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

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 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

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

Next stop: Nanjing

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

34 years ago, Richard Skinner mentioned, “It’s 12 noon in London, 7am in Philadelphia. And around the world it’s time for Live Aid!” That’s the legendary concert that plays ever so well time and time again. But, whilst Twitter is trending, did the concert have an actual reason for showing? Seems to be of little note in all the flashbacks across the interweb. Whatever the problem was, it must have been fixed.

 

“All we hear is 👏Radio Ga Ga 👏…”


CITY OF SHANGHAI

SHANGHAI PIN BADGE IDEA 1My checklist from 2016, of things I must do in China has been reduced. I ticked off visiting Qingdao, flying a kite, and in five days, Shanghai, a city my grandfather visited will be marked off. I triefd Chinese art, caligraphy and kung fu. All were insults to their heritage. At least I tried once or twice.

Changning, Baoshan and Pudong districts of Shanghai once had Marks & Spencers. The city has a French concession region and the Bund is world famous. So, will I be in China or a European city? I’ve been reading up on things to do, places to see etc. Aside from City’s game versus Newcastle Utd or Wolves, I’ll get cultured in five days when I visit Shanghai.

#1 Shanghai Museum #2 China Art Museum (Line 8) #3 M50 for urban art & Jade Temple (玉佛寺/Line 13, Jiangning Road) #4 Xuhui Riverside Park wander. #5 Jewish Refugees Museum – and the ghetto in Hongkou #6 YuYuan Park #7 Sculpture Park #8 Wusongkou Paotaiwan (Line 3: Shuichen Road) #9 The 1933 Old Millfun #10 Zhujiajiao water village (Pine 17) #11 Huangpu’s Garden Bridge #12 Chuansha park #13 复兴公园 Fùxīng gōngyuán

I’m still trying my best to understand customs and Chinese culture. I’ll mark it as done. It will go on forever. I’m still trying to learn Mandarin (slowly).

The things remaining from that list of 33 now stand at just 5:

1. Visit Kunming and Yunnan.

2. See the Terracotta Warriors.

3. Visit Hangzhou, “Paradise on Earth”

4. Check out Jiuzhaigou.

5. Visit Chengdu.


CITY OF NANJING

NANJING PIN BADGE IDEAFirst up, tomorrow I travel to the 2008 Habitat Scroll of Honor of China city that is Nanjing. I’m looking forwards to seeing the City Wall of Nanjing (南京城墙 Nánjīng chéngqiáng), a wall that heavily influenced the Forbidden City of Beijing. The Jùbăo gate (聚宝门 Jùbăo Mén) looks atmospheric. I may start my wall walk from Zhonghuamen Station. Keeping with the word city, there is Shítóu Chéng [石頭城] or Stone City by Hanzhongmen Station. Maybe I can look up Purple Mountain ( Zĭjīn Shān) because of City’s new purple trim. It has UNESCO status of some kind and many places to view that you wouldn’t see every day (the Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties: 明孝陵/Míng Xiào Líng). The Ming Palace [明故宫Míng Gùgōng] located by Minggugong Station will be a good place to explore too. Most call it the ‘Forbidden City of Nanjing’. Or, for ceramc value, I can check out the Great Bao’en Temple [大报恩寺].

Nanjing seems to be a city famed for mausoleums and the massacre during China’s bitter war with Japan. The museum of the massacre [Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall 侵华日军南京大屠杀遇难同胞纪念馆 – Yunjinlu station, line 2] will be an emotionally addition to seeing the Nanjing Museum. Then there is a museum dedicated to Nazi Party member John Heinrich Detlef Rabe who saved sheltered approximately 200,000-450,000 Chinese people from slaughter by the Japanese. Rabe was the Nazi party’s local head, as a Deputy Group Leader in China. On one hand, he saved, on the other hand, he supported the Nazi cause. However, he did something monumental and saved many, many lives. Following his return to Germany, the Gestapo prevented Rabe from reaching Hitler. In his hand letters and documentation. His desire to influence Adolf Hitler and pass a message to the Japanese to cease their activity never was heard.

“It is not until we tour the city that we learn the extent of destruction. We come across corpses every 100 to 200 yards. The bodies of civilians that I examined had bullet holes in their backs.” – Rabe’s diary notes: December 13, 1937.

Soviet NKVD agents for Russia and then the British Army interrogated John Rabe following the war. He had a miserable few years following de-Nazifying. However, The Good German of Nanking (his wartime diary title), received food, aid and cash packages from the grateful people of Nanking. This continued until the Communists took over the city of Nanking. In 2009 a Chinese and a western movie portrayed John Rabe’s wartime experiences.

