22 October 2016

Qingdao: Seashores, Beer & German History...

Did anyone say Qingdao Pijiu? That once German governed corner of China's Shandong province called my name! Qingdao gave me tones of Germanic Realness with a dash of seaside scenery! Genuflecting before a certain European looking church I was kindly transported back to my home continent if only for a while! Qingdao definitely turned my Chinese National Day up!

Tsingtao Pijiu was crafted during Qingdao's German rule in 1903, bringing their brewing skills and eye for opening so much up for Qingdao it's safe to say Germany left a boozy legacy for Qingdao! Braving the monsoon conditions I ditched Zhanqiao Pier for the Tsingtao Beer Museum to get out of the dreariness. Set within the original factory that dates back over 113 years ago, I reveled in the fact that Britain had a partnership with Germany to establish the brewing of beer within Qingdao, China. I enjoyed the historical parts but as I walked around the museum exhibits it turned into one huge pile of propaganda. During Shandong's Japanese years famous brands such as Asahi and Kirin were founded at the 'Tsingtau Brauerei'. Enjoying my free half of Tsingtao beer it did the trick as the National Day crowd had the same idea as me to get out of the rain. Yass, the Tsingtao Beer Museum was like a Cadbury World for beer!

Done with the my museum experience I wanted some seafood and beer, exiting that house of beer I was fronted with Qingdao's Beer Street. A bit touristy and brash for my liking but with the rain bucketing down I wasn't about to judge too harshly. Taking cover at one of the first restaurants I saw I was forcefully given a menu, I took a breath and was like 'wait a second' in Chinese because no one without manners gets my money in a hurry or at all! Settling that moment of impoliteness I got myself a supersized jug of ice cold Tsingtao beer to myself and some garlic smothered prawns because the other seafood offerings looking a little extreme for me! With my morning consisting completely of drinking beer I was having a great time, it was one of my main reasons for visiting Qingdao! Aside from the mental weather and the growing crowds I found it easier to take my time with my food and beer, you can never have too much of a good thing! Wo zhishi xihuan pijiu!

Not getting to the church on-time meant I was greeted by a sea of selfie-stick warriors, those Chinese tourists were relentless with their snapping I was so over trying to get an uninterrupted photo of Qingdao's St. Michael's Catholic Cathedral that afternoon. Waking up with the birds I was determined to get a stress-free snap, the previous afternoon I paid the £1.00 entry fee to take a look inside this Germanic house of worship. Currently a working Catholic Cathedral with a Bishop named Joseph, he definitely chose a good English name! I at least thought a sense of respect would be exercised by the visitors to Qingdao's St. Matthew's but those blinding selfie-sticks were out in all of their glory, I looked on with disdain! Also I had never seen so many newlyweds having their wedding photos taken outside this house of God! Nevertheless, my photo was still and captured the postcard view I wanted! Let's take this to church!

Much like Macau with its historic Portuguese ruins I was drawn to Qingdao to find something that told me this city had been shaped by European settlers and merchants. I stayed within the old side of the city, wanting to avoid the glass and modernity that I can see everyday in order to get a sense of how much European influence China has seen over the last 150 years. Remembering Qingdao's St. Matthew's Catholic Cathedral as it reminded me of Hong Kong's St. John's Anglican Cathedral that was founded during the 1860's as the first British missionaries called Hong Kong Island home. I have a thing for places of worship no matter what the religion maybe but I have no religious conviction, it's just something I take a keen interest in when I travel around the world. Being part of that slice of Qingdao history impressed me much, I had a plan to see specific things during that National Day trip! Of course it was nonstop! Qingdao had me crazy, I already said I'm not religious.

Getting back on my sightseeing grind I was thankful for the blue skies that complimented the waters of Qingdao Bay it was time to explore and then some! Qingdao's Zhanqiao Pier was looking fine, if not a little crowded for that early morning hour! Grabbing my mid-distance snap I was prepared to inject some seaside Realness into my life! Dodging a few dawdlers, a group of Oriental looking guys stopped me in my tracks for photos. I was hesitant because I have grew tired of people asking for a selfie with me because I look different, but those guys were from Tibet and Qinghai so I allowed them a photo along the pier. Standing as the first working wharf within Qingdao's bay I recognised the original style of Zhanqiao Pier compared to the modern looking marina that stood on the other side of the bay. Turning my head I was living for the line of German buildings that came into my view from the pier! Ja China!

