Thursday, 31 May 2012

NYC: Chinatown's Downtown Realness!

Sandwiched between New York City's Garment District and World Trade Center area stood Chinatown. A melting pot of smells, sights and situations stayed ready to attack my senses. Depicted in countless big budget blockbuster movies, well not exactly so but from I saw was enough of a surprise. NYC's honest Chinese corner had me gagged from the very first moment! Yes, NY! 

Being brand new to New York City, myself and my colleague made our way from Newark Penn Station to Canal Street deep in the heart of New York City's Lower Manhattan area. I was particularly excited to try some interesting food and to see a potential film that had given me one more reason to choose my Newark placement. The energy and shadiness of Canal Street hit us in the face, fake Rolex watches and Chinese gift shops fronted us as we made our way to one of the themed Chinatown backstreets. We had a laugh at some of the shop names, they were just too good not take a photo outside of. The cold February day was difficult to handle but we powered through. The Chinese writing and fire escape stairwells looked just as they did in the films, no I wasn't living a dream I was in a real place in real time. I felt awe-struck by the opportunity that I being given to visit such places on my day off from airport life. Yes, BB!
The PATH train didn't take us directly from Newark Penn Station to the heart of NYCs Chinatown, no because we got off our first train at One World Trade Center otherwise known as WTC. In the heart of New York City's Downtown core felt indescribable, walking past Wall Street and the Bull just like Birmingham's one was magic! From the heart of NYCs financial heart we took a further Subway train towards Chinatown. My colleague and friend Paolo hadn't taken the train to that part of town before so we trusted the NYC Subway to guide us to Canal Street, being a short distance we were fine. That was another thing to fathom, I was on the NYC Subway in such normal circumstances and it wouldn't be the last time! The characters and vibe within the world's most famous or infamous transportation system gave me everything and more! Chinatown had plans for us, we hoped lunch would be on the cards. London and Sydney have great Chinatowns, I was living for the vibe of NYCs own! 

It's not just Chinese establishments that frequent New York's Chinatown. The name of this area could be seen as misleading as on each street corner there's a different restaurant from South-East Asia. I found it quite a task to warm to a specific Chinese restaurant so I chose to eat Vietnamese food for the first time in my life! Vietnamese and Thai eateries make their mark on the centre streets of the Chinatown district in NYC. During my first visit to New York's Chinatown me and my friend Paolo sampled a interesting Vietnamese restaurant, we weren't really sure what we had ordered but it tasted mighty fine! Pho 88 Vietnamese Restaurant, located just on Bayard Street showed me that Vietnamese cuisine is just as good as Chinese food. The unknown dishes that were written in a strange language tended to be a definite winner with my taste-buds accepting it. Truthfully, it was an experience like no other P! 

Was I in food heaven? Quite possibly, yes! I like to try new and interesting dishes that taste different from the norm, something that I quite liked about the Vietnamese food. The rolls served with the satay sauce were divine and the Pho noodles were just amazing, the iced coffee that accompanied the meal was just the right touch. Telling the truth on a recent visit to Wo Hop, a small Chinese cafe-like restaurant I experienced a pit-stop dining experience that I don't want to experience again. It was the real and raw side of Chinatown, I wasn't ready for the gritty service or lack of it. Choices! Comparing the rushed service of Wo Hop to the friendly atmosphere of Pho 88, I know for certain that I will be back to sample the delicacies of Vietnam soon. The experiences were worth it, no matter the lack of service in Wo Hop I know the Vietnamese flavours will be back in my life during a future visit to NYCs Chinatown. U.S life has taught me to take chances! 

If I'm completely honest about one thing I have noticed about the younger population of Chinatown, New York City that I have seen all looking cool rather trendy.  The guys and girls all seem to have cutting edge fashion forward hairstyles. See my current barber shop on Ferry Street really isn't making the right cuts for me. So I'm going to play with fire and go for a change by trying one of the many ultra modern hair salons to hopefully achieve the dream barnet. Well, I'm sure that I shall report back if this brave new decision makes me look any less mundane than my current hairdresser does at the moment. Also I will add that the range of opticians on offer look fantastic, I probably would have to forfeit a trip if I had bought a pair of designer specs from one of these premium eye stores. I'll probably stick to Ferry Street because the price is right and its what I know, but never say never! Those fire-escapes, NY! 

