15 August 2017

2017: No Summertime Sadness!

Summertime during 2017 has so far been busy, mad and worth every second whatever happened during my final month in China and beyond. Concluding my final term of teaching in Wuhan, China I got up to a lot during that July period but here and after things have been on an England hype! It's been a mix bag of experiences, I'm gunning for the next chapter! Quite frankly!

Applying myself to my kindergarten English teaching duties it was time to breakout the summertime curriculum! With the Casa classes it was time for us to read and explore 'summer' a picture book displaying lots of fun things that can done during the summer. I made butterflies and fish from card and yes they were all handmade, they loved catching them and having a little bit of mild competition. Singing the summer song, the children and I, loved every single moment! Beating the heat during my final week we made some juice boxes from card, I had made a prototype but like always I was amazed by the kids boundless imaginations! The previous two years had been a challenge worth excepting, at the end of things it was worth every moment to see the children have fun and progress with their English skills along with their character. It's not just being about the English for me its fundamental a child's confidence soars!

Away from work I revelled in my Guanggu location for the final months, not to put a depressive not on this because I was seeing my chaotic area with a new perspective, during that summertime I felt humbled to have gone through such a journey in that corner of Wuhan. Taking a walk into Guanggu on the two anniversary since arriving in Guanggu, two years on I couldn't believe how I had slotted in with that life and moulded into the rhythm of that berserk environment. Getting a Happy Lemon bubble milk tea had to be done, rewinding back to my first few days in Wuhan I had chosen Happy Lemon over other milk tea brands. That celebratory milk tea maybe have tasted sweet but he journey hadn't been easy but I didn't want things to be plane sailing. Meeting up with Tony we had a lovely milestone meal, no Chinese for that celebration for we had tacos and burgers at Devil's Brewery on Guanggu Street. As one chapter was preparing to close I knew things would go out with a bang!

Reuniting with Mark, we went out for my final night out in Wuhan before saying goodbye to that Central Chinese City! I worked alongside Mark during the first semester of my second year at my kindergarten, he's a great guy and we got each other through the madness of that autumn/winter semester without a doubt. Meeting before the midnight hour at Hype on Zhongnan Road we watched the young entitled Chinese few get their crazies on with much amusement, I channelled my 'Kia' persona and had those few gagged by what I served up on the dance floor! Moving on would it be to MUSE or straight to All Stars for the next phase of the night? The dancing juice had started to kick in and the night had only just begun! All Stars brought the beat and the drinks flowed ever more, dancing through to the early morning I had the time of my life slaying! The sun had already risen, my bed called me but what a night B!

The weekend before that craziness I decided to take one final trip to Wuchang, ready for Tanhualin once again since my first visit back in November 2015 I wanted to revisit that coffee street. Getting back to Merci served up the same cutesy experience, getting my caffeine and cake fix was great within that kitsch cafe. Desheng Bridge didn't have a name when I visited briefly during Tanhualin's first try, after seeing an over-edited snap of that down to earth market street on social media I was determined to catch a more realistic and honest view. The riverside called me even though the weather wasn't pleasant I wanted to catch my final glimpse of the Yangtze River. Summer 2017 had been mostly about working hard but having those snatched moments allowed the sun to shine when the rain fell from the skies. Keeping myself busy was the key, my China bestie Fiona had flew home after that point and I was dealing with it well but missed that Scottish pal of mine! Fiona had been my partner in crime for close to two years, she wouldn't have wanted me to be sad during the summertime! See you Fio!

Shanghai Pudong International Airport brought me back to the beginning, ready for take off I made my way home with Aeroflot Russian Airlines via Moscow to London's Heathrow Airport. Getting back to Bilston after two years felt down right weird but amazing in the same breath, I hadn't seen family for a while so getting back home was really nice. I didn't stop eating and in the present I'm still putting away some serious food because it'll be back to China soon but to Beijing! Getting out of Bilston a few days after arriving back to England I made an important trip to Liverpool to renew my passport. Wuhan didn't have a British Embassy so I wasn't left with much of a choice but to get that renewal done as soon as I got home. Ready and shiny new in under four hours I spent a nice day in Liverpool getting my new passport, thankfully its valid for ten years with a few more pages I'll be good for a long while! Oh, Liverpool looked good!

Slipping into a lazy daze I have been getting my papers ready to send back to China, the dreaded visa process begins again before I can board my one way flight back to the Middle Kingdom. What else do I have planned to see the summer out? I'll be jetting up to Scotland to see Fiona as promised we're going to be hitting the town during the twilight hour in Helensburgh! Glasgow is in my sights, kindly accompanied by Fiona we will sightsee as if our lives depended on it! Nights in Wuhan sure got scandalous for different reasons but I have been begging for a night out in Birmingham during my China hiatus, pulling the troops together I cannot wait to get down and shameless within the right kind of venues in Southside, Birmingham! Getting my life together its not being a bad summertime so far, its had its up and downs but there's been so much to celebrate, its not over just yet so there's time to get it done! From making juice boxes, dancing the night away to then arriving home. Yes 2017!

Summertime Realness! 

Joseph Harrison 

12 August 2017

Hubei Province: China's Central Heart!

Hubei province was my home for over two years as I lived in Wuhan, the provincial capital was exploding before my eyes but I wanted to break out of the city limits to see more of Hubei during my time there. Xianning, Enshi and Yichang all took me by the hand for different reasons, from cementing a lasting friendship to witnessing a man-made wonder I was amazed by Hubei! 

Rushing from my kindergarten to Wuhan Railway Station I wasn't ready for the off the wall antics Xianning, Hubei would serve to me that very weekend! Zooming to Xianning North I was greeted by Fiona, my China bestie hailed a taxi to allow the mayhem to begin! Changed within minutes we battled the rain to reach her local bar, the lower tier city of Xianning had a rough and rustic vibe it hadn't had the boom like Wuhan received with endless construction but I loved Fiona's neighbourhood, it was full of drama and everyday trouble for sure! Tanning a drink or three it was a foreign affair for we were the only expats in the bar. Graduating to a nearby club our inner freaks were truly released on the runway, literally the runway in that club became our because we were high on that moment! Boozed up and ready to sleep we called it a night, it had been a very eventful day but I was ready for round two! Don't be haram!

Waking up to fireworks banging outside wasn't what I planned at all it was only April! Dragging ourselves out into the daylight we caught the bus to Xianning's Qianshan National Park to get a higher view of Wuhan's little sister. I nearly didn't make it up but Fiona as company it wasn't difficult to just power up to the top to see the views. The city of Xianning looked a lot smaller to the monster that is Wuhan, the less stress was much easier to deal with. Getting back to the city was interesting, taking a tuk-tuk was our only choice as the buses disappeared! McDonalds got us through the day, taking a rest we need to be ready for the evening ahead. The night was mental! Leaving the drama behind and a classless individual it was home time! Sunday brought my final day in Xianning, reuniting with Alvaro we had a look around Fiona's school it was very different to mine. The old streets gave me life, since Baltimore I hunt down Realness! With enough time for lunch and coffee it was back to Wuhan. 

