“What’s stopping you?”

你好!Nihao! Hello!

No drunken state of mind was needed. No spontaneity other than the heart and mind being aligned at a state of euphoric relaxation. A new experience was had. Better late, than never.

Dali was a place I felt relaxed enough to make enquiries about one of my ambitions. Many people call ambitions a bucket list these days. I haven’t really listed the things I want to do, the places I want to see and the experiences I must have, for two reasons. Firstly, why list? I’ll contradict myself immediately. I love a list and a plan (at times). Other times call for spontaneity. Secondly, things change. We adapt. We live. We learn. We fight problems like COVID-19, negativity, alarm clocks and mosquitoes.

So, on my, it’s in my head bucket list, I wanted a bee tattoo. Following the atrocities of the Manchester Arena bombing, the bee has undergone a resurgence in its representation of God’s favourite city: Manchester. I say God’s favourite city, but I mean the Gods of rain. All of them. It’s been about two years since I experienced Manchester in the drizzle. And Vimto fruit cordial on ready availability.

So, Echo recommended a friend called Lin for just black or blue tattoos. I wasn’t so keen. It’s a commitment. Bees are colourful after all. A further friend, Zhao, was put in touch and suddenly the bee idea was gaining momentum. Not only that but I wanted to incorporate bats, to symbolise flight and misunderstood mammals. Then, I had to add an aubergine, because QiéZi (茄子) has helped me relax and rediscover myself. Do you believe in resurrection? Then I wanted some lyrics. I toyed between the music of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. Bring me sunshine? Echo offered to draw the tattoo too. I declined. Maybe the next one…

I settled on The Levellers and their track One Way, which has been there so long and I completely agree with the lyrics, “There’s only one way of life and that’s your own.” Perhaps I owe royalties now. I’ll donate to their chosen charity or cause. It needed a font. So, Helveticamazing was selected. It’s a very Mancunian font. At this time, the bee evolved into the colours of Manchester City. Well, the sky blue aspect anyway. Sadly, Zhao didn’t have purple so the eggplant needs finishing another day. Or, it could stay white, like white eggplants. Why not?

Being on a tattoo bed face down, having a pinching, scratching and sometimes sharp sensation was oddly relaxing. At first I was experiencing discomfort but soon found myself lost in John Le Carre’s The Mission Song. With QiéZi and Xiao Jie looking on, at times, I must have napped because they disappeared then reappeared later.

Zhao spent around two and a half hours defacing my skin. QiéZi has two artworks that each required ten hours of work. One on her thigh is a huge colourful fish imagery. Another is the Greek Olympian Poseidon. And her feet, arms, back all have interesting smaller complimentary stories. If a twenty-five year old can be so relaxed and patient, to complete that much fine artwork, so can I. My decision had been made years ago to get a tattoo. The actions needed to be in the right place, at the right time and accompanied by the right people.

再见!Zaijian! Goodbye!

And here it is…

Buzzing.

Stage XI: Abuji Cuo

你好!Nihao! Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

再见!Zai Jian! Goodbye!

Stage X: Shangri-la Too

Nihao! 你好!Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zai Jian! 再见!Goodbye!

Stage VI: Xining & Kumbum

Nihao! Hello!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Show me your vaccine certificate.”
I complied.

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

“Please wait a moment.”
Minutes pass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zai jian! Goodbye!

XinJiang: Itinerary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

yǒu kōng zài jù / 有空再聚 / See you soon


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

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

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

© Google Earth

#VisitDongguan2021

Good morning/afternoon/evening/night/day,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time.

TESMC: Bell, Bishop…*

*…Walsh, Gündoğan, Sheron, Creaney, Wright-Phillips, Benarbia, Fowler, Barton, Geovanni, Pizarro, Nasri… and all those other wonderful Manchester City numbers 8s.

These are the voyages of the starship TESMC. Its nine-module mission: to explore strange new words. To seek out almost new teaching methods and relatively new vocabulary. The bold crew of the giant starship explores the excitement of strange uncharted dictogloss things, and exotic uninhabited refined writing. Imagine it – thousands of noun groups at our fingertips… To boldly go where few teachers have gone before!

