Screen time.

How do.

Twenty classes a week of forty minutes each time. That’s 1600 minutes of screen time. A further week of online teaching to follow. That’ll be another 13 and a third in hours. That’s 40 hours looking into a camera before adding marking time, writing comments, preparation time and other activities needed to perform online classes. There are 360 available hours across 15 working days. Upto 120 of them should accommodate sleep (based on 8 hours sleep). At least 2 hours a day should be spent on reading, writing by hand and keeping the brain sharp.

The above discounts relaxing watching a TV series to switch off a little. That further screen time is an optional necessity. Hobbies and pass times make us who we are. A further 15-30 hours slips like a victim of Ozark onto the screen time tally. The addictive nature of the American drama-thriller Ozark drives further screen time. Marty Byrde’s predicament and the twists in the tale place that screen time closer to the full 30 hours. You need to know how series one concludes. Six and two thirds of an hour fills that first week of our daily post-online teaching.

Putting aside the Mexican drug cartels for walking Panda the dog takes up at least two hours a day. His little black and white legs need the pavement pounding. That’s a minimum of 30 hours gone. Happily gone, in fresh Dongguan air and winds with rain. Songshan Lake town’s reopening greeted our walking routes well. The township has treelined paths and gardens with roots. a the North-eastern end of Dalingshan does not quite match it. This town has its own long-lasting industrial revolution.

120 hours of sleep. 40 hours online. 30 hours dog walking. 30 hours of TV. 30 hours of reading, writing and puzzles. 360 hours over 15 working days. Too much screen time. My eyes have suffered. Coupled with the need for air conditioning at times, the dehumidifier for external 98% air humidity sweeping through the doors and now I’m feeling an opticians maybe a good shout. Apparently, after enquiry, I was told I must book one via my phone. Screen time.

Tonight is Earth Hour between 8.30pm and 9.30pm. It shouldn’t be difficult to switch all devices off. The desire to disconnect has been rampant this last two weeks. I suspect the next week shall be no different. The tomb-sweeping festival follows the week after this. Qīngmíng Jié (清明节) means ‘pure bright festival’ and this brightness or clearness celebrates ancestors. Around March and April, spring arrives bringing warm air, clearer skies and a more jovial atmosphere. It gets warmer, although in South China’s Guangdong it could be argued that the climate here hasn’t really been cool for some time, despite occasional cool snaps.

Qingming festival has a Cold Food Day, the day before the festival. No fire or heat should be used. Think of it as an old-fashioned Earth Hour dating back to around 1046-221BC. The Zhou Dynasty’s festival has origins in celebrating emperors and the wealthy. Even today some celebrations are extremely extraordinarily extravagant. Most people simply upkeep and repair tombs. They use their big brushes go sweep away the many fallen leaves of spring in Guangdong. Food, wine and incense are placed accordingly. Joss paper is set alight and a few thousand plastic plants are distributed regionally. Families often go on spring outings too. Although in Dongguan, following a smattering of COVID-19 cases, gatherings and tomb visits are banned this year. Bloody coronaviruses. I’m sure Dongguan did the same last year and the year before. Bloody COVID-19.

Screen time has also given me chance to communicate with home. It’s good to see Mum up and about on her road to recovery, accompanied by Paul and their adventures of pottery and gardens. Tomorrow is Mothering Sunday (or Mother’s Day) in the U.K. Every day should be Mother’s Day. Happy Mum’s Day. I would send flowers but that means more screen time ordering them online.

That’s that for now. Tally ho. Toodle pip.

Ts & Cs

How do! 你好!

The fuse? Candle wax? Tree into tied activities? A trapeze act stuck inside?

Life has so many pieces of small print, tucked under the seams, crammed into the crevices, and dropped into long forgotten pockets. They can be found as hints, messages and moments in our history. Some are beautiful, dutiful or testing. Most can be learned from, such is the way of life. The small print keeps coming though.

Rainham Steel and their hot flanged joists or cold circle angles being advertised at British football grounds has never ever made sense to me. Yet their imagery on football photography for years on end has stood out and crept into my psychology. The sign doesn’t have a phone number or website. Nothing. It stands out. No terms and conditions. Just a bizarre advert targeting football fans (in attendance or otherwise watching via television) who needs industrial standard steel. Rainham Steel have no clear purpose other than to be present through tradition and maintain their historical connections to the beautiful game. Now, where do I place my girders?