Focussing most of my time on trips outside of Hubei I bit the bullet towards the end of my two years of living in Wuhan with a weekend jaunt to Enshi, Hubei. Going out of my comfort zone I took my second sleeper train, my first experience of a sleeper train was in a hard sleeper compartment but the overnight journey to Enshi was in a soft sleeper, not the best! Waking up a little while before my train was scheduled to arrive at Enshi Railway Station the train was stuck at a silent station that wasn't my destination. After a little delay I was on Enshi soil with my sights set on the Tusi Ancient City as I wasn't going to have time to visit the Canyon in the one day I chose places in the city centre. I liked the Ancient City, it was nice to see from the walls that surrounded that Enshi attraction. The unfortunate elements of the train journey melted away as the heavens opened to a level that caused flooding in the streets! Yes!

The rain finally deiced to stop, how very considerate of it because me and my rucksack stood soaking! No, I don't travel with an umbrella! Trying again I caught a second great view of Enshi's branch of the Qing River, calmer and a lot smaller than Wuhan's branch of the Yangtze River, that chilled sight gave me some life as it had been a long day. Reaching my hotel was a relief, dropping my things and airing out my soaked trainers and clothes I headed out for some food and to mooch around what felt like the city centre of Enshi during the early evening. Heading back to the half-flooded street that I passed through on the bus wasn't my plan but I saw some killer fried rice being cooked outside a small restaurant, it didn't cost the earth and it tasted amazing! Heading back to the hotel I loved the lively vibe of people just enjoying the evening in a civilised way without stress, seeing people out and about wasn't annoying like Guanggu throws up! So, Enshi was worth the journey Hubei!

Yichang had been a city within Hubei province that I had wanted to visit for a while, home to the Three Gorges Dam I was running out of time fast so booking a last minute weekend trip before leaving China had to be done! Arriving just before the midnight hour at Yichang East Railway Station took me closer to the controversial dam project. Checking into my hotel wasn't a stress, opening the door to my room I was staggered by what stood in front of me! I thought I had booked a simple double room but low and behold I had a huge bathroom and even a separate sitting room, for all of forty pounds for two night I was winning! Refreshed from my sound sleep in my queen size bed I attempted breakfast but that was a no go! Meeting my tour guide I was shown to some Re Gan Mian and some soy bean milk for breakfast, I was complemented on my Chinese skills by the ladies who served me! Refuelled, I was ready for the day Yi!

Marvelling at the views from the car it didn't take long to leave Yichang's small city centre, the lush green mountain views impressed me much! Arriving at the visitor centre the short bus ride was fine, taking in the sight of the vast gorge was amazing because I had only seen photos before that moment, which didn't justify the actual scene. The vast gorge area that was centred around the dam lasted forever, the landscape gave a sweeping effect that I appreciated. Stopping for lunch had to be done, usually the China Highlights package included lunch but that tour didn't but it wasn't expensive so I was going to stress my mind over that business. Qu Yuan's Ancestral Hall had me schooled about Dragon Boat Festival, the reasons for the different customs all made perfect sense after the story was introduced to me. The hall had been relocated due to the rising water levels that dam construction trigger, the view amazed me with the principles 'Feng Shui' had been noticed. Yes, Yichang!

My Hubei Province!

Joseph Harrison 

9 August 2017

Wuchang: Coffeeshops, Markets & The Riverside!

Wuchang had one more day of exploration in-store for me, my departure back to the UK loomed. This final Wuchang instalment had me revisiting a favourite coffee street of mine, getting back to the rough scene of a market area that could well disappear soon and a final walk along the riverside of the legendary Yangtze River. One more time Wuchang? Coffee, Wu?!

My time in Wuhan was seriously running out, reserving one more night out and a Wuchang day before the flight back to England I knew what I needed to do! Jumping on the Wuhan Metro for the final time I headed for Tanhualin, a kitsch street bursting with coffeeshops had been a hotspot for my 25th birthday in November 2015. Leaving just enough time in-between those visits I noticed a surge in development around Pangxiejia station compared to my first visit when things basically looked like a sight of rubble. The street had changed slightly, not paying too much attention to the new modifications I headed for Merci. I had chosen that cute coffeeshop on my birthday and quite frankly it looked the best on the street out of the many other competitors. Choosing a milky coffee and a sweet chocolate cake it was great to treat myself as the rain pelted down outside. Luckily the character of Merci hadn't changed! Oh!

Tanhualin brought many memories back from the beginning of my time in Wuhan, things were blessed during that November 2015 period when I first visited that colourful Wuchang street. Standing in that moment it felt very strange to be looking at the same place, even if some of the other coffeeshops had closed down, maybe it was due to the metro construction? Such shady business! My coffee and cake were lovely, the staff in Merci hadn't lost their friendly vibe like when I first visited almost two years previous to that July afternoon. Sundays had become the new Saturday for me, plus the rain could have well kept people away because it was nice and chilled. Wuhan is great and Wuchang kept me coming back for more but it wouldn't half get crazy! I adored being back along Tanhualin, it was a place that I wanted to revisit before saying bye to Wuhan. Tanhualin had seen the last of me, bidding a fond farewell to that coffee street I finished my drink and snack and got back on with it B!

Desheng Bridge cropped up on a Instagram photo from a wannabe blogger/photographer, ain't nobody trying my game, I do what I do with integrity and without silly editing tools! Revisiting another November 2015 haunt I could appreciate this up-front market street that served up no apologises. The stench of raw meat hanging in a Chinese style butchers reminded me of my first nights in China during that Shanghai weekend, the hostel was next to a food market that carried the same smells over that will never leave me! The great thing about Desheng Bridge is that everything is sold there, from vegetables to household items, going back to my first visit I even got a haircut in the hairdressers along the parade of shops and stalls. The most recent trip wasn't about purchases, I never spent a penny because I was taking the views in for a final time. Desheng Bridge looked better in real life without any filters. 

Embracing Wuhan's low foreign presence I seemed to be the only westerner walking along Desheng Bridge, the market traders thought that was very amusing indeed. I could half understand what they were saying to me and about me but I knew what to say back to them and I was perfectly cordial. The rain still felt the need keep on but I wasn't bothered, the afternoon so far felt like closure in one breath with a smattering of new discovery. Was Desheng Bridge anything like Bilston Market? I would have to say certain similarities could be seen as far as both sets of traders all want make living by selling their products, sounds like the same common goal? The meat may have harboured some unsavoury smells but the was suited to Desheng's vibe, taking me back to my first nights in China I sort of appreciated that acrid scent. Both Tanhualin and Desheng Bridge served equal amounts of Wuchang realness, fulfilling two of my final three segments. Baidu Maps had the next part covered! 

