Monday, 31 July 2017

Flying High... Aeroflot Russian Airlines!

It had been two years or so since I had flown for more than three hours, embarking on my first long haul flight with Aeroflot Russian Airlines was something I had been looking forward to. Bagging an absolute bargain I had booked this London bound flight via Moscow some nine months before I would leave Shanghai for home. I was ready for some Russian service! Let's go Ru!

Believe me when I say that I would have flown from Wuhan back to England but was I paying those ludicrously high prices?! Absolutely, no way was that happening! Snatching a bargain flight with Aeroflot Russian Airlines was the winner, for the price I was willing to make the connection at Moscow Sheremetyevo to London Heathrow all the way from Shanghai Pudong. Taking the high speed train from Wuhan to Shanghai Hongqiao with all my bags was some task, catching a DiDi taxi was a drama but before I knew it I was checked in and through security at PVG airport. Let the preflight shenanigans begin! I honestly didn't know what tricks were being played that evening, the gate changed once, that wasn't an issue but then a second time till it changed a fourth time before we finally boarded the aircraft. The final boarding gate was on the lower level by the tarmac, I had a feeling it was buses for us. No!

Two burly Russian pilots made their way to our third boarding gate before that was changed for a fourth time, I could tell by their appearance we would be in safe hands in the flight deck for that cruise to Moscow! Soon after the bulk of the cabin crew glided in with their suitcases and orange uniforms, no smile was present because they were serving some Aeroflot attitude! I was sincerely ready to board, it had been a long day and I wasn't looking forward to my window seat, no I wanted an aisle! As if luck would have it we were bussed to our Boeing 777-300, all passengers had to board the aircraft through one door that took long enough. I had a feeling that my first Aeroflot experience would be a memorable one to say the very least. Boarded and seated in my window seat, I had already asked a member of the cabin crew if there was a spare aisle seat going, she was on the lookout for me. As our crew did their pre-flight checks I was granted my wish for an aisle seat, with thanks to Svetlana!

After reading countless reviews about Aeroflot's in-flight service I was extremely dubious about the quality of the food that was going to be served. I had already resided that no alcohol was going to be served throughout both of my Russian flights, that had me checking flights for a famous Middle Eastern airline for my return to China. Nevertheless, we began our flight smoothly to begin with, shortly following the first service of non-alcoholic drinks that were served by our cabin crew. Generally, the in-flight entertainment was very good with a favourable amount of films that had been released within the last year. Being on a flight that was made up of mostly Chinese passengers it was quite nice when they all felt asleep together, it would have been good to have slept for the whole flight but that was never going to happen in economy class. So far so good Aeroflot Russian Airlines served something worth my flight ticket.

Settling into my film, I chose 'Hidden Figures' a great choice as I had limited access to good western films during my time living in Wuhan, China. Centred around three strong African American women during the years of segregation, their heroic story of their fight to be serving the space missions managed by NASA made for a gripping watch even if I was exhausted. Dinner came around in the form of a seafood pasta that was served with potatoes, desert was a mango cheesecake and to be fair to those previous poor reviews and photos I had been served a perfectly edible meal that was quite tasty. The second meal was nice also but I was dog tired by that point so it was purely to keep my energy levels stable, the cheeky Oreo cookie bar was definitely appreciated. On an entertainment slant I even watched a little bit of a Russian children's cartoon, that was very random! Turbulence hit bad, loosing height to below 10,000 ft brought an announcement that was not for the passengers!

On my previous long haul flight with Sri Lankan Airlines to China, I took the plunge by asking the cabin crew for a little blog photo, this time around I wanted to take a backseat. The Aeroflot crew didn't seem like the type of girls to be willing to pose for photos, saying that they provided enough sass and entertainment to make up for their steely manner. Svetlana helped me from the moment I boarded the Russia bound aircraft, she changed my seat was changed without any hassle, she was really cool. Slay Svetlana! My section of the cabin was catered for by Svetlana and Viktoria, they ran our section with attitude and put they put the Chinese passengers in their place, giving their direct responses and not wasting time during their duties. It was blatantly clear to see that the majority of the cabin crew were beautiful ladies who looked under 30 years old. I didn't ask for a photo, I was always polite. Да, я служил! Go!

