Friday, 31 July 2015

Hankou: Zhongshan Park & Jianghan Road

Tuning into another session of Wuhan Time I got myself out of Guanggu for a while, having a very random day I didn't plan one single thing! Going underground on the Wuhan Metro I tried my luck to see Baotong Temple but that just wasn't so, moving onto the next subway station took me closer to my next destination. Breaking away from Guanggu felt really good! It's so loud!

Zhongshan Park worked perfectly with the blazing sun, I had been to this park before but didn't have the time to see it at my own pace. Endorsing that park life I was happy enough to snap endless photos, like I mentioned before I didn't have a plan! Making a crazy statement I say that Wuhan's Zhongshan Park served some New York City Realness because it looked like Central Park. Being the 'Chicago of China' I reckon that isn't too far away from the truth? Taking a break from Guanggu for that Wuhan park gave me some calm, my first month teaching in Wuhan's Optics Valley had been full on, I needed some time! Surrounded by a series of skyscrapers within a city that is constantly growing I felt at peace throughout my time at Zhongshan Park, the scorching temperatures did make the lawns look slightly parched! Let's just say it was mad to see because Wuhan makes it rain an then some! Make it rain!

Dossing within the financial heart of Hankou I appreciated the view that fronted me, well those towering skyscrapers certainly gave an executive impression. Named after Sun Yat-Sen, the founding father of modern China its not just Wuhan that boasts its own Zhongshan Park, this garden tribute certainly gets around! Captured above is a snapshot of my baking hot afternoon at one of Wuhan's many parks, that statue of a faithful looking couple promoted a image of togetherness. The waters that looked over modern Wuhan acted as a perfect contrast between the ancient feel of the parks personality. During my first days of training in Wuhan I was based at the local teaching centre that belongs to the company that I teach at, I didn't have the time to discover the park so my random July afternoon filled that void. Finding a Chinese only book market I only took a glance at the random prints, unfortunately I can't read Chinese right now so I didn't buy anything. WH, I'll try to get those reading skills!

Going down memory lane, well from the first sights that I saw of Wuhan, China on the 1st of July 2015. Tracing my steps from Wuhan's Zhongshan Park I stumbled upon Wansongyuan Road, a bustling Wuhan city street that greeted me during those early Hubei days. Staying away from the shopping mall I was all about the colourful string of Chinese food concessions, I had been on the tiles the night before so something greasy had to be on the menu that afternoon! Settling for a oven fresh cheese flat bread that had a spicy filling that kicked my hangover away, not completely! Comparing the eateries of Wansongyuan Road with Guanggu's Spanish Style Street I recognised the difference but with food so cheap and tasty I can't choose a favourite! Who needs a Greggs pasty when I can get a freshly baked Chinese treat for next to nothing! Xiyuan showed me my first WH hotel, I won't be making any more reservations! No, thanks!

I have no problem with trying new foods, in China there's no room for dismissing certain foods that don't look normal. Xiyuan's Wansongyuan Road serves up many local dishes like 'Hot 'n' Dry Noodles' and many different dumplings and some of them taste mighty fine! Flashing back to my second night in Wuhan I decided to start withdrawing money from my UK bank account so I could pay my three months worth of rent the next day, my Nationwide debit card was eaten by a certain Chinese whole-in-the-wall. After that event I wasn't so keen on Xiyuan, but after retrieving my card I revisited this time to remember my first two nights in Wuhan, so things weren't so much of a drama along that city street!? Going to that part of Wuhan whilst not being on the commute I appreciated that Wuhan street without the stress that I felt when I would speed walk to my days of training. I have to say that it all started on Wansongyuan Road at the beginning of July 2015! Sure, I had to start somewhere!

Concluding my day of randomness I hopped back on the Wuhan Metro to Jianghan Road. One of Wuhan's major pedestrian shopping streets I had seen something that I liked about this district during my pre-departure research. Re-hydrating with an ice cold lemonade water I was ready to see what was good, Jianghan Road had unknowingly been on my Wuhan hit-list! I was waiting for the sunset so to ease my impatience I saw a hilarious Chinese film about a fake superhero, 'Jian Bing Man'. It was hilarious and with the English subtitles I was able to follow everything. Returning to the night I was denied the right to take the night shots I wanted to take, I admitted defeat as my camera died! Getting back to Jianghan Road had to be done at another point, finding the time out of my busy schedule I got the photos I wanted and I ate some delicious barbecue chicken! My camera failed me but I loved Jianghan Road! Yes!

