Hankou's Little Secret...

Hankou had me on a crazy one, seeking a side of Wuhan that I hadn't seen. I was hoping that the rain would not reveal itself for the weather has been utterly shameful recently. In search of a temple I eventually did not find, but in its place I found something equally pleasing. Yes, I chose to revisit Hankou's River Park, seeing the riverside within a different frame of mind. 

Since I got out of that ordinary town where nothing really ever happened I have been afforded some epic experiences, taking me to this Far Eastern land. Hankou had previously showed me Zhongshan Park in July 2015 but I didn't appreciate the scorching temperatures. The November haze engulfed the Wuhan city sky, brushing that unfortunate circumstance to one side I stumbled upon Liberation Park in the Hankou district of Wuhan. Translated back to Chinese this park goes by the name of 'Jiefang Gongyuan' so the road signs had me thinking I was going the wrong way. Liberation Park exuded a sense of calm, welcoming an abundance of families and grandparents with their treasured grandchildren. Weekends in China are extremely important for families who are taken away by high powered jobs and education, Jiefang Gongyuan held the answer to their chaotic lives! Let's get liberated Wu?!

Escaping the concrete jungle that's Guanggu I loved the greener pastures of Hankou's Jiefang Gongyuan to the fullest. With the city in my view I made the most of the park life on offer to me, funnily enough the air within the park walls felt easier to breath as pollution isn't a pretty thing to deal with on a daily basis. Boating seemed to be all the rage, peddling for victory I left it to the families to do just that! Catching a glimpse of a charming looking Bonsai Garden and towering pagoda I lucked out completely, their happened to be a tea house within the Bonsai Garden that overlooked the pagoda. Grabbing a seat and my £1.00 refillable thermos of green tea I took some time out to get my head around such a lush park being in the middle of Wuhan's largest and most crowded city district. Feeling much less toxic I wanted to see the last bits of the park before the winter sun decided to prematurely set. Oh, Jiefang Gongyuan served big even though the fog kept Wuhan under a tight grip!

Getting my life I jumped back on Wuhan Metro's Line 1 to Huangpu Road once more to find Hankou's Gudesi Bhuddist Temple. After seeing some captivating photos on TripAdvisor I was up for a visit to a see my third temple since living in Wuhan, China. I'll set the record straight, I couldn't find the temple to my dismay because its location had me going all over the places. En-route to the temple I took a right down Gongbingning Road, feeling very foreign I was definitely outnumbered in that part of Hankou. Stopping for an orange I noticed the uncomplicated Realness of that Hankou city street. Most of the shops and housing above looked on-point because I don't care for modernity around such Wuhan city streets. Taking in the views of Gongbingning Road I crossed the road to unknowingly see a group of teenage girls frantically waving at me! There are many charming benefits of being a foreigner in China B!

I find that exploring around Wuhan takes so much longer than anywhere I have been to, well maybe New York City comes close because this central Chinese city is apparently the same size as London? I'll be the judge of that! Recognising the aged architectural charms of Gongbingning Road and the surrounding streets I felt like I was back being all touristy within NYC's Lower East Side. Wuhan has an edge that hasn't been rounded off by mass tourism, priding myself for finding these unassuming parts of the city makes feel blessed that this Chinese city hasn't caught up on the China tourism boom. Running with that unplanned diversion I forgot about the temple until another time, retracing my steps back to a main road that linked with Line 1 of the Wuhan Metro. Things are definitely meant to be with regards to not sticking to my original rigid Hankou travel plan. I had a fair metro ride back to Guanggu, I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to my weekend yet! No way!

