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…

Murray Christmas.

早上好。Good morning.

Having boarded a Didi taxi car (express service) to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport Terminal Two, I’m currently motoring up the whatever it’s called highway northwards. As the car hurtles towards the border of Dongguan, I realize that this is only the second time I’ve left Dongguan city proper since returning in Spring 2020. In October, I went to Suzhou and that’s about it. I haven’t been to Shenzhen at all. I had a football tournament with Murray’s FC in Foshan for a day. And, a school trip to Guangdong Science Centre, allowed a few hours on the outskirts of Guangzhou. Okay, so travel has happened, but not much.

As many people around the world, just like family and friends back in the UK can relate, travel these days is a rare thing. It’s not always wise. I’m lucky, no, I’m privileged to be able to move around in relative freedom. Many people will travel domestically in Chinese New Year. The mainland of China often resembles a fast paced Rubik’s cube at that time. I doubt that I’ll travel then. The risks will increase, despite the experts here saying the risks are low.

So, here I go, heading to catch a flight to Shangri La Airport. And it isn’t a fictional airport or city. Zhōngdiàn (中甸) was renamed to Shangri La (Xiānggélǐlā/香格里拉) to draw in tourists. Mission accomplished. The so-called picturesque Yunnan province city awaits. From there I hope to trek/ramble/walk into the wider area of Díqìng Tibetan autonomous prefecture [迪庆藏族自治州]. This will give me a risk free (although under caution and care) wander in a mountainous land. Armed with face masks, hand cleaning gel and common sense, tonight I’ll be sleeping at a higher altitude.

The Didi car driver called me to check I was okay for today, immediately after pre booking the journey yesterday. Powered by Cantonese and Mandarin power ballads, at an acceptable volume, the driver, Mr Yang is allowing his electric Toyota to zip forwards. This Uber-like service has been invaluable since it appeared on the scene to foreign customers several years ago. Using my poor Chinese, I feel quite proud to have understood many little phone and car conversations. Each driver has been my spoken Chinese tutor for some time. The cost of the journey today is about 330RMB for an estimated 99 minutes of travel time. I figured the cost worth it when placed against other options. Had I have gone by train (40rmb), stayed in a hotel for a night (120+rmb), used local taxis etc it wouldn’t have been far off the cost of this journey. Besides, I was able to enjoy flour noodles and hotpot yesterday evening.

So, with my bags packed, a litre of pure orange juice, a premade sandwich and familiar warm music, the darkness of 5am passes me by, occasionally punctuated by rear taillights and a rare street lamp. Strangely, unlike other solo or group walks, I’m far from excited. It’s Christmas time. I’m alone. I’m far from home. I expect that my green health QR code will be accepted but I may encounter some wariness or prejudices. I could be wrong. I hope so. I don’t believe people are bad but I do believe there’s lots of worry around. Worry leads to fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to suffering. Sorry, too much Grogu and Yoda there.

Last Saturday, Murray’s FC held its annual Christmas game and barbecue. There aren’t many places in the world where you can mix a large group of people and play football. We really are in a strange time. There were many missing faces and we all pass on our love and peace to Murray’s FC players, friends, associates, past and present. We may have adopted the Dongguan F.C. moniker but we’re still the same sharing and caring team that welcomes all. Even Man U fans. The game finished 7-7 and marked by second 8-a-side goal in three months. Gareth Southgate wasn’t there to witness it. He won’t get my rejection either. The ball, fueled by Alvaro’s strike, bears an imprint of my gonads to this day. I can still taste them. Horrible moment. Other than that, it was a very pleasant day culminating with a barbecue at Liberty bar.

In closing, my bag has simple cold weather clothes, a lesser spotted windbreaker (Sherpa brand from Nepal), a rain jacket layer, walking boots, a sleeping bag, a walking pole, a notepad, a camera and little else. Supplemental oxygen? No thanks. I’ll take the altitude change slowly and surely. No rush. No aims. Just explore. Waterfalls, glaciers, and mountains are all bonuses after months in the city of Dongguan. So, what now?

再见 Goodbye. Have yourself a Murray Christmas. 圣诞快乐。