Demba Ba, Tim Cahill and Co spreading the gospel in the world’s most populous nation

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Read more and First Published at http://www.thesecretfootballer.com/articles/tsf-guest/26712/demba-ba-tim-cahill-and-co-spreading-the-gospel-in-the-worlds-most-populous-nation/#pqsTUGPt7hOLlU0B.99Is the Chinese Super League healthy?

In a word, yes. Chinese football is in a healthy state.

Not perfect by any means but the Chinese Super League (CSL) has seemingly developed in the same way that China as a nation has grown – spectacularly and at a rapid rate beyond all expectations, tempered with the knowledge that this upward trajectory won’t last forever. Chinese football is on the up and overshadowing the longer established J-League in Japan and K-League in South Korea in terms of global appeal and star names. Also, a healthy fan culture has returned to the stadiums.

At the height of the endless corruption and refereeing scandals, the fans abandoned the stadiums in droves and took to following overseas teams from afar. Now, most stadia in the CSL are packed each weekend. Lower-league attendances are also high and all the major urban hubs have large populations, which means attendances have been excellent in the past few seasons.

Beijing Guoan have some of the most passionate and fervent fans in Asia and games against any Shanghai team are always tense and tetchy affairs as the teams battle it out for regional pride. Furthermore, corruption and “black” whistles – bent referees – are apparently a thing of the past, though, of course, this does not mean it will ever disappear. The CSL has such appeal that billionaires like Jack Ma – the founder of Alibaba, the group of highly successful internet-based businesses and the largest initial public offering in Wall Street history – has also invested in teams like Guangzhou Evergrande.

For someone like Ma to pour finances into Chinese football, when he could easily go abroad and invest in an overseas team, is a serious statement of intent. By purchasing a 50 per cent stake in Evergrande, the club’s lofty ambitions of becoming one of the biggest teams in the world in the near future is not that unrealistic.

Chinese billionaires are, of course, also casting an eye overseas. Earlier this year, the Wanda Group, the Chinese conglomerate, announced an investment of 45 million euros to acquire a 20 per cent equity stake in Atletico Madrid.

Aside from boosting Atletico, this would also allow the further expansion of “China’s Future Star Program” in Spain, with Chinese players going to the European country to enhance their development.

As always, results are a good indication of how things are going.

Chinese teams have done very well in the Asian Champions League recently, with Evergrande winning the 2013 title under the watchful eye of Italian coach Marcello Lippi.

They also did a reasonable job against eventual winners Bayern Munich in the 2013 Club World Cup semi-finals, when they lost 3-0. As for the national team, a strong run at the last Asian Cup has boosted interest in the side not seen since China qualified for the 2002 World Cup.

The Chinese fans are keen to support a strong team and the “Dragon” seems to have finally awoken from its eternal slumber under the guidance of head coach Alain Perrin. Some well-established stars such as Zhang Linpeng and Gao Lin are leading and guiding the team.

The CSL boardrooms can still be quite ruthless environments and have more control and wield more power than some coaches would like. Managers live and die by their results – as seen by the sacking of the popular Fabio Cannavaro, after only a few months in charge of Evergrande, due to perceived defensive failings. The Italian was quickly replaced by Luiz Felipe Scolari. Cannavaro’s love affair with Evergrande was short and sweet but the fans took to his energy and love of the game.

At Shanghai Shenua, an overly keen boardroom has also wielded more influence than their manager Francis Gillot would like. Star-studded Shenua have struggled and this was compounded when their fierce rivals Shanghai SIPG thrashed them 5-0 earlier this season. In terms of overseas teams visiting China, the 2014 Trophee des Champions – the French Super Cup – was played in Beijing as have been several Supercoppa Italiana finals, which have been played in the famous Beijing “Bird’s Nest” Stadium.

As recently as last year, Brazil took on Argentina in Beijing as well. The lure of establishing business, social and economic relations with China is proving to be an immense pull for many teams. The CSL is in a balanced state … by no means perfect but definitely in a better place than it was a few years ago. And it will improve slowly.

Will big player signings boost the profile of the sport?

Yes, I think so. It can only benefit the league and the level of play. Football has always been popular in China.

A few years, when Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets was at the height of his powers, the NBA became the hottest trend in China as football struggled with scandal after scandal. Parity has been restored and football is emerging again from its dark years; star names, stability and a stronger national team has drawn the fans back.

Several years ago, the CSL signalled its intent with the signings of players like Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba and this was a sign of things to come. The pair, ultimately, were flamboyant yet unsuccessful but these ambitious signings proved to be an early indicator of the amount of finances that now abounds in Chinese football.

The J-League went through the same cycle as early big-name arrivals like Zico (Kashima Antlers), Salvatore “Toto” Schillaci (Jubilo Iwata) and Gary Lineker (Nagoya Grampus Eight) definitely brought the league global exposure.

The star players soon gave way to lesser-known professionals … but whom were equally effective. Clubs in China have become more cautious in their transfer policies as they realised that having a star name would not be a guarantee of anything or could simply be more trouble than they were worth.

There then came an influx of seemingly high-profile but steady players whom would not only add some flair but would fit into a team or system. Players who were by no means global superstars but were driven to excel and win and not simply chase huge pay cheques and look to end their careers in a far-flung nation. Evergrande had reliable players like Dario Conca, from Argentina, Elkeson and Muriqui, both from Brazil, and the fans took to them.

They were truly passionate for the cause and blended in well with their Chinese team-mates such as Zhang Linpeng, who excels as defender who loves to get forward to cause havoc. The zenith for that Evergrande generation was winning the Asian Champions League final under the stewardship of Lippi.

Only Elkeson remains at Evergrande. Conca went back to South America but has since returned to Shanghai SIPG, where Sven – yes, that Sven! – is in charge. Evergrande may have lost some players but they brought in Alberto Gilardino and Alessandro Diamanti, who proved to be seasoned professionals and gave their all. Now Paulinho has joined and Evergrande can boast quite an incredible squad, with the Brazilian now looking to rebuild his career after a torrid time in England with Tottenham Hotspur.

Rumours also abound that Robinho will also join the squad. Beijing Guoan have the cult hero Darko Matic in their ranks and his fluency in Mandarin and loyalty to Beijing has seen him become incredibly loved in the capital and across the nation, with him having amassed over one million followers on “Weibo”.

