的那座城市,你都一定能够感受到你所做的这一切带给你的荣耀,是你肩负起了这份重任。When you pass West Lake, whether the hotel in Dongguan, the famous lakes of Hangzhou or the city of Huizhou, you’ll be able to think of the pride that you made a difference. You answered the call.

是你让所有人一起团聚;是你给予了爱人、朋友和亲人们一起纵享新时刻的机会;是你,在保护我们,你在照看我们,是你放弃了你们自己的时间,而把精力全部投入到了我们身上。You brought people back together. You gave loved ones, friend and family the chance to enjoy new moments together. You protected us. You looked after us. You gave up your time and gave us all your energy.

你为我打扫卫生,检查我的健康,为我尽心尽力。你让我的肚子饱饱的,并激发了我不知道我能做的锻炼。每当我口渴的时候,你就在那里。You have cleaned up after me, checked my health and waited on hand and foot for me. You have kept my belly full, and inspired exercises I didn’t know I was capable of. Every time I have been thirsty, you have been there.

我是东莞的客人。广东的客人。来中国的客人。你让我很受欢迎。我非常喜欢东莞。这是一座充满希望、想象力和雄心的城市。就像我的家乡曼彻斯特一样,这里也有工业路线,但这里的工业路线也越来越多。I’m a guest in Dongguan. A guest of Guangdong. A guest to China. You’ve made me welcome. I like Dongguan greatly. It is a city of hope, imagination and ambition. Like my hometown of Manchester, it has industrial routes but here too has grown to be so much more.

我们是如此的幸运,生活虽有不便但我们还是在这儿。那些倒下的人、那些逝去的人和那些殉职的人——正是因为他们,我们才能好好地活着。让我们一起为他们默哀片刻吧。We are the lucky ones. We are inconvenienced but we are here. Those who fell, those who died, those who died – it is because of them, we can live well. Let’s observe a moment of silence for them.

 

 

Mr John R. Acton

 


 

TO THE HEROES.

To the NHS staff in the U.K.; and to those health workers, care assistants, doctors, nurses, specialists and all going about in essential jobs right now. I salute you. Keep fighting on. Never give in. You are true heroes. The world needs you. I wish you well. Good luck! This is your hour to shine. Inspire the next generation and those who can and should support you. Look after your neighbours and we’ll find a brighter day. Peace and love!

 

Vivid moments on the Earth’s crust.

好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!


Eddie, Eddie give us a wave!

Rest in peace Eddie Large. The comedian born in Scotland came to Manchester as a kid and adopted City. Well City adopted him as a mascot later on in the years and one thing about him and Syd Little, they really were a sweet comedy pair. On his heart problem: “He said, “What stresses you out?”, I said, “football”, he said, “What team do you support?”, I said, “Manchester City”. He said, “That’s it.”” Later he ends the brief video story as, “I don’t blame it on City, but he did.” Rest in peace big man – and condolences to your family. The likes of Matt Lucas saying that Eddie Large offered him support when he started out says a lot. Eddie Large has a large legacy.


Words and actions are being thrown around in these tough times. I love reading and can’t focus because the information that is out there is too much. There’s great and good. There’s sad and devastating. For example, the BBC News footage of the news presenter Jane Hill saying the government expected 30,000 ventilators. Before that, she sounded so bleak, and she shows all the pain in her face, “…and we have been double-checking this, but it does seem to say thirty.” So, so worrying. Even the media are struggling to comprehend this all now. Shandong province, of China, have sent support to the U.K.

“This virus is a disaster. Footballers can live without receiving a single paycheck for a few years, but I feel sorry for the person who wakes up at 6 in the morning and comes back at 9 at night just to feed his family. Us footballers can make a difference.” – Carlos Tevez, footballer

Someone, somewhere, wrote to me, ‘How’s the bat soup going down. & the puppy blamange desert?’At first I wan’t going t reply. There’s so much hate and pain going around. There’s so many xenophobic lines just bashed out on keyboards. I know, because all I want to do is exercise my right to reply or write something. Usually, I hold back. Spread peace and love. I try. I hate hate. But away, I went as per below:

This is obviously linked to wet markets and wildlife trade. China is pushing through some serious laws. They’ve lost so much face, and many lives, many. The world is suffering too. If it wasn’t here, it could have started in Vietnam, Korea, a whole list of countries. The thing is, it is too late to laugh at it all, because it’s on our doorsteps, everywhere, knocking and pushing its way through. We’ll all suffer for this. It is too sad for me to laugh at. Especially, seeing as bear bile is classed as a TCM (traditional Chinese med)… and is sanctioned to treat COVID19.

Sorry, I can’t joke anymore about this. Over here, in China, foreigners are experiencing xenphobia for importing cases into the country, jobs are going for fellow teachers and workers who were needed here. Gallow’s humour is all well and good but there is a time and place. The blancmange is to die for.

This virus and spread of disease may be hell for many. Some will go into lockdown and may never come out. Elliot Dallen imagined spending his last few weeks with friends. Now his final time is slipping away. I can’t imagine the dread he is going through and there are no words that I, or many others can offer for him. I hope he gets the tangible bonds of friendship and family time, he like many, are missing. Life must carry on, right to the end.


 

The journey goes on.

