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

Superman vs. Peter Pan

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“In the decade of the 1930s, even the great city of Metropolis was not spared the ravages of the worldwide depression. In the times of fear and confusion the job of informing the public was the responsibility of the Daily Planet. A great metropolitan newspaper, whose reputation for clarity and truth had become a symbol of hope for the city of Metropolis.” – Narration, by a boy, Superman: The Movie

Superman: The Movie made many of us believe a man could fly. Christopher Reeve’s warm portrayal of the extra-terrestrial sent to Earth was to many the greatest superhero of our generation. Well, all until Michael Keaton stepped in as the Dark Knight in Batman. Fast forwards to the 2000s and it seems that Marvel have serialised their comic arsenal to release a new character on a weekly basis. Even the latest Bad Boys (For Life) movie seemed to be swimming in CGI reminiscent of Marvel’s reign of fire.

“Dream, Believe, Dare, Do.” – Walter Elias Disney’s motto.

But, for those born in the late 70s and early 80s there will be a few of us that were treated to Christopher Reeve’s black lock of hair, a very-much clean-cut James Bond-type character. Director Richard Donner and Superman: The Movie squeezed over 300 million US dollars from the box offices, for a movie that cost but a sixth of that. 143 minutes of fantasy and fiction leapt out of the screen much like the scrolling title words and stars’ names. Filmed between the U.K., Panama, Switzerland and U.S.A., this movie was epic. The dark contrast of life being released from a dying planet, and evil being cast to the Phantom Zone, stemmed a story arc which leapt faster than a speeding bullet featuring comic and soft scenes amongst the pile-driving action. It was like watching a wrestling superstar cuddle a kitten.

“Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.” – Lex Luthor; Superman: The Movie

Superman: The Movie claimed a few awards for best visual effects, a BAFTA (Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles; and Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema Award) and numerous nominations. John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra’s score is dramatic and distinct. Mario Puzo’s story shuffles between serious issues and wastes little of the cast. Margot Kidder, Glenn Ford, Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty were big names. Terence Stamp would haunt many kids dreams for years to come. Marlon Brando was a global megastar and such was his feeling, he would never reappear in a Superman movie, as he was too buys suing for extra shares of the profits.

“Good form, Mr. Smee? Blast good form! Did Pan show good form when he did this to me?” – Peter Pan, Disney movie, 1953.

Mild mannered reporter Clark Kent starts life in The Daily Planet, before later appearing in cape and pants over his leggings. Many scenes were filmed at the world-famous Pinewood Studios. The Fortress of Solitude was on 007’s stage. British stunt double Vic Armstrong was there for Christopher Reeve for the first two movies.

“..children know such a lot now, they soon don’t believe in fairies, and every time a child says, ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

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Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman. Richard Donner presented a snapshot of 1950s America, subtle humour in modern day Metropolis and the icy cold sci-fi realm of Krypton. The journey was created perfectly for the movies – and although the 2013 movie Man of Steel tried to start again. Jerome Siegel, just like Kal-El (Clark Joseph Kent and  Superman) used pseudonyms (Joe Carter and Jerry Ess) and was born to Jewish immigrants. This wonderful writer dreamed up Superman and with Canadian comic book artist Joseph Shuster by June 1938 Superman ascended into Action Comics #1. Until the 1980s the man of steel dominated the superhero genre of U.S. comic books.

“Stars are beautiful, but they may not take part in anything, they must just look on forever.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Superman drew on many influences. Sci-fi gave some great pointers. Fritz Lang’s 1927 move Metropolis birthed a city within Superman’s eventual realm. Douglas Fairbanks as Zorro influenced the look, although arguably, that caped crusader was closer to the caped crusader, Batman. The geeky barbershop-look of slapstick comedian Harold Lloyd and his mild-mannered persona gave us Clark Kent. Siegel and Shuster’s trawling of pulp fiction, comics and popular media expanded in so many details. Perhaps Peter Pan, as a character from so many stage performances had some influence in there. After all J.M. Barrie’s wonderfully complex character had kids leaping from seats and beds following earlier performances. Much like Superman: The Movie, Peter Pan made many believe that they could fly.

Lois: “Clark…says you’re just a figment of somebody’s imagination, like Peter Pan.” / Superman: “Clark?…Who’s that, your boyfriend?” / Lois: “Clark!? Oh, Clark. No, he’s nothing, he’s just, uh…” / Superman: “Peter Pan, huh? Peter Pan flew with children, Lois. In a fairy-tale.” Scene as Christopher Reeves plays Superman before he’s about to take Lois flying around the city of Metropolis. Superman: The Movie

Peter Pan is complex and rightfully so. The ninth of ten children, Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet, had already lost two siblings before birth. This short-statured man from Kirriemuir in Angus, when aged 6, lost his older brother David the day before David would have turned 14 years old. With his mother’s favourite forever-absent, J.M. often imitated and tried to fill David’s place. By the age of eight, his eldest siblings were his teachers at the coeducational Glasgow Academy and six years or so later at Dumfries Academy. Somehow he managed to kick back against his conservative Calvinist Victorian family and crack in with his dream of writing. The University of Edinburgh beckoned, and he graduated with an M.A. in literature during April 1882. After some journalism, unpopular fiction and hard graft he turned his eyes to playwriting. By 1894 he was married and with a Saint Bernard puppy, and had worked with Sherlock Holmes’s creator Arthur Conan Doyle.

“Ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children but really a play for grown-up people” – Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw

The premiere date of 27 December 1904 of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up arrived. Neverland was with us all – and a stark contrast to late Victorian and early Edwardian times. The Peter Pan models were extended and adapted throughout the years and the novel Peter and Wendy was inevitably released in 1911, with illustrations by F. D. Bedford. The two previous novels The Little White Bird and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens are two equally delightful run outs for the boy who wouldn’t age or grow up. There is another outing in When Wendy Grew Up – An Afterthought. After that, popular culture claimed Pan for a silent movie in 1924, before Disney came knocking in 1953. The thrills of mermaids, fairies, Native Americans and pirates gained global viewers. J.M. Barrie himself commissioned sculptor Sir George James Frampton (he did the lions outside of the British Museum and Dr Barnardo’s Memorial) in 1912. The May Day surprise was a gift to the children of London.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Some years ago, I was lucky enough to wander through a dusk-lit Kensington Gardens and see the statue of Peter Pan. Six identical moulds were taken and can be found from Liverpool (U.K.), Canada’s Ontario to Camden, and New Jersey. St. John’s, Newfoundland, Brussels (Belgium) and Perth (Australia) complete the list of original replicas. There are multiple statues of various designs globally also. Great Ormond Street Hospital has its own interpretation and rightfully so. Ever since 1929, all the rights and copyrights were given to Great Ormond Street Hospital. The boy who would be a child forever could inspire and keep those in need, some company.

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

J.M. Barrie died in Manchester, well Manchester Street, Marylebone, that London on the 19th of June 1937. This was a man who had had Jerome K. Jerome as a friend; had divorced in 1909 and the hugely influential Llewelyn Davies family. George, John, Peter, Michael and Nicholas. Perhaps J.M. Barrie wanted to be a child forever. Perhaps Peter Pan was pretending to want to be forever young or showing off to his beautiful Wendy. Wendy was mature enough to surely see his insecurities. She displays great compassions as Peter Pan struts around his gaff, Neverland and does almost anything he wants. The land of adventures are at his command. The Darling family take his attention a little, but it does feel that Peter Pan would soon grow distracted of them and return to Neverland to do whatever he feels. Peter Pan is the antihero, to the hero of Superman. The two are alike, yet so far apart. Superman is a simple and clear character, with little conflict within. Peter Pan is like me, selfish and confused, and searching for a never-ending youth to hide from everyday burdens like responsibility and grown-up stuff.

“To die would be an awfully big adventure.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Today, in China, it was Children’s Day and we watched the Disney retelling of Peter Pan, complete with lost boys, manipulation and an upset Captain Hook because Peter Pan had cut off his hand and fed it to a crocodile with a timepiece. Eton College-educated Captain Hook seems devoted to bringing Peter Pan down. The Neverland story goes on and on and on, with endless retellings and reinterpretations or works based on Peter Pan and company. The right to collect royalties in eternity under precise and explicit provisos in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 mean that Peter Pan is the gift that keeps giving to Great Ormond Street Hospital. Superman, however, is the $5.48 billion cash card of DC Comics and Warner Bros.

“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Harry Farthing’s SUMMIT: A NOVEL.

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

34451979._SY475_What’s not to like about a novel that pits those wrapped in conflict against Nazis and Neo Nazis? I picked Summit up in a bookshop on the windy alleys of Kathmandu’s Thamel district. By the time I had picked up the book, I’d already read many travel and, or, climbing books themed around Nepal. The selling point was the capital letters reading as: A NOVEL. The blurb gave me an impression of a thriller tapered with reality and facts. The author Harry Farthing’s personal experiences flow amongst the words. It has heart and science.

The battle of man’s ability of mind and body against the elements – and in this case Mount Everest have thrilled generations for decades. This novel methodically and fastidiously details truth alongside fiction and slaps the reader with two warm characters, each with their own weaknesses and conflicts. The darkness of the early chapters builds upwards like a mound of cold and deathly snow ready to collapse in an avalanche of disaster. Just as I thought that I’d guessed the ending, something unexpected arrived. The central climbing characters of Josef Becker and Neil Quinn both tell the backdrop of Europe full of division in two very different eras. It revels in achievement and defeats equally, highlighting a telling cost for those who seek to go endlessly upwards. The coin is firmly flipped over to reveal a darker side of Everest, so infrequently spoken of, yet somehow there, always there in the shadows.

Beautifully written and meticulously researched, Summit follows two climbers across two continents as their stories and movements intertwine across history, culminating in one final push for the top of the world. This is the author Harry Farthing’s breath-taking debut novel and it certainly has been an ambitious and epic piece of compelling modern fiction. It isn’t hard to imagine a fast-paced stage play, a TV series on Netflix or a movie to follow the book. The novel itself may well be a challenge to adapt, but the pages flick over and over with ease. Those who like mystery, treachery and well-written characterisation should lift up Harry Farthing’s Summit: A NOVEL. There’s a place on my bookshelf now for Farthing alongside such well researched novelists as Michael Crichton et al. Not a bad investment of 500 Nepali rupees. My only regret is not reading this sooner!

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