Exam stress: COVID-19 style.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mancunian Way, Dongguan

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Leave only footprints. 请只留下脚印

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

Run boy run sang by Bugzy Malone featuring Rag N Boneman is a soulful grime song. It shares its title with Woodkid’s Run Boy Run as featured on the album The Golden Age. There are so many songs that have the theme of escape or running away. Think Everybody’s on The Run, as belted out by former-Oasis man Noel Gallagher. You’ve got to love yourself these days. Bruce Springsteen sums it up with his song, Born to run. Either way, running right now feels as if a knife is embedded deep into my right calf. I’m certainly in no hurry to pick up the top 100 running songs albums or exercise megahit CDs that usually line the shelves in the run up to Christmas.

So, in order to occupy my recovery with a target, I’ve been digging around. And it all makes sense. Everywhere I look there are hints. In recent weeks I have seen shoes presenting the brand of Khumbu. A message appeared in my inbox from Srirang and Livia about their springtime plans. China had a recent movie release called The Climbers, focused on very early Everest expeditions. There was even an email in my junk email box from Everest Windows. On WeChat, I received a message from a Sherpa friend. But, above all that, my heart is longing for the glory of walking amongst the Himalayan mountain range. There is a deep-seething hunger that hasn’t gone away since the day I stepped from the bus onto the soil of the Jiri road in 2017. Seeing those mountains stretching west, east, north and climbing from the clouds of Nepal, on that bus journey has captured me. I read of many people, famous and unknown to the masses, that returned year after year – and everyone I met there had either returned or had immediate plans to come back. Whether it is the spirits of the mountains, the allure of the nature or the warmth of the people, Nepal gets into your skin. A small country with a big heart.

Deep down, my heart is torn. I want to go home and see family for Christmas, yet circumstances have worked against me. My sister Astrid will probably be most disappointed, but she’ll be the first one I’d like to take away in the summer holidays of 2020. I wish I could be there for all my family but I’m selfish. I want to see and do more whilst I still can. There should be plenty of time to make good memories in the future. You can’t have it all. The world is too big and too diverse for one lifetime.

So, Makalu, Manaslu or a trek near to Annapurna called are now on my radar. Makalu is a serious beast and February is noted as being too cold to attempt that trek. Plus, it has an offshoot trek that can get you back onto the path to Lukla – the famous Everest trail. However, that’s proper mountaineering actually – and rope climbing. Not quite the rambling I wish to do, right now. As a route it looks amazing, with diverse tropical valleys, temperate zones and then some serious Himalayan tundra. Plus, you get to see the world’s highest mountain range from a new angle – and all those glorious peaks in between there an India’s Sikkim.

Tumlingtar 285m – Mane Bhanjyang 1440m  – Chichara 1980m – Num 1851m – Sheduwa/Sedua 1500m – Tashi Gaon 2100m – Khongma/Kauma 3760m – [REST/ acclimatisation] – Dobato 3700m – Jark(Yak) Kharka 4800m – Hilary Base Camp 4800m – Makalu Base Camp 4870m – and back again…

Manaslu really seems inviting. There is need for a Restricted Area Permit (RAP) [USD50-100 +15/day over 7 days] because it touches the sensitive regions of the Tibetan-Chinese border. You also need the Manaslu Conservation Area permit [NPR2000] and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) entry fee [NPR3,000]. There are quoted trekking times of 14-22 days, depending on fitness and whether you explore the Tsum Valley. If that is the case then this area could allow time to fly to Meghauli Airport and get over to Chitwan national nature reserve. Rhinos and mountains. Tempting, very tempting.