“Navigation was always a difficult art,
   Though with only one ship and one bell:
And he feared he must really decline, for his part,
   Undertaking another as well.” – The Hunting Of The Snark, a poem by Lewis Carroll

During TESMC classes we have focused on language in learning across the curriculum. Here’s a recap (to build on the 7th instalment), at the Using English for Academic Purposes website, of nominal groups, structures and examples with exercises. There’s two links here and there for dictogloss activities. Look at this website called The Up-Goer Five Text Editor. It expects you to type a complex idea only using words from a list of 1000 common use words. That’s that, done!

[Now, an important announcement] Lemma: a word family, e.g. running, run, ran; blue, bluer, bluest, blueish, blues, etc. [Announcement ends]

Another vocabulary test website was pointed my way. Cheers ears! You know who you are. VocabularySize.com is a tool to create customized and test vocabulary tests for students. It was created by the University of Wellington, in New Zealand. Their School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies worked with School of Engineering and Computer Science. Language acquisition takes time, patience and exposure. Those students in an international school such as Tungwah Wenzel International School, surrounded by numerous international teachers, are most likely to increase their vocabulary than students in Inner Mongolia without a foreign teacher or access to YouTube. To them English will be as Scottish as a suntan.

Judgement value calls shouldn’t be drawn from memory. Responsive attitudes towards data collection over time carries more merit and significance. By showing a daily goal, we set a part of a bigger picture. The bigger picture should come from steps and aims. Those goals need organising. Rubrics are familiar territory that often get overlooked. I know, from my experience, that I have often favoured an in-head calculation over pencil, pen or paper. That’s not fair. Formative and summative assessments need clarity, not just for the teacher or the parent. The student should have the goalposts set early on. They must know what the task entails and how to achieve maximum marks.

“When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative; when the guests taste the soup, that’s summative.” – Robert E. Stake, Professor Emeritus of Education, University of Illinois

Having a summative assessment that resembles activities earlier on is key too. If you use formative pieces that have multiple choice questions and then for the finale you switch to an all-singing, all-dancing 2000-word essay, then that’s totally not playing cricket with your students. English as a Second Language (ESL) students need modelled methods that allow them to switch between multiple forms. To do it without preparation is unfair. Failure or success depends on students and their experience. To think outside of the box without the necessary scaffolding is not easy. One activity that I found useful was to assign half the class the activity of being the teacher. The other half had to follow the instructions given by the teacher. Afterwards peer review of the followers revealed that some students gave clear instructions. Others did not. Some students improvised where instruction was lacking. Many students competed to give the better and clearer instructions. Positive peer pressure gives chance for evaluation and reflection. Using a checklist or rubric over the top of that student’s activity gives a more meaningful insight to the activity and assessment. The teacher can play the role of referee or judge. The peers become the jury. Hopefully no executioner needs assigning. That being said we’ve all had that one student who never does homework… [It’s gallows humour, relax]

“What we learn with pleasure we never forget.”  – Alfred Mercier

Student age gives us an idea of where to set our expectations. Within an age group, each student’s experience and exposure to English needs to be factored in. Then there’s nationality, multilingualism, academic performance in their native language(s), and so on… or what they ate for breakfast. Classrooms are living breathing jelly-like places that seldom remain constant. One gargantuan factor to take into consideration is that of student behaviour. Special needs and cares need to be taken into account. Not every student has the level of focus that we desire. To give confidence, informal formative assessments and their analysis will benefit the teacher and student. In the long run, reforming practices to unlock their true productive potential using a variety of interactive assessments will become a most valuable teaching tool.

“I never teach my pupils. I can only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” – Albert Einstein

Formative assessments can guide a teacher to how a student is or is not progressing. It can allow the teacher to amend their methods or tailor an individual student’s needs much more fluidly. John Polias, of Lexis Education, describes it as:

  • assessment of learning;
  • assessment for learning;
  • assessment as learning.

