Alchemy

I laughed out loud in the shop and smiled so widely. A surprise came by me.

The other customers must have thought I was crazy. They looked at me so hazy.

I opened the unexpected packet and my eyes watered. What was inside the packaging I had slaughtered?

I smiled and smiled some more. Could my face have exploded? I pulled out books, unloaded.

I giggled and giggled a little dance. I could hardly believe this chance!

What a wonderfully heartwarming gift of romance. The book to my heart an instant lance.

The love of a book shared from one soul to another. The gift of wise words and places to discover.

The next adventure belongs to all who uncover. This book will be read fast and slow from cover to cover.

We all know that sharing is caring and caring is sharing. This fairing was bearing caring and sharing.

Angels and mothers give books. The keys to new worlds and a new way. Ialways say every day is World Book Day. But, today, I say: “I will treasure this book forever and a day.”

Now, time to turn the first page.

“What’s stopping you?”

你好!Nihao! Hello!

No drunken state of mind was needed. No spontaneity other than the heart and mind being aligned at a state of euphoric relaxation. A new experience was had. Better late, than never.

Dali was a place I felt relaxed enough to make enquiries about one of my ambitions. Many people call ambitions a bucket list these days. I haven’t really listed the things I want to do, the places I want to see and the experiences I must have, for two reasons. Firstly, why list? I’ll contradict myself immediately. I love a list and a plan (at times). Other times call for spontaneity. Secondly, things change. We adapt. We live. We learn. We fight problems like COVID-19, negativity, alarm clocks and mosquitoes.

So, on my, it’s in my head bucket list, I wanted a bee tattoo. Following the atrocities of the Manchester Arena bombing, the bee has undergone a resurgence in its representation of God’s favourite city: Manchester. I say God’s favourite city, but I mean the Gods of rain. All of them. It’s been about two years since I experienced Manchester in the drizzle. And Vimto fruit cordial on ready availability.

So, Echo recommended a friend called Lin for just black or blue tattoos. I wasn’t so keen. It’s a commitment. Bees are colourful after all. A further friend, Zhao, was put in touch and suddenly the bee idea was gaining momentum. Not only that but I wanted to incorporate bats, to symbolise flight and misunderstood mammals. Then, I had to add an aubergine, because QiéZi (茄子) has helped me relax and rediscover myself. Do you believe in resurrection? Then I wanted some lyrics. I toyed between the music of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. Bring me sunshine? Echo offered to draw the tattoo too. I declined. Maybe the next one…

I settled on The Levellers and their track One Way, which has been there so long and I completely agree with the lyrics, “There’s only one way of life and that’s your own.” Perhaps I owe royalties now. I’ll donate to their chosen charity or cause. It needed a font. So, Helveticamazing was selected. It’s a very Mancunian font. At this time, the bee evolved into the colours of Manchester City. Well, the sky blue aspect anyway. Sadly, Zhao didn’t have purple so the eggplant needs finishing another day. Or, it could stay white, like white eggplants. Why not?

Being on a tattoo bed face down, having a pinching, scratching and sometimes sharp sensation was oddly relaxing. At first I was experiencing discomfort but soon found myself lost in John Le Carre’s The Mission Song. With QiéZi and Xiao Jie looking on, at times, I must have napped because they disappeared then reappeared later.

Zhao spent around two and a half hours defacing my skin. QiéZi has two artworks that each required ten hours of work. One on her thigh is a huge colourful fish imagery. Another is the Greek Olympian Poseidon. And her feet, arms, back all have interesting smaller complimentary stories. If a twenty-five year old can be so relaxed and patient, to complete that much fine artwork, so can I. My decision had been made years ago to get a tattoo. The actions needed to be in the right place, at the right time and accompanied by the right people.

再见!Zaijian! Goodbye!

And here it is…

Buzzing.

Mobility.

I turned my lights off to love and you found the switch.

I closed the door to my heart and you found a key.

I abandoned love’s hope on and an island and sailed away. You brought it back to me.

I gave up on wanting a family, for fear of hurt and pain. I pushed away advances. I drove away desire. I kicked out at compliments, flicking them away into the darkness. Until I met you.

Everything will happen spontaneously, that is our heart guiding. I know because your heart spoke to mine.

