16 November 2016

26: Happy Birthday!

I am another year older, does that mean I will get any wiser? Anyhow, I recently celebrated by twenty-sixth birthday in China for the second time! I stayed in Wuhan for my birthday like I did last year, my actual birthday was on a Monday, it was a normal day! Beginning with a top Friday night out to finish off with a lovely meal at Paddyfield. Yes, my specials made it ace!

Wanting to get on my birthday hype I didn't waste any time! Making the most of a half day due to a compulsory health check for my kindergarten I napped in-preparation for my unofficial birthday night out! Yes, Guanggu Square was shining! Donning a slicked back hairstyle I served H&M Realness with my then new long black tee, I don't usually do Friday nights but I wasn't going to miss out on that one! Grabbing some street food for the win, loosing not a moment I made it to Optics Valley Station paying those un-coordinated individuals no mind. Going underground I was en-route to Wangjiadun East it was all about starting the night off with a bottle of red at Hankou's Beer Barn, a bottle bar that I can enjoy every now and then. Meeting my special, Fiona had taken a detour from her Dongwu Avenue location but we were ready for the night, that little delay didn't put us back at all. Oh, I was embracing that pre 26 moment!

Feeling that something basic was brewing it was off to Meso, a new Wuhan nightspot that had a 'Ladies Night' drinks promotion. Cramming into an unmarked people carrier seemed like a good idea at the time, we were only going down the road so it wasn't going to be a problem. Sticking close to the females in the group it was free drinks all round, getting my life to some Afro-beat music I fulfilled my fantasy on the dancefloor! Fiona held her own, we talked the talk and of course we didn't entertain that recurring basic tone. Saturday night is our usual our scene, keeping it one hundred because we don't sit in bars all night! Being real, those Wuhan clubs need to be torn up! But the strong free drinks tasted great, nabbing some champagne I was getting into the birthday mood early! Against all odds we got suitably inebriated, bidding a blurry farewell along Jianghan Road I was more than ready for my bed! Making up for a Monday birthday I was happy with that Friday night B!

Saturday was dedicated to ridding ourselves of an awful hangover, I am getting the hang of shaking off those Wuhan headaches after almost eighteen months. The previous year I took myself to Tanhualin for coffee and cakes as my 25th birthday fell on a Saturday rather than a Monday! Nevertheless, I wanted to make this years birthday celebrations as great as the previous b'day weekend in Wuhan, China. Saturday needed to finish because I was looking forward to a hearty meal, it gets tiresome eating rice and noodles all the blinding time! Joined by Elli, we met Fiona at Huangpu Road Metro Station to find Paddyfield Irish Bar & Restaurant. We had liked the review very much from Wuhan Social, the lure of home-cooked pub food had us running for a table without hesitation! Saturday's McDonald's delivery meal had worn off by then, I needed something more hearty to satisfy my appetite! A pint?! Oh, yes!

Had we been transported to an authentic Irish pub? Quite possibly yes because Paddyfield's decor reminded me of my years living in an Irish pub in Wolverhampton, England. So, we were still standing in Wuhan, China but we had been transported to what felt like something closer to home, three pints of lager ordered our mouths watered as we deliberated at what we were going to order! The fish and chips were a winner, served with freshly made chips it was beyond amazing not to have any life-threatening bones hiding in the fish! Chatting away like the world was about to end it was mind-blowing to think that our time in China had past the half-way point, we took several seats to make the most of a rare sober gathering. Making mine the apple pie, I had no intention of sharing because it simply tasted too good! Finishing our two courses and well enjoyed pints, we left Paddyfield feeling very satisfied. Can you get a food hangover? Chinese food is nice but I need home!

My twenty sixth year had begun with a new week, fresh on that November 14th morning I was ready for a full day of teaching. I saw it as a normal day with a nice twist, I was busy with my everyday gig but I loved it when the children sung happy birthday to me, it was beautiful! November had so far been a nonstop month, having something nice like my birthday was nice to compliment the day. Making a fruit smoothie it was nice to leave the flashcards behind for one day, the children adored that healthy alternative to their usual fizzy drinks. Like I mentioned before I had the 25th birthday to myself to explore during my 25th birthday, being a worker now it was something I got on with, my weekday birthday was made special by doing what I'm loving here in China. If I remember correctly the lunch wasn't too bad, but I didn't get the noodles like I did the previous year! Thanks for singing to me kids!

