27 December 2016

A Place Like Lijiang...

Back on the travelling hype I boarded another K train from Dali to Lijiang, Yunnan. I was excited to be staying within Lijiang Old Town, leaving Dali on Christmas Eve I was ready to spend Christmas in Lijiang. Not wanting to rush, Lijiang had to put up with me for four days! So, Christmas time by the Black Dragon Pool and Boxing Day at the Baisha Murals? Yes, please Lijiang!

Not speaking Chinese can be a right pain in the you know what! I was dropped off by a taxi at the South Gate of Lijiang Old Town with only a Chinese address on my phone to show, I hadn't the foggiest! Admitting that I have a knack of getting lost when trying to find accommodation I was spared the embarrassment as a woman from a hotel in the old town helped call the hotel. In my defense the Old Town of Lijiang is made up of a myriad of small winding alley like streets, totally lacking in proper signage I admitted defeat! Paying my eighty Yuan conversation fee I was escorted to my hotel, noting key landmarks I got settled in to my room. Located no more than thirty paces from a quiet section of Lijiang Old Town, I felt pleased with my hotel due to its outstanding views and location that it possessed. Feeling like I was in a bubble, I had a feeling Lijiang Old Town would show me a lovely Christmas weekend. Breathe J!

Clocking that I had chose to visit during a quiet time I relished in those unspoiled moments, taking a stroll down the cobbled paths had to be done before the Spring Festival holiday crowds flooded the place. It was a winner! I grabbed some Yunnan flower cakes because they seemed like a popular tourist find within the old town, I recognised pretty quickly that lots of the same things were being sold at several shops, I didn't care because I was in such a blessed location and state of mind it wasn't an issue. I took a random turn towards a waterway, it was lined with more ancient looking buildings, I had done the right thing by getting to Lijiang! Christmas Eve was shaping up pretty fine from where I was standing, it would be another Chinese Christmas for 2016! I felt very foreign, I didn't see but five Western looking tourists, it was a theme that followed me during my time in Yunnan. Calling upon my APP of choice I found a shady little bar that served me well into the small hours! Yass Liji!

Feeling slightly worse for wear on that Christmas Day morning I found no presents but a visit to Lijiang's Black Dragon Pool sounded good to me! Keeping my Lijiang Old Town Conversation card I gained free access into this Yunnan wonder! I embraced that alternative Christmas Day moment from a neutral perspective because Christmas isn't a big deal in China at all. Getting a glimpse of the pool itself was amazing, I was afforded such an opportunity to see such a sight during a special day. Home seemed like a million miles away but family were still living Christmas Eve during that Black Dragon Pool visit. Formed during the Qing Dynasty in 1737, I was totally transfixed by the views over the water, it wasn't like any other Christmas moment that I had ever experienced before! Taking some time I sat overlooking the waters of the Black Dragon Pool, messaging by best ones to wish them a Happy Christmas back in Wuhan. Get made with it!

Leaving the protected Old Town of Lijiang was nice for that part of Christmas Day, the calming scenes that Black Dragon Pool oasis was the perfect mix as the Old Town's close feel lulled me into thinking I didn't need to leave to explore more. I was proud of myself, I had tried to completely navigate my holiday independently with the odd day trip I wasn't doing too badly with what I had seen so far in Lijiang. Being in China for Christmas the previous year meant a sorry attempt for a Christmas Dinner, embracing the lack of Xmas feeling the air I had a McDonald's for my Christmas Dinner, I had been travelling from place to place and it wasn't the easiest to find cheap food within the Old Town, it had to be done! I wasn't rushing, I told myself that with three full days of sightseeing allocated in Lijiang I could take it easy! Returning to my hotel it was time to chill-out for the rest of the afternoon before I called England in the early evening Beijing Time. No worries for everyone at home was fine!

Boxing Day had me exploring for something new, heading towards Baisha I wanted to see those murals quick snap! Taxi for Joe, I got my Chinese skills on because that diver was trying to rip me off! Leaving the security of Lijiang Old Town took me close the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the landscape may have looked parched but the skies were a perfect shade of blue! The Baisha Murals should of cost me eighty Yuan but with my conservation paper I got a hefty discount! Part of a Naxi settlement the murals had a story to tell me, it felt a lot less manicured than the other places that I had seen in Lijiang, I appreciated seeing things from both sides of the tourist curtain. I took some time to take in the beautifully aged murals, I enjoyed the peacefulness of Wechang Palace especially for its tranquil energy. Did I want to discover Baisha Village? I was more than cool with what I saw within that Naxi settlement. Yes, Baisha sure slayed!

Taking my time within the Baisha Mural site there was no need to clock watch, I had caught a few glimpses of the magnificent mountain but with a fear of heights I wasn't entertaining going to the top of those snowy peaks! No! Leaving those murals behind me I took a little walk further into the village along the main road, it was so quiet aside from the occasional car and bus passing by. In the distance I saw the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain for myself from the bottom, as I mentioned before I wasn't going up there! From what I saw the mountain looked amazing, set within a sight that transported me back to another time I was living for that un-touristy view. Lijiang gave me everything and more, I loved the Old Town even though it was quite commercial but I definitely had a room with view! Spending Christmas within one of Yunnan's gems I felt blessed, departing for Kunming was a bitter pill to swallow but I was more than ready to get back to the city after all that fresh air. Bye Lijiang!

Lovely Lijiang!

Joseph Harrison 

25 December 2016

Darling Dali...

Kunming had shown me what it had to serve, I was ready to board my first long distance train in China to Dali. My second destination of my 2016 Christmas holiday would show me a side of China that I hadn't seen before. The Three Pagodas and Erhai Lake showed me so much beauty. Yunnan had more to show me, Dali was most definitely darling! That train was crazy!

Waiting for my Dali bound K train at Kunming Railway Station I noticed the clientele wasn't like the usual folk that I had previously seen on China's High Speed Network. Not throwing shade but I recognised the standard carriages would be colourful to say the least, I had my seat number and I wasn't about to be trading for anybody! Crammed into the standard carriages of this basic China train I had paid around £6.40 for a five hour journey, I should of paid the extra bob to have a soft sleeper. In retrospect I was afforded a very interesting journey, passing through the idyllic countryside was lovely, with ever-changing sights I treated that journey as an experience for sure! The young family opposite had a cute little girl who behaved well all the way through to Chuxiong. I kept an ear out for the station announcements because it was mainly in Chinese apart from muffled English parts. Yes, I grew excited as Dali grew closer!

Like, why didn't I just fly? Well, I had booked three trains on the cheap, setting me back about 209 RMB! Taking the train I definitely saw more of Yunnan, the distance spanning between Kunming and Dali was mental. slowly but surely my train pulled into Dali Railway Station, twenty minutes late mind and there was no plug on those trains! Calling the hostel I managed to get a taxi to go in the direction of Dali's Ancient Town, the shear ignorance of those taxi drivers made my blood boil! I was stunned by Dali's New City, it wasn't what I had traipsed all the way to see but as my taxi drove closer to my hostel I was liking the changing scenery, it looked lovely! Choosing the Dragonfly Guest House I was very pleased with private en-suite room, after Qingdao I wasn't keen on a dorm room! No! The day had been a long one, the train had felt like forever even though I'm not that tall but the lack of legroom on the train was quite restrictive. Throughout all of the craze, Dali was quite chilled out!

Settling into the rhythm of Dali's Ancient Town took all of two seconds once I had checked into my room. Taking a stroll to the nearest cash-point unlocked the beautifully aged streets of Dali's Ancient Town. I wasn't prepared to be surrounded by tourists so I stayed away from the main streets as much as possible. Tracking down a pharmacy I got what I needed once I confronted some blatant rudeness. Leaving that shadiness behind I booked up my Erhai Boat Trip, the heavenly waters of Dali's Erhai Lake had to be viewed during my Yunnan adventure. Boarding one of the government approved vessels it was amazing to see the pure beauty of Erhai Lake. Getting my quota of photographs I was sure enjoying the view. But lo and behold the Chinese tourists started feeding some seagulls bread, for one those flying creatures made an awful noise! Retreating inside, I knew what I needed to do! I tried to keep my cool!

