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 for real. From the crazy bus commutes I love to hate, then finding some Chinese food with a Central Asian twist. Rising from a former piece of Wuhan's Hongshan district swampland, this ever-growing part of Wuhan is home for now. 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 beated 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 morning 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! Maybe so?

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 to 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 

23 November 2015

Jiang'an: 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 

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 

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