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.

Woolly balls, Alan & Xi’an

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

Is that…? No, it can’t be. But, wait, it bloody well is. I‘ll have a gander to check. I stepped into a stationery store in Dalang, attached to the Dongguan Dalang Football Association (DGDLFA). Football culture and community has always interested me. The crest of one of the DGDLFA clubs resembled Man Utd’s badge. I’m sure any do. It’s a curse in any Asian nation that most fans follow a red team. Their flags are red, their Communist brothers in arms are red, red stars, red scarves, red packets, lucky blooming red. Everywhere.

Instead of worn old leather footballs on the central axis, this club, Dongguan Zhicheng F.C. has in place two woollen balls. Zhī (织)means weave or knit. Chéng (城) means city or wall. So, here we have it a woolly mammoth-aged club wrapped in cotton wool. On the top of the crest there are kind of lucky bells, and golden scrolls. There is a ball in pace of Salford Rugby Club’s stolen red devil. Six people fail to adhere to social distancing beneath the ball. The sixsome is an oddity in itself. Most people I know play 7-a-side in China, and sometimes, every now and then 5-a-side. There is football in the traditional 11-a-side format, which is lesser-spotted. I only know of one 6-a-side field in Dongguan. We use it regular on a rooftop. So, Dongguan Zhicheng F.C., what is this mutant game you are playing?! I was in the stationery shop, a foreigner, a rogue and an unexpected shopper. I had to investigate further.

Inside a larger, and rounder older Cantonese lady kind of sneered at me. She eventually asked what I was looking for. I uttered my crap Mandarin Chinese, “Wǒ zài kàn” (我在看). This in itself was bad, as she was clearly Cantonese. I had overheard her recording a flowing barrage of Canton dialect into her right-hand-clutched-like-a-Lego-man-mobile-phone. Can we say phone now? Most phones are mobile now. Landline phones in China are mostly ornamental, right? I could have said to her, “Wǒ zhǐ shì kàn kàn” (我只是看看。) Zhǐ shì means just/merely/only. I didn’t. We all know by now, that I was on a reconnaissance gathering mission. If anyone is monitoring me, I am buggered. Proper buggered. She said, a simple, “Hǎo de” (好的) because it was okay to look around right. It’s a stationery shop and not Area 51.

After selecting some useful stickers and highlighter pens, of various shades of sky blue, a man emerged from the adjoining office door of the Dongguan Dalang Football Association (DGDLFA). He looked at me with suspicion. There was a smidgeon of something in his eye. It could have been dust, curiosity or any other emotion. Maybe the bright yellow faded to peach coloured football shirt I wore was too loud. We looked eye to eye for far too long. I had to buckle and break the moment. The man’s square face framed in black glasses and a thick head of black hair age no emotion away. His game could have been poker. I crumpled and folded my coolness but calmly let out a dry word, “nĭ hăo” (你好). After all, who doesn’t like hearing a stranger say hello. We can’t all be Villanelle from Killing Eve. Some of us must be polite and less murderous.

After selecting some gold dust items, I went to the check-out and here the Lǎobǎn (老板/boss) chatted to me. “Nǐ xǐhuān mànlián ma?”, he said. 你喜欢曼联吗 translates to something offensive to me, and to many. He had asked, “Do you like Manchester United?” My response was calm, and to the point, “Wǒ bù xǐhuān mànlián” (我不喜欢曼联). I do not like Manchester United. It’s a fact. You can check my social media for diatribe and other denunciation of that club. There are rants, periods of haranguing and tirades that probably go back to 1982. I crossed my right hand over my chest and pointed to the crest upon my left breast. “Wǒ ài mànchéng”, said I. I love Manchester City (我爱曼城). He looked me up and down, smiled, and wearing his red polo top, with the crest that resembled Old Trafford’s footballing giants, he proudly said, “Wǒ zhīchí lìwùpǔ” (我支持利物浦). He supports Liverpool. He eventually told me in a mixture of Chinese and his good English that his team liked the badge of Man Utd. I asked him about his connection to Liverpool. None. He didn’t even watch games before the Champions League win last year.

