21 January 2017

Wuhan: My Favourite Things...

Wuhan has been my home since July 2015, this Central Chinese city definitely has its moments but I want to focus on some of my favourite things. Food, sightseeing and security are the three components for this round-up of all things Wuhan. I don't appreciate running for buses and dealing with uncivilised behaviour but deep down Wuhan showcases a few favourites. 

They say home is where the heart is, for this moment Guanggu, Wuhan is my home. A student mecca with a series of shopping centres that dominate this Optics Valley hub. One of my favourite places has to be this nonstop metropolis, it may be always heaving with people who rush around like torpedoes hurtling for their target but its home. I have lived in Shangdu, a multi-functioning high-rise apartment block that serves as residential and business means. Signing my first accommodation on the 3rd of July 2015 I settled into my multi-colour Guanggu central area. I got to know that everything I would need would be sitting just downstairs from my apartment, I didn't have to look far for my local cinema because I have three to choose from! Connected to Line 2 of the Wuhan Metro at Optics Valley Square station I had Wuhan where I wanted it, during those early days I couldn't believe my manic surroundings! Yes!

I do love the convenience of this concrete corner of Wuhan, I can make use of the 24 hour general shops that are a stones throw from the entrance to my building, making those late night munchies possible. I have become used to the crowds and the ways the people walk, I have a method to weave in a out of the crowds because those Guanggu folk take their sweet time! Moving from my original apartment to the other wing was amazing, I didn't want to move closer to my Kindergarten because of the amenities that I wouldn't get in that area compared to Guanggu's central Optics Valley Square. I love to see the progress of the Square's construction because it was a piece of dirt when I first saw it when I exited Optics Valley Square station for the first time. I like nothing more to stay in my apartment at the weekends compared to sightseeing now, I do go out sometimes but I love nothing more than doing nothing in my air-conditioned apartment for Guanggu can be so hectic!

It's no secret that Wuhan isn't a famous destination for overseas tourism but throughout my time living in this Central city I have found some gems for sure! My favourite thing is to scratch beneath the surface, doing just that in Wuhan has led me to places like the Gude Teample of Hankou, a place of worship that served Hindu and Buddhist qualities at the same time. Surrounded by a really normal Hankou neighbourhood I got to know Gongnongbing Road to then be directed down a simple residential street that was lined with small businesses and a string of small tenement like flats that served 'Urban Decay' slaying any kind of tourist honey pot in my book! One of my favourite places in Wuhan that takes away those teaching stresses has to be East Lake, especially focusing on the Tingtao Scenic Area that restored some chill into my life when things weren't good at home. Wuhan serves its own unique sights!

There's no denying the mighty Yangtze River is another water winner in Wuhan, that surging river separates Hankou and Wuchang in a majestic fashion. I paid my admission to see Wuhan's flagship tourist attraction, the Yellow Crane Tower gave me my first epic view of the Yangtze River when I visited in August 2015, the skyline looked like there was a long way to go but there's a hidden charm to Wuhan. Delving into a pivotal moment for Wuhan and the rest of China I checked out the 1911 Wuchang Uprising Memorial museum to see where Dr. Sun Yat Sen pioneered the first steps for China to become a republic away from the rule of Dynasties, even though most of the exhibits were in Chinese it inspired me to look for other Dr. Sun Yat Sen sights across China, this Wuhan point of interest has to be my favourite tourist spot of all time in this city! I still have more places to see during my final chapter of living in Wuhan, I better get to it before the end of July this year WUH! 

Chinese food is a complete different story in China, across this vast nation each city has its own speciality dish. Wuhan's go to food has to be 'Re Gan Mian' that means Hot and Dry Noodles in English, those peanut flavoured spiced noodles are a breakfast favourite of mine and many a Wuhaner! Toast and cererals are luxury choices because western style bread is hard to come by and most Kellogg's cereals are imported from places like Australia or Germany so Re Gan Mian only sets me back 4 RMB, which is about 47p! Captured to the left is Youyi Road's Red Stone Room, a western comfort food paradise that was introduced to me by my best one, Fiona! Not for the everyday we frequent RSR on the weekends to enjoy their freshly made burgers, pastas and other home-cooked delights. I tried the Full English Breakfast the first time and it cured my red wine hangover instantly! Red Stone Room is a firm favourite of ours!

