Rebellion #1.

I’m the rise against the odds. I’m the growl facing the sods.

I’m the vote that casts a change. I’m the matter that needs derange.

I’m the fighter in the field they want to mine. I’m the nurse fixing plasters rain or shine.

I’m the voice that they want to silence. I’m the battler against all manner of violence.

I’m with many who shout and demand new ways. I’m one of the glued-up rebellious art damaging strays.

I’m the silent protestor who annoyed the police sergeant some. I’m the leader of the change that has to come.

Stand alone, fall down. Stand tall and together, stand up for your town. Stand for the greedy and against the needy, stand opposite me, you’ll see. We’re the changes that are needs be. See.

The time is now.

Step back: II.

Striding off the jet, up the steep long gangway into the terminal building, I plodded hard and fast. I walked with conviction. At the Terminal building luggage belt and special items, I had to meet Panda.

Panda, the border collie with attitude, had been boxed for 17 hours plus pre-boarding time, and was fast approaching the 24 hour mark. I passed passport control and wandered off to collect my luggage. Neither Panda nor my backpack had arrived. The conveyor spun around and eventually the 30kg juggernaut of a backpack arrived. I lugged it over to the area for oversized or special baggage and waited.

Amongst the discarded polythene wraps and seemingly forgotten golf buggies and cycling cases, I slipped back and slumped against a wall. Here I reflected that I was already feeling calmer having left China and its measures to achieve dynamic zero CoViD-19. I also was enjoying some diversity of culture, having mostly been surrounded by Han Chinese and Guangdong for three years.

“That mountain you’ve been carrying, you were supposed to climb.” / “你身上背负的大山,是你本该攀登的.”

Panda didn’t arrive quickly. Nor did the five other dogs being awaited by other travelers around me. After querying customer services, the glass door at the end of the annex to luggage slid open. Out on pallets slid a whole kennel of dog crates. Here a whining and happy Panda looked simultaneously pissed-off yet relieved. His owner, equally happy to see his puppy-like eyes.

“每个人都是独立的个体,但我们联系在一起” / “Everyone is an individual, but we’re connected.”

To Customs and the anything to declare section we went, showing our papers, well Panda’s jabs and rabies inoculation sheet, etc. The chilled out inspector handed back our papers and allowed us to depart, having not even looked inside the dog crate. Arrivals was above Amsterdam Schipnol and by a car park. Time to unleash the beast.

I frantically used a small metal key card to remove the straps fastened around Panda’s dog crate. Then we wheeled outside and pondered what to do with the dog crate. From here on, Panda deserved to be back on his leash and free. Immediately on opening the door, near to a tree, an excited Panda leapt out and washed my fast, and just as quick, squatted and deposited a bottom compost pile. I scooped it into a dog pooh bag and discarded it. But, the dog crate, unspoiled and un-soiled was a tougher matter.

“Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.” / “不要因为结束而哭泣,微笑吧,因为你曾经拥有”

I looked around one outer flank of the airport railways station. Nowhere to be found. No places to donate a dog crate in close proximity. Not even an area for recycling or refuse. With time rattling away, I decided a bicycle park seemed a safe bet. I disassembled the dog crate and pushed it into a wide bicycle locker. It wasn’t a good idea to leave an unattended object of that size by a major international airport.

I had a pre-booked train ticket go Rotterdam for a hotel booked in advance. Now, Panda needed a ticket for the journey so I queued ahead of his first dedicated rail ticket. We both scuttled down to the platform for our train to Rotterdam Zuid Station. On the train Panda met a whole range of friendly people and I chatted to an Indian metallurgist working in the Netherlands. The country had made a very special imprint in a short space of time. Great transport, friendly people, diversity, many cycles and cleanliness. We’d only been there an hour and it felt so relaxed.

A brief stroll from the station to B&B Unitas at J.B. Bakemakade on the Binnenhaven Dock didn’t take long. Here the host allowed us on board and shown Panda and I to our room. A brief introduction and then we set out for Panda’s first well-deserved and much needed walk in Europe.

Starting in Rotterdam’s Feijenoord area, we headed towards the centre and admired the architecture. Well, I enjoyed the building shapes and designs, whereas Panda enjoyed the walls, corners, footers of lampposts and other fittings etc. After a good few kilometres, a lot of leg-cocking and no dinner, we arrived back at the quaint boat hotel.

Being about 193cm tall on a boat, I had to duck into the shower cubicle, which was considerably shorter. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, or felt uncomfortable, but it’s certainly something to be aware of. Actually looking back on the stay aboard Unitas there’s nothing I didn’t like. The gangplank is a metal grill, which I didn’t like carrying Panda over it, because it is shoulder-width at best, however expecting a wider pathway is silly. The boat hotel is quaint, friendly and located close to Rotterdam Zuid train station. Red-eyed Panda and I slept like logs.

The breakfast, ate on deck, was deliciously fresh and hearty, from a basket and full of variety. The surrounding area was great for a wander with Feyernord’s football ground down the road, and plenty of shops around the corner. It’s an idyllic hotel, in a city but seemingly away from the hustle and bustle. I wouldn’t swap the experience for any other hotel.

Our long day walk took us across many parks but notably into Zuiderpark to see a windmill (by Kromme Zandweg), and eat a delicious and filling lunch at the calm setting of De Bonte Keukentafel. A perfect setting for an afternoon wander, complete with historic windmill and farm to its side. Again Panda received a fair share of attention. Welcome to Europe, Panda.

Panda and I stayed at the dog friendly boat hotel, for one night only, en route to Rotterdam Europoort. The hotel helped arrange a taxi towards our ferry, and off we went…


How many old dreams of the past are dormant? How many dreams of the future are yet to be realised?

The flocculant rain falls, and the howling wind calls, as he bangs his head firm on walls.

How many days drifted in and out? How many hours in light? How many in night?

The foundations of the house shake, they ripple, bend and quake, all the while his feet flip, slip and bake.

How many lights shine out bright? How many rays cast no shadow? How often does light fade to black?

The will of a man is tested, his head ill-rested, broken undigested, wasted hope scattered and shattered.

How come comets flash and zoom by? How do meteors find their way? How often do they evade all sight?

The feel of his feet grow rough and sore, unable to walk no more, lost on a map with no detail, cast off to sea without a voyage.

How does a guide find a route? How do you define what’s in a suit? How often is a path well-trodden?

The life of Riley, the hidden Eden, the leadership skills of Christ all the parts of Paradise’s Elysium far, far out of reach.

Hillsborough: Y.N.W.A.

Recent news, football games and the behaviour of a minority of fans have made me reflect how Liverpool fans are often painted in a bad light, for something shameful that happened amongst their illustrious history.

Maxine Peake is a dazzling actress. She first came to my attention through Mancunian drama Shameless playing the striking Veronica. Some years later her acting has brought me to tears. The gritty subject is the Hillsborough football disaster. Much like that of the Bradford City fire and disaster (11th May 1985), both events cost lives. Both were preventable. Both were injustices and both shameful blights on British and human history.

“the injustice of the denigration of the deceased” – David Cameron, Prime Minister, parliamentary address, 12/9/12

Hillsborough was much more than that though. Liverpool F.C.’s fans were shamefully and disgracefully vilified by national media outlets, the local and national government, the Police and other official bodies. This came but a few years after the atrocities at the Heysel stadium disaster, again blamed on Liverpool fans. That disaster in May 1985 led to many arrests and a London Fire Brigade report being ignored as evidence. The crush barriers and reinforced walls were unsuitable for crowds. The behaviour of some fans, just like Saint-Etienne and Manchester Utd. in 1977 could have happened at any club, anywhere. UEFA and a poor venue choice, the clubs and their inability to direct fans traveling to away ties, and the venue’s poor policing contributed to a disgraceful disaster. Heysel should have been the end point for football stadium deaths. It seemed that more time was spent on banning clubs than investigations and litigation.

“A complete and utter disgrace” – Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester

So, England, the F.A. Cup and another semi-final at Hillsborough in Sheffield. Wednesday’s ground had been chosen for a third F.A. Cup semi-final in as many years. The 15th of April 1989 went down in history for all the wrong reasons. Something that victims of the Grenfall Tower fire may relate to in present day England. 96 fans did not return that day. Around 766 injured fans were reported. Many living souls became haunted and tortured in their own minds. Many years later, in July 2021, a 97th fan passed away from brain damage and related complications. They were only going to a football game!

ITV’s production Anne follows one campaigner, the late Anne Williams. It charts the effect of that day, the aftermath of the stadium disaster, the fate of her lost son Kevin Williams and the subsequent fight for justice. Threaded into the story are the Steffan Popper inquest (1989/91); The Taylor Report (1990); Hillsborough Independent Panel (2012); but falls shy of the Sir John Golding inquest (2014/16) because sadly Anne Williams died of cancer in April 2013, just days after bravely attending a memorial ceremony at Liverpool F.C.’ Anfield.

The four part miniseries focuses on the intense aftermath and shown in January 2022. It was and should be seen by a wider football audience. Just as Bradford City and Lincoln City met in 1989 to raise money for the Hillsborough Disaster fund, and most fans observe minutes of silence and memorials around the country, there are much more important matters to hand. As Factory Records and other musical ties up in northern England came together, London’s parliament conspired and led to a cover-up of the events at Hillsborough. Later the mask was ripped away. Terms such as unlawful killing, manslaughter by gross negligence and failure of duty of care, an unfit stadium, perversion of the course of justice and misconduct in public office, were simply put an understatement for the torture of victims and their families.

Demonisation of football fans at a high time of hooliganism, fenced fronts, railings and pens are no excuse for inaction and lies started at the time of a human catastrophe. Chief Superintendent in his duty of leadership, failed to lead. He failed to rescue. His force, words and actions began the big lie. These injustices have been well documented and shared.

“Open the gates.” – Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, 2.52pm, 15/4/1989.

Liverpool F.C.’s fans have suffered more than most. The epic and continued failure of the British legal system to bring justice and convict those accountable is beyond laughable. 33 years have passed. Hounded by South Yorkshire Police, The Sun newspaper, and dragged through the courtrooms and other places of supposed justice, there is till now outcome. Stadium constructors Eastwards, Sheffield Wednesday F.C. and the local Sheffield council have suffered lightly. They may have lost their names but they didn’t lose family or suffer at the hands of those supposedly there to protect them. Trauma on top of wounds, placed over lacerations with contusions and lesions of abrasion. It has been a completely inhumane process. Anne, gives just a fraction of that taste and it’s a bitter one. One that could have happened to any club or fans, at any older ground in England.

“Her relentless pursuit of justice for her son personified the unyielding bond of a mother’s love for her child.” – Steve Rotheram, MP

Apologies for the long post. Not sure if this article was a piss take or serious:

Opinion: This is why Liverpool fans boo the national anthem and this is what would stop it (The Independent)

The contrast between Boris Johnson and Jurgen Klopp could not be starker. The Liverpool manager would make a great statesman. He is honest, takes responsibility, cares about people in worse situations than himself and does his best to contribute to a wider society.

The prime minister is the polar opposite.

When Klopp talks politics, it makes sense. When Johnson pontificates about football, it’s more of the same bluster that has characterised his entire career. On Monday, according to certain sections of the media, Johnson “slapped down” Klopp because the 54-year-old suggested it might be worth at least exploring the reasons why Liverpool fans booed the national anthem and the Queen’s grandson before the FA Cup final on Saturday. A spokesman said the prime minister disagreed with Klopp and called the behaviour of the supporters a “great shame”. It takes some fairly deranged spin to see this as a slap-down. Klopp probably hasn’t even noticed that he’s supposed to have been put in his place.

Like Klopp and Johnson, those who booed the anthem and those who were angered by the jeering are unlikely to find common ground. Will there ever be a time when Liverpool supporters embrace the patriotic experience?

The prime minister’s spokesman talked about shame, an emotion Johnson knows little about. He hasn’t any. Or empathy. The Spectator’s attack on Merseyside when under the 57-year-old’s editorship in 2004 is well known. The editorial column said that the people of Liverpool “see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it”. The article went on to repeat lies about Hillsborough.

