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 

13 August 2016

Mulan Mountain & Heaven Lake, Wuhan

City life is great but I wanted to trade the concrete style of Wuhan's Optics Valley for a mountain view. Calling upon a favour from a friend we made it possible to escape from the bustling city centre to discover Wuhan's Mulan Scenic Area, located in Huangpi District within the Greater Wuhan Area, it was great! Oh, I ate fresh river fish for lunch to then climbed a mountain! 

It didn't take long before the concrete fashion of the city started to disappear, taking the airport road out the city, it was lovely to see some countryside going on! I have been working on getting my visa renewed during the summer break so planning a getaway had been put on the back burner until September, sticking within the Greater Wuhan Area seemed like a viable plan so I could keep a close eye on the more important things, that visa needed to be sealed in my passport! I was living for the scenic vibe that was whizzing past, the epic Mulan Mountain would be our first destination for that overnight trip. Did the legend of Hua Mulan have anything to do with this lush scenic area? I did see several statues of a certain Chinese warrior queen! I remained hopeful that heroine of war had something to do with this amazing area, it was crazy to think that we were still in Wuhan! Let's serve Hua Mulan!

Braving the sweltering August weather it didn't take a fool to see the sensational views that stood before me, I was living for that epic Chinese scenery! With legendary views from every corner, I gazed with true amazement as to my delight a smattering of blue skies had bothered to make an appearance. Looking for that higher point of view I could of begin to sense the history and legacy this Wuhan landscape was serving right before my eyes! Dating back the Southern Song Dynasty the whole Mulan Scenic Area dated back from A.D 1259, leaving the history behind for a second I was standing over 582 metres above sea level! If truth be told I haven't really took the time to see other places outside Wuhan's three towns apart from my Xianning, Hubei weekend, keeping it local worked during that August summer period. We decided against climbing to the top because we had other sights to see during that same day. Time waits for no one, not even a for a warrior like Hua Mulan!

Far away from any chain restaurants or anything remotely familiar it created the perfect opportunity for some hearty and authentic Huangpi village food. Choosing an uncomplicated roadside restaurant down from the heights of Mulan Mountain proceeded to be a winner! We dined on the freshest and most delicious river fish that was a local speciality, caught from the nearest waterway it tasted so fresh and light. I adored the fish but being from the river it had the biggest bones I ever did see, I was definitely careful! To accompany the fish dish my friend ordered some steamed tofu that was served with egg, I was not keen on the egg but the tofu must have been cooked with lots of garlic, mixed together with some steamed rice it turned out to be a lunch to remember, the price tag was for nothing as that restaurant was suited by farmers and local village people. Of course my chopstick game was on-point! Hao de!

Being within that village setting gave me life for certain, I'm definitely more of a city boy but being within that simple and calmer setting for only a little while helped me zone out. Our food that evening was equally as tasty, staying close to the next attraction that we visited after Mulan's Mountain we dined on some fried pork, served in a onion gravy sauce, packed with lots of fried onions I was in heaven as I savoured as much gravy as possible, complementing that evening meal had to be some freshly fried chips that were thinly cut and cooked to perfection! Going off onto a tangent, during the drive up from Guanggu it was great to pass my friend Fiona's new home, she'll be living in Hankou North from September 2016 before we return our second year of teaching in Wuhan, China. I wanted to catch a glimpse of where she would be living so I could pass on some truth about her new neighbourhood. I know that deciding to spend my summer holiday in Wuhan was for the best!

Getting down to business it time to defeat the passage way that would lead to Wuhan's Mulan Heaven Lake. Tranquil the surroundings may have been it felt more like the road to hell during the ascend over the mountain that led to that breathtaking scene. Sourcing inspiration from Disney's adaptation of Mulan, I thought of the 'I'll Make a Man out of You' scene from the film. I forged through over the rocks, making my way to the end point because there was no way I was giving up! The baking sun beaten down through the trees, making the majority of the trek to the heavenly waterway something of a challenge, I'm not one for outdoor pursuits but it was an experience that I had to push forwards and get over myself real quick so I could concur that Mulan Scenic spot! It felt like a long time, but it was beyond amazing to see the serene waters of the Mulan Heaven Lake. I was thankful for those striking views! Zou ba!

Taking a breather was necessary, everyone else made the journey up from the entrance look so effortless! We took a short boat ride to the other side of the lake to get a closer look, it was a great photo opportunity, the whole experience had taken it out of me but the heaven like feel of the lake was well worth the crazy! Bidding a fond farewell to the Mulan Heaven Lake it was time to make our way down the easier way back down to the exit, we hadn't booked any lodging for the night and it was almost pushing 6pm! We stayed at the Mulan Tian Chi Hotel that was located a stones through from the entrance to that Mulan inspired spot. From start to finish I had an amazing day and night away from Guanggu, Wuhan. It may have only been a little break but Wuhan's Mulan Scenic Area served everything that I had wished for and more! If time permits I wouldn't say no to another Wuhan scenic trip in the future! The legend of Hua Mulan is alive and well beyond the Dynasties!

