20 April 2019

Nanjing, China: Ancient Towers, Sky Bars & Realness!

Refreshed from the long sleep, we had some breakfast then caught a bus to find one of the best views in Nanjing. The previous night out had been brief because I was so damn tired, we knew that it was going to be nasty good later on that night! I was open to pretty much anything happening that day, it was nice not thinking about plans! Nanjing slayed and then some! 

Bussing it to the foot of Nanjing's Yuejiang Tower kickstarted the longish hike up to the top, I am not good with heights but getting it together and directing my efforts to see the skyline of Jiangsu's top city kept me going! Me and Chris just chatted about anything and everything, making our way to the top allowed us to see an uninterrupted view of Nanjing's sprawling CBD. It was no Guomao but in its infancy it impressed me much with its new glass and steel megastructures. The sky was thankfully clear over the main city centre but in the other direction the smog from the paint and chemical factories littered the skies, it didn't impact our views, it only added to the contrasts that Nanjing was showcasing to us. Feeling all nostalgic, the tower itself resembled Wuhan's Yellow Crane Tower but with its own Nanjing edge. Complete with a Yangtze River view that gave me life for certain. It felt great to be near that familiar body of water! 

Nobody stared at us both for being the 'Laowai's', that felt lovely because we could go about our business, some school kids were so happy to see two foreigners but I shocked them by saying good afternoon to them in Chinese! The views from the top of Nanjing's Yuejiang Tower made everything make sense, we shared our feelings about the nearby Jiangsu Province city of Suzhou. Let's just say our experiences were different, one thing I haste to remember is a KFC Spicy Chicken Burger! Don't ask me! Making our way down the mountain at a slower pace gave us the chance to discuss about our experiences as English teachers in China, our approach to open the minds of the young people that we have the opportunity to teach English. Our jobs may be targeted towards different age groups but we had shared situations that we had both experiences with. Needless to say the gorgeous sunshine set the pace for the day, it was turning into early teatime! Nanjing had me falling for its charms! 

Walking the rest of the way from the bus-stop, we made it to the Zifeng Tower. Originally planning to try some Nanjing food we got our ticket but with the holiday crowds out in their droves it was going to be a lengthy wait for our slot, taking the lift up to the 78th floor within the Intercontinental Nanjing was the one! Making ourselves comfortable within the plush surroundings of the Sky Bar felt correct. With sweeping views across the city, we had the best seats in the city! Ordering the most cost effective bottle of Prosecco sounded like the best idea in the world! Toasting to finally meeting in Nanjing we decided after the first bottle that we needed another one, those dinner reservations weren't really important! Nanjing's Xuanwuhu Lake looked amazing from our view from up above as the sun started to set. Our conversation was getting real, the bubbly was flowing and it was a great time to be alive! Yes, NJ!

Hitting the streets for some food we weren't fussy in our boozy mood, calling McDonalds for our pre-drinking meal gave us such a beautiful view! Now when we noticed that Nanjing Nan Ren, no he looked like perfection with his designer leather satchel! Our eyes we definitely not deceiving us in that tasty moment! You already know that I was Taobao searching that bag, let's just say I was convinced it was real leather! Going back to Chris's on the underground brought us back to the pungent aromas of Zhangfuyuan, it was time to get our best threads on for the night ahead! Getting my Britney t-shirt ironed and my new blue denim jeans ready, it was set. The night ahead was going to be memorable! Well, with the drink we planned to drink after the bubbles at the Sky Bar the hangover would be the only memory! The day may have started later than planned but we enjoyed the crazy at the Yuejiang Tower, our drinks with a view to rival impressed us during that Tomb Sweeping weekend N!

Scanning two rental bikes we rode through the pulsating city centre, dodging oncoming traffic and passing the neon lit thoroughfares, it gave me life! I had heard things from Chris about the place that we were going to that night, approaching an unassuming tower block we took the lift up a few floors, transferred lifts to reach the 21st floor. Finding this sparkly underground Gay Bar in what was probably the space of an apartment rubbished any previous expectations. Star Club was going to bring the drinks and the entertainment that night, I had my 5 RMB notes from my North Korea trip so I was going to be handing tips out left right and centre! When the place started filling up it wasn't the most refined establishment that I had ever frequented but the vibe of the place was authentic. With our twelve breezer's on the bar, the drinking was well and truly on! I was ready for the entertainment to begin! Absolutely NJ!

