31 May 2018

2018-2019: This Departure Lounge of Dreams!

Life is one big departure lounge for me, if truth be told I haven't done too badly since my last list of places that were featured in the last instalment of this blog series. I committed to a Korean connection with flights and a hotel booked for October 2018 and I made it to Beijing, China for work. So, Singapore won't happen just yet but I will stick to keeping my Taiwanese promise!

Back in China I had a new fire to commit to those places I mentioned during the last blog about my travel dreams. I experienced the heavenly city of Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region during May 2017. Being in Beijing for work has been great but I haven't seen so much of the city so far, I have a lot on and for that I have cut myself some serious slack. I added new China places to my list by visiting Xiamen, Tianjin, Changchun and revisiting Shenzhen and Suzhou respectively. Those new discoveries were great but it was amazing to revisit those cities that harboured a special connection. Booking a cheeky flight the other night to Wuhan for August 2018, I am genuinely excited to revisit the city that housed me for two years, it wasn't a decision made lightly to return so soon but I need one of those Wuhan messy nights out and a stroll around the Optics Valley Square to see if the construction has finally been finished! I do love WUH!

My overnight train to Lhasa, Tibet allowed me to see Lanzhou for a second, I plan to revisit that Islamic infused city in 2019 but before that I have ambitions to visit Ningxia Hui Autonomous Regions own Yinchuan during 2018s Mid-Autumn Festival. The sand lake scenic area looks ever the deserts mystery along with a healthy serving of Hui Chinese food for the win, plus its where the best wine in China is cultivated so I would be a fool not to try and see all of it! Mentioning before about Inner Mongolia, I have tracked down a tour company that offers a more intimate tour experience, its going to happen sometime in 2019 I reckon. Xinjiang will happen but I haven't got a clue when because it's quite faraway from Beijing and requires special planning like Inner Mongolia or even Tibet. Hainan Island will be discovered eventually, I just haven't got the time with all this planning! Even though I have almost visit forty places within Mainland China, there's no end to my Chinese travel experiences! 

I must admit I spent time mentioning my desires to visit the Korean Peninsula but I have booked up for October 2018 to Seoul, South Korea. Getting those Korean Air flights and a budget hotel only metres away from a metro line in central Seoul, I am genuinely excited for that Golden Week to arrive! I am really looking to getting some plastic surgery, maybe a few injections of lip filler or a light course of Botox! Joke! The bright lights of Itaewon are really in my sights, with a bottle of Soju in hand I'm going to be a drunken mess for the whole five days that I am there! Gyeongbokgung Royal Palace looks like a tough one to say no, also a view from the top of Namsan Seoul Tower at nights looks like an electric opportunity to seek a class view of the city! Being my third international trip aside from Hong Kong and Macau from 2016, I am genuinely excited to takeoff for Seoul, South Korea! Give me some K-Pop!

Things have been pretty hot on the Northern side of the Korean Peninsula with various summits in Singapore and the nonchalant crossing of the DMZ during Inter-Korean talks, leaving me with more of a fire to see North Korea more than ever! Bolstering the fact I have officially booked up to visit Seoul, South Korea leaves me with an even bigger curiosity for the North! The only issue with visiting North Korea would be securing a place on a legitimate tour, there are many reputable tour agencies that run tours to the Hermit Kingdom but The Young Pioneers looks like the one I will choose for National Day 2019 because I can work it around the seven day holiday I will get during that October, leaving a day or two aside before returning to work. The tour itself begins in Beijing and I would be choosing the flight package as I plan on remaining twenty minutes away from the airport. Money for this trip won't be an issue, like other trips, this North Korean week will be a one time thing!

2017s contractual conditions meant I couldn't have my Christmas holiday in 2017, making up for that misfortune I am looking at a two week trip to Bangkok, Surat Thani and Koh Pha-ngan in Thailand. I am planning to touchdown into Bangkok with Thai Airways from Beijing before Christmas Day to spend a few days in the city of Bangkok to see and sample the delights of that capital Thai City! The Grand Palace looks amazing, one place that I have claimed for my Bangkok bucket list. I'll probably stay along Khao San Road but I'll be looking for the rainbows because I've heard Bangkok has that something extra after the sunsets! My plan is hazy at the moment because my days aren't certain yet and money needs to be put aside for flights, hotel and other business to fund my Thailand winter holiday. Chiang Mai was a tough contender but I need some island life and there's no direct flights from Beijing to CNX! Anyhow, I'm excited!

