Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015: The Final Chapter...

2015 was a year that saw me working in a hotel, going a bit crazy to then jetting off to Shanghai, China. It's been a year of extremes and with 2016 just around the corner I see now the perfect time to reflect on the final chapter of 2015. From my days in Hanyang, marveling at the skills at the Han Show to then wearing a Father Christmas outfit at work! A year of crazy B!

Proving those around me wrong I crossed the mighty Yangtze River over to Hanyang, a corner of Wuhan that showed me some hidden gems within the ever-growing development this Wuhan town is seeing, I was on a mission! Breaking my time in Hanyang to two separate outings I chose to first experience the Guiyuan Buddhist Temple, one of Wuhan's most famous places of worship took a hold of my senses. I'm not religious but I found a certain significance when visiting this religious point of interest. Wuhan has shown me over the last six months that she's no Beijing but we can all survive without those mega-cities sometimes. Hanyang shaped the final few chapters of 2015, giving me yet another side of my teaching city to appreciate and document through this blog that I adore. Yass, Hanyang slayed! I forgot to mention that in September I went to one game at the Wuhan Open in Outer Guanggu area. I haven't mastered the buses here!

Returning to Hanyang for a second dose of realness I planned meticulously before my visit to Guishan Park and Qingchuan Pavilion. Retracing my steps from my day at Guiyuan Temple I pieced together a route to a park that was apparently called Tortoise Hill Park, that had to be the English translation for Guishan Park? Of course it was! Reaching the top of Guishan Park I found the foot of the Tortoise Hill TV Tower, a focal point of Hanyang's skyline that complements Wuhan's image. Finding my way out of the park I was in hot pursuit of Qingchuan Pavilion, I was schooled about the historical value of this Wuhan wonder, dating back to the days of the Ming Dynasty this Hanyang pavilion began its life in 1522. Casting my mind back to the first parts of 2015 I knew I was getting out of the United Kingdom but I hadn't prepared for what sights I would see in China! Hanyang had it going on with its serene temple, the views over the city from Tortoise Hill Park to that Ming Dynasty beauty!

So, October was magic with my National Day trips to Chongqing and Chengdu but I haven't stopped bleating on about them since I returned so I'll go back to November this time. I turned 25 on the 14th of November 2015, I was lucky enough for my actual birthday to fall on a Saturday! Sinking a few pints on the Friday night I could begin celebrating my 25th year in Wuhan, China. The day of my birthday took me to Tanhualin, a really cute coffee shop street that was prettier than a picture. I loved the many interesting and cute side streets as well as the wide selection of coffee shops, choosing Merci it was a winner! I had been told that Tanhualin wasn't worth the visit but those haters didn't know a thing because I was loving my birthday destination! I had originally wanted to enjoy my birthday in another province but that was another story that I'll go into further soon enough. Yes, it was great to be feeling twenty-five!

Coffee shops are nice but I wanted something to turn it up! Going back underground on the Wuhan Metro I was on a mission for the sun would be soon setting. Meeting my friend Elli we had some amazing Indian food, we ordered so much food but we didn't care because we had both celebrated our 25th birthday that week. Getting our lives we headed to Jiedaokou for Vibes Nightclub. Vibes knows how to get down, it's an African nightclub in Wuhan city that plays my favourite Afro-beat music. Let's just say that the next day I was feeling very fragile from that weekends shenanigans, birthdays only happen once per year so they should be celebrated to the maximum! I appreciate my weekends now, at my previous teaching company I didn't have set days off each week but now I'm free all weekend long, no questions asked so my birthday weekend was 100% mine to enjoy! The final chapter of 2015 wasn't all about two National Day adventures, I proudly slayed my birthday weekend in Wuhan City!

If truth be told December felt as cold than ice, with the festive season fast approaching I was ready for Christmas caroling duties. Teaching the children a range of Christmas songs with the help of Vogue style hand movements we got our Christmas groove on! Each morning several traditional English Christmas favourites like 'Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer' would play as I greeted the children each day. Christmas Eve saw me dress up as Father Christmas, as crazy as that was to hand out apples to the other teachers I had made it to my fourth month without any issues. Dealing with a few nagging factors I feel that towards the end of 2015 I landed on my feet in the best way possible. People make decisions and I believe that decision gave me a new positive avenue. Chinese New Year will be the next main subject that's lined up for early 2016, so I better get clued up about the different animal zodiacs now B!

When all is said and done I know that 2015 started the way it did for a reason in London, England and concluded in Wuhan, China. Getting a job in a hotel wasn't the best but I had to make the paper that would help me out for when I would arrive in Shanghai, China. Teaching and living in Wuhan, China gives me life, celebrating my birthday here helped me set some clear goals for the following year. University life had vanished and real life had slapped me hard in the face so I know now that all that ridiculous and confusion was worth it one way or another. England will be for another day because China life has proved to be tough competition to beat right now! Getting ready for 2016 I'm not going to be untrue to myself by making a list of unattainable New Year's resolutions because I don't have time to waste my energy on things that will never be perfect! 2015 ended with a series of positive events that will make the transition into 2016 effortless! 2015, I bid you farewell from China!

2015... I'm Done!

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 28 December 2015

A Very Chinese Christmas!

The festive season soon came to town, I would experience a very different Christmas indeed. Do not make me sing 'Jingle Bells' or 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' because I taught those Christmas carols for the best part of December. Would Christmas feel like Christmas in a country that only sees this Western holiday as a shopping day? Where was the Xmas cheer!?

Guanggu looked to be embracing the festivities, for a country that doesn't see Christmas as a proper celebration, I could not help noticing the insane amount of decorations and artificial trees. It all started at the beginning of November, a slow trickle of lights began to twinkle in the late winter afternoon but a certain feeling of festive cheer could not be felt. The local Chinese people seemed to find the glittering trees intriguing because if its worth a photo then they are impressed. I wasn't thinking too much about Christmas because that holiday has changed for me since I've grown into my early twenties for its definitely more about the children, the magic changes. I knew deep down last year in London I wasn't going to be spending Christmas in England or even Europe, I had my sights set on China, I was pleased that Christmas was nearing in Guanggu. Oh, I was overjoyed that no Turkey was be involved this year!

