Sunday, 31 January 2016

Sunday's Service... Wuhan, China!

Sunday shouldn't be a bore, no it's still the weekend so me and my friends made the best of that seventh day feeling! Looking back over the last two Sunday's of January 2016 I want to see if they were really fun days? We went shopping, did Sunday Brunch and one of us got a tattoo! When in China it's got to be done, turning the last day of the week into something extra!

Over the last three months I have been extremely stringent with my savings for my Spring Festival holiday, as great as it is to save and have funds it's no fun missing social occasions. Elli had been talking about a waffle cafe that one of her colleagues had mentioned at her school. Along with myself, Elli and Ellen we made it to Jiedaokou for our waffle Sunday Brunch. The best thing about doing brunch was that we met a lot later than breakfast, I don't wake up early at the weekends for anybody or anything unless I'm going away! Only a few stops away from Optics Valley Square Station we made it to Maan Coffee in Jiedaokou before 1pm. I chose the Cheese Sandwiches because I had been craving a toasted cheese sandwich for ages, I love Chinese food but it's always nice to have something familiar. Elli and Ellen went for sweeter options, I was definitely going back for more loveliness the following Sunday! A funday!

Since meeting in late 2015, myself, Elli and Ellen have become good friends, making the best of our weekends by either going out for drinks or having dinner regularly. Catching up on that Sunday was lovely at Maan Coffee because we always have a lot to talk about, we love to have a good old gossip! Chowing down on our delicious and very rich treats we also appreciated the decor and atmosphere at Maan Coffee. Being so far away from home in a Far Eastern country makes it easier when the food is uncomplicated and familiar like Maan's waffle menu. I had to run a few errands on the following Sunday so saw it as the perfect excuse to revisit Maan Coffee for a Strawberry Waffle with a lovely Hot Chocolate. I will admit that this cozy eatery is a little pricey compared to the Chinese places but for a weekend treat of £8.00 I don't see to find a problem with that at all! I can at least say that I have been to Jiedaokou during the daytime! We really need to make happen Sunday Brunch every week!

Channeling our inner Material Girl flow we hit the department stores of Wuchang. My previous winter coat was not keeping me warm during this sub-zero Wuhan winter! Like I mentioned before I'm off on a ten day Spring Festival break to Hong Kong, Macau and Guangzhou so every little bit of my wage that I can afford has been going into my savings. Fed up with being a complete miser I bought a simple but very effective black coat from Uniqlo, keeping things unified I also got a pair of black gloves and a black scarf to match. The girls made their purchases from Uniqlo as well so we then went next door to H&M. Elli also bought a coat but from H&M, I think? Ellen went all out in H&M with her many purchases, I enjoyed the music whilst she conferred with Elli in the fitting rooms. I was tempted to part with more cash that first Sunday because those threads served Chinese New Year Realness! I wanted the Monkey jumper! 

Dipping in and out Sephora, Elli and Ellen didn't find anything that impressed them much. Mumuso, a South Korean shop was next on our list but I didn't buy anything in there at all. We had planned to visit Baotong Temple for Elli and Ellen had not yet been, unfortunately it was closed by the time we tried to buy our tickets. I went to that temple last September and I'm sure Elli and Ellen will make it there at some point during this year. I returned to H&M on the following Sunday after my second Maan Cofffee Sunday Brunch in a row to burn some serious plastic. I needed some new jeans so threw caution to the wind by getting a pair of stretch skinny booty jeans, a monkey print jump and a long black smock. It did feel gutting to see my bank balance after those purchases and from other events during that final January 2016 weekend. I suppose parting with some of hard earned cash isn't such a pain after all, I really enjoyed myself and I usually hate shopping! Who wants a tattoo?! Ellen?!

