Caterpillar tracks.

Creating from destruction;
removing from construction;
stripping away from old walls to create new ones;
shredding parts to create hearts;
the caterpillars may be very hungry, but the leaves no longer are.

Actively inactive, sessile rhythms;
Emerging from darkness into light;
Gone are many legs, now wings to fly high;
Dietary changes, decreased yet increased ranges;
Seek food, partnership, courtship and repeat.

In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf. Hope.

Stage XII: Serendipity x Terra

Nihao! 你好!Hello!

Lee Child mentioned in his novels, that his character Jack Reacher never goes back to a place he’s visited. It’s a state of mind. I’m not Jack Reacher. I’m too short and not as strong. I went back to Dali’s Ancient town in a car with Qiézi (茄子) and the trio of girls that set out with our driver in the first place. It had only been for two nights away, but such was the refreshment of the trek, it felt longer (in a good way).

I checked into the Jade Emu Hostel once again, who were so busy that they put me into a neighbouring hotel. A room is a room. Then it was time for a coffee at Movie Time Coffee Shop, surrounded by a chilled setting. Qiézi joined me for a cuppa and we talked a little. Two dogs, one tiny and one medium in stature had a fuss, before climbing all over us for hugs and attention. It was a pleasurable end to a good day.

The following morning I met QiéZi with Xiao Jie, one of the girls from the trekking, and we wondered to a set of temples (including Gantong temple and a nunnery) and trails on 苍山 Cāngshān, starting somewhere near Dali University (by Xuefu Lu). The gentle upwardly walks led to BuLuoSi temple and a view of numerous waterfalls. We didn’t return to Dali’s old Town (古城, Gǔchéng) but instead bypassed it to meet QiéZi’s good friends Lin and Spirlo. The once top 13 city (in terms of size – in the year 1000AD) is a sprawl of farms and villages along the Cāngshān range. Lin and Spirlo live at the far end of along road, and down an alley, in a lovely little farmhouse surrounded by gardens rich in vegetables.

We’d gone from orchids, rhododendrons, camellias and birdsong to a relaxed house filled with warmth and harmonies. The six cats with their talented masters of Lin (from Fujian) and her Greek husband Spirlo were great company. Plenty of conversation was had from talking about the didgeridoo to football to camping and trekking.

The final full day involved a filling breakfast of omelette and salmon at Serendipity cafe and diner. It did exactly what it said on the label filling my belly to the brim. Not a bad iced coffee indeed! Then, a wander to drink fruit juice, natter and following that a gander at the market on Sānyuèjiē (三月街) and all the marvelous oddities for sale. A fire festival is due in Dali around about now. After which a spot of planned spontaneity was called for, planned and put into action. A relaxing mix of sensations followed. I’ll write about that another time.

The day culminated with the eating of tiramisu at the Terra cafe. It was by far the best tiramisu I have ever experienced. Qiezi, Xiao Jie and I were eventually joined by Echo. As is very Echo, she broughta new friend along. Farola talked star signs and birth times (08:37, if you aren’t wondering). They ordered more tiramisu but by then I was stuffed like a well-fed teddy bear at a teddy bear factory. I’ve tried many and few have satisfied. It took me a while to realise that Terramisu wasn’t a spelling mistake but a variation on the cafe name in the food type! And, then Qiezi and Xiao Jie bid everyone goodbye. It could have ended there and then, but the magic carried on.

I was invited by both Qiezi and Xiao Jie to Lin and Spirlo’s farmhouse. Qiezi had taken the responsibility to feed their six cats. I pondered the difficulty of getting from there to Dali Railway Station. Echo asked me, “What’s stopping you?” She was completely right. Nothing was stopping me. I hugged Echo goodbye and I’m not ashamed to say a few tears formed in my eyes. Emotions can be high at times of homesickness and when you really appreciate great friends.

Leaving Dali behind, I feel like I will return. There’s much more to explore and within the whole province of Yunnan, there’s too much nature to ignore. I’ll probably be back. The final night lay on the ground staring at stars with Qiezi and Xiao Jie was special. Qiezi made a few very wonderful photos. Sharing the sights of five shooting stars in one night was a unique experience.

Home is where the heart is. Your heart doesn’t have to just be in one place, at one time, or with one person. Hearts are open. Making a connection irrespective of time and space is a wonderful experience. There needs to be more love and peace in the world. In the words of Qiezi, “Everyone is free spirited and an adventurer. Independent individuals but connected together.” It’s been a delightful and unique time in Yunnan. My heart feels warm and my head clearer than ever. Something will travel with me from these days that started in Dali and I leave behind a piece of my heart.

“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.” – Vera Lynn song We’ll Meet Again written by Ross Parker (Mancunian) & Hughie Charles (also born in Manchester)

Zaijian! 再见!Goodbye!

Stage XI: Abuji Cuo

你好!Nihao! Hello!

Anticipation surrounded the morning. We after off for a selection of steamed, boiled and grilled breakfast mainstays of Chinese breakfasts (across this huge nation). With that, those without raincoats purchased those disposable rain jackets designed to be worn for an hour or so. The kind that would make Mr Macintosh roll in his grave with tears. Not to mention environmentalists. Sorry Greta!

Abuji Cuo (阿布吉措) sounds Japanese. It certainly seems unlike Mandarin Chinese. It’s surrounded by the Ajiagang Mountains and stands high over meadows and scattered pasture houses. It’s well off the beaten track and fairly clean of trail litter. The name comes from one of the many local Yunnan languages and people but I couldn’t find a true translation or meaning. It is apparently very holy. The China National Highway 214 and Xiangli Expressway (toll road) are to the west. Here a dirt track leads under two bridges (the new Shangri-la railway line).

The car journey led us to a gate. It had a weight on one end and two barriers across the path ahead. Here began the wander. The base camp was labelled just that. The pathway was an old track, now used by loggers as well as the original farming people of these steep damp foothills.

Rounding a bend, the footpath exited the road, passing between free-range pigs and towards a slim yet fast-rushing stream. Our group of six with a local man tagging along crossed the stream over felled logs now doubling as a bridge. Here the path gently led to an open plain standing below the face of the mountains. The phone signal had soon disappeared – something good for the quiet ahead, but unusual on mainland China.

After passing through the deep lush green meadow, the path banked left over several bubbling streams complete with stepping stones and bridging points. Here the path zig-zagged up and across gaining altitude fast. It’s steep sections were marred by slippy sticky clay interspersed by sharp shards of rock. The sides of the path displayed vivid biodiversity with wild gooseberries, something like rhubarb and wild strawberry plants amongst the plethora of greenery.

A local Yunnan man Qī Lín(七林), a girl from Anhui, a student from Guangzhou, a girl from Heyuan, a girl from Hubei, and another girl (from somewhere in China) walked up in light to heavy rain. The thick cloud thinned and grew in almost pulsating slow motion. At times the valley behind seemed hidden. At others it became a tapestry of various green hues.

The imposing mountain to our right shoulder (mostly) could have been Skull Island from the King Kong movies. It’s ferocious face looked brittle and completely impervious to those intrepid climbers who like such nooks and crannies. The artistry of nature had created such a detailed spectacle. The top range of peaks could have been a crown, or a bed of thorns. It truly sets the imagination running as wild as the fight ravines within.

The stream accompanied the walk up, and at times became the pathway giving clear flow to passersby in need of a quenching swig of freshness. After one small lake the path hugs a slope covered in knife-sharp vicious broken rocks. Blue flowers emerge where the rocks allow soil to gather. The rug of land is unforgiving and not a place to stand in awe of the view ahead.

What lies ahead is possibly the greatest lake view I have ever seen. The cauldron of clear green and blue water appears impossibly deep. Local legend has it that there is no bottom to the icy water. It’s entirely believable. The edges look crystal clear but beyond that, well diving would be the only way to know what lies beneath. The surrounding slopes are mixed in terms of harsh angles but most are barren. Life is not easy. We were stood around 4300m and the highest point is about 500m above here.

The caldera-shape of the valley spreads wide and long. From numerous vantage points it’s hard to tell what started this paradise on high. The geological features and lay of the land are mesmerising. It grips your heart whilst choking your throat of air. You can suddenly become breathtakingly awestruck. You look. It stares back blankly. Rumour has it, if you speak to loud then rain will come. Here at the top, for the most part, rain eluded our group. The feeling of healing as you look around you at the majestic landscape is overwhelming. I couldn’t help but feel my heartstrings being tugged and a tear in my eye. There are few places left that are this pristine.

Shangri-la (香格里拉县/Xiānggélǐlāxiàn) is a county and a city that draws it’s English and Chinese names from James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. It influenced China to rename the Yunnan city of Zhōngdiàn (中甸) in 2001 to Shangri-la. The Shangri-la of Hilton’s writing could have been Kashmir, Tibet or anywhere else along the Kunlun Mountains of the author’s description. But, if James Hilton had have travelled to Yunnan and Abuji Cuo to see the steep cliffs, loose and rocky earth scattered with flora and colour, he may have set his chapters here.

Abuji Cuo is about 4 to 5 hours (around 17-20km) up and only accessible from May to October. The gate (near a temple) is manned and access denied at other times to allow ecological balance. Non-slip shoes are essential, although I spied a few people in sport shoes. One unlucky soul was sporting a sprained wrist, leg injury and looked sheepish. Her local guide was guiding her down ever so slowly. The muddy pathways demand good grips. The steep falls are lethal in appearance. And there are yaks. Yaks can surprise from above, and they did on our walk once or twice. Death by yaks would be rather a bad day at the office. The road starts between to Bixiang and XiaoZhongDianZhen.

The hamlets of Nigeria, where we drank milk, and the Niguqe (尼古个) hamlet are sparsely populated so expect to see few people. The nearby hamlet of Gangzhemu (岗者木) is close to a scenic spot called Bitahai (碧塔海景区) but that could easily be a different world. However, it would make a tasty multi-day hike with camping. Scope to return? Head to Bengla (崩拉)?

The walk back down was every bit as unforgettable as the ascent. Ancient woodlands caked in drapes of moss and lichens, the sound of a chorus of different birds and the smell of flowers give your senses a tasty day. After reaching the pasture at the cliff face, a local woman gave us hot potatoes, and well wishes. After that we walked to the road and were greeted by a drift (or drove) of pigs. The curious tail-wagging group led us to discover some local fruits, to which nobody knows the name. QiéZi gave me one that looks like it is shaped like a bottom. Rather cheeky!

Soon after Qī Lín (七林) introduced us to an elderly farming couple. Here we had hot milk, sour homemade yogurt and delicious cheese. The wooden cabin was a good end to a day’s hike and we bid the farmers goodbye before jumping in a car back to Shangri-la. The unique and diverse holy Abuji pasture would occupy our minds for the evening and I’m sure that visiting there, we gained something more.

Grid reference: 27.666254378118495, 99.90886934422305 (Abuji Cuo) to Bixiang village (27.604282621386876, 99.78759058373961). 14km distance as a local chough would fly.

再见!Zai Jian! Goodbye!

Stage IX: Dali (and the mysterious Aubergine)

你好!Nihao! Hello!

Salvador Dali has nothing to do with the Yunnan city of Dàlǐ (大理). The draw to Dali has been the art district, cycling, the coffee and cafe culture and my friend Echo. Also, wherever I’ve been in China, everyone mentions the comfortable weather of Yunnan.

Echo or Eck published a poetry little picture book recently. She’s made her nomadic home in Dali. Here she’s honing her artistic talent, existing comfortably and living happily. I dropped by (via Guiyang and Kunming) from Chengdu, Sichuan province to say hello. I told Echo I’d arrive on Sunday but Saturday afternoon, walking by the Terra coffee shop seemed as good a time as any. Yunnan is great for growing coffee and Dali has no shortage of coffee shops.

A good old chinwag and catch up preceded a walk through the ginnels of Dali’s ancient old town to a door in a wall. The door was open and smooth tempting beats were gently rolling out. Ducking below the low entrance, an Old-styled yard with greenery and tables greeted us. Echo’s friend (or should I say complication?) Yali and his brother were serving up delicious pizzas. The pomegranate tree nodded towards the range of locally-produced liquors. Here Echo introduced me to Myrtle Bee, a girl named QiéZi (茄子 or eggplant/aubergine). There were several others but my recollection for names had by now been overwhelmed.

Meanwhile my mouth had been delighted by a cream cheese and tomato pizza, followed by a further shared pizza with zucchini and deliciousness on top. The pesto dip was a smart move. A side salad featured a baked cheese and rocket lettuce. It was a bit too salty for my pallet, but overall very tasty. The funky beats faded and a disappointing bar called King Cat followed. The music wasn’t my cup of tea, but it saved wading through deep puddles and high-bouncing rain. After a later than expected hour, I arrived back to the Jade Emu China Australia International Youth Hostel, only to find my swipe card to enter didn’t work. The matter resolved itself and I slipped off into dreamland.

I didn’t need a sign for Cāngshān (苍山). The imposing green and cloud-kissed range of peaks. The Didi taxi driver from Dali railway station to the hostel had given ample chance to view the waving weaving green peaks. So, with a late rise and a belly full of good food, I set out for a waterfall recommended by a friend. On passing a set of small waterfalls, I headed up a track made by goats or sheep or possibly very narrow humans. The steep track disappeared and I soon found myself jutting between soft earth, trees and huge fluffy plants. By which stage I’d reached a ridge, with a very confuddled water turbine worker, who then directed me up a hidden pathway towards the top ridge. It was a tough but pleasant trail.

The undergrowth swept away to reveal a near-hidden valley tucked between two mountain ridge lines. I wandered down, dipped my feet, watched the butterflies and listened to the idyllic birdsong. One can definitely relax when clouds cuddle the mountains above, and gentle breezes softly drift around your chest whilst your feet are in chilly flowing waters.

Once again Busa called for dinner. Their second opening night led me to catch up once again with Echo, her Yali and other friends. The waitress Hazel, from Changde, took an interest in the book I was reading. A few days later, the tatty and soggy paper back was left for her to read. Echo’s friend QiéZi invited herself to my next walk the following day. Cāngshān (苍山) once again would be the wandering space.

With little barefooted QiéZi (who is no taller than 155cm), we set out towards the Cloud Jade pathway of Cāngshān. Passing the chair lift to our left, then our right, then left again we ascended. Stopping for Pu’er tea, a coffee and a snack at a park Police point seemed reasonably normal. The local boss had her grandson playing with leaves as she served a refreshing brew to us both. We left behind the options of hospitality and wandered paths here, there and everywhere. My pigeon Chinese and a relaxed mood made the afternoon to evening a satisfying and contented ramble.

By about 8pm, after almost eight hours of moving forwards, we descended through dark shadows and paths more at home in the deepest darkest parts of JRR Tolkien novels. Emerging from utter darkness, with only the company of fireflies, seemed to take a while but the adventure was nevertheless a great day out!

The next day (which is today, now) I decided this town needs a little more of my presence. I decided for the remainder of the holiday that I’d be here or there, but not so far from Dali. Why not? A place that puts a smile on your face and opens you to the nature around it, isn’t all bad! Ian Fleming penned some of his books in his Jamaican home of Goldeneye. Perhaps a few days in Dali and I may have found my Goldeneye.

However, a few hours later, I changed my mind. Have shoes, will walk. I will keep looking for answers and smiles.

Zai Jian! 再见!Goodbye!

Stage VIII: Chengdu & Don’t

你好! Nihao! Hello!

The first train from Chaka Lake station left on time. I’d spent an hour or so prior talking to a young your guide called Ethan. His tour group were busy exploring Chaka Lake. He kindly shown me the mine workers’ village and a nondescript shed that doubled up as a shop. Inside it was crammed with fresh vegetables, beers, spirits, dry foods and all the things life needs to survive. The dark shop had a big bottle of water and a bottle of lemon tea. That’s exactly what I wanted for the four hour train ride ahead.

As I went to pay, Ethan, born in Qinghai and a graduate of philosophy, beat me to it. He insisted. It’s hard to fight warmth and kindness from people at times. We sat on his your coach, complete with snoring driver, and talked about Buddhism, Confucius (孔夫子 Kǒngfūzǐ), Muslims (Hui), and harmonious people. He mentioned how one grandfather had fled persecution during the Cultural Revolution, on the advice of fellow villagers and how another had ridden his horse away from the late-World War II battlefield with Japan.