Boarding my second flight from Sheremetyevo to Heathrow I noticed the purser was a young gentleman, that wasn't a problem at all, it just didn't seem to fit with their ultra feminine young crew propaganda stance. Anastasia was one of the crew members on the second flight, she was undeniably stunning and mustn't of been over 25 years old? I contemplated catching the other bus after seeing her beauty! Overall, the down to earth no-nonsense attitude of the Aeroflot Russian Airlines cabin crew made for two great flights from an entertainment point of view. Svetlana and Viktoria worked hard during the Shanghai to Russia sector and the male presence was a nice change during the Russia to London sector. As I've mentioned I don't regret not asking for a photo with any of the female crew mentioned because it just didn't feel like the right thing to do. I didn't see many smiles but in place of that the crew did there jobs genuinely well without being fake. Their class attitudes were real!

Touching down into Moscow Sheremetyevo was a blessing, we had made up the slight delay from missing our departure slot in Shanghai. Poised to dock at a gate at Terminal D was what I wanted because the connection time would soon run away, I wasn't going to miss that London bound flight for anything. To our dismay we had taken several turns to then stop at the wrong terminal, the aircraft didn't connect to a jet-bridge so we had to wait a while to disembark by stairs for the second time and to be bussed to Terminal D after a long flight. People had advised me against choosing the option to pass through Russia, for me it wasn't an issue because my connection was under 24 hours so I didn't need a transit visa or a document to enter Russia out of the airport. Having my passport and boarding card verified seemed like a formality and the screening of baggage felt like a routine check even though the queues were crazy! No!

Cleared through into Terminal D's air side boarding gate area I checked the boards to avoid any problems as Shanghai had thrown some serious shade in that department. From the original gate 31 to gate 29, I checked the screen close to gate 29 meticulously because I was so ready to board, attempting to get any shut eye was my ultimate plan. Boarding time arrived and like magic the unmarked gate 29 finally displayed the details for the London flight that I was bound for. The bulk of the passengers on that second flight must of been all Russian, I was not putting up with waiting as I was a British Citizen who didn't need any visa to board that aircraft. Descending into Heathrow was a relief that I had made the journey, the River Thames came into view meaning my two flights were over! Aeroflot Russian Airlines surprised me, across that mammoth journey from Shanghai to London via Moscow, I was served edible food and served by the steely crew to then arrive on-time!

Аэрофлот, спасибо!

Joseph Harrison

Monday, 24 July 2017

Yichang: Hubei's Riverside City...

July 2017 had so far been really hectic, with my final month at work halfway done and the weather hiking above forty degrees I was ready for Mother England! To distract me before my final week of work at the kindergarten I headed for Yichang city for the weekend. In search of the gargantuan Three Gorges Dam and a mystery ancestral home, I was so ready for Yichang! DAM!

Leaving work after that Friday dismissal, trekking from bus to two metro changes in order to reach Wuchang Railway Station was a pure mission! Yichang's East Railway Station was in my sights and before I knew I was fronted by a glorious hotel room, wait it had to of been a suite! Hitting the jackpot from another Ctrip find I was stung with a 300RMB deposit, I wasn't going to break anything! Leaving Wuhan for the penultimate time I met my China Highlights tour guide, trusting that personalised tour company once again I was en-route to Yichang's Three Gorges Dam. It didn't take long to get out of Yichang's pint-sized city centre, the views from the car impressed me much! With green mountains surrounding me from all directions and a clear blue sky, I was living to be away from  the crazy! The Sanxia tourist area looked like a headache to reach, so I knew I could count on China Highlights to show me something special in time!

Fronted by the dam itself was a sight for sure, it was such a vast open space that seriously went on for what seemed like forever! Bamboozled by my tour guide I tried to take in all of the information about the mechanisms of the dam and its integral functions, Coffee knew his stuff and for that reason alone I was impressed. Standing from a higher view the sun seared down it was so damn hot, dealing with the heat I was amazed by the strength of the Three Gorges Dam. Not a conventional tourist sight it was a hit with the large amounts of Chinese tourists, for me I knew deep down that I was fulfilling my third Hubei wish before returning to the United Kingdom. Seeing three parts of the tourist area gave me amazing views of this man-made wonder, the final viewpoint perfectly showcased the front of the dam wall, that view alone was insane to see how the dam spanned the Changjiang. The environmental impacts of the dam may be questionable but my visit was worth it. 