2021 started with optimism, way up in Yubeng village. Through a mixture of local hospitality, Oliver, Piotr and I finished a few days wander with a countdown below snow-capped mountains. It really recharged my mental batteries. Again in summer my passage followed the flow of Yunnan, as if swept a long by a calm river. That’s where I grabbed my first and only tattoo on date. No contract was mentioned. It was surprisingly easy to scar myself for exchange of cash.

A few days after leaving Yunnan for New Year and life’s finality was highlighted as City legend Colin Bell passed away. I never saw him play football. I lived off his video footage and stories from friends and family. I filled my heart with his warmth from a very reluctant biography. Somewhere at the back of my mind the joys of trekking clashed with the feeling of the passing of time. This is life. A condition of living is death.

Three cycle crashes in a year and one trip to hospital as a result of the latter crash brought me down to Earth. My first outpatient visit to an emergency room to patch up cuts and check some impact marks to bones happened. My first inpatient visit and night stays at hospital later in the year terrified me but left me thinking I need to improve my fitness and recover stronger than ever. Even if age is a small print, this challenge shouldn’t get the better of me. I’ll kick a ball again and find mountains to trek in 2022.

I now approach 8 years of life in China and Dongguan. That’s a hefty chunk of my thirties. It’s almost a quarter of my life. I’ve spent two Chinese New Year holidays in Dongguan and it looks like 2022 will be the same. This whole COVID-19 thing just drags on and on. Even my third jab (the booster) has left me lagging behind. I’m on analogue when all around me is on digital. Creased by politics, changing attitudes and a global pandemic of fear, working and living in China is increasingly less attractive. A new two year contract hasn’t been signed yet. I love the job but I must think deeply. There are many implications of signing.

The year 2021 has been quite mentally testing. Unable to travel to the U.K. to see family and friends, blighted by world news of fear, panic and that bloody virus, I’ve sought solace in gardening my balcony and giving a new home to Panda the Border Collie. The little fur ball of joy joins me on the sands of Huizhou to welcome 2022 in. Alongside his doggy girlfriend Sasha and her human slaves Miss Keisel and husband Charif (with student Amir and his sister Emma). Talking with them I feel that homesickness is strangling talent. If we want to leave China to visit family and friends, it seems to be mostly a one way ticket. So few who have left have returned and 2021 had more than its fair share of leaving events.

On the subject of leaving, Sergio Aguero, scorer of that 93:20 goal, amongst his many records and City’s all-time greatest scorer, announced he would leave City. Then he left. He was warmly welcomed at new club Barcelona but the optimism evaporated as he was soon forced to hang his boots up due to a health problem. 2021 wasn’t a great year for Sergio but he did bow out with 2020/21’s Premier League title and a Champions League runners up medal. The perfect ending doesn’t always happen. That’s for fairytales.

Great writers like Jim Steinman and Eric Carle passed away, having influenced countless souls on their life journeys. Their words accompanied me at Scholastic’s Guided Reading conference, throughout three I.B. training periods and some Jolly Phonics. At the end of the day, reading has got me to where I am in Tungwah Wenzel International School (T.W.I.S.) and I intend to do my best with the knowledge I want to share. Perhaps, guidance is my destiny. Only 2022 can tell.

Summer witnessed the departure of many international colleagues to pastures new. Not before Mr Oliver and I trekked around Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia and Gansu together. Not a bad way to say, “Bon voyage!” And then Autumn flew by. The October holiday gave me chance for hiking and wandering but nothing amazing happened. 2022 could be that year. If only the bloody virus would fizzle out. The movies Outbreak and Contagion each hand happy endings. Rene Russo and Kate Winslet didn’t do bad. 2021, however, is the poorer cousin of 2020.

Discrimination and prejudice have risen; borders have increased with social segregation and some countries closing to others; lifestyle changes such as Zoom and a plethora of online teaching, working and scamming; and misinformation became the norm. Afghanistan went backwards as if to illustrate a world trend of fans being hit by turds. Glasgow held COP26 and the world climate crisis was averted. I think. It’s been a funny old year. The most important thing though, is to forget the traditional ways and go for something sustainable and new. The old ways led us here. Let’s go new for 2022.

Happy new year and all the best!

May 2002 deliver hope and dreams.

Ta’ra! 再见!

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!