His team-mate Dejan Damjanovic is equally established and beloved. There is an unique lure to the grandeur of Beijing as even former NBA star Stephon Marbury came to China’s capital to play basketball for the Beijing Ducks and loves it so much that he may stay on.

He even has a statue and a postage stamp of himself. I don’t think that Matic has a statue or stamps yet but if Beijing win a title soon, then he will have … and more!

Tim Cahill is at Shanghai Shenua and this was seen as huge coup for the CSL to entice the Australia striker who, ironically, knocked China out of the 2015 Asian Cup finals. His two goals, including a sensational bicycle kick, gave the Aussies a 2-0 win in their last-eight clash in Brisbane.

Cahill has adapted quite well to his new surroundings and has proved to be immensely popular with the Shenua fans due to his down-to-earth and approachable nature. Demba Ba and now Mohamed Sissoko will join Cahill at Shenua, alongside their Colombian club captain, Giovanni Moreno. The aforementioned new signings will be keen to impress. The fans at a very below-par Shenua will demand no less than the best effort. Another seasoned and well-known name is the Icelander Eidur Gudjohnsen, who will join Shijiazhuang Ever Bright.

What is the overall aim of the Chinese FA?

Qualify for another World Cup finals and to win the Asian Cup. China is a football-mad nation but, until recently, their national team had flattered to deceive and often disappointed their legions of fans. The last Asian Cup and China’s fantastic run in that competition has again sparked encouragement.

The overall aim is to qualify for the World Cup finals again and if they do, then not to crash out immediately as in 2002. Qualifying is always difficult as Japan, South Korea, Australia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iran are always going to be major contenders.

The Chinese FA will also focus on the women’s team, which used to be a powerhouse at the turn of the century. After a decade in the wilderness, they are back on track, with a strong showing at the recent Women’s World Cup finals in Canada, in which they lost 1-0 to old rivals the United States, the eventual winners, in the quarter-finals. The Chinese FA, in line with the government, announced that football would become a part of the school curriculum across the nation.

It aims to have up to 20,000 schools having football as a mandatory part of their physical education plans. In turn, that should be able to develop the standards of play for the current youth generation. The Chinese FA will still keep an eye on corruption and those who may fall prey to it.

As clubs’ financing has increased so has wages for the players, which off-balances the need to seek other means to make a living. There also needs to be a finer balance between nurturing promising footballers and then simply “producing” them.Hopefully, some truly skilled and creative players are not overwhelmed in the processes involved in the long road to becoming professional athletes.

The Chinese FA will also try to change the mentality of some segments of Chinese society who do not see sports or football as a viable career. China is going through one of the greatest societal changes and upheavals it has seen. For those looking to move up the social and economic ladder, from poverty into the emerging middle class, then sport, as a career, may simply not cut it as a stable profession and would also be seen as purely a recreational pursuit. Academic achievement is still more highly valued. Why risk a potentially short career? Other professions can last long into the future and offer a steady income in a world that offers no reassurances or fall backs.

The hopes and dreams of entire families can rest on the shoulders of their offspring and the national college entrance exam for university – the “Gaokao” – is where many youths concentrate their time and energy. Passing or failing it can determine an entire person’s life, so there is no time to do sports. A change in mentality towards professional sports and the livelihood that it can bring is probably going to be the greatest challenge for the Chinese FA.

Where do you see the league in five to ten years?

I expect there to be a greater interest in the CSL on a global basis as the league slowly evolves and becomes even more professional, in line with global standards of advertising, sponsorship and financial transparency. I expect more star names to arrive in China and boost the profile of the league even higher. All leagues go through cycles and I believe the CSL is on the up. If the amount of money pumped in continues unabated, with greater accountability, then the good times can carry on.

I expect Chinese teams to continue to do well in the Asian Champions leagues and this, hopefully, will also benefit the national team. In turn, this will see fans grow in numbers in terms of attendance and for Chinese fan culture to further evolve, develop and become truly ingrained in every-day Chinese society.

Basically, all positive. But with a cautious optimism!

Read more and First Published at http://www.thesecretfootballer.com/articles/tsf-guest/26712/demba-ba-tim-cahill-and-co-spreading-the-gospel-in-the-worlds-most-populous-nation/#pqsTUGPt7hOLlU0B.99

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Uncorking The Hong Kong Wine Industry with Renowned Hong Kong Wine Expert – Rodney Lloyd

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First Published Here: http://www.beijing-visitor.com/hong-kong-culture/wine

By Christopher KL Lau

Through the decade, Hong Kong has slowly transformed itself into the Asia Pacific’s premier wine hub and its influence in this field is still growing further as it now acts as the gateway to the rapidly developing Chinese market.

Until recently, wine could only be enjoyed and sampled by a few of the elite, though as standards of living have improved and people have greater disposable incomes, the enjoyment of wine by all sectors of society has grown. Wine is now a welcome addition to any dinner party or social function; people have grown from simply consuming for the sake of consuming to becoming more interested in learning about the production from the vineyards to the bottling process

Since the removal of all duty related customs and administrative controls for wine in 2008, the industry has surged and there are now over one thousand wine related companies in Hong Kong and a growing number of experts and commentators.

Many Hong Kongers are flocking to wine courses and training themselves to become more than just simple casual drinkers. There are now a vast number of wine related events and the annual Hong Kong “Wine and Dine Festival” is the show piece event for Hong Kong’s wine lovers, experts and connoisseurs to sample and serve the city’s insatiable desire.

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The levels of interest and consumption are to the extent that Hong Kong now has the highest average per capita consumption levels in the entire world and this is growing even further. It is projected that overall regional demand for wine consumption will double to an incredible twenty-seven billion US dollars by 2017; the levels of demand are simply staggering and off the scale. As the Chinese middle class continues to grow and with money to burn, expect these figures to increase even further.

Rodney Lloyd is one of Hong Kong’s premier experts who has been on the scene for the past few years. Lloyd has given many presentations, samplings and talks in Hong Kong and other places in Asia and definitely knows his Merlots from his Chardonnays. Here in an exclusive interview, Lloyd discusses the wine culture in Hong Kong and shares his opinions on the growing market in China.

