Stage XI: Abuji Cuo

你好!Nihao! Hello!

Anticipation surrounded the morning. We after off for a selection of steamed, boiled and grilled breakfast mainstays of Chinese breakfasts (across this huge nation). With that, those without raincoats purchased those disposable rain jackets designed to be worn for an hour or so. The kind that would make Mr Macintosh roll in his grave with tears. Not to mention environmentalists. Sorry Greta!

Abuji Cuo (阿布吉措) sounds Japanese. It certainly seems unlike Mandarin Chinese. It’s surrounded by the Ajiagang Mountains and stands high over meadows and scattered pasture houses. It’s well off the beaten track and fairly clean of trail litter. The name comes from one of the many local Yunnan languages and people but I couldn’t find a true translation or meaning. It is apparently very holy. The China National Highway 214 and Xiangli Expressway (toll road) are to the west. Here a dirt track leads under two bridges (the new Shangri-la railway line).

The car journey led us to a gate. It had a weight on one end and two barriers across the path ahead. Here began the wander. The base camp was labelled just that. The pathway was an old track, now used by loggers as well as the original farming people of these steep damp foothills.

Rounding a bend, the footpath exited the road, passing between free-range pigs and towards a slim yet fast-rushing stream. Our group of six with a local man tagging along crossed the stream over felled logs now doubling as a bridge. Here the path gently led to an open plain standing below the face of the mountains. The phone signal had soon disappeared – something good for the quiet ahead, but unusual on mainland China.

After passing through the deep lush green meadow, the path banked left over several bubbling streams complete with stepping stones and bridging points. Here the path zig-zagged up and across gaining altitude fast. It’s steep sections were marred by slippy sticky clay interspersed by sharp shards of rock. The sides of the path displayed vivid biodiversity with wild gooseberries, something like rhubarb and wild strawberry plants amongst the plethora of greenery.

A local Yunnan man Qī Lín(七林), a girl from Anhui, a student from Guangzhou, a girl from Heyuan, a girl from Hubei, and another girl (from somewhere in China) walked up in light to heavy rain. The thick cloud thinned and grew in almost pulsating slow motion. At times the valley behind seemed hidden. At others it became a tapestry of various green hues.

The imposing mountain to our right shoulder (mostly) could have been Skull Island from the King Kong movies. It’s ferocious face looked brittle and completely impervious to those intrepid climbers who like such nooks and crannies. The artistry of nature had created such a detailed spectacle. The top range of peaks could have been a crown, or a bed of thorns. It truly sets the imagination running as wild as the fight ravines within.

The stream accompanied the walk up, and at times became the pathway giving clear flow to passersby in need of a quenching swig of freshness. After one small lake the path hugs a slope covered in knife-sharp vicious broken rocks. Blue flowers emerge where the rocks allow soil to gather. The rug of land is unforgiving and not a place to stand in awe of the view ahead.

What lies ahead is possibly the greatest lake view I have ever seen. The cauldron of clear green and blue water appears impossibly deep. Local legend has it that there is no bottom to the icy water. It’s entirely believable. The edges look crystal clear but beyond that, well diving would be the only way to know what lies beneath. The surrounding slopes are mixed in terms of harsh angles but most are barren. Life is not easy. We were stood around 4300m and the highest point is about 500m above here.

The caldera-shape of the valley spreads wide and long. From numerous vantage points it’s hard to tell what started this paradise on high. The geological features and lay of the land are mesmerising. It grips your heart whilst choking your throat of air. You can suddenly become breathtakingly awestruck. You look. It stares back blankly. Rumour has it, if you speak to loud then rain will come. Here at the top, for the most part, rain eluded our group. The feeling of healing as you look around you at the majestic landscape is overwhelming. I couldn’t help but feel my heartstrings being tugged and a tear in my eye. There are few places left that are this pristine.

Shangri-la (香格里拉县/Xiānggélǐlāxiàn) is a county and a city that draws it’s English and Chinese names from James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. It influenced China to rename the Yunnan city of Zhōngdiàn (中甸) in 2001 to Shangri-la. The Shangri-la of Hilton’s writing could have been Kashmir, Tibet or anywhere else along the Kunlun Mountains of the author’s description. But, if James Hilton had have travelled to Yunnan and Abuji Cuo to see the steep cliffs, loose and rocky earth scattered with flora and colour, he may have set his chapters here.

Abuji Cuo is about 4 to 5 hours (around 17-20km) up and only accessible from May to October. The gate (near a temple) is manned and access denied at other times to allow ecological balance. Non-slip shoes are essential, although I spied a few people in sport shoes. One unlucky soul was sporting a sprained wrist, leg injury and looked sheepish. Her local guide was guiding her down ever so slowly. The muddy pathways demand good grips. The steep falls are lethal in appearance. And there are yaks. Yaks can surprise from above, and they did on our walk once or twice. Death by yaks would be rather a bad day at the office. The road starts between to Bixiang and XiaoZhongDianZhen.

The hamlets of Nigeria, where we drank milk, and the Niguqe (尼古个) hamlet are sparsely populated so expect to see few people. The nearby hamlet of Gangzhemu (岗者木) is close to a scenic spot called Bitahai (碧塔海景区) but that could easily be a different world. However, it would make a tasty multi-day hike with camping. Scope to return? Head to Bengla (崩拉)?

The walk back down was every bit as unforgettable as the ascent. Ancient woodlands caked in drapes of moss and lichens, the sound of a chorus of different birds and the smell of flowers give your senses a tasty day. After reaching the pasture at the cliff face, a local woman gave us hot potatoes, and well wishes. After that we walked to the road and were greeted by a drift (or drove) of pigs. The curious tail-wagging group led us to discover some local fruits, to which nobody knows the name. QiéZi gave me one that looks like it is shaped like a bottom. Rather cheeky!

Soon after Qī Lín (七林) introduced us to an elderly farming couple. Here we had hot milk, sour homemade yogurt and delicious cheese. The wooden cabin was a good end to a day’s hike and we bid the farmers goodbye before jumping in a car back to Shangri-la. The unique and diverse holy Abuji pasture would occupy our minds for the evening and I’m sure that visiting there, we gained something more.

Grid reference: 27.666254378118495, 99.90886934422305 (Abuji Cuo) to Bixiang village (27.604282621386876, 99.78759058373961). 14km distance as a local chough would fly.

再见!Zai Jian! Goodbye!

Stage X: Shangri-la Too

Nihao! 你好!Hello!

I awoke on Wednesday just after 05:30. I’d had about 5 hours sleep. The rooster may have fell under the category of an unwanted alarm clock. Bizarrely, I couldn’t nod off again. Yesterday evening had been quite subdued. I’d hung out with Echo and QiéZi (茄子) in their funky friend Cici’s juice and snack bar. Over blueberry and banana toasties it was decided that QiéZi and I would visit the legendary Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡/Hǔtiào Xiá) on the Jinsha River (Jīnshājiāng/金沙江) in Lijiang Naxi autonomous county (Lìjiāng Nàxīzú Zìzhìxiàn/丽江纳西族自治县). The chance to see more of Yunnan (云南) wasn’t something to pass up. Besides which QiéZi is a wise traveling companion.

Checking my phone at 05:45, I see we’ve grown to a group of 6 people and we’re headed to a trek somewhere near Shangri-La county (香格里拉县/Xiānggélǐlāxiàn). I have until the 3rd of August to play with, so as the Reverend Gallaghers said:

“You gotta roll with it
You gotta take your time;
You gotta say what you say;
Don’t let anybody get in your way.” – Roll With It, Oasis

So, I gave in to not being able to sleep more, grabbed a coffee at the cosy Song Sisters Bookshop and Cafe before departing the fantastic hospitality of The Jade Emu. Song and Dave are most welcoming owners and have knitted a fantastic community for those wishing to pass through, or stay a little longer.

Nomadic QiéZi arrived with the driver and we set off, with her friend Cici to collect two more friends. The journey began with a chattering driver, who gave so much information along the way, and recommendations. We stopped for hot corn and potatoes – although I declined the corn. The driver also provided yogurt and a selection of fruit. QiéZi gave me a coffee early on too, so a welcome toilet break arrived at an ideal time. No sooner had we left than we arrived, give or take four to give hours of driving.

Our group of six entered a restaurant and ate delicious breads, with a sweet cottage cheese and a meaty potato dish. A jolly day with a few games of wéiqí (围棋, sometimes called Go). The game involves black and white stones and is a territorial game of strategy. There are variations on the original but for this occasion, it was first to five in a row. Simple. Fun. Entertainment.

The evening involved sitting on our arses talking and planning tomorrow. The heavy rain brought about my several freakish weather fronts will challenge the next two days and any potential wanderings. The group have their eyes on Abuji Lake (阿布吉错). This may prove overambitious, but not every journey has to complete. Some off the beaten tracks lack tracks at times. The hard to find details for the trail aren’t exactly clear or enlightening. If the walking starts at Jiulong Yangchang (九龙羊场) then all is good.

Right now the courtyard of Desti Youth Hostel, complete with two big cute dogs isn’t a bad place to chill and await the next day. With a giant screen showing an Indian movie and a variety of games in a covered area, it’s a great place to be.

Zai Jian! 再见!Goodbye!

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 VI: Xining & Kumbum

Nihao! Hello!

The train rolled into Xīníng (西宁) and I skipped immediately down the stairs, found a wee man’s room and had a piddle. As exciting as the journey was, I could not go to the toilet. The views and valleys were something else. The tunnels were also rather long, and I didn’t want to gamble on missing any scenery whilst urinating. Hence, the urgency at Xining’s plush railway station.

Xining is the provincial capital of Qinghai (青海). It is home to Mongols, Tibetans, Han Chinese, and Muslims (Hui). It has a mixture of vibrant cultures. Walking around Lotus Lake (Mayigou Reservoir), I witnessed Tibetan music, Muslims walking and relaxing and Han Chinese carrying umbrellas in the afternoon sun. The train journey into Qinghai crossed huge expanses of grasslands, tight valleys and mountains beyond mountains. There’s nature in and around the area. The WWF (not the wrestling lot) have an office here.

The language around here is different, it’s Mandarin but Qinghaihua dialect. Like the language the cultures and food are quite diverse too. Almost as diverse as the routes of water within this province. The three great rivers of China have their sources in Qinghai. The Mekong, Yellow (黃河) and Yangtze rivers all begin here. Xining’s Huángshuǐ hé (river/湟水河) is a tributary of the Yellow River.

I started Monday by moving hotels. My first choice hotel had no vacancies for two nights so I moved to the Xinsu 1357 Inn. I should have stayed here sooner. The wooden and brick lodge was cosy with lovely lighting and Tibetan decor throughout. Even the room key card came in a hand-carved wooden block. Immediately after checking-in, I set out for the Tǎ’ěr Sì (also known as Kumbum Monastery 塔爾寺). Near to Xining, the 14th Dalai Lama was born and he later spent time at Kumbum. As did Peter Fleming, journalist brother of James Bond creator Ian Fleming.

The monastery was dazzling and wrapped in the blanket of history. There were some buildings rebuilt after a fire in 1912 but mostly the temples and shrines dated to the 17th century. The number of monks is residence is close to 300, a tenth of its peak population. The odd cat and umpteen pigeons scattered between the natural bird population seen on the green fringes of the site.

Whilst wandering a passageway, a pretty young girl stopped me. I’d seen her distinctive glow in a courtyard just moments before. Her curious eyes and manner stopped me and asked me a few questions. My favourite question was, “It’s all in Chinese, how can you understand?” I replied that I’d visited many Buddhist places in Nepal and then we talked about travels. Stacey, as she introduced herself, was a recent Masters graduate and worked with the internet. Smart kid. She’d been to France to study and had a bubbly personality. I bid her goodbye and she scuttled off back towards her native Beijing.

The cultural day featured The Great Lama’s Residence, Yak Butter Scripture Temple (a huge butter sculpture in a refrigerator of a modern temple), then the Huangzhong Huanghe Cultural Museum. From there I wandered to Huangzhong County Museum, and a Tibetan Museum by the Mayigou lake/reservoir. I’d already walked the pleasant area around the reservoir the day before. Today I aimed for the food festival site at it’s far end.

I joined a Tibetan family’s stall and ate a kind if bread with lamb inside. This came with a spicy coleslaw-like salad and some rolled dough noodles (擀面皮 gǎnmiànpí). It was all delicious and a fantastic way to feel full on a walk back. That and an ice cream.

Frustrating things happen. That’s life. Some conversations lack progression or clarity. That’s the way of life. The important thing is to be polite and patient.

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*pause*

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*thinking*

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*puzzlement*

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*does not compute*

“Show me your vaccine certificate.”
I complied.

“Did you leave China since coming to China?”
“No.”

“Please wait a moment.”
Minutes pass.

“When did you enter China?”
I repeatedly point at my passport entry date stamp.

Questions about where I was yesterday, the day before, last week follow.
“So, you have no job?”
“I’m a teacher. I am on holidays.”

Guess the next question.
I ignore the train conductor. Until the next visit. This time she has an array of questions…

I was asked why I was on holidays; how I have worked in China since the pandemic; why I have no wife; why I didn’t go back to the UK; why I didn’t stay at home; which school I worked at; do the school allow travel; do the school know where I am; why am I travelling alone. I had an audience around me. One person insisted on translating for me. A kind stranger. One passerby stood an recorded it on his phone. I imagine I’ll be on TikTok/Douyin soon enough. After all of that I was none the wiser as to what I’d done wrong. Perhaps I’d stolen some hotel soap. I didn’t want to leave the bar of soap to be wasted. Perhaps, I didn’t give my first pet’s name?

Tuesday’s 8am train from Xining railway station arrives at Chaka Lake by 12:10. The hard sleeper service cost 275RMB return, but it meant sprawling out with a book would be possible, and not a hard seat for the bottom. The Gaoyuanhong Inn would provide a night’s sleep before returning at 17:10 on Wednesday for a 21:30 arrival in Xining. That should fit in a trip to the Dongguan Mosque (东关清真大寺; Dōngguān Qīngzhēndàsì) before departing Xining…

Chaka Lake and Chaka Khan are two very different things. The latter is a Singer-song writer, born in 1953, famed for I’m Every Woman and Ain’t Nobody. Chaka Salt Lake is often known as the ‘Mirror of the sky.’

Zai jian! Goodbye!

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 IV: Rainbow Mountains

How do!

Here we go again…

A little later than expected the Z6207 train rolled into Zhāngyè (张掖) Railway Station. The Lanzhou to Xinjiang Railway (兰新铁路/Lánxīn Tiělù) Service was not expected to terminate there. It would carry on to somewhere along the 1904km (1183 miles) line, perhaps even Ürümqi itself. The train Oliver and I had arrived on was not the train we were supposed to arrive on. We were supposed to have arrived on the 12th by 12:51. Here we were, in Zhangye, on the 13th, at 16:40. Our replacement train had been six hours late leaving Yinchuan in Ningxia, so that had long missed the connection at Lanzhou West in Gansu. We’d looked at countless alternative routes, alternative plans, flights and in the end, just waited. No simple solution presented itself. Many dull hours in Yinchuan station led to us boarding a train and waking in Lanzhou, to then tackle 12306 Chinese Railway customer services, with a handful of crap Chinese and a bucketful of determination. With regret, we opted for a 5 hour train journey in standing room only. By room, there was little room, although for the last hour of the journey, we managed to sit down. The train was cooler than the outside 38°C.

After arriving the local security and medical team at the station made us supply dates of travel, PCR (COVID-19) test results, green codes, phone numbers, places we intended to stay and our pet dog’s mother’s maiden-name. It was just a small hiccup in an otherwise wonderful travel. COVID-19 had seen many people pull their masks up as we approached. A very thoughtful act! Their saliva and spray from breathing could no longer get in our pathway. Some even jumped out of our way. Being vaccinated and the current pandemic has made many question our arrival dates into China. My standard response is, “Wǒ cóng 2020 nián 3 yuè 26 rì kāishǐ zài zhōngguó, wǒ yǐjīng liǎng nián méiyǒu chūguò guóle.” I may get that on a T-shirt: 我从2020年3月26日开始在中国,我已经两年没有出过国了。I have been in China since March 26th, 2020. I have not left the country in two years. Maybe on the back of my new Manchester City shirt?

The first thing we did was say hello to Waits and then go for dinner, an early one, a local dish of chicken in thick noodles and plenty of sauce. Waits had recommended it. We devoured it. Little remained. Following that we enjoyed a walk around the Zhangye Wetland Reserves (a Ramsar site: Ramsar is in Iran and happens to be where the 1971 Convention on Wetlands was held). The Hēihé (Black River or Weak Water/弱水/黑河) banks give this fragile temperate desert environment a surreal edge. It is a set of oases – some small oasis, some huge. I spied a Baer’s pochard (Aythya baeri), some gulls and a stork flying over. The water, in the evening, had cool fresh feel, lowering the temperature of the air around. It gives life in a tough place to live. We talked a little before all retiring to our hotel, leaving Waits to drive the short road home.

