13 September 2016

Victory Day Weekend 2015

September 2015's National Holiday was given a victorious slant, celebrating and commemorating the Chinese victory over Japan during World War Two. I wasn't bothered about that business, however it was fared to be a beautiful September weekend in Wuhan, China. I am going to turn back the hands of time to that Victory Day weekend, Wuhan slayed in all areas!

Rewinding back to September 2015 I was in completely different head-space, I had literally started at my Kindergarten for two days and we had my very first National Holiday on the 3rd of September 2015! Along with a friend who I thought was special to me we embarked on the first stage of that Victory Day weekend, I had pointed out a list of places I wanted to see in Wuhan and those wishes were made true! Baotong Temple had been on my radar during my first two months in Wuhan but my previous training school job didn't allow me enough time to do anything! The quiet surroundings of Baotong Temple made for a beautiful start to that holiday in Hubei's provincial city. I wrote a quick message to the gods, channeling nothing but positive energy and good vibes for my time in China I was feeling centred and very blessed! The stillness of the temple acted as the perfect contradiction to frantic mode of the city outside.

Since moving to Wuhan, China I hadn't experienced any National Holidays until that point, I was hoping to leave Hubei province but my wings had been clipped during that period due to my visa renewal, I was contented staying in Wuhan for that September break because at that point I had merely scratched the surface. I was learning that temples were great places to visit to clear my mind and to block out the modern world around me if only for a short space of time. The time up until that Victory Day point had seen my China experience turned on its head, I had got back upon my feet and was getting to some serious sightseeing in Wuhan! Things had got down right down scandalous! Aside from my tour of Wuhan I caught a glimpse of the Victory Day parade that had graced Beijing earlier that day, how the sky was so clear and blue! Baotong Temple kick-started that September holiday with the right amount of positive energy! Take me east, take me to that lake W!

I had already heard a lot about Wuhan's famous East Lake, it was on my shortlist for certain! Checking out the Tingtao Scenic Area, I didn't know that at the time because I wasn't very au fait with the different parts of East Lake at that early point of my life in China. Walking alongside the waters edge felt so relaxing, I got the right snaps of the lotus flowers because I was on my Victory Day blogging hype without even thinking about it! The heat of summer was fading, leaving a comfortable after-glow that felt just right compared to sweltering temperatures that July and August 2015 had served in Wuhan! People were out and about loving the weather within the Tingtao Scenic Area around China's biggest inner-city lake, it was turning out just fine! I catch a glimpse of the Hubei Provincial Museum but I knew I would get round to visit that home of Hubei's secrets and past. Of course, the day was showing me everything!

The first part of my Victory Day weekend was drawing to a close, heading back to my flat in Guanggu I was unsure what the evening ahead have in store for me. Dozing off, I received a phone call from my friend to get up and make my way to Wangjiadun East metro station for a night out along the riverfront. Renting some pedalos it was a fun night messing about on that lake, getting our drinks from 'Beer Barn' a new fridge concept bar that I hadn't expected to see in Wuhan but it sold a wide range of spirits, beers and wines! I noticed some familiar brews from England, going by the name of Samuel Smiths! For what they wanted I stuck to a six-pack of Corona! Being a busy one the first day of my first Victory Day holiday was a success, I was very much looking forward to seeing more delights within the city of Wuhan the next day! Even though I didn't make it outside the province of Hubei I could feel that Wuhan had a lot to offer in its own right. Yes Wuhan, I was feeling victorious!

Food glorious food! Bright and early on the second day of Victory Day weekend 2015 it was time for me to experience the historic food street that's famed for its street food favourites. Hubu Xiang held the key to a whole lot of crazy during that September weekend, I had stumbled upon this foodie alley during the day that I visited Wuhan's Yellow Crane Tower but I didn't fancy tackling the crowds then. A second time around I was ready for the mayhem, forging into the bustling scene it didn't take long to see the peculiar and down right crazy food options that were on offer! I wasn't up for chowing down on a pigs trotter or tail, no thanks Hubu Xiang! Grabbing a few bites that I can't quite remember I was bowled over by the smells that came from the many stalls, some aromas were lovely but other weren't so easy to deal with! I learned quick that Wuhan food was more than just 'Hot dry' noodles! I was hungry for more!