And, that’s one of the reasons football struggles in China. A lack of clear identity. The balls of wool made me think that this team in 大朗 (Dàlǎng town) had pride on their locally known and nationally famous name of wool. Instead I left wondering why a Liverpool fan, would create a team with an almost Man Utd crest. He told me how they’d started a team from a school field in 2018 and then two teams, other teams followed. They play regular 8-a-side because 8 is lucky. I asked why their badge only has 6 people. He said the goalkeeper is not a player. I said, for 8-a-side, this still leaves his team one player short. He said there are 8 outfield players and a goalkeeper. That’s a lot of players on a FIFA regulation 7-a-side field. And, they use a size four football, not a regulation size five football. Good luck to the China national football team.

As I paid my bill, we talked international and domestic football. The excitement that the Premier League in England is returning at a time, that China will also welcome a restart to football. The Chinese Super League is set to resume soon (2020中国平安中国足球协会超级联赛). On July the 3rd, the league will be split into two groups. As China closed its borders to foreigners, the CSL upped the maximum number of players a team could have, from six to seven (throughout a season). At any one time, only six are allowed within the squad, of which, only five can play in one game. Of those five in one game, only four can be on the field at any one time. Following me? Good. Of those four, no foreign goalkeepers are allowed. Taiwanese, Hong Kong or Macau citizens are Chinese as long as they started their professional career as a player there.

Alan Douglas Borges de Carvalho, born José Bonifácio, Brazil is Chinese now. As is Elkeson de Oliveira Cardoso, but he was born in Coelho Neto, Maranhão, Brazil (which you won’t find on a map of China). The former player, Alan (阿兰), arrived from Red Bull Salzburg on 2015. The latter, Elkeson (艾克森/ Ài Kèsēn) arrived in 2013. Chinese citizenship via naturalisation has given both the chance to play for China’s national team. Ricardo Goulart (高拉特) from São José dos Campos, Brazil awaits FIFA to decide if he could play in the stages of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification. Aside frome Mousa Dembélé at Guangzhou R&F, Paulinho at Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao, Alex Teixeira at Jiangsu Suning, Marouane Fellaini at Shandong Luneng Taishan, Stephan El Shaarawy at Shanghai Greenland Shenhua there aren’t too many players out there that are household names. 27 Brazilians and 3 former Brazilians make up the 80 possible overseas players for 16 teams. Amongst the Brazilians, Hulk, at Shanghai SIPG isn’t the incredible one, but former-Chelsea player Oscar at the same team has a few awards to his name.

So aside from my covert quest into the local world of football, this turned into a great shop too. I found two A4 paper trimmers – also known as guillotines! Nothing says stationer like a machine with a blade named after a French Revolution beheading device. I hope the Chinese parliament and security forces don’t round me up for beheading postcards or cutting corners.

Xi’an: The Original Home of Football? Think Cuju (蹴鞠)

球迷会名称/Club name: 西安曼城球迷会 Xi’an Manchester City fans Association Club

球迷会联系方式/Club contacts: 阿圭罗的小媳妇儿 [Aguero’s Wife]

微博或其他社交媒体链接/Weibo or social media links: 西安曼城球迷会(微博名)
微信账号/Wechat account: 西安曼城球迷会(公众号)

关于我们/About us: 古称长安。长安城作为古代第一个人口破百万的国际化大都市,北濒渭河,南依秦岭,八水润长安。在这座古老的城市里,住着一群有着蓝色信仰的人们,这群人的存在给这座城市注入了新的活力,这就是我们——西安曼城球迷会。

不论你是土生土长的西安人,还是身在西安的异乡人,亦或是远在他乡的西安乡党,只要你信仰蓝月,我们都向你敞开怀抱。

Xi’an, is an ancient town, once known as Chang’an. Xi’an was one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals. Xi’an is the original starting point of the Silk Road. Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army is based here. Bordered to the north by the Weihe River, the southern Qinling Mountains and known for 8 rivers, the city has great diversity and history. The sky blue and white faith of City reached Xi’an in modern times and adds vitality to a City mostly know for its great food and castle walls. Whether you are a native to Xi’an, or a visitor to Xi’an, Xi’an’s OSC opens their arms to meet you and your love for the Blue Moon. No reds allowed. 