Ellen was on a high, she went on to tell me and Elli that she wanted to get a tattoo that afternoon! She told us that she had been thinking about getting one for sometime and being in China it felt like the perfect time to do so. Heading back over to Guanggu we decided that Wuhan Prison's very own tattoo shop would be the best bet for Ellen's first bit of ink. OK, so Wuhan Prison is a well known alternative bar that's located on Lumo Road, not to far from the epic Guanggu Square. Ellen decided on her design, she wanted her name in Chinese to be her first tattoo. The tattoo shop next to Wuhan Prison was very clean and the tattoo artist did a really good job. We returned at 8pm for Ellen's sitting. She was definitely nervous just like I was when I had my first tattoo, but who isn't scared by such a thing? Well, I have to be honest that I've been thinking of getting a classy and meaningful Chinese tattoo! Yes, I need to do some thinking. 

Those two random Sunday's were most definitely fun, teamed with lots of good food, shopping and even a new tattoo we had a great time! I love spending time with my girls here and even if I don't make a tonne of friends here in Wuhan, I know that I have Elli and Ellen to call on when there's something worth us doing during the weekend. Yes, I did burn a whole in my pocket with those purchases but what good can money do if its been sitting in a bank account for months? Maan Coffee acted as the perfect winter warmer with our servings of comfort food and hot drinks we had a relaxed time eating and putting the world to rights. At Wuhan Prison we even had a few pre and post tattoo drinks, being good friends to Ellen me and Elli had a few drinks for moral support. Getting back out the following Sunday was worth it, I've got some really nice clothes and I'm somewhat prepared for my holiday to HK, Macau & Guangzhou. Sunday's now don't fill me with dread I because look forward to them!

More Fun Sundays! 

Joseph Harrison

Thursday, 28 January 2016

2013-2016: No Winter Blues!

Some would call winter the worst season of them all, even though the cold does bite I always try and find the positive. Looking back over the last few years I want to see if the 'Winter Blues' have caused me any misery? From the USA's 'Deep South' to the Far Eastern kingdom of China, it's been an eventful time so let's see about those 'blues'. Oh no, it's already below zero!

After completing my university work placement I took two short U.S trips before returning to England. Packed up and ready to go, me and my dear friend Fiorella both jetted off to New Orleans, Louisiana with Delta Air Lines. It did nothing but rain that January weekend but we kept it together and tried our best to see as much as possible. Staying within the historic French Quarter we marveled at the period buildings that definitely oozed a French Creole feel. We didn't endorse any of that Voodoo hoodoo, instead we chowed down on some seriously delicious cat fish and gumbo. Missing our Bayou boat trip because of the torrential rain, we switched things up by going to the Garden Quarter to see how the other half of New Orleans lived. Seeing Jackson Square and with our Beignet brunch we served Disney Princess Realness like Princess Tiana did in the Princess and the Frog! What a great time spent by the Mississippi! 

Escaping the rain I said goodbye to Fiorella for a weekend in the Sunshine State of Florida, spending a beautiful time with my friends Zach and Dawin. Those 'Winter Blues' had been beaten away in the respect our trip to New Orleans was amazing but the weather was shocking, onwards and upwards it was onto the next hype! Orlando benefited from warmer climbs, so much so I was able to wear shorts that January weekend. I met Zach during my Walt Disney internship in 2011, it was major for us to have one last kiki before I would return to England. Revisiting Walt Disney World was great because I could finally drink alcohol around the World Showcase. Darting straight for the Rose & Crown pub in the UK Pavilion had to be done for a pint of Strongbow Cider! We got turned up on the final night of my trip with a great night out at Orlando's Parliament House. We slayed! 2013 served some mixed weather but through all the shade it was a success until I arrived back to snowy England! No!

2014 brought the mother of all university assignments, my dissertation took me to Manchester for the first weekend of the New Year. I wasn't feeling depressed or had any of those usual feelings after Christmas. I was in hot pursuit of anything Manchester, stepping from my train at Manchester's Piccadilly Station I headed for the Salford Quays. No access to the cobbles of Coronation Street was given to me so I went looking for something industrial, I wanted to see a factory! Ancoats gave me life with its industrial Realness! Piccadilly Gardens led me to the centre of Manchester's shopping district, I traded the shops for a film at the Printworks. I had heard a lot of things from my friends at university, apparently it was the place to be? Researching for my dissertation that focused on Manchester as a Gay Tourism Destination I refueled with a hearty Chinese meal before my nocturnal research could begin! Get it M!

