Tuesday, 15 August 2017

2017: No Summertime Sadness!

Summertime during 2017 has so far been busy, mad and worth every second whatever happened during my final month in China and beyond. Concluding my final term of teaching in Wuhan, China I got up to a lot during that July period but here and after things have been on an England hype! It's been a mix bag of experiences, I'm gunning for the next chapter! Quite frankly!

Applying myself to my kindergarten English teaching duties it was time to breakout the summertime curriculum! With the Casa classes it was time for us to read and explore 'summer' a picture book displaying lots of fun things that can done during the summer. I made butterflies and fish from card and yes they were all handmade, they loved catching them and having a little bit of mild competition. Singing the summer song, the children and I, loved every single moment! Beating the heat during my final week we made some juice boxes from card, I had made a prototype but like always I was amazed by the kids boundless imaginations! The previous two years had been a challenge worth excepting, at the end of things it was worth every moment to see the children have fun and progress with their English skills along with their character. It's not just being about the English for me its fundamental a child's confidence soars!

Away from work I revelled in my Guanggu location for the final months, not to put a depressive not on this because I was seeing my chaotic area with a new perspective, during that summertime I felt humbled to have gone through such a journey in that corner of Wuhan. Taking a walk into Guanggu on the two anniversary since arriving in Guanggu, two years on I couldn't believe how I had slotted in with that life and moulded into the rhythm of that berserk environment. Getting a Happy Lemon bubble milk tea had to be done, rewinding back to my first few days in Wuhan I had chosen Happy Lemon over other milk tea brands. That celebratory milk tea maybe have tasted sweet but he journey hadn't been easy but I didn't want things to be plane sailing. Meeting up with Tony we had a lovely milestone meal, no Chinese for that celebration for we had tacos and burgers at Devil's Brewery on Guanggu Street. As one chapter was preparing to close I knew things would go out with a bang!

Reuniting with Mark, we went out for my final night out in Wuhan before saying goodbye to that Central Chinese City! I worked alongside Mark during the first semester of my second year at my kindergarten, he's a great guy and we got each other through the madness of that autumn/winter semester without a doubt. Meeting before the midnight hour at Hype on Zhongnan Road we watched the young entitled Chinese few get their crazies on with much amusement, I channelled my 'Kia' persona and had those few gagged by what I served up on the dance floor! Moving on would it be to MUSE or straight to All Stars for the next phase of the night? The dancing juice had started to kick in and the night had only just begun! All Stars brought the beat and the drinks flowed ever more, dancing through to the early morning I had the time of my life slaying! The sun had already risen, my bed called me but what a night B!

The weekend before that craziness I decided to take one final trip to Wuchang, ready for Tanhualin once again since my first visit back in November 2015 I wanted to revisit that coffee street. Getting back to Merci served up the same cutesy experience, getting my caffeine and cake fix was great within that kitsch cafe. Desheng Bridge didn't have a name when I visited briefly during Tanhualin's first try, after seeing an over-edited snap of that down to earth market street on social media I was determined to catch a more realistic and honest view. The riverside called me even though the weather wasn't pleasant I wanted to catch my final glimpse of the Yangtze River. Summer 2017 had been mostly about working hard but having those snatched moments allowed the sun to shine when the rain fell from the skies. Keeping myself busy was the key, my China bestie Fiona had flew home after that point and I was dealing with it well but missed that Scottish pal of mine! Fiona had been my partner in crime for close to two years, she wouldn't have wanted me to be sad during the summertime! See you Fio!

Shanghai Pudong International Airport brought me back to the beginning, ready for take off I made my way home with Aeroflot Russian Airlines via Moscow to London's Heathrow Airport. Getting back to Bilston after two years felt down right weird but amazing in the same breath, I hadn't seen family for a while so getting back home was really nice. I didn't stop eating and in the present I'm still putting away some serious food because it'll be back to China soon but to Beijing! Getting out of Bilston a few days after arriving back to England I made an important trip to Liverpool to renew my passport. Wuhan didn't have a British Embassy so I wasn't left with much of a choice but to get that renewal done as soon as I got home. Ready and shiny new in under four hours I spent a nice day in Liverpool getting my new passport, thankfully its valid for ten years with a few more pages I'll be good for a long while! Oh, Liverpool looked good!