I changed at Xining for the second train. A sleeper carriage all the way to Chengdu (成都). I awoke, still with three hours to kill, flipped open Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries and half-read, half-day-dreamed. Alighting the train at Chengdu Railway Station, I emerged into a world of grey. Concrete and aged. My first impressions lacked enthusiastic joy. I headed down to the subway for a tube train to the Chengdu South Railway Station.

I departed the station’s subway via exit C, emerging into a barren building site. I turned right, trying to find a way to the other side of the surface railway. After about a kilometre of walking, I arrived at the Skytel hotel. I checked in without trouble, then headed out for an exploration of the city’s relics.

My initial impression of the city softened. Littered with monasteries, relics and life, the city of Chengdu became a green established city with limited construction (unlike many other cities) but sadly one that has far too many flyovers and cars. I visited a monument to Zhūgě Liàng (诸葛亮), the one time legendary military leader and prime minister of Shu Han (蜀汉) during the Three Kingdoms period. From there I tasted black ice cream from a black cone. No apparent explanation could be given. The Wuhouci (武侯祠) temple was okay but the modern Jinlin Ancient Street (锦里古街) around it was heavily commercial, in a way resembling so many other cities that have tourism at their hearts. The new version of an old style street is very much a photogenic tourist trap.

The biggest draw for tourists lies to the city’s northeast. The city of Chengdu is famous for the Chengdu Panda Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding Centre. It’s a kind of zoo limited to red pandas (the original panda) and a handful of aquatic birds… and Giant Pandas. The 58RMB ticket seemed a little harsh at first. Every enclosure had a sign saying that Giant Pandas can’t go outside in warm weather. For me it was no problem. For many other fare paying customers, they were angry on the border of irate.

On entering several internal enclosures, I managed to see a few scruffy Giant Pandas. Their housing having turned their white to grey and black to dirty. Usually Giant Pandas sit with their arse to the windows. Maybe to drowned out the think it on the glass by adults and kids alike. Tired looking security staff didn’t seem interested in keeping the noise down. Some opted for megaphone to make sure you didn’t stay still too long and enjoy the majestic mountain beasts.

Cameras and selfie sticks are all fair and good, but waving them around carelessly striking a Mancunian in the face will only result in an ouch and a tut. Said person then asked me to “小心” (xiǎoxin) which means be careful. It was entirely my fault to be stood still and swiped by a careless metal pole with an iPhone begging to be stamped on. But, instead I tutted. Tut!

I observed Sichuan Opera (四川歌剧院) on the way to meet a good friend Momo and also caught up with an organiser of the Dongguan World Cup for beers, a natter and midnight snacks. His former student friends were all policemen and lawyers. It was an interesting insight into Sichuanese language and culture. They were all so very friendly. Just like the Taoist people at Qingyanggong Temple (青羊宫) and Du Fu’s cottage (think Chinese Shakespeare). Most of the food I ate was not too spicy (微辣; wēilà) but often it was too oily and spicy. The midnight snack hotpot from a Chongqing boss (老板 lǎobǎn) was delicious, even though I’d ate earlier!

Sichuan pepper (花椒; huājiāo) isn’t too hot compared to Thai and Indian foods. It’s just a little more drying with a kind of mouth numbing effect. Although for one meal, passing a Scotts Fish & Chip shop I had to try it. For 110RMB, the large cod and chips with a drink didn’t disappoint at all! A huge Tibetan area by the Wuhouci temple also had my belly full far too much. Meeting Momo in Comfort Cafe (British-style) meant my two days in Chengdu featured a balanced diet of hot and bland. A good Ploughman’s is hard to find. Sorry, Comfort Cafe, I didn’t find it. The piccalilli wasn’t bad though.

Meeting a student who was travelling alone, I ended up exploring the Panda Museum at the Chengdu Panda Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding Centre with Jason. He explained how he was studying to be a soldier. I didn’t ask questions. Anyway, we tagged along together and ended up going to the immersive Jurassic World exhibition. The 168RMB allowed a wander through some animatronics and simulations. It wasn’t bad and took me back to the first Jurassic Park movie and book. A highly enjoyable contrast to other cultural parts of the days in Chengdu. Chengdu is truly a modern old city with a futuristic outlook.

Next stop: Dali (after a bloody noisy train journey… or three). It’d be nice if the obese woman and her young child that is full on slobbery would stop screaming down their phones. The phone calls are not really helped by the in-out, in-out nature of tunnels and mountains. Almost everyone around them is going on mad. I’ll just tut. Tut!

再见!Zai Jian! Goodbye!

Stage VI: Xining & Kumbum

Nihao! Hello!

The train rolled into Xīníng (西宁) and I skipped immediately down the stairs, found a wee man’s room and had a piddle. As exciting as the journey was, I could not go to the toilet. The views and valleys were something else. The tunnels were also rather long, and I didn’t want to gamble on missing any scenery whilst urinating. Hence, the urgency at Xining’s plush railway station.

Xining is the provincial capital of Qinghai (青海). It is home to Mongols, Tibetans, Han Chinese, and Muslims (Hui). It has a mixture of vibrant cultures. Walking around Lotus Lake (Mayigou Reservoir), I witnessed Tibetan music, Muslims walking and relaxing and Han Chinese carrying umbrellas in the afternoon sun. The train journey into Qinghai crossed huge expanses of grasslands, tight valleys and mountains beyond mountains. There’s nature in and around the area. The WWF (not the wrestling lot) have an office here.

The language around here is different, it’s Mandarin but Qinghaihua dialect. Like the language the cultures and food are quite diverse too. Almost as diverse as the routes of water within this province. The three great rivers of China have their sources in Qinghai. The Mekong, Yellow (黃河) and Yangtze rivers all begin here. Xining’s Huángshuǐ hé (river/湟水河) is a tributary of the Yellow River.

I started Monday by moving hotels. My first choice hotel had no vacancies for two nights so I moved to the Xinsu 1357 Inn. I should have stayed here sooner. The wooden and brick lodge was cosy with lovely lighting and Tibetan decor throughout. Even the room key card came in a hand-carved wooden block. Immediately after checking-in, I set out for the Tǎ’ěr Sì (also known as Kumbum Monastery 塔爾寺). Near to Xining, the 14th Dalai Lama was born and he later spent time at Kumbum. As did Peter Fleming, journalist brother of James Bond creator Ian Fleming.

The monastery was dazzling and wrapped in the blanket of history. There were some buildings rebuilt after a fire in 1912 but mostly the temples and shrines dated to the 17th century. The number of monks is residence is close to 300, a tenth of its peak population. The odd cat and umpteen pigeons scattered between the natural bird population seen on the green fringes of the site.

Whilst wandering a passageway, a pretty young girl stopped me. I’d seen her distinctive glow in a courtyard just moments before. Her curious eyes and manner stopped me and asked me a few questions. My favourite question was, “It’s all in Chinese, how can you understand?” I replied that I’d visited many Buddhist places in Nepal and then we talked about travels. Stacey, as she introduced herself, was a recent Masters graduate and worked with the internet. Smart kid. She’d been to France to study and had a bubbly personality. I bid her goodbye and she scuttled off back towards her native Beijing.

The cultural day featured The Great Lama’s Residence, Yak Butter Scripture Temple (a huge butter sculpture in a refrigerator of a modern temple), then the Huangzhong Huanghe Cultural Museum. From there I wandered to Huangzhong County Museum, and a Tibetan Museum by the Mayigou lake/reservoir. I’d already walked the pleasant area around the reservoir the day before. Today I aimed for the food festival site at it’s far end.

I joined a Tibetan family’s stall and ate a kind if bread with lamb inside. This came with a spicy coleslaw-like salad and some rolled dough noodles (擀面皮 gǎnmiànpí). It was all delicious and a fantastic way to feel full on a walk back. That and an ice cream.

Frustrating things happen. That’s life. Some conversations lack progression or clarity. That’s the way of life. The important thing is to be polite and patient.

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*pause*

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*thinking*

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*puzzlement*

“When did you enter China?”
“March 2020.”
*does not compute*

“Show me your vaccine certificate.”
I complied.

“Did you leave China since coming to China?”
“No.”

“Please wait a moment.”
Minutes pass.

“When did you enter China?”
I repeatedly point at my passport entry date stamp.

Questions about where I was yesterday, the day before, last week follow.
“So, you have no job?”
“I’m a teacher. I am on holidays.”

Guess the next question.
I ignore the train conductor. Until the next visit. This time she has an array of questions…

I was asked why I was on holidays; how I have worked in China since the pandemic; why I have no wife; why I didn’t go back to the UK; why I didn’t stay at home; which school I worked at; do the school allow travel; do the school know where I am; why am I travelling alone. I had an audience around me. One person insisted on translating for me. A kind stranger. One passerby stood an recorded it on his phone. I imagine I’ll be on TikTok/Douyin soon enough. After all of that I was none the wiser as to what I’d done wrong. Perhaps I’d stolen some hotel soap. I didn’t want to leave the bar of soap to be wasted. Perhaps, I didn’t give my first pet’s name?

Tuesday’s 8am train from Xining railway station arrives at Chaka Lake by 12:10. The hard sleeper service cost 275RMB return, but it meant sprawling out with a book would be possible, and not a hard seat for the bottom. The Gaoyuanhong Inn would provide a night’s sleep before returning at 17:10 on Wednesday for a 21:30 arrival in Xining. That should fit in a trip to the Dongguan Mosque (东关清真大寺; Dōngguān Qīngzhēndàsì) before departing Xining…

Chaka Lake and Chaka Khan are two very different things. The latter is a Singer-song writer, born in 1953, famed for I’m Every Woman and Ain’t Nobody. Chaka Salt Lake is often known as the ‘Mirror of the sky.’

Zai jian! Goodbye!

Stage IV: Rainbow Mountains

How do!

Here we go again…

A little later than expected the Z6207 train rolled into Zhāngyè (张掖) Railway Station. The Lanzhou to Xinjiang Railway (兰新铁路/Lánxīn Tiělù) Service was not expected to terminate there. It would carry on to somewhere along the 1904km (1183 miles) line, perhaps even Ürümqi itself. The train Oliver and I had arrived on was not the train we were supposed to arrive on. We were supposed to have arrived on the 12th by 12:51. Here we were, in Zhangye, on the 13th, at 16:40. Our replacement train had been six hours late leaving Yinchuan in Ningxia, so that had long missed the connection at Lanzhou West in Gansu. We’d looked at countless alternative routes, alternative plans, flights and in the end, just waited. No simple solution presented itself. Many dull hours in Yinchuan station led to us boarding a train and waking in Lanzhou, to then tackle 12306 Chinese Railway customer services, with a handful of crap Chinese and a bucketful of determination. With regret, we opted for a 5 hour train journey in standing room only. By room, there was little room, although for the last hour of the journey, we managed to sit down. The train was cooler than the outside 38°C.

After arriving the local security and medical team at the station made us supply dates of travel, PCR (COVID-19) test results, green codes, phone numbers, places we intended to stay and our pet dog’s mother’s maiden-name. It was just a small hiccup in an otherwise wonderful travel. COVID-19 had seen many people pull their masks up as we approached. A very thoughtful act! Their saliva and spray from breathing could no longer get in our pathway. Some even jumped out of our way. Being vaccinated and the current pandemic has made many question our arrival dates into China. My standard response is, “Wǒ cóng 2020 nián 3 yuè 26 rì kāishǐ zài zhōngguó, wǒ yǐjīng liǎng nián méiyǒu chūguò guóle.” I may get that on a T-shirt: 我从2020年3月26日开始在中国,我已经两年没有出过国了。I have been in China since March 26th, 2020. I have not left the country in two years. Maybe on the back of my new Manchester City shirt?

The first thing we did was say hello to Waits and then go for dinner, an early one, a local dish of chicken in thick noodles and plenty of sauce. Waits had recommended it. We devoured it. Little remained. Following that we enjoyed a walk around the Zhangye Wetland Reserves (a Ramsar site: Ramsar is in Iran and happens to be where the 1971 Convention on Wetlands was held). The Hēihé (Black River or Weak Water/弱水/黑河) banks give this fragile temperate desert environment a surreal edge. It is a set of oases – some small oasis, some huge. I spied a Baer’s pochard (Aythya baeri), some gulls and a stork flying over. The water, in the evening, had cool fresh feel, lowering the temperature of the air around. It gives life in a tough place to live. We talked a little before all retiring to our hotel, leaving Waits to drive the short road home.

On the recommendation of Waits, the Zhangye Pingshan Grand Canyon (平山湖大峡谷; Pingshanhu Daxiagu) became our destination for our first morning in Zhangye. We hired a taxi to the destination for 229RMB. With access, via tickets costing RMB, and paths spanning out to the 1040 square kilometres filled with red-layer Mesozoic Jurassic rocks and sands. Gullies, stacks, sandstone mountains and years of erosion capped with grasses, small shrubs and few signs of trees as the near-sterile mountain swept over an almost-infertile great distance to the barren desert below. Here, Oliver and I wandered and explored the desert area, where it was spitting and cloudy. The toasting desert temperature of 35°C dropped to a pleasantly mild 22°C. After our wanderings we headed to the car park, and the Didi app failed us. We tried in vain to get a taxi. No joy. Not until Oliver managed to ask a hotel to help us. A kind woman taxi driver offered to get us to our next port of call for 258RMB (including an 18RMB toll charge).

Looking back as the taxi car pulled onto the new highway, the towering mountain-scape beyond the canyons looked dark green. The aspens, spruces and cypresses soon disappeared and the bleak desert surrounded the highway for some time. Soon after passing through the tollroad, the car slid into a long tunnel appearing beyond a range of mountains closer to Zhangye’s city. The car slowed and the driver explained something, and that her friend would carry on the journey. Her friend drew alongside our car and we were delivered on the roadside like contraband. Her friend was a talker, and never shut up yapping, even after Oliver and I fell asleep. We awoke as the car skidded to a halt at another of Zhangye’s Danxia landforms. The driver took my Wechat for contacting later and pushed for us to use her taxi on the way back. I declined, because we didn’t want to be rushed. I said I’d order her taxi later and pay. She agreed but still persisted. I said to her, “Do not wait.”

The colourful mountains of 张掖七彩丹霞旅游景区 (Zhāngyè Guójiā Dìzhìgōngyuán/Zhangye Qicai Danxia Scenic Spot) rise and fall like towering sea waves. They are devoid of life. Few plants grow. This is the driest area of the desert. The strata of rocks displays multitudes of colour over an area of around 510 square kilometres (200 square miles). The public access to the park is limited to a handful of areas to prevent erosion. The organic sediments make for a rainbow effect with colours often hard to describe. I went with blue-yellow, but Oliver said it was green. We couldn’t agree. Iron, trace minerals, sands, salts, uplifted sediments and silicilastic rocks make for a vivid and overwhelming landscape. Hematite (a kind or iron oxide), Danxia formations, yellowing metallic sulfurous rock, green chlorite rich clays and purple slithers give the eyes a challenge to decipher the blend of colours. Cameras do not do the region justice. Watching sunset here was a treat, just like the superb market Waits recommended for dinner afterwards! Gansu knows how to do beef noodles!

The shuttle buses, walkways and guided routes of the Zhangye National Geopark are a must. Long may people witness the glory of nature’s Qilian foothills. At first Oliver and I were disgruntled at being corraled along a pre-designated route, but the volume of people (easily tens of thousands) merited the passing of numerous gift shops, cafes and hot air balloon ride areas. The millions of years that have seen dinosaurs and their terrain smashed to smithereens gives us the impressive ‘Rainbow Mountains’. Tourism is under regulation to allow for that to continue. The 74RMB ticket includes the shuttle bus journey. Walking solo is now banned. Walking out of the exit gate after our wander, and checking my phone, I spied I had 8 missed calls from the taxi driver who had got us there. Just as I looked up, Oliver said, “Here’s the driver!” And, she tried to push us to move faster. I purchased some delicious apricots and Oliver browsed the souvenirs casually. Eventually we boarded her car. She had gained another customer who was sat waiting. We went back to the city. She dropped off the man, and he paid 200RMB. At which stage, we were famished, and decided to find food there. We told the pleasant but pushy taxi driver. She then demanded 450RMB! We agreed at 100RMB. She had tried to rip us off.