What is less well known is Johnson’s supposed mea culpa in the next edition of The Spectator. Headlined “What I should say sorry for”, the piece was written from “a cold, damp three-star hotel in Liverpool” after the old Etonian was ordered to travel north to apologise by Michael Howard, who was then the leader of the Conservative Party (and a Liverpool fan, much to the embarrassment of many Kopites).

“Operation Scouse-grovel”, as the author describes it, is as obscene as the previous editorial. Johnson doubled down. He wrote: “Whatever its mistakes of facts and taste, for which I am sorry, last week’s leading article made a good point: about bogus sentiment, self-pity, risk, and our refusal to see that we may sometimes be the authors of our misfortunes.”

Almost every week Liverpool supporters hear the echo of the words of the man who holds the highest political office in the UK. “You killed your own fans.” “Always the victims.” “The Sun was right, you’re murderers.”

Is there a more “bogus sentiment” than becoming emotional about a national anthem? The royal family are the cornerstone of the class system. The idolisation of a dynastic institution that is completely distanced from ordinary people is bewildering for a large proportion of Liverpool supporters, especially those who have a close-up view of the growing poverty in the UK. The Fans Supporting Foodbanks initiative was founded outside Goodison Park and Anfield – it often gets overlooked that Evertonians are on the receiving end of anti-Scouse invective, too. Supporters of club after club come to Merseyside and rejoice in songs that mock poverty. Some Chelsea fans were chanting about hunger on Saturday. The Liverpool end booed institutional, inherited privilege. Guess which one the nation was outraged by? That was two days before the governor of the Bank of England warned of “apocalyptic” rises in food prices.

Hunger is at the centre of the historic perception of the people of Liverpool. The port, once known as “Torytown” and “the second city of the empire”, first fell out of step with the rest of England after the Potato Famine in the 1840s. Millions of starving Irish landed on the banks of the Mersey. Many stayed. The “othering” of Liverpool stretches back to the mid-19th century.

What does this have to do with football? A lot. The word “Scouse” is an insult that was reappropriated by those it was used against. In the poorest areas of Liverpool a century ago, the malnourished residents – who were the children of immigrants and who mainly identified as Irish – relied on soup kitchens and cheap street vendors for food. What they were served was Scouse, a watery stew. Scouser was a pejorative term used to mock the poorest. When “Feed the Scousers”, echoes around stadiums it is expressing a deep folk memory that is imbued with anti-migrant and anti-Irish sentiment. Those chanting it may not be conscious of the history, but the driving forces for their behaviour can be traced back down many decades. Nowhere else is poverty sneered at in this way by outsiders. No one sings “Feed the Geordies” or “Feed the Mancs” even though other places have much more deprived areas. No wonder citizens of Liverpool are triggered by the chants.

In these circumstances, it is hard to make a case for Scousers to do anything more than boo the national anthem. And then we get to Hillsborough. Britain should still be in a state of uproar about the 1989 disaster that led to the deaths of 97 people. Senior policemen and high-level politicians lied about what happened, covered up the mistakes of officials and threw the blame at innocent supporters. The national press, by and large, amplified the establishment narrative or failed to provide adequate scrutiny of the authorities. A substantial percentage of the British public still will not accept the findings of the longest, most exhaustive inquests in the country’s history. To cap it all, the policemen responsible for the mass death and the cover-up were acquitted of any wrongdoing – even after some of those individuals admitted their culpability in legal settings. Now the biggest miscarriage of justice in the nation’s history is being reduced to football banter. What a country. Play that anthem again so we can all join in.

The FA got off lightly, too. The ruling body held a semi-final at a ground that did not have a safety certificate. Tottenham Hotspur fans had a near miss eight years earlier on the same Leppings Lane terraces where the carnage occurred in 1989. For those whining that Abide With Me was disrupted, the FA did nothing to abide with the bereaved and survivors of an avoidable catastrophe at one of their showpiece games.

The events of the FA Cup semifinals weekend, this season, illustrated just how toxic the attitudes towards Hillsborough have become. Family members of the dead were abused heavily on social media by trolls who used Saturday’s events as an excuse to harass those who have fought, in vain, for justice. And we don’t want to hear any complaints about Scousers not showing respect. The booing is a cry for justice, for equality, a howl against hunger and poverty. It is depressing that so many in Britain cannot hear that. Klopp heard it. Johnson never will.

You’ll never walk alone.

Vimto Underdose.

How do! Hello! 你好~

I’m up to 4 subcutaneous injections and 6 other blood extraction or CT Scan related pricks. That’s ten holes more than my nod started with on Tuesday morning. It’s been a funny old brace of days. The red notice behind me is still red. I’m still on oxygen. I’m checking my urine and stools for blood. The fantastic attentive nursing team are keeping me on my toes whilst keeping me firmly off them. The bed complete with side bars feels like an oversized cot. I haven’t breast fed but the toilet methods are dangerously close to nappies (diapers). Something to catch the manure for salad farming is always necessary.

It seems that today’s ultrasound from feet to neck, missing nowhere, is key. It missed nowhere. Nowhere. Everywhere accountable. Shyness wasn’t an option. Anyway, this full body check aged 39 and week isn’t a bad idea. We all need a check these days. Men’s health. Women’s health. All need it. So much to watch out for. Best to catch everything sooner or we’ll be customers of the Grim Reaper.

The love and care shown by colleagues has been overwhelming. Betty in Human Resources has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Her peer Maggie has called by once too. They’re a lovely team within our TWIS (Tungwah Wenzel International School 东华文泽国际学校). When the first doctor suspected myocardial infections and heart troubles, Betty supported me and calmed me when I worried that’d be the end of my job here. It could still turn that way. Maktub (it is written).

My first day in was not only scary, it was terrifying. I’ve never really been in hospitals. I still cry every time I go to Crumpsall hospital in Manchester. I was born there. My Nana and Granddad passed away there. I hold fear for these unknown wards and uniformed peacemakers. It’s a mixture of illogical and emotional over – thought. They’re so often the keepers of our destiny.

Jamie and Jaime delivered some essentials like positivity and snacks on my first day. The comedy duo born in different lands were well welcomed by a nervous and worrisome patient in bed number 9. We nattered about owt and nowt for a wee while before they left putting wood in t’ hole.

Miss Ann, our esteemed principal and leader, swung by with Miss Nicole and Miss Junny from her office. It was like a Royal visit. I couldn’t get up and bow. A deeply touching visit. They brought a huge basket of fruits and enough water to fill a swimming pool. Very caring indeed. I’ve heard many, including Miss Ann, are covering my classes. I’m thankful. Also, Betty called by again.

Yesterday, the doctor in perfect English explained everything about pulmonary embolism. She said they’d investigate my veins. All of them. Neck to feet. There’d be particular attention given to my right calf and thigh. Today’s ultrasound definitely lived up to her words. I’ve never needed to pee so much! Ultrasounds mean nil by mouth and no toilets in the preceding four hours. Since then I’ve been told I should be out in a week’s time and under a three month medicine recovery programme. Accepted.

I miss my Dad’s salads. Dad is my no means a chef. Michelin stars were not meant for him. He’s an artist trapped in a body that was formerly a painter and decorator. And he should be a gardener. Dad does gardening well. He’s a clever man but his calling seems unanswered these days. Age is not an excuse. I love my Dad and I miss eating his salads. They’re rich in cucumber, fresh tomatoes (locally grown ones, always), seasonal greens and mushrooms. Never a bad salad at Dad’s house. Our kid, Ace, with his Mrs Stephanie do good salads but Dad’s is best. Simple and hearty. Sorry to Mum’s Paul who also makes a fantastic salad. Too much thought goes into these artisanal salads. They taste delicious. No doubt. They’re in my top five salads. Sorry, but Dad wins. I say all this because the Lauren’s Pizza salad I had for a late breakfast/lunch wasn’t bad.

My homeroom in Grade 8 have been busy planting my mint outside my classroom. They’ve also prepared a card. I do like Lisa’s little steamed bun-pooh shaped character on the bottom right. I hope this unfortunate hospitalisation gives students the motivation to create and do things because time is precious. They’re young and have the chances to do anything with a bit of hard work. They shouldn’t be anywhere near a hospital. Even though I’m here, I’m wishing their studies well. All of them. I can’t wait to hear poetry and Shakespearean arguments from the Language and Literature classes. That’ll be when I’m out. Soon.

Ta’ra! Goodbye! 再见~

We’re All Teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy TeachersDay

Hope for Home.

The shooting stars made me feel at home.

Your head rested on my body.

My heart beating faster than ever before.

Like a pounding drum.

Your warmth and my heat.

That was long ago.

It wasn’t so long ago really.

It feels like a lifetime ago.

I miss you.


Tonight, I’ll sit and stare at stars.

Even if the clouds come.

I’ll hope and dream.

I’m lonely without you.

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

I’ll wish on every shooting star.

I’ll wish for you.

That’s my hope now.

My dream.

Turn off the moon and turn on the stars.

The stars that shoot.

The ones that I shall wish upon.

For you.

For the dream.

For hope.

Spit. Spat. Spitting.

你好 / Nihao! / Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rant over.

再见 / zai jian / Good bye!

Stage VIII: Chengdu & Don’t

你好! Nihao! Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

再见!Zai Jian! Goodbye!

Stage VII: Chaka

你好!Nihao! Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

Zai jian! Goodbye! 再见

Stage V: Wall’s End (Jiayuguan)

Nihao! 你好! Hello!

The pass at Jiāyùguān (嘉峪关) is the Ming Dynasty‘s western end of the Great Wall of China. From 1368-1644, the Ming Dynasty rid China of Mongols and had 16 Emperors. During which time, 168 years of facial lifts have led the Great Wall to it’s current state of appearance. That and some careful restoration work in the 1980s too. The pass lies on the Hexi Corridor (河西走廊 Héxī Zǒuláng) at the narrowest point, which is a plain between the Tibetan & Mongolian Plateaus.

For the afternoon, I visited the Overhanging Wall (悬壁长城), the First Pier of the Great Wall (长城第一墩; changcheng diyi dun) and Jiayuguan’s original fort area. The taxi driver I had selected had agreed 180RMB for the routes and waiting times. The 120RMB tong piao (ticket) allowed access to all three sites. Although at the pier site an electric car is on offer for 20RMB for those wishing to avoid the baking sunshine. The dry hot sunshine is only comfortable for so long!

The Ming Dynasty’s Great Wall’s western end was a slog down a valley to a closed bridge to look up as the river sloshed by heavily. The River Lai fed by the Qilian mountains gave life to many regions but here few plants braved the unforgiving desert earth. After a while I headed to the museum in the 56 metre high cliff face and the final beacon of the Great Wall. The signposts were published in English, Chinese and Japanese. The English mostly resembled gibberish. Although I ascertained that this part of the Great Wall was built around 1539CE across 18 years. With that I went to the Overhanging Wall, next to a huge desert with military operations under way. Best to avoid that. I looked down from the picturesque wall at a ski slope and wondered how such a hot place could ever get snow!

The final stop was the fortified city of Jiayuguan. The Silk Road’s trading and tax station of old. Rammed earth, yellow and sand-like dried mud mixed with rice pastes, stones and straw have been shaped to scar the landscape around this region. The wall, of course, was a defensive garrison and outpost of a nation growing in strength and stature. It could even be said that some sections would blend into the surrounding desert. For unlucky invaders, trenches would lay hidden on approach to the wall, often filled with hazardous death-and-pain-inducing problems. Gansu’s northwestern city of Jiayuguan is named after the pass. The loess and windswept substrate reflected the sunlight up and at you.

After exiting the ancient walls of Jiayuguan, I found the Great Wall Museum was long closed. It shuts at the odd time of 16:30. It being 19:30, I tottered back to my hotel and ate some local barbecue foods on the way. My aching feet appreciated the early night’s sleep.

Following a good sleep at the Railway Station Ibis Hotel and an okay breakfast, I was lucky enough to hire the same taxi driver for 150RMB. I had initially enquired about the July 1st Glacier and mountain park (七一冰川) but was advised the whole area is closed for safety and conservation reasons. So, a new plan was made. First we stopped at the underground tombs of 魏晋墓葬 (Weijin Muzang). Here you could only visit one of nine unearthed tombs. It being far below the surface. The museum is a little underwhelming as most of the tombs had long been plundered. The few artefacts and coffins on display are nevertheless impressive. On, by cart, to the tomb site, and you alight in a wide open space.