Canal Street showed me a night to never forget, I was so very excited to get my groove on within Manchester's legendary Gay Village! All that research led me in good stead for my extended project, I didn't exactly get any concrete findings during that experiment but I was able to get the feel of Manchester and its delights. Back to Birmingham I went, the final semester of my degree course had arrived. I had drunkenly decided to book an overnight trip to see Bath Spa and Bristol after too many gins on Christmas Day. Bath Spa was lovely with the Roman Baths and the timeless architecture that looked as beautiful as I had imagined. Moving onto Bristol, making my second visit to Bristol allowed me to see the city centre because I was there before for a party and nothing else. January 2014 had my attention, I was happy and ready to take on the final chapter of my degree in Birmingham. Much like 2013 I had absolutely nothing to be blue about, although that winter was a trifle too cold though B!

My life came to a serious crossroads as 2015 made an appearance, I was determined to hatch a plan to get my life back! Ringing the New Year in I celebrated the first throws of 2015 in London with my parents. Seeing places like Rotherhithe, Surrey Quays and Deptford I made the snap decision that I would be streamlining my blog to only four posts per month, I had other things to focus on! Mixing things up I went all West London for once, taking in Hampton Court Palace, Kew Gardens and Richmond Riverside. After finishing university I did feel a bit blue but I tried to keep focused, I felt cheated by the dreams that hadn't yet come to fruition but I wasn't about to give in that easily! Booking a holiday always makes things seem better, I went and did just that to give myself something to take me away from reality. The thing is 2015, you thought you'd got me but I was ready to make a comeback! Let's get this started!

Taking to the skies I was on my way to Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory that I had had my eye on for some time. I had nothing to loose, touching down into GIB I chose to stay over the borderline in Spain because the hotels were considerably cheaper and I had missed Spanish culture since my Newark days had disappeared. Those 'Winter Blues' had got me for a second, getting away from home gave me the chance to zone out for a little while to see somewhere new and to hopefully gain a clearer idea of how to get things together. My week was great but all good things come to an end, getting back to Bilston I got my job interview on and secured myself a job to earn some money. The early parts of 2015 did see me feel depressed and question the path my life had taken after graduating. Yes, those 'Winter Blues' got me bad however I got my life with an opportunity to teach English in China! The two previous years seemed so smooth, but 2015 saw me get things back!

2016 has been a blessed year so far, seeing me travel to yet another province in China and complete my first semester at Etonkids in Wuhan. Those 'Winter Blues' have been biting bad with temperatures plummeting well below zero during the day and to unspeakable lows during the night. Beginning 2016 saw me jet off to Xi'an, China for a whistle-stop trip that was packed with history and even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Getting down to see the Terracotta Warriors was an amazing experience teamed with a foodie journey along Beiyuanmen Muslim Street where I ate so much good Halal food. My faith in hostels in China was restored thanks to the basic yet comfortable hostel that I stayed in Xi'an. The pollution did make me feel slightly blue but I got a grip and continued to enjoy my trip. Work called me back to Wuhan soon after my lovely walk along Xi'an city wall, I was ready to get back to my school! Hurry up Hong Kong! OK?!

The remaining parts of January have all been about staying close to Guanggu, I did take one trip out to Jiang'an, Hankou. Seeing another part of Hankou was great, I revisited the Jiang'an side of Hankou for the first time since November 2015 because I couldn't find the Gude Temple. Keeping my head in the game and my eyes on the road signs the second time around I found exactly what I was meant to find the first time. I had only been to the new Hankou Railway Station when I arrived into Wuhan from Suzhou, however I was curious to see how Hankou's former rail terminus looked like even a few years after its closure in 1991. I appreciated the former railway station as it sat underneath the new path of the Wuhan Metro, of course I wasn't feeling those 'Winter Blues' then! Over the last however many years I have been fortunate to be going somewhere new when January comes back around. The 'Winter Blues' are biting bad now, but Chinese Spring Festival 2016 is almost here! Go!

Wrap Up Warm!

