17 January 2018

2017: Something To Remember?

2018's here now but I would like to evaluate the final quarter of 2017, well to reflect on all of its craziness! My final month in Wuhan during July 2017 might well seem like a world away and the summer trips I took in England were great, it was such a blur that I want to recollect those memories. It's China time again but the last six months were utter madness! Go, go Beijing!

By the time July 2017 rolled around it felt like such a relief, I had been working in Wuhan, China flat out for two years without much of a break. Making my final month count I had a tick list for that sweltering summer month in Wuhan. Work felt strange, I was able to count my final after school lesson, my final outdoor activity and even my final lesson with each class. From a sightseeing stance I made my way back to Tanhualin, recapturing that same coffee street filled me with nostalgic vibes from my November 2015 visit, revisiting the market street served realness for sure even though the rain pelted down! Takinng my last trip on the Wuhan Metro felt bizarre, from Jiyuqiao to Guanggu for the final trip put my whole two year experience together in a series of mad moments. AllStars turned up the music, getting my life that night I made sure Wuhan knew it was loosing one of its best! How I was ready for takeoff!

My Wuhan to Shanghai high speed journey had been completed without any fatalities, meaning I hadn't completely lost my senses lugging two jammed packed suitcases and my carry-on luggage. To cut a long story short I arrived back onto British soil the next day on-time without any delay, reunited with my family felt great as it had been such a long time since I had seen them but a piece of me was missing. Home life was good, the honeymoon period didn't last for long because the bureaucracy with my visa process. Reuniting with Fiona in Sctoland was just the tonic that I needed, talking of tonic it seemed like a bright idea to get on the Buckfast! Getting back to Birmingham gave me a slice of Chinatown overness, turning the lights down low it was a night out to remember with my brother and his girlfriend. The withdrawal from the berserk nature of Guanggu's sqaure made Bilston feel like a ghost town. I have to be honest it was strange to be back but I had things to do! Those home truths!

My Chinese visa process started without many hiccups, the main set of my notarised documents and copies of my new passport had reached their Beijing, China destination within three workings days with a popular international courier service. It would be another two weeks before my next piece of paper would be released from the Chinese government, so with some time to spare I planned my Yorkshire trip to the cities of Leeds and York. Leeds was a random choice but it had many advantages like Megabus services from Birmingham for a fiver and from there I was able to get a cheapish train onto York because the return trains from Wolverhampton to that historic city made me shed a tear! Through that certain deviation I was afforded a great weekend of sightseeing, allowing me to escape from the turmoil of visa nonsense! York's Shambles impressed me and Leeds's Kirkgate Market served a Victorian charm. Yes!

After being home for two and bit months I was ready to move on! On the whole I thought I was set for my papers getting stamped, securing that visa back to the Middle Kingdom was the aim but life wasn't going to be so kind! Getting on with time at home I relished being able to blog about new places that I had been visiting, Leeds was something different and honestly the chance to see Chinese tourists in York gave me a good laugh, there's no other nationality whilst they are holidaying! Communication with my contact was good, getting the first set of bureau requirements fulfilled it was promising to get things in motion. I was deep down enjoying being back at home but the reverse culture shock had me craving the mayhem of everyday life in China. The final throws of 2017 kept me on my toes, little did I know things would be getting twice as hectic in the weeks to follow! I was feeling a third trip on the cards, I was getting cabin fever, my indepedence was much needed B!

My parents had recently spent a boozy weekend in Cardiff, inspired by their stories I booked a hostel bed and a return megabus from Birmingham to the Welsh capital for the weekend. Taking in sights like Cardiff Castle and Cardiff Bay I loved the constract between areas within the city, of course Bute Town bought lots of realness! When the sun set I donned by dancing shoes and headed down to 'The Kings' and 'WOW' but frankly I loved the cans of Strongbow I found at 'The Kings'. It was a case of getting merry again to cure the first nights hangover! Yes, that bowl of Welsh Cawl brought the flavour big time! Oh, I saw a former Welsh mine in the Valleys, during that hungover state it was an experience to say the very least! Cardiff took my stresses away for even a brief time, back to the real stuff I had much bigger fish to fry! Thank goodness for these little trips, they kept me sane and my blog going through 2017's ending!

