29 December 2017

Shunyi District: Strictly Suburban Beijing...

Transferring to Beijing from Wuhan was my number one priority but I had one district that I really didn't want to be placed in! Closest to Beijing's current interational airport, Shunyi District somehow became my new home in China after the noise of Guanggu, Wuhan. I will be completely honest I wasn't pleased at first but life so far in suburban Beijing couldn't be any better!

Arriving into Beijing was enough of a shock, getting over the jet-lag I made my way from Chaoyang Park to China International Exhibition Center Subway Station in Shunyi to look for somewhere to live with my Chinese principal and a property agency. Captured to the left is my current community, its quiet and situated within easy reach to two subway stations that connect with inner-city underground lines. My first impressions of Shunyi were good, even people in the McDonald's at Euro Plaza spoke English and those international Chinese people were definitely well heeled because many languages could be heard during those first moments. I couldn't begin to compared Shunyi with Guanggu because the differences are so stark, in my new area it's common not to see any crowds or loud speaker announcements during the weekends. The 'money compound' suits me fine, keeping the noise away in the city. 

I haven't shared an apartment/flat since my Hallmark Aviation placement days in Newark, New Jersey, with Chinese prices on a different scale completely I won't be considering anyone else's space for a long-time! My one bedroom Central Park apartment boasts a large living and dining area, bathroom with continental toilet, a fair sized kitchen and a double bedroom all to myself. Rents are higher in Beijing compared to Wuhan but Chaoyang rents are three times higher than my Shunyi price. Shangdu might have been above 24 hour convenience stores and other god-sends but I have what I need a couple of steps away from my door, with a closing time for these shops its an excuse to save money. On the whole my new abode works just fine for me, feeling like I have graduated its proof my accommodation reflects that movement as well my working status. The subsidised central heating is a god-send because the weather drops below minus two degrees most nights! B, show me Shunyi!

Having a Carrefour downstairs in Guanggu was amazing, it gave me the perfect excuse to stock up on wine after work on a Friday evening, fast forward to Shunyi life in Beijing its a lot different here. Carrefour can be accessed quite easy from my new place but I found a cracker, a supermarket called 'WuMei', which is practically Chinese in every sense. Snatching four full bags of shopping each week for around 20 pounds allows me to save! WuMei keeps it real, located past a rather exclusive shopping complex the luxurious nature stops dead at the door because the clientele aren't the usual compared to Shunyi's elite, those villa residents mostly shop at Jenny Lou's or BHG import supermarkets. I plough my shopping trolley to and from the necessary aisles because those shoppers get me mad! One Friday night had me so crazy, the APP payment machine broke at the check out, it was chaos! Get it together!

Introducing a professional tone, the whole reason I am now in Shunyi District is for my teaching job with a reputable international kindergarten company. Going back to the United Kingdom for three months wasn't the plan but with certain miscommunciations dealt with I was placed in my Beijing campus away from the noise and madness of Chaoyang District. I wasn't expecting to be assigned a Shunyi location but within time I was able to accept the changes and my new location for better rather than worse. Conveniently located from my community I can walk to my new kindergarten campus within twenty minutes, it beats getting the bus like I did in Wuhan twice everyday and it leaves me with more of an evening to chill out from the fast paced nature of kindergarten life. Buses, never again after Guanggu's offerings! WuMei's madness and normality gives me life in a strange way but being closer to school makes life much easier compared to that Guanggu life. Yes, Shunyi will do!

During my pre-Shunyi arrival research I was relieved to see that my campus was near to Beijing Subway's Line 15 that connects this outer city community with lines 14, 5, 8 and 13 that can all take me closer to the centre of Beijing. Google Maps and Baidu Maps had me recognising the area around China International Exhibition Center Subway Station with the surrounding golf courses and leafy exclusiveness I was well aquainted to that public transportation connection. I can get into the city within about ninety minutes, that might seem far but it works for me because the noise of the city can be left right where it needs to be, Shunyi for the moment gives me peace but I'm never isolated because Line 15's Guo Zhan and Hua Li Kan Subway Stations keep me connected. A DiDi taxi from the centre of Beijing's party district 'San Li Tun' was only 70 kuai the last time I went out, that's about 8 quid! Chaoyang, who? I'm not bitter!

Did I mention that I only live 15 minutes from Beijing Capital International Airport? Yes, Shunyi District will hold the key to a speedy departure to the airport and then home after I touchdown back in Beijing. I have met certain Chaoyang teachers that throw shade on my airport side location, I have no issue getting a taxi to the airport for less 2 quid from door to door rather than traipsing across the city to catch a flight. I can see the control tower from the north exit of my community and its a plane spotters dream because my side of Shunyi District is on the final approach for each and every aircraft that touchs down at Peking International Airport, of course I see those departing flight soar higher across Shunyi! Back to the city, I've only been into town a couple of times since arriving because work has been manic but with a possible extended contract on the horizon I'm in no rush. So, Shunyi District is home for now, a different side to Beijing that I wasn't expecting but it's working out fine!

Countryside? No, It's Strictly Suburban! 

Joseph Harrison 

23 December 2017

Wangjing's Korean Connection...

Beijing isn't just about the Great Wall or its Temple of Heaven! Beijing is made of different neighbourhoods that aren't in the tourism glare. Making use of one very rare sober Sunday I got myself to Wangjing, an unassuming Beijing residential area that bridged a certain Korean connection. Things might be fractious on the Korean Peninsula but I wanted seafood Ramen and Soju!

Ditching the booze two Saturdays ago made for a rare sober Sunday, making use of that rare occurrence I jumped on Line 15 of the Beijing Subway to Wangjing. Why Wangjing? Formerly known as one of Beijing's outer 'sleeping towns' that northern corner of Beijing City has been fashioned into a place for its residents to work, play and live altogether. I was drawn to Wangjing because it had a certain Korean connection, I was originally meant to meet a friend near Wangjing South Subway Station but he was working overtime, turning an unfortunate situation into something worthwhile I wanted to challenge Wangjing to find its Korean side! From China International Exhibition Center Subway Station to Wangjing's underground stop it wasn't much of a journey, no interchanges were needed meaning the whole trip was under fifty minutes! Beijing is massive, finding somewhere to see closer to home worked out just fine!

My days out in Beijing haven't been so plentiful, mainly because I only arrived in November? But when the weekend comes round I lose that sense of adventure sometimes because the central heating feels way to good, the cold is definitely biting bad right now! Stepping off the escalator at Wangjing Subway Station felt great, it seemed like a normal residential area but I wanted to see through that classification. I had previously been to Wangjing but the exit seemed like it was slap bang in the middle of a construction site, that day didn't paint an interesting picture of Wangjing at all. Back to the phrase, 'sleeping town' because many outer communities that are away from Beijing were and are commonly ghost towns in the week and only come alive during the evening when the commuters return home from the office or at the weekends. Being a Sunday it was quite hectic but that's just China, frankly I was too hungry to care about that Sunday afternoon energetic pace! 나는 배고파다!

Heading for 'Korean Town' for something to eat and for a general nose around. Checking out the import supermarket had to be done, quenching my thirsty with a can of Korean apple juice had to be done. South Korea is known for its beauty and skin products the world over, so I wanted to get something to keep my face looking moisturised and on-point. Finding a deep pore cleansing face cream, trying it out a few days later I was so impressed with the results, my skin looked and felt utterly fabulous! South Korean guys from those K-Pop videos always have such sharp hairstyles, noticing a hairdressers I translated some Korean and got my hair restyled because it was looking like a damn mess! For about ten pounds I got my short sides and top style back, looking good is important here because its all about 'face!' Korean Town may have been pint-sized but it was serving it up! If I need any South Korean train tickets I'm Okay!