China has one thing right, McDonald's restaurants in China have a home delivery service and I am not ashamed to say that I am a regular customer! I don't use this service all the time but it comes in handy after a big night out when I don't want move or when I can't move because I'm so ill from the previous nights' drinking. I also make use of this service occasionally on a Monday night as I arrive home later after my after school English lesson that I teach at my Guanggu based Kindergarten. Muslim food in Wuhan is a winner, I adore dishes that are from Lanzhou in the north of China. Close to my Kindergarten I can get some great Lanzhou Chow Fan or a Roujiamo for next to nothing because that school dinner is a no go! I definitely don't praise Wuhan enough, certain shady business does get on my nerves but when all is said and done I wouldn't of changed a thing! Red Stone Room satisfies our hometown cravings, Wuchang served a cracking Uprising Memorial and the Yangtze slays!

Oh Wuhan! 

Joseph Harrison 

27 December 2016

A Place Like Lijiang

Back on the travelling hype I boarded another K train from Dali to Lijiang, Yunnan. I was excited to be staying within Lijiang Old Town, leaving Dali on Christmas Eve I was ready to spend Christmas in Lijiang. Not wanting to rush, Lijiang had to put up with me for four days! So, Christmas time by the Black Dragon Pool and Boxing Day at the Baisha Murals? Yes, please Lijiang!

Not speaking Chinese can be a right pain in the you know what! I was dropped off by a taxi at the South Gate of Lijiang Old Town with only a Chinese address on my phone to show, I hadn't the foggiest! Admitting that I have a knack of getting lost when trying to find accommodation I was spared the embarrassment as a woman from a hotel in the old town helped call the hotel. In my defense the Old Town of Lijiang is made up of a myriad of small winding alley like streets, totally lacking in proper signage I admitted defeat! Paying my eighty Yuan conversation fee I was escorted to my hotel, noting key landmarks I got settled in to my room. Located no more than thirty paces from a quiet section of Lijiang Old Town, I felt pleased with my hotel due to its outstanding views and location that it possessed. Feeling like I was in a bubble, I had a feeling Lijiang Old Town would show me a lovely Christmas weekend. Breathe J!

Clocking that I had chose to visit during a quiet time I relished in those unspoiled moments, taking a stroll down the cobbled paths had to be done before the Spring Festival holiday crowds flooded the place. It was a winner! I grabbed some Yunnan flower cakes because they seemed like a popular tourist find within the old town, I recognised pretty quickly that lots of the same things were being sold at several shops, I didn't care because I was in such a blessed location and state of mind it wasn't an issue. I took a random turn towards a waterway, it was lined with more ancient looking buildings, I had done the right thing by getting to Lijiang! Christmas Eve was shaping up pretty fine from where I was standing, it would be another Chinese Christmas for 2016! I felt very foreign, I didn't see but five Western looking tourists, it was a theme that followed me during my time in Yunnan. Calling upon my APP of choice I found a little bar that served me well into the small hours! Yass L!

Feeling slightly worse for wear on that Christmas Day morning I found no presents but a visit to Lijiang's Black Dragon Pool sounded good to me! Keeping my Lijiang Old Town Conversation card I gained free access into this Yunnan wonder! I embraced that alternative Christmas Day moment from a neutral perspective because Christmas isn't a big deal in China at all. Getting a glimpse of the pool itself was amazing, I was afforded such an opportunity to see such a sight during a special day. Home seemed like a million miles away but family were still living Christmas Eve during that Black Dragon Pool visit. Formed during the Qing Dynasty in 1737, I was totally transfixed by the views over the water, it wasn't like any other Christmas moment that I had ever experienced before! Taking some time I sat overlooking the waters of the Black Dragon Pool, messaging by best ones to wish them a Happy Christmas in WUH. Get it!