I had never realised how close by Tanhualin and Desheng Bridge were to the riverside of the Yangtze! The rain persisted still but I didn't care about that one bit! Taking in the magnificent views of the gargantuan Changjiang for the final time I was living for that moment, practically deserted due to the rain I was almost alone during that rainy afternoon river walk. Captured is the Hankou portion of the Yangtze's riverside with views in the distance of the Customs House and main historic Bund area. I had seen the views of the Wuchang side many times from Hankou but didn't really take the time to visit the other side. I spent some of the time sat down, watching the river flow as spoke to my dear friend Tony, we spoke about the colonial influences of the Bund area and how Liverpool and Shanghai shared a few similarities along both their riverfront's. I knew a certain goodbye would be in order. I didn't want to!

Gazing at the wide expanse of the Yangtze River in front of me it hit me that I had broken past the two year mark, visiting the Yellow Crane Tower during August 2015 gave me my first sunny views of Hankou and Hanyang with so much optimism. In that moment I had worked my two years and been in two jobs, the second teaching gig had worked out for the best so all looked good from where I was standing. Going back to retrace my steps in Wuchang for the final time to lead me to such a calming sight in the rain felt amazing, it was quite sobering in one respect. I had looked to Wuchang a few times before and from a tourist point of view I had delved further into the areas that surrounded the Yellow Crane Tower to find a labyrinth of sights, smells and delights. Brushing all of that away for a moment I wouldn't of wanted to trade that view even for all the dreariness, Wuhan had come full circle. Take the metro back for the final time, Optics Valley Square saw the last of me! Life!

Wuchang, I'm Out! 

Joseph Harrison 

China: Cities Off The Radar!

China's megacities have impressed me much during my time, well I am yet to experience Beijing but that will all change very soon! Shanghai may be a city of neon lights with a skyline to bring down New York City's performance but I like to go 'off the radar' to find cities within China that give me everything and sometimes more! Daring to be different, I sure hit the jackpot!

Jinan, the 'Spring City' of Shandong Province was brought to my attention as I searched for my return journey from Qingdao during 2016's National Day holiday. Knowing nothing about Jinan I booked my hotel and high speed train without a care in the world. Arriving on my train from Qingdao I hit the streets to find the city's Quancheng Square, undoubtedly Jinan's city centre I took in the striking thoroughfare that stood in front of me. As the sun disappeared I was served a beautiful crimson sky that swept this space into such a memorable moment. Jinan may have not been a famous city, well I had never heard of it, I already knew that wasn't going to stop me exploring deeper into its core. Searching for something to see I found Baotu Spring, like a hidden secret garden with a charming spring that may have been teeming with people but I saw what I wanted. Jinan had more to show me, bring on the night!

Shunning Jinan's Furong Ancient street I found a more 'down to earth' environment off the beaten track. Xichengen Jie presented itself as an ordinary alley lined with rustic Chinese eateries that didn't scream a touristy mess, for that reason I was sold immediately. Qingdao posed to be a city that didn't bring the party so I was curious what this undercover city had to offer after dark, consulting my go-to social media APP I found a helpful friend who led me to 2012 Bar, tucked away down a side street only a few steps away from my hotel I had booked the right place to stay! Being the only westerner in the place I chilled with my beers, out of nowhere the stage in front of me presented a series of drag performances, dressed from the Dynasties as wannabe empresses, I was gagged by their Oriental sass! Climbing the Qianfo Mountain the next day hungover, returning to see the queens of Bar 2012, let's just say I had a great time there over the two nights and I even had to serve some sass myself! Seriously, some queens should know themselves before getting attitude! Yes, Jinan gave me everything CN!

Suffering from the sub-zero temperatures after spending three days in Harbin, I left behind the ice festivals and Siberian tigers for the city of Shenyang. Like Jinan I didn't know much about Shenyang aside from its Korean Connection, I wanted to take some chances to see that Liaoning Province city. Qingzhen Street had caught my eye during some pre-trip research, serving nothing but Hui Muslim Chinese food I was blessed with this street being situated only a few paces from my hotel, I had no idea! Pounding the pavements the next morning before the birds could even make their song, I had Shenyang where I wanted it! Beiling Park recaptured Harbin's frozen nature, taking my time to enjoy that iced over environment I loved life in this practically secret city! Homesickness hadn't hit me hard but TESCO transported me home! Plotting my next move I found a certain war lord had an impressive residence in the 'Yang!

The former residence of Marshal Zhang Xueling crossed my path, impressing me much with that colonial scene I was content with Shenyang alternative sights. In the mood for a party I found Glasgow to begin my night, the fish and chips were phenomenal and the company wasn't bad either! Along with my new friend J, we went into the night to slay the competition at MIA because those rigid few needed to see us command the attention! It was a night to remember but I'm not revealing anything else about it! Feeling tender the next day with my hungover self I got back onto the sightseeing grind to Mukden Palace and Zhongshan Square, finishing with the neon lights of Xita Street to be at the centre of Shenyang's Korean corner. In need of food I chose the 'Pyongyang Rainbow' for some NK food, that North Korean dining experience knocked the ball out of the park for its state run television and Kimchi kept me aware. Of course Shenyang had me swirling within its madness! 사랑해!

Hefei may not be a city of great size or be known by international tourists but I know that it deserved my attention during 2017's Dragon Boat Festival. Despite what I had been told, I paid the shade and trash talkers no mind because Anhui's capital called me regardless! Noticing its understated charm I took it easy, making the most of the peace with those quieter street fronts I liked what I saw very much! Benefiting from a cheaper hotel and cut price first class tickets I wasn't spending a bomb load of money like those bigger cities require me to do. Huizhou Avenue led me to the city's Municipal Square where I practically had the city centre to myself. Hefei's legend Lord Bao had me calling up his Memorial Temple during my second day in Hefei, not costing the earth once again I was winning by choosing another undiscovered city! Serving pretty lotus ponds and sunshine, Hefei had me loving its pint-sized uniqueness! Yass!

Hefei didn't get me lost, I was on the right path! Xiaoyaojin Park welcomed me as I passed through its memorable gate, I wasn't looking for anything flashy because I was thankfully served a whole lot of normality. People just chilled and went about their business and that was a fact. Taking some time out I had made the right choice to visit Hefei because it didn't stress me out or have horrendous crowds for me to wade through! Keeping my chilled frame of mind I saw all I wanted to in Hefei without breaking a sweat, well at least I tried for the weather was heating up! Jinan, Shenyang and Hefei challenged the meaning of a Chinese city, taking different elements of the unexpected things I saw and experience gives me the motivation to keep on pursuing China's alternative lesser known cities. Going undercover to these three provincial cities had me challenging the tourist norm, passing challenges that megacities have lost I had the power to see all of this realness! Get it C!