Pushing that annoying situation out of the way, the view could not be put into words, I gazed for what seemed like miles and miles away! Making a stop at an island that boasted a temple, I dashed off the boat as fast as the dawdlers would move, grabbing some food I retreated back onto the boat. Repeating the same during the final stop I took my ice cream back to the deck to appreciate the view without disruption. Believe me when I say that Dali was 'Darling' because the waters of Erhai Lake were beyond beautiful! Captured above I didn't get that heavenly snap until we almost docked at the end of the trip, the mist coated the sky slightly when the boat set sail that morning, the early afternoon sky gave a welcome burst of sunshine that helped me catch a winner of a shot! Aside from those pesky seagulls I was completely blown away with Erhai Lake's vast expanse and beauty, I just loved it! It was mad how Dali's 'darling' nature had taken me so faraway from the buzz of Kunming!

Had the pollution free blue skies gone to my head? Dali's story continued into my second day, returning back to the Ancient Town after my Erhai Lake boat trip I was feeling thirsty! Ordering a beer at a small Hot Pot restaurant had to be done. WeChat-ting my best ones had to be done also, it was almost Christmas time and they would be celebrating without me! Dali's chill had got under my skin, I was well away from Wuhan and that suited me just fine. Those aged houses with their white-washed fashion glistened in the sunlight! Feeling peckish I retreated back to the guest house for something eat and yes another beer, choosing to enjoy my food on the rooftop I was not disappointed with the views of the mountains, after Guilin I would have to say that Dali was the second natural destination that impressed me! Throwing caution to the wind I decided to get merry, I suggest you get your lives! I was on my holidays!

Little did I know Dali's Ancient Town had a Christian Church! Other than that it oozed tourist charm to a respectable level, I stayed away from Foreigner Street as long as I possibly could! Why did I abe to see a McDonald's?! I did not appreciate those Golden Arches one single bit! Surrounded by four or so gates, I was located by the North Gate of the Ancient Town, I did feel as if I was residing in a bubble. At first I didn't know what to think of Dali's Ancient Town but I think that was just the train journey and ridiculousness I had from the taxi drivers at the railway station. If truth be told I didn't see many foreign tourists, being around Christmas time there wasn't actually a lot of Chinese tourists either, making for a quiet trip indeed. Keeping it simple was the key, paying more attention to my surroundings did the trick! My second stop of my Yunnan Christmas holiday had shown me so much up until that point, I still had one more place to discover! How many Pagodas? I was told about three.

Getting to Dali's Three Pagodas was an achievement to say the very least as I had knocked back a few too many beers the night before but the festive period was fast approaching. Making use of the booking service from my Guest House I was able to get a lift to the attraction that day. Stumbling through the entrance I saw three magnificent pagodas, in real life they looked so much better than from behind a computer screen! Accompanied by the Chongsheng Temple, I decided to take a relaxed approach as I had made it to my final Dali point of interest. The towering Three Pagodas stood before a near empty square, the tourists had decided to stay away to my utter delight. Making my way closer to the Three Pagodas I found a bench that gave me the perfect view without having to stress my hungover self out. I didn't care about the modifications that had been made to the Pagodas! Dali sure brought it!

When all was said and done I wholeheartedly enjoyed my experiences in Dali, China! From the moment I boarded my first K train right up until I left for Lijiang early on Christmas Eve, the slow pace of Dali gave me some well needed chill. Living up to the expectations expressed to me by my colleagues and parents of my students it was a wise choice to incorporate this Yunnan hotspot into my Christmas 2016 holiday. Shunning the Golden Arches for that portion of my trip I was happy to support my Guest House, the food was quite good. I even found the time to blog about my weekend in Kunming, something that I was proud of because I hadn't blogged on location before that time. The seagull feeding antics on-board that Erhai Lake boat trip got me mad but the sensational views quashed any bad feeling, it was a scene from another place, some may refer to it as heaven? Nevertheless, each moment spent in Dali was super chilled, for that reason alone it was 'Darling!' I had to say bye!

Dare To Be Dali?

Joseph Harrison 

22 December 2016

Kunming City: An Oriental Bloom!

Kunming wasn't a bad decision at all! I negotiated that contract to secure my Christmas holiday for 2016's festivities. Yunnan called me, I didn't need to leave the borders of Mainland China to experience another top city. Famed for colourful blooms and stone forests, I boarded my flight to Kunming, twenty minutes late but China Eastern knew to keep it right for the return!

Touching down into Kunming's Changshui International Airport twenty minutes late, I was ready to rest my head for the night but I had a certain adrenaline surging through my veins! Calling up a few days before my departure I wanted the Chinese address for that property as Chinese taxi drivers can be so unhelpful sometimes. Keeping it together my room was not bad for what it costed, considering the prime location that it held I was willing to get on with my sightseeing without fuss. Fast forward, making the choice for a lie-in I powered through to Kunming's Yuantong Temple to grab hold of some chill, I had hit the ground running after a six day week and wanted Yunnan to show me that I wasn't going crazy, well not completely! Located just round the corner from my questionable hotel room I found Kunming's 1,200 year old Yuantong Temple, fronting me with a feeling of calm, it was all going to be Okay K!

Getting my travelling grind back together ten or so weeks of solid work I was living, snapping away like a crazy fool I was absolutely living! Respecting the rules to not light any incense sticks other than what I was given was a given, lighting up my two candles and assorted incense sticks I sent several messages to the spirits. Taking in every ounce of serenity had to be done, I had high hopes for Kunming as those negative ones had talked down upon this city, I wasn't disappointed by Yunnan's provincial city! Looking into the waters of the temples water I was almost staring 2016 in the face, I didn't need a miracle from high above but some good vibes wouldn't have gone a miss. Taking in every last second of chill, I wasn't tracking down the history of this amazing temple because it was restoring some calm. Now, strictly speaking I wanted to find out where the Chinese monks found their get-up, their threads looked so comfy! Kunming kept showing me more, like a blooming flower.

Kunming's Metro system hadn't bloomed yet, in order to sow those seeds of discovery round the city I had to trust the bus to discover the Bird's and Flower Market. Getting off four or more stops earlier I stumbled upon a market that shared the Chinese characters for 'market' and 'flower' but I was served a whole lot of wholesale market instead! Resembling Kunming's version of my home's Bilston market, it was something different and required a strong stomach for sure! With money in my pocket and a whole lot of fire in my stomach I was ready to walk to the furthest point of Kunming until I found that goddamn market! Seeing this miscalculation as a mini-triumph I ended up seeing a whole lot of Kunming city Realness in the process! Walking between four more bus stops I finally made it to my desired destination, I was ready to see the colourful plants that took me to Yunnan. Nothing good grows easily! OK?

Passing the teashops, I wasn't really ooking for an authentic brew, I wanted to be brought some flowers! Famed for its eternal spring, Yunnan's provincial city is the Amsterdam of the Orient. I wasn't going to charge into to any commercial flower market so that Bai Long Road market showed me some ordinary Kunming flowers, satisfying that request for my Kunming trip. Clocking those Bonsai's I was ready to move onto to the birds section but I heard the sound of some barking, there surely wasn't a section dedicated to pets? Yes, every accessory was available for the discerning dog owner but I wasn't ready for the dog aisle, it was something normal for China what I saw but for my western eyes I wasn't able to fully acknowledge that sight. Fish! I had never seen such cheaply priced fish, I wasn't looking for that sight but those scaly things were huge! Undoubtedly, the blooms and bonsai's of Kunming's Bird's and Flower Market had me walking all those steps because it was worth it! Yes K!

Over my early morning alarm call, I flagged a taxi towards Kunming's East Coach Terminal and believe me it was a blessing to arrive there when that taxi acted stupid like it was a million miles away! Serious?! Snoozing my life away I found myself at Kunming's stony UNESCO World Heritage Site wonder in the nearby district of Shilin. Shilin happened to mean 'Stone Forest' in Chinese, I wasn't ready to play no games after I bought my tickets because I wanted to know where the entrance to the forest was!? Stretching my legs I walked for what seemed like a marathon long time, seeing those stones was a sight of victory! Weighing up my opinions I didn't want to spend the rest of my day in one place that was a distance from Kunming, snatching photos I was greeted by the 'Stone Screen' with a stroke of luck! I wasn't going to be a walking photo opportunity! I was on holiday not modeling for a fashion magazine! Stone cold! Not today K!