I read that in the style of Pep Guardiola as an intense football manager. He, like many great football managers, uses coaching of football in the game, after game analysis and during the game. The game is the test. The game is also a time to test new formations and tactics. The game is something to reflect on and to understand new learnings. This can also be said within our classroom. This should also be applied to our students. Assessment as learning is a real chance give appropriate and frequent feedback – in order to modify learning activities. It’s proactive and not reactive. Assessment of learning, the summative part, is reactive. It’s done, it’s dusted. Game over, almost. Assessment for learning also allows us scope to work away from the traditional unit test and external testing of old. Here in assessment for learning and assessment as learning we allow magic to happen. Students can express themselves. There’s self-assessment, self-monitoring and peer-assessment time. Students can create or make their own checklists or rubrics. With that, they can be employed for the purpose of learning. They allow students incentive, a drive, a spur on to get to a much more useful end. Therefore, Making Assessment Supportive focuses on how we can devote adequate time to making a type of assessment that makes sense for our students – and being able to use it at varied points of instruction. At points along the teaching cycle allows us to make assessment more fruitful. Lorna Earl’s Assessment as Learning: Using Classroom Assessment to Maximise Student Learning further strengthens this material showing a host of judgements about placement, promotion, credentials, etc to fit with other students. It shows information for teacher instructional decisions to meet external standards and expectations. It shows self-monitoring, self-correction and adjustment to reach personal and external goals.

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” – Kahlil Gibran

So, with all that, I ask you, teacher or not, what does the assessment pyramid look like? Identify how your school, current or old, had their pyramid. Where would you place the below? Top, middle or bottom?

  • assessment of learning;
  • assessment for learning;
  • assessment as learning.

Let’s each analyse samples of assessment tasks being used in our schools. Are they devised to be assessment of, for, or as learning? How can we incorporate a more overlapped approaches to assessments within teaching? What’s the understanding from students within our classes about the kinds of assessments that we do?

“The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.” – B.B. King, musician

Until next time… goodbye for now.

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…

Woolly balls, Alan & Xi’an

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

爱与和平/Peace and love

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

Mum.

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

To quote Salford’s Jason Manford, his autobiography is called Brung Up Proper: My Autobiography. Without the words my autobiography, that’s how I feel. I feel ‘brung up proper”. My reasoning is simple. My mother did a great job. Now let’s drop the word mother and never use the American word mom. Mum, that’s what I call her. That’s who she is. Always will be. Dad and Mum in spring 1982 did something that my imagination will not entertain a single thought for. About 9 months later, out popped me. Dad’s second successful sperm. Asa won the race in Dad’s previous marriage. Good luck at winning a race now Asa, I’m faster and fitter! I think. Anyway, here I was and Mum, previously known as Elaine became a mam, not mom. We’re not American.

Mum and Dad divorced before I was old enough to dash Lego away. Although, I last bought a Ghostbusters Lego set three years ago, so that’s no barometer for my life. Anyway, somewhere in my infant years at New Moston Primary School, I found out life was not going to be all happy families. I suddenly had no father at home, and Mum was left to carry the burden: me.

Mum juggled hard and cooked reasonably well. I grew. New shoes always found my feet, even if I was a titleholder at breaking those shoes soon after. Some of those pairs of shoes managed a whole week without damage. Once? Weekend Dad was there as often as he could be, but Mum was always there to pick up the crying boy waiting at the window all day. Mum would ensure I could see wildlife in the park and chase around for me, when I stumbled over fences to look at dead birds on forbidden embankments. The dangers that I encountered only made Mum more of a great guide. With my endless energy, I’d launch myself over the sofa into the walls and no doubt give Mum occasion to talk with the Social Services. Those awkward moments probably followed Corn Flakes mixed with washing-up liquid in the toilet bowls and peaceful baths in the sink.

Mum, accompanied by my boyhood companion Pup the wonder dog and Basil the cat (until he ran away, probably through ear trauma) raised me. The many days getting me to focus at schoolwork gave me somewhere to channel my energy. In 1988, my sister Astrid arrived and we’d all share the affections of a great mum.

