14 June 2017

Enchanted Enshi

As the clock ticks before my departure back to England I wanted to explore the city of Enshi, Hubei. Inspired by two fellow teaching friends I booked up without any hesitations. With a limited time frame I had to be inventive, would I spend the day at the Grand Canyon or choose the city centre? Would the soft sleeper to Enshi be more comfortable than my Tibet train? 

Clocking off from another week teaching English in Wuhan, I got myself through Friday rush hour traffic to Wuchang Railway Station in one piece. Since Emmy and Jemima had uploaded their postcard worthy photos of Enshi city I had to see those lush sights for myself! Bagging a soft sleeper seemed like the right thing to do, I'm used to sleeping in hotel dormitories but that train compartment just didn't feel good compared to the more simple hard sleeper compartments that are much less private. Leaving a very rainy Wuchang I slept pretty well till six in the morning, prepared for the arrival of my train it wasn't meant to be. Due to a line problem my train was stationery for at least two hours of that I was aware of, finally chugging away at 9am it took us another two hours to reach Enshi Railway Station. Shrugging away that drama the views from that train were out of this world amazing! Oh my, that rain!

Jumping off that delayed sleeper train I had considerably less time than I had hoped for, getting my sightseeing game on I jumped on the 30 bus to Tusi Ancient City. An oasis of lush green loveliness I got on with what I had to do, surrounded by a stone wall I unknowingly made my way to the top. The views over the ancient city were something else. Enshi was shaping up pretty nice, resembling a 'Little Chongqing' with its long hanging clouds and humid climbs amongst the mountainous scenery. I can't remember all of the names but the structures certainly served a special quality, dating back to a time when a minority clan called the ancient city their dominion, it felt like another world completely. The concrete style of my Wuhan neighbourhood was long gone, far off east back in the provinces capital. That's it! During 910 of the Later Liang Dynasty that Tusi Domain embodied true Tujia style! The annoyance of the later arrival had left me, Enshi had a plan for me, I was good!

No, I wasn't up for cramming onto a bus for twelve stops! Where's Baidu Maps?! Getting all clever I decided to take a diversion from my Baidu Maps route, the rain might of been battering Wuhan but Enshi's Qinjiang riverside wasn't looking bad, hold on let me take that back quick-time! My did it throw it down, literally I had never seen such a severe monsoon style rain. To cut a long and rather unpleasant story, I thanked the heavens as soon as the rain ceased, credit to mother nature she ushered in a beautiful mid-afternoon sky over the Qinjiang River once I had got my directions back on track. Enshi sure had me on my toes, getting me to this city late and soaking me beyond belief, something honestly had to give! Putting things into perspective I had made it to my third city in Hubei within my first two years of being in Wuhan, China, aside from my travels it was good to be in Hubei. Come on Enshi!

Coming to the end of my time here in China for the first throw I had just had my final official National Holiday at the end of May 2017 to Hefei, but I wanted to take three final weekend trips to cities that were within easy reach from Wuhan. Enshi is famous for its magical Grand Canyon but with no more than a weekend free from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon I had to decide 'city centre' or 'Grand Canyon?' The city centre served me a compact series of sights that were on a lower level compared to Wuhan, lower in the stakes of being accessible by foot and with less going on the pollution didn't throw up any issues. Enshi's city centre core had a close-knit vibe, everything was where it needed to be and what I had seen was really nice, a change of scenery was what I was looking for and I got that! Growing close to my Dongfeng Avenue hotel I saw what looked like the Fenghuang Mountain Park, knowing I wouldn't have the time to visit, that was fine. Enshi was so chilled out. 

Checking into my lodgings for the night, I chose the Enshi International Hotel and being a smaller city in Hubei Province I wasn't expecting too much. Serving a purpose and with a clean room it was money well spent, I hadn't gone all the way to Enshi to spend the evening in the room so I went out looking for some food. Backtracking to the almost flooded streets I had seen from the bus I chose to have a walk back in-search of something to eat. After a bit of wandering I found a simple looking road-side restaurant, the lady was frying up some fried rice that looked amazing! Choosing a bowl of that delicious fried rice was a winner, the place being simple gave me a perfect sense of Enshi's enchanting charms. The dusk began to fall onto that normal Enshi street, people chatted on the pavements at the other food places in the evenings afterglow. Whatever rubbish had happened didn't matter anymore! Yes!

Enchanted? From one moment to the next my experiences in Enshi went from an enchanted moment to a nightmare, without a doubt the beauty and charm of Enshi showed me something enchanted without question! The rolling mountains that I saw on the approach into Enshi definitely looked dreamy, regardless of the lush surroundings it did make the delayed arrival a nightmare because I wasn't in a place to extend or repeat my trip. Seeing the rain off it was definitely a place that took me away from my final weeks at work, I have my arrival back into England on my mind so these small weekend getaways distract me or well that's the plan anyhow. The Grand Canyon may have to be for next time but all that I saw was well worth the questionable sleeper train and the less than desirable summer showers. Mentioning the rain a few too many time I'll leave this here now with the charm of Enshi that I loved! Thanks Emmy and Jemima for inspiring my trip to Enshi! Oh, Hubei!

A Little Chongqing!

Joseph Harrison 

2 June 2017

Next Stop... Hefei, China!

Located in central China I was attracted to Hefei because it's not a mega-city, but a growing city that's got a lot of competition from its neighbours. Dragon Boat Festival beckoned another holiday for May 2017, taking a chance on Hefei had to be done, getting to know a smaller city was a nice change. Did Lord Bao have a plan for me? Oh yes, I was ready for Anhui!

Stepping off my high speed train from Wuhan Railway at Hefei South I was ready to ditch a few city demands, saying goodbye to taxis I got the bus to my hotel without a hitch, it allowed me to take in the city's vibe without the cost of a fare. Checking in without stress I hit the pavements of my Lujiang Road setting, a slower sight fronted me, for once a National Holiday without crowds gave me the chance to roam the west-side of Hefei's city streets that sunny afternoon. The rustic feel of Hefei's city streets gave me life, they weren't flashy or adorned with neon lights but a honest and simple feel was served to me. A block of flats along Ren Min Xiang gave me a tone of a colourful street resembling New York City's Canal Street in the heart of the Chinatown, maybe I could smell the MSG's being fried up? Regardless, the ordinary vibe gave me something that I hadn't seen for a time in Wuhan. Hefei did its thing!

It was a weird combination, from one view I saw honest Chinese eateries and kitsch clothing shops on the next street! Was Hefei breaking out? That contrast didn't confuse me for it only gave me more to see that didn't offend me, deep down I'm easily pleased. Huizhou Avenue took me to Hefei's Municipal Square, even that wide city thoroughfare stayed collected within Hefei's understated daily life. Back to that city square, was it the sweltering heat keeping people indoors or was something else because I practically had that vast city centre to myself! Getting familiar with that open government square it was clear to see Hefei was in a different stage of its development compared to other Chinese cities, in place of modernity it owned its quirks, I could tell that it would soon be a city in-promotion! The blazing sun had me for a moment, taking refuge amongst a landscaped area at the side of the square I watched the city folk go by during their May holiday weekend.

Every city has to have someone to look up to, Hefei's own figure turned out to be Lord Bao. Otherwise known as Bao Zheng, a former government figure who reigned during the Song Dynasty helped the people of Kaifeng city within the neighbouring Henan province fight away corruption whilst keeping a leveled approach. Leaving my hotel bright and early during my only full day in Hefei, I made my way towards Bao Gong Park to find the Memorial Temple of Lord Bao. Ditching my usual holiday McDonald's breakfast I veered away from Bao's park to find something to eat down a secret looking alley way, yet another one of Hefei's hidden city secrets. Breakfast with a view was the ticket, sitting by the river had to be done for sure! Refueled and away from a chain restaurant I found myself acquainted with a delectable lotus pond along the river. That shaded riverside helped me because Hefei was scorching!