Hair done, thirst quenched and pore cleanser purchased I was ready to have something tasty and Korean for my lunch/dinner. Close to the hairdressers I saw a Korean barbecue restaurant that looked mildly authentic, regardless of anything else I was too hungry to care during that moment! I cook for myself most days so when I go out to eat I don't want to be cooking the food myself, backing that statement I ordered the seafood Ramen. I had heard of Soju, getting my own bottle for less than twenty Yuan I enjoyed it responsibly because it was Sunday afternoon, nobody has time for a hangover on a Monday morning, plus I like having employment! Back to the food, the seafood Korean style noodles tasted amazing, I was very impressed with my foodie find within Beijing's Korean Town! I'll definitely be back for some more Korean food, preferably not on a Sunday so I can enjoy a lot more Soju! My look had been improved and my taste buds had been satisfied, a job well done Wangjing Subdistrict!

Taking a walk around the centre of Wangjing's many imposing tower blocks I came across several shops, restaurants and other businesses that displayed colourful Korean language signs, reminding me of my time within Shenyang's Korean side of town it was nice to have that five minute flashback. The contrast between residential Wangjing to the SOHO development really made all the different, no I didn't give any of my time to that shiny new part of Wangjing. I almost ended my Wangjing outing after that moment but I came across an interesting looking square, it oozed 'twelve party core values' Realness without a doubt! Shiny in a rich red the famous references to the Communist Party of China could be seen, not judging it was a chance for me to test my Chinese reading skills, I managed to read three values. Sports Culutral Square added to the randomness of the day! Did I miss something? Yes B!

Wangjing's subtle Korean vibe switched up my Sunday in the best way, I was all but ready to call it a day and head back to Guo Zhan but something told me to do different. Stumbling upon an open market surprised me, they don't serve those sights in Shunyi by my community so I enjoyed that healthy dosage of Realness! Korean language signs could be seen within that darkened market area, many imported products were being sold from the Korean Peninsula. The wide array of colourful fruits and vegetables gave that corragated iron environment an injection of colour and vibrancy. Clocking the cut and blow dry stlye barbershops within that area I kicked myself because it was a lot cheaper, with that being said it did look like a conveyor belt and language could have been an even bigger problem! With my fruit purchases in tow it was time to head back to Shunyi before another new exciting week at work. So, Wangjing had something different, I appreciated that unknown area of Beijing!

20 December 2017

2016: A Very Yunnan Christmas!

Christmas 2017 is only round the corner, this year I'm shelving any holiday plans so I wanted to cast my mind back to 2016. Taking just over ten days off from work enabled me to see three outstanding places within South China's Yunnan Province. Getting that contract straight up felt great but taking to the skies from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport felt amazing! Fly!

Yunnan Province wasn't my first choice for my hotly anticipated 2016 Christmas holiday, I had originally wanted to visit Hainan island, eyeing up Sanya for a few days. The flights further south of Kunming were out of my price range as the next Spring Festival would be an expensive in far Northeast China. Kunming, Dali and Lijiang fell into place of that Hainanese tropical getaway without any fuss, well almost because my flights got changed three times! Touching down into Changshui International Airport in Kunming City kick started my Christmas adventure in Yunnan Province. The accomodation booked ended up being in a grotty high-rise building but for less than thirty pound for three nights I wasn't going to stress over that happening. The Stone Forest, Yuantong Temple and other Kunming sites were in my plan! To be honest, in that moment I could tell quickly that Yunnan was the right choice! Go!

Knocked out from December's busy schedule at my then kindergarten in Wuhan I dragged myself out of bed before lunch time on my first day, Yuantong Temple and a flower market seemed like the thing to do for that first afternoon. Taking it slow I took in the calm of Yuantong Temple, I want to drop-kick people who say China's temples are all the same, I looked deep into the spirit of that Kunming  place of worship to find something that I adored. Walking for what felt like an age I found the Flower and Birds Market of Kunming along Bailong Road. Being the 'Spring City' I appreciated the colourful blooms that were for sale, I didn't feel the need to buy any souvenirs because I was there for a mooch around and nothing else. Returning back to the city I found my friend who was waiting for me, we had met in a nightclub during 2015's National Day holiday in Chengdu. My first twenty-four hours in Kunming were amazing, I was ready for one more day in that 'Spring City' before Dali!

Kunming's chilled vibe had me sleeping in again the next day, grabbing a taxi to the city's east coach station had to be done. Again, I wasn't in any rush during that Christmas holiday. The express bus to the Stone Forest was easy enough to get right, arriving with just enough time to see what all the fuss was about it. Getting to the scene captured to the right took some going but it was all worth it. The Stone Forest looked like nothing I had ever seen before that moment, my alternative Christmas trip was turning out to be something else! Making my way through that jagged forest gave me certain illusions of the prehistoric ages, I loved that 'Glamasuarus' moment! I didn't want any random selfies! Chinese tourists know no boundaries! Successfully getting back to Kunming's city centre showed me the complexity to its main railway station but I was going to be fine the next day bound for Dali. How I loved Kunming so very much!

Returning to my hotel I decided to have a little rest, jetting off on holiday straight from my classes had tired me out, I didn't want to be a bore though and stay in my room anymore than I needed to. Checking out a random night street on my laptop, I ran with that last-minute research and hopped into a taxi bound for Wenhua Street because clubbing wasn't on the menu that evening. Dining at a curry house provided me with a lovely dinner, discovering the night lights impressed me much along that cute Kunming street. The shop windows painted the perfect picture and the atmosphere was nice and chilled, another reoccurring sight in Yunnan's booming big city. Calling it a night pretty early I wanted to get a good night sleep before my first slow train the next day, Dali wasn't served by a high-speed link so I saved a bunch with those 'hard seat' tickets. My time in Kunming was blessed, the accommodation was definitely basic but the bright and inviting nature of Kunming made it shine on!

Departing from Kunming Railway Station I made the six hour train journey to Dali on a slow 'K Class' train, I had only ever taken the high speed trains but on that route I had no choice but to experience the unrefined nature of that standard carriage. I don't mean 'unrefined' in a negative way because it was an experience worth having compared to the comfort of a 'G or D Class' train. Without any announcement I arrived at Dali Railway Station, flagging a cab I had to call the hostel to tell the driver where to go, it was a chore but another character building moment. Dali had attracted me for many reasons, one being its natural beauty and its protected old town. Settling into my hostel I hadn't chose the dormitory room, paying a little bit more I bagged a private room with its own shower for less than twenty pounds per night. Wasting no time I had a mooch down into the old town, it had been such a long day, I was sleepy.

Bright and early on the first real day in Dali I had got a ticket for a boat trip along the Erhai Lake, unddoubtedly one of the best natural views in China I had seen along with the rice terraces in Guilin, I was blown away by that Yunnan water! The tourists had no chill, feeding the seagulls didn't impress me much but we all make poor choices sometimes, I appreciated the view without paying them no mind, well I tried! Back on dry land Dali's Old Town was prettier than a picture, noticing somethings I didn't expect to see I found a roadside cafe that served a cold beer, taking some time out it got boozy! During my final day in Dali I took a chance to see the tranquil Chongsheng Temple and the three pagodas, seeking solace in that moment it was lovely to discover the three pagodas without any crowds. I felt a million miles away from Wuhan, that chaotic place had no place during my Christmas holiday in Yunnan, China. Dali was such a darling, I felt so contented boarding my Lijiang train.

Lijiang was my final Yunnan destination of my Christmas holiday during the final throws of 2016. Staying within Lijiang's Old Town felt like I was cocooned in a safe haven, that gorgeously restored UNESCO World Heritage Site impressed me much! Getting to my hotel was an adventure, tucked away down a narrow alley within the heart of the old town it was a relief to take my first steps discovering the shopfronts and seeing the general feel of the action. Flower cakes seemed to me the thing to buy, well for a good gift anyway? Taking it easy during the first day I found a little bar down one of the winding alleys, needless to say it was a good night. Christmas Day came, I dragged myself out of bed in my hungover state to Lijiang's Black Dragon Pool to catch Christmas from a different perspective. That Lijiang beauty spot was really quiet, I only saw a few people go about their sightseeing business. Lijiang was definitely lovely!