On the recommendation of Waits, the Zhangye Pingshan Grand Canyon (平山湖大峡谷; Pingshanhu Daxiagu) became our destination for our first morning in Zhangye. We hired a taxi to the destination for 229RMB. With access, via tickets costing RMB, and paths spanning out to the 1040 square kilometres filled with red-layer Mesozoic Jurassic rocks and sands. Gullies, stacks, sandstone mountains and years of erosion capped with grasses, small shrubs and few signs of trees as the near-sterile mountain swept over an almost-infertile great distance to the barren desert below. Here, Oliver and I wandered and explored the desert area, where it was spitting and cloudy. The toasting desert temperature of 35°C dropped to a pleasantly mild 22°C. After our wanderings we headed to the car park, and the Didi app failed us. We tried in vain to get a taxi. No joy. Not until Oliver managed to ask a hotel to help us. A kind woman taxi driver offered to get us to our next port of call for 258RMB (including an 18RMB toll charge).

Looking back as the taxi car pulled onto the new highway, the towering mountain-scape beyond the canyons looked dark green. The aspens, spruces and cypresses soon disappeared and the bleak desert surrounded the highway for some time. Soon after passing through the tollroad, the car slid into a long tunnel appearing beyond a range of mountains closer to Zhangye’s city. The car slowed and the driver explained something, and that her friend would carry on the journey. Her friend drew alongside our car and we were delivered on the roadside like contraband. Her friend was a talker, and never shut up yapping, even after Oliver and I fell asleep. We awoke as the car skidded to a halt at another of Zhangye’s Danxia landforms. The driver took my Wechat for contacting later and pushed for us to use her taxi on the way back. I declined, because we didn’t want to be rushed. I said I’d order her taxi later and pay. She agreed but still persisted. I said to her, “Do not wait.”

The colourful mountains of 张掖七彩丹霞旅游景区 (Zhāngyè Guójiā Dìzhìgōngyuán/Zhangye Qicai Danxia Scenic Spot) rise and fall like towering sea waves. They are devoid of life. Few plants grow. This is the driest area of the desert. The strata of rocks displays multitudes of colour over an area of around 510 square kilometres (200 square miles). The public access to the park is limited to a handful of areas to prevent erosion. The organic sediments make for a rainbow effect with colours often hard to describe. I went with blue-yellow, but Oliver said it was green. We couldn’t agree. Iron, trace minerals, sands, salts, uplifted sediments and silicilastic rocks make for a vivid and overwhelming landscape. Hematite (a kind or iron oxide), Danxia formations, yellowing metallic sulfurous rock, green chlorite rich clays and purple slithers give the eyes a challenge to decipher the blend of colours. Cameras do not do the region justice. Watching sunset here was a treat, just like the superb market Waits recommended for dinner afterwards! Gansu knows how to do beef noodles!

The shuttle buses, walkways and guided routes of the Zhangye National Geopark are a must. Long may people witness the glory of nature’s Qilian foothills. At first Oliver and I were disgruntled at being corraled along a pre-designated route, but the volume of people (easily tens of thousands) merited the passing of numerous gift shops, cafes and hot air balloon ride areas. The millions of years that have seen dinosaurs and their terrain smashed to smithereens gives us the impressive ‘Rainbow Mountains’. Tourism is under regulation to allow for that to continue. The 74RMB ticket includes the shuttle bus journey. Walking solo is now banned. Walking out of the exit gate after our wander, and checking my phone, I spied I had 8 missed calls from the taxi driver who had got us there. Just as I looked up, Oliver said, “Here’s the driver!” And, she tried to push us to move faster. I purchased some delicious apricots and Oliver browsed the souvenirs casually. Eventually we boarded her car. She had gained another customer who was sat waiting. We went back to the city. She dropped off the man, and he paid 200RMB. At which stage, we were famished, and decided to find food there. We told the pleasant but pushy taxi driver. She then demanded 450RMB! We agreed at 100RMB. She had tried to rip us off.

At 东大街 (Dond DaJie) we found 甘州市场 (Ganzhou food market; Ganzhou is the old provincial name) and ate twisted dish noodles (without fish). Cuōyúmiàn 搓鱼面 looks like fish, beef noodles and a crispy crunchy 洋芋擦擦 (potato wipe?). It was so good, that we went there the next day for lunch and ate like pigs, drank lemon water like it was going out of fashion and chilled in the heat. The day had taken us around Zhangye’s city centre to see the old wooden pagoda (西来寺; 50RMB not well spent), Great Buddha Temple (大佛寺: to see a lay down 34.5m long Buddha; 40RMB well spent) and the Bell & Drum Tower (rebuilt 1668, which now doubles up as a traffic roundabout; 10RMB entry). The city of Zhangye has much to offer, but sadly time was limited. With Waits being busy, I decided, over a cold Dayao (大窑: an Inner Mongolian soft drink that tastes like bubblegum), to depart the day after Oliver.

Oliver departed, on Thursday, by Didi taxi car to the Lanxin Second Railway/Lánxīn tiělù dìèr shuāngxiàn (兰新铁路第二双线) Zhangye West Station (张掖西站) and I turned right from the food market area. His connecting flight in Shenzhen being a week or so away, and my need to carry on wandering led to the shaking of hands and goodwill words. Now solo, I wandered around the city’s many parks and then went for a late afternoon nap. Afterwards, I met Waits for dinner and nattered until late.

Departure for myself came the next morning (Friday), again from Zhāngyē Xī Zhàn. Here I caught the D4011 to Jiayuguan. As it was available, I grabbed a first class train ticket for 125RMB. I wouldn’t usually do that, but as Chester-born comedian Jeff Green used to say, “F**k it, I’m on holiday!” So, I sat comfortably and enjoyed the plains, mountains, and rolling parallel railway.

Ta’ra for now!

Waits (& see: City)

Dear all, interested or not, especially Blues,

I’ve known Waits since I joined Shenzhen Blues way back in 2014-ish. The oddity of it all, is that he and I hadn’t met in person until July 2021. Arriving in the old Zhangye Railway Station I spot Waits by the railway station entrance immediately. His sky blue t-shirt emblazoned with MCFC was exactly what I had expected to see. Us Blues stand out. What amazed me most is that Zhangye is 2865km from Shenzhen. There are no direct flights, and certainly no direct trains. The quickest flights via Lanzhou are 5 hours and 50 minutes.

Brother Waits.

Waits has been following Manchester City for years. We’re not talking about a glory-seeker at all. He latched onto the singers of the blues on the back of a certain Sun Jihai. He’s endured seasons of toil and mid-table football, before the good times came along. He even said he preferred watching City from 2001 to 2009. Most City fans have that romantic lust for those times. The expectation and the angry eye of the media these days can be all-so-consuming. He’s sat up at all hours of day to see the famous sky blue and white team play umpteen teams over land and sea… and Stretford. He’s one of our own.

Submitted December 2019 to SZBs.

Over the years I have acted as his football jersey mule, occasionally sourcing one or carrying his Classic Football Shirt orders from my Mam’s house to China. His collection, his famed home-office (man cave?) is full of City. Tencent and QQ media have interviewed him. He was interviewed for Shenzhen’s live fan gathering at the end of the last season. He’s featured on City’s Inside City shows and other places too. Sometimes, I wonder why Manchester City’s China office hasn’t offered him a position (of remote working). His passion for teaching English and his love of City is for all to see.

Waits reply to his best goal: “SWP nearly zero angle shot”

Waits has translated the poem This Is The Place by Tony Walsh, with permission. The Chinese edition featured in Dongguan’s defunct HubHao magazine and online. Shenzhen Blues also published it to Manchester City fans in China. For years Waits has translated Manchester City’s On This Day information, statistics, facts, stories and tales of City folklore. He’s encouraged young and new fans alike, giving advice, passion and fairness accordingly. He has championed the Champions before they won leagues, cups and trophies (this century). Recently, he translated an interview between Mark McCarthy (Manchester City Match Worn Shirts, MCMWS) and Pete ‘The Badge’ Berry.

这是我和@Waits 还有@二蛋💭 一起运营的公众号,会发一些曼城相关的好玩内容。欢迎订阅!
Miranda, @Waits and @二蛋 are running this public account. It will share some interesting content about City on it. Come and subscribe!Go on!

His favourite game remains City beating Tottenham Hotspurs having gone 3-0 down to come away 4-3 winners. Considering the games that have passed since, he’s sticking to that one game. He even chooses Kevin Keegan as top gaffer over the elite leaders that have managed the Citizens since. He told me once that he translated subtitles for There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble! Hey Manchester City China, “Go on, give it to Waits!”

Shenzhen Blues in Zhangye… and a mad Aussie called Oliver.

Waits has much more to him than football. Whilst he plays it with students and local Zhangye folk, he can often be found strumming his guitar. A few renditions of Blue Moon have been heard over the years. And, in recent years he has welcomed Amos to his family alongside Mrs Waits. The family can enjoy tales of how Waits was raised on a cavalry base by his mother and father. They can discover their Sichuanese heritage, without taking a panda! Whilst Waits asked more questions, than I asked him, when he spoke, he spoke in an articulated way about all manner of things. I learned about Zhangye’s three Buddha statues. One standing, one crouching (tired) and one resting.

Wandering chitchat Blues

One thing, I can say about Waits is that his English is fantastic. He asked me, “What do you think of my English accent?” I think I hurt him, with my joking response, “It sounds Chinese.” In actual fact, his English is very clear and follows a British tone similar to that found on Downton Abbey and other TV drama shows set in England. I probably have only met a dozen Chinese-born people who have such a great spoken English accent. Obviously, Waits is not speaking Mancunian-nasal tones but his heart is definitely in it! Innit.

A small snack of kidney, liver, stomach, intestines and breads. The local Zhangye food was delicious!

Ode to Hart


Time, flows in passing days,
Memories, flashes now and then,
And my tears, reluctantly falling,
Falling like I’m faking falsely by no means.

No more you on the pitch
No more your passion, your shouting and your encouragement
No more your commitment, no more your fighting, your joy and regret
Because I know, gone is gone
Like your waving to us
Your clapping, and your farewell words

“We are all grown man, we get over with it.”
Happy 30th, my HART. Happy everyday
It’s not something I won’t let go
It’s you.

They may forget, but I won’t
They may laugh, and I won’t
Neither will I forget nor will I laugh
I will keep it in my heart and keep you my SOUL AND HART

 Waits [April 19th, 2017]

Dinner and a local brew.

I hope that the next time I see Waits, we can enjoy a good old chinwag and I’ll get to know more about him. It was good to hear him talk with enthusiasm about how my Mum with Paul visited him on his trip to Manchester to see his first City game. I liked his response to how a City steward offered him tickets to Old Trafford swamp to see that lot play and he flat out refused, pointing to his badge. Pride in battle indeed. Until next time I meet Waits, I consider him a great friend and a wonderful person to know (with great English).

  1. 你为什么追随曼城?Why do you follow Manchester City?
  2. 你最深刻的曼城记忆是什么?What’s your favourite Manchester City memory?
  3. 你最钟情的曼城球衣是哪几件?What are your favourite Manchester City shirts?
  4. 说出你心目中的曼城最佳阵容。Name your all-time Manchester City XI (eleven).
  5. 这个赛季最终的结果将会如何?How will this season end?
  6. 你去过曼彻斯特吗?如果没有,你梦想去那里旅行吗?Have you been to Manchester? If not, do you dream to travel there?
  7. 在中国,你会推荐外国城迷们去哪里参观?他们应该尝尝哪些中国的食物呢?Where do you recommend City fans see in China? What food should they try?

如需提交您的问题或者答案,请发送电子邮件至 acton28@hotmail.co.uk,或者联系微信:acton28

To submit your questions and answers, please e-mail acton28@hotmail.co.uk or send a WeChat message to: acton28.

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…

Blue Baron in battle.

The evening is March the 30th, in the 2021st year of the common era. Sergio Aguero has announced his decision to leave Manchester City.

Left leg. Right leg. Lower calf here, there and everywhere. Over the right shoulder. One to the elbow. In the right arm’s antecubital space. Also, the olecranal area above the elbow. They’ve got the measure of me. Wheal, really here. Them and their allergenic polypeptide!

Within minutes a puffy and reddish bump appears in one or two regions. Flaring up! Up to a day later, harder, more itchy incarnations show. On the right hand a small blister crests a knuckle. Allergic reactions of the microscopic level pus up to the macroscopic scale. Circumscribed erythema is on show. My hypersensitivity makes me feel like a monster.

I have had it up to here! No more! Mr Nice Guy has left the building. Diptera’s Nematocera family of Culicidea has been notified. War is coming. This tropical climate with its above thirty degrees of heat has openly spawned a swarm of camouflaged terror. Now, it’s time to fight back.

Left hook, open palm. Splat! Diving divinely off the sofa hands out like a rugby player forming a W-shape. Splat! That Dongguan Bulldogs tag rugby came in useful there. A lunging stamp. Game over. A swooping swirling slap onto the wood frame. Squashed like a boiled potato under a masher. As one sharply rises, seeking to blind me in the lighting, it doesn’t know I’ve been watching Reach For The Skies, and I let off thunder. No more flying for her. This Spitfire is out manoeuvring mosquitoes tonight. This one evening alone, I’ve been the Ivan Kozhedub of flying aces. Ten have met my fury.

For future use, my Johnson 3.0W Raid plugin hasn’t been enough. Nor has closing the windows. Mosquito foolproofing in numerous forms hasn’t worked at all this assault. The Blitzkrieg is upon me. The Erich Hartmann mosquito squadron armed with jet Messerschmitt Me 262s are here. Mosquito season is firmly in play. Even as I write this I’m distracted by the Alien-looking flight as one darts over me with its legs hanging back as if in a state of airborne crouch. The Red Baron of attack is out there lurking, waiting to feed…

We fight on. Itching all the way. Wish me luck. Until next time!

XinJiang: Itinerary

你好 / nǐ hǎo / How do, here we go again…

“Hey, are you coming to Ürümqi with me?”, an Aussie called Oliver clamoured. By clamoured, I mean kind of yelled, bawled, wailed or yawped but not in a negative kind of way. You see, Oliver is one of those nice Australian folk who happen to be part human, part megaphone. I don’t think I have heard him whisper. Not once. It may be the only way to get heard over his 21 grade 5 students. I’m not sure. But, anyway, he definitely said it in a voice where people in the far of Dongguan could have heard, or perhaps even the people of Ürümqi heard a little.

We were sat eating ‘shāokǎo (燒烤)‘ and not because barbecue is an Australian’s go-to meal. We’re not reinforcing stereotypes here! It was Friday evening, after school. Laura’s fella was having his birthday and it felt like a good thing to do. A mixture of Chinese, Spanish, French, Moroccan and Venezuelan, American, Australian and British people outside a Xinjiang-family’s restaurant eating great lamb, livery bits and other wonderful breads on a Friday after a long hot week seemed like a good idea. The Wusu beer and Nángbĭng (新疆烤馕 flat bread) went down a treat, following spicy peppers, mushrooms and okra. the chäyza (茄子, qiézi) was a little spicy but pealed away on my chopsticks delightfully. With Oliver’s words in my ears, I told him how I planned to go see my mate Waits up in Gansu province, but it would be a little rushed and not easy to get there and back again.

Having tried to order a rice dish polu (抓飯, zhuāfàn) containing raisins and carrots, I gnawed on meaty lamb skewers (新疆羊肉串) covered in red pepper flakes, cumin seeds and various peppers. The salty taste complimented the juicy flesh well.Oliver growled on, “Come see the Jiaohe ruins, mate.” The Jiāohé Gùchéng (交河故城) ruins have been on my radar for some time.The word mate has been echoing since the day I met Oliver in August, “Would you like an orange juice, mate?” He swiftly blended an orange or two with ice and has been ever-present at school in positive form.And now, after a recent December wander in Yunnan, he’s telling me Piotr and I are being called upon. He’s putting the band back together.

Elwood: “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.” Jake: “Hit it.” – The Blues Brothers starring John Belushi & Dan Ackroyd

Flights were booked hastily and probably without due diligence. Hand me the international baccalaureate risk-taker profile certificate please, Now, it’s time to book a swab test for the old COVID-19 proof that freedom of travel is okay. Then, there’s the weather. It could be a sandstorm, blizzard, snow, or sunny. Depends on the zone. And because China has one timezone, sun rises later and earlier than here in Dongguan. Next Sunday, sun rises around 07:46hrs over Ürümqi and sets at 20:39hrs. More than an hour later in difference than here in Dongguan! So, I am sat here with about a week to go making a loose itinerary. One that sadly won’t take in the songs of Dilraba Dilmurat. All this information research has happened inside a day. Pages 502-515 of the DK Eyewitness Travel China edition have been read. All this because of Oliver! Not Lionel Bart’s Oliver! Our very own colleague, Áleifr (the name meaning ancestor’s descendent) has set about a trip to a region of Uyghurs 维吾尔/Wéiwú’ěr) people one of China’s 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities. The region itself is a hotbed of multiculturalism and history.

On arriving, as I land in Ürümqi a day before Oliver, because I believe in maximum holiday time, the Xinjiang Silk Road Museum (新疆丝绸之路博物馆) next to the Grand Bazaar at No. 160 Shengli Road should be visited. Here I hope to find more information before Oliver lands on the Sunday, and hopefully catch Piotr up, who will already be there. The lay of the land and a good map may be helpful. My friend Ty, of Murray’s FC. has already said he will put us in contact with a driver and a guide from his home town area. Maybe I’ll look up sand therapy. Sadly, far east of there is Hāmì (哈密), famous for sweet melons of the same name, although the area and its fascinating ‘Devil City’ moniker intrigues. As does the ‘Ghost City‘ around Karamay and Wuerhe.