Paying my one and only entrance fee for the entire trip I was greeted by a row of golden figures, in the middle had to be the famous Lord Bao?! Indeed I had made it to the Memorial Temple of Lord Bao, small yet perfectly formed that small space of remembrance didn't shun photography so I took some guilt free photos, believe it or not I do my best to respect the rules. The serene surroundings of the Memorial Temple of Lord Bao lulled me into the illusion that I wasn't in the middle of a major city, those tranquil waters and sweeping trees masked the concrete and glass of Hefei's growing skyline. From what I gathered Lord Bao kept things together in a fair manor, keeping a strict yet fair rule over proceedings he seemed to had left a lasting impression for the people of his hometown. Being a compact city I was put off the idea of buses, leaving public transport for the ride back to the railway station I carried on by foot. Take a leaf out of Lord Bao's book, be firm and be fair!

Stepping up the pace, Xiaoyaojin Park had been one of the two sights that had stood out to me during my pre-trip research. Hefei almost lured me to San He Ancient Town, two hours out of the city seemed like reasonable for a longer trip but with lack luster reviews I said goodbye to that idea. Reaching the famous gate of Xiaoyaojin Park was great, so far so good I made my way through into a cool oasis that served me nothing but normality, families were having a great time and a pocket-sized funfair pleased the locals to my left. I wasn't too bothered with the history of Hefei's most famous part because I was there for the scenic city views. Taking a seat in-front of the lake had to be done, at that point I was feeling pretty damn happy with my efforts in Hefei for it being a smaller city I had seen what I had wanted! Keeping my park visit swift I walked towards Suzhou Road, keeping those scenic views close!

The heat felt like it been turned up a few notches during my second afternoon in Hefei, I wanted something boozy to drink for I been dangerously sensible up until that moment. Heading back over to Lujiang Road I was fronted with this shady looking 'coffee' lounge that from the window looked like it served more than just caffeinated beverages! Bagging my own booth I chilled to the max, I knocked back as many beers as I wanted and had a pizza for that morning snack had worn off long before that moment! I thought to myself that I was right to take a chance on Hefei, it reminded me of a Chinese Wilmington for it resembled a less developed phase. From those first rustic impressions to the lushness of Lord Bao's yard I was satisfied with my Hefei weekend, it might not of been the biggest city in China but it served exactly what I wanted! With Nanjing for Dragon Boat Festival last year and Hefei done for this year, so I wonder what city I'll seek for 2018's holiday?

Get It, Get It Hefei!

Joseph Harrison 

27 May 2017

On The Metro: Wuhan Metro, Line 4

Line 4 of the Wuhan Metro will be the final of my Wuhan inspired 'On The Metro' blog theme, the network keeps on expanding so who knows what the future might bring? Anyway, stretching from Wuhan Railway Station all the way to Huangjinkou, it's safe to say Line 4 is a mighty metro line from the original Wuhan four, being one of the first lines built. Go!

Beginning from Line 4's northern terminus at Wuhan Railway Station in Wuhan's Qingshan district I have used this line to reach one of the cities high speed rail stations. Connecting Wuhan with cities such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Shanghai and the capital, Beijing it's a very important station along Wuhan Metro's Line 4 system. It was a god send when I arrived back into Wuhan Station from Shenyang as that twelve hour high speed service left me feeling drained. Yes, after interchanging with Line 2 at Zhongnan Road Station it's a practical and sometimes cheaper option to reach that high speed rail connection from my Optics Valley Square location. I recently made the trip up to Wuhan Railway Station to collect my tickets for my upcoming trips to Hefei, Nanchang and Enshi to avoid any pesky queues or sights of pre-travel pandemonium on the day of travel. Take me to Shanghai Hongqiao, now!

I haven't stopped at the stations within Line 4's Qingshan district stretch but there doesn't seem to much going on, a lot of that area is being developed into residential and business areas to make us of in the future. Wanting to rediscover the East Lake Scenic Area during my 2016 Summer break I took a chance on Dongting Station as the station that will serve Hubei Provincial Museum hasn't been built yet, nevertheless I took the wrong turn at first but getting it together I found East Lake and that museum without stress. Metro expansion around Wuhan's East Lake Area is slowly happening but I'll be long out of Wuhan when Line 8 makes an appearance within that part of Hongshan district. More recently myself and Fiona walked for miles across the walkways of East Lake from its Guanggu beginning at Mo Mountain to meet Tieji Road, so I may have told a white lie because I have frequented at least two Qingshan district stations along Wuhan Metro's Line 4. Yass, Qing Shan Kou!

When I first got to Wuhan I found a diamond in the rough, well that was Marks & Spencer's on Han Street, how those Percy Pigs tasted beyond amazing! A few stops down the line from Dongting, Chuhe Hanjie Station can be found with all of its shimmering lights, from shopping to its own glittering theatre it's a genuinely great place to experience. Rocking up to the clubs and bars along Han Street has to be done, I've been suitably inebriated to say the very least! With a change in schools during August 2015 I was enabled to spend more than just stolen evenings along the Chu River, Line 4's got a lot going for itself! Don't dare close M&S because I need some home comforts! Yes, Chu River and Han Street is definitely worth stopping by!

Getting ever closer to the Wuchang side of the mighty Yangtze River, Line 4 makes the interchange with Line 2 at Zhongnan Road and Hongshan Square, more about that Central South Road though! With its towering office blocks and many shopping opportunities I've always ended back at Zhongnan Road even if I didn't intend to in the first place. I stumbled out of this metro stop in hot pursuit of Wuchang's Changchun Taoist Temple, following Wuluo Road was easy enough but I was new to China so at that time I stupidly trusted a Google Map! Meeting with a huge intersection of traffic I hold a special place with that noise and crazy as its near to where a dear friend lives. Qingshan district's own railway station might be a far but Line 4's got this! Now, no shady business!

Picking up Wuhan Metro at Shouyi Road Station led me to the Wuchang Uprising Memorial of 1911, an important site that I adored before a profound development occurred surrounding my new teaching life in Wuhan. The former headquarters where the mastermind, Dr. Sun Yat-sen worked to bring those dynasties down and beckon a new era for China during the 1910's. Just one stop heading west from Wuchang Railway Station I found my way out of the station to that rebellious piece of Wuhan history without a  problem. Oh, that was definitely a time before I had discovered Baidu Maps! As mentioned before Zhongnan Road holds the key to Guanggu Square through its interchange station, I was able to reach the Wuchang Uprising Memorial of 1911 within thirty minutes from Line 2's Optics Valley Square Station. Did I mention before that on the whole China's metro systems are the cleanest I've ever seen! Yass, WUH!

Taking the shine away from Wuhan's focal point, I wanted to give Dr. Sun Yat-sen's former yard some attention rather than the next place mentioned. Still served by Shouyi Road Station alone Line 4 of the Wuhan Metro, standing behind the Uprising Memorial is the Yellow Crane Tower, shamefully it doesn't have better transport links to the supposed most visited attraction in the city but the short walk from that station wasn't so bad. Sticking within that area I found myself at a familiar sight, the smells of Hubu Alley were present in the air as I approached that corner of town, that day it was roasting hot so the smells didn't entice me whatsoever! It's no secret that Wuhan Metro's Line 4 may stretch over the Yangtze River to Hanyang but I'm going to serve those sides of Hanyang in a different fashion at another time. From the supersonic high speed Wuhan Railway Station to the pedestrian feel of Fuxing Road I have made my best efforts to use Line 4! Oh Hanyang, get on with your flow!

Yass, Qing Shan Kou!

Joseph Harrison 

21 May 2017

Lhasa, Tibet: Temples, Pilgrims & Palaces

Lhasa kept giving me everything but the dizzying altitude had sent me sick, waking up with what felt like a hangover and a nosebleed I hadn't paid all that money to rest! Dosed up with a handful of un-named tablets and a bottle of oxygen I was set for the final day of discovery. I held it together as Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Street and the Potala Palace awaited. Oh, Lhasa!