I’m in a wide open space. There’s a wooden shelter. Beside that a concrete block the size of a small garden shed. A mound of earth covered in pebbles and grit protrudes. A small metallic vent sits atop. It looks out of place. The aggressive sunshine beats down. I feel out of place. An electric police cart parks in the shed’s shade. It is out of place. The shed’s metal door opens on aching hinges. A policeman gestures for me to enter. He’s the site security man and ticket officer. He clips my ticket and points to a staircase. I slip down underground. A welcome respite from the heated day overground.

The 36C heat of outside fades in just a few steps. Subterranean coolness wraps around me. After a few dozen steps, I’m at a largely concrete anteroom. Here I see a wall and facade of great detail. A small arch allows access to the tombs beyond. I crouch and enter admiring the majestic brickwork entrance.

Inside the tomb’s tight entrance, the dazzling array of colours leap from the four wall. The brick dome overhead looms over my tall frame. I strangely feel no claustrophobia but do feel calm. The air is still and silent. It’s eerily unmoving. The details of the drawings and the colours envelop my eyes. It’s morbid fascination has grasped me. I visit the three tombs in a line ducking through short archways to enter each ancient gallery. No photography is allowed. The light flickers ever so slightly. I reach for my phone to use the torch function. It radiates a deep pocket within the tomb. The drawings stretch into a smaller tube lined with bricks and stones. It’s a magical piece of history. The region has ruins everywhere to see.

Next the taxi driver kindly visited Yěmáwān Cūn (野麻湾村). This village with a sand and rammed earth fortress nestles between corn and other farmland. Watermelons were being grown across the road. I shuffled around the wire protection fence admiring the sparrows and swifts that had made nests in the crumbling ruins. The front of the fortress faces the main road and the rear is less dramatic but well worth a wander. The flooded farm fields next to this barren piece of earth are suitably contrasting. The modern art of survival alongside the old dried and decayed survival walls. All in sight of the snow capped Qilian Mountains many kilometres away!

The Qilian Mountains (祁连山; Qílián Shān) peaks at Kangze’gyai around 5808m (19055′), not the name of the whole mountain range. Interestingly, the uncle of the notorious flying ace Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen (The Red Baron) had once named the almost 800km long mountain range. Uncle Baron Ferdinand went with the local name of Richthofen Range. He also created the name Seidenstraße which these days we know as the ‘Silk Road’.

My silk road following was almost over. The D2758 train at 11:09 from Jiayuguan South will whistled through Zhangye West  on Sunday passing through a place called Mingle before arriving at Qinghai’s provincial capital city Xining for 14:36. The seat I should have been on in carriage 11, had a sleeping individual across three seats on a packed carriage. His snoring was causing perturbation to other passengers. I should him. Nothing. Again. Nothing. I said excuse me in Chinese. Nowt. So, I moved to an empty seat and hoped for the best.

The Qilian Mountains straddled my right hand view. Their snow caps contrasted greatly with the foreground view if rolling desert hills and the northern reclaimed agriculture on a plain once covered in arid nothingness. That’s all for now. Time to enjoy this train journey.

再见Zai Jian/Goodbye

Stage III: Walls & Fences

Dear curious folk and readers,

I am writing from near the seat of the West Xia Kingdom (1038-1227). The city of Yinchuan is about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) away from the tombs and mausoleum. The bone dry eastern face of the Helan mountain range towers over the mausoleum site. The site spans around 50 square kilometers (19.3 square miles) and approximately 9 imperial tombs, with a huge 253 lesser tombs. They’re still making discoveries to this day.

The tombs are incredible to witness. The museum at the entrance has six very modern galleries full of relics discovered across the site. The lighting, style and interactive nature of the artefacts is we’ll organised. There are plenty of opportunities to visit the a 3D cinema, gifts shops and grab plenty of water for the outdoor experience that follows. From the museum you can walk to a bus transfer. Here we opted to walk to the mausoleums and experience the desert ambiance.

The mausoleum site is spread out, striking and feature-rich. Steles, towers, sacrifice palaces, earth walls, and natural damage by winter floodwater alongside cracks in the earth covered the whole region. Using three-wheeled scooters after plenty of walking, we managed to see huge distances of the area. Sunblock was applied almost hourly, as grasshoppers flew by with clicking sounds and cute Gerbil-like rodents scampered around. With two litres of water, the day was comfortable, but more is advisable in 38 degrees heat! The sun is not your friend.

The day was a great investment in exploring the state’s deep history and culture. A taxi from Yinchuan cost 60RMB and a return Didi taxi car cost 85RMB with entrance fee being about a 100RMB. Just over two hours on the scooters cost 130RMB (but we certainly went off the beaten track).

The following day, Mr Oliver and I set out for the Great Wall. I’d suggested the Ming Great Wall stretch by a place called Sanguankou (三关口明长城). The three passes are about 2.5km apart. We didn’t go there. Mr Oliver found a section using Baidu maps and an overhead satellite photo near to the G307 highway (Ningxia to Inner Mongolia). So, after a Didi taxi car journey we hopped out in searing heat in the mountainous Alxa desert. Having left Yinchuan’s continental arid climate we were now at the mercy of the sun.

We scrambled up a mound of earth to see a watchtower, wandered down the road and looked at the adjacent wall sections. Here we respected every fence and sign. Then we went under the highway and followed a section of wall through fields and over hills. Horses, hares and hawks were frequent witnesses to our hiking. The enigmatic landscape surrounding the wall had so much to offer the eyes.

Fences came and went, so we walked close and far at times. We started trekking at about 10:30am and ended around 19:00hrs. Some sections had the backdrop of a Jeep safari driving range, whilst others had civilian roads with a handful of tourists driving by and saying hello. At some stage though we had to get back to Yinchuan. The map shown a road to the nearby Wuwa Highway and G110 highway. We avoided the military warning signs on a path seemingly headed into the mountains, passing some civilian contractors and wandered (now without any water left) along a bleak ever-expanding straight line slab of concrete. The road was intensely energy-consuming.

Towards the last 3km, just past the tanks, a car with two men gave us a lift to the highway. That journey was curtailed and after three hours of explaining our day’s walking route, photograph inspection and travel document verification we were driven to the village of Minning. The People’s Liberation Army were extremely hospitable. They seemed to understand that we’d strayed into their tank range unintentionally. They appreciated our desire to see the Ming Dynasty Great Wall.

The gate guardsmen gave us hot noodles, a cake and some fruit. And frequent, much needed water. The chief who came with at least three officers and the Public Security Bureau policemen kept apologising for taking our time. It was all rather surreal. We were able to cancel our onward train journey, and hotel for the next night. We also apologised politely and shown our sorrow at wandering into a restricted military zone.

The Public Security Bureau policemen waited with us whilst we tried to get a taxi or Didi car. As it was midnight, nothing was coming, so we spoke with a nearby hotel receptionist. He ordered a car for us. We got in, whilst being watched by the three policemen. They approached then checked the driver knew where we were going. Finally, they checked his credentials and found he was an illegal taxi driver. So, we stepped from the car, “for your safety” and the Police dealt with him. Annoyed by that inconvenience, we started to hike and try to get back. The Police gave up and headed back. Eventually we flagged down a van.

Nestled between chicken feet in buckets, flies on the roof and 400RMB lighter for it, we made it back to the hotel we’d checked out of that day. We retrieved our left luggage and checked-in. All is well that ends well. Our next journey is the 1842 train to Gansu’s Lanzhou city to meet a connection to Zhangye. What waits for us there?

Until next time, goodbye…

Stage II: Shanxi’s Great Wall

晚上好 Good evening (or whatever time it is),

The Great Wall (长城) is massive. It’s length exceeds the distance around the U.K.’s total coastline (I believe). Fact check that at your heart’s content. Heading from Xi’an involved a night train on a soft sleeper bed. The room had old yellowing lights, grim grey walls and no power sockets. It was cost-effective to travel and bunk, than to bunk at a hotel then travel. The selected option had no shower and barely a place to brush your teeth in comfort. The on board restaurant car involved a selection of noodles, room temperature water or baijiu (rice wine).

Having finished Lee Child and Andrew Child’s The Sentinel, sleep was an easy choice. My former colleague Mr Oliver occupied the attention of an enthusiasm kid trying to charge his phone at a busted power point outside our bunker of a room. The lack of ventilation wasn’t so bad because our closest window slid down from time to time. Waking up at 01:30hrs due to a slammer of a man thumping down his suitcase, thrashing his shoes off and generally bumping everything with loudness wasn’t so bad. Until his eruptive snoring. Still, I fell asleep well.

From Taiyuan station we wandered to a bus station, Jiannan Bus Station, bagged tickets and sat down to eat in a Chinese equivalent of a greasy-spoon cafe nearby. The Shanxi pickles were good alongside egg pancakes and eggs. After an uneventful journey with a dab of xenophobia, we arrived at the mining region of Yangquan (coincidentally where I’m writing this now). Immediately a Didi taxi was booked to Niangziguan and the village of ShuiShangRenJia. The water village has multiple bubbling springs feeding babbling brooks and streams. Some pass through and under buildings. Our homestay had such a variety of flowing water over the roof and in the restaurant area.

The above was written yesterday evening and since then there has been an overnight train journey on hard seats. Think little old ladies spitting into metal pans, snoring and general discomfort. On the positive side, some fellow passengers made space for my rucksack and moved from my first seat. Mr Oliver and I drank a few McDonald’s-based beers, pretending to be customers at the American Embassy branch of Taiyuan. It passed some of the three-hour transfer time.

We have wandered through Guguan Pass and Ningzi Pass in recent days. Seeing the old stonework and some newer sections has allowed us to explore a few off the beaten track avenues. Some knee-deep in thorns and prickly bushes, with wasps the size of fighter jets buzzing by our heads. Some horsefly species surely must take their name from that of them being the size of a horse. Scorpions and centipedes have whipped by and so far been avoided. Although mites and spider bites have likely been experienced.

The jagged snaking Great Wall sections at Guguan are far more dramatic than that of Ningzi Pass. The protrusion at the latter have been remade in recent years but sit atop a splendid village and river landscape. At our lodge of choosing, the owners have decorated the walls with photos and artworks of the locality. The waterfall these days is hidden around a river-side theme park and tacky attractions. However, the Great Wall lines an ancient village.

Guguan is an oddity. The wall towers over a fantastic entrance gate. The ground is lined with centuries of horse and cart worn stones. Around the entrance, a highway slides through (under a section of bridge connecting The Great Wall). The scars of industry, mining and the Revolution periods of China’s new era shroud and strangle the Great Wall before releasing it’s higher levels to a combination of wild scrubland and farmlands.

The short stay in Shanxi was a pleasant one with local people gifting us refreshing cucumbers, crunchy crisp pancakes and an abundance of pleasantries. The food was excellent and varied. The people were generally warm and welcoming. The whole visit was delightful, despite the heat! However, I won’t miss the relentless thorn bushes (or the snarling dogs)!

Good night (or whatever time it is)!

Stage I: Xi’an

Departing Shenzhen International Airport for Xi’an city in Shaanxi province proved a problem. The 1050am flight was cancelled. That was a pretty hefty stumbling block. But, in checking the trains, Mr Oliver and I booked a long haul train from Guangzhou South to Xi’an via Zhengzhou East (wherever that is). We hopped in a Didi car and jumped on a high speed train from Dongguan’s Humen Railway Station.

Almost 11 hours later we arrived at Xi’an and used another Didi taxi car to take us to the Lemon Hotel. The wrong one. Turned out there are more than one, with similar names. We almost ended up at yet another incorrect Lemon Hotel. Bitter luck followed us to the right hotel though. Our reserved rooms with given away because we were late. So, we had a family room and checked out the next day rather annoyed.

We left our bags at left luggage, and gravitated towards to Xian city walls. The walls are around 14km around, although I didn’t do the maths. After just under three hours the circuit was completed. There was annoyingly a lot of sunburn. Oops. Major oops. The wall is a seriously good place to feel the city and get close to the historic grounds. However, most is quite commercial and bare. Nevertheless, the city walls and castle features are vast and photogenic.