Back from my Welsh trip it was back to home to deal with the next phase of my visa process back to the Middle Kingdom. I was planning to return on a different kind of document for a speedier arrival but with a change of management in the Human Resources department and the everchanging nature of China's visa policies it was back to the drawing board for the conventional teaching visa. My reason for choosing the other visa was driven to cost, having to ask my parents to help me out wasn't what I wanted but a private medical needed to be produced to the visa bureau for those all important visa papers. I was so stressed during that period of time because my heart rate test had shown that I had an irregular heartbeat, it was the rudeness of the receptionist on duty that made my blood boil if truth needed to be told! The international courier confused China with Canada, they snapped back into action so my visa could be finalised. DH whoever made me lose my sanity straight!

Both parties got it together at long last, I was ready for my visa already! To cut a long story short, I finally had the green light to book a visa appointment at long last back in November 2017. Staying at my paternal aunts house near London it was a nice week away, getting my visa in check and seeing family with two days in London for good measure. Flights could finally be booked, saving those coins before leaving China the first time meant I could splash out on a one way flight with Emirates from Birmingham via Dubai to Beijing on the Airbus A380! Saying my goodbyes to family wasn't easy but I was feeling very relieved to be returning to China! Being 'Beijing Ready' meant I hit the ground running with the intent to be super organised. With the help of my Chinese Principal it was easy to secure a new apartment and get my bank accounts sorted out during the first five days. Beijing made it all better!

Beijing life during the final six weeks of 2017 posed to be very busy indeed, settling into my new campus was easy because I finally had the chance to be in the same classroom for the whole working day. I do miss my Wuhan children but my Beijing children are just as cute, on a professional level things were great but with all this work didn't leave a lot of time for play! Christmas was downright strange and the workload has meant the weekends have been chilled for the most part. I didn't stress during December to see Beijing because the Olympic sites had been discovered before the year was out. I feel blessed I am finally where I want to be after such a long time waiting and waiting but its all so worth it. 2017's final quarter tested me to my limits but it was the training I needed for 2018. Wuhan may be a distant memory but Beijing stands in the light of the new year with many blessings. With my actual work visa in my passport now, I honestly hope the renewal will be stressfree! OK CN?

Goodbye 2017!

Joseph Harrison 

6 January 2018

48 Hours: Tianjin, China!

2018's eve gave me the key to unlock three days off from teaching, making my way to Beijing South Railway Station had to be done, that Tianjin high speed train wasn't going to wait for me! Choosing Beijing's little sister seemed like the right thing to do, only 30 minutes away from BJ left me with enough time to arrive before midnight on the 30th of January 2017. Get it, T!

Being a port city Tianjin has had a colourful past, my first port of call during that New Year's weekend trip was to the 'Five Great Avenues'. Built by British, French, German and Italian settlers, this international concession was leased to those western counterparts during the early 19th century, maybe the motive was money? Regardless of any remnants of its shady past I was transported home for even a brief moment, some of the buildings oozed a certain British style without a doubt! The pollution that morning was no joke, thankfully my up close and personal photos weren't ruined by the low visibility, sure with a breezy forecast a blue sky decided to make an appearance. It was funny to see the street signs only detailing the Chinese pinyin, usually a 'Chinglish' name for the street stands below the original text, was it in defiance due to the colonial reminders seen within Wu Da Dao? Well, I could read the signs T!