Back on the drink because it was Christmas Day I went back to that bar for more, calling family back in England on Skype was a juggling act because the signal was really bad! Waking up on Boxing Day, my head felt like hell but I found my way to Baisha to see the murals in that ancient village that played a significance to the Naxi people. Talking of Naxi people, I noticed the local minority within Yunnan province. From arriving to finally departing from Kunming Changshui International Airport I had an absolute blast during my Christmas holiday that I missed out on the previous year. Kunming was cool, a busy city with a chilled sense of chill. Dali was truly a darling, winding streets and the dreamest lake I ever did and oh lovely Lijiang gave me three horrendous Christmas time hangovers! The holiday was over after I immediately arrived back to Wuhan as New Year's got things turned up with Fiona and Elli, it got scandalous! It was ace but I definitely have more to see in Yunnan! Shangri-La next?

Last Christmas...

Joseph Harrison 

9 December 2017

Beijing's Olympic Dream...

2008 brought China's first Olympic Games in the country's showcase capital city, Beijing. I had my very own dreams to reach Beijing, China and like those athletes I did my own work to make it to the finish line. Going for gold I used my third weekend in Beijing to experience the showpieces of Beijing's Olympic glory. Will I be in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics? Maybe B?

I was ready for my first full sightseeing day in Beijing from my new home in Shunyi, Suburban Beijing! Scouting a MoBike I zipped down to China International Exhibiton Center Subway Station on Line 15, I'm lucky enough to live on the same line as the Olympic Green, it was a no-brainer! It was great not having to interchange lines because in Beijing that takes some serious time! As I surfaced from the underground shopping centre that was connected to the Subway Station I saw the famous five Olympic rings in perfect view. Why was Beijing's Olympic Green my first real day out? It was definitely that Line 15 direct connection that swayed that decision for sure! The openness  of what looked like the 'Olympic mile' was staggering, the pollution decided to take a day off so another rare day of blue skies gracing that Saturday. Biking some more because I wasn't going to waste an Olympic minute! No!

In front of me I could see a towering structure that resembled three flowers, rotating on the top were the five famous Olympic rings for all to see. I marvelled at the pristine environment, no litter could be seen during that manicured showcase area. I only ever got the chance to see the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on television in snippets during the annual family holiday, it was truly amazing to be in that triumphant location in real life. I noticed a development next to the Bird's Nest Stadium, it looked like it could be part of the venues for Beijing upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games? I wasn't surprised that Beijing bagged the second Chinese Olympic Games, China made a strong bid and has some grand plans for the main venues in Zhangjiakou. New high speed rail lines are currently being built from Beijing North Railway Station for the games with a dedicated station at the Badaling Great Wall of China. If I'm still in town during the games I wouldn't mind grabbing a ticket!

The main attraction had to be the Bird's Nest Stadium, the home to the main events during 2008's Summer Olympic and Paralympic games. Entering the Olympic 'mile' once more I caught the first glimpse of that gargantuan steel structure, it honestly looked like a giant birds nest! Another sense of national pride could be felt within that Olympic environment, I heard a Chinese song with the title '我爱你北京!' For those who can't read or understand the smallest bit of Chinese that song translates into English to 'I love you Beijing!' When I visited London's Olympic area in Stratford, East London I certainly didn't here any songs that went like 'I love you London!' China has that central core value to love ones country, known as '爱国' which is one of the twelve party core values, one which I agree with because I love saying that I'm from England but China takes that national pride for their country higher! Yes!

Making a splash during its time as the main facility for the diving and swimming events during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games the Beijing National Aquatics Centre served with all of its cubic glory. I had no desire to look inside at the exhibits because the view of the remarkable water like sports facility pleased me visually nonetheless. I could have gone into both the Bird's Nest Stadium and Aquatics Centre for less than 200 Yuan but walking around the area was completely free, I'll save my admission fee for the Mutianyu Pass at the Great Wall of China! Tour groups congregated outside the huge former Olympic Stadium for photos and for a rather loud commentary from their tour guide, I always try and be my own tour guide because I can't abide by following someone else's rule or being in a group, Tibet was the only exception! I had seen photos of the Bird's Nest Stadium lit up at night with all of its blueness but I wasn't so ready to see that, Beijing's nightlife better wait for pay day!

Scanning another MoBike QR Code, I peddled from the Olympic Stadium and Aquatics Centre towards the Olympic Forest Park to catch a sense of calm because Beijing can sometimes serve a little too much concrete and steel! Boasting its own Subway Station on Line 8 makes it easy for Beijingers and fellow foreigners, I wasn't in need of transport though. Astonishingly all 680 hectares of the Olympic Forest Park are man-made, constructed carefully with consideration of the Olympic venues in close proximity. I took a small stroll around the lake and towards the Gingko trees but I wasn't trekking through the hills for nobody! Families mostly made use of the scenic oasis of the forest park and the health conscious jogged and powered walked around the park but that wasn't my hype whatsoever! Beijing's blue skies continued to grace that Saturday with a smattering of haze, I didn't pay too much attention to that. BJ park-life!

Do I have an Olympic dream? Well, I had a dream to earn my transfer to Beijing with my preferred Kindergarten company from Wuhan. Being in Beijing, surrounded by the Olympic Green and Forest Park gave me a sense that I had reached the finish line and my dream had come true! But with that being said I haven't won the gold medal yet because there's a lot more hard work and diligence I have to put in before I get that target! Being 'Beijing Ready' has helped because I didn't want to remain in the same place for more than two years but now in Beijing with skills and knowledge I feel equipped to make a life here, who knows how long my Beijing dream will continue to be my current reality? My victorious visit to Beijing's flagship Olympic venues gave me life for certain, ready and waiting for Beijing's 2022 Winter Olympics Games I hope to return with a ticket to see something amazing! So, the dream lives on with more to execute, leaving me with only one more thing to say '我爱你北京!'

Stay Beijing Ready!

Joseph Harrison 

30 November 2017

Beijing, China: Operation Chaoyang!

Touching down into Beijing's Capital International Airport felt surreal, it was something that I had wanted for ages but I wasn't ready for the craziness that awaited me! Finding my apartment instantly gave me reassurance and having that WeChat Pay wallet ready helped a lot. Beijing had its perks but one bank was still acting the fool! No, I couldn't go back to Wuhan! Okay?

Through the paperwork and procedures I had finally touched down onto Chinese soil, it was a mission! Beijing seemed like a crazy mess of lights and noise but the buzz of China was back in my life, that three-month hiatus was something else but finally being in Beijing felt amazing! Jet-lagged like nothing else I waded my way through to arrivals at Beijing's International Airport to be greeted by my Chinese principal from my kindergarten. Staying with the same company was the plan but I wanted to be in the country's capital to experience another side of my preschool organisation. I had worked damn hard for that transfer, I was going to work a lot harder in the big smoke! Taken to my hotel I was plagued with a rotten nights sleep but those Emirates flights from Birmingham via Dubai were sure worth the tiredness I was feeling. Ready to feel Beijing's truth I wanted to sleep properly until a respectable time! Let's get it BJ!