I had almost stumbled upon Barkhor Street during my first day in Lhasa, Tibet whilst on my incense shopping mission, saving the best for another morning I had found a sight never to forget. Fashioned in a true Tibetan style those Barkhor Street shopfronts set the scene effortlessly, acting as a cure for my altitude sickness I was living for the atmosphere and energy felt during that Lhasa morning. I adored the feeling of old time crazy that could be felt in the air, the elder Tibetan pilgrims may have hobbled along with all their might but they were on a spiritual mission! Of course, I was impressed by the fluttering Tibetan prayer flags that fluttered above the buildings along Barkhor Street. This Lhasa hotspot was supposed to be on the itinerary but I found with the extensive free time between seeing Jokhang Temple and the Potala Palace it wasn't difficult to get what I wanted from that buzzing street!

I noticed during the morning a circular clockwise motion was adopted by all, a certain direction had to be adopted the pilgrims, apologies Lhasa I walked in the opposite way at times. I'm sorry! After leaving the hotel after breakfast we took a side street, that alley led us away from the main Beijing East Road to Barkhor's inner heart it was like a holy tributary of alleys that led to a huge square, within that square the sky couldn't get any bluer with the odd cloud floating by I had the perfect photo opportunity. What was that spinning all around, people had their prayer wheels close to hand, acting as another magical sight that Barkhor Street served to me. I was more than living for Barkhor Street, not soaking enough in during the morning I headed back down through one of the alley ways from my hotel to recapture the chilled pandemonium that was occurring in the heart of Lhasa's old city. Don't pay attention of what people might say, those checkpoints are fine! 

Stepping into a darkened courtyard gave me my first taste of Jokhang Temple, one of Lhasa's main highlights I was looking forward to see what all the fuss was about. making our way into the temples inner shrines it was another attack on the senses for all the right reasons, the infusion of colours and sheer detail of the figures took my breath away for sure! I adored the golden figures of the Tibetan Buddhas, their feminine like faces shone with a golden glow, with eye brows on-point and hair so blue it must of been more like Indigo! Showcasing more than two hands those golden figures gave judging stares to maybe ward away evil spirits but I definitely share a facial expression as cutting as theirs was! I had heard whispers before visiting Tibet about Princess Wencheng, displayed in modest fashion in the temple I'm sure she was the temptress during her time. I got completely lost in the beauty of Jokhang's inner corners. Yes!

Leaving those fierce looking Buddhas behind us, we stepped back into the light, giving us the chance to see the rich tones of Jokhang's upper levels and the views over Barkhor Street that gave a Birdseye view of the Potala Palace. Looking for something nice for my best one I was shocked at the price they wanted for a small bracelet, that was a no! I appreciated the golden rooftops of the that glittery Lhasa temple, mixed with a maroon brown and terracotta red style I was in the right place at the right time, my Tibet trip had showed me so much up till that point but Jokhang Temple gave me a picture postcard view of Lhasa within a pocket of tranquility. Snapping away like nobody's business I gazed over the bustling Barkhor Street, the hurrying of the pilgrims looked amazing from that minor height. Leaving the best feature till now I wasn't expecting to see the Potala Palace until that afternoon but from the right it stood with purpose, I was living in a dream LXA! 

Passports ready, it was time for the final part of my Tibet trip to commence. I believe the best has been saved till the very end, known as the home of the long line of the Dalai Lama's the Potala Palace stood before me. Concurring my second Chinese Yuan note, I stood at the foot of the Potala Palace with a 50 Yuan bill as it depicts the regal Potala Palace, after Hangzhou's 1 Yuan discovery along West Lake I wasn't doing too badly for 2017's travel accomplishments! Ascending up the 700 ft to the top entrance at the right side of the palace the altitude change had me feeling strange, taking some deep breaths of the already thin air I made it to that point of safety. That moment felt very real, the nature of the Potala Palace meant things were pretty rustic with no lifts or even banisters it was a right old experience from the bottom to the top! Oh, the clouds knew to make a swift exit, my Potala visit was flawless T!

Adhering to our time slot we made our way from the rooftop courtyard to the red part of the palace to see the heart of the Potala Palace. The status of the Potala Palace sounded like a mysterious, shrouded in secrets galore but we were allowed to see inside one of the non-restricted parts without any problems. The rest areas of the former Dalai Lama's were exquisite, adorned with soft furnishing and a chilled overall feel it felt like a special place. Bestowed with UNESCO World Heritage status, I could of easily lived within those pockets of calm within the Lama's former quarters, they were so opulent. From its strong yet magical appearance to its soft and spiritual inner core I couldn't get over what the Potala Palace showed me during that unforgettable weekend. Returning to Barkhor Street for one more time I ditched the hype to enjoy one last milk tea in a simple Lhasa tea-house. It may have broke me financially but my trip to Lhasa, Tibet was sure worth every last Yuan!

Living For Lhasa! 

Joseph Harrison 

17 May 2017

Lhasa, Tibet: Like A Prayer...

Refreshed from my train journey from Lanzhou I was ready to begin my Lhasa city tour. Being part of a group wasn't something I was used to but for that experience it was good to be forced into an unfamiliar situation. From Drepung Monastery to Sera Monastery I was shown a myriad of beautiful and timeless sights, although being above sea level was crazy!

Was it the effects of altitude or have I already mentioned about my first moments in Lhasa's old city before? That's tough because before my official tour began I conducted my own tour during my first afternoon in Lhasa. Captured to the right is Beijing East Road, I loved the traditional style of the buildings as the street buzzed with the Tibetans everyday motions, city life existed in the city's oldest quarters! It was a blessing not to have to change any currency because everything was sold in Chinese Yuan, the less I mention the C would the better in this blog. A language I hadn't heard before was being chattered all around me, that was the Tibetan language that along with the Sanskrit writing had its own tone and energy. I loved Lhasa, well the old city had something the new side couldn't compete with, that was character. Passing the Potala Palace on the corner I was curious to see it before the itinerary took us.

My hotel was standard to be honest, I opted to share a room because I wasn't prepared to pay the single room supplements and I wasn't there for the room for it was all about Tibet! Staying at the Gang-gyan Hotel just off Beijing East Road I was able to walk to Potala Square within fifteen minutes. Standing before was the mighty yet very serene Potala Palace, the centre of Buddhism and a world renowned Tibetan icon that relates to the same as the Vatican does for Roman Catholics. The serene blue skies quickly clouded over, it wasn't meant to be for getting photos during that moment but I appreciated that time all the same. Aside from the sights I was part of a group of fourteen people who had come from around the world to visit Lhasa, mostly based in Mainland China people in the group hailed from Brazil, Ireland, Spain, U.S.A and Germany. Straight after the Lhasa tour the remaining thirteen people and the tour guide were heading to Shigatse then to the Everest Base Camp. Go T!

Standing 3,700 ft above sea level it did feel strange to ascend any higher than that but Lhasa's Drepung Monastery wasn't going to move its hilly location for yours truly! My first holy site during my once in a lifetime tour looked mighty fine, perched upon one of the thousand mountains that can be seen around Lhasa I gazed in amazement as the white washed stone walls stood so bright in the crystal clear sky, the detail of that 14th century sacred monastery was unbelievable! With snatched photo opportunities I made the best to capture as many moments to seize Drepung's mystical look for myself. Going inside the many rooms and shrines showed me things that I never previously seen before. Following the rules it was forbidden to take any photos inside the many accessible buildings within the Drepung Monastery, obviously I followed that rule along with the people in my tour group. T, I was living a dream!