Typically speaking I had already found out pretty quick that Wuhan is a city that has many worthy points of interest but they require the knowledge of a local person to help unlock the key. Having a 'Wuhaner' with me was a blessing because I didn't have to worry about getting lost or wasting time going to places that weren't worth seeing, but in saying that I adore the alternative sights that might not be tourist appropriate. From the busyness of Hubu Xiang it was time to move away from the smells and chaos to another equally as mental part of the city. The previous day started off with a docile tone with the visit to Baotong Temple and East Lake but ended in a lively fashion with a few scoops before bedtime! After sorting out some drama and getting myself a new bank account it was back on the road to make the most of the holiday. I remember I had some rice filled chicken portions and a few other treats. At this rate the idea of going back to work wasn't a good one B!

London may have the River Thames and Paris boasts the Seine but Wuhan, China serves the Yangtze River with all its might, by no means is it an illusion! Located only a stones throw from the crazy of Hubu Xiang the powerful waters of Hubei's premier waterway surged past, setting the scene for that cloudy Wuhan day perfectly! With view of Hanyang District in the near distance it set the scene, meanwhile the First Yangtze River Bridge wasn't the only crossing in-sight, in both directions several bridges were in my viewpoint and with talk of three more under-construction this Hubei river has some serious work to do! The river-tankers passed me by, either on their way to Chongqing in the west or maybe Shanghai to the east? Whichever way the river was flowing that day I was mesmirised by it's power and the growing skyline that could be seen from my viewpoint looked great for the future! River, keep rolling!

Taking a ferry for the first time it was time to check out a side of Hankou that I hadn't seen before, the short sail over was great as I saw the Yangtze River and Wuhan pass by in all its glory and urban craze! Heading for Lihuangpi Road for some coffee I got side-tracked by a brickwork style bar that looked right, trading a hot drink for an ice cold beer was just the ticket. The sun was setting on another amazing day of sightseeing during that September holiday but it was time for some food, choosing a trendy yet simple noodle shop I enjoyed the Taiwanese style noodles very much! That noodle shop was tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Hankou's Bund, ran by two young guys from Taiwan it was a winner winner noodle dinner! From Baotong Temple to being a one with the mighty Yangtze River I had an immense time during 2015's Victory Day weekend! Would there be another Victory Day? You already know that I'm ready for 2016's Mid-Autumn Festival! Thanks, WUH!


Joseph Harrison 

10 September 2016

2016: No Summertime Sadness!

My second summer living in Wuhan, China was equally as epic as 2015, well if not a little more hectic work-wise! Keeping within the boundaries of Hubei's Wuhan City I didn't feel blue for one second, of course there was no summertime sadness going on! From teaching awards to revisiting Jiangsu province I won the title! Summer 2016 had me crazy but I turned it out!

Pushing spring out of the way I was bang on a summertime hype during the month of June, getting my life I took the Wuhan Metro to Jianghan Road to finally pay some attention to Hankou's Bund and Riverside District. The former Hankou Customs House no longer serves Wuhan as a trading powerhouse but as a knock-out museum that schooled me about the industrious history that Hankou served. I soaked in the wealth of knowledge regarding Hankou's five foreign concessions, of course the British Concession worn the crown, bestowing a belated British influence on this Hubei city. Getting down to the Hankou Beach Park gave me life, local Wuhan folk were out in their droves as the temperate climbs of early summer blessed that Sunday afternoon! I had wanted to revisit the Beach Park for a time to fully embrace the other historical Hankou sights. Hankou's Bund turned up the heat and waved away any sadness!

Shopping doesn't impress me much in China so I gave Jianghan Road a fleeting wave of my attention, I was on the hunt for some vintage Hankou! Historically located with the British Concession I was gagging to see Poyang Road, ditching Google Maps because it always had me going around in circles I challenged my Chinese skills to check the directions on Baidu Maps to reach that rustic Hankou sight. The contrast between the brash shopfronts of Jianghan Road to the understated chill of Poyang Road felt just right. Branching back onto Qingdao Road I saw a building that looked like a former European bank being renovated, hopefully a new historic place to explore in Hankou? Little did I know that Wuhan would having some of the worst rain in years after a succession of those sunshine days, how I didn't appreciate that shade! Making the most of the bright and breezy conditions I could kissed goodbye to sightseeing until August! My Shanghai Surprise from 2015 felt like a world away!