Monday being my busy day, I prepared quickly for my weekly after-school lesson that starts not long after dismissal. I have been teaching this extra class since late September and it was a great addition to be teaching my after-school kids on my birthday, after our class I was surprised with a lovely birthday cake by one of the mothers, it was totally out of the blue and totally appreciated! More than tired I was ready to go home, to sleep to hopefully get over that hectic weekend! Beginning after that unplanned afternoon nap I was catapulted into a crazy and hungover weekend that included a delicious meal at Wuhan's Paddyfield, concluding with a blessed day of teaching and a lovely cake! I have every faith that my 26th year will be as great as the last one, China is a mad place to live and work in but I can see great things on the horizon! Keeping it simple I know that Wuhan has served me two great birthday weekends but I would love 27 to be a Beijing thing! Anyhow, I'm liking 26!

生日快乐!

Joseph Harrison

10 November 2016

China: The Best of Three...

Oh, I could give a million reasons why any of the following Chinese cities are my top three since arriving in June 2015. Ranging from Giant Pandas, Terracotta Warriors and a Guilin wonder, I am going to need a few moments to get my facts straight. It begs the question, if one good reason could see me make a return? China, let me pay attention to my best ones! 

Chengdu stood ready for a National Day marathon of crazy, even though it served a sense of chill compared to its Chongqing cousin I was immediately intoxicated by the inviting local dialect. Keeping things simple I followed what signs were given to me, I knew CDU would show me a legendary time regardless of my spontaneous path. Wenshu Monastery's tea garden presented itself as the first highlight of my Sichuan visit, I sipped my green tea brew without a care in the world. Finding some tea house culture in Chengdu definitely ticked one box for certain, I wanted to see the Pandas! I'll be honest by saying I wasn't as fresh as a daisy when I climbed into my Panda bound taxi after a scandalous night out, I wasn't going to miss my chance! Catching the sights of those beautiful Pandas was amazing, it was like nothing I had ever seen before! But compared to the others I wasn't acting the fool C!

Going underground I was feeling reckless, people had said to me that Chengdu's liberal nature harboured a thriving Gay scene. Following some dodgy directions I found the rainbows, making my way over the threshold of MC Club I felt safe and euphoric because I thought I wouldn't see such a sight exist in China! Getting my groove on I had an amazing time, feeling like a celebrity I luxuriated being the only foreigner in the club! Did I leave by myself? Hell to the no! I always know how to play some tricks! Being invited to tables for free drinks I was treated like a celebrity for real, one lady thought I was a 'beautiful man!' Fulfilling my fantasy I got into the Chengdu groove with ease! Returning the following night I added to my previous unspeakable antics to ensure my National Day stint in China would end with a bang! I took a different exit from MC Club on my final scandalous Chengdu night out, I went underground in another sense but that will stay as my dark secret BB!

2016 started with an almighty bang, getting my life I embraced the ancient city of Xi'an! Trusting those Terracotta Warriors I wasn't disappointed with the offerings of that provincial Shaanxi city! My highlight of that 2016 kick-starter had to be the bustling Beiyuanmen Muslim Street, it had my senses in a mess, it was a crazy, mental scene with what seemed like a million lights and smells fronting me! Getting it together I took some amazing photos of this foodie paradise, specialising in Hui Muslim Chinese food, I was sincerely in food heaven. Going in for the kill I bagged myself three or so lamb kebabs, they tasted amazing, not too much spice because that's not what I'm about! Re-hydrating I found some fresh Beijing yoghurt drink, I'm not going to lie I probably bought three bottles of the stuff! Roujiamo who? Yes, I found a Chinese hamburger, a Hui favourite snack that was delicious! Halal style!