Challenge Difference!

Joseph Harrison

31 July 2017

Flying High... Aeroflot Russian Airlines!

It had been two years or so since I had flown for more than three hours, embarking on my first long haul flight with Aeroflot Russian Airlines was something I had been looking forward to. Bagging an absolute bargain I had booked this London bound flight via Moscow some nine months before I would leave Shanghai for home. I was ready for some Russian service! Let's go Ru!

Believe me when I say that I would have flown from Wuhan back to England but was I paying those ludicrously high prices?! Absolutely, no way was that happening! Snatching a bargain flight with Aeroflot Russian Airlines was the winner, for the price I was willing to make the connection at Moscow Sheremetyevo to London Heathrow all the way from Shanghai Pudong. Taking the high speed train from Wuhan to Shanghai Hongqiao with all my bags was some task, catching a DiDi taxi was a drama but before I knew it I was checked in and through security at PVG airport. Let the preflight shenanigans begin! I honestly didn't know what tricks were being played that evening, the gate changed once, that wasn't an issue but then a second time till it changed a fourth time before we finally boarded the aircraft. The final boarding gate was on the lower level by the tarmac, I had a feeling it was buses for us. No!

Two burly Russian pilots made their way to our third boarding gate before that was changed for a fourth time, I could tell by their appearance we would be in safe hands in the flight deck for that cruise to Moscow! Soon after the bulk of the cabin crew glided in with their suitcases and orange uniforms, no smile was present because they were serving some Aeroflot attitude! I was sincerely ready to board, it had been a long day and I wasn't looking forward to my window seat, no I wanted an aisle! As if luck would have it we were bussed to our Boeing 777-300, all passengers had to board the aircraft through one door that took long enough. I had a feeling that my first Aeroflot experience would be a memorable one to say the very least. Boarded and seated in my window seat, I had already asked a member of the cabin crew if there was a spare aisle seat going, she was on the lookout for me. As our crew did their pre-flight checks I was granted my wish for an aisle seat, with thanks to Svetlana!

After reading countless reviews about Aeroflot's in-flight service I was extremely dubious about the quality of the food that was going to be served. I had already resided that no alcohol was going to be served throughout both of my Russian flights, that had me checking flights for a famous Middle Eastern airline for my return to China. Nevertheless, we began our flight smoothly to begin with, shortly following the first service of non-alcoholic drinks that were served by our cabin crew. Generally, the in-flight entertainment was very good with a favourable amount of films that had been released within the last year. Being on a flight that was made up of mostly Chinese passengers it was quite nice when they all felt asleep together, it would have been good to have slept for the whole flight but that was never going to happen in economy class. So far so good Aeroflot Russian Airlines served something worth my flight ticket.

Settling into my film, I chose 'Hidden Figures' a great choice as I had limited access to good western films during my time living in Wuhan, China. Centred around three strong African American women during the years of segregation, their heroic story of their fight to be serving the space missions managed by NASA made for a gripping watch even if I was exhausted. Dinner came around in the form of a seafood pasta that was served with potatoes, desert was a mango cheesecake and to be fair to those previous poor reviews and photos I had been served a perfectly edible meal that was quite tasty. The second meal was nice also but I was dog tired by that point so it was purely to keep my energy levels stable, the cheeky Oreo cookie bar was definitely appreciated. On an entertainment slant I even watched a little bit of a Russian children's cartoon, that was very random! Turbulence hit bad, loosing height to below 10,000 ft brought an announcement that was not for the passengers!

On my previous long haul flight with Sri Lankan Airlines to China, I took the plunge by asking the cabin crew for a little blog photo, this time around I wanted to take a backseat. The Aeroflot crew didn't seem like the type of girls to be willing to pose for photos, saying that they provided enough sass and entertainment to make up for their steely manner. Svetlana helped me from the moment I boarded the Russia bound aircraft, she changed my seat was changed without any hassle, she was really cool. Slay Svetlana! My section of the cabin was catered for by Svetlana and Viktoria, they ran our section with attitude and put they put the Chinese passengers in their place, giving their direct responses and not wasting time during their duties. It was blatantly clear to see that the majority of the cabin crew were beautiful ladies who looked under 30 years old. I didn't ask for a photo, I was always polite. Да, я служил! Go!

Boarding my second flight from Sheremetyevo to Heathrow I noticed the purser was a young gentleman, that wasn't a problem at all, it just didn't seem to fit with their ultra feminine young crew propaganda stance. Anastasia was one of the crew members on the second flight, she was undeniably stunning and mustn't of been over 25 years old? I contemplated catching the other bus after seeing her beauty! Overall, the down to earth no-nonsense attitude of the Aeroflot Russian Airlines cabin crew made for two great flights from an entertainment point of view. Svetlana and Viktoria worked hard during the Shanghai to Russia sector and the male presence was a nice change during the Russia to London sector. As I've mentioned I don't regret not asking for a photo with any of the female crew mentioned because it just didn't feel like the right thing to do. I didn't see many smiles but in place of that the crew did there jobs genuinely well without being fake. Their class attitudes were real!

Touching down into Moscow Sheremetyevo was a blessing, we had made up the slight delay from missing our departure slot in Shanghai. Poised to dock at a gate at Terminal D was what I wanted because the connection time would soon run away, I wasn't going to miss that London bound flight for anything. To our dismay we had taken several turns to then stop at the wrong terminal, the aircraft didn't connect to a jet-bridge so we had to wait a while to disembark by stairs for the second time and to be bussed to Terminal D after a long flight. People had advised me against choosing the option to pass through Russia, for me it wasn't an issue because my connection was under 24 hours so I didn't need a transit visa or a document to enter Russia out of the airport. Having my passport and boarding card verified seemed like a formality and the screening of baggage felt like a routine check even though the queues were crazy! No!

Cleared through into Terminal D's air side boarding gate area I checked the boards to avoid any problems as Shanghai had thrown some serious shade in that department. From the original gate 31 to gate 29, I checked the screen close to gate 29 meticulously because I was so ready to board, attempting to get any shut eye was my ultimate plan. Boarding time arrived and like magic the unmarked gate 29 finally displayed the details for the London flight that I was bound for. The bulk of the passengers on that second flight must of been all Russian, I was not putting up with waiting as I was a British Citizen who didn't need any visa to board that aircraft. Descending into Heathrow was a relief that I had made the journey, the River Thames came into view meaning my two flights were over! Aeroflot Russian Airlines surprised me, across that mammoth journey from Shanghai to London via Moscow, I was served edible food and served by the steely crew to then arrive on-time!