Nature needs to be seen and the receding faster than my hairline Urumqi No. 1 Glacier (乌鲁木齐1号冰川; wū lǔ mù qí 1 hào bīng chuān) seems to be a good start. Half of China’s 20,000 glaciers are all located in Xinjiang, and its proximity to the peak of Kyrgyzstan-Chinese Jengish Chokusu (托木尔峰) makes sense. That towering peak (7,439 m/24,406 ft) forms the roof of the poetically-named Mountains of Heaven (Tiān Shān 天山) mountain range heavily influences the geology and geography of the whole region. They’re part of the Himalayan orogenic belt so there’s certainly diverse terrain near to Ürümqi. Time spent in one of the world’s most remote and distal (to any seas) shall be a new experience.

At 6000-year old Turpan (tǔlǔfān/吐鲁番), there’s Huǒyàn (火州 place as hot as fire), the Flaming Mountain (火焰山 Huǒyànshān) to the north, an irrigation exploration at Kariz (meaning well) Well (吐魯番坎儿井乐园) and the Sugong Minaret(苏公塔) to the east. The Bezeklik Grottoes could be possible. Then there’s the Apandi people and their Grape Valley (葡萄沟), the Bezeklik Grottoes (Bózīkèlǐ Qiānfódòng 柏孜克里千佛洞), Gāochāng Ancient City (高昌古城), and the Astana cemetry (阿斯塔那古墓 Āsītǎnà Gǔmù). There’s certainly the oasis-village Turoq valley (吐峪沟 tǔyùgōu) 70km away. Travel around the region may be difficult but the lure of rail travel hold strong. Two railway lines pass through the region: 南疆铁路; Nánjiāng tiělù; and one from Lanzhou (兰新铁路第二双线). Seems Turpan will need a few days. And that’s before finding information on Biratar Bulak. I hear this region is often nicknamed as China’s Death Valley. Earth’s second-lowest depression is an incredible 155 metres (509 feet) below sea level! The world’s largest Naan stove sounds more at home in the U.S.A. but can be found at Darwaz. I’ll try and convince Oliver and Piotr to go.

The journey to the west will hopefully meet with less difficulty than the Monkey King met. In Journey to the West, by Ming dynasty writer, Wu Cheng’en, the protagonist met a wall of flames, which was likely at Xinjiang’s Flaming Mountain. Uighur (the people of the region) legend has it that a dragon lived in the Tianshan mountains (south of Ürümqi) but was slew by a hero who had grown annoyed at the dragon’s diets of children. That spawned the dragon blood to form a scarlet clot: eight valleys of the Flaming Mountain. One for each piece of the chopped dragon.

I told Waits that I’d go to Gansu in summer (because the UK is not a viable option) and from there I’d probably head to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors. The armies of Qin Shi Huang really should be marketed to the basketball crowd here. I’d buy a basketball shirt with Terracotta Warriors Basketball Club on it. Maybe I should suggest to T.W.I.S. that Terracotta Warriors International Society would make a good history club. Or perhaps, in summer, I will enjoy the humidity and heat of Dongguan. Nothing is certain, but optimism and positivity being made by our souls. Scatter!

To quote Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, “That’s all folks!” That reminds me, I have still never watched Space Jam, and I heard there is a sequel this year!

yǒu kōng zài jù / 有空再聚 / See you soon


Some possible places to stay include the below, just in case somebody needs to see where we can stay. Or not. It seems camping is ill-advised.

Hotels in Urumqi
Bestay Hotel Express Urumqi Hongshan:No.49 Yangzijiang Road, Shayibake District, Urumqi
Bayinhe Hotel Zhongshan:No.71 Wenhua Road, Tianshan District, Urumqi
Sheraton Urumqi Hotel:No.669 Youhao North Road, Sayibake District, Urumqi
Bogeda Hotel: 253 Guangming Road (光明路253号), Urumqi Tel: 0991-8863910
Xinjiang Metian International Youth Hostel: 726 Youhao South Road (友好路726号), Urumqi Tel: 0991-4591488
Pea Fowl Mansions: 489 Youhao South Road (友好南路489), Urumqi Tel: 0991-4522988
Yema International Business Clubhouse: 158 Kunming Road (昆明路158),Urumqi Tel:0991-7688888
Suba Hotel: 140 Gongyuan North Street (公园北街), Urumqi Tel: 0991-5590666
Siver Birches International Youth Hostel: 186 South Lake Road (南湖路), Urumqi Tel: 0991-4811428

Hotels in Turpan
Huozhou Hotel:Shuiyun Square, Donghuan Road, Turpan
Silk Road Lodges – The Vines:Muna’er Road, Muna’er Village, Turpan
Tuha Petroleum Hotel:No.230 Wenhua Road, Turpan
Jiaotong Hotel: 125 Laocheng Road (老城路), Turpan Tel: 0995-8531320
Turpan Hotel: Qingnian South Road, Turpan Tel: 0995-8568888
Xizhou Grand Hotel: 882 Qingnian South Road, Turpan Tel: 0995-8554000
Dongfang Hotel: 324 Laocheng Road, Turpan Tel: 0995-6268228

© Google Earth

#VisitDongguan2021

Good morning/afternoon/evening/night/day,

Wherever you are, make sure it is a good one.

6th February 2021. Day 1 distance cycled: 94km. Tongsha Reservoir and Ecological Park (同沙生态公园) was the route chosen. Lodged beside the 107 National Highway, beginning at the Dongcheng District, the reservoir and ecological park stretches towards Foling Reservoir, linked by a stretch of road at the unknown named temple (under construction at grid reference 22.971147108234454, 113.82079775499022). The area is great for cycling, picnics, and walking. It has a mix of managed and wild forestry. There’s the odd farm selling fruits such as passion fruits, bananas and other such desideratum fruits. There’s often a good melody of bird calls and some wildlife can be found throughout, although patience is needed. The best way to enjoy the park, in my humble opinion, is on two wheels. There are some side cycle routes and the loop road throughout the area is safe enough to cycle on (with care). There’s a shop somewhere on the west flank and one towards the southern entrance (with cycle hire) which allows for snacks and refreshments. I often cycle to this parkland area just to buy my honey. I’ve yet to try flying kites or picking my own fruits. This park is the place for such joys.

On my return cycle, I swung by Songshan Lake and rolled through a new park (Central Park – ZhongXin GongYuan is next to 梦幻百花洲), discovering an abandoned theme park ruins and a good place to park my bottom whilst swigging a cup of hot cappuccino. Looking back at the day spent in a wetland and ecological park only built in 2006, I thought how quickly nature had taken hold of the area. For a teenage park, it has much more potential to blossom. The huge 40 square-kilometre region has small mountains, water bodies, flowery meadows and plenty of leafage. After that ride, I ate Hunan food with my friend Melody and then had dinner in Nancheng. It was a very pleasant day indeed.

7th February 2021. Day 2 distance cycled: 85km. Alongside my Spanish colleague Jaime, we set off for the most south-western point of Dongguan. We’re not allowed to leave Dongguan during the Chinese New Year festival. It’s part of the pandemic control. It makes sense. Why risk it? So, we headed to a place that overlooks Shenzhen’s most north-western tip. The new ecological park at JiaoYi Bay is so new that on arrival we found that most of the wild areas were under construction. The Marina Bay New District is being. Some land reclamation, some sea landscaping and plenty of soil was being moved. Still it was easy to work out what the end product would be. A Dongguan government propaganda piece has a alerted me to the area, and it wasn’t a bad wander. However the ride through Chang’an town and much of Dalingshan on the way there was an anticlimax. The ride back following the Dongbao river wasn’t bad even if sometimes the cycle path just vanished or had a construction site over it.

8th February 2021. Day 3 distance cycled: 70km. I went out for a coffee. I had no intention to do more than 20km. Songshan Lake has many inlets and side roads. Some areas are under intense building work, whilst others have immense environmental projects here and there. And then there’s Europe. Huawei’s European town is tacky and classy. It’s cheap and it’s extravagant. It’s simple and it’s complex. I’m unsure how I feel about this stack of contradictions. Although it does have a pretty cool railway system, I worry the scale is so large and so imposing that in a country struggling between Western and Eastern cultural identity that this piece of luxury is one step too far. Ox Horn Campus has 12 town styles inside it. And it seems to be growing, year on year, like a sinister James Bond nemesis set.

9th February 2021. Day 4 distance cycled: 0km. Today was our Murray’s F.C. x DGFC 30-man football tournament on Dongcheng rooftop. Between us all we had 5 teams, two fields (both 5 and 6 a-side) and a good evening of football, followed by beers and food at One For The Road and then Hollywood Baby Too. After many games throughout three hours, I was shattered and sore. The holiday needed me to have more energy…

Until next time.

7 years and a day…

新年快乐 / Happy Lunar New Year

It’s been seven years and a day since I arrived in China. There should be a lengthy piece of writing about that, but looking back is already documented. So, let’s look forward together to joy, happiness, City being top of the league and all that wonderful uncertainty that we get to kick in the dick. Don’t let the bastards wear you down. 2021 is the year of the (metal white?) Ox and we’re off and running.

To those lunatics who follow the lunar New Year, I wish you a happy new year. To those who follow the sun, you commit lunacy by not obeying the order of the moon. Each to their own. Blue moon will be played over the noise of the fireworks outside or maybe Saving Private Ryan is more appropriate.

To the future. So, what now?

Ta’ra / 再见

Idyllic Wild

新年快乐!Happy New Year!

The road from Feilaisi (飞来寺) is long and winding, with concrete under foot or wheel. Towering on the opposite side of the valley is Kawagarbo (6740m) and Yunnan province’s highest point. The roads bend and wind up and down to a checkpoint. At this point, one must surrender 27.5RMB. This gains you access to the Yubeng village scenic area (雨崩村). Starting an ascent at Xidang Spring (西当温泉), my colleagues Javier and Carmen headed up alongside me. We were to follow a trail marked by green bins. The spring of the village was rather an anti-climax.

Javier surveys the spring.

Those green litter bins and new saplings littered the pathway upwards. The path would zigzag across numerous dirt tracks and one under construction concrete road. For the entire ascent, I stopped only once for hot milk and some water in a tiny rickety-old-shack. The pleasure cost me a staggering 130RMB. The man had seen me coming. Each half litre bottle of water was 10RMB and the milk was 110RMB. The man charged 200RMB for noodles to a group calling by. In the future, always enquire about prices before accepting goods. I did wonder how at least 500 noodle pots stacked up at the wooden lodge’s side hadn’t improved the roughness of the building.

The route up had a positive gain of over 1100 metres. At its highest point, my lower legs enjoyed some much needed respite. At which point, a Snickers chocolate bar, not my favoured choice, tasted marvelous. I’d passed through some great panoramic viewing points before reaching Yubeng Upper Village (雨崩上村). Nazongla Yakou (那宗拉垭口) wasn’t too dramatic, but the views on entering Yubeng certainly brought a beaming smile to my face. A good 6 hours from Xidang to YuBeng was needed. On arriving, I checked into the Yak Butter Inn.

The Yak Butter Inn has a flowery name. It should be renamed to something feline like a cattery. The lodge has numerous large moggies strutting around. Young long-haired fuzz balls can be seen curled up in various baskets and cushions. A lone dog limps around, evidently resigned to being shy of any further pack members. The pleasant warmth of a wood stove heats one corner of the room, as the sun licks through windows at another. A busy kitchen emits fragrances of common Chinese cuisine and piping hot teas. A young cat thwacks my leg with its paws seeking attention.

Yak Butter Inn cattery

I elect to stay at the Yak Butter Inn for one night. A night in a shared dormitory reminds me that I no longer want that kind of experience. Farting, belching, snoring and a roundabout of lights-on, lights-off motions are one thing. Hearing Douyin/TikTok at every hour is another. With my colleague Oliver and his entourage arriving the following evening, I changed lodges. Two nights later, we changed lodges again. No rooms at the second inn, due to New Year bookings. The kind Tibetan owner had served us great Pu’er teas (普洱茶) and good hearty hiking food.

Before Oliver arrived, Carmen, Javier and I wandered upwards to the Sacred Waterfall (神瀑). A gain of 600 metres altitude. It being winter, the waterfall was mostly frozen and receding. The valley walk up from Yubeng Lower Village (雨崩下村) was gentle with a solid pathway built to guide tourists slowly in one direction and back again. CCTV and Chinese good luck shapes marked the route making it impossible to go off the beaten track. Walking poles needed a soft base and were generally of little use. The five hour round trip was pleasant enough with sweeping chains of prayer flags coating the latter stage of the route. Overflowing green rubbish bins and hundreds of scattered Red Bull drinks cans added shame to such a holy route. Chipmunks, adventurous and cute, sought treats amongst furry green moss-coated ancient trees. The cool fresh air a certain reward for stretching your legs out.

Sacred waterfall valley

Prior to walking up the valley, our trio had a few jumps and twists around the flowing streams that sit just above Lower YuBeng. The great boulders and pebbles are home to a logging camp which causes the water channels to splinter like roots from a tree. The transition into the old woodland beyond is chilling and in the shadow of the mountain. Like many places, frozen snow regulates the ambient temperature, giving a dark murky cool feel. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Master Yoda lived here. An icy world in opposition to the sun dried bank over the gentle flow of the stream. Perfect for Jedis in hiding.

A six to seven hour walk from Yubeng Upper Village (雨崩上村) via Xiaonong Base Camp (笑农大本营) gets you to the cold dry icy landscape of the Ice Lake (冰湖) at 3900m, nestled beneath Kawagarbo. The great overhanging peak condensed with snow from seasons of snowfall and heavy wind looms overhead. The wind reminds you of nature’s power, driving in, swirling and biting sharply. Remnants of receding glacier shelves and loose looking snow shelves linger menacingly. They will fall one day. The Ice Lake lived up to its name. Some of the ascent (around 800m gain) that day necessitated crampons. My tough boots bore the brunt of careful footwork and one walking pole, as I climbed the challenging route. No crampons for some. The donkey tracks and frozen soil pathways before it zig-zagged up and down various forestry climates battering my boots into disrepair on the return journey. Rhododendrons, pines, cypress trees and other green species reflected various browns, reds and greys. It was a real rainbow of a route.

Great place to lay down and look up

Mother Nature has been busy here. The valleys around YuBeng are dramatic. They’re microclimates with epic visual proportions. Each has a mysterious feel to which evidently religion has become attached. They’re places of stories and tales, entwined to folklore and legend. As a devout daydreamer, they’re a place to let the mind go and wonder as you wander. Every twisted tree, shadowy rock or distant sound could start a new story. Farming, the traditional Tibetan ways, mixes with a blend of the modern and the local wooden builds make way for tourism-aimed metal and concrete lodges. Glamping has arrived, but the Tibetan pilgrimage routes remain. New stories will yet be told.

Abandoned cabin

Beyond the idyllic setting of managed walking routes, it’s possible to trek along an ancient Buddhist pathways. That pathway leads to a glacier, snuggled beneath Kawagarbo. Remembering that climbing the mountain is banned and ill advised, it’s possible to follow an ancient trail through woodland, across a grass plain into a kind of Alpine tundra. The evident altitude cools much of the area and ice watetfalls, streams and ponds are frequently found higher up. The thickness of mosses, lichens and bearded trees drape on wilder routes. The mountain hinterland maintains a natural ecological state, and away from the beaten track, it’s the best place to witness it. Leave only footprints. Certainly don’t attempt the long walk to Myanmar. But enjoy the diversity of fungi and lichens.

The Northwest of Yunnan has quickly become my favourite place in China. YuBeng is itself a piece of heaven on Earth. Perhaps the nearby city of Shangri La should hand over its adopted name to the village of YuBeng. This growing tourist hotspot will see many pilgrimages, changes and challenges in the coming years. Will it sustain its beauty? Only time and UNESCO status will tell. I was told around twenty households made up YuBeng in the last decade. Now, there’s a Guangdong restaurant, Hong Kong style guesthouses, plenty of Sichuan options and even a family from Shandong (Eastern China). It will be tough to retain the Tibetan charm and character. Like much of the world, this corner of Dêqên is becoming quite samey-samey. The same old KTV can be heard by a shattered water prayer wheel. Up the way, steamed Cantonese food can be ate, with an ancient Stupa baked under a solar powered streetlight. Mani stones hide behind new hotel signage. The old ways are slipping from sight.

I’ve experienced a little altitude sickness, for most of the region is over 3200m. Discomfort in sleeping for the first few days, some muscle exhaustion, breathlessness at times and minor headaches resolved mostly yesterday. Enough so to enjoy a light Shangri La Beers lager or two, with delicious fresh yak meat, at the insistence of our lodge owner.

Hung out to dry

This morning when I walked into dining area of the lodge, I thought the weather-beaten looking Tibetan men had all had an argument. The dozen men, that seem to be ever present within the lodge (under renovation and expansion), were sat one per table at various parts of the room. On getting my door key, I spied that they were all head down and deep into Mandarin Chinese writing and reading textbooks. I left them to study in peace, passed the hanging yak meat, locked my door and joined Oliver, Piotr and Benedict for breakfast at another lodge.