Lunch was needed after the time spent viewing the gorge, choosing a normal looking restaurant I had an amazing mushroom and bacon dish that was served with rice. Refuelled but still so hot from the beating sun it was time to experience the Qu Yuan Ancestral Hall. Paying homage to a legendary Chinese poet who by the sounds of it had the same notoriety as William Shakespeare, I was intrigued to find out that this well preserved ancestral hall had been moved due to the rising levels of the river due to the Three Gorges Dam project. The timing of my visit was immaculate, in between small groups of tourists it gave me the chance to take a few photos of the entrance of the main hall without too much disturbance. Standing in a blessed location it was something to do with the principles of Feng Shui as the hall overlooked a vast pool of water that bordered the Three Gorges Dam. Oh, Yichang lived up to its stories. 

Climbing up to the furtherest steps led to a memorial hall, within that hall a beautiful mural of Qu Yuan's passing adorned one side. Contrary to the legend this master of words confronted the emperor of the time with some choice words, Qu Yuan was then sent away to another place think about what he had said to such a powerful figure. Sent into a spiralling depression Qu Yuan threw himself into the river and passed away by drowning, pictured were three women throwing Zongzi's into the water. The Zongzi's were thrown into the river to distract the fish, Qu Yuan's sisters hoped that the fish would eat them and not their beloved brother. Also pictured were two strong boats that were carved into the shape of dragons, believed to scare away any evil spirits the mural depicted the customs of Chinese Dragon Boat Festival. I was so surprised to learn a lot about such a wise figure and why certain things are practiced on Dragon Boat Festival. Thankfully, three coaches arrived as we left for the CBD!

Frazzled from my wonderful and very insightful trip I decided to chill in my hotel suite for a little bit before checking out Yiling Square. My hotel was located in an amazing location within Yichang's growing central business district. Arriving the previous night at my hotel before midnight didn't give me the chance to see anything of that city centre square. As the sun began to set I took my time around Yiling Square, I don't know why I was so surprised to see the twelve core socialist values in the middle of the square but it was becoming a recurring affair within one of China's third tier cities. Making my evening a leisurely one I decided to keep tea simple, McDonalds isn't Chinese at all but I hadn't stopped and quite frankly in the here and now I've officially had enough of rice and noodles! Getting my life I returned to my hotel to relax, it would soon be another Monday and I had had a long day. Luckily, Yichang was so chilled!

Being my twenty-seventh place visited within the Greater China area I felt like things were coming to an end at the right time, returning to the train station for my high speed service to Wuhan Railway Station felt good. Yichang posed to be a small city that was packed with beautiful sights and just the right amount of city centre life. From the beauty of the Sanxia tourist area to the man-made wonder that was the dam I was afforded a great final trip within my current Hubei home. I was schooled about Qu Yuan and the facts that make Dragon Boat Festival such a special holiday. For all the rising water levels and displaced people I saw the logic behind the dam. The weather was a but much to cope with due to the intense heat but I was willing to withstand that test. Zooming back to Wuhan without any problems I stepped off my high speed train with a feeling of contentment, so things had been great in Yichang for the weekend, it was time for my last week of work in Wuhan!

YASS Yichang!

Joseph Harrison 

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Wuchang: Libraries, Parks & Street Life!

So, it's safe to say that Wuchang called me back two weeks ago or so, I adore this part of Wuhan city even though its changing. After seeing my first throw of sights and smell's during the first few months of living here, I came back to see a hint of university life and a place that took me back to a sweet first encounter. I found a new love for Wuhan's Wuchang District!

Wuhan is most certainly a university city with its different faculties and large student population. I ditched the others I was willing to check out the grounds of Wuhan University, undoubtedly the most recognisable house of knowledge in the city. With a random Monday off work during June because of a campus closure I decided to rock down to see the famous library of Wuhan University. As I tried to reach the library in-question I got lost within a leafy green surroundings that gave a certain shade from the humid temperatures, the rain came and that as per usual was typical of a Wuhan summer day. Tracking the library down at long last I was fronted with a see of graduates, adorned in their gowns, all posing for their final group photos of their university careers, I had seen a sight like that before in Wuhan but the city's major uni gave me a better view even if the weather was bad. Wuhan University looked great!