When it rains in Wuhan it blinding well pours, history has shown that Wuhan was awarded with its own Flood Monument. After researching a shortlist of Hankou River Park sights I was sold when I saw the red star wearing Wuhan Flood Monument. Located alongside the Hankou Bund, this commemoration to the flood of 1954, its a great place catch views of the city from one angle with the Yangtze River in other direction. Keeping within time before the sunset I snapped away like a reporter because I always have to get a worthy photo. They must have seen some serious flooding to get such an monument?! I previously visited Hankou's River Park in September 2015 with a friend, this time around I took the reigns of my independent visit. Calling the shots I left the Wuhan Flood Monument in its place to move forth along the iconic Hankou Riverside. Nevertheless, I was ever so glad to piece back my Hankou city trips boo! 

It's a crime but I tend to favour my Wuhan nights out within Hongshan district, sticking close to my Guanggu ends because I always get crazy but there's one place along the Hankou Riverside I would love to hangout at. Romantic Life, a bar of a certain kind that I first found online during some pre-Wuhna research I recognised certain qualities about that place I liked. Making a pit-stop for an afternoon iced coffee I admired the kitsch and over the top decor of Romantic Life's main bar and lounge area, it looked like the perfect cabaret bar to me. I know that I'll go back to Romantic Life soon enough but as long as these nights are bitterly cold I'm not planning that sort of night out! Leaving the riverside I couldn't help but notice the European inspired buildings that front the Jiangtan section of Yanjiang Avenue oozed French Concession Overness! Getting over to Hankou on these two occasions was well worth my weekend, I loved my efforts sightseeing in Hankou, Wuhan. Yaass!

Hankou Serves Greatness! 

Joseph Harrison 

25: Happy Birthday!

Birthday's are important to me, it's a celebration of another year that I have graced this planet with my amazing presence! Oh yes, that's the gods honest truth! Falling on a weekend this time around I wanted my 25th birthday in Wuhan, China to be one to remember for all the right reasons. Getting my drink had to be done but spending time with friends made it special! 

Friday came around like it usually does but I felt like having some birthday pre-drinks before my official birthday on the 14th of November happened. Choosing Guanggu's own Captain Jack's was a no-brainer for it's the only place this side of the Yangtze River to serve a draft pint of beer. Located on Guanggu Street, Captain Jack's is different compared to the other nightspots in my area. Living nearby Captain Jack's made it easy for me to leave that week of work behind me the night before my birthday without any planning. Minding my own business I enjoyed my drinks to then realise one of my former colleagues from Meten English Guanggu had walked in the bar, I wondered where the party was at? My curiousity caved in, I went to the first floor seating to find Brett, one of the Meten English teachers who was to be my regular drinking mate. We chimed in my birthday with a few more pints! I was only getting started!

I had planned before changing jobs and visas to take a trip out of Wuhan for my birthday weekend but certain events had changed that, I was spending a birthday in China so for that I could recognise that Wuhan had a plan for me. I went to Captain Jack's the first time with Brett, my former colleague in July of 2015 after my first experience at KTV, so I was familiar with this local Guanggu pub. Meeting my former Meteners was great because we were able to catch up in a chilled environment, time had passed and I wasn't bitter about not working for my previous teaching employer. Thinking about life it doesn't feel real that I'm in China at all, so for me to spend my 25th birthday here was amazing! How much does a pint cost? When converted back to British Pounds it's about £2.50 for a pint of Carlsberg at Captain Jacks. Yes, I began my 25th birthday in good spirits, with beer on tap and conversation that sounded good to me while I was at Captain Jack's, Guanggu.

Happy Birthday to me! Turning 25 felt good, I was the man with a plan! I headed for the Wuhan Metro to take me to Tanhualin for some coffee and cake. I had been looking to visit Tanhualin since I saw it on a map of Wuhan's Wuchang district. Dubbed a new hipster hangout in this Central Chinese city my birthday seemed like the perfect excuse to visit. Leaving the crazy and construction of Optics Valley gave me life, heading for Tanhualin I took Line 2 to Pangxiejia to reach this coffee shop haven. Falling in love with Merci Cafe I was up for a Baileys Coffee and a piece of Tiramisu cake. The feel of Merci Cafe was felt like an explosion of cute and kistch design, decorated with cool pastel tones, accompanied by en-trend trinkets I was sold instantly. The other coffee shops looked inviting but I couldn't say no to the charms of Merci Cafe, I'll be having two cakes next time because the Tiramisu was bite-sized B!