After Mum’s circumstances changed, we ended up moving from Warbeck Road in Moston to Range Street in Clayton. Here life became a little more tough and bumpy. I started at Clayton Brook Primary School and encountered some bullying. I can’t recall too much of life there, just a few summer sports day events and my first task writing a list of words beginning with the letters st. That and the maths books being too easy.

Almost as soon as my arrival at Clayton Brook, life moved us over to Levenshulme. Now with a younger brother in Paul. Mum completed studies via the Open University and enjoyed many tough years working for the Citizens Advice Bureau, initially on a voluntary basis before going fulltime. Mum’s social studies course has served her well ever since. Her love of cacti, succulents, and the garden is in full bloom. Sometimes some stitching is evident amongst her growing hobbies. Mum has travelled more and more, even going overseas to Cyprus and Malta. What’s next for Mum? The world is still her oyster. My Mum is brilliant – and she can go anywhere and do anything she likes, especially with her own powerful mind.

Mynah interruption

This writing was begun on the 20th of June. However, I am continuing now, a day later, due to writer’s block. The writer’s block in this situation being a mynah bird. It dropped into a class yesterday and following some commotion, ended up bunking at my place for the night. The playful bird nibbled my ear a few times and released its bowels on my shoulders more than a few times. We talked, we laughed, and we played but thankfully today I have been aware that the school gardener is the owner. Some pesky students let it out of its cage. All’s well that ends well, right?

“In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.” ― Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

Anyway I think considering I lived in there locations before I hit puberty and struggled at university, the fact that I am not a street cleaner or serving French Fries in the American eMbassy is testament to how Mum has always been a great friend for me – and put up with my teenage and youthful mishaps for far too long. She has listened to my problems, given great advice and acted as a great example. Also, Mum likes good music – and that has influenced me greatly. Without James, REM and Pulp, Led Zeppelin, Scottish-born Finley Quaye, and others my life would be less colourful. Mum let me watch London’s Burning on a Sunday night, passed my regular 9pm bedtime from an early age. Other comedy shows and a few great movies were permitted from time to time. Mum braved rains and flooding to see Ghostbusters 2 with me at The Roxy Cinema in 1989, took me and my mate Neil to Blackpool, and gave me Jurassic Park and Congo, to date my two favourite novels.

“It’s hard to decide who’s truly brilliant; it’s easier to see who’s driven, which in the long run may be more important.” ― Michael Crichton, Congo

Mum let me hang out with Peter and Dan. At times there was trouble and the odd broken thing or two, but throughout we formed unbreakable friendships despite testing their resilience from time to time. These friendships gave stability to my life. Mum encouraged us all. That’s how I ended up at university and ever since then I have been trying to be independent and pretending to grow up. If I ever crack this life, it will because Mum helped me to do it.

 

Meanwhile, after a great friendly tournament managed by Aaron and Murray’s F.C. last weekend, we had a game versus a Korean team midweek. Both dates were roasting. 90% humidity and mid-30s temperatures do that. Work has been going deep into injury time. By that, the last few kicks of the game of work will involve exams – and I need to prepare one final science paper and then mark it. Next week is my final student-facing week. Summer awaits soon after. Kind of. Well, after Friday the 12th of July.

Aaron, of Murray’s F.C. and general Dongcheng fame, mentioned his mate had some goods impounded on their way from Oman. The customs rules for importing or deliveries to China state: anything marked as ‘Made in China’ cannot be sent to China. Good look returning things to China. When I told Aaron the story of some of my unrecived parcels to China, he said how I’ve had some interesting and weird times. Spot on. It is an odd place. Especially, to send a parcel.

In closing, I want to wish everyone a happy Shaun Goater Day. FEED THE GOAT.

 

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

The motions of finality.

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

Last Wednesday evening, I watched the excellent Paul Draper, of Mansun fame, now going solo in Guangzhou’s Mao Livehouse. It was an excellent gig, even if returning around midnight to sunny Dongguan was a tad late. One thing for sure, the hustle and bustle of Guangzhou did not leave me feeling in a wide open space. The venue has great acoustics and with Paul Draper’s dreamy vocals, even if Beijing had left him a little sore of the throat. The experience was made all the better by discovering both new songs, and some old songs that I haven’t heard since they probably came out. I’m no super fan of Mansun or Paul Draper – but this gig was my favourite this year. I’ve been to one gig. That being said, I doubt many bands or artists will put on a better show in 2019.