Aside from library at Wuhan University I was actually looking for a grand historic building that overlooked a normal looking running track. Google Maps is a no-go here so I gave up the ghost during my first visit because that Wuhan rain was giving me hell, determined as ever I had a duty to return. With my head in the game I followed my Baidu Maps app, watching closely for the twists and turns and the obvious Chinese road signs I found my desired location in the end. Spelling the Chinese for Wuhan University that building exuded a sense of oriental flavour but somewhere told me I was looking at a European ideal. Famed for its Sakura Blossom I dodged that time because the crowds get too much, choosing a quiet Sunday I found what I wanted even if it was second time around. Dating back 124 years since its opening in 1893, Wuhan University's grand buildings fulfilled a Wuchang vision of mine! From the Yellow Crane Tower to 1911's Uprising Memorial, I knew that Wuchang had more in-store!

Taking a random turn I turned to Hongshan Park for a quick moment, I couldn't deal with the humidity at all so I wanted the next part of my Sunday to be shaded. Situated next door from Baotong Temple, I found Hongshan Park to be a hidden gem if not a really random part that didn't take up too much of my time. Entering into the parks lush surroundings I spotted a group of older Wuhanese people all congregated around some tables, they looked as if they were playing Mahjong, a Chinese board game that's popular with Wuhan's army of Grandparents. I didn't want to pry or be rude by staring because that would of made me a hypocrite and I'm definitely not one of those things! Wuchang's secret park had a lot to show me but I was just so hot and bothered, plus I wanted to get the most out of my Sunday afternoon by not hanging around in one place. Mahjong may not be for me, those seniors sure looked occupied though!

Compared to my first stab at discovering Wuchang, am I more streetwise and less worried about getting lost? During my most recent experiences in Wuchang I had more of an idea for sure about where I was going. The first time around I was stupid enough to look at a Google Map and take it for the truth, that was a mistake as the Changchun Taoist Temple was enough to find but it took me a second time to reach the Yellow Crane Tower. The formidable Uprising Memorial of 1911 was literally under my noise as I realised that during my second Wuchang day that took me to the Yellow Crane Tower with an added stop around Hubu Alley but the summer heat stopped me in my tracks, that food street smelt less than savoury. In control and aware of my environment I found my second instalment of Wuchang to be a finely tuned affair. I definitely see one more Wuchang day out before my departure to England. With Wuhan University and Honghsan Park both seen I had one more place!

Turning the clock back to September 2016 I had met a new friend from one of my go to social media apps, we met for barbecue the evening before my second academic year started. Getting to know that new person in my life across the road from a dimly lit food street that looked practically ancient was a special moment. We never went for food along that food street but the view will always stay etched fondly in my mind. It's a sight that always makes me think for a few moments each time I'm on the 703 bus from either Hankou or Hanyang. Taking my head away from a not so distant time I stood in front of that same street but in the daylight it looked exceedingly quieter than I had previously seen it. Just to take a little walk along that street gave me life to see those food stalls and restaurants that were anchored by three brick buildings, it was a sight that might be lost as Wuchang is moving forwards fast! Oh my life!

It's quite funny because next to that food street became a familiar location during the autumn season of 2016, close to Dingziqiao I spent a fair bit of time with a that new friend that joined me for barbecue. It was a time that took the first part of my second year in Wuhan into a new direction. From chilled weekends to checking out the breakfast places around the area, it was lovely! But sometimes things just aren't meant to be. I'll always have a place for this area of Wuchang because it harbours a sweet memory for me and who honestly can't argue with having a bit of happiness? Let us take a second to be honest with ourselves! My second instalment of Wuchang may have been in two segments like back in 2015 during my first tender months since moving to Wuhan, China. Things couldn't of been any different because I was aware of where I was and no I didn't get lost or trust any questionable maps. I'm sensing a partial throwback for the third slice of my Wuchang chapters! 

When In Wuchang!

Joseph Harrison 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Teaching English: Wuhan's Final Semester...

With regret I announce that my time teaching is coming to a close, with my departure back to the United Kingdom growing closer I want to look back over the last six months. My final semester may still have two and a half weeks left but already its been very eventful to say the very least. From making countless crafts to hosting another Children's Day show, it's been ace!