I'm planning on staying in Wuhan for awhile, so I always want to find somewhere new to fall in love with, getting to know Tanhualin on my 25th birthday suited me just fine. I will be going back soon because there's more places I want to check out along that sickening street made up of cool hangouts, I'm no hipster but I will never say no to a bit of exploration and experimenting with that culture. Fueled and ready to go forth I knew my 25th birthday had already been great so far, I had everything mapped out! Wuchang keeps on proving itself to be a district that's got hidden depths and so much more to show me. I should probably try a different coffee shop next time I visit Tanhualin but my heart belongs to Merci Cafe for now. Moving away from coffee I found a Chinese market street that served tones of Wuhanese Overness, I got my hair cut and moved on to the next! Another Wuchang sight my birthday trip unearthed! Tanhualin, let's get together soon!? Cake is good! 

Getting my life I went back to Guanggu, I was very much looking forward to my evening meal. Meeting my friend Elli we went to Indian Marka, a sensational Indian restaurant inside Guanggu's World City Plaza shopping centre. Elli also celebrated her 25th birthday that week but on the 11th of November, our evening was like a double birthday celebration! We had heard great things about the food at Indian Marka, with all those good reviews we had to try it for ourselves. I ordered the Butter Chicken, Garlic Naan Bread, Samosa and some Poppadoms, yes I indulged that evening because yes it was my birthday! Elli ordered the same as me but she opted for a Chicken Korma curry. We were in food ecstasy if only for a while, to not eat anything remotely Chinese was a dream come true. The restaurant had an Indian chef, thinking back my curry tasted just like one I would have at home in England. Yes, curry heaven!

Our meal was so much more than just the food, the company was amazing and our conversation made me realise I do have some great friends here in Wuhan. Elli teaches at a primary school in Wuhan and we met because we are employed by the same English teaching agency. Splitting the bill straight down the middle we only spent £11.00 each for all of our food, so the bill came to 223 Chinese Yuan. Compared to a local meal it did cost a bit more but compared to home it wasn't bad for it was a treat for my birthday. Taking a break back at my apartment I opened my bottle of Tanqueray Gin that I had treated myself to, me and Elli gossiped for a bit before getting some real drinks. Vibes Club in Jiedaokou brought some seriously good African beats that Saturday night. It's a firm favourite of mine, the music is amazing and the drinks are value for money so all's good. I drank numerous Earthquake's that night, not missing out the chance to throw some shapes on the floor! Yes!

Another Year Gorgeous!

Joseph Harrison 

November 2014: This Time Last Year...

Finishing university with a bucket full of hopes and aspirations I didn't appreciate the bumpy start to my working life, I wasn't happy with the situation because I knew exactly what I wanted to do! London was calling me, taking me away for one week to spend some time with my parents and to let the city give me some life back was magic! November 2014 redeemed itself!

London had thankfully left the lights on for me, making my way from Wolverhampton to London was the tonic I really needed. I had been applying and interviewing for teaching jobs in China but was not so trusting with the schools because they had some shady plans. The Tower of London had been transformed with a few thousand clay poppies, causing mass hysteria during the annual remembrance period. I got there just in the nick of time as the poppies were being uprooted the day before I got myself down to the 'big smoke'. It was a sight for sure, just one of the many things that lifted my mood during that period of drabness. I didn't have an agenda for my unplanned trip to London but a little event known as a 'birthday' would need to be celebrated! I was adamant not to celebrate my birthday with a gloomy state of mind because that's just wrong! Yes, November 2014 turned from drab to fab!