The drag performers threw some shapes on the stage, working their choreography they played no games! Their lip synching was definitely questionable but their commitment to their art was undeniably true, for the location I was still shocked I was sitting in such a place on the 21st floor of an unassuming tower block in the heart of Nanjing! The drinks continued, we got talking to some guys and what skills I used couldn't possibly mentioned in this publication, let's just say I turned a few tricks! Making my debut on the karaoke, I smashed gave my best rendition of Britney Spears's hit song 'Everytime'. The night was everything and more, we drank and had a really great night out in Nanjing! I wanted to recreate some early morning chaos like in Seoul but we had our wires crossed when we rocked up to that shady location. Kicking off because I couldn't get a Jianbing, needless to say it was well and truly time for bed! Oh, how my Beijing train the next day wasn't fun at all! Oh, NJ!

Tips For The Queens!

Joseph Harrison 

19 April 2019

Nanjing, China: A Jiangsu Province Return!

Returning to Wuhan was an exception even though I had never vowed to go back, in saying that Nanjing South Railway Station saw me make my return in the same fashion! My Scotch friend Chris had flown his tartan homeland to teach English in Jiangsu's capital, we met through a mutual friend and with Nanjing on the cards, it was certain that we were going to meet! 

My travel plans were almost in tatters quite like this blog post was before my fast thinking got me out of a right mess, it wasn't pretty! The tone in First Class during that Beijing-Nanjing train was lowered and then some, thankfully my boozy breakfast gave my words an edge! After meeting Chris at Nanjing South Railway Station we went underground, now that wasn't going to be the first time throughout that trip but I meant in that sense we took the Subway to his ends in Zhangfuyuan. I was having all kinds of Nanjing flashbacks, back then I was living in Wuhan and was fresh to travelling in and around China. Leaving the station showed me something that reminded me of those older gritty food streets that I had frequented many times during my Wuhan days, it was like a blast from the past even though it was part of my journey it felt like it was meant to be! Arriving safe in the end, Nanjing was on fire! Trains are so boozy!

Catapulted into the heart of an area that had a curious scent, the streets allowed me to catch a whiff of cooking oil and the pace of ordinary life in a corner of a Chinese city that hadn't seen mass modernisation. Zhangfuyuan was a-wash with signs and street-side shop fronts that sold food that I hadn't seen for a hot minute, my suburban corner of Beijing's Northeast doesn't have that type of fare because its on another hype on my side. It was great to finally meet Chris in the flesh, we had been talking since October 2017, to finally meet after talking for so long! Chris works for a training school, one thing I admire him for because that professional calamity need not call me up again! My early morning alarm hadn't caught up on me at that point, away from the big smoke felt great because work had me on a mad thing! I was unknowingly ready to be reunited with a place that I got horrendously lost the first time! Going back to reevaluate things made everything feel correct in the end! 

Passing the front of a meat market gave me such a stomach turning nostalgic smell, no disrespect to my friend but I wouldn't like that scent on a daily but it transported me back to my first morning in China during that Shanghai week in June 2015. The local market sold everything edible, usually I wouldn't want to pass those places but for that experience it had to be done! Leaving the backstreets behind us, something hit me bang on in the face! I had got massively lost along Jianye Road, it was such mad feeling seeing the main road, the Qinhaui River and the same McDonalds that stood in the same place as before! I was stunned by the whole experience, that flashback gave me life! Scanning two rental bikes we took to the streets, swerving past traffic had my heart in my mouth but the experience was ace! Getting to see the city sights from a different point of view was everything to me! Go N!

