Friday, 28 August 2015

2012-2015: No Summertime Sadness!

From 2012 to 2015 each of those summertime's haven't been too bad, honestly they have been outstanding for very different reasons. Flashing back to my Newark days to my most recent summer in China I have been fortunate for all of this summer fun. I'm not bragging about what I've done but if you feel like that then just click close, maybe?! I'm more than OK with that! 

Touching down at Newark Liberty International Airport from a class act weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada I was looking for a weekend away to Washington, D.C. The craziness of the casinos and the lights of the mighty Las Vegas Strip took it out of me but it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip! Saying hello to the Obama's was the best choice I made that year, well going to Puerto Rico and Canada also made the top list but there was something hectically relaxing about the ways of Lady Washington, D.C. Getting to grips with the National Mall kept me busy, I saw the White House and made it over to the Capitol Building to see where the live link is usually broadcast to London for ITV News. Upgrading my type of accommodation from a simple hostel bunk to a plush room at the Marriott at Metro Center in the heart of D.C's world political centre. Taking a walk from the Lincoln Memorial I sure adored Georgetown gurr! 

The Ironbound turned up the heat during July and August, those humid temperatures had me bugging! Cooling down at Point Pleasant Beach I wanted to serve something more refined compared to those messes from Jersey Shore, I know Brit had more class than that lot! New York City gave me endless days of fun and exploring through the city, it gave me something that I'll never get back, well if I return then that's another story. Being daring I dragged my tired self to a corner of Brooklyn that I had no idea about, after doing some research and trusting the advice of passersby I made my way to Lee Avenue in Williamsburg, the heart of Brooklyn's Jewish community. I saw so many Hasidim families check-in for the VS18 flight to London from Newark with their nursery load of children and on-fleek Jewish mothers. Going strictly kosher for one afternoon gave me the immense opportunity to see that part of NYC! Serving Obamarama and Kosher Overness, I had summer on lock! 

University life was a drag during the Spring/Summer semester so I was glad to be jetting off to Spain for five full packed days along the Costa Dorada. Taking in Barcelona, Tarragona and Sitges I crawled back on to my Birmingham bound flight, the hangover was that bad! Barcelona served Gaudi Realness with the sights have that genius. Getting to grips with that mad Spanish city I found the Sagrada Familia, she's a beautiful work of art! Tarragona allowed me to experience a Roman vibe with its unique architecture and amphitheater. Whereas, Sitges welcomed me with its Rainbow vibe I was at one with their Village People! Marrying the night I lived it up at Queenz to enjoy a few too many local strong drinks but I got that good good in the end! Spain serves so much more than what those Brits abroad crave, I even had a Desayuno Inglés! I learnt that Spain is much better when the queens are out! Si! Te amo España!

Taking to the skies two weeks later I boarded my Turkish Airlines flight to Dalaman via Istanbul Ataturk from Birmingham Airport once again. Experiencing world class Turkish hospitality even before I had touched down onto Turkish soil I was loving my life at 35,000 ft! Spending just under five weeks alongside the Turquoise Coast I revisited a few familiar places that I missed due to being in Newark, NJ during summer 2012. Istanbul wanted me back for two days so getting back to that nonstop metropolis was exactly what I needed, the buzzing atmosphere of Taksim Square kept me entertained for sure! Taking things easy by the cool waters at Oludeniz Beach gave me the chance to recharge my batteries, this holiday lark didn't want to slow down whatsoever! Taking one final Jeep Safari and Boat Trip was just enough for me before I said my final goodbye to that once familiar Turkish holiday resort. I was happy to be going back to Uni life for my final year in Birmingham!

Packing up my life I moved back to Bilston, my University College Birmingham days had come to a close. I had high hopes for the future but knew that I wouldn't be using my passport during the summer of 2014. Getting down to London for ten days allowed me to blog to my hearts content about parts of London that I had never previously been to before. Leaving London for an overnight trip to Brighton concluded my South-East escapade. Things took a slight dip during the latter half of 2014 but I revved things up with a weekend in Blackpool, it was a shameless time so I embraced that part of Blackpool's Gay scene. I had achieved a 2:1 Bachelor's Degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management so I wanted to party and get completely messed up that weekend! I certainly did that in Blacks! Trading my previous foreign summer experiences I loved the offerings England served to me! Get wasted BB!

