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

Word Up: The Bland Mid December Update

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

Moving on from a splattering of Almost Everyday Shit™, this piece of writing is more serious. I find the lack of progress in my spoken Chinese not only unsurprising but also annoying. I need to dedicate time to progression. I need to speak more. I don’t. I lack focus. I am distracted by the slightest change of the winds or a cloud shaped like a crocodile. Don’t misinterpret my lack of learning as a lack of passion. The culture is much more interesting to me. The problem is that Chinese can often be cryptic. Having simple words translated is good enough for now. My listening is improving and more often than before, I can understand the conversations around me. Food is a common topic. Really common. Stupidly common.

妈妈骑马马慢妈妈骂马; māma qí mǎ, mǎ màn, māma mà mǎ;

“Mother is riding a horse, the horse is slow, mother scolds the horse”


In recent weeks, I have attended Clockenflap music festival, with Eddy one night – and Martin the next. The latter, all by myself. Alone. That being said, it was a wonderful weekend, if not a tad expensive. Drinks were 75HKD each, so around £8. Water was free. Pizza was 35HKD per slice. Two expensive coffees a day helped. The big acts delivered in Jarvis Cocker’s Jarv.is and Erykah Badu. I enjoyed The Vaccines, with frontman Juston Young seemingly under the weather, put on an energetic set. Friday’s big set from Interpol was quite flat – as was Cigarettes After Sex. Neither act could offer the energy that festivals require. Khalid wasn’t to my taste, too popular but I was pleasantly surprised by Japanese band Cornelius. Wolf Alice, from That London, were on spot and deserve their lengthy list of plaudits. They’ll go on to big things. Canadian band Alvvays are worth a gander and I’m currently listening to their album Antisocialites. The golden performances of the weekend however belong to husband and wife, Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia. The couple come from Mali and have over four decades of performances to their name. I couldn’t get enough of those funky Afro-Blues if I tried! Sensi Lion were good, but by far the best reggae and Jamaican sound came from the fusion of I Kong with Jahwahzoo. Chinese-Jamaican Leslie Kong (who launched a certain Bob Marley – also the likes of Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker) had a son. His son followed the reggae producer into the music world. His son, I KONG, is 71 years old. He may have worn the body of an older man, but he had the grace and voice of one in his earl years. My ears feel graced by a reggae god. To cap it off, he fused his music with Chengdu’s Jahwahzoo. The city famous for pandas – has talent! By far the best act of the whole weekend’s art and music festival was that of David Byrne. The former punk-indie-rock-multi-genre spinning member of Talking Heads performed an unusual set, barefoot and with a fully integrated backing troupe. The traditional stage set-up was pushed aside for part opera-part ballet-part whatever it was. It was brilliant. Starting with an almost Hamlet-esque feeling and ending with the audience roaring for more. The disparate festival of Clockenflap had here and artist to fit all the billing. Exuberant and charistmatic, the Scottish born American singer with his support made quite an impression. To be active across five decades and evolve without feeling forced takes talent. To cap it all he is an active cycling advocate.


 

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana. It seems like only yesterday that I went to Nepal. Yet here I am, planning a return trip for Spring Festival in 2019. The adventure continues. Now I need to start thinking about what music I will take with me. Johnny Marr and The Smiths will be there. A touch of Happy Mondays and Oasis too. Home always sounds in my ears. I think I’ll need some Meat Loaf. I first listened to Meat Loaf on car journeys from Cleethorpes, back to Manchester and later Morecambe to Manchester. Dad got me into Meat Loaf via The Razor’s Edge and Midnight at The Lost and Found. Some of his songs don’t age or get tiring. Some don’t register – as they’re somewhere below average and some just tide you over to the next number.

On the 30th November 2003, at the Manchester Evening News Arena I watched Meat Loaf’s Last World Tour. I’d last seen him on the 6th May 1999 in The Very Best of World Tour. I’d always wanted to see Meat Loaf and missed the G-Mex gig in 1994 and the two Nynex Arena [now Manchester Arena] gigs in 1996. Fast forward to the 16th of October 2006, I watched Meat Loaf at the Royal Albert Hall. The Three Bats tour gig was awesome. My university friend Lisa Bates accompanied me. I’d enjoyed the Sieze the Night tour in May 2007 at the Manchester Evening News Arena. In 2008, I watched Meat Loaf both at Home Park [27th June 2008] and Hamburg’s Stadtpark [23rd July 2008] as part of his Case de Carne tour. On the 9th of December 2010, at the Manchester MEN Arena, Hang Cool Tour was expected to be Meat Loaf’s final farewell tour. On the 19th of April 2013, I watched Meat Loaf at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena. Last at Bat Farewell Tour, featuring the entire Bat Out Of Hell album in the second act. On August the 16th that year, I visited Newmarket Racecourse to watch Meat Loaf on the same tour. I’m now waiting for Meat Loaf’s final, last ever, absolute ultimate closing decisive tour… 2003, 2006, 2007, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2013… we must be due one from the man who has toured almost continuously since 1977 soon?