It's none of my business but those children were running riot between those stones, I knew I had no place to judge but I was on to the next one. Keeping an eye on the time I was all about getting back to Kunming. Rewinding back to the previous evening, I was reunited with a friend who I had met wasted in a Chengdu Gay club, he may have only been able to say 'Good Morning' in English but we had kept in-touch through the medium of WeChat. I told him that I would be coming to Kunming and he graciously invited me to dinner. Now, I wasn't thirsty because I knew we're just friends so the dinner was lovely, drawing close to Chinese custom he paid and I forcibly bought a round of Starbucks for afters. Of course the Stone Forest was something to write about, getting my life I snoozed my way back to Kunming's East Coach Terminal just the same as I did that morning. Heading for the train station I was fronted by something that riled me, Kunming's chilled vibe told me not to mind!

Arriving back from the Stone Forest I thought I was in the mood for street food but I was open to a different change of scene. Translating what I needed to I flagged another taxi towards Wen Hua Alley and Wen Lin Street to see a random online recommendation come alive for myself. Expecting food stalls I embraced the line of tattoo parlours and small restaurants, taking my time I took in that side street view. Finding an Indian restaurant I dined on some lovely food, keeping to a smooth pace. Not expecting anything from Kunming I found that was the right train of thought to take. It was mostly a chilled evening, no it was completely a chilled evening because I was preparing to take the train to Dali the next day. I snapped some lively yet still photos that some up the energetic yet chilled vibe of Kunming. But really why did the busies need to block off the road? Look up scouse slang for police officer. Bless up those bizzies!

Since that late touchdown I was in love with Yunnan's biggest city! Taking off from Tianhe Airport did the trick, kicking off my Christmas holiday! Loving my life in Yunnan's capital of Kunming, I was not shaded with any rain or shadow because the weather was blessed compared to Wuhan's dreary forecast. Kunming's Stone Forest took me out of the concrete fashion that Kunming seems to be shaking off. Finding solace amongst the quiet of Yuantong Temple I was transported to another place compared to my crazy life. Embracing a new city was amazing, keeping to the footpath was something that drove me insane because I am all about going underground, get that Metro sorted Kunming! Reconnecting with Kay was amazing, he's chasing a whole other dream, please let him love the skin that he finally be living in! Resting my head before my epic journey to Dali, I was on to! This flowering city showed me a chilled yet crazy scene, this is China so no Red Light windows, no way Lady China!

Be That Wild Flower!

Joseph Harrison 

16 December 2016

18 Months In China...

Could I call China home? I have now been living and working in China for eighteen months, the time is zooming past me but this experience keeps on surprising me! As I wave a fond farewell to 2016 I want to recapture the previous six months to see how far I have come. I snatched an amazing award, travelled to an unknown city and worked harder than I have ever before!

June 2016 took me to Nanjing for Dragon Boat Festival but I was ready to give all my love to the next month, being the last of the Spring/Summer term at Etonkids I was ready for a break! The past year teaching at Etonkids had been intense yet extremely rewarding, I still had employment and that felt amazing! With our Summer themed classes over and the children packed away on their Summer break I was surprised with an award! I had only gone and won Etonkids English Specialist of the month for July 2016! Blessed wasn't the word, I was completely dumbfounded but in retrospect I had worked goddamn hard that first year! In the end it was all in a days work! I was ready for my holiday but that didn't go smoothly at first, I was expecting my parents to visit me in China but an earth-shattering development halted that family reunion! So, I retreated within Wuhan City, Hubei Province helped me out a lot. 

Taking it easy through most of August I relaxed into the cycle of sleeping late and being lazy, far from the normal early morning wake up call. Getting out into the city again was great, I had travelled consistently for 2016's National Holidays, choosing to exit Hubei Province I wanted to discover something closer to my Guanggu home. Calling up a friend, we travelled to the Outer Wuhan district of Huangpi to discover Mulan Mountain and the Heaven Lake. I was pushed out of my comfort zone but the views of those Hubei wonders were worth the crazy! Revisiting East Lake's Tingtao Scenic Area gave me some chill for sure, things weren't good at home so I used my surroundings to get through. Challenging a strange checkpoint I was helped by a policeman to find the former holiday home of Chairman Mao Zedong, it was no longer a tourist sight but there was a hotel for CCP officials. Yeah I was schooled on everything Hubei at Wuhan's grand Hubei Provincial Museum! Oh, I had a nice rest.

September brought a fresh start with the beginning of my second year at Etonkids as an English Specialist, I was ready for the challenge and the opportunity to redefine my Bridging classes, I had been put in charge of the two classes! New children took the place of the Summer leavers who had then started Primary School. Getting into the flow I had my first official lesson observation, working hard to create an innovative and eye-catching language material paid off as my class was praised well! It was hard to get back into the grind and with the new dynamics that the new children brought to my new Casa classes. Reunited with my girls, Fiona and Elli had both returned from their holidays home to the United Kingdom. It was another shake-up from the previous line-up, we'd be better off without that basic mistake. The new term had me centred and ready, I gave my future in China some thought, the future looked bright!

Anyway, Mid-Autumn Festival had me boarding my umpteenth China High Speed train, I was bound for Zhengzhou, the home of Kung Fu and the world famous Shaolin Temple. Arriving the night before the holiday began was a winning decision, I was on the bus to Zhengzhou's Yellow River Scenic Area to see the mountain carved figures of Yandi and Huangdi, two former emperors who gave equally powerful glares to this day! Zhengzhou had grit, it was a city that embraced its concrete fashion and owned it! Staying within the city centre I viewed Z'Zhou's Erqi Memorial Tower, that buzzing square served pandemonium, from my elevated view I loved that vibe! Fresh and ready I woke up with the birds to catch my Dengfeng bus, I had to see the Shaolin Temple and the Pagoda Forest before going back to Wuhan. Battling my way through like a Kung Fu ninja I wanted an uninterrupted photo of the Shaolin Temples entrance, I got bloody mad but that was OK! National Day now, please? Oh, Zheng!

October 2016 saw me settled into my after-school English class, it was something that I didn't want to do at first but I'm now into the rhythm, it feels normal to me. Halloween was approaching! I had recently arrived back from Zhengzhou but National Day meant I would be taking to the skies to visit China's Shandong Province. Qingdao was my first stop, I felt proud to have made it past the one year mark as I boarded my China Southern flight. I adored the German architecture that Qingdao served! Hitting up the Tsingtao Beer Museum was first on my list, learning about the colonial influence was great to see that England had something to do with the beginning of this brew! St. Michael's Cathedral served a slice of Europe, it was bizarre to be surrounded by Qing's European design! Walking with my Tsingtao breakfast I ended up walking four miles to May 4th Square! Leaving Qingdao's European Overness, of course I was gone!

Jinan was a complete gamble, I had never heard of that Shandong city before I booked my inbound flight to Wuhan for a bargain compared to the dizzying heights of the National Day prices! Finding my hotel with ease I did not appreciate my room being changed for a twin from a double, my inner-receptionist went off! Jinan's Quancheng amazed with its statement blue monument, the sun began to set and no I was not ready for that legendary sight! Recharged and ready to seize the city I headed for Baotou Spring, snatching the best photos that I could was no mean feat, I had to be assertive and be in control of the chaos! Shunning Furong Ancient Street I treasured the uncomplicated nature of Xichenggen Street, embracing the attention from a few intrigued Jinan folk I was fine with a selfie or two! Turning the lights down low I found a crazy bar a few streets away from my hotel, serving Oriental drag performers who slayed with their Mandarin Chinese routines! Life is good!

November 2016 served me another Wuhan birthday as I turned 26 years old. I had a great weekend in the city of Wuhan, going out on the town and then chowing down at Paddyfield Irish Restaurant. Working on my actual birthday was good, I focused on food based lessons with my young learners. I visited my best one Fiona a few times in her Dongwu Avenue stomping ground, we spent some great weekends together, both were scandalous for very different reasons. I had to move apartments due to some shady business that was out of my control, never underestimate the powers of yours truly because I was fuming to say the very least! But onwards and upwards I managed to stay within Guanggu Square in the same complex, I was not going to change that location, location, location! I am now focussing on my next semester at Etonkids in Wuhan that will begin soon as we are in the finals of the Autumn/Winter term. 