I am tired of hearing that “you must be the best“. I agree and I disagree. Be your best by all means, but don’t accept that being the best of all others is possible. For me that is chosen by popular opinion. On one hand, one person could be good at organising groups or preaching ideals, on the other hand, that person could also be radical and likely extreme. You wouldn’t want Adolf Hitler organising a charity shop. He’d probably do okay on the bric-a-brac section or the novelty homewares. I wouldn’t trust him with the books or clothing. He had a nasty habit of being a bit selective. Similarly I wouldn’t trust Marie Curie in a charity shop. She’d be too busy messing around with polonium – and not obeying health and safety rules. Hitler would be a terrible co-worker for Curie. He’d no doubt fuel the rumours that she was a Jewish homewrecker. Yes, history has often been full of divisive figures. Something that you couldn’t say about Michael Jackson, without fear of a fan getting upset, until recently. Now old M.J.J. the noseless is fair game. Him being dead makes him an easy target, much like the poor boys he probably fiddled with.

So, why should we be the best? To be tainted by our weakness and our mistakes? To fall down on our swords? Does society spit out the mediocre and forget what we offer? Is there fault in wanting to live a simple peaceful live? Are we either astronauts, astronomers or stargazers without need of answers? If a dream is unspoken, did anyone dream it?

I’m often asked why I like teaching. “Hey Mr John, why do you like teaching?” The answers I give are not always the same but usually I say something like, “Ugh. I dunno.” I want to be the one who makes the shy kid speak. I wouldn’t mind being the one who makes the noisy kid pay attention. If someone can make the dreamer join in, why can’t it be me? If you can’t impart teamwork where selfishness was, then I will do it. I like to defrost cold situations. We can all be the one who says hello to everyone, from the cleaners to the parents to the secretary to the delivery man to the security guard and the bosses.

It is important that in teaching, and for the bigger society, that we don’t create a sense of inferiority. Yes, there will always be outstanding people and we need them. We need the differences in ability, and we need the inability in order to thrive. Our faults can be assets. Without negative experiences or bad times, division, or difference, we’d not have Joy Division, Radiohead or the lyrics of Paul Draper, singing Jealousy is a powerful emotion. We need less division and fear of difference. Events in Christchurch this week tell us that. Don’t fear better, don’t fear religions, just accept that difference is wonderful. I take pride in my hometown and the man who stood outside a Levenshulme mosque with a message of peace. Yes, he garnished some publicity, but that furthered his message and no doubt reached the people of communities like Christchurch and beyond. The real people no doubt felt the support. The haters probably struggled and held conflict in their hearts. For every message of love, we can win. Can’t get fairer than that, right?

“To destroy someone, you must observe these rules; At number one; Everybody’s got their weakness; Get people on your side.”
Paul Draper – Friends Make the Worst Enemies

During the hike in Nepal, it gave me a feeling of community and harmony unfelt before. Along the way many single people, groups and couples enjoyed guidance from experienced guides and porters. These local experts are well-trained, respected and hard-working. They don’t cut corners. They work safely and never hurry their clients. You’re their guest and for a moment you are treated just as one of the family. They extend their hands to stragglers and solo-trekkers alike. Do you need a porter? Maybe you like the challenge. Maybe you want a luxury and to have someone lug your backpack to leave you free to explore a little more. The benefits of the guides and porters far outweigh not having assistance. They know the weather. They know the altitude and signs of sickness, and how to acclimatize more carefully. They’re really honest people too – but I’m sure a bad apple is amongst the cart. I’d trust them though. Some pay their porters or guides 2,000-2,500 NPRs per day. Some pay their hired hands’ accommodation and food on top. They’re all fair about their fare from day one. They even meet with clients in advance and explain their terrains. Most guides speak English – and many have learnt Korean, Chinese, Spanish and French. They’re a talented bunch. Having a guide is not necessary but even from someone who twice set out on a challenge without a guide, I would in future throw serious consideration to a guided tour. Maybe in the future Manaslu, Chitwan and Annapurna will call me.