We wanted pizza but places open and close all the time in China, we had to be realistic because Chinese food was not going to be on the menu that Friday teatime! Walking the streets for a little bit after our biking moment took us to the Paulaner Brauhaus, a German restaurant that served us just what we love! Beer and sausage for the win, the waiters in that place were all on fire! With my bangers and mash and litre beers doing what it promised to, the conversation got real whilst the scenery merged between German brewhouse to Chinese talent! Spa? Chris had said we would be going swimming, I was open to that but after meeting his friend Steven that prospect changed entirely! Baring all, I entered into a whole new Korean Spa situation but I cannot begin to retell the cakes that walked past me! Chatting and bathing in the hot springs put my fears at bay, excuse me I caught a glimpse of my reflection and I was like! After feeling a new sense of self love I said props to the Spa! Yass Bitch!

Going back to Chris's had to be done! Getting changed for some drinks was the plan, it had been a full bodied day, judging by the previous activity it was literally! Scanning our bikes, riding to a secret Whisky Bar took us to a bar I never knew the name of. Myself, Chris, Steven and Jiaming enjoyed a drink each in a cosy hipster kitsch environment. Going for a Long Island Ice Tea, it was a refreshing drink but if truth could be told it needed to be stronger! The chat was on-point, I recounted my time in Beijing getting up to the things I fall into to. Being in that boys club felt nice because I usually keep my ladies close by. The night was young but that day had been so long up until that point, I wanted to push forwards to see Catherine Park. Making it to Revolucion, I thought it was going to be like the underground Catina that I had found in Xiamen but it was more sobering than ever! NJ, I for one well and truly needed my bed!

From leaving my apartment in the dark of morning to reaching the end of the night in Nanjing, Jiangsu it had been a full bodied day for certain! I've said that twice! Going back to Chris's it was time to sleep till dinnertime the next day because it was holiday! Getting back to Nanjing was amazing, it was fulfilling not to plan anything for a trip like usual, to literally arrive and just for it all to fall into place felt like such a blessed thing! Nanjing had big plans for us the next day and then some but the first day had been filled with the right amount of everything! I had found a new freedom in the Spa and had out-witted a snotty nose passenger who freaked out when I took her charger out of the power outlet on the train from Beijing! I told her the world would still turn, the sun would still shine so her phone would still be sufficiently charged! Beer for breakfast has a lot to answer for! No, that stank ass attitude spoke volumes without that passenger even talking! Those tracks were on fire! 

Now Nanjing! 

Joseph Harrison 

27 March 2019

On The Borderline... Dandong, China!

Dandong had been a city that I had wanted to see before I found out travel to North Korea would be viable, the mysterious views from the Broken Bridge intrigued me to know more. Leaving the overnight train from Beijing to Pyongyang for the return leg gave me the opportunity to extend my 2019 Chinese Spring Festival trip. Liaoning's borderline city with the DPRK served it!

Crossing back over the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge on the train from Sinuiju to Dandong felt bizarre that I had just spent six days in North Korea, after running for the immigration desks to be stamped back into China I said goodbye to Yuan, she was flying onto Shanghai and I was going to be meeting my Dandong tour guide, Jack that evening. The evening was brief with  some surprises but I was exhausted from the hectic itinerary that had been in Pyongyang, Dongrim & Sinuiju. Known for its borderline with the DPRK, Dandong shares its border with Sinuiju as the Yalu River separates the two nations and city's. I had seen on many documentaries that the contrast between Dandong and Sinuiju would certainly provide contrasting views for certain. The next morning I would get to see those striking views for myself, my Dandong extension would be the last day of my holiday. The first night back in China was sobering! 

Bright and early the next morning I met my tour guide and the driver, leaving the city limits we had arrived at the Hushan Great Wall. Climbing just a short way from the entrance allowed me to see the crisp and near desolate views of the North Korean perimeter with China. The lack of life stunned me, the freezing cold temperatures definitely added to the eeriness of the view. My tour guide explained to me that it was forbidden for any objects to be passed from the Chinese side over to the DPRK border, he went on to say that the Chinese tourists have to be monitored because they don't respect the rules, from the corner of my eye I saw a small guards hut that was used during the busier summer months to monitor those homeland tourists. I just don't get how people can't behave? Being a fractious border it really made no sense! To think that I had seen some rustic scenery between Dongrim and Sinuiju that painted the picture that stood in real-time right before me. Yes, it was deserted!