I had already been in Tianjin since the previous night, after clocking out of my kindergarten campus I made my way to the Beijing South Railway Station via Line 15 and Line 14 of Beijing's vast subway network. The New Year's travel rush for the weekend ahead packed the underground trains but Beijing knows how to handle that! Arriving into Tianjin Railway Station was no stress, finding myself on the wrong side of the station, the location of the exit had other plans for me. Scanning a MoBike I peddled to my hotel during the twilight, it was so peaceful for a huge city and that felt so refreshing. Fast forwarding to that colonial wonder I could feel the same relaxed pace even though it was a long weekend, taking my time I saw the regal buildings without fuss, well minimal because it wouldn't be China without a little bit of 'are you serious?' Tianjin didn't give me any reason to rush around, so I took my time during that morning, it was just after the morning because I wanted to sleep in. 

Foolish people were getting in my photo space and it was too damn cold to wait for their petty photos to be taken, scanning another MoBike I swerved between those passing cars and cursed at those bikers who looked like they were 'driving miss daisy!' Heading for the Porecalin House was the aim, yes a house ironically made from China in China, the middle kingdom is always full of surprises. Over the amount of selfie takers, getting into the Poreclain House took some patience that was almost lost but I always keep my 'ish together. Getting inside the Poreclain House showed me something that reminded me of Barcelona's Guadi offerings, that China residence could have well be a Chinese made love story during a possible Gaudi trip to Tianjin, China? Serving elements of 'Parc Guell' on a pint-sized and chaotic scale it could have been a Chinese Catalan offspring?! Apprently my Chinese was amazing but those selfies were not!

Most riverside cities in China have seen prosperity in more ways than one, Tianjin's own ocean river impressed me with its frozen frame, it felt so cold but the freshness blew those cobwebs away for sure! Boasting its own port that's home to Royal Caribbean Internationals cruise liners changes the game for China because now Shanghai isn't the only port city giant in China, no! I appreciated the riverside views because unlike Jinwan Square's architechure it looked like the real thing along the Hai He riverfront, the Chinese really need to see that reconstructed old buildings only work at Dudley's Black Country Living Museum, leave that remade nastiness behind because it's just tacky, some might call my tone bitter but I feel its just me being authentic with what sights I did see along my Tianjin travels. Soju corrupted me that afternoon, no open container law had me shamelessly sipping to view people's disgusted looks, no laws were broken T! MUSE sorted for my pre-pre NYE night! Slay!

Feeling rather tender the only cure for my drunken mistakes was a massive KFC to sort it all out, thankful my hotel was just a few paces away from one! Stomach and hangover tended to I was on the look out for Tianjin's ancient culture street, a usual sight that I usually avoid like the plague but since returning to China I want to give every opportunity the benefit of the doubt. Tianjin's developing underground system took me closer but another MoBike had to be employed, slightly hungover I peddled shamelessly to Tianjin's ancient street. Excusing the rebuilt overcrowded streets I found a side street captured to the left, it gave me something authentic and even Hutong like to hold onto. One of the street sellers dared to call me a 'Laowai' translating to 'alien' I used my Chinese language skills to shock him that I actually had a nationality as he did too! I didn't buy anything, though the incense burners looked nice! Oh, T!

Revisiting the riverside along the Hai He, something told me New Year's Eve was going to bring me something that would shake that hangover. Consulting my go-to APP the night before showered me with a monsoon of negativity about what nightlife that may have been in Tianjin I was willing to give those folk one more chance. As the freezing temperatures bit I received a message that took my New Year's Eve into another direction. Finding another kindred spirit from Hubei Province proved it is truly a very small world after all, leaving that cliche behind I found myself neck a scorching bowl of Lanzhou Noodles that weren't the best, I saw the golden arches and in that moment I would have done anything to change those noodles into a Double Cheeseburger! I knew I had to get it together because I wanted to see the Tianjin Eye before the clock stroke midnight! Finding that familiar path I was reunited with riverside, scanning my third or fourth MoBike I tenderly peddled alongside Tianjin's frozen riverfront. Tianjin had already shown me a lot, more than I had planned! Read between the lines T.