10th February 2019

On leaving Pheriche, we rounded the pathways through Pangboche and looked for a place to stay. No rooms at the inn, and with enough sunlight to carry on, we walked forward to Deboche. With light fading, we arrived into a warm room, a bright view and the setting sun casting purple tints over the surrounding mountain tops. The Paradise Lodge made a a good mushroom pizza and for me Dal Baht wasn’t on a list of foods to eat. The lodge, a stone affair with wooden interiors and a row of protruding beachhut style rooms was far from a grey house. The blue and white paints, and dark green trims made it feel very homely and traditional.

The following morning, we walked the short climb up to Tangboche, and after viewing the grand monastery we descenced to Punkitenga. Here we ate lunch, before walking (mostly) upwards until Namche Bazaar. The culmination of the journey was now in our hearts. The motions of finality were obvious. Less photographs, more savouring of the views and moments and even a tear in they eye, here and there. On reaching a crest of the footpath, my heart vowed to return, as it had done two years previously. One day, I’ll put the boot in, in a hard way. The next walk will be longer. I can feel it. There is a force calling me. The fat lump in my head is erupting in a storm of electronic signals and they all point to a new voyage of discovery in Nepal. Anyone want to join me?

Probably, to be continued….


A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. With this idea in mind, a challenge needs to be on the horizon. Always have something to look forwards to. There are things people want, and things people need, to keep their heads up. On damaging an ankle ligament this last week, I am now looking at deferring my attempt at the Spartan Race. I am now able to move the opportunity in Hong Kong, during June, to a later date in Shenzhen, possibly October. It may or may not be wise. I need to think it over. The right ankle has been strapped up for three days now. It feels more painful and sharp than before. The swelling has dropped from balloon-like levels to just plain bumpy. Instead of running, Muay Thai or football this week, I am contemplating a few hours of uplifting Morecambe & Wise on television. I was feeling my heart run slow, so I needed something fortifyingly enriching. Why wallow in shit when you can lay down and eat fine grapes?

“All men are fools, and what makes them so is having beauty like what I have got.”
Glenda Jackson, Morecambe & Wise Show

 

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

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

Cinema Survival in China

RECOVERED FROM THE DEMISE OF HUBHAO.COM

(as true today as at the time of writing in April 2015; I watched Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, to the added soundtrack of snoring for 2 hours!!!)

The cinema, a place of magic, emotions and white-knuckle rollercoaster rides.  Often many battles are on-screen and increasingly as East meets West clashes engulf the big screen movie theatres.  Here is a guide to go in prepared and come out leaving no man behind.