As far as Christmas shopping I know that in England we can shop for the whole of the United Kingdom and maybe even the Republic of Ireland, however the Chinese people that I saw throughout December were shopping for victory! Honestly, even on a normal day the shopping complex that overlooks my apartment block was rammed every single day! Are these people compulsive shoppers or something? Christmas song favourites were being played through the sound system outside World City Plaza, a bizarre feeling it was walking to and from my bus stop and hearing the '12 Days of Christmas' and other favourites played on a daily basis. Yes, I'll get to Christmas carols in just one moment. Thinking back to my Christmas Eve that was spent in New York City during 2012 I didn't hear one single Christmas song and that was in America of all places! Nevertheless, I was up for embracing the customs and goings on during a Chinese Christmas in Wuhan, China. Tis the season to go shopping? No W!

My preschool was transformed into a Christmas grotto for the best part of December, building up to Christmas Day the morning music was changed from weird Chinese children's song about a cat to 'Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer' and other festive jingles. At the beginning of the month it was nice to hear some different music at the start of the day but it did become slightly repetitive. I loved the Christmas tree that was put up inside the entrance hall of the preschool, the flashing lights and decorations were a hit with the children for certain. These children wouldn't be celebrating Christmas for their families don't observe that holiday like we do in England. I could only imagine that this period of time would be really exciting for the children because it's not something that's normal for them to experience. I admit some of the morning jingles sounded strange but it was acceptable to singalong before class. Oh, joy!

I was set the task of teaching one Christmas song to each class as December rolled in, I settled at three that I alternated between the classes because I had to remember the hand movements. Teaching children who don't speak much English involves teaching songs with hand movements, almost like doing some kind of crazy English teaching 'Vogue' so I did things my way. Ranging from 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas', 'Jingle Bells for the older classes and 'Little Snowflake' for the nursery kids. On Christmas Eve I dressed up as Father Christmas and delivered apples to the teachers at my preschool, I was confused why apples were seen as such a big deal? Giving an apple to someone in China for Christmas is a sign of wishing them good luck. I went home with three apples that Christmas Eve, I even got a coffee cup and saucer from one parent who's little boy is called Panda. I won't forget teaching 'Little Snowflake' to the youngest nursery children, they still sing the words perfectly!

The big day arrived with mixed emotions, I wasn't sad to be in another country for Christmas but for the fact I couldn't feel any spirit in the air. Managing to get the day off work I joined my two favourites Elli and Ellen on a make-up shopping trip to Jianghan Road and Wuhan International Plaza. We were all thinking the same thing as we tried to inject some Christmas energy into the air by singing Christmas songs loudly on the Wuhan Metro. Getting lost, we were helped by two lovely Chinese ladies who took us to the MAC concession in some huge shopping complex, I had my eye on something but it wasn't make-up but I'm not telling! I learnt something new that Christmas Day during out shopping trip that you can sense the amount of money these Wuhan city people have! More spending than seasonal cheer? Thankfully, Elli and Ellen got their MAC products. Oh, my eyebrows would be on fleek that Christmas night! We were ready!

Calling home via Skype I managed to get through to my Nan's house in Bilston, England but I would need to call back my parents a bit later on. Everyone sounded in good spirits back in Bilston where my younger cousins had opened all of their presents, I bet it was absolute carnage. Elli and Ellen both contacted their relatives back home in England, I had already spent Christmas away from England so I wasn't sad or majorly missing home because I'm in China! Meeting at Dio's Bar for our Christmas evening celebrations, not much had been mentioned about the food but let's just say it was a different type of meal compared to the usual dishes, expecting difference for being in the Far East I found the beer and had a great evening. From redundant Christmas decorations in Guanggu that were more for show to singing 'Jingle Bells' at least fifteen times per week I was shown a entirely new Christmas experience in Wuhan! Let's all sing snowflake, snowflake, little snowflake one more time?

A Christmas Cancelled?! No!

Joseph Harrison

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

6 Months in Wuhan, China...

Embarking on a new journey fills me with a feeling of trepidation and excitement. Choosing China didn't take a lot of time, it was finding a legitimate teaching company or school to sign with confidence, that took some going but through the shadiness I signed my papers. Somehow I have made it to the sixth month of living in China and it continues to be one huge culture shock!

Saying 'hello' from the other side, the neon charged city of Shanghai greeted me with one mighty culture shock. I was ready to leave England but I wasn't prepared for the goings on in one of China's biggest cities! Embracing chopsticks in-place of a knife and fork I had to run with it for the first few days. Seeing the sights during that June 2015 stopover gave me life for certain! Getting down to Nanjing Road was a sight for sure, so many people were walking the same pedestrian street it made Times Square look sleepy. The skyline took my breath away, it was like nothing I had ever seen before in my life! The Bund served a sense of French sophistication with a flashback of Liverpool's waterfront at the same time. Shanghai kick-started my Chinese experience with an almighty bang, I had finally took the plunge and it felt amazing! Shanghai is definitely on my radar for a future visit, this mega-city will serve more! 

Remembering the reason why I had flown all the way to China it was time to begin my training period with my chosen English company. Meeting at Shanghai Pudong International Airport I got to know a group of jet-lagged fellow prospective teachers. Training started the next morning, no problem for me because my jet-lag had disappeared a few days earlier but I felt the time between their arrival and the start of training was too short! Suzhou presented itself with a growing skyline of cranes and rising structures. Getting to know these new people was nice, predominately from America and Canada I could have banter with them like my friends from placement and Disney. Meeting Sam, a lovely girl who is from Glasgow, Scotland was amazing because we had similar senses of humour. Sam teaches in Ningbo, China, I hope to visit her during my time in China. Passing my TEFL exam we celebrated into the night, parting ways the next morning I boarded my train to Wuhan, Hubei. Yes!