Leaving Chame (2710m) town, we clambered up a wide pathway, below a very steep cliff of a mountain. The rattle and whistle of prayer flags could be heard overhead. The path led out, upwards gently, hugging the valley. Eventually in reached a small village and then another smaller village. Bhratang (2850m) was quite a small village. Not so much a village, more of a hamlet. A small number of houses before modern signs for The Farmhouse. The Farmhouse is an eco-resort, and many note it as being a heaven for apples. I was excited. I wanted to try an apple from here, despite knowing that the orchard much be closed. Maybe, just maybe they’d have one or two apples knocking around in a cold room. I clung to hope. The Farmhouse has a link to both Bhratang Apple Farm and Agro Manang. This is Nepal’s biggest and most famous source of apples. Maybe, they’d have some apple sauce? Some ciders? Apple vinegar? The apples that the bus in Swayambhu, Kathmandu had carried (to Pokhara) had come from here. I’m not a huge apple fan (I could have said big apple, right?) but the smell of those apples on that bus journey was scrumptious.

Soon after I would pass a huge apple orchard with discernible damage from storms. Power lines, trees and fencing didn’t just lean over, it littered the scattered exposed earth. The acres of apple trees leaned towards the south in a way a rugby team would crouch in a scrum. The naked branches of each tree were bound together with reinforced ropes and supports, giving it the view of a kind of wooden graveyard. The towering rockface to the right of the path sparkled in the sunlight, with occasional ledges much like the whole mountain had been carved away by an immense force. The eco-park beneath it and The Farmhouse were closed. There was no chance of an apple tart or an apple flapjack. I refilled my water bottle from one of three gushing springs set in a wall.

The orchard was hidden by fences that could have belonged in Jurassic Park. Warnings about keeping out were everywhere. Every now and then a tree had fell out of the in, and into the road. Bits of electrical pylons dotted the pathways and the odd electrical wiring slung here and there. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but this pile of ruins wasn’t inviting me to look for the scattered rotten apples on the floor. Quite the opposite. I trotted on.

Rounded a sharp-rising pathway from Bhratang, the huge western face of Pagunda Danda became visible. The mountain could easily have doubled as a slate of hill, or a hill of slate. It is so smooth-looking that you wonder if it has been moisturising for millennia. Many people trek the Annapurna Circuit for the biggies, the large peaks but views such as Pagunda Danda alone made my trip well worth doing. I can see the appeal of a scramble and ice-climb up the face, but with melting and sunlight upon it, the risks of avalanches were high.

Avalanches had been noted from just before Chame village onwards. One avalanche field had swept trees, boulders and all in its path down across the pathway. The pathway had been sliced open again and cleared. Either side of the road potato-shaped but basketball-sized balls of frozen snow piled high, with twigs, branches and stumps jutting outwards. On the lower levels of the pathway, fallen electric pylons and rocks the sizes of cars had crashed downwards. The avalanche was not fresh, but it wasn’t particularly old. Looking upwards into the steep valley to a mountain ridge, I deliberated about where all this material had actually come from. It was frighteningly too much for mind to compute.

The second avalanche field I encountered was on the opposite bank of the gushing Marshyangdi River. It was so big that it covered over the river and arrived at the steep base far below my footing. The river had tunnelled through the frozen snow overhead. It was an eerie sight to behold. Just before that field a few tonnes had piled on the sharply-carved Bhratang to Chame road making the area impassable, and causing a huge landslide to make the footpath as wide as a human could walk safely. Just. Below in the river, a carcass of a Toyota jeep sat well-below the narrow road overhead. Later, Livia had found out that back in October, several people were on board as the jeep slipped off the road. Thankfully all had managed to jump clear. A real miracle in the mountains.

The sharp road is but only wide enough for one car. The rock above is barely two metres high. It’s a ledge that commands real respect and no hanging around. A long horizontal slat has ice caps and blastholes in equal scatterings. Walking far from the edge, I could peek at the drop below. Ravine of the week was alongside me for several hundred metres. I felt I needed to be roped to the wall behind me.

The largest path of avalanche destruction lay soon after the perils of the cliff track. A huge sweeping sheath of snow and debris had swept from the southern flank of Pagunda Danda. This casing of ice and power had ripped over the pathway into the river below. A clearly demarked pathway was cut through and lined with pines from nearby trees. The crevices and nooks around which were not safe to linger for too long.

On approach to the well-named Marshyangdi River Bridge, Pagunda Danda’s splendour was there for all to see. This 1500m (4,900ft) elevation is striking. Almost like a vivid piece of the Earth’s crust curved outwards and upwards in a kind of skateboard park half-pipe shape. It isn’t beyond the imagination to picture people skiing down the snow covered silky-looking solid surface or perhaps cycling up the shiny and extraordinary rockface itself. I was reliably informed by a passing guide that once upon a time it once was a lakebed. My imagination could barely see that. Now, local legends believe that mass of rock, known as Swarga (heaven) Dwar (gates) is the route to the afterlife. After leaving your mortal remains behind, you must clamber up this wall to reach the beyond. Few cracks and very little green grew along this gargantuan surface. Its various tones glimmered in the sunlight. Swarga Dwar is heavenly.

I decided I’d walk over the wider bridge. Bad idea. Not so soon after, I had to double back in deep-unbroken snow to the pathway that connected from the smaller chain suspension bridge. Still, the views were worth it, or that’s what I kept telling myself. On crossing the bridge, I noticed that not one, but of my walking boots had worn splits in them. They would remain watertight for that day, but worry set in. How easy is it to buy a pair of UK size-14 boots in the mountains? Was there much demand for European-sized 50 boots in that neck of the woods? Would a repair shop be open in Manang?