Wading through the crowds took some going, London is definitely a crazy busy city that doesn't have any time but those pesky tourists got me mad! Leaving that drama behind me I had made it to the Tower of London to see those famous poppies, even though the cause was for the Remembrance season it had caused an almighty stir. Being back in London for only a short time it gave me life, since my Birmingham days, life had changed beyond belief so getting back down to London worked out. In one mind I didn't want to leave Bilston because I wanted to hear from prospective teaching opportunities from China but I had lost faith and had almost given up on that front, I needed a break for a few days. Seeing the sea of blood red poppies was amazing, in one way it was a perfect symbol of remembrance and also a great way to cause some commotion along the River Thames. Thinking about that time last year, London had me sorted during that time of disparity.

Turning 24 years old in London was great, I was ready to see something different that time around. Like an Olympian I was feeling victorious, heading over to the former Olympic Stadium that hosted the London 2012 Olympic Games to see a little bit of that corner of East London. I appreciated the vista of the Olympic Park, I was in Newark, NJ during the games but managed to catch the closing ceremony on NBC when the Spice Girls reunited probably for the final time as a five piece pop band. Leaving Stratford behind I was Bermondsey bound but I'll leave that for later on. My birthday itself was a low key affair with a few too many drinks with parents, followed by a full English breakfast the next day because that hangover was real! Spending my previous birthday in Liverpool and Chester I made sure I made up for that sober situation, I had my reasons boo! Yes, I look forward to many more future birthdays!

I was treated to a shopping spree at my favourite high street retailer, she would be looking fine the next Soho called me! Talking of Soho, I left for that part of town after my post-birthday hangover had subsided to see what that Saturday night had in store. I started off at Village for a few ciders, it was only meant to be a few drinks then get the Tube back but that's a bare faced lie because I knew I was out till the next morning. Moving on to the Duke of Wellington, a few paces from Village it was a vibrant Saturday night in one of my favourite parts of London. Against all odds I had a really good night and that's all I need to reveal. Let's just say I had a great time, that's all that I'm going to recall. Soho has seen some many of its famous venues close during 2014 and onwards so another night out in that side of London was ace! Three days into my London getaway I was feeling much better and already planning things for my return home. Take me back to the Duke of Welly now!

Longing for some hometown glory I asked my mum to take me back to West London, where we lived up until I was five years old. Taking the Circle Line to Perivale was more than like a blast from the past, it was so strange to see things almost the same. My mum could remember more stuff than me, for her I think it felt more weird because it wasn't right for us to be living there anymore. Walking slowly through the park that I had broke my left arm when I was three did trigger a few memories. I wasn't ready to see the house that we used to live in, not because I didn't want to see it but so much time had passed it felt alien. We couldn't go inside the house, that didn't matter to me, in a strange way 5 Tees Avenue stood before us like a ghost. In a strange way I adored our visit back to West London. Yes, seeing Ealing General Hospital from the bus was mental, we also popped to Southall to get some Indian treats!

After my June 2014 summer trip to London I had seen some new places in London, keeping with that notion I jumped on a London Red Bus towards Peckham High Street. Known to of been the location of TV's 'Only Fools and Horses' I was searching for some South East London Realness! Peckham Rye is known to be a hipster hangout, no I didn't give that trick any attention because I wanted some flavour in my life! JB's Soul Food on Sumner Road served me up some spicy Jerk Chicken, Rice and Peas to my delights, just listening to some of the conversations gave me life for they were so real yet so funny! Talk about straight up parenting skills! Peckham had something that I really liked, there was no complaints with the mobile phone shops blaring out Naija Beats to my delight. Not content with my Caribbean food I wanted some Bun Cake, finding what I wanted from Peckham it was the right time to get back to Bermondsey. Of course London is like a never-ending story!