Most definitely, I'm not going to be a stranger Chinatown, New York City because I can't get enough of its edgy exterior and your beautiful cuisine. Don't get me wrong because NYCs Chinatown is a must for any tourist visit as it shows New York City is a place that's quite different from New York City inspired films that I had watched before my initial visit. Not blogging at the time after my first visit allowed me to return to Chinatown for a whole other experience that brought me back those very first moments. I have sometime before I fly back to England, I know that it will be a natural thing to find myself back in New York City's gritty and honest Chinese neighbourhood within the heart of Lower Manhattan. The signs, dodgy goods and seriously good Vietnamese food served everything and more for that first Chinatown NYC experience. Little Italy was interesting but something all attracts me to a Chinatown, wherever in the world it might be. Until next time, stay on your game Chinatown!

Ooh, Vietnamese Food!

Joseph Harrison

Thursday, 24 May 2012

2012: The Story So Far...

Beginning this blog was not planned, through my first four months since arriving I have been busy! Getting use to the nature of Newark's Ironbound District with all of its tasty Portuguese food, I had those craving satisfied! Airport life has been mad, I keep learning those jobs for my Industrial Placement! New York City is schooling hard and Philadelphia came into my life, BB!

After landing into Newark Liberty International Airport I had no idea what the next four months had in store for me! The dark Newark night that I arrived on had my sensed all messed up, the sirens and lights blared as the car I was in drove me through Newark's Downtown District. In that moment I had no time to make any sense of that situation, leaving the craze of Downtown it was time to get used to my new home for the year ahead. Living in one of the ground floor apartments at 333 Lafayette Street had me sharing with two fellow Brits who had also studied at the same university in Birmingham, UCB. The flight was comfortable but the bed that I climbed into that night would be mine for the best part of one year! I had lived in America before during my Walt Disney World College Program during the previous summer, that Floridian 'Wisteria Lane' looking neighbourhood had me in some kind of culture shock in Newark!

During my training period it gave me the chance to get to know my Ironbound District ends, the vibe was nothing like I had ever experienced, for that I was truly living the life! Teamed with a Portuguese/Brazilian and strong Hispanic flavour it was such a blessing to hear those languages bounce off each other, it wasn't the image of America that I had experienced before and for that I felt blessed! The food had me coming back for more, the Portuguese barbecue chicken that was served with yellow rice and black beans in gravy had me in some kind of food paradise. That Newark neighbourhood held the key to being close to the airport, work had to come into the equation at some point. Ferry Street held the key to everything that I needed, off that jack of all streets I found laundromats and bodegas to name a few places that made life much easier during my off days. I was looking forward to donning my Virgin Atlantic 'Passenger Services Agent' uniform, I needed to trust the 62 NJ bus!

I was no stranger to the sights of New York City, I had seen something that attracted me no doubt! As my LGA airport taxi drove me to JFK for my post Disney College Program flight back to England I caught a glimpse of the NYC skyline! Interviewing for the airport work placement was the only choice for me, I wasn't feeling the hotel options one bit! Fast forward to my first day exploring the Big Apple had me all excited like a kid would be for Christmas! Getting off the NJ Transit train at Penn Station with my roommates was the plan, we made our way to Times Square to be acquainted with a possible playground that was only twenty five minutes away from Newark by NJ Transit train or the PATH. It was the early afternoon so the lights from the advertisement billboards weren't at their brightest, that honestly didn't matter because the whole moment looked vivid enough for me! I was just getting ready for NY City!

Our Hard Rock Cafe lunch was the only at that venue for the foreseeable, it was just for the first time! Have you heard the news? I'm basically over some things or something, maybe someone? So good am I because this time is about being told I am not a child, a certain individual really needs to bore off! My first visit to NYC was lovely, it was typically tourist with all the right measures of life in another country. If I am not mistaken I clearly wasn't over the bright lights of NYC's Times Square, I know that I'll be seeing more of New York City in the forthcoming months. Work is the reason I am in the U.S.A again, keeping that reason it was time for us to make our way back to New Jersey. Words don't mean a thing, I knew that I would get lost within the charm of NYC during my placement year. I know that I'll be navigating this megacity with the same sense of adventure, a new sense of being because this is my time! In the future this will just be a distant memory! I'll make it count!

Once work had sort of settled down I tried my best to see as much as possible during my days off. After I had straightened out my schedule I was able to plan trips outside of the New Jersey and New York City areas, making those train reservations I left New Jersey for Philadelphia for the first time! Taking the train from Newark Penn Station to 30th Station via NJ's Trenton Transit Center. Hitting the city streets fresh from the station, I made my way closer to Center City! After my McDonald's breakfast in Center City I found myself in the heart of LOVE Park, I honestly loved it! To be in a new state felt so good, that day that I spent outside of NJ gave the motivation to experience more places in the USA, more than ever before! Philadelphia had an edge, it wasn't nothing new to me because Birmingham had prepared me and Newark had instilled that readiness to deal with the realest! Now, where was Penn's Landing?

