Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Wuhan: Guangbutun Madness!

Wuhan city life stresses me out sometimes, I tried my best to get on with my weekend business but Guangbutun got me mad! Thanks to a few clumsy and drunken errors my mobile screen has been smashed to smithereens, I usually look after my electronic possessions but this time wasn't meant to be. I was hoping for a quick fix but China has a way with things! Oh no!

I had been told that Guangbutun held the key, apparently I could get my mobile phone screen replaced without any complications? Going underground I traded my original weekend plan to see Hankou's Jianghan district, getting off four stops from home at Guangbutun station was the new plan. Guangbutun isn't a touristy place and I had not heard much about what there was to see but I was willing to convert my electronic mission into a small sightseeing trip during that May Saturday afternoon. The Wuhan Metro was heaving as per usual at Optics Valley Square station, I honestly think that the planners didn't know how overcrowded this terminal station would become each day?! No! I'm going to take a rucksack full of mints because those riders had a terrible case of halitosis! Travelling on any form of public transport in China is never dull, the sights I have seen! Guangbutun wasn't far away and I got a seat! Yes!

China is a land where cash only is key, I acted the fool by not taking a few extra minutes at Optics Valley Square station to get some money out, I called it a bad case of 'Wuhan Syndrome!' Typically I found that I couldn't find a bank that I usually use to withdraw money from that wouldn't give me a hard time, this is China! I found Computown as directed once exiting from Guangbutun station's own Exit A but I needed that Chinese Yuan to make those purchases first! I was hungry like the wolf, as cheesy as that sounds I was! Stumbling upon Kengee, China's answer to Greggs I satisfied my hunger pans with a sausage bake of some sort, nothing like at Greggs in England but Kengee serves some lovely baked goods! Before getting to Kengee I stood still for one second, I had misjudged the length of the never-ending Luoyu Road as I stood still in Jiedaokou, with Maan Coffee just over the road! Chinese banks drive me mad sometimes, I tried to withdraw money first at a different bank but oh no, no!

I was on a mission to get my shattered mobile phone screen fixed, after being advised about Guangbutun's Computown I chanced my luck to get it fixed there and then as it had been explained to me it wouldn't be a problem. I was lost for words, Computown stood before as an electronic empire that looked like exactly what I needed in that moment. I lost count at how many computer and mobile phone repair outlets were busy working within that stuffy and busy environment. I didn't really know where I was going, the ground floor showed off a flashy edge with the latest home computing products on show. I was advised to find the fourth floor as that's where the main bulk of the repair workshops were located. Armed with my battered phone I just wanted it fixed there and then for I had been putting it off. With a series of trips already planned, no way had I budgeted for emergencies! Thankfully, Nanjing will be a cheap trip!

Since living in China for almost one year my grasp of the Chinese language is terrible, yes I can get by ordering food and for day to day greetings but asking for a new screen was going to be a whole new experience. It might sound like I was in a rage or a bad mood but I was surprisingly finding some amusement throughout this unplanned repair day, I had made it to another new part of Wuhan and was getting to grips with an insane electronic mecca. I must have asked twelve repair stores on two floors within the vast Computown to help me with replacing my broken phone screen but their response after calling for the glass was simply 'meiyou!' That dreaded Chinese word means 'to not have something' and I was getting more and more aggravated every-time that word was said to me, it got to the point where I knew their response before they had finished the inquiry. The current craze in China is to own an iPhone, an abundance Apple parts sat ready, no I wasn't prepared to wait! No!

Admitting defeat I left the maze that was Computown behind me, that unsuccessful repair mission had gotten me mad for sure! Making my way back to Guangbutun station for my Optics Valley bound metro I stumbled upon Wuhan's Central China Normal University. During that May afternoon outside the main sign stood a group of happy graduates who were posing for some very important shots! Yes, I stopped to catch a glimpse of that Chinese graduation, my afternoon in Guangbutun had hit the highest point of random! Catching a glimpse of the halls of residence at Wuhan's Central China Normal University I had a flashback to my time living at the Maltings in Birmingham, England. It's safe to say I was definitely spoiled with my student accommodation, I've heard some mental things about Chinese university halls during my time living in this Chinese provincial city. Yes, those fresh faced graduates sure looked extremely happy! Win!