Leaving Bangkok I plan to take a night train down to Surat Thani, meeting my final destination in the middle. Transferring in Surat Thani for the island of Koh Pha-gnan I am currently looking at tours I can take from that paradise island, money is no question because damn right it looks like heaven on earth! I reckon after the buzz of Bangkok it'll be nice to take it easy along the beach and take some trip into the island jungle, I'm ready to be that  adventure seeking jungle diva! The beaches look lovely and maybe I could be persuaded to try some Yoga, it's going to be something different because I don't like to relax whilst on holiday. Taking a flight back from Surat Thani to Bangkok to chill for the night I plan on flying back to Beijing before the eve of 2019. I am hopeful all of these plans will come to fruition and that I'll see Thailand. So, I want to make up for being at work last Christmas compared to my 2017 Yunnan Xmas jaunt that took me to Kunming, Dali and Lijiang in China. Go Thai!

Way into 2019 or possibly 2020 I am eyeing up a jaunt to good old Miss Saigon, not the musical no! Vietnam's two bookend cities are on my distant horizon with a Vietnam Airlines fly to Hanoi, then to Ho Chi Minh City before concluding in Nha Trang! Getting to grips with Hanoi's French Quarter and Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum sounds like both a sound cultural and sobering plan. I have seen many photos of Hanoi's during my pre-booking trip research and it looks amazing, just something like I have never seen before! I'll be looking for the best Pho Noodles and Peanut Butter Rolls, oh Vietnamese Iced Coffee is on my foodie wish list! Flying down to Ho Chi Minh City to capture the history of that former Vietnamese leader looks like a good potential move? Miss Saigon will hopefully show me the War Remnants Museum and the city's Ben Thanh Market for the win, but I am hoping to see more French Colonial Realness! Vietnam's got beaches?

Yes! I'm looking at braving another night train but that'll be from Ho Chi Minh City heading north to Nha Trang for a few days beside the sea to do some exploring and relaxing by the beach to zone out from Hanoi and Saigon! Sights like Po Nagar look great, to be honest I don't really know what I am going to find because it's a while off yet but its something to keep in my minds eye for the not to distant future. Honestly, I am planning these trip to create three new international 'Flying High...' flight blog reviews! Whatever Hanoi, Saigon and Nha Trang show me I am sure will be truly blessed and for that I love my life here in Beijing, China even though the going gets tough sometimes, a new potential Asian destination gives me life! China is a continuing journey, the Koreas are going to get seen and South East Asia will be my next long haul travel odyssey! Oh and 2019 Christmas is looking like a hometown family affair then with Singapore Airlines for a Singaporean stop! My saving has started!

Flying High!

Joseph Harrison 

23 May 2018

Teaching English: Beijing's Calling!

Restarting my teaching in China has panned out very differently than I had originally thought it would do, but second time around in Beijing it has given me lots to reflect on during my first six months. From my nursery class introduction to saying goodbye to my weekends, being full of twists, turns and magical moments to boot! For real, Montessori has become my life!

Coming back to China didn't take a lot of thought, after getting my papers and passport in check I touched down back onto Chinese soil, ready for my third stint of teaching English in China. Beijing had to be the one, Wuhan gave me the tools to move forwards and I was ready to deal with pretty much anything that was going to be thrown at me! I had previous experience teaching Nursery children before in Wuhan, so being placed in another Nursery class didn't faze me but I had become more used to teaching 3-6 year old learners. Not saying no to this new opportunity in Beijing I wasn't about to rock any boat, I hadn't come to Beijing to play! I was ready for the possibility of joining the AMS Montessori teaching training course as part of the company's Montessori training contingent. With the most suitable credentials in my campus I was given the opportunity to apply. So, things around me were changing. 