Jinjiangshan Park was the random mid-section to my day, after visiting the desolated views of the border from the Hushan Great Wall, it was time for short steep walk around that Dandong park. Being back in a real life scenic area felt nice, things had been staged managed for the group from the very beginning so those normal views within the park felt correct. I didn't take much in regarding the history of the park because to sight people going about their daily business seemed more interesting, the feel of my previous location didn't have a natural feel to it, so getting back to something that felt like everyday impressed me more than historical facts. Getting back onto the road allowed me to find more out about Dandong, previously a very simple city on the banks of the Yalu River, it had prospered in recent years and with the shenanigans from its DPRK it had become quite the tourism honey pot. Yes, Dandong's grown!  

Lunch took us to the Dandong North Korean Restaurant, the decor and costumes reminded me of those camp and colourful establishments back in Pyongyang. The stage was set for a show but during that freezing February afternoon it looked like there wasn't going to be any performance. Yes, the food that was served us sure tasted really good and I was able drink one more bottle of North Korean beer! Even though it was the early afternoon the restaurant had a steady flow of patrons, the smartly dressed servers who were either wearing business dress or in the case of the door host who wore a traditional Korean Hanbok, they were all flawlessly presented and undeniable beautiful! The group of ladies on the train back to Dandong the previous day were knock-out gorgeous and that's something out of character for me to notice. The day so far was going like clockwork but I patiently waited to see the Yalu River and the Broken Bridge in all of their glory! Sure, that beer revived me!

The previous day whilst on the North Korean side I saw the skyline and bridges that made up Dandong's showcase borderline that meets the Yalu River. Taking a river cruise from Dandong's tourist pier gave me the chance to see the Broken Bridge for myself, with an up-close and personal view it was a sight for sure! The Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge looked tired, the new bridge needs to be completed in-order to give the Japanese repaired bridge museum status, or at least a damn good makeover! Dandong's waterfront was pint-sized but it was booming with business and many new tall buildings, whereas the Sinuiju side stood looking rather quiet and docile. My tour guide gave me the scoop about the shipyard that faces Dandong on the Sinuiju side, something told me by the quiet movements it looked mysterious enough. Looking back over at the view of the mild construction was bizarre from the Chinese side.

News from the DPRK suggests that Sinuiju is poised to be transformed into a modern border city, complete with a new railway that will make the current six hour journey down to Pyongyang into a speedy sixty minutes? Regardless, the experience along the Yalu River impressed me much! Back onto dry land it was time to have a walk along the Broken Bridge for myself, I had just enough time before heading back to the train station. The bridge itself came to an abrupt ending, complete with the concrete pillars in-view from the lookout point upon the bridge gave me a Birdseye view of the park that I had visited the previous day on the Sinuiju side. Stopping at a Sino-Korean gift shop had to be done, I wanted to see if I could get some more trinkets for my DPRK themed language materials. Boarding a god-awful night train to Beijing had to be done but why on earth had I not questioned the bunk type before the trip? Leaving Dandong, I could close the final chapter to my DPRK/China trip!

Thanks D!

Joseph Harrison 

23 March 2019

Sinuiju: DPRK's Pint-sized City!

My time in Pyongyang had concluded, with my bags packed and my hungover self back on the coach it was time for my train to Dongrim to begin my Sinuiju extension with Young Pioneer Tours. Enjoying a few beers on the train was the one, spending the last hours with the group was nice, the PY City tour had been so good! I wanted to experience more during that CNY holiday! 

The scenery changed pretty quickly, from the pint-sized cityscape of Pyongyang, the frozen countryside fronted us with a stark realness. Pulling into Dongrim Station allowed us to be greeted by our two new guides, onto the bumpy roads it was like driving into a world unfamiliar in the past, so quiet and underdeveloped. Arriving at the Dongrim Hotel presented a modern looking hotel, equipped with its own swimming pool I was open to the idea of having a swim later on that day. Settling into the hotel it was nice to relax, walking out to a waterfall that was completely frozen proved to be the days sightseeing. The fresh air and quiet surroundings felt good, the hotel was in a very secluded area, it was peaceful. Being DPRK the quietness wasn't no surprise to us, making the best of the amenities I went for a swim and had a massage, that spot of me-time was really nice and was so cheap as well! Dongrim served us! 