Finding my feet in a new city without maps, I relied on stolen Wi-Fi hotspots with my iPod in hand to track my location. Stumbling upon Old City I was reminded of 'home' with the colonial English style houses that served 'New World' realness! I had heard that Philadelphia stood famous for its cheesesteaks, I wasn't going to stress to find some place to eat. I was enjoying the city streets of Philadelphia's inner core, I knew in my heart that my day would continued at some other point in the future. Before I headed towards the train station I found the 'Gayborhood'. Getting my 'Attitude Magazine' fix at 'Giovanni's Room'. I loved my UK Gay Lifestyle magazines very much, they made for interesting reading during the train journey back to Newark Penn Station. Philadelphia opened my eyes to what was waiting for me outside of my NJ placement location. 2012 will keep me moving me on forwards to new places! This blog has opened my eyes, I know there's no way back! I'm ready, ready!

The New York Yankees Stadium called me over to watch my first ever Baseball game, I had completed four U.S sporting achievements! By the time that I had booked my tickets for the baseball I had become accustomed with watching sporting events in the U.S.A! I took the 4 train from Grand Central to reach the Yankees Stadium. Yes, 161 St. Yankee Stadium turned out to be my final stop, opening my eyes to the NYC Bronx neighbourhood. I've just about mastered the strange lines on the New York Subway system, I classed that journey as a grand achievement. Once reaching the famous Yankee Stadium the strong police presence could be felt as I did have some mild apprehension about my visit to the Yankees. I live in Newark, New Jersey, I have become used to street realness! Once reaching the grand Yankee Stadium the strong police presence put me at ease as I approached the Yankees Stadium. B-Town!

The strong presence of baseball could be seen all round the Yankees Stadium, those Bronx youth were playing their best game in the stadium side courts! I'm loving life in the Big Apple and taking every opportunity to see new places like the Bronx of all places! I loved my quick hop up to the Bronx really, I just wanted watch the game! I didn't really see any Kansas City Royals fans at all really, its safe to say the Yankees fans are a loyal crowd standing by their team. Making my way to the highest point of the stadium to find my seat, you know when there's no lift just stairs its going to be high! With my nerves slightly shot I needed something strong to drink, purely medicinal to help me settle into the height before the game began. My Miller beer helped a lot, it would have helped a lot more it didn't cost almost $13.00. The fact I was sitting at the Yankee Stadium waiting to watch my first baseball match was a moment which didn't feel real. The game was good, I had my fill! Yass, NY Yankees!

Dreams For Plans...

Joseph Harrison

Friday, 4 May 2012

Bilston: No Place Like Home!

In England we had the Industrial Revolution, it turned fields into factories that brought the workers to the furnaces. Bilston is a quirky working class town in the West Midlands that played its part in the Industrial Revolution and then some! I was born in London but I have lived in Bilston since I was six years old! My hometown serves orange chips, outdoor markets and a Metro!

Alright, Bab? Bilston is nestled within the Black Country region of the West Midlands, once the home to a booming steel trade during the Industrial Revolution!  Bilston town hasn't lost its post-industrial edge. Bilston may be small but it has many hidden gems that make me love this place, there's no other place out there like it! Bilston is my surrogate hometown after I moved up from London when I was almost six years old. So, am I now a fully fledged Bilstonian? Bilston is a town that's unique in every sense, there's no pretence here because we just get on with things. Located not too far from Wolverhampton and Birmingham I would recommend an afternoon in Bilston to enjoy some chips, the surroundings and listen to the locals because they always have something to gossip about. Bilston serves no airs or graces, getting on with daily life within this West Midlands town is the key! Bilston is bostin! Sure, it's my home!

Bilston is a town should be fully celebrated and recognised as a culinary wonder of the West Midlands! We have got the Cafe Metro, its a lovely little coffee shop that brings a serving of class to our working town of Bilston. Some places might have posh coffee shops and Michelin star restaurants but Bilston has Major's Fish Restaurant, has undoubtedly got the best chip shop that I have ever tasted! The Major's 'chippy' Fish Restaurant is so special because the chips are bright orange in colour! Don't ask me how their chips turn out orange because that's Major's doing and I'm sure they aren't going to reveal their secret any time soon! Like our trade, our food reflects the simplicity of our town, I like to grab a Baileys hot chocolate at Cafe Metro and a bag of chips from Majors! Bilston brings the spices of India to the high street because we have numerous Indian Sweet Centre's and Indian restaurants serving a taste of India. It's a sure fact that we are very international here in the town of Bilston. Yes!