Breaking into 2018 I continued with my Nursery teaching, getting through the month of January was fine but if truth be told there were moments that questioned what was going on around me, doing what I needed to do I got on with the game. A big change was on the horizon, I found myself on the Montessori course with a schedule that was questionable to say the very least, keeping it 100 I questioned that situation. Wuhan had taught be to be on my game, vigilant of what developments that could wing my way with a clap back prepared to use at any time. Transitioning from Nursery to Casa was something I was open to doing, the older children had the capability to produce more language and that excited me. Being in the classroom all day was a step up from Wuhan, things had more of a professional feel this time. I went along with the changing times, it was all meant to be happening, I knew the river would flow into an ocean of possibilities! Of course the crazy continued! Oh, China!

Did I want to be a Lead Teacher? A part of me was stunned when I was given that opportunity only three months into my Beijing teaching journey, the other part of me felt like I had something to prove what I had seen previously. Equipping a brand new class wasn't something I had done before, but with the help of the academic leader, things started to make sense. Combining children from my previous class with existing Casa children was a task, those children didn't have the best foundation in Montessori or other things but I remained optimistic to give the class the best start I could. As well as trying my hand as a Lead Teacher I was teaching one extra lunch time class for the staff and a select few parents, at the beginning I was running off pure adrenaline and the initial buzz kept me going, that was before my Montessori training commenced at the weekends. Beijing wanted to turn the pressure up, I was so ready!

The first two months of my lead teacher days went by very quick, the days went quick but they left me feeling exhausted. Putting the sheer exhaustion behind me for one moment I have to say the curriculum that I created for the first two months pleased the kids and the parents alike. Choosing a community theme for March 2018 we looked at the immediate community that the school was located in, looking at the different amenities and how they helped the children that called that environment their home. April 2018 was all about fire safety, looking at what things were hot and cold, how the children should call the fire service using English and I even created my own audio program for the win! As May came around it was getting too much to create new concepts and put them into a plan because I had a lot going on around me, I went back to the company provided lesson plans. Leading and teaching English was something but training for my Montessori was just nonstop!

Picking it up, I knew my training would be beneficial in the long-run, in the here and now its so liberating to know more about Montessori and to be able to give presentations to children in the classroom with my growing confidence and knowledge. Having my mental clarity day during the week, I had time to get my other lead teacher bits and pieces finished, the experience so far has been valuable. From Practical Life to Language, I definitely loved Sensorial during the weekend training period. My weekends have taken a backseat but I know they will make an appearance soon, well they do every now and then, those long weekends help when a National Holiday rolls around. Being a lead teacher during this period has allowed me to have a certain autonomy during the Montessori work period but at the beginning I can't lie it was a lot of pressure to give those presentations when I barely knew left from right!

Things have been hectic but an eye-opening experience its been for certain, nothing lasts forever and I truly believe this current flow wasn't going to be for the long-term. I have secured a transfer to another campus once my summer training concludes to focus on my English teaching duties and to hone my Montessori skills, the blessed and crazy moments experienced during my lead teaching days have all been character building, one thing for certain I won't be judging others in the leading role because it's certainly a tough act to maintain! An exceptional circumstance or not, I have given my all and intend to until I break for my summer training period before transitioning to my new English teaching environment. The road we take shouldn't be smooth, the road I am on hasn't been, I'm thankful because its all about appreciating the good and learning from the extraordinary! I'm hopeful the next step within my new teaching space will help my training come to life B!

Montessori, who?

Joseph Harrison 

15 May 2018

May 2017: My Tibetan Adventure!

With two extra days of holiday to take before my contract expired during my Wuhan teaching days I sought the opportunity to plan my Tibetan adventure. Taking may twists and turns, mind that was before I even got to Lhasa. Tibet isn't an easy place to visit if you're not Chinese! The Potala Palace stood right in-front of me, those breathtaking moments were happening for real!

With two extra days added to the end of my Labour Day holiday for My 2017 I took the plunge, choosing to experience Lhasa, Tibet within China's Tibet Autonomous Region. The booking process had been something else, permits had to be secured and I almost had to cancel due to a mess up with my outbound train ticket! Flying from Wuhan to Lanzhou after work on the eve of 2017s Labor Day holiday weekend I had a huge journey to reach Lhasa. After a brief sleep in my Lanzhou hotel it was time to collect my sleeper train ticket and have my Tibet Travel Permit at the ready, I had to have that document checked several times that day. My pit stop stay in Lanzhou allowed me to see a snapshot of China's Islamic Northwest, something and somewhere I knew I would be revisiting in that moment! To my horror I had been allocated a top bunk within the hard sleeper carriage, it was bearable, I snapped out of that!