Sticking close to Shad Thames it felt natural to explore a upcoming and super trendy street, Bermondsey Street was a forgotten place but now stands with an air of cool. Getting a winter warmer had to be done at 'Fuckoffe' a coffee shop that I first saw in June 2014. Grabbing a smoothie and some soup I sat and listened to the chatters of London's young professionals, somewhat from the generation 'hipster' bracket. A few days previous I revisited Borough Market to take some photos for a upcoming blog and to also try some tasty food from one of the many stalls. Through the masses of people, mostly tourists I found a lovely chicken and mushroom pie, a little on the pricey side but that's London. Having parents who run a pub in London has made my numerous visit to the 'big smoke' extremely convenient! I honestly loved Fuckoffee, it was more than just a coffee shop! Oh yes, Bermondsey St had my attention!

Towering above Bermondsey is The Shard, a razor sharp iconic skyscraper that is redefining this South East London area. I didn't take a look from the top because its way too expensive and I have a fear of heights but nevertheless its something that I admire each and every time when I visit London. From my dark mood, London lifted me to a happier state of mind that helped me reboot this blog and clear my head for my next move that I was so confused about. Celebrating my birthday with my parents had to be one of the best parts of my November 2014 trip to London, they don't live in the West Midlands anymore so each visit makes it special. The remembrance poppies at The Tower of London impressed me much but the hoards of tourists got on my nerves! Peckham, that corner of SE London gave me life, seeing somewhere new in London gave my blog a new focus and a place compare with Woolwich. Ealing took me back to the beginning, I love my London! I'm done!

I Love The Big Smoke!

Joseph Harrison 

2015: Something To Remember...

2015 has been a year that's kept me on my toes, I got a job at the beginning of the year to help kick-start my China fund. Scaling back my blogging to only four posts per month allowed me to get on top of the quality rather than the quantity, its all working out good from my view. I took local trips to Leicester and Walsall, also going further to Cambridge before China. 

A new adventure was waiting for me but in the meantime I had to keep myself going with my blog and seeing new places in England. I chose Leicester during April 2015, finding a reasonably priced train from Birmingham made it much easier to access somewhere interesting from Bilston. Like many places that I visit I didn't really have a clear plan but knew that there was something to do with King Richard III. Leicester served me something that I appreciated, a city that gave me something to blog about. I chose to check out the Town Hall because it looked nothing like I had imagined Leicester to look like, I was impressed! Moving forwards to the cathedral to see where that King Richard III had been buried under a car park! I got my snaps at the tombstone but I didn't appreciate the dawdlers taking their time, just take your photos and move on! Oh, sightseeing can be stressful with such fools around L! 

Getting the Town Hall and burial sight of King Richard III done I was damn right hungry! Following the signs and my iPhone map I found myself slightly outside the city centre on the 'Golden Mile'. It's no secret that Leicester has a huge British Asian population, I was of course looking for some good food to complement my day out in Leicester. I didn't pay attention to the vegetarian restaurants because I like my meat, so I settled on a Dosa that turned out to be an Indian pancake like wrap. I chose a chicken Masala Dosa with a Chai to drink, it was a winner! Whenever I go to a Indian neighbourhood in England I try to find some Indian sweets because I just love them! Stumbling across one sweet centre I hit the jackpot for sure! Not content with just my sweets I took a random left turn along the Belgrave Road to find an ordinary Indian discount store, after finding some divine incense sticks I was good to go! My day in Leicester took my mind off work and spiced up my life! 

Once I got the idea in my head of seeing Cambridge I simply had to go and explore! Picking a time that suited my messed up work schedule I booked my Megabus to Cambridge, blagging a bed for the night in Birmingham for the night wasn't a problem because that's what brother's are for! Getting down to one of England's premier university cities took longer than I thought it would of but I was there early enough. Hitting the River Cam had to be done, I chose 'Scudamore's Punting' to take me past the regal schools and sights along the river had to be done. Catching a glimpse of the iconic King's College made me feel very accomplished! As picturesque and regal Cambridge fared to be I just couldn't imagine going to university in such a busy place that was littered with tourists! Seeing how the other half study, I got a glimpse of Downing College I felt far removed from my time living at the Maltings! 