Being away from Birmingham made things awkward if I wanted to travel to somewhere cheaply, calling on a friend I revisited Birmingham and used the opportunity to get a super cheap MegaBus up to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne for a short trip. The Geordie Shore showed me everything that I wanted to see, getting some perfect snaps of the Tyne Bridge impressed me much! Getting down to the Pink Triangle for two crazy nights out at Eazy Street and Ruby's I noticed the Geordie queens did things differently in their village! I met Beauty Killer at Eazy Street and even snatched a selfie with her! Making the never-ending trip back to the West Midlands wasn't fun, hungover I missed my National Express coach back to Birmingham, so I arrived a few hours later in Bilston than previously planned! Staying closer to home I went to Shrewsbury before September called, those Ramen noodles tasted amazing! So, even with a hazy plan I managed to have an ace summer on a budget in England!

China called me! Shanghai welcomed me in its own special off the wall way, I wasn't ready for that almighty culture shock! Getting to know and love this Chinese mega-city was an effortless task, I just needed to get some sleep! Nanjing Road served the shopping but I was gagging to see the Bund and the skyline, it was a moment I won't ever forget! Moving down to Suzhou for one week of TEFL training I met some amazing people and was introduced to a growing Chinese city that had so much more to show me! Things happen for a reason, I know that seeing Suzhou for that period was meant to be! China was giving me something different, my summers had all come at once with the craziness I was experiencing. Saying my goodbyes and dragging myself onto a Chinese High Speed train from Suzhou to Wuhan (Hankou) was easier said than done, I was severely hungover if not a little drunk still! So long Shanghai!

Wuhan is home! Settling into the rhythm of training and working life didn't leave much time to see the city of Wuhan at all, but in time I got out more and more to see I had made the correct decision. Living within the Optics Valley (Guanggu) area afforded me to be within reach of the Wuhan Metro so seeing places like Zhongshan Park and Jianghan Road didn't take a seconds thought. Murdering the mic I got to know the Chinese phenomenon that is KTV, gracing everyone with my renditions of Kylie Minogue and Madonna's back-catalogue of hits I was in my element. Hitting Lumo Road under the cover of darkness had allowed me to eat some seriously tasty street food, see a Chinese rock gig and find a bar with something extra! Feeling rebellious I took a chance on the Wuchang Uprising Memorial of 1911 to find how the Republic of China was founded! Over the last so many years I have been blessed with four immense summers, spanning across various countries, Yes, I'm blessed!

2016, You Ready?!

Joseph Harrison

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Wuchang: Temples, Towers & Revolutions!

Guanggu serves greatness but I wanted to see what Wuchang had to offer, going underground once more I ended up taking two trips to this part of Wuhan because my sense of direction had me fooled! Trusting a famous Wuhan tourist attraction that had received some beautification, I didn't care about that! Like a prayer I stumbled upon Wuchang's Changchun Temple. Go, WUH!

Getting off the Wuhan Metro at Zhongnan Road I had a vague idea where I was heading, I knew that I needed to be on Wuluo Road. After walking for what felt like an age along Wuluo Lu I made it to the Taoist Temple in question, I was excited! Missing my chance to see the nearby Baotong Temple I had my sights set on some Taoist Temple Realness! Escaping the sweltering sun was a winner, the temple walls housed a peaceful courtyard. I was bad, I took some photos of the inside of the shrine but I won't include them in any of my blogs because that's even more shady! Many notable people have had something to do with Changchun Taoist Temple like Genghis Khan! 1851 was a bad time for this place of worship during the Qing Dynasty but He Hechun helped restore the temple from its state of jeopardy. Whatever else happened in the past I have to say that this temple looked great in 2015! Where can I find some incense B?!

Exploring the different avenues and courtyards within the temple walls was amazing and quite calming at the same time. People were just going about their business, with all the incense burning there was such a relaxed and special atmosphere around. Maybe the gods wanted to say something to me, well the way the figures in the shrines stared at me it could have been possible! Come to think of it I had never been to a temple before that baking hot August afternoon in Wuchang, I'm still determined as ever to see Baotong Temple but that will have to wait! I found some incense sticks in a shop within the temple walls, they were only 15 RMB, which is about £1.50 so I was sold! I loved the stone troughs that were being used to burn some heavy duty incense, the biggest I have ever seen! Finding some peace away from the hectic pace of Wuhan I appreciated that if nothing else, getting to grips with the quirks of Wuchang's Changchun Taoist Temple was immense! I'm not religious, but!

