Friday, 30 September 2016

Essential Travel Tools: Top Gadgets for the Modern Explorer

Getting the most out of travelling means being prepared. When you’re exploring new countries, meeting new people and seeing incredible scenery, you want to be able to make the most out of each moment. And you can’t just nip home if you’ve forgotten something! If you’re planning on living out of a backpack soon, make sure you pack these handy gadgets. You should!

Travelling in comfort is of paramount importance to me, pay attention to the following godsends. The first part of the adventure is the journey. While baggy trousers and slip-off shoes are great for any long flight, if you want to jump straight from the plane, boat, car, tuk tuk or rickshaw and into action, you want clothes that are more multipurpose than loungewear. With the advances in textile technology and people’s demands, there is now a growing range of stylish but technical travel clothing, covering wardrobe staples like high-stretch jeans with security pockets, gilet tops with over 40 pockets, or snuggly cardigans with hidden pockets and hoods that double as blindfolds for when you’re sleeping on the go. If power napping is essential to your travels, always pack a decent set of earplugs. You don’t need to commit to anything high-tech or high-end here: a standard silicone multi-pack will be grand.

Although brands like Flitemate and Earplanes will also help with pain caused by in-flight pressure changes. Staying comfy during long-haul flights is a must, I for one like to look good at the same time! Yes, fashion can definitely be a travel tool! On recent trip within China I accidentally broke my Beats by Dr. Dre headphones that I had purchased from the Beats store in New York City, I had had them for over five years but until my own error I had not had one single problem with them. I try to travel as much as possible and like the next person I find that having earphones or headphones that are of an optimum quality helps to drown out the woes of the world, especially if there's baby crying or a unnecessarily loud person speaking close to me. Aside from that calamity it's clear see that from my experience we can get pretty hing up on brands, I maintain that I will be getting some Beats by Dr. Dre ear buds before my next holiday as it will involve three long train journeys. Life made easier!

After your versatile clothing, you’ll crave that functionality in anything. Once you’ve sprung into don’t forget the classic tool the Swiss army knife. There is no end of daily mini-trials that can’t be solved with one of these beauties and the range has only evolved over the years to accommodate the modern traveller, with integrated USB sticks, LED torches, screwdriver sets and more. If you’re going a touch more survivalist, invest in a portable multi-tool. Leatherman are one of the most respected brands in this space and their OHT is a cracker. And if you’re a not a traveller yourself, any of these would make Christmas gift ideas for any explorers you know, even if you think they’re more beach bum than Bear Grylls. Yes, it all makes sense!

A good small torch will also help you whether you’re exploring the countryside or drunkenly weaving home through unlit and unfamiliar streets. If you’re going to be more outdoorsy or staying somewhere with limited power, a head torch is a lifesaver as it keeps your hands free. Anything upwards of 100 lumens will provide enough light to be all-round useful but, sadly, there is no such thing as a stylish head torch. Another torch I would recommend a maglite, they are compact for those outdoor pursuits and truthfully they are of a great quality.  Delving into the realms of travel and what gadgets make being on the road that much easier has opened my eyes to a whole new world, it's amazing to see what gizmos could act as a useful gift for us any traveler. Let's embrace these goodies!

Go anywhere tech whether it’s photography, communication, research or entertainment, our phones and cameras are devices we just can’t travel without. To avoid the dreaded dead battery, pack a long life power bank before you hit the road. As with army knives, the range here is huge and you can easily buy waterproof chargers, chargers for multiple devices or extra small chargers. For maximum charge, I wouldn’t look at a power bank with less 10,000mAh. Another great trick is a power sharing cable essentially a modified USB cable that lets you syphon power from one USB device to another. To keep your phone close at all time, a waterproof case is perfect for when you’re going to new beaches by yourself and don’t want to risk your valuables to the elements or passers-by by leaving them on land. Also, a Wi-Fi SD card is a great innovation if you’re really serious about photography. The key is to capture every single moment!