Before I headed to the metro for the final time I saw a few African students enter the campus gates, I had heard that most Chinese universities lock the gates to the campus after 11pm each night?! That true fact became real for one of my friends who I was on a night out with a few months ago, he was going to spend the rest of the early hours of the morning in an internet cafe because his university had locked the gates, I let him sleep on my sofa as it was bitterly cold that night. I had no luck finding a solution to sort my smashed up phone, I looked at my experience that afternoon to believe it wasn't a complete waste of time. I'm going to buy a new handset from Shenzhen on Ebay as they are much cheaper than going in-store to buy a new phone. I'm not sure if I'll be returning to Computown in a hurry but never say never! Kengee satisfied my hunger pangs and I saw a random graduation photo opportunity! I can honestly what a random blog post this faired to be but that's all good!

Don't Say Meiyou!

Joseph Harrison 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Come Together... Eurovision Song Contest: Sweden 2016

Like Christmas with all of its campery, the Eurovision Song Contest only happens once per year, since 1955! Through the medium of YouTube I watched in-anticipation from Wuhan in China, I was excited for what country would be taking the trophy back to their European home. After Måns Zelmerlöw won in 2015 with his hit 'Hero's' it was time for Sweden's sixth ESC final!

Stockholm turned the energy up from the very beginning, hitting those strobe lights, the dancers twirled down the runway as Sweden's own club bangers by Swedish House Mafia and Avicci were blasted out! The twenty-six acts of 2016s Eurovision Song Contest each entered the stage in the set performing order, serving Eurovision Realness! Yes, those male dancers were Voguing and one even did a sickening death drop! Stockholm had Europe in a daze! I was living my life in that moment because I can un-apologetically say that I have adored the ESC since 2003! The hosts of the Grand Final introduced themselves, Swedish television personality, Petra Meade and the previous Eurovision winner, Måns Zelmerlöw. Australia had been invited back to try their luck again since their debut in Vienna celebrating the 60th Eurovision Song Contest, Dami Im was mentored by Dannii Minogue! Stockholm, bring on Belgium!

I was missing the 'Building Bridges' opening song from the previous contest that was held in Vienna, Austria. Yes, it would have been great for Austria's own drag sensation, Conchita Wurst to be serving her glamour! Belgium's Laura Teroso gave her everything during her performance, it resembled a light 'Jackson 5' themed number with some energetic moves. Making their comeback to the Eurovision Song Contest, Gabriela Gunčíková belted out Czech Republic's anthem 'I Stand' like a true diva with a close-up of her wind machine effect. There was no surprise the Netherlands served a 'chilled' guitar sounding number, their front-man did look dreamy but he was just a pretty face with a good voice. I was waiting for the return of the everlasting Eurovision gimic, would it be present in a political way during Stockholm's 2016 chance of hosting this camp singing contest? It was great to hear that China and the United States were watching their first live broadcasts! Ni Hao from the ESC!

Azeribaijan's own Samra brought a 'Beyonce' vibe to her sexy showcase, she didn't need a 'Miracle' from my opinion because she was owning her glittering moment! Hungary had my attention but like the Netherlands it was all about the good looks, next please! Eurovision winners have been luckier with all English songs, Italy's Francesca Michelin fell to the wayside for that reason. Israel shed it's usual arabesque tone for a full energy vocal by Hovi Star, he was great but I will always wonder how Israel is classed as Europe? Bringing some truth into the contest, Bulgaria's Poli Genova proclaimed that love can still be a crime, slaying her pop alternative song with a message of hope! Along with Samra I know that Bulgaria's Poli Genova won that early part of the show! Sweden looked bored, Germany was not sorry for her outfit choice, but France did his best! Poland, what the juice was that?! Eurovision's always crazy!

The Australasian wildcard belted out an amazing show-stopper of a performance, If I'm completely honest I was captivated by Australia's Dami Im's hit 'Sound of Silence! As outstanding as Dami was during the 2016 contest in Stockholm, I don't believe Australia should have been invited back because the milestone celebration of sixty years has clearly already happened! Cyprus, Serbia and Lithuania embraced the Eurovision quality of being ridiculous, I acknowledged their performances but Croatia amazed me with their kooky entry. Yes, I'm still searching for Nina Kraljić's 'Lighthouse!' Russia's modern day electronic show was a sure improvement on their previous hopeful from 2015, I have a certain stance on Russia but he was on fire! As the interval show approached I was impressed by the United Kingdom's effects, we haven't won the contest since 1997, being fair it's not looking good for our future in the contest but this kitsch music event is all about putting on a memorable show! Oh no!