Slipping into a lazy daze I have been getting my papers ready to send back to China, the dreaded visa process begins again before I can board my one way flight back to the Middle Kingdom. What else do I have planned to see the summer out? I'll be jetting up to Scotland to see Fiona as promised we're going to be hitting the town during the twilight hour in Helensburgh! Glasgow is in my sights, kindly accompanied by Fiona we will sightsee as if our lives depended on it! Nights in Wuhan sure got scandalous for different reasons but I have been begging for a night out in Birmingham during my China hiatus, pulling the troops together I cannot wait to get down and shameless within the right kind of venues in Southside, Birmingham! Getting my life together its not being a bad summertime so far, its had its up and downs but there's been so much to celebrate, its not over just yet so there's time to get it done! From making juice boxes, dancing the night away to then arriving home. Yes 2017!

Summertime Realness! 

Joseph Harrison 

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Hubei Province: China's Central Heart!

Hubei province was my home for over two years as I lived in Wuhan, the provincial capital was exploding before my eyes but I wanted to break out of the city limits to see more of Hubei during my time there. Xianning, Enshi and Yichang all took me by the hand for different reasons, from cementing a lasting friendship to witnessing a man-made wonder I was amazed by Hubei! 

Rushing from my kindergarten to Wuhan Railway Station I wasn't ready for the off the wall antics Xianning, Hubei would serve to me that very weekend! Zooming to Xianning North I was greeted by Fiona, my China bestie hailed a taxi to allow the mayhem to begin! Changed within minutes we battled the rain to reach her local bar, the lower tier city of Xianning had a rough and rustic vibe it hadn't had the boom like Wuhan received with endless construction but I loved Fiona's neighbourhood, it was full of drama and everyday trouble for sure! Tanning a drink or three it was a foreign affair for we were the only expats in the bar. Graduating to a nearby club our inner freaks were truly released on the runway, literally the runway in that club became our because we were high on that moment! Boozed up and ready to sleep we called it a night, it had been a very eventful day but I was ready for round two! Don't be haram!

Waking up to fireworks banging outside wasn't what I planned at all it was only April! Dragging ourselves out into the daylight we caught the bus to Xianning's Qianshan National Park to get a higher view of Wuhan's little sister. I nearly didn't make it up but Fiona as company it wasn't difficult to just power up to the top to see the views. The city of Xianning looked a lot smaller to the monster that is Wuhan, the less stress was much easier to deal with. Getting back to the city was interesting, taking a tuk-tuk was our only choice as the buses disappeared! McDonalds got us through the day, taking a rest we need to be ready for the evening ahead. The night was mental! Leaving the drama behind and a classless individual it was home time! Sunday brought my final day in Xianning, reuniting with Alvaro we had a look around Fiona's school it was very different to mine. The old streets gave me life, since Baltimore I hunt down Realness! With enough time for lunch and coffee it was back to Wuhan. 

Focussing most of my time on trips outside of Hubei I bit the bullet towards the end of my two years of living in Wuhan with a weekend jaunt to Enshi, Hubei. Going out of my comfort zone I took my second sleeper train, my first experience of a sleeper train was in a hard sleeper compartment but the overnight journey to Enshi was in a soft sleeper, not the best! Waking up a little while before my train was scheduled to arrive at Enshi Railway Station the train was stuck at a silent station that wasn't my destination. After a little delay I was on Enshi soil with my sights set on the Tusi Ancient City as I wasn't going to have time to visit the Canyon in the one day I chose places in the city centre. I liked the Ancient City, it was nice to see from the walls that surrounded that Enshi attraction. The unfortunate elements of the train journey melted away as the heavens opened to a level that caused flooding in the streets! Yes!