The views as my Lhasa bound train left Lanzhou gave me life, Xining approached with its mosques and islamic charm, another place that I added to my China travel odyssey! The journey was quite smooth, relaxing into the journey I found the landscape become more and more sparse, the cities of Qinghai Province had disappeared and it was easy to see the Tibetan Plateau was in our sights. From the corner of my view from a carriage door I began to see herds of Yaks, those woolly looking cows roamed the Plateau with such effortlessness, in that moment I managed to catch a glimpse of the Qinghai Lake, it was huge! Darkness covered the Plateau like a blackout blind, bright and early the next day I climbed down from my bunk to be fronted with the rolling beauty of Tibet, the remote homesteads looked amazing, it was a moment that I won't ever forget! The views grew more and more peaceful, the photos that I caught will forever be timeless to me! Was I really going to Lhasa, Tibet? Oh, yes!

Tea houses and Lhasa's old city had my attention for the rest of my first day, checking into the hotel after my night train had to be done, I need to refresh my life! In Tibet and it felt amazing, slaying my travel dreams I made my way to a tea house down an alleyway, the yak butter milk tea and Indian style potatoes added to my first experiences of Tibetan life in modern day Lhasa! Fast forward to the next morning it was time to meet my tour group and get on with the itinerary. Dreprung Monastery was our first stop, the history fails me but that hilltop place of worship impressed me with its many chambers that were full of rich coloured Buddhist figures and holy scriptures. The scenery was amazing, with the different buildings the whole area around Dreprung Monastery looked like it could have gone on forever and a day! The temperature didn't feel too cold but the air was thin, breathing fresh air was a blessing but at altitude! Help!

The first day was mainly about monasteries, nonetheless it was a joy to experience whatever the itinerary consisted of. Moving onto Sera Monastery gave us the chance to see the monks debate in the open, it was made because photos were allowed to be taken but I wanted to witness that event through my own eyes not the lens of a camera! The more experienced monks listened to the younger ones who were in training, they dismissed or accepted the ideas spoken by the lesser experienced monk with much gusto! Having lots of free time allowed me to see pockets of the old city with ease after the days itinerary had concluded. The first day of seeing the monasteries around Lhasa ended with a dinner provided by the tour company, it was an interesting evening but all in all a good day was had by all in the group. The first 48 hours of the trip till had been amazing if not surreal! The thought of returning to Wuhan filled me with dread because the air was so pure in Tibet!

Being 4,000ft above sea level meant the altitude hit me hard, not having the best sleep the previous night I wasn't feeling so good. To my surprise I had a nosebleed and I don't think I'd ever had one before in my life! Going to the doctors office in the hotel reception I bought a can of oxygen and was given a handful of strange unmarked tablets to take throughout that day. Pressing forwards with my tablets and oxygen in tow, it was time to experience Barkhor Street and Jokhang Temple. Hundreds of pilgrims descended upon Barkhor Street, the whole atmosphere of that street gave me so much life with the strong scent of incense burning in the air and the colourful Tibetan styles being served played the right contrast with the white washed buildings, mostly shops selling incense sticks and Tibetan crafts, I kept my money in my bag, things looked amazing! Camera snapping, how I wanted to grab the one!

Johkang Temple had a sea of pilgrims praying outside its entrance, it was a crazy yet peaceful sight to witness. Stepping into the temple it was like an assault on the senses, those indigo blue Buddhist figures stared us out, even thought they were soulless their piercing eyes penetrated our souls with their harsh cutting glares! Like the other Lhasa places of worship the tour had taken me to, Jokhang Temple's interior showed us a lot about the Dalai Lama's and the rest of Tibet's complex history. I learnt about Princess Wencheng, a trailblazer of her day as a Han Chinese woman she got married to a Tibetan king, eloping to Tibet she became something of a runaway princess! Leaving a donation because it felt right, I left a fifty yuan note as it displays Lhasa's Potala Palace. Going onto the roof at Johkang Temple I was afforded a Birdseye view of Lhasa's old city with a prime panorama of the Potala Palace. Johkang Temple and Barkhor Street an extraordinary morning to say the very least! Yes!