Soti khola (710m) – 14km Machha Khola (900m) – 22km to Jagat (1340m) – 20km to Deng (2095m) – 19km to Namrung (2900m) – 10.5km to Lho Gaun (3180m) – 8km to Samagaun (3500m) – [REST/ acclimatisation: Pungyen Gompa or Manaslu Base Camp ] – 8km to Samdo (3690m) excursion to Tibet border – 6km to Dharmasala (4450m) – Larkya La Pass (5220m) 24km to Bhimphedi (3590m) – Gho (2515 m), 26km to Tilje (2300m) – 19km to Chyamche  (1410m) – Besisahar – and back again…

The third option is Dhaulagiri’s base camp trek which a friend has recommended highly. Highly being an appropriate word because it will be quite amongst the clouds. Ranked 7th globally, Dhaulagiri (धौलागिरी) stands at a dramatic 8,167m. The massif is the highest mountain within a single country’s borders. Dhawala (धवल) translates to dazzling, white, beautiful and giri (गिरि) is mountain. Its parent peak is K2. From 1808 until 1838 it was listed as the world’s highest point until Kangchenjunga was surveyed. Dhaulagiri I’s peak has a sudden rise. In just 30km of distance it juts up a staggering 7000 metres from the Kali Gandaki River to the southeast. The south and west face have equally dramatic 4000m rises too! The climbing history is dramatic and marked with deaths. The south face has never been completed. Plenty of contours on the trekking routes too. Might be worth further consideration and research

Trek Beni to Babichaur ( 1000m / 3280ft ) 6-7 hrs; Babichaur to Dharapani ( 1565m / 5134ft ) 7 hrs; Dharapani to Muri ( 1850m / 6068ft ) 6.5 hrs; Muri to Boghara ( 2050m / 6724ft ) 7.5 hrs; Boghara to Dhoban ( 2630m / 8626ft ) 6 hrs; Dhoban to Italian Base camp ( 3500m / 11,480ft ) 6-7 hrs; Rest and Acclimatization day; Italian Base camp to Glacier camp ( 4250m / 13,940ft ) 5 hrs; Dhaulagiri Base camp ( 4650m / 15,252ft ) 4 hrs; Acclimatization day; Dhaulagiri Base Camp to French Col 4 hrs; Hidden Valley Camp ( 5000m / 16,400ft ); Hidden Valley to Yak Kharka (4200m / 13,776ft) 6 hrs; Yak Kharka to Jomsom ( 2,715m / 8,910ft ) 7-8 hrs

 

Yesterday, as part of the recovery from my calf muscle tear, I hobbled up Baiyunzhang (白云嶂) in Huizhōu (惠州). It is 1003m tall, and in warm sunshine it certainly felt every metre as high, as we’d started from about 150m. Nick, Milly and Almog made good company on the dry walk upwards. The golden meadow at the summit was worth the wander having stumbled up dry dirt paths and tested my aching calf muscle beyond that of what I should have done. Around the uneven loose sands and slippery pathways birds tweet away and snakes slither through the undergrowth, oblivious to those who walk the well-defined path upwards. Unlike the sun-exposed first and last sections of the path, the middle section is under canopy. Here mosquitoes dart in front of your eyes, more keen on your warm blood than your desire to trek upwards.

Leave only footprints.  [ 请只留下脚印 qǐng zhǐ liú xià jiǎo yìn ]

The trail up Baiyunzhang (meaning ‘white cloud sheer ridge’) is sadly surrounded by so much discarded litter and rubbish. It is sad to see. Passing fellow hikers on the route, they all had bags and pockets. There is no excuse for trail waste. Perhaps we should all greet each other along the route with a phrase, “Leave only footprints.”  [ 请只留下脚印 qǐng zhǐ liú xià jiǎo yìn ]

Huizhou’s other mountains for hiking are: Luofu Mountain (罗浮山), Nankun Mountain (南昆山), Xiangtou Mountain (象头山), Jiulongfeng (九龙峰), Lotus Mountain (莲花山), Baima Mountain (白马山), Wumaguicou (五马归槽), Baiyunzhang (白云嶂), Honghuazhang (红花嶂), Xieyan Top (蟹眼顶), Pingtianzhang (坪天嶂), Wuqingzhang (乌禽嶂), Axe Stone (斧头石), Xianren Village (仙人寨), Guifeng Mountain (桂峰山) and Sanjiao Mountain (三角山).

