Friday, 27 January 2017

On The Metro: Wuhan's Line 2

I'm not one for the bus, wherever there is a metro I am underground before you could say 'Mind The Gap!' After living in Wuhan, China for sometime now I have seen the steady growth of its metro system. From Optics Valley Square to Jiyuqiao, I'm going to explore Line 2 of the Wuhan Metro before it crosses the Yangtze River to Hankou. Have some manners Wuhan! Now!

I am blessed to live moments away from Optics Valley Square station, its the current southern terminus for Wuhan Metro's Line 2. Fashioned with Cherry Blossom Pink its a firm favourite of mine, connecting Guanggu to Tianhe International Airport it wasn't always easy to get from Optics Valley to Wuhan's own airport! Enough of that business I'm ready to look back to see what delights through Hongshan and Wuchang can be found along Line 2 before crossing over the Yangtze River branch of the line to Hankou and the airport. Optics Valley Square is surely running way past its capacity, to navigate this station sincerely takes patience and the willpower not to kick off, the way people walk through the station it's like the shepherd's gone on holiday and he's never coming back! Optics Valley Square station unlocked the key for me, I wouldn't of seen as much without the metro! Guanggu Square, don't let me lose it! Let's go down!

Aside from the insane rate of construction Optics Valley Square is seeing right now I know it will unveil something spectacular, its just the herding of commuters that's the problem! Living within my prime Guanggu location it only takes me around eight minutes from my building to Exit C of Optics Valley Square Station, it's not bad at all! Shopping in Guanggu is endless for the Chinese audience, I prefer to get off the Metro and get home as fast as possible! Sunday is not a day of rest at Optics Valley Square station, no it has to be the busiest day judging by the consistent seas of people bumbling they way to the Wuhan Metro! A Southern extension is being built as we speak, so far its making my bus commute to work a nightmare as the construction has overtaken Luoyu East Road and Jiayuan Road! All in the name of progress for Optics Valley. Getting away is easy because of this terminus station, I might complain but its very convenient for me. Now, where's my Wuhan Tong gone!?

Yangjiawan and Huquan stations follow Optics Valley Square station, I rarely get off at those stations unless I don't get an electric bike to my friend Elli's community as she lives near Huquan station. Computown and the China Central Normal University can be found at Guangbutun, I tried to get my phone screened replaced at Computown, it was maze of wires and electric repair shops! Trying a secret bar was also another reason that Guangbutun station was my destination. Further into Wuchang District lies Jiedaokou Station, home to many bars and shopping, its a popular Wuhan hangout but I now rarely get off there. Since I started using Line 2 of the Wuhan Metro I have been able to see parts of Hongshan Distrct within this side of the line, these place are not touristy at all so they inhabit a certain concrete charm. With Baotong Temple station approaching, I do feel a certain connection to that stop. Stop it J!

It should be a dead giveaway what can be found at Baotong Temple station?! Yes, one of Wuhan's legendary Buddhist temples can be found a few steps away from Exits C2 and D. Baotong Temple has to be one of my favourite Wuhan temples along with the Gude Temple of Hankou, I love living six stops away from Optics Valley Square to Baotong Temple! I cannot get over the stillness of the temple even though its only a stones through from the Wuhan Metro it helps people get their spiritual fix, then get back underground on the metro. One stop away heading towards Tianhe Airport is Zhongnan Road, a true of sight of crazy with umpteenth amounts of skyscrapers that almost touch the clouds! I will always have a close connection between the areas around Baotong Temple and Zhongnan Road stations, but that's a secret! I find myself at Zhongnan Road station when I change onto Line 4 to either Han Street or Wuhan Railway Station, sometimes I have to take care of some very shady business! Truth!

Staying on the metro between Zhongnan Road and Pangxiejia stations I don't have a clue about Hongshan Square or Xiaoguishan but I'm not going to loose any sleep over that! Finding coffee and cake along Tanhualin I took a chance on my 25th birthday to surface from Line 2 at Pangxiejia station, I didn't really know where I was going at first until I saw a brown tourist sign. Taken into a labyrinth of coffeeshops and small hipster-like bars I loved the feel of Tanhualin even thought the Trip Advisor reviews had been less than complimentary! Stopping off at Merci I got my coffee and cake fix, I would definitely return. Done with my sweet treat I took a stroll away from that cute Wuhan street to find a gritty market street, not short of smells and sights that would put a westerner off their food for a month but it gave me life, I live for pieces of Realness. From Hongshan to Wuchang, its true Line 2 covers so much! Er Coffee, please?!