Expect to eat: Roujiamo Chinese Hamburger (肉夹馍); Liangpi (凉皮); Paomo Mutton, beef, and Bread Pieces in Soup (羊肉泡馍); Biang Biang Noodles (油泼扯面); Jinggao Steamed rice cake stuffed with honey dates and black beans (甑糕).

Expect to see: Fortifications of Xi’an & Xi’an City Wall (西安城墙); Xi’an Bell Tower (西安钟楼); the Drum Tower of Xi’an (西安鼓楼); Mount Li (骊山); Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Qin Shi Huang) (秦始皇陵); Terracotta Army (兵马俑); Shaanxi Galaxy (陕西银河); Shaanxi Guoli F.C. (陕西国力)Shaanxi Renhe Commercial Chanba F.C. (陕西人和商业浐灞)Shaanxi Dongsheng (陕西东盛); Xi’an Evening News (西安晚报); Qinqiang opera (乱弹).
Did you know? Arthur Gostick Shorrock [from Blackburn, Lancashire, England] and Moir Duncan founded the Sianfu Mission in 1892.

U.K. Twin cities & Towns: Edinburgh, Bury St. Edmunds & Birmingham

爱与和平/Peace and love

James (and the castles of Scotland)

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste / A’m gled tae meet ye,

During a recent whistlestop tour of Scotland, it was possible to admire many castles. The thing about some cities in Scotland, like Edinburgh – and Stirling, is that they have imposing castles on rocks high above the ground below.  Another such beauty of a castle is Scotland’s longest recorded stronghold, Dumbarton Castle.

For Stirling, James IV, the sequel James V and James VI built significant parts to the early 12th century rudimental castle. James III was born there, James II sheltered there – and James I gave it to his wife and mother of James II. James, the indie band from Manchester, to my knowledge haven’t played there. Sit down. The early Stewarts and Wars of Scottish Independence have significance at this location. The current commander is James Erskine, 14th Earl of Mar – another bloody James. The castle that could easily be called James (after James from Thomas The Tank Engine?) sits on 350 million year old quartz-dolerite. William Wallace, of Braveheart fame, even resided there briefly after the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Today it is mostly a Renaissance palace from around the times of 1490 to 1600, when the Royal Family pretty much moved to London, as real estate prices were reasonable back then. Since then, military digs, a museum featuring the legendary Balaclava Company and education have dominated the castle’s recent years.

Edinburgh Castle towers of Old Town. From Castle Rock, aged 350 million years, the 460’ elevation (140 m), the views from the former volcanic pipe are stunning. The only way into the castle from the east. The other directions have steep falls. Even water struggled to find a way in during the Lang Siege of 1573.

Edinburgh’s connection to a James comes with a siege to free James III of Scotland in 1482. Ten-year-old King James II watched two teenagers get executed in November 1440. James IV built the Great Hall. In fact, Edinburgh castle featured greatly in the great soap opera of Scottish royal history. The castle nowadays reflects a grander tourist feel with the superb Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo taking place in a stadium-parade ground outside the main castle gates.

Dumbarton Castle strikes out from a 334 million year old volcanic basalt plug. Settlements have been noted as far back as Iron Age forts. The 557 steps up are a challenge for today’s visitors and a face of William Wallace’s supposed betrayer is carved: Sir John Menteith of Ruskie and Knapdale.

“Schyre Jhon of Menteith in tha days; Tuk in Glasgow William Walays; And sent hym until Ingland sune, There was he quartayrd and undone.” – Metrical Chronicle, Andrew of Wyntoun (1350-1425), Scottish poet
The castle can be seen looming over the town of Dumbarton and by the River Clyde. The landscape combined with the history makes for a wonderful daydreaming experience on a passing train.