Managing to see those purple and red like dazzling lights, I had the Tianjin Eye in my sights. Currently the only 'Eye' attraction in China its something of an attraction in Tianjin but my bike riding view was enough for me! The coldness seemed to feel quite mild, peddling ever closer to the wheel I felt the first stages of 2017 close, I wasn't going to implement any New Year's resolutions because my goals were being scored in that moment. With work I am concurring those mini triumphs that will hopefully become long term realities, I am truly blessed! The chimes of 2018 wouldn't be in a nightclub that night because I was done from the night before, leaving the eye and all of its brightness behind me I walked and then some to the nearest underground station because I certainly don't do buses! Oh, Tianjin Eye please step up your entrance, I saw a hard candy style entrance, look to London for inspiration darling. Advice!

Darkened streets fronted me without any concern, Tianjin served safeness in abundance because China has to be one of the safest countries that I've ever been to in my life! Using Baidu Maps I made my way back onto the Tianjin Metro network, arriving back to the familiar sights of Jinwan Square took me back to the beginning. Ditching anymore alcoholic drinks I headed back to KFC for convenience to get a hot chocolate and two egg tarts because I was ready for my bed, I need to get back on that party animal real soon! Ringing in the New Year with a few messages it was back to business the next morning, leaving Tianjin Railway Station for Beijing South Railway Station I had my eye on the prize. Leaving one of China's five Municipalities behind me I knew the chimes of 2018 held big things for me. My snapshot quick weekend gave me great sights and a mad night out, making time for everything it set the pace for 2018 with many new things to experience. Tianjin knew it!

I Told You... Tianjin!

Joseph Harrison 

29 December 2017

Shunyi District: Strictly Suburban Beijing...

Transferring to Beijing from Wuhan was my number one priority but I had one district that I really didn't want to be placed in! Closest to Beijing's current interational airport, Shunyi District somehow became my new home in China after the noise of Guanggu, Wuhan. I will be completely honest I wasn't pleased at first but life so far in suburban Beijing couldn't be any better!

Arriving into Beijing was enough of a shock, getting over the jet-lag I made my way from Chaoyang Park to China International Exhibition Center Subway Station in Shunyi to look for somewhere to live with my Chinese principal and a property agency. Captured to the left is my current community, its quiet and situated within easy reach to two subway stations that connect with inner-city underground lines. My first impressions of Shunyi were good, even people in the McDonald's at Euro Plaza spoke English and those international Chinese people were definitely well heeled because many languages could be heard during those first moments. I couldn't begin to compared Shunyi with Guanggu because the differences are so stark, in my new area it's common not to see any crowds or loud speaker announcements during the weekends. The 'money compound' suits me fine, keeping the noise away in the city. 

I haven't shared an apartment/flat since my Hallmark Aviation placement days in Newark, New Jersey, with Chinese prices on a different scale completely I won't be considering anyone else's space for a long-time! My one bedroom Central Park apartment boasts a large living and dining area, bathroom with continental toilet, a fair sized kitchen and a double bedroom all to myself. Rents are higher in Beijing compared to Wuhan but Chaoyang rents are three times higher than my Shunyi price. Shangdu might have been above 24 hour convenience stores and other god-sends but I have what I need a couple of steps away from my door, with a closing time for these shops its an excuse to save money. On the whole my new abode works just fine for me, feeling like I have graduated its proof my accommodation reflects that movement as well my working status. The subsidised central heating is a god-send because the weather drops below minus two degrees most nights! B, show me Shunyi!

Having a Carrefour downstairs in Guanggu was amazing, it gave me the perfect excuse to stock up on wine after work on a Friday evening, fast forward to Shunyi life in Beijing its a lot different here. Carrefour can be accessed quite easy from my new place but I found a cracker, a supermarket called 'WuMei', which is practically Chinese in every sense. Snatching four full bags of shopping each week for around 20 pounds allows me to save! WuMei keeps it real, located past a rather exclusive shopping complex the luxurious nature stops dead at the door because the clientele aren't the usual compared to Shunyi's elite, those villa residents mostly shop at Jenny Lou's or BHG import supermarkets. I plough my shopping trolley to and from the necessary aisles because those shoppers get me mad! One Friday night had me so crazy, the APP payment machine broke at the check out, it was chaos! Get it together!