Piotr works for shell. Oliver had met him and others on the way up from Xidang. Sociable Oliver teaches to travel and travels well, making friends as he goes. Knowledgeable as he is, he can be a little loud, as is the Australian way for many. He’s a sound lad with a keen eye to see more, do more and learn more. It’s a pleasure to have him as a colleague at Tungwah Wenzel International School. He met Piotr and you’d think they were best friends. It’s pleasing to see. The two entered the ice cave, skidded on the ice lake and galloped up the glacier together. Some people are more astronaut than astronomer. I’m happy flirting between active and observer. The mountains are familiar and here I feel relaxed. Wandering around watching jays feeding in the undergrowth satisfies me just as much as ascending ridge lines. We did enjoy a little camp fire and tea though.

Somewhere like this

Sat reading Roald Dahl’s Someone Like You, on a moss covered rock, shaded from the bright sun, as it dropped below the mountains overhead will no doubt remain my favourite place to read for many years. The gentle stream underneath that feeds into either of the three great rivers makes me feel dreamy and sleepy. The Jinsha (later Yangtze), Lancang (later Mekong), and Nujiang (soon to be known as Salween) rivers come from the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. People from roughly 22 ethnic groups (Naxi, Lisu, Tibetan, Bai, Yi, Pumi, Nu, Dulong etc) live in and around the starting areas of these great rivers. One drop of rain water into this relatively narrow area of basins could end up in the Andaman sea by Myanmar, or flow by Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, or slip through Tiger Leaping Gorge towards Jiangsu and Shanghai. I look up from my book, watching a clump of ice break up and drift downstream. What a pleasant little journey.

Until next time…

The Last Broadcast

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

“So here we are; At the last broadcast; Here we are; Our last broadcast” – The Last BroadcastDoves

To the students, parents, colleagues, the principal, the parent/teacher association, the board of directors, and those concerned:

I write to say the deepest thank you to all of the above. I thank you for a sincere and wonderful experience at St Lorraine Anglo-Chinese Primary School. The experience was an excellent one and one that has helped our class take many more steps forwards than sideways. The classroom life may be drawn to a close this week, but we all leave here with unforgettable memories, a new port of calling for everlasting friendships and a sincere view of both Western and Chinese cultures. This will only serve to inspire and give us ample opportunity to gather smiles from our warm memories.

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Each year has seen new challenges and requirements. The advantages of enjoying such festivals of Children’s Day or Mid-Autumn Festival helps bring balance to the routine of the teacher’s daily life. We must be open and honest by evaluating our progress. What could we have done better? What could I have worked harder on? How can teamwork improve each and every single one of us? Take some time to review the matters that matter and invest energy and time into conquering obstacles.

Three school years is a long time to a child. It hasn’t felt so long to me. I haven’t met a single foreign teacher who has stayed with students for longer than two years. And at times, it has seemed like madness. Many students develop a familiarity that can mean that they now, what they can get away with. They know the limits of a teacher very soon. They know your blind spots of vision. Thankfully, 3F have been mostly wonderful. The days of Billy climbing me like a tree come to an end. There will be no Tony calling me “disgusting” at every opportunity. Marline’s daydreams and assortment of wonderful questions have come to an end. The quiet star Kitty can take her big voice to the next teacher. Marcus can talk about Lego and Aaron about travels with their next teachers. Roselle’s great artwork; Candy’s enthusiasm; Angela’s endless questions; Jimmy’s brilliant curiosity; Tyler’s reading passion; Leon’s sporting skills; Allen’s desire to lead every team; Alice’s requests for a new pet hamster; Evan’s lack of fear to pick up challenging reading materials; Kim’s conversations about her mammoth sleeping habits; Kristy’s great descriptive capabilities; Natalie’s cheerful drive for dancing; and Sabrina’s sense of humour. They will all be missed. These three years have been a privilege.

In the beginning there were lots of students, and through various reasons (change of location, new school choices), we’ve been reduced from 27 students to presently just 19 (although 2 have been unable to return this semester due to COVID-19). We had three fixed classrooms with temporary residence in one other classroom whilst mosquito guards were fitted. Everywhere we have been, we have tried as a class to decorate and leave a touch of our own warmth and creation there. From the original white walls, we made colossal suns, song words, signs, and warnings. There has been a blend of east and west, with lanterns, vases and hexagonal bee collages. Idioms have been learnt through curiosity and stacks of books lifted-up and put back down again.

When I first stepped into room 110 of St Lorraine Primary School, I was faced by a group of parents and colleagues. It was quite a friendly atmosphere and any nerves subsided soon enough. I was introduced to everyone by the principal, Mr Lam, and my co-worker Miss Zeng. Miss Zeng, or Cici as she is sometimes called would go on to be my co-worker for two years. Cici’s hobbies are sleeping and eating. Cake pillows are her dream. Throughout the initial year Cici really helped me communicate my ideas with the parents and create a pleasant feel for the class. Those foundation months were critical to where we are at now. Parents have been receptive and encouraging throughout my time with our class, our team and our journey. Many parents would be familiar faces throughout my three years with class 1F, 2F and ultimately 3F. I hope we all remain in contact. Miss Li has accompanied us throughout this third year of school. I wish them all the very best in the future.

Footballs have been humped around the field, kicked with passion and passed to friends. Rugby balls have looped over heads and basketballs dribbled through legs. There have been hours of games, laughter and creativity in action. Students have become teachers to me. English, like Chinese, is a wonderful and beautifully crafted language – and foreign teachers usually feel most welcome in learning your native tongue, whilst giving our all to give the students our command of English. The students enjoyed laughing at or teaching me one or two words throughout our time together.

Like I tell students, I advise them, “Don’t believe everything you hear and see.” In fact, believe nothing of what you hear, for until you see or hear, how do you absolutely know it to be true? A good environment needs a positive feel and respect, whether through reward or simple acknowledgment. All classes need classmates to be balanced in their manners and respectful. Don’t accept everything as it is. Look for ways to enhance and improve the working practices, without wasting time and passions. Encouragement is a valuable tool for students and teachers alike. Teachers such as Miss Huang (Minna), and Miss Cheng (Paris), amongst many can take their energy and give it to those they teach and work with. Over the years I have been lucky enough to meet many great people.

Life doesn’t get better by chance. It gets better by change. We adapt and we are flexible. Proper planning prevents poor performances, but that doesn’t always mean circumstances can be suited each time. Planning just makes us better prepared. Free time to do the things we love helps us come into school refreshed and ready to be effective. Holidays give us time to see family and planning such trips can be irritating and difficult. Uncertainty and discomfort can be avoided. That should be what a good teacher should always do. Avoid overworking and stay fresh for school. After all, that is something which we encourage our students.

Now, nobody’s saying the international class at St. Lorraine is the Garden of Eden, but it’s been a good home to us, to me, John Acton – and my students, who I’m proud of! Because every single one of them reminds me a little of… me. They can all think for themselves! Which they’ve their parents to thank for. Allen, who’s a bit loud! Aaron who is a lot like his sister, which is handy because she’s quiet and polite. Alice who bounces around like a ballet dancer. Our Billy, the little bucket of questions. Angela and her big smile. Candy, a model student until you take her pen away. Evan! The biggest trip hazard for a hundred kilogram plus-size teacher. Jimmy, a face of innocence with a head full of wit and humour. Kim and Marcus, fantastic neighbours for other students – until they open their mouths… and never close them! Kristy, who seems hellbent on making me bench press her bodyweight with, “Pick me up!” every other day. Marline, she’s gonna be a star, when she focuses. Natalie, skipping and hopping around with a big smile day after day. Roselle, she’s the student every teacher wants but only ever gets one of them. Sabrina, so curious and such a total angle. You’ve to check your desk but she’ll go miles out of her way to do you a favour. Tony and Tyler, full of energy, smiles and oddity. All of them, to a man, know first and foremost the most vital necessity in the classroom, is they know how to be part of a team. Let’s party! SCATTER!

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Turn off the subtitles, finetune your hearing and pick up those English newspapers, magazines and books. It’s always time to challenge yourself and push on for the next day of hard work. We can, little by little, make improvements. That’s why I’m saying thank you. You’ve improved me. Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop teaching. Look for those brighter and better days. The world’s future is calling you – and you must be ready for it. Anything is possible. A simple thank you is not enough. From the bottom of my heart to each and every one of you.

So, what now?

Yours in teaching; yours is passion for learning; yours truly and faithfully,

Mr John

The Final Report.

“Better three hours too soon, than one minute too late.” – William Shakespeare

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

The school year of class 3F of St. Lorraine Anglo-Chinese Primary School is drawing to a close. To follow on from the final reports of class 2F, here is an end of year review.

“授人以鱼不如授人以渔” [Shòu rén yǐ yú bùrú shòu rén yǐ yú] / “Give a man a fish and you feed him for one day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” – Chinese proverb

Education is a joint mission between schools, teachers and parents. A teacher will always need your help. We must work hard to discontinue inappropriate behaviour. We must work together to increase confidence and focus. Like parents, students must exercise consistent cooperation, show courtesy and good manners. The classroom should be like a family and a place of sanctuary from the world outside. Through escape we can nurture one another to develop rounded individuals and mature focused teams. The urge of distractions will be resisted and all will become an example of excellence in both behaviour and cooperation. Collectively class 3F have improved – even taking into account the difficulties faced during the pandemic.

“师父领进门,修行在个” [Shīfu lǐng jìnmén, xiūxíng zài gèrén] / “Teachers Open the Doors. You Enter by Yourself” – Chinese proverb

Groupwork and togetherness has been encouraged from an early age within our classroom environment. Teamwork is important. It encourages sharing and constructive improvements to one another. Students within 3F have demonstrated acceptance of recommendations, sensitivity towards thoughts and opinions and taken on varied roles within their teams. A good team needs a leader. Fairness needs a team to allow the leader to have a voice. By distributing, planning and carrying out task together, 3F have shown great encouragement to one another. For future teamwork, each student must continue to share and work together. Participation is often active, and little added encouragement is needed.

一口吃不成胖子” [Yīkǒu chī bùchéng pàngzi] / “it’s impossible to become fat with just one mouthful” – Chinese proverb

Behaviour and attitude are linked as one. Through enthusiasm we can encourage all to enjoy school. We will push initiative, creativity and give confidence to instinct. The full potential of each student must be strived for. As teachers we must be committed to doing our best and set an example to those learning from us. Only then can each student do their best. Students who take responsibility for their learning and seek new challenges are a joy to behold. Class 3F (just like 2F and 1F in previous years) has had many such examples from our students.

“未雨绸缪” [Wèiyǔchóumóu] / “Dig a well before you are thirsty” – Chinese proverb

Students must perform classroom tasks and respect their peers. Each student must have an honest and trustworthy character. When they deal with others, they should be encouraged to display citizenship and concern for the feelings of their peers. A dependable student is thoughtful, kind and helpful. The classroom, its belongings, and the possessions of others are to be treated with care and pride. Class 3F have overall earned trust and respected their enhanced classroom facilities. Social skills have improved. Most students are well-liked, friendly, and compassionate. Disagreements are natural and resolved accordingly. Fairness and understanding have made the classroom environment comfortable. During free periods there are no withdrawn students, and all engage in conversations or game play.

机不可失,时不再来” [Jī bùkě shī, shí bù zàilái] / “Opportunity knocks at the door only once” – Chinese proverb

Regarding communication skills, class 3F have fast become confident, bold and clear. They choose words with care, have a well-developed and often increasing vocabulary and express themselves clearly. They are vibrant and imaginative. Logical and persuasive arguments are coupled well with listening to the comments and ideas of others. Each student is now encouraged to be more patient and not interrupt one another.

“吃一堑,长一智” [Chī yī qiàn, zhǎng yī zhì] / “By falling we learn to go safely” – Chinese proverb

With regards to talents and interests, the students of 3F have a very well-developed sense of the world. They play drums and violins, dance, hike, eat new foods, travel and play games amongst a huge list of things. They hold a well-developed sense of humour and display many wonderful moments, that are completely unexpected. Their interests are shared, talked about and related to real world scenarios. Many students have an impressive understanding and depth of knowledge about their interests. Others are developing themselves and I have no doubt that many will become gifted performers. Within the classroom we have dramatic actors, passionate readers and musical students.

“种瓜得瓜, 种豆得豆” [Zhòngguā dé guā, zhòngdòu dé dòu] / “ You reap what you sow ” – Chinese proverb

Most students have well-developed independent learning skills. Self-motivation and hunger to learn is evident throughout the class. The work habits of the majority of class 3F is far above average. Several students require encouragement and support, and all should check their work before submission. Little mistakes can be erased by checking once, checking twice and checking again. There’s no harm in checking too much. Through a little supervision the less focused class members can grasp new concepts and ideas, whilst learning to display consistent self-discipline.

“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” – Miles Davies, Jazz musician.

Time management concerns homework, classroom assignments, tasks, groupwork and, overall, there has been an improvement. I’m a firm believer that students here have too much homework, and a reduction may be beneficial. It should be trialled accordingly. More creative homework would allow students to develop at different paces and express themselves individually.


“不怕慢, 就怕停”  [bù pà màn, jiù pà tíng] / “Be not afraid of growing slowly, be only afraid of standing still.” – Chinese proverb.

And with that, that’s all folks, well, kind of…

“请教别人一次是5分钟的傻子,从不请教别人是一辈子的傻子” [Qǐngjiào biérén yīcì shì 5 fēnzhōng de shǎzi, cóng bù qǐngjiào biérén shì yībèizi de shǎzi] / “He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” – Chinese proverb

Reach For The Stars

The below are comments meant for each student. I want every parent to know something unique about their student. It is important to give suggestions and open a discussion. Parents and teachers are doing the same job. We all want those little minds we are nurturing to blossom.

Attentive Aaron is committed to doing his best. Aaron has completed a great semester’s work. He should be really proud of his efforts. Aaron shows responsibility and follows directions whenever they are given. Aaron would benefit from showing a greater desire to contribute ideas in class. Aaron makes a good effort to make his handwriting legible. He is able to print on the lines, use good spacing, and form letters correctly. Encouragement of reading is a must for Aaron. Go on pick up more books!

Cheerful Alice appears well rested and ready for each day’s activities. Alice is a conscientious, hard-working student. Alice relates well to classmates and is appreciative of different perspectives and experiences. Alice works well with classmates in group work and often takes a leadership role. Alice is learning to offer more direct responses to her reading experiences supported by reasons, examples, and details. I encourage Alice to read more often.

Eager Allen seeks new challenges. Allen demonstrates a willing and conscientious effort in his daily work. Allen has done a great job facing and overcoming big challenges this year. Please continue to nurture and encourage this behaviour over the summer. Allen needs to show more appropriate behaviour when interacting with classmates. Allen is able to offer direct responses to his readings and supports ideas with sound reasoning and specific examples. Allen would benefit from opening new books often.

Imaginative Angela treats school property and the belongings of others with care and respect. Angela works independently. Angela manages her emotions maturely and responds to feedback appropriately. Angela needs to listen to directions more attentively during lessons. Angela needs to improve her cooperation in group settings. She should work on voicing feelings and opinions and listening to others. Angela shows good ability when completing reading comprehension tests. Angela is honest and trustworthy in dealings with others. Angela should remain curious and pick up new reading materials often.

Confident Billy often shows respect for teachers and peers. Billy is a cheerful and enthusiastic class member. He shows an interest in most learning tasks but often needs reminders to remain focused on his work. Billy needs reminding not to listen to any negative words of fellow classmates. Stay strong and focus on you. Don’t get too involved in the silly behaviours of others.  Billy needs frequent reminders to be attentive during instructions and lessons. Billy has a positive attitude towards math but continues to have trouble in a few key areas. He should practice every evening at home. Billy and books should be better friends.

Capable Candy is courteous and shows good manners in the classroom. Candy participates in class discussions and shares his ideas with others. Candy has achieved a personal writing goal by constructing an informative text without the use of a scaffold. She is now working towards punctuating her writing correctly. Candy shows maturity when solving problems with classmates and uses good communication. Candy continues to make excellent progress in spelling and reading. She works hard to submit work that is free of grammatical errors. By reading Candy will develop both her writing and imaginative skills.

Polite Evan is sometimes quiet and shy, but often vocal and creative. When reading, Evan uses a range of skills to identify the meaning of the text. Evan is accountable and responsible. He makes smart decisions, admits mistakes and listens to opportunities to improve. Evan listens to and follows directions precisely and attentively. Evan shows the ability to quickly use spelling, punctuation and grammar rules that were recently taught. He is able to quickly learn new skills and is eager to apply them to his writing. Evan is able to analyse character actions, story plots, and shows strong fluency with reading. Let’s all encourage Evan to read bigger scarier books!

Dynamic Jimmy displays the ability to reason, solve problems and resolve difficulties. During our paper making classes, Jimmy used reasoning and questions to understand the processes. Jimmy is confident, positive and a great role model for his classmates. It has been a pleasure to have Jimmy’s enthusiasm, positivity and maturity in my class. Jimmy demonstrates a good understanding of all math concepts studied and communicates with clarity and good justification of reasoning. Jimmy consistently demonstrates comprehension of short-spoken texts by answering questions, and explaining the events described. Jimmy’s head should be in a book more often.