Interview

When did your interest in wine begin?

Rodney Lloyd: My interest in wine was only recent. It was around four years ago when I purchased a wine only because of its attractive packaging (Alter Ego de Palmer) as an experiment and after tasting it, was hooked instantly by the lush fruit, velvet textures and smooth taste and finish. I was surprised and impressed with how complex and beautiful wine can be and it got me curious about wines as an asset class for investment, for pleasure by seeking and tasting other wine grapes and regions. From that point on I never looked back. It is quite easy in Hong Kong to feel compelled to at least experiment with wine given the abundance of suppliers, promotions, and tasting events here in any given week!

What formal training did you undertake to become such a renowned wine expert? Or are you self-taught?

Rodney Lloyd: I did find two things useful in my ‘wine journey’ so to speak. The first was taking classes to at least set the foundation of knowledge and to point me in the right direction when it comes to assessing wines I come across. The Wine and Spirits Trust (WSET) is popular and increasingly so in the region and I took the first exam with that objective in mind. The second is to attend as many wine tastings and events as possible across a broad spectrum of wine regions and price points. By tasting so many different wines I not only knew what wines I preferred personally but I was able to differentiate between the different wines and take notes along the way with a view to recommending these to others and to further self knowledge. So the answer in my view is to take some classes at least to understand the basics then to teach yourself by tasting.

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What constitutes a good wine? What factors do you look for yourself?

Rodney Lloyd: This is a difficult question and the answer may vary depending on individual taste and objective such as the consumer versus professional tasters. Personally, I would consider various factors in determining whether I like the wine or not including whether the wine adequately reflects the region it represents and quality of the vintage from which it is produced. Indeed one should certainly experiment and taste as many grapes and regions as possible in making this determination. My taste changes as well so my personal favourites may vary from month to month from the powerful Australian Shiraz through to the wonderful minerality of the white wines of Burgundy then to the Merlot grape dominated powerful wines of the Right Bank of Bordeaux and if I wanted something different, will try out the new world red wine blends and Chardonnay of North and South America. I was only able to determine this through tasting and my process of discovery has barely begun!

Hong Kong has seen a growth in the popularity of wine? Why do you think this has happened? Is this also happening in China itself?

Rodney Lloyd: In Hong Kong, I believe two reasons are behind the popularity of wine. The first is monetary and proximity to China and the second is entrepreneurship and low barriers of entry. Much has been written about the explosion in growth since the removal of wine duty in Hong Kong and while this has certainly created the foundation for opportunity in this area, the entrepreneurship of Hong Kong and ease of establishment of a business in this area are key contributing factors. Many private investors and backers of wine businesses in Hong Kong, themselves wine lovers, are keen to extend their hobby and interest into what they would consider an attractive opportunity. In addition, large scale heavily promoted events in the territory has certainly helped to drive curiosity among consumers here. For entrepreneurs, Hong Kong’s proximity and gateway and stepping stone into the China market has benefitted many industries, wine being among them.

You have promoted wine at events before? If something is distinctly different, how do people normally react?

Rodney Lloyd: It is important to distinguish two types of consumer behavior here. First is tasting and second is purchasing. I find many people are interested to taste wine and are willing to pay a certain price to taste them and give good feedback as to the quality and preferences. However when it comes to actually purchasing wine, most consumers with some knowledge of wine still seem to tend to purchase wines with established brand names and reputation and from recognized wine producing regions for a variety of reasons.

Do you think China can ever become a famous wine producing nation?

Rodney Lloyd: China is already well along the path to making famous, world quality wines and with further expertise gained through learning from professionals from other regions it is certainly feasible that China will have multiple internationally recognized brand name high quality wine producers within the next decade.

In your opinion, which regions produce the best wines and what conditions are conducive to manufacturing top quality wine?

Rodney Lloyd: I would say if one were patient in exploring different wines from all regions, one would find excellent wines across all regions depending on personal preference of course. Weather conditions and wine maker production techniques each year do count towards producing top quality wines but the beauty is that within many regions what may not work for one grape in any given year may actually turn out to be great for other grape.

What’s your all time favorite?

Rodney Lloyd: I have tasted a number of wines at different price points but if price was not a consideration and I had to choose, I would have to say either the Chateau Latour 1990, the Chateau Haut Brion 1961 or more recently tasted, the Chateau Trotanoy 1998. If price was a consideration, I would say many red wines from Chile, Argentina and many entry level Burgundy white wines offer tremendous value from a price to quality perspective.

Thank you.

INTERVIEW WITH “HOW FAR DO LEAVES FALL?” DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER CHOW – FROM ONE GENERATION TO ANOTHER!

First Published here on an educational website: http://www.icubed.us/node/1917 and http://www.icubed.us/node/1924 

An old piece from 2009 about “How Far Do Leaves Fall?”, a documentary about the British-Chinese / British Born Chinese diaspora which is one of the smallest overseas Chinese communities. 

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From One Generation to Another!

What is it like to be a son or daughter of first generation migrants far from the land of your ancestors?

Would you feel more comfortable in the country of your birth or your supposed country of origin?

From China to Malaysia to England, the Chinese have spanned across the globe and made their mark. What traditions and beliefs are passed down? How hard is it to communicate across generations?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kWyDCbD3TY – Trailer

The documentary “How far do leaves fall?” by Director Rose Kelly and Co-Director / Editor Christopher Chow delves deep into the topics of immigration, culture and identity. Even though the film features the British Chinese community in the United Kingdom, the theme of finding a true sense of belonging is universal to one and all.

The documentary features the oral histories of the older UK Chinese generations and their stories of moving from Malaysia, Hong Kong and China and the hardships they encountered as they sought to establish themselves in their new homes. The interviews were carried out by the younger British Chinese generations for whom China is a far away distant land. For many, the UK is the only home they truly know. Via the interview process, the elder and younger generations come to have a sense of empathy and a greater respect is forged.

One main topic raised is immigration; which is a hot contentious issue sometimes viewed negatively but legal migration has many advantages:

– A greater supply of unskilled workers
– A younger workforce
– Skilled workers in understaffed sectors

Via the piece, viewers will learn about:

– Chinese and British history.
– Life in the UK as an immigrant.
– The Overseas Chinese Diasporas and their stories of hardship and triumph all around the world.
– Oral History – The verbal process of passing history down from generation to generation.