At 东大街 (Dond DaJie) we found 甘州市场 (Ganzhou food market; Ganzhou is the old provincial name) and ate twisted dish noodles (without fish). Cuōyúmiàn 搓鱼面 looks like fish, beef noodles and a crispy crunchy 洋芋擦擦 (potato wipe?). It was so good, that we went there the next day for lunch and ate like pigs, drank lemon water like it was going out of fashion and chilled in the heat. The day had taken us around Zhangye’s city centre to see the old wooden pagoda (西来寺; 50RMB not well spent), Great Buddha Temple (大佛寺: to see a lay down 34.5m long Buddha; 40RMB well spent) and the Bell & Drum Tower (rebuilt 1668, which now doubles up as a traffic roundabout; 10RMB entry). The city of Zhangye has much to offer, but sadly time was limited. With Waits being busy, I decided, over a cold Dayao (大窑: an Inner Mongolian soft drink that tastes like bubblegum), to depart the day after Oliver.

Oliver departed, on Thursday, by Didi taxi car to the Lanxin Second Railway/Lánxīn tiělù dìèr shuāngxiàn (兰新铁路第二双线) Zhangye West Station (张掖西站) and I turned right from the food market area. His connecting flight in Shenzhen being a week or so away, and my need to carry on wandering led to the shaking of hands and goodwill words. Now solo, I wandered around the city’s many parks and then went for a late afternoon nap. Afterwards, I met Waits for dinner and nattered until late.

Departure for myself came the next morning (Friday), again from Zhāngyē Xī Zhàn. Here I caught the D4011 to Jiayuguan. As it was available, I grabbed a first class train ticket for 125RMB. I wouldn’t usually do that, but as Chester-born comedian Jeff Green used to say, “F**k it, I’m on holiday!” So, I sat comfortably and enjoyed the plains, mountains, and rolling parallel railway.

Ta’ra for now!

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…

Stage II: Shanxi’s Great Wall

晚上好 Good evening (or whatever time it is),

The Great Wall (长城) is massive. It’s length exceeds the distance around the U.K.’s total coastline (I believe). Fact check that at your heart’s content. Heading from Xi’an involved a night train on a soft sleeper bed. The room had old yellowing lights, grim grey walls and no power sockets. It was cost-effective to travel and bunk, than to bunk at a hotel then travel. The selected option had no shower and barely a place to brush your teeth in comfort. The on board restaurant car involved a selection of noodles, room temperature water or baijiu (rice wine).

Having finished Lee Child and Andrew Child’s The Sentinel, sleep was an easy choice. My former colleague Mr Oliver occupied the attention of an enthusiasm kid trying to charge his phone at a busted power point outside our bunker of a room. The lack of ventilation wasn’t so bad because our closest window slid down from time to time. Waking up at 01:30hrs due to a slammer of a man thumping down his suitcase, thrashing his shoes off and generally bumping everything with loudness wasn’t so bad. Until his eruptive snoring. Still, I fell asleep well.

From Taiyuan station we wandered to a bus station, Jiannan Bus Station, bagged tickets and sat down to eat in a Chinese equivalent of a greasy-spoon cafe nearby. The Shanxi pickles were good alongside egg pancakes and eggs. After an uneventful journey with a dab of xenophobia, we arrived at the mining region of Yangquan (coincidentally where I’m writing this now). Immediately a Didi taxi was booked to Niangziguan and the village of ShuiShangRenJia. The water village has multiple bubbling springs feeding babbling brooks and streams. Some pass through and under buildings. Our homestay had such a variety of flowing water over the roof and in the restaurant area.

The above was written yesterday evening and since then there has been an overnight train journey on hard seats. Think little old ladies spitting into metal pans, snoring and general discomfort. On the positive side, some fellow passengers made space for my rucksack and moved from my first seat. Mr Oliver and I drank a few McDonald’s-based beers, pretending to be customers at the American Embassy branch of Taiyuan. It passed some of the three-hour transfer time.

We have wandered through Guguan Pass and Ningzi Pass in recent days. Seeing the old stonework and some newer sections has allowed us to explore a few off the beaten track avenues. Some knee-deep in thorns and prickly bushes, with wasps the size of fighter jets buzzing by our heads. Some horsefly species surely must take their name from that of them being the size of a horse. Scorpions and centipedes have whipped by and so far been avoided. Although mites and spider bites have likely been experienced.

The jagged snaking Great Wall sections at Guguan are far more dramatic than that of Ningzi Pass. The protrusion at the latter have been remade in recent years but sit atop a splendid village and river landscape. At our lodge of choosing, the owners have decorated the walls with photos and artworks of the locality. The waterfall these days is hidden around a river-side theme park and tacky attractions. However, the Great Wall lines an ancient village.

Guguan is an oddity. The wall towers over a fantastic entrance gate. The ground is lined with centuries of horse and cart worn stones. Around the entrance, a highway slides through (under a section of bridge connecting The Great Wall). The scars of industry, mining and the Revolution periods of China’s new era shroud and strangle the Great Wall before releasing it’s higher levels to a combination of wild scrubland and farmlands.

The short stay in Shanxi was a pleasant one with local people gifting us refreshing cucumbers, crunchy crisp pancakes and an abundance of pleasantries. The food was excellent and varied. The people were generally warm and welcoming. The whole visit was delightful, despite the heat! However, I won’t miss the relentless thorn bushes (or the snarling dogs)!

Good night (or whatever time it is)!

ERIC CARLE June 25th 1929 – May 23rd 2021

224 words shaped so many bedtime reading sessions. Bedrooms around the world were greeted with a heart-warming tale of growth, albeit through humour and a spot of seemingly obesity. The story has radiated like the light from the moon, from pages in over 60 languages to beaming eyes looking at the colourful intricate nature of the tale.

“That’s something I learned in art school. I studied graphic design in Germany, and my professor emphasized the responsibility that designers and illustrators have towards the people they create things for.” – Eric Carle

Eric Carle didn’t just write that one book of course. His designs, illustrations and words have appeared in numerous texts. Having dropped his first drawings in 1965, Aesop’s Fables for Modern Readers (Peter Pauper Press), the new-to-the-scene and relatively young illustrator was spotted by educator and author Bill Martin Jr. One red lobster in an advertisement led to a lifetime of colour and creation.

“We have eyes, and we’re looking at stuff all the time, all day long. And I just think that whatever our eyes touch should be beautiful, tasteful, appealing, and important.” – Eric Carle

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was an award-winning book collaboration with the late author Bill Martin Jr. Thereafter cardboard editions, die-cut holes, inflatables, plastic pockets and multiple versions of artwork with words began to grow and filter from Eric Carle to the world. Countless children have lived and learned through rhyming picture books and used string in one of his many creations.

“One day I think it’s the greatest idea ever that I’m working on. The next day I think it’s the worst that I’ve ever worked on – and I swing between that a lot. Some days I’m very happy with what I’m doing, and the next day I am desperate – it’s not working out!” – Eric Carle

The story of the story-teller is ever more remarkable. This was a man, who his wife Barbara Morrison, strongly believed had held a form of post traumatic stress disorder. He’d dug trenches on the dreaded Siegfried Line of a World War II battlefield. He’d seen death at first hand, aged only around 15 years of age. But then, darkness turned to light over the years: “One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.” Okay, it wouldn’t have been that simple, but Eric Carle refused to bow down and give in. Years of toil brought his mind to a place where writing was permitted. An audience was earned. From Germany in World War II, he returned to his country of birth, the U.S.A. and found his way from Syracuse to the New York Times as a graphic artist.

“Let’s put it this way: if you are a novelist, I think you start out with a 20 word idea, and you work at it and you wind up with a 200,000 word novel. We, picture-book people, or at least I, start out with 200,000 words and I reduce it to 20.” – Eric Carle

Via stints back in Germany, for the U.S. Army (during the Korean War) he went on to be an art director at an advertising agency. His collage techniques, rich in hand-painted paper, featured layers and slices of vivid imagination set out as tiny pieces of artwork. Nature and wonder have set tones throughout his simple stories. These stories have been warm and inviting, and give hope to children, especially those new to schooling and education.

Papa, please get the moon for me is a tale of great importance in my opinion. It shows us that imagination is wonderful, even if it is breaking something seen as impossible. Whoever told me that Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny weren’t real, or anybody for that matter, that breaks the dreams of a child, deserves a good long look at themselves. Reality and imagination can sit side by side, otherwise Neil Armstrong, or Elon Musk or Celine Dion would not be around. Ability and knowledge need the company of spark and dream – and that’s where imagination grows.

“They are deceptively simple. I admit that. But for me, all my life I try to simplify things. As a child in school, things were very hard for me to understand often, and I developed a knack, I think. I developed a process to simplify things so I would understand them.” – Eric Carle

As I sit typing words and reading about Eric Carle’s history, I recall flicking through glossy covers of his books, and the joy as my face beamed when I discovered a translated copy in Hengli, Dongguan. That beautiful familiar white cover with a caterpillar and a red apple missing a mouthful, all slightly imbalanced, as if to say, and to appeal, that things aren’t always neat and tidy. One day when COVID-19 passes and the world is a little more tidy, I dream to fly to Amherst, Massachusetts to see the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. That would be as good as finding another Uroballus carlei on a trip to Hong Kong. The Caterpillar Jumping Spider’s Latin name is testament to the reach and pull of a world class picture book writer.

“My father used to take me for walks in the woods. He would peel back the bark of a tree and show me the creatures who lived there. I have very fond memories of these special times with my father and in a way I honor him with my books and my interest in animals and insects.” – Eric Carle

ERIC CARLE June 25th 1929 – May 23rd 2021

Fight or flight?

Good evening, day, night, morning or afternoon.

Walking from Dongchong village to Nao’an or something like that, I passed a scene of struggle at the roadside. I didn’t call the police. I began to intervene but stopped myself as the majestic Under-sieged victim lifted itself up. It landed on a perch of twigs and then in some high grasses. Beating its wings with all its mighty energy

This may seem like a dead butterfly. It was battling to fly away against many ants. Eventually it made a tree but once I looked closer I could see the ants had mortally wounded it. It never seemed to give up trying to fly. Using every part of its fading energy. It twisted. It turned. It pulled itself away. Until the ants entered its body through their gaping infliction of a sound.

The magnificent coloration of its wings, a fluffy white underbody and shiny black to red legs made it look unearthly. The ants didn’t see beauty. They computed it as a meal and opportunity to support their queen and nest. Life is brutal.

Until the next battle.

Dongchong to XiChong (and back)

你好Hello

The voice came from the ground. It was a single loud clunk. Clunk! It sounded like localised thunder. It’s waves shot upwards towards my ears. A metre away in any direction it would be inaudible. Almost imperceptible that a large rock could move and create such a loud static sound. The eagle spotted a kilometre overhead may have spotted it. The black kite perched nearby definitely did.

Distracted by a pretty and handsome young couple saying, “Hello tall man”, I slipped on the loose near-horizontal dusted ground and hit my armpit on a pointy-up blunt branch. After all the near-vertical declines and sharp jagged spines of rocks, it made sense to slip on an easy area of walking. The now vanished chains of support weren’t there. Drops of suicidal angles had scattered behind me. Plain and simple became my hazard. Complacency in action. Or inaction in complacency. Anyway they looked a happy and cute couple. They witnessed a size-fifty shoe slide and a tall man wearing a Dal Bhat power 24 hour T-shirt ram a tree branch by armpit. The girl spoke, “Xiaoxin”. That means careful. So, I stumbled past them, 小心 indeed.

Today, marked a walk starting at 07:30 from Dongchong to XiChong and back, on the DongXiChong trail. I started with Dong (east 东) and ended west at Xi (西) but liked it so much I returned for a second helping of Dong. Like you do. This classic coastal pathway was at times stunning, at other times saddening. The mountains meeting the sea formed a terrific seascape. Clear blue seas and grey skies that eventually turned blue made trekking easier than being under baking sun rays all day.

The nearby Pingshan mountain and a view of Sanmen island did little harm to my vivid impressions of DaPeng peninsula. Cliffs and rock scrambling have long been my thing since experiencing it with Grylls Head outdoor adventure centre and Chapel Street Primary School in year 5. Rocks, holes, tiny islands, bridges, stacks, columns and landforms made by sea erosion towering over sea reefs and the omnipresent imposing tides of an angry sea can’t be a bad day out. It certainly perks your ears up for the cry of seabirds and the crash of countless waves. I wondered, as I wandered, how many stories can each shell tell?

Between the coastal villages of Dongchong and XiChong it is mostly undeveloped, save for the XiChong observatory and three small beach shacks. A few steps and chains have been fitted but nature mostly rules the route. There’s litter, at shameless quantities and annoying spray painted signs pointing out numbers for boats, lodges and so on. I’ve heard it compared and listed as one of the top ten routes in China. Perhaps that needs confirming. Also, that’s a worrying statement about the state of coastal routes. Yes, there are beautiful near golden sands at either village and some great pebble beaches between, but surely there’s more?!

The potential for ecotourism is high provided the litter mountain can be contained. If you can’t carry it back, why carry it there? Discarded wrappers, bags, drinks bottles, beach mats, hats, parasols, gazebos, barbecues and more were seen. Almost all was made in China, so no blame can be sent across the South China Sea. The blowing sea breezes and tides can only be responsible for so much. Humans as a disgrace for the rest. The National Geographic Magazine may need to review their write-ups. Although this walking route is not far from Shenzhen bustling centre, it feels remote and relaxing. Just about two hours from Futian via Yantian port!

16km of up, down, sideways, forwards and back ruined my Altra walking trainers. They’ll need replacing. They’re good for rough wear but not for smartness. This highly scenic route is dusty and tough at times. I enjoyed the 8km walk there and around XiChong so much that coming back made sense. Meeting nobody for three hours on my outbound journey was rewarded with meeting many friendly faces on the return journey, even if I was turned away Mary and Joseph-style by two coffee places in XiChong. On returning to Dongchong a kind shopkeeper pointed me to a shop selling Nespresso coffee. Not a bad end to a walk.

Finishing the day following a video call could only be done one way. Seafood. The local barbecue restaurant was perfect. There’s a few places to choose from. Most feature the animal kingdom, well the aquatic part, anyway. Reflecting on a day well spent, I thanked the trekking gods that I didn’t encounter whatever or whoever left behind all the crap that local village volunteers were bagging up.

再寄 goodbye

Defending mosquitoes.

Good evening.

The sequel to yesterday’s post involves the sudden deaths of five winged attackers. Slain at my hand on entering the apartment. As I squeezed through my open door, in a heartbeat, and closed quicker still, these terrors followed me in. The ones spotted are gone. At least one more remains.

Beware the lone gun. They blend in. They lurk in shadows. Mosquitoes aren’t like you and I. They’re equally not all bad. Sorry to say that.

Mother mosquito is doing a good deed. She’s genetically-programmed to hunt you and I down. We’re targets stuffed full of proteins and nutrients that give her a child-bearing body. Our amino acids are like the prenatal supplement human beings buy at a pharmacy. They’re good for eggs. Daddy mosquito is busy eating fruit and watching the football.

Whilst his mouth parts are shoved into juicy fruits, she’s probing you and I with her elongated snout. Her segmented body is often so light that we seldom notice the deed until the girl has left. Her wings rarely touch their target. She uses organs called halteres to gather intelligence before dipping in on her target. The original bouncing bomb over a dam. And they have separately formed compound eyes which may explain why swatting them can often prove difficult. Olfactory systems are fine tuned to smelling our perspiration or nonanal, also called nonanaldehyde, pelargonaldehyde or Aldehyde C-9. By the time you read them, chances are you were bitten.