July 2016 had me working hard, as the sun beaten down on my Guanggu Kindergarten it was back to business after our Dragon Boat Festival holiday that I took to Nanjing, Jiangsu. I have mentioned about my Nanjing trip a few times before I got this post together, OK? My students were getting restless with the humid weather and they quite frankly wanted their summer break! Little did I know that I had been selected as Etonkids English Specialist of Month for July 2016! I had no idea I had been selected for that amazing award, it was truly a shock to me because all I do is work my hardest every week for the children and as part of the team at my school. Over that academic year I learned the hard way that teaching English in China isn't no walk in the park, it's a valuable lesson and it will hopefully give me the tools and experience to further a career teaching. I was flying high during that moment of crazy!

The summer semester had me on a mission to get everything finished within the time constraints, it wasn't a period of sadness because I had a goal to work towards! What seemed like the great flooding hit Wuhan during the first week of July 2016, closing my school for two days it caused a lot disorder in a already frantic city, let's just say the city planners forgot to think about drainage before building the newer parts of the city first! My Dragon Boat Festival trip to Nanjing seemed like a world away, but I knew that July was purely about getting down to work. Having the purpose and the chance to start my savings right for I had been enjoying my money too much and had not cared to invest money into my next adventure. I was overjoyed to be completing my first academic year at Etonkids, Wuhan as an English Specialist. Saying goodbye to my friend Fiona after my first flood day wasn't exactly what I wanted but we had our reunion to be ready for! Keeping busy is better!

August unlocked the key to some well earned rest and relaxation, having my visa renewed during that month meant it was better to stay within Hubei province. Getting out of Wuhan's city core was just what I wanted, heading to Huangpi District I went with a friend to Mulan Scenic Area to take in the sights of Mulan Mountain, Mulan Heaven Lake and to be surrounded by a village out-of-town setting. Looking down from the top was well worth the drive from Guanggu, Wuhan. The scenery was beautiful with a vista that trailed into the distance. Going back to ground level it was time to climb every mountain, the walk through to the Heaven Lake felt more like the descent into hell! I was not loving looking like a hot mess, I wanted out but knew that the view would be well worth the struggle, shamelessly the point was I hate exercise! Finally, the heaven like lake in my view it was well worth the climb Wu!

Before the autumn came to town I got my final sightseeing day on the go with a planned visit to East Lake and the Hubei Provincial Museum but that wasn't meant to be. I had forgotten within the delirium of the scorching summer weather that the museum closes on Mondays, being the day I had chosen I decided to give the Tingtao Scenic Area a final visit as I had been introduced to this part of East Lake in September 2015. Having a peaceful stroll beside the waters of East Lake was lovely till the heavens opened! I was determined and then some to get out into Wuhan for the day! Take two, I got the museum and saw what I needed to but I really wanted to see the former residence of Mao Zedong! It took some going but with the kindness of a police officer I was driven around a secret estate that was no longer tourist appropriate, I was thankful for that kind guy taking the time out to help me! My summer wasn't about out-of-province visits but I got around!

No Summertime Sadness!

Joseph Harrison 

23 August 2016

East Lake, Wuhan: Nature, Museums & Secrets...

The Summer of 2016 has been a scorcher, for that reason I haven't been out and about much. Getting my life together I returned to Wuhan's East Lake to see it from a different view, it's almost been one year! But what museum closes on a Monday? Yes, I do have a bone to pick, don't advertise attractions that have closed down! Seriously?! Wuhan, get it together!

After the final weeks of the Spring/Summer term I was looking to spend my holiday exploring Wuhan some more! I hadn't been to East Lake since September 2015, almost one year previous to my last visit, it was time to return to the Tingtao Scenic Area. Part of the vast East Lake Scenic Areas I chose the most familiar side, located close to Dong Hu Road and Wuhan Metro connections. The weather was so humid, I had been putting off going out because the heavens had been open all hours, those unpredictable showers increased that stuffy feeling. It was great to breathe some semi-fresh air as I leisurely walked along the lakeside. I had recently climbed a mountain of some sorts so I planned to take it easy, the calming surroundings did just the trick. The nearby art gallery and museum were closed, making that section of East Lake stand still, it was so lovely for it not to be busy! Wuhan knows how to be quiet? Yes!