Pop one of these guys into your DSLR and it’ll set up a local Wi-Fi field so you can share photos with your other devices, as these are perfect for backing up your best snaps on getting them online without a full computer to work with. Having connectivity with such a DSLR sounds good to me, I like to upload photos quickly during trips without hassle. Of course I mentioned before, portable chargers are the way forward, I have seen some great portable charges in China for pennies. To be the modern traveller its imperative that we are aware of those en-trend gadgets and accessories that will be sure to make a trip, flight or anything travel related stress free! From in-flight fashion to state of the art earphones there's a whole world of tools that are going to continue to help! Time and again, these little gadgets and ideas have helped me have the best experience on long journeys and across new lands. If you’re getting ready for your next trip, so I hope these tips help you out!

Essentials, Essentials, Essentials!

Joseph Harrison

Monday, 26 September 2016

The Next Stop... Zhengzhou, China!

Within life's strange arrangements its good to turn to a new city to explore, the look of Zhengzhou had me instantly captivated! Packing enough into three days I had my work cut out! I was on the lookout for some Chinese Kungfu and a certain Yellow River! Without any Victory Day happening this year, Henan had my Mid-Autumn Festival snatched! I was ready for ZZ!

Leaving work without hesitation I made my way to Wuhan Railway Station to catch one of the nights last few high speed rail services to Zhengzhou East. I wanted to make my three days off count for something! In less than three hours I had arrived in Zhengzhou, Henan without any delays, I zipped across the city centre westwards to my JinJiang Inn hotel near Zhengzhou's main railway station before the clock struck midnight! After catching a few hours of sleep I was on my first Zhengzhou mission, jumping on the number sixteen tourist bus to the Yellow River Scenic Area wasn't too much of a chore because I was staying within a prime location for transportation. Zhengzhou had a grit about it, as the mist hung low I was intrigued by its concrete fashion! I was in hot pursuit of the stone figures of Yandi and Huangdi, revered as exceptionally important ancestors to the Chinese I wanted a slice of that Henan sight!

I'm no history buff but I saw something that these legendary figures represent two former Chinese emperors who went by the names of 'Yan' and 'Huang', look it up! The weather wasn't exactly amazing but I got my snaps of Yandi and Huangdi so that was something to tick off my list. I wasn't going to trek around the Yellow Scenic Area because I didn't want to! Looking over a vast stone courtyard the two former emperors surveyed their territory and minions with much ease, I took a few moments to take in the view. Boasting a temple and several specialised walkways it was easy to see people in the distance who were getting around the Scenic Area. I was perfectly fine watching them as I had climbed enough mountains after Mulan! To top off my morning I had received some great news from my kindergartens regional supervisor, I was making my mark in all the right places! I knew that Emperors Yandi and Huangdi would keep a watch on their patch, already it was time for me to move on Z!

Zhengzhou didn't present itself with a whole to discover within its city limits but I didn't let that factor discourage me whatsoever, getting back out after sunset I was looking for something kind of Erqi! I didn't need the Metro to guide me to Erqi Square because the neon lights led me like a trail, passing by the usual fashion brands of the Chinese high street, I knew that I was getting closer to my destination. Standing within a scene of electric pandemonium I recognised Zhengzhou's Erqi Memorial Tower as I had passed by the previous night from the eastern railway station. Commemorating the Erqi Strike that happened on February, 7th 1923 that glittering tower has been around for around forty-five years. I didn't understand the finer details of the Erqi Strike but I loved that vibrant city centre view. My China trip ritual is to have a Starbucks treat, so I watched the world go by with a coffee. Yes , Starbucks is a treat for me!