Before passing under the Yangtze River to the Hankou section of Line 2, the last stop before the water is Jiyuqiao station. During my first year teaching I went to a few pre-drinks close to Jiyuqiao, those apartments were close to the station, giving a perfect distance to Guanggu in one direction and over the water to Hankou in the other direction but I'll always be rooting for Optics Valley Square! Taking in the crazy at Optics Valley Square station I have lost my cool more times than I could count, shepherd you've got one hell of a flock to guide! Baotong Temple gave me some calm and connected me to a special one, there's just something about that place! Well, as of the 28th of December 2016 the northern extension from Jinyintan to Tianhe International Airport will make my Spring Festival flight out to Harbin seamless from my end. Line 2's truly a monster I couldn't find the space for all of the stations in one post! The Wuhan Metro gets me about a lot! Seriously, get built already!

Going Underground! 

Joseph Harrison 

Thursday, 26 January 2017

China: Guangzhou, Changsha & Zhengzhou...

Following the crowd is boring, dealing three of China's wildcard cities showed me how to be a travel trailblazer! Bowing down to the favourites like Shanghai and Beijing I wanted to give three alternative cities my full attention, I took on that travel challenge without question! Feeling like the only 'Waiguoren', Guangzhou, Changsha and Zhengzhou are my three wildcards!

I had never heard so much shade thrown at one place before I visited the first of my Chinese wildcard cities in February 2016. Guangdong's mega-city called me after checking out China's two Special Administrative Regions during Spring Festival 2016. Guangzhou boasted a super speedy rail link from Zhuhai, hopping over the border from Macau I zoomed to GZ to give this Canton giant a thorough inspection! Apparently I was going to be visiting a great dirty, smoggy and boring city but let me strike down those haters with one snap back, I saw nothing but greatness! Spurred on by the negativity of others I was amazed by everything Guangzhou served! The memorial of Dr. Sun Yat Sen showed me another slice of this savvy Chinese leader for free, Chinese New Year's Day allowed me complimentary access to that museum, my hotel was named after that site too! Guangzhou's Metro showed me the way! I had it done!

Shamian Island took me away from China for a brief interlude, that former trading post guarded by the British and the French defecated on any report that this Guangdong city wouldn't be cultured, people need to leave their hate for another day! The Pearl River spanned across the two sides of GZ with finesse, for such a large river I was reminded of Wuhan's branch of the mighty Yangtze River. This wildcard city served me some amazing Cantonese food, I was staggered to be getting a taste of Hong Kong in Guangzhou! With the night fast approaching I left the pandemonium of Beijing Road to catch a glimpse of a sleek and sexy Guangzhou icon, shining in its rainbow fashion Guangzhou's Canton Tower served like a true glamazon! Guangzhou was snatching wildcard points for its city from all directions, I would be having the last laugh! No, I didn't see any smog, dirtiness or I wasn't bored for one second because Guangzhou served nothing but China wildcard Realness! Get it, Guangzhou!

Humid Hunan lured me to its provincial capital of Changsha for 2016's Tomb Sweeping weekend. Changsha didn't choose me, I went to visit a friend who I had met online via social media. Andy showed me this wildcard city well, weather permitting we saw a sweeping stone figure of former leader Mao Zedong, it was more like a scene for Disney's Magic Kingdom due to the hysteria over a sight. I sensed Changsha's development was behind compared to the likes of Wuhan but I admired the unassuming city streets of Changsha too much to care. It was apparent very quickly that the tourist boom had not hit Changsha, or was it ever going to? That for me sealed this Hunan city as a favourite because I despise the tourist traps, I love a wildcard city! Seeking some sustenance I was introduced to some delicious Hunan rice noodles, am I an alien? Those children must have never seen a 'Waiguoren' before?! No!

