The 11th day of the Gregorian calendar. 354 days of 2023 remain. In Tunisia, it is Children’s Day. In England, Southampton F.C. host Manchester City in the E.F.L. League Cup. In. Nepal, Prithvi Jayanti is being celebrated.
January is a time of sales, newness, and winter blues in the northern hemisphere. My younger sister Astrid was born on the 20th day of this month and remains to this day, my younger sibling. Also, she’d be a star if Astrid found more hobbies. A new year means resolutions and opportunities to start something fresh. Go on, Astrid, give it a try! Spring is coming soon…
Newness means looking at new ideas. Talking about baby names with my future Prime Minister friend, some oddities were suggested. Brahma Timothy Dalton Kiki Glauber Berti Acton was not considered, although it was recalled by my mate Brahma as a great baby name suggestion. No chance. Maltese rebel Vincenzo Borg, born on this date in 1777, stood a better chance. Also born on this day was SAS founder Paddy Mayne. The name Mayne has a good ring to it. It sounds like Maine. Maine Road? Very direct. A main road. Never cross the main road, as were told as a kid. Never cross the Maine Road, as Manchester United fans used to say.
Suggested names often link to history, time, and dates. In the month of the wolf moon, Wrestler Mick “The Dulwich Destroyer” McManus was born on this day. Combining the letters of man with the letter u isn’t appropriate. He was born on the same date a few years before Arthur Scargill. They are in good company with Bud Acton, my all-time favourite basketball player. I’m fibbing. I don’t really like basketball. The Manchester Giants are okay. Manchester City are better. İlkay Gündoğan plays for the boys in blue. İlkay means first moon.
Today is former Halifax Town striker Jamie Vardy’s birthday. To save money on a party, he and former Manchester City player Leroy Sané can organise a joint party reading Thomas Hardy books in the memory of the great wordsmith. A photo of great mountaineering humanitarian Sir Edmund Hilary could be placed on a wall behind a breathalyser to ensure party guests don’t drive home under the influence of alcohol. That great invention by Welsh inventor Tom Parry Jones has probably saved more lives by being a deterrent than not. So, that all can appreciate the Chinese calendar year…
The Chinese year is somewhere between 4719 or 4659, 壬寅年 (water tiger) to 4720 or 4660 癸卯年 (water rabbit). Give or take. China has recently reopened and gives me a chance to try and book a flight back soon whilst applying for the visa. Perhaps I can call via Croatia, which has now fully adopted the Euro coinage, and will abandon the kuna as a currency in 4 days. These days, I’d simply favour a stable job and some pounds or RMB to help the future move along smoothly.
Indigo is a cool sounding word and same. It has passed from the Greek word, ‘indikon’, meaning ‘from India’ to Latin into common usage English. It reflects the meaning of a purplish blue colour produced by a plant with a similar name, Indigofera tinctoria. In naming formats for kids, it is gender-neutral and apparently appeared as far back as the year 1436. Marco Polo (1254-8 January 1324) is believed to have first brought back the plant and dye instructions to Europe. These days, the plants are often known to improve soil and bring new life to earth. This plant obviously provides a natural compound that allows blue to be added to clothes, canvas, and a multitude of materials. Naturally, I’m a blue as a Manchester City fan. Blue is natural. Look at the skies* and the sea. [*unless in Manchester, on this sodden wet morning]. There’s something about the moon and blue that feels right.
12:46pm China time, in Huizhou. 04:46am, Greenwich Mean Time…
It’s 2022 and Monday, January the 31st sees rockets zipping into the air, exploding into slivers of shimmering silvers and reds.
恭喜发财 gōng xǐ fā cái / happiness and prosperity
Children and adults play with firecrackers, and light spinning fireworks on the ground. Bang after boom echo and fill the smokey night air loud and long. The air wreaks of chemicals and smoke, remaining lit and shrouded by reactions, collision after crashing explosion. The onslaught, a man-made destruction of fresh air to celebrate a new year. A temporary volcanic blast of colourful joy.
虎年大吉 hǔ nián dà jí / Wishing you luck in the year of the Tiger!
The tiger (虎 hǔ) , faced with extinction, is third of twelve on the Chinese zodiac. Lucky colours in this wood tiger year include grey, white, blue, purple, orange, and black. We’re supposed to avoid gold, silver, brown and pink. The largest living cat species, Panthera tigris, is a critically endangered is an apex predator. This vertically striped beast has a hugely fragmented territory now, enjoying protection in parts of India and Russia. This macrofauna remains popular in culture, sports and at conservation parks globally.
