16 June 2017

2 Years In China...

I can say for certain that two years ago my Sri Lankan Airlines flight took off from London's Heathrow Airport! With this two year milestone reached this will be the final installment of this blog series about my time spent in China for this Wuhan segment. 2017 began with a bang, well I couldn't remember the start because I was absolutely trashed! It's been a busy time!

Fresh from my Christmas holiday in Yunnan Province it was back to work for the whole of January 2017, that first month flew past as Chinese Spring Festival approached. I had chose the milder climbs of Southern China the previous year but I had planned to head to the far Northeast of China for 2017's festivities. Cruising over what could of been Jilin or Heilongjiang Province I marveled at the grand firework displays from my in-flight view. A hint of drama shaded me as I arrived at my Harbin hostel but I wasn't fazed by that joker whatsoever! Harbin's Russian history gave me life, with a fair bit of it still in good condition it was amazing to see another slice of Europe in China! Trusting China Highlights for the second time I was shown an amazing day trip to the Siberian Tiger Park, Snow Sculpture Expo and the world renowned Harbin Ice Festival, the only trouble was the freezing temperatures dipped to minus 25 degrees! Icy!

So, I saved Changchun for another time, speeding past its West Railway Station in favour of a weekend in Shenyang, Liaoning. My second 'off the radar' city, I had only seen about the Korean connection that had motivated my visit. Grabbing some Hui Chinese food on the first evening I bumped into a icy food alley that specialised in Hui style Muslim food, it was delicious! Getting up with the birds I concurred Shenyang's Beiling Park before 09:00 am! Seeking a sense of Mother England a familiar sight found me, I experienced a Chinese TESCO for the first time! Through the familiar supermarket layout and signage I found some 'Everyday Value' chocolate. Shenyang showed me a great night out on the tiles, so much so I felt extremely tender the next day during my sightseeing mission. North Korea just got a little closer, dining at the Pyongyang Rainbow restaurant was an experience with state run media playing and Kim chi for dinner. February had the best start! Guh!

By March 2017 it was time to start thinking about the months ahead, I would be finishing my final semester at my current Etonkids campus in Wuhan so I wanted to give my best classes. Three months had almost passed, I had a new after-school program to teach and the beginning of that transition period was madness! After a few weeks into April that English interactive class became a lot easier to navigate even if the kids were crazier than a box of frogs. I was waiting for my new colleague at that point but being China a whole lot of confusion and crazy would delay that arrival. It was mad to see the Bridging children as they had grown up so much in such a short space of time, it would soon be time for us to practice the graduation song but we were keeping busy, learning new things each week was the perfect distraction. Yes, Spring Festival seemed like a world away, as ever I was ready for the next trip!

April slipped into view, with the semester almost half way through it was nice to have a small break during the first weekend of that month. Hangzhou called me for that long weekend trip, I pride myself for my independence when travelling but when time is limited I see private tours as the answer. Checking out the Lingyin Temple had to be done, battling the spring weekend crowd wasn't fun but the temple was worth the drama, along with some cool looking caves and an evenings's visit to Wulin Square it was great! My China Highlights tour guided me to four places in one day, beginning at the magnificent West Lake I was able to witness its true beauty. Grabbing some lunch at Hangzhou's Chenghuang Pavilion was nice, it was a chilled sight that allowed me to see Hangzhou from a higher point. Museums aren't my thing but I got some Chinese tea at the Museum of Chinese Medicine, I'm yet to try it! Finally, I even picked my own Green Tea leaves at a lovely plantation! Go!

Securing two extra days off work, I made 2017's May Day holiday one to remember by taking a once in a lifetime trip to Lhasa, Tibet. Flying up to the Northwestern city of Lanzhou the night before I took my first sleeper train ever to capture the vistas along the Tibetan Plateau. It wasn't without a shaky start but the train journey was fine, the hard sleeper cabin was much better than the soft compartment, I would find that out the next month. The air may have been thinner than Wuhan but I was living a dream, Lhasa's old town was like nothing that I had ever seen. Tibetan food never tasted so good, tracking down a small tea house by myself I had my first taste of Tibetan Butter Tea. Getting into the tour I loved both Drepung and Sera monasteries, both serving the right measure of Tibetan Realness! Jokhang Temple showed me the most captivating and intricate figures of the Dalai's, like a prayer I was there!

