The Mancunian Way, Dongguan

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

“I feel so extraordinary; Something’s got a hold on me; I get this feeling I’m in motion; A sudden sense of liberty.” – New Order’s song True Faith.

I’m patriotic towards the U.K. in a way. I sing praise and fly the flag for great people, wonderful history and fantastic places. I know that the story of the U.K.’s history has often been brutal, cruel and deserves little love. Even within the 21st century the U.K., as it moves away from a colonial and European past, and becomes less connected, yet more dependent on overseas trading and manufacture is and always will be a wonderful country. It’s my home. I was born in Manchester, England. I don’t call myself English. I’m British, when I choose to be. I’m Mancunian always. I have Celtic blood in me from my Irish and Welsh great grandparents. My roots are clear and free. But this tree doesn’t cling to the past and history. This tree wants to expand and be watered by different skies. For me tradition and culture are important but understanding and freedom to choose your own pathway are far more intrinsic to living. This tree is currently sat on its arse in Changping, Dongguan. Today’s and yesterday’s rugby and football have been washed out by Dragon Boat rains. I have some free time.


Today, I want to show a gallery and write a little about the culture of Dongguan and China. I’ve been here for the vast majority of the 2308 days now (11th February 2014). I believe many great days have passed and many more will follow. That’s why I am right here, right now. I arrived and didn’t feel too much way of culture shock. Around me a reasonably established cultured expat community threaded amongst the fabric of the local workforces and people of Guangdong.

“Because we need each other; We believe in one another; And I know we’re going to uncover; What’s sleepin’ in our soul” – Acquiesce by Oasis.

Since, I arrived I have seen Dongguan grow and grow. It is now classed as a Megacity. It seemingly will never stop growing. There are skyscrapers and apartment blocks skimming the sky in every single district of Dongguan. Whereas in 2014, I’d notice dozens of these mammoth constructions and many more sprouting buildings, now I am seeing hundreds and hundreds of established communities and hubs here, there and everywhere. I used to consider Nancheng and Dongcheng as the central axis of Dongguan. Now the townships of Chang’an (home of Oppo), Changping and the ever-growing former fields of Songshan Lake (home of Huawei), and the sprawls of Liaobu town could easily be seen as central areas. The arrival of the Huizhou to now West Dongguan Railway Station (soon to be Guangzhou East) or 莞惠城际轨道交通  /莞惠线 Guanhui intercity railway has added to rapid growth. As it joins the short-named Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region Intercity Railway System (珠江三角洲地区城际轨道交通). That’s more than 65 railway stations in close proximity to Dongguan. Like all of the Pearl River Delta, this city is growing fast – and going places.

 

When not hopping on 200 km/h (124 mph) railway systems, I have ample opportunity to meet great people. Dongguan‘s community is largely migrant with people coming from all over China and the world beyond. International jet-setters with lives here, include Serbians, Kiwis, and even Scousers. They can be found in some of the office places, factories, bars and restaurants throughout the city. Playing football with Brazilians or Russians, or cycling with Dongbei people is possible or a spot of chess at Murray’s Irish Pub with Ukranian opposition. Anything goes here. Drinking homebrew at Liberty Brewing Company (曼哈顿餐吧) in Dongcheng after playing tag rugby with Tongans, South Africans, Germans and Malaysians makes me realise how lucky I am. This is a city that is tidying up and beautifying itself at an alarming rate.

Throughout the 6.5 years of life in and around Dongguan, I’ve slipped up and down ginnels, seeking out the new and old. There have been trips to pizza joints in obscure areas, Dragon Boat races watched, Cosplay events attended and English competitions observed. Dongguan, like Manchester, has a heartbeat that shows anything is possible and if it isn’t here, you make it. You can make something new, or your bring something to the party. You can sit and complain about people taking your photo or saying, “wàiguórén” (foreigner/外国人) or you can show the people around you, your worth.

This week I was asked by the Dongguan Foreign Bureau to teach them. Sadly, I cannot fit their demands into my day. I’ve bene lucky to narrate advertisements, wear watches for model shoots, test-drive new bicycles and play with new robotics before they reached their target audience or global factory floors. Daily life has been far from mundane here with oddities and pleasures as varied as can be. What’s around the next corner? Well, visas are quicker and easier to get, despite more rules and demands. It seems far quicker than when I first arrived. Sometimes, I doubt that I have done everything right, yet it seems clear and simple. Just a checklist. This week I received my medical report back. Now, I need just a few other items for the 2020/21 visa… That’s progress.