The slog up to Dhukur Pokhari (3240m) involved a little bit of that famous Nepali flat (little bit up, little bit down) on the last section. Ordinarily, I’d have enjoyed that, but waist-deep snow and a heavy frame meant I spent a fair bit of time digging myself out and starting up and over again, only to have to dig myself out again. Occasionally, for the sake of variety I flumped over like a dropped teddy bear and rolled around in the snow. These are the moments we hike for – to get in touch with nature, even if gravity is fully in charge. This also gave me time to really appreciate the incredible views. Snow-capped peaks are in every direction and the lower hills around me give glimpses of the fuller Annapurna range. The path had been a zigzagging tour of the under-canopy of pines and firs. The trees had nestled so closely at times that sunlight had failed to melt much of the deep snow beneath the natural green sunshade.

At Dhukur Pokhari, a brightly coloured lodge offering a fruit juice and sun-bathed benches caught my attention. Several trekkers were tucking into what looked like proper potato chips. Would they also have gravy and a nice piece of haddock too? I decided that lunch was needed. Well, actually my belly was rumbling like hell having ran on a trekker’s fuel bar, porridge and omelette for far too long. I greeted the lodges family, “Tashi delek” and took the menu from them. The crisp air, with sunshine beating down on me, reminded me of a winter’s sunny day on Morecambe Bay. I was warm despite the now sub-zero temperatures.

After a lunch of vegetable momos, chips, and allu paratha (potato in a bread), I didn’t enjoy the dal bhat later that evening, but I did have plenty in the tank for the final part of the walk. The steep upwards pathway through to Dhukur Pokhari had burned a fair bit of energy but on leaving the village, the trail was quite smooth, with only a few upward rises, and most of them in the finale of the path.Livia, Srirang and I set out once more and remained together for the final push of the day. The air was much thinner than earlier than day, and a huge radio mast amongst the crumbling old and proud new buildings marked out the final stop for the day. It grew ever closer.

After crossing a footbridge, alongside two twisted bridge remains, the pathway snaked in and out of small bushes and a very hidden abandoned settlement. To the left the river moved away, and fields spread outwards. To the right a new peak became clearer. Pisang takes its name from Pisang Peak (locally called Jong Ri – 6091m high), of which Paungda Danda is its south-eastern subsidiary peak. The so-called ‘Great Wall of Pisang’ was easily visible in the fading sunlight. Pisang Youth Club’s football fields could be made out amongst the snow on our right, as the goalposts gave it away. To our left, a huge sweeping curing avalanched seemed to have completely lost momentum at a stonewall. It was stonewalled just a metre from our footpath. The jagged windswept icy tufts of the avalanche stood in contrast to intact wheat shoots to the avalanche’s left.

Upper Pisang (3300m) is part of the Pisang village. Lower Pisang (3200m) is its slightly lower down and over the valley other half. About 307 live across 105 houses, according to a census in 2011. It seemed on my visit, that far fewer people were here. Arriving at our guesthouse, the lucidly turquoise Marshyangdi River could be seen a hundred metres or so below. If life it what you make it, then right there and then, life was wonderful. To reach Lower Pisang, you don’t cross the bridges, you follow the river and cross a different bridge. The Lower Pisang plains and the buildings looked cold and uninviting because the mountains above cast such a large shadow below.

Upper Pisang has sweeping great views of Annapurna II and ample opportunity to take endless snaps on your camera. The lodge’s family feel is completed by a young girl singing from YouTube videos on a phone. Mother and father, busy cooking occasionally pop out to check on her, and she looked up every time, with full respect and listened to all instructions, in the Tibetan language.

After gaining 600m in elevation and trekking about 14.5km that day, we’d all earned a good night’s sleep. I tucked under my extra blanket and crept into my sleeping bag. I sat up suddenly and took one last look outside at the valley beneath and the few twinkles of electric light. The dark sky and stars made me realise how cold it was, so I slipped back into the sleeping bag and soon fell asleep, deep into a dream…

“Listen as the wind blows, from across the great divide, voices traoped in yearning, memories trapped in time. The night is my companion, and solitude is my guide…” – Possession by Sarah McLachlan

 

Cover image by the angry hungry Hungarian and great trekker Livia (Srirang and I passing an avalanche field the day after arriving at Upper Pisang):

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I’m not gonna give up.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Before the climb, we’d stopped in Danagyu, at a lodge on the right-hand side. It was busy. A family were playing cards. Kids were running around and one managed to hit both Livia and I with first her walking stick and second a snotty finger. I was fully aware of the coronavirus outbreak by now. It was by now February. Hygiene was on my conscience but this terrible toddler was not sharing my concern. Bogies smeared down my leg. I used soap and water to clean it away. Eventually a teenage girl came over and shuffled the toddler away. We’d already ordered pumpkin soup and momos now. Having seen the soon to be altogether contour lines on the map, our engines for walking needed some much needed fuel. One trekker’s bar wasn’t going to be adequate.