Zhengzhou's city centre had a nonstop personality, it felt strange to think I had arrived the night before as I had never done such a thing before, not because I'm not capable of travelling from Wuhan at night but I managed to find a high speed train that got me to Zhengzhou at a decent time the same night! Erqi Square gave me something from Zhengzhou itself, I wasn't bothered that I would have to travel to see the majors sights, I knew what I needed to do! Reminding me of my own Guanggu Square in Wuhan's Optics Valley area I felt at home watching the people mill around the elevated walkways and across to the other side of the square. Amazingly, I had mad it to my fourteenth Chinese city, well apart from Hong Kong and Macau! Zhengzhou's central landmark served what it needed to with its glowing lights, I had so far had a very productive time getting to know this Henan provincial city. Erqi Memorial Tower, you better keep shining over your city with your Realness ZZ! Crazy!

Breaking the dawn, Dengfeng wasn't going to wait for me! Located within the wider Zhengzhou prefecture I boarded a tourist bus bound for the Shaolin Temple, the home of Chinese Kungfu! Making good time it was onto the next thing, paying my £10.00 admission fee I headed for that world famous temple! Stopped in my tracks by two on-point masters of Chinese martial arts I took a second to watch, it was going to get crazy busy! Grabbing a snap of the frontage of Zhengzhou's Shaolin Temple was going to take some patience's so I proceeded to the Pagoda Forest. I adored the Pagoda Forest, it was set further back from the constant flow of Chinese tourists so an uninterrupted photo was taken with ease. The stature of each pagoda tomb looked exactly how I had imagined them to look, I was extremely impressed! A real tomb? Yes, each pagoda was given to commemorate the masters of Kungfu! I wanted my own pagoda!

With views of the Song Mountains in practically every direction I was loving the setting the Pagoda Forest. It had earned itself recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since in 2010 as part of the historical monuments of Dengfeng. It felt reassuring to see a sturdy wooden fence separate the ancient 791 AD pagodas from human contact. I'm not being rude, I got the vibe that the vast majority of people weren't from the growing Chinese middle classes so a lack of awareness was paid to this amazing sight! If that sounds offence, click close because I'm OK with that! Making my own way around the Pagoda Forest I was almost ready to return to the Shaolin Temple to explore some more, well to give a second attempt! The ninety-five kilometers from Zhengzhou's bus station didn't seem to take the two hours that it did and for only twenty-eight Yuan I was pleasantly surprised! Spanning from the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, those pagodas gave me everything! Fight!

Backtracking from the Pagoda Forest I was still determined to get an uninterrupted photo of the entrance to the Shaolin Temple. After several attempts I decided that having a look inside the temple may of given some time for the tour groups to dissipate as the day progressed. I loved the temple itself with its withered exterior and shrines but it was evident a favourable amount of maintenance work was taking place, it didn't bother me so much because the temple had some mileage on its clock. Lighting a few incense sticks I was hoping to spread some good karma to the spirits as my mood was getting challenged by the amount of people taking their sweet time to get the perfect family photo. The process would have taken me all of ten seconds but that ten seconds soon turned into four hours! I lost my temper, the house down! I commanded that situation and finally got a good photo! Dengfeng tried to test me! Sorry!

After centring my mind I made my way closer to the bus stand, the day had been magical, I was tested though. I took a second to get myself together I ran for the next Martial Arts show. The thirty minute show was pleasing, the Kungfu fighters performed a series of synchronised movements I had forgotten about the crazy! With an insert that featured some audience participation it gave me the laugh that I needed, no it wasn't going to get scandalous from that point on! Zhengzhou had me travelling so much within one city during my short Mid-Autumn Festival and it was worth every second. All in all I loved my experience at the Shaolin Temple and the Pagoda Forest after I got over that berserk situation. From the figures of Yandi and Huangdi to the dazzling lights of Erqi Square and its own Memorial Tower I was ready to board my high speed train back to Wuhan Railway Station. Yes, 2015 may have brought Victory Day but Mid-Autumn Festival was just as good! Later Zhengzhou!

Everybody Loves Kungfu Fighting!