How, the sheer detail of the shrines and figures within the Ganden Phodrang blew me away, taking careful notice of our tour guides direction it was easy to get carried away for the items on show were nothing like I'd ever seen in a temple-like place before. Prayer scrolls had been crafted with much thought and were displayed within a wooden cabinet, the religious text had been wrapped in a undeniable beautiful cloth to protect them. We were being schooled from then on about the dear Dalai's as they would be a recurring feature in the tours programme. The musky smell of incense filled the air, along with the dimmed redden light it was truly immense to see the golden items and figures that were on display. If I could of taken photos it would of not captured the true beauty of realness of what was before my eyes. Leaving the warren-like rooms behind us we spent some time exploring inside the main hall that welcomed the prayer of the monks who lived at Drepung. 

From Drepung Monastery it was a short drive to Sera Monastery, before seeing the monks debate it was time for a light lunch. It was a chance for some of the group to get to know each other, being an independent traveller most of the time it was nice to have people to talk to from different places but for that trip only. As 3 pm neared it was time to see the monks debate at Sera Monastery, another of the three most important holy sites in Lhasa. For some strange reason cameras were banned for photos but smartphones were allowed to take photos, such a bizarre rule. Perching in front of the questioning monks it was such a intriguing sight, younger and less experienced monks answered questions asked by the older monks, if their answer wasn't correct they would literally get a clap back! The debate was quite interesting to see, the language wasn't Mandarin it was spoken in the Tibetan language! Yes!

The experience of seeing the monks debate at Sera Monastery was amazing, it was something that I had never seen before, another once in a lifetime sight in Tibet for me to remember forever. Children seemed to be the main focus of the local people's visits to Sera Monastery as they would queue from morning till closing time to get a blessing for their children, children must still be highly prized in Tibet as well as they are in China? The visits to Drepung and Sera Monasteries were out of this world, from the timeless collections and relics that were on display at Drepung to the insightful debate at Sera, it was giving me life for sure! Returning back to the hotel for a little rest it was nice to put my feet up and re-hydrate as the high altitudes and thin air had made me feel thirsty and tired. The evening ahead would bring us a welcome dinner including a questionable series of Tibetan acts, the food was good but it was amazing to rest before the next day of sightseeing. Rest!

Oh, Those Monasteries!

Joseph Harrison

13 May 2017

Lhasa, Tibet: Heaven On Earth!

Tibet was the big one, the trip that almost didn't happen, through the craze of cancellations I made my two day journey to the Tibet Autonomous Region from Wuhan, China at the end of last month. Taking one flight and an overnight train beginning in Central China to the Wild West of Tibet took some going, it was an experience for the better! That upper bunk!

Securing some extra days off work I was enabled to book the trip of a lifetime to Lhasa, Tibet. Choosing Tibet Vista didn't take much thought as the itinerary and date worked for me just fine. Deciding upon the four day Lhasa short trip I was excited to see the main highlights that the holy city of Buddhism had to show me. Booking a train from Wuchang to Lhasa would of taken me two days but I got dealt a bad card, the travel company who took care of the train tickets let me down majorly, calling up on my Tibet Vista advisor, Jim Pel suggested that flying from Wuhan to Lanzhou then taking the overnight train to Lhasa would be the best bet! The day arrived for me to jet off to Lanzhou, boarding my Hainan Airlines flight from Wuhan Airport was a breeze, no stress. Descending into Lanzhou's Zhongchuan Airport in the dead of night was exciting still, the landscape was so different! Was I in China, T?

Waking up bright and early in my Lanzhou hotel I was pumped for my first sleeper train experience in China. Choosing the Hualian Hotel was a winner, located within a stones through from Lanzhou Railway Station I was afforded more than six hours sleep due to its convenient location. To think I was only halfway at that point did blow my mind a little! Producing my Tibet Travel Permit to the ticket guard to retrieve my ticket was an unnerving moment as she took the document and my passport off for inspection. Packed with some snacks I missed my chance to try some Lanzhou noodles but I was all about boarding my Lhasa bound train. Z917 was due to depart at 11:16 and it sure did just that, scrambling under the platforms to platform five was an effort but I was on-board after another short inspection, my Chinese language skills were being pushed to their limits! I was bound for a twenty three hour and fifty five minute train journey that would arrive into Lhasa the next day at 11:10 in the morning! Lanzhou would be seeing me again for some of that mian! But let me just get myself together, please?!

The hard sleeper cabin looked fine from the outside, not much different compared to the soft sleeper apart from the upper berth, trust me to have been allocated one of those for my first overnight train! I'm not most agile of people, in-fact I'm damn right awkward but I got a grip of that situation, with the help of a Chinese guy who looked around my age I had my important bag stowed away at the foot of my bunk, but there was no ladder to reach the bed so I had to climb at least ten foot to the top each time I needed to get back up, getting down wasn't so bad as I found my footing quite quickly. It was to be for one night only and I could deal with that for the experience alone. The short trip from Lanzhou to Xining flew past literally, another Muslim city within China's northwest that I have to visit! The landscape changed dramatically as we left Xining, soon enough it was only the harsh open landscape for miles.

With no door to close on each compartment it was great to hear the chattering Chinese conversations, I had packed with me some instant noodles and a few other bits for the journey including a beer or two to get over the height and craziness of my sleeping situation. Day turned into night, with lights out at 10 pm prompt it gave me the chance to have a sound sleep, the change in oxygen was something to deal but with the motion of the train and the surprising good quality duvet I slept soundly until 7 am. My actual camera is shockingly bad for moving shot so I relied on my iPhone heavily, making our last stop in Gansu Province the previous night after 9:30 pm we had reached the Tibetan side of the vast Plateau. The views that passed me were unstoppable, unforgettable and unimaginably beyond anything I had previous expected them to be. I adored the simplicity of the Tibetan homesteads as it felt like the train was passing through a Tibetan wild west! Loving life!

Getting off the train was a relief to say the least, it hadn't felt like I had imagined it was going to be as the journey time flew past. Going through the exit of Lhasa Railway Station I was ushered into a separate building without my documents in my possession, another passport and permit check needed to be done! For a moment I didn't see the Tibet Vista logo or even my name but after looking close enough I found 'Phurbu' who was my tour guide. I don't do group tours but travel in Tibet is restricted for citizens who aren't Mainland Chinese people, I was prepared to adapt my way of travelling for this special once in a lifetime trip. Lhasa's new city looked like a shell, complete with a brand new feel that didn't give me life but we were on the way to the old city that would be the winner of that competition! It felt amazing making it to Lhasa after such a long journey and waiting for close to a year made it worth everything! Go, T!

Passing the Potala Palace didn't feel real, the symbol of the Dalai Lama passed me by as the minibus made its way to my hotel, it was reality but it felt like I was dreaming! Beijing East Road bustled and got on with its hustle serving its white-washed Tibetan style buildings, the old city had so much life it made the new city look sterile and dormant! Checking into my hotel didn't take much stress but my previous reception experience challenged a few issues that I had during the first night. Lunch was tasty, I had a Tibetan Bobi that was like an Indian Chapati served with chicken and a cool Raita. Making the most of the free time I found a quiet Tibetan tea lounge, I had some milk tea and tried Yak Butter tea for the first time, ordering a potato dish for my tea was amazing, that dish had an Indian flavour for sure! Chilled out and centred I went mad by buying a tonne of incense sticks as Tibet was the one! The tour would start the next morning, I was so in love with Lhasa!

Heavenly Tibet...

Joseph Harrison 

26 April 2017

April: Through The Years...

So, April has come around with equally exciting opportunities for new memories to be made. Looking through the years I'm going to see what 2012, 2015 and 2017 served to me during the month of April. From my time in Newark, NJ to working in a hotel as a receptionist after my graduation its sure been a mix of experiences. Oh yes, China saved me! April slayed after all!