After reaching a waterfall tucked in a tight ravine, Livia went right along the road, and I went left up some steep steps. Srirang was just behind Livia, with his sore leg, yet he soldiered on and never gave in. Tough lad. After only a few steps, I started to see speedy little Himalayan squirrels and the view backwards of the peaks nearby to Manaslu was marvellous. Upwards was very much that. Up, up and away. After some crumbly steps, that could have been made of Lancashire cheese of apple crumble topping, I managed to reach the road, and cross straight over back onto the pathway. Here the green trees folded outwards ever so slightly, to show stacks of natural compost on the forest floor. The air had a damp natural earthy smell and occasional felled logs rotted alongside the trail. The track would mostly rise and do little of a fall. Soon enough the mud and dirt track became covered in frozen snow. Not the fluffy soft and easy to trudge through kind, but the solid mostly with a metre drop inwards should I find the bit unable to tolerate my weight, kind. And it seemed I was in for many steps up, and a few deep into the partially frozen snow. Heave. Heave. Heave.

The snow pretty much didn’t want to convey me and with every drop my boots, and the best part of my legs disappeared. Out came the crampons. Out came the determination. Onwards I went. My imagination enjoyed the peculiar eerie silence. I imagined packs of wolves, snow leopards and bears watching me go by. Not your ideal range of animals to picture you pass by, especially if one of them was very hungry, but here I was in the territory of nature, and damned if I was going to imagine Minecraft or a rock concert.

The pine trees shed patches of snow and melt water dripped all around me. Glorious rays of sunshine broke the canopy and occasionally I caught glimpses of mountain tops here and there. Then, a sudden crashing sound in the trees ahead, had me at full alertness. I froze solid as the iced floor around me. Silence resumed. Then a larger and louder thump and crunch. Something was in the trees ahead. I heard a racket and a commotion. Voices yelled from the canopy to my immediate left. The thuds and thumps were accompanied by a disturbance in the snow maybe a few hundred metres away. Then I spotted a monkey, Himalayan langur, springing up and down in the snow, swiftly from tree to tree across a small clearing. They didn’t seem too perturbed by the snow, but didn’t hang around either way. I tried to shoot them. My camera wasn’t quick enough though.

Throughout this journey, I had seen many mammals. These included Himalayan langurs, Assam macaques, Rhesus macaques, Irrawaddy squirrels, orange-bellied Himalayan squirrels, Himalayan striped squirrels, voles, Himalayan field mice, Himalayan pika, shrews, a variety of bats, and some wild boar, I’d never seen many animals in the snow. It was a privilege to enjoy the monkeys and hear them move over the forest. It was a welcome break from the constant in and out walking motions of the snow. I also had chance to reflect about the fall onto my walking stick which had gave the stick a slight bend, or three.

After crossing many streams carefully, over tiny little snow-covered bridges, and occasionally playing find the rock over the odd crossing point, I reached a stretched out chain bridge. Snowfall and heavy damage had ripped one end of the supports from its foundations. The two guard rails fanned out, practically useless. It wasn’t quite and Indiana Jones movie, but it looked far more precarious than comfort. The river flow was about five metres wide, pummeling steeply down to the River Marsyangdi many metres below in altiiude. I decided to chance my luck at a bridge further upstream. After 200 metres, I realised that this was the only bridge. I hadn’t seen one downstream either. Whilst I could hear the river nearby, I couldn’t see it and no alternative route evident. The flayed and flawed bridge was to be my point of movement. A way like no other.

So, off came the crampons, and then I positioned my rucksack tighter to my back. I stowed my walking sticks. I pulled out my thin winter gloves with extra grips (thanks Black Diamond) and I stepped through the first pocket of snow on the bridge. I tested the bridge for movement. First with a little weight and then applying all slowly, readied to dive into the snow to the side of the bridge. Then, I did a kind of half-hop. The bridge was surprisingly sturdy – a real testament to the Gurkha builders who had provided so many bridges across the country. From that, I leant and tested the sideways cable to my left, uphill and in appearance the least damage of the handrails. I turned square onto it. I placed my left hand over my right hand and never left any motion rightwards without one very firm hand on the rail. By the time I’d reached the centre of the bridge, the rail tilted upwards, almost as it should have been and all the snow had melted in the sunlight. I gently walked up to the other side and looked backwards. Stepping off the bridge was a relief. Then I peered left at the small landslips dotted along the river bank.

The fallen ground and occasional uprooted tree didn’t prove too much of a challenge. The trail banked left and into an open field, which led onto a rock-cobbled road. Each rock was jagged and unwelcoming. It had a Lord of The Rings feel to it. Wild, and otherworldly. Onwards, I plugged until reaching the Hotel Royal Garden, where I met Livia aftera few minutes. Here, I also met Shadow. Shadow wasn’t his name but for that day he would be my little shadow and follow us throughout the village of Timang. After a great lunch, Srirang joined us, and we checked in for the night, just 100 metres down the road. Ahead of us the weather looked bleak and unsettled. So, a Sherpa family welcomed us, and we dropped our bags into a room each. The Hotel Manaslu View Point had a view of Manalsu in the distance and the panoramic view in all directions was a clear sign that we were now in the Himalayas, proper. Timang (2630m) was about 400 metres higher than Danagyu (2200m). The air temperature was much more-icy here. Clouds floated over the mountains behind us, disguising hidden peaks and over the River Marsyangdi to the opposite side, occasional matchstick-looking pine trees, empty of leaves and needles, stood like wooden stakes in a cemetery. There looked to have been a nuclear blast over the valley. Even the ground appeared clear of life.