Waking up before the birds, the January weather bite like a bad one but I was on my way to see the legendary Terracotta Warriors! Being New Year's Day I used my brain unlike the other visitors to Xi'an by boarding my tourist bus before eight in the morning! Leaving the security of the walled city centre it was exciting to be heading towards Lintong District. Paying the tourist outlets no mind I was all about those 'warriors', getting to a birds eye view of their tight formation it felt amazing to have accomplished another China travel milestone! The lengthy bus queue for the 'warriors' made me laugh, get your 'ish together people! Heading back to the city I headed for the southern part of the city wall, not appreciating the hazy polluted skies I made the best of that historical sight. Why did Xi'an make my top three best cities in China? That Shaanxi wonder served nothing but Realness, adoring every second I took off for Wuhan feeling satisfied! New Year's 2017, no pressure boop!

Breaking my rule I took a scenic expedition to China's Guangxi Zhuang Autnomous Region, experiencing the mystical nature of Guilin and its mesmirising heaven like wonders! I had set my sights set on visiting Guilin from the moment I decided to explore my options of moving to China. Upon my descent into Guilin I was horrified to see so much mist, I didn't want my tour to the rice terraces to be a wash out! A pint-sized city centre Guilin was but it was perfectly formed, no need for a metro I made the best of my time getting around on foot. With the sun setting on my first day I marveled at the dazzling Sun and Moon Pagodas, they shone effortlessly over the waters of Guilin's Fir Lake. I was sure ready for my trip to Huangluo Yao Village and the Longji Rice Terraces the next day. My main motivation of visiting Guilin would amaze me soon enough! I got so very lucky with my WADA Hostel flow! Get it on with this Guilin!

Driving away from Guilin's city centre for a much more scenic view, Longsheng County had a thing or two to show me! Flipping their hair back and forth I had the chance to see the Long Haired Ladies of Huangluo Yao Village, set deep in the mountains these on-fleek ladies brought their jet-black sleek locks and served sass! Stopping for lunch within the wooden Huangluo Yao Village I enjoyed a top lunch, that bamboo steamed rice never tasted so good! Sweeping into the distance the beauty and mystery of the Longji Rice Terraces impressed me to levels that were created in my mind first when I gazed down at Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour a few months earlier to that Guilin time. Nervously making my way around the unguarded terrace path to where my driver was going to pick me up I had pull my senses together, the views may have been spectacular but my fear of heights was not welcomed that day! No way! Need I say no more why Guilin made the top three?!

Who Will Be My Wildcard's?!

Joseph Harrison 

31 October 2016

This Departure Lounge of Dreams

Life is sometimes all about waiting so I like to look at things as if I was waiting in a departure lounge waiting for a flight. Looking back to my first post that shares this title I was in a place in my life where I didn't want to be. After being in China for over sixteen months now I can see glimmers of what places I aspire see once my time in Wuhan concludes. Let's fly high!

I was so focused about getting out of England that I forgot to check how many blank pages I had remaining in my passport that I had to make the decision between visiting places outside of China or staying for one more year, I chose China! Although I have clocked up some serious China travel miles since arriving in June 2015 I haven't felt the need to rush to the nation's capital that is Beijing. I did toy with the idea of visiting China's showcase city before returning to England in Summer 2017 but I've had a better offer. I have decided to leave the Great Wall and the Forbidden City for later in 2017 as I have ambitions of transferring to Beijing with my current teaching company. Yes, the winding lanes of Beijing's historic Hutong's make me want to book a train ticket this very instance, I know Beijing, China will have it's time and it will work out for the best. Don't worry Destination, I'll be serving it every weekend Beiei!