Joseph Harrison 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Victory Day Weekend 2015

September 2015's National Holiday was given a victorious slant, celebrating and commemorating the Chinese victory over Japan during World War Two. I wasn't bothered about that business, however it was fared to be a beautiful September weekend in Wuhan, China. I am going to turn back the hands of time to that Victory Day weekend, Wuhan slayed in all areas!

Rewinding back to September 2015 I was in completely different head-space, I had literally started at my Kindergarten for two days and we had my very first National Holiday on the 3rd of September 2015! Along with a friend who I thought was special to me we embarked on the first stage of that Victory Day weekend, I had pointed out a list of places I wanted to see in Wuhan and those wishes were made true! Baotong Temple had been on my radar during my first two months in Wuhan but my previous training school job didn't allow me enough time to do anything! The quiet surroundings of Baotong Temple made for a beautiful start to that holiday in Hubei's provincial city. I wrote a quick message to the gods, channeling nothing but positive energy and good vibes for my time in China I was feeling centred and very blessed! The stillness of the temple acted as the perfect contradiction to frantic mode of the city outside. I love Baotong!

Since moving to Wuhan, China I hadn't experienced any National Holidays until that point, I was hoping to leave Hubei province but my wings had been clipped during that period due to my visa renewal, I was contented staying in Wuhan for that September break because at that point I had merely scratched the surface. I was learning that temples were great places to visit to clear my mind and to block out the modern world around me if only for a short space of time. The time up until that Victory Day point had seen my China experience turned on its head, I had got back upon my feet and was getting to some serious sightseeing in Wuhan! Things had got down right down scandalous! Aside from my tour of Wuhan I caught a glimpse of the Victory Day parade that had graced Beijing earlier that day, how the sky was so clear and blue! Baotong Temple kick-started that September holiday with the right amount of positive energy! Take me east, take me to that beautiful lake Wuhan!

I had already heard a lot about Wuhan's famous East Lake, it was on my shortlist for certain! Checking out the Tingtao Scenic Area, I didn't know that at the time because I wasn't very au fait with the different parts of East Lake at that early point of my life in China. Walking alongside the waters edge felt so relaxing, I got the right snaps of the lotus flowers because I was on my Victory Day blogging hype without even thinking about it! The heat of summer was fading, leaving a comfortable after-glow that felt just right compared to sweltering temperatures that July and August 2015 had served in Wuhan! People were out and about loving the weather within the Tingtao Scenic Area around China's biggest inner-city lake, it was turning out just fine! I catch a glimpse of the Hubei Provincial Museum but I knew I would get round to visit that home of Hubei's secrets and past. Of course, the day was showing me everything!

The first part of my Victory Day weekend was drawing to a close, heading back to my flat in Guanggu I was unsure what the evening ahead have in store for me. Dozing off, I received a phone call from my friend to get up and make my way to Wangjiadun East metro station for a night out along the riverfront. Renting some pedalos it was a fun night messing about on that lake, getting our drinks from 'Beer Barn' a new fridge concept bar that I hadn't expected to see in Wuhan but it sold a wide range of spirits, beers and wines! I noticed some familiar brews from England, going by the name of Samuel Smiths! For what they wanted I stuck to a six-pack of Corona! Being a busy one the first day of my first Victory Day holiday was a success, I was very much looking forward to seeing more delights within the city of Wuhan the next day! Even though I didn't make it outside the province of Hubei I could feel that Wuhan had a lot to offer in its own right. Yes Wuhan, I was feeling victorious!

Food glorious food! Bright and early on the second day of Victory Day weekend 2015 it was time for me to experience the historic food street that's famed for its street food favourites. Hubu Xiang held the key to a whole lot of crazy during that September weekend, I had stumbled upon this foodie alley during the day that I visited Wuhan's Yellow Crane Tower but I didn't fancy tackling the crowds then. A second time around I was ready for the mayhem, forging into the bustling scene it didn't take long to see the peculiar and down right crazy food options that were on offer! I wasn't up for chowing down on a pigs trotter or tail, no thanks Hubu Xiang! Grabbing a few bites that I can't quite remember I was bowled over by the smells that came from the many stalls, some aromas were lovely but other weren't so easy to deal with! I learned quick that Wuhan food was more than just 'Hot dry' noodles! I was hungry for a lot more Hu!