I'm not one for shopping but the glittering lights from Jianghan Road's many department stores had me under a trance. I chose to try a t-shirt on at KM along that busy Wuhan shopping street, finding that the large was too small I was given an XL by the store assistant. Why on earth did I have to buy an XL piece of clothing? I caught up pretty quickly that the stretchy material and asian sizes weren't going to fit my western body, I left KM behind me and put that into my memory box of poor choices. Nevertheless, getting away from my Guanggu bubble was nice in many ways but I loved stepping off the underground both times at Optics Valley Square station. Zhongshan Park helped me see something more scenic for a change, trading a concrete jungle for a peaceful green surrounding. Xiyuan and Wansongyuan Road provided a flashback to my first days in Wuhan, serving super hangover food! Jianghan Road burns bright like neon lights, making Wuhan look stunning at night! Yes, Wuhan!

Wuhan City Life!

Joseph Harrison

Monday, 27 July 2015

Back To The Beginning... Suzhou, China!

Packing up my suitcase for what seemed like the fiftieth time I left my Pudong JinJiang Hotel behind me to start the beginning of my Meten English experience. After waiting for some time I met with a group of fellow new teachers, we all waited for the next move as some of them had just arrived from the U.S I was glad that I had flown in earlier that week. Yes!

Introductions aside it was time to get down to the real reason that we had come to China for, training for our government approved TEFL qualification would be the main aim for the week. Captured to the left is my Meten English center in Optics Valley, Wuhan but we didn't train there, I wanted it to be a apart of this blog to show that all Meten centers have a clean glass fronted feel, after all it was the end goal that was achieved after my initial Suzhou training. We reported to class before that peculiar Meten bell would chime for the 10am class, all of us were ready for the next dosage of the TEFL in China course. We learnt a lot that week and even presented our own demo class, for me I know I felt petrified but with more in-class training I had every faith that my teaching skills would continue to improve beyond training. It felt mad to be studying again because university was never about the books for me!

Discovering that the English language has so many different grammar focuses, I was like shut that front door because I was never going to take any of that business in! Planning our first demo lessons filled us full with trepidation, some teachers had been teaching for a little while so they had already found their style. I had to pinch myself that I was finally in China, not only that but I was training to be a English teacher because those endless interviews didn't impress me much! Meten English had proved from day one to be real, from the moment I viewed there website I had a strong feeling that company would be here to stay! Learning our lessons in the day we traded the classroom for a series of different Suzhou based restaurants, building up friends in such a short space of time allowed us to be real! Building up to our final exam at the end of the week we knew deep down that the party would still be waiting for us outside Family Mart on any given night! Family Mart is home!

Each group finds their own niche, I found a close group of crazy people who are now in other parts of China. As a collective we broke from class and reported to our hotel's lobby at an agreed time for dinner, making decisions about the smallest things can sometimes be magnified but the different parts of our group found their way. Dining at my first Chinese Muslim restaurant placed an emphasis that Chinese food has many depths, I was learning that eating with only chopsticks for the first time wasn't no walk in the park. Reconnecting with my American cousins it was great to meet some more super people from across the pond! Closer to home I found a friend in Samantha who was from Glasgow in Scotland, a true and genuine character that I clicked with from the get go! Never did I ever think a Puerto Rican beauty would be part of our TEFL group that week, Gloria you know I'll see you and the Texans in Chongqing City!

We were promised a cultural day during our week in Suzhou, for some of us would be leaving Suzhou for our respected cities to begin our teaching contracts. Suzhou, China is known as the 'Venice of Asia' with its extensive canal networks I was itching to see the historic parts of town because our hotel was located close to the booming glass-fronted business district. Sneaking out after dinner one night a few of us went to a bar along PingJang Road in the old town, little did I know that this would be the location for our cultural day. Braving the heat it was a lovely afternoon going about the cobbled streets of that historical Suzhou area. As hotels go by, ours was really nice, breakfast was a bit questionable at times but it was a Chinese hotel at the end of things. Getting further into the week the course grew more intense with the prospect of the final exam but we had this, too much stress never leads to anything good so we kept on studying and enjoying Suzhou! English is crazy!