Pleasant Kim displays an ability to work collaboratively. She takes responsibility in group tasks, listens to others and works towards a shared goal. An area of focus for Kim is to include punctuation (e.g. commas, capital letters, speech marks etc.) in her writing, as well as paragraph her ideas coherently. Kim is having a little difficulty with reading, particularly with fluency and comprehension. Take more time and care to read. Kim is creative and warm-hearted. There are many books she would benefit from reading.

Outgoing Kristy often follows directions promptly and accurately. Kristy should read before sleeping and at every other possible moment. A future goal for Kristy is to include more complex sentences, adding variance in sentence length to better engage the reader. Kristy consistently completes homework assignments. Kristy is frequently among the first to help and mentor other classmates. She is a valuable part of the classroom.

Courteous Kitty is a self-motivated student. Kitty is interested in her own learning, listens attentively, and makes a solid effort to avoid distractions that could interrupt the learning process. Kitty is focused during class and contributes ideas willingly. Every semester Kitty’s ability comes on in leaps and bounds. Her confidence is at a wonderful level now. Kitty’s hands would be best placed around a book, where possible.

Energetic Marcus, when focused within class, willingly participates in group discussion. Marcus is encouraged to demonstrate more responsible attitudes and behaviour in the classroom. An area to focus on for Marcus is his control. He needs to slow his work down and doublecheck everything. Review each piece of work for careless mistakes. Marcus is a very bright and sensitive boy. His understanding of science and geography is most pleasing. Marcus often looks for ways to be helpful in the classroom. Marcus has trouble with his handwriting. I believe he can form letters well, but has to slow down and take a little more time. Neater handwriting will improve his schoolwork overall. Marcus loves looking at new books. Marcus should get all the information from new books as often as possible.

Creative Marline has shown she can work independently and takes pride in work done well. A future goal for Marline is to proofread more carefully. Check everything with great detail. I recommend that Marline practices under test conditions. Marline will be much better prepared for any test or exam. Marline consistently needs reminders to use time effectively. Marline is easily distracted during math lessons and behavioural issues are interfering with her learning. In the future, she will be working on more difficult subjects and she will struggle if she does not pay attention in class. Marline would benefit from extra practice with reading aloud and discussion of content. Marline’s love of books needs to be encouraged.

Sincere Natalie is an absolute pleasure to teach. Natalie should pay particular attention to ensuring she has read the questions (or tasks) thoroughly. Natalie has shown excellent ability to set goals and be persistent in achieving them. Natalie’s (comprehension, spelling, reading) has greatly improved, but she still needs extra work in (comprehension, spelling, reading). Please contact me if you need supplemental learning materials to use at home for practice. It is imperative that Natalie finds time to read new books.

Cooperative Roselle demonstrates a real commitment to her studies and approaches new learning in an enthusiastic manner. She shows great initiative and commitment. She is highly organised and works independently when required. Roselle puts forth their best effort into homework assignments. I believe Roselle will benefit from trying her hand at creative writing. Roselle shows good ability when completing reading comprehension tests. Without doubt, Roselle must read books for an older level. She will benefit greatly from this.

Independent Sabrina exceeds expectations with the quality of their work. Sabrina readily grasps new concepts and ideas. Sabrina is dependable and reliable, follows directions effectively, and follows through on her commitments to herself and others. Sabrina is conscious of putting care into her daily writing work, and frequently goes beyond the minimum requirements for assignments. Little ‘Siri’ has a delightful mind that would benefit from new stories and adventures found in many books.

Resourceful Tony is thoughtful, insightful and thorough in written and verbal communication, and has a talent for expressing his ideas clearly. Tony requires encouragement to listen attentively during group sharing times. Tony has a good understanding of all math concepts taught so far this year. He continues to turn in excellent assignments and especially enjoys hands-on math activities. Tony consistently reads grade-level material independently. Tony has a great imagination that needs nurturing through new stories and books.

Constructive Tyler consistently reads grade-level material independently. Sadly, due to the pandemic, Tyler’s classes have been limited to video calls. The biggest reader in the class will no doubt have found his nose between pages of many books. Tyler’s questions and curiosity have sorely been missed in the classroom. He is an absolute model student with respect of his desire to share information and facts. Tyler’s passion for geography, science and technology and his mathematical skills will only improve. Keep going. Keep reading.

There have been other class members who have gone on to other schools (or classes). Rain, Justin, Kelly, Lewson, Henry, Victoire, Soffy, Jessie, Doris, Dongyee, Sharon, CK and Hardy. Poor old Leon is stuck in Japan due to the pandemic but his father tells me he is working very hard and improving in English. The people of the world are in a strange place but that doesn’t mean we have to worry. The pandemic will pass. We’ll be stronger because of it. Keep looking forwards and stay optimistic. Embrace change, because change is more normal than you may think. The weather changes. Socks [should] change. We grow. We should never stay the same. Change can be scary and worrying but being scared of something doesn’t mean you should hide from it. Why worry? How much of life can you control? Is worry constructive?

These last three years together have been a privilege and an honour. I wish every student a wonderful future and that they continue working hard in grade 4. Setting a good foundation today is important, but stay fair, stay humble and stay happy. Bring some sunshine to the bright and brand-new tomorrow.The journey of life goes on, and with it we often meet new people, new teachers, new students and new colleagues. Life finds a way. Adapt. Push on. Climb new mountains. Read new stories. Write new chapters. Draw new drawings. Dance like nobody is watching and sing like nobody is singing. Be yourself. You can be no-one else.

Exam stress: COVID-19 style.

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

This has been the most testing semester of my time teaching within China. When we look back on the spread of the pandemic from China outwards, we can count the tragic loss of lives, the social effects and far more damage to community. Many will look back at the economic impact with aversion. There will be hatred by some, about how governments and leaders globally have failed some and their nations. Loathing and abhorrence towards such matters as travel. There may be limited opportunity to flourish in this COVID-19 era. Trouble is already rife. How many people have lost out? How many people plan right now? Is there a disinclination to trust bug business? Has repugnance crawled around the globe like a thick mist? Do many feel a new kind of animosity?

My personal antipathy is towards the setbacks slung upon education. For many students and parents, they were locked in. Properly shut away. No outreaches and limits held over their head like a noose. Some students have been apart from one of their parents for so long. A mother in China here. A father over in Singapore, or Japan, or Korea, or France there. This isn’t a way for a kid to grow up. How many families are split up by the control of disease? Some will find their father or mother as close as Hong Kong to Shenzhen is, but to their tiny innocent minds, the distance may as well be as far as Kathmandu is from Sao Paulo. These are testing times as we approach the examination periods. Students are being drilled in test papers, exams, and assessments at a rate like bullets spraying from a machine gun in battle.

These poor little minds need protecting with less demands so early in their primary life. In China, students are tested mid-term, end of semester, mid-term and end of year. On top of this there are other tests, so many tests, and very little time to stop thinking about tests. Outside of the primary classroom, they may be assessed at extra learning and training centres, or even via online teaching assessments. I don’t recall seeing a test until I was in year 6 of Chapel Street Primary School. And then, year 9 of secondary school was key for testing. After that every secondary year, college and university year had tests. Yet, outside of England, and the U.K., testing can be little (like Finland) or frequently often (like China).

The pandemic claimed weeks of teaching, then came online teaching which many believed to be near-ineffective. The excitement and rush to the classroom was filled with joy, but soon the happy faces fell away as the weight of condensed programmes filled their tiny blossoming minds. A nine-year-old girl shouldn’t tell you she feels pressure. A ten-year-old boy shouldn’t break down in tears and worry about missing his drumming class. They should be playing in sand, building towers of Lego or shoving their fingers up their nose with not a worry in the world.

Last night’s defeat in the football game between City and Liverpool F.C.’s feeder team Southampton is thrown away. The perspective I have today is clear. These exams should be lighter and easier on the young minds of primary school kids. This is not a way to learn. My first foray into contact rugby on Saturday with Dongguan Bulldogs was tough physically but mentally it was far easier than what these students are facing in China. The gloomy feel of a pandemic lurking in shadows, worries about family and life are entering the world of children too early. Let’s be sensible and try to help them out. Less exams please.

The Mancunian Way, Dongguan

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The new norm.

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

The plague of the 21st century isn’t locusts or bubonic. Not at all. It is lies, rumourmongering and misinformation.

If I was to state that taking antihistamines for hay-fever will help your rheumatoid arthritis, I’d be right up there with Doctor P.O.T.U.S.A. Trump. I’m fairly certain, by his instinctive logic, a sticker plaster (band-aid) may heal a lost limb. Hydroxychloroquine is a mouthful to say, let alone take. Trump loves to say hydroxychloroquine. I think his instinct about the drug is overshadowed by his pride in the ability to say this long word. In my instinct, I think this psychopathic P.O.T.U.S.A. is enjoying every utterance of the drug’s name. “What have you to lose? Take it,” said the man claiming common sense wins him the right to issue medical advice. Trump tweeted about it, with 103,400 re-tweets and 386,900 likes, so at least nobody noticed him and won’t have to worry about the possible side effects list (four patients had liver damage and one patient severely worsened in Trump’s favoured French study – so from twenty, 25% had big problems).

The losses are probably higher than reportable. Doctors and nurses will have been approached about the miracle drug. Imagine all that lost time. Drug therapies are in their infancy because this new virus and the COVID-19 that it causes are only just being researched. As outbreaks go, it is a baby. Malaria and SARS CoV-2 are not that closely related. Twenty patients tested in France, in uncontrolled circumstances alongside another drug azithromycin, was inconclusive. Only a few patients shown a positive response. Like many other studies, things are in their infancy. But, remember, that as one drug becomes popular, its demand rises, and those who truly need it – battling malaria or for other uses may be short. And, what happens when the drug kills? Always use hydroxychloroquine responsibly.

There is a huge distrust of China globally.  The internet age revolution is finally being eclipsed by a very grey area of lies, untruths, and extreme bias. People like Jack Patrick Dorsey (Twitter CEO/co-founder) don’t ban far-rights and extremism of views. They believe in freedom of speech – at the supression of protecting everyone else from extreme views. Didn’t he and Twitter learn about World War 2? Because, should such a person do so, then populism, as needed by Trump (the P.O.T.U.S.A.) would have no secure place in our world. Fake temperature devices, faulty goods, corporate espionage, 5G battles, cybersecurity, and other such exposes are leaving China in a different light for many. Over here in China, I can see Chinese channels and media slamming the U.S., Taiwan (funded by the U.S.; and funding Hong Kong’s resistance?), Britain’s fragmented and gradually anti-Chinese stance. It’s a horrible place to be for an expat in China, knowing that one word wrong by one politician could ruin six years of working here.

Some guidance had been set by China on managing the virus, but has enough been done to understand how this drug and virus react together? The NHS now has several trusts giving trial to it. Everywhich way you look, there are many hoping to find the cure. We all look on and hope. Remember normality and a regular daily life? Wouldn’t it be nice to be there. I’m over here in China and yet I can’t see it. Not yet.

There is guidance knocking around W.H.O. on what to do, after relaxing lockdowns. The biggest point is that transmission should be controlled. China is definitely doing that! Even after quarantine, I have 14 days of temperature checks, swabs before I restart work (alongside all the staff and students), and a QR code showing a green tick to show that I am apparently clear of the dreaded buggy virus. Every supermarket and restaurant must check me, and all others on the way in. Any hint of too high a temperature and there is no admittance – and probably a report to the authorities.

Today, the Police and garden/village management took my details and gave me a form to fill in. On the other hand, today, I’d walked past a guy without a mask on, sneezing his cloud of nasal blobbery into the air. Oh, and a dozen others coughing out of masks. Even a twinge of my muscle or a slight hint of exhaustion and I worry. Anxiety is my bedfellow. Luckily China’s health system capacities are detecting, testing, isolating and treating as it suppresses this beastly vile virus. The essential places are being re-opened but by bit, yet cinemas stand empty, many shops and restaurants have gone for good and the country has severely controlled flights out of China: one airline, one country, once a week… so please don’t ask my summer plans and what I plan to do after this contract at this school. The only one thing I want to do, is see my loved ones, my family and my close friends – but I will not be coming home, endangering them now or later. It is time to stay home (or The Winchester), stay safe and save lives… and wait for this to all blow over. Or Chernobyl to burn and cause a global nuclear problem. Perhaps they’ll be a follow up series to HBO’s Chernobyl after all.

The virus outbreak has left many alone in their final hours but it has also gave many care in those moments too. It has left pets without homes and also gave many homes. Every exception, every aspect and every scenario seem to be at play now. Some are regional, some are national and some vary from culture to culture. Fear and humanity are battling. Art is out there in the shadows and beauty abounds, but the media and noise is loud. We mustn’t lose touch of who we are and what we are doing. What are you doing in the new norm? 

China – the Marmite nation.

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste!

Is the grass greener on the other side? Is there a huge chasm in cultures? Is the so-called red menace meddling with the international community? Has America’s time as a world leader gone? Is China like Marmite in that you either love it or hate it?

I’m in China – and the only TV station I can see reporting much about the world is CGTN. OFCOM have ongoing problems with them. The state TV channels, CCTV (seriously) intended CGTN to tell the story of China and add a Chinese view on world news – with much culture mixed in. They’re entitled to their views. Let’s face it, the BBC often sugarcoats and chooses its own spins. Just like Murdoch’s empire, CNN and Fox News. Oasis had the album out, Don’t Believe the Truth, and that’s what we need to do more. Think on our sins, multiply it, and add a dash of common sense. Some of the opinion pieces are clearly labelled as opinions written by a mix of western and Asian correspondents. Many like Tom Fowdy may have been persecuted for his beliefs in years gone by, by the British government, just for the connection to the red side of politics. Has a pool of talent been forced to join the other side? Has the media industry become so one-sided that it cannot handle difference?

Since I landed on March the 26th, I have seen nothing but great organisation and techniques to prevent a rebound of infection and to suppress the outbreak. China has an aim of zero new cases. It’s since banned foreigners from entering China and steered one airline per country to one airport. Its returning citizens, like myself and other foreigners before them, are placed into strict 14-day quarantine hotels. We’re all monitored closely and any sign of trouble, will lead to a hospital stay and appropriate treatment. Lockdowns here have mostly been withdrawn and bit by bit, things are opening, even the epicentre of Hubei and Wuhan. There’s a fear of a second wave and officials are gradually easing things back to normality. The world can only watch, as few nations are close to this re-opening of a freer society. What day of quarantine am I actually on now?

It is worth noting that pre-COVID-19 outbreak there were few, if any, official TV or media outlets that had social media accounts. There weren’t many suppliers of personal protection equipment either, and now there are countless factories churning these out, so much so that the government in China is reacting to standardise and improve qualities by maintaining licensed products. As there is a gap in the market, and freedom permits, these things are normal.

It is really easy to bash China and to think about what their gains are, but right now, I’d have more faith in China than the stumbling bundle of turd that is Boris Johnson and his cronies. I wouldn’t look at Team America – World Police, because under the helm of Donny Trump, you’re more likely to get service from the living dead. As one nation tries to fly a flag of hope by being the only nationals to climb Mount Everest in 2020, the other nation mixes rhetoric in a roundabout of confusing advice to its citizens. Still at least ‘merica has the Cornish pasty.

Now, China is helping countless nations, including the USA. Information is being shared from the scientist community, and on the surface, it appears China is being more open than ever before. It does have damage limitation to deal with domestically. What nation doesn’t?! On the flipside there is a huge distrust within the west. Algeria calls China ‘true friend’; doctors flew to Italy; Ireland via Huawei; and the list goes on. What’re your thoughts?

Cats may be carriers and infected, according to Huazhong Agricultural University and another team led by Shi Zhengli from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. 5G is getting the blame. Such a drug is the known cure, because Trump said so. Stop it! What really worries me are the conspiracy theories and the insane amount of dirt being thrown around. It wasn’t made in any military or civilian laboratory. Can we see the wood for the trees?

Reports of Nigerian forests being logged for gain, winning new followers, or reporting on Xi Jinping’s whereabouts can be spun by any media, in any nation. Chairman Mao, once said something along the lines of, “Making the foreign serve China” but has any western nation not had its fair serving of other nations overseas? More to the point, right now, internationalism is rife and if you tour any major city in Asia, you’ll find Union Flags, ‘merica fast food chains (the known ‘merican embassy being McD’s). The commercialisation and rapid imposing of English language and trade links galore cannot be hidden. We’re interconnected like never before. Why can’t China have a bit of that? Or India? Brazil too? The whole world is over-populated and resource is limited. Competition and clashes are inevitable. Have you always got on with your neighbours? Or, a tax-backed Liverpool FC?

Either side of the world, a nation will have an ideological spin. Many nations look after themselves and preach to their own audience, or use missions, and state backed councils to drive their cause. Some criticise and deconstruct themselves to allow evolution. Many are globally reachable. China is here, and here to stay. It may offer censorship and avoid certain topics, but now it is beyond the Great Wall, and finding a home alongside The Daily Mail, South China Morning Post, and The Telegraph. A once strictly controlled media now has a place within the free press. That’s an already muddle up and messed up free press controlled by gaining parties and sectors with vested interests. So, is there anything new to skewed news angles?