Turning back the hands of time it feels right for April 2012 to make a comeback. My third month during my Newark days in New Jersey served nothing but straight up Ironbound Realness! The whole time around April 2012 stands as a blur at this moment but I still remember the simple things, well maybe some of the more major moments if I take a few moments to think about them. Working as a Passenger Services Agent for a British flag carrier airline gave me all the insight to the workings of a pre-departure flight experience at that point. My third month working at Newark Liberty International Airport was character building to say the least, well the commute was an eye-opener if nothing else! Breaking from the state-line of New Jersey I got myself on a Pennsylvania bound train to experience Philadelphia for the day, I should of stayed overnight but that would of got me into trouble! The Northeast Coast was on fire!

Lady Liberty had my attention, fresh from my assault of Philadelphia I was good with staying closer to my Newark, NJ location. Boarding a Liberty Ferry across Jersey's stretch of the Hudson River unlocked the key to Ellis Island Immigration Centre and the legendary Statue of Liberty in one afternoon! I was schooled about America's immigration boom and how those dreamers were processed after their epic voyages to the supposed 'New World', it was so much more than I had previously expected. Saving the best for last it had to be the lady herself, standing on-point with her binding tablet. A gift from the French this NYC icon served nothing but truth and freedom, I was blown away by her strength as she stood poised to ward the evils away from New York City and it's New Jersey sister! I tried to open my eyes as it felt like I was dreaming, but as sure fire I was living that moment for real! April 2012 and it's exact events might be hazy but I remembered greatness!

April 2015 saw me in very different circumstances than my Jersey days at the airport, I had finished university and was working as a hotel receptionist at a Walsall hotel. To escape that situation I used the best of my West Midlands location with two day trips away from my hometown to Leicester and Cambridge. Leicester served an Indian spice to my April day of discovery, I used that East Midlands city as a distraction because I was in the middle of hatching a master-plan to reach China, I thanked Leicester for its sanctuary. The hotel had its moment, earning my coins to get where I wanted to be was the reason, I was experiencing a job that fitted my degree but I was desperately seeking a new international adventure. Biding my time I had faith in April 2015 to lay the foundations to my then next move. Days out like I had to Leicester at that point made all the difference. April 2015 done!

A second outing was just the ticket, going further south than Birmingham I trekked down to Cambridge for a lovely spring day. That upper class student city served a sense of Oxford with its historic school houses, showing me how the other half get the chance to study. I had the best experience at UCB in Birmingham so I wasn't bitter by what regal buildings Cambridge offered its student whatsoever. Punting impressed me much, that scenic view wasn't just pleasing for my sight it got me away from my daily routine. Kings College and the winding River Cam gave me a sense of something I needed at that point, my life was in the works at that point if truth be told. Stopping in my brothers uni dorm the night before my early morning coach I was reminded of my former city life. Life had changed beyond belief for me since my uni days but I had my priorities straight at that point, it would of only been a matter of weeks before I had my golden ticket. I just had to go a little further!

In the present, during April 2017 I stand with my feet firmly on Chinese soil, I got what I wanted and even though I almost had it taken away from me I made every moment of this month count! Hangzhou, China had me covered for the Tomb Sweeping Festival as I had a trip booked that was as pretty as a picture. Touching down on-board my China Southern flight from Wuhan I wasted no time, admiring the Feilai Peak Scenic Area to see the mystical looking grotto's. Like a prayer I found Hangzhou's Lingyin Temple without stress, embracing the busy nature of the temple I got my photos and a great feel for that colourful place of worship without much thought, there was something about my 22nd destination within Mainland China that I loved! I had kicked the woes of April 2015 away like a football and scored the winning goal! Oh, teaching is still blessed! Yes, I'm still at the kindergarten and I hope that remains.

China Highlights had me booking up my third trip in less than two years, being the second trip of 2017 with that company after my Harbin extravaganza, I was pumped for the day of Hangzhou delights I had been promised. Concurring the first Chinese Yuan note, the 'Three Pools Mirroring the Moon' gave me life for certain as the beauty of Hangzhou's West Lake blew me away without question. Lunch was enjoyed a the Chenghuang Pavilion, those delectable Hangzhou snacks satisfied my stomach without a doubt! Breezing through a museum about Chinese Medicine was over in a flash, I'm just not a museum type! Picking my own tea leaves within the plantations where Hangzhou's famous Green Tea grows was an experience for certain, I looked the part throughout! I'll be ending April 2017 with my Hainan Airlines flight to Lanzhou in-preparation for my overnight train to Lhasa! Through the three April's mentioned I have been blessed in different ways, blessed never stressed!

Amazing April!

Joseph Harrison 

24 April 2017

Wuhan: Hankou's Calling!

Hankou was calling, trading a weekend on the booze to be cultured. Me and my best one, Fiona decided to meet in the middle one beautiful Sunday afternoon. Checking a revamped boulevard it set us to go off the beaten track during that Sunday discovery. Our time in Wuhan may be over the half way point but we've got this! Oh Hankou, take us to the riverside!

Hankou's main shopping street, Jianghan Road had been hiding an historic avenue for the best part of my first year and a half in Wuhan. Zhongshan Avenue had been under an intensive restoration and modernisation project, removing the scaffolding and the barriers allowed myself and Fiona to be fronted by a spacious and bright colonised Wuhan boulevard. Meeting at Jianghan Road metro station we had a lovely stroll down the brand new looking Zhongshan Avenue, we were very impressed by the wide walking space and the familiar European style architecture. Our weekends are usually a time for us to get boozy but that Saturday was a sober affair to allow for such a sightseeing Sunday to occur. I'm not sure about Fiona but it was nice to get out of the expected weekend hangovers, generally speaking we had left a certain negative energy behind us. Hankou wouldn't dare judge us!

At this point I had definitely slacked on my Wuhan sightseeing compared to the first year, before that hiatus I would be out most weekends during the day to explore new and undiscovered places with little planning but with work getting too much sometimes it became easier to have a bottle or two of wine and spend the day in my own space, falling into a trap that became a vicious circle. For both me and Fiona it was a welcomed change to see the shiny new Zhongshan Avenue instead of nursing a hangover, not that having a hangover is a problem because its not! We didn't have a fixed plan for that afternoon, but for certain we agreed it would be OK to admire the Wuhan Art Museum from the outside without feeling guilty, we just aren't museum or gallery types! Moving onto the next phase of our Hankou day out it was time to step back in time further. Thanks Zhongshan Avenue for revealing yourself after all the chaos that would over-spill during your beautification! Work H!

I had discovered a side street that I had managed to track down online with the help of some parents from my kindergarten and friends on WeChat, armed with my then brand new iPhone 6s, I was hopeful to guide us from our Zhongshan Avenue location to a quieter side of Hankou's historic core. After weaving in and out of different street corners we even went to great lengths by asking unsuspecting members of the public, they also didn't have a clue. We came to the conclusion that the corner was cordoned off for restoration like much of the oldest parts were to. We hadn't gone far from Zhongshan Avenue to then find ourselves in what felt like another world, steeped in history the tenement like buildings of Hankou's Jianghan District sure impressed us much with the decaying brickwork between the sense of a simpler time. It reminded Fiona of a project she did about the tenements in Glasgow.

Even though we didn't find the street that I wanted it was an eye-opener for sure, the narrow historic paths that presented themselves to us looking amazing. It mind blowing to think that people still got on fine in those colonial style red-bricked flats, Hankou was serving big time for a Sunday afternoon. Before we settled on our find it was decided that Tianjin Street would lead us to an afternoon beer, that beverage stop was well needed because either my Baidu Maps App was lying or something mysterious had happened to the whereabouts of that street!? It hadn't been a boozy weekend and it was almost Monday so it was just the one! Wuhan has become normal to me, Hankou more so because each time I visit this part of the city I am reminded about the moment when I arrived, it seems like a world away. Spotting such rustic gems in the rough of Hankou's historic corner confirmed to me I'm where I should be for now. No H, I won't ask this again, take us to the riverside!