Tianxin Pavilion allowed me to see Changsha's growing cityscape, the rising skyline was being fashioned for the future but the untouched nature of the Changsha's current view looked great! I wasn't looking for an ordinary kind of 'Next Level' amazing because that was what Hong Kong's for but the Sha served! No way was I going to be trying any Stinky Tofu but hitting up Huogong Palace showed me a snapshot of that potent Changsha signature snack, catering to my ever-lasting thirst of seeing something that is memorably on the down and low! No hotel reservations were made, I had lodgings at Andy's place, affording me to catch a glimpse of an unchanged Changsha city neighbourhood. Why was Changsha worthy to be a wildcard city of mine? It served a vibe that told me that this Hunan city was getting ready for the future, allowing me to catch a glimpse of normality. Ultimately, curiousity and a new friendship took me to Changsha without much thought. Oh Changsha, no changes!

I wouldn't say that I'm handy with my fists but if provoked I'm a force to be reckoned with! Keeping with that fighting talk, I chose Zhengzhou as my third wildcard city in September 2016 during Mid-Autumn Festival. The distant home of Chinese Kung Fu, I self-navigated this Henan city, relying on public transport in place of an expensive tour. Arriving under the cover of darkness by High Speed Train from Wuhan I made my way to my Jinjiang Inn hotel without stress. I literally had no clue what the city of Zhengzhou would serve up to me, I had my Dengfeng plan ironed out but I needed some other trouble to make in Z'Zhou! The stone carved figures of Huangdi and Yandi were easy enough to find at Zhengzhou's Yellow River Scenic Area, those former Yan Emperor's both gave me stern looks, three can play at that game! Zhengzhou's tourists were mostly Chinese, loving life I was probably the only 'Laowai' knocking about. Win!

Staying next to Zhengzhou Railway Station, I was fronted by a nonstop energy with passengers catching their long distance China trains. Leaving my hotel I was in pursuit to find Z'Zhou's Erqi Square, making it to that sight of crazy I was greeted by the illuminated Erqi Memorial Tower. Sipping my Starbucks coffee I was loving the technicolour view of Erqi's manic square and its shimmering towers much! Seeking the legendary Shaolin Temple and the Pagoda Forest I boarded that early hour bus to Dengfeng, Henan. On some extra crazy person mode I went to battle, this wildcard city had me mad because I wanted that photo without waiting for those family poses to be over, slaying I got my photo of the Shaolin Temple, I wasn't taking no for an answer! Shaolin's Pagoda Forest took the madness away from me, it was quiet and fenced off for a reason! Seeing a short Kung Fu show concluded by third wildcard city experience, I wouldn't mess with those brothers! Without question ZGZ brought it! 

Pick Your Wildcards!

Joseph Harrison 

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Teaching English: Semester One, Second Year!

I can't believe where the time has gone?! It only seems like a moment since I returned to work after the summer break! The first semester of my second year at Etonkids has finished! From one fabulous parent showcase to being the first teacher in my region to teach the ECA after-school class, those language materials didn't make themselves but it has been so amazing! Yes!

Fresh from my summer break I was itching to get back to my students, the second year for me would be a chance to step up from the previous year and prove myself all over again. I discovered the glue gun, that discovery made my life a lot easier and gave me the chance to be a lot more creative than the first year. I only had four classes to teach, it felt like a welcome break compared to the previous year when I taught six classes per day plus all my other duties on top. I was put in charge as the primary Bridging teacher as two classes of thirty-five or so children had been put together, splitting them up it made the lessons flow a lot easier and gave each child the chance to speak more. I was loving being the only Bridging teacher, the vast majority of the class already knew me from the previous year so we were fine. New children joined the classes as well, giving me even more English names to remember! Get to work J!

My first official lesson observation was looming, I had a complex about being watched during a class but I needed to get over that. I had to get over the mess that happened when I worked at the Training Centre because things were different for the better at Etonkids. Putting my mind to it I made a language material for September's book 'Things I Like' I used it for my lesson observation so I had something the older children could use in class. Overall, the observed class didn't go well in my opinion because certain children decided to play up but my manager thought the lesson was well managed and that I was making the right progress, it felt so good to have a positive observation rather than feeling petrified. Getting our groove on I planned a dance themed parent showcase for the Bridging classes, I wanted to surprise the parents so we Vogued the house down and served some Bhangra beats! Things were looking up for my second year, it was almost time for an October national holiday!