Tigers have featured in folklore and mythology for countless years. The national animal of South Korea has little documented evidence that it is still present there, yet like many countries the symbolic value of the tiger remains powerful. Last official estimates show there to be less than fifty tigers wild in China. The anti-pest campaigns of the 1950s have decimated the genetic breeding populations. However, laws and regulations since 1993 have been strengthened. Sadly, traditional medicine still remains a threat. Bloody English game hunters wiped thousands out and to this day man-hunter tigers are often eliminated.
Zoos aren’t always as they seem. Many in Asia lack genetically valuable breeding specimens. Generations of inbreeding and circus or posing animals have weakened a vulnerable captive breeding population. Bluntly putting it, the tiger’s future is on its last legs. Fragmented habitat, poaching, habitat destruction, human-wildlife conflict, and medicinal beliefs put tigers firmly in the negative zone for the future. Globally there could be 5495 tigers in the wild. Or less. So, let’s hope the Year of the Tiger brings prosperity to the giant feline. Yann Martel’s Life of Pi softened tiger images, whilst Tigger in Winnie the Pooh hasn’t done so bad.
‘Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?’ – Tyger, a poem byWilliam Blake
This year of 2022 will be haunted by COVID-19 and climate change, global differences and financial crisis. The bright sparks in the darkness include the Hunchun Reserve (珲春国家级自然保护区) and the South African Laohu Valley Reserve for South China tigers (Panthera tigris tigris). Li Quan (全莉) has been deeply involved in trying to rewild South China with tigers.
虎运连年 hǔ yùn lián nián / Wishing you the luck of the Tiger year after year!
It’s been seven years and a day since I arrived in China. There should be a lengthy piece of writing about that, but looking back is already documented. So, let’s look forward together to joy, happiness, City being top of the league and all that wonderful uncertainty that we get to kick in the dick. Don’t let the bastards wear you down. 2021 is the year of the (metal white?) Ox and we’re off and running.
To those lunatics who follow the lunar New Year, I wish you a happy new year. To those who follow the sun, you commit lunacy by not obeying the order of the moon. Each to their own. Blue moon will be played over the noise of the fireworks outside or maybe Saving Private Ryan is more appropriate.
“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:
Chinese New Year had reached Manchester and the great city delivered a colourful display of culture. It has done so for many a year and shall forever more do so. This year a giant dragon filled St Ann’s Square and activities spread over the city. The Almighty Sometimes provided an afternoon’s entertainment. The Royal Exchange Theatre have always been a bold and open-minded kind of theatre. They are open to all and test waters that others wouldn’t even think about it.
The Almighty Sometimes, as penned by Kendall Feaver, had been converted from though to words to a stageplay excellently. Katy Rudd, as director, and her team dropped a monster of a show into the arms of the watching. Tackling both language and the use of medication to chemically castrate those who battle their imaginations and thoughts, this production had sharp-edged teeth. Norah Lopez Holden is a beautiful actress, and her character Anna has a mind more wide and dreamy than most. The actress sucks you into her head and the character is someone you attach to, instantly. A Mancunian spin and by local actress Julie Hesmondhalgh (who you soon forget as playing Hayley from Coronation Street) and Mike Noble’s nasal tones as Oliver support a cast with actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster portraying Vivienne – the child psychiatrist.
Lucy Carter’s lighting, the simple set design by Rosanna Vise and striking sounds by Giles Thomas enhance Vicki Manderson’s movement directions. The dialogue, much as the original script, is gripping. It plucks strings on the heart if the banjo and jabs away drumbeats using smashing drumstick movements. Every ounce of sweat was bled dry from the cloth of the ensemble and towards the interval I felt tears run. They ran again, at least twice. The labelled main character Anna draws you in and tortures you in a way as bipolar as beauty and the beast could only be. It hurts. It makes you love. It kicks out. It embraces you. Such torture and cuh pleasure. I f**king hate this show. I love it equally. Ever imagined being someone desperate for independence? And I mean painfully desperate. The spot by wit’s end identified as critical and inconsolable. That bursting recklessly easger point of extreme anxiety? Anna will take you there. Not only that but the complexities of mother, friends and lovers – even the so-called experts of mental health will all be sliced apart and left to questions. There is a spectrum that is so diverse – so broad – it will leave you without words, and just raw emotions. It will not leave you cold. Julie Hesmondhalgh has leapt from Accrington to the electronic screens, but on stage she is hypnotizingly charismatic and soon has you forgetting the New Order t-shirt. Her young daughter on stage, Norah Lopez Holden, is eloquent, powerful and engaging. She radiates passion in every line and action. Her Hispanic looks, with a Mancunian twang fade away as each line jabs out like a boxer’s right hook. She is exactly the reason I never attempted drama at secondary school, because I could never do what she does. Living overseas, in a reasonably western-free area, means I may not see another theatre production, of that calibre, in a while but I am more than inspired to hunt them down on that showing. Thank you for such a distressing yet astonishing experience. It was part-ballet, part walking on broken glass. It was close to home. Very.