Flashing back to the day of my demo class, I was one hot mess with nerves but I was excited at the same time! I had chose 'A Hero To Me' lesson because it featured that Chinese warrior princess, Mulan would be my good omen, I knew it! Serving my first thirty minute lesson I felt elated afterwards, I had completed it and thankfully went on to pass with enough credits. Later that night we hit another part of the old town, this time to a glittering and vibrant street for some great food, we were introduced to 'Baijiu' a seriously strong Chinese spirit that's made out of wheat. Moving from one bar we found a great corner store that served some seriously cheap drinks! Making our way back towards the hotel, some of the group retired to their beds but us lot went to where the true party was at, Family Mart! Yes, a standard convenience store steps away from the hotel gave us a place to congregate. Oh, SZ!

Getting our study game on we knew the final exam wouldn't be too bad but we wanted to be prepared. Building up to the big day there was some nerves in the camp but we were right at the beginning of a new experience so we were all still in a euphoric mind set, well I was so please! I never anticipated that my training week in Suzhou was going to be so eventful, from the classroom to the street we were learning each day. Knuckling down to those test papers we tried our damn best to hit the pass mark, some of us would be moving on the next day so whatever happened we wanted to do our best then celebrate! Pre-packing the night before my departure to Wuhan I knew it would be an eventful night ahead of us, playing our final game of 'King's Cup' we all knew that our first week in Suzhou had been more than alright! From our first meeting at Pudong Airport to toasting that final drink at the hotel I know that we'll cause some more mayhem in China! I'll be back Suz!

Where's My Baijiu Gone?!

Joseph Harrison 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Let's Introduce: Guanggu District, Wuhan!

San Francisco, USA has the Silicon Valley but Wuhan, China has the Optics Valley because seeing is believing. Shopping isn't a favourite pastime of mine but its difficult not to endorse the mega malls of Guanggu, this Wuhan town has two names! Teaching English is my trade, the Optics Valley will serve me well. Call it whatever you want, two names are better than one!

Once a parkland in the round, Optics Valley 'Guanggu' Square looks more like an epic construction site. I first saw this crazy building site in early July of 2015 on my way to METEN English's Guanngu centre, it looked a lot different compared to what I had previously saw on the internet! Home to the Optics Valley Tower, this constantly changing part of the Valley is the headquarters of the East Lake New Technology Development Zone, well that's what I've heard? My apartment block overlooks the image to the left, from the fourteenth floor the level of crazy doesn't look so chaotic. Finish, please? When the sunsets this centre of traffic becomes a see of lights with the never-ending flow of road traffic. It's all the doing of the latest extension of the Wuhan Metro, seeing Line 2 extended from its current Optics Valley Square Station for a new section to be constructed. Yes, I'm in favour of Guanngu's next chapter! Go OPV!

Getting my life I chose to work in Wuhan out of three possible cities throughout China, sorry about that Chongqing and Foshan! It's like the Optics Valley Square never sleeps, if I can't sleep I walk down to the end of the corridor to see how those electric lights shine during the twilight hour. Shopping and business work hand in hand, mixed with busy commuters who descend upon the square to the platforms of the Wuhan Metro. I don't miss making the commute to the other centre in Hankou because some people don't know how to act on public transport. KTV's and department stores make up the Guanngu Circle as well as countless business corporations, I know that the Optics Valley of China works for each Yuan! Apparently, there was a park in the centre of the Optics Valley Square just two weeks before I had arrived in town? Let's bring back the green to Guanggu! That wasn't a question! The Optics Valley of China feels like home, you know that I made a wise choice G! 

METEN English took a chance on me, I've been teaching at their Wuhan Guanngu Centre since mid July 2015. I work with a friendly and professional team of foreign and local teachers, we all have one aim to teach English to the students of this METEN English centre in Wuhan, China. Conveniently located close to my apartment block I have the luxury of being close to the office, every little helps. I've been humbled by the friendliest of the students, as soon as they knew I was from England they relished in asking me endless questions about my former UK home. Before working at METEN English in Wuhan, China I was never aware of my accent but that slight Bilston tone has followed me to China for sure! I'm enjoying my day to day tasks and with each lesson I have a feeling that my time at METEN English will be unforgettable for the right reasons. English never sounded so good before! Team Guanggu! Let's go! 