In 2012, Sweden put on a hilarious half-time event with jokes and many references to IKEA but this year's interval act was composed of many more bizarre features. Giving a nod to the United States' first official television broadcast of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2016 somehow provided the link for Justin Timberlake to perform his new song from his latest film project? No, it didn't! Usually, the half-time entertainment is a time for the previous winner to showcase his or hers new material but as the song was written by Swedish songwriters it seemed fitting to have Timberlake on the stage in Stockholm? Unlike many other countries in Europe, Sweden has a sense of humour so its comedy skit and live performance of a true Eurovision song was all in good faith. Måns Zelmerlöw traded his presenter demeanor to treat the audience and the viewers to his winning song 'Hero's' from the previous year. No politics S!

I purposely left Ukraine's dark and slightly disturbing Eurovision entry for last due to its Crimean Tatar presence and a somewhat reference to a darker time in Jamala's family history. The Eurovision committee stood by the claims that the Ukrainian Eurovision song did not exhibit any hint of a political message, I knew something would be occurring because the song title '1944' was a time before the birth of the Eurovision Song Contest! Nevertheless, Jamala owned her performance as she displayed a natural wave of emotion and passion for her soon to be winning song. I switched in-between certain websites during her performance to see that a infamous transportation of people had taken place during a '1944' time, referencing back to her song. I'm all about a political message, its inevitable nowadays for someone to get crazy about something, but why Eurovision? So, another camp and controversial year of Eurovision has showed us that we'll always love a song for Europe! Yes!

Stockholm Slayed! 

Joseph Harrison 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Like A Prayer: Mainland China, Hong Kong & Macau...

Like a prayer I have been on a crusade since I moved to China, seeking a series of houses of worship to appreciate and take solace from. Since visiting Hong Kong and Macau I was afforded the chance to be schooled, understanding how one temple shaped a former European governed territory. I'm not religious but Guangzhou had me recognising the higher temple spirits! 

Temples and tea gardens are a match made in heaven, stopping by China's Sichuan capital served something beautiful. Chengdu had that mellow vibe, during National Day holiday 2015 I paid Chengdu a visit to see what the city of panda's had to serve, getting my life I found the perfect green tea infusion within the boundaries of Wenshu Monastery. After checking out Tianfu Square I was looking for something else to see because I had not planned much for my Chengdu trip apart from seeing the pandas. Set aside from a lovely historic neighbourhood with many touristy things to see I was transported to a quieter side once I stepped into the temple grounds. Yes, Wenshu Monastery dates back as far as the Tang and Song Dynasties, the Thousand Buddha Pagoda proved to be a hot-spot because I had to keep my cool to get a less crazy photo! Tea houses and temples make the perfect blend, pour me another, Chengdu! 

Going back to the third sector of my Spring Festival 2016 holiday I was served a temple experience that was truly unforgettable. The buzzing atmosphere of Guangzhou's city streets was infectious, I revelled within that Chinese New Year's Day moment. Fresh from my Colonial mooch around Shamian Island and some lunch I was seeking the Hualin Temple to send some good vibes to a higher source, I may have mentioned before that I don't endorse a religion but I will always believe the universe guides my path. Standing amongst the crazy during that special time I sensed everyone was on a high, getting some incense sticks and throwing some money in the right places I was ready for a blessed new year in China! Guangzhou's Hualin Temple may have been a sea of faces but the energy translated into an exciting occasion that didn't stress me out. After my Guangzhou New Year's experience I cannot wait until Spring Festival 2017 for more blessed vibes! Yass, I already know this H!

Since moving to China in June 2015 I have been fortunate to visit at least six temples, but during Spring Festival 2016 I crossed the borderline over to Hong Kong. Formally governed as a British Overseas Territory until 1997 I was bound to find a temple of some sorts or even a church from British rule? Shueng Wan had served me well during my third day in HK, deciding to go underground to the HK MTR towards the LoWu border with Mainland China I stopped at Fanling to find Fung Ying Seen Koon Temple within the New Territories part of Hong Kong. I was captivated by the bold and bright colours that fronted me, the dreary February weather became a distant after-thought with those vibrant tones. I loved that incense sticks and other offerings could be bought with one swipe of HK's MTR Octopus Card. This Hong Kong style temple restored lots of chill in my life, I usually have no chill whatsoever in China! Peach it, Hong Kong!