Breakfast and dinner has been delightful. Xi’an really lives up to its reputation when it comes to variety and delicious foods! It seems everyone wants you to try something new or local. The belly may grow these days…

With the wall completed, and attempt to see the museum was abandoned due to sold out tickets. Some further walking was had followed by a park with an entertaining roller skating rink. Tomorrow, terracotta and upright old fashioned Action Men figures await.

Thank you kindly, Grade 4!

We started the year as ten eager sets of eyes and ended with a net gain of four extra pairs of eyes. The class has many strengths and a few challenges to overcome, such as not copying poor choices of behaviour from each another.


It only takes a moment to be courteous – and that makes smiles.


I read somewhere that it takes seven fewer muscles to smile than it does to frown. Grade four’s students each have the ability to turn days of frustration and worry to days of sunshine and happiness. Bring me sunshine, in your smiles! Just like, when I say the word birthday, and the whole class starts singing ‘happy birthday’ to me in October, May, or June… a running shared joke that carries warmth.

不知道在哪里我曾经读到过这样一句话,微笑比皱眉要少用7块肌肉。四年级的学生都有这样一种超能力,都能把沮丧和忧虑的日子变成阳光和快乐的日子。用你们的笑容给我带来阳光吧! 就像那一次,大概在10月份,当我说到“生日”这个词的时候,整个班开始给我唱“生日快乐歌”,接下来的5月,6月,基本上每个月我都收到生日的祝福…… 在我看来,这是一个温暖的玩笑。

Over the past year, I have seen countless moments of your growth, scenes like photos frozen in my mind.


Finding little post-it notes on my desk and tiny little handmade gifts from scraps of paper. These are things we never ask for, yet are rewarded by caring, disciplined and balanced learners.


Seeing students tackle texts far above their grade level; dissect and cut open popular quotations; make and share ice cream, cheesecake, flapjacks, and lemon teas.


Seeing bright smiles with swipes of a ping pong bat; hugging each other after a stray Frisbee bumps a head; shooting the ball so hard that your big toe hurts; the glorious teamwork in the cooking room – working through problems together; ignoring me all day because I told you to ignore things you disagreed with, and you took my advice a little too far.


trusting yourselves and respecting the expression of others; using genuine apologies and acknowledging to yourself that you’ve made a mistake – you’re only human, after all! asking new questions; connecting with authors, museums, and parks in ways others can only dream of; treating each other with warmth and sincerity; sharing your vitamin waters, and my vitamin tablets.


helping to tidy up the classroom after someone else; building a tin can cable car to help your teacher; explaining the many difficult Chinese stories and words in ways that I can relate to; and multitudes of wonderful moments that cannot all be documented or photographed. No matter what you think, it has been an honor to work with and for you all.


You can bring more sunshine to the world. Stay positive. Smile in the face of difficult and testing feelings. Put on the bravest face. Be more Superman than Super Monkey! Now, knuckle down, work harder, play hard and dance like nobody is watching. You are all butterflies in a hand. Free to fly away, but safe to stay and learn from the hand that holds you.


Grade five is one final step and one big leap in primary school. Give it all. Every bead of sweat, every gram of energy, every waking moment, every electrical charge of new reading. Pick up books. Pick up more books. Turn bookshelves into book mountains. Drink the words like water.


Swim in the stories. Let the tales and information of each page become part of you. Never ever stop reading! Question? Answer it. Find a new question. Spread love for reading. Let’s read together in the new school year. I look forwards to seeing you well-rested, eager, and ready to show your teachers, new and old, why I believe that you are all set for big things! To the future scientists, explorers, chefs, and every possible job going, I say: Do your best and that’s all we ask. C’mon you sausages!

在故事的海洋里畅游,让每一页的故事都能融入你的生命,变成你的一部分。永远永远不要停止阅读!有了问题就去找答案,然后再发现新的问题。传播对阅读的热爱吧!让我们在新的学年一起阅读。期待看到你们以整装待发,跃跃欲试的姿态迎接你们现在的, 新的老师,我相信你们都会设立自己的远大目标。现在,我想对未来的科学家、探险家、厨师以及所有可能的职业,说一句,尽你所能!这就是我对你们全部的要求。加油!

Thank you to all the teachers involved with this class, especially Miss Jenny for her support with our blooming grade 4 class of flowers.


The above speech was presented at Dongguan T.W.I.S. during the ‘Moving Up’ ceremony. Translation by Jenny Wang.

“There’s only one way of life; And that’s your own” – The Levellers, One Way

Download it.

Download this to get that and this and that but this, that and the other will follow.

Subscribe to this for something deep and meaningful to end your feelings that are hollow.

Watch out for the latest now thing in order to be free of sorrow.

Keep your eye out yesterday, today before you miss out on tomorrow.

Are you in? Got it covered? Follow! Follow! You know?

This here my friend is the greatest ever start to something that is free to go.

W W W dot instant problem fixes dot com is the show.

Watch the latest video burst, download it first and you can join the flow.

(found on a notepad from 2015; uploaded a bit later)

Modesty and humility (went into a bar)

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,


[suhm-bod-ee, -buhd-ee, -buh-dee]
1. Some person.
noun, plural somebodies.
2. A person of some note or importance. A person of greater importance than others: he seems to be somebody in this town.
[ Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition]

What makes a somebody? I’ve heard this term banded around so freely in China. It bugs me, because not everyone has had the fortune to rise-up the social classes or has been afforded a chance, a real shot at life. Some are born into poverty, some grit their teeth in a no frills lifestyle and almost everyone tries their hardest to improve themselves. No single person wants to awake each day in shit. Yes, many paths are different, some opt for crime, fraud and treachery, others seek out lawful means. In my humble opinion, saying “he is a somebody” or “she is a somebody” discounts the fact that people are always somebody. I also find that most of the time being a somebody means having money. Yeah, I get business and success, hats off to them for working hard and pushing on. My gripe is along the way, is the questions.

  • Were they paying their staff fairly?
  • Were they putting profit before quality?
  • Did they compete fairly?
  • Were laws and regulations followed fairly?
  • How clear was their conscience?
  • Who did the real work?

The list could go on and on, and I’m not lecturing. Did they recycle more than a box of plastic bottles in their career? Does this make me ethical? I don’t know. I just don’t rate this capitalism lark. The rich get richer and the poorer fall further behind. Life quality may improve but equality is a dream, that has eluded many for many generations and will continue to without a focus on community and bringing balance. Wouldn’t we be much stronger if we supported our poorer communities globally and brought more education to the table? Or should we stay focused on me, myself and I? I get little satisfaction from tunnel-vision about rewarding myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love to improve but seeing others rewarded for teamwork and togetherness is far more nourishing to my soul. So, when I meet people and they are immediately introduced as a “somebody”, I generally think, “I literally couldn’t give a fuck, knobhead.” To others they may inspire, support and do something for the greater good, but wearing a shiny gold watch and belt, parading their flashy investments is not enough for me. Their crocodile skin shoes may be as fake as their smile. For me human kindness is more genuine.

You can either make money fast, or steady in a highly competitive world but at some stage values, principles and moralities must come into focus. Having attended the opening of a Multinational Conglomerate Corporation Group Worldwide’s new mega-city-one-shopping-mall-effort once, one guy played Top Trumps with me. I didn’t enter the game. Still he persisted with, “I ate champagne and drank snails on the Seine.” I’d soon learn how Big Ben looks from The Shard and the London Eye’s V.I.P. suites. If only he knew that Big Ben was the bell, and not the tower. I interjected that the Thames now has octopus and is much cleaner than many years ago. He looked unimpressed. I asked where he visited in the U.K. Just the city of London. Just the centre. He spent five weeks there. Not one museum or walk around the heart if the city. All business. No play. This Panini sticker album of boasts kept going on and on. Eventually Business Man Of The Year from the Province of Most Wonderfulness, asked me, “so what was your best view of a city?” I said, whilst I am from Manchester – the Northern Powerhouse of England, I don’t think cities are the be all and end all of life. I explained how farmers in the U.K are admired and not looked on as peasants like in some countries. I said many aspire to hold idyllic homes built by Transnational Cosmopolitan holdings in quieter places with less traffic and smog. His jaw seemed to drop. He pushed for my greatest city view. I said aside from working in an office overlooking the great Manchester Town Hall, and views of football stadiums, old architecture and the like, cities for me were not amazing. So, then he said his greatest moment was to sit in an office at Trump Towers and see New York. Whilst I admit, New York is a great city, for me the view lacks nature, green and blue. His great moment reeked of cliché. That pong, not only had New York’s wonderful skyline, attached to many romance movies and stories, history etc, but also Donald “Fake-word inventor” Trump added extra buoyancy to it. He pushed me again for my greatest view. Eventually I caved in, and told him, “I had a shit that froze in the Himalayas. The view from the small wooden toilet window was breathtaking. I shed a tear of joy. It was pure beauty.” He didn’t ask for my WeChat I.D.

If the next James Bond novelist needs an inspiration for a baddie, there are loads here in China. Not bad people out-right. Just they fir the platitude and formula required to face up to 007. Between many of them, none have checked a fire extinguisher. Some have probably moved said item to fit a company logo made of copious amounts of precious stone. They’re the sort that open their business with a fashion show of pre-teen girls (and one stand alone boy for good measure). The inappropriate catwalk of minors. Many men, usually in their thirties and upwards, the ones who made illegal massage parlour culture popular, whip out their camera phones and snap away. There is no hint that they are paedophilic in nature. This is not always true. They are just plain improper in their actions. Their snapps line their social media moments, probably unprotected from those they have rarely met. As the skimpy-clad clothing of teenagers departs, on steps a man. He’s usually in his 40’s. He wouldn’t stand out in a street ordinarily. But today, today, he is wearing all white. He has dance moves that everyone’s uncle and father could pull off after a hip replacement. His voice isn’t too bad. It isn’t too good either. The song evolves from Cantopop to a segment of rap which he pulls of in the antonymical meaning of flawlessly. He departs to applause. Singular. His partner is obliged.

Next up comes two children. The cutest ones from the class. They hum and mime a song by TF Boys. Like the TF Boys, they are one voice drop from disappearing forever. Their catchy pop songs will reign eternal as they inject the royalties into their veins. After a talent competition hate-filled juvenile eyes look on at their winning rivals. Throughout the audience product placement is as barefaced – totally unashamed. The latest overly-gassy alcopop sits next to a the most colourful of children’s sweet confectionaries. By the end of the night, the event highlights will have included a smoke machine clashing with a bubble machine. You had to be there. In closing there is a group photoshop and individual photos with a selction of glass phallus-shaped trophies.

Occasionally, through the excessive lighting comes a bright spark of talent and a real clap appears from the audience. Sadly, like Dan Brown novels, you must read many pages to enjoy a chapter or paragraph. Can you get the two hours of time back no? Did you enjoy it? Yes, maybe, but perhaps not in the ways that others did. And that is life. Enjoy every moment, write aggressively and angrily when required or nod, smile and carry on. Do what you love. Love what you do. Hate nothing, but observe and report in your own ways. You never know. You could be talking to Mr Business Man Of The Year from the Province of Most Wonderfulness tomorrow. It doesn’t mean it will all be bad. Share your favourite view from a bathroom.


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

A noodle unravelling in a pan of boiling water

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,


Last Thursday I started writing this. I was at the time acutely aware you could be reading this on any of the other six days, or most likely, not at all. Print is dead, I hear. It feels like this last week has been tough. No money from two sources that should have paid up by now – and stupid requests to get what is owed. It feels like being taken for granted – and right before summer, where the money is precisionly planned to leave my account for good reasons.

Then, there is the visa nightmare. My CRB (now called Disclosure and Barring Service) application should take 14 days, it shows 23 online and there hasn’t been a reply by Disclosure Scotland, where I applied. I called them. It said on their number to check online. Online it says to call their customer services for problems. I tried that again. It said check online. Catch 22.