The rain finally deiced to stop, how very considerate of it because me and my rucksack stood soaking! No, I don't travel with an umbrella! Trying again I caught a second great view of Enshi's branch of the Qing River, calmer and a lot smaller than Wuhan's branch of the Yangtze River, that chilled sight gave me some life as it had been a long day. Reaching my hotel was a relief, dropping my things and airing out my soaked trainers and clothes I headed out for some food and to mooch around what felt like the city centre of Enshi during the early evening. Heading back to the half-flooded street that I passed through on the bus wasn't my plan but I saw some killer fried rice being cooked outside a small restaurant, it didn't cost the earth and it tasted amazing! Heading back to the hotel I loved the lively vibe of people just enjoying the evening in a civilised way without stress, seeing people out and about wasn't annoying like Guanggu throws up! So, Enshi was worth the journey Hubei!

Yichang had been a city within Hubei province that I had wanted to visit for a while, home to the Three Gorges Dam I was running out of time fast so booking a last minute weekend trip before leaving China had to be done! Arriving just before the midnight hour at Yichang East Railway Station took me closer to the controversial dam project. Checking into my hotel wasn't a stress, opening the door to my room I was staggered by what stood in front of me! I thought I had booked a simple double room but low and behold I had a huge bathroom and even a separate sitting room, for all of forty pounds for two night I was winning! Refreshed from my sound sleep in my queen size bed I attempted breakfast but that was a no go! Meeting my tour guide I was shown to some Re Gan Mian and some soy bean milk for breakfast, I was complemented on my Chinese skills by the ladies who served me! Refuelled, I was ready for the day Yi!

Marvelling at the views from the car it didn't take long to leave Yichang's small city centre, the lush green mountain views impressed me much! Arriving at the visitor centre the short bus ride was fine, taking in the sight of the vast gorge was amazing because I had only seen photos before that moment, which didn't justify the actual scene. The vast gorge area that was centred around the dam lasted forever, the landscape gave a sweeping effect that I appreciated. Stopping for lunch had to be done, usually the China Highlights package included lunch but that tour didn't but it wasn't expensive so I was going to stress my mind over that business. Qu Yuan's Ancestral Hall had me schooled about Dragon Boat Festival, the reasons for the different customs all made perfect sense after the story was introduced to me. The hall had been relocated due to the rising water levels that dam construction trigger, the view amazed me with the principles 'Feng Shui' noticed. Yes, Yichang, Hubei!

My Hubei Province!

Joseph Harrison 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Wuchang: Coffeeshops, Markets & The Riverside!

Wuchang had one more day of exploration in-store for me, my departure back to the UK loomed. This final Wuchang instalment had me revisiting a favourite coffee street of mine, getting back to the rough scene of a market area that could well disappear soon and a final walk along the riverside of the legendary Yangtze River. One more time Wuchang? Coffee, Wu?

My time in Wuhan was seriously running out, reserving one more night out and a Wuchang day before the flight back to England I knew what I needed to do! Jumping on the Wuhan Metro for the final time I headed for Tanhualin, a kitsch street bursting with coffeeshops had been a hotspot for my 25th birthday in November 2015. Leaving just enough time in-between those visits I noticed a surge in development around Pangxiejia station compared to my first visit when things basically looked like a sight of rubble. The street had changed slightly, not paying too much attention to the new modifications I headed for Merci. I had chosen that cute coffeeshop on my birthday and quite frankly it looked the best on the street out of the many other competitors. Choosing a milky coffee and a sweet chocolate cake it was great to treat myself as the rain pelted down outside. Luckily the character of Merci hadn't changed! Oh!

Tanhualin brought many memories back from the beginning of my time in Wuhan, things were blessed during that November 2015 period when I first visited that colourful Wuchang street. Standing in that moment it felt very strange to be looking at the same place, even if some of the other coffeeshops had closed down, maybe it was due to the metro construction? Such shady business! My coffee and cake were lovely, the staff in Merci hadn't lost their friendly vibe like when I first visited almost two years previous to that July afternoon. Sundays had become the new Saturday for me, plus the rain could have well kept people away because it was nice and chilled. Wuhan is great and Wuchang kept me coming back for more but it wouldn't half get crazy! I adored being back along Tanhualin, it was a place that I wanted to revisit before saying bye to Wuhan. Tanhualin had seen the last of me, bidding a fond farewell to that coffee street I finished my drink and snack and got back on with it B!