There are advantages and disadvantages to different ways of living. There are pros and cons for traditions. The benefits and losses of one side of the story may be a contrast to the other. One gain opposes one setback. A profit and reward could seem great, but what about the loss? A desirable plus in one set of words, could mean a minus and negativity over the way. Are you for or are you against thinking about each side of an argument?  What you choose to believe and choose to understand is up to you. Just don’t be a knobhead.

In closing, I recommend everyone reads and enjoys Laura Gao’s comic take entitled, The Wuhan I Know. Put aside ignorance and really enjoy it. Its Manchester’s twin city. When this all blows over, I will visit Wuhan. Why not?

Just don’t read The Sun!

Walking on eggshells

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

“I don’t pretend to be a gentleman, but I am entitled to paint what I see.” – Interview tapes with G B Cotton & Frank Mullineux (undated) L. S. Lowry – A Biography by Shelley Rhode

Free Pussy Riots was the best banner that I ever witnessed at a Man City game. The cardboard boos shown to UEFA were a close second. Is protesting and politics at home in sport?

“Hey John, how can you be so ignorant to China and H.K.?” – someone asked me this today, in China. And like anything else political here, I replied with, “This is not the place to have this discussion and I am not prepared to carry on.” I also wanted to say that I refuse to influence people in China – and I do. It is not my job to meddle in politics and the policy of China. Of course, I have an opinion. I have beliefs but I also have the wisdom to know that you cannot tickle a tiger’s balls and expect to get away with it.

So, NBA has gone down a bit in China due to comments on social media. Politics and sports cannot be mixed these days – and certainly not on mediums such as Twitter. At a Philadelphia Sixers game versus Guangzhou Loong Lions, a fan and his wife were ejected for shouting their views on Hong Kong. The Wells Fargo Center court is located in as Francis Scott Key said, “the land of the free”. The American national anthem features something similar, right? Well, sport, has a long-winded and painful view of politics and freedom. To cut a story short, great moments of history such as the 1968 black power movement stand out in history – because they signify defiance and stand for belief. It wasn’t part of the running material and matchday programme. Tommie Smith and John Carlos have statues on the San Jose State University campus grounds. They joined in the 2008 Global Human Rights Torch Relay which ran in parallel to the Beijing Olympics torch.

Protests affect more people than you often know. They send little and big ripples, visible and invisible, left, right and centre. One NBA tweet, by Houston Rockets’ coach Daryl Morey, who retracted it, has been slammed by President Trump.

In China, Chinese sponsors have suspended their ties with NBA clubs. The TV channels have removed tonight’s games and other games from the schedules. Since then NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended Morey’s right to tweet as he wishes. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich backed him up, “He came out strongly for freedom of speech.” NBA fans in China are backing their country over their love for the game of basketball. Most fans here demand an apology before they carry on their love affair with America’s basketball. A huge repletion of one quote can be found seemingly everywhere, “China-U.S. relations began with ping-pong, and they’ve ended with basketball.” What President Nixon did in 1971 is being undone by a closed-shop sports league that usually puts capital over principals.

What’s the story, Mr Morey? Well, he later added a post to the affects of a desperate boyfriend who has shunned the love of his life. Basketball is huge in China. China is huge. Almost every garden, park or recreation area has a court, or two, or more. The Chinese Basketball Association believes 300 million people play the sport. I feel that is an understatement. From school bus drivers to security guards to uncles minding their grand kids, and the other more expected hoop-throwing youths, it is everywhere. It dominates ball sports here. Rugby Union played its part in Apartheid; the Munich massacre happened; LGBT rights protests surrounded the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia; 8 nations (including China) boycotted the 1956 Olympics in Australia after Russia were suspended for invading Hungary; China boycotted two other Olympic games (’64 as China had entered the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO);’80 due to USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan); the massacre at Tlatelolco happened; but overall sport is essential to world relations. Now, NBA is thrust into the limelight (unlike South Park, removed from search histories).

As NBA has been met with displeasure, some hot heads have used stronger language and hate as their reply. That’s not on. It can’t be that way. How can we all find a common path to the future if we don’t talk? For some fashion and perfume brands, China is not a good place to trade now. Keeping quiet has more of a benefit than losing potential custom. Sport is the same. Discrimination is bad. The vulnerable, the needy and those subject to abuse because of prejudices need a voice. Colour, race, ethnicity, religion are always topics which will need sensitivity. But, on the other hand, how far do you believe in your freedom of speech? And right now, many brave souls are stepping up.

Whether with Extinction Rebellion at London City Airport, or forming a rather large Tibet flag at a French football game… even a 91-year-old called John has been arrested, complete with a walking stick. Of course, Liverpool FC faced opposition to their attempt to trademark the name of Liverpool, and also when they drove local property values down in a bid to buy the properties for cheaper later – because commercial development is where it is at. But, we must look at the other side of the conversations too. China may be huge but its 5000 years of civilisation as been invaded in many places, colonised and used as a factory. Now it gathers strength enough to speak out loud. China sings from the same hymn sheet – and mostly through pride in identity. Other countries are often divided – split and messy, yet they all like to shout about how it is done.

Sport is a great friendship tool. It bridges division and cultures. Iraq play football and could face Nepal, equally they could host Australia or Qatar. England can travel to Scotland, Sweden or Slovenia. The game of football, like basketball and other such sports can influence and deepen relations. Claimed sovereignty, national interests and cultures can be better understood. When two differences are clear, then dialogue can be heard – or silenced. Boycotts and closure won’t help every battle. Tolerance is not even enough. We must be careful in this day and age, as people, not to shout abuse and close our minds.

For me, I’d like to view Tibet first hand, and see the region. I will remain neutral. I’d like to speak about Hong Kong, but I won’t. I must remain neutral – Hong Kong is part of China – and the days of it being a British colony are long gone. This is a matter for the people of the affected regions and not the former occupants and their Union Flag. I’m here in China as a guest. A foreigner who feels foreign and is always reminded that I’ll never be local or Chinese. I know where I stand. That’s fine. It is accepted. I’m just trying to make a living and find a way to get onto the U.K. property ladder in my home country that is also far from free. I want to be like Mel Gibson’s William Wallace and say something like he did in the movie Braveheart, “I came back home to raise crops, and God willing, a family. If I can live in peace, I will.”

East and West are crashing together like heavy waves on a shoreline susceptible to costal erosion. For those of us living between the two, we have to knuckle down and work, without tickling any tiger’s testicles – and keeping the burning heat of tiger balm far away from our balls.

“I look upon human beings as automatons because they all think they can do what they want but they can’t. They are not free. No one is.” – Maitland Tapes-interview with Prof. Hugh Maitland 1970 L. S. Lowry – A Biography by Shelley Rhode

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

Robots in disguise.

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

For every minute that passes, a football pitch is lost in the Amazon. Tick. Tock. Tick. Well, rather an area of trees that could cover a football pitch. Is that why Brazil are so good at football? Are they chopping and sawing away trees in order to beat Argentina and co? Of course, the environment and conservation in general are taking epic beatings. It isn’t all doom and gloom.

Britain has flowery roads, replacing lost meadows; Sir David Attenborough is reaching the youth of today at music festivals; Sky are aiming to plant 3 billion trees before the year 2050; farmland is being explored as potential new forests; farms diversification for a public benefit; Shanghai is dividing litter and rubbish into four types with view to recycling more (although education is needed); Yangtze rehabilitation schemes are in place; actually, beyond the gloom there are some pretty selfless and amazing projects happening.

#QuicklyDividingRubbishSendsShanghaiCitizensCrazy (#快被垃圾分类逼疯的上海居民)

Yet dead whales are being found with 40kg of plastic in their bellies; Japan is whaling again; the Antarctic ice is falling faster then ever before; life is changing for many, it is getting warmer; poisoned farmlands; farms that need actions now; famine; or the Australian condemnation of threatened species over farmland necessity. Jakarta’s residents will sue their government due to bad air pollution. Surely, knowing a little how taxes work, they will realise that they will sue themselves. And, didn’t they cause the air pollution too? #SetorFotoPolusi – oops.

Stable ice may be shrinking fast globally. Israel may be ready to start a war with Iran. China may be ignoring sanctions and buying a few fighter jets from Russia. Radioactive magma may erupt from the Yellowstone national park in USA. The Ring of Fire may trigger a huge earthquake and the Phillipines is on high alert.

Conservation and envioronmental protection needs more. The world needs to pull together. Many great projects need government and world body backing. That’s the hard part. Some governments are petrol-backed and busy building walls, or destroying cultures using cultural genocide…


 

Meanwhile in China, many characters with their flyers have collared me this week. It is normal. Most cannot speak English as they thrust their gym advertisement leaflet into my chubby hands. This week, an exception, a man with clear English and knowledge about the U.K., “London is a big city” he shouted. He slammed his body in front of my pathway. It impeded me crossing at the green for pedestrian dancing man. The red man appeared. More solid. Less inviting. Cars quickly prevented me dashing over the wall. “You could move into an investment opportunity tomorrow,” he smiled through words that barely left his immobile jaw. His eyes beamed expecting an instant commitment to his probably well-tested sales pitch. He caught my apprehension and carried on, “You can move in tomorrow.” He then delivered many words in English, too fast for me to understand. I interrupted him, and said, “I’ll take two.” His face lit up. He seemed over the moon, and then a thought triggered across his eyes manifesting in one word, “Really?” So, here I stated, “No, thank you. I need to go across the road and have a coffee. Goodbye. Enjoy your day.” Did he lose face? Only to me – his pack of colleagues didn’t understand. He asked for this. The green man flashed after 90 seconds and off I went. Straight to the sanctuary of Starbucks. Well, it was Independence Day.


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This weekend I went to Shenzhen (44.5RMB train ticket each way), jumped on the subway (7RMB) and went to watch football at the Xixiang Stadium. Shēnzhèn Péngchéng (深圳鹏城) faced Sìchuān Jiǔniú (四川九牛), City Football Group’s Chinese partnership club. On the day, it appears, UBTECH of Shenzhen have changed the club’s name to Sichuan UBTECH. City’s partnership club had no away tickets available. They had to be ordered in advance, so I went to the home end. On passing through a metal detector security gate, I was handed a ticket for free. Not bad. The stadium was built around a running track, with only one stand in the east (I believe). The southern end displayed the China flag. The north faced onto a hill. The park around the stadium was entirely devoted to sports (basketball, racket sports and swimming) easy to see. A huge netting cast over the western end of the park. Presumably a golf driving range housed the emitting clinks of balls on clubs. There could have been pterodactyls there.

With the sun strong, and the temperature around 32°C, the game kicked off. Sporting a Puma kit in white, the Sichuan team soon turned the shirt translucent with sweat. A water break after 22 minutes gave the visiting team a kind of nudist look. The bench dressed in all-black gave stark contrast. All looked soaked with sweat, as was in the unwelcoming concrete stand. The 3,000 faded seat stadium could have been called the Bird’s Nest, due to all the dried crap on the floor from the birds’ nests overhead. I was trying to figure out if the team had changed name and abandoned their traditional yellow kit for this game, or forever. No-one that I spoke with had a clue. The board displayed the name Sichuan UBTECH in Chinese. The new away shirt was all white with a sky blue sponsor.

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Half-time refreshments involved water, or water. The only option was free and served from a hand-pump over a 20L water bottle. In the heat the water was certainly needed. With this I talked with a fan called Luke who was very familiar with Manchester City goalkeeper history. Hart was mentioned, Ederson too, and which was best, which was a Given, according to him. The fans mulled around, smoked a few cigarettes and talked. The teams reemerged and out came the orchestrated beats of a drum and megaphone induced Olé, Olé, Olés – from bullfighting to south China. I sat back and reflected on seeing a goal scored by the Shenzhen team, where the striker went through the defender… and then the net itself gave him a lovely Spider-Man promotion feel.

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Before the game there had been red scarfs held up in the home end, to no tune and certainly no hymns like “You’ll never walk alone.” They did have some songs and chants but I couldn’t follow most. Apart from when they were 1-0 up, they’d sing “Èr bǐ líng” [二比零] which means 2 against 0. That is a weird thing to say. Ttally unlike “C’mon City” or “We want seven!” The away end had a fair bit of noise, with the rat-a-tat of inflatable cheering sticks being quite visible. I love going to a football game, and I’ll happily watch the likes of Rhayader Town, Hyde Utd or in this case Sichuan UBTECH. My friend Chris Howells, a super photographer back in Aberystwyth enjoys the passion of the players and the crowd atmosphere. I’ve learnt from him to spend some time watching the people in the stands. It is a wonderful and quite relaxing experience. As summer swallows swooped over the field during yet another waterbreak, I thought to myself, a regular thought that I have, I need to watch more football from the stands.

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The Chinese Football Association Division Two League (Simplified Chinese: 中国足球协会乙级联赛) is the third tier of domestic football. It is split into a northern and a southern group. The top 4 clubs from each segment play off for promotion to the Chinese Football Association Division One League. Bottom of the league means play-offs or automatic relegation to the confusingly named 2019中国足球协会会员协会冠军联赛 which translates as the Chinese Champions League. These two teams reflected mid and upper table, with the Sichuan club bidding for promotion at the first chance following their takeover.

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Their new signing, number 32 came on in the 32nd minute and Yang Jun Jie seemed like a kind of Jamie Pollock player. The team were 1-0 down – after 26 minutes, and playing calm football, against the opposition and the late-afternoon heat. They soon went 2-0 down before a spirited second half, which sadly for the visitors didn’t result in an equaliser. An official report can be found here. Of the 600 fans in the stadium 200 had entered the away end. 2000km away games, in the third tier demand a bit of respect.

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

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Máo Zedong

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

 

Do I want to know the future? No. It may ruin the present. The past always calls for us. History repeats itself. The trick is to forget time and not follow clock, schedules and guidelines like the rigid forms that are presented to us. For that very same reason, I ate a bowl of Rice Krispies at lunchtime. They snapped, they crackled and then they popped. I’ve always loved cereal. It is my kind of drug.


Today marks the birth of Máo Zedong [毛泽东]. He ruled China for a long time. As the People’s Republic of China came about in 1949, his position as Chairman of the Communist Party of China carred great strength. Maoism, that is, his theories on military strategies, politics and thinking are still strong today. Devoutly nationalist and strongly anti-imperialist in his views, the boy from Sháoshān [韶山] led an interesting upbringing. His birth at a wealthy farm to a stern disciplinarian father he would encounter the odd punishment. He had siblings, two brothers (Máo Zélín毛泽淋 and Máo Zemin毛泽民;) and an adopted sister (Máo Zétán毛泽覃). Máo Zedong [毛泽东] was influenced by the the Xinhai Revolution (1911), the May Fourth Movement (1919) and later at Peking University in his exposure to Marxism–Leninism.

Máo Zedong led the 1927 Autumn Harvest Uprising [秋收起义; Qīushōu Qǐyì] – something which would gather influence to found the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army [中国工农红军Zhōngguó Gōngnóng Hóngjūn]. The Jiangxi–Fujian Soviet [中央革命根據地] state was formed in 1931 until 1934. The Long March followed this period of time. A military retreat would change the fortunes of a fledgling Chinese leader. The raging Chinese Civil War held a hiatus as both the Guómíndǎng [中国国民党] and the Communist Party of China (中国共产党Zhōngguó Gòngchǎndǎng) battled Japanese Forces during World War II. For four more years following the war’s end, the civil war resumed. Máo Zedong eventually forced a retreat of the opposition to what is known by many as Taiwan.

The Great Leap Forward [Dà Yuèjìn大跃进] followed in 1957 giving industry to the people of a mainly agicultural land. As England’s football team lifted the World Cup in national football, China began the Cultural Revolution. Only in 1972, did China open a largely-closed doors to the western world. Máo Zedong met with American President Richard Nixon. In 1976, Chairman Máo died of a heart attack. He had led a life rich in poetry, intellectual debate, military strategies, and as a visionary. He drove imperialism from the lands of China. He started a modernisation of lands. He changed a fractured nation into a world power. He promoted the status of women, improved education and health care. The population of China erupted from 550 million or so to a whopping 900 million people. Life expectancy in China soared considerably. His influence and footnote in history is far-reaching.

Chairman Máo remains one of the most important and influential individuals in contemporary world history. Not bad for someone who once had an ambition to be a school teacher. He changed jobs and ambitions in his early years. The ‘end justifies the means’ yet his brain sought better and more knowledge. His interest in war procedures gave him a view of the Great War ravaging Europe. He developed a sense of solidarity with workers. His world opened-up when he moved to Beijing and became exposed to the bigger picture. Over the early years he travelled, witnessed deaths of close friends and family. Lambasting the governments of Japan, UK and US became normal practice. In the 1920’s he sought to work with the Guómíndǎng [中国国民党] and supported the then National Revolutionary Army in their campaigns to rid the land of warlords.

‘Revolution is not a dinner party, nor an essay, nor a painting, nor a piece of embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.’ – Mao, February 1927

Politically very confusing times arose following Sun Yat-sen’s [Yìxiān孫中山] death in May 1925. I’ve tried to understand Máo Zedong [毛泽东], his history and the formation of People’s Republic of China. It isn’t easy. I think i need to read more… and there is plenty to be read. This is what I decided to read when I couldn’t watch Morecambe and Wise today.


Enjoy the ramining five days of 2018. Happy Boxing Day, St Stephen’s Day, Wren Day, and Mummer’s Day.