My first chapter spent in Wuhan, China saw me teaching at one English Training School. Based in Guanggu I had my own apartment in the heart of what felt like a new part of the city. That teaching school gave me a useful insight of how some English Training Schools operate. Life in Wuhan was turning out to be natural to me, I felt that the waters of the Yangtze River chose me! My days off would see me finding sights like Zhongshan Park, Jianghan Road and Changchun Taoist Temple. Work was not what I expected with continuous observations I couldn't see a way to satisfy the demands of that business. After a lovely day off spent at the Yellow Crane Tower I was told that my time at that English Training School was over. I didn't need that negativity in my life, I was put in touch with another school. Getting on with things I became an English Specialist at Etonkids still in Guanggu I could carry on life in Wuhan City! 

Wuhan remained a stable part of my China life, after that minor interruption I was ready to focus on this new style of English teaching. Wuhan may not be the most popular city in all of China where tourists are considered so I've had the immense opportunity to see the sights without those foreign crowds. Keeping my blog going through means I'm not willing to say, it's been like reporting about a new world. Going out in Guanggu is great, I have several places I can choose from and if I don't want to drink I can find some great street food to enjoy. I look back on the first half of my first year here in Wuhan with a feeling of accomplishment, I didn't let my negative spots stop me from seeing this city one bit! Work improved and so did my social life because unlike the Training School, my kindergarten doesn't require us to work at the weekends! Victory Day 2015 allowed me a beautiful weekend in Wuhan with a special friend, things have changed but that weekend will stay with me. Oh!

National Day holiday was made possible by my new English teaching job, this time around I had access to more time off to travel in China. Getting in-touch with two of my training friends who were in Chongqing gave me the green light to book my tickets. Leaving school behind me for one week I jetted off from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport to Chongqing with Xiamen Air, it took an age to get to the airport but it was worth it when I landed on-time in CKG! Reunited with Micaela and Patrick, they showed me their Chinese city during that October holiday. Getting to Chaotianmen Dock allowed me to see another vibrant side of the vast Yangtze River. I thought I had mastered the tastes of proper Chinese food, wanting to try some Hot Pot I appreciated the experience but didn't enjoy that Chongqing favourite. Seeing Chongqing and my friends helped me experience some 22nd Century Realness! Without a doubt China's ace!

Dashing for my train at the wrong part of Chongqing North Railway Station I boarded my Chengdu bound high-speed train. National Day showed me several slices of that Sichuan capital city. I adored Chengdu from the very moment I found Wenshu Monastery. My ideas of how China would look had to be scrapped when I saw the respected places in real-life, I was living because everything has looked so much better. Seeing the Panda's created another once in a lifetime moment for me, having to battle the crowds to catch a glimpse of a Panda who was eating some bamboo took some going, it was moment I won't forget! As the sun set I wanted to get my dancing shoes on, I had done some digging to find a club where the music and sights were just right. Creating memories and ticking off my China travel list I flew back to Wuhan with a fresh outlook on my life in China. My Sri Lankan flight had touched down four months prior to National Day, so much had happened to me till that point!

Enjoying an reprise of independence I found my love for Wuhan had only increased since my train from Suzhou arrived on July 1st 2015. Seeking some theatre I found the Han Show, a brand new spectacle that happened to be an amazing show! Chu River and Han Street showed me a slice of home, featuring a Marks and Spencer store I ran to the food section to find some Percy Pig's and English Cider! I'm not one for shopping but I really do like going to Han Street every now and then. Turning 25 years old in Wuhan, China was great! Seeking Tanhualin for coffee and cakes, dining at Indian Marka with my friend Elli and then dancing 'til dawn at Vibes Nightclub was absolutely fabulous! Working in-conjunction with Etonkids I have made great friends in Wuhan. I love having the option to hit the bars or keep it simple by going for a curry on a Saturday. With six months in the bag, China has turned my life around!

2015 has been the year of getting my post-university life back together, I took a job in a hotel that was a drag but made it to the Far East in the end. Looking back on my first six months spent in China both teaching English and travelling I have been blessed with so many opportunities. From my misfortune at the beginning I found my way back to the top, working each week to then enjoy the weekend in one of China's fastest growing cities! The final month of 2015 will see in another Christmas but I'm not going to be homesick, I have great friends here to spend the big day with and a full packed month of work to keep up with. It seems like an age since I took off from London Heathrow Airport, bound for Shanghai with a suitcase full of hopes and dreams for the year that stood ahead of me! Shanghai, Suzhou, Chongqing and Chengdu have all been great parts of my first six months but Wuhan is different, it's become my home! Here's to the next six months in China! I'm going to make one year!

It's China Time!

Joseph Harrison 

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Wuhan, China: After Hours!

Wuhan may not be the most popular tourist hotspot in China but when the sun sets there's many places to have an unforgettable night out. From live music, dive bars and Afro-beats its a dead cert that Wuhan, China offers something different during the twilight. Without further ado let's go into the night, Wuhan's waiting for the sun to set! Marry the night W!

Bang in the centre of Wuhan's Optics Valley central shopping district stands 066 Bar Livehouse, Wuhan. Located on Spanish Style Street this chilled out music bar and tattoo parlour dances to the beat of its own drum! Serving a range of imported beers such as; Boddington's and Kronenbourg this Guanggu Livehouse brings something different. Setting the bar high there's also a selection of fine spirits and malt whiskys to enjoy. 066 Bar plays a weekly host of open mic nights, allowing the hip folk of Wuhan's newest district to express themselves. I haven't been to this Livehouse during the week but it gets quite busy at the weekends, but I prefer to sit from the bar and people watch. 066 Bar Livehouse, Wuhan stands a strong contender with its fellow bar and tattoo concept nighttime venues in the Optics Valley area. So, let us shout out on the rooftops about this upcoming Wuhan bar! Guanggu, let the music play on!