This village was both sinister and beautiful. Firstly, the crows, those often billed in horror movie birds, were everywhere. They made themselves known with sharp piercing cries and occasionally softer sounds. The Kāga (काग Nepali for crow or craven) here were not Carrion crows. These were bigger ravens, Corvus corax tibetanus, with long grey neck feathers. Light on their feathers gave a beautiful purple-blue iridescence. Amongst the pairs of ravens, Carrion crows moved and foraging by jackdaws, and other smaller birds like sparrows could be seen through the village. Now, the sinister, I described wasn’t too much about the crows…

One single storey building with a shop front on the right of the road gave me new heebie-jeebies. Outside the front a man swapped tyres on a jeep. At the side of this passengers from the jeep waited patiently. At the rear of the building in the garden, an animal pelt hung from a washing line. From a distance I couldn’t work out if it was red panda, a dog or something of similar size. I know that the rules in Nepal are extremely strict regarding hunting, but I could not for the life of me understand what it was. It was, in all probability, a goat – and certainly unwelcoming. And, not far from that pelt on the washing line, a dead crow was tied up by its neck, flying in the wind like a grim version of a child’s kite. I expected haunted hillbilly music and a narrative from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

After a great dal baht, in front of a warm fireplace, we all departed for bed. The matchstick looking cluster of spiders in the toilets gave an appearance of buffalo pubic hair [you know what I mean!] – and they seemed to detect the cold too, nestling together like brush hair in the corners of the long cold toilet room.

After a good night’s sleep, a great omelette and some defrosted ice-water, we three departed, bidding our farewell to Shadow the dog and a variety of goat kids in the nursery nearby. The road headed out, skirting around the brow of the hills beside us, never quite leaving the river below. At Tanchok village it doubled back inwards, crossing a frozen stream before lurching back into the river valley below. It slid gently up to the crossroads at Koto before nestling its way into Chame (2700m), complete with signs for yet more hot springs. Monkeys had been sighted in the forest’s brow by the village of Tanchok, by Livia and I stood watching them for some time. Here the valley started to tighten up and appear much steeper than previous days.

Chame is a colourful place, but in February, the sun sets early, shrouded by mountainous ridges to the west. Here a dozen municipal buildings and hospitals can be found. Derelict military barracks stand to the village’s north. It is a town of about 1200 people. In winter it is quiet with many people heading to Kathmandu and Pokhara. There are signs of the April 2015 earthquake having struck here. There were also some very good small supply shops and chances to get some much needed fruit into our diet. We checked into the cosy New Tibet Hotel and Restaurant sandwiched between a brittle looking cliff face and the river’s east bank. We then had a wander around the village which seemed to be many scattered lodges along a kilometre of two. An upper level village to the west looked more modern and functional, but less touristic. There were the usual array of schools and public facilities with prayer flags visible all across the high points.

After the walk Livia tucked into her billionth bowl of rice pudding, and probably ordered one for the morning too. Seeing Livia eat rice pudding in a wolf/koala/bear hat was quite a frequent sight on the journey. I often had scrambled eggs, porridge and buckwheat bread of chapatti. Always with a milky coffee or tea. Several bank machines were available in the village but there was no internet and sporadic power cuts for the two nights that we stayed. There was even a roadblock on alert for any walkers from China! By now fear and panic about COVID-19 had spread up the road. I kept news that I had left China over two weeks before arriving there to myself. I’d heard Chame described as an often crowded place. We met only two other trekkers, both French and both walking solo (with a guide).

Our lodge was less than two minutes of walking from a lovely spot. The hot springs doubled up as an open air launderette. Livia and I washed our clothing in the warm flow of water, as local soldiers soaked up the minerals in the neighbouring swimming pool. The spring itself was a dull green bubbling hole with pipes jutting from it. Nothing exciting to the naked eye. The miracle of life and fresh water was surrounded by man-made concrete and exploitation. Still, it was a good place to wash my underpants. Bloody warm too. Later I scattered my clothes on the balcony and added some socks to a warm chimney to speed dry them in the fading sunshine. Night was soon rolling in, complete with starry skies and ice-inducing temperatures. To be continued…


 

On the I’d booked a flight between Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport and Shenzhen for April the 1st. April Fool’s Day. Appropriately Thai Air Asia cancelled it yesterday. As I had used Trip.com to book it, I have to use Trip’s customer services. Flight FD596 is no more. On top of that, my visa expires here on April the 14th. I have been told that to stay here, I need to have a letter from the UK Embassy to say that travel to my country of residence is not possible. The UK Embassy won’t give such a letter for British citizens traveling to China. Thailand’s Immigration won’t allow me to stay because I can currently fly to the U.K. There are flights to Guangzhou at drastically hyper-inflated prices but even they could be pulled. Trip.com’s phone numbers ring a little and then hang up, all three of them! Their email reply reads as follows:

“Due to the huge backlog of emails caused by Corona Virus pandemic, we are sincerely sorry that your email won’t be able to get reply as usual. It will be delayed but no later than 30 days. Kindly recommend to manage your ticket online or though APP.” – modern day example of a crappy auto-response from a customer disservice centre, March 2020.

I get that we’re in a global catastrophe and the world is going mad buying excessive amount of bog rolls and shutting borders, but when you haven’t got much cash, or hope to get around, and your head feels like it is going to explode if it doesn’t release the bubbling rage and worry inside. I even paid for new cycle lights to allow me to break out of my body, and fly away, like a bat out of hell… or at least peddle fast from stray dogs and monkeys now coming out from the temples and sanctuaries in search of food. Next I expect to see chameleons on sun loungers, well maybe not see them, but at least know they’re there when the fly numbers drop down. That’d be more amazing because as I am aware, there aren’t chameleons in Thailand, but with current world problems, maybe they’ll bounce back like other wildlife – especially now people are talking more about wildlife trade ending. Or, will this COVID-19 world hide a debate about climate change?