Desheng Bridge cropped up on a Instagram photo from a wannabe blogger/photographer, ain't nobody trying my game, I do what I do with integrity and without silly editing tools! Revisiting another November 2015 haunt I could appreciate this up-front market street that served up no apologises. The stench of raw meat hanging in a Chinese style butchers reminded me of my first nights in China during that Shanghai weekend, the hostel was next to a food market that carried the same smells over that will never leave me! The great thing about Desheng Bridge is that everything is sold there, from vegetables to household items, going back to my first visit I even got a haircut in the hairdressers along the parade of shops and stalls. The most recent trip wasn't about purchases, I never spent a penny because I was taking the views in for a final time. Desheng Bridge looked better in real life without any filters. 

Embracing Wuhan's low foreign presence I seemed to be the only westerner walking along Desheng Bridge, the market traders thought that was very amusing indeed. I could half understand what they were saying to me and about me but I knew what to say back to them and I was perfectly cordial. The rain still felt the need keep on but I wasn't bothered, the afternoon so far felt like closure in one breath with a smattering of new discovery. Was Desheng Bridge anything like Bilston Market? I would have to say certain similarities could be seen as far as both sets of traders all want make living by selling their products, sounds like the same common goal? The meat may have harboured some unsavoury smells but the was suited to Desheng's vibe, taking me back to my first nights in China I sort of appreciated that acrid scent. Both Tanhualin and Desheng Bridge served equal amounts of Wuchang realness, fulfilling two of my final three segments. Baidu Maps had the next part covered! 

I had never realised how close by Tanhualin and Desheng Bridge were to the riverside of the Yangtze! The rain persisted still but I didn't care about that one bit! Taking in the magnificent views of the gargantuan Changjiang for the final time I was living for that moment, practically deserted due to the rain I was almost alone during that rainy afternoon river walk. Captured is the Hankou portion of the Yangtze's riverside with views in the distance of the Customs House and main historic Bund area. I had seen the views of the Wuchang side many times from Hankou but didn't really take the time to visit the other side. I spent some of the time sat down, watching the river flow as spoke to my dear friend Tony, we spoke about the colonial influences of the Bund area and how Liverpool and Shanghai shared a few similarities along both their riverfront's. I knew a certain goodbye would be in order. I didn't want to!

Gazing at the wide expanse of the Yangtze River in front of me it hit me that I had broken past the two year mark, visiting the Yellow Crane Tower during August 2015 gave me my first sunny views of Hankou and Hanyang with so much optimism. In that moment I had worked my two years and been in two jobs, the second teaching gig had worked out for the best so all looked good from where I was standing. Going back to retrace my steps in Wuchang for the final time to lead me to such a calming sight in the rain felt amazing, it was quite sobering in one respect. I had looked to Wuchang a few times before and from a tourist point of view I had delved further into the areas that surrounded the Yellow Crane Tower to find a labyrinth of sights, smells and delights. Brushing all of that away for a moment I wouldn't of wanted to trade that view even for all the dreariness, Wuhan had come full circle. Taking the metro back for the final time, Optics Valley Square saw the last of me!

Wuchang, I'm Out! 

Joseph Harrison 

China: Jinan, Shenyang & Hefei...

China's megacities have impressed me much during my time, well I am yet to experience Beijing but that will all change very soon! Shanghai may be a city of neon lights with a skyline to bring down New York City's performance but I like to go 'off the radar' to find cities within China that give me everything and sometimes more! Daring to be different, I sure hit the jackpot!

Jinan, the 'Spring City' of Shandong Province was brought to my attention as I searched for my return journey from Qingdao during 2016's National Day holiday. Knowing nothing about Jinan I booked my hotel and high speed train without a care in the world. Arriving on my train from Qingdao I hit the streets to find the city's Quancheng Square, undoubtedly Jinan's city centre I took in the striking thoroughfare that stood in front of me. As the sun disappeared I was served a beautiful crimson sky that swept this space into such a memorable moment. Jinan may have not been a famous city, well I had never heard of it, I already knew that wasn't going to stop me exploring deeper into its core. Searching for something to see I found Baotu Spring, like a hidden secret garden with a charming spring that may have been teeming with people but I saw what I wanted. Jinan had more to show me, bring on the night!

