XL

Lately the glasshouse whiteflies fly all around like shattered and scattered autumnal snowflakes. That’s during daylight. Not at 4.35am on a Monday morning. After just 4 hours of sleep, I departed for and then arrived at Manchester Airport, by bus and then train. I felt sleepy.

Walking through Terminal 3’s Customs they checked my toothpaste and deodorant in some kind of smear test. The need to stay fresh had to rule out that I’d joined Al Qaeda. Post-September 11th, 2001 has really made air travel irritating. My flight from Manchester to Katowice was smooth enough. Landing in Poland, I had to await the check-in desk to open. A walk outside revealed this Polish airport was closer to the Arctic Circle than the city of Katowice.

With two hours to go until take-off, I paid my bargain forty-eight quid boarding pass fee in Zlotys. Later Trip.com refunded this having not shared my data to the airline for the connecting flight. The wait was pleasant enough, at a modern and clean airport devoid of the failings of Manchester International Airport. The flight rumbled down a runway, complete with a toppled-over turboprop aircraft just in view. That positioning of a busted plane surely needs a review on TripAdvisor.

Landing in Dortmund, I walked through a crowd of Manchester City fans with shirts and things to sign. The odd Dortmund fan littered amongst them. I shuffled myself aside and watched as the reigning Premier League Champions dribbled through. Dressed in black sportswear, most of them looked like they were straight out of JD Sports. Waiting for that made me miss the bus to the city centre.

About an hour later I paid for my bus to town, and a fellow Blue who didn’t have cash to hand. European standards about card payments are so inconsistent and often inconvenient. Not that Great Britain is much better. I miss the convenience of the Wechat application in China and its ability to do anything, even issue toilet paper.

German efficiency is a phrase often banded about, with seriousness and wit. I found my apartment in the district of Funkenberg after a quick U-bahn-tram journey. A local dinner at a taverna of mushrooms and schnitzel quickly found its way to my belly before I went back for a good night of shut eye.

Having slept well, I checked out, darted to the Dortmund Haubtbahnhof at Königswall 15. I grabbed a coffee from a generic bakery chain and locked my bag away for 4 euros a day. I returned back to my locker after realising I’d locked my coffee in the locker, before crossing the road to the Deutsches Fußballmuseum. I like football. I like museums. I like Germany. The arrangement could have worked out well.

Sure enough the varied exhibits, mostly bilingual, were diverse, organised and engaging. A 3D holographic show, some nostalgia, loads of World Cup materials and a display on Women’s football feature throughout the museum but the 19 Euro charge in to see Paul the octopus encased and a sweaty Mario Götze World Cup winning boot seems excessive. England’s National Football Museum is suggested donation entry, but Germany has won four trophies to England’s one, so perhaps they’ve earned the right to price their security accordingly.

After the football museum, I had a ponder around the city of Dortmund, Germany’s eighth most populated city and noticed how many concrete and modern buildings there. In 1945, allied troops from the west flattened approximately 98% of homes, factories and other buildings of inner city Dortmund. Dortmund was Germany’s most bombed city in one night and one month. A month later the ground assault rolled through and Dortmund’s Nazi days were over.

Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e. V. Dortmund are one of Germany’s most successful and colourful football clubs. They also have handball, athletics, ice hockey and countless other sports because they’re a sports club with 145,000 active members and not just a footy club. Die Schwarzgelben play in black and yellow, resembling bees and have a fantastic fan base, even if they do sing You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Prior to the game friendly beer drinking, schnitzel and sausage tasting could be found outside the ground in picturesque settings, as well as every pub in town. The concourse in the ground was similar before, during and after City’s frustrated draw. The home team and fans celebrated their progression to the knockout stage. City took it in their stride.

The swift return to collect my bag at the railway station postmatch, followed a brusque walk to the central station. I grabbed it from the locker and went to get a sandwich for the late train at 23:30ish. The train went a whole stop, with everyone aboard experiencing a crush like stampede experience and sweating crazily. At Bochum it stopped and allowed an ambulance crew to attend to an emergency. Then another train arrived, also destined for Dusseldorf, as musical chairs started. Everyone wanted to be on the first train out.

The train arrived on Dusseldorf, close to 3am. I had a hotel booked for the next night, check in from noon. I was lucky and found a scenic spot by the Rhine until then. During my time in Dusseldorf I walked the banks of the Rhine, admired the architecture and increased my step count. Good food, great culture and a pleasant trip ended on a Thursday flight to Manchester.

By Friday, I had added one to thirty-nine and reached forty (XL in Roman numerals). A pleasant Vimto ice cream with Brahma after coffee in The Rascals Cafe (Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre) with my sister Christina took up the afternoon. In the evening I met my Mum, Paul and Kat from Shenzhen Blues for dinner and to see comedian Nick Helm at The Stoller Hall. After getting back, I walked Panda and the pleasant day ended with slumber time. A happy birthday.

Step back: I.

