Thursday, 30 March 2017

On The Metro: Wuhan's Line 1

Spanning the great distance from Hankou North to Dongwu Avenue, Line 1 of the Wuhan Metro gets me to where I need to go. Line 1 was Wuhan's first ever metro line, built like a monorail with its elevated tracks its a great way to see the changing face of this provincial Hubei city. Opening Wuhan up to it's very own IKEA, Line 1 always takes me to my best one! Oh, Xunlimen?!

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

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

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

Casting my mind back to November 2015, I had yet another random Wuhan day out that one way or another took me to Line 1. Originally, taking a chance on Hanyang's Tortoise Hill Park and Qinghuan Pavilion I needed to get back over to the metro for that Guanggu bound service. Crossing the Han River I found myself surrounded by a scene of utter pandemonium, with a little help from my friend I got myself to Youyi Road Station without stressing. Talking about Youyi Road Station, I was introduced to Red Stone Room, an amazing western restaurant/diner that served me and my best ones some great comfort food. Making our way down from Dongxihu didn't take much thought on those occasions because Line 1 took us straight to Youyi Road for the delights of Hankou's Red Stone Room. I may be only focusing on about five or six stations in total but those mentioned are the only ones that have warranted my attention. I did pass by Hankou North during August 2016, it looked so shiny and new! 

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

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

Big Up Dongwu Avenue! 

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 27 March 2017

2014-2017: The Road To China...

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

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

All of my actual assignments had been submitted, my dissertation had been finalised and the proud moment came for that to be bound. Getting down to Salisbury for the day I used my then Birmingham location to enjoy a day taking in the sights of Stonehenge, Old Sarum and Salisbury Cathedral to celebrate the last weeks of my course, it had been a mental year for a few reasons but at that point I wanted to enjoy the moment. Arriving back into Birmingham after that day hit me as it was the final time I returned to Birmingham as a student. Before packing up my room and saying goodbye to the Maltings I enjoyed an incredible weekend at Birmingham Pride, the last two years had seen me out of the country so I took my one chance before leaving Brum for good. Crashing down to reality with an almighty bang, I left the Maltings for the final time never to return in the same capacity again. I was about to find out what life would be like after finishing university, honestly no I was not ready!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Road Continues...

Joseph Harrison 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

China: Shenyang's Korean Connection...

Striding back to my hotel the next morning feeling slightly worse for wear, my second full day of sightseeing wasn't going to be wasted! Refreshed from the night before I got back out to discover Shenyang's city sights, feeling tender I had three specific places to successfully find before sunset. I was in-search of Shenyang's Korean connection! SY, I got myself sorted out!

I was back out in the cold I pushed my hangover to one side, ditching the metro I walked the short distance from my Fengtian Jie hotel to Shenyang's Imperial Palace. It wasn't exactly early on but I got myself back on that sightseeing grind without a problem. Serving 1625 Realness I appreciated the regal surroundings that I was stood in, that Shenyang Imperial Palace had me stunned. I didn't waste time taking extensive photos of the many buildings, satisfied with what photos I secured it was a successful visit. Built to resemble the Forbidden City in Beijing, I will be keeping those elaborate buildings in mind for my next chapter in China's capital. Going under I remembered how much of a great time I had the previous night, that hangover was worn like a badge of honour, I got over myself during my palatial visit. Formally known as Mukden Palace, Emperor Huang Taji added several structures during his reign!

The cold in Shenyang wasn't as mind-numbing as it had been in Harbin, in fact the air had more a fresh feel to it. Embracing all that Shenyang had to offer was easy, I was yet again one of the very few foreign visitors at the Imperial Palace as I did see a couple looked like they must of been from a European country? I found out quickly Shenyang's Imperial Palace was like a maze to navigate, I had seen a photo similar to the one above as a marketing tool online and wasn't going to move onto my next place until I had found it! Hailed as one of Shenyang's top 10 tourist attractions I had unknowingly walked past it the previous day after I had finished with the European influenced former residence of Zhang Xueliang, that factor made retracing my steps the next day a blessing in disguise. As I said I left the metro behind as Shenyang proved itself to be a walk-able city! Pushing the previous nights shenanigans out of my head I was adamant to see everything. I got so messed up! Oh, Shenyang! 

Being an 'off the radar' city I noticed fast that a surge of development could be seen without much effort in Shenyang. Heading for the metro I marvelled at the upcoming W Hotel that was being constructed in the shadow of the Shenyang TV Tower, that towering feature was in my view earlier that morning as I walked back to my JinJiang Inn hotel. Qingnian Gong Yuan metro station quickened things up a little, I had Zhongshan Square in my sights because that was the plan! Trusting my Baidu Maps App I sailed through the city streets of Shenyang without a hitch, I always seem to feel a sense of trust with these alternative cities. Slap bang in-front of me stood the former communist leader of the People's Republic of China, the late Chairman Mao Zedong stood with his bronze style as a figure of power, I really didn't pay much to the particulars, I was drawn to the square for that monument and nothing else, OK? I was doing good!