Feeling slightly less awful than the previous day it was a good to be feeling refreshed after my epic journey. Agreeing with my Chinese principal, it was better to be looking for apartments before my company paid hotel room expired on the following Tuesday, it was currently Friday so it was best to bite the bullet with that apartment pursuit. Stepping down into Chaoyang Park Subway Station opened my eyes to Beijing's gargantuan Subway, I had studied the map religiously for months so finding the China International Exhibition Center was a piece of cake. Line 15 showed me Suburban Beijing, I wasn't going to be living amongst the crazy but within the wealthy Shunyi Guo Zhan area that presented a sea of flash cars and designer savvy Beijing wives. Piecing together the map I had in my head of that area from my research I saw 'Euro Plaza', there I found a McDonalds as expected, it goes to show that it pays to be aware of your surroundings. Greeted by the property agent, the search was on!

Leaving the apartment search with a firm choice, I signed for an apartment that had been lived in by the landlord, begging the question that he wouldn't live in a place that wasn't of a good quality. Getting a phone number had to be done, getting that taken care of in Shunyi was quite easy. Back in Chaoyang I had been set the task of getting a bank account sorted with China Merchants Bank, thankfully I had closed down my Wuhan account before leaving town. The staff who served me were so helpful, opening my bank account without any fuss was a breath of fresh air, Wuhan got me mad but Beijing was posing to be quite international and that was welcomed. Keeping two bank accounts worked for me in Wuhan, with a different city keeping my money synchronised had to be done for sure. Listen, I was not trekking back to Wuhan to close a bank account because the staff weren't prepared to think properly! No chance!

My Sunday wasn't going to be dictated by that idiocy because I wanted to see Chaoyang Park, thankfully I had the time to do just that. Transported to a bizarre situation, a setting within a Chinese park that served complete internationalism and I don't want to throw shade on other cities in China but Chaoyang Park was serving true Central Park realness! That afternoon was probably the first that I could breathe, the last few days had been fast and furious as I had parted with a lot of money and signed for an apartment within less than 72 after arriving from England. In retrospect, it was great to be shown three apartments in the same complex, but that park stroll relaxed me before the real work would begin. I'll definitely be back to Chaoyang Park in the coming months for a repeat visit and I hope Fiona will be with me to cause some commotion, the 'Wuhan Besties' could be making a comeback! Chaoyang Park was lovely, showing me that Beijing wasn't so smoggy after all! Exactly!

My first five days in central Beijing would soon come to an end, making the most of that city centre time I had a little message on my preferred social app. That message turned into dinner and that turned into my first Beijing friendship, I suppose it's all networking at the end of the day? Yes, of course! I'm sure it took me at least three days to completely get over the mammoth journey from England, but it was so worth it! If truth be told I wasn't and I'm still not in any hurry to see Beijing at a rapid pace, it will all happen when the time is right. Back to Chaoyang, I chilled in the hotel room to make the most of the heating because Beijing has so far served some bone-chillingly cold temperatures, it's not something I am a fan of at all! I noticed that most Beijingers didn't stare like Wuhan City people did so aggressively! Beijing felt right, it hadn't quite sunk in that I had achieved what I had wanted, I had a long way to go but it felt good.

Tuesday rolled around, being my birthday it was ironic that I was moving into a lovely and spacious apartment compared to my previous one because I was asked to leave my last apartment due to water damage. I probably didn't have a fabulous or scandalous birthday but I lugged all my stuff to my Shunyi apartment within good time. Internet was installed that afternoon and the apartment was cleaned professionally, well to a better standard than I have seen before. Feeling settled in pretty well considering I had arrived less than one week earlier, it was refreshing to have everything so organised. Topping my birthday I walked to my local supermarket, WuMei showed me how to bag one weeks shopping and household bits for less than forty Pounds! The first five days blew the ball out of the park, all I needed was my visa taken care of and to start work but those two things would be sorted soon enough. Just to add, I got my medical sort and it was so easy compared to before! Yes!

Beijing Ready!

Joseph Harrison 

23 November 2017

Flying High... Emirates!

Fulfilling a dream I recently flew with Emirates from Birmingham, UK to Beijing, China. Saving up for that airline experience with one of the UAE's most recognisable airlines was worth it, championing my previous long flight by a long shot! From laughs in the galley from Birmingham to a seamless transfer in Dubai's glistening Terminal 3 only added to my Arabic experience. Fly!

I had always wanted to fly on the Airbus 380-800 since it was put into service for one reason, to say that I had flown on a double decker aircraft. Making that dream come true I chose the leader in the super jumbo market, Emirates had to be the one with a doubt! I had scrimped on my flight back from China in July 2017, so Emirates had big shoes to fill to impress me but that wouldn't be a problem! Waving goodbye to my parents I had just left my luggage at check-in, choosing to pre-check-in and print my boarding card beforehand made sense, it definitely made things flow better. Birmingham Airport being my local airport has the bonus of a double Emirates A380 service to Dubai, making use of that nearby benefit worked for me. With the boarding gate called I made my way to see what would be taking me on my first sector of my journey, seeing the swish crew sweep past reaffirmed why I had chosen Emirates.

Boarding was seamless, stowing my cabin baggage away I relaxed into my lower deck economy class seat, choosing a seat towards the front of the cabin had to be done because I needed to make my connection for my next flight to Beijing from Dubai. With the proceedings taken care of and the pre-flight checks done it was time to see if the super jumbo A380 would glide effortlessly off the ground during its takeoff? Yes, I was amazed to be lifted into the skies without any sudden movements or feeling any significant speed, now that impressed me much! I couldn't believe my luck, I was finally on an Emirates flight bound for Dubai for my onward journey to Beijing, China. Having previously interviewed for Emirates and it not working out I could at least hold onto that flight. With our smooth takeoff and easy ascent into the skies over the West Midlands it was time to choose what food option I wanted, oh the choices! The question stood, what would it be? Chicken or?

Bring out the Bacardi! Having previously flown on a Russian airline that didn't serve a stitch of alcohol I set out to enjoy my two Emirates flights responsibly. As the drinks trolley made its way down my section of the vast Emirates A380-800 I couldn't decide what I wanted to drink before dinner was served. Ditching beer or gin I threw caution to the wind by having a double Bacardi and Coke, I wasn't going on a holiday but it sure felt like a celebration. Choosing the chicken served with seasonal vegetables and fresh gnocchi, for afters I had a cheesecake and a small selection of cheese and biscuits to finish. I was seriously satisfied with the food, it all tasted so fresh and I was even able to eat with proper silverware! Having another Bacardi and Coke had to be done but I considered my surroundings and fellow passengers, I was happy for the option to drink something stronger than juice! Emir gave me it all to me!

I had heard about the award-winning in-flight entertainment aboard each of Emirates flights, known as 'ICE' I was able to explore the flight and the planes exact position and many other specific details within 'Information'. The 'Communication' feature wasn't something I that I utilised because I could connect to Wi-Fi as soon as I landed into Dubai and I didn't need to send any emails. Undoubtedly, I made the best of the 'Entertainment' amenities by choosing a great film to watch as I ate my dinner, choosing 'Suddenly Seventeen' within one of the Mandarin Chinese language films showed me a current romantic flick that was conveniently set in Beijing, China. On the second flight I didn't watch any films but I made the most of the current music choices, the wide array of popular upbeat music was actually quite good and yes I enjoyed a few more Bacardi's. Emirates's outstanding in-flight entertainment had no negative points, more-over it was simple enough to use throughout! Oh!

Touching down into Dubai International Airport I was ready to find the departure gate for my onward connection with Emirates. With my bags interlined from Birmingham to Beijing via Dubai all I needed to do was scan my bags and go through security but no passport control was required. I had watched countless National Geographic documentaries about the Emirates operation, I was excited to see the signs in Arabic and the vast Dubai Duty Free outlet within the departure lounge of Terminal 3. Thankfully I was already in the same concourse so I didn't need to take the APM, leaving me more time to have a look for a small present for my Chinese and Foreign principals at my prospective kindergarten campus. Going for two wooden decorative camels, they weren't garish no because I have taste! The Bacardi's and adrenaline of the experience kept me going but I was in a suitable state because Dubai doesn't do drunkenness!