“How Far Do Leaves Fall” is an interesting look at immigration, culture and the concept of home. As millions move around the world to make a living, the core message of a sense of belonging and identity will resonate with many.

The documentary “How Far Do Leaves Fall?” examines the lives of young second generation British Chinese in the United Kingdom. On the surface, the piece discusses immigration but delves deeper into the importance of culture and identity. Though featuring the British Chinese community, its themes of a sense of belonging and discovering your roots are universal to all.

Interview

We had the chance to interview one of the co-directors, Hong Kong born Christopher Chow. A one-time psychology student whom turned to films, Christopher is currently freelancing in London, Christopher has worked for various productions, ranging from corporate films, music videos, feature film (Dream On Films), and TV programmes (National Geographic Channel, TVBS-E). Here, he discusses existentialism, Steven Spielberg and randomly waking up one day to pursue his film making dreams!

Christopher Chow – CC
Interviewer- Chris Lau

How did the documentary “How far do Leaves fall?” originate?

CC: The film was part of a wider oral history project by the London based charity CMHA, and it was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (UK).

The project began with two aims: first is to document the experiences and feelings of the Chinese whom migrated to UK many years ago, and how they and their British-born children feel about integrating into the British society. The second aim is encourage young volunteers to participate in the production of all aspects of the oral history project.

How well was the documentary received? How did young people react?

CC: The young people showed a lot of interest in both the issues raised in the documentary, and some were keen to get involved in volunteering for the next oral history project. A lot of them had the similar feelings as the young interviewees featured in the film, and they felt they could really relate to them.

They thought that their parents didn’t understand them and they found it hard to juggle their tradition Chinese family views, and integrating and blending into the everyday British culture.

The piece analyses culture and identity; how important are these concepts for young people?

CC: Everybody goes through a period of identity crisis one way or another, and it might come at different ages. Many young British Chinese want to blend in more within their British schools and friends, so they reject their traditional Chinese family lifestyle and values, which is totally understandable, because it’s tough enough to be a teenager already, and on top they have to deal with their additional cultural identity crisis.

As the young people grow up and mature, they are much more comfortable with who they are, and they stop rejecting their Chinese background, and some begin to appreciate the beauty of their heritage. Many interviewees in the film mentioned they are now (in their 20s & 30s) making much more of an effort to catch up with the lost years of disassociating with their heritage. They now see their distant families more often, and make more effort when it comes to Chinese festivals.

Do you feel more Chinese or more British? Does it really matter?

CC: I came over to study in the UK when I was only 11. Maybe because of all the TV and films I have watched about the UK, I didn’t feel foreign at all, apart from the fact that I didn’t speak much English, but it was the slower pace lifestyle and the cooler climate, which suited me very well.

On the other hand, I studied in an English boarding school, and I didn’t feel like I totally fitted in. I tried my best, but I guess the British just always saw me as a foreigner. But then majority of the times, things came very naturally to me, and I wouldn’t even think that I wasn’t British.

Personally, I don’t think it matters so much whether you believe you are Chinese or British, because that is a difference between nationalities, but it doesn’t define who you are as a person. It is very normal to generalize a race or a nation of people, but we should focus more on ourselves as individuals.

Did you ever question your identity growing up?

CC: Yes I did question my identity, but it was more existential rather than cultural. I guess I don’t really see people differently wherever they come from or the shade of their skin tones.

I think there are similar types of people in all continents, and so I just see people as people. Just like when I was in school, I didn’t really see myself as Chinese, not that I was intentionally rejecting it, and nor have I ever felt totally British.

I questioned more along the line, why am I here? Or does it even matter that I’m here? It was these questions that kept me occupied during my shift from adolescence to adulthood.

Did you always want to be a film director? Has it always been a passion?

CC: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a scientist or policeman then when I got older I wanted to become a teacher. I guess I have always been very good at comforting and motivating people, so I thought I could be a good teacher.

I loved watching movies. My parents were always busy, so they rarely went to the cinema with me. I spent many hours of my childhood and adolescence watching movies on TV, VHS, and LD. When I talked to some of my fellow filmmakers, often they are surprised at how well I remember the story lines in older movies, where they would only remember a few memorable scenes and how the characters looked!

So, movies have always been my passion, but it just never occurred to me that I would be making them. Only until I was in university studying psychology; one night I just woke up, with no prior related dreams, I decided to become a script writer. Then my friend suggested to me to take a film making course, and see where it takes me, and that was it. I realized I wanted to be a filmmaker.

What steps did you take to achieve your dream?

CC: I guess I have always known what I wanted to do, right from the day when I told my mum that I wanted to study in the UK by myself, and I was 10 then. I like to follow my instinct and my passion in doing particular subjects. One thing for sure is that the path I have been taking has always (unconsciously) steered me towards understanding human emotions, which is where my passion lies.

So I went to London and studied film making for a year, and since then I have been busy working, constantly networking and planning future projects. The key is to keep yourself busy and continue to motivate yourself, and cross your fingers that all these effort will one day come to fruition.

Do you have any advice for budding film makers? Just how glamorous is the industry?

CC: The industry isn’t glamorous at all. The only glamorous bit is the red carpets and the major film festivals. Usually it’s very down to earth, but there are a lot of egos flying around all the time, which is very hard to stand sometimes. Unfortunately, this industry does attract this type of people. Sometimes I do wonder if I am too selfless to be a filmmaker, and my other selfless friends agree with me.

My advice would be, if you have the passion to make films, to tell stories, and to connect with another human being, then just go for it. I think it doesn’t matter whether your passion is in film making or pottery making. You only live once, so why not.

Walking Home From Mongolia – The Road Less Travelled (again!) with Rob Lilwall (Global Adventurer, Motivational Speaker and Author)

First published here: http://www.beijing-visitor.com/china-city-guides/hong-kong/hong-kong-culture/rob-lilwall

By Christopher KL Lau

What compels a person to give up everything and cycle across the world? What compels them to attempt something similar and walk in a general southward direction from Mongolia to Hong Kong via China! These are the fascinating questions that global explorer and author, Rob Lilwall, will answer.