Since June 2015 I have been on a treadmill that has consisted of working as an English teacher and travelling all across China and to its two Special Administrative Regions. Even though I will have racked up a whopping sixteen Chinese destinations since my arrival up to December 2016 I won't ever be contented with that result! Packing my thermals I will be trading the already freezing temperatures of Wuhan to experience the sub-zero nature of Harbin, Heilongjiang for the Ice and Snow Festival. Further into 2017 I am taking the plunge to visit Lhasa, Tibet for a guided tour of China's most mysterious Autonomous Region. Even for this projected twenty six months for my first stint in China I still have more places that I want to visit here, I am waiting for the next chapter to explore the Islamic inspired Autonomous Regions including Inner Mongolia. I have my work game on so I can have a little play every once in awhile! Beijing will happen, promise this I am going alright!

Singapore stands as a worthy contender for my next chapter in China, closely located to the Mainland I see a long weekend in this former Overseas British Colony. Mixed with its striking modern masterpieces next to its colonial relics, I see Singapore city as a winner! Get me to the dazzling lights of Marina Bay but not before I have been to Little India for some curry delights! Oh, mines got to be a Singapore Sling whatever happens I'm not leaving without trying a local drink or five! Remembering Singapore's former days as a British colony I have done some research about Central, those government buildings look very much like the ones I saw within Hong Kong Island's Central. Understanding that I will get to this infusion world city eventually there's no need to stress, it's all about making life like a departure lounge! Singapore Airlines better fly from Beijing! What, wait? They do?!

Staying with the same continent I feel an Asian temptation when I think about Japan, it's a place that I continually go on about my intentions to visit, but with a new passport for my second time in China I will have the freedom to leave the Mainland without filling up my passport. The neon charged streets of Tokyo need me now, I have to wait a little longer but I know that when I make it to Harajuku I will be living! It's not just Tokyo that I have my eye on, Osaka deserves my attention too! Under the cover of darkness I wouldn't mind surveying Osaka's electric love from the top of the Umeda Sky Building. I have seen there's more of a bohemian arts culture in Osaka and a definitive street art scene, I have every faith in the future that I'll get to experience that! Whether it's a dive bar in Osaka or a Geisha club in Kyoto I know I will have the chance to put this dreams into a reality! In life we have times that resemble a delayed flight or even an aircraft change, I'm willing to wait.

I may be a distant dreamer but my head is filled with hope, over the Yellow Sea from Qingdao, China lies the divided country of Korea. Call me crazy but I have a plan to visit the two Korea's even if one is being ruled under questionable circumstances, let me choose my words carefully about that northern counterpart. So it's all about Seoul for me, like any gargantuan capital I know the K-Pop vibe of South Korea's centre will give me what I want! Hitting up Gangnam with style I want to be on that Korean BBQ hype without hesitation! Syncronished like a on-point K-Pop dance routine I want to race around all those shrines to encapsulate a zen vibe without stress! Gwanghwamun Gate at Gyeongbokgung Palace looks like a winner to me, I need to keep focused and save as much money as I can because this travelling lark is expensive! I know that my Seoul experience will form a lasting memory!

Going undercover I would be fascinated to be part of a guided tour around the highlights of Pyongyang, the capital city of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea otherwise known as North Korea. Playing by the rules would have be done, I have watched extensive documentaries about the Hermit Kingdom but nothing would prepare me for the real thing! As well as discovering a conditioned itinerary of the showcase city of Pyongyang it would be amazing to see the Demilitairsed Zone that separates the two Korea's, I know it seems crazy but it would be utterly fascinating to see such a controversial sight. I wonder if the Arirang Mass Games will be brought back? Those extra choreographed colourful formations would be another thing to see within a once in a life time trip to the DPRK! Call me crazy, but I don't have time for the ordinary and that's just the mantra I live by! Getting the chance to experience the two Korea's would be insane, I know something's aren't right but!

Taiwan has been playing games with my heart, I can't wait for Taipei to cast it's spell on me! Gunning for a Summer arrival penned for August 2017 after my first two years of Teaching English in China concludes, I'm looking to experience the cultural and open-mindedness of Kaohsiung and Taipei. Taking to the skies from Hong Kong International Airport, I plan to spend a few days in the southern port city of Kaohsiung to check out sights like the Lotus Lake and the countless temples that follow my path. Although the former British consulate at Takao looks like a colonial winner, I'm excited for Kaohsiung! Teaching in Taiwan seemed like a potential option but I am focused to return to the Chinese Mainland but hopefully to Beijing. The opportunities looked promising in places like Taipei but I am well used to the daily madness of Wuhan, I gave it some serious though! Oh Taiwan, will you ever be able to forgive me? Please T!