Qingdao's old town served a stunning yet understated skyline that featured the rich German colonial history of this Chinese seaside city. Looking closer at the design of Qingdao's Zhanqiao Pier I could recognise a certain landmark from the Tsingtao Beer logo, of course because I drink enough Chinese beer! Turning my head to the right it was clear to see Xiao Qingdao was in sight, allow me to translate that into English that means 'Small Qingdao Island'. Had I drank enough Tsingtao Beer during my time in Qingdao? No, I stopped off on my way to Qingdao's Central Business District twice but as I enjoyed my morning alcoholic treat. I luxuriated in the fact I was getting looks of disgust, people needed to get over themselves and get a beer too! Zhanqiao Pier revved up my second Qingdao morning, taking me closer to the Yellow Sea that shares waters with North and South Korea. Praying for the bright conditions to not change it was all good because around every corner there was beer!

Finishing my first morning Tsingtao Beer I was in hot-pursuit of May Fourth Square, one of Qingdao's main focal points with the city's Central Business District. Deciding to take the coastal road when the bus was taking too long to arrive, it fared to be the best decision I made that day. Stopping for my second morning refreshment I had just been transported back to my home continent of Europe with German houses almost erasing my Chinese location, I was amazingly confused if truth be told! Sipping my brunch time beer as I overlooked one of Qingdao's many beaches, the scene was lovely there was no way I was trying the water! Unknowingly, the Badaguan Scenic Area would come across my path whilst I was in search for Qingdao's May Fourth Square. Millionaires avenue fronted me with a Qingdao edge, serving more Colonial German Overness I was impressed by those properties. Q, I needed another beer!

Swirling like a giant red tornado I was relieved to reach Wusi Guangchang, it was a four mile walk alone the coastal road from Old Qingdao! Situated within the centre of Qingdao Central Business District this colourful landmark served as a contradiction between the glass and metal of the skyscrapers nearby. I was surprised that the area around May Fourth Square was quietly energetic, creating the second stress-free photo opportunity in Qingdao and for National Day I loved not having to wade through a crowd of crazy tourists! Taking notice of the Downtown I saw a city that was rising, Qingdao's got a plan in action! Concluding my Qingdao National Day experience I made my way back to Old Qingdao with everything that I needed for my blog, it had been a successful trip even though the night scene hadn't presented itself at all I was more than impressed with this coastal Chinese city and its German past! Yass, National Day 2016's Shandong style was working out fine!

One More Pijiu Qingdao!

Joseph Harrison 

13 October 2016

Chinese National Day 2015

Chinese National Day 2015 served all kinds of big city overness with a smattering of scandalous behaviour! Getting my life I snatched my passport back to experience Chongqing and Chengdu, two cities that stole my heart for very different reasons. Taking this opportunity to relive those moments one year on, I still can't get that Chinese national holiday out of my head!

Jetting off to one of China's five municipalities didn't take much thought, I had been offered to teach in the city of Chongqing but Wuhan was the one for me! Visiting friends Michaela and Patrick who I met during my Meten English training week in Suzhou during that June 2015 week had to be done! Snatching back my identity I got my passport from the clutches of a source that will remain anonymous, with my tickets booked I was on my way to another Yangtze River inspired city. Chongqing's gargantuan nature had me from the moment I saw the neon lights of Jiefangbei Central Business District, I admired the towering skyscrapers that dwarfed the once tallest building in Chongqing, this city of lights definitely had more than an electric vibe! Settling into the vibe of all things Chongqing I loved the views of the Yangtze River from Chaotianmen Dock, a rapid pace of construction was in every direction!

