27 October 2015

2015: Something To Remember...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Forget!

Joseph Harrison 

26 October 2015

Chu River & Han Street, Wuhan

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

Emptying my pockets I booked a ticket to the Han Show, a new show in Wuhan that from the outside models itself like a Chinese version of 'Cirque Du Soleil'. Parting with 380 Yuan I exchanged that back to GBP to find my ticket cost me about £38, judging by the quality of the show it was worth every single Chinese Yuan! Fashioned like a red lantern this Wuhan Han Show Theatre shines bright at the foot of the Shuiguo Lake. I waited after my 3pm show to take some night shots but with a brief interval at the nearby shopping avenue. Back to the show, I was not prepared for the seating to move completely to one side to create a wide open stage, maximising the already huge purpose built stage. Teamed together with tight choreography and aerial acrobatics this show served some serious technology that gave the wow factor to this Wuhan stage extravaganza. I wasn't expecting a full on show for ninety minutes!

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

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

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

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

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

Yaass! I Loved The Han Show! 

Joseph Harrison 

20 October 2015

Destination: Chengdu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not content with one night on the tiles in Chengdu I returned after my Panda experience to MC Club for round two! Meeting some great people and doing my best to bring the moves on the floor I had another amazing night out in Chendgu. I'm not going to lie I was very fortunate in certain departments over the course of my two nights getting crazy in Chengdu, but as the saying goes a gentlemen never reveals such details! Boarding my Wuhan bound China Eastern flight on the 6th of October 2015 I had some sweet and some scandalous memories of my whistle-stop National Day trip to Chengdu. The Panda's oozed cuteness with their bamboo eating ways, the tea houses served the chill and the night-scene of this endearing Sichuan city impressed me much! National Day was a blast, both in Chongqing and also in Chengdu but I was ready for a day of rest before returning back to work! Would I ever go back to Chengdu for a repeat performance? Try and stop me! Believe me, I was bad! 

Chengdu Slayed! 

Joseph Harrison 

16 October 2015

Chongqing City, China

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

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

I had chosen Chongqing to see my friends Micaela and Patrick who I trained with in Suzhou in June 2015, time has definitely changed our work situations but I wanted keep that friendship fresh. Jumping on the metro at Chongqing's Jiangbei Airport to Guanyinqiao to meet Micaela and Patrick, of course I was excited to be reunited with those two Texans! Dropping my bag back at their plush apartment it was time for some food, those airplane snacks had wore away so Micaela had suggested Pizza and Pasta for the taking. Oh my goodness that Pizza and Pasta was sublime, I had forgotten what western greasy food tasted like! Catching up with friends is priceless, the conversation flowed like the drinks did when we made it to Brown's Bar for some 'Zombie' cocktails. Those 'Zombie's' tasted great but did what they said, closing our first night together we made it for some street food before bed. Getting out of Wuhan at that time was just what I needed for things got crazy! I loved CQ! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Chongqing City Life!

Joseph Harrison