For the girly mosquitoes, they start as eggs (thousands clutched together like a raft of doom), turn to larva then a pupa before becoming fully grown irritations of adults. Their male counterparts do the same steps but don’t directly irritate by biting people. From floating on water, they hatch into algae feeding juveniles before turning into proboscis hammering adults. Some live up to a week. Some species can live for several months. Splattered specimens don’t live as long. The adults breed and lay eggs in cupped leaves, ponds, lakes, disused waste containing water, cracks with water, and all shape and form of water containing objects or places. Just when you thought it was safe to pour out the water…

Mosquitoes are actually about 112 different genera. That makes up several thousand species. Not all feed on man (or woman, or child, or LGBTQ+). Other arthropods are on the menu. They’re on most corners of the Earth, provided a meal ticket is available, invited or not. It seems at times like every species is having a crack at me, and thankfully they’re not.

They’ve got bad reputation because of their irritating bites, and other small matters like malaria, yellow fever, Chikungunya, Dengue fever and so on. The list is longer than the average serial killer’s whoopsy points. They’re adapted to their watery breeding grounds and that’s where a vector can bring a long a nasty friend. The circle of life in inglorious action.

Transmission of disease kills. Pangolins and bats can take a deep breath, knowing they’ve possibly spread less harm to the COVER-19 world than an ill-timed Celine Dion world tour or mosquitoes. In fact, it’s said that of over half of the people that walked the Earth, mosquitoes carried the vector that helped caused their demise.* They’re the UPS of death. Much like, as the WHO are indicating, perhaps COVID-19 started life from a delivery system. Or perhaps mosquitoes are not responsible for that many deaths?**

Tonight’s ideal human menu: a starter of O type blood, with a side of human prone to abundant skin bacteria. For the main course, a heavy breathing type (to test that legendary mosquito detection skillset), alongside high body heat release. Dessert will comprise the blood of a pregnant woman. The ideal menu will then be inherited as a genetically-controlled component, meaning that mummy mosquitoes daughter will love your taste too!**** Our crepuscular (or otherwise) feeders don’t like to be disturbed in the day, however the ferocious Asian Tiger Mosquito hunts during daylight. And its spread from Southeast Asia to the globe has been rapid. Thanks to international travel and freight, it finds itself feeding overseas. Its distinct striped appearance is best noticed as you squish its central nervous system outwards.

Many cultures say mosquitoes evolved from the ashes of giants and their mortal remains being incinerated. Punegusse may well be the cause or that if a 79-million year old piece of Canadian amber containing Paleoculicis minutus*** would be a good evolutionary story. Whatever was stomping around when old P. minutus was buzzing about, I hope it was equally as bugged as I am by one lone wolf fly zipping around my apartment right now.

Did you know that before Walt Disney even dreamed of Mickey Mouse, Windsor McCay animated the mosquito in 1912? How a Mosquito Operates was state of the art for? its time. An animation about a man being tormented by mosquitoes. Almost a hundred and ten years have passed. Who can’t relate?

Citations:

*Timothy C. Winegard (31 Mar 2021). The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator. Text Publishing. p. 2. ISBN TBC

**“More or Less – Have Mosquitoes Killed Half the World? – BBC Sounds”. http://www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2021-03-31.

***G. O. Poinar; et al. (2000). “Paleoculicis minutus (Diptera: Culicidae) n. gen., n. sp., from Cretaceous Canadian amber with a summary of described fossil mosquitoes” (PDF). Acta Geologica Hispanica. 35: 119–128. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-29. Retrieved tonight.

****Fernández-Grandon GM, Gezan SA, Armour JA, Pickett JA, Logan JG (22 April 2015). “Heritability of attractiveness to mosquitoes”. PLOS ONE. 10 (4): e0122716. Bibcode:2015PLoSO..1022716F. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0122716. PMC4406498. PMID25901606.

Human Race.

Wasted energy just fizzled away. Wasted thoughts upped, up and away. Gone. Entropy, all said and done? Faded light in the thick darkness, a laser pen without power. No battery cell to zap outwards. Protons and neutrons inactive.

Plastic shreds, humanity on meds, ducks strangled by packaging. Gone. Waste management, and no fun? Carrier bags drifting in murky waters, a container without a rubbish bin. No recycling scheme to expand areas. Wrappers and sheaths defective.

Rubber tyres, telephone wires, headaches caused by noise. Gone. Bikes of thunder, and not one gun? Airplanes thunder overhead in shrouded skies, a siren without an emergency call. No laws to control the sounds. Banging fireworks completely reactive.

Grimy air, murky vision, stuffy noses full of dust. Gone. Smells of flowers, not by the sun? Machines clatter earth on stripped land, skies fill with ashes. No rule visited this land. This is all productive.

Do you remember trees?

What happened to the bees?

Rainbows and clouds vanished. Elephants and rhinos banished. Trees and grass diminished. Lakes and rivers finished.

Do you recall the smells of spring?

When did the birds last sing?

Dust filled the sky with pain. To see the horizon is a strain. No animals left with a mane. People struggling to stay sane.

How often did it snow back then?

Seasons. When?

The Human race. Who’ll be the winner?

Their gaff, their rules?

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

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington

Before I write any more, firstly, I need to clarify that I hate the idea of animals suffering. Actually, it forms one of the reasons why right now I do not have a pet. If I cannot be certain where I will live within twelve months, how can I look after a cat, dog or hamster? I’ve been lucky enough in my life to be raised around animals. My Dad and Mum gave me Pup, who was with me for about 17 years of my life as man’s best friend, a wonderful dog. There were cats along the way, Basil (think of a detective that was a rodent), Sparky and Tigger (original, right?). I had umpteen hamsters: Bright Eyes, Stripe, Gizmo and Gremlin to name but a few. Astrid, my sister, will tell you of her hamster Doris, and how she selected it on the basis that it bit her bigger brother (me) in the pet store. There were mice, bred and rehoused, with responsible intentions. I had fleeting dreams of being a vet – but for a huge dislike of blood. Then, it was time to study a BTEC National Diploma at North Trafford College and eventually study a BSc Behavioural Biology. Since then, my wildlife and animal passion has evolved into a pastime, set of interests and hobbies. The professional world was oversubscribed, underpaid and hard to escape clicks. It wasn’t for me. Instead I find myself softly influencing future generations and making people think twice.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”- S.G. Tallentyre, The Friends of Voltaire.

Stumbling into education with transferable skills just meant I swapped elephant dung in the morning for a whole raft of new pooh. I’m in China, their gaff their rules. But I can talk freely about some topical issues. What is a wet market? Well, it’s just a marketplace that sells fish, meats, vegetables, and fruits. The produce is not dry (like fabric or electronics). The goods at wet markets are perishable. Not all wet markets slaughter animals or have a fishmongers. Across the Indian subcontinent (e.g. Thailand), China, Japan, Korea and the island countries northwest of Australia, wet markets can be found and are a common feature of daily life. Foods can be fresh, cheaper than supermarkets, and going to these markets themselves can be a huge part of your social life. It is tantamount to culture and traditions for many people. To close many wet markets may be seen as xenophobic and cause more problems. But, will these same wet markets yield the next outbreak?

Wang Mengyun’s video of a bat being eaten in Palau has become infamous. It is disgusting in my opinion. What adds further disgust is that RT and the Daily Mail, amongst many, posted this via news outlets and social media claiming it was from Wuhan. I was even sent it on the Chinese app Wechat. I’m not justifying or defending her, or any other fools eating weird crap. Data and images can easily fit any story, without, erm, actual information. Of course, if China is involved, then there’s always an element of menace and worry from a social point of view. What exactly are they up to over there?

The wet market here hasn’t reopened (and many will never reopen, as many are rumpured as marked for demolition, to be replaced by more sanitized versions) which is great. I’m actually excited for when it does because they have limited the list of edible species right down. You wouldn’t believe the list before. There was no list. It could have been likened to taking a walk in a zoo. Except, that zoo was closer to The Green Mile, and all the inmates were destined for the grimmest of chops. Owls, giant salamanders and frogs may not appear on the menu in Beijing, but across this large nation of China, there are huge differences in diets. Here in Guangdong, it is said that the Cantonese eat everything with four legs, excluding chairs and desks.

Afterall the list isn’t far off what is approved as meat in the U.K. The most exotic things are to be found all over Britain such as ostrich, deer, reindeer, alpaca etc. Sadly, the list still includes fur species: mink, foxes and raccoons. BUT activism and conservation are growing here. Thoughts are changing. Many influential and middle-class people really believe that bigger changes are coming. Conservation and animal welfare are some of the few things people can protest here. The WHO advised China to “sell safe food with better hygiene”. That seems to be triggering a huge revolution in hygiene. There’s revulsion at the rich who can afford palm civet soup, braised bear paws and deep-fried cobra. These rarities are not farmed or caught for everyone. There’s status and face to show off, and keeping up with the Joneses is on the menu. Rebecca Wong explains in her book about the illegal wildlife trade that things are far from simple.

The China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation is pushing for an end to meats from wild sources. Many cities such as Shenzhen and several provinces are banning the sale of wild-sourced meats – yet China only has a temporary ban in place (and that excludes use for Traditional Chinese Medicines – T.C.M.). Is the ban effective? Well, The Daily Mail, managed to get images and a journalist into Guilin, Guangxi province and show dogs alongside cats, with T.C.M. posters showing bats. The W.H.O., the U.N.’s Convention on Biological Diversity, have called on China to do more.

China’s Wildlife Protection Law to permanently make catching and eating wildlife as a food into a criminal law will follow. The decision’s first real steps had been made on February 24th 2020. It is expected the list of 54 wild species bred on farms will be further reduced. Do people really need to eat hamsters and bird of prey? Do these horrific farms need abolishing? Does the farm license from The State Forestry and Grassland Administration conflict with their interest in wildlife protection? Places like Guangzhou and this province of Guangdong will need to seriously rearrange their eating habits. Chinese news sources, backed and owned by the state, have decried the practice of eating wildlife. One such piece, China Daily, went further than most with an English opinion piece by author Wu Yong. He correctly pointed to the Institute of Virology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (home base: Wuhan) and their publications warning of the next big outbreak, following SARS in 2012. There are voices from within China banging a drum to the same beat: stop eating wildlife (50% of people surveyed in 2014 said wild animals should not be eaten). And should the laws come how vague will they be? How will provinces, cities and local areas enforce the laws? Who will steady the balance books of those who need the income?

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” – Benjamin Franklin

It is easy to say that wild animals carry viruses, and should they not be eaten by people, then there is little to no chance of these zoonotic viruses affecting human lives. If we do, then the viruses are with us. But, how many viruses start on farms from long-term domestic animals? Think Pandemic H1N1/09 virus and its outbreak from Mexico/U.S.A. in 2009 that killed about 151,700-575,400 people globally, according to the CDC. The problem is that for some their eyes are bigger than their bellies. They don’t want you and I, or others telling them what is right or wrong. For some status and entitlement is paramount. Why can a rich U.S. hunter go and shoot a lion in Africa, when a poor villager can’t catch pangolin in Vietnam to support their family? Will bans work? Will the trade go from loosely regulated to completely underground shady dealings? “Psst, wanna but a civet?” What is a civet anyway? I imagine many having seen a pangolin too. Look them both up. They’re wonderful little critters. Just don’t grill them!

“It is clear that not in one thing alone, but in many ways equality and freedom of speech are a good thing.” – Herodotus

China has endured food safety scandals, unusual additives being included in food, a distrust of food regulation, corruption and countless public health appeals and campaigns seeking to improve standards. If you live here long enough, you’ll know having diarrhea tablets to be most useful. Food poisoning happens and at public ad even private restaurants, finding hand soap can be a miracle. Everyone carries hand sanitiser and tissues, but few look forwards to visiting an outside toilet. To get to the modern regulation systems of the U.K. standards, the U.K. under the name of Great Britain and its Empire had many flaws and faults. Many want change but it will take time. Not every country is perfect, some wash their chicken in chlorine, don’t you America? Tradition and odd ingredients need talking about, at least. Without conversation and debate, how can we as people strike a balance between nature and need?

This pandemic is always going to throw up many questions. Should all wet markets adapt and abandon tradition in favour of hygiene and high standards? Yes, for the sake of humanity, surely! Should we be searching for the next big pandemic? Should we be vaccinating our pets and our zoo animals when the cure to COVID-19 arrives? Will the virus replicate and mutate in other domestic animals? Have we ignored the warnings (2017 and so on) for too long? Will wildlife poaching rise in the shadow of little eco-tourism? How many more lies will the internet spread about handwashing?

“We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them, maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some way. Somebody will say, ‘Oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.” – Donald Trump, Twitter user.

Keep talking. It’s the only way to progress.

 

The cover image: chicken anus on a stick. From a Taiwanese takeaway store, in China.

 

Thanksgiving Day.

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

“And I was taught to feel, perhaps too much, the self-sufficing power of solitude.” – William Wordsworth, The Prelude.

So, my trek in Nepal was over. I’d passed through up to 28 ethnic groups of people, notably Thakali, Gurung, Magar, Chhetri, Bhotia and some Tibetans. I’d seen Annapurna II, Manaslu, my favourite haunt of this trek, Pagunda Danda and other great mountains. I’d passed through areas housing maybe just 45,000 or so people in a short distance and across great swathes of area. The river Marshyangdi had been by my side from beginning to the end, and never more than a few kilometres away from my wanderings. I’d tread along a world-renowned trekking destination that needs great care, for peril lurks at every ridge. Remarkable waterfalls, dense forests, and other climatic wonders had lined the sub-tropical, temperate, sub-alpine and alpine bio-climatic zones. These imposing regions offered diversity in both mammal and bird species, and plants that I’ve never seen anywhere else before, and no doubt will never see somewhere else. The barks of musk deer, the swoosh of vultures, the tweets of life from tree to tree, and flashes of Himalayan Langur will stay in my memories.

I’ve met people connected with agriculture, animal husbandry, tourism, the military, conservation, Buddhist monks and other labouring forces. These stirring moments reminded me why I love to visit Nepal. There have been moments when I’ve looked in shame at crumbling mountain sides, ripped open by new roads, and power lines draping over great scenery. The price of a modern world has cut open a blend of people in need of the new age, with as many in fear of what will arrive. Can these ethnic groups survive the new ways in, and the new exposure to the outside world? Will everything change too fast for some to understand? Will education and investment bring new opportunity? Can the high pressure on natural resources be reduced? Will an unequal distribution of tourism wealth and benefits leave some people behind? Poverty is there, but can it seriously be eradicated? Will Chinese hydroelectric dam projects benefit anyone if they have mostly Chinese workforces? Will Indian investment be reduced as Nepal juggles the money of China over India?

With hunting, poaching, pollution, loss of habitat and humans getting ever closer to wildlife, can the Annapurna or Manaslu parks be improved to reduce these problems? Will climate change, flooding and increased tourism add greater strain to the region? I read that 18% of the world’s plant species can be found in the Annapurna Conservation Area. The project there highlights that 58% of Earth’s birds are present. A staggering 33% of Earth’s reptiles have refuge in the region. Amphibians (20%), butterflies (53%), and flowering plants (18%) represent significant proportions of Earth’s species too. There’s much more to Annapurna than snow leopards and possible yeti sightings…

To have walked through the largest protected park of Nepal was a privilege. I sat down to a cold coffee in Pokhara and stroked my sore head. I decided I would fly from Pokhara to Kathmandu. My friend Jodie was to visit Kathmandu a day or so later. I decided the long arduous coach journey was too much for me. Besides I like to fly and the price wasn’t too bad (732RMB) – and bookable via my Wechat money and Trip.com application. After a few wanders from the now ghostly quiet Pokhara, I was ready to fly.

Before doing so I took in the sights of Pokhara, a bat cave and the Gurkha Memorial Trust. Since joining the British Army in 1815, after showing valour in the battlefield against the British, the Gurkhas have enjoyed great connection with Britain and India. The museum itself was alike almost every museum and trust collection, with cabinets of medals, regalia and factsheets. Photos of hundreds of faces, stories and campaign information could be found throughout the large building. I was welcomed by two former Gurkha soldiers in full uniform and shown to the ticket desk, then set free to enjoy the words of regimental life, the sounds and read about Victoria Cross winners. A history sheet was handed to me and I spent a good couple of hours perusing the displays. I had passed the museum by chance, and prior to walking to Bat Cave in the direction of Mahendra Cave not even know there to be such a museum. I did not expect to be so detailed and well-constructed. The passion of many had created their space to inform, educate and celebrate. Here I learned the name Gurkha comes from the hill of Gorkha, and not from a specific race of people. Better to die than be a coward, is the Gurkha motto. Their history attains to that. Long may they have the welfare and care of those who respect them.