Fiona introduced me to Red Stone Room during one of our weekends in Hankou, first serving me a knockout Full English Breakfast then second time around I chose the pasta! It was amazing to have some western food in my life! As far as I am concerned Christmas is cancelled this year! Reconditioning my second teaching contract I negotiated hard to secure my Christmas holiday that didn't exist the previous year and I am getting pay for that séjour without question! I will be concluding December 2016 with that holiday down to China's Yunnan Province, taking in Kunming, Dali and Lijiang for the win! I will return back to Wuhan for New Year's to ring in 2017 with my best ones, I'm hoping its not going to be too much of a basic occasion! I have been immensely blessed throughout this point 18 month milestone, I have a lot planned for 2017 but this second half of 2016 has been amazing! Jinan and Zhengzhou became my wildcard's and I won that award for all of my work!

18 Months! Romeo, Done!

Joseph Harrison 

30 November 2016

2016: Nonstop November!

November has so far been nonstop, quite literally I don't know if this month will ever end! I was ordered to move out of my apartment, worked a weekend and that wasn't the half of it! Getting my life this November it has been a busier affair compared to that of last year, how I enjoyed the honeymoon period of the first semester at my then new ESL job! Get it Wu!

I had lived in the same apartment in Shangdu, Guanggu Square for seventeen months from the day I arrived in Wuhan's Optics Valley. My then landlady took a very relaxed approach to solving the damp problem that I had discovered a week or so before my 26th birthday. I had been assured things would be fixed, sitting unaware of a message that would shake-up my already long Monday I hadn't even opened my surprise birthday cake from one of my students parents. I had kept it together living in that apartment without a kitchen and with a bathroom that was questionable to say the least, it was all about the prime location it held. Checking that notification I was horrified to see I had been given little to no time to vacate the apartment, I switched, it may have been bad timing but no one puts a dampener on my birthday! Oh, hell no! Calling upon a source that needed to prove themselves, I made tracks at once!

Keeping my head in the game I had to get on with work whilst that ridiculous situation unfolded, I had a feeling that the source would pull through, contractually they had an obligation to fulfil! Packing up my belongings felt strange, I knew I had to get out because I wasn't going to continue paying for an apartment that wasn't in a fit state! Viewing four apartments in the other block of the same complex I was sold with the first, the others were laughable! I single-handedly carted my stuff from the old apartment to the new one, getting contracts signed and the initial monetary business taken care of, it felt amazing to have somewhere that I could cook proper meals! The new place has a small kitchenette, a washing machine that has the capability to wash clothes above freezing and a great view from the 30th floor. At the end of things I am glad the problem in my old apartment was managed poorly, it's given me a better standard of living! Oh yes, future landlady's please be warned!

OK, I admit that the next two segments happened in December 2016 but November saw so much happen it wouldn't feel right to place these events in a December blog. On the cusp of December I attended a 'sports meeting' from my kindergarten. Sports days in China don't mean the 'egg & spoon' race or the 'sprint' either because its all about formation routines and marching processions, not forgetting the raising of the Chinese flag. It happened to be a Saturday, representing my campus had to be done, going along with my camera I took some amazing snaps! I have grown attached to these children and it's always a great thing to spend time with them outside the kindergarten with their families in tow. Yes, I'm in-charge of the Bridging classes, these 70 children have stolen my heart, it was amazing to see them march in line for they have grown up a lot! I know I will be a mess when its time for us to say goodbye! Life!

After the routines and marches it was time for the morning games, I helped Damon take part in one of the games as his Dad wasn't there and his Mom had asked me so nicely I couldn't possibly of said no! The Dad's showed off during the tug of war that looked like a show for their Wives, it was entertaining for sure! The whole feel of the 'sports meeting' was really nice, the parents thankfully embraced me into the lives of their children as their English teacher, I might not be the best teacher but I know that they see their children are happy in my classes. For the parents who can speak English they have nothing but nice things to say to me and as for the others who can't speak English they are equally as gracious. I keep getting the awkward questions about my next move, I'm trying to keep my cards close to my chest, at the end of the day I aim to stay with Etonkids. Wuhan's just the beginning! Goodbye's done I returned home to nap before the absolute carnage of Saturday night. 

Blog wise November was a washout but thankfully posts can be scheduled to a previous day, I'm not usually so behind but it's truly nonstop right now! The hangover didn't hurt so bad that Sunday as December made an appearance, I loathe the chaos of Guanggu Square on a Sunday so I hopped on the metro to Zhongnan Road to get some head space. I originally planned to grab a Starbucks but I ended up wandering to a place that had a certain significance a few months ago, I just hadn't confronted that 'ish yet! Gazing from the bridge that fronts a different side of Zhongnan Road's glass and concrete style I took several moments to recognise that things and people had moved on, keeping it straight I have a plan and during that dazed period all kinds of distractions almost jepodardised those visions! Gathering my senses and pulling myself together for the final time, that pocket full of uncertainty disappeared. 

Returning to Guanggu was an almighty chore, I waited for three metros to pass before I could squeeze into one carriage bound for Optics Valley Square Station. Annoyingly, Sunday is a day that people choose to do their shopping and any other general bits as most people work a half day on a Saturday, the seventh day means Guanggu's central area is a crazy mess full of people hurrying to nowhere! November may well have been a nonstop month filled with drama and all that other good stuff but I secretly lived for it! It's definitely a first for a blog to slip through the net, pulling it out of the bag I managed to manipulate the pressures of time. Confronting a sight that need to be dealt with I now feel centred and with a new apartment I haven't stopped cooking for myself! I see a few more Saturdays at work but I know that the extra work will help me show my commitment to Etonkids and secure my transfer to Beijing. December, I'm going to be posting blogs on-time B! Will I really!?

Oh My Life!

Joseph Harrison 

26 November 2016

The Hankou Weekender...

I don't do best friends but when I got to know Fiona Dade I had to re-evaluate that train of thought. Leaving my Guanggu location I spent another amazing weekend in North Hankou! Dongwu Avenue called me back, I didn't appreciate the Friday night rush hour but with a friend like Fiona it was worth it! It may have been a chilled weekend but we sure served Realness!

Hitting the horrendous Friday rush hour I was against the clock, my onward journey across Wuhan was going to be a long one! Being Friday, all I wanted was a glass or five of red wine but that 702 Optics Valley bound bus had other plans for me. Battling my way off that crowded bus on the wrong side of Optics Valley Station, barely keeping it together I got myself through the manic crowds without any further stress, boarding a Hankou bound metro felt good and I bagged a seat all the way to Xunlimen. Crossing the other side of the tracks I switched from Line 2 to Line 1 of the Wuhan Metro at Xunlimen. Taking longer than it should of, I was finally bound for Dongwu Avenue to see my best one Fiona. Putting the journey into perspective I crossed one side of the city to the other, adding my bus journey from school in the Upper Optics Valley it was almost three hours until Fiona greeted me! Where's my wine, girl?! Fiona!

Wal-Mart had plans for us but they had me crazy, apparently I couldn't take my small suitcase into the superstore! First of all I would never shoplift ever but in China of all places, are you dizzy or something?! Grabbing our bottles of red wine, nibbles for the evening and provisions for a fry up the next morning, we were all set the night ahead. Yes, teaching English and living in China is amazing but as soon as Friday whirls around it's all about wildin' out with a few drinks! We had it all planned out because we didn't need any basic energy around us! I had worked up quite a hunger since my questionable school dinner, I needed sustenance quick! Getting back to Fiona's felt great, chilled out to the max with Wal-Mart's finest red flowing nicely it was time to serve the realest! Cutting the crap it's always a pleasure putting the world to rights with Fiona after a week of teaching, recognising a basic nature we slayed! Calling our mums was funny, those two conversations gave us life! A top up F?

Feeling worse for ware, both us were not in a fit state to cook a fry up so we jumped on a bus towards Zhongshan Park. After being frog-marched by Fiona's flatmate, let me tell you I am never told to hurry up! Oh, no! Red Stone Room fronted us, a new eatery that I hadn't been to had been sold to me by Fiona and her flatmate before we had even crossed the threshold. A Full English Breakfast gave my hangover one less problem, accompanied by what tasted like Heinz Baked Beans I was practically in food heaven! I definitely had a diva moment, I borderline refused to eat with a knife and fork because I wanted to eat my breakfast with chopsticks! Fiona snapped me back into place, I knew I was acting the fool, there's no fooling our Fifi! We all enjoyed our food to the max, not going to lie it was great to see Fiona again because our communities are crazy far. Finishing our breakfast's it was back on Line 1 to Dongwu Ave B!