The folk of Bilston like to congregate around the indoor and outdoor markets. Buying all sorts of bits and bobs, from food to the most random things ever! I will be honest the stalls of Bilston's outdoor market sell some odd things that I would never dream of purchasing, but each to their own I say! Bilston folk always bump into someone we haven't seen for ages so its common to wade through the crowd of chatting people, mainly women. I know that things have not been easy for the markets of our country but for Bilston to still have their daily markets I'm hopeful that things aren't bad for us. I shall tell everyone one thing, Bilston is a town stronger than steel! In Bilston we know everything's going to be fine for our market. The outdoor and indoor market in Bilston is open Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there's only an outdoor market on Sunday's. People watching and listening at the market is priceless, B!

The loyal shoppers of Bilston town trudge through the market in all weathers, whether it be rain or shine it's a hit with the people of this town. These two Bilston market areas sell a wide array of produce from fruit and vegetables with a range of catering amenities that serve their purpose. Where would we be without our market in Bilston? It's remarkable to see that both markets are still going because Wolverhampton's markets are hanging on just about! I personally believe Bilston market is an asset to this town, bringing the community together whatever the purchase the visitors and locals have in mind. Bilston might not be the most conventional place to visit but I really want to see this town flourish. The national recession killed off most British high streets, not Bilston's no! Since the downturn we have lost many high streets names but the main shopping street always get packed on those faithful market days! How does Bilston keep serving as the comeback town? I don't know!

Don't worry about getting to Bilston, it's all covered. Public transport is plentiful in Bilston, there's simply no excuse to not visit Bilston by one of the many transport resources. The Midland Metro has transformed the way people reach Bilston Central to access the town and markets alike. This marvel of transport connects Bilston with Birmingham and Wolverhampton. Personally there's no other way to travel when in Bilston Town. Another mode of transport that's been in Bilston longer than the Midland Metro are the Banga Travel buses. A somewhat individual bus operator that replaces some of the other bus routes that National Express West Midlands doesn't operate. I'm lucky to live close enough to the town centre that I can comfortably walk to the town centre from my family home. The Midland Metro has definitely made Birmingham more accessible, making those uni getaways easy back to my halls! I'll be back!

It's no secret that Bilston was the boom town of yesterday, people came from the rural communities to work in the red hot furnaces of the steel works. My two times great-granddad came to Bilston to make his fortune. Bilston and the surrounding boom towns got the name 'The Black Country' from when Queen Victoria determined how black the sky looked over the Midlands when she got off her Royal steam train from London. Times change but my family has been here for at least six generations, there hasn't been a good enough reason for my grandparents to move from the town because that's just where we are from. I have every faith that both markets will weather any financial storms that find Bilston, the old faithful Major's Chips will carry on to serve those orange chips that are so very tasty! I have a feeling that the upcoming Midland Metro extensions will keep Bilston connected with Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region. Bilston, I'll be seeing you soon! 

Bilston Market Is Life! 

Joseph Harrison

Destination: Liverpool, England!

Liverpool, now what springs to mind? The Beatles, Cilla Black or even the infamous 'Scouse brow?' One exceedingly cold October day took me north to Liverpool for a sight-seeing day that I will treasure for a long time. From the Liver Birds to the Albert Docks, Liverpool serves more than a bowl of Scouse Lar! Oh, Ms. Lily Savage, don't think that you've been forgotten!

I have always seen Liverpool as a intriguing city to visit and decided to just do it! The day I went to Liverpool it felt like the coldest day possible, honestly the cold bit my face as I made my way through Liverpool One. I forgot about Birmingham instantly, L'pool had me from the second I stepped off the train at Lime Street Station! Liverpool is super accessible by foot for I could see the Liver Birds and the Albert Docks as I made my way down James Street. I arrived at the Albert Docks within plenty of time as I had a lot to see during my short visit to the city of the Mersey river. A modern and sophisticated vibe was felt whilst walking along the waters edge, the historical charm still remained amongst the presence of the many trendy restaurants and the Liverpudlian edition of the Tate Museum and Art Gallery. I saw it in Liverpool's eyes that the Albert Docks looked ready for the next chapter!

Maybe the cold weather warded away people but it was lovely to stroll along the flagstone path to see replica ships across from the slavery museum. What these docks were like in their heyday would have been something very interesting to see, I suppose there would be certain aspects of the Albert Docks history that should never be repeated. Like with every trip that I take, time is always of the essence so dawdling around wasn't on my sights that day I was by the Mersey! I expected a real and honest vibe from Liverpool, I got that feeling and then some! Like I mentioned the history of the Albert Docks has a gritty tale to be told but I suppose Liverpool acted as one of Britain's key shipping ports? Liverpool's Albert Docks may hold a few secret, but what Maritime city doesn't? A hurried phase of development is changing the facade of Liverpool's historic waterfront but the Albert Docks definitely balance Liverpool's next chapter. Where was Sonia? You'll never stop me from loving you! For real!