The rooms were modern, freshly designed with slightly firmer mattresses compared with the hotel that we stayed in Pyongyang, not a complaint but it didn't make any difference because a little Soju was consumed that evening. Resting in the room for a little bit gave me the chance to watch a bit of state run North Korean television, meeting my tour friend Yuan Yuan for dinner gave us the chance to experience a rather bizarre evening. I wasn't stunned by the quality of the rooms during my stay in the DPRK, the Dongrim Hotel impressed me. The food throughout the whole trip had been questionable because I hadn't indulged in any Korean during my Seoul trip, that evening in Dongrim challenged my taste tolerance for sure! Taking the to the mic, I found my voice in front of the whole banqueting hall, I loved the limelight, I really did! Going to the bar for a little while, the guests made their own party in their rooms, how I wanted to join but not when in the DPRK! Dongrim, done! 

Getting back onto the road the next morning, it didn't take us long before our phones pinged back into action! Myself and Yuan Yuan couldn't believe it, we could see the New Yalu River Bridge in the near distance so the close proximity with China gave us a connection with the wider world. Our first stop was at the Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory, it gave us the chance to see the factory that has a co-operation with LancĂ´me Cosmetics. Being a Sunday it wasn't so busy on the production line, people were still working and we saw some products sail down the production line. I usually don't bother with face creams but when in North Korea or the DPRK it has to be done! I bought two bottles of anti-ageing cream because even at 28 years old, it's always time to preserve those youthful looks I have. Let me get back with those reviews, yes I can say the moisturiser really keeps my skin soft and fresh. Silky soft Sinuiju!

Our guide told us that the cosmetics factory works with a lot of foreign companies, exporting their Korean made products to far-flung markets overseas. Being located close to China, their seemed to be more leverage with trade even though tight U.S sanctions are still currently in place. Sinuiju served itself as a small yet developing city, the cosmetics factory gave us an insight as to how the Hermit Kingdom is bucking a new beauty conscious trend. Getting more out of my DPRK experience had to be done, opting for a second extension in Dandong as well as Sinuiju because I didn't want to end my experience so quickly since the whole trip took so long to plan and pay for. Onto the next place, Sinuiju led the way to the North Phyongan Province Revolutionary History Museum. I got told off for chewing gum as another guide informed us about the different museum exhibits, the Korean War had become so familiar to us throughout our trip, I was exam ready! Did someone say Ginseng soap?

Sinuiju's skyline wasn't up to the standard compared with Pyongyang but word on the street was that Kim Jong Un announced a major expansion plan for the Yalu River City! Glancing at some rather vivid paintings gave me the only chance to freely take photos of the leaders without having the pressure of taking them at the wrong angle, it definitely wasn't stressful like it was in Pyongyang. Taking pint-sized to a new level, Sinuiju's central square could be seen in its entirety within a few seconds! Going for lunch gave us the chance to eat at the restaurant that was connected to a live power source that was fed from Dandong, China. Walking around a penned in park gave us an uninterrupted view of Dandong's skyline and the Broken Bridge. The park literally had its own perimeter fence, designed for Chinese shopping half day trips across the bridge made that small park extremely lucrative indeed. It was a lesson!

Having been a teacher at a kindergarten chain in China over the last three years has allowed me to see things aren't so different over in the DPRK. Before taking our train back over the border into China we visited one of Sinuiju's most famous kindergartens, seeing for ourselves that some of todays bright hopefuls were schooled at that colourful and kind looking DPRK early years centre of education. Some Chinese kindergartens like to put on a show to their parents, well I need to be careful what I am saying! The children were so cute, like really cute! Their clearly choreographed showcase gave me flashbacks to my first Children's Day performance, those kids smiled like their lives depended on it! The brightly coloured hallways and showroom like classes reminded me of my working life in China, but let us kept certain details vague. Sinuiju may have been small but it showed us more than we previously had expected to see! Onboard the train, China called us back to normality!

Singing Sinuiju!

Joseph Harrison