So, I fly to the U.K. with a signed contract, but no visa after 13th July 2017. The Foreign Expert Certificate expires on the 30th of August 2017. It will have to be sorted in Manchester or London. Exactly, what I did not want. I’m due back by the 23rd of August 2017. School starts on the 28th of August 2017. The race to return is under way…

Today, no students are at school, a typhoon (Merbok) threatened to impact the city. In fact, the day is grey with mostly calm skies. A few strong gusts last night did little, other than air the city. Better safe than sorry.

School wouldn’t let me make make a farewell speech. Instead, I plan to post this before I fly…

Dao Ming Foreign Language School has been part of my life since February 2014. I landed in a new culture, village and city not knowing how important Dao Ming would be in my life. It has been much, much more than a job. Dao Ming introduced me gently to Chinese cultures, ways of life harsh and poor, to strong and privileged. It opened my eyes to a fast-developing country and gifted me the chance of new friends. From the off, Principla Mr Wang, Bright and Miss Jiang guided me through the gates and allowed me the freedoms to teach oral English and culture. They embraced me from day one and pushed me to be better, despite my lack of singing, dancing and musical talent. To each, I say:

谢谢你给我很多建议.(Xièxie nǐ gěi wǒ hěnduō jiànyì.) Thank you for giving me so many suggestions.

There were days when the transition from a temperate climate to a sub-tropical range drained me. Adjustment took a rather long time. The team of P.E. teachers pushed me on, as did my first batch of foreign teaching colleagues in Esben, James, Liam and Bri. To each teacher that first semester:

当我消沉的时候,你鼓励了我。对此我十分感激。 (Dāng wǒ xiāochén de shíhòu, nǐ gǔlìle wǒ. Duì cǐ wǒ shífēn gǎnjī.) I really appreciate that you helped lift my spirits when I was feeling low.

My colleagues have worked tirelessly along the years and many have sadly moved on to other schools. Some to be closer to home, some to face new challenges and some due to artistic differences. The nature of education does that, but one thing that each and every teacher I have encountered throughout my time has had, is passion and a smile on a Monday morning. Not every Monday, but not far off it. To see each teacher so tired yet to passionate about making a difference, is in my eyes inspiring.

太感谢了(iài gǎn xiè le) So thankful.

In grades 5 this last year, I have worked with Alice, Orchid, Amy and Jack Armstrong. They have bubbled with enthusiasm and encouraged me despite our cultural differences, and our workload being far apart. They are the backbone of English at a most important stage of development. I have seen each teacher improve with every passing month.

万分感谢(wàn fēn gǎn xiè) Ten thousands percent (of) thankfulness.

In previous years, I have taught in Grade 6. Only Nancy now remains, from her once passionate and dedicated team. To her, I say thanks for the gift of remaining so positive and confident. It rubs off on others. She can inspire and lead.

谢谢你的礼物! (Xièxie nǐ de lǐwù!) Thank you for your gift!

In actuality, as it is, right now, I do not feel like writing anything and my ebb is out of flow, yet I know deep down in my heart, I need to express my gratitude for my time at Dao Ming Foreign Language School. It was an opportunity given to me by Worlda International Education. Jessie and Casey right at the start pushed me hard and fast from landing in Guangzhou’s airport to stepping off a sweaty coach in Houjie Square. Things moved quickly, almost like a blur and before long I was in my first class, alone – and in full control. You either sink or swim. I don’t believe I sank. I still believe I am learning to swim. Experience has led me, and instinctive calm supported me, but none of this would have been possible without Worlda presenting the opportunity and relations with Dao Ming Foreign Language School. Kimmie, and Mico have been very hands on, yet hands off in recent times, being there when needed and assisting me with the technicalities of working under foreign laws, rules and regulations.

Then there were colleagues such as Yolanda, Michael, Joy, Keith Tao, Chloe, Christine, Dan, Teresa, Ishit, David, Jessie Wang, Joanna, and Wendy who all assisted me in some shape or form. None will be forgotten. All played their part in this journey of sorts.

非常感谢你的帮助 (Fēicháng gǎnxiè nǐ de bāngzhù) Thank you very much for your help.

The students have always been a joy. Without them there would be no school. There would be no community built closely around the school. There could be no jokes about test and exams on a regular basis with vast descriptions of homework mountains. There surely would not be smiles in sunshine and delight at cooling rains as the harsh summer drains energies. There would be no requests for Acton’s Independent Sweet Store to re-open. To each student:

辛苦你了!(Máfán nǐ le!)   Thank you for your hard work!

真不知道该怎么谢你(zhēn bù zhī dào gāi zěn me xiè nǐ) I really don’t know how to thank you.

没有你我该怎么办 (méi yǒu nǐ wǒ gāi zěn me bàn) What would I do without you?!

To everyone, who has been lost, found, confused or clear in working alongside me, I want to say thank you. Please forgive me if I have confused you or even made your stay here blighted by any negative comments about humanity. This is me. I hope I cheered you on. If I didn’t, I certainly tried! To James, Liam, Esben, Bri, Mikkel, Liane, Andreas, Catherine, Emily, Micaela, Kira, Joe, Tess, Arvid, Jack, Beth, Analisa, Josie, Omar, and Alexis.

欠你一个人情 (qiàn nǐ yí gè rén qíng) I owe you one.

To all, I say:

非常感谢你 (fēi cháng gǎn xiè nǐ) thank you very much.

Have I finished in China?

没有没有,还差得远.(Méiyǒu méiyǒu, hái chà dé yuan.) No no, not at all. There is long way to go.

步步高昇 (bù bù gāoshēng): Onwards and upwards.


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

“All change.” – Part One

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,


So, on June the 16th 2017, I will leave Dao Ming Foreign Language School after 3.5 years teaching there. I am not allowed to make a farewell speech for fear of upsetting the students. I suspect it is more so that parents don’t get an incorrect message. It is a private school, afterall! I had requested the opportunity to say goodbye at the final flag-raising ceremony to which I was told, the ceremony is taken “very serious.” I guess departing and wanting to say thank you and good luck is not serious. I do feel a little more than disappointment. I am gutted. And, to confound that, I was told not to tell teachers and students. However, some students in Middle School already now. There is a fear in the school of overly-emotional students and mobbing for hugs. I suspect mostly, the fear of parents removing their students. So plans to abseil into the playground and announce in bright lights of my departure are on hold.

What next? I will free transfer to St. Lorraine Anglo-Chinese School. It isn’t religious. It just liked the name, so I gathered. They are Hong Kong-owned. They often have fencing, croquet and archery – what’s not to like?! They want a science-based English teacher. They work with schools from Wales (U.K.), Florida (U.S.), and the Gold Coast (Australia). Anyway, visa-permitting (I am awaiting – and chasing the CRB in the U.K.), that is where I should start on August the 28th.

Yesterday, I played 7-a-side football in 35°C heat, with humidity that gave it a real feel of 47-52°C. Our team, Houjie Murray’s FC lost three games on the bounce, losing the latter with no subs. We forefeited the fourth game due to pnly having 5 players. We started with 11. The Treehouse Invitational Cup was excellent but the weather was the winner.

To be continued…


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

Best laid plans.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

Arriving at school today early, to find that the school trip had been cancelled could have worried me. It did not. So often is the case with respects to being ill-informed or a lack of information, that I just do as Oasis say and “Roll with it.” Yesterday’s school trip for grades 1-4 went successfully. Today’s weather is forecast to be, as the meterologists may or may not put it, “Proper grim.” A tad moist, like a Greggs Steak melt. Glum faces of students seemed conceded to the fact of no school trip, and possibly one to be held back by bad weather for some time.

In stark contract at Monday morning’s meet and greet around 7am, bubbly bright things bouned through the school gates. The odd student sporting sporting pink visors, and other wearing their best summer hats. Smiles replaced the usual Monday morning tired and weary expressions. Hellos were shouted in full voice and with venom. Excitement bubbled up as the convoy of coaches pulled into the school grounds. Each would cart a class to Foshan and a mysterious day out.

Whilst yesterday’s students and teachers enjoyed a fun day trip, today we are on a regular timetable. Sadly, mock exams have been slapped into place over my two morning classes in grade 5. My season-based class will have to wait. It can debut tomorrow. Today, all I have is the football VIP class in period 7 at 4pm. Should the expected storm arrive by noon, that could be washed off too. We shall see. Like I tell my students in football, “Stay on your toes!”

With respect to Plan E, having scuttled Plans A through to D, I have interviews lined up for jobs in ChangPing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. The jobs vary from teaching in Dongguan to working between Blighty and China in various trades. That is on top of Plan A, not completely scuttled, just trimmed to work in alongside all else. Such is life. Best laid plans…

This weekend the UCI Track Cycling World Championships are in Hong Kong. I should be there. I have wanted to write more of late, but find life to be quite a distracting affair. Too many shony lights make my feline paw reach to swat the glimmering reflections. Before I get distracted again, here are my recent additions to HubHao:

In Brief – Track Cycling World Championships

Happy Birthday Ched!

No doubt over the last two years, you will have seen many wonderful, meaningful and happy snaps. A large proportion are down to one man. HubHao wishes Ched a happy…

Teaching with Tofu – Tips For The Classroom #5

Teaching can be rewarding, right? Teaching can be amazing, do you concur? Teaching is never easy, agree? Teaching is plain-sailing, sometimes? Writer John Acton adds a…

In Brief – Tomb Sweeping Day

Life is wonderful and remembering those no longer with us is part of life. Today is tomorrow’s yesterday. Today is the right time to remember the luck and fortune that…

Bar Review – The Ship (Houjie)

HubHao recently enjoyed a ship-shape outing to The Ship in Houjie. Fish and chips, beef wraps, and a full English Breakfast was had by all. Writer John Acton scribbles…

In Brief – Cabin Restrictions

As reported across many media outlets today (22nd March 2017) there are some important security notices – and we don’t want you to be caught out! “Electronic devices…

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

Lucy in the sky with diamonds.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

On the Saturday morning (prior to the 30th of March, when I started to write this), I sat down to breakfast with Maria, her mother and mother’s partner (shūshu or uncle, 叔叔). The kitchen was squat, old and wide open to the elements. As I tucked into my chángfěn (intestine noodles/rice noodle roll/ 肠粉), a small flash of brown streaked through the door and behind a cabinet. Seated mother of Maria spotted it too, she screamed, stood up and slammed the door closed. I personally would have kept the door open. In moments, her handbag was gripped alongside an umbrella, she chased the rat around the room, past me as I continued eating. Eventually it was cornered and a swift foot by shūshu ended its life. I spewed in my mouth as its brains squeezed outwards. Surprisingly, I lost my appetite. I did not finish the accompanying tray of noodles.

Whilst the weekend’s breakfast was a grim attitude towards life, it hasd to be said rats carry diseases and they make food dirty. I get why they are looked upon as little more than a hindrance. As recent as 2009, China sporadically reacted to rabies outbreaks with dog culls. Stray populations in cities were also for the grinder.

China has embraced local and international Non-Government Organisations in ways to humanly manage and apply methods to problematic dogs. By 2014, 320 staff were educated in 46 different cities. That has led to neutering and vaccination programmes, with even some cities imposing laws on abandoning or absing our four-legged friends. Charities to house stray dogs have appeared – and some are even government funded. The adoption programmed generally feature education. Coupled with media attention to dog meat festivals, animal rights have been a focus of media debates and issues. Conversation is growing. This is a fantastically non-political debate and one that may cause divide. Should we eat an animal that goes woof? Action has followed. Mindsets are opening up to debate about animal rights more and more. As each Yulin Dog Meat Festival has approached since 2014, I have seen more and more media exposure. Welfare groups, and groups of volunteers have brought this to the attention of the authorities. Some have rescued canines and felines. When people push the law to enforce the rules, this is a sure sign of positive action.

Since I moved to Houjie in 2014, I have seen the number of dog owners go from roughly, very, very few – where I would see a dog maybe once a week – to encountering dogs at breakfast, lunch and dinner, without having to go to a restaurant! They are everywhere, small terriers up to St Bernards and Border Collies. Even Yorkshire Terriers have found their way far east of East Riding. Even papers have been written in university and International Animal Law Conferences. Times have changed for dog owners here and there. Poodles, huskies, Labradors, are perfectly aligned to those who once had simpler Pomeranians, Papillons, or mixed mutts.