Altitude sickness had a hold on me but with a cocktail of unknown tables and a bottle of oxygen I never missed a beat, those moments couldn't be recreated! Pilgrims from far and wide had descended upon Lhasa to make their prayers and perform their religious rituals, I wasn't on a religious hype but the atmosphere was indescribable. Wrapping up the experience I climbed those steps to the top chambers of the grand Potala Palace, decorated in such splendour I was mesmirised by the colours, features and grandeur of the former quarters of the revered previous Dalai's. Sure, I would of made those reservations if that Potala residence was a hotel! Chengdu, we didn't make a deal to delay my flight back to Wuhan! Let's just say my final arrival into Wuhan Airport was very stressful! Thrown back into work the next day it was time to get back to teaching my Kindergarten kids, the clock was ticking before my arrival home! Nearing the two year mark, 2017 was on fire T!

Wuhan has thrown a scorcher of a summer in our faces, I do not appreciate the clammy and uncomfortable weather that's been dished to us at this moment! Not today! My time in Wuhan is drawing to a close, so to keep me going at work I decided to switch things up, after visit to a lesser known city for Dragon Boat Festival I was motivated to see Enshi during a normal June weekend. The wet weather definitely had something to do with my train being delayed, the soft sleeper compartment didn't impress me much, I pledge to return to the hard sleeper cabin for my next overnight train in China. Back to Enshi, that Hubei city showed me something more lush than Wuhan would be capable of! That overnight trip wasn't without its drama but seeing a chilled city environment was good for my soul, it gets draining throwing shade all the time! Why hadn't I got my weekend travel hype on before?!

Nanchang had been one of those smaller provincial city's that I'd been eyeing up for sometime, biting the bullet and using another weekend I hopped on a train after work this weekend to Jiangxi Province. Nanchang was a nice city, compact and well served by buses it was nice to see a place that wasn't famous like Shanghai or Beijing. As July grows nearer I have one more weekend trip before I fly home, that final sejour will be to Yichang, Hubei from a Friday to Sunday to see the Three Gorges Dam. Since January to this very moment I can safely say the final six months in China has been amazing, if not very busy but that's just the way I like it! Hopefully in the next six months I'll be in Beijing continuing my journey with Etonkids, trading Wuhan for the big smoke! Wuhan has been great, its moving at a pace I can't handle and the locals are a crazy bunch! From Harbin to Hefei, this first half of 2017 in China has been beyond amazing, I'm just ready for Mother England now! Yes B!

It's Almost Time!

Joseph Harrison 

14 June 2017

Enchanted Enshi

As the clock ticks before my departure back to England I wanted to explore the city of Enshi, Hubei. Inspired by two fellow teaching friends I booked up without any hesitations. With a limited time frame I had to be inventive, would I spend the day at the Grand Canyon or choose the city centre? Would the soft sleeper to Enshi be more comfortable than my Tibet train? 

Clocking off from another week teaching English in Wuhan, I got myself through Friday rush hour traffic to Wuchang Railway Station in one piece. Since Emmy and Jemima had uploaded their postcard worthy photos of Enshi city I had to see those lush sights for myself! Bagging a soft sleeper seemed like the right thing to do, I'm used to sleeping in hotel dormitories but that train compartment just didn't feel good compared to the more simple hard sleeper compartments that are much less private. Leaving a very rainy Wuchang I slept pretty well till six in the morning, prepared for the arrival of my train it wasn't meant to be. Due to a line problem my train was stationery for at least two hours of that I was aware of, finally chugging away at 9am it took us another two hours to reach Enshi Railway Station. Shrugging away that drama the views from that train were out of this world amazing! Oh my, that rain!

Jumping off that delayed sleeper train I had considerably less time than I had hoped for, getting my sightseeing game on I jumped on the 30 bus to Tusi Ancient City. An oasis of lush green loveliness I got on with what I had to do, surrounded by a stone wall I unknowingly made my way to the top. The views over the ancient city were something else. Enshi was shaping up pretty nice, resembling a 'Little Chongqing' with its long hanging clouds and humid climbs amongst the mountainous scenery. I can't remember all of the names but the structures certainly served a special quality, dating back to a time when a minority clan called the ancient city their dominion, it felt like another world completely. The concrete style of my Wuhan neighbourhood was long gone, far off east back in the provinces capital. That's it! During 910 of the Later Liang Dynasty that Tusi Domain embodied true Tujia style! The annoyance of the later arrival had left me, Enshi had a plan for me, I was good!