Red Stone Room was amazing, it had the feel of a New York City eatery but in the heart of Central China's biggest city! We would definitely be making tracks back to Red Stone's in the next few weeks and then some! Our wine fueled Friday night was on-point but after the amount we sank it was the best plan to have a chilled afternoon in the flat, I wrote a blog about my top three best cities in China that I have visited so far and Fiona took an afternoon nap. How I would love a study like her apartment has! Feeling peckish it was decided me and Fiona would grab a bite to eat at her local barbecue place, Fiona got the food ordered and she didn't do badly at all because it all tasted so good! We had a laugh at some inebriated Chinese men who had their fair share of tonic that day, we didn't talk about the wine though! Calling it a night we settled in with 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills', don't get me started on the new series of the 'Gilmore Girls!' Yes, Fiona agrees it's not too good!

Feeling fresh on that November Sunday morning we were looking for a caffeine buzz, catching the metro to Zhuyehai I was introduced to a shopping centre that dwarfs Birmingham's Bullring! Fresh from our Starbucks fix we were reunited with our good friend Elli, moving onto Wuhan's own IKEA store, we were fronted by some serious uncivilised business! I had previously seen online that Chinese IKEA's resembled doss houses rather than the clean cut Swedish furniture giant like I've seen for myself in England and the United States but Wuhan took the biscuit! Sprawled out across the showrooms it was a sorry sight, it was a true state and no one was being challenged! I wasn't alone in thinking these thoughts as Fiona and Elli also took a side eyed glance at that disordered behaviour! But saving the bacon IKEA Wuhan served us an amazing lunch, I even bought a small bottle of red wine to retox! Fix up Wuhan IKEA! No!

Moving away from that messy situation Elli got her things for her apartment, she was on a mission! IKEA gave us some laughs, I acted the fool by photobombing a lady's photo as she dramatically posed with a fake flower in IKEA! I was like really?! Bidding our fond farewells at Zhuyehai Metro Station, it would of only been a matter of weeks until I made the journey back up to Fiona's Wuhan community within Qiaokou District. From the chaotic journey to serving truth with endless amount of vino it was another class act weekend in Wuhan! I know me and Fiona are both on the same page and have a no bars attitude to the basic things in life. We know that beyond our Wuhan weekends we will be reuniting for two weekenders in the United Kingdom, one in Liverpool and the other in her hometown of Helensburgh, Scotland! If Wuhan can't handle our razor sharp sense of Realness then god help those townsfolk! Thanks Fiona, I can't wait until our next North Hankou Weekender! Bye Fio!

Best Friend!

Joseph Harrison 

16 November 2016

26: Happy Birthday!

I am another year older, does that mean I will get any wiser? Anyhow, I recently celebrated by twenty-sixth birthday in China for the second time! I stayed in Wuhan for my birthday like I did last year, my actual birthday was on a Monday, it was a normal day! Beginning with a top Friday night out to finish off with a lovely meal at Paddyfield. Yes, my specials made it ace!

Wanting to get on my birthday hype I didn't waste any time! Making the most of a half day due to a compulsory health check for my kindergarten I napped in-preparation for my unofficial birthday night out! Yes, Guanggu Square was shining! Donning a slicked back hairstyle I served H&M Realness with my then new long black tee, I don't usually do Friday nights but I wasn't going to miss out on that one! Grabbing some street food for the win, loosing not a moment I made it to Optics Valley Station paying those un-coordinated individuals no mind. Going underground I was en-route to Wangjiadun East it was all about starting the night off with a bottle of red at Hankou's Beer Barn, a bottle bar that I can enjoy every now and then. Meeting my special, Fiona had taken a detour from her Dongwu Avenue location but we were ready for the night, that little delay didn't put us back at all. Oh, I was embracing that pre 26 moment!

Feeling that something basic was brewing it was off to Meso, a new Wuhan nightspot that had a 'Ladies Night' drinks promotion. Cramming into an unmarked people carrier seemed like a good idea at the time, we were only going down the road so it wasn't going to be a problem. Sticking close to the females in the group it was free drinks all round, getting my life to some Afro-beat music I fulfilled my fantasy on the dancefloor! Fiona held her own, we talked the talk and of course we didn't entertain that recurring basic tone. Saturday night is our usual our scene, keeping it one hundred because we don't sit in bars all night! Being real, those Wuhan clubs need to be torn up! But the strong free drinks tasted great, nabbing some champagne I was getting into the birthday mood early! Against all odds we got suitably inebriated, bidding a blurry farewell along Jianghan Road I was more than ready for my bed! Making up for a Monday birthday I was happy with that Friday night B!

Saturday was dedicated to ridding ourselves of an awful hangover, I am getting the hang of shaking off those Wuhan headaches after almost eighteen months. The previous year I took myself to Tanhualin for coffee and cakes as my 25th birthday fell on a Saturday rather than a Monday! Nevertheless, I wanted to make this years birthday celebrations as great as the previous b'day weekend in Wuhan, China. Saturday needed to finish because I was looking forward to a hearty meal, it gets tiresome eating rice and noodles all the blinding time! Joined by Elli, we met Fiona at Huangpu Road Metro Station to find Paddyfield Irish Bar & Restaurant. We had liked the review very much from Wuhan Social, the lure of home-cooked pub food had us running for a table without hesitation! Saturday's McDonald's delivery meal had worn off by then, I needed something more hearty to satisfy my appetite! A pint?! Yass girls!

Had we been transported to an authentic Irish pub? Quite possibly yes because Paddyfield's decor reminded me of my years living in an Irish pub in Wolverhampton, England. So, we were still standing in Wuhan, China but we had been transported to what felt like something closer to home, three pints of lager ordered our mouths watered as we deliberated at what we were going to order! The fish and chips were a winner, served with freshly made chips it was beyond amazing not to have any life-threatening bones hiding in the fish! Chatting away like the world was about to end it was mind-blowing to think that our time in China had past the half-way point, we took several seats to make the most of a rare sober gathering. Making mine the apple pie, I had no intention of sharing because it simply tasted too good! Finishing our two courses and well enjoyed pints, we left Paddyfield feeling very satisfied. Can you get a food hangover? Chinese food is nice but I need some home cooking! Like, now!

My twenty-sixth year had begun with a new week, fresh on that November 14th morning I was ready for a full day of teaching. I saw it as a normal day with a nice twist, I was busy with my everyday gig but I loved it when the children sung happy birthday to me, it was beautiful! November had so far been a nonstop month, having something nice like my birthday was nice to compliment the day. Making a fruit smoothie it was nice to leave the flashcards behind for one day, the children adored that healthy alternative to their usual fizzy drinks. Like I mentioned before I had the 25th birthday to myself to explore during my 25th birthday, being a worker now it was something I got on with, my weekday birthday was made special by doing what I'm loving here in China. If I remember correctly the lunch wasn't too bad, I didn't get the noodles like I did the previous year! Thanks for singing to me kids! They are the best!

Monday being my busy day, I prepared quickly for my weekly after-school lesson that starts not long after dismissal. I have been teaching this extra class since late September and it was a great addition to be teaching my after-school kids on my birthday, after our class I was surprised with a lovely birthday cake by one of the mothers, it was totally out of the blue and totally appreciated! More than tired I was ready to go home, to sleep to hopefully get over that hectic weekend! Beginning after that unplanned afternoon nap I was catapulted into a crazy and hungover weekend that included a delicious meal at Wuhan's Paddyfield, concluding with a blessed day of teaching and a lovely cake! I have every faith that my 26th year will be as great as the last one, China is a mad place to live and work in but I can see great things on the horizon! Keeping it simple I know that Wuhan has served me two great birthday weekends but I would love 27 to be a Beijing thing! Anyhow, I'm liking 26!

生日快乐!

Joseph Harrison

10 November 2016

China: The Best of Three...

Oh, I could give a million reasons why any of the following Chinese cities are my top three since arriving in June 2015. Ranging from Giant Pandas, Terracotta Warriors and a Guilin wonder, I am going to need a few moments to get my facts straight. It begs the question, if one good reason could see me make a return? Let me pay attention to my best ones! Work Lady China!