Rob Lilwall, Walking Home From Mongolia.

Rob Lilwall Walking through the Gobi Desert

For the average person, traveling means so many things; to some, the chance to travel is to experience the world in all its wonder and beauty. To others, travel is an arduous task full of obstacles and uncertainties; to others, it is the combination of both the exploration and challenges which makes it so compelling and absorbing.

Rob Lilwall is a true adventurer in all senses of the word and by simply taking the path less travelled, he has transformed his life beyond his wildest imagination; he is now a motivational speaker, a published author and has his own National Geographic show.

An adventurer by heart, at the age of 27, he quit his teaching job and set off on his three year, ‘Cycling Home From Siberia’, expedition in September 2004. Three years is a long time and a person can gain a vast amount of knowledge and life experiences to share with others keen to learn, so upon completing ‘Cycling Home From Siberia’, Rob then lived in London for two and a half years, lectured extensively, wrote his first book (published by Hodder & Stoughton), and made a six-part TV series (with National Geographic Channel) about his bicycle expedition.

Rob Lilwall, Walking Home From Mongolia.

Walking Home From Mongolia


Rob Lilwall, Walking Home From Mongolia.

Viewing the Great Wall of China from a distance

To further his religious interests, he also completed a theology diploma at Oxford University, and carried out two shorter expeditions, this time on foot: Walking a full lap of the M25 as well as walking through Israel and the West Bank. He also managed to get married as he also met his wife via this travels as he journeyed through Hong Kong on his first epic trip! Travel tend to always change a person for the better; there were no doubt times where Rob Lilwall had to become more optimistic, sharp, insightful and shrewd than he would be in normal circumstances to complete his journey.

Having spent three years cycling from sub-zero Siberia to London is enough to put some people off traveling for the rest of their lives, but to Rob Lilwall; it simply meant that there was yet another unbeaten path for him to conquer and of course, yet another documentary to film and a book to write.

Those who love travel are always looking for another reason or excuse to wander off the beaten path again so in November 2011, Rob Lilwall and expedition filmmaker, Leon McCarron, set off on an epic 5,000 km winter expedition through the heart of China.

Instead of cycling this time, they would walk, yes walk, all the way back down from Mongolia to Hong Kong. Carrying all of their gear, they started amidst the wastelands of Outer Mongolia from where they head south by foot through the Gobi Desert.

Rob Lilwall, Walking Home From Mongolia.

Cave Village in Shanxi Province

Here, they would encounter extremes of weather and of course, the isolation and wilderness.  In the midst of all the walking were stunningly beautiful landscapes and unforgettable characters. From Mongolia, they then crossed into China, followed the Great Wall down to the turbulent waters of the Yellow River and walked alongside it downstream to the legendary city of Xian. Leaving the water, they then hiked onwards through the snow-capped mountains of central China, until finally they reach their finishing point at the glittering skyscrapers of Hong Kong, in May 2012.

The expedition has been commissioned to become a television series, and it will also act as a sequel to Rob’s televised three-year ‘Cycling Home From Siberia’ expedition. Rob is currently based in Hong Kong and continues with his speaking, writing and adventure career, as well as working as a fund raiser for the charity Viva that works with children at risk around the world. His latest book “Walking Home From Mongolia” was launched at the end of 2013.

Rob Lilwall, Walking Home From Mongolia.

Taking a break and stretching in the Gobi Desert


Rob Lilwall, Walking Home From Mongolia.

Along the banks of the Yellow River

Interview

In an exclusive interview, Rob Lilwall took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.

Rob Lilwall: RL
Chris Lau: CL

CL: “What compelled you to go to Siberia and take the long way home? Where did this wanderlust come from?”

RL: “I had been a geography teacher after I left university which was my first full-time proper job but at the same time I was always interested in going on adventures. After teaching for a couple of years, a number of different factors came together and I decided that now was the time to go on a really big adventure. I was always interested in riding a bike across Asia and this idea had always been at the back of my mind. A friend of mine who was cycling all over the place and all over the world emailed me to ask me to ride across the Asia Pacific and I I thought to myself that if I don’t do it now then I never will or it will be a lot harder if I don’t do it now. I quit my job, brought myself a one way ticket and took my bike to North-East Russia and it took me about three years to cycle back!

First of all, I went through Russia in the winter, got to Japan and at that point, me and my friend split up and decided to cycle back separately. I cycled down to Australia which took about another year and a half and it took about another year to get back to London via Tibet and Afghanistan. I thought I would get back into teaching but a few other things came into play and I got a book deal and the National Geographic channel brought my  video footage for my show. I also started speaking a lot, mainly motivational speaking and I met Christine who I had met as I cycled through Hong Kong. She was then working in London, so we got married and then moved back to Hong Kong. After two years of  being married, I decided to go on another expedition where I flew to Mongolia and instead of cycling, I walked home! So this was my new expedition, ‘Walking Home from Mongolia’ where I basically walked back through China to Hong Kong”.

Walking Home From Mongolia with Rob Lilwall.

Leon scrambling along the banks of the Yellow River, Shanxi Province

CL: “Was it easy for you to drop everything and go? Many people would like to undertake an adventure like yours but their day to day circumstances simply does not allow them the opportunity?”

RL: “It wasn’t very difficult for me. It quite scary to leave it all behind but I was single, I didn’t have a mortgage and it is reasonably easy to go back to teaching after taking a couple of years out so in that sense it is pretty easy. On another level, most people have more opportunities then they think. I mean it is very hard to go away for three years in certain situations but a lot of people can take sabbaticals and take a bit of time out between jobs. Obviously if you have a young family then that makes it a lot harder but if your kids are not small, you can still go on trips and quite long ones, not quite three years; you can still on go decent length trips if you are prepared to make some sacrifices but it is good to remember that the winner in life is not gong to be the person with the biggest bank balance in the cemetery!  A lot of people could do trips but there are a lot of reasons to stop them doing so but they can get around them if they really wanted too.”

Walking Home From Mongolia with Rob Lilwall.

Rob Walking Along an Inner Mongolian Highway

CL: “What did you learn about yourself and human condition on your last trip?”

