29 September 2018

Beijing: Houhai, Shichahai & Beihai Park...

A Sanlitun night was off the menu that September weekend, ditching the booze for a sightseeing day to remember within Old Beijing. Spending that weekend with a new friend it was a perfect chance to build new bridges across cultural in Beijing. Shichahai, Houhai and Beihai Park acted as the good idea I needed! Keeping a clear head, I gained some clarity that Saturday. 

Getting some money exchanged had to be done, but the main object of the day was to sight-see to death! Hitting up Shichahai's subway station a few months previous during the nighttime, I returned a lot earlier in the day with a new friend in tow. Looking for some Houhai realness that Saturday, we looked towards a slice of Old Beijing that promises something blue, beautiful and that glistening in the autumn sunshine. The hutong's passed us by as we made our way closed to Houhai, it had been a place in Beijing that I had set in my sights for a while. Staying away from anything alcoholic the night before was the perfect tonic for a different reason. The tourist both foreign and Chinese made their way within the Houhai/Shichahai area, we paid them no mind because the waters of a certain lake had caught our eyes. Beijing shone, the weather wasn't too hot because the autumnal season cooled it right down. Bliss!

Shichahai looked like a mash of brand new rebuilt building surrounded by historic finds that hadn't been beatified too much. Beijing that day was blessed, allowed to live for my weekends once again, it was an amazing opportunity to spread my wings within China capital city. Known as 'rear lake', we took a slow stroll around the waters edge, taking in the blessed views it was a lovely way to spend a Saturday in Beijing. Part of a historic area within the centre of the city it was amazing to see such a calm lake, minus the small boats gliding past it was practically still on the water. The willows swayed in the breeze with the same chilled vibe, the nearby hutong's buzzed with energy but the waters of Houhai impressed us much. Home to former famous Beijinger's, the area surrounding the waters of Houhai kept us captivated without staying away from the lakes guiding path. I had chosen the right time to visit Houhai, it was clear first time around Shichahai had wanted me to return. Ho, who? 

Beijing's definitely known for its Hutong's, so those surrounding alleyways served a mixture of tourist predictability whilst others impressed me more! I have become quite a fan of the older Hutong's since moving to Beijing, those weekend tourists had definitely all descended upon Shichahai that beautiful Saturday. From Muslim restaurants to tourist souvenirs, the Hutong's around Hou Hai's waters showcased either a rebuilt style or something more authentic looking. We paid those Hutong's some mind but kept it moving, the day wasn't going to last forever! The food options were galore, from meat skewers to sweet treats, but we had food near the Drum Tower. If shopping was my thing it would have been a problem! So, I had been before within those winding Hutong's a couple months before that sunshine visit, that previous jaunt was during the nighttime, it was a total different vibe entirely! Oh, Bei!

Commercial the Hutong's surrounding Hou Hai may have been, that essence of developed oriental chic impressed the masses that day. Not being a tourist in Beijing put a whole other spin during that Hutong moment, I didn't have the instant desire to spend the whole of my WeChat wallet on kitsch Chinese souvenirs, I appreciated the culture and the views from an observant posture. Maybe before my anticipated move to Shanghai I might feel different about such Hutong's? We spotted some shops that caught our eyes, ranging from Chinese red crafts to the aroma of chocolate that we could scout down, it was eventful even still! I had already been to other Hutong's before that September moment, in the here and now I have future ambitions to see what development has gone down near Dashilar Hutong. Bringing the time spent within the Hutong's, it was great to see such sights but due to the crowds and the sizzling sunshine it was nice to move onto our next stop. We wanted another 'Hai!'

Sealing the deal with that Saturday outing, we visited Beijing's Beihai Park to conclude our day of 'Hai's'. I am a sucker for anything remotely Tibetan or Buddhist, being the focal point of Behai Park I needed to see the 'White Pagoda' before making the journey back to Shunyi. Paying our entrance fee into the park, we caught a glimpse of a super cute group of Taiwanese guys, they looked absolutely delicious! Eye candy aside it didn't take us long to see the huge 'White Pagoda' as it sat on its own island. Being crafty, we took the freeloading route up the hill to catch a free glimpse of the heavenly looking pagoda. Making our way down from the steep stone path downwards we could hear some Turkic sounding music being played! A group of Uighur Chinese people were dancing to some great sounding music, to make up for not tearing up the dance-floor like a usual Saturday, I joined without shame! Obviously, I loved it!