Still, worries aside, it could be worse. It could be much, much worse. I worry for others. I’ll survive and money I haven’t got will add to other money that I never had. You can’t repossess from a hobo, right? Especially one trapped in Thailand… trapped, with just two bottles of Vimto and two frozen portions of black pudding. Nope, it ain’t all that bad! Stay strong. Survive. Beyonce and her mates told you to.

“I’m a survivor (what), I’m not gon’ give up (what); I’m not gon’ stop (what), I’m gon’ work harder (what); I’m a survivor (what), I’m gonna make it (what); I will survive (what), keep on survivin’ (what)” Destiny’s Child’s song was covered by 2WEI.

 

Rainbow tapestry.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Last Sunday, I went on a run. Yes, I walked occasionally after the 3km mark, and jogged a bit, but the beach was slanted to the right (east), which is not good when you have right ankle and tendon weaknesses. My right ankle has been suffering instability for year but since late autumn it has been recovering. There is no pain but the super over pronation is inwards and makes it easy for me to roll my ankles and my flat feet. Running is not something that I enjoy nor do I want to do. So, last Saturday evening Gerry and I cycled 20km or so to Cha Am. He was joining the Cha Am Bikini Run (10km run). There were other options such as the half-marathon and a 5km run. As he picked up his bib, to go over his USA flag speedos, I asked if you could run without wearing a bikini or speedos. That is to say, I was curious if you could run in regular shorts and shirts, rather than naked. The gentleman said yes. I asked if I could join the 5km run. I parted with 450 baht and was handed the running number 1143. It had space on it for a temperature check, because of COVID-19 and so on. So, just after 6pm on Saturday, I was to run at 6am the following day. Cheers Gerry!

I crossed the line, sweating and knackered. Just below 36 minutes for the heavy bugger on the old 5K beach run in sun-licked Cha Am. Not bad for someone who hates running. When the world stops worrying and this virus, disease and panic goes away, we’ll mourn the lost and seek normality. Until then, keep hope and do as much as you can in these dark hours. Don’t blame and judge. Be the difference and look to inspire. I entered the 5K run because infectious human attitudes made it appealing. It was a challenge and we as a species are always capable of rising to a challenge. Together we’re stronger. Seeing runners with smiles on their faces and their tribal passion for this sport made me escape the worries of the days ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic is shattering lives globally and I may end up trapped in Thailand for some time. It is what it is. We must find the light of positivity wherever we can. Apinterfood (Hua Hin) has made my day in recent weeks. I’m in Thailand enjoying ice cold Vimto. I wish all around the world peace and love at this difficult time. Vimto has and will bring calm. We need more calm. Less sensationalism, more calm. More Vimto too. Don’t panic buy Vimto. Share the purple love juice. As a wise Mancunian saying goes, “Stay safe our kid.”


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Back to the Nepal trek we go, and the many sounds of the Marsyangdi River. Leaving the cute puppy eyes, and Jagat behind, the first thing we witnessed was a sheep or goat completely cut open. It seemed a wedding or some other such festivity demanded it. The one thing about the hugely multicultural Nepali lifestyle is, you’re never more than a day or so from a regional, local, religious or personal holiday. All are fascinating in a mammoth amount of ways, however, stepping around a bath of blood on the muddy pathway was a bit too much for breakfast. In my eyes, anyway. Not long after leaving Jagat (1130m), Chamche (1385m) was a passing point. A stunning waterfall cast a rainbow in the blowing water spray, commanded a great place to stand and enjoy the view. Many more waterfalls followed that day, cutting and jutting from the high valley sides, but the Chamche Waterfall opposite the Boong Waterfall and Dense Fall Restaurant was a fine way to inspire a good walk.

Switching away from the road, I clambered along a trail pathway that faced into the ugly road over the valley. The road was a continual scar among the awe-inspiring mountainsides and colossal rocks. The dribbled blasted rocks and erosion alongside the scar gave the appearance of a weeping mountain.

IMG_20200130_170616Tal (1700m) was over a hill. By over the hill, I mean very far away and plenty of up, up, up. Not a hint of what Tal would look like because ultimately some very large geological features were doing a good job of screening the beyond. After some really emotional digging in we were back on the pathway, Livia and I, walking with Srirang not far behind. The few restaurants and hotels along the way were closed, and water had to be gained from river feeds into pipes, and then straight into the Life Straw bottle. Clean and fresh. The great sinister and prophesying slopes ahead didn’t encourage but we dug in. On reaching the top we had an eagle’s eye view into Tal, with an eagle flying beneath us over a wide valley plain and lake within the Marsyangdi River. The overlooking stone gate faced onto Tal. We toyed with how long before Srirang would arrived but decided the best thing was to find somewhere to eat. A gent introduced himself, and told us that his lodge was sadly under repair. His friend from Jagat, at Mont Blanc Hotel, had recommended his sister’s lodge. We said, not to worry, and carried on. We went all the way to the farthest point of the village, Paradise Lodge on his recommendation. Here we ordered food and fussed a local dog that followed us. The pumpkin soup and momos were brilliant. Well needed after that wander, The widened-valley stretched across the banks of the river beneath with a stone plain giving home to the village of Tal. Behind it the Tal waterfalls plummeted downwards powering a turbine or two.