RL: “I will talk about both trips. I think I learnt a lot of good and bad about the hospitality and kindness. Overall more good, I encountered a great level of hospitality. Total strangers have looked after me, be it a Russian gold miner in the middle of Siberia or a Mongolian nomad in the middle of the Gobi desert or a village in the middle of a jungle in PNG. I have met so many people who have looked after me and it has been a very wonderful experience. On the darker side, I have been robbed at gun point in Russia, I was robbed in the Philippines and sometimes you see some people simply being cruel to each other. Sometimes I placed myself through some testing situations and sometimes, I saw good things in myself, sometimes I was braver than I thought I was and sometimes I saw a lot of bad things, Sometimes I was selfish and self-centered.

Walking Home From Mongolia with Rob Lilwall.

Rob & Leon almost in Hong Kong

CL: “Is it always as glamorous as it sounds? Sometimes, these trips just seem plain mundane?”

RL: “Yes, that’s a very good point! Sometimes when you watch the National geographic television show, you would think it would be one adventure after the next. The reality is that nine days out of ten, not much happens! You get up and get on a bike and cycle for twelve hours then go to bed. Or you get up and walk for twelve hours and then go to bed. You might see a few beautiful things and you might meet some friendly people. but nothing super exciting happens and hour after hour, you are kind of lost in your own thoughts! And it can be like a slog and that is like all of life, when you have to get from A to B, in whatever you are doing in life.”

CL: “Is there any single outstanding memory or are there to many to select from?”

RL: “When you are at the end of one stage of one part of an expedition and entering the next, it is always magical. When we walked out of the Gobi desert and reached a town on the Chinese border, it was amazing as we had been in the desert for two weeks and then suddenly we were in an industrial town and it was quite an amazing experience! When we tried to find the Great Wall in Shanxi province, on its own in the countryside, it was amazing. When we found the Yellow River, it was amazing! It was amazing moments like that which stand out then actual landmarks. Some of hospitality as well, for example on Chinese New Year’s eve, we were walking along the Yellow River and it was night-time as we were behind schedule and as we were walking into this city, all of China was having a party and there were fireworks going off. Leon (Cameraman) and I, we were still walking, we were feeling lonely, tried and homesick and we were looking into everyone’s windows and everyone was getting ready for their family banquets and suddenly this car pulled up next to us and this guy shouted to us, “What are you doing?” We said we were walking to Hong Kong and then we said “Well come back to my family’s house for dinner!” So we marked our spot on the mark and he took us back for this wonderful Chinese New year dinner. Really magical and special!”

Rob Lilwall, Walking Home From Mongolia.

Chinese New Year, Hequ County, Shanxi Province

CL: “Before your journey began, did you have any perception of certain peoples, countries or cultures?”

RL: “Often before I go to a country, I will research and read up a few good books so normally, I would know a little bit about the country and what to expect and what the people might be like. I guess when you get there, it is always an extraordinary experience; going to Japan for the first time and going round China! You always learn a lot. In places like Afghanistan and Iran  which maybe on television may have a bad reputation, you sort of think that everyone there will be a terrorist. A vast majority of people are fine and obviously you have to be careful, very careful sometimes! You realize that most people are normal people trying to live a peaceful life and that’s always nice to learn.

CL: “Can anyone attempt this feat? Do you have any advice for people who want to do something similar? Can anyone do this type of trip?”

RL: “I think pretty much anyone can do it. I have a friend who cycled from England to Australia and when he set off, he was something ridiculous like eighteen stone…a really fat guy and when he got there, he was the same weight as me! He had lost all his weight! He wasn’t very fit when he started but he got fit as he went so this is why I think that almost anyone can do these trips! You have to be careful if you are going into more extreme weather obviously as you certainly are in danger if you don’t know what you are doing. If the weather is OK then the number one danger you will face is the traffic. You have to be careful as cars are dangerous especially if you are on a bike. It was always good to go on a few shorter trips. It is always better to go on a few shorter trips and test out your equipment, learn what you are doing, camp in the wild. For example, if you are going on a six month trip and then it is good to maybe go on a one week trip or maybe a two-week trip. A six month trip and a two-year trip wont be that much different in many ways. If you have never done it then maybe do a few trips with a friend as it will give you a give you a lot more confidence and experience if you want to do a solo trip.”

Walking Home From Mongolia with Rob Lilwall.

Inner Mongolia

CL: “During your trip, did you ever feel lonely?”

RL: “Yeah, I did feel lonely though I am someone who is relatively content in my own company. I have ways to help with my own loneliness. I always had a books, or a Kindle so I could read when camping on my own. I always had an iPod so I could listen to music so those things helped. I would be able to an internet cafe to communicate unless I was in the desert. I am Christian so I would also pray.”

CL: “Do you ever just want to give up and jump on a plane and go home?”

RL: “It was pretty rare for me to give up as I knew that if I was having a bad day then I knew it was just a bad day and week. I knew if I kept on going then I would have some really good experiences. I knew if i was having a bad day or week then got on a plane to go home then I knew I would be happy for a few days with hot pizza, showers and family / friends then a few days later, I would regret it forever; all the distance I had gone would all be wasted!”

The book “Walking Home from Mongolia” is now out in all good Hong Kong Book stores.

Walking Home from Mongolia on Amazon – Amazon
www.hodder.co.uk/books – Hodder & Stoughton

Walking Home From Mongolia with Rob Lilwall.

Dragging “Molly” through the desert

– See more at: http://www.beijing-visitor.com/china-city-guides/hong-kong/hong-kong-culture/rob-lilwall#sthash.qMwh9ulj.dpuf

Bringing the Streets of Hong Kong to Life

Image

Walk in Hong Kong

First published in: http://www.beijing-visitor.com/china-city-guides/hong-kong/hong-kong-culture/walk-hong-kong

Christopher KL Lau

They say the essence of any city can be found by simply strolling around at your own pace and simply soaking up the atmosphere.

Walk in Hong Kong, China.

Saying this, it is easy for both Hong Kong’s residents and tourists to be enraptured and entranced by the simple pleasures and beauty that Hong Kong’s diverse neighborhoods can offer.

Now imagine beating down the same paths but with experienced and extremely knowledgable guides who can transform an average and mundane street into an unforgettable experience.

The tour guide organization, ‘Walk In Hong Kong’ delves deep into the heart of Hong Kong and its history, myths and legends.