Next weekend I am looking for a hike in the Shenzhen area. Perhaps Maluan Shan Mountain (马峦山, address: 深圳市区东北方向约50公里的龙岗区坪山街道马峦村 – Xinxiu metro statio) or Dananshan (大南山) or the pretty looking peak of Wutong Shan Mountain (梧桐山, address: 深圳羅湖區梧桐山村 – bus 211 from Cuizhu metro station exit B2). So, with this all in mind, I’m going for a walk now and a little think…

 

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

Add Vim or Gin & Tonic?

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

WHO AM I?

“Everything in life is difficult: Being young, being old.” – Dag, TV series 3, episode 4 opening credits.

What is the meaning of life? Such a common question. I wonder why that is always the big question. Is the answer really 42? Many in religion argue that a scientific mind is a major cause of an individual’s crisis in meaning. Is it that there is almost a denial that an interplay of gases, chemicals, genetics and biology can lead to a meaning? Our amoeba cousins are prime examples of life. The humble farmed hogs being hunted the leopards of Mumbai too. Look outside and see a butterfly flutter by, and there is the answer. Survival. Google the wrong term without a safe search and you’ll no doubt stumble on the other answer: propagation.

Without completely telling religion where to scatter, I won’t force my beliefs on those who believe. Rag’n’Boneman will back me up. I’m only human, after all. I do however favour a logical and scientific approach to life, and higher beings don’t exist in it. No prophets, Gods, Goddesses, Deities, immortals, idols, or divine beings for me. I do believe in nature as a force. Holy beings are a no. Caterpillars changing to butterflies are a yes. The bible is young. God, the one Him and He that is mentioned in the new and old testament is quite modern, which I find strange and a little questionable.

Depressingly life is quite simple, and it seems us numpty humanoids complicate things. Is the glass half full? No. Is the glass half empty? No. The glass exists, with something neither incomplete nor complete inside it. It can house more or less than the state it was in before two simple questions were presented. Is the glass full of water and air in an unbalanced state? Is the water warm, cold or hot? Who put the question into a glass? Why not a whiskey tumbler? Are tumblers a glass? How many other glasses are stood full nearby? Can the question apply to tins of Costa Coffee x Coca Cola? Will that make it into a Costa Express machine to be delivered free one day?

Books, movies and songs have always been good companions. I fear that I will let others down, or myself down. I need a ray of sunshine to pick me up. Other people’s wonderful creations give me hope. They are my sunshine on a dark day. I’m in a foreign land where not everyone speaks my tongue. Few do. Even then if I can speak with someone, no matter how close they are, I cannot be sure that they truly understand me. Linguistic and cultural barriers exist in regions, countries, political beliefs and thoughts too. My humour is not Andy Warhol, and not Billy Connolly. It is just me, plain old and simple me. To have fingers put upon emotions, by others, and shared before eventually reaching you is simply delightful.

“Almost everything will work again of you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott, novelist

The trick of life is surviving it by feeling achievement. Somewhere in our DNA is an answer to a problem. Perhaps we don’t know of it. Perhaps we never will. Perhaps our species will have evolved time and time again rendering that answer obsolete. Relationships in our lives may dip, ebb or fade away. That’s life. Kick it in the dick and move on or engage in conversation. Have a natter with a good friend – or help your significant other to understand you using words. If that fails, there are alternative lifestyles like nudist camps, swinging, or cycling around the world jobless. Not every mould of lifestyle choice will fit everyone. Find that extra vim. If something feels dead end and meaningless, change the goalposts and seek the verve and vigour that you need. Too many people die with regrets. To quote William Wallace in Braveheart, “Every man dies, but not every man really lives” or something similar to that. Goodbye triviality, hello exuberance.