IMG_20200131_094804After a cup of milky coffee, the weakest coffee ever, but warm and sweet, Srirang walked up the garden path. He did not have his backpack. He said he’d checked into Tashi Delek Lodge (named after a Tibetan greeting). We retreated back there and dropped our bags in. The girl at the lodge had wide Tibetan eyes, wonderfully smooth hair and a figure to die for. I seldom judge someone as breath-taking at first sight. She was. And, without appearing like a debauched foreigner, I politely thanked her for showing me to the wide room, and she slid away quietly. A man I assumed to be her father, and a woman who was clearly her mother shuffled around the garden and lodgings in the start of the Manang district. Before a wander out, we ordered our dinners and dal bhat was on the menu once again.

We set out back towards Jagat, but only as far as the lake and plain area opened out downstream. A golden looking dog joined us. He, Livia and Srirang were having a whale of a time. I wandered along quietly amazed at the litter amongst the river bed and shore. It is always sad to see a natural place covered in plastic and soggy discarded clothing. Some will have no doubt been trekking waste, but much would have been due to a lack of waste management. Plastic is a global menace. Tal sits on the line of Tibetan Nepal and Hindu Nepal. A clearer division of cultures was visible. Today’s dal baht was the best that I had ever had. I thought about how many argue that the road across the valley doesn’t detract from the beauty of the area, triggered by a motorbike ripping the arse out of the valley’s silence.

IMG_20200130_163546Before dinner, Livia, Srirang and our new Kukura (कुकुर – a dog) – abandoned Livia’s impressive learning of Nepali language and we went to see the waterfall, lit up by several bulbs and enjoyed the setting sun over the snow-capped mountain ranges of the west. To our north up the Marsyangdi River, cold clouds gathered and swirled. To the south, similar clouds menacingly eddied and flowed over distant peaks. We looked at pictures of a spider and Livia, with Srirang set about creating a kind of social media profile photo montage. The day had been epic in terms of the scale and ravines witnessed, with such dramatic sweeping scenery accompanying us along the way. Following steep stones and vast drops, a few photos of an eight-legged critter seemed fitting. The big and small, side by side.

IMG_20200131_104942The following morning blue skies greeted us all. I’d woken around 7am but we departed closer to 10.30am. Why rush? Armed with a stodgy breakfast we set off early, having chewed on buckwheat bread, omelettes and porridge. The beautiful girl waved us goodbye. The river bent north-west, and we followed the banks, as the valleys once again enclosed the Marsyangdi River. After only a short distance the river pointed north, and we looked upstream at gaping valleys. But, first we enjoyed a smooth and calm waterfall on our right shoulders. Livia washed her hair and Srirang rested for a while. I plodded up the stairs slowly at first and then having reached a crest, decided I’d trot on a little. The valley below deepened and over the river the road slipped lower below me. The mountains above me cast shadows and sunlight broke through the occasional pockets of bamboo forestry. Here the plants became more deciduous than before, with the air temperature hovering just below teens in centigrade. Sound thundered up from the deep vaIMG_20200131_121925lley beneath. After passing the first yak of the journey I found the small village of Karte. That was an ideal break point after some knee-stress-inducing steps on the route so far. As my lunch of pumpkin soup and momos was readied, I walked over the suspension bridge and back. By 12.50pm, I was at Karte, and now I had met the sister of a certain doggy back in Tal. Her puppies were nearby too. I sat and enjoyed the views and had a quick gander on the internet, via the lodge’s wi-fi. Here I read an excellent account of this trekking region by Tasha Amy (spotting a familiar dog too).

Somewhere after Karte, I decided to plonk my bottom down and have a short nap. I positioned my feet on a comfortable rock and slid my head back onto my resting backpack. Why rush? I hadn’t walked too much extra before reaching Dharapani’s first few guesthouses. Here I greeted the owners if the bright pink and green New Tibet Guest House. With a view up at a very high suspension bridge, I decided this would be a good place to stay – especially as Srirang, Livia and I had decided this would be the day’s end. I checked in, explored the waterfall over the river, had a wander within the village and waited not too long for Srirang and Livia to arrive. Dharapani has a few houses, and a population of just over a thousand, throughout about 232 houses. It is the gateway to the Manaslu trekking routes and all climbers who want that scap, head througIMG_20200131_161129h here. The so-called Gandaki Zone of northern Nepal. Just across the river a further 102 houses, house about four times as many people as front doors. The village of Thonje can be reached by a swinging suspension bridge. A river valley to the north-east gives Thonje a headland sandwiching it to the north-west by the Marsyangdi River. The north-easterly direction to Tilche and a village called Goa looked cold and uninviting. The name Thonje means ‘pine trees growing on a flat place’ in Gurung language.

IMG_20200201_131727An hour’s climb up a near vertical cliff-hugging pathway is not the best thing to do for a late breakfast. But, it had to be done. That vertical line of suspension bridge was calling out my name. Eventually I reached the steep-faced village of Nache (2300m) overlooking a sweeping plain and several farming stepped fields. I ducked into the Dona Lake & Restaurant lodge for lunch. With views of Manaslu (8163m) I sank a bowl of pumpkin and onion soup deep into my belly. Lovely vegetable momos joinIMG_20200201_140008ed the soup moments later. After thanking the owner and their family, I swiftly wandered around the bend, shuffled by two bulls blocking the path and skipped on forwards. To walk on a very-raised footbridge was my intention. The pathway descended and Annapurna could be seen across the opposite valley and way off into the distance.