Working alongside Mark, a former English Specialist who had previously worked at another Eton Campus in Wuhan it was time to transform the school with several important English art displays. I found my love for painting and it felt great to say that these projects are part of my job title! Beginning with a Halloween house, we modified for the season and sometimes the book of the month to keep it looking fresh! The latest look was our attempt of a Christmas house. Also we made a winter themed board that was complete with a snowman made from paper cups and a Christmas tree, I glued together two boxes from polystyrene boards and managed to wrap them up neatly. It's always nonstop at Etonkids but I honestly love it here! Yes!

Of course I still taught some of the Casa classes, keeping Linda's class I was able to still teach my favourites like Ivy, Isla, Femi and Joy! New children had joined the group, some of them started at a much younger age but the mixed age classes is a Montessori practice. I had become so focussed on teaching the Bridging classes at a level that the Casa classes wouldn't get I had to simplify things a lot but I got on with what I needed to do! Lisa's class were crazy, with a few language issues from the teachers its not been an easy class to teach this semester but as time as gone past things have improved. I now have the support of the assistant teacher to remind the children of the ground rules in Chinese. I can't believe how fast this semester has flown past, but I love my job! Yes, my HDHF!

Little did I know that I would be teaching an Extra Curricular Activity after school on a Monday each week! Centred around Thomas the Tank Engine, this series of drama based English classes would last for one hour after school, the class size was under twenty children so I could give each child enough time to individually shine. Later on I found out that I was the first English Specialist in the whole of my region to teach this class, out of at least four other places outside Wuhan and I had been chosen! Taking a break for my Christmas holiday to Yunnan I had to make up three classes, two of those were normal lessons and the third was a parent showcase. I was immensely proud of the children after the parent showcase as they behaved impeccably and the parents and grandparents that had been watching seemed very pleased indeed! I'm looking forward to the next semesters after school classes! Oh, I felt like a real teacher! 

I have been sitting on a secret, the next semester will be my final semester at Hengda Huafu because I plan to transfer to an Etonkids Kindergarten in Beijing. I am enjoying my time in Wuhan and working at this campus has already taught me so much about being an English Specialist but I want to spread my wings. I will miss all of the children terribly, knowing that they'll get a new teacher makes me feel good as they will probably forget me after awhile? Beijing will be the chance for me to hopefully become an English Specialist within a Bilingual class, no more class hopping in the Huizhi format because I'm looking forward to the change. Up until then I plan to give it my all in Wuhan and give this campus my best till its time for me to catch my flight back to the UK for a well earned family visit before embarking on my third academic year at Etonkids but in Beijing! The Spring Festival holiday is just around the corner, the freezing cities of Harbin and Shenyang are waiting for me!

Another One Bites The Dust!

Joseph Harrison 

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Wuhan: My Favourite Things

Wuhan has been my home since July 2015, this Central Chinese city definitely has its moments but I want to focus on some of my favourite things. Food, sightseeing and security are the three components for this round-up of all things Wuhan. No, I don't appreciate running for buses and dealing with uncivilised behaviour but deep down Wuhan serves a few favourites of mine. 

They do say home is where the heart is, for this moment a place called Guanggu, Wuhan is my home. A student mecca with a series of shopping centres that dominate this Optics Valley hub. One of my favourite places has to be this nonstop metropolis, it may be always heaving with people who rush around like torpedoes hurtling for their target but its home. I have lived in Shangdu, a multi-functioning high-rise apartment block that serves as residential and business means. Signing my first accommodation on the 3rd of July 2015 I settled into my multi-colour Guanggu central area. I got to know that everything I would need would be sitting just downstairs from my apartment, I didn't have to look far for my local cinema because I have three to choose from! Connected to Line 2 of the Wuhan Metro at Optics Valley Square station I had Wuhan where I wanted it, during those early days I couldn't believe my manic surroundings! Yes!