Fresh from my Spring Festival break to Harbin and Shenyang, I was raring to get back to work to begin my final semester at my private Montessori bi-lingual kindergarten. Optimistic and ready I was set on the finish date! The stakes were high, well I had a new colleague who would be joining me in the coming weeks and I had a mountain of creative things to complete before she would be arriving. My former colleague Mark was about to move on to focus on his studies, we had worked together really well during the first semester and I was going to miss him! Getting back into classes was fine, it would be several months before the next national holiday so I got stuck in with what I needed to do! Spring flowers were all the rage with the Bridging children, we explored different writing tasks and we made the best of the pleasant weather. Let me say my two Casa classes were about to get a lot crazier! I was ready for those challenges!

Like a flash February turned into March and before I knew it was already April, the first three months of this spring/summer semester were going by so very fast! Pressing pause for a moment I gave my Bridging kids the opportunity to make their own 'EKON' cameras to take some imaginary photos of the garden at our kindergarten, we focussed on words such as; leaves, flower, tree and stem. The older children absolutely adored snapping make believe photos of the said vocabulary. It's a moment during the semester that I won't ever be forgetting. Class observations aren't the most natural of things but with time I'm not filled with dread anymore when my manager watches my classes or the academic leader for that fact. Just half way into the semester I had my final official lesson observation, I chose Casa 5 or Bridging 2 because their lead teacher is amazing and the children are more used to complete English direction from me. The official observation went well, it felt so amazing!

April took me away from the campus for the first national holiday since the celebrations of Chinese New Year, choosing Hangzhou was the perfect way to enjoy 2017's Tomb Sweeping weekend. Like any other semester I was getting busier and busier, resting on my laurels for a second I had a surprise sprung on me, the new after school program had been pitched to the parents and that interactive English class would begin the next Monday after dismissal time. The Elitekids program threw up major technical challenges but within time they were ironed out. Through the chaos it kept me on my toes and for that I'm proud of myself for getting on with what I needed to do! Resilience is needed to succeed in this job, working in China isn't easy and getting emotional doesn't solve anything because things don't work like that here. I have learned to get on as best as I can with what I've got in front of me! Yes, another holiday was near!

Back from Tibet it was time to get our act together for the Children's Day Show, I was in charge of my after school classes performance but I'm no choreographer so I had some assistance with that. The kids knew what they were doing and we had rehearsed a fair bit, the classes took a back seat during that time as the show is really important in the eyes of the school as the parents always seemed impressed after the event, they just want to see their kids shine! I was the co-host for the show as well as leading the primary English performance. The boys were led by me and the girls were led by Charlotte, finding her feet quickly and against all odds our rendition of 'The Music Man' was amazing on the night! I was eager for classes to continue as normal, with the clock ticking during the month of May I was getting closer to completing my time in Wuhan as an English Specialist, of course I still had work to do! I was a mentor, I had wisdom and techniques to pass on to my new colleague. Work!

The house had to go, I glued for my life a flower extravaganza for the spring season. Like everything it had to change and I'm not one for rushing a masterpiece, getting my storyboard design ready I worked with the materials I had and being truthful I'm getting to grips with non-teaching duties that comprise my job description. I never envisaged putting together displays before finding my chance to shine at Etonkids. Getting my storyboard on I finished this project with a few days after a last surge of energy. Putting those pages together by hand was actually fun! Charlotte helped with the fourth page, getting her more prepared for September. From where I stood I felt immensely proud of my efforts, that 'One Duck Stuck' display was looking on-fleek Wu!

Parent showcases have taken awhile to get off the ground this semester, lots of the children from the second Bridging and other Casa classes were absent with illness, the changing weather and the last four months had been tough for the kids. Getting two Bridging classes viewed it was nice to have the remaining Casa classes completed within two weeks, the other Bridging class remain but I have every faith it will go to plan. For this chapter I can safely say this semester has been a blast, with less than three weeks remaining before my departure back to the UK, I can safely say that I have given it my all once again! Goodbyes will be brief, I will leave as quietly as possible because that subject isn't a topic of conversation whatsoever! Well, Hengda Huafu, I surely can say it's been a blast!

I Came To Work!

Joseph Harrison