Аэрофлот, спасибо!

Joseph Harrison

24 July 2017

Yichang: Hubei's Riverside City...

July 2017 had so far been really hectic, with my final month at work halfway done and the weather hiking above forty degrees I was ready for Mother England! To distract me before my final week of work at the kindergarten I headed for Yichang city for the weekend. In search of the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam and a mystery ancestral home, I was so ready for Yichang! DAM!

Leaving work after that Friday dismissal, trekking from bus to two metro changes in order to reach Wuchang Railway Station was a pure mission! Yichang's East Railway Station was in my sights and before I knew I was fronted by a glorious hotel room, wait it had to of been a suite! Hitting the jackpot from another Ctrip find I was stung with a 300RMB deposit, I wasn't going to break anything! Leaving Wuhan for the penultimate time I met my China Highlights tour guide, trusting that personalised tour company once again I was en-route to Yichang's Three Gorges Dam. It didn't take long to get out of Yichang's pint-sized city centre, the views from the car impressed me much! With green mountains surrounding me from all directions and a clear blue sky, I was living to be away from  the crazy! The Sanxia tourist area looked like a headache to reach, so I knew I could count on China Highlights to show me something special in time!

Fronted by the dam itself was a sight for sure, it was such a vast open space that seriously went on for what seemed like forever! Bamboozled by my tour guide I tried to take in all of the information about the mechanisms of the dam and its integral functions, Coffee knew his stuff and for that reason alone I was impressed. Standing from a higher view the sun seared down it was so damn hot, dealing with the heat I was amazed by the strength of the Three Gorges Dam. Not a conventional tourist sight it was a hit with the large amounts of Chinese tourists, for me I knew deep down that I was fulfilling my third Hubei wish before returning to the United Kingdom. Seeing three parts of the tourist area gave me amazing views of this man-made wonder, the final viewpoint perfectly showcased the front of the dam wall, that view alone was insane to see how the dam spanned the Changjiang. The environmental impacts of the dam may be questionable but my visit was worth it. 

Lunch was needed after the time spent viewing the gorge, choosing a normal looking restaurant I had an amazing mushroom and bacon dish that was served with rice. Refuelled but still so hot from the beating sun it was time to experience the Qu Yuan Ancestral Hall. Paying homage to a legendary Chinese poet who by the sounds of it had the same notoriety as William Shakespeare, I was intrigued to find out that this well preserved ancestral hall had been moved due to the rising levels of the river due to the Three Gorges Dam project. The timing of my visit was immaculate, in between small groups of tourists it gave me the chance to take a few photos of the entrance of the main hall without too much disturbance. Standing in a blessed location it was something to do with the principles of Feng Shui as the hall overlooked a vast pool of water that bordered the Three Gorges Dam. Yes, Yichang was honestly living up to its stories. 

Climbing up to the furtherest steps led to a memorial hall, within that hall a beautiful mural of Qu Yuan's passing adorned one side. Contrary to the legend this master of words confronted the emperor of the time with some choice words, Qu Yuan was then sent away to another place think about what he had said to such a powerful figure. Sent into a spiralling depression Qu Yuan threw himself into the river and passed away by drowning, pictured were three women throwing Zongzi's into the water. The Zongzi's were thrown into the river to distract the fish, Qu Yuan's sisters hoped that the fish would eat them and not their beloved brother. Also pictured were two strong boats that were carved into the shape of dragons, believed to scare away any evil spirits the mural depicted the customs of Chinese Dragon Boat Festival. I was so surprised to learn a lot about such a wise figure and why certain things are practiced on Dragon Boat Festival. Thankfully, three coaches arrived as we left for the CBD!

Frazzled from my wonderful and very insightful trip I decided to chill in my hotel suite for a little bit before checking out Yiling Square. My hotel was located in an amazing location within Yichang's growing central business district. Arriving the previous night at my hotel before midnight didn't give me the chance to see anything of that city centre square. As the sun began to set I took my time around Yiling Square, I don't know why I was so surprised to see the twelve core socialist values in the middle of the square but it was becoming a recurring affair within one of China's third tier cities. Making my evening a leisurely one I decided to keep tea simple, McDonalds isn't Chinese at all but I hadn't stopped and quite frankly in the here and now I've officially had enough of rice and noodles! Getting my life I returned to my hotel to relax, it would soon be another Monday and I had had a long day. Luckily, Yichang was so chilled!

Being my twenty-seventh place visited within the Greater China area I felt like things were coming to an end at the right time, returning to the train station for my high speed service to Wuhan Railway Station felt good. Yichang posed to be a small city that was packed with beautiful sights and just the right amount of city centre life. From the beauty of the Sanxia tourist area to the man-made wonder that was the dam I was afforded a great final trip within my current Hubei home. I was schooled about Qu Yuan and the facts that make Dragon Boat Festival such a special holiday. For all the rising water levels and displaced people I saw the logic behind the dam. The weather was a but much to cope with due to the intense heat but I was willing to withstand that test. Zooming back to Wuhan without any problems I stepped off my high speed train with a feeling of contentment, so things had been great in Yichang for the weekend, it was time to work one more week before going home.

YASS Yichang!

Joseph Harrison 

18 July 2017

Wuchang: Libraries, Parks & Street Life!

So, it's safe to say that Wuchang called me back two weeks ago or so, I adore this part of Wuhan city even though its changing. After seeing my first throw of sights and smell's during the first few months of living here, I came back to see a hint of university life and a place that took me back to a sweet first encounter. Yes, I found a new love for Wuhan's Wuchang District!

Wuhan is most certainly a university city with its different faculties and large student population. I ditched the others I was willing to check out the grounds of Wuhan University, undoubtedly the most recognisable house of knowledge in the city. With a random Monday off work during June because of a campus closure I decided to rock down to see the famous library of Wuhan University. As I tried to reach the library in-question I got lost within a leafy green surroundings that gave a certain shade from the humid temperatures, the rain came and that as per usual was typical of a Wuhan summer day. Tracking the library down at long last I was fronted with a see of graduates, adorned in their gowns, all posing for their final group photos of their university careers, I had seen a sight like that before in Wuhan but the city's major uni gave me a better view even if the weather was bad. Wuhan University looked great!

Aside from library at Wuhan University I was actually looking for a grand historic building that overlooked a normal looking running track. Google Maps is a no-go here so I gave up the ghost during my first visit because that Wuhan rain was giving me hell, determined as ever I had a duty to return. With my head in the game I followed my Baidu Maps app, watching closely for the twists and turns and the obvious Chinese road signs I found my desired location in the end. Spelling the Chinese for Wuhan University that building exuded a sense of oriental flavour but somewhere told me I was looking at a European ideal. Famed for its Sakura Blossom I dodged that time because the crowds get too much, choosing a quiet Sunday I found what I wanted even if it was second time around. Dating back 124 years since its opening in 1893, Wuhan University's grand buildings fulfilled a Wuchang vision of mine! From the Yellow Crane Tower to 1911's Uprising Memorial, I knew that Wuchang had more in-store!