Well, if the truth be told Zhongshan Square was another point of interest that I had randomly found online during my pre-trip research. Hailing the success of the Communist victory of the Chinese Civil War, Zhongshan Square memorial centrepiece almost shone in the dark with deep orange glimmers as the sun began to set on that chilly February night. After doing some digging after I returned from Shenyang, word on the street is that the locals say Mao is hailing a taxi with his hand arm in the air? Facing Shenyang Railway Station I was only a few paces away from my departure point back to Wuhan, but not until the next day so I had time left. The vast square looked huge with the regal Russian inspired buildings that surrounded the steady flow of the early evening traffic. I knew in that moment I did the right thing saying no to Changchun. It was a wonder that I was still slaying, I needed to eat but I was doing my best to keep my hunger for a certain North Korean connection. Keep on J!

Xita Street held the key to Shenyang's Korean Connection, ditching public transport I got back on that navigational App to find that Korean street. I kept my eye's peeled for those neon lights that gave this east Asian street a special after glow. Channeling a K-Pop anthem by Wonder Girls I was bowled over by this neon charged Korean street. South Korea could keep its cuisine and qualities because I was in search of some North Korean cooking that evening! Catching a glimpse of two North Korean restaurants I chose the smaller one, named the 'Pyongyang Rainbow' I gingerly opened the job to be greeted by a North Korean lady in their national dress the 'Hanbok'. A second door was opened into a spotlessly clean restaurant that was decorated in a clean cut, modern stainless steel style. My model waitress sprinted over with a menu and immediately handed me an appetiser. Yes, it was surreal but I really needed a drink!

Choosing a bottle of Taedonggang Beer, a recommended North Korean beer that brewed in Pyongyang I returned to my table to be handed a menu. The immaculately dressed waitress watched over me as I made my choice, I went for a simple looking beef and rice dish that was served with a fried egg and vegetables. No Korean dining experience wouldn't of been complete without a serving of Kimchi! I chose that fiery dish in honour of Season 8 Rupaul's Drag Race queen, who is aptly named 'Kimchi!' As I savoured my only beer in my deteriorating state I watched the state run North Korean television channel as my food was mysteriously cooked in a kitchen I couldn't see an entrance to, that propaganda was something quite unspeakable to watch as I have watched hundreds of documentaries about the 'DPRK'. I had finished my manic pursuit, feeling drained but contented with my efforts I paid up, the waitress produced the correct change as soon as she saw my 100 note! Bye bye SY!

선양, 감사 합니다!

Joseph Harrison

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Serving It Up... Shenyang, China!

Shenyang was calling me! I left Harbin West Railway Station by high speed train on the last day of January 2017, I was ready to see my second 'off the radar' city in China! I didn't have a plan, I merely knew of a few places that I could potentially see but I was ready. Excited for the unexpected, Shenyang would be serving up all shades of crazy! Yes, I was so ready for Shenyang!

Like most Chinese cities that are 'off the radar' it can make my pre-trip research a little challenging, embracing that factor completely I came across Qingzhen Street on Trip Advisor. Not really detailing much or its exact location I took a mental note so I could search for that intriguing Hui themed street on Baidu Maps. Taking advantage of Shenyang's shiny and new looking metro system I made it to Fengtian Jie without any stress, out of the corner of my eye to the left I randomly caught a glimpse of that Muslim food street without much warning, a pleasant surprise if truth be told. Checking into my JinJiang Inn hotel room was a blessing as I was able to pay for my stay using WeChat Pay! Having adequate time to see all I could of Shenyang I was in no rush to hit the town that evening, the routine of waking up early in Harbin and full days of sightseeing had hit me like a truck, I needed food and to sleep. Yes SH!

Food was most certainly on my mind, getting it together before I crashed I was up for checking out Qingzhen Street to grab a bite to eat. Being a fan of Hui Chinese food I was excited to see what was in-store for me! Not many places were open due to it being the Chinese New Year holiday week but the restaurants that stood open seemed to be doing a roaring trade, a good sign for any place to eat at in my book! My third attempt proved to be successful, taking the table closest to the door I played it safe by choosing a meat dish and a vegetable dish, followed by what looked like a meat pastry that tasted amazing, it was like a Chinese sausage roll with a twist. I reveled being the only foreigner in the place, sitting back to watch the other diners who acted like ordinary British people would do at Christmas time, it certainly looked like they were enjoying their food and drink! Burnt out, with a satisfied stomach it was time for me to recharge, I wanted to seize the next day! Now, no slacking SY!