No, I wasn't up for cramming onto a bus for twelve stops! Where's Baidu Maps?! Getting all clever I decided to take a diversion from my Baidu Maps route, the rain might of been battering Wuhan but Enshi's Qinjiang riverside wasn't looking bad, hold on let me take that back quick-time! My did it throw it down, literally I had never seen such a severe monsoon style rain. To cut a long and rather unpleasant story, I thanked the heavens as soon as the rain ceased, credit to mother nature she ushered in a beautiful mid-afternoon sky over the Qinjiang River once I had got my directions back on track. Enshi sure had me on my toes, getting me to this city late and soaking me beyond belief, something honestly had to give! Putting things into perspective I had made it to my third city in Hubei within my first two years of being in Wuhan, China, aside from my travels it was good to be in Hubei. Come on Enshi!

Coming to the end of my time here in China for the first throw I had just had my final official National Holiday at the end of May 2017 to Hefei, but I wanted to take three final weekend trips to cities that were within easy reach from Wuhan. Enshi is famous for its magical Grand Canyon but with no more than a weekend free from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon I had to decide 'city centre' or 'Grand Canyon?' The city centre served me a compact series of sights that were on a lower level compared to Wuhan, lower in the stakes of being accessible by foot and with less going on the pollution didn't throw up any issues. Enshi's city centre core had a close-knit vibe, everything was where it needed to be and what I had seen was really nice, a change of scenery was what I was looking for and I got that! Growing close to my Dongfeng Avenue hotel I saw what looked like the Fenghuang Mountain Park, knowing I wouldn't have the time to visit, that was fine. Enshi was so chilled out. 

Checking into my lodgings for the night, I chose the Enshi International Hotel and being a smaller city in Hubei Province I wasn't expecting too much. Serving a purpose and with a clean room it was money well spent, I hadn't gone all the way to Enshi to spend the evening in the room so I went out looking for some food. Backtracking to the almost flooded streets I had seen from the bus I chose to have a walk back in-search of something to eat. After a bit of wandering I found a simple looking road-side restaurant, the lady was frying up some fried rice that looked amazing! Choosing a bowl of that delicious fried rice was a winner, the place being simple gave me a perfect sense of Enshi's enchanting charms. The dusk began to fall onto that normal Enshi street, people chatted on the pavements at the other food places in the evenings afterglow. Whatever rubbish had happened didn't matter anymore! Yes!

Enchanted? From one moment to the next my experiences in Enshi went from an enchanted moment to a nightmare, without a doubt the beauty and charm of Enshi showed me something enchanted without question! The rolling mountains that I saw on the approach into Enshi definitely looked dreamy, regardless of the lush surroundings it did make the delayed arrival a nightmare because I wasn't in a place to extend or repeat my trip. Seeing the rain off it was definitely a place that took me away from my final weeks at work, I have my arrival back into England on my mind so these small weekend getaways distract me or well that's the plan anyhow. The Grand Canyon may have to be for next time but all that I saw was well worth the questionable sleeper train and the less than desirable summer showers. Mentioning the rain a few too many time I'll leave this here now with the charm of Enshi that I loved! Thanks Emmy and Jemima for inspiring my trip to Enshi! Oh, Hubei!

A Little Chongqing!

Joseph Harrison 

2 June 2017

Next Stop... Hefei, China!

Located in central China I was attracted to Hefei because it's not a mega-city, but a growing city that's got a lot of competition from its neighbours. Dragon Boat Festival beckoned another holiday for May 2017, taking a chance on Hefei had to be done, getting to know a smaller city was a nice change. Did Lord Bao have a plan for me? Oh yes, I was ready for Anhui!

Stepping off my high speed train from Wuhan Railway at Hefei South I was ready to ditch a few city demands, saying goodbye to taxis I got the bus to my hotel without a hitch, it allowed me to take in the city's vibe without the cost of a fare. Checking in without stress I hit the pavements of my Lujiang Road setting, a slower sight fronted me, for once a National Holiday without crowds gave me the chance to roam the west-side of Hefei's city streets that sunny afternoon. The rustic feel of Hefei's city streets gave me life, they weren't flashy or adorned with neon lights but a honest and simple feel was served to me. A block of flats along Ren Min Xiang gave me a tone of a colourful street resembling New York City's Canal Street in the heart of the Chinatown, maybe I could smell the MSG's being fried up? Regardless, the ordinary vibe gave me something that I hadn't seen for a time in Wuhan. Hefei did its thing!