Taking a random turn I turned to Hongshan Park for a quick moment, I couldn't deal with the humidity at all so I wanted the next part of my Sunday to be shaded. Situated next door from Baotong Temple, I found Hongshan Park to be a hidden gem if not a really random part that didn't take up too much of my time. Entering into the parks lush surroundings I spotted a group of older Wuhanese people all congregated around some tables, they looked as if they were playing Mahjong, a Chinese board game that's popular with Wuhan's army of Grandparents. I didn't want to pry or be rude by staring because that would of made me a hypocrite and I'm definitely not one of those things! Wuchang's secret park had a lot to show me but I was just so hot and bothered, plus I wanted to get the most out of my Sunday afternoon by not hanging around in one place. Mahjong may not be for me, those seniors sure looked occupied though!

Compared to my first stab at discovering Wuchang, am I more streetwise and less worried about getting lost? During my most recent experiences in Wuchang I had more of an idea for sure about where I was going. The first time around I was stupid enough to look at a Google Map and take it for the truth, that was a mistake as the Changchun Taoist Temple was enough to find but it took me a second time to reach the Yellow Crane Tower. The formidable Uprising Memorial of 1911 was literally under my noise as I realised that during my second Wuchang day that took me to the Yellow Crane Tower with an added stop around Hubu Alley but the summer heat stopped me in my tracks, that food street smelt less than savoury. In control and aware of my environment I found my second instalment of Wuchang to be a finely tuned affair. I definitely see one more Wuchang day out before my departure to England. With Wuhan University and Honghsan Park both seen I had one more place!

Turning the clock back to September 2016 I had met a new friend from one of my go to social media apps, we met for barbecue the evening before my second academic year started. Getting to know that new person in my life across the road from a dimly lit food street that looked practically ancient was a special moment. We never went for food along that food street but the view will always stay etched fondly in my mind. It's a sight that always makes me think for a few moments each time I'm on the 703 bus from either Hankou or Hanyang. Taking my head away from a not so distant time I stood in front of that same street but in the daylight it looked exceedingly quieter than I had previously seen it. Just to take a little walk along that street gave me life to see those food stalls and restaurants that were anchored by three brick buildings, it was a sight that might be lost as Wuchang is moving forwards fast! Oh my life!

It's quite funny because next to that food street became a familiar location during the autumn season of 2016, close to Dingziqiao I spent a fair bit of time with a that new friend that joined me for barbecue. It was a time that took the first part of my second year in Wuhan into a new direction. From chilled weekends to checking out the breakfast places around the area, it was lovely! But sometimes things just aren't meant to be. I'll always have a place for this area of Wuchang because it harbours a sweet memory for me and who honestly can't argue with having a bit of happiness? Let us take a second to be honest with ourselves! My second instalment of Wuchang may have been in two segments like back in 2015 during my first tender months since moving to Wuhan, China. Things couldn't of been any different because I was aware of where I was and no I didn't get lost or trust any questionable maps. I'm sensing a partial throwback for the third slice of my Wuchang chapters! 

When In Wuchang!

Joseph Harrison 

9 July 2017

Teaching English: Wuhan's Final Semester...

With regret I announce that my time teaching is coming to a close, with my departure back to the United Kingdom growing closer I want to look back over the last six months. My final semester may still have two and a half weeks left but already its been very eventful to say the very least. From making countless crafts to hosting another Children's Day show, it's been ace!

Fresh from my Spring Festival break to Harbin and Shenyang, I was raring to get back to work to begin my final semester at my private Montessori bi-lingual kindergarten. Optimistic and ready I was set on the finish date! The stakes were high, well I had a new colleague who would be joining me in the coming weeks and I had a mountain of creative things to complete before she would be arriving. My former colleague Mark was about to move on to focus on his studies, we had worked together really well during the first semester and I was going to miss him! Getting back into classes was fine, it would be several months before the next national holiday so I got stuck in with what I needed to do! Spring flowers were all the rage with the Bridging children, we explored different writing tasks and we made the best of the pleasant weather. Let me say my two Casa classes were about to get a lot crazier! I was ready for those challenges!

Like a flash February turned into March and before I knew it was already April, the first three months of this spring/summer semester were going by so very fast! Pressing pause for a moment I gave my Bridging kids the opportunity to make their own 'EKON' cameras to take some imaginary photos of the garden at our kindergarten, we focussed on words such as; leaves, flower, tree and stem. The older children absolutely adored snapping make believe photos of the said vocabulary. It's a moment during the semester that I won't ever be forgetting. Class observations aren't the most natural of things but with time I'm not filled with dread anymore when my manager watches my classes or the academic leader for that fact. Just half way into the semester I had my final official lesson observation, I chose Casa 5 or Bridging 2 because their lead teacher is amazing and the children are more used to complete English direction from me. The official observation went well, it felt so amazing!

April took me away from the campus for the first national holiday since the celebrations of Chinese New Year, choosing Hangzhou was the perfect way to enjoy 2017's Tomb Sweeping weekend. Like any other semester I was getting busier and busier, resting on my laurels for a second I had a surprise sprung on me, the new after school program had been pitched to the parents and that interactive English class would begin the next Monday after dismissal time. The Elitekids program threw up major technical challenges but within time they were ironed out. Through the chaos it kept me on my toes and for that I'm proud of myself for getting on with what I needed to do! Resilience is needed to succeed in this job, working in China isn't easy and getting emotional doesn't solve anything because things don't work like that here. I have learned to get on as best as I can with what I've got in front of me! Yes, another holiday was near!

Back from Tibet it was time to get our act together for the Children's Day Show, I was in charge of my after school classes performance but I'm no choreographer so I had some assistance with that. The kids knew what they were doing and we had rehearsed a fair bit, the classes took a back seat during that time as the show is really important in the eyes of the school as the parents always seemed impressed after the event, they just want to see their kids shine! I was the co-host for the show as well as leading the primary English performance. The boys were led by me and the girls were led by Charlotte, finding her feet quickly and against all odds our rendition of 'The Music Man' was amazing on the night! I was eager for classes to continue as normal, with the clock ticking during the month of May I was getting closer to completing my time in Wuhan as an English Specialist, of course I still had work to do! I was a mentor, I had wisdom and techniques to pass on to my new colleague. Work!