Waking up before the birds I was feeling fresh and ready to take on the city of Shenyang. The hotel breakfast was a no-go, stopping by McDonald's outside Qingnian Dajie metro station was a winner! After a short interchange on the metro I arrived at the gates of Shenyang's Beiling Park. I had seen something about a series of historic buildings that looked worthy enough to check out. Entering the park I loved the frozen feel that had overtaken the park, taking a glance over to my left I saw one of the frozen lakes. That iced lake looked onto some city buildings, giving me everything I needed to be reminded that I was in a provincial city whilst experiencing such a quiet sight. Was I on some kind of mission? No, not at all but I was living to be in such a peaceful place away from any noise or tourists, the freezing cold was something to deal with, like Harbin it added to the atmosphere. Sure, Shenyang was already slaying J!

Checking out the Zhaoling Tomb had to be done, getting a ticket for the park and the tomb for less than £6.00 I would of been a fool to of missed that one out! The area around the tomb was amazing, it was like stepping back into the Qing Dynasty with the ancient buildings staring back at me, the mild phase of restoration didn't bother me, no matter what we all must be looking our best. Climbing to the top of a questionable set of shiny stone steps I was pleasantly surprised to see such a quiet view, being right in the middle of the Chinese New Year festivities and so early on in the day I had hit the jackpot! Making my away from the skaters on the iced lake I headed towards a remembrance garden of some sort to commemorate the concubines of Emperor Huang Taji, a random sight it was within that Shenyang park. Almost onto the next step, I had pretty much finished my visit to Shenyang's Beiling Park, so I had heard a familiar British supermarket was nearby? I wasn't missing home!

A few weeks before my Chinese New Year holiday I couldn't believe that Shenyang had several Tesco supermarkets within its city limits! In Wuhan I tend to shop at Carrefour, a French supermarket because its conveniently located from my flat but its not my first choice. Beiling Park was well behind me, but stopping me in my tracks was the five lettered red British supermarket logo staring at me, I saw a Tesco's! I wasn't expecting to find much from the Tesco Everyday Value range or something that was in a familiar wrapper because it was a Chinese Tesco after all. Taking the escalator to the shop-floor I was transported back home instantly as I saw the standardised Tesco font, it was bizarre if truth be told. It's the little things I find to be important, even though 98% of everything was Chinese, it didn't matter to me because it felt like I was in a home environment with the signage it gave me a feel of home.

Moving away from the food I was fronted by the F&F clothing range that I instantly recognised from home, I thought about getting some clothes because the sizes looked like UK sizes but I was on holiday and didn't have time to carry unnecessary purchases with me on the road. I had been told by my friend Sam who lives in Ningbo, a city in China that has a few Tesco's, she told me not to expect much from home in these Chinese British supermarkets. She was right, as the international section wasn't a lot to desire, I saw the usual British imports like Weetabix and Alpen Bars but the rest wasn't very good, I wasn't there to judge but I wanted something Tesco! Not admitting defeat I found the confectionery aisle, sitting pretty was a pack of Tesco Everyday Value chocolate wafers, not the best tasting wafers in the world but the packaging was British! Satisfied with that Tesco find I headed for Starbucks outside to hatch the next stage of my Shenyang plan. Yes, I was ready for what lay next!

Surfacing from Shenyang's metro network onto Chaoyang Road in hot pursuit of the former residence of Marshal Zhang Xueliang. As I bought my ticket to access this former ruling mansion I was pleased to see no other foreign tourists, it was great to be within the ordinary Chinese crowd, well that factor always throws up challenges. Home to the son of a former war lord I was definitely transported back to another time, the European grandeur of the former mansion gave me life, the early 1914 style design impressed me much! Did Zhang Xueliang have ties with Taiwan? I loved seeing the Taiwanese flag displayed in one of the impressive boardrooms, I'm so controversial! Over the courtyard I loved the Dutch inspired Xiaoqing Building that was home to the Marshal's wife, Zhao Yidi. It always staggers me how bewildered Chinese people are by the reminisce of European influence. I felt very proud of being European!

Feeling more than satisfied with my sightseeing for the day I turned my thoughts to the night ahead, what was I going to do? Where was I going to get crazy at? Harbin had been all about the sightseeing and those early nights so I was ready to marry the night! Heading back to Qingnian Dajie I grabbed some Tsingtao from Carrefour, returning to my hotel I started to source possible places to head to. Tracking down Glasgow through my App I wasn't disappointed with the fish and chips, they tasted amazing! Finishing my drink I got talking to a new friend, he had a funky look and yes he was very fabulous, with my Chinese queen we headed to MIA to get crazy and to down some shots! Showing the locals how to have a good time I got my groove on, let's just say we made an impression with a few of these Shenyangers! So, I don't remember too much of the night after that point but I it was great and alternative night out! Oh, I do remember what happened! No way, I'm not telling one bit! No, no!

Those Shenyang Shenanigans!

Joseph Harrison