Leaving the protected Old Town of Lijiang was nice for that part of Christmas Day, the calming scenes that Black Dragon Pool oasis was the perfect mix as the Old Town's close feel lulled me into thinking I didn't need to leave to explore more. I was proud of myself, I had tried to completely navigate my holiday independently with the odd day trip I wasn't doing too badly with what I had seen so far in Lijiang. Being in China for Christmas the previous year meant a sorry attempt for a Christmas Dinner, embracing the lack of Xmas feeling the air I had a McDonald's for my Christmas Dinner, I had been travelling from place to place and it wasn't the easiest to find cheap food within the Old Town, it had to be done! I wasn't rushing, I told myself that with three full days of sightseeing allocated in Lijiang I could take it easy! Returning to my hotel it was time to chill-out for the rest of the afternoon before I called England in the early evening Beijing Time. Everyone at home was fine!

Boxing Day had me exploring for something new, heading towards Baisha I wanted to see those murals quick snap! Taxi for Joe, I got my Chinese skills on because that diver was trying to rip me off! Leaving the security of Lijiang Old Town took me close the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the landscape may have looked parched but the skies were a perfect shade of blue! The Baisha Murals should of cost me eighty Yuan but with my conservation paper I got a hefty discount! Part of a Naxi settlement the murals had a story to tell me, it felt a lot less manicured than the other places that I had seen in Lijiang, I appreciated seeing things from both sides of the tourist curtain. I took some time to take in the beautifully aged murals, I enjoyed the peacefulness of Wechang Palace especially for its tranquil energy. Did I want to discover Baisha Village? No, I was cool with what I saw within that Naxi settlement. Baisha sure slayed! Go!

Taking my time within the Baisha Mural site there was no need to clock watch, I had caught a few glimpses of the magnificent mountain but with a fear of heights I wasn't entertaining going to the top of those snowy peaks! No! Leaving those murals behind me I took a little walk further into the village along the main road, it was so quiet aside from the occasional car and bus passing by. In the distance I saw the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain for myself from the bottom, as I mentioned before I wasn't going up there! From what I saw the mountain looked amazing, set within a sight that transported me back to another time I was living for that un-touristy view. Lijiang gave me everything and more, I loved the Old Town even though it was quite commercial but I definitely had a room with view! Christmas within one of Yunnan's gems I felt blessed, departing for Kunming was a bitter pill to swallow but I was ready to get back to the city after all that fresh air. Bye!

Lovely Lijiang!

Joseph Harrison 

25 December 2016

Darling Dali...

Kunming had shown me what it had to serve, I was ready to board my first long distance train in China to Dali. My second destination of my 2016 Christmas holiday would show me a side of China that I hadn't seen before. The Three Pagodas and Erhai Lake showed me so much beauty. Yunnan had more to show me, Dali was most definitely darling! That train was crazy!

Waiting for my Dali bound K train at Kunming Railway Station I noticed the clientele wasn't like the usual folk that I had previously seen on China's High Speed Network. Not throwing shade but I recognised the standard carriages would be colourful to say the least, I had my seat number and I wasn't about to be trading for anybody! Crammed into the standard carriages of this basic China train I had paid around £6.40 for a five hour journey, I should of paid the extra bob to have a soft sleeper. In retrospect I was afforded a very interesting journey, passing through the idyllic countryside was lovely, with ever-changing sights I treated that journey as an experience for certain! The young family opposite had a cute little girl who behaved well all the way through to Chuxiong. I had to keep an ear out for the station announcements because it was practically all in Chinese apart from one muffled part. Dali grew closer!

Why didn't I just fly? Well, I had booked three trains on the cheap, setting me back about 209 RMB! Taking the train I definitely saw more of Yunnan, the distance spanning between Kunming and Dali was mental. slowly but surely my train pulled into Dali Railway Station, twenty minutes late mind and there was no plug on those trains! Calling the hostel I managed to get a taxi to go in the direction of Dali's Ancient Town, the shear ignorance of those taxi drivers made my blood boil! I was stunned by Dali's New City, it wasn't what I had traipsed all the way to see but as my taxi drove closer to my hostel I was liking the changing scenery, it looked lovely! Choosing the Dragonfly Guest House I was very pleased with private en-suite room, after Qingdao I wasn't keen on a dorm room! No! The day had been a long one, the train had felt like forever even though I'm not that tall but the lack of legroom on the train was quite restrictive. Through all of the craze, Dali served!