Bridges have been made and links that could prove lifelong. The west and east have collided in bizarre ways often forming a touch of the unique. There has been colour, rainbows and diversity amongst the traditional and the common. There have been flashes of light and inspiration. There have been days when solitude has been sought and there will be more, no doubt, but one thing I find, and have found throughout my time here, people are just that. Just simple down to earth, regular people going about their days, looking for peace and good opportunities to survive or better themselves. There are more cars and less bicycles, which shows that some people’s bank accounts and credit-ratings have improved. Quality of life needs balance, and with that the subway/underground system of Dongguan is projected to change from one line to seven lines.

Words can say how thankful I am for my time here. I am enjoying life in different ways to others, and being who I want to be, when I want to be. I’m selfish or I’m sharing. I’m open or I am closed. I read or I watch. I write or I dictate. There are times to slip unseen, and times to lead an audience. It is good for the mind to be bored or alone. I truly believe that’s where creativity lies. It sits there waiting to be tapped and delivered to paper, computers or other outputs. I can wander from craft beer breweries to model car clubs to fusion and western food restaurants with ease and all of the time remain connected to modern and old China.

There is plenty of ugly in Dongguan, just like the rest of the world. To quote the 18th century French phrase, “ne saurait faire d’omelette sans casser des œufs“:  You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Humans must learn from the stains and damage we have caused to our planet globally, whether disease or pollution. We can’t give in. Our cultures, our pride and our people need to fight on and find solutions. Just as #BlackLivesMatter, all lives matter – whether human or worm or bug or panda. Life must find a way. Dongguan is radically changing its energy consumptions, factory practices and the way its environment is being respected. This is good for all. Maybe, I should really put my words into action and finish studying towards the HSK (汉语水平考试 Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì) course for the Chinese Proficiency Test.

 

Dongguan has gone from a place with a handful of limited cinemas, to those with the IMAX, vibrating seats, private screens and many of the latest releases from the west. KTV bars make way for baseball batting cages, ten-pin bowling, archery cafes and all the latest crazes. The great thing is that with Wechat (born 2011), Alipay etc, you can leave your wallet behind and pay swiftly with ease using these simple electronic methods. Gone are the days of using equations and haggling to get a taxi a short distance. Piles of services are available via your phone, including electrical bills, water bills and Didi (driver and carshare service) is one such saving grace.

During these COVID-19 pandemic times, your phone provides your health code, advice in travel, guidance on health services and help. Dongguan’s local services for healthcare, private insurance and banking are on your fingertips, rather than a a few hours out of work. Life can be as fast or as slow as you wish. In 2010, Dongguan was named a National Model City for Environmental Protection and greenways, green belts and other greenery followed. There are hundreds of parks now, over 1200… it is easier than ever to stay healthy.

There is culture around us, old temples, modern pagodas, relics of time and shells of history. Dongguan’s landmarks are a tad tough to visit now. The Cwa humid subtropical climate here is far above the reported average annual temperature of 22.7 °C (72.9 °F). The rainfall is typical of the land below the Tropic of Cancer now. It is raining cats, dogs and occasionally elephants. Wellingtons and umbrellas are common sights these days, rather than the Dongguan Yulan Theatre, GuanYinShan (Budda mountain), Hǎizhàn bówùguǎn (海战博物馆 Opium War Museum) or Jin’aozhou Pagoda. Even a trip to my local coffee shop, Her Coffee, is like a swim in a river. It is blooming wet lately. As a Mancunian, I feel at home.

I’m here for education – to both teach and to learn. This city has hundreds of educational institutions, even Cumbria’s St. Bees are opening a school here. I’ve heard there are around 550 primary schools, 480 kindergartens and several universities now. To bump into a teacher amongst the 21,000 plus teachers is not unusual. Although it seems every second teacher works for one of the many Eaton House schools here. I’ve heard Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) in Songshan Lake is one school to really watch. Like its neighbouring Huawei school, it is massive with around 1,000,000 square metres of surface area. I’ve seen the modern sports gyms, performance space and technology labs. It uses the latest gadgets and networking. It really is 21st century over there at Songshan Lake. Although Huawei have a German-style train-tram zipping around, piping back to older days. Dongguan University of Technology(DGUT; 东莞理工学院) is one of universities in the area meaning that you can educate beyond your teenage years here. It really is a place to learn. Watch out Oxford and Cambridge! Maybe that’s why Trump is always bad-mouthing China’s growth?