Staying within Guanggu I have to say that going into the night is a great thing, its not just music and bars that keeps this corner of Wuhan busy during the hours of darkness. By Guanggu Street I always get some great tasting street food from the small vendors, which doesn't cost me hardly anything. Back to the bars, I love a pint of cider but a pint of lager I shall settle at for the time being for Wuhan hasn't caught on to that delicious alcoholic apple drink. Captain Jack's is where I go for a pint of the good stuff, lager isn't just the only drink served! A pint of Carlsberg costs me around £2.50 in my British money, which is around 25 Yuan in the local Chinese currency. I like the vibe of Captain Jack's, there's nothing better than finishing work on a Friday and taking a seat at the bar to enjoy an ice cold pint. As the darkness falls its safe to say that Guanggu has a night-scene that continues to grow. Wuhan, I'll always endorse something new! Going into the night in Guanggu impressed me! Yes!

Keeping things on the down and low, Wuhan Prison has to be one of my favourite places to go for a drink since living in China. I was first introduced to this intriguing looking dive bar during my first teaching job in July 2015. Prison always transports me to another place each time I go for a drink at Wuhan Prison. My reason for being in Wuhan, China is that I'm currently teaching English. This alternative Wuhan hangout has allowed me to meet a lot of fellow teachers from both England and the rest of the world. A younger Chinese crowd can be found breaking from tradition on any given night of the week, let's just say some of those few are breaking from the previous social norms and traditions that have been ingrained into the Chinese way of life. Like 066 Bar Livehouse this Wuhan bar has its very own tattoo shop next door to the bar, I might well get the free 'Wuhan Prison' tattoo before I go back home to Britain! I do!

Only a few paces from the underground vibe of Wuhan Prison I saw my first gig ever, I want to embrace all parts of life here in China. Vox Livehouse is famed for being one of Wuhan's most famous places for live music. Located within the Wuchang district of Wuhan city it's a great place to have a few drinks, play a game or two of pool and even rock out to a Chinese or international Rock/Indie band. Drinks are reasonably priced for the area and this type of venue, I don't go for those imported beers because I'm all about going home with some extra money left. On the 13th of August 2015 I left work without haste to get down to Vox Livehouse to see the Stone Lions, a Indie band from Tianjin, China. There wasn't much of a crowd but I loved the gig and the Lions music. Those chain smoking, violin playing Chinese rockers impressed me much! For me, I like Vox Livehouse but I'm more of a fan of Wuhan Prison if I'm in the immediate area on a night out in Wuhan. Vox rocked that night!

A night out in Hankou for me means taxis after the Wuhan Metro stops at 11pm each night, so it's rare I venture across the Yangtze River after the sun goes down. Beer Barn was showed to me during Victory Day weekend in September 2015, a random night out it fared to be with a very good friend. Overlooking Xi Hu, well West Lake in English. A modern bar fronted me with a long line of fridges full of beers from the four corners of the world. I found some Samuel Smith's special stouts that reminded me of the Anchor Tap, London. Hopping from Beer Barn along the riverside walk along West Lake we went for a pint or two at Brussels Bar, I think it was about £4.00 for a pint of Vedett beer but it was worth every drop. Using the term 'hipster' lightly I could sense some of those tones in Beer Barn, I can tolerate a certain level of 'hipster' design but not too much! Yes, Hankou's got so much more to show me! Let's get it good Wu!

As much as I love to socialise in different bars and hangouts in Wuhan I found a place where I can get down on the dancefloor, those Afro-beats put me under a trance everytime I choose Vibes Nightclub. It only costs me a £2.50 taxi fare from my Optics Valley address to Jiedaokou, which means that I can get crazy and conserve my spends. Me and my friend Elli love going to Vibes Nightclub on the weekends because we're all about those African tunes. For my 25th birthday I chose to turn it up and get low at Vibes, Jiedaokou until the early morning! Apparently a well known London born African musician is on his way to China, making a possible stop at Vibes Nightclub, Wuhan! You already know that I want to be there for that gig! Guanggu's going places, Wuchang holds it own, Hankou rules the roost but Jiedaokou gets down low! Going into the night it does not take a second to realise that China's central metropolis has a diverse and growing nightlife, make the sun set because I'm ready!

Go Into The Night!

Joseph Harrison

Monday, 30 November 2015

Guanggu... Feels Like Home!

They say 'home is where the heart is?' One corner of Wuhan, China has become a place that feels like home! From the crazy bus commutes I love to hate, then finding some Chinese food with a Central Asian twist! So good! Rising from a former piece of Wuhan's Hongshan district's swampland, this ever-growing part of Wuhan's my home! Guanggu's the Optics Valley of China! 

Finding myself within the crazy of Guanggu, Wuhan was a shock to my system, the sweltering July 2015 summer sun beaten down upon me as I made my way to my then English teaching employer. I had no clue what Guanggu would offer me, I was sincerely blinded by the piercing sunlight. I'm now in a completely different circumstance but all the better for it, working at a Kindergarten along the Guanggu No.1 Road it's been something of a challenge to deal with the early mornings and rush hour commutes by bus. Getting my life, Guanggu is constantly showing me the way to live the Wuhan dream! Shopping makes this part of Wuhan tick but I just don't care for that pastime. An infusion of wannabe themed European streets make up Central Guanggu, I'm getting on with life at the foot of Guanggu Square. I never imagined I would end up living in such a mad place but I love it! Oh, I hate the traffic but that's just WUH!