Dog genetics indicate that ownership started in Asia. There is far higher diversity in the gene pool. Pugs, for example, made homes in the time of Confucius, alongside the Chinese imperial household. Nobody else was allowed that little ugly doggy. Recently shepherding and security jobs have been assigned to hounds.

In Beijing, there is a strict rule, 一犬一户 (Yī quǎn yī hù – One Dog, One Household) on pooches. To Stephen King lovers’ delight, the capital city even houses a pet cemetery at Baifu. Each plot will leave your pocket around 20,000RMB lighter. But what does that matter if you invest in doggy fashion. Every pooch needs gloves, hat and a scarf in temperatures as low as 10°C right?

Over the years, I have had many pets. My dog Pup was accompanied by several Yorkshire Terriers, Nomaz, Suzie and West Highland Terrier by the name of Snowy. Pup being pure-breed mongrel, was part Labrador, Rottweiler and Kangaroo. Having looked after Charlie, a neighbour’s German Shepherd for many a year,

In the feline world, I was raised with Basil (like Jess, from Postman Pat, a black and white cat). Then there was Sparky and Tigger. Others have joined for shorter periods of time, due to Sparky not being neutered and the kittens being rehomed.

In the world of hamsters, Bright Eyes (a Syrian hamster – why does no one complain about this batch of furry pet shop refugees coming over to the U.K. taking the roles of mice!?), Stripe and Gizmo (Russian hamsters – have rodents had a Cold War?) )amongst other rescue hamsters and a whole clan of show mice.

Then, there was S.A.R.A.H. (Swift Arachnid Revenge Assassin Hybrid), a Chilean Rose tarantula.

Oh, and the Stick family, Indian Stick Insects. A skinny bunch. Pets are a wonderful way to embrace our complex world.

[The above is where I finished off on the 30th of March. I will not touch it again]


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

March on.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

The frequency may have been reduced to one post every blue moon, but that doesn’t mean I don’t write anymore – of for that matter want to write nothing more. I have just been busy. Like a pretty busy bee, but taller, even if I do bumble just as much.

My right knee had some minor reconstruction to reduce a strained tendon and a knotted ligament. It is recovering. As such I haven’t played football for a while and will continue to avoid contact sport and cycling for at least three weeks. I am permitted to do none-impact sport. Cycling fits into that category, but on the roads around here, I will not be taking that chance. Instead all my stretches and physical activity is confined to indoors, like making cheesecakes and cooking tuna with pasta. That kind of thing.

School has been ticking over and classes have passed by as always. Some are great, others so, so. I always try to add a new zest each week. In one class, it works, then I try it through the other classes of the same grade. I’d say 1 in 7 classes enjoy it and it works very well. Class 503 (by far the noisiest and most disruptive class I have ever encountered) tear all plans to shreds. I don’t have teaching assistants in class, and seldom require them. The gremlins of class 503 need it. I ask. I bed. I plead. I demand. I explain the futility of trying to teach that class. I get mostly empty promises by Teacher Jack Armstrong that he will attend and observe. In fact, of the six classes, Jack attended two of them, and the students were amazing. A real life-affirming wow factor was felt. The competition levels shot up high to the sky and a positive perfunctory response to all tasks was had. Then, the week after the ruins of a conquered castle reappeared. I find some grade 8 classes to be a challenge, but this class in grade 5, are nemesis-like. They are all very smart but collectively they want the ship to sink. I shouldn’t get too worked up, because after all they are kids. Mostly aged 9 to 11!

Where have I been of late? Let me think. Shenzhen, twice, in two days. Mostly Dongcheng and Hengli. Not really, anywhere that can be considered exciting. I haven’t watched any music, seen any shows, or attended anything dramatic. But, life has been beautifully wonderful, on the whole. I think. Food has been had many times in Dalang and great sushi moments in Hengli. My City hat has been found safe and well, and wil be collected this weekend from Sam at Winner’s Bar (sadly, soon to close) in Hengli. The hat has a lot of sentiment. It is the third time I have lost it and t has returned. Granny Ivy gave me the hat a birthday gift once. There is also a City ski hat soon after with the same retro style crest. Although I can’t wear that hat in this heat!

HubHao writing has been continuing. But, even that is less so than usual. I guess the month in Nepal during January slowed up the writing. But, here are some pieces yet to be mentioned on this blog.

A Taste of Nepal

The written piece to accompany the Photographic Taste of Nepal.


Bar Review – Ziggy’s DG

In Bar Review – Ziggy’s DG, John Acton enters a world of great beer good food, billiards, darts, and KTV.   One sentence reviews would say, “Any bar…


Didi or Didi not?

Didi Chuxing, having recently acquired Uber’s Chinese venture, has announced an English smartphone application in on its way. The monopolist taxi arranging service…


A Photographic Taste of Nepal

Writer John Acton’s piece from February is accompanied by his photographs. He allowed HubHao a taste if the experience. Here are his favourite shots… The first…


Revolution @ One For The Road

Revolution is such a powerful word. Moving away from the political connotations of the word, I can mean a swift movement in cycling. Revolution, the band, in Dongguan…

Is March the bluest of blue months? It has been mostly grey of sky, devoid of spring flowers and greenery with the odd patch of dullness. I am fairly certain that every relationship I have broken up from, was in March. I also know March to be the time I felt the lowest back in the U.K. The seasonal affective disorder thingy would always be mentioned in the news and the Spring Equinox (it happened yesterday) barely mentioned. In the Premier League, it can prove to be make or break time, and as City sit 12 points adrift of Chelsea with ten games remaining, you’d be forgiven for not believing in a late title charge. If City deliever 30 points from 30, even then it is asking much for Chelsea to lose 4 games or draw much more! Still there is the Champions League League Cup F.A. Cup semi-final to go for! C’mon City! March on!


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

Trust me, I am a professional?

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

Trust. A small word with big implications. Do you trust every decision you have made? Do you trust those that you have allowed close to your heart? Do you trust you have learnt from your mistakes? Do you trust in your own ability and those that you work with? How much trust given is too much? Have you received so much trust from someone special? By its own definition, trust is placing a firm belief in someone or something. Believing that truth, strength, reliability, or ability is to be found within someone (or something). Having confidence assists with assurance, belief and gives conviction to certainty. Reliance in a faith. All mistrusts, doubts and distrusts should evaporate. Rely on, depend upon, bank on and be sure of someone or something. Earning trust and respect works both ways. I hope to prove myself in as many ways as possible.

The problem with trust, is that is heavily influenced by the past. By mistakes of your own causing, or that of others. Where security should stand, the pathways are locked hand in hand with experiences of negativity. They prise away at what should be a smooth journey of sailing, offering strong Atlantic winds in shallow waters lined with crooked-edged rocks waiting to swallow you whole. No matter what you feel, you either must give your all, or hold back. If you hold back, does that make the plant of insecurity grow? Or, does it allow you to make an informed decision? Only time can tell. Give your all, or give as much as you can. Trust works both ways. Trust can be both a lesson and a response.

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

Toils and rewards

I’d seemingly been walking for ages, when I grasped my watch. Three hours had passed. I stopped for tea at Goyam, height of 3220m. I had ascended 645m. It had been arduous. A real slog of slow steps, one foot in front of the other. One at a time. Ever. So. Slowly. At a tea shop, a toddler sat beneath a sign advertising Yak cheese for sale. The toddler, joined by a thin grey cat, played and smiled. I tucked into garlic soup and yak cheese potatoes, quickly cooked by the owner. Across the path a series of flattened houses and following my meal, I would see several houses up the path, equally as destroyed. A soulful reminder that nature rules these mountains and the people here are guests clinging onto the edge. Immediately after leaving Goyam the trail seemed to steepen more than I thought possible. Was I climbing or trekking?! The beautiful primordial Rhododendron forests became sparser. The odd lightning struck tree flanked an otherwise trench-like path. Was the path formed in a riverbed or did the summer monsoons strip the earth away? It felt like I was in Tolkien’s Rivendell. A beautiful stray mongrel, part wolf-like, part-Labrador like followed me for several hundred metres. Every now and then I skirmished to the side of a path to allow cattle, mostly yak-cow hybrids to bundle by. Their heavy weight shook the loose pathways as I perched precariously on a ledge just inches above.

Since leaving Sete, I had been regular passed and overtaken by a young pair of children heaving 20kg of potatoes. The 12 year old girl and her 14 year old brother had stopped to talk with me several times. They rested their sacks of potatoes and commented on my weight load and walking pace. These local Sherpa children were polite and invited me to their parent’s lodge for the night. I politely declined and stated my end point of Junbesi. Eventually their strength and experience allowed them to zoom ahead of me as I rested and took in the panoramic scenery. Several Kathmandu to Lukla flights passed lower in the valley beneath me, rising to fly over Lamjura La pass and mountain. This was my aimed route, over that curving ridge way off in the distance. The plants and trees became bare of leaves and greenery. Even the mosses and lichens dulled in colour. I started to tread on ice and snow. It lasted seemingly for several kilometres. I reached a Stupa and several closed lodges. Looking up at higher ground, I placed my rucksack down and looked at the towering boulders and scattered Mani stones, scrolling prayer after prayer. I turned around to be greeted by something grim. A blizzard.

The clouds, thick as ash, grey as the darkest of skies, and swelling with tumbling snow and a menacing amount of local wind. I turned forwards, aware that inside ten to twenty minutes that storm was going to hit me. I took in my surroundings. An open creaky wooden toilet was not adequate. I had to keep going forward in the hope of finding a lodge. I stumbled between two large and saw an open door set inside a wooden single storey building. The sign, Lamjura View, bellowed out, hope and sanctuary. A Sherpa man gestured me to enter. We talked and drank black tea. He said I was lucky to avoid the raging blizzard outside. In the corner the teenage boy and girl I met on my trek sat talking. They were the man’s children. The mother had died in the devastating earthquake. The family, strong and very together, ran this lodge and farmed potatoes lower in the valley. To some they live an idyllic life in a mountain paradise, but to those with open eyes, a harsh lifestyle with nature battling all odds was clearly in play. After maybe thirty minutes the storm dissipated and disappeared completely. I stepped out of the hobbit-hole like door, thanking my hosts and wishing them all the best.

Immediately after leaving the lodge, the crest of the mountain pass folded away. On the steep descent, after only a few short metres the snow line ended. Green primordial trees towered high and strong. Thick orange-brown trunks crammed the slopes and a path wound tightly beneath them. Each tree blanketed in moss, a coat of rustic pubic hair belying that of the ancients.

Large steps downwards, occasionally showing a dusting of snow that had breached the thick tree canopy overhead. The sky disappeared above, hidden by foliage. Still air and an eerie lack of sound pinpricked my ears up, alert, listening for any discernible sounds. Few came. Not even birdsong. The climb to 3736m, along a ridge that hit 3300m and finally 3530m had been relentlessly tough, on icy slippery paths with a sheer drop far below. The descent started as a welcome break. It ended almost on tears. The downwards path seemed to go on forever. Down, down and down like listening to Radiohead and mulling over personal depression on a grey autumn day, faced with a long cold winter ahead. A massive downer. Down. Seemingly eternally cast downwards.

A shriek of an eagle came from my left. I looked up at a cloud covered peak and cliff-face. I suddenly felt extremely small, like an ant looking up at a tree. To my fore, a broken patch of land emerged from trees. Ruins of a once glorious looking alpine-style lodging scattered across the ground. The damp looking wooden timbers, long rotten and rock walls draped hitherto and with no order.

My legs dragged as I walked the final kilometres downhill, slipping slowly into the valley surrounding Junbesi. Few lights twinkled between trees and from the village below. I sought a lodge. Between dark trees, I found a row of lodges. I opted for Apple Lodge, despite my dislike for Apple products. To my surprise, I linked up once again with Will and John. We compared thoughts on the day’s trek. They had arrived earlier than me, having departed from Sete much earlier too. My twelve hours up and up, gave me good reason to go to bed earlier. That and the cold. I found my room pleasantly warm. I pulled my sleeping bag shut and drifted away into a peaceful sleep.