Hong Kong showed me something that I would have to look a lot closer for in Mainland China. That Hong Kongese temple sat minutes from a manic expressway, connected to a MTR station and also a shopping centre, the feel of the temple was tranquil and still. Remembering that a strong Western influence still stands in Hong Kong till today, I wasn't expecting to see a Christian Cathedral that dated back to 1841. Dating back to the birth of Hong Kong as a part of the British Empire, St. John's Cathedral was crafted by missionaries who had been given the nod by Queen and country. I stumbled past this original house of god with my dear friend Kelly during my second day in Hong Kong, we didn't go inside the Cathedral but when I think about what I saw within the New Territories at Fung Ying Seen Koon Temple to Hong Kong Island, that 18th century Cathedral of St. John's proved that Hong Kong serves diversity and has a multi-faceted state of mind. Religion isn't my thing, let it will be HK!

Macau makes it into this blog post because it served two houses of worship that removed me from my Oriental location to the previous days of its Portuguese governance. Now known as one of China's Special Administrative Regions, Macau showcases a range of timeless Portuguese history and architecture that includes the Ruins of St. Paul's otherwise known as 'Ruínas de São Paulo'. Built during the Portuguese days of Macau, a great fire devastated the once standing Church of St. Paul's but with a lifeline from the United Nations to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 saved the day! The overwhelming amount of tourists that congregated around the 'Ruínas de São Paulo' was berserk, I didn't appreciate those people at all! I wanted my photos and a few minutes to appreciate that former Macao site. Captured to the right is the A-Ma Temple, another place of worship in this Macao SAR. Céu ajuda!

Giving Macau it's name the A-Ma Temple stands as one of the oldest Taoist temples in Macau. Built in 1488 this Taoist house of worship was dedicated to Matsu, the goddess of seafarers and fishermen. Giving a little history lesson, when I read the UNESCO World Heritage Site sign it told me that when the Portuguese sailors docked at this new territory, they asked the local people what the land was called. The local people told the European seamen it was called 'A-Ma-Gau', that name later derived the name for a land that served as a Overseas Portuguese Colony until 1999. Going to all of these different places of religious significance I know I have been blessed by their heavenly presence. China gave me everything I expected from a Buddhist and Taoist point of view, but Hong Kong flashed parts of its 18th century British foundations. Macau's got a history that fascinated me endlessly, schooling me about a temple that built 528 years ago! I'm not religious, but I can't deny I felt moved by it all M!

Like A Prayer!

Joseph Harrison 

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Guilin: Padogas, Rice Terraces & Long-Haired Ladies!

Taking to the skies, my Shandong Airlines flight soared higher, I was bound for my first visit to one of China's Autonomous Regions. The May Day Holiday had arrived with my chance to see the mystical beauty of Guilin, one of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Regions cities. I was ready to fulfill another of my China travel wishes, those rice terraces were waiting for me! 

Touching down into Guilin's Liangjiang International Airport I made it through the airport and straight onto an airport bus that was bound for the nearby city centre of Guilin. I honestly thought I had all my confirmations with me but I was all good, retracing my steps from Guilin Railway Station I made it to my accommodation with minimal fuss. Choosing Wada Hostel, I didn't know it but I was in for a real treat! China is notorious for its back-breaking mattresses but my bottom bunk in my four bed dorm room felt like one found in a 3 star hotel. Boasting computer facilities that were VPN ready, staying connected was so easy! Getting my things together I met a fellow English teacher from Shanghai, cementing the reasons why I love hostel's as it's so easy to meet people from all walks of life. I was ready to explore Guilin city for my first afternoon within Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region! Yes, Wada Hostel!

Finding the Sun and Moon Pagodas served the first slice of Guilin's epic scenic vibe, overlooking the Fir Lake otherwise known as 'Shan Hu', capturing those nighttime shots proved to be something of a challenge due to the steady flow of people who were circling the lake but I luckily found a quiet spot to snap my chosen photo during dusk. Dating back to the Tang Dynasty these twin Pagodas glistened during the twilight with the Sun Pagoda showcasing a golden glow, whilst the Moon Pagoda shimmered with a silver afterglow. Those pagodas looked amazing in the early evening sky, I was completely captivated! Casting my mind back to my first impressions of the energy of Guilin's busy city streets, I wasn't expecting such a vibrant city scene because I imagined things to be chilled and green but the lakes and pagodas restored the calm that I had longed to see! Why Guilin? Guilin had so much to show me during my May Day Holiday, I was at one with the Sun and Moon Pagodas! Oh, Gui!