From eating chicken anus, to two weeks of quarantine in XiHu Hotel, Dongguan has given me more time to turn the contents of my head to words. Now that I am ready to publish a novel, I need a publisher, but how to do this during a pandemic? I haven’t a clue, but I know one thing, the challenge will be tough and worth it. Nobody ever climbed a mountain to sit at the top and look down without seeing another mountain, right? At the end of the day, the sun sets only to rise again. Dongguan faced lockdown impeccably and other challenges, just as the world did and does. Chin up, keep going and let’s crack on.

Last night, I ate Korean barbecue with great people to celebrate a treble-birthday, followed by proof that I am terrible at ten-pin bowling and awoke today feeling optimistic. The world is often reported to be going through a pandemic-sized recession. As the world sailed a wave in 2008 and Dongguan grew from that recession, I will everyone to go on. Manufacture a bucket of optimism. Just like the strings of New Dawn Fades by Joy Division, there is darkness but remember these famous lines: It was me, waiting for me; Hoping for something more; Me, seeing me this time; Hoping for something else. In 2008, low-tech industry switched to the high-tech. Boomtime arrived. Chances are that one in five phones around the globe were made in Dongguan. Is your phone Vivo, Oppo, Honor or Huawei? It was probably made down the road from me. So, Dongguan is closer than you think.


Manchester isn’t any place I will visiting in person for some time, so it has to come to me via playbacks of Oasis gigs at Maine Road and the written word. Over the next few months, I plan to read the following Mancunian-connected books:

Hell is a City – Maurice Proctor; The Manchester ManIsabella Varley Banks; Passing Time – Michel Butor; Magnolia Street – Louis Golding; Fame is the Spur – Howard Spring; Lord Horror – David Britton; The Emigrants – WG Sebald; Cold Water – Gwendolyne Riley; The Mighty Walzer Howard Jacobson; Manchester Slingback – Nicolas Blincoe; Vurt – Jeff Noon; A Man’s Game: The Origins of Manchester City Football ClubAndrew Keenan; Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell; Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell; North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell.

“I was thinking about what you said; I was thinking about shame; The funny thing how you said; Cause it’s better not to stay” – The Last Broadcast – Doves

Round Our Way

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste


TOUR

Well, I’ve booked flights to return to Blighty on the 31st of July, with the return to China slotted in on the 15th of September. That follows four days in Yokohama (Japan) watching English Premier League Champions Manchester City, and a trip that takes in Nanjing, Shanghai and Hong Kong to see the City face West Ham Utd, Europa League-bound Wolves or Newcastle Utd and then Kitchee SC. It is expensive and beyond my bank balance, but you only live once, I think. Money isn’t all there is to life. If your nation is billions in debt and U.S.A. is trillions in debt, and you don’t fully agree with capitalism, then flip it, live for the moment and the future, at the expense of yesterday. We can always make more money, but we can’t make more days of living. Our species has had more warnings than we care fit. Godzilla: King of Monsters, even delivers this cheesy message. Just do thes best you can, and to quote Braveheart, every man dies, not every man really lives. Something like that.


IMG_5346.JPGI may die without offspring, and in debt but I’ll be damned if I will die unhappy. If I pass on a few smiles and some good advice along the way, then I am happy. Morbidly happy. I can’t wait to get back and enjoy summer with family and close friends. I miss so many good friends. I certainly miss my family. Homesickness seems to creep in as the football season ends, and my eyes firmly focus on a summer trip home. It has happened this way since 2015. This year my holiday is extended by a few weeks – and also, I will request Christmas off, to visit home. I need to see my family I owe it to them.