I opened the curtain. The view looked out onto an apple orchard. In the distance, I spied a new roadway from Salleri, south in the valley, stretched up the long deep crevice of valley into Junbesi. This was a sign of modern times and a connection to the outside world, likely welcome that would advance the region’s prosperity. Maybe even bringing silence to busier villages between Jiri and here. Many jeeps from Kathmandu travel to Salleri now to allow Everest Base Camp – and other popular wanders in the region – treks to save money compared with flights to Lukla. Yesterday’s 15km of apparent endless up and down walking.

The day would involve 17km ending at Nunthala village, 2194m. I departed without breakfast and arrived two hours later at Phurteng. The lodge proclaimed to all, “Everest View” as a name. It was accurate. The Himalayas beckoned up the valley. Sure enough, there it was, to the left, a pyramid-topped peak with clouds whipping from the summit. Pure beauty. This was the fifth day of trekking and I had already seen the world’s tallest mountain, above sea level, with my naked eyes. I ate my Sherpa stew and Tibetan bread, satisfied at this special moment. Scaling Taksindu Pass and passing Taksindu monastery complete with helicopters buzzing back and forward to assist with construction work, I descended to Nunthala, along slippery muddy and mule-dung strewn pathways. A trio of Lammergeiers (Bearded Vultures) glided overhead. This is a beautiful bird with around one metre of long narrow pointed wings and a stocky tail. Their underbodies light in colour and black underwings a light coloured heads. Having seen Himalayan Serow, deer-like mammals that day by a waterfall, and also Siberian Weasels, it had been a most pleasant nature day.

I arrived in Nunthala, checked into a pleasantly warm lodge, ordered a Yak cheese pizza which was 90% cheese and 10% base. No tomato or vegetables. It was brilliant and crispy around the edges. The sound of mules passing by with bells tinkling one by one reminded me of days spent by Welsh harbours enjoying the sound of boats gently rocking on calm waves, with the sound of cables rattling on metal masts. Most relaxing. I chatted briefly with a Canadian couple, only the fourth and fifth foreigners I had encountered in eight days of trekking.

Will and John stayed nearby in a different lodge. Our leapfrog casual way of bumping into each other was becoming part of the trail. We marvelled at how fast the French man, Vincois moved. He always set out later than us, smoked a chimney’s measure of cigarettes and managed to beat us to every end-point. Not that it was a race. Trekking is all about managing your own pace and not rushing. You take in your surroundings, manage the weight you carry and your body. Your feet need tender loving care, as does your meal management and nutritional requirements. Energy and comfort is the key to performance, aside from hydration and mental belief.

Leaving Nunthala, 2194m, with contrasting views of the Himalayas, cold and icy beyond fertile hills and mountains, the morning mule trains carrying freight to and fro, passed by, bells ringing gently and softly. The odd yak train interrupted the passage of mules to give a continual hazardous flow of passing footpath traffic. The paths generally being no more than a metre wide, meant for a tight squeeze often and regular brushes with cargo ranging from gas canisters to cement to wood and occasionally polystyrene blocks as high as the animals themselves. Passing through Chhirdi (1500m – the river crossing of the mighty Dudh Koshi Nadi glacial river), Jubhing (1680m), Kharkikola (1985m) to reach Bupsa Danda (2340m) resembled a Tour de France stage with a mountain finish. This was the least tough of all the trekking days today, a gentle meander with a climbing at the end. From Jubhing to Kharikola, a patchwork of gardens and some well-maintained ornamental pathways gave a tropical feel. Banana plants, flowers and other tropical fruit mixed with higher altitude plants. One tree even had an umbrella on top. The mystery as to why remains unanswered but it did make me laugh and raise my spirits as school kids skipped by on the way to their mountainside education places. Gumba Danda at the foot of the climb to Bupsa Danda was very busy and queues to pass a packed suspension bridge held me up for twenty minutes as mule trains passed over and over again. On stalking the steep trail to Bupsa Danda, it immediately became apparent that this village had far more hostels and lodges than previous villages. The spur of a Lukla to Tumlintar trail and a higher concentration of hydro-prayer wheels and monasteries are the probable draw.

At Bupsa Danda, I stayed at Sherpa Guide lodge, overlooking a valley with the Dudh Koshi Nadi glacial river passing way below. The walls of the lodge were covered in summits that the Sherpa leader and owner had reached. 14 of the top 20 Himalayan peaks were there! Two children including a toddler who ran through a wall (MDF panel, it may have been) played around the room. I spoke with a Sherpa guide, Lakpa Nuru Sherpa, on a week’s holiday from his home village of Namche Bazaar.

The Dudh Koshi Nadi glacial river is fed by glacial run-off from the gargantuan Cholatse and Ngozumba glaciers. It thundered deep in the vale below. The morning walk involved something more serene, Orange-Bellied Himalayan squirrels, chipmunks and many unique birds accompanied me on my stroll skirting Kari La at 3080m high. In Paiya, I stopped at Dreamland for a late breakfast and met Will with his father John. We discussed the trail and John, being a former Nepal tour guide from over 15 years ago told me of how the trail used to be bustling with porters, guides and much more freight feeding the lodges from Jiri to Everest Base Camp and Namche Bazaar.

Having a late breakfast at Dreamland, with their penned motto of, “Come as a guest, leave as a friend,” I mulled over my thoughts. Nepal is like a distant, yet loving brother, one who has gone through the best and worst of times, together and apart. Seeing Siberian weasels along the route connected me with nature, seeing fish painted on buildings reminded me of the high levels of illiteracy. Many political parties favour symbols to gain votes, because words simply cannot be understood. Amongst the scuttling Highland shrews, the pathways were clean, save for the odd lonesome horse going to the bathroom. At stages I had been followed by faithful-looking dogs, perhaps looking for scraps of food or simply as a guide through perilously precarious passes.

Stood by the river Dudh Koshi Nadi, rapids crashed against rocks and solid mounds of pebbles. The glacial blue water, deep and powerfully displacing all water flowing beneath it. Ice lined the rims of calmer shallower pools, set back from the main violence of malevolent torrential channels. The sounds resembled that of Viking god Thor crashing an iron hammer in the sky. Passing through the villages of Muse, Chheplung (2660m), Nurning (2492m), Phakding (2610m), and Monja (2835m) before reaching Jorsalle (2740m), the river kept me company. Ever present, ever powerful. I walked against the flow of the river, safely dry and up bank from the crushing waters. Missing posters of a trekker, who fell into the river in November, issued a stark reminder of the dangers of those waters. The water flowing was equally relaxing. I felt like Clark Kent when he walked and formed his fortress of solitude. Awakened.

Winter is coming.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

I am sat here smugly sat here, with my cup of squeezy no-added sugar Vimto. I have less than two days before I feel myself soaring into the sky…

My flight to Nepal’s Kathmandu (via Mumbai, India) departs Hong Kong S.A.R. International Airport on Saturday the 31st of December 2016, at noon. I arrive local time in Nepal at 23:00hrs. Hopefully, I’ll have my baggage collected and be mobile before the year 2017 A.D. arrives. The 2966 km journey (as the crow flies) will take longer as a budget flight dictates the change in India. Jet Airways, I have heard, aren’t that bad, so here goes a journey into the unknown and unexperienced with an airline I know little about. An adventure awaits.

Just like Father Christmas has done in recent times, I have made a list of things to take, checked it twice, thrice and more times. Am I ready? I don’t know. Did I plan? Yes. Just to prove a point, here is my checklist

Water bottle/1L water pack


Passport photos


Additional risk insurance

Notify bank


Trekking poles  
Camera and accessories

Camera bag

Toilet paper  
Synthetic or nylon top

Pants. No cotton.

Trail food  
MP3 player  
Sleeping bag  
Sleeping bag liners  
Cotton pillow case  
Wind breaker  
Wind pants  
Long socks  
Day sack
Batteries/bulbs/torch/head lamp
Swiss army knife
Lip sun block
Sun lotion
Medical/first aid kit
Sewing kit
Wool socks
Sun hat
Woollen hats
Long Johns


Down jacket
Waterproof jacket
Trekking boots
Hiking pants
Hiking shirts (full sleeves)
Ruck sack

After three days in Kathmandu, I will begin my ascent. I will somehow get to a place called Jiri by car, jeep or bus. From there, I will hike from Jiri (1951m) to Deorali (2705m); Deorali to Sete (2575m); Sete to Junbesi (2675m); Junbesi to Numtala 2360m; Numtala to Khari Khola 2100m; Khari Khola to Surkhe 2293m; and Surkhe to Lukla 2810m. Nowadays many people abandon the old ways and fly from Kathmandu to Lukla. Not me, I’m walking as the explorers of old did. I’ve allowed 8 days for this journey. Some say it can be done in 6, but I guess they’re more Superman than I. There are a few alternative routes that bypass Lukla and head on to Namche Bazar (3.440 m) but perhaps the altitude gain is too great. My plan involves Phakding (2.610 m), Mojo’s Sagarmatha National Park Entrance around Larja bridge (2.830 m), and Namche Bazar (3.440 m), hopefully arriving on a Friday to witness the great Saturday morning market. Khumjung (3.780 m) looking over at Ama Dablam (6.856 m), Tengboche (3.860 m) for the great monestaries, Pangboche (3.930 m), Pheriche (4.270 m), Dingboche (4.410 m), Dughla (Thokla) – 4.620 m, Thokla Pass (4.830 m) and my final place for sleeping in Gorak Shep camp (5.140 m). Here I will trek to Kala Patthar (5.545 m) and Everest Base Camp (5.364 m) to gaze upon Everest (8.848 m). After a few hours of that, I head back to Kathmandu as fast as I can. Hopefully I’ll get a day in the city before flying back to Hong Kong S.A.R. with my onward road of China by the 29th of January 2017.

Months, weeks, days and hours of planning is about to begin… I’m both excited and nervous. I’ll miss those I love, dearly, as I do. But, dreams… dreams must be put into action, one by one.




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

我永远不会放弃 (wǒ yǒngyuǎn bú huì fàngqì [I will never give up!]

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

Between the articulations of idioms a Chinese class beneath the Grade 4/5 office, I could hear the distant sound of Wham. “Last year I gave you my heart…” and this was odd. The neighbouring kindergarten (nursery school) seemed to be ploughing through Christmas songs faster than a sleigh whizzing around the world, carrying a fat bloke delivering presents and gifts.

Christmas, this year, was and remains far more visible than the previous two years. The local malls (shopping centres), cafes, bars, even small shops have all gone all out. Even my apartment complex has invested in a huge tree and many decorations. Seeing and hearing Christmas, as an embraced addition, an imported tradition doesn’t even seem purely commercial. There is joy with it. As part of the Christmas movement, I attended two Christmas parties at Speaker Training Centre (Hengli) and another Christmas themed afternoon in Dongguan City 17th Sunshine Primary School. At Dongguan (东莞) Shi (市Market or City) Nánchéng (南城south town) Qu YángGuāng (阳光sunshine) diqi (第七17th) Xiǎo Xué (小学primary school), I was reunited with Bright once again. A friend since the first day I arrived at Dao Ming. We picked up like we had last met yesterday.