Deciding to stay within Wuhan for my Summer holiday to keep a close eye on my visa renewal, I chose to revisit East Lake's Tingtao Scenic Area to admire the peaceful waters of East Lake and to get away from the constant noise of construction that's been taking place outside of my building in Optics Valley Square. The lack of people and tepid weather made for a near silent setting, I could finally find some chill within one of China's fastest developing cities! East Lake has several Scenic Area's so I think my latest visit to the Tingtao section will be my last for the other areas have equally beautiful views, so I have been told? The deserted walkways mean't the boats for hire sat vacant bobbing in the quiet waters, it was great to just take a few moments every so often to fully appreciate the view! During my 2015 visit I was celebrating the Victory Day weekend, a lot has changed since that time but it's all good! Yes, East Lake will capture my attention soon, I know it Wuhan!

I'm not really a fan of museums or art galleries but I took a chance on Wuhan's Hubei Provinical Museum, with the Tingtao Scenic Area located behind the museum I had originally planned to see both places in one day but I found the gates locked to the museum on that unbearably humid Monday afternoon! The promise of free admission was one of the lures to Hubei's own museum if I tell the nothing but the whole truth! Finding the museum wasn't much of a problem. I revived my chances to see the museum in question, thankfully it was a Sunday that time around! Passing through the gates was a relief that I hadn't had a wasted journey, but damn was it busy for a Sunday! Capturing my featured snap of the museum took some going, my patience was challenged but I got what I needed and moved onwards! I was looking forward to learn more about Hubei's history and to see other historical Chinese relics! Let's go!

I refrained from taking any photos within the museums exhibits throughout the whole of my time spent at Wuhan's Hubei Provincial Museum but the vast majority of the visitors there couldn't be told any different! I admired at the porcelain plates and ornaments with much interest, I have always loved the blue and white style of Chinese ceramic ware. The Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng was a part of my museum experience that I enjoyed to view, the vast artifacts that were on display amplified my visit for sure, even though it was beginning to get quite chaotic amidst that weekend crowd! Of course I was living to learn something about the previous Empresses of China and to see the flawless hairpieces that a noblewoman would have decorated her hair with. I later learned that several of the artifacts and relics that are on display at the Hubei Provincial Museum have been forbidden by the government to be exhibited abroad. Hubei, a province with a mighty history!

Leaving the museum I retraced my steps along Dong Hu Road, I was determined to find the former residence of Chairman Mao Zedong. Looking for a third element to my East Lake days out I took a chance on one of Wuhan's more alternative points of interest to find it shrouded in secrecy. Following Dong Hu Road from Hubei Provincial Museum I took an unmarked turning that led to a police check-point. I had imagined the entrance to be a little more tourist friendly but I was mistaken at first. Armed with my mobile translation app I asked a few people who were standing by the road barriers if they knew where the former Wuhan residence of China's most powerful leader was? Understandably the language barrier was an issue but they weren't about to tell me what I wanted to know as this place seemed taboo for non-Chinese people to visit. Those travel websites told me a different story about Mao's house!

A Policeman came over to speak to me, I showed the Chinese writing for the former residence of Mao Zedong but his face said it all before he even had the chance to say his next word! He said bluntly; "It's closed!" I felt that his answer wasn't genuine, regardless of that I walked away, admitting defeat and feeling angry about the misleading tourist information websites that painted a different picture. Walking behind me was that policeman who motioned me towards his car, he was kind enough to drive me around the former residence of Mr. Zedong, even though the buildings were all locked and the atmosphere felt so still it felt like an achievement to see what I had set out to! There were stone plaques of Mao, it felt like a secret memorial of some sort? I found out the remaining buildings are now used as a government hotel for the party members from Beijing. I say that random state of affairs was meant to be! I then posed for an obligatory selfie, what a day!

Shady Business!

Joseph Harrison 

15 August 2016

Getting Around China... Rail, Air & Sea!

Getting from one place to another can be enough of a stress but I have found that getting around China has never been easier! From boarding my first experience on one of China's High Speed trains to then taking my first Xiamen Air flight from Wuhan to Chongqing, I reached my destinations without any delay. I will delve in to see how China travels by rail, air and sea!