In 1948, the citizens of Nanking learned of the very dire situation of the Rabe family in occupied Germany and they quickly raised a very large sum of money, equivalent to US$ 2 000 ($ 21,000 in 2019). The city mayor himself went to Germany, via Switzerland where he bought a large amount of food for the Rabe family. From mid-1948 until the communist takeover the people of Nanking also sent a food package each month, for which Rabe in many letters expressed deep gratitude.[18]

The south bank city of Nanjing sits in the Yangtze Basin. It was historically known as Nanking, which I believe was purely to confuse me. China’s Three Furnaces are Wuhan, Chongqing and Nanjing so I won’t be expecting to see any snow. The average July temperature is 28.1°C (82.6°F) and I’ll be using the subway’s Jinlingtong (also known as IC-tong) to escape the heat between places.

On matchday, I’ll have a gander at My Town Bar around 3pm with fellow City fans. I wonder which City Legend will be alongside City mascots Moonchester and Moonbeam. Then it will be over to the Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre Stadium – and I must get a quite unique photo opportunity with the Premier League trophy, FA Cup, Carabao Cup and Community Shield.


After Shanghai, I fly back to Shenzhen, whiz up to Dongguan and then zip over to Hong Kong the next day…

CITY OF HONG KONG

 

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

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

Dongguan Vs. Manchester

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

 

I undertstand this is hardly a Batman Vs. Superman piece nor a Superman Vs. Batman script. Either way, to me, John, from that there city of Manchester, it is something that always makes me think. Manchester is home. It is my spiritual calling. Yet like places I have resided for a year or more, Dongguan now calls me and draws me back. Like that ex-girlfriend we all try to forget but can’t put of our mind eternally. You know the one. The one that got away. Not that I have that. I just hear others have that. I don’t. Honest. So, after Manchester, I lived in Aberystwyth (Ceredigion, Wales, U.K.), Plymouth (Devonshire, England, U.K.), headed back to Manchester before scattering briefly to Norwich (Norfolk, England, U.K.) before ending up here in Dongguan.

My time in Dongguan started in February 2014 at a township called Houjie. I moved to Changping in August 2017. Geographically, that seemed like quite a big move, which is odd as I left the U.K. for China, and that is a massive distance away. Stats can tell you anything and sometimes they reinforce the obvious. Looking around me, in Dongguan, I’d say this city is wider than any U.K. city; and bigger in many, many ways.

GEOGRAPHY

Manchester covers 243.4 sq mi (630.3 km2) whilst Dongguan covers 952 sq mi (2,465 km2). London sits at 671 sq mi (1,737.9 km2). Manchester has 2,553,379 people. Dongguan has a population of over 8,220,207 (just a few hundred thousand short of London). Manchester is the U.K.’s 2nd city. Dongguan is ranked as the number 8 city. London is the capital of the U.K. London has many underground rivers and surrounds the River Thames. There are ports, although many of historic or simple and small. By comparison, Dongguan has numerous ports as part of the Pearl River Delta megacity. Manchester has three rivers, the Irk, Irwell and Medlock – and a 36 mile (58 km) ship canal from Liverpool’s River Mersey’s estuary (this river starts in the town of Stockport, just south of Manchester).

TRANSPORT & ECONOMY

London has 270 subway stations and 366 railway stations. Manchester has 93 light rail tram stations and 16 railway stations. Manchester is the city that housed the first railway station and the world’s longest railway station platform (Exchange, Manchester/Salford boundary) at 2,238 feet (682 m) long. You could walk along the platform into the next station, Manchester Victoria. London claimed the first underground railway system way back in 1863. Dongguan has Dongguan station, Zhangmutou, Humen station, Changping has several stations but overall from Daojiao to the edges of Dongguan’s eastern outreaches there are collectively fewer than 30 stations.

London’s two airports (Heathrow and City) with four in close proximity (Stansted, Gatwick, Southend and Luton) open the city to the world. Manchester International Airport serves my home city. Barton’s City Airport gives Manchester two airports. Dongguan’s nearest airports are Shenzhen, Macau, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou.

HISTORY

Manchester’s history is deep. From Celtic tribes (the Brigantes), to Romans, the industrial revolution, German bombings in World War Two to present day terrorism, the city has evolved and throbbed with life and love. The Roman fort of Mamucium or Mancunium was created around 79AD (CE). The atom was split in this city. The first stored-program computer was built here. Attitudes have been born in Manchester, such as the formation of the Labour Party and the Suffragette Movement.