Zooming from Kaohsiung to Taipei on Taiwan's ultra fast High-Speed Rail I have a plan to turn the party up and then some! Blessed with the most gay-friendly attitudes in Asia I am buzzing to experience Taipei's Gaybourhood, Ximen will not know what's happening once I arrive at Taipei's renowned Gay Village! I have every faith things are going to get down right down scandalous, I have no problem with that at all! Tearing myself away from the delights of Ximen, I would like to sample the world famous dumplings at Din Tai Fung because I can! Whatever happens in Taipei and obviously Kaohsiung will certainly stay on the island of Taiwan for certain! I will most likely me beside myself with sadness on my UK bound flight from Taipei! For this moment I have another nine months of work remaining of my teaching contract in Wuhan. I have every confidence that I will flawlessly execute my future travel aspirations, I won't let anything or anyone stop me! I'm only getting started B!

No Delays, Please?!

Joseph Harrison 

27 October 2016

Jinan: Shandong's Spring City

Boarding my High Speed train, Jinan was on my radar! Speeding toward Shandong's Spring City was all I could think about, seeking a mountain and spring was on my Jinan checklist. Embracing the crowds, keeping my head in the game I had the city of Jinan where I needed it to be! I chose something authentic as I ditched the tourist option for a hidden treasure! Get it J!

Jinan Railway Station greeted with me with a nonstop energy, catching a taxi I arrived at my hotel without any stress. Remembering my hotel receptionist days I wasn't impressed when my double room was traded for a twin room, I resided to the fact that it wasn't going to dent my Jinan chapter! Shaking those Qingdao hostel visions away I was overjoyed to discover my sub-standard hotel room had a bath, something I hadn't seen for over fifteen months since arriving in China. With the dusk fast approaching I made my way to Jinan's Quancheng Square, dubbed as the focal point of this 'Spring' city I got my blogger on, snapping away because time is always of the essence! Spanning for what seemed like a mile, Quancheng Square was only a stones throw from my hotel and I was about to discover that everything that I needed would be within walking distance one way or another! I liked Jinan a lot!

As the sky turned a rich orange as the sun continued to set I found the atmosphere within Quancheng Square light and inviting, catching a glimpse of a nearby skyscraper in the distance I hit the jackpot as the Chinese flag was displayed for a few moments, Catching that classic snap of this majestic Jinan hotspot took some doing but the simple things in life just aren't satisfying enough for me! Trying not to give people the cold shoulder I wasn't going to be treated like a walking photo opportunity! I soaked in the sights, people watching like my life depended on it I could tell these people hadn't seen a foreigner before or at all, learning to embrace that difference for that moment felt good. Jinan gave me a sense of chill, I felt like I could finally relax for if only a moment before tackling my wildcard National Day destination. Falling in love with Jinan's legendary sunset over Quancheng Square I was ready for some rest! China is teaching me to take risks, Jinan was ace!

Getting down to Baotu Spring people should of known better not to get in the way of my blogging game, crossing the line I commanded that situation like the best of them! Securing my front row view of Jinan's Baotu Spring it would of been like daylight robbery if that shot was taken away from me! No! Getting over that brief period of insanity I gave it my best shot to admire the active waters of that Shang Dynasty wonder. The National Day crowds had Baotu Spring and the surrounding garden in a state of crazy, paying the disorder no mind I got on with what I set out to do! The gardens impressed me much, I saw a mad dance routine by some Auntie's who were dancing to a kind of Chinese music, it was something else considering the scenic setting. Located within the heart of Jinan's city centre it was about a five minute walk to spring from my hotel, of course I was centrally located for the win! Oh J!