Settling into the rhythm of Dali's Ancient Town took all of two seconds once I had checked into my room. Taking a stroll to the nearest cash-point unlocked the beautifully aged streets of Dali's Ancient Town. I wasn't prepared to be surrounded by tourists so I stayed away from the main streets as much as possible. Tracking down a pharmacy I got what I needed once I confronted some blatant rudeness. Leaving that shadiness behind I booked up my Erhai Boat Trip, the heavenly waters of Dali's Erhai Lake had to be viewed during my Yunnan adventure. Boarding one of the government approved vessels it was amazing to see the pure beauty of Erhai Lake. Getting my quota of photographs I was sure enjoying the view. But lo and behold the Chinese tourists started feeding some seagulls bread, for one those flying creatures made an awful noise! Retreating inside, I knew what I needed to do! Keep it cool!

Pushing that annoying situation out of the way, the view could not be put into words, I gazed for what seemed like miles and miles away! Making a stop at an island that boasted a temple, I dashed off the boat as fast as the dawdlers would move, grabbing some food I retreated back onto the boat. Repeating the same during the final stop I took my ice cream back to the deck to appreciate the view without disruption. Believe me when I say that Dali was 'Darling' because the waters of Erhai Lake were beyond beautiful! Captured above I didn't get that heavenly snap until we almost docked at the end of the trip, the mist coated the sky slightly when the boat set sail that morning, the early afternoon sky gave a welcome burst of sunshine that helped me catch a winner of a shot! Aside from those pesky seagulls I was completely blown away with Erhai Lake's vast expanse and beauty, I just loved it! How Dali's 'darling' nature had taken me so faraway from the buzz of Kunming!

Had the pollution free blue skies gone to my head? Dali's story continued into my second day, returning back to the Ancient Town after my Erhai Lake boat trip I was feeling thirsty! Ordering a beer at a small Hot Pot restaurant had to be done. WeChat-ting my best ones had to be done also, it was almost Christmas time and they would be celebrating without me! Dali's chill had got under my skin, I was well away from Wuhan and that suited me just fine. Those aged houses with their white-washed fashion glistened in the sunlight! Feeling peckish I retreated back to the guest house for something eat and yes another beer, choosing to enjoy my food on the rooftop I was not disappointed with the views of the mountains, after Guilin I would have to say that Dali was the second natural destination that impressed me! Throwing caution to the wind I decided to get merry, go fly, I was on my holidays!

Little did I know Dali's Ancient Town had a Christian Church! Other than that it oozed tourist charm to a respectable level, I stayed away from Foreigner Street as long as I possibly could! Why did I abe to see a McDonald's?! I did not appreciate those Golden Arches one single bit! Surrounded by four or so gates, I was located by the North Gate of the Ancient Town, I did feel as if I was residing in a bubble. At first I didn't know what to think of Dali's Ancient Town but I think that was just the train journey and ridiculousness I had from the taxi drivers at the railway station. If truth be told I didn't see many foreign tourists, being around Christmas time there wasn't actually a lot of Chinese tourists either, making for a quiet trip indeed. Keeping it simple was the key, paying more attention to my surroundings did the trick! My second stop of my Yunnan Christmas holiday had shown me so much up until that point, I still had one more place to discover! So, how many Pagodas?