Joseph Harrison 

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Serving It Up... Wuhan, China!

Failing the previous time I won the title the second time around during a recent visit to Jiang'an, Hankou. Linking up a new part of the growing Wuhan Metro didn't exactly make my path any clearer but I figured things out. I uncovered Wuhan's former railway gateway that crossed paths with a modern contender. Jiang'an was serving up all kinds of incredible! Got you, Wuhan!

Jiang'an's Gongnongbing Road was calling my name, I tried my luck to find the Gude Temple of Hankou in November 2015 but I did not succeed with that pursuit. Retracing my steps carefully from Toudou St Station along Line 1 of the Wuhan Metro I was greeted by a familiar sight, that random Hankou street was waiting for me. Without much thought I saw 'Gudesi Road' a sure sign that I had crossed the finish line to another top contender, Wuhan has proved to house some pretty impressive temples so I would be judging this place of worship. Paying my £1.50 entrance fee I appreciated the free incense sticks that were handed to me upon my arrival at the Hankou Gude Temple. The fact that I called myself a blogger and independent traveller the first time should have been a joke because that temple passed me by without me even realising so. Nothing fails when I go to a place of worship, I'm not religious but I liked Gudesi!

Burning it up, I lit my incense sticks to place them into the incense pit that faced the unusual temple. I'm no Buddhist soul but that didn't stop me tying a red ribbon to one of the stone lions with a message that will remain confidential. I'm usually wanting to know the history of a place but I was too sidetracked with the different infusion of styles that Hankou's Gude Temple served that chilled Sunday afternoon. Respecting the religious nature of the buildings I didn't take any photos inside the many shrines and other parts of the monastery but some people insisted on parading their self-sticks. No! Taking the stairs up to the building opposite the temple I was able to catch a glimpse of a Buddhist Sunday service that was going on, I peered through the glass for a few seconds, I remembered it was a religious ceremony so I retreated back down to the temple courtyard. Hankou's Gude Temple being tucked away within a sprawl of flats, it's definitely a Hankou hidden treasure for sure!

Towering glass skyscrapers look good but I'm always living when I see a spot of urban decay, I saw just that as I went further into the Jiang'an District of Hankou. Leaving Gongnongbing Road behind me for an intriguing looking side street that had a metro sign point directly down the road, I kept walking without any hesitation. I took my time as I made my way down this unmarked street, no signs of modernisation were present so that was good with me. A string of working people got on with their business, they were trading all manner of things, as I stuck out for being white it was apparent these people may had never seen a foreigner before? I get stared almost everyday but in that kind of area it goes with the territory, it was fine. The sprawl of urban living looked amazing, it felt like an authentic corner of Hankou, which was great to see due to all the changes going on. Yes, Jiang'an was serving up a whole lot of truth!

Upon my previous visit to Jiang'an when I didn't realise it was a separate district of Hankou I came across several shades of Realness, I wanted to see more of those sights to get even closer to this unpolished side of Hankou. It's true that Wuhan tells it like it really is! Yes, I was getting more stares from the bewildered local people but I didn't see a single foreigner as I made my way towards Hong Kong Road. Grabbing a freshly baked sweet potato from a street side vendor led me to a delicious and cost effective lunch, the weighing method that the lady used was nothing like I'd ever seen before in this modern day. Using my live map from my WeChat app I made my way closer to Dazhimen Station, well in such a fashion I did question my route but I protest that getting a little bit lost always allows me to see a few hidden gems that I wouldn't have planned to see in the first place. Jiang'an's ordinary streets were alive, busy for a Sunday but it's always busy in Wuhan. Go Jiang'an with your style!

Once the southern terminus of the Beijing-Hankou Railway, Dazhimen Station served its city as a primary rail hub for Hankou. Built from 1901 to 1903 this former transport terminus served Hankou until 1991 when the current Hankou Railway Station opened to take on the reigns from Dazhimen. I had passed the former Dazhimen Station building several times during my trips on Line 1 of the Wuhan Metro, I wanted to take some time to see what this former station looked like up close and personal. Concluding my Jiang'an pursuit I ended up at Dazhimen Station just before five in the afternoon. The former station foreground was busy in the same fashion as if it was a live station, but no passengers were present, that didn't take anything away from the everyday buzz that carried on around the former station's entrance. Now the Wuhan Metro can be seen passing by this former station on its modern elevated track.