“Animals, poor things, eat in order to survive: we, lucky things, do that too, but we also have Abbey Crunch biscuits, Armagnac, selle d’agneau, tortilla chips, sauce béarnaise, Vimto, hot buttered crumpets, Chateau Margaux, ginger-snaps, risotto nero and peanut-butter sandwiches — these things have nothing to do with survival and everything to do with pleasure.” – Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot

For me, I think people around the world would love a bit more understanding and togetherness. There are all too many bullets to chests, too many factories billowing crap into the air and too little respect being shown by leaders to their people. More empathy, less greed and a dab of extra worth wouldn’t harm anyone. No need to power up a supercomputer for 7.5 million years. However, we can still dream and look to the stars for hope or worship our chosen beliefs.

When I was at university and failed my first year, I felt lost. Why was I suddenly studying Behavioural Biology, far from home, running up a debt that clouded my hunger to study? I didn’t have a clue if it would get a me a career or a pathway into “the real world” (as students would often say). I did know one thing. Here I was far from home. Independent. Going solo. The reading of books and the routine of lectures wasn’t for me. I stumbled through years of studying and almost zero revision. Did I feel that I had failed? No. It was a challenge and I was out of my comfort zone. I learnt about myself in more ways than I thought possible. The wisdom of hindsight has taught me that.

THE EMPIRE ON WHICH THE SUN NEVER SETS

With more opportunity people are free to find their purpose. As it stands Braveheart is being remade on the streets of Hong Kong, in a historically flipped up situation made by Great Britain. The British Empire, at its peak in 1920, covered almost a quarter of the Earth’s surface area. After losing 13 colonies to the U.S.A.’s birth in 1783, Britain headed east and towards Africa. The Pacific was ripe for picking. For 99 years, starting in 1815, Britain became the Team America: World Police of the day. As Britain became challenged by Germany and the U.S.A.’s rise, the cracks that allowed the outbreak of the Great War were laid. In 1922 Ireland became free of British rule. Other territories would soon follow. Britain’s eastern empire fell with Japan sweeping over the supposedly impregnable Singapore, sewing the foundations for New Zealand and Australis to go alone, eventually.

Decolonisation, a decline in the nation’s strength and crisis after crisis (India, Palestine, Suez, the Malayan emergency, the Cold War, the Falklands…) haunted Britain – and the scars are visible today. Ireland and Northern Ireland remain divided and with Brexit impending the real threat of further trouble threatens the U.K. like a dark cloud. And if anything is to go by, the troubles will be back, because Rambo, Charlies Angels, the Terminator and Top Gun are still in the cinemas. Do we keep making the same mistakes in order to sell movies?

By 1983, Britain held 13 or 14 overseas territories. Penguins, Indian Ocean post boxes, a rock in Spain and a place near a triangle make for a nice holiday. Three islands have no residents but retain some scientific or military presence. Perhaps, Area 52 is located on one of these islands. Five of the territories are claimed by other nations. Interestingly, 52 former colonies protectorates are still party to the archaic Commonwealth of Nations. That Commonwealth is non-political, apparently. The U.K.’s royal family still head 16 states too, making their divorce from the U.K. most bizarre.

In the U.K., I worked for Aviva Insurance, for about 5 years. It didn’t feel meaningless and they were an okay employer. The corporate machine offers comfort for a not-so-amazing salary. Internal transfers are plentiful, but promotion in an age of very few people retiring, or moving on, didn’t help me. The work wasn’t too significant to me and my enthusiasm dropped, but to Joe Public and my colleagues, I kept plugging away, not like a robot, and not with any ambition. At this stage I’d lost ambition completely. Communication with other people and understanding were concepts that I was enjoying. This would start me on a pathway to teaching in China. A place where I would miss my favourite drink Vimto.