Christmas weekend was spent in Hengli, walking, talking, eating and cycling. Sky, Mark, Maria and their team had welcomed me many times before. The Speaker Family training centre is a hearty place, focused on making students young and old confident to conquer English and master the art of public speeches. They are a passionate bunch, surrounded by family in Maria’s case and full of zest for learning. It is infectious. I like their business model very much. So, I attended many classes and Christmas game activities, sang Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes with several four year-olds and went to many great meals. On Christmas Day, Maria, Mark, Maria’s father, Maria’s step-father, Obama (Maria’s brother and a very talented cook), Jonhson (the spelling is right, I think… as it is on his ID card; an American) and I went to a very standard-looking Chinese restaurant and ate. We had tofu, chicken (the whole thing, heads, eyes, the lot), and many other delicious foods. Alongside, some Chinese medicinal drink, good for the kidneys. In Chinese medicine, your sexual mojo, stems from your kidneys. Our recycling machines are reportedly the body’s yin and yang. The seed of energy. Good diets make for good balance. Good balance makes for good kidneys. In turn, a good sexual function and reproduction. We drank a drink, medicinal alcohol, a kind of wine with elements of nuts, ginseng, pollen, spores, leeks, ling zhi (Reishi mushrooms, 灵芝) [possibly dried shrimps and oysters]. The sceptic in me was beaten back the next day. I awoke having had a great night’s sleep. I hadn’t been told that the drink was good for anything, other than my kidneys, the night before, but I can safely say there is a strong aphrodisiac quality in it, one that blasts your dreams into the foreground of the mind. Traditional Chinese Medicine may be a controversial area, often slammed for historic links to poaching and continued killing of animals. Some have been derived from the human body. However, the current 13,000 medicinals (it used to be 100,000!) are mostly plant and farmed animal sourced. Some are controversial, some have side-effects. I guess, like all commercially obtained pharmoceuticals (again some are derived from endangered animals and animal extracts), we must look at them on a case by case merit. Anyway, back to Christmas. It was a most wonderful weekend. Maria gave me some chocolates. Her family also gifted me a meal and Speaker Family treated me to a further meal. Chinese culture is heavily evolved around celebrations and meals. As Jonhson put it, “The more you eat and drink, the more you celebrate!”

Apples (苹果 Píngguǒ) are given because the word sounds like Ping’an (平安). Ping’an Ye 平安夜 is silent night. Someone cashed in on it and now it is a tradition. I have had many apples from teachers and students. I’ve eaten one apple a day for a week now. I now have 15 apples left. I don’t have an oven to make a crumble! I will have to rehome these apples.


To be this far from home, is tough, I won’t lie. To be so far from family at a time, traditionally and wholeheartedly for family, is tougher. This week has been the most homesick I have been, since arriving in China. This February will mark three years away from the U.K. (only, less the 13 weeks I have spent in China, across two summers).

“You have no authority. None.” The harsh grasp of M’s words in recent James Bond flick, Spectre. That’s how I feel right now with one of my colleagues. Analisa is an American. I think I don’t bond well with Americans. Perhaps, I try to hard in teamwork or perhaps I come across as authoritive. I’m no expert but I do have experience. I try to nurture and push. I don’t lead as such, I just influence and try to ensure the team are equal and steering the ship in the right direction. Otherwise, we will be powerless and grounded. Maybe it is just me? Maybe, I am a poor teammate? I doubt my value as a leader if I cannot guide, lead or be worked with. I think deep down in my heart, I am a farmer, looking for a simple life, but one who has been forced from his comfort zone into an unfamiliar land. An adventurer in a world where all adventures seem to be have been had. The deep ocean and space remain. And I’m too early in technological advancements to take those voyages!

The phrase “two cultures separated by a common language” is banded around quite freely now. American English seems to have usurped [British] English, and using phrases and idioms of everyday usage back home tend to fall by the wayside. Lost in translation? Or unheard? For the umpteeth time, I’ve been asked to compare the two languages. It was like watching paint dry. I feel like some people ask just to take the mickey. But, they’re not. Many of my Chinese colleagues and friends are very direct in how they speak. They simply avoid discretion and courtesy as it isn’t something learnt so freely. Our cultures are different. Turns of phrase are too much for most. Even trying to simplify my phrases is a problem at times. What gets me, is when a Nigerian accent or deep-south American accent is understood far clearer than my own voice. That said I get why those, who listen, around those speakers, with those accents, follow clearly. Your ears titrate. It takes time to understand people’s speaking styles and accents. Also, maybe I am guilty of being followed so well, that I slip back into a normal speaking style. However, I won’t be condescending and assume non-native speakers’ levels of English are not good enough to understand me. Non-native speakers, learners of a new language learn to communicate and better themselves. I won’t add water to a lake. I won’t remove the bones of the turkey, pulp it up and create a jelly. For me, if the learners spot the differences and ask questions, they are learning that proper [British] English is as peculiar as it comes. He most diverse language on Earth with more and more words and phrases being coined over time. It helps others to help me help you. I’ll adapt my tones, phrases and words to the scenario I face. Communication is key, clear or unclear, questions can always be asked.

So, my journey into learning Chinese is creaking. I am struggling, grasping at every loose rock on an upward climb to a peak far away. I’ll get there. It just takes time. I am trying to study the grammar, speak as native speakers do, and think in Chinese. I have been recording my spoken Chinese and playing it back to myself. Comparisons of the inflections reveal, I am near tone deaf. I can’t differeniate the four tones at times. Partly because of the varied accents around me and partly because I’m learning Mandarin, slap bang in Cantonese language territory. I do have the advantage of natural speakers galore around me. I just need to prod them to make them speak Chinese with me and not English. I don’t care if I make mistakes or lose face. I will learn from these instances. I want to use formal and informal phrases, so making mistakes or cultural faux pas from times to time will assist me. There are co many cultural rules and habits, and these can differ from town to town, region to region and so on. My Chinese notepad is bulging. Soon, I may need to have to expand it!



(wǒ yǒngyuǎn bú huì fàngqì

[I will never give up!].



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

Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

Last week, I heard a saying for the second time in as many weeks. I didn’t remember how to say it the first time around. I still don’t. However, I will try to learn it off by heart. I’ve printed a copy and downloaded an audi track to support the learning of such a phrase. Oddly, I think I heard it on a self-help guide someone was playing nearby me, on a subway train. I guess we all get inspiration from odd places at times.

Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself. Shī fu lǐng jìn mén, xiū xíng zài gè rén. 师傅领进门,修行在个人 Similar to You can lead the horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink.


Right now, I feel inspired to create and write. It hasn’t always been that way this week. I have had purple patches. I think Elvis sang about having a Blue Christmas, and it had nowt to do with football allegiance. My melancholy mood has been brought on self-inflictedly, by not being home for Christmas. Last year and the year before, I felt so desolate and dejected. I was wretched company two years ago, and as downcast as a Mancunian grey sky last year also. Inside an optimist there is always a pessimist. There must be! To look forwards and upwards whenever the proverbial fan is smeared with excrement, there must be an ability to recognise the bad in all good. Disappointment doesn’t need to expected at every possible moment but it should be anticipated otherwise how do you dig yourself out of a shallow grave? Am I unhappy? No. But, I can feel unhappy. Sometimes I just keep my eyes looking at the sun, and knowing that whenever I fall, a warm ray of light can sweep me back onto my feet. The great thing about understanding your own mind, is control. I can control how happy I am, and how to escape crestfallen moments. Back off sadness. Shut up head. Have a Happy Christmas! Well, I will try, and at the end of the day this week has proven most positive.

Yesterday, Angle (pronounced Angel) and her team in Grade 5, class 7 gave me a wonderful Christmas card signed by many students. The thought and constant greetings of Merry Christmas from her class during the oral English exams made for great and hearty entertainment. All my classes in grades 5, 7 and 8 have been given little slips of paper, with “Dear Father Christmas…” and plenty of space to write their letters to Father Christmas (me, in this scenario). There will be a prize for the best written letters, the sweetest letters and maybe a few smaller prizes too. I’m going to ask the English teachers to do this too. “How can anyone be dispirited, trying to bring joy to others?” I ask. Well, the answer is never easy. Our minds are beautiful playgrounds of creation and memories. They can fill us with joy and longing. We’ll get there one day. Wherever there happens to be.



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

Catching up…

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

Around 176,000 words have been spent to date. They have now migrated in monthly chapters from to WordPress. There has been a considerable gap between postings. So, here we go… let’s try and fill in some gaps.

The last weekend of December, I went to Zhuhai for the Magic Island Music Festival. The review can be found on HubHao with some images supplied by the organiser.


The week, that followed this, I felt like curling up and watching Father Ted. “You’ll have some tea… are you sure you don’t want any? Aw go on, you’ll have some. Go on go on go on go on go on go on go on go on GO ON!” I’d shaken off a sore throat and headache which seemingly lasted forever. It started on a Tuesday and exited by Friday, thanks to Asda-branded dual action blackcurrant flavoured 2.4mg throat lozenges containing Hexylresorcinol. “There’s always time for a nice cup of tea. Sure, didn’t the Lord himself pause for a nice cup of tea before giving himself up for the world.” Yet, all I have wanted to do that week, was curl up with a packet of biscuits, crumbs spilling all over the bedsheets and a milky cup of P.G. Tips or Tetley’s tea. Something imported, proper English style tea, proper milk and one sugar. Instead, I ate chicken. “Are you sure, Father? There’s cocaine in it!” Well maybe not just a little bit of chicken but just under a kilogram of the feathered victim of a knife. “Oh, no, not cocaine. God, what am I on about. No, what d’you call them? Raisins.”


Amongst that displeasure, Murray’s Maine Rd FC were renamed Murray’s Cityzens F.C. and we have mostly new players. We lost against the reigning Champions, Cavera F.C., who are chasing their third Dongguan International Football league title, now named, Mission Hills League. The players Cavera (his team is named after himself), Mateus, Fausto, Vini and others tore us a new one, as some would say, we lost 10-0 having trailed 3-0 at the break. An absolute lesson in football. Before the game, we held a minute’s silence to observe the tragedy that occurred involving the Chapecoense team, staff, supporters and flight crew. Such a sad day for global sport. Everyone loves an underdog story, a team that grew and battled to get to a dream cup final. They have posthumously been given the Copa Sudamericana by South American football confederation Conmebol but have captured the hearts of many. Hats off to their Colombian opponents Atletico Nacional for their “spirit of peace, understanding and fair play.” Brazil will play Colombia in a friendly match at the end of January to help victims of the air crash. From the ashes of despair and loss, I hope that a phoenix of togetherness comes from this awful event. On talking with a teacher about this event, she chirped, “Why does no one remember the victims of MH370 so well?” I offered her a reponse, “I guess people need to push the authorities, their communities and the media to show how much the loss matters to make a difference in the way the tragedy is remembered.” Well… silly answer considering the totality of media power both here in China and Malaysia.


By that week’s Friday, I attended class 701, and every student looked despondent before I had even begun. After two minutes, two forlorn tearful students entered the class. Their sorrowful state conveying perhaps they hadn’t done homework and had received a scolding dressing-down. As I went amongst the students later-on in the class, I noticed more tearful faces. One boy was whining like a mourner at a scene of tragedy. Proper tears. I asked him what was up. He told me, “the Chinese teacher is leaving school soon.” I went team by team around the room, only to be greeted by similar melancholy. One girl had written a letter in Chinese with the odd English phrase bordering it, and she asked me to help, “What can you do to keep our teacher here?” I said I would talk with my teaching colleagues in the office and say how sad the students are right now. I did. It turns out the teacher, sporting a picture of a pug dog on the front with the phrase “Pug Life” is leaving very soon. I’m unsure why. Nobody has divulged any more detail and it is not my place. Whilst I feel accepted in the school and by my colleagues, I’m not quite part of the highly-intwined family structures of school life. Parents see less of their kids than these hard-working and well respected teachers. I’m mostly an observing guest, tolerated and respected but never ever equal. They know my place. I know my place. The lines are not misty or obscure. I do my job, without directions form others. My task is to get students talking, even in a teary-eyed environment, by the doldrums.

The weekend arrived, I fled to Shenzhen and attended the Shenzhen Blues Christmas party. Numerous kids visited Santa Claus (me in a blue suit, with fake additional hair) and most adults enjoyed the evening buffet. I won a prize in the raffle with numbert 142, kind of. Except I had purchased ten tickets, numbers 136 to 146. It should have been 136 to 145. I didn’t have a number 142. 142 was drawn from the hat. Katherine and Stephen, the brilliant leaders of Shenzhen Blues apologised profusely. It didn’t matter. I enjoyed the night, prizeless as it was. Soon after they posted me a City jacket as a Christmas present, addressed to Acton 142. So sweet of them. Too kind!

Murray’s Cityzens F.C.’s second game was a derby against Murray’s PandaBrew F.C. We lost 2-1, thanks to a late winner for the opposition. A quick free kick was taken as I lifted Barry up, having clattered his ankles, unintentionally. I struggled to get back and the other team scored. Maybe the goal had been coming but it was a bitter pill to swallow. A week later and we beat Chang’an F.A. 4-1. A good way to bounce back. Next week we have a tough game against Day & Night Bar F.C.


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