Getting to Dali's Three Pagodas was an achievement to say the very least as I had knocked back a few too many beers the night before but the festive period was fast approaching. Making use of the booking service from my Guest House I was able to get a lift to the attraction that day. Stumbling through the entrance I saw three magnificent pagodas, in real life they looked so much better than from behind a computer screen! Accompanied by the Chongsheng Temple, I decided to take a relaxed approach as I had made it to my final Dali point of interest. The towering Three Pagodas stood before a near empty square, the tourists had decided to stay away to my utter delight. Making my way closer to the Three Pagodas I found a bench that gave me the perfect view without having to stress my hungover self out. I didn't care about the modifications that had been made to the Pagodas! Dali sure brought it!

When all was said and done I wholeheartedly enjoyed my experiences in Dali, China! From the moment I boarded my first K train right up until I left for Lijiang early on Christmas Eve, the slow pace of Dali gave me some well needed chill. Living up to the expectations expressed to me by my colleagues and parents of my students it was a wise choice to incorporate this Yunnan hotspot into my Christmas 2016 holiday. Shunning the Golden Arches for that portion of my trip I was happy to support my Guest House, the food was quite good. I even found the time to blog about my weekend in Kunming, something that I was proud of because I hadn't blogged on location before that time. The seagull feeding antics on-board that Erhai Lake boat trip got me mad but the sensational views quashed any bad feeling, it was a scene from another place, some may refer to it as heaven? Nevertheless, each moment spent in Dali was super chilled, for that reason alone it was 'Darling!' Bye!

Dare To Be Dali?

Joseph Harrison 

22 December 2016

Kunming City: An Oriental Bloom!

Kunming wasn't a bad decision! I negotiated that contract to secure my Christmas holiday for 2016's festivities. Yunnan called me, I didn't need to leave the borders of Mainland China to experience another top city. Famed for colourful blooms and stone forests, I boarded my flight to Kunming, twenty minutes late but China Eastern knows to keep it right for the return!

Touching down into Kunming's Changshui International Airport twenty minutes late, I was ready to rest my head for the night but I had a certain adrenaline surging through my veins! Calling up a few days before my departure I wanted the Chinese address for that property as Chinese taxi drivers can be so unhelpful sometimes. Keeping it together my room was not bad for what it costed, considering the prime location that it held I was willing to get on with my sightseeing without fuss. Fast forward, making the choice for a lie-in I powered through to Kunming's Yuantong Temple to grab hold of some chill, I had hit the ground running after a six day week and wanted Yunnan to show me that I wasn't going crazy, well not completely! Located just round the corner from my questionable hotel room I found Kunming's 1,200 year old Yuantong Temple, fronting me with a feeling of calm, it was all going to be Okay K!

Getting my travelling grind back together ten or so weeks of solid work I was living, snapping away like a crazy fool I was living! Respecting the rules to not light any incense sticks other than what I was given was a given, lighting up my two candles and assorted incense sticks I sent several messages to the spirits. Taking in every ounce of serenity had to be done, I had high hopes for Kunming as those negative ones had talked down upon this city, I wasn't disappointed by Yunnan's provincial city! Looking into the waters of the temples water I was almost staring 2016 in the face, I didn't need a miracle from high above but some good vibes wouldn't have gone a miss. Taking in every last second of chill, I wasn't tracking down the history of this amazing temple because it was restoring some calm. Now, strictly speaking I wanted to find out where the Chinese monks found their get-up, their threads looked so comfy! Kunming kept showing me more, like a blooming flower.

Kunming's Metro system hadn't bloomed yet, in order to sow those seeds of discovery round the city I had to trust the bus to discover the Bird's and Flower Market. Getting off four or more stops earlier I stumbled upon a market that shared the Chinese characters for 'market' and 'flower' but I was served a whole lot of wholesale market instead! Resembling Kunming's version of my home's Bilston market, it was something different and required a strong stomach for sure! With money in my pocket and a whole lot of fire in my stomach I was ready to walk to the furthest point of Kunming until I found that goddamn market! Seeing this miscalculation as a mini-triumph I ended up seeing a whole lot of Kunming city Realness in the process! Walking between four more bus stops I finally made it to my desired destination, I was ready to see the colourful plants that took me to Yunnan. Nothing good grows easy!