The sun had all but set at the end of my first day in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Taking a break from the mayhem of Guilin City, it was definitely time for tea to witness the darkening misty views of Guilin City centre's scenery. Catching a short glimpse of the Li River had to be done as I wouldn't have time to make the trip down to Yangshuo. I do hope that during my time here in China or in the future I can take a trip down the Li River to Xingping Ancient Village along with Yangshuo. Elephant Trunk Hill also had my attention as my rooftop view allowed me a sneak peak! Guilin was living up to its reviews, lots of the children's parents at my kindergarten had told me that Guilin is one of China's legendary beauty spots. My Pu'er tea brew was going down a treat, as the night sky transformed Guilin's riverside into a misty layer of enchantment. My brew with a view had to be at the Golden Oriole Hotel!

Was Guilin really that touristy? Only around Zhengyang Pedestrian Street, I bypassed that trick as best as I could! I have to bluntly report I didn't appreciate not being the only European soul in town, I do my best to see hangouts that aren't frequented by foreigners but by locals and visiting Chinese only. Dinner was served, taking an alternative turn down a colourful alley that emitted an inviting scent. Getting some steak, vegetables and rice in my life I was one of the few 'waiguoren's' within my direct view. Positively exhausted from my alarm call I was ready to retire back to my Wada Hostel residence ahead of my China Highlights tour that would be taking place the following day. Since being in China I have been left occasionally speechless by the range of landscapes and changes of environment. Back to Elephant Trunk Hill, I adored the magical views fronting me, I wasn't going to be paying the entrance fee! Maybe the weather wasn't so miserable after all? No!

Waking up with the birds I loved my life during that breakfast hour with a full English Breakfast with a cup of English tea. Wada Hostel's staff served up a smile at all times, I was fuelled and so ready for my China Highlights! Hurtling away from the city centre I was living for the greener pastures of the approaching untouched countryside. Heading for Huangluo Yao Village to see an ethnic community, the Yao women are famed for their Rapunzel-like long-haired fashion that has been a tradition within their tribe for time. Walking over a seriously rickety bridge brought me to the seclusion of the Yao clan, a certain pink style caught my eye at first glance. Primarily made of wood the houses within the village and the surrounding areas don't believe in using bricks or mortar, keep that tradition alive! I was impressed by the matching styles of the long-haired ladies, they were serving Cherry Pink Realness! Slay G!

The elder Yao women served their extra long black locks in a snatched formation, pinned to perfection to honour their tradition for life! Working hard, crafting their hand woven creations I admired their hustle, tourism had revolutionised their lives with tourists from tour groups, earning their coins and representing their ethnic history. Taking my seat within the long-haired theatre, I didn't know what to expect for the show that was about to begin. What seemed like the whole female population of the minority filled onto the stage singing a song that didn't sound Mandarin Chinese. I was completely focused on the dancing and singing long-haired ladies, getting down on the stage with their energetic hip-shaking dance routines! A fabulous matriarchal woman joined her sisters, sitting down to have her hair unwrapped for all to see the staggering length that the Yao women grow their hair, I was like 'damn!' Serving hair for days the Yao women worked their finale for us to see!

Lunch after the show was amazing, the honey fried potatoes tasted just chips I could find at from my local 'Chip Shop!' Bamboo cooked rice was also on the menu, I experienced an authentic tour compared to the large groups who had also seen the long-haired ladies struck their stuff. Passing through the thick layers of snow white clouds it felt like I was getting closer to the heavens, it was time to embark on the final part of my China Highlights trip within the Longji Scenic Area. Reaching the top, my tour guide Hill explained the best route to navigate around the two rice terraces. Setting off I got as many photos of the outstanding beauty of the Longji Rice Terraces. I'm not one for heights but after a few moments of crazy I got myself together and carried onto my next destination along the path. Witnessing the Longji Rice Terraces helped me accomplish another China travel wish! The rice terraces were definitely on my radar!

Without a shadow of a doubt I was all about the 'Nine Dragons and Five Tigers' rice terrace that I saw first. Shaped like the sweeping back of a tiger in one corner I was having a euphoric moment, upon what felt like the highest height I was living a dream and fighting my fear of heights at the same time! Making my way around the peaks I admired the shear beauty and character of the misty mountains that sat around the edges of the two leading terraces, growing China's staple food. Hitting the half way point I took some time to marvel at the towering views of the 'Seven Stars Around The Moon', dismissing the foolish ones who paraded their selfie-sticks I looked on in disgust. Piecing together the elegant vista, I recognised the circular pool of water resembling the 'Moon' around the 'Seven Stars!' I was immensely proud of my photos and getting myself from one side to the other with the height being the main fear factor, with a few deep breaths I made the final steps. Views for days G!

Guilin Serves Greatness!

Joseph Harrison