Beihai Park itself stood as a beautifully arrange Beijing park, busy during that late Saturday afternoon period it didn't make any problems for us at all! Moving through the park towards the exit for the bus, we saw the main lake that anchored the park, definitely impressing us much to conclude our lovely day out right there. Trading a boozy weekend worked that time, seeing sights that I had been meaning to see was great, it helped my friend doesn't drink so I made the best of that period of sobriety. Hou Hai's blue waters glistened and then some in the September sunshine, the summer might be fading in Beijing right now but its still got its edge. The crowds in the Hutong's decided our next move to Beihai Park to conclude our day out. Getting my passport back before the end of September I will look to experience Beijing showpiece Tiananmen Square along with Beijing's National Museum of China. Beihai Park, please keep attracting delicious groups of Taiwanese guys, please? OK?

Hou Who?

Joseph Harrison 

30 August 2018

My Hometown Glory!

I have a strange old relationship with my hometown of Bilston, it's a place I can't stand but when I go back its like no other place compared to China! Looking for a slice of 'Hometown Glory' I boarded two flights from Beijing to see my first niece Orla, she's lovely! Bilston Market gave me some interesting sights, a motivational tool nonetheless. It was such a wonderful week! 

Getting over my jet lag was very necessary  feeling rested it was time to visit Bilston to take care of some things. Depositing some money into my bank was on my list, my VPN would need renewing in November and being China there's always a few restrictions with that business. Swinging past the outdoor market allowed me to stock up on some much needed western 'Dove' toiletries because some of those soaps, shower gels and deodorants can be damn expensive in 中国! Hearing the local accent was the best, living in China I always hear the Mandarin language, so hearing a bit of a Bilston twang sounded good to me in that hometown moment. The indoor market took me back to scenes of normality with the meat and fish counters, the same sweet shop stood and being no Aero in China I had to eat a supersize bar there and then! The day before I had some pork scratching but I wanted that Black Country treat in my life again B!

It had only been ten months or so since I took off for round two of life in China, I had a very special reason to come back so soon after settling into my teaching life. The last ten months had been pretty damn hectic, a beach holiday was on the cards or more likely a trip around the Grasslands of China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region but flights to the UK had been booked well in advance. The drive back from the airport was the same as it was before, whereas the area in Beijing I live in is classed as a 'outlying suburban district' so not seeing high rises didn't freak me out as much as it had done the first time round. Seeing a China Shipping truck on the motorway pass gave me the chance to show accompanying family my Chinese language skills! Cheese and potato pie with beans and bacon went down a treat on the first evening back home, nothing tastes as good as home cooked English food! That week I would be eating everything in sight, no I didn't want any rice or noodles! Oh, no way!

Going back to the UK to begin my 'Uncle Duties' I couldn't wait to see my first niece! From that birthday phone call to only seeing photos through Facebook Messenger and occasionally WeChat, it was the greatest gift to see Orla Rose on the 22nd of August 2018 for the first time! Seeing my younger brother as a father made me feel so proud, he absolutely dotes on Orla and so he should because she's a beautiful little girl with an amazing future ahead of her! Seeing both new parents together with their daughter for the first time was equally as great, the last time we had all been together was the epic night out we had in Birmingham. During that August week I wanted to get in as many hours to see my precious Orla before I jetted back to China for the start of the new semester. With the wait over it was fantastic to see Orla! If truth be told, being an uncle felt amazing! Those 7,202.66 miles flown were worth it!

Setting out for a day at the Cotswalds Farm Park, it was nice to see some countryside because as much as its home the concrete fashion of Bilston gets a bit grey. Driving through the nearing countryside gave myself, Lewis and Alice to have a good old catch up, as mentioned before a lot had changed compared to our last meeting, it was all very exciting to be talking about the baby in the present tense. The farm was nice, we had lunch and got some important photos taken of me and Orla because being a long-distance uncle meant I needed something to remember her whilst I wasn't at home. We fed the animals, walked around the enclosures where were saw goats, sheep and a whole host of other farm animals. I couldn't help but think it would be a great place to take my 3-5 year old students to! Spoiling Orla with a special plush rabbit and a book about a 'Magic Rabbit', her mom and dad called the bunny 'Magic', of course she loves Magic! To meet Orla made my week completely!