  1. Some theatres sit on shopping mall roofs, others are slap-dashed onto the side of the road. Knowing the location and layout is important.  Research the journey time from the complex entrance to screen time.  Once in the scramble for seats can resemble something like Raiders of The Lost Ark.  Most times I have been to the cinema the screen has opened only ten to fifteen minutes like back home.  The difference here is that people arrive pretty much at kick off and five to ten minutes into tonight’s feature presentation.  Here a standard tut would suffice in the U.K.  Find something to bite your teeth into.  I go all-Jaws and choose the odd spectator who bugs me the most.
  2. Regarding queues, sometimes the lines (a loose definition at best) can resemble a snake (on a plane?). That is if the snake has been ran over several times by a large Monster Truck.  Ticket booths connected to numerous websites and social platforms are on the rise – thankfully.  With respect to prices, a 3D movie including recyclable glasses costs 35RMB at Xingx International Cinema, or 25RMB for a regular movie.  You must join the free VIP schemes starting from an investment of 500RMB (all this money can be used on snacks and tickets).  Just be prepared to scramble rather than queue.  Add extra padding to the elbows and stand tall for extra swipe – or study under the guidance of Bruce Lee’s gym.  Be ready.
  3. Vending points and snacks make up a good element of the cinema going experience. In China Pick ‘n’ Mix is replaced largely by a lack of choice.  Considering outside beyond the entrance to the flicks, snacks are commonplace, inside the demesne of the cinema, snacks can be limited to slightly sweet popcorn and one flavour of QQ candy gums.  The dispenser or a red and white labelled effervescent drink looks worn and is in actuality out of order.  Verity be that water is for sale here.  Salty popcorn is a rarity.
  4. Trailers often hype up the movies massively back home in the U.K. I think almost every film I have watched has been based on seeing a trailer in the movie houses.  com is your friend now.  Oddly no promos or commercials for unrelated products preluded the movie.  If you want an advertisement fix, you need to head to any major shopping mall and take a wander.  Your senses will be bombarded and you may suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in response.  All because the cinema didn’t play the latest Calvin Whatever’s underwear advertisement.
  5. The lack of pre-movie trailers meant that a screen full of rules didn’t slam on the screen in your face. There was no warning.  Copyright warnings didn’t follow.  Pearl and Dean have no place here.  Amazingly, some cinema tickets display a rule about bringing Durian into the screen – and strictly no animals.  If you want a helping of rules then simply exit China for Germany, where there are too many rules in comparison.  The cost may be substantial.
  6. In the U.K. the soft rustle of popcorn packets and crunches of nachos can bet met with a stern “shhhh” or “hush.” Here in China the noises can be very loud.  Phonecalls can be pretty normal.  A phrase such as “ānjìng” may ruffle a few feathers, “Xiǎoshēng yīdiǎn” is literally quieter please and “Bì zuǐ!” is shut up – and much less polite.  These are also useful for teaching, which is just as well, because you’ll be teaching more than one cinema-goer.  I opt for the, “Néng bù néng ānjìng yīdiǎn?”  Quiet down a little.  Just don’t be a party spoiler and expect every noise – or cheers of excitement to dampen down.  Part of the experience is seeing people excited by what they are seeing in two or three dimensions.  Oh, and then there’s often a crèche of children playing at the front of the screen with the soft furnishings as behind them Christopher Waltz and co spook their menacing presence on screen with wraith.
  7. Phones are a bugbear of many a person. The piercing shrill of Nokia haunts me.  At the cinema, I recommend you place some earplugs in and just try to imagine the dialogue.  Otherwise, this is something you’ll have to get used to.  Adapt, make a long distance call, wake someone up.  Let them share your disgust at people making and taking calls in the cinema.  Join the dark side.
  8. Don’t expect to see anyone in the nip. High skirts are the norm for fashion here.  Some scenes face the chop faster than you can say, “Don’t feed them after midnight.”  Nudity and low dress cleavages are censored on television for popular shows like British yawn inducing Downton Abbey – so Tom Cruise and co won’t make out on the silver screen.  Overly sexualised films like Fast & the Furious 24 will always sneak by.  If you’re missing the nudity and beyond romance scenes, try recreating said scenes by doodling the scenes like Jack did in the epic don’t-go-by-ship yarn Titanic.
  9. Taking a large cut out of a mobile phone form, a bottle profile or the silhouette of the latest techno advance isn’t a bad idea.  Chinese releases of western movies often have added product placement.  Whilst you get more movie, you get pushed to buy the latest deoxygenised mineral waters.
  10. The latest Hollywood blockbuster might not be tailored for the Chinese. The sense of humour gap and subtitles (Lost in Translation?) can decrease a movie or even an entire genre demand. Whilst you may think Star Wars is great, spectators from more remote regions – and culturally different folk – far, far away may not.  Sometimes a movie can be released and cancelled in the same week or slated on the first day.  Time is money.  Act fast.  Get there, see it – or await the DVD release (downloads are now available to the more tech savoir-faire).

For further reading:

The History of Cinema in China – Retrieved from Wikipedia, 2015/04/21.

Lesson plan guidance – Retrieved 2015/04/19.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/10041924/Chinas-Iron-Man-3-milks-its-product-placement.html – Retrieved 2015/04/19.