I wanted to start a revolution! Finding the Wuchang Uprising Memorial of 1911 felt so good because that Wuluo Road had me fooled the first time around! After scrolling through Wuhan on Trip-Advisor I wanted to see what the revolution of 1911 served. Signalling the final Chinese Dynasty the work of Sun Yat-sen brought the famous uprising, making the Qing Dynasty the final time China was ruled by an Emperor and his Empress. Sun Yat-sen was apparently in the U.S. during the Uprising so what's that all about? Capturing the red flags was an imperative part of my visit to the 1911 Uprising Memorial in Wuchang. Learning heaps about the revolutionist, founding father and first president of the Republic of China was a task because most of the exhibits were in Chinese. October, 10th of 1911 was a day that shook a country that was operated by its Dynasties. Throughout the Dynasties those Empresses were on fleek! Yes!

Free admission was another attraction for this historic Wuhan point of interest, you already know that I'm all about saving those Yuan's when I can! Wasting no time I was on the money, making my way from each exhibit without a moment to loose! The open areas of the 1911 Uprising Memorial were decorated in a simple fashion, I saw where Sun Yat-sen would have dined the most important people during the time of his power in Wuhan. The boardrooms served a hint of London's Cabinet War Rooms even though everything was at ground level. Getting a snap of the frontage took some going, I was not content with the way the right flag was swaying in the slight summer breeze, I needed to get a grip gurr! So, Taiwan celebrate the Uprising of Wuchang on the 10th of October each year but the National Holiday is known as 'Double Ten Day'. Getting under the skin of Wuchang's 1911 Uprising Memorial gave me a great insight to another piece of Wuhan's history. Wuhan, get your rebel on now!

Every city in the world has its showpiece attraction, for Wuhan there's the Yellow Crane Tower. Originally built in 223 A.D. after the Han Dynasty in China, this palatial tower experienced a shed load of batterings during the Ming and Qing Dynasties alone but fast forward to modern China it was decided in 1981 a new tower would be built. I spoke to my Wuhanese friends about this Wuhan attraction several times, they saw the rebuilt version as fake but I took the current Yellow Crane Tower as a great place to experience. The fact that the original Yellow Crane Tower was located in a different place in Wuhan I wanted to appreciate the story behind this Wuhanese attraction, haters will always hate! Unlike the Wuchang Uprising Memorial of 1911 I didn't have any problems locating it first time around but the weather was too damn hot that day! Yes, the Yellow Crane Tower embodied Wuhan 'overness' in that moment!

Paying the 80 Yuan to gain admission to the Yellow Crane Tower park I was more than impressed with what I saw, the views from the gardens were simply beautiful. Climbing up to the fifth floor I wanted to see the views everyone had been going on about, to tell the truth I was not disappointed one bit! Viewing Wuhan's cityscape from a higher view gave me a sense that I had arrived, making Wuhan my home had been easy but seeing the views of the mighty Yangtze River cemented the reasons why I had chosen Wuhan! This central Chinese city is called the 'Chicago of China' for its vast transport interchanges and big city vibe that must compare to the 'Windy City?' I haven't been to Chicago but the views from the tower of the bridges and ever-growing city skyline I was seeing a hint of New York City in the air! Rolling all three of my Wuchang discoveries together as one leaves me with a feeling of amazement, this city keeps things fresh and is unapologetic at all costs! I'm representing!

Wuchang, Slay!

Joseph Harrison

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Lumo Road, Guanggu: After Hours!

When the sun goes down, Wuhan's Lumo Road gets ready for the twilight, embracing that after hours vibe this corner of my Hubei city knows how to party! Street food is done best beside two of my favourite Wuhan nightspots, I'm partial to some chicken's feet these days! I'm not a gig person but one rocking Wuhan venue has converted me, I'm embracing these changes! 

Taking it onto the street, well Lumo Road to be exact I keep finding more authentic and cheaply priced Chinese street food. Chicken's feet have to be one of my favourite Chinese foods, finding two chicken's feet from a street food cart on Lumo Road I was more than impressed! I always stay away from the stinky tofu, that street-side aroma really needs to get lost. Make it about 21:30 to get the best of Lumo Road's extensive range of Chinese street food, I probably buy something on the way to the bar and again on my way home, I just can't get enough! It's not for the faint hearted, being China things work completely different than England but its all about trying new foods in a new environment. Yes, that barbecue chicken packs a serious burst of flavour and for 70p per portion there's no reason to say no to that alternative fast food! Oh, there's always a buzzing vibe amongst Lumo's street food section! Lumo keeps me sane! 