 

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

Mulan, Yuè Fēi, Dragon Boats, Qi Xi & Qing Ming Jie

RECOVERED FROM THE DEMISE OF HUBHAO.COM

Badasses of Chinese History:  Huā Mùlán

 

One of my favourite legends surrounds Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s and his journey north from Baghdad with and observations of Vikings.  Ever since reading the novelisation Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton, I have been fascinated by folklores, myths and fables.  In legends we can relate to their accounts, discover our own histories and create a personality we can never possibly know.  In Michael Crichton’s afterword he gave the view that history and legend can be interesting “if presented in the correct way.”  The story he wrote surrounded the legend of Beowulf – in response to a close personal friend lecturing on the “Bores of Literature.”

I’ve never seen Disney’s Mulan, nor have I seen several of the other film adaptations studios have spewed out since the early 1920’s.  The works just do not interest me.  Fascination in China surrounding the story of Huā Mùlán (sometimes referred to as Fa Mulan – Huā means flower) continued with a modern play starring Méi Lánfāng – a man playing the heroine.  Prior to that legends and stories told of this unlikely lass’s rise to the fore.  Disney’s animated effort was the first ever Disney DVD release – and the first cartoon by the same production company to tackle warfare openly.  For many people outside of China it may have also been the first chance to see a little of China’s vast culture and history.  Without it, we’d probably not have heard of Christina Aguilera too (she sang on the soundtrack).

 

The original legend was transliterated in “The Ballad of Mulan” more than a thousand years ago by an author who was never named amongst an anthology that has subsequently stayed mislaid to history.  The oldest copy of the narrative, comprised of just 31 couplets, portrays Mulan’s triumphant military career throughout which she masked her gender from her fellow combatants.  Ultimately she led a war-winning battle and is given reverence by the Emperor.  The Emperor furnishes a cash reward and a senior post in the army.  After twelve years of service and a bucketful of praise, she sought retirement.  Instead of rewards, she opted to live out her days in her hometown.  Home is where the heart is.  Even on returning to her hometown, her companions from the armed forces did not know she was a she, they still thought she was in fact a he.  Twelve years of poor observations on their part.

The famous poem, limited to around 31 couplets, received stage treatment in the 12th century, lay dormant for five centuries before returning to the frontage.  Another stage adaptation and the novel Sui Tang Yanyi pushed Huā Mùlán back into discussion.  Historical bases debated Mùlán’s family name.

Sui Tang Yanyi, Guō Màoqiàn and Chu Renho have the honours for most adapted and printed versions of the Huā Mùlán story.  When was Huā Mùlán around?  Somewhere before the Tang Dynasty and strewth knows when.  There isn’t really anything written down prior to the poem, Ballad of Mulan.  Where did Huā Mùlán reside?  Again, scholars and literary critics will argue until they’re blue in the face.  The Northern Wei (Běi Wèi) is argued by Xu Wei’s play, whereas, the Sui Tang Yanyi romantic novel has her as a founder of the Tang Dynasty.  The poem was written prior to the latter option.  Guō Màoqiàn, a specialist in poetry and written art, compiled original material somewhere around what is now called Shāndōng… …BUT, his existence even evades evidence.  Her name isn’t always the same either – across novels and accounts, with surnames mentioned as Hua, Zhu, Wei, Ren to Han.

Most stories note Mùlán was sat at a loom (an old fashioned clothing weaving device).  She was worried.  One male from each family must be enlisted to the regional army.  Her father was vulnerable and old, her younger brother too young.  Somehow, Mùlán manages to join in their place through some old-fashioned cross-dressing.  Other stories claim that Mùlán would rather fall on her own sword than be ruled by a foreigner.  Chinese culture is deeply rooted with patriotism – and pride, and massively swayed to family loyalty.  I admire this, and many stories of Mùlán echo this sentiment.  In Disney’s film, Mulan has a dog named “Little Brother” as a nod to her younger sibling joining the army – I hear “Little Brother” means something more phallic here.  Chu Renho’s story follows this but diverts in as that Mùlán is captured by troops loyal to Dòu Jiàndé and his quest to be king.  His daughter and self-titled Princess Xianniang tried to recruit her.  On discovering she wasn’t a man, she blew a gasket of excitement.  They became the female equivalent of blood brothers – sworn sisters.

Amongst the Sui Tang Yanyi, Guō Màoqiàn and Chu Renho visions of Mùlán, there are names like Chi Fu mentioned in the story, translating into English as “to bully”.  The central theme seems to be one Confucian virtue grasped atop all others.  Bravery and loyalty sub-themes easily mask this to a degree but respect for one’s elders, ancestors and ultimately one father stand out.  Perhaps in western families with one parent families, it is not so easy to relate but here in China the story is fiercely relative [pun intended].  The big three authors’ incarnations develop an idea of mass casualties, often at the hands of Mùlán’s armies.

Chu Renho’s romantic book Sui Tang Yanyi actually kills the heroine off.  In a twist A Game of Thrones would be proud of, she commits suicide.  Mùlán’s bad luck starts with her return to her hometown.  Her father had long since died and her mother was re-wed.  The bombshell dropped that she’d have to be a concubine for Heshana Khan of the Western Khaganate.  With that she departed this life for the next, so to speak.  Other works give Mùlán a far healthier and happier sending off.  Chu Renho’s previous incarnation had portrayed Xi tūjué (Western Turkic Khaganate, one of many Turkic peoples present in China back in the Early Middle Ages) as siding with the eventual winners of the Tang Dynasty formation.  As sworn sisters their capture in place of the legging-it-for-his-own-life Dòu Jiàndé could have shocked many.  The nature of their surrender included providing their captor, Li Yuan – Emperor Gaozu of Tang, with knives.  In their mouths.  Instead the Emperor and his wife give the captured money.  Princess Xianniang can return to her beloved Luo Cheng and get hitched whilst Mùlán can go and provide for her parents.

 

In researching and reading more about Mùlán via textbooks downloaded, poems, online biographies, questioning my school’s history teachers, observing debates via Chinese language internet forums and several history documentaries obtained via shady copyright-ignorant backstreet DVD shops…. I have come to little conclusion.  Mùlán and the myths that surround her have accomplished almost as much as she originally set out to do.  Her deception and disguise has hidden the truth, so has legend.  Those who know tales of Robin Hood and the folklores around King Arthur will be fascinated forever.

Swathes of legend mask the story of Mùlán.  Whether you believe that the crown Princess Xianniang’s father was vanquished after buddying up with the enemy in the Tang dynasty leading to the proposed execution or not; or whether you believe Mùlán supported her parents; or whether the story has been lost in so many forms of translation is up to you; and did she really fight for twelve years?!  For me, every incarnation is like the next chapter in the James Bond movie franchise, our heroine grows in stature and delivers a piece of action sometimes a little far-fetched, sometimes embellished and often with an amplified degree of life.

In my opinion, I would advise you to go back to the Dr. No of Mulan.  Read the original 31 couplet poem and relish this scarce but valuable specimen of a fervently strapping woman deep from the annals of Chinese legendary literature and possibly a parody on real unconfirmed history etc.  I challenge you not to take inspiration from Mùlán, the first real embodiment of Superman.  Now we can look to the skies and think about the planet Venus, with a huge crater named after Huā Mùlán – that and behold the future live action Disney release by the same moniker; or we can nip over to the city of Xīnxiāng (Hénán) for a statue entitled Statue of Mulan.  All remains a beautifully stoic mystery that has slipped into popular culture and remains debated.

Wei Yuanfu’s, “Song of Mulan” from the 11th-12th century sums up the vagueness of the story by concentrating on the key point:

 

If in this world the hearts of officials and sons

Could display the same principled virtue as Mulan’s,

Their loyalty and filiality [NB:  the relation or attitude of a child to a parent] would be unbroken;

Their fame would last through the ages—how could it be destroyed?

 

For further reading or vieiwing:

  • Mulan: Rise of a Warrior (2009 film) – Live action film about the Chinese legend. Stars Chén ZǔMíng (Jaycee Chan, son of Jacky Chan) and Zhào Wēi (Vicki Zhao) – who holds around 12 internationally recognised Ambassadorships.

The Legend of Mu Lan:  A Heroine of Ancient China, written and illustrated by Jiang, Wei and Jiang, Cheng An.  ISBN: 1-878217-00-3. (You can even buy a boxset with a doll http://www.heroinesinhistory.com/mulan.html)

The Ballad of Mulan, retold and illustrated by Song Nan Zhang

Pan Asian Publications 1998

The Song of Mulan, Front Street Press

China’s Bravest Girl, Children’s Book Press

Fa Mulan: The Story of a Woman Warrior, Robert D. San Souci, Hyperion Books for Children 1998

The true story of Mulan.    Retrieved May 10th 2015.  (There is a good powerpoint for use in school classes too).

And if you like graphic novels, look up the surreal Deadpool Killustrated (2013), Hua Mulan joins an Avengers Assemble-style cast with Natty Bumppo, Beowulf Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in H.G. Wells’ time machine.


Badasses of Chinese History:  General Yuè Fēi (岳飞) and four characters (utmost, loyalty, serve and nation:  精忠报国)

 

What is loyalty to you?  Following your rugby or American football team through thick and thin from birth?  Remaining in a job where you barely make ends meet, despite offers from elsewhere?  Collecting the latest batch of belly button challenge website links on your WeChat wall, regardless of the fact the challenge has become boring to most?  When I ask colleagues and friends about General Yuè Fēi, they all mention his undivided loyalty.  I guess that is why he is rumoured to have been tattooed with the phrase “serve the country with the utmost loyalty” (精忠报国 / jìn zhōng bào guó) by his mother.

The four words of Yuè Fēi’s tattoos are noted as appearing on the 1489 stele (a kind of annual rock carving on a slab) placing him in contact with the small Kaifeng Jewish community.  Many communities would encounter him through his time.  Often depicted as a poet, Yuè Fēi has no quotable poetry, according to Princeton University Prof. James T.C. Liu.  The wording on questionable poetry was almost certainly written fair later in history.  His combat inevitably led him to self-repair and a brief study of traditional Chinese medicines.  His teachings hereafter had further depth, assisting his troops on the field.  His other strengths lay in encouraging scholars to come to his troops’ camps and lecture about champions of old, heroes of the nation and deeds done in the name of good.  The double-edged sword meant the scholars would undoubtedly pass on his name and conquests.

Praying Mantis Fist (螳螂拳 / tánglángquán) or Praying Mantis Boxing is a form of aggressive combat created by The 18 Masters invited to improve Shaolin martial arts.  The style of attack is speedy and would probably leave Floyd Mayweather, Jr standing still.  There are knee, elbow and wrist and arm strikes like no other – fittingly reflecting the agility of the praying mantis insects.  Like many legends lost in translation, Yuè Fēi’s part in creating this style is hyperbole.  A historical fiction novel Water Margin (水滸傳Shui Hu Zhuan) and other texts link Yuè Fēi to the noted creators but not as the creator himself.  That said, the movement “Black Tiger Steeling” is accredited to him by the famous Mantis master Yuen Man Kai.  Yuè Fēi’s name is heavily linked to the creation of Eagle Claw (鷹爪派 / yīng zhǎo pài) and XíngYì Quán Boxing 形意拳).  The former was created for low ranking soldiers, whilst the latter became a necessary tool for his officers.

In legend and fiction Yuè Fēi is noted to have studied under Zhōu Tóng (周同) learning varied techniques of combat underscoring brutal skills like joint-locking and something called elephant style boxing (which sounds cumbersome at best).  His methods and teaching conveyed to the battle field with armies swept aside during the Jin dynasty.  His name is attached to several boxing techniques Yue Family Fist (岳家拳 / Yuejiaquan).  Whether he studied Buddhism to adapt things complexly named as the “Tendon Changing and Marrow Washing QiGong” routines into his own methods is up to the academics to debate, but one thing for sure is Yuè Fēi is deeply embedded in martial arts forming in and around his time.

Yuè Fēi’s birth is also subject to mystery and legend.  The book, History of Song (宋史; /Sòng Shǐ) details some interesting stories.  At the time of the parturition his parent’s neighbours ran over with buckets of water to douse a fire on the horizon.  There was no fire.  Péng (鹏), a mystical bird creature, landed before ascending out of sight and hence the name Fēi (飛) meaning fly was given to the new born child by his father.  Yuè Fēi’s father was advised by a local monk (reported to be the immortal Chén Tuán) to dip both mother and Yuè Fēi in a water tank should the small Yuè Fēi start crying.  After several days, baby Yuè Fēi cried.  Mother and baby went for a bath.  The bath washed away as the Yellow Rover burst its banks.  Mother and child remained safe.  Sadly, his father perished in the terrible floods.  The story goes that Yuè Fēi was in a previous life, a Péng.  On hearing of this, an enemy dragon (once blinded by the Péng that would eventually become Yuè Fēi) flooded the river as an act of revenge.  It failed.  Struggling for money, his mother did some needlework for the family housing them.  Nearby to their dwelling was a cave.  As a teenager Yuè Fēi is said to have gone into a cave, enraged a colossal snake, and as he dodged the snake’s probing strikes it vanished.  Puff.  Gone.  A magic spear of the flowering spring (沥泉神矛/ Lìquán Shénmáo) is said to have been left behind following this.  This led him to seek weaponry and combat teachings.

Zhōu Tóng is noted to have led Yuè Fēi to a Buddhist recluse who passed down the skills of his combats.  Around this time teachings by the master archer Zhōu Tóng led to great skills with the bow and arrow, military tactics and spear work.  Skirmishing with hand skills and horse-riding likely came about too.  Yuè Fēi’s alleged inner strengths came from his wisdom of Buddhism.  Zhōu Tóng was his Jedi Master prodigy.  Yuè Fēi seemed to soak up skills and knowledge.  In Hellmut Wilhelm’s From Myth to Myth: The Case of Yueh Fei’s Biography Yuè Fēi is reputed to have sought replication of famous national heroes and had been influenced by reading works by Zuo Zhuan, Wu Qi and Sun Tzu.  His father Yuè He (岳和) had implanted such material on his son.  Did he simply want to mimic those he saw as his supermen?  In reading some of the accounts of Yuè Fēi, there is touch of melodrama, good versus evil and a story that could easily form the plot of a new trilogy of Star Wars movies.  There is love, hate, fights for freedom and war.

The Biography of Yue Fei and the records of E Wang Shi mention Yuè Fēi’s learning from Zhōu Tóng at an early age.  They also mention another mentor, the spear master, Chen Guang (陳廣) who was hired as a kind of Jedi Master Yoda to oversee his stick fighting skills by Yuè Fēi’s grandfather Yao Daweng (姚大翁).  This was a boy conditioned for battle.

War.  What is it good for?  Absolutely everything in a time of conflict and invasion.  From his home in Tangyin County, Henan province, Yuè Fēi was recruited by the Song military in 1122 recruited Yuè Fēi.  In 1126, his squad supressed waves of warlord rebellions in northern China.  This took away much resource from the battles against the Jin.  As the defence of Kaifeng fell, his next movement was to an army in Jiankang.  His rise was spotted as they defended the Yangtze from the invasive Jurchens.  The Song court promoted him to General in the year 1133.  His counterattack against the Jin-backed puppet state of Qi led to many regained territories.  His and other Generals’ armies beat off the invasion allowing for the continuing Song dynasty.  After defeating enemy upon enemy, and against the flow of traffic, he was called back to the Southern Song capital by the Emperor in the year 1141.  Having once defeated 100,000 invaders with only 500 men, for some reason, lost to shelves of history, he was hanged.  Falsified charges by Emperor Gaozong’s servant Qin Hui at fear of exiled Emperor Qinzong’s return no doubt playing a part.  He died aged 39 years old.

In the biography of Yuè Fēi (鄂國金佗稡编/Eguo Jintuo Zubian) written by his grandson Yue Ke (岳珂) there are several approaches that Yuè Fēi utilised efficiently to position his armies. Yuè Fēi rewarded his soldiers well and delivered punishments just as equally.  Discipline was tantamount to forming his armies.  There was to be no pillaging or destruction.  Theft was punishable by execution.  Handing out his own personal effects or threatening to execute his own bloodline for failure was not beneath him.  Clear orders were given and to be taken without a fiasco.  Training was key, and when not in battle, rigorous training and fitness regimes were met.  One day swimming through muck, the next clambering up stones and walls.  When on leave the soldiers trained because they knew how hard they would be put to a task on camp or in a battle.  The usual weaponry and movements were worked on also, but always as close to the real thing as possible.   Yuè Fēi could have started his own Marine Corp or S.A.S.  He would handpick soldiers, even sending home the unfit or elderly.  Inheriting the Han Ching and Wu Xu armies, he sent more than half packing.  For those that remained, he tried to treat them equally sharing wine, even if watered down amongst every soldier – and taking shelter only when his troops all had shelter.

After his death, former soldiers and officers spread his techniques across China, and even back to Shaolin where Li Quan (麗泉) invented Northern Ying Jow Pai boxing – something combined with Yuè Fēi’s previously formed Rotating Fist fighting style (翻子拳 / Fānziquán).  Regarded as a folk hero for defending his country from a northern invasion despite wishing to look after his elderly mother.  Yuè Fēi’s mother’s wish for him to serve his country unbrokenly led to an uncontested unbeaten run in battles.  A poem, The River Turns Red reports:  “I’ll drive a war chariot and smash apart the Helan mountain pass!”  The poem further goes on to show his strength, devotion and care for those who served under him.