For the rest of the week it was all about relaxing at home and catching up with family. I wasn't home for long enough for my sleeping pattern to get back into gear, the annoying thing was I found myself falling asleep before 10pm until the last night I was able to get back to normal! Sunday brought a lovely roast dinner, how I had missed Yorkshire pudding and mashed potatoes! Seeing my cousins all grown up was crazy, the eldest will be a teenager and at secondary before we know it! I loved the fact it was a week away from the madness of life in China, the weeks leading up to my holiday home were lovely, settling into my new campus was great. I had something genuine to look forward to upon my return to Beijing, China. The Sunday dinner was lovely, it was like summer Christmas because I am planning to spend it in India and possible some other place, that second place hasn't been confirmed yet. Yorkshire pudding are life!

The day before I flew back to China I went to the cinema with my mum, aunties and cousins to see 'The Greatest Showman'. I had seen something about it on Facebook a few months earlier but hadn't given it a seconds thought, I was unknowingly in for a treat! I was captivated from the very beginning right through to the rip-roaring finale. Hugh Jackman played a blinder as Barnum and I adored the 'freak unique' theme of the story that surrounded the show, the message of acceptance and that people should be loved no matter what they looked like or who they were really impressed me! Spending one final night relaxing at home, I was back on my Cathay Pacific flight bound for Hong Kong, I was over the flight on the way back! With a beautiful niece at home I need to get my ass home a lot more often! From Bilston Market to my family summer Christmas dinner, my whistle stop trip home was great! Who knows what goodies China Post will be sending over for my Orla Rose? Oooo!

Home Sweet Home!

Joseph Harrison 

25 August 2018

Flying High... Cathay Pacific!

My long-awaited summer holiday finally made an appearance, it was time to check-in for my Cathay Pacific flight from Beijing to Hong Kong. HKG wouldn't be my final destination because Manchester was calling me back home for a few days to see family and the new addition, my first niece! Cantonese service in the skies was a win, win situation! Oh, that Airbus A350-900!

Cathay Pacific was an airline that provided me with the right price and a non London arrival point within England. Taking off from Beijing Capital International Airport bang on-time, the first meal served to me was a lovely chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables and yes, I loved the Haagen Dazs ice cream and red wine! Watching 'Thelma and Louise' was just the way to relax and that Airbus A330-300 cruising from Beijing down to Hong Kong. I wasn't too impressed with the new additions on the in-flight entertainment, sticking to the classics was the best thing for me to do! The outbound PEK-HKG cabin crew were friendly and had impeccable English language skills, with the crew being fluent in English, Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese it wasn't a problem to ask for anything. So, it didn't take long for the afternoons sky to change into nighttime, the waters surrounding HK's island airport came into view. Go!

Being back in Hong Kong was amazing, the transfer signs were clearly laid out as I walked from the jet bridge that connected my flight from Beijing. Scanning my hand luggage through the transfer channel, I made my way into the Duty Free area that mirrored the likes of Manchester and Heathrow. I bought some cigarettes and whisky for my grandparents in no time, the staff impressed me much with their immaculate English skills! Being a former British colony for 99 years, Hong Kongers have better overall English skills compared to the Mainland, I don't care how that sounds because its true! Getting a McDonalds cheese and tomato toastie made me feel closer to home before I had even departed on my Manchester bound Cathay Pacific flight. The staff in Terminal One had impeccable manners and needless to say the Cathay Pacific staff represented their airline and the former British colony very well. Let just say, my Hong Kong Cathay Pacific transfer experience was great! The timing was fine. 

Gate 71 unveiled my Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-900, the ground crew busied round that gorgeous aircraft! To my amazement that CX219 craft was looking fantastically sleek! The high price to fly direct to England from Beijing pushed me towards Cathay Pacific as the stop in Hong Kong interested me, it was an airport I had watched several documentaries about and had wanted to see it in real life. Boarding was smooth, no pushing or craziness was had because things down in Hong Kong were operated with precision, things were organised and chilled to optimum measure. I settling into my Cathay Pacific seat, I was comfortable and content with the cabin atmosphere, it was quite evident the A350-900 stood in mint condition with its fresh new cabin interior. Taking to the skies to a timely meal service it was a smooth cruise out of Hong Kong as the clock truck 01:15am HK local time. Of course, I was so Cathay ready!