I was introduced to Lumo Road by one of my colleagues from my language training centre, I know that I made a wise choice to accept that invitation! The Wuhanese endorse street-side dining, keeping things super informal its the done thing to chow down after work whilst the craziness of Guanggu continues. I occasionally stray away from Chinese food every now and then but when I want to eat like a local I head for the night markets of Lumo Road to make up for my dining calamity. 50p for two spicy chicken skewers, I sometimes leave work without having dinner, seeing to my hunger pangs before I get my drink on! Trading the stinky stuff me and a friend tried some normal spiced tofu, to our delight the original tofu tasted really good! To be honest I never see many foreigners eat the street food from Lumo Road, I know that the revellers of two lively venues keep these roadside food outlets busy. Chinese street food is a winner for me, Lumo Road serves up something ace! W, I do love it!

Rock 'n' Roll is not my thing at all but I took a chance on Lumo Road's Vox Livehouse on the 13th of August 2015 to see a Chinese rock band called 'Stone Lions' that's the bands name after I translated the Chinese. Costing 50 Yuan, well £5.00 I had no expectation before the gig, mixing things up had to be done. Finishing work at 21:00 on that Thursday night I made my way straight from the office to Vox Livehouse, I was excited! An alternative Rock venue this music house on Lumo Road has the motto's 'Voice of Youth' and 'Voice of Freedom', I agreed completely because the young Chinese audience embraced a much less traditional sense of fashion! Rocking out for about ninety minutes the 'Stone Lions' band impressed me much with their chain smoking violin ways, who said multi-tasking's only for women? After my experience I would definitely go back for another gig at Vox Livehouse? Let that music play Vox! V, let it play!

This Wuhanese road has got a lot to answer for! I was sort of familiar with some nightspots in Wuhan because my friend Catherine had also taught English in Wuhan, she had mentioned Vox Livehouse being a favourite hangout of hers. By far I can fully endorse the delights of Lumo Road, its located about a five minute walk from my apartment block, I can finish work the night before I have a day off and be within the crazy of Lumo Road! Like I mentioned before I'm not a fan of Rock 'n' Roll but the 'Stone Lions' gig had to be done, being in China I've adopted a mantra to try something at least once, so that's that! I haven't found any nightclubs in Wuhan just yet but I'll have Vox Livehouse as one of the first places that I discovered under the cover of darkness! Plus its inevitable to grab some street food before or after going to Vox Livehouse, of course leaving more room for those strong drinks! Here's to embracing new things that I wouldn't of looked twice at home, let's do this again Vox!

Arrest me! Wuhan Prison makes Lumo Road tick, a hidden nightspot that quite a lot of people know about! Accepting an invitation for a few drinks at this Wuhan venue I was taken aback by the dimmed lights and chilled atmosphere. With the beer cheap and a strong Gin & Tonic I was sold instantly. After talking to Wuwei the manager of Prison, I found out this bar got its name from the literal meaning, a colourful character Wuwei has lived the mantra of the bar. Filled with alternative young Chinese people who are looking to have a good time, Wuhan Prison has given me the opportunity see the new generation of China, a group of young people who are questioning the values of their parents and grandparents. As the booze flows and the music plays on, Wuhan Prison removes me from Wuhan life to another dimension where people want to have a good time! Yes, Wuhan Prison makes me feel like a criminal! Well, maybe Lu?

I can't stay away from Wuhan Prison, there's something about the vibe of the place that keeps me returning for more! Meeting other fellow teachers has been great, trading stories and comparing life in Wuhan as foreigners can be interesting to say the least. I've had the pleasure of meeting some special people at Prison, let's just say I won't be going into too much detail about that! Make mine a Lao Beer Light or a Vedett because those double Gin & Tonic's can wait for later on! Lumo Road serves three full bodied components, turning the lights down for a great night at Wuhan Prison whilst the bands of Vox Livehouse play on through the night! Refuelling with some Chinese street food along Lumo Road makes any night worth it, not to forget that its cheaper than chips! I'm going to get the free Wuhan Prison tattoo before I return to England, but whoever said about returning? Lumo Road has something for sure, from electric love to minds that are challenging society! Let's get it Lumo Road!

Not Just Any Road!

Joseph Harrison

Monday, 10 August 2015

Wuhan: Get Me Back To Guanggu!

Chinese people know how to have a good time, but there's one part of the bargain I learnt the hard way! Accepting an invitation from some students from my teaching center in Guanggu, Wuhan I just couldn't say no to another round of KTV! Time waits for no one, would I make it from the Wuhan Citizens Home in time? Yes, I should be learning some Chinese now! 