Passing the tea, I was not looking for an authentic brew, I wanted to be brought some flowers! Famed for its eternal spring, Yunnan's provincial city is the Amsterdam of the Orient. I wasn't going to charge into to any commercial flower market so that Bai Long Road market showed me some ordinary Kunming flowers, satisfying that request for my Kunming trip. Clocking those Bonsai's I was ready to move onto to the birds section but I heard the sound of some barking, there surely wasn't a section dedicated to pets? Yes, every accessory was available for the discerning dog owner but I wasn't ready for the dog aisle, it was something normal for China what I saw but for my western eyes I wasn't able to fully acknowledge that sight. Fish! I had never seen such cheaply priced fish, I wasn't looking for that sight but those scaly things were huge! Undoubtedly, the blooms and bonsai's of Kunming's Bird's and Flower Market had me walking all those steps because it was worth it! Yes K!

Over my early morning alarm call, I flagged a taxi towards Kunming's East Coach Terminal and believe me it was a blessing to arrive there when that taxi acted stupid like it was a million miles away! Serious?! Snoozing my life away I found myself at Kunming's stony UNESCO World Heritage Site wonder in the nearby district of Shilin. Shilin happened to mean 'Stone Forest' in Chinese, I wasn't ready to play no games after I bought my tickets because I wanted to know where the entrance to the forest was!? Stretching my legs I walked for what seemed like a marathon long time, seeing those stones was a sight of victory! Weighing up my opinions I didn't want to spend the rest of my day in one place that was a distance from Kunming, snatching photos I was greeted by the 'Stone Screen' with a stroke of luck! I wasn't going to be a walking photo opportunity! I was on holiday not modeling for...! Stone cold! Not today!

It's none of my business but those children were running riot between those stones, I knew I had no place to judge but I was on to the next one. Keeping an eye on the time I was all about getting back to Kunming. Rewinding back to the previous evening, I was reunited with a friend who I had met wasted in a Chengdu Gay club, he may have only been able to say 'Good Morning' in English but we had kept in-touch through the medium of WeChat. I told him that I would be coming to Kunming and he graciously invited me to dinner. Now, I wasn't thirsty because I knew we're just friends so the dinner was lovely, drawing close to Chinese custom he paid and I forcibly bought a round of Starbucks for afters. Of course the Stone Forest was something to write about, getting my life I snoozed my way back to Kunming's East Coach Terminal just the same as I did that morning. Heading for the train station I was fronted by something that riled me, Kunming's vibe told me not to mind!

Arriving back from the Stone Forest I thought I was in the mood for street food but I was open to a different change of scene. Translating what I needed to I flagged another taxi towards Wen Hua Alley and Wen Lin Street to see a random online recommendation come alive for myself. Expecting food stalls I embraced the line of tattoo parlours and small restaurants, taking my time I took in that side street view. Finding an Indian restaurant I dined on some lovely food, keeping to a smooth pace. Not expecting anything from Kunming I found that was the right train of thought to take. It was mostly a chilled evening, no it was completely a chilled evening because I was preparing to take the train to Dali the next day. I snapped some lively yet still photos that some up the energetic yet chilled vibe of Kunming. But really why did the busies need to block off the road? Look up scouse slang for police officer. Bless!

Since that late touchdown I was in love with Yunnan's biggest city! Taking off from Tianhe Airport did the trick, kicking off my Christmas holiday! Loving my life in Yunnan's capital of Kunming, I was not shaded with any rain or shadow because the weather was blessed compared to Wuhan's dreary forecast. Kunming's Stone Forest took me out of the concrete fashion that Kunming seems to be shaking off. Finding solace amongst the quiet of Yuantong Temple I was transported to another place compared to my crazy life. Embracing a new city was amazing, keeping to the footpath was something that drove me insane because I am all about going underground, get that Metro sorted Kunming! Reconnecting with Kay was amazing, he's chasing a whole other dream, please let him love the skin that he finally be living in! Resting my head before my epic journey to Dali, I was on to! This flowering city showed me a chilled yet crazy scene, this is China so no Red Light windows, Lady China!

Be That Wild Flower!

Joseph Harrison