I automatically knew that I had arrived at my Beijing departure gate because the passengers had their hot water and instant noodle pots. The chatter of the Mandarin Chinese language sounded different, the rough tones of the Wuhan accent wasn't in the air it was more of a standardised tone, they must have been Beijing Ren? Boarding was slightly annoying because the passengers weren't listening to the boarding calls that announced the letter zones that were allowed to board, I had to bring out my Chinese skills to tell the people next to me that they could take their seats again for a few more moments. Relaxing into my second Emirates economy class seat it took us an age to taxi to the runway because 2am posed to be the ultimate rush hour period for Dubai Airport. However long it took I would only have another seven hours of flying left then I would finally be in China after a three month break that was made a lot longer but I don't need to go into that shady business. No B!

Backtracking to the first sector from Birmingham to Dubai I had just enjoyed my main meal and had watched 'Suddenly Seventeen' but I wanted to catch a photo with some of the crew. Only five rows away from the nearest galley I asked one of the crew if I could have a photo when the other crew returned from their break, he was pretty positive that was going to be possible so I went back to my seat. Giving it about five or so minutes I returned to the galley to ask again, to my delight Chutipa and Elle agreed to a photo! I love the snap Emily took under the Emirates logo, it was a lovely moment compared to my previous long haul flight, the crew weren't so approachable but Emirates crew were lovely! Staying in the galley for a chat with Elle and Emily they made sure I had enough refreshments and also snacks! We must have been talking for a while as they told me it was time to sit down for landing! Two, Bacardi's?

With Elle being from Coventry it was like talking to my cousin Laura, she was lovely and told me lots about Dubai life, it sounded major! Emily being from Southern Ireland said that the Dublin flights were always a lively occasion, within a professional setting I read between the lines because like the British the Irish love a good drink en-route to their holidays! I could go on for days how that informal chat in the galley positively impacted on my flight because the crew were so welcoming and natural, it was definitely a flight that I didn't want to disembark from! As I waited to disembark the aircraft I managed to grab a snap with the world famous Emirates hat on before the line moved, I literally could have flown another six hours on that flight because it was so very good! The crew may have quiet during the second flight but the service was still really good, I couldn't fault one single thing. Needless to say, I've already looked at my next Emirates flights to Brum via DXB!

Double Decker Planes!

Joseph Harrison 

5 November 2017

Notting Hill & Kensington, London

Stepping back into London, Golborne Road became my runway, giving me all kinds of European and North African flavours! Seeing Trellick Tower being fashioned into its next phase for London City living, I had almost everything! Of course Portobello Road's market made an appearance, but not before finishing things with a bit of autumnal realness at Kensington Gardens. Go!

Great Portland Street Station planted me in the right part of London for my fingerprints at the Chinese Consulate, some new visa regulation called me back into London. I would be able to collect my visa on the following Monday, things were coming together at long last! Seemingly surrounded by those embassies and fluttering flags gave Portland Place some serious international flare! Westbourne Park Station had me staring the brutalist Trellick Tower in the face, I didn't feel it was right to be snapping those photos in front of Grenfell because that disaster zone is still bruised and hurting from the horrendous fires, so I decided to pay attention to its concrete cousin along Golborne Road instead. I didn't want to be one of dizzy and disrespectful individuals that saw it fit to see Grenfell Tower as a point of interest, maybe a memorial will be installed like NYC has for the late great Twin Towers? Justice for Grenfell already!

Breakfast had only been a minute ago but those street food waggons had me sniffing out the talent! I had originally found a steak restaurant called 'Flat Iron' but as soon as I saw those Tagine being served outside 'Le Marrakech' Halal butchers. Ordering the lentil soup and chicken Tagine had to be done without a seconds thought, freshly made I wolfed down my delicious lentil soup with some fresh bread but where was my Tagine? Exchanging my empty soup bowl for a piping hot chicken Tagine gave me life! With the chicken falling off the bone and the potatoes cooked to perfection I enjoyed every single bite, did I need a drink? I saw the other table had fresh mint tea, I got one for myself and it was so good! Cafe Lisboa and Oporto Patisserie served independent coffee house realness with most of their patrons genuinely Portuguese, an authentic hangout for certain! I don't endorse hipster trash, throwing my first choice to the wayside I made the best choice with Moroccan food! 

Portobello Road Market was one of the first places that I had on my London list before my visa run commenced but Thursdays only operated on half days, leaving it till the Friday I was afforded the full effect without the mayhem of the Saturday crowds! Not stressing my mind I took in the many colourful houses and shopfronts along Portobello Road Market. The food stalls were not on my radar as I had already ate some amazing food. From antiques to tourist appropriate garb I saw the lot but I wasn't bothered about making any purchases because it was all about the vibrant sights. The previous London boozers had been transformed into Thai eateries and Gin houses, something that London has done to transform itself over the last few years, I paid that attention to the Earl of Lonsdale served me a refreshing pint of Cider. I enjoyed my alcoholic drink but I noticed the amount of tourists, something that I was not! No!

The market visually impressed me, was it a work of art? Maybe just so it was with its colourful offerings, London may keep on changing but this Portobello Road Market has been going strong since the 19th century with an evolution from it's early days serving fresh produce to today's antique and bohemian delights, she's legendary! Yes, Portobello Road seemed to last forever and then some, the market stalls carried on a little further as Notting Hill slowly turned into Kensington. One thing I thought was ridiculous as W10, London turned into W11, those tourists had no sense snapping group photos outside those outlandishly designed rainbow fashioned houses! During my looks of disgust at those individuals I clocked that those houses looked damn expensive! I'll never know! London is a living legend, she deserves a level of respect that is boundless, no that wasn't understood by those tourists. I didn't buy any antiques but I left with an appreciation for another one of London's markets. OK?

Reinstating some calm, I made my way down to Kensington Gardens to find my favourite queen of all! Kensington Palace may have been in the background but a glorious statue of Queen Victoria stood strong, stony faced and commanding the attention, Queen Vic still has her way! With the sun almost deciding to set it was almost time for me to make my way back to the Tube for that Uxbridge bound train, I had one more thing to do though! Before doing that one last thing I appreciated the pint-sized Kensington Palace, one of London's Royal sites within a very Royal London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, I was fulfilling fantasy because yes I'm a queen too! Oh, the air was filled with an autumnal vibe without a doubt, taking every single breath of that seemingly fresh air I took some time to enjoy that moment. I would soon be off to Beijing, China where I guess Chaoyang Park will be my equivalent? Kensington Gardens killed it! 

Where was Princess Diana's Fountain? I asked that question myself and consulted my Apple Maps but my battery was about to go and if truth be told I was content with what I had seen within Kensington Gardens. Admitting defeat because of the time I found Exhibition Road, running hell for leather to South Kensington Station had to be done because the Uxbridge train would take about one hour on the Piccadilly Line. Maybe the vastness of the park meant I didn't see that final part, hey oh! All in all my final day in London served three treats that brought the right stuff, I admired the concrete fashion of Trellick Tower in place of Grenfell because it would have been cold of me to do so. Golborne and Portobello Road Markets lived up to my expectations if truth be told, I left London feeling very accomplished yet again. London would be seeing me for one final time the following Monday for me to collect my Chinese visa, after the three month wait, it's exciting stuff! Thanks again, London!

Lovely London!

Joseph Harrison 

4 November 2017

City of London: Cathedrals, Banks & Markets...

London crept back into my life somehow, I had waited three long months to renew my visa to return to China. Using that 'City of London' location to the best of my advantage had to be done, getting back to Uxbridge within a good time had to be considered. Oh, St. Paul's, the Bank of England Museum and Leadenhall Market were in my sights after my visa appointment!