The house had to go, I glued for my life a flower extravaganza for the spring season. Like everything it had to change and I'm not one for rushing a masterpiece, getting my storyboard design ready I worked with the materials I had and being truthful I'm getting to grips with non-teaching duties that comprise my job description. I never envisaged putting together displays before finding my chance to shine at Etonkids. Getting my storyboard on I finished this project with a few days after a last surge of energy. Putting those pages together by hand was actually fun! Charlotte helped with the fourth page, getting her more prepared for September. From where I stood I felt immensely proud of my efforts, that 'One Duck Stuck' display was looking on-fleek Wu!

Parent showcases have taken awhile to get off the ground this semester, lots of the children from the second Bridging and other Casa classes were absent with illness, the changing weather and the last four months had been tough for the kids. Getting two Bridging classes viewed it was nice to have the remaining Casa classes completed within two weeks, the other Bridging class remain but I have every faith it will go to plan. For this chapter I can safely say this semester has been a blast, with less than three weeks remaining before my departure back to the UK, I can safely say that I have given it my all once again! Goodbyes will be brief, I will leave as quietly as possible because that subject isn't a topic of conversation whatsoever! Well, Hengda Huafu, I surely can say it's been a blast!

I Came To Work!

Joseph Harrison

29 June 2017

The Nanchang Weekender!

China has given me so much to be thankful for the last two years, remaining within its vast mainland I have visited cities regardless of their size or popularity. Embracing Nanchang, Jiangxi was a no-brainer, located within easy reach from Wuhan I made my two year mark of being in China count, well just for the weekend! The Nanchang Weekender showed me everything!

Reserving my DiDi taxi before work on Friday 16th June 2017, I was prepared to catch my Nanchang train from Wuchang, leaving Wuhan that evening there was no stress as I made my way to Jiangxi Province. Keeping costs down I stayed in a Hanting Hotel, a Chinese budget hotel that was in a prime Nanchang location. Seizing the next morning, Tengwang Pavilion was on my radar without a doubt! Resembling Wuhan's Yellow Crane Tower I didn't mind that similarity whatsoever because it wasn't mad like that Wuhan attraction usually is. Dating back to 653 AD for Prince Teng, otherwise known as Li Yuanying who was affiliated with Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty. Reconstructed too many times to say I was over those periods of beautification, sitting on the banks of the vast Gan River I simply enjoyed the view and the change of scenery. For six pounds I saw a pretty impressive sight for a lesser known China city. 

Taking some time at the Pavilion of Prince Teng I decided against climbing the stairs to see the view, the riverside appealed more to me at that time. The everlasting Gan River spanned for what looked like forever, that Nanchang skyline had a long way to go, only a handful of shiny glass and steel towers lining the waters of that Jiangxi waterway. Leaving the pavilion behind I made my way for the bus to my next Nanchang find, not being a famous city I really had to do some thorough research! Catching one of the many buses I had earmarked I ended up close to Qingshan Lake. Feeling peckish I found a standard looking restaurant that looked really busy during that lunch time hour, enjoying my chicken, rice and a bottle of Nanchang beer it was all good from where I was! Qingshan Lake gave me everything that I had wanted, set within a park that I had found, telling the truth I forget what calm feels like. From an intriguing pavilion to a peaceful lakeside park, I was living!

Bayi Square, the symbol of Nanchang stood out to me during my research of that Jiangxi city. Waiting so long before I booked my random weekend trip I was looking forward to checking out that focal point. After making my way back down from Qingshan Lake to Bayi Square I grew closer to the Monument of August 1st, if truth be told I couldn't get over the amount of scaffolding that surrounded the vast square that was boxed in by a manically congested intersection that had motorbikes, cars and every other vehicle imaginable. No pre warning was issued that Nanchang's provincial square was undergoing a mammoth makeover, I wasn't happy about missing out on the square and seeing the red flagged monument up-close but I did my best to turn it all around. After half circling the right side of Bayi Square I settled for my strained view, there was nothing I could of done about that craze! Nanchang needed to chill!

Walking back to Ruzi Road I crossed a manic road that provided the perfect scene of the monument from a favourable distance. Even though the construction altered my views and plan, I still got what I wanted in the end. Did I not care to elaborate on my time spent beside Qingshan Lake? I must of been in some sort of hurry? Before I reached the calamity of Bayi Square, the tranquil energy of the lakeside views I was being served really gave me life. Poyang Lake was the original plan but I only had a short amount of time in Nanchang, it may not of been a view to write home about but it gave me a sense of chill, I was in need of that different view because life in general when living and working in Wuhan gets mad! I know the combination of calm and crazy was appreciated during that Nanchang weekender! The future projects of the new Bayi Square and monument looked very open plan with an almost European air, so I'm sure it'll look great! Whatever the view it was great!

I was satisfied by the three sights I had seen during that packed Saturday in Nanchang, half deciding to walk back to my hotel for a rest before grabbing some food I stumbled across an area that oozed urban decay Realness! At first I wasn't going to take any photos because it seemed like a normal residential community and people can get annoyed by a foreign snapping photos. Taking a few photos I made my way through the tight alleyways, people didn't mind I was taking photos because they looked quite curious. Content with my snaps I made my way towards Xiaotaohua Alley to get back to my hotel, a friendly looking middle aged Chinese man tapped me on the shoulder and asked me why I was so interested in an old looking neighbourhood? I love those neglected looking flats that always serve something to me. He wanted to show me a part of the community from the past Dynasties! So, would it be either Ming or Qing?

Walking down that alley felt very strange because it was home to normal people, I almost felt like I was trespassing but the friendly man assured me that it was not a problem. He went onto tell me that the buildings were from Qing Dynasty, dating back some 150 years ago and their days were numbered as the whole area was supposedly set for demolition! Peering into a courtyard, yes it was someone's home, it was amazing to see such a normal setting and that people in this modern time still live in buildings that hold so much history! Catching some time back at my hotel to publish my Enshi blog I decided it was time to head out for some food, I turned my back on any western chain restaurants in-favour of some noodles served in a simple cafe. The vibe of Nanchang's Ruzi Road area gave me life with its lights, smells and bustling brickwork style. Picking some savoury bites after my noodles I found a random freezer shop that sold every type of ice cream! Yes, Nanchang was amazing!

Trust The Underdog!

Joseph Harrison 

16 June 2017

2 Years In China...

I can say for certain that two years ago my Sri Lankan Airlines flight took off from London's Heathrow Airport! With this two year milestone reached this will be the final installment of this blog series about my time spent in China for this Wuhan segment. 2017 began with a bang, well I couldn't remember the start because I was absolutely trashed! It's been a busy time!