Chengdu stood ready for a National Day marathon of crazy, even though it served a sense of chill compared to its Chongqing cousin I was immediately intoxicated by the inviting local dialect. Keeping things simple I followed what signs were given to me, I knew CDU would show me a legendary time regardless of my spontaneous path. Wenshu Monastery's tea garden presented itself as the first highlight of my Sichuan visit, I sipped my green tea brew without a care in the world. Finding some tea house culture in Chengdu definitely ticked one box for certain, I wanted to see the Pandas! I'll be honest by saying I wasn't as fresh as a daisy when I climbed into my Panda bound taxi after a scandalous night out, I wasn't going to miss my chance! Catching the sights of those beautiful Pandas was amazing, it was like nothing I had ever seen before! But compared to the others I wasn't acting the fool CN!

Going underground I was feeling reckless, people had said to me that Chengdu's liberal nature harboured a thriving Gay scene. Following some dodgy directions I found the rainbows, making my way over the threshold of MC Club I felt safe and euphoric because I thought I wouldn't see such a sight exist in China! Getting my groove on I had an amazing time, feeling like a celebrity I luxuriated being the only foreigner in the club! Did I leave by myself? Hell to the no! I always know how to play some tricks! Being invited to tables for free drinks I was treated like a celebrity for real, one lady thought I was a 'beautiful man!' Fulfilling my fantasy I got into the Chengdu groove with ease! Returning the following night I added to my previous unspeakable antics to ensure my National Day stint in China would end with a bang! I took a different exit from MC Club on my final scandalous Chengdu night out, I went underground in another sense but that will stay as my dark secret! I got that good!

2016 started with an almighty bang, getting my life I embraced the ancient city of Xi'an! Trusting those Terracotta Warriors I wasn't disappointed with the offerings of that provincial Shaanxi city! My highlight of that 2016 kick-starter had to be the bustling Beiyuanmen Muslim Street, it had my senses in a mess, it was a crazy, mental scene with what seemed like a million lights and smells fronting me! Getting it together I took some amazing photos of this foodie paradise, specialising in Hui Muslim Chinese food, I was sincerely in food heaven. Going in for the kill I bagged myself three or so lamb kebabs, they tasted amazing, not too much spice because that's not what I'm about! Re-hydrating I found some fresh Beijing yoghurt drink, I'm not going to lie I probably bought three bottles of the stuff! Roujiamo who? Yes, I found a Chinese hamburger, a Hui favourite snack that was delicious! Hui Chinese style Xi!

Waking up before the birds, the January weather bite like a bad one but I was on my way to see the legendary Terracotta Warriors! Being New Year's Day I used my brain unlike the other visitors to Xi'an by boarding my tourist bus before eight in the morning! Leaving the security of the walled city centre it was exciting to be heading towards Lintong District. Paying the tourist outlets no mind I was all about those 'warriors', getting to a birds eye view of their tight formation it felt amazing to have accomplished another China travel milestone! The lengthy bus queue for the 'warriors' made me laugh, get your 'ish together people! Heading back to the city I headed for the southern part of the city wall, not appreciating the hazy polluted skies I made the best of that historical sight. Why did Xi'an make my top three best cities in China? That Shaanxi wonder served nothing but Realness, adoring every second I took off for Wuhan feeling satisfied! New Year's 2017, no pressure boop!

Breaking my rule I took a scenic expedition to China's Guangxi Zhuang Autnomous Region, experiencing the mystical nature of Guilin and its mesmirising heaven like wonders! I had set my sights set on visiting Guilin from the moment I decided to explore my options of moving to China. Upon my descent into Guilin I was horrified to see so much mist, I didn't want my tour to the rice terraces to be a wash out! A pint-sized city centre Guilin was but it was perfectly formed, no need for a metro I made the best of my time getting around on foot. With the sun setting on my first day I marvelled at the dazzling Sun and Moon Pagodas, they shone effortlessly over the waters of Guilin's Fir Lake. I was sure ready for my trip to Huangluo Yao Village and the Longji Rice Terraces the next day. My main motivation of visiting Guilin would amaze me soon enough! I got so very lucky with my WADA Hostel flow! I need to see Yangshuo next!

Driving away from Guilin's city centre for a much more scenic view, Longsheng County had a thing or two to show me! Flipping their hair back and forth I had the chance to see the Long Haired Ladies of Huangluo Yao Village, set deep in the mountains these on-fleek ladies brought their jet-black sleek locks and served sass! Stopping for lunch within the wooden Huangluo Yao Village I enjoyed a top lunch, that bamboo steamed rice never tasted so good! Sweeping into the distance the beauty and mystery of the Longji Rice Terraces impressed me to levels that were created in my mind first when I gazed down at Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour a few months earlier to that Guilin time. Nervously making my way around the unguarded terrace path to where my driver was going to pick me up I had pull my senses together, the views may have been spectacular but my fear of heights was not welcomed that day! No way! Need I say no more why Guilin made the top three?! My wildcards are next!

Chengdu, You Were Nasty Good!

Joseph Harrison 

31 October 2016

This Departure Lounge of Dreams

Life is sometimes all about waiting so I like to look at things as if I was waiting in a departure lounge waiting for a long-haul flight. Looking back to my first post that shares this title I was in a place in my life where I didn't want to be. After being in China for over sixteen months now I can see glimmers of what places I aspire see once my time in Wuhan concludes. Fly high!

I was so focused about getting out of England that I forgot to check how many blank pages I had remaining in my passport that I had to make the decision between visiting places outside of China or staying for one more year, I chose China! Although I have clocked up some serious China travel miles since arriving in June 2015 I haven't felt the need to rush to the nation's capital that is Beijing. I did toy with the idea of visiting China's showcase city before returning to England in Summer 2017 but I've had a better offer. I have decided to leave the Great Wall and the Forbidden City for later in 2017 as I have ambitions of transferring to Beijing with my current teaching company. Yes, the winding lanes of Beijing's historic Hutong's make me want to book a train ticket this very instance, I know Beijing, China will have it's time and it will work out for the best. Don't worry Destination, I'll be serving it every weekend! Yes, I'm Beijing ready!

Since June 2015 I have been on a treadmill that has consisted of working as an English teacher and travelling all across China and to its two Special Administrative Regions. Even though I will have racked up a whopping sixteen Chinese destinations since my arrival up to December 2016 I won't ever be contented with that result! Packing my thermals I will be trading the already freezing temperatures of Wuhan to experience the sub-zero nature of Harbin, Heilongjiang for the Ice and Snow Festival. Further into 2017 I am taking the plunge to visit Lhasa, Tibet for a guided tour of China's most mysterious Autonomous Region. Even for this projected twenty-six months for my first stint in China I still have more places that I want to visit here, I am waiting for the next chapter to explore the Islamic inspired Autonomous Regions including Inner Mongolia. I have my work game on so I can have a little play every once in awhile! Beijing will happen, promise this I am going alright! OK, I've got this!

Singapore stands as a worthy contender for my next chapter in China, closely located to the Mainland I see a long weekend in this former Overseas British Colony. Mixed with its striking modern masterpieces next to its colonial relics, I see Singapore city as a winner! Get me to the dazzling lights of Marina Bay but not before I have been to Little India for some curry delights! Oh, mines got to be a Singapore Sling whatever happens I'm not leaving without trying a local drink or five! Remembering Singapore's former days as a British colony I have done some research about Central, those government buildings look very much like the ones I saw within Hong Kong Island's Central. Understanding that I will get to this infusion world city eventually there's no need to stress, it's all about making life like a departure lounge! Singapore Airlines better fly from Beijing! What, wait? They do?! Consider those Singapore flights booked!

Staying with the same continent I feel an Asian temptation when I think about Japan, it's a place that I continually go on about my intentions to visit, but with a new passport for my second time in China I will have the freedom to leave the Mainland without filling up my passport. The neon charged streets of Tokyo need me now, I have to wait a little longer but I know that when I make it to Harajuku I will be living! It's not just Tokyo that I have my eye on, Osaka deserves my attention too! Under the cover of darkness I wouldn't mind surveying Osaka's electric love from the top of the Umeda Sky Building. I have seen there's more of a bohemian arts culture in Osaka and a definitive street art scene, I have every faith in the future that I'll get to experience that! Whether it's a dive bar in Osaka or a Geisha club in Kyoto I know I will have the chance to put this dreams into a reality! In life we have times that resemble a delayed flight or even an aircraft change, I'm willing to wait.