With a skyline that rivals the likes of NYC, it was clear that CQ would serve something extra! Staying within the People's Republic of China had to be the one for me, I had only been in China five months up until that National Day 2015 holiday, getting the most from that vast Far Eastern country was part of my travel plan. Like any holiday the prices for flights sky-rocket during the build up to one of China's most popular holidays, nevertheless I touched at Chongqing's Jiefangbei International Airport with Xiamen Air in the end! Getting back to see Michaela and Patrick was great, I was no longer working for Meten at that point but I wanted to keep that friendship live and kicking! Getting our lives on the first night with a delicious pizza and a few zombie cocktails I was welcomed to Chongqing in a sterling fashion, just don't mess my street food up CQ! Oh, Chongqing acted as the perfect tonic, it had been a stressful time but that sweet escape had me in a trance! Go!

The National Day crowds in Chongqing were getting crazy as we made our way from Chaotianmen Dock, I was not impressed by that scene but in one breath every was in great spirits due to the holiday. My kindergarten teaching life seemed so far away during that sweet escape! The mighty waters of the Yangtze River flowed through the epic construction sights along the dockside, Chongqing was only getting started during that October 2015 moment! I felt an affinity with Chongqing because Wuhan is also a city that belongs to the Yangzte River, CQ and WH were twinning! Turning our evening meal into an 'all you can drink' bonanza at 'Cliffs' I was on that one, let's just say the next day I was feeling very delicate indeed. I don't remember much about the night but I know that it was a good one, but that hangover was supersized the next day! Yes, Chongqing was cool but I wanted Hot Pot!

Braving an epic KTV session I was done in from the previous nights antics, the booze had got the better of me! Trying our luck the previous night to find a place to try some Chongqing Hot Pot it wasn't so, leaving until my final evening in CQ it was decided we would dine on a Chongqing speciality. After waiting in line we were given one half of a shared table, the spices and oil bubbled intensely with a strong smell that surrounded our pot, I was excited to embrace that Chongqing moment! Michaela had picked a selection of goodies to try within the spice of the Hot Pot, teamed with a cup of plum wine it was an immense experience. The sounds of the CQ dialect could be heard in every direction, the vibe of the restaurant was uncomplicated yet crazy! I tried a few skewers but in the end the acquired taste of the Chongqing Hot Pot wasn't for me, nevertheless the experience counted for something. I was ready to sleep before my onward journey to Chengdu! Thanks CQ!

As my High Speed train departed for Chengdu East Railway Station I felt a sense of relief wave over me, the morning had been filled with drama as Chongqing Bei had two stations and I had arrived at the wrong one form the metro station! Leaving that negativity behind I arrived into Chendgu East without a hitch, going underground I found myself within the shopping mecca of Chunxi Road. Finding my hotel I didn't appreciate the unannounced name change but my top location had me back on the move to the next step! Tianfu Square had me fronted with a famous statue of Chairman Mao Zedong, I was loving the open plan nature of Tianfu Square for the skyscrapers shone in the autumn sunshine. Thirsty for some tea I consulted my online guide because I hadn't planned much aside from the pandas. Aside from the crazy start I could already feel an immense feeling of chill in CDU! Boy, I was falling in love with Chengdu!

Seeking out Wenshu Monastery I was amazed by a vibrant Tibetan infused marketplace that was buzzing with traders, did I see an eagle claw?! Refueling with some freshly squeezed Pomegranate juice I took solace within the walls of Wenshu Monastery, taking my time to explore this Sichuan place of worship I was impressed with the pagoda that was surrounded my a lovely garden! Fancying a spot of tea I had to wait until the evenings tea session, going for some Uighur kebabs and flat bread I was loving life in Chengdu! Returning for my green tea within Wenshu's own tea-house I savoured every sip that passed my lips, the chilled nature of that moment was everything I had imagined Chengdu to be! The manic pace of Chongqing had melted away, Chengdu certainly had me under a spell. Was I going to be completely relaxed during my Chengdu stop? No way, I had planned to go somewhere crazy but only during the twilight! I was only getting started! Blessed!

Waking up bleary eyed from the previous nights antics I dragged myself into a taxi to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, it was one of the main reasons why I had chose to visit Chengdu in the first place! Battling the crowds had to be done, they simply had no sense or any idea how to act around these beautiful creatures, keep your children in check! Shamelessly elbowing my way through I got a great photo of a Panda bear eating his bamboo brunch, it was a shame because a lot of the Panda's were snoozing after their morning snack but I was happy with what photos I got! The panda base felt like some bizarre mix of Kung Fu Panda and Disney World! The National Day crowds definitely made their way to that Chengdu place of interest, for £6.00 I wasn't going to complain about the madness! Unfortunately, I was too fragile to see the new-borns, I felt very satisfied with what I saw! Get it!