Since living in China I have been a regular passenger on China's High Speed train network, taking my very first journey from Suzhou North to Hankou, Wuhan I was amazed by the shear speed these new trains reach! Solely owned and managed by the Chinese government means the ticket prices never fluctuate no matter what time I buy a ticket I always know the price. Switching things up I opted to take the G77 China High Speed Bullet service from Wuhan Railway Station to Shenzhen North in order to cross the border into Hong Kong for my 2016 Spring Festival trip, that four hour train journey only set me back £62! Taking a High Speed train within China is an experience by itself, I always take great care to arrive to the airport terminal like railway stations with enough time because everything gets so hectic! From Suzhou North and beyond I don't see my ridership on this form of transport slowing down at all! She's supersonic!

Broken into five categories China's railways stand as a mass of different services and frequencies, I am yet to take a Z sleeper train but with a trip to Lhasa, Tibet on the cards I will have the chance then. Hurtling down the track at speeds of 200 mph are the G Bullet services and the D High Speed services, with certain speed increases being implemented in the coming months. In December 2016 I will be taking a K Slower Long Distance service from Kumning to Dali, then onto Lijiang before returning to Kunming, those Yunnan Province trains have only set me back less than £40 for the three tickets! I remember from Changsha South Railway Station to Wuhan Railway Station I treated myself to first class on a G Bullet service, the seats were more spacious than my experience flying Upper Class with a certain British airline. This form of modern rail is a game changer for sure, it will continue to allow me to see different places across China swiftly and for less! Zhengzhou East next!

Whilst the train stands as the people's transport in China there's no denying that flying can always be a great alternative compared to rail. I have flown a respectable number of times since my first Chinese domestic flight took me from Wuhan to Chongqing with Xiamen Air. So far I have travelled with three other Chinese airlines aside from Xiamen Air such as; China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and mostly recently I flew with Shandong Airlines to Guilin. Grabbing a cheap return ticket can be done but when those peak National Holidays come around it can be as hard as flying home for Christmas and the price tag certainly rinses my finances! I have already booked up with China Southern Airlines and Shandong Airlines for my upcoming October National Day holiday to Qingdao and Jinan because tickets are a premium during that time! Yes, I should really be looking out for 2017's Spring Festival flights!

My current local airport is Wuhan Tianhe International Airport, this provincial Hubei airport has so far served me well. The domestic terminal is impressive compared to the current international terminal but that's all about to change for a grand development is nearing completing. Wuhan's own airport will soon have a gargantuan new international terminal and a combined transportation center, finally Line 2 of the Wuhan Metro will have a new northern terminus station at the airport. Getting to the airport in Wuhan from my Hongshan District home means getting the metro from Optics Valley Square to Changgang Road, then I would take a sixty Yuan taxi from there along the Airport Expressway that would take over ninety minutes door to door! Other airports in cities like Xi'an are not currently connected to rapid mass transit, that made things very interesting during my 2016 New Year trip! Don't get me started on flights to England, that's a whole other story! Let's fly!

I'm not one for cruise ships or ferries but I trusted the Turbojet hydrofoil during my 2016 Spring Festival trip. I needed to cross the waters that separate Hong Kong and Macau in a speedy manner, boarding at Tsim Sha Tsui Ferry Terminal bright and early on the 5th of February 2016, it took me around fifty-five minutes to reach Macau's Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal. Entry and Exit procedures were seamless, making the choppy crossing from Hong Kong seem near perfect. The journey was super quick but the waters nearing the South China Sea weren't playing fair, I wanted to be back on firm ground quick snap! I can safely say that taking the Turbojet will be my only water crossing during my time here in China, I'm really not one for that mode of transport but when needs must I will make an allowance! Someone should really build a bridge?! Well, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge has almost been completed! 

It will be interesting to see what benefits this epic bridge will create for Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau but for any future crossing I would definitely choose the Turbojet to bridge the deep blue gap between HK and Macau. People say to me "Don't you find travelling in China difficult without knowing much Chinese?" To answer that question, I have never had a problem getting around China without speaking much Chinese because I have taken the care to familarise myself with the characters of the Chinese cities that I will be visiting! During my numerous China High Speed train journeys I haven't been fazed by the lack of English around the railway stations because I can understand what I need to know. With China being such a vast country I see my use of transport within the country increase considerably, I'm nervous yet excited for a potential forty-one hour Z sleeper service from Wuchang, Wuhan to Lhasa, Tibet! Travelling gives me life, so I shall continue travelling in China!

Tickets, Please! 

Joseph Harrison