A Walk in the Woods

They enjoy walking, but this walk was different and memorable

They enjoy walking, but this walk was different and memorable

SSBFTOLEXCERPTTaking the small footpath into the woods next to their house, they followed a familiar route which they had walked countless times in the past. Carefully choosing her words, she began: “There is something I’d like to tell you, Andrew, but it could be quite dangerous, so I am not sure if I should tell you or not. Tell me if you do not want to know.” She paused her feet and looked up at Andrew, her dark-brown eyes searching for an answer.

“What are you talking about, Zhenzhu?” Andrew asked, “Of course I would want to know, especially if it’s bothering you. Tell me what it is. You’ve been acting very strangely today, and I am worried about you.” She felt his grip on her arm tighten and he drew her closer. Her heart was filled with love and gratitude towards this man – he will protect me from harm and I’ll be safe – she thought.

She began, relaying the events from the previous night, not in sequence or any kind of order, and Andrew had to stop her from time to time to check certain details and verify who said what and when. Her mind was swamped with images from the pub and the train journey back.

An earlier book cover

An earlier book cover

“I think Dick Appleton might be a spy and he has asked me to work with him.” There it was, she said it out loud, as if making it credible.

“You must be joking;” came Andrew’s prompt response, his surprise genuine.
Pearl wasn’t smiling and her face was grim. No joke.

“No, Zhenzhu. He can’t possibly be a spy. He is far too indiscreet. He was just drunk!”

“You know,” she said, almost at a whisper, “My initial reaction was the same last night, and I’ve been thinking all day and now I can’t be sure.” She explained how her mobile phone was temporarily out of her possession and she believed that it might have been bugged. “That was why I did not want to talk earlier.”

“Yes, Zhenzhu,” Andrew said, “Regarding the phone in your flat, I could not get through this morning. It was probably a technical error. Anyway, report it tomorrow.”

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TV Interview in 2014

TV Interview in 2014

I am visiting the University of Helsinki this week, and on Tuesday, I’ll be giving a talk on “My Journey to the West”, sharing a number of snippets about my life as an immigrant and as a Indie author. I will be giving readings of each of my three books, and the above passage is taken from my second in the trilogy, Trials of Life. If you are in Helsinki, come and listen to me. If not, I hope you find this excerpt an intriguing read.

Thank you again, University of Helsinki Chinese Studies, and Confucius Institute at University of Helsinki for hosting my visit and allowing my Journey to the West reaching out to readers in Finland!

One person's journey to the west reflects that of many immigrants

One person’s journey to the west reflects that of many immigrants

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#Travelling in #Taiwan (6): Reunion and Sightseeing in #Jiufen

A happy tourist in Taiwan

A happy tourist in Taiwan

“Where do you want to go when you come to Taipei?” My friend Gary asked me, via Wechat.

“Everywhere,” I replied, typical, curious me.

“What did you see when you were in Taipei last October? I’ll take you somewhere different this time,” he promised.

Gary was at Chongqing University with me three decades before when we went to the same classes, studied the same textbooks and had the same teachers for four years! He is also someone who keeps his promises.

The day after I arrived in Taipei in the beginning of March and had a weekend to spare, he came to collect me from the hotel.

“We’re going to Jiufen today, and all you have to do is to enjoy yourself,” He said to me with confidence and conviction.

For me, seeing Gary made me happy (Since graduation in the early 1980s, I had only seen him twice, once during the Classmates Reunion in 2008.

The Reunion (Part One) 同学会

Check out the above for an early post, just before the Earthquake that killed tens of thousands in our native Sichuan, another time, some eight years later across the Taiwan Straight. So it did not really matter what we did or where we went, spending time with people who want my company is what I prize above all.

2008 Chongda Reunion 重大同学会

2008 Chongda Reunion 重大同学会

The lucky man with five girls

The lucky man with five girls

Off we set in his car and after a winding climb uphill, we found a place to park and wandered our way down to the little town known for its natural beauty and once being a film setting for the famed Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness.