Away from the pandas and tea-houses I was seeking something to do during those after hours. After conducting some research I found MC Club, a rainbow infused nightclub that was set alongside the river, I took the metro from Chunxi Road to Dongmen Bridge then walked over the bridge from Exit D then along the river until I saw a rainbow flag. Finding these type of venues in China takes work but I had heard that Chengdu was famed for it's Gay nightlife. Getting my life I loved every second at MC Club during my two nights out on the town in Chengdu, let's just say that during the second night I took things underground and things got damn right scandalous! Feeling euphoric about the previous night I braved my China Eastern flight back to Wuhan with memories for a lifetime and the mother of all hangovers! Chongqing and Chengdu served so much crazy and excitement I needed tine to rest up before work! I wasn't ready to get back to work, I needed money for Xi'an! No!

National Day Served!

Joseph Harrison

30 September 2016

Essential Travel Tools: Top Gadgets for the Modern Explorer

Getting the most out of travelling means being prepared. When you’re exploring new countries, meeting new people and seeing incredible scenery, you want to be able to make the most out of each moment. And you can’t just nip home if you’ve forgotten something! If you’re planning on living out of a backpack soon, make sure you pack these essential travel gadgets.

Travelling in comfort is of paramount importance to me, pay attention to the following godsends. The first part of the adventure is the journey. While baggy trousers and slip-off shoes are great for any long flight, if you want to jump straight from the plane, boat, car, tuk tuk or rickshaw and into action, you want clothes that are more multipurpose than loungewear. With the advances in textile technology and people’s demands, there is now a growing range of stylish but technical travel clothing, covering wardrobe staples like high-stretch jeans with security pockets, gilet tops with over 40 pockets, or snuggly cardigans with hidden pockets and hoods that double as blindfolds for when you’re sleeping on the go. If power napping is essential to your travels, always pack a decent set of earplugs. You don’t need to commit to anything high-tech or high-end here: a standard silicone multi-pack will be grand.

Although brands like Flitemate and Earplanes will also help with pain caused by in-flight pressure changes. Staying comfy during long-haul flights is a must, I for one like to look good at the same time! Yes, fashion can definitely be a travel tool! On recent trip within China I accidentally broke my Beats by Dr. Dre headphones that I had purchased from the Beats store in New York City, I had had them for over five years but until my own error I had not had one single problem with them. I try to travel as much as possible and like the next person I find that having earphones or headphones that are of an optimum quality helps to drown out the woes of the world, especially if there's baby crying or a unnecessarily loud person speaking close to me. Aside from that calamity it's clear see that from my experience we can get pretty hing up on brands, I maintain that I will be getting some Beats by Dr. Dre ear buds before my next holiday as it will involve three long train journeys. Life!

After your versatile clothing, you’ll crave that functionality in anything. Once you’ve sprung into don’t forget the classic tool the Swiss army knife. There is no end of daily mini-trials that can’t be solved with one of these beauties and the range has only evolved over the years to accommodate the modern traveller, with integrated USB sticks, LED torches, screwdriver sets and more. If you’re going a touch more survivalist, invest in a portable multi-tool. Leatherman are one of the most respected brands in this space and their OHT is a cracker. And if you’re a not a traveller yourself, any of these would make Christmas gift ideas for any explorers you know, even if you think they’re more beach bum than Bear Grylls. It all makes sense!

A good small torch will also help you whether you’re exploring the countryside or drunkenly weaving home through unlit and unfamiliar streets. If you’re going to be more outdoorsy or staying somewhere with limited power, a head torch is a lifesaver as it keeps your hands free. Anything upwards of 100 lumens will provide enough light to be all-round useful but, sadly, there is no such thing as a stylish head torch. Another torch I would recommend a maglite, they are compact for those outdoor pursuits and truthfully they are of a great quality.  Delving into the realms of travel and what gadgets make being on the road that much easier has opened my eyes to a whole new world, it's amazing to see what gizmos could act as a useful gift for us any traveler. Let's embrace these goodies!