I know not all can be certain, but I am certain. I feel certain. I know it. It can be. It should be. Connect with me. See what I see. Feel what I feel. Taste the sweetness and long to listen to the beats of our hearts. Beating. Beating fast as one. Beating as our smiles beam brightest. Beat with me. Beat on and on.

The future can be anything we write. Together with our pens and our pencils and our hearts.

I won’t tie you down. I won’t make you change. We can find a balance. If we are to be.

Be the butterfly, free to land in a hand. The hand not clasped. Free to fly. Free time stay. Free to be together. Free to be apart. Endlessly together, somehow, somewhere.

The sky is sending you my hugs. On the breeze. The wind gently blows our words to and from our ears.

Our circles, where family is not present, can be filled. Ain’t that the truth? Friends and hearts as gap fillers, ever reliable.

Thank you for opening, thank you for telling me your heart, thank you for everything you have done for me. Thank you for finding my hope.

Until we meet again, every night I will turn off the moon and dream sweetly.

I feel you.

Never let go.

How can a heart feel so overwhelmed? So deeply touched with hope?

In place of sorrow, fear or worry, a seismic flow of energy erupts.

The sensitivity and lust for such a deep connection is equal to the need for the air.

Mountains, rivers, lakes and fields may divide our being, yet two hearts are beating in synchronicity.

The stars pass overhead casting light down on memories yet to be made.

Don’t look to the past for living; don’t give worry to the future.

We’re here. We are here. Here we are. Here. We.

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 X: Shangri-la Too

Nihao! 你好!Hello!

I awoke on Wednesday just after 05:30. I’d had about 5 hours sleep. The rooster may have fell under the category of an unwanted alarm clock. Bizarrely, I couldn’t nod off again. Yesterday evening had been quite subdued. I’d hung out with Echo and QiéZi (茄子) in their funky friend Cici’s juice and snack bar. Over blueberry and banana toasties it was decided that QiéZi and I would visit the legendary Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡/Hǔtiào Xiá) on the Jinsha River (Jīnshājiāng/金沙江) in Lijiang Naxi autonomous county (Lìjiāng Nàxīzú Zìzhìxiàn/丽江纳西族自治县). The chance to see more of Yunnan (云南) wasn’t something to pass up. Besides which QiéZi is a wise traveling companion.

Checking my phone at 05:45, I see we’ve grown to a group of 6 people and we’re headed to a trek somewhere near Shangri-La county (香格里拉县/Xiānggélǐlāxiàn). I have until the 3rd of August to play with, so as the Reverend Gallaghers said:

“You gotta roll with it
You gotta take your time;
You gotta say what you say;
Don’t let anybody get in your way.” – Roll With It, Oasis

So, I gave in to not being able to sleep more, grabbed a coffee at the cosy Song Sisters Bookshop and Cafe before departing the fantastic hospitality of The Jade Emu. Song and Dave are most welcoming owners and have knitted a fantastic community for those wishing to pass through, or stay a little longer.

Nomadic QiéZi arrived with the driver and we set off, with her friend Cici to collect two more friends. The journey began with a chattering driver, who gave so much information along the way, and recommendations. We stopped for hot corn and potatoes – although I declined the corn. The driver also provided yogurt and a selection of fruit. QiéZi gave me a coffee early on too, so a welcome toilet break arrived at an ideal time. No sooner had we left than we arrived, give or take four to give hours of driving.

Our group of six entered a restaurant and ate delicious breads, with a sweet cottage cheese and a meaty potato dish. A jolly day with a few games of wéiqí (围棋, sometimes called Go). The game involves black and white stones and is a territorial game of strategy. There are variations on the original but for this occasion, it was first to five in a row. Simple. Fun. Entertainment.

The evening involved sitting on our arses talking and planning tomorrow. The heavy rain brought about my several freakish weather fronts will challenge the next two days and any potential wanderings. The group have their eyes on Abuji Lake (阿布吉错). This may prove overambitious, but not every journey has to complete. Some off the beaten tracks lack tracks at times. The hard to find details for the trail aren’t exactly clear or enlightening. If the walking starts at Jiulong Yangchang (九龙羊场) then all is good.

Right now the courtyard of Desti Youth Hostel, complete with two big cute dogs isn’t a bad place to chill and await the next day. With a giant screen showing an Indian movie and a variety of games in a covered area, it’s a great place to be.

Zai Jian! 再见!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!