Of course Dazhimen lives on! After finding out that the former Hankou Dazhimen Station has protected status it seemed strange that nothing had been done to open the former railway hub as a museum? In the future maybe? Jiang'an, Hankou was looking just fine during my random day of discovery. Not letting nothing get in my way I found Gude Temple after my misfortune the first time, even finding some spiritual energy was great with my wishes to the universe. Getting my life I found my way back to Gongnongbing Road without a hitch, also branching onto an amazing side street that served just the right level of urban decay! Jiang'an proved to be a worthy contender yet again, I know that I will do my very best to see the most of Wuhan during my time living here. Undoubtedly, I love not seeing any other travelers or even tourists whilst going about on days off like this one for I like to be the only waiguoren! Jiang'an served up a whole lot of incredible! No, I'm not finished yet!

That's Serving Urban Decay!

Joseph Harrison

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Next Stop... Xi'an, China!

Kick-starting 2016 I had a new Chinese travel experience set in my sights, I was ready to fly! The ancient walled city of Xi'an, China was my chosen destination for my first trip of 2016. Undoubtedly, I had the legendary Terracotta Warriors on my radar. Shaanxi had something to show me, I was more than ready for some Hui Muslim food! Yes, Xi'an served everything and more!

Touching down at Xi'an Xianyang International Airport I was greeted with yet more haze, all this pollution wasn't going to put a dampener on my trip, not on my watch anyway! Most Chinese cities apart from the mega-cities don't yet have direct metro links with the city centres so getting from the airport then to the hostel took some going but it was all an experience. I was very cautious to book a hostel after my Shanghai disaster but Xi'an's Han Tang Inn Hostel restored my faith in hostels in China. Located around the corner from the Bell Tower I locked my bag then got on with my trip! Navigating through a chaotic underpass I found the entrance to the Bell Tower. Xi'an happened to have two towers but I choose the Bell Tower over the Drum Tower due to convenience because my time in Xi'an would be very limited. Realising I had made it within a respectable amount of time I was relieved and ready to explore! Yes, Xi!

Marveling at the beautifully crafted Bell Tower I had made it to my sixth Chinese city in seven months. Built in 1384 AD during the 17th year of the Hongwu through the Ming Dynasty, the Bell Tower serves a strong resemblance to the typical architecture of that Ming period. Gaining its name from the grand bell that chimes on the hour this Xi'an focal point commands the attention even standing in the middle of a vast roundabout that was teeming with a constant flow of heavy traffic. The air was filled the traditional songs of Chinese New Year, some of them I could recognise because we play them in the morning time at my kindergarten. Overlooking the Bell Tower stood its brother, the Drum Tower was something but I wanted to see as much as I could within the city centre and the Warriors so the Bell Tower won that one. Xi'an felt different compared to Wuhan, I even saw some blue skies for a short time. Chiming to the beat of the Bell Tower I had to move forwards! I was good!

As the sun said goodbye to Xi'an on the first day of 2016 I headed for Beiyuanmen Muslim Street within Xi'an's vibrant Muslim Quarter, I was more than ready to sample some Hui style Xi'an food. I was fronted with a sea of people going down this famous Xi'an city street, I find the crowds here in China somewhat aggravating to deal with because there's not much coordination going about. Bewildered by the noises, smells and overall feel of that crazy street I got things together, snatching some amazing photos and taking in a sense of this Islamic style street without being annoyed by the crowds. Indulging in a deep fried banana, three lamb kebab skewers and a Roujiamo that's a Chinese hamburger. Remembering that alcohol was off the menu I found some honey infused fresh yoghurt that tasted heavenly, believe me it took the spice away from those kebabs that I had earlier. Aside from the crowds I was living!