I may be a distant dreamer but my head is filled with hope, over the Yellow Sea from Qingdao, China lies the divided country of Korea. Call me crazy but I have a plan to visit the two Korea's even if one is being ruled under questionable circumstances, let me choose my words carefully about that northern counterpart. So it's all about Seoul for me, like any gargantuan capital I know the K-Pop vibe of South Korea's centre will give me what I want! Hitting up Gangnam with style I want to be on that Korean BBQ hype without hesitation! Syncronished like a on-point K-Pop dance routine I want to race around all those shrines to encapsulate a zen vibe without stress! Gwanghwamun Gate at Gyeongbokgung Palace looks like a winner to me, I will keep focused and save as much money as I can because this travelling lark is expensive! My Seoul experience will be part of a lasting memory! Oh, I know it's going to be spicy like Kimchi!

Going undercover I would be fascinated to be part of a guided tour around the highlights of Pyongyang, the capital city of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea otherwise known as North Korea. Playing by the rules would have be done, I have watched extensive documentaries about the Hermit Kingdom but nothing would prepare me for the real thing! As well as discovering a conditioned itinerary of the showcase city of Pyongyang it would be amazing to see the Demilitairsed Zone that separates the two Korea's, I know it seems crazy but it would be utterly fascinating to see such a controversial sight. I wonder if the Arirang Mass Games will be brought back? Those extra choreographed colourful formations would be another thing to see within a once in a life time trip to the DPRK! Call me crazy, but I don't have time for the ordinary and that's just the mantra I live by! Getting the chance to experience the two Korea's would be insane, so I know something's aren't right but?

Taiwan has been playing games with my heart, I can't wait for Taipei to cast its spell on me! Gunning for a summer arrival penned for August 2017 after my first two years of Teaching English in China concludes, I'm looking to experience the cultural and open-mindedness of Kaohsiung and Taipei. Taking to the skies from Hong Kong International Airport, I plan to spend a few days in the southern port city of Kaohsiung to check out sights like the Lotus Lake and the countless temples that follow my path. Although the former British consulate at Takao looks like a colonial winner, I'm excited for Kaohsiung! Teaching in Taiwan seemed like a potential option but I am focused to return to the Chinese Mainland but hopefully to Beijing. The opportunities looked promising in places like Taipei but I am well used to the daily madness of Wuhan, I gave it some serious though! Oh Taiwan, will you ever be able to forgive me? Please T!

Zooming from Kaohsiung to Taipei on Taiwan's ultra fast High-Speed Rail I have a plan to turn the party up and then some! Blessed with the most gay-friendly attitudes in Asia I am buzzing to experience Taipei's Gaybourhood, Ximen will not know what's happening once I arrive at Taipei's renowned Gay Village! I have every faith things are going to get down right down scandalous, I have no problem with that at all! Tearing myself away from the delights of Ximen, I would like to sample the world famous dumplings at Din Tai Fung because I can! Whatever happens in Taipei and obviously Kaohsiung will certainly stay on the island of Taiwan for certain! I will most likely me beside myself with sadness on my UK bound flight from Taipei! For this moment I have another nine months of work remaining of my teaching contract in Wuhan. I have every confidence that I will flawlessly execute my future travel aspirations, I won't let anything or anyone stop me! You know I'm only getting started!

No Delays, Please?!

Joseph Harrison 

27 October 2016

Jinan: Shandong's Spring City

Boarding my High Speed train, Jinan was on my radar! Speeding toward Shandong's Spring City was all I could think about, seeking a mountain and spring was on my Jinan checklist. Embracing the crowds, keeping my head in the game I had the city of Jinan where I needed it to be! I chose something authentic as I ditched the tourist option for a hidden treasure! Get it Jin!

Jinan Railway Station greeted with me with a nonstop energy, catching a taxi I arrived at my hotel without any stress. Remembering my hotel receptionist days I wasn't impressed when my double room was traded for a twin room, I resided to the fact that it wasn't going to dent my Jinan chapter! Shaking those Qingdao hostel visions away I was overjoyed to discover my sub-standard hotel room had a bath, something I hadn't seen for over fifteen months since arriving in China. With the dusk fast approaching I made my way to Jinan's Quancheng Square, dubbed as the focal point of this 'Spring' city I got my blogger on, snapping away because time is always of the essence! Spanning for what seemed like a mile, Quancheng Square was only a stones throw from my hotel and I was about to discover that everything that I needed would be within walking distance one way or another! It didn't take me long but I loved Jinan bad!

As the sky turned a rich orange as the sun continued to set I found the atmosphere within Quancheng Square light and inviting, catching a glimpse of a nearby skyscraper in the distance I hit the jackpot as the Chinese flag was displayed for a few moments, Catching that classic snap of this majestic Jinan hotspot took some doing but the simple things in life just aren't satisfying enough for me! Trying not to give people the cold shoulder I wasn't going to be treated like a walking photo opportunity! I soaked in the sights, people watching like my life depended on it I could tell these people hadn't seen a foreigner before or at all, learning to embrace that difference for that moment felt good. Jinan gave me a sense of chill, I felt like I could finally relax for if only a moment before tackling my wildcard National Day destination. Falling in love with Jinan's legendary sunset over Quancheng Square I was ready for some rest! China is teaching me to take risks, Jinan was ace for that!

Getting down to Baotu Spring people should of known better not to get in the way of my blogging game, crossing the line I commanded that situation like the best of them! Securing my front row view of Jinan's Baotu Spring it would of been like daylight robbery if that shot was taken away from me! No! Getting over that brief period of insanity I gave it my best shot to admire the active waters of that Shang Dynasty wonder. The National Day crowds had Baotu Spring and the surrounding garden in a state of crazy, paying the disorder no mind I got on with what I set out to do! The gardens impressed me much, I saw a mad dance routine by some Auntie's who were dancing to a kind of Chinese music, it was something else considering the scenic setting. Located within the heart of Jinan's city centre it was about a five minute walk to spring from my hotel, of course I was centrally located for the win! Ji, getting me all sorts of mad!

Oh no she better don't! Within the lush setting of Baotu Spring's gardens just a stones throw from the famous Guanlan Pavilion an unauthorised photo was taken of me, I tried to keep it cute but that lady left me with no choice but to get drop dead gorgeous! That unwanted attention was shrugged off once I had told her to delete the photo, she did once I explained to her in Chinese it wasn't right! I wouldn't of minded if she had the decency to ask me permission because that's not cool! Making a sweet escape I found the Bamboo Gardens and a cute courtyard where an exhibit showcased some Chinese calligraphy, remembering the wavy waters of Baotu Spring I knew it was going to be a good day! Jinan was throwing all kinds of amazing at me, this wildcard thing might have to be a regular thing!? National Day had got Jinan acting the fool but the 3,500 years of history standing before me within that scenic area kept it real, serving several shades of Spring city overness! I had to slay B!

In search of something wholesome to eat, I had heard of Furong Ancient Street but I like to get lost to find something better than first intended. Stumbling across Xichenggen Jie, I slowed down to take in the understated vibe of this stripped back Shandong food street. Finding the main road I exited Xichenggen Jie for a few moments before taking a glimpse of Daming Lake from a place that didn't cost a penny, not feeling true to my independent thinking I ditched my attempts finding Furong Street, deciding to head back to that unassuming street was the plan for me. Taking my time I picked a small restaurant that had something to do with wolves, random name but that's China! Choosing an unknown dish, my Chinese reading skills are not good! I risked it! I had ordered a pork broth soup with a cabbage like accompaniment, I enjoyed it! Jinan's difference forced me to take a welcomed risk again! I live for that life J!

Shunning that foodie hotspot afforded me to see an energetic side street that served me a hearty and cheap meal, Xichenngen Jie was destined to be a part of my trip but I just didn't know it until that moment. Making my way back to Jinan's city centre area I stumbled across Furong Ancient Street, it looked so busy it was nauseating, pushing my negative opinions aside I found the correct side street to access this famous Jinan food street to see what all the fuss was about. My curiousity wasn't worth dodging the crowds and the unwanted smells, making a swift exit back towards Quancheng Square I counted my lucky stars! Yes, Xichenngen Jie had guided me away from such a place of pure craze. Hunger satisfied I needed a new outfit for the night ahead, grabbing what I needed I retreated back to my hotel before the night. Calling out to my favourite Chinese social media app I asked a favour to find a nearby bar. Jinan had another twist for me! I was ready for dark! So, let the scandal begin! Go!