The train from Manchester Airport to Barrow-on-Furness was cancelled. Instead it would head off from Manchester Piccadilly. This being an annoyance, an alternative route with delays was found, via Carlisle, instead of via Barrow-on-Furness. After a long while of scenery out of the window, the fourth train of the day rolled into Parton, a village north of Whitehaven. Here I’d catch up with Dan, Vanessa, Alex and Damian.
Catching up Dan, Vanessa, Damian and Alex proved to be a great experience. Between walking the four-year old twins to school, talking, playing and polishing off some rum, exploration of the local area was also called for. The Lake District Coast Aquarium in Maryport offers crazy golf, engaging talks, a variety of British marine tanks, a working conservation lobster hatchery and staff that know their marine biology. The layout is good for a few hours sandwiched around a walk alongside the historic Marport marina, harbour and promenade. This was certainly a place for families to visit! The centre has a café and there are numerous pub grub options in a short walking distance. A walk around Ennerdale Water, far off from Bassenthwaite Lake (the only actual lake in the Lake District) and wanderings around Whitehaven town centre also allowed for relaxation – although climbing mountains in high heels isn’t normally fun.
Abbot’s Hall Hotelis a Christian Guild property. The décor is dated yet classic and relaxing. The furniture and fittings follow a similar mould. The grounds are pleasant and it hosts a wonderful indoor heated pool. The café and restaurant are ample with nearby restaurants in Grange-over-Sands. Kents Bank train station is outside the gate, less than two minutes stride away. Beyond the treelines and up a windy road Kents Tower can be reached, offering wonderful views of Morecambe Bay and the Lake District’s southern mountain range. One night here was not enough. However, it proved a pleasant contrast from a trip to London the next day.
That London was the next stop on the tour of England. A quicker than expected passage across the famous London Underground gave an arrival at Broughton. Crossing just three streets and walking a few hundred yards allowed for safe arrival at Zoly Apartment (23 Tabard Street), as found on Booking.com. London awaited. The simple apartment needed an electronic code for the front door and a different one for the room. The facilities were modern and included an electronic tablet notepad filled with lots of useful bits and bobs. A kitchen and a good bathroom made for probably my favourite place that I have stayed in London, ever, apart from Paul Thomas’ place after an ill-fated journey from Norwich to Manchester, via That London.
Dinner at Nando’s on the banks of the River Thames, gave wonderful archway views from Southwark looking northwards. Underneath Blackfriars Road bridge, tucking into spicy chicken wings, wedges and a host of sides made for a comforting dinner, two nights out of three spent in That London. The Clink Street location is close to the historic Golden Hinde, London Dungeons and many other attractions. The location really is something.
Royal Observatory Greenwich followed by dinner at Nando’s and a speedy passage to Piccadilly Circus to enjoy The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. Firstly, the Criterion Theatre is a gem, sank beneath the streets of the City of Westminster. On entering from Piccadilly Circus, you grab your tickets at a quaint ticket booth before tip-toeing downstairs beyond the top tiers of the theatre seating, and then into the lower circle. Beneath are the stalls and the stage. The horseshoe-shaped theatre seats a little shy of 500 spectators. It opened in March 1874 as a concert hall and soon was converted to a theatre. Long gone are the dangerous gaslights and in their place is a modern interior with occasional hints at the venue’s first usages. Names of composers line the walls on the staircasing. Henry J. Byron, W.S. Gilbert, and other such playwrights who commanded the use of an initial letter have perfomed at this charming venue. In World War II, it was even a BBC safe and recording studio! Secondly, the production of The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is an absolute delight. Packed full of wit, charm, comedy – and a rich dialogue with fine vocals and production of the highest calibre. The Mischief Theatre have won awards – and toured the world for good reason. They are.
The final day or so in Manchester involved shopping, a birthday lunch for Dad and packing a stupendous amount of luggage (mostly gifts).