It was a weird combination, from one view I saw honest Chinese eateries and kitsch clothing shops on the next street! Was Hefei breaking out? That contrast didn't confuse me for it only gave me more to see that didn't offend me, deep down I'm easily pleased. Huizhou Avenue took me to Hefei's Municipal Square, even that wide city thoroughfare stayed collected within Hefei's understated daily life. Back to that city square, was it the sweltering heat keeping people indoors or was something else because I practically had that vast city centre to myself! Getting familiar with that open government square it was clear to see Hefei was in a different stage of its development compared to other Chinese cities, in place of modernity it owned its quirks, I could tell that it would soon be a city in-promotion! The blazing sun had me for a moment, taking refuge amongst a landscaped area at the side of the square I watched the city folk go by during their May holiday weekend.

Every city has to have someone to look up to, Hefei's own figure turned out to be Lord Bao. Otherwise known as Bao Zheng, a former government figure who reigned during the Song Dynasty helped the people of Kaifeng city within the neighbouring Henan province fight away corruption whilst keeping a leveled approach. Leaving my hotel bright and early during my only full day in Hefei, I made my way towards Bao Gong Park to find the Memorial Temple of Lord Bao. Ditching my usual holiday McDonald's breakfast I veered away from Bao's park to find something to eat down a secret looking alley way, yet another one of Hefei's hidden city secrets. Breakfast with a view was the ticket, sitting by the river had to be done for sure! Refueled and away from a chain restaurant I found myself acquainted with a delectable lotus pond along the river. That shaded riverside helped me because Hefei was scorching!

Paying my one and only entrance fee for the entire trip I was greeted by a row of golden figures, in the middle had to be the famous Lord Bao?! Indeed I had made it to the Memorial Temple of Lord Bao, small yet perfectly formed that small space of remembrance didn't shun photography so I took some guilt free photos, believe it or not I do my best to respect the rules. The serene surroundings of the Memorial Temple of Lord Bao lulled me into the illusion that I wasn't in the middle of a major city, those tranquil waters and sweeping trees masked the concrete and glass of Hefei's growing skyline. From what I gathered Lord Bao kept things together in a fair manor, keeping a strict yet fair rule over proceedings he seemed to had left a lasting impression for the people of his hometown. Being a compact city I was put off the idea of buses, leaving public transport for the ride back to the railway station I carried on by foot. Take a leaf out of Lord Bao's book, be firm and be fair!

Stepping up the pace, Xiaoyaojin Park had been one of the two sights that had stood out to me during my pre-trip research. Hefei almost lured me to San He Ancient Town, two hours out of the city seemed like reasonable for a longer trip but with lack luster reviews I said goodbye to that idea. Reaching the famous gate of Xiaoyaojin Park was great, so far so good I made my way through into a cool oasis that served me nothing but normality, families were having a great time and a pocket-sized funfair pleased the locals to my left. I wasn't too bothered with the history of Hefei's most famous part because I was there for the scenic city views. Taking a seat in-front of the lake had to be done, at that point I was feeling pretty damn happy with my efforts in Hefei for it being a smaller city I had seen what I had wanted! Keeping my park visit swift I walked towards Suzhou Road, keeping those scenic views close!

The heat felt like it been turned up a few notches during my second afternoon in Hefei, I wanted something boozy to drink for I been dangerously sensible up until that moment. Heading back over to Lujiang Road I was fronted with this shady looking 'coffee' lounge that from the window looked like it served more than just caffeinated beverages! Bagging my own booth I chilled to the max, I knocked back as many beers as I wanted and had a pizza for that morning snack had worn off long before that moment! I thought to myself that I was right to take a chance on Hefei, it reminded me of a Chinese Wilmington for it resembled a less developed phase. From those first rustic impressions to the lushness of Lord Bao's yard I was satisfied with my Hefei weekend, it might not of been the biggest city in China but it served exactly what I wanted! With Nanjing for Dragon Boat Festival last year and Hefei done for this year, so I wonder what city I'll seek for 2018's holiday?

Get It, Get It Hefei!

Joseph Harrison 

27 May 2017

On The Metro: Wuhan Metro, Line 4

Line 4 of the Wuhan Metro will be the final of my Wuhan inspired 'On The Metro' blog theme, the network keeps on expanding so who knows what the future might bring? Anyway, stretching from Wuhan Railway Station all the way to Huangjinkou, it's safe to say Line 4 is a mighty metro line from the original Wuhan four, being one of the first lines built. Go!