My time in Jinan was drawing to a close, getting my head back into the game I headed for Qianfo Mountain. Let's just say Jinan served well in the nightlife department because I was feeling rather worse for ware but getting my life I was halfway up a mountain of one thousand Buddha's! Taking my own pace wasn't an option it was so busy I had to weave in and out of the National Day crowds who also wanted to climb Jinan's own mountain! I was in-search for a golden Buddha but I stayed optimistic and climbed further upwards, hitting what felt like the near top point I didn't feel comfortable with the state of the well-trodden stairs that had a certain slippery nature, it was too high to make poor decisions! Paying no mind I zipped my camera away and got inventive to get down those questionable stairs, these cakes are just for shaking on the dancefloor! Yes, in the end I found that shimmering golden Buddha! I felt so delicate!

Rewinding to my second night in Jinan I wanted to hit the town, conducting my usual China nightlife research I came unstuck with Jinan's rainbow nature. Consulting my go-to app I managed to find a way to reach 2012 Bar, tucked away only a five minute walk from my hotel I couldn't believe how convenient my hotel's location was! Sitting down with some beers I told my best ones where I was, it was a quiet scene to begin with but when the curtain was drawn to cover the stage I was curious as to what was going on!? A showcase of Chinese female impersonators graced the stage, some of their get-up was a tad tatty but one queen's look was truly on-point! Lip-syncing for their lives in Mandarin Chinese I was pleasantly surprised to see my first Chinese performers slay! Returning for my final night I had to tell some truth to this sassy Singaporean guy who was acting the fool, too much sass for his own good! I was like 'go sit down, gurl!' Jinan left me in a state, I needed Wuhan and some sleep!

Now, Slay Jinan!

Joseph Harrison

22 October 2016

Qingdao: Seashores, Beer & German History...

Did anyone say Qingdao Pijiu? Yes! That once German governed corner of China's Shandong province called my name! Qingdao gave me tones of Germanic Realness with a dash of seaside scenery! Genuflecting before a certain European looking church I was kindly transported back to my home continent if only for a while! Qingdao definitely turned my Chinese National Day up!

Tsingtao Pijiu was crafted during Qingdao's German rule in 1903, bringing their brewing skills and eye for opening so much up for Qingdao it's safe to say Germany left a boozy legacy for Qingdao! Braving the monsoon conditions I ditched Zhanqiao Pier for the Tsingtao Beer Museum to get out of the dreariness. Set within the original factory that dates back over 113 years ago, I reveled in the fact that Britain had a partnership with Germany to establish the brewing of beer within Qingdao, China. I enjoyed the historical parts but as I walked around the museum exhibits it turned into one huge pile of propaganda. During Shandong's Japanese years famous brands such as Asahi and Kirin were founded at the 'Tsingtau Brauerei'. Enjoying my free half of Tsingtao beer it did the trick as the National Day crowd had the same idea as me to get out of the rain. Yass, the Tsingtao Beer Museum was like a Cadbury World for beer! Seriously Q!

Done with the my museum experience I wanted some seafood and beer, exiting that house of beer I was fronted with Qingdao's Beer Street. A bit touristy and brash for my liking but with the rain bucketing down I wasn't about to judge too harshly. Taking cover at one of the first restaurants I saw I was forcefully given a menu, I took a breath and was like 'wait a second' in Chinese because no one without manners gets my money in a hurry or at all! Settling that moment of impoliteness I got myself a supersize jug of ice cold Tsingtao beer to myself and some garlic smothered prawns because the other seafood offerings looking a little extreme for me! With my morning consisting completely of drinking beer I was having a great time, it was one of my main reasons for visiting Qingdao! Aside from the mental weather and the growing crowds I found it easier to take my time with my food and beer, I can never have too much of a good thing! Yes, of course I love beer! 我老实说爱啤酒!

Not getting to the church on-time meant I was greeted by a sea of selfie-stick warriors, those Chinese tourists were relentless with their snapping I was so over trying to get an uninterrupted photo of Qingdao's St. Michael's Catholic Cathedral that afternoon. Waking up with the birds I was determined to get a stress-free snap, the previous afternoon I paid the £1.00 entry fee to take a look inside this Germanic house of worship. Currently a working Catholic Cathedral with a Bishop named Joseph, he definitely chose a good English name! I at least thought a sense of respect would be exercised by the visitors to Qingdao's St. Matthew's but those blinding selfie-sticks were out in all of their glory, I looked on with disdain! Also I had never seen so many newlyweds having their wedding photos taken outside this house of God! Nevertheless, my photo was still and captured the postcard view I wanted! Take it church to TAO! Yass QI!

Much like Macau with its historic Portuguese ruins I was drawn to Qingdao to find something that told me this city had been shaped by European settlers and merchants. I stayed within the old side of the city, wanting to avoid the glass and modernity that I can see everyday in order to get a sense of how much European influence China has seen over the last 150 years. Remembering Qingdao's St. Matthew's Catholic Cathedral as it reminded me of Hong Kong's St. John's Anglican Cathedral that was founded during the 1860's as the first British missionaries called Hong Kong Island home. I have a thing for places of worship no matter what the religion maybe but I have no religious conviction, it's just something I take a keen interest in when I travel around the world. Being part of that slice of Qingdao history impressed me much, I had a plan to see specific things during that National Day trip! Of course it was nonstop! Qingdao had me crazy, I already said I'm not religious. Listen B!

Getting back on my sightseeing grind I was thankful for the blue skies that complimented the waters of Qingdao Bay it was time to explore and then some! Qingdao's Zhanqiao Pier was looking fine, if not a little crowded for that early morning hour! Grabbing my mid-distance snap I was prepared to inject some seaside Realness into my life! Dodging a few dawdlers, a group of Oriental looking guys stopped me in my tracks for photos. I was hesitant because I have grew tired of people asking for a selfie with me because I look different, but those guys were from Tibet and Qinghai so I allowed them a photo along the pier. Standing as the first working wharf within Qingdao's bay I recognised the original style of Zhanqiao Pier compared to the modern looking marina that stood on the other side of the bay. Turning my head I was living for the line of German buildings that came into my view from the pier! China, be proud of this!

Qingdao's old town served a stunning yet understated skyline that featured the rich German colonial history of this Chinese seaside city. Looking closer at the design of Qingdao's Zhanqiao Pier I could recognise a certain landmark from the Tsingtao Beer logo, of course because I drink enough Chinese beer! Turning my head to the right it was clear to see Xiao Qingdao was in sight, allow me to translate that into English that means 'Small Qingdao Island'. Had I drank enough Tsingtao Beer during my time in Qingdao? No, I stopped off on my way to Qingdao's Central Business District twice but as I enjoyed my morning alcoholic treat. I luxuriated in the fact I was getting looks of disgust, people needed to get over themselves and get a beer too! Zhanqiao Pier revved up my second Qingdao morning, taking me closer to the Yellow Sea that shares waters with North and South Korea. Praying for the bright conditions to not change it was all good because around every corner there was beer!

Finishing my first morning Tsingtao Beer I was in hot-pursuit of May Fourth Square, one of Qingdao's main focal points with the city's Central Business District. Deciding to take the coastal road when the bus was taking too long to arrive, it fared to be the best decision I made that day. Stopping for my second morning refreshment I had just been transported back to my home continent of Europe with German houses almost erasing my Chinese location, I was amazingly confused if truth be told! Sipping my brunch time beer as I overlooked one of Qingdao's many beaches, the scene was lovely there was no way I was trying the water! Unknowingly, the Badaguan Scenic Area would come across my path whilst I was in search for Qingdao's May Fourth Square. Millionaires avenue fronted me with a Qingdao edge, serving more Colonial German Overness I was impressed by those properties. Ja Tsingtao, I really needed another beer!

Swirling like a giant red tornado I was relieved to reach Wusi Guangchang, it was a four mile walk alone the coastal road from Old Qingdao! Situated within the centre of Qingdao Central Business District this colourful landmark served as a contradiction between the glass and metal of the skyscrapers nearby. I was surprised that the area around May Fourth Square was quietly energetic, creating the second stress-free photo opportunity in Qingdao and for National Day I loved not having to wade through a crowd of crazy tourists! Taking notice of the Downtown I saw a city that was rising, Qingdao's got a plan in action! Concluding my Qingdao National Day experience I made my way back to Old Qingdao with everything that I needed for my blog, it had been a successful trip even though the night scene hadn't presented itself at all I was more than impressed with this coastal Chinese city and its German past! Yass, National Day 2016's Shandong style was working out fine! Dankeschön Qin!

One More Pijiu Qingdao!

Joseph Harrison