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