Literally Jiufen means ‘nine portions’. Apparently when it was a village during the Qing Dynasty, this mountainous, isolated village housed nine families. When a shipment arrived, the villagers would request ‘nine portions’ every time, hence the name of the village, which developed into a town, following discoveries of gold in the area. Jiufen is a place rich in history, especially as a result of the Japanese colonisation and once served as a POW camp during WWII.

What a view from Jiufen!

What a view from Jiufen!

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When Gary and arrived that morning, the sun was beating down, with views as far as the eye could reach. Beyond the green rolling hills, we could see the deep blue on the horizon, past the shining gold and orange roof tops of buddhist temples. It was a view to die for, and no wonder the town was pulsating with heaving crowds from far and wide. The crowd included many Japanese curious to visit their former colony of Formosa.

While catching up with all of each others news and about others we once knew, Gary took many pictures, as we pushed our way through the narrow streets, lined with numerous little shops, offering local delicacies to tourist and the “essential” gee gaws.

“We’ll sample whatever you wish for as we walk along, so just say the word, and we’ll stop,” My guide, driver, photographer rolled into a fine host, said to me.

Stop, we did, several times, tasting the local tea eggs, sweet dumplings, beef noodles and whatever took my fancy. Soon I was stuffed with satisfying snacks and delightful treats. I even stopped to buy a few fancy Chinese silk purses for friends back in the UK.

One of many shops selling Taiwanese produce

One of many shops selling Taiwanese produce

Indulging my senses, especially my taste buds

Indulging my senses, especially my taste buds

It's a cool place for relaxation and chilling with a drink

It’s a cool place for relaxation and chilling with a drink or two

We did not stop to visit the famous museum about the Gold Rush and Japanese occupation, instead we carried along the road to head to the coast. I wanted to take advantage of the fine weather and consume the ocean views.

I could not have enough of the views and I wanted to catch and store them

I could not have enough of the views and I wanted to catch and store them

Stopping during the scenic coast drive and posing for the camera

Stopping during the scenic coast drive and posing for the camera

We did more than that. As we rolled down to the coast, we passed by a waterfall. Not people to pass up a photo opportunity, we jumped out of the car and joined the other tourists for a photo shoot. As you can see from the pictures above and below, my visit to Jiufen was well worth a visit.

I hope that you enjoyed tagging along with me and my friend. Thank you, Gary, for your continued friendship and hospitality!

I said a prayer, for family and friends, two most important things in life!

I said a prayer, for family and friends, two most important things in life!

Life is like a waterfall, constant flowing with energy and making connections between nature and people

Life is like a waterfall, constantly flowing with positive energy & making lasting connections

Posted in China & East Asia, Food & Cuisine, Politics & History, Social Media & Photography, Travel Logs, True Life Story | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reflections on a Reunion at ‘Ends of the Earth’ in #China’s #Sanya #天涯海角记忆

Daughter & Mother Reunited at Ends of the Earth

Daughter & Mother Reunited at Ends of the Earth

A couple of days ago, my 83-year old mum called me using Chinese Social Media- WeChat. She could see me but I could not see her during the video call. “Switch to the video call not audio,” I tried to instruct her from thousands of miles away. She said to me: “I’ve got a new iPhone 5, because my nanny saw us playing with iPhones and she wanted one too. So your brother bought me a new iPhone 5 and I gave her my old iPhone 4. Interestingly, because she is illiterate, she does not really know what to do, and deleted the 700+ songs I took time to download.!!”

I giggled, imaging the 58 year-old Mrs Yang faffing about with the high tech iPhone. I’ve had a few generations of iPhones for a few years now, and I still struggle with some of the features and have occasionally to be rescued by more tech-savvy family and friends. It’s funny from a distance, but frustrating when you are actually dealing with a technical challenge. How is Mrs Yang going to keep up with the fast pace of modernisation in China, if she cannot read or write?