Introducing a professional tone, the whole reason I am now in Shunyi District is for my teaching job with a reputable international kindergarten company. Going back to the United Kingdom for three months wasn't the plan but with certain miscommunciations dealt with I was placed in my Beijing campus away from the noise and madness of Chaoyang District. I wasn't expecting to be assigned a Shunyi location but within time I was able to accept the changes and my new location for better rather than worse. Conveniently located from my community I can walk to my new kindergarten campus within twenty minutes, it beats getting the bus like I did in Wuhan twice everyday and it leaves me with more of an evening to chill out from the fast paced nature of kindergarten life. Buses, never again after Guanggu's offerings! WuMei's madness and normality gives me life in a strange way but being closer to school makes life much easier compared to that Guanggu life. Yes, Shunyi will do!

During my pre-Shunyi arrival research I was relieved to see that my campus was near to Beijing Subway's Line 15 that connects this outer city community with lines 14, 5, 8 and 13 that can all take me closer to the centre of Beijing. Google Maps and Baidu Maps had me recognising the area around China International Exhibition Center Subway Station with the surrounding golf courses and leafy exclusiveness I was well aquainted to that public transportation connection. I can get into the city within about ninety minutes, that might seem far but it works for me because the noise of the city can be left right where it needs to be, Shunyi for the moment gives me peace but I'm never isolated because Line 15's Guo Zhan and Hua Li Kan Subway Stations keep me connected. A DiDi taxi from the centre of Beijing's party district 'San Li Tun' was only 70 kuai the last time I went out, that's about 8 quid! Chaoyang, who? I'm not bitter!

Did I mention that I only live 15 minutes from Beijing Capital International Airport? Yes, Shunyi District will hold the key to a speedy departure to the airport and then home after I touchdown back in Beijing. I have met certain Chaoyang teachers that throw shade on my airport side location, I have no issue getting a taxi to the airport for less 2 quid from door to door rather than traipsing across the city to catch a flight. I can see the control tower from the north exit of my community and its a plane spotters dream because my side of Shunyi District is on the final approach for each and every aircraft that touchs down at Peking International Airport, of course I see those departing flight soar higher across Shunyi! Back to the city, I've only been into town a couple of times since arriving because work has been manic but with a possible extended contract on the horizon I'm in no rush. So, Shunyi District is home for now, a different side to Beijing that I wasn't expecting but it's working out fine!

Countryside? No, It's Strictly Suburban! 

Joseph Harrison 

23 December 2017

Wangjing's Korean Connection...

Beijing isn't just about the Great Wall or its Temple of Heaven! Beijing is made of different neighbourhoods that aren't in the tourism glare. Making use of one very rare sober Sunday I got myself to Wangjing, an unassuming Beijing residential area that bridged a certain Korean connection. Things might be fractious on the Korean Peninsula but I wanted seafood Ramen and Soju!

Ditching the booze two Saturdays ago made for a rare sober Sunday, making use of that rare occurrence I jumped on Line 15 of the Beijing Subway to Wangjing. Why Wangjing? Formerly known as one of Beijing's outer 'sleeping towns' that northern corner of Beijing City has been fashioned into a place for its residents to work, play and live altogether. I was drawn to Wangjing because it had a certain Korean connection, I was originally meant to meet a friend near Wangjing South Subway Station but he was working overtime, turning an unfortunate situation into something worthwhile I wanted to challenge Wangjing to find its Korean side! From China International Exhibition Center Subway Station to Wangjing's underground stop it wasn't much of a journey, no interchanges were needed meaning the whole trip was under fifty minutes! Beijing is massive, finding somewhere to see closer to home worked out just fine!