Fresh from my Christmas holiday in Yunnan Province it was back to work for the whole of January 2017, that first month flew past as Chinese Spring Festival approached. I had chose the milder climbs of Southern China the previous year but I had planned to head to the far Northeast of China for 2017's festivities. Cruising over what could of been Jilin or Heilongjiang Province I marveled at the grand firework displays from my in-flight view. A hint of drama shaded me as I arrived at my Harbin hostel but I wasn't fazed by that joker whatsoever! Harbin's Russian history gave me life, with a fair bit of it still in good condition it was amazing to see another slice of Europe in China! Trusting China Highlights for the second time I was shown an amazing day trip to the Siberian Tiger Park, Snow Sculpture Expo and the world renowned Harbin Ice Festival, the only trouble was the freezing temperatures dipped to minus 25 degrees! Icy!

So, I saved Changchun for another time, speeding past its West Railway Station in favour of a weekend in Shenyang, Liaoning. My second 'off the radar' city, I had only seen about the Korean connection that had motivated my visit. Grabbing some Hui Chinese food on the first evening I bumped into a icy food alley that specialised in Hui style Muslim food, it was delicious! Getting up with the birds I concurred Shenyang's Beiling Park before 09:00 am! Seeking a sense of Mother England a familiar sight found me, I experienced a Chinese TESCO for the first time! Through the familiar supermarket layout and signage I found some 'Everyday Value' chocolate. Shenyang showed me a great night out on the tiles, so much so I felt extremely tender the next day during my sightseeing mission. North Korea just got a little closer, dining at the Pyongyang Rainbow restaurant was an experience with state run media playing and Kim chi for dinner. Feeling very blessed February had the best start! Yass guh!

By March 2017 it was time to start thinking about the months ahead, I would be finishing my final semester at my current Etonkids campus in Wuhan so I wanted to give my best classes. Three months had almost passed, I had a new after-school program to teach and the beginning of that transition period was madness! After a few weeks into April that English interactive class became a lot easier to navigate even if the kids were crazier than a box of frogs. I was waiting for my new colleague at that point but being China a whole lot of confusion and crazy would delay that arrival. It was mad to see the Bridging children as they had grown up so much in such a short space of time, it would soon be time for us to practice the graduation song but we were keeping busy, learning new things each week was the perfect distraction. Yes, Spring Festival honestly seemed like a world away, as ever I was ready for the next trip!

April slipped into view, with the semester almost half way through it was nice to have a small break during the first weekend of that month. Hangzhou called me for that long weekend trip, I pride myself for my independence when travelling but when time is limited I see private tours as the answer. Checking out the Lingyin Temple had to be done, battling the spring weekend crowd wasn't fun but the temple was worth the drama, along with some cool looking caves and an evenings's visit to Wulin Square it was great! My China Highlights tour guided me to four places in one day, beginning at the magnificent West Lake I was able to witness its true beauty. Grabbing some lunch at Hangzhou's Chenghuang Pavilion was nice, it was a chilled sight that allowed me to see Hangzhou from a higher point. Museums aren't my thing but I got some Chinese tea at the Museum of Chinese Medicine, of course I'm yet to try it! Finally, I even picked my own Green Tea leaves at a lovely plantation! Go HGZ!

Securing two extra days off work, I made 2017's May Day holiday one to remember by taking a once in a lifetime trip to Lhasa, Tibet. Flying up to the Northwestern city of Lanzhou the night before I took my first sleeper train ever to capture the vistas along the Tibetan Plateau. It wasn't without a shaky start but the train journey was fine, the hard sleeper cabin was much better than the soft compartment, I would find that out the next month. The air may have been thinner than Wuhan but I was living a dream, Lhasa's old town was like nothing that I had ever seen. Tibetan food never tasted so good, tracking down a small tea house by myself I had my first taste of Tibetan Butter Tea. Getting into the tour I just loved both Drepung and Sera monasteries, both serving the right measure of Tibetan Realness! Jokhang Temple showed me the most captivating and intricate figures of the Dalai's, like a prayer I was there!

Altitude sickness had a hold on me but with a cocktail of unknown tables and a bottle of oxygen I never missed a beat, those moments couldn't be recreated! Pilgrims from far and wide had descended upon Lhasa to make their prayers and perform their religious rituals, I wasn't on a religious hype but the atmosphere was indescribable. Wrapping up the experience I climbed those steps to the top chambers of the grand Potala Palace, decorated in such splendour I was mesmirised by the colours, features and grandeur of the former quarters of the revered previous Dalai's. Sure, I would of made those reservations if that Potala residence was a hotel! Chengdu, we didn't make a deal to delay my flight back to Wuhan! Let's just say my final arrival into Wuhan Airport was very stressful! Thrown back into work the next day it was time to get back to teaching my Kindergarten kids, the clock was ticking before my arrival home! Nearing the two year mark, 2017 was on fire T!

Wuhan has thrown a scorcher of a summer in our faces, I do not appreciate the clammy and uncomfortable weather that's been dished to us at this moment! Not today! My time in Wuhan is drawing to a close, so to keep me going at work I decided to switch things up, after a visit to a lesser known city for Dragon Boat Festival I was motivated to see Enshi during a normal June weekend. The wet weather definitely had something to do with my train being delayed, the soft sleeper compartment didn't impress me much, I pledge to return to the hard sleeper cabin for my next overnight train in China. Back to Enshi, that Hubei city showed me something more lush than Wuhan would be capable of! That overnight trip wasn't without its drama but seeing a chilled city environment was good for my soul, it gets draining throwing shade all the time! Why hadn't I got my weekend travel hype on before?! Yes, Silly me!

Nanchang had been one of those smaller provincial city's that I'd been eyeing up for sometime, biting the bullet and using another weekend I hopped on a train after work this weekend to Jiangxi Province. Nanchang was a nice city, compact and well served by buses it was nice to see a place that wasn't famous like Shanghai or Beijing. As July grows nearer I have one more weekend trip before I fly home, that final sejour will be to Yichang, Hubei from a Friday to Sunday to see the Three Gorges Dam. Since January to this very moment I can safely say the final six months in China has been amazing, if not very busy but that's just the way I like it! Hopefully in the next six months I'll be in Beijing continuing my journey with Etonkids, trading Wuhan for the big smoke! Wuhan has been great, its moving at a pace I can't handle and the locals are a crazy bunch! From Harbin to Hefei, this first half of 2017 in China has been beyond amazing, I'm ready for Mother England now! Like, right now?!

It's Almost Time!

Joseph Harrison 

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? Oh!

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 was so bad!

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 E!

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 other travels it was good to be discovering more in Hubei. Let's go 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. Aside from whatever rubbish had happened didn't matter anymore! Breathe!

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! Yichang, you ready?!

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. Yes, Hefei definitely 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 Day holiday. I loved the ordinary vibe!

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 hot that day! H was hot!

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. Taking a leaf out of Lord Bao's book, it was to be firm and yet 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 chilled towards Suzhou Road, you know I kept those scenic views!

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? Xining looks good to me!

Get It, Get It Hefei!

Joseph Harrison