Vimto & Maine Road (Manchester City’s former home ground) have an unusual connection: Vimto. In 1851, the U.S. state of Maine was the first to outlaw alcoholic beverages. Manchester City Football Club’s then owners named the new ground’s road after this U.S. state. Temperance was quite a popular social campaign, much like Twitter campaigns like Jake Parker’s Inktober. That temperance movement made Vimto popular in the U.K. and gave Vimto a gateway to the world. The Middle East embraced Vimto long before Manchester City were heard of. The Saudi company, Abdulla Aujan & Brothers, had the sole rights in 1920s – and in a place with no letter V in their alphabet. A strong movement of division that brought about togetherness in a way…

Casting aside an ego, or stoning to death a worry, over time, my mind has finally understood that worries help nothing. Yet, I still worry from time to time. On buffering my soul and a kind of system reboot, I synch in time with my interests – and then look at the challenge freshly, dealing with it at a suitable pace. My pace. Not the pace of anyone else. You can only be yourself. With that, you can find yourself. And in Wales, I had the chance at Aberystwyth to discover and uncover myself.

EUROPEAN BENEFITS vs. EUROPEAN

The EU objective one funding was the best thing to happen to Wales. Without those projects being continually supported and the preservation funds for other cultural projects then central UK government will not listen so easily… division is a big problem and a stupid democratic vote, based on lies and bull pooh has done nothing but destabilise the UK – and division is everywhere. The people are too busy to notice the profits made by those who really benefit from this joke of a situation. If people need to campaign and protest against a silly democratic moment, so be it. An ill-informed minority of victorious voters will determine the future of the people? No. Is that remotely fair? No. Is it a fair to cancel Brexit? No. Remember, if you have been mis-sold PPI, you were entitled to claim the money back. So, the chance to force a legal process and decision into being over-turned is also democratic. Good luck with your 14 days money back refunds on trousers at Asda in the future. So many knock-on effects will happen.

Map it out. Our heads endured puzzlement and the pro-Brexit campaigners did not give clear reason to leave. The remain campaign dug a web of truth and lies to battle back. The leavers and the remain side argued until the cows came home. Then, someone bet on this, that and the other, standing to make a lot from the destructive nature of a messy divorce. The media twisted, turned, repeated, replayed and shot out word after word of noise. A campaign of vilifying and anti-heroism ran head on into a white-headed knight with a weaker than broken past record. That’s where we are now. Britain is no longer great. It is heading for isolation and absolute irrelevance as politically respectable nations go.

Isolation is not good for me. I am a loner when I choose to be. I am an outsider in my mind, but part of the team when I am welcomed or when I am welcoming others to the team. I like the natural flip on and out of things that some call being a social butterfly. I share an intimate and open friendship with my best friend Dan. I won’t hold back from telling him anything. With past, present and if-it-happens-it-happens possible future relationships, I hold back. I fear being hurt; I fear giving too much. My past experiences, and I know I have never been perfect – and Lord knows how many mistakes that have been made, have been made, but deep down I have never wanted to hurt anyone. I can be selfish and distant. Concealing my head in the sands, as the world goes by, is proof that I am part Ostrich. If I feel too constricted and less free, I tend to hide away or feel anxious. There is an itch where there should be calm. My eagerness to cycle off forever in the style of Forrest Gump running away, becomes a serious thought. At least I understand me. Well, most of the time.

The human brain is complex. It can handle algorithms, algebra and aardvarks. Confusion can reign supreme over absolutely anything and it can be caused by the weather, girls, boys, life and money – amongst a larger list of factors. There are poems, songs and crossword answers stuck inside our head. We just have to find the time to let it all out. Dripping it out like a slow roasted coffee works for some. Blurting it out like a Slipknot machine gun lyric for others. The same two options may work for one or the other at any given time.

The unfamiliar and strange don’t scare me. I worry more about monotony and uniformity. I don’t want to be a rebel outcast, but I do want to do my own thing. I enjoy being a service and teaching. I enjoy writing, even if it is to no-one in particular. This writing serves me well, it is the warm-up, the cool-down and the practice for work in progress. When work in progress becomes actual work, then I will feel that I have made an actual progress. There is method to my madness. In the meantime, I want to be like those who have left a mark on me. The influences I felt as a child. Mr Jones who encouraged me at primary school in Chapel Street; strict Mr Meheran at Reddish Vale Secondary School; Mr Tony Mack at the same school; the very warm and wonderful Miss Roe, and Mr Kershaw at Chapel Street. I can’t be a lifeboatman or a laser eye surgeon, but I do hope that I can be a good memory.