I'm no Material Girl but the inhabitants of Guanggu seem to find a daily excuse to frequent the huge shopping centres of the Optics Valley Central area. World City Plaza has my attention, not for the shopping but for the food that's on offer. I have been for some lovely Western meals at that premium shopping and lifestyle centre. Shops and restaurants close each night around 10pm without fail, leaving those dormant places behind I never say no to a great night out in Guanggu. Prison was a bar that I was introduced to by my former colleague, a super dive bar that has a meaning as strong as its name. Broadening my choices I love a proper pint of Carlsberg Lager at Captain Jack's, I wish they did Cider on draught but Lager will do for now. I still have to get some photos at 066 Live House Wuhan, I need a pay-rise with all these nights out! Almost six months down the line from being bewildered by the berserk sights of Guanggu, I'm no longer fazed by the crazy vibe of Guanggu, Wu!

Having my own apartment in Guanggu, Wuhan has been absolutely magic! I live in my own apartment, located in the centre of Guanggu that is only a few minutes walk from Optics Valley Square Station on Line 2 of the Wuhan Metro. There's nothing like coming home after a long day at work teaching to my own piece of silence, I look back and appreciate the year I lived at my Maternal Grandparents but I'm relishing this time living independently. I'm yet to have a house warning party even though I moved in on the 2nd of July 2015 but I have every faith this Christmas period will be the chance for me to hold a party of some sorts. I do not cook so I only have a toaster and kettle for little snacks, whereas my fridge comes in handy for the weekend for those chilled alcoholic beverages. I don't get lonely living on my own because I like my own company. Of course I love having my Guanggu residence! Oh, it's mine B!

I have friends here from England who also teach English in Wuhan, most of them share an apartment but I have gone through the whole sharing living quarters during my times spent living in the United States of America, a flat-share was out of the question! I might live basic in my minimally furnished apartment but that's more than enough for me, Wuhan is for now so I'm not lugging a whole pile of furniture with me when the time comes to live in another part of China, or even Asia! No! Oh, there's no Western toilet, I have the luxury of a Chinese squat toilet so that was a shock when I first looked at my now apartment. I only looked at one apartment, sensing that I was meant to say 'yes' at the first showing to make things easier but with a few home comforts and realising the location gives me the flexibility to be on the Wuhan Metro in less than five minutes or grabbing a few bits and bobs at my local Carrefour. From where I am now in my life Guanggu sure feels like home!

Upon arriving in Guanggu I was immediately told to try one of the eating places along Spanish Style Street, the novelty soon wore off when I found other more authentic places to eat. Guanggu's line of European themed streets don't impress me one shred, they don't serve an ounce of Wuhan Overness! On a whim I found a Halal restaurant/cafe ran by a Lanzhou family, an ethnic minority from the north-western Chinese province of Gansu. This Lanzhou establishment serves some of my favourite Halal Chinese food, the family that own this restaurant slip from Mandarin for the customers and their own Turkic sounding language. Halal restaurants are plentiful in Wuhan, well I know that there's at least three restaurants of that kind in Central Guanggu. I knew from the beginning that good food wasn't going to cost me a lot, like I mentioned that's why I have only got a kettle and a toaster! I love it for now but things might well change.

Captured above is Guanggu Street, this busy street food pit-stop fuels the busy people of Guanggu on a daily basis, I love my street food! Located opposite my apartment it doesn't take me too long on a Friday to get my barbecue treats to toast the weekend. When one shop or food outlet closes it doesn't take much time for a new business to open within a matter of days. A new food outlet just opened next to one of the Lanzhou noodle shops, from what I saw from the busy goings on at this new place looked to be some kind of baked bread with a meat and seasoned filling, sounds like a Chinese pasty to me! I wouldn't say no to a second year being based in Guanggu, it's a great part of Wuhan to live and it gives me the opportunity to see other places like Hankou and Hanyang without travelling too far on the metro. Life in Guanggu feels right about now! Hankou, Wuchang and Hanyang can take several seats because Guanggu gets the gold! Life is ace, so don't change too much Guanggu!

Give It Up For Guanggu!

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 23 November 2015

Hankou's Little Secret...

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's a crime but I tend to favour my Wuhan nights out within Hongshan district, sticking close to my Guanggu ends because I always get crazy but there's one place along the Hankou Riverside I would love to hangout at. Romantic Life, a bar of a certain kind that I first found online during some pre-Wuhan research I recognised certain qualities about that place I liked. Making a pit-stop for an afternoon iced coffee I admired the kitsch and over the top decor of Romantic Life's main bar and lounge area, it looked like the perfect cabaret bar to me. I know that I'll go back to Romantic Life soon enough but as long as these nights are bitterly cold I'm not planning that sort of night out! Leaving the riverside I couldn't help but notice the European inspired buildings that front the Jiangtan section of Yanjiang Avenue oozed French Concession Overness! Getting over to Hankou on these two occasions was well worth my weekend, I loved my efforts sightseeing in Hankou, Wuhan. Back to reality, then? No!

Hankou Serves Greatness! 

Joseph Harrison 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

25: Happy Birthday!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Year Gorgeous!

Joseph Harrison 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

November 2014: This Time Last Year...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Love The Big Smoke!

Joseph Harrison 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

2015: Something To Remember...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Forget!

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 26 October 2015

Chu River & Han Street, Wuhan: Rollin' On The River!

Getting some culture back into my life had to be done, well seeing a show I mean because it's no secret that China doesn't have a West End like theatre culture just yet. Revisiting a popular riverside shopping street had to be done, I wanted to do things my way this time. Yes, finding some sweet treats from mother England once more from Marks & Spencer gave me life!

Emptying my pockets I booked a ticket to the Han Show, a new show in Wuhan that from the outside models itself like a Chinese version of 'Cirque Du Soleil'. Parting with 380 Yuan I exchanged that back to GBP to find my ticket cost me about £38, judging by the quality of the show it was worth every single Chinese Yuan! Fashioned like a red lantern this Wuhan Han Show Theatre shines bright at the foot of the Shuiguo Lake. I waited after my 3pm show to take some night shots but with a brief interval at the nearby shopping avenue. Back to the show, I was not prepared for the seating to move the audience completely to one side to create a wide open stage, maximising the already huge purpose built stage. Teamed together with tight choreography and aerial acrobatics this show served some serious technology that gave the wow factor to this Wuhan stage extravaganza. No, I wasn't expecting to see a spectacle!

