Thursday, 29 June 2017

That Nanchang Weekender!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust The Underdog!

Joseph Harrison 

Friday, 16 June 2017

2 Years in Wuhan, China...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's Almost Time!

Joseph Harrison 

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

China: Enchanted Enshi...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little Chongqing?

Joseph Harrison 

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Next Stop... Hefei, China!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get It, Get It Hefei!

Joseph Harrison