Concluding my Tibet experience it was time to visit the place on the tours itinerary, of course it had to be the magnificent Potala Palace! Queuing up like respectable human beings we climbed our way to the highest entrance point, the lack of oxygen made me feel really sick and my acute fear of heights didn't help me either but the view from those points were unforgettably beautiful! Climbing through the door to the palace quarters it was a relief to have made it to the furthest point, the opulence of the palaces chambers impressed me much and then some! I looked around with a definite feeling that I could live within that luxurious setting, even the monks had  iPhones so I would still be able to live in the 21st Century! The history of the place has unfortunately left my mind but the memories of the grand interior and exterior will forever be etched in my memory forever! No questions about that runaway Dalai!

Saying goodbye to the rest of the tour group, I had to head back to Wuhan for work but the others carried on further to Everest Base Camp. The whole experience of the tour had been amazing, the tour was long but such an adventure from my Lanzhou flight to my first overnight train in the cheapest bunks I was fine! Experiencing the culture and flavours of Old Lhasa was amazing, the food was good and I spent a tonne of money on traditional Tibetan incense sticks that I still haven't burnt fully, yes I bought at least one hundred pounds worth! Sera and Dreprung were chilled yet beautifully designed with a myriad of twists of turns, those monasteries were more like labyrinths full of wonder. Barkhor Street was a pilgrims paradise, all looking towards Jokhang to answer their prayers I was inspired. Flying back to Wuhan via Chengdu, that inbound flight threw up a whole lot of drama but my once in a lifetime Tibetan trip was blessed! Wuhan welcome me back with the same old noise!

Those Tibetan Times!

Joseph Harrison 

9 May 2018

6 Months in Beijing, China!

Getting back to China took some going, it was something that I had to do. Leaving Wuhan was a bitter pill to swallow but Beijing had the make-up to paint my next chapter in China. Taking off to new heights with Emirates I was fronted with a new adventure, I was ready and very prepared! But all in all I felt a sense of home back in the Middle Kingdom. Beijing, let's get it!

Packed and ready to fly, I had already been through a mountain of visa turmoil but booking my ticket with Emirates afforded me a pleasurable flight from Brummie to Beijing, China. Watching my Chinese film, eating my good food and chilling with the crew had to be done! My crew were fantastic, it wasn't feeling real that I was going back to China, I had a mission to be a lead teacher and I wasn't going to let anything get in my way! Gliding into Dubai International Airport I kept my p's and q's in place, boarding the second flight felt like a mirror image to my Shanghai-Moscow flight, those similarities challenged my intentions to return to China, of course I was certain! Meeting my prospective Chinese principal, I was welcomed into Beijing, China to a warm welcome considering the customs didn't like me, I paid no mind, crossing the border safely I was on my way to my next chapter at my early years employer! No more Wuhan!

The jet lag wasn't pleasant, I wasn't impressed by the haphazard construction around the hotel that I was staying in but it was the one. Getting property things sorted quite quick, I braved the Beijing Subway, that underground system fooled me something rotten the first time. Judging its quietness I wasn't going to have any luck when each train was full to the brim during my moving day with my huge suitcase. Bank dramas came into my life but my first few days in Beijing were cool, meeting new prospects and seeing Chaoyang Park and its offerings I was more than impressed. I had only seen Shunyi from Google Maps, it was something I was going to get used to! This time around it wasn't going to be plain sailing, Wuhan hadn't been a kettle of fish so I was getting ready for the craze! I was within the 'money compound' ready to start the next chapter of my adventure with a certain international kindergarten. By money I mean these people had money, it was absolutely insane!

Settled into Beijing life I managed to see the National Stadium and it's surrounding Olympic venues. I did not have grand plans to see Beijing in a hurry, this city is for the long time so I didn't have that stress. I embraced my work life, it didn't bother me that I only saw Beijing's Muslim Street and a few other places in the city. Christmas 2017 was strange, it really didn't feel right to be working as my winter holiday had to wait for December 2018. I will be making up for it in 2018! It was definitely time to get out of Beijing for the first time, 2018 first weekend saw me take the train to Tianjin to see what was good. I enjoyed the colonial streets and the Tianjin Eye much, it was nice to breathe for one weekend and to discover another city in China. Tianjin was a pint-sized Municipality offering me a boozy night out and some interesting sights, the cold was intense though! Work was crazy but its not professional to reveal things.