Apparently, Xi'an's Muslim population dated back from the movements of the Silk Road but regardless of those stories I adored the breads and kebabs that make this section of Chinese culture unique and sometimes better than Han Chinese food. Looking for a drink I found a bar to have a beer or two but called it a night pretty early as I had a long day from travelling from Wuhan, I had an early appointment the next morning. Back to the delights of Beiyuanmen Muslim Street I returned the following night with an Australian girl called Anna who was also staying at the Han Tang Inn Hostel. We tried Yangrou Paomo, a rich mutton soup mixed with two flat breads that we had to break apart and put into a bowl, then the soup was added so we could enjoy the meal. I didn't do too badly during my Xi'an trip, trying new foods and loving every second of it! It was so good, I just have to find Yangrou Paomo and Roujiamao in Wuhan! Xi'an was proving to be a winner, but I had more to see! Yes, lots!

When I decided that I wanted to teach English in China I had one place in mind that I just had to visit, no matter what I had a dream to see the Terracotta Warriors and Horses that are close to Xi'an. Unearthed in 1987 by the digging of a well on some normal farmland in Lintong District about 60 minutes from Xi'an city, something remarkable was discovered. Protected as a World Heritage Site the Mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor is a world renowned attraction. Getting there bright and early I was up with the birds to catch a glimpse of the Terracotta Army and their horses, like any place of interest I made it around before the tour groups had properly arrived. Taking time to see the museum and the secondary pits I was ready to see the warriors, waiting in their tight lines of formation. Getting to the front of the barrier had to be done, I saw this experience as once in a lifetime! It was definitely worth every Yuan! Yes!

Keeping costs down I got the 306 tourist bus from Xi'an Railway Station to the Terracotta Warriors for only seven Yuan each way, which costed me less than £1.50 return for a two hour round trip ride. Throughout my time at the Mausoleum I couldn't believe the remains of the figures had been found in such an unsuspecting circumstance. Certain areas of the main pit didn't allow photography for what reason I wasn't sure but certain restoration work was being carried out on specific warriors. Leaving the warriors behind I made my way back to the coaches to Xi'an Railway Station I didn't pay much attention to the many touristy gift shops and food places because I had simply made the trip to see the Terracotta Warriors and Horses, I'm not a fan of tourist nonsense because that's not my flow! Xi'an's main spectacle was everything that I had imagined, I have urged my teaching friends in Wuhan to get to Xi'an quick snap! I can't wait to see what new treasures they might uncover Xi'an! Go!

Built within a magnificent city wall, I chose to see the southern part of Xi'an ancient city wall last during my Shaanxi trip. Taking the Xi'an Metro from Wulukou Station to Yongningmen Station to find just what I wanted to see. The original fortifications were built during the Old Tang Dynasty from 618-907 to strengthen the city from the current Emperors perspective. It's believed that the Southern part of the city wall is decorated most beautifully, apart from the building smog I was really impressed with the walled courtyard and even saw a Chinese style changing of the guards. Making my way to the busy city wall I was stopped by several Chinese children who wanted to practice their English with me, they were so cute and asked the same questions that they must be learning at school? I didn't ride a bike but I enjoyed my stroll along the Xi'an City wall very much. They were mad! Xi'an's city walls serve royalty!

Taking my sense of adventure to begin 2016 with a bang in Xi'an, China was a champion decision to make. I crammed so much into my whistle-stop Chinese New Year weekend trip, I wanted another holiday when I got back to Wuhan on the 3rd of January 2016. The mighty Terracotta Warriors set the bar for my Shaanxi trip, obviously eating so much during my trips to the Beiyuanmen Muslim Street acted as another highlight. Passing up the chance to see the Drum Tower, I did take sometime to get some great photos after my first visit to the Muslim Quarter when the lights looked amazing. Dealing with the pollution wasn't fun but I got on with what I needed to in Xi'an. Lastly, the Xi'an city wall gave me life and allowed me to see some more cute Chinese children who could speak English. My China Southern flights got me from point to point easily and on time! 2016 has a lot going for itself, I'm ready for my next trip but Xi'an brought something different to my CNY 2016! X, 中国非常好!

Xi'an Serves Warrior Realness! 

Joseph Harrison