Hot steps.

晚上好 Good evening. 你好。Hello!

The trek today was bloody tough. Tougher than it ought to have been. I’d had a big breakfast, two trekking bars, two bread rolls stuffed with optimism and sustaining properties. Three litres of liquid and two well-packed ice-lollies. Yet, something was missing. A double dose of electrolytes in tablet form on two occasions was also deployed. Yet, it was a tough slog at the final furlong. The 30 degree heat and the lack of opportunity to hide from the sun were unkind on my delicate physique.

The trek started somewhere between relentlessly hot and smouldering heat more befitting the devil’s home. A jolly group of wandering enthusiasts gathered having been dropped from a convoy of cars at the foot of a hilltop road. Here a few stretches and introductions were made. The local security guard took a few details for the Dapeng trekking pathway requirements. Here on, we wouldn’t see a shop or house for hours.

The last leg of the meandering pathways into Xi Chong (西冲) village was under the cover of darkness. After using my eyesight for as long as physically possible, I switched to 900 lumens of torchlight. The results were splendid. I spied various toads, geckos and even a praying mantis. Also, it helped in avoiding the bloody big orb spider webs.

Armed with a Snickers chocolate and nut bar, at least two extra litres of water (thanks to kind and caring people) the latter stage of up a bit, down a bit and up some more before down was possible. Cramp in both legs and dehydration had been a real stumbling block since our stop at a waterfall and stream. The sit down took my lagging stride but it didn’t ruin the views.

Throughout the walk, people were people. Stripped away of the hustle and bustle of life, and the majority of people I have met in China are warmhearted and friendly. Rehmy the ‘Chinese Lara Croft’, Sophia and two very kind students shared fruits and words. That’s exactly the reason I joined the Global Hikers walking group in Shenzhen today.

The route takes in mostly coastal pathways, scrambling over rocks hot enough to fry eggs on and scrubs of coastal forestry. Expecting bugs, I was armed with citronella. Expecting sun, I was armed with factor fifty sunblock. Expecting scree and slippery bits, I wore my trekking trainers. They fitted the job perfectly. The up, down and around the bays overlooking the distant Hong Kong under bright sunshine certainly feels like a walk. It’s delightful at stages and testing at others. I have no regrets.

谢谢你。Thank you kindly. 再见 Goodbye.

CITY: Similarities.

Good evening/晚上好

Walk into any Starbucks or anything McDonald’s and you pretty much know what you’re going to get. What if that model could be applied to cities? I live in Guangdong’s Chéngshì Qún (城市群) which is a city cluster or Megalopolis. From Guangzhou to Foshan to Dongguan to Shenzhen with Qingyuan and Huizhou nearby, there’s little escapism from a region also containing Hong Kong and Macau. Zhuhai, Zhongshan, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing add to the largest and most populated region of Earth. That’s a lot of Starbucks.

Last December I was lucky enough time visit Yunnan. I stopped by Shangrila city which was renamed from lesser exotic name like Zhongdian. The first place I travelled in 2020 was Suzhou. I’ve since traversed my way through eastern Shenzhen, walking 15km one day and 19km the next. In previous years I’ve visited Shanghai, Nanjing, Qingdao, Zhangjiajie, Beijing, Beihai, Guilin, Manzhouli, and other places taking me through many different provinces. Many Starbucks along the way.

The land is diverse here. The population is everywhere. The cities are like copy and paste versions of themselves. In summer, I visited Yingchuan, Xian, Chengdu, Xinning, Dali and the more places I passed through cities, the more I loathed cityscapes. Perhaps it’s the sudden and fast development of cities in China. They’re almost all modern. A population doesn’t grow from 540 million (1949) to 969 million (1979) to 1,374,620,000 people in 2020 without cities. Aside from a jump in the death rates (for sparrows too! Four Pests Campaign除四害; Chú Sì Hài) during the Great Leap Forward (大跃进 Dà yuè jìn, 1958-1962), China’s death rates have been steady. It’s birthrates slowed after the one child policy in the 1980s (to 2015). Of the population around 26% lived in cities during 1990. Following 2018, 59.2% of all people lived in cities and the or conurbations. McDonald’s grew and grew.

Of the roughly 102 cities of China, you can expect to see the same derelict and abandoned malls; matching apartment blocks rising like tombstones (less so now Evergrande ran a 355 billion USD debt); dense alleyways; laundry and cycles everywhere; lemon tea shops; fast food stalls; older wet and dry markets; strangled urban villages swallowed by expanding cities; modern architecture of the occupied sense – some rusting, some flappy and tatty, some shiny and unopened; or some older colony remnants. Don’t expect to see a temple devoted to Fǎlún Gōng (法轮大法) though. More likely a Burger King.

Expect a walking street or several. These high streets are often loud and feature the same range of sports or department stores. Jewelry etc. Same, same. The traditional gates, colours and lanterns give great character but battle against golden Ms and green and white goddess logos. Actually forms of cities in the West and East differs very little. It’s the older bits and the modern diversity that stands out. Not the segregation of tool shops, household ware and restaurants. But, cities need a bigger heart beat than Pizza Hut and Nike stores.

Whether the city is historic, a National Central City (国家中心城市), a Provincial Capital (省会城市) or one of the other several types, most cities lack appeal. They have bits and places worth seeing, but overall they’re towers, districts, factories and newness. Grid-lined of not. To the residents, and the communities within, they have hearts and character. But to the touring foreigner, most cities appear the same. They make good exits to proper local cultures, mountains and away from the norm.

“Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion.” – Article 36 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (中华人民共和国宪法 Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Xiànfǎ, 1982)

The positive atheism here contradicts the multitude of religious hubs found in the U.K. They each bring their lack of character. Here in Dongguan, a Pizza Hut may fill that void. I recall Albania having a growing religious influence and so much colour and character around the culture it forms. Here in Guangdong, KTV is possibly that central axis. Being irreligious has its benefits. Being religious has its benefits. There are constitutional and Confucian beliefs and values. It’s a mixed bag. I don’t claim to understand or know what makes a good balance. I just know there are too many Starbucks here in China.

Maybe after a few decades, each city will develop more character and less commercial faces. Who knows?! There are signs now but everything seems almost the same. The same difference. And Beijing knows that identity is key. The more time I spend in and around cities, the more I question their sustainability for our minds, as well as the environment and culture. Are cities a problem?

To be continued…

再寄/So long

Rain! Rain! Rain!

How do,

“Rain, rain, rain, a wicked rain
Falling from the sky
Down, down, down, pouring down
Upon the night
Well there’s just one chance in a million
That someday we’ll make it out alive” – Wicked Rain, Los Lobos

Pluviophile means a lover of rain. I heard that people who identify as lovers of rain are generally down to earth and calm. I’ve even been told that daydreamers and those inclined to imagine are usually associated with that of rain. I’ve never fact checked these matters as I was too busy dreaming.

The beat of the rain droplets finding their way from way up high to land and join their countless companions. Some land on trees. Some impact puddles. Many land and immediately get swept away.

Many days without rain make my heart feel dry and untouched. Rain is my pacemaker. I’m from Manchester, a city with a heart of regular rainfall. I now in Dongguan, a city that gets a fair amount of showers throughout monsoon season. Every drop of life that falls from the sky brings

The energy of the downpour fills me. The damp smell opens my nostrils. It fills my lungs and soaks into my blood. I’m drawn to puddles and want to stamp in them, no matter the cost to my sodden shoes. That’s when I know that running is needed. Not in sun. Not in cold. Not on a dry hot evening blazing with colourful light. No. I choose rain.

Thank you kindly and ta’ra for now!