The ITV television series 'Grantchester' had recently been on the telly-box, planting a seed in my head to maybe walk down the canal path from Cambridge to see that pretty village but I didn't have the time because unfortunately my coach back to the West Midlands returned the same night. I tell you that getting away from my daily life for a little while was refreshing, taking some time out to relax in the Midsummer's Common was the tonic that I just needed. Feeling thirsty I found a really nice pub by the Megabus stop called the Clarendon Arms to find a lovely pint of cider in a well preserved 18th century time. I found that being away from Birmingham had its drawbacks but if I planned my trips with a little more thought and preparation I didn't see living in Bilston as a bad thing. Cambridge had class but I had to leave that fine university city behind me because I had to make some money for my fast approaching adventure to China. I know that I made the best of things B!

Keeping things a lot closer to home I decided to stay on the 529 National Express West Midlands bus just a little bit longer one day to find myself in Walsall. I worked at a nearby hotel so I had the pleasure of taking that bus on a regular basis but I would always have to get off half way, I had been to Walsall but my curiousity got the better of me that May afternoon. Being close to Bilston, the town of Walsall also has had a strong industrial reign. I saw for myself that things haven't been easy for this leather made town but I noticed that certain parts of the town centre were on the up and up! Taking a nose around the New Walsall Art Gallery allowed me to see some interesting modern art exhibits that I wasn't expecting to see. The upcoming Waterfront project looked to be quite progressive for the town as it was being built during my May 2015 visit. Being close to going away I had to keep things within my budget! 

Finding the Walsall Leather Museum schooled me good and proper about this West Midland's town vast history of working with leather. Dating back to around the year 1400 there was a booming trade beginning in the workshops and tanneries of Walsall. All hasn't been lost because their are still businesses who produce Walsall made leather products for the UK and international markets. I'm sure that some products go to Liberty's of London and to the Far Eastern nation of Japan? Feeling peckish I found a new place to eat, a small yet inviting eatery called 'Micky's Steakaway' saw to my hunger pangs for certain with a lovely bit of steak and chips. My day in Walsall was very alternative but I enjoyed seeing the questionable parts of town as well as the newer elements, I know there's hope out there for Walsall! All this working and lack of international travel had got me seeing some local haunts for sure! Yes, I enjoyed my outing to Walsall! So, here's to something different!

The mid part of 2015 had been building up to my departure from Bilston for London, I would boarding a very important Eastern bound flight so my goodbyes were in order. Back in the city of my birth I had a few days spare when I wasn't sorting my Chinese visa, when I have time for a blog that's always a good thing in my book. Catching the Docklands Light Railway to Limehouse allowed me to see London's Limehouse Basin with all the swish apartments that used to be part of a completely different operation. Once a powerhouse for unloading cargo from the rest of the world this corner of East London worked for the money, now the money sits in shiny glass investment towers. I wouldn't mind having a dockside apartment but I need the money, honey! Hitting up Poplar to see if I could find some 'Call The Midwife' Realness but I didn't see Nonnatus House but I looked high and low for it! London Town always amazes me!

Revisiting a place that looked drab and down, I took a chance on London's Columbia Road Flower Market. I didn't by any flowers but loved the wide array of beautifully coloured blooms that were for sale. Managing to escape the hoards of people I found 'Cake Hole' in the back of a charming antique shop, that pot of tea and piece of chocolate orange cake definitely hit the spot! With my Chinese visa secure in my passport I only had time for one more day sightseeing in the big smoke before my Sri Lankan Airlines flight would be taking off from London Heathrow Airport, I had one final place in mind. Go! Serving one of my favourite London postcodes I chose E17, Walthamstow to toast my final London blog before going to China. I loved Hoe Street and the overall Turkish feel of this corner of North East London. I found Ayran, Turkish tea and many more of my favourite Turkish foods. So, I know that the mid-section of 2015 was something to remember without a shadow of a doubt B!

Never Forget!

Joseph Harrison 
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