Typically speaking I had already found out pretty quick that Wuhan is a city that has many worthy points of interest but they require the knowledge of a local person to help unlock the key. Having a 'Wuhaner' with me was a blessing because I didn't have to worry about getting lost or wasting time going to places that weren't worth seeing, but in saying that I adore the alternative sights that might not be tourist appropriate. From the busyness of Hubu Xiang it was time to move away from the smells and chaos to another equally as mental part of the city. The previous day started off with a docile tone with the visit to Baotong Temple and East Lake but ended in a lively fashion with a few scoops before bedtime! After sorting out some drama and getting myself a new bank account it was back on the road to make the most of the holiday. I remember I had some rice filled chicken portions and a few other treats. At this rate the idea of going back to work that wasn't a good thought! No, no!

London may have the River Thames and Paris boasts the Seine but Wuhan, China serves with the Yangtze River with all its might, by no means is it an illusion! Located only a stones throw from the crazy of Hubu Xiang the powerful waters of Hubei's premier waterway surged past, setting the scene for that cloudy Wuhan day perfectly! With view of Hanyang District in the near distance it set the scene, meanwhile the First Yangtze River Bridge wasn't the only crossing in-sight, in both directions several bridges were in my viewpoint and with talk of three more under-construction this Hubei river has some serious work to do! The river-tankers passed me by, either on their way to Chongqing in the west or maybe Shanghai to the east? Whichever way the river was flowing that day I was sold by it's power and the growing skyline that could be seen from my viewpoint looked great for the future! Wuhan river roll on!

Taking a ferry for the first time it was time to check out a side of Hankou that I hadn't seen before, the short sail over was great as I saw the Yangtze River and Wuhan pass by in all its glory and urban craze! Heading for Lihuangpi Road for some coffee I got side-tracked by a brickwork style bar that looked right, trading a hot drink for an ice cold beer was just the ticket. The sun was setting on another amazing day of sightseeing during that September holiday but it was time for some food, choosing a trendy yet simple noodle shop I enjoyed the Taiwanese style noodles very much! That noodle shop was tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Hankou's Bund, ran by two young guys from Taiwan it was a winner winner noodle dinner! From Baotong Temple to being a one with the mighty Yangtze River I had an immense time during 2015's Victory Day weekend! Would there be another Victory Day? You already know that I'm ready for 2016's Mid-Autumn Festival! Thank you truly Wuhan!

Feeling Victorious!

Joseph Harrison 

Saturday, 10 September 2016

2016: No Summertime Sadness!

My second summer living in Wuhan, China was equally as epic as 2015, well if not a little more hectic work-wise! Keeping within the boundaries of Hubei's Wuhan City I didn't feel blue for one second, of course there was no summertime sadness going on! From teaching awards to revisiting Jiangsu province I won the title! Summer 2016 had me crazy but I turned it out!

Pushing spring out of the way I was bang on a summertime hype during the month of June, getting my life I took the Wuhan Metro to Jianghan Road to finally pay some attention to Hankou's Bund and Riverside District. The former Hankou Customs House no longer serves Wuhan as a trading powerhouse but as a knock-out museum that schooled me about the industrious history that Hankou served. I soaked in the wealth of knowledge regarding Hankou's five foreign concessions, of course the British Concession worn the crown, bestowing a belated British influence on this Hubei city. Getting down to the Hankou Beach Park gave me life, local Wuhan folk were out in their droves as the temperate climbs of early summer blessed that Sunday afternoon! I had wanted to revisit the Beach Park for a time to fully embrace the other historical Hankou sights. Hankou's Bund turned up the heat and waved away any summer dismay! 