At first two unwilling members of the audience were dragged from their seats by these red morph like dancers, later it would become clear those two people were actually part of the cast. I couldn't fault the special effects used throughout the show, coming from England its a way of life to see a show at the theatre so the audience didn't know how to act when applause should have been given to the members of the cast. I was half distracted by the colourful screens that transported the audience into another place that the middle of the stage had been lowered and filled with water in the space of one minute or so. I was amazed by the daring stunts performed by the acrobats, if I was wearing a hat I would have taken it off to them because it was superb. I tried to catch bits of the show to make sense of the plot, obviously Wuhan was the main influence with a huge backdrop at the finale that featured the Yellow Crane Tower. So, I was more than impressed with the Han Show! 

Getting back to Han Street alongside the Chu River was great, I previously went during August with a friend but I did things my own way this time. A strange looking shopping street Han Street maybe because its been made to look aged but in actual fact its only a few years old, I will never understand the fascination with recreating something old? Nevertheless, fresh from the show I wanted something familiar to eat so I made McDonald's my choice of meal, not very Chinese but I don't care! I hate to say this but I could see some Christmas lights shining during that dusk hour, I wanted to escape the festive season! Connected by Line 4 of Wuhan's growing Metro by Chuhehanjie Station, there's no easier way to get to the Chu River and Han Street B!

I'm not a 'Material Girl' by any chance but the early evening atmosphere of Han Streets winding shopping avenue can be nice to wander along. A whole new metropolis of plush apartments and shiny hotels surround the bustling shops of Han Street, it would be the first place I would chose to stay in Wuhan if I was a tourist here. Was my second visit to Han Street better compared to the first? Yes, I got on with my photos and took things at my own independent pace but that first meeting with Han Street was lovely for other reasons that I don't need to reveal. It's without hesitation that I say Wuchang is definitely a part of Wuhan that is on the up and up right now! Han Street has my approval for a reason I shall reveal in just one moment. Yes, I will be back soon Han Street! I like that street!

China is well and truly a long way from England, so there are a few home comforts that I really do miss. In Wuhan I can't find many sweets, like chewy Haribo like treats so I was thankfully introduced to Han Street's very own Marks & Spencer store, oh I was more thankful for that introduction! The first time around I couldn't get to the Food Hall fast enough, in hot pursuit of those Percy Pigs treats I was on a mission! I found four cans of imported Cider from Herefordshire, England and yes I did pay through the nose for them but they tasted like liquid gold if there was ever a flavour? I found a Marks & Spencer in the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar but with this later store being in Wuhan, China I was slightly euphoric to see a British looking supermarket section, I was definitely living for that Food Hall! The money doesn't matter because I know these products are all imported from England! Wuhan needs ASDA! 

Second time I was all ready for some English Cider but only wine was on the shelves, I was not a happy chap! Going straight for the Percy Pigs, I grabbed two bags without thinking about the money because we have to treat ourselves from time to time. It must be a coincidence that these sweet piggy treats were on deal like the last time I made that British buy? I loved it! In place of the Cider I decided to get some dark chocolate because its either a Snickers or nothing around Guanggu, I knew what I wanted! My October afternoon and evening brought a slice of something theatrical and gave me the chance to stock up on some British treats. Han Street was cool, of course there's every chance that I'll back down there soon. I can't say it enough, the Han Show was absolutely amazing and the theatre itself from the outside is a work of art! Yes, she shines bright! Wuchang knows the deal, I've seen so much of this Wuhan district and it's true I have time for the Chu River and Han Street! 

Yass! I Loved The Han Show! 

Joseph Harrison 

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Destination: Chengdu, China!

From Chongqing North Railway Station I boarded my Chengdu East train, I had no expectations for that Sichuan capital city because I knew things were going to get crazy! From one concrete jungle I was greeted by a city that served something that I could completely identify with. Yes, those Panda's were on my list but I discovered something else in Chengdu! Slaying in CDU!

I had finally made it to Chengdu, a city that I originally wanted to teach in but nevertheless I used National Day to seal the deal! I almost missed the train from Chongqing because their new high speed station wasn't so easy to find even though I did make it to the other Chongqing station. Going underground I was armed with my Tianfu Tong to get myself from Chengdu East Railway Station to Chunxi Road, finding my hotel was a pain in the neck to put it politely but my wandering came in handy for later on. From one Tianfu to another I dropped my bag at my hotel in-search for Tianfu Square to see a part of the city that I had seen from my friend, Fiorella's time as a exchange student in Chengdu, China. National Day hadn't got Chengdu as crazy compared to the ever-flowing crowds that I struggled through in Chongqing City, the difference was definitely appreciated! Now, Chengdu where were those Panda's hiding?! Get it CN!

Tianfu Square stood proud, fashioning itself as a powerhouse of modernity with the towering skyscrapers and museums but bringing a defining statue of a certain Chairman outside the Sichuan Science and Technology Museum. Back to tracking down my hotel, getting off the subway was no problem but my sense direction tends to falter when I'm looking for hotels or any kind of accommodation. I did see a lot of Chengdu's pedestrianised shopping mecca but that didn't help me out just yet. So, my hotel was marketed under a different name but with a stroke of luck I stumbled upon that trick, charging my phone and getting myself together I was ready to find some tea houses whilst in Chengdu, China. Who honestly changes the name of a hotel without updating the booking websites? Really?! Had I really woken up in Chongqing that morning? From the moment I got to Chunxi Road I could feel that my time spent in Chengdu would be memorable, a sense of freedom could be felt. Strike!