A good memory of someone can help you spring out of bed in the morning. To take that memory and magnify it, tell it, share it and hope that it will improve someone. If a 16-year old Skye Terrier called Greyfriars Bobby can have his story told for over one a half centuries, there has to be good reason. Warm memories of our grandparents help them to live on through ourselves. As child becomes parent, the parent becomes the grandparent and a cheesy way of saying the circle of life continues. Otherwise, we’d be cold, lost at sea, and trapped in eternal darkness with monsters snapping at the end of our bed, waiting for a foot to lower into their bleak and unwelcoming mouths. Our harmony is in life. Life is wonderful and whilst the meanings may be simple and the answers to our daily grind may seem far away, we are NOT alone.

I like to focus my students upon being honest. I try to stress teamwork and community over finances and ability. We’ll build a city map with castles and dreamscapes, rather than focus on calculus and repetition of words. We’ll build a city map with castles and dreamscapes, rather than focus on calculus and repetition of words. I want the minds that I encounter not to be afraid of introspection and going it alone. Let each student show their talents step by step and here we go. Goodbye dreariness and hello variety. With Tip the Dog’s story in our hearts, we’re ready to jump out of bed tomorrow…

 

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

Round Our Way

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


TOUR

Well, I’ve booked flights to return to Blighty on the 31st of July, with the return to China slotted in on the 15th of September. That follows four days in Yokohama (Japan) watching English Premier League Champions Manchester City, and a trip that takes in Nanjing, Shanghai and Hong Kong to see the City face West Ham Utd, Europa League-bound Wolves or Newcastle Utd and then Kitchee SC. It is expensive and beyond my bank balance, but you only live once, I think. Money isn’t all there is to life. If your nation is billions in debt and U.S.A. is trillions in debt, and you don’t fully agree with capitalism, then flip it, live for the moment and the future, at the expense of yesterday. We can always make more money, but we can’t make more days of living. Our species has had more warnings than we care fit. Godzilla: King of Monsters, even delivers this cheesy message. Just do thes best you can, and to quote Braveheart, every man dies, not every man really lives. Something like that.


IMG_5346.JPGI may die without offspring, and in debt but I’ll be damned if I will die unhappy. If I pass on a few smiles and some good advice along the way, then I am happy. Morbidly happy. I can’t wait to get back and enjoy summer with family and close friends. I miss so many good friends. I certainly miss my family. Homesickness seems to creep in as the football season ends, and my eyes firmly focus on a summer trip home. It has happened this way since 2015. This year my holiday is extended by a few weeks – and also, I will request Christmas off, to visit home. I need to see my family I owe it to them.


MANC AIRPORT ANNIVERSARY 2013 (25)Summer in the U.K. will probably see some football, London for the Community Shield, a few Premier League games, some Aberystwyth Town jaunts and whatever suits. I hope to see Bristol Balloon Festival when near our Ace’s. Chadderton Duck Race should be in there for Dr Kershaw’s Hospice. There has to be an airshow to visit. Perhaps some Tour of Britain cycling action, Vincent Kompany’s Testimonial game and a memorial tree planting. Everything is possible with your own powerful mind. Oh, and Doves near Acton town. That’s a must. Perhaps the Ramsbottom World Black Pudding Throwing Championships. Sadly, I fly back the week before Egremont Crabbing Fair & World Gurning Championships. Hopefully, I will find a way to see the great Lancaster Bomber fly, whether over Saddleworth, Southport or Blackpool, I don’t know!