One of my motivations to visit Liverpool was because I had ancestors who arrived at the Port of Liverpool from Eastern Europe! I could have been a New York City boy but they settled near the Mersey River! It's a good job my ancestors got off their ship in Liverpool because I wouldn't be here today! By the time I reached the Port of Liverpool the contrast between the old and new buildings certainly produced a contrast between the historical and the new developments. Liverpool is definitely a city that is pushing forwards, crowned 2008s Capital of Culture there's a bright tomorrow for this Liverpudlian city! Times are changing! I can't wait to see the progress upon my next visit to Liverpool. Does regeneration hold the key to L's future?

Liverpool holds it's own, distancing itself from it's Mancunian neighbour this Scouse city serves nothing but truth and Maritime Realness! The true figures of Liverpool are those Liver Birds, one of them stands with a strong stance as she watches over her port-side dominion. I had already seen so much during what would only be a whistle-stop visit, Liverpool was showing that I can see places independently without worrying about anything! Was this some kind of reverse culture shock? I didn't have a lot of adventure before Disney! A mix of yesterday and tomorrow could be felt during my morning's walk alongside the Mersey in Liverpool. I already had the feeling that I would need to return to Liverpool, that was confirmed instantly! I knew the reason my ancestors ditched that NYC vessel! Go!

The Mersey river was waiting, I wanted to see the other side to see the Wirral. As I boarded the Merseytravel ferry named 'Snowdrop' the bitter wind grew colder. One thing I noticed during my ferry ride was that Liverpool has a magnificent skyline that looks really fresh and progressive for the existing landmarks mixed effortlessly with the shiny new buildings from the view I captured on the ferry boat. Liverpool is definitely a city that's emerging, beautifying itself architecturally to a new level. It was strange to think that my ancestors would have seen the some of the sights that I did, well minus the new developments. During my river boat journey I snapped like a crazy paparazzo, capturing the sights of along the Mersey. Liverpool looked good but I wanted to see the Wirral! Liverpool, I will let you in a secret for you kept it real that day! Liverpool's skyline is major, let it keep serving into the future! It will lah!

I had heard that people's opinion of Liverpool and the Wirral. I didn't feel anything special for this side of the Mersey, well maybe one thing that I will mention soon enough. As I gazed from the Wirral's side of the Mersey River I stood in awe of the sights that faced me, the Port of Liverpool stood out especially. The Wirral drew closer, it looked a lot less impressive compared to the world class skyline that Liverpool possessed, I'm struggling to find any redeeming qualities about that pedestrian looking Birkenhead view. My main intention of seeing Birkenhead was that I had a crazy notion about seeing a supreme Scouse Drag performer. I had my sights set on catching a glimpse of the famous Ms. Lily Savage but I never got the chance. Getting real I knew I was I never going to see the formidable Ms. Lily Savage. I did feel a peculiar feeling as I made it to Birkenhead's Hamilton Square. Jumping back on a train towards Liverpool I knew there's a  saying like 'all fur coat and no?'

My day in Liverpool would not have been complete without visiting my friend Kat. I met Kat whilst working at Walt Disney World that summer. The journey that we made from Manchester Airport to Orlando cropped up in our conversation. I enjoyed my time in Southport, visiting the posh parade of shops. Southport had the qualities of the Victorian houses and the beach area, which with a bit of imagination could make a really nice place to enjoy in the summer. Southport is a refined part of the Merseyside region that impressed me! I loved Lord Street as it had a Victorian edge with the canopies over the shops and cafes that set the scene! Little did I know that my mum worked in Southport before I was born, another connection to Merseyside!

All in all my new discoveries in Liverpool were very rewarding and showed me a city that's surely up and coming compared to the likes of Manchester, Birmingham and London. I'm working my way through the great cities of England, Liverpool has hidden and undiscovered depths. Meeting with my Disney friend and travel companion in Southport was amazing because its been a little while since our Disney days of Summer 2011. Getting away from my Orlando bubble I found the freedom to just get out of Birmingham to travel! The Port of Liverpool building and the whole waterfront area had something more than I expected, having no expectation is better than anything else. Quoting Sonia; 'You'll never stop me from loving you!' I listened to my heart, Liverpool knew that I'd be OK! Yes!

Listen To Your Heart! 

Joseph Harrison