I hadn't planned much for my two days in Chengdu apart from the Panda Research Base, I thought on my feet and consulted the internet. Jumping back on the metro at Tianfu Square I made it to Wenshu Monastery in search of a certain place of worship and folk street. The vile scent of Stinky Tofu could be smelt as I found Wenshu Fang Culture and Folk Street, I was not impressed! Leaving that stinky business behind me I admired the many street sellers who were selling a wide array of craft items, one stall was selling something that looked like a claw of some kind?! Somebody get me another bottle of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice! Yes, I was living! Seeking another fine place of worship I admired the beautiful offerings of Wenshu Monastery, the tourists annoyed me but I blocked those pesky things out because that's what I do! Right, isn't it a Chengdu thing to have a spot of tea? Yes, but tea was just for starters C!

Within the walls of the monastery I found a charming teahouse that looked like a winner to me, maybe a little touristy for my liking but I noticed the clientele was mainly Chinese so that was good enough for me. I grabbed some Uighur kebabs and flat bread before my tea session because I was sidetracked by the barbecue stand that was blasting out Turkish like music! Giving a little time I had a short walk around the folk street before the evening tea session would begin, I had no need to stress in Chengdu because the vibe was right. Selecting my Green Tea brew I took my cup to a small table that overlooked the tea garden, I had about four refills but didn't feel the urgency to leave just yet. Mahjong, a Chinese favourite board game was being played to my right with a juxtapose for two twenty somethings stared at their mobile phones. The past few days had been manic, forgetting the craze I sipped my tea and soaked in each bit of that Chengdu time. Wuhan sort it out, I want this!

Bright and early on my second day in the Du I found myself at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding to see those famous and almost extinct Chinese bears. Paying my entrance fee, which was only £6.50 so I couldn't not complain! I got a taxi to and from the city centre directly to the Panda Breeding site, leaving the complicated bus system and bartering for a good fare was well worth it. Armed with my camera I was more than ready to catch a few glimpses of those crafty Chinese Giant Panda's. I tried my best because those crowds didn't know how to handle seeing a Panda, I was like damn! I can't remember the names of the Giant Panda's who call the Research Base their home but they were so blinding cute! One of the Giant Panda's just wanted to sleep, I kept my patience because these favourite few deserve respect! Moving to another reserve I saw one Panda chomping on some Bamboo! O, hush your noise!

I was absolutely living for the Panda's, they are the cutest wild animals I ever did see with their black and white spots I took in those snatched moments! I must say that some people couldn't handle the hysteria and could have shown a heap more respect for these creatures but that was just so! It was a bizarre place, situated about thirty minutes away from Chengdu's city centre it didn't take too long to leave the developing city behind me and be in a Disney World like place but for Panda's! I didn't make it into the nursery where the latest Panda cubs could be viewed because the crowds were a little bit too much for my hungover self to cope with. If I never return to Chengdu I can at least say I have seen the Panda's at the world famous Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding! Yes, I did see several posters advertising the animated film 'Kung Fu Panda!' Keeping it together I managed to get some timeless snaps of three or so Giant Panda's sleeping and eating, not bad really?! 

Leaving the after-hours experiences until now, I left behind the teahouse to get ready for my night out in Chengdu. I had heard many things about Chengdu being a liberal and chilled out place compared to other parts of China that may be more traditional. Dressed to kill and ready for the night I got myself to Dongmen Bridge to find MC Club, a place that showed me two unforgettable nights out in Chengdu. Seeing the rainbow flags I knew I had took the right turning, it was no mean feat finding that club I tell you! Those Chinese queens knew how to slay it on the dancefloor, I got my drink on and showed them how we do it in Great Britain! Like with many Gay clubs its not difficult to find some shady queens but I was welcomed into the centre of several groups throughout my time partying in Chengdu. It didn't take me long to meet some really nice Chinese guys, we toasted to the holiday and the night! Serving it to?

Not content with just one night on the tiles in Chengdu I returned after my Panda experience to MC Club for round two! Meeting some great people and doing my best to bring the moves on the floor I had another amazing night out in Chendgu. I'm not going to lie I was very fortunate in certain departments over the course of my two nights getting crazy in Chengdu, but as the saying goes a gentlemen never reveals such details! Going downstairs it got downright scandalous, for many reasons I'll leave those after hours right in that moment, believe me I was bad. Boarding my Wuhan bound China Eastern flight on the 6th of October 2015 I had some sweet and some questionable memories of my whistle-stop National Day trip to Chengdu. National Day was a blast, both in Chongqing and also in Chengdu but I was ready for a day of rest before returning back to work! Would I ever go back to Chengdu for a repeat performance? Don't stop me! I served everything I have! Oh, I was utterly Chengdued!

Chengdu Slayed! 

Joseph Harrison 

Friday, 16 October 2015

Chongqing: Clock Towers, Chaotianmen Dock & Hot Pot...

National Day had arrived! I had made it to October! I wanted to royally celebrate this special Chinese Holiday in style! I had to be snappy with making choices because the trains were fully booked and the flights were soaring in price, I chose Chongqing for my first serving of National Day Realness! Yes, I wanted Hot Pot and a great reunion with my Meten friends in Chongqing!

Jetting off from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport was sort of a simple task but with every woman, man and child making their way home it was a stressful affair until I lost my patience's and got a taxi to the airport. Those streets and train stations were berserk! Chongqing wasn't going to wait for me so I had to get on my Xiamen Air flight from Wuhan without any delays! Taking to the skies without any setbacks I was a few thousand feet over my Chinese home city, Wuhan looked like one huge construction site but she's crafting something epic! Xiamen Air served a quick and simple service from Wuhan to Chongqing, cruising over the province of Hubei before touching down one hour and fifteen minutes later into Chongqing's Jiangbei International Airport, might I'd have known that Chongqing is its own Municipality! I got a bottle of water and a multi-bag of dried cranberries mixed with peanuts, both free. Go, CQ!