Content with our historical find it was down Nanjing Road for some Hui Chinese food, grabbing a can of lager for good measure we headed over to Hankou's Beach Park. Finding a vacant bench we chowed down on our eggs and tomato with rice, standing out from the crowd we attracted a lot of attention from the public. It seemed like a swarm of newlyweds were enjoying the sunnier climbs of the Yangtze Riverside like we were trying to do, we posed for at least six selfies that had to be from the perfect angle for the Chinese couples. We even had an overjoyed family who's daughter sung 'You Are My Sunshine' especially for us, it was a tad bizarre but being foreigners in a developing city like Wuhan it doesn't take a lot to stand out from the crowd. Believe me when I say that we didn't ask for any of that mild hysteria, we just wanted our food and to enjoy the view. Another beer, I know but it was our last! That's not fair!

The growing Wuchang skyline had never looked better, the sun had been so kind to make an appearance. Pollution was low that day for once, breathing air that wasn't as bad as usually with a blue sky to gaze at helped, its been amazing to see the transformation that Wuhan's section of the Yangzte River has gone under since my arrival in July 2015. The river containers chugged past us as we ate our lunch, with Shanghai to the left and Chongqing to the right-hand sides it was an amazing sight. Hankou had came up trumps that sunny seventh day, ditching our usually hungover states for a sober outing was a winner for certain! Whatever crossed our path that day was equally as fantastic as previously envisaged, there are no mistakes so it was all good! Those alley ways and tenement-like flats impressed us much with all of their understated glory. We know a repeat lunch day on the river banks of the Yangtze is called for, but we'll triple the one beer we had that day! Go!

Round Two Soon?

Joseph Harrison 

13 April 2017

Hangzhou: Lakes, Pavilions & Tea Plantations...

Waking up to a new day in Hangzhou, I was more than ready for my third China Highlights tour that would take me to the best sights in town! From the idyllic views over West Lake to lunch at Chenghuang Pavilion I was in for a royal treat, I even had the opportunity to pick my own tea leaves! I believed in the supposed healing wonders of Chinese Medicine! Oh, maybe?

Picked up bang on time, my tour guide May introduced herself and informed me on the day's itinerary. I was very much looking forward to seeing the beauty of West Lake, living in a city that famed for it's 'East Lake' I was excited to see the difference. Beating the crowds wasn't difficult even though the day had been dubbed the country's 'Spring Outing' it was onto the waters of West Lake to snatch those photos! The sky was a perfect light blue and the weather behaved itself impeccably, I couldn't believe how magnificent the views that captured glimpses of the outstanding Chenghuang Pavilion and Leifeng Pagoda. Getting off the boat in the middle of the lake at an island called 'Fairy Island' this small space served all round views of West Lake's natural and undisturbed beauty. Keeping a one Yuan note, I was looking for three floating pagodas being the symbol of Hangzhou. Yass, West Lake slayed! 

Being the height of the Tomb Sweeping Festival break it was a trifle busy around West Lake, a natural landmark that draws its fair share of tourists to Hangzhou. I had seen so many photos before my visit to West Lake but after pushing those aside I was amazed! Being in China for almost twenty-two months to that point I was used to the numbers of people that were pushing alone the narrow path of the island. Finding a break in the crowd I managed to take look at three floating pagoda's from the enchanted 'Fairy Island', the 'Three Pools Mirroring the Moon' sat waiting for me to gaze at, I had made it to one of the sights that's depicted on the Chinese New Yuan (RMB). Pardon the phrase but my next money shot will be of the Potala Palace in Tibet as the fifty Yuan note features that sacred place. Visiting West Lake that April morning was just the ticket, bowled over by the delightful scenes I felt satisfied. Wuhan's East Lake had competition, but I'll give this one to Hangzhou! 

Chenghuang Pavilion was next on the agenda, located on top of Wushan being a prominent hill that's just south of Hangzhou's old city. I managed to catch a quick glimpse of this heavenly pavilion during the short boat trip across the unforgettable West Lake. Known as City of God Pavilion, this well known Hangzhou figure stood proud in a burgundy tone. Taking the newly installed lift to a higher floor it was time to take a break and have a series of Song Dynasty snacks. Including Hangzhou style cat's-ears noodles, wrapped up fried bread sticks with shallots and local moon cakes that were in the shape of the 'Three Pools Mirroring the Moon'. That light lunch was just what I needed, refueled and ready I wanted to see if the view from Chenghuang Pavilion's top floor was something else, I wasn't mistaken for a sweeping scene of West Lake was presented to me effortlessly. It may have been a brief stop but it was amazing! Yes H!

A change in the schedule meant a visit to the China National Tea Museum was changed to the Museum of Chinese Medicine instead. I'm not one for museums but I embraced that moment, I immediately recognised the smells of Chinese Medicinal products as my Great-Granddad favoured Chinese Tiger Balm for any ailment no matter what the problem was he swore by it into his later years of life. Passing through the many exhibits it did make me think about how my Chinese friends feel towards the ways of Chinese Medicine, they really don't trust and would only resort to it if the needed was so great that conventional medicine didn't have the answer. I tasted some tea, it tasted light and fresh but as soon as I found out it was for liver repair I bought a whole bag of the stuff, I know my alcohol beaten liver will thank me for that purchase. Outside of the museum lay such an overcrowded tourist infested cultural street that I didn't appreciate, so thankfully May had a plan B!

I dozed off on the way to the final part of my outstanding day touring around Hangzhou, arriving within the heart of the Meijiawu Tea Village it was already proving to be a show-stopper of a visit even before I stepped out of the car. Introduced to a local tea expert I learnt this lady was the only person in the whole village who gave visitors the chance to pick their own tea leaves. Climbing high into the tea plantations I wore a straw hat and had a basket tied to my waist. The friendly tea expert came from a very successful tea producing family and she certainly knew her tea well. I was schooled in how to pick a tea leaf correctly, I tried my best to apply the technique not to break the smaller bit of the shoot so the leaf would regrow in the next season. I wasn't as fast as the tea expert was, I wanted to take the whole experience, capturing some sensational snaps during my time at the plantation! Was it time for tea?

Leaving the heights of the tea plantations I was guided to the tea experts home to watch her perform a tea ceremony, there was going to be some serious tea making schooling going on! The art of the tea ceremony and the patience involved was something to remember, there's really no time for us western folk when its time for a cuppa! It's really made me think each time I make a cup of tea after that sight. It was evident to see that the village had changed since the popularity of the Green Tea produced from the plantations, the families of the village who grew tea no longer spent the back breaking work to pick the leaves, it was evident to see the rich tea had served these families into a wealthy and prosperous status. From the very beginning of that full-packed trip around Hangzhou's best sights I was impressed with the consistent service quality that China Highlights delivered. It was a case of third time lucky, I can see a fourth in the future! Hangzhou is heavenly for sure!

Hangzhou's My Cuppa!

Joseph Harrison 

9 April 2017

Hangzhou: The First 24 Hours!

With the second semester of my second year teaching English underway the Spring Festival break seemed much longer than February, with the arrival of April signified another national holiday to enjoy. Hangzhou, a city located in the east of China had secured itself as my 22nd city visited in China since arriving in June 2015. Tomb Sweeping Festival flew past like a dream!

As I awaited the boarding call of my 15th flight within Mainland China I sat amused as the gate was suddenly changed, for me that wasn't an issue. I had to explain to one guy on the Beijing flight where he had to go, I felt sorry for the ground crew for that foolishness was unnecessary! Touching down into Hangzhou's Xiaoshan International Airport was so orderly, I jumped into a taxi for the city in under ten minutes after disembarking that China Southern Airlines flight from Wuhan. Dropping my bag and checking into my hotel should of been so easy, but I was quizzed by the hotel staff because they couldn't understand my visa. It was mental because even the passport control at the many airports I have been to in China haven't batted an eyelid, they just stamp my boarding card and let me through. Leaving that negativity behind I was in hot pursuit of Hangzhou's Lingyin Temple, I had a plan! Yes, I was OK!