To the casual observer, Hong Kong is a 24/7 urban hub of endless possibilities, but behind the glistening high rises and ivory towers are a myriad of stories and fables which make Hong Kong the unique city that it is. ‘Walk In Hong Kong’ provides a walking tour like no other that can reveal the true Hong Kong!

Hong Kong Walking Tours

‘Walk in Hong Kong’ have a whole host of lovingly-designed and well-researched walking tours in Hong Kong that are fun, informative and celebratory of the city’s tales, past and present.

No stone is left unturned so the guides explore every nook and cranny of the city. They have two types of tours: by area – places that appear in tour guides as well as many that don’t – and by theme – urban myths, cemeteries, old shops and more.

These well-crafted tours are open to all who love the opportunity to learn, absorb and experience the multitude of sights and sounds that Hong Kong offers. The guides are young, extensively travelled Hong Kong professionals who have joined many walking tours both locally and abroad and know what it takes for one to work. They live and breath the city and want to share their love of their home with all those who are keen to listen.

What unites the tour guides is a shared passion to promote Hong Kong as a multi-dimensional travel playground of under-appreciated heritage, a less than straight-forward history, and of course, much present-day flux.

Far away from the normal tourists destinations, ‘Walk In HK’ will present to even the most seasoned traveller  a parallel universe where people will be able to both experience and reminiscence about rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods and ways of life which are slowly disappearing and maybe soon lost forever.

Walk in Hong Kong, China.

Walk in Hong Kong, China.

Urban Growth

‘Walk in Hong Kong’s’ tours reflect Hong Kong’s amazing levels of urban growth and relentless development. Seeped deep within the many new towering offices are deep layers of history and stories waiting to be told.

The different streets and communities of Hong Kong all have their own stories and ‘Walk In Hong Kong’ breaths life into these stories so that participants can experience the unique atmosphere and the city’s unique development.

In-depth story-telling is key to the walks and active interaction and discussion with an open exchange of ideas. While Walk In Hong Kong is not an NGO or social enterprise of any kind, they do seek to influence local culture, stories, traditions and local ways of living into tourism resources for Hong Kong. Their tours can benefit local businesses and can offer a view of Hong Kong that many are unaware of yet would completely enjoy.

The tours are even suitable for long-term Hong Kong residents who may even be surprised by the rich historical and cultural stories of their communities. Any city is best seen by foot and ‘Walk In Hong Kong’ are happy to comply and literally bring the streets of Hong Kong to life.

For more, visit their official website: www.walkin.hk

Walk in Hong Kong, China.

Chung Wah Chow

Chung Wah Chow Interview

Exclusive Interview with Chung Wah Chow, one of the ‘Walk in Hong Kong’ team and well known travel writer.

So what distinguishes your walking tours from other ordinary tours and walking tours?  Surely a tourist could simply walk around with their own guidebook and visit these areas?

We don’t go sightseeing and we don’t just talk about history. Most of our tours cover lesser-visited places in Hong Kong like North Point, Sham Shui Po and Happy Valley etc., and we link the past of the place to the present.

For example, our Sheung Wan tour has a life and death theme. We do not only talk about the bubonic plague that killed 90% of the population in the area in the 19th century, but how this disaster has had impact even up until now.

It was this disaster that both the government and a charity group (Tung Wah Hospital) founded by wealthy Chinese businessmen started providing proper medical service and set the foundation of hygiene policies for the city. A guidebook won’t be covered the details of these lesser known but important facets of a place.

Are your walking tours a form of oral history?

Yes, but we do not only talk about (oral) history. We also talk about the reality. In our urban myths tour in Wanchai, we debunked the myth that no one is willing to buy a house that is haunted. The reality is, given the insanity of the property market in Hong Kong that most people spend all their savings just to pay the down payment and mortgage to buy a shoebox-sized flat, haunted houses, usually sell for 30% less, are of great demand!

Walk in Hong Kong, China.
Walk in Hong Kong, China.

Hong Kong does not have a very good record in terms of preserving its history and the surge towards modernity seems to take precedent over safe guarding the past – why do you think this is?

I think there is a gap here. Why the government officials have no clue of the importance of conservation, the younger generations of the general public actually started to voice out why it is vital to preserve the city’s history. The officials still see the city as a money-making place. The people see it as their home.

What type of people make up your team and where does the motivation come from to lead these tours?

We have four core team members: one former government official and now a banker (Paul Chan); one former human rights campaigner (Haider Kikabhoy), one journalist (Dora Choi) and I (a travel writer).

We all come from different backgrounds so even if we do the same tour we may have different focuses. But all of us believe that Hong Kong is not just what the official storyline goes, a fishing-village-turned-metropolis. There are actually more spectacular miracles to tell!

Walk in Hong Kong.

Walk in Hong Kong

What type of person / tourists do you expect to attend these walks? What can an attendee expect to experience?

So far our participants are a good mix of locals and expats alike, with some visitors too, both from overseas and from the mainland.

We usually don’t go off the beaten path as most of our walks are city walks. Instead, we reclaim the beaten path. An attendee can expect that they will be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, which I regard as one of the greatest rewards of traveling.

Some of the urban myths and legends mentioned on your website are fascinating? How did you find out about them or is it common knowledge which is passed down the generations?

Most of them are common knowledge. Some were re-discovered during the course of research of a place.

What does “Reclaiming the beaten path” mean? What cultural benefits do you hope to bring to the areas that you lead tours too?

Re: reclaiming the beaten path, please see the answer above. Re: cultural benefits: we hope to create more opportunities for people who are working in the culture-related sector. We recruited them as a guide, visit their workshops (we include a letterpress workshop in the Sheung Wan tour) etc.

In some countries as you walk through the streets, you feel a sense of history and community. This is not always the case in Hong Kong, how do you think this issue can be solved? 

Now the preservation of heritage is only about preserving the building, but not the community, that’s why old neighborhoods are vanishing so fast. Sadly this issue can hardly be solved, blame the developers.

What is your favourite part of Hong Kong and why? 

My favourite part of Hong Kong is where you can chill amid the urban swirl. Ship Street in Wanchai used to be one of my favourite places, but the construction of the Mega Tower completely changed the vibes of this more than a century old street with stony walls and staircases.