Now, Bat Cave is called that on every sign. I could see signs for the religious Mahendra Cave frequently. Those signs had Nepali Sanskrit and English on. The Bat Cave just had English. Bruce Wayne had no chance of hiding a Batmobile and Batwing in there. Green foothills surround the cave, but before you get there, a gate, with a kind of turnstile not out of place at a 1980’s football ground and a pay booth await. Here they try talking you into hiring a guide. I resisted that. I wanted tranquillity. He handed me a large lamp. I handed that back and shown him my simpler headtorch set. In I went. After a few steep steps, a dip and a ducked head I was in the main cavern. Alongside me were around 70-100,000 horseshoe bats. I dipped my torch and gazed on enjoying the cold humid chamber underground. The floor is slippery, the air is whiffy (it is a home to nature, after all), and my good footwear helped me a great deal. I reminded one small group to stay quiet, and they respected my wishes – and that of the bloody great big sign saying to be silent. There was a tiny passage for an exit, but I doubled back without trouble. I wanted to avoid a bump on the head.

After the 20km round-trip walk, I headed back to Obey Guest House. The family were really very nice. Sushil’s place had been recommended to Srirang and I by Livia on our first brief stop in Pokhara. Each time I’d stayed, I ended up the same room: up the stairs, first right turn, first room. The big clean room had a double bed, coffee table, hat stand, two small chairs, a bathroom with a steaming hot shower and a sink for a proper scrub down. There was a tiny balcony and the door would open to allow me to put my stinking walking boots outside. On the top floor, there are several levels to appreciate the panoramic views and a place to sit with a garden table. The family were really welcoming, warm and friendly. They check on you and make you feel at home. Sushil had washed some of my laundry before the trek, and it was waiting in a bag for me, alongside some trainers I’d left behind. The lodge is a tall pink building up a road from Lakeside. It’s easy to find. There’s Wi-Fi and the family pointed us to a simple and tasty breakfast place at the top of the road. Every morning I awoke to beautiful bird call, and at night I enjoyed peaceful ambience. I had several good sleeps there. Sushil pointed us to the nearby TIMS office, other amenities and gave great advice throughout. If you want to stay somewhere peaceful without hassle and worry, then obey me and look up Obey Guest House.

I do have to apologise to Obey Guest House because I stupidly left my smelly walking boots on the balcony when I left… I hope that they turned them into a plant pot! They probably couldn’t be repaired, and they certainly won’t be now! Sorry Sushil and family!

So, with the wheels lifting off the Pokhara runway, flight YT676, operated by Yeti Airlines departed, I assume. I’d been shuffled onto an earlier departure that eventually departed later. Not to worry. It was a good flight. The flight comfortably descended into the Kathmandu valley and once again I was in the cradle of rapid urbanisation. Here I enjoyed more days at Northfield Café and hotel, met a good man to embroider my travelling shirt, and enjoyed a haircut. With room in my bag, eight Lee Child novels filled my bag and that was that. I was ready to go. Goodbye Nepal. Thanks to Srirang and Livia for great company. Thank you to all of those people I met. See you again.

 


 

Almost 54 days later, I am writing this piece. I should have been in Hong Kong and heading over to Dongguan, China on the 15th of April. Here, I am in Dongguan, preparing to end my time in quarantine. If my PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test comes back as negative tomorrow, I will be allowed to go to Dongguan’s Changping town, to fill in more forms and scan a QR code to show that I am virus-free. I’ve penned a letter to the management and local government officials here. Maria and Waits translated it for me. It’s as per below:

 

二零二零年四月八日
8th April 2020

 

给相关人士 To whom it may concern.

 

诚 挚 地 感 谢 

T H A N K   Y O U   K I N D L Y !

我从心底里感谢你。谢谢你对我的帮助。就像一名优秀的曼城足球运动员一样,我会敞开心扉。我在这里的日子很艰难,但你们更加辛苦。Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you kindly for helping me. Like a good Manchester City football player, I wear my heart on my sleeve. My time here has been tough, but you have been tougher.

当你路过西湖的时候,不管是东莞的这家酒店,还是那片著名的杭州的湖,还是惠州的那座城市,你都一定能够感受到你所做的这一切带给你的荣耀,是你肩负起了这份重任。When you pass West Lake, whether the hotel in Dongguan, the famous lakes of Hangzhou or the city of Huizhou, you’ll be able to think of the pride that you made a difference. You answered the call.

是你让所有人一起团聚;是你给予了爱人、朋友和亲人们一起纵享新时刻的机会;是你,在保护我们,你在照看我们,是你放弃了你们自己的时间,而把精力全部投入到了我们身上。You brought people back together. You gave loved ones, friend and family the chance to enjoy new moments together. You protected us. You looked after us. You gave up your time and gave us all your energy.

你为我打扫卫生,检查我的健康,为我尽心尽力。你让我的肚子饱饱的,并激发了我不知道我能做的锻炼。每当我口渴的时候,你就在那里。You have cleaned up after me, checked my health and waited on hand and foot for me. You have kept my belly full, and inspired exercises I didn’t know I was capable of. Every time I have been thirsty, you have been there.

我是东莞的客人。广东的客人。来中国的客人。你让我很受欢迎。我非常喜欢东莞。这是一座充满希望、想象力和雄心的城市。就像我的家乡曼彻斯特一样,这里也有工业路线,但这里的工业路线也越来越多。I’m a guest in Dongguan. A guest of Guangdong. A guest to China. You’ve made me welcome. I like Dongguan greatly. It is a city of hope, imagination and ambition. Like my hometown of Manchester, it has industrial routes but here too has grown to be so much more.

我们是如此的幸运,生活虽有不便但我们还是在这儿。那些倒下的人、那些逝去的人和那些殉职的人——正是因为他们,我们才能好好地活着。让我们一起为他们默哀片刻吧。We are the lucky ones. We are inconvenienced but we are here. Those who fell, those who died, those who died – it is because of them, we can live well. Let’s observe a moment of silence for them.

 

 

Mr John R. Acton

 


 

TO THE HEROES.

To the NHS staff in the U.K.; and to those health workers, care assistants, doctors, nurses, specialists and all going about in essential jobs right now. I salute you. Keep fighting on. Never give in. You are true heroes. The world needs you. I wish you well. Good luck! This is your hour to shine. Inspire the next generation and those who can and should support you. Look after your neighbours and we’ll find a brighter day. Peace and love!

 

I’m not gonna give up.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Before the climb, we’d stopped in Danagyu, at a lodge on the right-hand side. It was busy. A family were playing cards. Kids were running around and one managed to hit both Livia and I with first her walking stick and second a snotty finger. I was fully aware of the coronavirus outbreak by now. It was by now February. Hygiene was on my conscience but this terrible toddler was not sharing my concern. Bogies smeared down my leg. I used soap and water to clean it away. Eventually a teenage girl came over and shuffled the toddler away. We’d already ordered pumpkin soup and momos now. Having seen the soon to be altogether contour lines on the map, our engines for walking needed some much needed fuel. One trekker’s bar wasn’t going to be adequate.

After reaching a waterfall tucked in a tight ravine, Livia went right along the road, and I went left up some steep steps. Srirang was just behind Livia, with his sore leg, yet he soldiered on and never gave in. Tough lad. After only a few steps, I started to see speedy little Himalayan squirrels and the view backwards of the peaks nearby to Manaslu was marvellous. Upwards was very much that. Up, up and away. After some crumbly steps, that could have been made of Lancashire cheese of apple crumble topping, I managed to reach the road, and cross straight over back onto the pathway. Here the green trees folded outwards ever so slightly, to show stacks of natural compost on the forest floor. The air had a damp natural earthy smell and occasional felled logs rotted alongside the trail. The track would mostly rise and do little of a fall. Soon enough the mud and dirt track became covered in frozen snow. Not the fluffy soft and easy to trudge through kind, but the solid mostly with a metre drop inwards should I find the bit unable to tolerate my weight, kind. And it seemed I was in for many steps up, and a few deep into the partially frozen snow. Heave. Heave. Heave.

The snow pretty much didn’t want to convey me and with every drop my boots, and the best part of my legs disappeared. Out came the crampons. Out came the determination. Onwards I went. My imagination enjoyed the peculiar eerie silence. I imagined packs of wolves, snow leopards and bears watching me go by. Not your ideal range of animals to picture you pass by, especially if one of them was very hungry, but here I was in the territory of nature, and damned if I was going to imagine Minecraft or a rock concert.

The pine trees shed patches of snow and melt water dripped all around me. Glorious rays of sunshine broke the canopy and occasionally I caught glimpses of mountain tops here and there. Then, a sudden crashing sound in the trees ahead, had me at full alertness. I froze solid as the iced floor around me. Silence resumed. Then a larger and louder thump and crunch. Something was in the trees ahead. I heard a racket and a commotion. Voices yelled from the canopy to my immediate left. The thuds and thumps were accompanied by a disturbance in the snow maybe a few hundred metres away. Then I spotted a monkey, Himalayan langur, springing up and down in the snow, swiftly from tree to tree across a small clearing. They didn’t seem too perturbed by the snow, but didn’t hang around either way. I tried to shoot them. My camera wasn’t quick enough though.

Throughout this journey, I had seen many mammals. These included Himalayan langurs, Assam macaques, Rhesus macaques, Irrawaddy squirrels, orange-bellied Himalayan squirrels, Himalayan striped squirrels, voles, Himalayan field mice, Himalayan pika, shrews, a variety of bats, and some wild boar, I’d never seen many animals in the snow. It was a privilege to enjoy the monkeys and hear them move over the forest. It was a welcome break from the constant in and out walking motions of the snow. I also had chance to reflect about the fall onto my walking stick which had gave the stick a slight bend, or three.

After crossing many streams carefully, over tiny little snow-covered bridges, and occasionally playing find the rock over the odd crossing point, I reached a stretched out chain bridge. Snowfall and heavy damage had ripped one end of the supports from its foundations. The two guard rails fanned out, practically useless. It wasn’t quite and Indiana Jones movie, but it looked far more precarious than comfort. The river flow was about five metres wide, pummeling steeply down to the River Marsyangdi many metres below in altiiude. I decided to chance my luck at a bridge further upstream. After 200 metres, I realised that this was the only bridge. I hadn’t seen one downstream either. Whilst I could hear the river nearby, I couldn’t see it and no alternative route evident. The flayed and flawed bridge was to be my point of movement. A way like no other.

So, off came the crampons, and then I positioned my rucksack tighter to my back. I stowed my walking sticks. I pulled out my thin winter gloves with extra grips (thanks Black Diamond) and I stepped through the first pocket of snow on the bridge. I tested the bridge for movement. First with a little weight and then applying all slowly, readied to dive into the snow to the side of the bridge. Then, I did a kind of half-hop. The bridge was surprisingly sturdy – a real testament to the Gurkha builders who had provided so many bridges across the country. From that, I leant and tested the sideways cable to my left, uphill and in appearance the least damage of the handrails. I turned square onto it. I placed my left hand over my right hand and never left any motion rightwards without one very firm hand on the rail. By the time I’d reached the centre of the bridge, the rail tilted upwards, almost as it should have been and all the snow had melted in the sunlight. I gently walked up to the other side and looked backwards. Stepping off the bridge was a relief. Then I peered left at the small landslips dotted along the river bank.

The fallen ground and occasional uprooted tree didn’t prove too much of a challenge. The trail banked left and into an open field, which led onto a rock-cobbled road. Each rock was jagged and unwelcoming. It had a Lord of The Rings feel to it. Wild, and otherworldly. Onwards, I plugged until reaching the Hotel Royal Garden, where I met Livia aftera few minutes. Here, I also met Shadow. Shadow wasn’t his name but for that day he would be my little shadow and follow us throughout the village of Timang. After a great lunch, Srirang joined us, and we checked in for the night, just 100 metres down the road. Ahead of us the weather looked bleak and unsettled. So, a Sherpa family welcomed us, and we dropped our bags into a room each. The Hotel Manaslu View Point had a view of Manalsu in the distance and the panoramic view in all directions was a clear sign that we were now in the Himalayas, proper. Timang (2630m) was about 400 metres higher than Danagyu (2200m). The air temperature was much more-icy here. Clouds floated over the mountains behind us, disguising hidden peaks and over the River Marsyangdi to the opposite side, occasional matchstick-looking pine trees, empty of leaves and needles, stood like wooden stakes in a cemetery. There looked to have been a nuclear blast over the valley. Even the ground appeared clear of life.

This village was both sinister and beautiful. Firstly, the crows, those often billed in horror movie birds, were everywhere. They made themselves known with sharp piercing cries and occasionally softer sounds. The Kāga (काग Nepali for crow or craven) here were not Carrion crows. These were bigger ravens, Corvus corax tibetanus, with long grey neck feathers. Light on their feathers gave a beautiful purple-blue iridescence. Amongst the pairs of ravens, Carrion crows moved and foraging by jackdaws, and other smaller birds like sparrows could be seen through the village. Now, the sinister, I described wasn’t too much about the crows…

One single storey building with a shop front on the right of the road gave me new heebie-jeebies. Outside the front a man swapped tyres on a jeep. At the side of this passengers from the jeep waited patiently. At the rear of the building in the garden, an animal pelt hung from a washing line. From a distance I couldn’t work out if it was red panda, a dog or something of similar size. I know that the rules in Nepal are extremely strict regarding hunting, but I could not for the life of me understand what it was. It was, in all probability, a goat – and certainly unwelcoming. And, not far from that pelt on the washing line, a dead crow was tied up by its neck, flying in the wind like a grim version of a child’s kite. I expected haunted hillbilly music and a narrative from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

After a great dal baht, in front of a warm fireplace, we all departed for bed. The matchstick looking cluster of spiders in the toilets gave an appearance of buffalo pubic hair [you know what I mean!] – and they seemed to detect the cold too, nestling together like brush hair in the corners of the long cold toilet room.

After a good night’s sleep, a great omelette and some defrosted ice-water, we three departed, bidding our farewell to Shadow the dog and a variety of goat kids in the nursery nearby. The road headed out, skirting around the brow of the hills beside us, never quite leaving the river below. At Tanchok village it doubled back inwards, crossing a frozen stream before lurching back into the river valley below. It slid gently up to the crossroads at Koto before nestling its way into Chame (2700m), complete with signs for yet more hot springs. Monkeys had been sighted in the forest’s brow by the village of Tanchok, by Livia and I stood watching them for some time. Here the valley started to tighten up and appear much steeper than previous days.

Chame is a colourful place, but in February, the sun sets early, shrouded by mountainous ridges to the west. Here a dozen municipal buildings and hospitals can be found. Derelict military barracks stand to the village’s north. It is a town of about 1200 people. In winter it is quiet with many people heading to Kathmandu and Pokhara. There are signs of the April 2015 earthquake having struck here. There were also some very good small supply shops and chances to get some much needed fruit into our diet. We checked into the cosy New Tibet Hotel and Restaurant sandwiched between a brittle looking cliff face and the river’s east bank. We then had a wander around the village which seemed to be many scattered lodges along a kilometre of two. An upper level village to the west looked more modern and functional, but less touristic. There were the usual array of schools and public facilities with prayer flags visible all across the high points.

After the walk Livia tucked into her billionth bowl of rice pudding, and probably ordered one for the morning too. Seeing Livia eat rice pudding in a wolf/koala/bear hat was quite a frequent sight on the journey. I often had scrambled eggs, porridge and buckwheat bread of chapatti. Always with a milky coffee or tea. Several bank machines were available in the village but there was no internet and sporadic power cuts for the two nights that we stayed. There was even a roadblock on alert for any walkers from China! By now fear and panic about COVID-19 had spread up the road. I kept news that I had left China over two weeks before arriving there to myself. I’d heard Chame described as an often crowded place. We met only two other trekkers, both French and both walking solo (with a guide).

