14 June 2017

Enchanted Enshi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little Chongqing!

Joseph Harrison 

2 June 2017

Next Stop... Hefei, China!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get It, Get It Hefei!

Joseph Harrison