Music is important to me. Just as great music like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, travelled via the medium of movies from the silver screen to our ears, sounds from John Barry, John Williams and a plethora of conductors have become synonymous with movies. Their emotive nature has strangled and captured my attention time and time again. Whilst John Barry and David Arnold have given the distinct sound of James Bond, it is Thomas Newman’s scoring for Skyfall that is foremost in my mind. Soundtracks offer the perfect opportunity to combine multiple genres and contrasting blends of music. They are the cocktail to the traditional beer of the album. Fine examples include Chameleon; Weddings; No Smiling Darkness/Snake Charmers Association; Ambulance for the Ambience; Major Label Debut (Fast) – all by Broken Social Scene. Ghostbusters, as a sountrack is multi-layered funky and dynamic. The Blues Brothers cannot be topped for tempo and feel good. Kill Bill’s soundtracks offer an incite into the director’s love of music. Due South, a TV series from the 90’s offers the buddy TV show in sound. Slumdog Millionaire, alongside Sons of Anarchy travel great grounds and make good companions. If that’s how you discover Black47, so be it. Like Lost In Translation, music is everywhere to be discovered, repleated and replayed. There’s nothing better than rediscovering a long-unplayed music track like Diesel Power by Prodigy or first hearing Arcade Fire. For new music I recommend BBC Radio 6 Music or just attending any music festival. To quote Limp Bizket, take a look around!

 

47442171_10156809556650699_5899347948554158080_nRecently, I joined Here! Dongguan magazine hiking. Following that I had dinner with several people including questionable-coke supplier Charli In China. Jokes aside, she doesn’t do drugs, or sell them on but her blog is located on WordPress alongside many, including this pile of crap that I keep typing on. I can’t recommend Charlie’s Blog, as I am only now reading it, but travel and culture enthusiasts can take my view and have a gander blindly. What is there to lose?

 

Last week on one lunch time I had beef and broccoli with rice. I felt hungry still, only an hour later. Increasingly, I feel more and more hungry, sooner and sooner after eating rice. Is this a sign of ill-health or have I become immune to the hunger-busting ability of rice? Answers on a postcard (edible, preferably) please. Last night, I ate hotpot with Obama, Stone, Maria and her mother. The kind of place where they make you cook. I asked for extra onion, expecting a portion but had a full (yet chopped) onion dashed at me. Can’t complain. It fried up well eventually amongst the pig’s stomach and various bits of vegetables. Winter has arrived and with it, the necessity to eat hotpot and devour soup more frequently. I don’t see it, personally, but then I’m not the one wearing five layers or thermals when it is 12°C. Don’t get me started in last week’s sudden ten degree drop in temperature! Dongguan went from summerwear to Baltic state overnight.

In recent weeks, school life has seen the obligatory Sports Days, talent competitions (I Dance Like This, being sang by 6-7 year olds was great fun) and the joys of midterm exams. We’re cracking on for the end of semester and Spring. The relentless pace now includes tonight’s Dance Extragavanza and Christmas activities soon after. Aside from helping to decorate Winners Pub and dress of Father Christmas at last weekend’s Shenzhen Blues’ event for Crimbo, I haven’t thought about the festive season. That way homesickness waits…


 

Words are great things – and a great song title too. So glad to hear that Doves are regrouping even if I can’t make any of the three announced gigs.

 

Words, they mean nothing 换句话说,他们的意思是什么
So, you can’t hurt me 所以,你不能伤害我
I said words, they mean nothing 我说的话,他们的意思是什么
So, you can’t stop me 所以,你不能阻止我
Words – Doves

I like wordplay and authors like Roald Dahl or Eric Carle have mastered repartee perfectly. Even influencing society and movies with their jousting words. I also like crazy sentences and riddles. Anything that somehow frazzles the mind and warps perception of simple English. When the meaning clicks, it clicks and if you can get a seven-year old kid to master just one little bit, then the feeling that wit and banter will forever enter their life is quite pleasing.

“Wouldn’t the sentence ‘I want to put a hyphen between the words Fish and And and And and Chips in my Fish-And-Chips sign’ have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Fish, and between Fish and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Chips, as well as after Chips?”

Words can be powerful emotive tools to convey actions. They can be linguitic symbols that appear in memes, poems and other semantic forms. They are historical, computational, anthropological and applied in structure and field. Some words reveal lots about our heritage – and many have morphed or transisted cultural boundaries. They can be generative or specific. Our languages globally depend upon them. Each word and its origin can be found. At the very least a theory given to the origin story in ways that Marvel will probably film at some stage. They do everything else. Our words are elements – that give meaning, whether objective or practical.

Now words, as stones make buildings, form phrases, languages, clauses and sentences. I threw this sentence together so that you can put up with reading it and generally feeling that I am terrible at writing. You’re welcome. Below words are the protons and neutrons in morphemes. Oh – and some make words, like erm… oh! Many words have roots, affixes and some are made of compounds. I wonder how many words feature in in affixes or compounds. It must be wonderful to know. That or you’ll be wordless.

Words make good games, not that using pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis as a subject is wise, because it is no laughing matter. The definition being ‘a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust’. At least the Disney movie Mary Poppins went light-hearted with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The word, according to Dictionary.com, which can be found at www.dictionary.com, is ‘used as a nonsense word by children to express approval or to represent the longest word in English’. Most people with a sense of humour note it as something ‘extraordinarily good’ or ‘wonderful’ – with the movie intending it to mean, ‘something to say when you have nothing to say’.

In my opinion it is worth reading some of Richard Lederman’s books and checking out his webpage, Verbivore. English lexicographer and etymologist, Susie Dent, has some eye-opening mind-bending joyous books, and the popular title, Susie Dent’s Weird Words by Susie Dent is worth a perusal. That or you could read about uttering. They make lighter reading than the plethora of dictionaries available in the wide world. On top of that, I’d be up for a game of the best anagram game ever, Scrabble. Idioms, nautical term dictionaries, word play websites, prompts, blogs, rhymes, rimes – yùnshū (韵书), spelling bees and many more sources act as great ways to develop our language skills. Debate and discussion is one such powerful method. Choose a subject, such as antidisestablishmentarianism, then crack on. Or discuss your plans to visit Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch – home of the Women’s Institute and Llanfair PG FC.

Swords are powerful, so are words.

 

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