Whether it is sports, social impacts, scientific advancements, music, media, engineering, culture or architecture, Manchester has echoed around the world. Pop down to the oldest free library for such a feeling. Chetham’s Library is also where Friedrich Engels met Karl Marx. Marxism and industry have been felt in China for sure, so by default Dongguan was influenced by Manchester.

Dongguan is a baby yet has a history of human life tracing back about 5 thousand years, much like China! The city itself is but a few years shy of passing thirty [city status came in 1985], although Humen’s international impact stretches before 1839 and the First Opium War. Many local people understand this with respects to Anglo-Chinese relations. The city also proudly boasts guerrilla resistance against Second World War invaders. The move from agricultural to manufacturing arrived in the mid-1980s and has ploughed on relentlessly. The city has become globally important in a short space of time. I hear even NASA make some equipment here.

TWIN CITIES, DEMOGRAPHICS & ECONOMY

Manchester’s lack of coastline did nothing to prevent it being ranked the UK’s third largest port by 1963. However, nowadays the port has long been closed. That being said, shipping is opening on a smaller scale to specialist quays. Dongguan houses many overseas Chinese, coming from places such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore. Manchester and London are ethnically diverse cities, each with more than 58% Caucasian people. Manchester has a noteworthy Chinese population. Dongguan has a few thousand foreign residents linked to shoes, leather, electronics, furniture and education. London has been a twin city of Beijing since 2006. Manchester has held strong twin city ties with Wuhan since 1986. I’m not aware if Dongguan has a twin city or town but I assume it’d be Wolverhampton or somewhere obscure like Greenock.

LANDMARKS, ENTERTAINMENT & CULTURE

Manchester has many concert halls. These include the classical Bridgewater Concert Hall, the modern Manchester Arena, and nearby the Lowry Centre in Salford Quays. There are gritty and old buildings such as the O2 Apollo Manchester, Dancehouse, Roadhouse, and numerous theatres (e.g Palace Theatre, Opera House, and Library Theatre). Modern buildings sit side by side with old and creates a unique setting. Sports stadiums often host summer concerts. Outdoor concerts can also be found in large parks such as Heaton Park. London houses venues of great magnitude also, from the rotund Royal Albert Hall, to the Hammersmith Apollo to the huge O2 Arena, set in a dome. Parks always have summer concerts. Here Dongguan magazine is a good place to find events, as are websites such as Damai and Dongguan Today. Venues such as the Dongguan Nissan Basketball Centre and the Yulan Theatre provide a backdrop for major events. Square dancing appears to be the local thing, that and KTV at all hours….

EDUCATION

The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and Royal Northern College of Music make up three universities in Manchester. By comparison Dongguan is swelling with hundreds of kindergartens, and schools. Numerous colleges and the Dongguan University of Technology [东莞理工学院] create a fantastic pathway for learning opportunity. Manchester is growing and seen as a competitor to the capital city. London’s education base is globally mammoth. It is a truly international centre of education with more overseas students than anywhere else on Earth. Educational institutions and professional faculties cover every subject and basis of life. Like Manchester and Dongguan, London has a huge number of schools, colleges and further education centres in every district.

SPORT

Mention Manchester around the world and few people don’t recognise the name for football. Manchester City play at the Etihad Stadium, a short walk from the city centre. Manchester’s second team, Manchester Utd. are located outside the Manchester-boundary in the Greater Manchester borough of Trafford. Manchester Storm and Manchester Phoenix are the two ice hockey clubs. Manchester Giants, the British Basketball Association contender. There are lower league Gaelic football, rugby league and rugby league clubs. The city has hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2002; The FA Cup finals (1893, 1911, 1915, 1970), the Football League Cup finals, the 2008 UEFA Cup Final, and games from the 1996 UEFA European Football Championship, 2012 Olympics football group stages, and 1966 World Cup. The National Cycling Centre (a velodrome, BMX arena, and mountainbike trail), National Squash Centre and the Manchester Aquatics Centre. Lancashire County Cricket Club adds to a huge history of sport around the city. World class events are commonplace in Manchester.

Dongguan is the national basketball city with many basketball arenas and the Guangdong Southern Tigers. The 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup will follow in the footsteps of the 2015 Sudirman Cup badminton tournament and 2018 Asian Marathon Championships.

 

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

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.