The cemeteries in Happy Valley are always my favourite. They are beautiful, easy to access, and is like an outdoor museum that that you can study and learn about the history of Hong Kong. It’s also a great place to repose as the old banyan tree and other fauna and flora (lots of birds there!) make it a nice place to amble.

Walk in Hong Kong, China.

Incense coils, Hong Kong

See more at: http://www.beijing-visitor.com/china-city-guides/hong-kong/hong-kong-culture/walk-hong-kong#sthash.YXJGaStI.dpuf

ROWAN SIMONS: For the Love of the Game – Football’s Emisary in China.

TO Up

Full Interview and article on the book “Bambo Goalposts” here: http://www.icubed.us/career-interviews-list/node/1615//

Football is the world’s most popular game and the man leading the charge to make the world’s most populous nation truly love the beautiful game is Rowan Simons! Fluent in mandarin and long term Beijing resident, Rowan is anything but your normal British expat! China Club Football under his stewardship (along with Keith Bradbury) has grown through the years and is bringing the game back to the hearts and minds of millions of Chinese people.

Rowan has traveled from England to Latin America and eventually made Beijing his home. Such is his wealth of life experience that he has even written a fascinating book called ‘Bamboo Goalposts’ which chronicles his life in China and the challenges Chinese football faces. iCUBED.us tracked him down to ask him his thoughts on Beijing, football and the importance of sports in life.

Rowan Simons: RS
Interviewer: Chris Lau
Date: December 2008

What is China Club Football and how did it evolve?
RS: Club Football is China’s first foreign-invested amateur football enterprise. We established it in 2001 to bring the joys of football to ordinary Chinese people and it has now developed into one of Beijing’s biggest sports networks with thousands of people enjoying the game every week.

China Club Football are passionate about grass roots and amateur football in China, where does this passion come from?
RS: The founders of Club Football all come from Britain which is the home of modern football. When we were young, we were all members of local football clubs near where we lived and we all made good friendships and shared adventures with our team mates. This type of club is very popular around the world and, since we live in China now, we wanted to share this enjoyment with people here.

China Club Football promotes youth football in the Beijing area. How enthusiastic is the response and aside from sports skills, what can people learn via the programs?
RS: I think the most important thing is that joining a football club teaches young people that the more responsibility you take and the better you work as a team – the more fun you have. Although every team has its stars, football clubs need people of all abilities and characters to work well and this is important in China where people of different backgrounds do not often mix or co-operate together.

The first generation of “Little Emperors” (children born under the one child policy) have all grown up! Do young adults in Beijing lead active and healthy lifestyles? How important is diet in leading a healthy lifestyle?
RS: Diet is probably one of the biggest differences between professional and amateur athletes! All of us amateurs could do better with our eating habits and it is important to have a balance. If you eat well and exercise by playing football regularly, you will be much fitter mentally and physically.

The Olympics have come and gone. What will the Olympics 2008 legacy be for Beijing and China? Has there been a greater interest in sports as a result?
RS: I think there is a greater interest in sports, but the real challenge is to build the facilities and train the coaches and administrators needed to capture this interest and develop it. One of the most obvious legacies is the restrictions on cars in Beijing.

At the moment, who is the number one Chinese sports star?
RS: I think we all agree it is Yao Ming, but one day he will retire. Many people are asking what will happen to interest in the NBA if China does not have such a huge star involved every week.

Which sports do you think are gaining popularity in China?
RS: Because of Yao Ming, basketball is growing very fast. I have also been interested to see that more and more young people in northern China are getting into winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding.

Given the perceived regimented training schemes for some Chinese athletes, do you think China has its own unique sporting culture?
RS: China does have its own unique sporting culture and this is one reason why it struggles in team sports such as football. Chinese sports culture does not place high priority on individual or private group efforts, but prefers to follow a national elite model controlled by the government. As football is a mass participation sport, China has to compete with countries like Brazil or Germany where football is organized and played widely at all levels of society.

Why does the Chinese football league have so many problems? How can these problems be overcome?
RS: The professional league was created by the government in 1993 and the clubs were sold to major corporations with good government relations. Usually, the professional league should be at the top of a football pyramid that gets wider and wider at the lower levels. However, in China, there is no pyramid and so no support for a professional league. The only way to solve this problem is to start again with the grassroots and Club Football is one of the organizations lobbying for these reforms.

You have lived in China for so many years! How did you end up making it your home?
RS: In my case, I had no plan to stay in China after my year as a foreign exchange student in 1987, but when I started working with China Central TV, I quickly decided that I wanted to work in China and try to encourage greater exchange through the media and through sport.

You are fluent in written and spoken Chinese! Was it hard for you to pick up and where did you learn it?
RS: Chinese is not an easy language for Europeans to learn and it is much better if you can study full time at the beginning. I first studied Chinese at Leeds University and we all found it very difficult at the start. Especially the characters! There is no shortcut; you just have to keep writing them again and again until you can remember them. Thanks to computers, it is much easier as we can use ‘pinyin’ to help us write.

Beijing is your home. What do you like about it?
RS: Beijing has changed a lot over the last 20 years, but it is still the same in many ways. After all these years, I still like the attitude of Beijing people – they can be very obstructive if they do not want to help, but very warm hearted when they do. People are like this everywhere, but I do like the way Beijingers go around the business of relationships and it is always a challenge to work your way through this maze.

What is your favourite thing about Beijing? Food, culture, etc?
RS: For food, it has to be ‘kaoya’ – Beijing Duck, but you shouldn’t eat it too often if you want to keep fit for football. I also like the park life in Beijing. In the summer, I often play Frisbee with a friend in Jingshan Park near the Forbidden City and there we meet people of all ages (though mostly old or very young). They are dancing or playing other traditional games and it is a very friendly and relaxing atmosphere.

You wrote a book called “Bamboo Goalposts!” What exactly is the book about?
RS: In the book, I use my own experiences in the media and sports to tell the story of football in China. Although it includes many funny moments, the wider theme is to question why it is so hard for China to love the game of football in the same way as people around the world.

What football team do you support and why?
RS: West Ham United. A very clever friend of my father was the first person to give me a football shirt when I was about four years old. He told me that this made me a West Ham fan and I have been unable to change ever since that time.