Heights sometimes give me the heebie-jeebies. There’s a touch of anxiety and apprehension. It doesn’t freeze me in panic or fright, but I don’t feel completely comfortable. This bridge, the Nachai Tamrang bridge, was one heebie-jeebies instiller of the highest quality. The valley below is deep (more than 412m). After crossing, I passed some loggers and wandered through the cool pine forest interior. The chilly evening air was refreshing and I spent a long time pondering if the pathway would start to go downhill. It didn’t seem to go that way, until I found a landslip of many tonnes of soil. Just beyond it I could see prayer flags, a large chalky-coloured rock and some white-washed painted bricks and wood.

A Tibetan monastery, just about on the map (Coordinates: 28.526666408038352, 84.36179227677985), more than 55 years old received me. I hadn’t expected it. The monk shouted down to me, after his black dog had alerted him of my presence. I returned the call with a greeting, and asked for advice on how to pass the huge landslip in front of me. He kind of pointed and said, “There isn’t an easy way. Take great care”, followed by a gentle chuckle. I’d fathomed out a pathway to my right, and looped it around but again it had to cross the landslip, over a distance of two metres. Aside from that the landslip was mostly 5 to 15 metres wide. It ran down into a steep pocket of bushes and mud for about ten metres. I couldn’t slip far. I could get buried. It could have been dangerous. So, I did what anyone else faced with a lengthy walk back, I winged it. I jumped over the first metre with consummate ease, and pushed myself into the soft earth, to allow for a steady flick into the solid growth by a tree and then shuffled up to the gate at the top.

I talked with the resident monk, and he told me of the story of his predecessor who had been there for 55 years. He showed me damage on a wall from the terrible earthquake years ago, the huge tree grown from a seed by his predecessor. The steep garden reaching up from two buildings featured diversity in its birdlife. The national bird, the Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) foraged amongst the peaceful greenery. Wind battered away at flags, and several thin cats wandered around. I had a guided tour within the small monastery and made a donation. With light fading I bid farewell, and shuffled off downhill for the bridge to Thonje, and then the eventual bridge to Dharapani, back to my lodge across the way from the highest bridge that I had ever seen, just upstream from the skeleton of a sagging bridge and its replacement nearby. The warm cushions and the fireplace alongside hot meals made for a good night of sleep, despite the icy cold temperatures outside. Dharapani will stick in my mind as one of the most pleasant places on this journey.

It had rolling power cuts as during daylight, they turned off the power whilst they fitted new power lines. Several huge boulders, landslides, avalanches and other such damage had created supply instability. Leaning and/or crushed pylons needed replacing for many kilometres. The monsoon seasons, the winter, the dry days, and other erosion factors made life hard for local people. The power and a recently installed internet feed gave a very modern touch, along with the new road creating regular gas deliveries and other luxuries throughout the region. What many take for granted around the world had only just arrived. The old and new. The New Tibet Guest House even had western toilets, complete with fully flushing bits. What wasn’t to like? A warm shower and a sit-down pooh. As many returning trekkers passed me by advising of closed pathways near Manang, I didn’t worry. If I couldn’t go that high, I’d not be too upset. The journey was already wonderful.

 

At Dharapani (1900m), on leaving our permits were checked. It was all very official and the Police here advised that trekking beyond Manang was unlikely for several days. Livia and Srirang looked disappointed but I guessed they’d wait it out. I was on a tight timetable and wouldn’t be rushing up, either way. The journey was magnificent and for me it had no planned end point. Something special always arrives if you let it. Okay, that sounded very Walt Disney, but I truly believe that you can’t force a trek in the Himalayas. Just go with flow. Feel the rhythm, feel the ride, it’s bobsleigh time…So, that day we slipped through Odar ( a village where I was told  a landslide killed a sleeping trekker some years ago) , Bagarchap (2160m – a village once washed away in 1995), Danagyu (2200m – an unappealing lengthy village, with a Buddhist Monastery opposite a Hydro Electric Plant warning about dangers in the workplace and you only having one life…), and spent some considerable time climbing to Timang (2710m). Livia and Srirang took the road, but I was bored of the road and wanted to see more natural settings that dusty rocks and broken lines of earth.

So, here began the tough part of the trek… forests of pine and fir…

 


Life will find a way.” – Ian Malcolm, character in the novel Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

Back to today’s news. Tragedy. More grimness and COVID-19 panic. More worries. It is making me feel down, actually. I worry. I try to escape.I don’t want to see Chinese people boasting how their great nation beat the virus. It isn’t over. I hope to hell, for many it will be over soon. Yes, great doctors and nurses have done wonderful things. But, leaders and officials have let people down. Still, the late Dr Li Wenliang has been exonerated by his government. Too little, too late? 

A while ago, Boris Johnson said he’d take the virus and disease outbreak – on a Friday. He called a COBR meeting for the Monday. This is the same man who said to sing Happy Birthday twice whilst scrubbing your mitts. USA had a drive-through testing centre made by Google. As foot-tap alternatives to handshakes greeted each other, I couldn’t help wondering how they take their shoes off, which obviously were exposed to things that people touched, and probably, hands earlier in the day… The Ian Duncan Smith virus harms the elderly amongst us and this virus is going all Energizer bunny, on and on, and on. It’s tragic but please stay safe, calm and dish out some Gallow’s Humour. Keep your stuff upper lip. The battle goes on.

“If there’s one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh, well, there it is.” –  Ian Malcolm, character in the novel Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

Life goes on.