Back to work in the January I saw small parts of Beijing because I was super chilled about seeing things, I had throwback and new concept blogs on the go, it wasn't going to be an issue. My new apartment was amazing and of course it still is, now I have a home rather than a place that is for a few months. Shunyi and my community might be a contrast compared to Guanggu, it's the next level and I can't lie the quiet is welcomed. OK, no more nursery it was into the Casa for some introduction to my new students, I wasn't prepared for the craziness that would greet me! Montessori came into my life, it was something that I wanted from Wuhan and in Beijing it became possible very quickly. The class was mad to start with but I made it work somehow, somethings went the way they because I wasn't going to be weak, it was time to fight! Yes, we ready! In a way I was loving it, it was something that I wanted, getting those goals without any regrets it wasn't any mid city craze!

Spring Festival came round for the best, I flew away to Shenzhen to spend a week along South East China's coast because I could! Revisiting Shenzhen allowed me to see a city that I briefly passed through during my trip to Hong Kong. Seeing the difference between those two borders was extraordinary, it posed to be a whole load of drama but Xiamen's beauty beat me down, it was worth the madness! Shenzhen's first serving was interesting, it was something to deal with because I wasn't going to let anything get in my way! Being refused entry over one border to Hong Kong, that was real fun but my Dim Sim breakfast was fantastic! Looking at the border point I crossed gave me some serious memories, it felt very real! Shenzhen had something to show me, it felt right to return after my fractious border crossing into Hong Kong. Getting it together it felt right to be close to the borderline. Returning to Shenzhen City was the one!

Taking the high speed train from Shenzhen North Railway Station to Xiamen, I was fronted by a sea of people! Xiamen gave me drama but I enjoyed seeing all it had to offer even though I couldn't get a ticket to Gulangyu Island on the ferry. I wasn't overwhelmed by the crowds because I have a way to deal with those chaotic situations, life in China second time didn't faze me, well only sometimes! But 2019's Spring Festival might have to be outside of Mainland China, I am thinking about the possibility of Taiwan? The last six months seem to have flown, flying in during the winter its now nearing the summer months, the beginning of the spring semester turned the heat up, I was ready for whatever was going to come my way! Beijing life has been a series of highs and lows and I haven't really been out in the city during the day that much it's still going to happen, I don't want to see everything too quickly. Life was about to change once again, Beijing definitely keeps me on my toes! Yes, B!

When work got crazy I looked forward to the next holiday weekend, the next break after Spring Festival saw me taking the night train from Beijing to Changchun, I had given this northeastern city the cold shoulder during 2017s Spring Festival week so I wanted to make up for it. I lived for Changchun's Japanese history even if it was quite dark in places, but I got my KIA on at Mr. Panda Club! April had me on the move again, taking another night train but to Suzhou, I was meeting a friend who would accompany me for the trip. Revisiting Suzhou gave me the chance to see how much the city had developed since my 2015 training week. Discovering new things such as; Shantang Street, the Lingering Garden and Hanshan Temple felt amazing because I didn't have the chance to see those places first time back in June 2015. Yes, I still have Datong in June!

Let's just say something sweet has come back into my life, life will remain in Beijing for the course but wider horizons are meant for the future. May so far has practically been about work and Montessori training, I am leading my own class and that has brought up some challenges but all in all it is amazing to say that I have worked for all that I have got in the here and now. I honestly never thought that I would have all this by the first six months, its something that I know I still need to work hard to maintain! On the travel side of things this first six months has afforded me to see six cities with five of those places outside of Beijing, I have Datong to go in June and flights booked to travel home in August so it's going to be busy! Here's to surviving the first six months and to doing even better in the next six months! Beijing, I promise I'll ditch the booze and make an effort this next half year to see more of your cityscape because Destination isn't enough! Oh, those Destination blue drinks!

Phew! Six Months Slayed!

Joseph Harrison