Taking the number 7 bus overlooking the famous West Lake I was bound for a temple that caught my eye, that bus may have been packed to the rafters but I made it to the temple in one piece. Grabbing my incense sticks I lit them accordingly and made my way around taking photos, no temple is the same in China and I proclaim that with conviction. Grabbing my snaps wasn't so difficult as the outside the Hall of the Medicine Buddha had bright yellow hall that were wide enough to allow for a orderly photo. I saw the monks pray during their daily service, remembering to be respectful at that time I refrained from taking any photos, well at least I kept that vow of restraint. The weather felt like a mild spring day, the Tomb Sweeping festivities were in full swing as people brought gifts to leave for their departed loved ones. The bright colours and lush surrounding of Hangzhou's Lingyin Temple helped me zone out from all those tourists! With some zen restored I carried on.

So, before I reached Lingyin Temple I had to buy my ticket for the Feilai Peak Scenic Area that featured a series of enchanted looking grotto's, I chose to view the grotto's from the other side of the brook because I didn't fancy my chances walking alongside the large  numbers of tourists, being patience and keeping it together I was able to take a lovely photo of the statues that sat overlooking the brook, set amongst a stony exterior the trees and greenery set the scene perfectly. Legend has it that the stone statues hail from an Indian influence as the Lingyin Temple was crafted by an Indian monk. The main cave was dedicated to Bodhisattva Guanyin, known as the 'Goddess of Mercy'. As I made my way past that area, at the foot of Feilai Feng I spotted a grand pagoda that held the ashes of Huili, the Indian Buddhist monk and pilgrim that constructed the Lingyin Temple after arriving in Hangzhou in 326 AD. Go!

One thing I was loving about my first day in Hangzhou was I hadn't really planned to see anything apart from the temple, catching a glimpse of the stone statues at Feilai Peak was amazing and something that boosted my Spring outing. A lifeline had been given to Hangzhou's Linyin and Feilai Peak Scenic Areas as much of the historic features were not harmed during the Cultural Revolution, the less said about that period the better. Behind the stone statues lay an entrance to a beautiful park, lush and peaceful compared to the busy thoroughfare between the temple and the exit. Hangzhou itself was showing itself to be a scenic city compared to other more concrete places that I've already been to in China. I was almost taken back to my 2016 trip to Guilin during the May Day holiday, upon those similarities I could tell I was going to love Hangzhou for its beauty and history. Above everything else I was glad the area including the statues and temple didn't close until 6:30 p.m.!

Braving the bus until it got so busy I was left with no choice to get off a stop earlier than I had planned to, the roads were jammed packed but I kept on walking at my own pace. I had my sights set on Wulin Square, unfortunately my phone was running out of battery so I had to trust my sense of direction and reading ability of the road signs in Chinese. Thankfully the months of reading street signs in Chinese had paid off that evening, making my way to Wulin Square without a hitch I was pleasantly surprised. I may not be able to hold a conversation in Chinese but the knowledge I do have came in handy that April evening Hangzhou. Bright colours could be seen as I stood on the other side of Wulin Square, it was a water show that seemed to have built a strong crowd of Chinese people who were armed with their phones. I didn't find the water feature hypnotic but it was great photo opportunity. Alright?!

The night was still young but I had been on the go since 6 a.m. that morning, flying to Hangzhou from Wuhan at an early hour gave me the opportunity to see a respectable amount of the city during my first day. I'm not sure what I had expected from Wulin Square but it impressed me much. Wulin Square had a really chilled feel to it, unlikely many of the other centre squares that I been to in China it had some chill about. I didn't need to return to Wulin Square, not for a negative reason I express that but I only had a short time in Hangzhou. I wanted to see as much as possible. Admitting to my hunger and tiredness I grabbed a pizza as that seemed like an easy option, taking a takeaway box back to my hotel meant that breakfast was taken care of. From being questioned about my last entry into China by the confused hotel staff to finding some chill within the mayhem I adored my first day in Hangzhou, China! Returning to my Jinjiang Inn, I wanted to be fresh for my tour!

Hangzhou Ready!

Joseph Harrison 

30 March 2017

On The Metro: Wuhan Metro, Line 1

Spanning a great distance from Hankou North to Dongwu Avenue, Line 1 of the Wuhan Metro gets me to where I need to go. Line 1 was Wuhan's first ever metro line, built like a monorail with its elevated tracks its a great way to see the changing face of this provincial Hubei city. Opening Wuhan up to it's very own IKEA, Line 1 takes me to my best one! Oh, no Xunlimen?!

Getting to know Line 1 the hard way I found myself at Erqi Road Station, making my way to Wuhan Citizens Home to get my visa issued was the main aim of that journey. That was before Line 3 was even thought of I had to scramble back to Line 1 with hardly any clue how to get back to that station, it was an experience for certain! Calling to a more familiar time, I was thirsty to see more of Wuhan. Getting to Huangpu Road was a breeze, the elevated metro meets Line 2 at Xunlimen so I changed effortlessly. Following my real-time location from my WeChat app I tried to remember the Google map that I had foolishly trusted. With a stroke of luck I found Jiefang Park eventually, located merely a few minutes walk from that Jiang'an Line 1 station. I had no intention of going any further north of Huangpu Road, OK?! Compared to Line 2 it's significantly easier to grab a seat on-board a Line 1 metro train. Dazhimen, who?! Go!

Somewhere in all of that confusion I managed to carve out three separate days of sightseeing around Huangpu Road Station. A little way from Hankou's Jiefang Park I found an unexpected sight, presenting itself as a normal Wuhan city street I loved the normality of Gongnongbing Road. I searched high and low for that Gude Temple but I would later find out that it had already crossed my path. Line 1 may have not had a station directly to Hankou's Gude Temple but it was easy enough to find my way to 1st Street Station that took me nearer to the icon riverside area closer to Jianghan Road. It was amazing to have such a rustic part of the city opened up to me because of my Line 1 mistake. Opened in 2004, it's really something to get my head around as the first phase of Line 1 started the rapid expansion of the metro network in Wuhan, adding to Line 1 will be a fundamental part of the metro's construction phase. Why was Line 1 built overground instead of underground?! Why WUH?

Before Hankou Railway Station served as one of Wuhan's key rail gateways it was the task of Dazhimen Station to link Wuhan with Beijing as other key cities. I had passed this former rail hub numerous times without realised Line 1's Dazhi Road Station held the key to Wuhan's first rail terminus. I think that this deserted former railway station deserves to be converted into a museum like the Customs House along the Bund. Whatever Dazhi's fate is I'm glad Line 1 gave me another random sight of Wuhan to remember. Aside from any other station serving Line 1 of the Wuhan Metro I find myself at Xunlimen, acting as the central transfer point that links with Line 2, getting from Guanggu Square to Line 1 is so easy with the streamlined signage and usually clear escalator channels. But Sundays should be avoided at all costs when crossing those tracks! Talking of transferring, did somebody say Dongxihu? Wait, I'm so hungry! 

Casting my mind back to November 2015, I had yet another random Wuhan day out that one way or another took me to Line 1. Originally, taking a chance on Hanyang's Tortoise Hill Park and Qinghuan Pavilion I needed to get back over to the metro for that Guanggu bound service. Crossing the Han River I found myself surrounded by a scene of utter pandemonium, with a little help from my friend I got myself to Youyi Road Station without stressing. Talking about Youyi Road Station, I was introduced to Red Stone Room, an amazing western restaurant/diner that served me and my best ones some great comfort food. Making our way down from Dongxihu didn't take much thought on those occasions because Line 1 took us straight to Youyi Road for the delights of Hankou's Red Stone Room. I may be only focusing on about five or six stations in total but those mentioned are the only ones that have warranted my attention. OK, so I did pass by Hankou North, it looked so new! 