I want to spend some of summer researching my family tree too. I know so little about my heritage.

gran and aunty sue

My Mother’s side:

Ivy Harrison was born on Densmore Street in Failsworth.  At the age of five Ivy attended Mathers Street Council School in 1930.  On April the 13th 1939 Ivy became a machinist making night clothes for Smith and Nephew (a Hollinwood based company).  In 1943 during the Second World War Avro Ltd. recruited Ivy to make munitions and aircraft pieces. Parachutes were also made. The war effort needed everything. In the wake of a recovering U.K. climate during 1949, Ivy married John Hitchin.  In May of that year, Carolyn Hitchin was born.  In 1955 John Hitchin died from a severe heart attack.  Ivy became a widow aged thirty.  And in 1956, Ivy’s mother died aged sixty-nine.

In late December 1956, Ivy remarried, to John Roberts.  John came from a long line of North-Wales’ Welsh men. Susan Ivy Roberts was born upon the 5th of October 1957. Soon after, Ivy’s third child Elaine June Roberts was born upon the 20th of June 1961. John Roberts died in my early years. My Gran remarried at the deathbed of her companion Ernest Freeman. She would pass away as a widow in February 2014 and leave behind family who miss her most dearly.

To be continued…

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

IMG_5346.JPG

A Tougher Christmas Away From Home

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

MERRY CHRISTMAS

圣诞节快乐 (shèng dàn kuài lè)

Here we go, here we go, here we go… Christmas is coming. The turkeys and other winged edibles are getting fat. Not that I can judge, as I’m a tad chubbier than chubby. The festive season isn’t my favourite. Too many selfish and greedy Christmas dreams of the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures or Lego made it so. Actually, I’ve been very lucky at Christmas and maybe when I was young, I never quite appreciated it the same. When you’re a child stuck between divorced parents in a place called limbo, not knowing quite who or where you’d be, it isn’t easy. Some years I didn’t write Christmas cards to family because they’d be wasted. The year after I’d do it again, and they’d be unneeded. I think this shaped my adultlife more than I care to mention. Today, I am toying with electronic messages for all. There are rainforests afterall. Or there were, at the time of writing. Less so, by the end of each sentence. Trees have sentences too. Usually a stark chopping sound. Or do they use chainsaws?

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! How, I wonder what you’re at! Up above the world you fly, like a tea tray in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! How, I wonder what you’re at!

You’re homeless bat. The chainsaws just ripped through the stumps of the tree housing your crevice home. Goodbye bat. Oh, I think I have gone off topic. Back to the tinsel and baubles. I guess living in China and witnessing a very commercial society buy and sell everything Christmas for the sake of it, plus seeing life back home. The haves. The have-nots. The stripping of traditional values and beliefs make me long for family. Just family. Good times and days out. It is far better to enjoy time with those you love – and love you, than to say, buy them an iPhone What-The-Feck or the latest Ex-Box™ (check your recycling bin). Is our quality of life becoming so material that we will develop crab claws like some sort of mutant Lego man?

 Happy Holidays!

佳节快乐 (jiā jié kuài lè)

The humble pillow case at Christmas would often double-up as a Christmas tardis of joy. For Astrid, Paul and I, there’d be treats, mayba a selection box, some fresh fruit and gifts inside. In hindsight I feel sorry for Mum, over the years, probably spending her hard-earned efforts and time on things to make us happy for a moment. The lucky thing is that the memories are there. The fondest moments are of seeing my brother Paul open is latest Dr Who or Harry Potter something-or-other. Christmas away from home is mentally exhausting. To keep busy and free of Christmas regret is the key. In that sense, I want this Christmas to bring my brother Paul closer.

I’m almost certain my brother Paul detests me. I’m tired of chasing a brother that needs to mature, take responsibility for himself and his place of living. I wish him all the luck in the world and offer him love. I hope he realises how lucky he is to have home there by him, at home. I hope he cuddles my sister Astrid and wishes Mum and Mum’s boyfriend Paul a joyous and wonderful Christmastime. Perhaps, he’ll go carol singing or wash the Christmas dishes having spent the morning helping to prepare the main meal. He’ll probably suggest they all watch Morecambe & Wise on television and peruse old family photos. Some reminiscing and pondering are permitted before a game of Scrabble or Monopoly. Paul is just a victim of my frantic typing today. Every Christmas I think about those that I should be closer to, and those I want to do well in life. There are many. I hope Paul and I are at peace. I invite him to China – and try a portion of life free of Almost Everyday Shit™. It’d be nice to get a bit more than a short arse reply. It’d be nice to be there for each other. It is probably my fault, for not being there when he needed me. Brothers and sisters are just like friends following university – we drift apart. The difference being that some brothers never actually got close enough to be good friends. I’ve always admired how Paul and Astrid have been closer than me and them. Shaun and Christina on my Dad’s side of the family are the same.

