Farewell 2020. Happy New Year.

Dear all,

All the very best for 2021.

Let’s not dwell on COVID-19 and it’s terrible spread throughout the globe. It’s been a challenging and upsetting year for many. The less said on this eve of a new year, the better. Stay positive.

With trips to Nepal, Thailand (as a Corona refugee), Suzhou and now Yunnan, I’ve been lucky to experience a variety of cultures and religions in different shapes and forms during 2020. All have stood the test of time and all have stories about being adaptable. 2021 for the human race will be no exception. I’ve been lucky to get some travelling in, during this new norm but unlucky not to travel and see loved ones. The future is tingling with uncertainty but when a reunion comes about, I’m certain it won’t be wasted.

Climatic change, political indecision, blundering idleness by an impenetrable elite, racism and divide, disease and worry. Twenty twenty’s themes will carry on into this year as we all live as best we can. The gloom of a serious Sir David Attenborough message should stay with us. As should Amnesty International. Black Lives will always matter. #MeToo? Where changes are needed things will always need to happen. Vaccines and immunisation can only cure so much.

2020 allowed me opportunity. I’ve been blessed to start work at Tungwah Wenzel International School. A few weeks of expensive quarantine and drastically overpriced return flights got me back into China, as others faced even tougher routes to work or pathways no longer open. It’s been a good ride at work so far. I can only see it getting better.

Football for and with Murray’s FC has provided a regular escape from a landscape tinged by trepidation. Having also joined Dongguan Bulldogs, for a few games of tag rugby, and several solo bike rides, freedom has been a privilege.

I’m writing from a cold bed in YuBeng village, Yunnan, China. I’d like to write more but like the new journal in my bag, there’ll be plenty of opportunity and positive days ahead for the writing of new well remembered days. All the best for 2021. Keep hope in your head and heart.

Peace and love x

Tashi Delek

Tashi Delek / 你好 / Hey, hey!

It was Christmas Eve and I enjoyed scrambled eggs, with toast and cappuccino. I decided to have an easy day of wandering. To acclimatize to altitude is important. I drank ginger tea, water and ate bananas with other dried fruits. Other tricks include walking high and then sleeping low. So, for Christmas Eve, I looked for a bumpy mountain. I had my eye on a few peaks around this valley that envelopes Shangri La city. The cold was manageable with a City shirt and my trusted Sherpa jacket. The Italian wool socks were and are highly effective too. Nighttime hit -12C outside but inside a Green Tree Hotel it was standard room temperature.

Following a late breakfast at The Compass, I headed to LánYuèGǔ (蓝月谷) which translates to Blue Moon Valley. It’s real name is Shika Mountain (石卡山; Shíkǎshān) and it towers to the west above Diqing Shangri-La Airport (DIG). The airport is at at around 3280m. I was able to wander up to about 3500m, way shy of the peak towering above. There were too many people saying, “You shall not pass.” Strong winds had closed the nearby cable car and every path upwards. Rules is rules. I headed back and spotted some cranes, a photo opportunity or two and plenty of construction. Some splendid stupas and magnificent views made for a pleasant wander. Blue Moon wasn’t all that, but the name belongs to City’s chant so what’d you expect?

In the evening, I enjoyed local Tibetan food and hospitality before heading back to rest. I woke up in the same Green Tree hotel, opposite the city bus station. At 08:20, I was on a bus headed for Déqīn town or city. Unsure what it actually is. From there many trails lead off to waterfalls, glaciers and villages.  This area is spelled as Diqen, Díqìng and Deqin (བདེ་ཆེན་རྫོང་). It’s rather confusing. Since Tibet handed over Kham province to Yunnan province, it’s become autonomous (迪庆藏族自治州). The many names should be a starting point for a clear up. By noon, after a climbing route of a road trip, the bus pulled into Deqing city’s bus station. Here I was told that I could go onto Feilaisi (飞来寺) village. I agreed and returned after a quick lunch. Less than an hour later and the bus halted outside a terrace of hotels. Opposite stood a rather imposing two metre wall. Beyond that wall, a view to a kill. The picturesque and snow capped range of MeiLi Snow Mountain (梅里雪山).

After a few minutes standing outside I checked into the a catching named hotel, Deqin Snow Mountain Town Tourist Reception Center (No.2 Reception). I couldn’t find the sequel. After dropping my bag up four flights of stairs, I grabbed my camera and crossed the road into the Mingzhu Langka Viewing Platform, and following my health code check, I was away to wander and enjoy the view. The panoramic settings on cameras was made especially for this kind of scene. The clear air, beautiful blue skies and Lancang river valley below only added to the dramatic setting. A main deck with 8 stupas, a rare Mani wall, and an abundance of prayer flags made my Christmas Day special in ways I hadn’t previously imagined.

The fluttering sound of prayer flags, slapping each other, and spiraling up and down on winds with the fragrance of incense and juniper took me moments to clear my mind. The overwhelming scenery had swallowed me up. With each majestic cloud hovering like a pirouette over the many peaks, it was easy to catch my jaw falling lower than usual. The interjection ‘wow’ felt seriously below par, yet it flew out of my mouth with consummate ease. The main peak, Kawagarbo, is 6740m up. Tibetan people refer to it as Nyainqênkawagarbo. It’s a hugely sacred mountain and climbing is banned. Climbers have tried and in 1991 it claimed 17 members of one expedition. It is a sinister and magnificent looking mountain range with twenty peaks, of those 6 tower over 6000m. Tibetan pilgrims cover a different distance each year, circumambulating 240km (150 miles) around the mountain base, praying to the warrior God inside the mountain. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a real spiritual ambience. I’d look upon the framed snow peaks on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day in wonder. Absolutely stunning.

On Boxing Day, my light stroll rewarded me with views of at least ten vultures and different angles of the mountains over the raging river below. Dinner was nothing to shout home about but the oranges and pomegranates around Feilaisi certainly need a positive mention.

The walk goes on…

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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