MANC AIRPORT ANNIVERSARY 2013 (25)Summer in the U.K. will probably see some football, London for the Community Shield, a few Premier League games, some Aberystwyth Town jaunts and whatever suits. I hope to see Bristol Balloon Festival when near our Ace’s. Chadderton Duck Race should be in there for Dr Kershaw’s Hospice. There has to be an airshow to visit. Perhaps some Tour of Britain cycling action, Vincent Kompany’s Testimonial game and a memorial tree planting. Everything is possible with your own powerful mind. Oh, and Doves near Acton town. That’s a must. Perhaps the Ramsbottom World Black Pudding Throwing Championships. Sadly, I fly back the week before Egremont Crabbing Fair & World Gurning Championships. Hopefully, I will find a way to see the great Lancaster Bomber fly, whether over Saddleworth, Southport or Blackpool, I don’t know!


I want to spend some of summer researching my family tree too. I know so little about my heritage.

gran and aunty sue

My Mother’s side:

Ivy Harrison was born on Densmore Street in Failsworth.  At the age of five Ivy attended Mathers Street Council School in 1930.  On April the 13th 1939 Ivy became a machinist making night clothes for Smith and Nephew (a Hollinwood based company).  In 1943 during the Second World War Avro Ltd. recruited Ivy to make munitions and aircraft pieces. Parachutes were also made. The war effort needed everything. In the wake of a recovering U.K. climate during 1949, Ivy married John Hitchin.  In May of that year, Carolyn Hitchin was born.  In 1955 John Hitchin died from a severe heart attack.  Ivy became a widow aged thirty.  And in 1956, Ivy’s mother died aged sixty-nine.

In late December 1956, Ivy remarried, to John Roberts.  John came from a long line of North-Wales’ Welsh men. Susan Ivy Roberts was born upon the 5th of October 1957. Soon after, Ivy’s third child Elaine June Roberts was born upon the 20th of June 1961. John Roberts died in my early years. My Gran remarried at the deathbed of her companion Ernest Freeman. She would pass away as a widow in February 2014 and leave behind family who miss her most dearly.

To be continued…

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

IMG_5346.JPG

A Tougher Christmas Away From Home

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae,

MERRY CHRISTMAS

圣诞节快乐 (shèng dàn kuài lè)

Here we go, here we go, here we go… Christmas is coming. The turkeys and other winged edibles are getting fat. Not that I can judge, as I’m a tad chubbier than chubby. The festive season isn’t my favourite. Too many selfish and greedy Christmas dreams of the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures or Lego made it so. Actually, I’ve been very lucky at Christmas and maybe when I was young, I never quite appreciated it the same. When you’re a child stuck between divorced parents in a place called limbo, not knowing quite who or where you’d be, it isn’t easy. Some years I didn’t write Christmas cards to family because they’d be wasted. The year after I’d do it again, and they’d be unneeded. I think this shaped my adultlife more than I care to mention. Today, I am toying with electronic messages for all. There are rainforests afterall. Or there were, at the time of writing. Less so, by the end of each sentence. Trees have sentences too. Usually a stark chopping sound. Or do they use chainsaws?

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! How, I wonder what you’re at! Up above the world you fly, like a tea tray in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! How, I wonder what you’re at!

You’re homeless bat. The chainsaws just ripped through the stumps of the tree housing your crevice home. Goodbye bat. Oh, I think I have gone off topic. Back to the tinsel and baubles. I guess living in China and witnessing a very commercial society buy and sell everything Christmas for the sake of it, plus seeing life back home. The haves. The have-nots. The stripping of traditional values and beliefs make me long for family. Just family. Good times and days out. It is far better to enjoy time with those you love – and love you, than to say, buy them an iPhone What-The-Feck or the latest Ex-Box™ (check your recycling bin). Is our quality of life becoming so material that we will develop crab claws like some sort of mutant Lego man?

 Happy Holidays!

佳节快乐 (jiā jié kuài lè)

The humble pillow case at Christmas would often double-up as a Christmas tardis of joy. For Astrid, Paul and I, there’d be treats, mayba a selection box, some fresh fruit and gifts inside. In hindsight I feel sorry for Mum, over the years, probably spending her hard-earned efforts and time on things to make us happy for a moment. The lucky thing is that the memories are there. The fondest moments are of seeing my brother Paul open is latest Dr Who or Harry Potter something-or-other. Christmas away from home is mentally exhausting. To keep busy and free of Christmas regret is the key. In that sense, I want this Christmas to bring my brother Paul closer.