Moving in a north-westerly direction on Line 1, it doesn't take long to reach Qiaokou district as the line grows closer to it's Dongwu Avenue terminus. Serving up a gargantuan shopping powerhouse, Zhuyehai Station brings IKEA Wuhan to the masses with a key station stop on Line 1. I've had the pleasure of seeing the disorderly behaviour of those IKEA shoppers after getting off a Zhuyehai metro. Connected to a massive shopping complex it was the scene of a post-pay day shopping spree and a half, completed with dinner I was surprised of the size of that Japanese super shopping centre! Passing through three Wuhan districts since beginning this round-up of Wuhan Metro's Line 1, it's no wonder this line truly crosses the width of Wuhan without missing the major connector points out! The face of Wuhan is changing rapidly, Line 1's exposed route passes through the next phase of this city's new era! Yes!

Reaching the final station to the far west of Hankou North Station on the opposite side of Line 1 always leaves me at Dongwu Avenue Station. Located in a whole different Wuhan, this uncomplicated corner of the city is convienently connected less than one hour from Xunlimen Station for me to change onto Line 2. I've made it up to Dongxihu numerous times to see my fellow teaching friend, Fiona who lives across the city from my Guanggu Square location. I will definitely be making the ride up to Dongwu Avenue Station a few more times before going back to the United Kingdom in July 2017. Word on the street is that Dongwu Avenue Station won't be the western terminus for Line 1 for much longer, a new northern extension is being built from Dongwu to Jinghe, that third and probably final phase of Line 1 is slated for a 2018 completion date. From top to bottom I will recognise Line 1 as another worthy line of Wuhan's growing metro system. Oh, what else could I see on Line 1? 

Big Up Dongwu Avenue! 

Joseph Harrison 

27 March 2017

2014-2017: The Road To China...

After graduating with honours I was not prepared for the journey ahead of me, taking a road less travelled before wasn't easy but what really is in this life? In honour of this 300th blog post that marks five years of blogging, I want to see how life since graduation to this moment has panned out. Now in 2017 I survey my journey, but has everything really been worth it? Okay?!

Going further back before my graduation ceremony in September 2014, I believe the final semester of my degree course shaped me for certain. By March 2014 I had my dissertation in a favourable state, returning from Manchester in the January of that year I had a new fire for my final stint of university life. Assignments were second nature to me by that point, referencing was something I could do in my sleep and that third person writing style was on lock. I was taking in every last moment of student life, going down the Village Inn only at the weekends, I was past that Broad Street weeknight routine. After completing my placement with a well know British airline in Newark, NJ, I was set on becoming a flight attendant after graduation, or even missing that ceremony if a certain Middle Eastern airline liked the look of me! I was blinded by what was going on at that point, it was a hectic time! Birmingham helped me out! 

All of my actual assignments had been submitted, my dissertation had been finalised and the proud moment came for that to be bound. Getting down to Salisbury for the day I used my then Birmingham location to enjoy a day taking in the sights of Stonehenge, Old Sarum and Salisbury Cathedral to celebrate the last weeks of my course, it had been a mental year for a few reasons but at that point I wanted to enjoy the moment. Arriving back into Birmingham after that day hit me as it was the final time I returned to Birmingham as a student. Before packing up my room and saying goodbye to the Maltings I enjoyed an incredible weekend at Birmingham Pride, the last two years had seen me out of the country so I took my one chance before leaving Brum for good. Crashing down to reality with an almighty bang, I left the Maltings for the final time never to return in the same capacity again. I was about to find out what life would be like after finishing university, I was not ready!

Achieving a degree with honours I made it back to Birmingham a few months later after a summer spent between Bilston and London, those airline dreams never materialised so it was back to my hometown to get my life. Held up by the business of my university certificate I was impatient to graduate. It was an amazing day but I had a fire to fly high in a different way, my year in America had given me something I wanted to recapture. I interviewed for jobs over Skype to teach English in China. I was offered job positions but there would always be a problem that would be thrown up, I kindly declined those offers because they didn't feel genuine. Bilston didn't give me life, I felt let down by life, harbouring a resentment towards not being briefed about the transition from university life to real life. Claiming through a means that showed me how a cross-section of people living in Bilston made me want more!

2015 showed its face and I was getting closer to my China reality, obtaining both my degree and TEFL certificates I found my savings to be seriously dwindling. Taking my first job since finishing university at a Walsall hotel as a receptionist cemented the first stage of me feeling better about the way things had turned out. I worked when I had to and got by and with each passing pay day I was able to put money aside. I had been blessed in one major way as I was living with my grandparents, it was a means of saving whatever money I could without the constraints of rent and the rest of that negativity. I stuck to my guns and never gave up on the hope of finding a trustworthy company to sign a contract with, stumbling across an English Training company who's name I have mentioned before I was going to China for real! With June 16th 2015 as my departure date I was on my way to a brighter day! As I sat on that London bound train, I felt relieved because I was going to China! Yes!

Touching down into Shanghai was a surreal feeling, I had finally made the leap from life in Bilston to be standing in one of China's most famous cities! Facing the epic neon Shanghai skyline I was truly living. The stresses of the previous year or so melted during those first gob-smacking moments! The first two months moved at lighting pace with a weeks training in Suzhou, Jiangsu before taking my first high speed train in China to Wuhan, Hubei. Training centre life wasn't easy, I was doing my utmost to deliver what was expected of me, but I had this niggling feeling that style of teaching wasn't going to be in my life much longer as mid-August approached. As fate would have it I was pushed into another direction, moving from that goldfish bowl to a whole new teaching experience that would change everything! The easy option is so boring, going down a road less travelled sounds better to me! Get it!

Bewildered by the change I stuck with my apartment, that new arrangement questioned the reason why I had thrown so many jobs back during my first months since finishing university in 2014. Keeping my cards close my chest I negotiated the best deal I could, China was showing me that getting what you deserve takes a lot of straight talking, I was satisfied with the outcome. Kindergarten life gave me a sense of fulfillment, the children were adorable and still are but I felt comfortable and it felt like the job I was meant to have first time around. Not regretting a single thing I kept a tight rein of that shady business, I had a future unraveling before my very eyes and I knew that drain wouldn't be part of my long term. Breaking out of Wuhan for National Day 2015 to Chongqing and Chengdu I found a whole new side of China at my feet, my blog was set free and back on an international platform. 2016 kept me on my toes, it was a challenging two semesters but I worked hard!

Signing a second year contract pushed my negotiating skills to the limit but I had a new ally that helped me secure what I needed. My students were a dream to teach if not crazy from time to time, going into my first semester of my second year teaching at this private Montessori kindergarten gave me a new perspective. I had an after-school class on each Monday to manage and I was pushing myself to produce more challenging lessons for my older students who would be progressing onto primary school in the following Autumn. Wuhan had become familiar to me, I almost had it ripped away from me! Staying savvy and embracing my new no-nonsense way of dealing with China life I still feel secure here to this day. Moving back to my life away from school I had encountered sweet moments that went sour, I was better than those unfortunate happenings! 2016 had been a blast, but I was ready for 2017!

Hong Kong, Macau and Guangzhou had turned my 2016 Spring Festival holiday upside down but 2017's festivities was a much colder time, Harbin and Shenyang served two different personalities that brought the house down! Choosing cities that were 'off the radar' impresses me more than the world renowned Chinese destinations, I can't get enough of those 'wildcard' cities! Wuhan may be working for now but I have a new plan in motion, let's just say that I'll be sticking with my current Kindergarten, trading Hubei for a Beijing state of mind for the final throws of 2017, I'm not counting my stars yet because a lot more hard work has to be put in to sustain that progression. Things haven't been easy, I may have been dramatic at stages but when I secured my fate I slayed the competition, I'm still working! I haven't sat pretty waiting for a miracle, I got back up and dusted myself off to keep on this road to China. There are no mistakes, its all about being centred and focused. 

The Road Continues...

Joseph Harrison