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

“Welsh Wales”, as Mum says

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

Mention Wales [威尔士] to anyone from the U.K. and they’ll instantly have an image in their mind. That image may vary from a mythical place they’ve never been, shitty holidays in Colwyn Bay or the exotic-sounding-yet-ultimately-disappointing Barry Island, or Tom Jones. Stereophonics, Ryan Giggs and leeks may even come to mind.

To me, Wales was home for several years and forms part of my ancestry. I have a deep respect for Welsh pride and the diverse heritage. I also like castles, which is one huge reason to love Hen Wlad fy Nhadau [Land of my Fathers – the Welsh national anthem [国歌]. Wales’s land surface area [国土面积] covers 3,074,067m2. If the tide is out, then you may see a little more – whether sunken (think Borth forest) or lost lands (causeways). Wales has the highest concentration of castles per land and considering many are beyond ruins or have drifted away in time, this quaint principality of the U.K. has views like no other, often with a castle standing mighty. If there isn’t a castle nearby, then I guarantee a church, chapel or parish won’t be far away. Even the stones have stories!

民俗文化 [scenery]世界上每平方英里城堡数量最多的地方 The largest number of castles per square mile in the world.

The official languages [官方语言] of choice are Welsh [威尔士语] and English [英语]. During my time in the shadow of The National Library of Wales, I was encouraged to learn Welsh (Cymraeg). The library, surely one of the greatest, sheltered artworks, books and manuscripts during World War II. Located in Aberystwyth underneath the Penglais campus of Aberystwyth University, the views from the front door are dramatically panoramic. Here you can sit on a wall, over sweeping views, and read Aberystwyth Mon Amour by Malcolm Pryce. An ice cream, made of whelks, on a sunny December day completes the perfect picture.

March the 1st is a colourful day with leeks, flags and daffodils. As spring tip-toes in, the Welsh hold St David’s Day. A kind of St Patrick’s Day without Guinness. Their patron saint probably won’t understand novelty inflatable dandelions quite the same way. Like many great nations, food is important. Welsh Food [威尔士美食] is no exception. Ask for a Welsh rarebit and you’ll get cheese on toast. The historic pieces are laverbread (made from seaweed), cawl (a kind of lamb stew), cawl cennin (leek soup, they love the leeks!), (obviously from Wales) and cockles. Finish a meal with Welsh cakes, bara brith (a fruit bread). With most of the population near the sea, Welsh meals are often influenced by sea food. The Glamorgan sausage and Llymru (flummery, in England) are two treats to try. Like most of neighbouring England tatws (potatoes) make an appearance often. Tatws Popty and Tatws Pum Munud are the best examples. Maybe, ask Beca [贝卡] at the local café to cook some for you.

One fact that always seems to crop up is that Wales has more sheep than people. Its capital, Caerdydd [Cardiff 卡迪夫] has a population [人口] of just 350,000. Other major towns and cities aren’t anywhere near as big. Swansea [斯旺西], Newport [纽波特], and Wrexham [雷瑟汉姆] usually get a nod. Some villages like Hay-on-Wye host important folk culture [威尔士风景] festivals such as literature and music events. Even Chris Gunter is popular.

Wales is quite some place with lung-busting names like Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and places simply called Pant or Mwnt. Chinese Tourists have created new names for difficult sounding Welsh places. Wales and China can have a bit of fun language exchange it seems. Angharad [安哈蕾德], Rhiannon [莱安诺] and Dafydd [达非德] have made it from the valleys of Glamorgan into the cities of Beijing and Shanghai. Welsh names are travelling. Also travelling from Wales are such great things as Doctor Who and Welsh-production movies. Following years of E.U. Objective One funding and near-independence of the principality’s government, Wales is flourishing. Between free prescriptions, university grants and Welsh whisky exports, there is opportunity galore.  Not bad for a country that lost its primary mining industries in a heartbeat.

 “来自中国的学生,亚伯大学欢迎你们!Welcome to students from China!”