I had chosen Chongqing to see my friends Micaela and Patrick who I trained with in Suzhou in June 2015, time has definitely changed our work situations but I wanted keep that friendship fresh. I don't deal with fakeness! Jumping on the metro at Chongqing's Jiangbei Airport to Guanyinqiao to meet Micaela and Patrick, of course I was excited to be reunited with those two Texans! Dropping my bag back at their plush apartment it was time for some food, those airplane snacks had wore away so Micaela had suggested Pizza and Pasta for the taking. Oh my goodness that Pizza and Pasta was sublime, I had forgotten what western greasy food tasted like! Catching up with friends is priceless, the conversation flowed like the drinks did when we made it to Brown's Bar for some 'Zombie' cocktails. Those 'Zombie's' tasted great but did what they said, closing our first night together we made it for some street food before bed. Getting out of Wuhan at that time, I needed things to get crazy!

National Day had Chongqing all crazy, people were literally everywhere and then some! Taking the metro once again I found myself looking at Chongqing's People's Liberation Monument, it may have just looked like a normal clock-tower but my friends told me that little under ten years ago it was the tallest building in Chongqing! If you don't know what Chongqing looks like then imagine a modern day developing New York City, she's a gargantuan metropolis! I had griped and moaned about how hideous those Chinese flag hair accessories had looked on other people and that I was never going to wear one but National Day had me all patriotic for China, so I bought one! Thinking back over how I'm settled in Wuhan, I could have chosen Chongqing as one of my city choices but the towering skyscrapers created a picture in my head that I didn't like. Yes, I must Micaela and Patrick to visit again, that's if they'd have me back?

Dodging the crowds it didn't take a lot to see that the area around Chongqing's Jiefangbei Square looked like a perfect contradiction with the old meeting ultra new and modern architecture. Developing at the speed of light I was amazed by all the lights from the towering buildings that evening when we returned to collect some cash from a local cash-point. Did I have a plan whilst in Chongqing? No, I put my faith in my friends to show me a slice of their Chinese home city like I would do the same for them in Wuhan. Jiefangbei was crazy with its electric personality, serving something I saw in 2012 during my trips to New York City's Times Square. Did I mention what I had for breakfast? I broke the rule by having noodles but these had an egg on top, I can say that its not a bad thing to have noodles for breakfast! Moving through the ever-growing crowds I was excited to see Chaotianmen Dock, my inner blogger had to get some snaps of Chongqing's branch of the Yangtze River! I was living it!

Busy like Wuhan's junction of the Yangtze River I was given an amazing view of Chongqing's equally bustling portion of the Yangzte River. Chaotianmen Dock looks over the rising skyline of Chongqing, she was serving 22nd Century Overness! One step ahead of the competition I honestly felt like a tourist it was lovely to trust other people and find yourself at a series of epic sights. I had already seen so much during my first full day in Chongqing, but something told me the night would be just as eventful as the day was panning out to be! After geeking up on Chaotianmen Dock I found its where both the Jialing River and Yangtze Rivers meet to act as a major cargo handling spot alongside a loading bay for people who take cruises to the Three Gorges Dam along the Yangtze River. Of course with all this new found know-how Chongqing was schooling me about its hustle! Did somebody say Hot Pot? I hate crowds!

Searching far and wide within the Jiefangbei CBD for some good Chongqing Hot Pot it wasn't meant to be that evening, places were so busy being it was National Day we would were told at one place to wait for a long time! Changing our plan we decided to enjoy some Thai cuisine before our drinking session could truly begin. I wasn't impressed by my curry being denied rice in a country such as China! That got me all crazy, I was like 'you have to be joking?'. Thankfully, I got my rice so I didn't make a scene. Hitting 'Cliff's' for the Ladies Night special I was ready to get my drink on! There was a 100 Yuan 'all you can drink' promotion on until 1am so we paid the price and got our bands, let the drinking commence! Meeting more new people I was introduced to Ferdinand, a fellow English Teacher from the Philippines, he was charming. The night got crazy, the drinks were ever-flowing and it was decided that we were going onto another bar after 'Cliffs'. It was a mental night out in Chongqing BB!

Hungover like nobody's business it was time to get ourselves together and make it to KTV. I could vaguely remember death dropping in a fancy looking KTV room in-between bar hopping that eventful Friday night out in Chongqing. I was mad ill! My limited vocals were faltering but I took it as a good thing because its in the fun of it for KTV. Battling through our two hour sitting we got through some songs for sure, singing with us was one of Patrick's students, he was a charming young man for sure! Finishing up our Chongqing KTV experience it was time to see what the Hot Pot was all about. Selecting our dishes I was schooled by Micaela in the art of all things Hot Pot, it was different food compared to Wuhan but I was willing to taste it. The restaurant itself was alive with different smells and loud conversations that I was yet to understand, sadly my hangover had returned, I took the experience and tried not waste that. 

Throughout my two and a half days in Chongqing City I was amazed by the contrast as the old and the new live side by side so effortlessly, I'm really thankful for the guidance of Micaela and Patrick because they know their Chinese home city well! Getting on a plane and getting out of Wuhan and Hubei for those first days of the National Day holiday was a blessing in disguise, I love Wuhan and its Hubei province but I was gagging to see more of this huge Chinese nation. Reconnecting with my two Texan friends who I met in Suzhou at the Meten English training was brilliant because even though we don't work for the same company now it's given us even more of an excuse to make contact and remain friends. I took the Hot Pot experience as a whole new thing but it wasn't my cup of tea if I'm completely honest. I honestly don't what that drink did to me though, I was absolutely messed up that Friday but it was worth it! I'll blame you, CQ! Now, where's that Chongqing North  really at?!

Yes, Chongqing City Life!

Joseph Harrison