London Heathrow Airport, I am sorry but I'm not sorry to say that you're an ache to reach my home from your near West London area, with that said Manchester was the next best option because airlines just don't fly into Birmingham from places like China or Hong Kong in the case of Cathay Pacific. Shunning the sky high priced directs from Capital Airport or going on a 30 hour flight to reach home, I chose Cathay Pacific for the added benefit to fly on the brand new Airbus A350-900. I am a lover of long haul travel even though suffering from jet-lag isn't fun at all, I just love the experience of flying from one far-flung destination to another. The flight on the A350-900 was smooth, with the odd spot of unsettled air it was a standard flight from HKG to MAN for sure. The in-flight camera gave me a birds-eye view of the aircraft line up for its arrival into Manchester Airport, it was exciting to see such a close up on the runway lights as we approached our UK touchdown! Thanks, Cathay Pac!

Choosing the western food option once again, it was another great meal served by Cathay Pacific's in-flight team. The mashed potato was the winner, nothing else mattered to me in that moment! My second Cathay Pacific meal was served with fresh vegetables, cheese and biscuits, bread and butter with a cheeky Movenpick ice cream to finish that dining experience off. Topping up my cup, I stayed responsible with that red wine choice because I can choose the right moments to be sensible. Another classic film graced my seat-back television, choosing 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' was a great choice! I had luck with 'Thelma and Louise' from Beijing, so the next leg of my Cathay Pacific journey to Manchester, England had to be another golden flick. The cruising speed and height must have been just right because no turbulence could be felt for the most part of the flight No sleep yet, I wanted to finish my film! 帶我回家!

By the time I had finished my film and my tray had been collected, I was truly ready to sleep for a few hours because my then 12 hour flight from Hong Kong still had around 7 hours to go. The movable headrests helped me get in a comfortable position, comfortable enough for me to doze off for a few hours into the middle stage of the flight. Approximately 2 hours before touching down at Manchester Airport breakfast was served, the choice of an English style breakfast was a no-brainer! The cabin briefly saw activity during the breakfast service, for most of the flight the cabin lighting was dimmed due to the early hours departure from Hong Kong, it had been a long trip for me since taking off from Beijing the previous day! Loading up on some much needed caffeine, it wasn't any trouble getting an extra cup of coffee to keep me fuelled before our sleek Airbus A350-900 flight from Hong Kong had landed. I really enjoyed the breakfast, more importantly it meant home grew nearer! Go!

My previous long-haul flight presented the most chatty cabin crew that I ever did meet, I am yet to meet another set of crew who match that description. Both of the Cathay Pacific on-board teams worked really hard during those two sectors that I flew from Beijing to Manchester via Hong Kong, nothing was too much trouble and service was always conducted with a warm Oriental smile. As I approached the crew for a photo in the back galley as my Manchester bound flight grew near to its destination, the crew showed a really shy demeanour. East Asian people can generally be really shy and if truth be told, it's not the most natural thing to be asked for a photo with a passenger. Thankfully one of the crew members agreed to a photo, making my flight complete it was safe to say I could relax after securing that photo! Thanks to the Cathay Pacific crew that took care of my refreshments and photo request. 多謝!

I noticed that on both Cathay Pacific flights the female crew had immaculately tight hairstyles with the use of matching hair clips. Dressed in a red and gold uniform for the cabin duties in the economy cabin, they all looked very elegant and beautiful during the service and throughout the flights. The guys were as cute as cute could be with their grey waist coats, naturally serving their Cantonese charm and soft features they worked the cabin like the best of them. I have to say that all flights departed and arrived on-time without any problems, my luggage wasn't lost as many people said to me they had problems with theirs during a CX flight. Those classics kept me entertained throughout my two flights, the western food option impressed me much with the mashed potato and the politeness of the HK airport staff made all the different compared to Beijing's abrupt call for boarding! Boarding call? It's a good job I could understand the "I'm so over today" gate announcement!

Cathay Pacific! Keep it Cantonese!

Joseph Harrison 

23 August 2018

Wuhan, China: Returning to Hubei's Capital...

My weekend in Wuhan was turning out to be full packed with more and more sights! I accomplished a lot, I needed to create a second Wuhan post. Leaving Guanggu for the moment and Qin Tai for the day, I wanted to see Hanyang Art District and River Park to conclude my Hanyang flex. From a delicious bagel to a mad night out, my weekend concluded with a sweet reunion.