I do love the convenience of this concrete corner of Wuhan, I can make use of the 24 hour general shops that are a stones throw from the entrance to my building, making those late night munchies possible. I have become used to the crowds and the ways the people walk, I have a method to weave in a out of the crowds because those Guanggu folk take their sweet time! Moving from my original apartment to the other wing was amazing, I didn't want to move closer to my Kindergarten because of the amenities that I wouldn't get in that area compared to Guanggu's central Optics Valley Square. I love to see the progress of the Square's construction because it was a piece of dirt when I first saw it when I exited Optics Valley Square station for the first time. I like nothing more to stay in my apartment at the weekends compared to sightseeing now, I do go out sometimes but I love nothing more than drinking a bottle of wine or two in my air-conditioned apartment for Guanggu can be so hectic!

It's no secret that Wuhan isn't a famous destination for overseas tourism but throughout my time living in this Central city I have found some gems for sure! My favourite thing is to scratch beneath the surface, doing just that in Wuhan has led me to places like the Gude Teample of Hankou, a place of worship that served Hindu and Buddhist qualities at the same time. Surrounded by a really normal Hankou neighbourhood I got to know Gongnongbing Road to then be directed down a simple residential street that was lined with small businesses and a string of small tenement like flats that served 'Urban Decay' slaying any kind of tourist honey pot in my book! One of my favourite places in Wuhan that takes away those teaching stresses has to be East Lake, especially focusing on the Tingtao Scenic Area that restored some chill into my life when things weren't good at home. Wuhan serves its own unique sights, so give some respect!

There's no denying the mighty Yangtze River is another water winner in Wuhan, that surging river separates Hankou and Wuchang in a majestic fashion. I paid my admission to see Wuhan's flagship tourist attraction, the Yellow Crane Tower gave me my first epic view of the Yangtze River when I visited in August 2015, the skyline looked like there was a long way to go but there's a hidden charm to Wuhan. Delving into a pivotal moment for Wuhan and the rest of China I checked out the 1911 Wuchang Uprising Memorial museum to see where Dr. Sun Yat Sen pioneered the first steps for China to become a republic away from the rule of Dynasties, even though most of the exhibits were in Chinese it inspired me to look for other Dr. Sun Yat Sen sights across China, this Wuhan point of interest has to be my favourite tourist spot of all time in this city! I still have more places to see during my final chapter of living in Wuhan, I better get to it before the end of July this year! I am on it Wu!

Chinese food is a complete different story in China, across this vast nation each city has its own speciality dish. Wuhan's go to food has to be 'Re Gan Mian' that means Hot and Dry Noodles in English, those peanut flavoured spiced noodles are a breakfast favourite of mine and many a Wuhaner! Toast and cererals are luxury choices because western style bread is hard to come by and most Kellogg's cereals are imported from places like Australia or Germany so Re Gan Mian only sets me back 4 RMB, which is about 47p! Captured to the left is Youyi Road's Red Stone Room, a western comfort food paradise that was introduced to me by my best one, Fiona! Not for the everyday we frequent RSR on the weekends to enjoy their freshly made burgers, pastas and other home-cooked delights. I tried the Full English Breakfast the first time and it cured my red wine hangover instantly! Red Stone Room is a firm favourite of ours!

China has one thing right, McDonald's restaurants in China have a home delivery service and I am not ashamed to say that I am a regular customer! I don't use this service all the time but it comes in handy after a big night out when I don't want move or when I can't move because I'm so ill from the previous nights' drinking. I also make use of this service occasionally on a Monday night as I arrive home later after my after school English lesson that I teach at my Guanggu based Kindergarten. Muslim food in Wuhan is a winner, I adore dishes that are from Lanzhou in the north of China. Close to my Kindergarten I can get some great Lanzhou Chow Fan or a Roujiamo for next to nothing because that school dinner is a no go! I definitely don't praise Wuhan enough, certain shady business does get on my nerves but when all is said and done I wouldn't of changed a thing! Red Stone Room satisfies our hometown cravings, Wuchang served a cracking Uprising Memorial and the Yangtze slays! I'm ready!

Oh Wuhan! 

Joseph Harrison