Go anywhere tech whether it’s photography, communication, research or entertainment, our phones and cameras are devices we just can’t travel without. To avoid the dreaded dead battery, pack a long life power bank before you hit the road. As with army knives, the range here is huge and you can easily buy waterproof chargers, chargers for multiple devices or extra small chargers. For maximum charge, I wouldn’t look at a power bank with less 10,000mAh. Another great trick is a power sharing cable essentially a modified USB cable that lets you syphon power from one USB device to another. To keep your phone close at all time, a waterproof case is perfect for when you’re going to new beaches by yourself and don’t want to risk your valuables to the elements or passers-by by leaving them on land. Also, a Wi-Fi SD card is a great innovation if you’re serious about photography. Capture every moment!

Pop one of these guys into your DSLR and it’ll set up a local Wi-Fi field so you can share photos with your other devices, as these are perfect for backing up your best snaps on getting them online without a full computer to work with. Having connectivity with such a DSLR sounds good to me, I like to upload photos quickly during trips without hassle. Of course I mentioned before, portable chargers are the way forward, I have seen some great portable charges in China for pennies. To be the modern traveller its imperative that we are aware of those en-trend gadgets and accessories that will be sure to make a trip, flight or anything travel related stress free! From in-flight fashion to state of the art earphones there's a whole world of tools that are going to continue to help! Time and again, these little gadgets and ideas have helped me have the best experience on long journeys and across new lands. If you’re getting ready for your next trip, I hope these tips help you!

Essentials, Essentials, Essentials!

Joseph Harrison

26 September 2016

Next Stop... Zhengzhou, China!

Within life's strange arrangements it good to turn to a new city to explore, the look of Zhengzhou had me instantly captivated! Packing enough into three days I had my work out, I was on the lookout for some Chinese Kungfu and a certain Yellow River! Without any Victory Day happening this year, Henan had my Mid-Autumn Festival snatched! Wǒmen zǒu ba ZZ!

Leaving work I made my way to Wuhan Railway Station to catch one of the nights last few high speed rail services to Zhengzhou East, I wanted to make my three days off count for something! In less than three hours I had arrived in Zhengzhou, Henan without any delays, I zipped across the city centre westwards to my JinJiang Inn hotel near Zhengzhou's main railway station before the clock struck midnight! After catching a few hours of sleep I was on my first Zhengzhou mission, jumping on the number sixteen tourist bus to the Yellow River Scenic Area wasn't too much of a chore because I was staying within a prime location for transportation. Zhengzhou had a grit about it, as the mist hung low I was intrigued by its concrete fashion! I was in hot pursuit of the stone figures of Yandi and Huangdi, revered as exceptionally important ancestors to the Chinese I wanted a slice of that solid Zhengzhou sight!

I'm no history buff but I saw something that these legendary figures represent two former Chinese emperors who went by the names of 'Yan' and 'Huang', look it up! The weather wasn't exactly amazing but I got my snaps of Yandi and Huandi so that was something to tick off my list. I wasn't going to trek around the Yellow Scenic Area because I didn't want to! Looking over a vast stone courtyard the two former emperors surveyed their territory and minions with much ease, I took a few moments to take in the view. Boasting a temple and several specialised walkways it was easy to specks of people in the distance who were getting around the Scenic Area, I was perfectly fine watching them as I had climbed enough mountains after Mulan! To top off my morning I had received some great news from my kindergartens regional supervisor, I was making my mark in all the right places! I knew that Emperors Yandi and Huangdi would keep a watch on their patch, it was time for me to move on!

Zhengzhou didn't present itself with a whole to discover within its city limits but I didn't let that factor discourage me whatsoever, getting back out after sunset I was looking for something kind of Erqi! I didn't need the Metro to guide me to Erqi Square because the neon lights led me like a trail, passing by the usual fashion brands of the Chinese high street, I knew that I was getting closer to my destination. Standing within a scene of electric pandemonium I recognised Zhengzhou's Erqi Memorial Tower as I had passed by the previous night from the eastern railway station. Commemorating the Erqi Strike that happened on February, 7th 1923 that glittering tower has been around for around forty-five years. I didn't understand the finer details of the Erqi Strike but I loved that vibrant city centre view. My China trip ritual is to have a Starbucks treat, so I watched the world go by with a coffee. Yes, Z'Zhou!