Shopping doesn't impress me much in China so I gave Jianghan Road a fleeting wave of my attention, I was on the hunt for some vintage Hankou! Historically located with the British Concession I was gagging to see Poyang Road, ditching Google Maps because it always had me going around in circles I challenged my Chinese skills to check the directions on Baidu Maps to reach that rustic Hankou sight. The contrast between the brash shopfronts of Jianghan Road to the understated chill of Poyang Road felt just right. Branching back onto Qingdao Road I saw a building that looked like a former European bank being renovated, hopefully a new historic place to explore in Hankou? Little did I know that Wuhan would having some of the worst rain in years after a succession of those sunshine days, how I didn't appreciate that shade! Making the most of the bright and breezy conditions I could kissed goodbye to sightseeing until August! My grand Shanghai Surprise from 2015 felt like a world away Wu!

July 2016 had me working hard, as the sun beaten down on my Guanggu Kindergarten it was back to business after our Dragon Boat Festival holiday that I took to Nanjing, Jiangsu. I have mentioned about my Nanjing trip a few times before I got this post together, OK? My students were getting restless with the humid weather and they quite frankly wanted their summer break! Little did I know that I had been selected as Etonkids English Specialist of Month for July 2016! I had no idea I had been selected for that amazing award, it was truly a shock to me because all I do is work my hardest every week for the children and as part of the team at my school. Over that academic year I learned the hard way that teaching English in China isn't no walk in the park, it's a valuable lesson and it will hopefully give me the tools and experience to further a career teaching. I was flying high during that crazy moment! Snatching trophies!

The summer semester had me on a mission to get everything finished within the time constraints, it wasn't a period of sadness because I had a goal to work towards! What seemed like the great flooding hit Wuhan during the first week of July 2016, closing my school for two days it caused a lot disorder in a already frantic city, let's just say the city planners forgot to think about drainage before building the newer parts of the city first! My Dragon Boat Festival trip to Nanjing seemed like a world away, but I knew that July was purely about getting down to work. Having the purpose and the chance to start my savings right for I had been enjoying my money too much and had not cared to invest money into my next adventure. I was overjoyed to be completing my first academic year at Etonkids, Wuhan as an English Specialist. Saying goodbye to my friend Fiona after that flood day wasn't exactly what I wanted but we had our reunion to be ready for! Of course keeping busy was better then!

August unlocked the key to some well earned rest and relaxation, having my visa renewed during that month meant it was better to stay within Hubei province. Getting out of Wuhan's city core was just what I wanted, heading to Huangpi District I went with a friend to Mulan Scenic Area to take in the sights of Mulan Mountain, Mulan Heaven Lake and to be surrounded by a village out-of-town setting. Looking down from the top was well worth the drive from Guanggu, Wuhan. The scenery was beautiful with a vista that trailed into the distance. Going back to ground level it was time to climb every mountain, the walk through to the Heaven Lake felt more like the descent into hell! I was not loving looking like a hot mess, I wanted out but knew that the view would be well worth the struggle, shamelessly the point was I hate exercise! Finally, the heaven like lake in my view it was well worth the climb Wu! Never again!

Before the autumn came to town I got my final sightseeing day on the go with a planned visit to East Lake and the Hubei Provincial Museum but that wasn't meant to be. I had forgotten within the delirium of the scorching summer weather that the museum closes on Mondays, being the day I had chosen I decided to give the Tingtao Scenic Area a final visit as I had been introduced to this part of East Lake in September 2015. Having a peaceful stroll beside the waters of East Lake was lovely till the heavens opened! I was determined and then some to get out into Wuhan for the day! Take two, I got the museum and saw what I needed to but I really wanted to see the former residence of Mao Zedong! It took some going but with the kindness of a police officer I was driven around a secret estate that was no longer tourist appropriate, I was thankful for that kind guy taking the time out to help me! My summer wasn't about far flung or out-of-province visits, I got around! Thank you Wuhan!

No Summertime Sadness!

Joseph Harrison