My days out in Beijing haven't been so plentiful, mainly because I only arrived in November? But when the weekend comes round I lose that sense of adventure sometimes because the central heating feels way to good, the cold is definitely biting bad right now! Stepping off the escalator at Wangjing Subway Station felt great, it seemed like a normal residential area but I wanted to see through that classification. I had previously been to Wangjing but the exit seemed like it was slap bang in the middle of a construction site, that day didn't paint an interesting picture of Wangjing at all. Back to the phrase, 'sleeping town' because many outer communities that are away from Beijing were and are commonly ghost towns in the week and only come alive during the evening when the commuters return home from the office or at the weekends. Being a Sunday it was quite hectic but that's just China, frankly I was too hungry to care about that Sunday afternoon energetic pace! 나는 배고파다!

Heading for 'Korean Town' for something to eat and for a general nose around. Checking out the import supermarket had to be done, quenching my thirsty with a can of Korean apple juice had to be done. South Korea is known for its beauty and skin products the world over, so I wanted to get something to keep my face looking moisturised and on-point. Finding a deep pore cleansing face cream, trying it out a few days later I was so impressed with the results, my skin looked and felt utterly fabulous! South Korean guys from those K-Pop videos always have such sharp hairstyles, noticing a hairdressers I translated some Korean and got my hair restyled because it was looking like a damn mess! For about ten pounds I got my short sides and top style back, looking good is important here because its all about 'face!' Korean Town may have been pint-sized but it was serving it up! If I need any South Korean train tickets I'm Okay!

Hair done, thirst quenched and pore cleanser purchased I was ready to have something tasty and Korean for my lunch/dinner. Close to the hairdressers I saw a Korean barbecue restaurant that looked mildly authentic, regardless of anything else I was too hungry to care during that moment! I cook for myself most days so when I go out to eat I don't want to be cooking the food myself, backing that statement I ordered the seafood Ramen. I had heard of Soju, getting my own bottle for less than twenty Yuan I enjoyed it responsibly because it was Sunday afternoon, nobody has time for a hangover on a Monday morning, plus I like having employment! Back to the food, the seafood Korean style noodles tasted amazing, I was very impressed with my foodie find within Beijing's Korean Town! I'll definitely be back for some more Korean food, preferably not on a Sunday so I can enjoy a lot more Soju! My look had been improved and my taste buds had been satisfied, a job well done Wangjing Subdistrict!

Taking a walk around the centre of Wangjing's many imposing tower blocks I came across several shops, restaurants and other businesses that displayed colourful Korean language signs, reminding me of my time within Shenyang's Korean side of town it was nice to have that five minute flashback. The contrast between residential Wangjing to the SOHO development really made all the different, no I didn't give any of my time to that shiny new part of Wangjing. I almost ended my Wangjing outing after that moment but I came across an interesting looking square, it oozed 'twelve party core values' Realness without a doubt! Shiny in a rich red the famous references to the Communist Party of China could be seen, not judging it was a chance for me to test my Chinese reading skills, I managed to read three values. Sports Culutral Square added to the randomness of the day! Did I miss something? Yes B!

Wangjing's subtle Korean vibe switched up my Sunday in the best way, I was all but ready to call it a day and head back to Guo Zhan but something told me to do different. Stumbling upon an open market surprised me, they don't serve those sights in Shunyi by my community so I enjoyed that healthy dosage of Realness! Korean language signs could be seen within that darkened market area, many imported products were being sold from the Korean Peninsula. The wide array of colourful fruits and vegetables gave that corragated iron environment an injection of colour and vibrancy. Clocking the cut and blow dry stlye barbershops within that area I kicked myself because it was a lot cheaper, with that being said it did look like a conveyor belt and language could have been an even bigger problem! With my fruit purchases in tow it was time to head back to Shunyi before another new exciting week at work. So, Wangjing had something different, I appreciated that unknown area of Beijing!