The journey from Dongguan to Manchester was by no means a short one. A drive, by neighbour and friend Charif, with Panda and I, was the first start. After handing back the Songshan Lake apartment, the over-the-top backpack (29.8kg), dog carrier (11kg + Panda 19kg) and 10kg hand luggage slotted into Charif’s spacious sports utility vehicle. Two toilet stops on the way to the airport for Panda, and then we arrived into a multi-storey car park. An elevator to the roof gave Panda ample time to drop off unwanted gut packages and then we shook hands with Charif, or in Panda’s case, a lick and a jump, and off past security we went.

Check-in went smoothly, save some panic about vaccination certificates needed in Amsterdam, for me! Panda’s paperwork went swimmingly. With a late flight, arrival was well in advance. Off Panda went, checked-in, down a a conveyor belt, for a lengthy journey ahead. I passed security, the health check corridor and baggage check before entering the departure lobby. A near empty airport had water refill points, poor wi-fi and little else of use. Dynamic zero and its COVID-19 policy has destroyed any fun to be had in airports. No food was available. I munched on a bag of beetroot crisps and drank my water (warm, not cold). Still, I was able to stream Manchester City’s 6-0 win over recently promoted Nottingham Forest. A hat trick for the fantastically good Erling Haaland, with a brace by Julián Álvarez and a strike by João Cancelo ensured three points for City, and a smile as I boarded the aircraft bound for Istanbul.

The two flight legs involved the watching of two movies, To Olivia, and The Professor and The Madman. The former is a biographic account of a tragedy that unfolds in the lives of the family of author Roald Dahl and actress Patricia Neal. It stars Hugh Richard Bonneville Williams as Dahl and Claire Julia “Keeley” Hawes as Neal. The director John Hay takes an affectionate and gentle touch to a tough task, delivering a dreamy movie with a warmly-hugged factor. He is a director known to myself for that great movie, There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble. Acting titans Mel Gibson and Sean Penn head a cast that tackles the formation of The New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (better known as Oxford English Dictionary). It sounds like a dull story, but in truth it is far from the dictionary definition of dullness.

Between flights, a brief stop at Istanbul gave me chance to sample great sandwich, coffees and some snacks before boarding for Amsterdam and a central European gateway to Britain… At this stage I was highly excited, nervous and bubbling with a mixture of emotions and anticipation. As the door to life in China swung to shut, an open door to the next chapter of life lurked ajar, but needed a few steps to get there.

Right to Return.

How do.

The following months are going to be difficult. The future is sat on a knife edge. The inevitable travel home for summer is not intended to be one way. The logistics, however, are impractical and almost unworkable.

A friend, Stephen, estimated costs for return to hit the best part of 5-6000GBP. God bless the economy seat options. I wonder if a seat in first class is much different. Others have mentioned 7-9000GBP. All those pounds could support a charity or something more worthwhile than a 30% occupied flight destined for China, far away from the intended city of stay. Even now China has no scheduled flights to or from the U.K. June is the loosely mentioned rumoured return. Even that was delayed from February. China isn’t ready for COVID-19 case increases? Well, it has flights to other countries with high caseloads. So, that doesn’t sound right. Political? Perhaps.

Regarding the next academic year, Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) placed an offer to extend my stay there. I was touched and happy to receive it. Three years ago it would have been a great offer. The problem is that the world has changed. I had to place a counter offer. To commit to two more years here makes the uncertainty of return, high quarantine costs and extortionate flight prices untenable. If I’m supported and with understanding from my employer then all is good. Patience and planning will be key. If not; well, here lies uncertainty. The ball is in their court. I await their reply.

In the meanwhile provisional offers and begging messages are flooding in from LinkedIn, and an agent representative of a company offering Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) via ITT (Initial Teacher Training) in a school in Beijing. Doors are opening and hands are gesturing to come in. All this as the foundation for the Diploma Programme at TWIS is being laid and prepared for. A change of location isn’t something I desire.

I’m sat watching Gomorra, an Italian drama series deeply entrenched in the organised underworld of Naples. Currently, I’ve enjoyed a gritty trio of series and have the fourth installment under my scrutiny. As a fan of The Sopranos and its gripping characters from the get go, choosing to view Gomorra was a simple choice. Gerry, from Ireland, recommended this show for months on end. Many, especially in Napoli, argue the TV series (and spinoff movie The Immortal) glamorises violence and gangland culture but a viewer seeks entertainment. The script-writing is sharp and the direction flows. I thoroughly recommend the serial drama.

For now, I’m just planning a holiday to see family and friends. How I get back is anybody’s business. Whether I remain at TWIS now is debatable. I wish to stay but now that IB continuum has arrived, I know I’m easily replaced. Private education is all about the money. And money is cold and unforgiving. Just like COVID-19. It’s there, dividing and conquering. In these days, living without money is like trying to live without COVID-19. You’re in a bubble, isolating all. Outcast.

Outbound doesn’t look too complicated. Return costs are from 4077GBP upwards. Then, add quarantine costs for 21-28 days…

Ta’ra.