Believe it or not, I miss my brother – and we haven’t been close. I miss all my siblings, Asa (with Steph) down in cider territory, big little sister Astrid, Christina (the brainbox of the siblings) and Shaun (named after Shaun Goater). Being from a family that has a splatmark rather than a family tree, it has never been easy but now I am finally mature enough to understand. We each lead our own life and walk a different path. It is great to know that brothers or sisters are there for each other in some shape or form. I can’t wait to see them all again. I dream of taking a photo of us all together, and dining well. Maybe I am naïve but at least I am a dreamer – and I know I’m not the only one. Cheers J.L.

So, for Christmas events so far, I’ve managed to dress as Santa Claus at the Shenzhen Blues. That day was long, with a few hours of costume chaos, orchestrated by Kat and Stephen as they paraded us like lambs to the slaughter. Fed on a light turkey lunch, Rebecca (my adoped Christmas wife) and I gave out gift baubles, certificates and smiled for countless photos. Following a swift coffee and natter with a legal friend, we cracked on for the second act. The meal, quiz and raffle seemed to whiz by, then City played at 01:30am local time and coffee would have been more use then. Bed at 4am, with City’s first defeat fresh in mind. Shenzhen Blues raised about 1300rmb for A Heart for China charity. Not bad for 10RMB tickets. Oh, and I met a professional Santa Claus, who was enjoying a drink after a hard day’s work in the hotel industry. He works all year, on photoshoots, promotions, as Santa – and even has a wedding ring with a snowflake on it.

In March 2014, I heard my first Christmas songs in China on loop at a fast food chain. Fast forward to November 2014 and I was told I could have Christmas Day off work with my colleagues.  Soon after I put up my Christmas tree and the happy season followed. I missed family and friends of course. Still, it wasn’t a bad Christmas in 2014. In 2015, I joined Hong Kong Blues for the Santa Stroll, had dinner with Hubhao, had a meal with colleagues on Christmas Eve before watching the musician Mr Walrus on Christmas Day itself. I still need to get round to completing that Chinese Proficiency Test, I set in 2015. In 2016 and 2017, I’d been Father Christmas at the Shenzhen Blues events. The former year involved a strange Christmas meal and the latter none, but Maria did go with me to a Christmas Eve concert. As for 2018, tell you later.

The week before last week saw a day of exams at school. I planned and organised my double science class for the JS2/Grade 8 students. It tanked. The behaviour of students on days with exams, plus their collective lack of interest in science doesn’t help. I should blame myself. I try, but once you get past showing toilet plant clips, the Titan arum plant, and trying to feed their imagination, then the technical terms are of little interest to them. If one boy, named Tony Stark, gets his way, then there will be no class. As friendly as he is, he blocks the rest of the class from concentrating. Sadly, taking out the leader is not possible. Engaging him as the central point of some activites has worked though. Further reading is required.

This week has been filled with pre-Christmas activities, similar to recent dance activities and a seemingly constant-flow of extracurricular… and I’m working Christmas Day, through choice. Wish me luck.

Nadolig Llawen i chi. Feliz Navidad. 愉快な. Lystig jul. Рождеством Христовым. Vrolijke Kerstmis. Natal feliz! Joyeux noël! Fröhliches Weihnachten!

 

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

“Welsh Wales”, as Mum says

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

选择亚伯的理由Why Aberystwyth University

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

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

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

 

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


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