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!

Robots in disguise.

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

For every minute that passes, a football pitch is lost in the Amazon. Tick. Tock. Tick. Well, rather an area of trees that could cover a football pitch. Is that why Brazil are so good at football? Are they chopping and sawing away trees in order to beat Argentina and co? Of course, the environment and conservation in general are taking epic beatings. It isn’t all doom and gloom.

Britain has flowery roads, replacing lost meadows; Sir David Attenborough is reaching the youth of today at music festivals; Sky are aiming to plant 3 billion trees before the year 2050; farmland is being explored as potential new forests; farms diversification for a public benefit; Shanghai is dividing litter and rubbish into four types with view to recycling more (although education is needed); Yangtze rehabilitation schemes are in place; actually, beyond the gloom there are some pretty selfless and amazing projects happening.

#QuicklyDividingRubbishSendsShanghaiCitizensCrazy (#快被垃圾分类逼疯的上海居民)

Yet dead whales are being found with 40kg of plastic in their bellies; Japan is whaling again; the Antarctic ice is falling faster then ever before; life is changing for many, it is getting warmer; poisoned farmlands; farms that need actions now; famine; or the Australian condemnation of threatened species over farmland necessity. Jakarta’s residents will sue their government due to bad air pollution. Surely, knowing a little how taxes work, they will realise that they will sue themselves. And, didn’t they cause the air pollution too? #SetorFotoPolusi – oops.

Stable ice may be shrinking fast globally. Israel may be ready to start a war with Iran. China may be ignoring sanctions and buying a few fighter jets from Russia. Radioactive magma may erupt from the Yellowstone national park in USA. The Ring of Fire may trigger a huge earthquake and the Phillipines is on high alert.

Conservation and envioronmental protection needs more. The world needs to pull together. Many great projects need government and world body backing. That’s the hard part. Some governments are petrol-backed and busy building walls, or destroying cultures using cultural genocide…


 

Meanwhile in China, many characters with their flyers have collared me this week. It is normal. Most cannot speak English as they thrust their gym advertisement leaflet into my chubby hands. This week, an exception, a man with clear English and knowledge about the U.K., “London is a big city” he shouted. He slammed his body in front of my pathway. It impeded me crossing at the green for pedestrian dancing man. The red man appeared. More solid. Less inviting. Cars quickly prevented me dashing over the wall. “You could move into an investment opportunity tomorrow,” he smiled through words that barely left his immobile jaw. His eyes beamed expecting an instant commitment to his probably well-tested sales pitch. He caught my apprehension and carried on, “You can move in tomorrow.” He then delivered many words in English, too fast for me to understand. I interrupted him, and said, “I’ll take two.” His face lit up. He seemed over the moon, and then a thought triggered across his eyes manifesting in one word, “Really?” So, here I stated, “No, thank you. I need to go across the road and have a coffee. Goodbye. Enjoy your day.” Did he lose face? Only to me – his pack of colleagues didn’t understand. He asked for this. The green man flashed after 90 seconds and off I went. Straight to the sanctuary of Starbucks. Well, it was Independence Day.


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This weekend I went to Shenzhen (44.5RMB train ticket each way), jumped on the subway (7RMB) and went to watch football at the Xixiang Stadium. Shēnzhèn Péngchéng (深圳鹏城) faced Sìchuān Jiǔniú (四川九牛), City Football Group’s Chinese partnership club. On the day, it appears, UBTECH of Shenzhen have changed the club’s name to Sichuan UBTECH. City’s partnership club had no away tickets available. They had to be ordered in advance, so I went to the home end. On passing through a metal detector security gate, I was handed a ticket for free. Not bad. The stadium was built around a running track, with only one stand in the east (I believe). The southern end displayed the China flag. The north faced onto a hill. The park around the stadium was entirely devoted to sports (basketball, racket sports and swimming) easy to see. A huge netting cast over the western end of the park. Presumably a golf driving range housed the emitting clinks of balls on clubs. There could have been pterodactyls there.

With the sun strong, and the temperature around 32°C, the game kicked off. Sporting a Puma kit in white, the Sichuan team soon turned the shirt translucent with sweat. A water break after 22 minutes gave the visiting team a kind of nudist look. The bench dressed in all-black gave stark contrast. All looked soaked with sweat, as was in the unwelcoming concrete stand. The 3,000 faded seat stadium could have been called the Bird’s Nest, due to all the dried crap on the floor from the birds’ nests overhead. I was trying to figure out if the team had changed name and abandoned their traditional yellow kit for this game, or forever. No-one that I spoke with had a clue. The board displayed the name Sichuan UBTECH in Chinese. The new away shirt was all white with a sky blue sponsor.

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Half-time refreshments involved water, or water. The only option was free and served from a hand-pump over a 20L water bottle. In the heat the water was certainly needed. With this I talked with a fan called Luke who was very familiar with Manchester City goalkeeper history. Hart was mentioned, Ederson too, and which was best, which was a Given, according to him. The fans mulled around, smoked a few cigarettes and talked. The teams reemerged and out came the orchestrated beats of a drum and megaphone induced Olé, Olé, Olés – from bullfighting to south China. I sat back and reflected on seeing a goal scored by the Shenzhen team, where the striker went through the defender… and then the net itself gave him a lovely Spider-Man promotion feel.

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Before the game there had been red scarfs held up in the home end, to no tune and certainly no hymns like “You’ll never walk alone.” They did have some songs and chants but I couldn’t follow most. Apart from when they were 1-0 up, they’d sing “Èr bǐ líng” [二比零] which means 2 against 0. That is a weird thing to say. Ttally unlike “C’mon City” or “We want seven!” The away end had a fair bit of noise, with the rat-a-tat of inflatable cheering sticks being quite visible. I love going to a football game, and I’ll happily watch the likes of Rhayader Town, Hyde Utd or in this case Sichuan UBTECH. My friend Chris Howells, a super photographer back in Aberystwyth enjoys the passion of the players and the crowd atmosphere. I’ve learnt from him to spend some time watching the people in the stands. It is a wonderful and quite relaxing experience. As summer swallows swooped over the field during yet another waterbreak, I thought to myself, a regular thought that I have, I need to watch more football from the stands.

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The Chinese Football Association Division Two League (Simplified Chinese: 中国足球协会乙级联赛) is the third tier of domestic football. It is split into a northern and a southern group. The top 4 clubs from each segment play off for promotion to the Chinese Football Association Division One League. Bottom of the league means play-offs or automatic relegation to the confusingly named 2019中国足球协会会员协会冠军联赛 which translates as the Chinese Champions League. These two teams reflected mid and upper table, with the Sichuan club bidding for promotion at the first chance following their takeover.

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Their new signing, number 32 came on in the 32nd minute and Yang Jun Jie seemed like a kind of Jamie Pollock player. The team were 1-0 down – after 26 minutes, and playing calm football, against the opposition and the late-afternoon heat. They soon went 2-0 down before a spirited second half, which sadly for the visitors didn’t result in an equaliser. An official report can be found here. Of the 600 fans in the stadium 200 had entered the away end. 2000km away games, in the third tier demand a bit of respect.

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

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