Our lodge was less than two minutes of walking from a lovely spot. The hot springs doubled up as an open air launderette. Livia and I washed our clothing in the warm flow of water, as local soldiers soaked up the minerals in the neighbouring swimming pool. The spring itself was a dull green bubbling hole with pipes jutting from it. Nothing exciting to the naked eye. The miracle of life and fresh water was surrounded by man-made concrete and exploitation. Still, it was a good place to wash my underpants. Bloody warm too. Later I scattered my clothes on the balcony and added some socks to a warm chimney to speed dry them in the fading sunshine. Night was soon rolling in, complete with starry skies and ice-inducing temperatures. To be continued…


 

On the I’d booked a flight between Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport and Shenzhen for April the 1st. April Fool’s Day. Appropriately Thai Air Asia cancelled it yesterday. As I had used Trip.com to book it, I have to use Trip’s customer services. Flight FD596 is no more. On top of that, my visa expires here on April the 14th. I have been told that to stay here, I need to have a letter from the UK Embassy to say that travel to my country of residence is not possible. The UK Embassy won’t give such a letter for British citizens traveling to China. Thailand’s Immigration won’t allow me to stay because I can currently fly to the U.K. There are flights to Guangzhou at drastically hyper-inflated prices but even they could be pulled. Trip.com’s phone numbers ring a little and then hang up, all three of them! Their email reply reads as follows:

“Due to the huge backlog of emails caused by Corona Virus pandemic, we are sincerely sorry that your email won’t be able to get reply as usual. It will be delayed but no later than 30 days. Kindly recommend to manage your ticket online or though APP.” – modern day example of a crappy auto-response from a customer disservice centre, March 2020.

I get that we’re in a global catastrophe and the world is going mad buying excessive amount of bog rolls and shutting borders, but when you haven’t got much cash, or hope to get around, and your head feels like it is going to explode if it doesn’t release the bubbling rage and worry inside. I even paid for new cycle lights to allow me to break out of my body, and fly away, like a bat out of hell… or at least peddle fast from stray dogs and monkeys now coming out from the temples and sanctuaries in search of food. Next I expect to see chameleons on sun loungers, well maybe not see them, but at least know they’re there when the fly numbers drop down. That’d be more amazing because as I am aware, there aren’t chameleons in Thailand, but with current world problems, maybe they’ll bounce back like other wildlife – especially now people are talking more about wildlife trade ending. Or, will this COVID-19 world hide a debate about climate change?

Still, worries aside, it could be worse. It could be much, much worse. I worry for others. I’ll survive and money I haven’t got will add to other money that I never had. You can’t repossess from a hobo, right? Especially one trapped in Thailand… trapped, with just two bottles of Vimto and two frozen portions of black pudding. Nope, it ain’t all that bad! Stay strong. Survive. Beyonce and her mates told you to.

“I’m a survivor (what), I’m not gon’ give up (what); I’m not gon’ stop (what), I’m gon’ work harder (what); I’m a survivor (what), I’m gonna make it (what); I will survive (what), keep on survivin’ (what)” Destiny’s Child’s song was covered by 2WEI.

 

Add Vim or Gin & Tonic?

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

WHO AM I?

“Everything in life is difficult: Being young, being old.” – Dag, TV series 3, episode 4 opening credits.

What is the meaning of life? Such a common question. I wonder why that is always the big question. Is the answer really 42? Many in religion argue that a scientific mind is a major cause of an individual’s crisis in meaning. Is it that there is almost a denial that an interplay of gases, chemicals, genetics and biology can lead to a meaning? Our amoeba cousins are prime examples of life. The humble farmed hogs being hunted the leopards of Mumbai too. Look outside and see a butterfly flutter by, and there is the answer. Survival. Google the wrong term without a safe search and you’ll no doubt stumble on the other answer: propagation.

Without completely telling religion where to scatter, I won’t force my beliefs on those who believe. Rag’n’Boneman will back me up. I’m only human, after all. I do however favour a logical and scientific approach to life, and higher beings don’t exist in it. No prophets, Gods, Goddesses, Deities, immortals, idols, or divine beings for me. I do believe in nature as a force. Holy beings are a no. Caterpillars changing to butterflies are a yes. The bible is young. God, the one Him and He that is mentioned in the new and old testament is quite modern, which I find strange and a little questionable.

Depressingly life is quite simple, and it seems us numpty humanoids complicate things. Is the glass half full? No. Is the glass half empty? No. The glass exists, with something neither incomplete nor complete inside it. It can house more or less than the state it was in before two simple questions were presented. Is the glass full of water and air in an unbalanced state? Is the water warm, cold or hot? Who put the question into a glass? Why not a whiskey tumbler? Are tumblers a glass? How many other glasses are stood full nearby? Can the question apply to tins of Costa Coffee x Coca Cola? Will that make it into a Costa Express machine to be delivered free one day?

Books, movies and songs have always been good companions. I fear that I will let others down, or myself down. I need a ray of sunshine to pick me up. Other people’s wonderful creations give me hope. They are my sunshine on a dark day. I’m in a foreign land where not everyone speaks my tongue. Few do. Even then if I can speak with someone, no matter how close they are, I cannot be sure that they truly understand me. Linguistic and cultural barriers exist in regions, countries, political beliefs and thoughts too. My humour is not Andy Warhol, and not Billy Connolly. It is just me, plain old and simple me. To have fingers put upon emotions, by others, and shared before eventually reaching you is simply delightful.

“Almost everything will work again of you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott, novelist

The trick of life is surviving it by feeling achievement. Somewhere in our DNA is an answer to a problem. Perhaps we don’t know of it. Perhaps we never will. Perhaps our species will have evolved time and time again rendering that answer obsolete. Relationships in our lives may dip, ebb or fade away. That’s life. Kick it in the dick and move on or engage in conversation. Have a natter with a good friend – or help your significant other to understand you using words. If that fails, there are alternative lifestyles like nudist camps, swinging, or cycling around the world jobless. Not every mould of lifestyle choice will fit everyone. Find that extra vim. If something feels dead end and meaningless, change the goalposts and seek the verve and vigour that you need. Too many people die with regrets. To quote William Wallace in Braveheart, “Every man dies, but not every man really lives” or something similar to that. Goodbye triviality, hello exuberance.

“Animals, poor things, eat in order to survive: we, lucky things, do that too, but we also have Abbey Crunch biscuits, Armagnac, selle d’agneau, tortilla chips, sauce béarnaise, Vimto, hot buttered crumpets, Chateau Margaux, ginger-snaps, risotto nero and peanut-butter sandwiches — these things have nothing to do with survival and everything to do with pleasure.” – Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot

For me, I think people around the world would love a bit more understanding and togetherness. There are all too many bullets to chests, too many factories billowing crap into the air and too little respect being shown by leaders to their people. More empathy, less greed and a dab of extra worth wouldn’t harm anyone. No need to power up a supercomputer for 7.5 million years. However, we can still dream and look to the stars for hope or worship our chosen beliefs.

When I was at university and failed my first year, I felt lost. Why was I suddenly studying Behavioural Biology, far from home, running up a debt that clouded my hunger to study? I didn’t have a clue if it would get a me a career or a pathway into “the real world” (as students would often say). I did know one thing. Here I was far from home. Independent. Going solo. The reading of books and the routine of lectures wasn’t for me. I stumbled through years of studying and almost zero revision. Did I feel that I had failed? No. It was a challenge and I was out of my comfort zone. I learnt about myself in more ways than I thought possible. The wisdom of hindsight has taught me that.

THE EMPIRE ON WHICH THE SUN NEVER SETS

With more opportunity people are free to find their purpose. As it stands Braveheart is being remade on the streets of Hong Kong, in a historically flipped up situation made by Great Britain. The British Empire, at its peak in 1920, covered almost a quarter of the Earth’s surface area. After losing 13 colonies to the U.S.A.’s birth in 1783, Britain headed east and towards Africa. The Pacific was ripe for picking. For 99 years, starting in 1815, Britain became the Team America: World Police of the day. As Britain became challenged by Germany and the U.S.A.’s rise, the cracks that allowed the outbreak of the Great War were laid. In 1922 Ireland became free of British rule. Other territories would soon follow. Britain’s eastern empire fell with Japan sweeping over the supposedly impregnable Singapore, sewing the foundations for New Zealand and Australis to go alone, eventually.

Decolonisation, a decline in the nation’s strength and crisis after crisis (India, Palestine, Suez, the Malayan emergency, the Cold War, the Falklands…) haunted Britain – and the scars are visible today. Ireland and Northern Ireland remain divided and with Brexit impending the real threat of further trouble threatens the U.K. like a dark cloud. And if anything is to go by, the troubles will be back, because Rambo, Charlies Angels, the Terminator and Top Gun are still in the cinemas. Do we keep making the same mistakes in order to sell movies?

By 1983, Britain held 13 or 14 overseas territories. Penguins, Indian Ocean post boxes, a rock in Spain and a place near a triangle make for a nice holiday. Three islands have no residents but retain some scientific or military presence. Perhaps, Area 52 is located on one of these islands. Five of the territories are claimed by other nations. Interestingly, 52 former colonies protectorates are still party to the archaic Commonwealth of Nations. That Commonwealth is non-political, apparently. The U.K.’s royal family still head 16 states too, making their divorce from the U.K. most bizarre.

In the U.K., I worked for Aviva Insurance, for about 5 years. It didn’t feel meaningless and they were an okay employer. The corporate machine offers comfort for a not-so-amazing salary. Internal transfers are plentiful, but promotion in an age of very few people retiring, or moving on, didn’t help me. The work wasn’t too significant to me and my enthusiasm dropped, but to Joe Public and my colleagues, I kept plugging away, not like a robot, and not with any ambition. At this stage I’d lost ambition completely. Communication with other people and understanding were concepts that I was enjoying. This would start me on a pathway to teaching in China. A place where I would miss my favourite drink Vimto.

Vimto & Maine Road (Manchester City’s former home ground) have an unusual connection: Vimto. In 1851, the U.S. state of Maine was the first to outlaw alcoholic beverages. Manchester City Football Club’s then owners named the new ground’s road after this U.S. state. Temperance was quite a popular social campaign, much like Twitter campaigns like Jake Parker’s Inktober. That temperance movement made Vimto popular in the U.K. and gave Vimto a gateway to the world. The Middle East embraced Vimto long before Manchester City were heard of. The Saudi company, Abdulla Aujan & Brothers, had the sole rights in 1920s – and in a place with no letter V in their alphabet. A strong movement of division that brought about togetherness in a way…

Casting aside an ego, or stoning to death a worry, over time, my mind has finally understood that worries help nothing. Yet, I still worry from time to time. On buffering my soul and a kind of system reboot, I synch in time with my interests – and then look at the challenge freshly, dealing with it at a suitable pace. My pace. Not the pace of anyone else. You can only be yourself. With that, you can find yourself. And in Wales, I had the chance at Aberystwyth to discover and uncover myself.

EUROPEAN BENEFITS vs. EUROPEAN

The EU objective one funding was the best thing to happen to Wales. Without those projects being continually supported and the preservation funds for other cultural projects then central UK government will not listen so easily… division is a big problem and a stupid democratic vote, based on lies and bull pooh has done nothing but destabilise the UK – and division is everywhere. The people are too busy to notice the profits made by those who really benefit from this joke of a situation. If people need to campaign and protest against a silly democratic moment, so be it. An ill-informed minority of victorious voters will determine the future of the people? No. Is that remotely fair? No. Is it a fair to cancel Brexit? No. Remember, if you have been mis-sold PPI, you were entitled to claim the money back. So, the chance to force a legal process and decision into being over-turned is also democratic. Good luck with your 14 days money back refunds on trousers at Asda in the future. So many knock-on effects will happen.

Map it out. Our heads endured puzzlement and the pro-Brexit campaigners did not give clear reason to leave. The remain campaign dug a web of truth and lies to battle back. The leavers and the remain side argued until the cows came home. Then, someone bet on this, that and the other, standing to make a lot from the destructive nature of a messy divorce. The media twisted, turned, repeated, replayed and shot out word after word of noise. A campaign of vilifying and anti-heroism ran head on into a white-headed knight with a weaker than broken past record. That’s where we are now. Britain is no longer great. It is heading for isolation and absolute irrelevance as politically respectable nations go.

Isolation is not good for me. I am a loner when I choose to be. I am an outsider in my mind, but part of the team when I am welcomed or when I am welcoming others to the team. I like the natural flip on and out of things that some call being a social butterfly. I share an intimate and open friendship with my best friend Dan. I won’t hold back from telling him anything. With past, present and if-it-happens-it-happens possible future relationships, I hold back. I fear being hurt; I fear giving too much. My past experiences, and I know I have never been perfect – and Lord knows how many mistakes that have been made, have been made, but deep down I have never wanted to hurt anyone. I can be selfish and distant. Concealing my head in the sands, as the world goes by, is proof that I am part Ostrich. If I feel too constricted and less free, I tend to hide away or feel anxious. There is an itch where there should be calm. My eagerness to cycle off forever in the style of Forrest Gump running away, becomes a serious thought. At least I understand me. Well, most of the time.

The human brain is complex. It can handle algorithms, algebra and aardvarks. Confusion can reign supreme over absolutely anything and it can be caused by the weather, girls, boys, life and money – amongst a larger list of factors. There are poems, songs and crossword answers stuck inside our head. We just have to find the time to let it all out. Dripping it out like a slow roasted coffee works for some. Blurting it out like a Slipknot machine gun lyric for others. The same two options may work for one or the other at any given time.

The unfamiliar and strange don’t scare me. I worry more about monotony and uniformity. I don’t want to be a rebel outcast, but I do want to do my own thing. I enjoy being a service and teaching. I enjoy writing, even if it is to no-one in particular. This writing serves me well, it is the warm-up, the cool-down and the practice for work in progress. When work in progress becomes actual work, then I will feel that I have made an actual progress. There is method to my madness. In the meantime, I want to be like those who have left a mark on me. The influences I felt as a child. Mr Jones who encouraged me at primary school in Chapel Street; strict Mr Meheran at Reddish Vale Secondary School; Mr Tony Mack at the same school; the very warm and wonderful Miss Roe, and Mr Kershaw at Chapel Street. I can’t be a lifeboatman or a laser eye surgeon, but I do hope that I can be a good memory.

A good memory of someone can help you spring out of bed in the morning. To take that memory and magnify it, tell it, share it and hope that it will improve someone. If a 16-year old Skye Terrier called Greyfriars Bobby can have his story told for over one a half centuries, there has to be good reason. Warm memories of our grandparents help them to live on through ourselves. As child becomes parent, the parent becomes the grandparent and a cheesy way of saying the circle of life continues. Otherwise, we’d be cold, lost at sea, and trapped in eternal darkness with monsters snapping at the end of our bed, waiting for a foot to lower into their bleak and unwelcoming mouths. Our harmony is in life. Life is wonderful and whilst the meanings may be simple and the answers to our daily grind may seem far away, we are NOT alone.

I like to focus my students upon being honest. I try to stress teamwork and community over finances and ability. We’ll build a city map with castles and dreamscapes, rather than focus on calculus and repetition of words. We’ll build a city map with castles and dreamscapes, rather than focus on calculus and repetition of words. I want the minds that I encounter not to be afraid of introspection and going it alone. Let each student show their talents step by step and here we go. Goodbye dreariness and hello variety. With Tip the Dog’s story in our hearts, we’re ready to jump out of bed tomorrow…

 

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

…I’m getting off?

“Time spent among trees is never time wasted.” – Anonymous

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

Carbon emissions are one thing. The ozone layer and its depletion seemed to be the theme of the 1990s. But what about the other crap that we fling upwards into our atmosphere? As a species we have used our intelligence to create and combine a wealth of chemical knowledge to form so many new things. Earth had the basics and we adapted everything from nature into manmade conceptions. Our creativity spawned new fabrications and handiworks and we didn’t know their effects upon the natural world. Or, did we turn a blind eye?