Staying in the South Bucks commuter town of Gerrards Cross with my aunt and cousins enabled me to catch the tube from Uxbridge into Moorgate for my China visa appointment. The formalities didn't take too long with my Chinese visa so I was free to explore the 'City of London' for the rest of the day, mainly built up of banks and office blocks known as the 'Gherkin' and the 'Walkie Talkie' buildings I decided to head for St. Paul's Cathedral without thinking twice. I had last seen St. Paul's from the Millennium Bridge during a day wandering along the River Thames during 2014 or 2015 but then decided to walk back over to the southern side of the river for some reason I can't remember. Paying my only admission fee for the day I stepped inside the grand entrance of St. Paul's to see what all the fuss was about, seeing it from the gardens just wasn't enough for me! No photos were permitted, would that be followed through? Maybe?

As I took my first steps into the wonder of St. Paul's Cathedral I was blown away by the beautiful stonework, apparently that Anglican Church doesn't receive any funding for restoration works so I saw my admission fee as money well spent. Respecting the photography warnings I was pleasantly surprised to see other visitors were actually taking heed of that request. Taking the many stairs to the middle of the dome I looked down onto the cathedral floor from the 'Whispering Gallery' the height didn't bother me but the golden views of the dome roof and of down below were amazing, every penny was well spent! Lighting a candle had to be done but like any Church of England venue, I struggled to see the Madonna! Going down into the Crypt showed me the way to my next location but not before finding out Florence Nightingale had a monument within the grounds of St. Paul's. Viewing from the inside and out I was content with St. Paul's Cathedral that November morning. Onto the money!

They say money makes the world go round but I at least wanted to see how the Bank of England originated. Making the most of one of London's free museums opened my eyes to another part of the 'City of London'. Founded in 1694, the Bank of England was originally conducted from rented premises in Cheapside in the heart of the bustling city centre. I was staggered to find out that it was a full forty years later until the actual bank was put into business on Threadneedle Street. Throughout the museums instalments I discovered the original handling of money through the newly founded Bank of England, in modern terms it functioned like a building society. Forgery of the early notes was something the museum schooled me in, even though the less educated dwellers of London couldn't read they could craft their own counterfeit notes. I wouldn't be able to that but I'm no criminal, really I am not! No!

Funnily enough during June 2015 I had crossed the busy junction outside the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange after collecting my first Chinese visa, upon that occasion I didn't invest any attention so I was very willing to be considerate second time around. Going further into the many exhibits at the Bank of England museum opened my eyes, obviously my favourite reigning queen will always be Victoria, so the coins from her days ruling Britain and its Empire impressed me much! Jane Austen had her own little feature, the new material for the new bank notes educated me that they will be more durable and be harder to forge. There's a possible new face for the fifty pound note but I haven't seen one of those for an age, they must be all disappearing overseas? London kept on showing me more, I hadn't expected much from my day within the 'City of London' but St. Paul's and the Bank of England captured my attention. Money may be changing but that bank is still coining it!

The day was pressing on but the banking types of London's beating financial centre made good viewing for sure, those suits looked just right from where I was looking! As I'll be heading to Beijing this time around I began to imagine if I'll be seeing any delectable suited individual go about town? Oh, I think there will be a few! Feeling peckish I headed for my final stop of the day, Leadenhall Market stood out to me during my pre-trip research and being a former filming location used in the Harry Potter series I saw it as a winning choice to visit. Getting on for about 1pm I was so surprised to see as many suits as I did, their drinks were most certainly of the alcoholic kind and that begged the question of what decisions they would be making in the office after those boozy beverages! I'm not one to judge but it's definitely not something that I indulge in during my dinnertime break between teaching classes. Really?

I admired the cast-iron details of the roof, the 18th century market retained a sense of its past but effortlessly catered for the modern requirements of today's market goers. Upmarket dining options were plentiful but I was there to marvel at the architecture that had attracted me to Leadenhall Market nonetheless. Going for a burrito had to be done, keeping it simple I managed to grab a bite to eat for less than a tenner! Giving that busy burrito line some time to quieten down I took a seat just outside of Leadenhall Markets exit on Lime Street, sitting amongst a pile of towering steel and glass I turned my head to my left side to find the 'Walk Talkie' building staring back at me and the famous 'Gherkin' to the other side. For a half planned day after my Chinese visa appointment I managed to see as much as possible within the limits of the 'City of London'. Returning to Aldgate for my Uxbridge bound tube I felt very accomplished! London slayed yet again but it is so damn pricey! 

Suits, Suits & More Suits!

Joseph Harrison 

24 October 2017

China High Speed Rail: Wuhan - Shanghai!

For a developing country, China's high speed rail network is quite remarkable, looking at one section that I took at the end of July 2017 brought together one place that I lived in for two years and three others that I have visited. From Wuhan Railway Station to Shanghai Hongqiao with two express stops in Hefei and Nanjing south stations concluded my experiences in China. 

Setting off from Wuhan Railway Station on the 28th of July 2017 signified the end of my time living in Wuhan, China. From the first moments in Hankou to the final moment that saw me running for my first class carriage kept me on my toes. English teaching was definitely my trade during that time but I got around the city to see some amazing sights indeed, some slightly unrefined but that's Wuhan! The Yellow Crane Tower impressed me with its panoramic views over Wuchang and across the Yangtze River. My Guanggu location had me crazy, but towards the end of my second year of living there I felt comfortable amongst the madness. It was such a conflicting feeling as I relaxed into my Shanghai bound first class seat, I had wanted that moment to happen, it was definitely tinged with sadness. Living in Wuhan hadn't been a walk in the park but those pitfalls and challenges shaped me for my next chapter. W!

Wuhan's East Lake had me chilled with its never-ending scenic views, contrasting with the quiet of Hubei's tranquil charms I had my first mad nights out at Wuhan Prison. That underground bar gave me my first taste of Wuhan nightlife, that evolved with my partner in crime Fiona because turned the party up! Coffee and cake along Tanhualin served a slice of Wuhan life that gave me life, over the waters in Hankou I was shown another sedate scene thanks to a special friend. Hanyang had a set of new rules, fashioning itself into something else I adored Qinghuan Pavilion and Guishan Park without hesitation. My nonstop kindergarten life glued all of this craziness together, keeping it together I applied myself to my trade. I had traveled from Wuhan Railway Station many times before that Shanghai departure but that final journey finally pulled me away from Wuhan. That Hubei city gave a fist full of surprises but a bucket full of dreams that I worked hard to turn into gold! Chill out, Wuhan!

Stopping in Hefei, Anhui, the third time round gave me a sense of accomplishment, casting my mind back to my Nanjing trip I had passed through Anhui's south station with a certain curiosity. Biting the bullet for 2017's Dragon Boat Festival weekend took me to Hefei, Anhui to see what that pint-sized city had to offer. Quiet but perfectly formed, Hefei had a very pedestrian feel about it with not much madness going on compared to the many big cities in China. A certain phase of construction was going strong around Hefei's south rail station but the remainder of the city sat waiting for the next phase. Investing my time visiting cities that didn't attract the masses always gave me life, Hefei had an unrefined nature that oozed qualities that larger cities have lost within the maddening crowds. Lord Bao kept it calm for me, allowing me to do some serious walking without being surrounded by the usual madness! Hefei knew this!

Hefei had parks without admission fees, being within a national holiday it was amazing to be one of the only people going about their business within the city's Municipal Square, the calmness was almost unnerving. Compared to my previous Dragon Boat Festival weekend I was pleasantly surprised to experience it without crowds or fussing, it can be quite something else in China during these holidays. Not forgetting my high speed rail journey from Wuhan, I felt appreciative for my time spent in Hefei as that Anhui city needed time but I had seen it before the boom bang had truly happened. Hefei had my attention for some reason, it was meant to have been one of my first twenty-seven places for my first China chapter. My G train hurtled towards its Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station terminus, my view of Wuhan had disappeared already but I was feeling blessed nevertheless, Hefei and Wuhan's chapters had been closed tightly but I was good with that development. Jiangsu grew nearer.