Mrs Yang, Mum, me, sister-in-law, Brad, and nephew in the front, March 2016

Mrs Yang, Mum, me, sister-in-law, Brad, and nephew in the front, March 2016

This brought back memories of my recent visit to Sanya, where I spent a few days with my mum, Mrs Yang and my Brother Brad’s family. Nowadays, instead of frozen Chengdu with zero degrees in the winter, my mother and her nanny travel to the southern tip of China, namely a beach resort some 20 miles from Sanya, Hainan Island, thanks to my well-to-do property developer brother. Apart from building offices and houses for other people, Brad bought apartments of his own in different parts of China, and Sanya, due to its tropical location and climate, has been increasingly the hot spot for the prosperous Chinese people. Hainan island is, after all, China’s very own Hawaii.

Ends of the Earth fun in 1994

Rain, storm and fun at Ends of the Earth in 1994

sanya rocks

I remember my first visit to Hainan Island, in the summer of 1994. After six years living and studying in the UK, I was able to visit my family in China. My two brothers and their wives had just left their stable jobs, taking the advantage of China’s new and more flexible ways of working. I flew to the provincial capital Haikou with my son Tao. After a brief but enjoyable stay with Brad and Honey, we all travelled by bus to Sanya, where my little brother Jun was working with his wife Lily. They were working in a hotel which was handy for our stay.

Sanya, at that time, was rather unspoilt, with fewer tourists and a small population. The International Airport had only just opened that summer. I was probably one of the first tourists from the UK anyway :).

Beautiful China South Sea - is it the ends of the earth? It's surely pretty!

Beautiful South China Sea – is it the Ends of the Earth? It’s surely pretty!

During our very brief stay, I had so much fun with my brothers and their spouses. During the day, we visited the famous Ends of the Earth and Corners of the Sea (天涯海角 in Chinese). It was blowing hard and pouring with rain, and we were soaked and nearly blown away by a storm, but we were young and fit, and we certainly had fun.

Blowing and sightseeing in Hainan with brothers and sisters-in-law

Bowling and sightseeing in Hainan with brothers and sisters-in-law

In those days long distance travelling was still limited to the minority. First of all, there were not many holidays in China, unless you are a student or working as teachers. Then there were the regulations of air travel and the costs – they were not for ordinary working folks.

Good luck to my family & friends

Good luck to my family & friends

The sea makes me happy, no matter where!

The sea makes me happy, no matter where!

Following the new ‘Great Leap Forward’ in China in the last two decades, China is almost unrecognisable in many aspects, especially in terms of living standards.

In the case of my mother, during her 40 years working as a secondary school teacher, a deputy head for a a number of years, she travelled beyond the Sichuan Mountains only a few times, once to Beijing to see Chairman Mao during the Cultural Revolution. Another time to enjoy a retreat as a reward for her excellent professional track record.

As for Brad, like me, he spent his first twenty odd years of life confined within the borders of Sichuan, and now he flies everywhere within China and beyond, and almost on a weekly basis. His air miles are in the millions.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: China’s economic boom is a miracle, transforming the lives of 1.3 billion people. Even though there are still millions of poor people, but for many millions, their lives are beyond recognition and beyond whatever they had dreamed for!

I never thought that I’d see China the way it is when I left in the summer of 1988. In another 28 years, what will China be like?

With my two brothers and Tao in 1994

With my two brothers and Tao in 1994

2016, with Brad and Jun in 2016, and Brad's youngest son Dingdang

2016, with Brad and Jun, and Brad’s youngest son Dingdang

Posted in China & East Asia, Economics & Society, Social Media & Photography, Travel Logs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#Taiwan (5) Connection: #YunTech and #SunMoonLake #台湾 #云林科大 #日月潭

Lecture at YunTech

Lecture at YunTech

Following my recent blog on the fabulous connections I made with NTUA, today I’m sharing with you another soul-enriching story, about another wonderful Taiwanese institution of whom I’ve become very fond and the people I’ve come to meet and connect with.