Leaving Qin Tai behind me I only had to walk across the road to find Hanyang's own art district, I had no idea such a place existed whilst I lived in Wuhan from 2015 to 2017. My pre-Wuhan comeback research provided some interesting options for me to explore. The art district itself was compact and quiet, it was considerably less crazy compared to Beijing's 798 Art District and for that reason I was thankful because I had left the capital behind me for the weekend for a smaller Chinese City. Keeping my MoBike close by I was able to peddle around at my own pace without any worries regarding the time. I found a quirky coffee shop that was housed inside a crater, bright pink in colour with a turquoise VW Beetle parked outside the front, it was an intriguing sight! The coffee and cake was nice, getting a moment to plan my move to the riverside. Wuhan City felt like such a different city but it was just the same way!

Biking down to Hanyang's Yangtze River Park helped me glide down memory lane as I passed Hanyang's Guishan Park, the sights became more familiar as time past. The gates to Qingchuan Pavilion reminded me of my October 2015 day trip, such time had past but things still appeared to look the same from that point of view. Climbing the few steps to see the view overlooking the river park and the mighty river took me back to day one, memories from my first visit to the Yangtze in Wuhan came flooding back. I felt centred in that Hanyang River Park moment, it felt correct once again to be back, I was able to see Wuhan's huge waterway through new eyes with the same fondness as before. I had realised Wuhan had given me the platform to work towards Beijing, with a base and a career it was a home I wanted to give my regards to. It was a humbling moment, taking several seats I marvelled at the view, no second chances would be allowed during that trip! Hanyang helped me get my life!

Heading back to Guanggu had to be the one, battling the crowds at Optics Valley wasn't something I did, embracing the moment I allowed the hustle and bustle to pass me by. Entering World City to see the difference I was sorely mistaken to see things looking pretty similar compared to what they were before I left in 2017. Getting my hair cut at the usual SourceMe had to be done, moving through to a quick stop at Carrefour because if truth be told I just wanted one more nose around! Feeling hungry I moved on from Guanggu and those familiar sights with nothing but fondness and a feeling of progression. Wuhan Prison had been one of the first places I had got boozed up in the city back in 2015, three years later I was able to dine at the one time brands very own 'Prison Bagel'. I wanted to see if the hype was true, I was served a lovely bagel with fries to start my night out just fine! Wuhan Prison had changed lots!

Getting my glad-rags on, it was time to make my way over to my friends place for pre-drinks before another amazing All Stars night out. Being dropped off in the wrong place I stumbled upon a vibrant street scene, it was something that I don't see in Beijing anymore, taking that street scene in to the fullest it impressed me much! My friend and former colleague Mark had found my location, the taxi driver had dropped me off at the wrong location as per usual those taxis and their drivers hadn't changed, truth be told I did sense a familiar surrounding but no I wasn't entertaining that vibe! Boozing it up, the night was mad with many drinks mixed up that night. It was insane to be back at the club that housed my final night out in the city before I took my flight back to the UK. I made it back to my hotel just after sunrise to catch a few hours sleep before a special reunion that would take place in a few hours. Wuhan provided one full-bodied day for certain! WUH had me in a state!

Concluding my Wuhan weekender, I had planned to meet with the parents who had dropped me off at my hotel on the night I had arrived in Wuhan. Being jammed pack busy on the Saturday, it was set we would meet on the Sunday morning at my hotel to be reunited with their son, Joy being his English name was my student at the kindergarten I taught at for two years, he loved me and I adored him! One day during a school trip he said in front of his parents that he loved his 'English Dad', 'me' being the 'English Dad', so I called him my 'Chinese Son!' The reunion was exciting and a little overwhelming for Joy to handle, he went a little shy till we got to McDonalds on Han Street, I had promised to buy him whatever he wanted to eat and drink. Being against company policy I now send Joy a 'Red Packet' for Christmas and Chinese New Year because as his teacher I would have gotten into a lot of trouble! So, seeing Joy again was lovely!

I wasn't feeling too pretty due to the previous nights shenanigans but I was lively and played my part, visiting a children's arcade I took part in most of the activities with Joy. We had some lovely Cantonese food for lunch, the language barrier was apparent but his parents tried their best and my Chinese has improved since being in Beijing because for the capital the level of English spoken is shockingly bad! Going to the cinema was nice, I had never been to see a film within the Han Street area during my time living in Wuhan, it was all about new experiences second time around that August weekend! Finishing with a steak dinner, the day had been beautiful and I had been truly spoiled with a great day out and to see Joy again was simply priceless, no amount of money was needed to see his smiling face again! Packing my bags and boarding my plane to Beijing the next day had to be done. Wuhan had surpassed any previous comeback trip expectations that I had! Wuhan, I'll be back B!

The Comeback Kid!

Joseph Harrison