The penultimate stop along my final China high speed rail journey from Wuhan to Shanghai Hognqiao was fast approaching. Nanjing had me going round in circles, trusting that Jiangsu city during 2016's Dragon Boat Festival I saw everything that I wanted, well considering I got lost multiple times! The chilled nature of Nanjing's city streets impressed me much, giving me a sense of calm that Wuhan could only dream of. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen had brought me to my third and final place of remembrance after Wuhan and Guangzhou respectively. The Mausoleum of Zhongshan was worth the wait, even the manic crowds didn't bother me as much as usual, but that lady needed to respect the rules regarding photography! Unlike Wuhan and Hefei it wasn't easy to take a peak of Nanjing's city vista because that high speed train sneaked into Nanjing South Railway Station and departed after a few moments bound of Shanghai Hongqiao.

Reliving those Nanjing memories as that speedy train hurtled towards one of China's four metropolis's it gave me time to think what milestones I had achieved during those two years in China. The time period when I visited Nanjing was such a busy time, the escape to Nanjing showed me places that instilled some chill into my life for that long weekend. Spending a snapshot alongside the waters of the Qinhuai River showed me a lovely river vista, chaotic with tourists I casted those people out of my view to enjoy the sights that surrounded me. First Class was treating me well, I relaxed back into my seat as the Chinese countryside whizzed past me, the ordeal of getting on the train was pure drama but I was well on my way to connect with my flight that bound for Moscow in the early hours of the next morning. Nanjing once again became a distant memory, hurtling through the remainder of Jiangsu Province meant the municipality of Shanghai was growing ever closer. England called me B!

Checking Baidu Maps on my phone revealed my train was passing through Suzhou, Jiangsu. Suzhou wasn't one of my stops because my train was bound straight for Hongqiao Railway Station but that Jiangsu Province city played a pivotal part during the first phases of my time in China, it was all so new back then! Leaving that blurred view of Suzhou's city limits meant my high speed train finally made its approach into its final station stop, getting my things together was fine but the next phase of journey to Shanghai's Pudong International Airport was going to be a mad one! Hongqiao Railway Station oozed that Shanghai city feeling as I passed through the main station concourse. The taxi line was a joke, not wasting any time I used my suitcases as buffers as I powered to the east exit because that seemed like a great idea at that time! It was an ordeal with three suitcases but I made it into a DiDi bound for the airport. Oh S!

I had completed my final high speed rail journey in China for that chapter from Wuhan Railway Station to Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station in under five hours, stopping at two key stations flashed back memories of my previous visits to those places. Leaving Wuhan had to be done but I didn't appreciate the craze before and during the boarding process! Returning to Shanghai, the city that I arrived into two years previous of that late July 2017 high speed arrival was magic, time was still on my side! I definitely plan on creating more China high speed rail themed blogs in the future as I'm planning to make my return to China in a few weeks but to Beijing because Wuhan just wasn't international! Through the stress of that epic journey it was one major relief to touchdown into London Heathrow Airport the following day, the epic journey from Wuhan to London via Shanghai and Moscow was something else entirely! So, next time will be from Beijing to Shenzhen North! I'll revisit Shenzhen!

Tickets, please!

Joseph Harrison

8 October 2017

Like A Prayer: China & Tibet...

I'm not down for religion as such but I don't judge someone else's beliefs, shelving those holy scriptures to one side I do love discovering new places of worship whatever the chosen religious flex. China and Tibet showed me a series of inspiring houses of religion, giving me a history lesson, I left with a calm and centred mind. Oh, St. Sophia's acted crazy but she wasn't sinning!

China's bitterly cold far northeast showed me a slice of Moscow in China! Harbin had been colonised by the Russian empire during the early 1900's, bringing a Russian flare to Heilongjiang's provincial city, transforming that freezing city into an Eastern Moscow of sorts. Completed in 1937, St. Sophia Cathedral still stands to this day with a fair amount of its European Orthodox design. I was attracted to Harbin for its ice festival but I would have been a liar to say it was the only reason why I dealt with the below freezing weather conditions. Nowadays, St. Sophia's goes by the name 'Harbin Architectural Art Galley' stripped back of its alter and congregation it showed me and many other visitors how the Russian influence fashioned Harbin into a sophisticated Moscow of the Far East. From the outside the revival of this former Orthodox cathedral looked in great shape considering its turbulent past. Saint Sophia keeps serving H! 

From Russian cathedrals to another European christian house of god, I visited the Shandong capital of Qingdao to stumble upon another Catholic cathedral from the German period of influence. Qingdao was just famous for its beer because St. Michael's Cathedral conducted those key sermons during the European days that brought German and British interest to those East China shores. I admired the large paintings of the JC, it had those Chinese tourists transfixed for certain! Restored to its former glory in 2000, St. Michael's was sure welcomed into the Diocese of Qingdao with its very own bishop who shared the same name as myself! It was incredibly bizarre to see such a convincing looking European house of prayer in Mainland China, when I blocked out the tourists in the courtyard outside the cathedral I could picture the German settlers going to mass back in those first brewing days. After my Macanese mission, I was amazed to see two prime examples of western religion in China. 

Bhuddism and Taoism seems to be prominent faiths in the China of today, making up the main focus in prayer within the temples on the Chinese Mainland. I couldn't possibly begin to count the amount of temples I visited during my two year stint in China but I can remember two temples for a good reason. Hangzhou had attracted me firstly to its West Lake but the Lingyin Temple brought me to its doors like a magnet with much force. I learnt that the monastery had been designed and built by an Indian monk named 'Huili' around 328 AD. The main hall caught my attention the most, I may have got confused about the names of the halls but the bright colours pleased my senses to no end. Aside from the temple grounds I found the enchanted stones of the Feilai Park area, formed of jagged rocks, separated by a winding creek I loved life at Hangzhou's Lingyin Temple. Yes, I saw the resting place of Huili's' ashes! 

From Hangzhou in April 2017, I want to take this opportunity to rewind back to December 2016 during my Christmas holiday within Southwest China's Yunnan province. Touching down into Kunming Changshui International Airport I didn't really have a set plan for my two days in China's spring city but I knew Yuantong Temple was in my sights. I wasn't reading into the history behind Kunming's city centre temple because it was so pleasing to the eye I was taken away to another world. The shallow pond in the middle of the temple grounds set a peaceful tone to my visit and added to the atmosphere, no stress was in life during that moment. Yuantong Temple's already placid nature had me centred and focussed, it was the first place that I visited during my Kunming sector and it calmly kickstarted my Yunnan break effortlessly. Spanning 1,200 years since it's opening in 817 AD I didn't notice any major fatigue, I'm taking anti-ageing tips from Yuantong's nature! I was spirited away KM!

Ascending over the Tibetan Plateau took me away from real life to Lhasa, Tibet. My experience was impacted by the many monasteries, temples and one majestic palace I saw during my four day experience. Drepung Monastery was the first Tibetan place of religions significance that I saw in Lhasa, it didn't take me long till I was confronted with a labyrinth of colour and timeless scriptures that related to Tibetan Buddhism. The sky shone like a bright blue ocean vista, adding to the heavenly feeling that was already being served so perfectly. Spirited away once again but within the quarters of Sera Monastery allowed me to see the monks debate session, that meeting of minds mesmerised me, I was living to see that slice of Lhasa living in real-time motion. Sera and Drepung Monasteries schooled me about the history and the succession of the Dalai's, I lived a dream! Lhasa's religious offerings were on-point! Lhasa!

