Stage III: Walls & Fences

Dear curious folk and readers,

I am writing from near the seat of the West Xia Kingdom (1038-1227). The city of Yinchuan is about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) away from the tombs and mausoleum. The bone dry eastern face of the Helan mountain range towers over the mausoleum site. The site spans around 50 square kilometers (19.3 square miles) and approximately 9 imperial tombs, with a huge 253 lesser tombs. They’re still making discoveries to this day.

The tombs are incredible to witness. The museum at the entrance has six very modern galleries full of relics discovered across the site. The lighting, style and interactive nature of the artefacts is we’ll organised. There are plenty of opportunities to visit the a 3D cinema, gifts shops and grab plenty of water for the outdoor experience that follows. From the museum you can walk to a bus transfer. Here we opted to walk to the mausoleums and experience the desert ambiance.

The mausoleum site is spread out, striking and feature-rich. Steles, towers, sacrifice palaces, earth walls, and natural damage by winter floodwater alongside cracks in the earth covered the whole region. Using three-wheeled scooters after plenty of walking, we managed to see huge distances of the area. Sunblock was applied almost hourly, as grasshoppers flew by with clicking sounds and cute Gerbil-like rodents scampered around. With two litres of water, the day was comfortable, but more is advisable in 38 degrees heat! The sun is not your friend.

The day was a great investment in exploring the state’s deep history and culture. A taxi from Yinchuan cost 60RMB and a return Didi taxi car cost 85RMB with entrance fee being about a 100RMB. Just over two hours on the scooters cost 130RMB (but we certainly went off the beaten track).

The following day, Mr Oliver and I set out for the Great Wall. I’d suggested the Ming Great Wall stretch by a place called Sanguankou (三关口明长城). The three passes are about 2.5km apart. We didn’t go there. Mr Oliver found a section using Baidu maps and an overhead satellite photo near to the G307 highway (Ningxia to Inner Mongolia). So, after a Didi taxi car journey we hopped out in searing heat in the mountainous Alxa desert. Having left Yinchuan’s continental arid climate we were now at the mercy of the sun.

We scrambled up a mound of earth to see a watchtower, wandered down the road and looked at the adjacent wall sections. Here we respected every fence and sign. Then we went under the highway and followed a section of wall through fields and over hills. Horses, hares and hawks were frequent witnesses to our hiking. The enigmatic landscape surrounding the wall had so much to offer the eyes.

Fences came and went, so we walked close and far at times. We started trekking at about 10:30am and ended around 19:00hrs. Some sections had the backdrop of a Jeep safari driving range, whilst others had civilian roads with a handful of tourists driving by and saying hello. At some stage though we had to get back to Yinchuan. The map shown a road to the nearby Wuwa Highway and G110 highway. We avoided the military warning signs on a path seemingly headed into the mountains, passing some civilian contractors and wandered (now without any water left) along a bleak ever-expanding straight line slab of concrete. The road was intensely energy-consuming.

Towards the last 3km, just past the tanks, a car with two men gave us a lift to the highway. That journey was curtailed and after three hours of explaining our day’s walking route, photograph inspection and travel document verification we were driven to the village of Minning. The People’s Liberation Army were extremely hospitable. They seemed to understand that we’d strayed into their tank range unintentionally. They appreciated our desire to see the Ming Dynasty Great Wall.

The gate guardsmen gave us hot noodles, a cake and some fruit. And frequent, much needed water. The chief who came with at least three officers and the Public Security Bureau policemen kept apologising for taking our time. It was all rather surreal. We were able to cancel our onward train journey, and hotel for the next night. We also apologised politely and shown our sorrow at wandering into a restricted military zone.

The Public Security Bureau policemen waited with us whilst we tried to get a taxi or Didi car. As it was midnight, nothing was coming, so we spoke with a nearby hotel receptionist. He ordered a car for us. We got in, whilst being watched by the three policemen. They approached then checked the driver knew where we were going. Finally, they checked his credentials and found he was an illegal taxi driver. So, we stepped from the car, “for your safety” and the Police dealt with him. Annoyed by that inconvenience, we started to hike and try to get back. The Police gave up and headed back. Eventually we flagged down a van.

Nestled between chicken feet in buckets, flies on the roof and 400RMB lighter for it, we made it back to the hotel we’d checked out of that day. We retrieved our left luggage and checked-in. All is well that ends well. Our next journey is the 1842 train to Gansu’s Lanzhou city to meet a connection to Zhangye. What waits for us there?

Until next time, goodbye…

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