After his execution, the legend of Yuè Fēi grew and remains popular amongst storytellers.  Like the legend of Mulan and Zhuge Liang, within Chinese history, mythology and fact can be exaggerated or rewritten.  Yuè Fēi’s history and myths are equally as fascinating and certainly noteworthy of more cultural reading.   He is often wrongly depicted as the individual General who defeated the Juchins; someone fluent in Classical Chinese studies and a knowledgeable Confucian academic – again all likely to be balderdash.  His Grandson, Yue Ke, released a biography, which helped to fan the flames of amplification.  Still, it isn’t a bad way to get temples and shrines devoted to you; like the P.R. powers behind Tom Sawyer or Keyser Söze.

 

For further reading or vieiwing:


 

Enter the dragon’s head

 

Let’s start at the beginning, where all good and bad tales always initiate.  In this case, Thanksgiving Day 2015.  “Hey John, can you go and teach about Thanksgiving Day in an hour?”, my Head of Foreign Languages (just, English, in this case) asked me.  I responded that I know zippity-doo-dah (naff all, nowt, nothing) about said event.  I must confess to making up everything that day (hopscotch is a traditional Thanksgiving game, correct?).  Anyway, that day I met Mr Wong in the Qiáotóu village primary school [their song is called “Dragon Boat Emotion”] and since then we have been friends.

The happening takes place on the lunar calendar date 5th of the 5th month (or Gregorian date 20th June 2015), it popped around after a long day watching dragon boat races in Wàngniúdūn (望牛墩), Zhōngtáng (中堂) and Daojiao (道滘) I went to meet Mr Wong to watch a different kind of race in Qiáotóu (the village in Houjie and not the district in north-eastern Dongguan).  I was shattered but I was curious.  What was going to happen next?  I met Mr Wong in Qiáotóu military barracks, I mean Qiáotóu square.  Centrally stacked was enough ordnances to power the Chinese space programme to save Matt Damon.  Tables stood, village officials and government-looking folk lingered around.  Policeman uncoiled large red wheels of bangers and volunteers edged outwards setting a large viewing area.  Mr Wong called me just as an eruption of firecrackers hit by ear like an angry Muhammed Ali squatting a mosquito.  Through odd breaks in the sounds I was being invited to “come join my team!”  So, I did just that…

Mr Wong’s four-wheel drive vehicle bounced along the narrow streets of Qiáotóu as if we were being pursued by a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  The journey started at Qiáotóu square and ending deep in a chasm of villages that make up Qiáotóucun.  The local buildings excluded modernisation and seemed to be constructed of less plastic and concrete.  Warmth, tradition and air of care clung on like the windows in the walls.  Electrical cables formed no order, strung from building to sorry looking building.  Bricks replaced concrete and rubble replaced tarmac.  The earth infrequently offered green chutes within this area.

Here I was to join a dragon boat race of sorts.  Water not included.  Well, just drinking bottles.  Mr Wong said foreigners never enter this village, and have never had reason to – there are no multinational production companies.  I was greeted extremely warmly and asked to join the red team.  Being a Manchester City F.C. fan, I did not like that idea.  However, I was a guest welcomed to unknown traditional activity.  Whatever it was, I wanted to know about it.  Sacrifices had to be made.  I donned a red t-shirt (I had my purple Manchester City shirt underneath to prevent red t-shirt to skin contact).  It seemed they had planned my visit, the only XXXXL shirt was for me.

 

In 2016, I was invited back by Mr Wong and his friend Mr Marco Chen.  Not to be confused with the Dongguan township of Qiáotóu (桥头镇), Qiáotóu (桥头) is located in southern Houjie town, east of Fengshan park (凤山公园) and south of Houjie’s Line 2 subway station, Shanmei (珊美).  To the south of Qiáotóu is the Exhibition Centre (展览中心) Line 2 subway station.  Qiáotóucun (桥头村) is actually a village made up of seven hamlets.

The procession historically began and concluded at the village Ancestral Temple or Cítáng (池塘).  In the present day, they commence at various Cítángs finding their finale at the village square.  The view from the biggest Cítáng in Qiáotóu stands over the fish pond (池塘/Chítáng, sounds like Cítáng).  At the Cítáng, villagers gather and make important decisions.  Important blessings and ceremonies are held here.  Events gather and ancestral heritage is preserved here.

The tradition, at first, I was told, by one villager, “dated back around six generations and was brought about due to the drying up of several village creaks and two men who raced, carrying large dragon boats, down a village street.”  This stimulated my inquisitiveness much more.  Soon enough, I had a rounder story.

The most consistent account told from generation to generation is one of a severe drought.  Mr Marco Chen, an intellectual-looking chap told me, “The reservoirs and creaks dried up.  For a long time, no rain came.  People prayed and pleaded for rain.  The villagers held an event to show god how genuine their need for water was.  In desperation they displayed a wooden dragon’s head, of a very dry nature, to symbolise luck and best wishes.  Their unadulterated and sincere plea was answered.  A great rain came and the villagers felt blessed and touched deep down.  Every year that followed, the villagers repeated this as a thank you to god.”

The dragon’s head sounds like a name of a public house back home.  In actual fact there is far more at play here, there is a sacred bond between village of Qiáotóu and their dragons’ heads (there are more than one now).  It symbolises happiness, good luck, and good fortune.  There is a belief if you carry it, you shall be blessed with a baby boy [I had noticed many dragon’s head carriers have their young daughters alongside them].  Each hamlet of Qiáotóu has a dragon’s head, a flag and colours.  A privileged few have held the dragon’s heads, bringing belief confidence and many baby boys to those who have held it proudly up high.

At first it was villagers who joined this occasion, then their extended family, and long after friends of their family, until now where far more people connect.  They link into this most historic and unique South China tradition, that is still little known outside of Houjie.  Marco tells me, “A day before, twigs are gathered.  New members are encouraged to join in preparations.  In older times the eucalyptus plant was favoured but now is found to be less abundant.  There are the usual dragon boat festival foods, like Zongzi.  On the night before the event, local children take a bath with goose eggs.  The eggs are put in a net, which is placed into the bath.  This symbolises the hope of children growing up very quickly.”

My team, one of seven in Qiáotóu, was approximately 2500-strong, from toddlers to the very much elderly.  Here everyone was given either a branch (to beat the clouds away from the dragons), a flag (the red or yellow colours of the village), a drum (noises to replicate the racing beats), or replica dragon boats (finely carved but festooned with neon lights).  The team was led by a man holding a wooden dragon’s head.  I was an amateur and newcomer.  I was given a branch.  A small branch at that.  A really small branch.  It was a twig.

We soon set off, joining the red tribe.  There were yellow, blue, green, orange, black and gold tribes around the large village streets.  The object was to snake around the village.  On meeting the other tribes, firecrackers were thrown at their feet to signify the battle of the racing boats.  The team that did not dance well with those who carried the dragon heads and small boat effigies performing their moves, decided without hesitation by the opposing teams, had to turn around and snake another route.  The village’s most-eldest people watched on from doorways and seats around the area.  As a westerner, I knew I would stand out.  I was greeted with curiosity and welcomed by all.

This event happens annually but only for a few hours.  The first time I joined, I felt wave after wave of euphoria and privilege to have been invited to such a matchless and rare occurrence.  Again, at my second coming, I feel fully euphoric.  Through working for Worlda Guangzhou, I was posted to Dao Ming Foreign Language School, who sent me on a Thanksgiving Day task to Qiáotóu’s state school, where I met Mr Wong, who has friends involved in this annual event.  A set of links so finite that led to me experiencing something so exceptional and spell-bounding.  I felt joy, like never experienced for many years before, like a kid at Christmas, unwrapping a present, not suspecting that his parents have worked exceedingly hard to buy them that Lego set the kid dreamed he would never ever reach.  I was that kid once, thanks to my mum, I had that gift – and through her (and Dad’s) gift of life to me, I experienced that moment.  The moment has gone, but every now and then life throws something beautiful my way, this was that twinkling ticking trice.

Over the years, tribalism has rocketed, exploding with each clan being rewarded at the central square for their final dance.  The central Qiáotóu Square is where the judges convene and do their best Simon Cowell impressions.  The team of kinfolk from Qiáotóu that wins, receives honours and a prize for their ‘hood of Qiáotóu village.  On asking Edison to translate my questions to many locals, it became apparent that this is a totally unique form of this festival nationally.  This time around, I was interviewed for local television, asking my opinion on this unique and vibrant exclusive custom.  A rainbow with sounds, drums, whistles and firecrackers.  Friendly faces welcome me continuously a team clad in red and yellow invite me to lift the dragon’s head.  I lift it.  I will probably have a baby boy [pending ongoing logistical problems].

With backing of the government to this ritual and protection from commercialisation, outside exposure allows gentle promotion of this intangible local heritage and culture.  Fireworks and firecrackers are allowed by special permission of the government.  The powers that be strictly observe the position and routes of said fireworks ensuring all around are safe and buildings are not put at risk.  The villagers are extra careful in protecting their culture and edifices.

Mr Marco Chen highlights, “The current dragon boat traditions of Qiáotóu encourage team building and bonding.  We ensure as a team, we visit every other team’s Cítáng (池塘) to show communication of the villages and brotherhood.  Togetherness in our villages is most important.  It is a quality we want each new generation to carry forward.  We retain old world values and traditions whilst now including entertainment.  There are prizes for winning team displays and happiness is shared with family and friends.  There are skills used and learnt, tradition, generations together and positive attitudes throughout.  This teamwork is most important to Qiáotóu, and now beyond.”

 

To see the event, or to explore Qiáotóu, locate the many Ancestral Temples (Cítáng/池塘) and head around towards Qiáotóu square (alongside Guantai Lu) from 8pm to 10pm on the 5th evening of the 5th lunar month [9/6/2016; 30/5/2017; 18/6/2018].

 

Further reading:  Title: Drought Longxiang; ISBN-13: 9787536049475; ISBN-10: 7536049471; Author: BEN SHE YI MING; Binding: Paperback; Publisher: Flower City out; Published: December 1991; Price: 56RMB; Synopsis: An introduction to the festival.


 

The Case Against Qi Xi Festival

China has a rise on love dates in its ever-growing and evolving love culture, but is it all codswallop?

 

The letter l resembles the number one, and o as zero, v could be seen as the roman numeral V and e as a letter nowadays akin to electronics. Ladies and jelly spoons, I give you the October the 5th, love your electronics day. That is how some of the logic behind dates, that loosely resemble Valentine’s Day, appear to me.

I have no gripes with truly traditional dates, but it seems here the overlords of capitalism have stepped in and labelled everything according to the monthly sale of choice. The mythology behind QiXi (七夕節) and its older than 2600-year old history is interesting and worthy of a read. Sadly, an evening of sevens is like every other Valentine’s day, a chance to promote discount red panties and half-priced popcorn at the cinema.

What astounds and boggles the mind is the pick and mix of dates on offer to show your love (whether you are an abusive lover or a gentle giant). 20th and 2st of May, a is full of phonetics [“I (5) love (2) you (0/1)”]. Unlike QiXi, this date will never make National Intangible Cultural Heritage status. Regular February the 14th rears its head with standard décor and sales galore. 11/11 is a sacred date in the U.K., tied to remembrance days and mourning. Here all those ones mean single. Similarly, it could also be a digital on switch day. Lantern festival (元宵节) once carried a similar weight in ancient times for headhunting new love. Now there is a sale of lovely items tied in for fans of fanciful fondness. There seems to be a romantic date every week.

Many shops fill with bouquets of flowers, purple teddy bear crazes, tedious looking poetry pieces, chocolates (usually of bitter taste), and gifts of fancy that look at home in a very much discounted discount store. Call me the Scrooge of lust and adoration, but some tacky items are so bad, I question who came up with such ideas. It is the same for almost every occasion and often something straddles Hallowe’en, Easter and Christmas just because it has different shades of glitter.

It is great to see a happy couple minding their own business and enjoying life. Unless, they wear matching t-shirts, adorn themselves in signage to declare their commitment, or post WeChat posts of every moment they shared together (with the world), or get snagged in by supposed romantic restaurant specials. Stay at home, cook something amazing and keep it to yourselves. It isn’t a pissing competition. Tell commercialism, materialism, and face to have a day off. In the days leading up to these sort of dates, expect prices to double, treble and add on some more. Your money is wanted. Your love is the weapon for the faceless businesses. If it happens to be a case of the more expensive the gift, you give results in a feeling of the more you love him/her/it [modern world, folks] then maybe you should be investing in yellow roses, umbrellas and shoes [Symbols of a break up].

Jewel prices will rocket, fruit will be carved into heart shapes, perfumes may appear to be everywhere, and cheap looking teddy bears will breed out of hand. Resist the dark side. There may even be an imbalance of giving but not receiving, maybe that is normal, I wouldn’t know – as I avoid giving gifts on commercialised festivals.

I am off to collect WeChat numbers off rotten oranges I’ve spotted in the River Dongjiang. If you truly care about the one love in your eyes, do something from the heart on any day of the year, preferably one that doesn’t phonetically sound like the word love being whistled by a songbird perched on a daisy overlooking fern gully. Be natural. Don’t be dictated to by the shops and restaurants. Enjoy the 5th of October.


 

In Brief – Q M J

What is Qing Ming Jie? Well, firstly, it is known by many names. Qingming Jie (清明节) is most common in the English tongue. It is often referred to as Tomb Sweeping Day (扫坟节) and sometimes known as Ching Ming Festival (清明節). Some refer to it as Ancestors Day. It commemorates the onset of spring as well as one to remember forefathers. It is a date for clearness and brightness (清明节means ‘clear and bright’). Think Mexico’s Día de Muertos (Day of The Dead), Ghost Festival (Malaysia etc) and Bon Festival (Japan), Samhainn (Scotland/Ireland), or Totensonntag.

When will Tomb Sweeping Day be? It falls on Tuesday 4th of April in 2017, 2020 and 2021, and the 5th of April in 2018 and 2019. It follows the solar equinox of Spring. It is either on the dates of the 4th, 5th or 6th of April. However, across China it can differ. In Hebei, it may start a week earlier, and in Guangdong the sweeping of tombs is on the eve of the day itself.

Why is it important? This is a chance to remember past ancestors.

What happens? Relatives clean and sweep graves. Ancestors are worshiped. There is often an offering of food to the deceased. Expect to see the burning of joss paper (zhǐqián金纸). Qīngtuán(青团) is often eaten. It is a green dumpling, made of barley grasses (Hordeum murinum), mugwort (Artemisia argyi or Artemisia verlotiorum species). It is quite glutinous. Prayers are cast and flowers often given to the buried or cremated. Revolutionary martyrs are celebrated.

When did it holiday begin? It officially became a public holiday as recent as 2008. However, the origin of the festival spans as far back as 636BC. Emperor Ming of Tang (武隆基) stopped the elite from their regular homages to ancestors and decided one day a year was enough. He decided that the Cold Food Festival – Hanshi (寒食节) was a good time. Visiting old tombs, cock-fighting, swinging on children’s swings, the freshening of blankets and tugs of war filled a vibrant celebration of fallen lineages.

Is it a sad day? Yes, and no. Losing a loved one is always sad. It is also a chance to celebrate the love of life. Happiness and solemnness sit together.

Can you join in? You don’t need to kneel at a graveside prostrating to the lost. You don’t even need to offer food or wine by way of sacrifice. Whilst some offer mobile phones, you can even hire someone to go pay tribute for you. You can fly kites, celebrate the arrival of spring, and take a spring outing. This dates as far back as the Tang Dynasty. Or, you could even plant a willow tree. Some people even tell ghost stories… Hiking is also a popular pursuit.

Cup of tea? It is likely an expensive tea you are enjoying might be a prestigious ‘Pre-Qing Ming’ (清明前). After Qing Ming Jie tea is cheaper, I guess.

Key words for your Chinese:

清明节 (qīng-míng jié) Qingming Festival

扫墓 (sǎo mǜ) sweep tombs

祭祖 (jì zǔ) worship (sacrifice to) ancestors

纸钱 (zhǐ qián) joss paper: paper made to resemble money and burned as an offering to the dead

烧香 (shāo xiāng) burn joss sticks (incense)

Why did I want to write about this festival? 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 has brought us to this moment. If things have been hard along the way, so be it. Just keep moving forward. But, never forget the past.

 

杜牧/Dù Mù’s poem “qīng míng”:

 

清明时节雨纷纷

qīng míng shí jié yǔ fēn fēn

A drizzling rain falls on the Mourning Day;

 

路上行人欲断魂

lù shàng xíng rén yù duàn hún

The mourner’s heart is breaking on his way.

 

借问酒家何处有

jiè wèn jiǔ jiā hé chù yǒu

Inquiring, where can a wineshop be found?

 

牧童遥指杏花村

mù tóng yáo zhǐ xìng huā cūn

A cowherd points to Apricot Flower Village in the distance.

 

Further information: Wikipedia’s guide to Qing Ming Festival.

Myths and legends of Chinese Tomb Sweeping Day via ancient-origins.net.

Travel China explains Qingming Festival.

Qing Ming according to Malaysian Digest.