Johkang Temple crossed my path, ushered into the winding paths within the temple walls gave me the opportunity to see so much more! I had noticed the golden statues of the many buddhas, with eyebrows painted on flawlessly and a piercing eye they were definitely judging each passerby, now that's some shade that I could champion to the highest! Leaving the best for last, climbing up the many stairs to enter the red halls of the Potala Palace I made it to the top even though the thin air choked me. Amazed by the luxurious furnishings and decorations I could well have lived there in my own lap of luxury. Both Johkang Temple and the Potala Palace slayed in their own ways, I felt so blessed. The heavenly sights from the Potala Palace confirmed the reason why I had travelled so far from Wuhan to make those dreams play out in real life. Since my first 'Like A Prayer' blog publication I forged ahead without any religious conviction to find a sense of spirituality. I sense a Mosque next! 

Yinchuan's Next! 

Joseph Harrison 

3 October 2017

Cardiff, Wales: Castles, Bays & Mines...

Living life dangerously I chose Cardiff, Wales for a weekend full of whatever I could find from that UK capital city. Everyday life can sometimes leave me feeling low so that Megabus coach took me over that English borderline to Wales without any delays. Two good nights out were definitely on my mind but those Cawl cravings needed satisfying! Cardiff gave me so much! 

Bilston and Birmingham sure felt like far off places when I stepped down from my Megabus coach just a stones throw from Cardiff Castle! Yes, I needed one more little escape! Not wasting anytime I made my way to that historical Welsh point of interest. Dating back to the 11th century this Welsh ruin was crafted on top of a Roman fort by Norman invaders, a brief history lesson for myself done with I pressed on to check out the grounds that stood within the castle walls, from what I saw I was impressed very much, I felt like I was taken to another world, a time that could have well made me a princess or even an evil queen? Now, that royal prospect excited me very much! Seeing the Welsh flag fluttering proudly at the top of the Norman Shell Keep cemented the fact I had left England and I was in another country, within the boundaries of the United Kingdom. Anyhow, I wasn't quite finished with Cardiff Castle just yet! No!

Buying my ticket at the castle saved me some money, so in future I'll be double checking to make another saving at whatever sight I shall see! If the truth be told I wasn't interested seeing the staterooms because I had too much to see that day, getting with the programme I headed to the top of the Normal Shell Keep where I found an extra view over the main castle walls of the city centre. Climbing the next set of stairs to the top also wasn't part of the plan because I still remember when I was at Warwick Castle and the small spaces didn't agree with me. Getting as far as the surrounding stone walls I concluded my castle visit with a reasonable stroll around the edge of the green towards the exit. Was I in the firing line? No, I had Cawl on my mind so the 'regimental museum' section passed me by, sorry not sorry! I had a craving coming on and I would have been a fool to ignore that hunger pang! Was I too hasty to get onto the next phase of my day? No way, I was so busy dreaming about Cawl!

Like any trip of mine I like to do some research beforehand, Cardiff had me questioning the possibility of finding some Welsh food during that weekend. Leeds and York wasn't a trip that required a specific meal because I definitely sipped on some Yorkshire tea so that was good! The differences between English and Welsh food became apparent to me once I found out about a winter warmer known as 'Cawl'. Finding 'Seasons' opposite from Cardiff Castle as part of Central Arcade was a mini victory! Ordering the Welsh lamb Cawl without any hesitation because I was damn hungry as my pitstop Brummie breakfast had wore off. Tucking into my Cawl was an experience, an attack on my tastebuds in the very best way I was getting the taste of the rich boneless lamb that was surrounded by a range of freshly cooked seasonal vegetables, obviously I tasted some Welsh leeks! A champion hangover cure, oh I would be there on Saturday!

Feeling more than satisfied with my Cawl I was still euphoric about that simple Welsh dining experience, the tiger bread served with the Cawl was amazing as it was teamed with some mature Welsh cheese for a little bit extra. Cardiff got me crazy on the Friday night, following the way back to Seasons I was hoping to cure my deafening hungover state with a bowl of Cawl. Unfortunately, there would be no Cawl that day but in place of a visit to Barry I dashed for a Welsh omelette, I was grateful for that tasty Welsh serving because I was feeling fragile and then some! Looking for a final fix I looked to Fabulous, that Welshcake bakery had caught my eye the previous day but I wanted to wait for the right moment. Realising those sugary Welsh treats would give me the boost that I needed I was game for twelve or so to take my hangover away. Seasons and Fabulous served me equal amounts of Welsh loveliness, from Cawl to Welshcakes for the win! What other treasures would Cardiff have?

Reporting to my hostel for check-in was no bother, choosing the NosDa Hostel for two nights over the weekend for less than fifty pound was the one! Following the River Taff was the plan to reach Cardiff Bay but a pesky rail line got me sidelined, stumbling into Butetown opened my eyes to a whole lot of realness for certain! Finding Mermaid Quay brought me to one of the main reasons I had chosen to visit Cardiff, Wales in the first place. I had plans to get crazy later on so the waterfront pubs, bars and restaurants didn't appeal to me but they definitely gave a cosmopolitan edge to the Bay. Standing in its French Gothic Renaissance 18th century style, Cardiff's Pierhead Building stood like a pillar of strength amongst it's accompanying bayside landmarks on the Cardiff waterfront. Formerly the head of the Bute Dock Company the 'Big Ben of Wales' stood strong just before the sunset that autumn afternoon. Yes, Cardiff Bay slayed it!

Ready and waiting to turn it up I waited till Cardiff turned a darker shade, Friday was on fire as I made my way towards its rainbow avenue, well its Gay bars. WOW had my attention at first, not pre-drinking before going out meant I had a few cheeky ciders to let my inner crazy out, not taking too long I was ready to see what the night held for me! Moving to The Kings for something different, there I found cans of Strongbow cider for a great price, those may have been a bad idea but I didn't care! Finding my groove I was loving life, the night turned out to be a great one but it was time for bed! Friday night left me waking up with a very sore head and maybe I was still a bit drunk still but I powered through the day to find I was better getting back on the dancing juice to ease my hangover, it was a desperate decision! Finding my flex I loved the dance-floor with my KIA moves slaying the competition, I didn't care! Cardiff's nightlife left me feeling very tender on the Sunday but I loved it badly!

Pushing my horrendous hangover to one side I eventually boarded a train from Cardiff Central Station to Trehafod railway station to find the Rhondda Heritage Park. After watching the film 'Pride' I wanted to see a village within the greener pastures of the South Wales Valleys, I wasn't disappointed for the views were breathtakingly lush! Reaching the heritage park was an absolute relief as the distance between it and the centre of Cardiff turned out to be longer than I had previously imagined. Ready and waiting for my tour around the former mine, it would be something different to add to my already eventful Welsh weekender. Our guide happened to be an actual ex-miner. I was fascinated to hear about the different ways mining transformed the Valleys in South Wales especially and how children as young as five would work down in the mines, working in an environment that wasn't safe for them to do so. Yes!

Finding out how the colourful canary birds were used to track the air quality down in the pits was fascinating, computing such information was challenging because I wasn't feeling too rosy but it was an education for sure. The condition of the former mine was quite remarkable and the competitive price of the tour warranted the amount of firsthand information we were given by our ex-mining guide. It goes without saying, I really rated my experience at the Rhondda Heritage Park that changeable Saturday lunch time. Returning to the city centre I decided to make the most of my final night by having another night out on the town, because there was no use just sitting in my dorm room! From the beginning to the very end, Cardiff showed me a class act weekend with the right amount of history, food and nightlife. I returned to the West Midlands feeling very contented but ready for a rest! Undoubtedly, my decision to visit Cardiff was well made because I loved every bit! Done!

Creigiau Caerdydd!

Joseph Harrison