Oh no she better don't! Within the lush setting of Baotu Spring's gardens just a stones throw from the famous Guanlan Pavilion an unauthorised photo was taken of me, I tried to keep it cute but that lady left me with no choice but to get drop dead gorgeous! That unwanted attention was shrugged off once I had told her to delete the photo, she did once I explained to her in Chinese it wasn't right! I wouldn't of minded if she had the decency to ask me permission because that's not cool! Making a sweet escape I found the Bamboo Gardens and a cute courtyard where an exhibit showcased some Chinese calligraphy, remembering the wavy waters of Baotu Spring I knew it was going to be a good day! Jinan was throwing all kinds of amazing at me, this wildcard thing might have to be a regular thing!? National Day had got Jinan acting the fool but the 3,500 years of history standing before me within that scenic area kept it real, serving several shades of Spring city overness!

In search of something wholesome to eat, I had heard of Furong Ancient Street but I like to get lost to find something better than first intended. Stumbling across Xichenngen Jie, I slowed down to take in the understated vibe of this stripped back Shandong food street. Finding the main road I exited Xichenngen Jie for a few moments before taking a glimpse of Daming Lake from a place that didn't cost a penny, not feeling true to my independent thinking I ditched my attempts finding Furong Street, deciding to head back to that unassuming street was the plan for me. Taking my time I picked a small restaurant that had something to do with wolves, random name but that's China! Choosing an unknown dish, my Chinese reading skills are not good! I risked it! I had ordered a pork broth soup with a cabbage like accompaniment, I enjoyed it! Jinan's difference forced me to take a welcomed risk again J!

Shunning that foodie hotspot afforded me to see an energetic side street that served me a hearty and cheap meal, Xichenngen Jie was destined to be a part of my trip but I just didn't know it until that moment. Making my way back to Jinan's city centre area I stumbled across Furong Ancient Street, it looked so busy it was nauseating, pushing my negative opinions aside I found the correct side street to access this famous Jinan food street to see what all the fuss was about. My curiousity wasn't worth dodging the crowds and the unwanted smells, making a swift exit back towards Quancheng Square I counted my lucky stars! Yes, Xichenngen Jie had guided me away from such a place of pure craze. Hunger satisfied I needed a new outfit for the night ahead, grabbing what I needed I retreated back to my hotel before the night. Calling out to my favourite Chinese social media app I asked a favour to find a nearby bar. Jinan had another twist for me! I was ready for dark!

My time in Jinan was drawing to a close, getting my head back into the game I headed for Qianfo Mountain. Let's just say Jinan served well in the nightlife department because I was feeling rather worse for ware but getting my life I was halfway up a mountain of one thousand Buddha's! Taking my own pace wasn't an option it was so busy I had to weave in and out of the National Day crowds who also wanted to climb Jinan's own mountain! I was in-search for a golden Buddha but I stayed optimistic and climbed further upwards, hitting what felt like the near top point I didn't feel comfortable with the state of the well-trodden stairs that had a certain slippery nature, it was too high to make poor decisions! Paying no mind I zipped my camera away and got inventive to get down those questionable stairs, these cakes are just for shaking on the dancefloor! Yes, in the end I found that shimmering golden Buddha!

Rewinding to my second night in Jinan I wanted to hit the town, conducting my usual China nightlife research I came unstuck with Jinan's rainbow nature. Consulting my go-to app I managed to find a way to reach 2012 Bar, tucked away only a five minute walk from my hotel I couldn't believe how convenient my hotel's location was! Sitting down with some beers I told my best ones where I was, it was a quiet scene to begin with but when the curtain was drawn to cover the stage I was curious as to what was going on!? A showcase of Chinese female impersonators graced the stage, some of their get-up was a tad tatty but one queen's look was truly on-point! Lip-syncing for their lives in Mandarin Chinese I was pleasantly surprised to see my first Chinese performers slay! Returning for my final night I had to tell some truth to this sassy Singaporean guy who was acting the fool, too much sass for his own good! I was like 'go sit down, gurl!' Jinan left me in a state, I needed Wuhan!

Now, Slay Jinan!

Joseph Harrison