So, where did this all begin? Manchester, of course. Well, not just my hometown, but pretty much all of Great Britain. Steam power, textiles, iron making and the inventors having a field day making new tools kicked off the Industrial Revolution. As fast as the spinning mule could spin, the revolution spread across Europe and to North America. As long as the cotton made on a loom could stretch, the methods of fast industry shout outwards across the world. Waters in rivers ran with colours and toxins unregulated. Skies turned black. Farming fields and forestry secumbed to the Cottonopolis that was Manchester. Coal demand shot up. Steam billowed upwards into the sky alongside toxic soot. The raw materials needed moving. Bridges such as Iron Bridge in England’s Shropshire set a new level of industrial infrastructure. Sir Richard Arkwright, Robert Peel, John Rylands and a  whole host of blokes became rich, powerful and industrial very fast.

“One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between man and nature shall not be broken.” – Leo Tolstoy, Russian writer

Yorkshire, Lancashire, Salford, Cheshire and Manchester became central to many movements. Even today, Quarry Bank Mill, in Styal operates to show visitors of life back then. Alongside this, there are UNESCO sites in Derbyshire dedicated to Arkwright’s work and so on. The effect of the Industrial Revolution demanded true innovation and architects met the call willingly. Up popped Bradshaw Gass & Hope, David Bellhouse, Philip Sidney Stott, and others to build for the new era. With that power needed generating and John Musgrave & Sons, amongst other stepped up to the glorious age of steam and engine power. One such company, Mather & Platt still exist today in South Africa. Their 1817 origin by Peter Mather in Salford to John Platt taking over Salfird Iron Works in 1837 has been a diverse ride. They did their bit to enhance safety in cotton mills, distributing an automatic sprinkler; they expanded rapidly; they shipped the Machinery Annexe of the Paris Exhibition from France, up the Manchester Ship Canal and rebuilt it in Newton Heath by 1900. They expanded into Pune (India) before an Australian company purchased the company in 1978. After this Thailand, a German-takeover and still operate to this day. How many other companies from the Industrial Revolution era have gone on to become industrial powerhouses?

As a teenager I’d pass Houldsworth Mill, built by a design of Stott and Sons. The red brick mill had seen many cleaning jobs and now is housing accommodation fit for the rich and wealthy of today. Little did I know that at the time of passing that mill, I was passing a sister mill of ones found in Oldham’s Chadderton – not far from my Gran’s house. The factory system had given capitalism a huge kick up the backside. Like modern day China factory bosses, many factory owners back then in Britain became very rich, very fast. Some invested heavily in urbanisation for their workers. Healthcare, education and opportunity developed suddenly. A demand for better quality and fresher food followed. The standard of living improved. Did the working classes still feel the exploitation of heavy industry? Did each technological enhancement drown shances of a good swim the employment pool? Did they notice the smog building up?

“Environmentally friendly cars will soon cease to be an option … they will become a necessity.” – Fujio Cho, Honorary Chairman of Toyota Motors

Soon enough people got wise. Socialism and Marxism were born. People like Welshman Robert Owen influenced social care and reformation of working practices. Owenism became a movement, long before England centre-forward Michael Owen became a young mover of the footballing game. People were starting to see that the skies weren’t perfect. Something that has maintained to this day in the like of Greenpeace and others who don’t like too many airplanes in the sky.

“Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest.” – Robert Owen, philanthropic capitalist and social reformer.

Convicted terrorist and former University of Michigan mathematics Professor, Theodore Kaczynski was quoted as saying, and writing,“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.” In many ways, this is an agreeable statement. The western world gained considerable wealth and dominated the globe. Pollution, such as the legendary London smogs, the discolouration of tree barks, and the deaths of many aquatic species became general knowledge. The world’s population started a huge upwards trend. Natural resource depletion had begun. Chemical warfare on nature was now in full swing, battling against fresh air, clean seas and green habitats. The fossil fuels were now unlocked and ready to go.

“I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use.” – Mother Teresa

As conditions improved generally for people, the speed of growth was unsustainable. Many became left behind. Poor working and living conditions, lack of education and healthcare and low wages alongside child labour amongst a whole host of problems arose. The world around humanity had fundamentally changed from a largely agricultural civilisation to one of machinery and motion. Even now, agriculture advanced with new machinery. Land could be used faster. Railways spread and communities grew ever closer. Dust tracks became lanes that became roads that became highways than became lane after lane of traffic. Sanitation had to catch up. Some countries dug drains and found ways to get those little poohs we do from the bowl to further along the water cycle, like the sea.

“There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad to pretend that it’s not really there.” – Bill McKibben, The End of Nature

Disease occurrence escalated. We spotted new illnesses and cancers. Before we’d found the cures or ailments, more came along. And the more. And more. Still more pop up. Some were found to be linked to toxins, metals and exposure to manmade materials or chemicals. And today, our air is saturated with gases that reduce the protective layers of ozone (O3) needed to keep the Earth cool. Big hitters, of the fume world, chlorine and bromine atoms do huge damage. Just once chlorine atom smashes 100,000 ozone molecules out of the park. Wham. Gone! There are other similar ozone-destructive gases. This doesn’t take into account the gases that don’t reach the stratosphere. Some are too heavy to rise and end up in smoggy conditions or absorbed into our waterways.

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” – Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life of the Bee

One single rocket launch by NASA or whoever fancies a spot of space exploration, releases enough soot and aluminium oxide to deplete the ozone in a quantity far higher than global CFC emissions (chloroflurocarbon chemicals). So, expect to experience a few more UVB rays… and an added bonus of skin cancer might be swinging your way, unless by the year 2075 we can return the ozone hole to the levels noted before 1980. The 46-state signatories of the Montreal Protocol are likely to help. Especially, seeing as trump card Trump hasn’t exited it – but has yet to ratify the recent Kigali Amendment. Well he needs to concentrate on piping sales first. Trump’s record of science denial is alarming. His expected eradication of P.O.T.U.S.A. Obama’s Clean Power Plan is slowly gathering momentum, turning a nation that was slowly ridding itself of coal into a nation that once again will depend on coal. Please the fossil fuel industry. Fuck the world. The Affordable Clean Energy Rule is weak, at best. One mammoth nation does as a Twitter handle with a wig pleases.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw, Irish Playwright

Another gargantuan and colossal nation ploughs on with sweeping environmental policies. Public image pleasing, a sense of responsibility and a duty to the planet seem to be groing in China. China has undertook the Industrial Revolution and the Information Revolution at a lightning pace. It became the world’s manufacturing base practically overnight and maintained business as usual for a few decades. Since 2014, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment the People’s Republic of China has evolved. Headed by Li Ganjie (李干杰;). Steps have been small and steady but China’s eco-friendly energy generation is increasing. On top of this technology and environmental projects are under way left, right and centre. Qingdao will soon have an Eden Project – one of three in China. Laws, standards and regulations are being felt nationally. Shanghai has implemented strict recycling rules. Dongguan in South China’s Guangdong has many factories closing its doors because they cannot satisfy environmental protection laws. Policing is improving and implementation is going from lax to structured. Mega projects continue and this adds to the huge biodiversity loss of a nation that is suffering from significant environmental sustainability problems. Rapid urbanisation, energy demand and population growth won’t help – but some could debate China is doing more than the developed US of A. Resource demand shows no slowing as of this year… Much like the rest of the world – especially nations still developing.

“The Earth is what we all have in common.” – Wendell Berry, Poet

So, what now?

 

 

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

Ruptured Earth.

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

Climate change is a phrase we hear all too often, but do we really listen?

“Our planet, the Earth, is, as far as we know, unique in the universe. It contains life.” David Attenborough –The Living Planet (1984)

Sir David Attenborough is the gentle voice of BBC Wildlife’s successful department. Soon he will present what he terms as an urgent documentary. In spring, BBC will air Climate Change – The Facts. Now facts are often questionable and open to interpretation or accusation of being fake news. I vehemently hate that term: fake news. Bullshit is bullshit and fake news is a tosser denying criticism. The world’s population more than doubled since 1950. Prove me otherwise.

“If we [humans] disappeared overnight, the world would probably be better off.” David Attenborough – The Daily Telegraph (12/11/2005)

Sir David Attenborough is 92 years of age. He could retire. He could kick back and count the letters that follow his name (OM CH CVO CBE FRS FLS FZS FSA FRSGS). He could reflect on his two brothers John and Richard, or sit down and listen to his relative Tom in The Tigger Movie. The Attenborough clan permeate the world of stage and theatre. Sir David’s father had once been the principal of the University College, Leicester. It could be said that his family haven’t done bad. They don’t need to work at Primark or Spar to earn a living. Yet no, Sir David, cracks on. He opens debate, he fuels fires which need dousing. The young Sir David would carry his passion to this day for wildlife and nature. However, in recent years he has become a leading voice for global concern. An unqualified expert. The people’s champion for change.

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“This is the loneliest and coldest place on Earth, the place that is most hostile to life.” David Attenborough – Life in the Freezer (1993)

As a primary school student in the 1980s and warly 1990s, I would always hear about the Greenhouse Effect and Acid Rain. Spray deodorant and cans suddenly became friendlier. Keep Britain Tidy campaigns swept through classrooms and eventually the streets of Manchester. Trees were planted, like what Peter, Dan and I planted with BTCV in Highfield Country Park, Levenshulme. To this day, I take pride in seeing that little difference, everytime I walk there. There was talk of a future with mysterious windpower and cars would all be electricy-powered. As time went on, we’d attend seal clubbing classes, where we learnt that seals had no interest in dance music and nor did we get a technique on how to bash the cute creature’s skulls in, essentially we heard of the horrors people go to to make a jacket and a steak. Almost Everyday Shit™ seemed to be up against things not necessarily in our own paved backywards but effecting man (or woman… or other) around the corner, or further afield. Even as far as Hyde or Belgrade. Suddenly, I found myself in secondary school discussing Not Really Quite Everyday Shit™. Teenage boys had to stop grabbing their flacid cocks and the girls had to stop doing whatever it is that girls do. We were the future generation and hope. It was our responsibility. But, evidentally, we fucked up. Not Really Quite Everyday Shit™ didn’t go away. Now the next generation could be the last generation with a chance to fix it. Sir David Attenborough said so.

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“Ever since we arrived on this planet as a species, we’ve cut them down, dug them up, burnt them and poisoned them.” Sir David Attenborough – The Private Life of Plants (1995)

On present day Earth, we can probably divide people into three camps. Within those camps, there can be further division. Division is important. Camp one is classed as the deniers. They’re useless as a voice and obstructive. They possibly have vested interests in wealth. Camp two are the changers. They need to be heard. They seek to make a difference. Competively they can make a lot of noise against camp one. Camp three are too busy, simply looking after number one, or their families or feel unable to make a different. Camp two often feel that they are too selfish and ignorant. Camp one enjoys their silence. Camp three probably recycle but couldn’t be depended on to ask for recycling bins to be installed. The camps are unclear and people fluctuate from camp to camp, mostly due to discomfort, lack of clarity and by way of reaction to Almost Everyday Shit™ changing to something outlying and worrying.

“It seems sad that on the one hand such exquisite creatures should live out their lives and exhibit their charms only in these wild inhospitable regions. This consideration must surely tell us that all living things were not made for man, many of them have no relation to him, their happiness and enjoyment’s, their loves and hates, their struggles for existence, their vigorous life and early death, would seem to be immediately related to their own well-being and perpetuation alone.” The Malay Archipelago (1869) – Alfred Russel Wallace

We’re aware of plastic bottles as a problem. Everyone is. The bloody things are everywhere. I am guilty too. Sometimes, they’re unavoidable for hygiene reasons. I try my best to deposit them in recycling bins or places that I know someone will take them for recycling. But what if say Theresa May [Insert Prime Minister here], Donald Trump (unlikely) or Xí Jingping [习近平] banned disposable plastic bottles at source. The factories. That’d be the place. Keep them away from people. Permit reusable, and deposit-based larger bottles that must be returned, cleaned and recycled by any means. Take away anything below a certain capacity. Plastic must exit the ecosystem. It needs us to remove it. There are many ways to do so.

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“we can ensure that there is still a place on Earth for birds in all their beauty and variety – if we want to … and surely, we should” The Life of Birds (1998) – Sir David Attenborough

History has led us from the past to the present. It was a simple linear transition, unless you are Tom Cruise and his associates. Is Scientology a religion or cult? [Let’s discuss that one day, hopefully without fear of cyber-attack reprisal] Well, we’re here in the Anthropocene. The age of the human. Homo sapiens. Latin meaning wise man. We’re the only living human species. Things change and species often have a limited time on Earth. One thing we know, is that supersizing a meal at the American Embassy isn’t good for us. But, has that prevented overconsumption and stopped deforestation, because we no longer need a bigger paper bag? Have we learnt that overexploitation of lands leads to deserts and not desserts. How much weight does every fish in the sea have compared with that of the plastic in the seas?

“Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it’s time we control the population to allow the survival of the environment.” The Life of Mammals (2002) – Sir David Attenborough

Opinion matters. I’m with Sir David Attenborough. Individual action is not enough, “real success can only come if there’s a change in our societies and our economics and in our politics”. The world’s temperatures (ask the Mongolians) may be soaring, and we are the likely cause. Planes, cow farts and all that are the debated and often argued origin. We need to think of ways to cut this crap down. Get on Three Seconds by National Geographic. A video with a message that we should think about. It has 287,319 views compared to The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger’s 90 million plus views. The same honey badger, or one of the 12 subspecies, may be of least concern now on the conservation status but few are seen in Guangdong, and this used to be their ‘hood. Or will we all be another fossilised-brick in the wall, soon enough?

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“The fact that they are solar-powered means that their bodies require only 10% of the energy that mammals of a similar size require.” Life in Cold Blood (2008) – Sir David Attenborough

Perceptions of place matter. If a road is dirty, people and especially lesser-educated people will chuck their crap on it. There’s no snoberry in saying lesser-educated people intended. Some people have never had access to education in the ways that I have – and I for one was never going to go to Harvard or Oxford University, unless they needed a cleaner. This is the way of the world: the haves and have-nots. But, if Billy Billionnaire at Taxbucks Willing Avoidance Trade Specialists Ltd wishes to fund a litter awareness and education programme with the money they denied the state(s) that their Monopoly Conglomerate department sublet, then feel free to do so. Ultimately, your man (woman, transgender or other) on the street will be unaware of that plastic bottle’s effect on the river downstream or the air that they burn it into. We are capable of educating each other.

“If we and the rest of the backboned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if they were to disappear, the land’s ecosystems would collapse.” Life in the Undergrowth (2005) – Sir David Attenborough

Politics is something we’re told to embrace. The complexity of an electorate and their representatives messing up and not knowing where to go, is seen globally. See, Brexit and the Trump administration’s political circus. So, how do we get those in power to focus on saving us as a species and those other species around the world that we could do with saving? As a British person, I know that writing a strongly worded letter to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), down at the U.N. isn’t a bad idea. But, if we all did that, we’d need a lot of recycled paper or energy to power those emails. Would they mark the emails as junk? Possibly. Do they deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007? No. Okay, they did, but having to share it with Al Gore, hasn’t changed much, or anything. The inconvenient truth is that we need mass action on a global scale. We need laws and directives to stop bad things and create things of use. Taking inspiration from conferences and internal flights etc doesn’t help. Bringing a duster and a shovel to an earthquake doesn’t work. We need the masses for the masses. We need actions.

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“Every one of these global problems, environmental as well as social becomes more difficult – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people.” How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth? (BBC Horizon, 2009) – Sir David Attenborough

Issues will always be a problem. There aren’t rooms for the 14th Dalai Lama to sit in with the Chinese Administration, or Northern Ireland to talk to the Republic sensibly. Turkey and Syria have beef. Israel needs to open up more. The U.S.A. needs to bring home a few fighter planes. The Church of Croydon may have similar problems with death worshipers from Norway. There’s a can of worms out there when two opposition parties have two ideals or beliefs that can’t flex. For us as a planet, we need to shed our differences and share technologies and ideas. Life is finite or infinite in some religions. I ask, does reincarnation, make you less worried or more? If reincarnation were true, there’d be X amount of total individual lifeforms on Earth, continually coming back as X amount of total individual lifeforms. So, in one generation there may be 6 billion people, but many centuries later there may be 6 billion cockroaches because 6 billion people can no longer inhabit the Earth. Does reincarnation stretch beyond Earth too? Does it include every microbateria or virus?