Wuhan, Different Everyday!

Joseph Harrison 

9 August 2016

August 2015: Something To Remember...

Twelve little months ago I had just about settled into my new life in Wuhan, China, but little did I know it was going to be a month to remember for many reasons! From special encounters and career calamities I overcame the crazy, through that summertime madness I had August 2015 where I wanted it! Right here, right now I'm seeing things from a different view. Go!

Less than three months into my time working at a certain Guanggu based English Training Centre I was getting on with what I was supposed to do. It was different to what I had expected things to be but I thought I was doing a good job, the students liked me and from the sounds of things I would be sticking around for at least my first contract that I had signed on the 1st of July 2015. I didn't get much time off but I made the best of whatever time I had away from work. As far as I was concerned things were going according to plan. Half of August had passed and it was time for me to go the Entry/Exit Bureau to get my initial Chinese entry visa converted into my first Chinese work permit, I was right on time collecting my passport from Wuhan Citizens Home after navigating the Wuhan Metro to Erqi Road then I took a taxi, I didn't get lost though! From that point I felt even more settled for my documents were good!

The lesson observations were becoming more frequent and also felt more invasive, I felt like a goldfish in a bowl who was being watched constantly. Things carried on for a few more weeks, I kept my head down and planned more for lessons because that seemed like the right thing to do. I spoke to my training friends who I had spent the week with in Suzhou, they were not being watched like I was being at that moment! I was conscious of what was going on around me but I tried to take less notice as each day went past. I had just moved to a new country on the other side of the world, a very foreign country, so getting my life together with this new job was hectic enough! Was something or someone trying to push me into a new direction? I remained focused and sought advice from my colleagues, at the end of the day it was something. I had a feeling something wasn't right but I just had to carry on and do my very best! August 2015 was turning out to be a funny old month!

Whilst I was still working at my former English Teaching Centre I would finish work at 9pm, run back to my apartment to get changed then make my way to Lumo Road. I was introduced to this part of Guanggu by a former colleague, I wouldn't waste any time with eating after work so it was always handy to grab some street food. I would live for those rare moments because I never had weekends off or two days together off, I made it happen and for that time it worked! I enjoyed those random Saturday nights out because I knew that I shouldn't of been out! Lumo Road kept me together, it gave me somewhere to turn to if I was feeling thirsty, knowing that it was one of the first places I found to enjoy Wuhan's nightlife makes it a special street. Wuhan Prison became my go-to bar to get a drink when the sun had set, after grabbing my street food I only had to walk a few paces to find myself with a Beer Lao in my hand!

I'm going to slip back into July 2015 for a moment, I had been to VOX Livehouse to see a gig played by a Chinese rock band. I ended up meeting a guy that would become a special friend, throughout August we would meet at Prison, a local alternative bar that can be find in a side-street off Lumo Road. Work may have been tiresome sometimes during those early stages but I found being in his company made all of those problems melt away. In that moment my nights out that I couldn't remember were just as good as those ones that I won't forget, time does move on but those August nights out in Guanggu were great! Aside from making a new friend I was invited out for dinners and KTV outings with students from that English Training Centre, those occasions were great and definitely stand out during that August time. It may sound like I boozed it up all the time but no I was civilised some of the time! As the sunset from one stressful day I knew everything was going to be alright. Yes!

I made not having two days off work fine, I found it challenging to see new places in Wuhan throughout those early months after my arrival but nothing is easy, even sightseeing I tell you! I dragged myself out of bed one afternoon to see Wuhan's Changchun Taoist Temple, it was in actual fact my first ever visit to a temple in China! The temple made me feel calm and it was nothing like I had ever seen before, I bought some incense sticks and learnt about the strict photography rules. I added both Han Street and Jianghan Road to my early places visited during August 2015 in Wuhan. I found my new neighbourhood, Guanggu equally as interesting to explore, not having so much time off from work made me reevaluate my options on what I was going to see during my time in China compared to what I had previously expected. Things were about to change my life in China, nothing had me ready for this bombshell! No!

I looked at my schedule online after my weekend to see that my teaching score go from a 4.5 to a 3.0 or so, it was a big deal at the time! I had just finished having a beautiful weekend of sightseeing and relaxing with my best ones, I had seen the Yellow Crane Tower and the Wuchang Uprising Memorial of 1911, I was ready to return to teaching but that wasn't so! I had been taken off the schedule without no explanation, I was worried for my job and my right to remain in China! I went to that Training Centre for a meeting, in the back of my head I already knew what was going to happen. Yes, I was upset but I went out on the town that night and got horrendously drunk because that seemed like the only good thing to do! Getting my life I called some favours in, I found myself employed within less than 48 hours after that crazy day! August 2015 was definitely a month to remember, I got back up, dusted myself off and made that mishap disappear! I knew I was not going anywhere! No! 

I'm Basically Over You! 

Joseph Harrison