Never before has my hometown of Bilston been referred to as 'beautiful' but we all have different minds in the end. Being part of the METEN English Guanggu team leaves me with nothing but positive things to say about my center, its true that Guanggu Meteners teach it better! As each day brings a new challenge I seek the opportunity to teach my native language in a creative and enthusiastic fashion because learning should be fun! Compared to other work that I have done, I like the style of METEN English and how the company operates in its shiny glass fronted classrooms. From the moment I met with my fellow new teachers at Shanghai Pudong International Airport on the 23rd of June 2015 I knew I was beginning a whole new journey with METEN English in China. With its optical technology I know that teaching at a METEN English Centre in the Optics Valley of China works for me just right! I'll keep on learning my grammar and endorsing my hometown of Bilston evermore METEN! Yes!

I'm not one for shopping but since living in Optics Valley, Wuhan I've been converted to the ways of the super shopping centres of Guanggu. Spending one day off to get to know my stomping ground I went to one of World City's many cinemas to see 'The Imitation Game' that features Benedict Cumberbatch, that film schooled me about the hero that was Alan Turing. Getting my cinema ticket was an experience in itself but all finished well with that respected film choice. When I'm craving a McDonald's meal I only have to walk a few steps from my apartment block to the lower level of World City for a fast food treat. Captured alongside the bright lights of World City is my apartment block, boasting a direct link with that supersize shopping centre I can take the lift from the fourteenth floor then directly walk a few steps into World City. My apartment overlooks the main circle because it's all about the location!

Possessing an air of European sophistication this Optical centred Valley town has five different themed streets, can you guess what they are called? Spanish, German, French, Italian and Modern streets have different flavours and bring something unique to this central part of Guanggu. Spanish Style street has its own full scale square with a cathedral to write home about. Housing more retail businesses this corner of Wuhan gives its residents the chance to shop until they truly drop! After going to KTV the other night I was introduced to a interesting German themed bar that served me an ice cold pint of Carlsberg for a good price, I will be back for another drink soon! The Wuhanese people know how to eat, the local dish has to be 'Hot Dry Noodles' it's a quick option for every meal of the day. Soup Dumplings have replaced my cornflakes and toast but I'm ok with that! Optics Valley, otherwise known as Guanggu has showed me a crazy and upcoming part of Wuhan! It's home! Oh, WUH!

Give It Up For Guanggu! 

Joseph Harrison 

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

China: My Shanghai Surprise!

Burning up like neon lights the mega-city of Shanghai, China took me for one hell of a ride during my visit! Serving an almighty culture shock I took every moment as one crazy experience during that weekend. Introducing me to China life this Chinese city presented a serious serving of electric love from the Bund. You know that I was looking for a Shanghai Surprise! Oh, life! 

As my taxi drove closer to Shanghai's city centre it didn't feel real that I had arrived in China, it was finally happening! It was a hazy night but there was no mistaking the surge of development that this gargantuan city had already seen but a series of building sites passed me by. I had no clue where I was going but I knew what the road name was called that my hostel was supposed to be, my driver didn't speak a shred of English and my level of Chinese was appalling so it wasn't hopeful. After a crazy series of events I made it to my hostel, I shouldn't have worried about getting lost because I had found a corker! Let's just say I was in for the experience of a lifetime, I was in the city of a million lights so any mishap had to step to one side because it was my time! Leading to a messed up sleep pattern I woke at 6pm that evening, getting my jet lagged self looking decent I left my hostel for the streets of Shanghai B!

Navigating the side streets from my hostel that was close to People's Square was confusing, I was hungry so sustenance had to be found! Getting acquainted with a unassuming looking noodle cafe I was sold, being the only foreigner in sight I could tell that the food would be a wise choice. My first meal in China ended up being a beef noodle bowl that had been garnished with some leafy vegetables. I wolfed the noodles down without a thought for I only spent £1.50 or something crazy? No western cutlery was in sight, I embraced those chopsticks as I had no other choice. I remember before moving to China I would pretend that I use chopsticks but in that Shanghai moment I had to eat with them for real! I was the only foreigner within that unassuming Shanghainese noodle hangout, I did get a few stares but I didn't feel intimidated by those Far Eastern onlookers. Those first twenty-four hours were so surreal, I honestly couldn't believe all what had happened! Oh, I was living life in China!

