8 June 2016

June 2015: This Time Last Year...

Since jetting off to China I have been on a crazy and amazing journey, for the moment I would like to reflect on the month of my departure from England. June 2015 had me on a mission, it also saw me discovering new parts of London and then soaring into the clouds, bound for the Far East! It was safe to say that my arrival into China threw shade! It's time to rewind!

Leaving the hotel life behind me I packed up my suitcase and left Bilston, of course I was sad to say goodbye to my family but I knew life had many exciting things in store for me. Heading down to London to take care of my Chinese visa I stayed with my parents, I was ready to leave for China but I was all up for seeing some more of London before my flight was called! Getting my Chinese visa and those formalities sorted I had some time spare, I looked towards Limehouse and Poplar to serve some Docklands Realness! I was living for the chic apartments that overlooked the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf from the Limehouse Basin. E17's own Walthamstow called me for one June afternoon, I adored that corner of North East London, those Turkish delights tasted just right and I loved a certain street that had a brilliant name! Yes, Columbia Road Flower Market was great! London, you know that you are timeless to me!

June 2015 soon came round, I had been working at a Walsall based hotel for around four months as a receptionist. I saw that hospitality time as a valuable choice, I enjoyed being back in a routine and having the opportunity to invest in my future Oriental move, giving me the tools to move forwards. I met some nice people during my time working at that West Midlands hotel but I was onto the next phase without a seconds thought. Nearing the next chapter of my life I was ready to embark on a move to a part of the world I had never been to and to be something that I had only dreamed of. I secured a job with a reputable English training centre, I had accepted a job as an English teacher within one of their Wuhan centres. I had only ever heard of Wuhan through my friend Catherine who had previously taught in Wuhan. I was both scared and excited! London distracted me from the enormity of the move, acting as the perfect transition. I was more excited about the flight!

Another set of goodbyes had to be said as I clutched my boarding cards and passport. I hadn't flew on a long-haul flight since 2013 so I was nervous about that. Goodbyes done, I had the prospect of a delayed flight so I saw it fit to head for one of the bars within that Heathrow departure lounge. I travelled with Sri Lankan Airlines from London Heathrow to Shanghai Pudong via Colombo, Sri Lanka. That two day journey was not a problem for the cabin crew were amazing, nothing was too much trouble and I even managed to get a photo with two members of the cabin crew. It did feel crazy to be 30,000 ft in the sky, as I ate my curry as we were flying over Slovakia, I couldn't believe I was on my way to China! After touching down into Colombo International Airport I had to politely push my way through the crowded cabin to make my slim connection that was already one hour delayed! I was ready for Shanghai!

The seat belt signs were illuminated, it was time for my Sri Lankan aircraft to make its finals into Shanghai's Pudong International Airport! It honestly didn't feel real as I disembarked that Asian bird, I gazed at the Chinese signs and took caution whenever I saw a Chinese border guard as they looked pretty imposing. My suitcase looked as if it had been flung from one aircraft to the next in more than a hurry, the connection time was so short I was relieved my belongings had even made the Shanghai flight! My transfer drove for what felt like an age, finding my hostel was such a hassle I'd rather forget about that infuriating and frantic time but I was livid when I saw that so called 'Youth Hostels Association' property wasn't fit for even a dog to sleep in! China was teaching me at lighting pace to run with whatever my new life would throw at me, I embraced that situation! After travelling for over two days all I wanted was some sleep, I was pure raging though! Say what?!

Shanghai gave me life, reawakening my sense of international love for the world. England was not giving me life, Shanghai's neon vibe and world class skyline was the perfect tonic! I gazed across the vast Huangpu River during my first evening in Shanghai, China to be transfixed by the futuristic and dazzling skyline that Shanghai served! Nanjing Road was an attack on my senses, was I previously living a sheltered life before going to China? I was taken aback by the amount of people who were going about their business, I was yet to realise that shopping is a favourite pastime for Chinese people. The Shanghai Bund was something of a colonial masterpiece with its British style, if truth be told I did feel like I was in an oriental Liverpool! Shanghai, China for all its quirks and crazy, that Chinese municipality was showing me I had made the right choice. It took enough time to sign the right contract B!

I made the best of my questionable hostel, I made my way out for something to eat on the first evening spent in Shanghai. I had no idea where to eat, I was nowhere near English signs so I finally decided to just go with it! Choosing an uncomplicated looking noodle cafe I was about to eat my first proper meal in China, I was under the illusion I would be able to get a fork to eat my food, no! I almost ordered frog because the girl who was taking orders had no clue what I was pointing to and it was all a complete gamble because Chinese writing made no sense during that moment. Thankfully, I had ordered a bowl of beef noodles, taking a pair of chopsticks I embraced that situation because it was enough me being the only white person there! I hadn't planned much for my time in Shanghai, I had the obvious places in mind to see but I wanted to leave an element of surprise to my visit. I left the hostel one night early, I needed to sleep as the next part of the month would be mad! Lái ba!

Packed into a minivan, myself and ten or so other wannabe foreign teachers were heading down an unfamiliar looking motorway on our way to Suzhou, Jiangsu. I had signed a contract with a popular English training school, that selected training week was destined for Suzhou so flying into Shanghai a few days earlier gave me the chance to shake off my jet-lag before getting stuck into my training. I met some really nice people from America, Puerto Rico, Canada, England and Scotland. I loved spending time with Sam, from Glasgow she sure had a great sense of humour and being from the same United Kingdom we became good friends quickly.  I was out of my depth for sure, I just had to make it to Wuhan to see how the following two months would pan out. I had severely underestimated some of what was about to happen but I used everything that I had, things were definitely meant to be! I had this gig!

Passing my TEFL exam and getting a good grade on my demonstration class, I had made the grade so far during that Suzhou training week. Our hotel was really nice, we even had an allowance that didn't last long! We would spend the evenings going out for meals, I never knew that Muslim people existed in China or that Halal Chinese food tasted so good!? After the first day of demonstration classes we decided to go out for a celebratory meal to toast the successes of the day. As soon as a bottle of 'Baijiu' was introduced to the table there was no going back, we all went on to got incredibly boozy that night! I knew the final night was going to get crazy so I packed my case the night before my super early train to Hankou, Wuhan the next day. Crawling onto that Hubei bound train I could safely say that my introduction to China up until then had been memorable for many reasons! June 2015 was a game-changer for many reasons, I can say it was something else! My life in CN!

Never Forget, June 2015!

Joseph Harrison 

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