Beginning from Line 4's northern terminus at Wuhan Railway Station in Wuhan's Qingshan district I have used this line to reach one of the cities high speed rail stations. Connecting Wuhan with cities such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai and the capital, Beijing it's a very important station along Wuhan Metro's Line 4 system. It was a god send when I arrived back into Wuhan Station from Shenyang as that twelve hour high speed service left me feeling drained. Yes, after interchanging with Line 2 at Zhongnan Road Station it's a practical and sometimes cheaper option to reach that high speed rail connection from my Optics Valley Square location. I recently made the trip up to Wuhan Railway Station to collect my tickets for my upcoming trips to Hefei, Nanchang and Enshi to avoid any pesky queues or sights of pre-travel pandemonium on the day of travel. Take me to Shanghai Hongqiao, now!

I haven't stopped at the stations within Line 4's Qingshan district stretch but there doesn't seem to much going on, a lot of that area is being developed into residential and business areas to make us of in the future. Wanting to rediscover the East Lake Scenic Area during my 2016 Summer break I took a chance on Dongting Station as the station that will serve Hubei Provincial Museum hasn't been built yet, nevertheless I took the wrong turn at first but getting it together I found East Lake and that museum without stress. Metro expansion around Wuhan's East Lake Area is slowly happening but I'll be long out of Wuhan when Line 8 makes an appearance within that part of Hongshan district. More recently myself and Fiona walked for miles across the walkways of East Lake from its Guanggu beginning at Mo Mountain to meet Tieji Road, so I may have told a white lie because I have frequented at least two Qingshan district stations along Wuhan Metro's Line 4. Yass, Qing Shan Kou!

When I first got to Wuhan I found a diamond in the rough, well that was Marks & Spencer's on Han Street, how those Percy Pigs tasted beyond amazing! A few stops down the line from Dongting, Chuhe Hanjie Station can be found with all of its shimmering lights, from shopping to its own glittering theatre it's a genuinely great place to experience. Rocking up to the clubs and bars along Han Street has to be done, I've been suitably inebriated to say the very least! With a change in schools during August 2015 I was enabled to spend more than just stolen evenings along the Chu River, Line 4's got a lot going for itself! Don't dare close M&S because I need some home comforts! Yes, Chu River and Han Street is definitely worth stopping by!

Getting ever closer to the Wuchang side of the mighty Yangtze River, Line 4 makes the interchange with Line 2 at Zhongnan Road and Hongshan Square, more about that Central South Road though! With its towering office blocks and many shopping opportunities I've always ended back at Zhongnan Road even if I didn't intend to in the first place. I stumbled out of this metro stop in hot pursuit of Wuchang's Changchun Taoist Temple, following Wuluo Road was easy enough but I was new to China so at that time I stupidly trusted a Google Map! Meeting with a huge intersection of traffic I hold a special place with that noise and crazy as its near to where a dear friend lives. Qingshan district's own railway station might be a far but Line 4's got this! Now, no shady business!

Picking up Wuhan Metro at Shouyi Road Station led me to the Wuchang Uprising Memorial of 1911, an important site that I adored before a profound development occurred surrounding my new teaching life in Wuhan. The former headquarters where the mastermind, Dr. Sun Yat-sen worked to bring those dynasties down and beckon a new era for China during the 1910's. Just one stop heading west from Wuchang Railway Station I found my way out of the station to that rebellious piece of Wuhan history without a  problem. Oh, that was definitely a time before I had discovered Baidu Maps! As mentioned before Zhongnan Road holds the key to Guanggu Square through its interchange station, I was able to reach the Wuchang Uprising Memorial of 1911 within thirty minutes from Line 2's Optics Valley Square Station. Did I mention before that on the whole China's metro systems are the cleanest I've ever seen! Yass, WUH!

Taking the shine away from Wuhan's focal point, I wanted to give Dr. Sun Yat-sen's former yard some attention rather than the next place mentioned. Still served by Shouyi Road Station alone Line 4 of the Wuhan Metro, standing behind the Uprising Memorial is the Yellow Crane Tower, shamefully it doesn't have better transport links to the supposed most visited attraction in the city but the short walk from that station wasn't so bad. Sticking within that area I found myself at a familiar sight, the smells of Hubu Alley were present in the air as I approached that corner of town, that day it was roasting hot so the smells didn't entice me whatsoever! It's no secret that Wuhan Metro's Line 4 may stretch over the Yangtze River to Hanyang but I'm going to serve those sides of Hanyang in a different fashion at another time. From the supersonic high speed Wuhan Railway Station to the pedestrian feel of Fuxing Road I have made my best efforts to use Line 4! Oh Hanyang, get on with your flow!

Yass, Qing Shan Kou!

Joseph Harrison