Rhys [莱斯], Gethin [盖亭] and Lowri [萝莉] went into a bar. Don’t worry, there was no trouble! Ieuan [爱恩] was serving that night, because Nia [妮娅] had called in sick. She may have been off drinking with her mate Ffion [菲昂]. We’ll probably never know unless we watch Pobol-y-Cwm (a BBC and S4C TV production since 1974). My friend Tomos [托莫斯] told me that the show is all the rage in Wales. It has been showing as a drama on S4C since 3 days after I was born (so, it started on the first day of November 1982). The channel mostly has success showing rugby, international football and the Eisteddfod. SuperTed, Fireman Sam, and more recently FanBoy & Chum Chum found their creations in Wales via this channel. During my years in Aberystwyth I seldom watched S4C but I did meet numerous local TV stars such as Glan Davies. I can still recall writing his Welsh Male Choir schedule for their U.S. tour. Whilst doing that I was watching Hinterland, a very Scandinavian style detective piece set around Aberystwyth. Bethan [贝覃] was possibly the victim’s name, but I can’t remember…

The 28 letters [28个字母] of the Welsh alphabet [威尔士字母表] have always fascinated me. The lack of J, K, Q, X, V and Z can’t be any good in scrabble.

A, B ,C ,Ch, D, Dd, E, F, Ff, G, Ng, H, I, L, Ll, M, N, O, P, Ph, R, Rh, S, T, Th, U, W, Y

Wales is great for shopping [购物], outdoor activities [居住 户外活动], entertainment [娱乐], education [教育] and general tourism. There are Chinese language websites such as Wales.cn [威尔士]. To be a well-rounded tourist of student in Wales, is to open one’s eyes to endless possibilities and countless dreams. Wales is wonderful. You can find someone called Elenor [艾莲诺] and ask them.

选择亚伯的理由Why Aberystwyth University

My Grandfather came from Welsh lineage and sadly I know so little about the John Roberts side of the family. Stories of lobsters boiling in high-pitched hell gives me the need to learn more about my Welsh forefathers. If one thing that I learnt during my time in Aberystwyth University, it was the need to question and research. So, at least I can dig up the past.

“亚伯被投票选举成为英国最佳大学城,斯旺西大学赢得英国最佳学生体验奖。Aberystwyth has been voted best university town in Britain, Bangor consistently places high for Tutor quality and Swansea University has won an award for being the best student experience in the UK”

Sports [体育] in Wales include the usual array of popular sports. The World Bog Snorkelling Championships [沼泽地徒手潜水锦标赛] are eye-catching if not a little muddy. World class sports feature throughout the calendar: Wales Rally GB [英国威尔士汽车拉力赛], one day cricket internationals [国际板球比赛], mountain biking [威尔士山地自行车], and general cycling [威尔士自行车运动]. Walking [威尔士竞走], rambling and hiking are common too. The Millennium Stadium [卡迪夫千年体育场] is the premier sporting shrine housing music, football and the national sport of rugby. In south Wales you’re more likely to see Cerys [塞瑞斯] playing rugby than football. Her friend Sioned [秀内] in north Wales will equally likely be kicking a football and not the egg-shaped ball. In mid Wales, Catrin [凯特琳] is confused and can opt for all variety of sports. Equally her friend Elin [艾琳] could be uninterested in sport and find plenty to keep her busy. Just ask Alys [艾莉丝] at the local fish and chip shop. Wales has much to offer, just don’t expect a train direct from north to south on the west coast…

 

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


Hwyl fawr ffrindiau,
Hwyl fawr ffrindiau,
Hwyl fawr ffrindiau,
Mae’n amser dweud hwyl fawr.
Twdlw a bant â ni,
bant â ni, bant â ni,
Twdlw a bant â ni,
mae’n amser dweud hwyl fawr.
Goodbye friends,
Goodbye friends,
Goodbye friends,
It’s time to say goodbye.
Toodle-oo and away with us,
away with us, away with us,
Toodle-oo and away with us,
it’s time to say goodbye.