Becoming a legal alien in China matters to me a lot, dropping my passport at the Wuhan Citizens Home forced me to answer a few obvious yet nerve-racking questions during the interview to process my Work Permit. Fast forward three weeks to August 6th 2015 I made a dash for this Hubei government building to retrieve my British passport, I had been out for a few beverages the previous night so navigating the two metros and the taxi felt like a monumental task indeed! So, taxi drivers in China don't speak a shred of English and the lack of my Chinese was something to be desired, thankfully I had a photo of the Wuhan Citizens Home on my phone! Wishing on a lucky star, I raced against the clock because I had agreed to meet with some of the Local Teachers and students from my English Training Center at 5:00pm that day! I should really get my act together, these Chinese summer nights get very crazy! 

With my passport in hand I hardly spent ten minutes at Wuhan's Citizens Home, I can't actually wait until the Wuhan Metro is linked with one of the new lines that should be built soon! The August sun was sweltering more than its normal Wuhan raise, we had a clear run of blue skies that turned the heat up! The vast majority of my training pals are in the process of travelling to Hong Kong to get their tourist visas converted into the respected legal document so they can remain in China, I arrived into China with a different visa so I won't be going to Hong Kong just yet. Making my way closer back to Guanggu I had trouble with the taxi driver on the way back to Erqi Road Metro station but with a stroke of luck I made it back to Optics Valley Square station with time to spare! I am now a legal alien and have the right to remain within China for the next year, I can use my visa to travel around China but will need a few extra stamps when I travel to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. I'll travel China!

Meeting up with the gang on-time was such a relief! My crazy three hour round trip from Guanggu to Wuhan Citizens Home had left me no time to eat anything, it was purely my own fault because I chose to have more sleep over being than responsible! I had no idea where we would be going for food, along with a selection of METEN students and Melody, Sylvia and Michelle from the team we made our way up Luoyu Road to find a hotel like tower that was actually a wedding and conference centre, I was excited. I felt like the guest of honour, so many questions asked to me by students who hadn't met me before, it felt special! I was surprised that someone didn't get their selfie-stick out sooner rather than later, these Chinese teens took at least twenty photos before our dinner was served. I thought to myself, how much was this meal going to cost and would my new friends even let me pay?! Oh, I more wanted my food! Yes, I did Wu!

We dined on some seriously tasty Chinese food that evening, some of the selections challenged the meaning of Chinese food when compared with the average British Chinese takeaway because it was the real deal! Who knew that spicy cauliflower tasted so good!? I tried this strange looking broth that turned out to be a fish soup, I'm funny with fish so that wasn't a winner! The tofu was lovely and of course every self-respecting Chinese meal has to include a bowl of steamed rice. The energy was really nice, everyone was really friendly and there was even a bit of pre-KTV going on as-well, I served a bit Vogue for my audience! Was I the guest of honour? Oh, please I was invited along to a meal and KTV, I only expected to have a good time away from the duties of work. It might sound bonkers but Chinese food tastes so much better here in China, well the pumpkin was the best I had ever tasted! Conversation flowed and jokes were told, at the end it was a lovely meal. It was my weekend?

Get me to KTV! I was ready take to the stage once again, making my comeback at German Street's Playsing KTV venue! I had been a few weeks previous with other colleagues from my English Training Center so I was ready for some more! I usually need a few drinks in order to do something crazy but this time around at KTV I was on that mic faster than somebody could say 'X-Factor!'. I had a sneaking suspicion that the Local Teachers had chosen the British/London themed KTV room for my benefit? I knew it! Toasting our two hour KTV karaoke marathon with a small shot of ice cold lager I was ready for a song! Treating everybody to a half-terrible rendition of Madonna's 'Express Yourself' it helped I knew most of the words and I had sung that song the last time at KTV. I don't have a good singing voice but my fellow KTV goers told me different! Imagine if there was KTV in England with drinking games involved? Do it!

Most of the group got up and performed a song or two, it was just fun at the end of things. I tried my luck with a Britney Spears anthem, strangely enough I knew all the words and even the backing lines. I noticed several lyrics had been changed or rather censored when I had a go at Lady GaGa's 'Fashion!' maybe it was too fabulous for China?! Sylvia and Melody took the mic a couple of times to sing some Chinese anthems from the past and present, variety is the spice of life! OK, so I tried to pay for my share of the dinner but that wasn't going to happen, I resorted to giving the waitress a tip to feel like I had contributed something. I have found that the Chinese like to treat their guests well but I want to pay my way, I guessed it went the same way with KTV but I enjoyed their company so all was well. Saying goodbye to my KTV and dinner chums I braved the rain back to my apartment, it was randomly decided that the night would involve more beverages at Prison! Yes! Get back on it, Joe! 

I Got My Papers!

Joseph Harrison