The first time I heard of National Yunlin University of Science and Technology (YunTech) was through Jianming Wang, a student from Shenzhen University who was an exchange student at BCU 18 months ago. When I was planning my first Taiwan trip, Jianming was an exchange student in Taiwan. Naturally I asked if he had any institutions to recommend. He said YunTech.

Shortly after in September 2015 when BCU hosted a group of Presidents and senior managers of Taiwanese Technical Universities, I had a chance to meet briefly President Hou. Even though I already had a packed itinerary, and following the kind invitation by the President, I was able to add YunTech to the last leg of my visit, on a Friday evening.

Enjoying dinner and discussions with President Hou and other YunTechers

Enjoying dinner and discussions with President Hou and other YunTechers

I remember my visit vividly. There was no HSR (High Speed Rail) to Douliu (where YunTech is situated) in October 2015, so Carol from the Office of International Affairs collected me from Jiayi, some 40 kilometres away. When I arrived on the campus, the President greeted me warmly, together with other senior members of staff.

It was a very brief visit but I was treated with the greatest hospitality and warmth known to men. I so enjoyed the meetings, the dinner and discussions with colleagues there, I vowed to return, very soon.

Beautiful Yuntech campus in Douliu

Beautiful Yuntech campus in Douliu

Return, I did, four months later on a Friday in March 2016. This time I brought two colleagues with me. Again Carol collected us from the HSR station which was now extended to include a stop in Yunlin.

Despite the rain, I was excited to be back there, and delighted to see the familiar faces and new ones. President Hou was away on business in Japan, but the staff at YunTech still made me feel welcomed and our stay was utterly enjoyable.

Discussing potential collaborations with Professor Lin (right) and his Team

Discussing potential collaborations with Professor Lin (right) and his Team

Our Gracious Hosts (Professor Lin (right), Carol (first left) and Dr Kuo (2nd left)

Our Gracious Hosts (Professor Lin (right), Carol (first left) and Dr Kuo (2nd left)

I was really glad that I was able to spend sometime with their students, sharing my knowledge about the country in which I now reside and call home. Apart from British culture, I was also able to tell them about the city of Birmingham and the the University I work for. I enjoyed every moment with them.

These precious moments lasted longer this time. On Saturday, Carol drove me and a colleague for a leisure visit to the Taiwan Craft and Research Centre, before taking us to a much coveted holiday hotspot Sun Moon Lake.

Misty Sun Moon Lake through my lenses

Misty Sun Moon Lake through my lenses

It was a dream come true for me to visit Sun Moon Lake (日月潭 in Chinese). I don’t know why, but whenever I think of Taiwan, Sun Moon Lake comes to my mind. Guess subconsciously I am always drawn to water, be it sea, lake, or perhaps even rain?

It was raining by the time we arrived in Sun Moon Lake in the afternoon. It was really lovely to have Carol as our guide, and she stopped at two scenic spots, to allow us to see the lake from different viewpoints.

Carol and I at Sun Moon Lake

Carol and I at Sun Moon Lake

In the mist, the Lake seemed to be shrouded in an aura of mystery and intrigue. As I looked out into the distance, a sense of calm and peace embraced me. I was happy to be there. Just as I fell in love with Taiwan and her people, I fell in love with Sun Moon Lake, beautiful Nature which has enchanted millions of visitors, in the past, present and future. It has enriched a land and her people for many centuries and will continue to nurture for many more.

Next time, perhaps I can enjoy these views

Next time, perhaps I can enjoy these views

sun-moon-lake-at-night-in-taiwan-higrace-photo

Sun Moon Lake, I will return!

Yuntech, thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

I left a piece of my heart in this heavenly place!

I left a piece of my heart in this heavenly place!

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