Zhengzhou's city centre had a nonstop personality, it felt strange to think I had arrived the night before as I had never done such a thing before, not because I'm not capable of travelling from Wuhan at night but I managed to find a high speed train that got me to Zhengzhou at a decent time the same night! Erqi Square gave me something from Zhengzhou itself, I wasn't bothered that I would have to travel to see the majors sights, I knew what I needed to do! Reminding me of my own Guanggu Square in Wuhan's Optics Valley area I felt at home watching the people mill around the elevated walkways and across to the other side of the square. Amazingly, I had mad it to my fourteenth Chinese city, well apart from Hong Kong and Macau! Zhengzhou's central landmark served what it needed to with its glowing lights, I had so far had a very productive time getting to know this Henan provincial city. Erqi Memorial Tower, you better keep shining over your city with your Realness Z!

Breaking the dawn, Dengfeng wasn't going to wait for me! Located within the wider Zhengzhou prefecture I boarded a tourist bus bound for the Shaolin Temple, the home of Chinese Kungfu! Making good time it was onto the next thing, paying my £10.00 admission fee I headed for that world famous temple! Stopped in my tracks by two on-point masters of Chinese martial arts I took a second to watch, it was going to get crazy business! Grabbing a snap of the frontage of Zhengzhou's Shaolin Temple was going to take some patience's so I proceeded to the Pagoda Forest. I adored the Pagoda Forest, it was set further back from the constant flow of Chinese tourists so an uninterrupted photo was taken with ease. The stature of each pagoda tomb looked exactly how I had imagined them to look, I was extremely impressed! A real tomb? Yes, each pagoda was given to commemorate the masters of Kungfu! I wanted my own pagoda!

With views of the Song Mountains in practically every direction I was loving the setting the Pagoda Forest owned itself, recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since in 2010 as part of the historical monuments of Dengfeng, it felt reassuring to see a sturdy wooden fence separate the ancient 791 AD pagodas from human contact. I'm not being rude, I got the vibe that the vast majority of people weren't from the growing Chinese middle classes so a lack of awareness was paid to this amazing sight! If that sounds offence, click close because I'm OK with that! Making my own way around the Pagoda Forest I was almost ready to return to the Shaolin Temple to explore some more, well to give a second attempt! The ninety-five kilometers from Zhengzhou's bus station didn't seem to take the two hours that it did and for only twenty-eight Yuan I was pleasantly surprised! Spanning from the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, those pagodas gave me everything! Yass!

Backtracking from the Pagoda Forest I was still determined to get an uninterrupted photo of the entrance to the Shaolin Temple. After several attempts I decided that having a look inside the temple may of given some time for the tour groups to dissipate as the day progressed. I loved the temple itself with its withered exterior and shrines but it was evident a favourable amount of maintenance work was taking place, it didn't bother me so much because the temple had some mileage on its clock. Lighting a few incense sticks I was hoping to spread some good karma to the spirits as my mood was getting challenged by the amount of people taking their sweet time to get the perfect family photo. The process would have taken me all of ten seconds but that ten seconds soon turned into four hours! I lost my temper, the house down! Enraged, I had to command this ridiculous situation and finally got a good photo!

After cooling down I was ready to get back to Zhengzhou, the manner of the people had got me past boiling point, taking a second to get myself together I ran for the next Martial Arts show. The thirty minute show was pleasing, the Kungfu fighters performed a series of synchronised movements I had forgotten about the crazy! With an insert that featured some audience participation it gave me the laugh that I needed, no it wasn't going to get scandalous from that point on! Zhengzhou had me travelling so much within one city during my short Mid-Autumn Festival and it was worth every second. All in all I loved my experience at the Shaolin Temple and the Pagoda Forest after I got over that berserk situation. From the figures of Yandi and Huangdi to the dazzling lights of Erqi Square and its own Memorial Tower I was ready to board my high speed train back to Wuhan Railway Station. Yes, 2015 may have brought Victory Day but Mid-Autumn Festival was just as good! Later Zhengzhou!

Everybody Loves Kungfu Fighting!

Joseph Harrison