I’m almost certain my brother Paul detests me. I’m tired of chasing a brother that needs to mature, take responsibility for himself and his place of living. I wish him all the luck in the world and offer him love. I hope he realises how lucky he is to have home there by him, at home. I hope he cuddles my sister Astrid and wishes Mum and Mum’s boyfriend Paul a joyous and wonderful Christmastime. Perhaps, he’ll go carol singing or wash the Christmas dishes having spent the morning helping to prepare the main meal. He’ll probably suggest they all watch Morecambe & Wise on television and peruse old family photos. Some reminiscing and pondering are permitted before a game of Scrabble or Monopoly. Paul is just a victim of my frantic typing today. Every Christmas I think about those that I should be closer to, and those I want to do well in life. There are many. I hope Paul and I are at peace. I invite him to China – and try a portion of life free of Almost Everyday Shit™. It’d be nice to get a bit more than a short arse reply. It’d be nice to be there for each other. It is probably my fault, for not being there when he needed me. Brothers and sisters are just like friends following university – we drift apart. The difference being that some brothers never actually got close enough to be good friends. I’ve always admired how Paul and Astrid have been closer than me and them. Shaun and Christina on my Dad’s side of the family are the same.

Believe it or not, I miss my brother – and we haven’t been close. I miss all my siblings, Asa (with Steph) down in cider territory, big little sister Astrid, Christina (the brainbox of the siblings) and Shaun (named after Shaun Goater). Being from a family that has a splatmark rather than a family tree, it has never been easy but now I am finally mature enough to understand. We each lead our own life and walk a different path. It is great to know that brothers or sisters are there for each other in some shape or form. I can’t wait to see them all again. I dream of taking a photo of us all together, and dining well. Maybe I am naïve but at least I am a dreamer – and I know I’m not the only one. Cheers J.L.

So, for Christmas events so far, I’ve managed to dress as Santa Claus at the Shenzhen Blues. That day was long, with a few hours of costume chaos, orchestrated by Kat and Stephen as they paraded us like lambs to the slaughter. Fed on a light turkey lunch, Rebecca (my adoped Christmas wife) and I gave out gift baubles, certificates and smiled for countless photos. Following a swift coffee and natter with a legal friend, we cracked on for the second act. The meal, quiz and raffle seemed to whiz by, then City played at 01:30am local time and coffee would have been more use then. Bed at 4am, with City’s first defeat fresh in mind. Shenzhen Blues raised about 1300rmb for A Heart for China charity. Not bad for 10RMB tickets. Oh, and I met a professional Santa Claus, who was enjoying a drink after a hard day’s work in the hotel industry. He works all year, on photoshoots, promotions, as Santa – and even has a wedding ring with a snowflake on it.

In March 2014, I heard my first Christmas songs in China on loop at a fast food chain. Fast forward to November 2014 and I was told I could have Christmas Day off work with my colleagues.  Soon after I put up my Christmas tree and the happy season followed. I missed family and friends of course. Still, it wasn’t a bad Christmas in 2014. In 2015, I joined Hong Kong Blues for the Santa Stroll, had dinner with Hubhao, had a meal with colleagues on Christmas Eve before watching the musician Mr Walrus on Christmas Day itself. I still need to get round to completing that Chinese Proficiency Test, I set in 2015. In 2016 and 2017, I’d been Father Christmas at the Shenzhen Blues events. The former year involved a strange Christmas meal and the latter none, but Maria did go with me to a Christmas Eve concert. As for 2018, tell you later.

The week before last week saw a day of exams at school. I planned and organised my double science class for the JS2/Grade 8 students. It tanked. The behaviour of students on days with exams, plus their collective lack of interest in science doesn’t help. I should blame myself. I try, but once you get past showing toilet plant clips, the Titan arum plant, and trying to feed their imagination, then the technical terms are of little interest to them. If one boy, named Tony Stark, gets his way, then there will be no class. As friendly as he is, he blocks the rest of the class from concentrating. Sadly, taking out the leader is not possible. Engaging him as the central point of some activites has worked though. Further reading is required.

This week has been filled with pre-Christmas activities, similar to recent dance activities and a seemingly constant-flow of extracurricular… and I’m working Christmas Day, through choice. Wish me luck.

Nadolig Llawen i chi. Feliz Navidad. 愉快な. Lystig jul. Рождеством Христовым. Vrolijke Kerstmis. Natal feliz! Joyeux noël! Fröhliches Weihnachten!

 

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