Refueled and ready to see some of Shanghai's night-scene I had a wander towards People's Square, I got on the metro from Dashijie to People's Square then the bright lights of Nanjing Road stopped me in my tracks, a rich display of neon signs faced me. That metro station exit was crazy, the London Underground is mad but Shanghai's Metro was insane! Knowing how to act I made my way through the crazy of that mega shopping street, I was slightly bewildered by the madness but knew it felt real to me! I saw Marks & Spencer's from the corner of my eye but I was all about the Chinese symbols that were shining in so many different colours. I hadn't waited for one year to have a look in a shop that I could of done at home, Shanghai had been crazy for every single sight! From my midnight madness and lack of sleep I tried my best to take in the sights, were those women dancing to techno in the street? Oh, yes SHA!

I wasn't in the mood for shopping but I did have a look in H&M as for some reason I found it bizarre that they had a store in China? Snatching five days in Shanghai had to be done, I had so far taken two flights from London Heathrow Airport, England to Shanghai Pudong International Airport, China via Colombo Airport, Sri Lanka with the amazing Sri Lankan Airlines, that mammoth two day journey meant that I was so relieved to to have arrived in China. Those first moments didn't feel real, seeing all the road signs in Chinese was mental as the reality hit me that all of those interviews and failed opportunities didn't mean anything bad anymore. As I mentioned before that my hostel was in a questionable state, I made the best of that situation because the area around Yongshou Road had a genuine non-touristy feeling. Flashing back to that Nanjing Road moment, I was truly living in that crazy time because I had waited for awhile for that scene! Shanghai was mad, I loved it so! 

Nanjing Road led me to one of the main reasons why I decided to spend a few days in Shanghai before training in Suzhou. Famous for its towering skyscrapers I was transfixed by the light display on the Bund, getting to the front of the crowd to take the perfect photo took some going but I always get what I want! The Oriental Pearl TV Tower looked even better in real life, Shanghai knew that I had arrived in town! It was one of those moments when you've got to stop everything for at least two minutes, thank goodness my camera didn't fall into the water because I was totally transfixed on the view! I was learning fast that Shanghai stood as a city for the night-time with its electric love and neon scene I was sold! Everything was so cheap, a bottle of ice tea could be bought on the Bund for literally pennies. Shanghai was surprising beyond any means, this dazzling city made New York City look sleepy! NYC, go take a nap boo!  

Turning my head away from the waters of the Huangpu River I saw a string of regal looking buildings line that Shanghai riverside, resembling the grand port buildings of Liverpool's Mersey front I was sort of taken back to Liverpool for a brief second. Missing my chance for a Bubble Tea from Happy Lemon in London I wasted no time by getting one during that Shanghai night! Nanjing Road and the Bund had showed me enough for one night so I went back to my hostel, well once I found it! Family Mart became my best friend, I never knew how that place would be such a big part of my first two weeks in China. Getting to grips with the streets of Shanghai wasn't bad, revisiting the same street when the darkness of the night faded I automatically knew where I'd previously been. Shanghai threw shade on me in other departments but those factors really didn't matter, it added to the major culture shock I was being exposed to. Shanghai's nonstop persona had me crazy! 

Away from the twilight and hoards of people I spent some time in Shanghai being half responsible, I hadn't come to China for a jolly so I needed to sort a few things out closer to my hostel. I needed a Chinese mobile sorting, the one my mum had given me did not want to work in China and I was half worried about the roaming charges that could be incurred. China Mobile secured me a new phone for £70, including two months of data. The area around my hostel embodied a normal Shanghainese neighbourhood vibe, no bright lights needed to shine around those parts because it served normality. Finding another super cheap noodle shop I continued my cost conscious crusade in Shanghai, China. Going off the beaten track I found a shopping district of a different kind, fashioned in a traditional Chinese style I could of been in a film. Seeking refuge from the rain I chilled with some hot Oolong Tea. 

Shanghai was teaching me that when the heavens open in China, the rain just keeps on pouring until its good an ready to stop! After revisiting Family Mart for the umpteenth time I found a street side cake stall, that was selling all manner of cakes and bakes I bought a Durian fruit cake and some other strange Chinese sweet treats. My final afternoon and evening in Shanghai panned out really nicely, taking it easy I stayed at my hostel with a few beers from Family Mart. As my time in good old Shanghai drew to a close I decided to ditch the hostel for a budget business hotel that was one stop on the metro away from Shanghai Pudong International Airport, I would be meeting with my prospective English teaching company so I wanted to recharge my batteries before getting to Suzhou for training. Shanghai had shown me something different, I had never before been to a place so berserk or captivating before! You haven't seen the last of me Shanghai! Another surprise, please? Oh, yes! 

Marry The Night!

Joseph Harrison