“I never never want to go home; Because I haven’t got one; Anymore” – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths

Proposed adaptations for humanity cling onto some Buddhist thinkings. We must be fully endowed with higher knowledge and ideal conduct. In other words, stay off Twitter. Get over to Bhutan and let’s learn a thing or two. Would controlling our ever-growing population be a good thing? We humans leapt from needing 200,000 years to hit the 2 billion mark as a species, to 200 years nearly touching 7 billion. Surely, that is far from sustainable. The current growth rate of 1.18% per year is expected to drop. Disease, lack of biodiversity, natural resource exhaustion, ecosystem imbalnces, environmental degradation, ocean acidification, global warming, and ecological crisis are terms that we will hear mre often. Overpopulation will test our mettle. Our resolve will lead to conflicts on a more regular basis as we battle the increasing heat and try our best to survive. If we act now, we can reduce that risk.

 

British scholar Thomas Malthus scribbled down in 1798 that we’d exhaust Earth’s resources for food by the mid-19th century. He was wrong. How wrong? Well he could have been out by a few centuries. Since then, expert after expert have delivered messages and issued warnings. Now with meta-analytics, computer models and sound studies based on huge banks of data, we’re creaking on the abyss. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation carry the Latin, fiat panis (“let there be bread”) but there are more Fiat cars being turned off a production line than strategies to ensure bread can be produced sustainably. They say that in the next 30 years we need to produce 70% more food.

“Sometimes when this place gets kind of empty, Sound of their breath fades with the light. I think about the loveless fascination,” Under The Milky Way – The Church

Catastrophies are in motion. Pollen distribution is changing. Glaciers are receding faster than my hairline. The beetles are dying. Bees, the great pollinator of all life, are declining in numbers. The buzz is lessening. Fish are filled with plastic parts and we eat them. The fish are also ingesting our drugs and decanted chemicals into the sea. We’re making them infertile or causing gender imbalances. Every continent is under ATTACK. Every sea and ocean are under ATTACK. Even red crabs get attacked by crazy yellow ants introduced by us. ATTACK. We stamp and kick every stone on Earth and leave our mark, whether intentional or not. We don’t just leave footprints. ATTACK. We carve great big trenches and leave areas vulnerable to landslides, forest fires and things that stop us rolling out red carpets for fire-haired Nicole Kidman. The news will focus on Miley Cyrus losing her home more than that of a village in Syria. ATTACK. We’ve abandoned humanity and embraced celebrity and we’re too blind. Blind, blind, blind, blind, blind… as Talking Heads would sing. Still, a monsoon that washes a village of indiginious people who don’t buy Apple iphones counts less than someone from Yorkshire having to replace a flooded shed’s lawnmower. ATTACK. Right?

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To again quote Sir David Attenborough, “Surely we have a responsibility to leave for future generations a planet that is healthy, inhabitable by all species”. Will there be a generation born now, that when they reach adulthood, will no longer be able to see elephants or tigers in the wild? Why can’t a kid from Guangdong see a Giant Salamander anymore? Where does the boy born in Dongguan go to see a South China Tiger? Why do we have WWF for Nature, EDGE, and why do these kind of things tend to be charity and independently backed? Shouldn’t we learn from Botswana, Norway, Bhutan, Namibia, and Tanzania? Lonely Planet did.

“Trade is a proper and decent relationship, with dignity and respect on both sides.” A Blank on the Map (1971) – Sir David Attenborough

But, why bother? A nuclear blast, an earthquake or a volcano can cause more damage globally than a generation of people. Well, nature is nature. It happens. We’re the benefactors of our destiny, and we’re the keepers of our fate. Why not tidy up where we live? You don’t shit in your own bed, do you? Okay, that has happened to one or two of us and on old age, it may happen – but surely, we never choose to do so. I apologise to any purveyors of scat. Not the jazz singing kind – and not the word meaning go away, or the Indo-Pacific fish, that likely has plastic inside its system, either. Nor is it the Special Combat Assault Team, or the badly named Shrewsbury College of Arts & Technology. Don’t google it. Scatter! Why not?

“To suggest that God specifically created a worm to torture small African children is blasphemy as far as I can see.” Metro interview with Sir David Attenborough (29th Jan 2013)

We have the technology to do something. The wind turbines, the solar panels, the recycling plants, the nuclear fuels to shut down the fossil fuels immediately. We have the education to understand blue carbon, and models to specialise schools into specific fields. Imagine a super city, dedicated totally to environmental protection and species conservation. Every country needs one. Similarly, every country needs to consider that populations matter. If we don’t control ourselves, then nature will. Great extinctions usually work. An ice age here and there or a huge weather change. We can prevent that, if we really want. Or we can believe an all-powerful, all-merciful God created a parasitic worm that will eat through a kid’s eye? Let’s get over our beliefs and start doing something about the things we know about: the world is changing.

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“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” Sir David Attenborough (Climate Change Conference 2018)

Potential effects, very much like the warnings on a cigarette packet, include death. Actually, mass extinction and human total extinction are feasible. Extinction means forever. No more. Gone. Hatari and their pink elephant from Iceland will be happy suddenly. Human sacrifice, mass hysteria, or dogs and cats may love each other, as predicted in Ghostbusters. I wonder if in our last days of humanity that we become perfectly self-awakened, and say the words, in the style of Hinx (Thespian’s go-to-man Dave Bautista) from Spectre, “Shit!” The last human may send a Whatsapp message to an otherwise empty group – and with that the power of humanity may fade forever. Or we could start recycling, reusing, reducing and the other bits we usually ignore. As Tommy in Snatch said, “Proper fucked?”

Of course, I’m no expert. It could all turn out swimmingly.

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

Johnny Marr is in Sete.

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

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16th February 2019

Boarding the Yeti Airlines flight, under the colours of Tara Airlines, I lifted my feet onto the steps. The DHC-6 Twin Otter at Tenzing–Hillary Airport stared vacantly and without emotion at the asphalt. The 11.7% gradient didn’t faze the lifeless tincan with wings. Nor did the altitude of 2,845m (9,334ft). Many surprised and excited voices could be heard. Some had landed here on the journey. None of my accompanying 11 passengers had made this take-off. The pilots, with their minimum of 100 short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) had. Thankfully. The excitement of my first flight from here came back. I sat back, looked out the window and enjoyed the moment. In less than the full length of the 527m (1729ft) of runway, it was over too soon. It had begun what seemed like only yesterday.


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22nd January 2019

Returning to Kathmandu gave me an oddly warm feel. It was familiar territory and a place that has acted as a gate for many journeys. Early expeditions to map the region started in the 1850s and continued as such until 1953, when a beekeeper called Edmund Hilary arrived with Tenzing Norgay, and around 400 men – including porters, guides and mountaineers. Anyway, here I was, once again, at the brickwork of Tribhuvan International Airport (1,388m/4,390ft) and passing the cremation grounds of the Pashupatinath Temple. The holy (to Buddhists and Hindus) Bagmati river flowed under a severe-angled concrete bridge as the hotel pick-up car drifted over it. Many bodies have had a triple-dip into that river prior to cremation. The chief mourner also takes a quick dip before setting his or her lost relative on fire. Relatives also bathe. If the Bagmati river purifies them the source in the Letter Himalayas must be the reasoning. Somewhere downstream of the source, inside Kathmandu itself is the Tukucha Khola tributary. The sewage levels are unbelievable. The city’s eight rivers are sad sights in many places.

As the Hotel Horizon car rumbled into Thamel, over less-than-smooth tarmac, I noted that the central entertainment and shopping area was now closed to cars other than taxis or those with right of way. A wise move. The streetworks that had been taking place when I left in January 2017 had been completed and smoother tarmac took hold on two or three streets. The rest was a tad muddy. New Road (another shopping district) and a road approaching Thamel looked almost new or refurbished since my last visit. My initial thoughts were surprise and pleasure in seeing Kathmandu’s partial regeneration.

At Hotel Horizon, Deveraj, the manager, that I had met on my last trip and since kept in touch informed me of a possible jeep to Shivalaya village or even as far up the trek as Phaplu. I didn’t fancy going so far up the route. Villages such as Sete and Kinja, not to mention the challenge of Lamjura La (a pass at over 3500m high) were great memories. So, I agreed to a jeep to Shivalaya, missing Jiri out completely. The bus journey last time was uncomfortable and numerous accounts show that some dangerous rides have been had. Part of me didn’t want that. How bad could a jeep journey be?


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24th January 2019

Departing at 7am, following a day of last-minute provision buying, our car departed. The backseats of the jeep, covered in a carpet, had no seatbelts. The driver was jolly but not a huge conversationalist, however, the journey was pleasant enough. By pleasant, I mean, he steered away from sheer drops and perpendicular plunges. He gave us a break here and there, about 30 minutes in total throughout nine hours of driving. The intense and terrifying journey comes with 100-metre or so vertical gravity-testing points here and declines that I for one decline to experience. Burned out wreckages of buses, cars and flat-packed former vans can be seen like rare leaf-litter. Not rare enough to ignore. Frequent enough to add as landmarks. Without a crowd of people, animals and baggage, the jeep was mildly more comofortable than the bus journey.

At least we weren’t taking our morning exercise running along the dusty Kathmandu smog-filled roads, like many groups of school students and the ever-numerous morning traffic. Over time the Kathmandu valley fell-away and we went up and down the Lower Himalayas on the Tibet-bound highway. The double-laned road occasionally filtered into a narrow single-laned road. Often our pathways went above cloud levels and passed signs of roadway expansions with Nepal advancing new bridges between communities previously cut off. Wide gorges, huge valleys, glacial stonebeds, and tree-lined foothills baked in sunshine could be seenm throughout. Clouds broke away to reveal sunshine and the traffic lessened with every kilometre covered. Soon, the odd bike and very odd car was noticed. In the final few hours as we neared Jiri, new concreted roads, patched in places broke away into muddy tracks and back to smooth concrete lanes. At Jiri we stopped, to check the road to Shivalaya was open. It was – despite very heavy rain the day before.

On arriving at Shivalaya (1770m), sunset was fast approaching. Knuckling down at the Kala Patthar lodge, enjoying the second dal bhat of the journey, the excitement set in. I stood outside for a moment by that first blue bridge of my previous Nepal trek. It felt good to be back. Eating in the lounge, with doors wide open, and cool fresh air drifting in, Maria and I met Srirang and his porter-guide-friend Ishwor. At that time, we didn’t know that we’d share parts of the journey, but here we were, an Indian, a Nepali Sherpa, a Chinese and a Mancunian. Talking with the lodge proprietor Padam Jirel, we were introduced to his son and daughter, their local schoollife and the family home. A warm night’s sleep followed a few chapters of Jonny Marr’s Set the Boy Free.


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25th January 2019

In the morning breakfast consisted of chapati, eggs and porridge. Waking up to a misty valley around the quaint village of Shivalaya (27°36’25.7″N 86°17’53.4″E) added extra emotion to the air. The feelings in my mind weren’t far off those that swpt over me in January 2017. Registering for the Gaurishankar Conservation Area & National Park and handing over NPRs, the trek began in Dolakha District, Province Number 3. Longleaf Indian pine trees, rhododendrons, alien-looking Woolly-leaved oak trees and other temperate forest species lined the mountain climbs. Within only a few hundred metres of walking and an elevation gain of not much, a few breathers were needed. The respites were quite often. My knees ached. My feet strained. The pauses and rests weighed on my mind. Had two years aged me so much that I could no loger climb or walk in the Himalayas? I tried to focus on seeing Himalayan Thars, red pandas and part of me would have welcomed a Himalayn black bear. It could have made a comfortable seat with a cuddle.

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After a wee while, a brew was needed. At this point, we’d hooked up with Srirang and Ishwor, and as we went to stop, a striding brunette with large eyes strode up, sporting two natural trekking poles of bamboo. Introductions were had, and now Linda (U.S.A.) joined us for a brief while. Soon after meeting Linda, just before Deurali Bazar (2800m), we met Livia (carrying a house or two worth of weight on her back) and at this snow-threatened top we ate lunch. The snow-dusted rooftops of a dozen closed buildings faced a lovely modern and bright façade on the chosen lodge for lunch. The cat and dog in a state of stalemate over territory and positioning were both equally cute. Srirang gave both some noodles. The lunch hour was a more than welcome hiatus. That reduced the amount of meowing and sniffing for food greatly. On full bellies, we headed downwards towards the village of Bhandar (2100m) under the cover of thick heavy grey clouds.

#1: SHIVALAYA 0830 – BHANDAR 1730: ~12km.

In the evening, at my second stay in Shobha Lodge, the great owner and her family cooked us a delicious dal bhat (#3 of the journey) and Maria roasted some small potatoes on a fire outside. A jolly evening was had and lots of conversation with Linda, Livia and Srirang revealed their reasons for hiking this trail. I stood looking at the buildings around this lodge. Two years ago, most were serious ruins. Now many appeared rejuvenated. Against one such building a red rose stood in shadows against a dark wintry sky.


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26th January 2019

The next morning gave bright light and some showered upon footing, but the weather wasn’t bad all day. We set out as a band of six, downwards with the destination aim being Sete. After crossing a delightful vale with a wooden bridge, here the old pathway faded and became swept over or completely consumed by a new carved out road, unpaved and muddy as hell. Every now and then you’d resume the old pathways, but quite often the new road zigzagged the old meandering ways. Soon after passing a small waterfall, I slipped on loose earth where the old met the new path. The devris flung over rocks and coating the unclar pathway made me twist my left knee, striking it on a rock and bending my leg in a way that my right hamstring brought my other leg under my back and bag. I tentatively stood up. I suspected in that moment that the rambling was over. After the shock, I carried on, carefully and slowly. Warning taken. As the path neared Kinja, it broke into a fork. The right fork headed to the muddy and dusty new road. The left fork appeared a tad overgrown. Linda, Maria and I carried on left. After 400 metres, the path disappeared. A chasm with the new road was presented before us. In the end we doubled back and scrambled down the right fork onto the road but the latter section was pretty messy and difficult to get over.

 

The walk into Kinja, was terrible compared with the route two years ago. The road has dismembered too many houses, farms and forested areas. A new hydro-electric plant in a mine has added to the dichotomised region. Many of the crumbling earthquake buildings have vanished. The two new bridges are seldom used. The old wooden bridge is sealed off. The new road dam-cum-bridge allows easy footing into Kinja but feels like a building site. Work in progress may mean new logistical advantages and easier access but it will probably deter hikers. It was now 1300hrs, so at Kinja we stopped for lunch over an hour’s break. The Riverside guest house and restaurant had a sky blue and white sign. What’s not to like about Manchester City colours? Oh, and it had a western toilet, of sorts. It was a ceramic squat hole.

With lunch in our bellies, the climb up from Kinja (1630m) was long and hard but easier than the previous day. The aches of yesterday faded and early conditioning of muscles was felt. Rays of sunshine, refurbished ruins and new settlements lined the upward pathway. The rise steadied and fields of green, shaped like steps leapt out from the hillsides. If enough coins could be found, it’d resemble a penny-arcade machine of the greatest scale. As light faded, we arrived in Sete. Dal Bhat (#4) was served. The Sunrise Lodge was once again my place to stay, in the Sete (2900m).

BHANDAR 0930 – SETE 1800: ~15km.

In the village of Sete, I left my Johnny Marr autobiography copy. I Set the Boy Free. So, if you haead to the Sunrise lodge, expect to find the illuminous green cover. And like me, you’ll find it hard to put it down. The former Talking Heads, Black Grape, Kirsty MacColl, Brian Ferry and Billy Bragg collaborator worked with Pet Shop Boys, Beck, Modest Mouse, andmovir composer Hans Zimmer. Not bad for a Mancunian born and raised in the supposed rougher parts of our fair city. Actually, the boy did good, working with Hulme-born Billy Duffy, having a great connection to Portland throughout his expansive and colourful music life – and being not far from where we both witnessed City’s 3-2 win over QPR on that day. Playland is one of my favourite albums ever. The marathon man was also in a lesser-known band called The Smiths. Anyway, just beyond the multi-layered poster on the wall, featuring Barmouth Bridge, that’s where Johnny’s book is.

 

To be continued…

 


 

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