Shunning Jinan's Furong Ancient street I found a more 'down to earth' environment off the beaten track. Xichengen Jie presented itself as an ordinary alley lined with rustic Chinese eateries that didn't scream a touristy mess, for that reason I was sold immediately. Qingdao posed to be a city that didn't bring the party so I was curious what this undercover city had to offer after dark, consulting my go-to social media APP I found a helpful friend who led me to 2012 Bar, tucked away down a side street only a few steps away from my hotel I had booked the right place to stay! Being the only westerner in the place I chilled with my beers, out of nowhere the stage in front of me presented a series of drag performances, dressed from the Dynasties as wannabe empresses, I was gagged by their Oriental sass! Climbing the Qianfo Mountain the next day hungover, returning to see the queens of Bar 2012, let's just say I had a great time there over the two nights and I even had to serve some sass myself! Seriously, some queens should know themselves before getting attitude! Yes, Jinan gave me everything CN!

Suffering from the sub-zero temperatures after spending three days in Harbin, I left behind the ice festivals and Siberian tigers for the city of Shenyang. Like Jinan I didn't know much about Shenyang aside from its Korean Connection, I wanted to take some chances to see that Liaoning Province city. Qingzhen Street had caught my eye during some pre-trip research, serving nothing but Hui Muslim Chinese food I was blessed with this street being situated only a few paces from my hotel, I had no idea! Pounding the pavements the next morning before the birds could even make their song, I had Shenyang where I wanted it! Beiling Park recaptured Harbin's frozen nature, taking my time to enjoy that iced over environment I loved life in this practically secret city! Homesickness hadn't hit me hard but TESCO transported me home! Plotting my next move I found a certain war lord had an impressive residence in the 'Yang!

The former residence of Marshal Zhang Xueling crossed my path, impressing me much with that colonial scene I was content with Shenyang alternative sights. In the mood for a party I found Glasgow to begin my night, the fish and chips were phenomenal and the company wasn't bad either! Along with my new friend J, we went into the night to slay the competition at MIA because those rigid few needed to see us command the attention! It was a night to remember but I'm not revealing anything else about it! Feeling tender the next day with my hungover self I got back onto the sightseeing grind to Mukden Palace and Zhongshan Square, finishing with the neon lights of Xita Street to be at the centre of Shenyang's Korean corner. In need of food I chose the 'Pyongyang Rainbow' for some NK food, that North Korean dining experience knocked the ball out of the park for its state run television and Kimchi kept me aware. Of course Shenyang had me swirling within its madness! 사랑해!

Hefei may not be a city of great size or be known by international tourists but I know that it deserved my attention during 2017's Dragon Boat Festival. Despite what I had been told, I paid the shade and trash talkers no mind because Anhui's capital called me regardless! Noticing its understated charm I took it easy, making the most of the peace with those quieter street fronts I liked what I saw very much! Benefiting from a cheaper hotel and cut price first class tickets I wasn't spending a bomb load of money like those bigger cities require me to do. Huizhou Avenue led me to the city's Municipal Square where I practically had the city centre to myself. Hefei's legend Lord Bao had me calling up his Memorial Temple during my second day in Hefei, not costing the earth once again I was winning by choosing another undiscovered city! Serving pretty lotus ponds and sunshine, Hefei had me loving its pint-sized uniqueness! Yass!

Hefei didn't get me lost, I was on the right path! Xiaoyaojin Park welcomed me as I passed through its memorable gate, I wasn't looking for anything flashy because I was thankfully served a whole lot of normality. People just chilled and went about their business and that was a fact. Taking some time out I had made the right choice to visit Hefei because it didn't stress me out or have horrendous crowds for me to wade through! Keeping my chilled frame of mind I saw all I wanted to in Hefei without breaking a sweat, well at least I tried for the weather was heating up! Jinan, Shenyang and Hefei challenged the meaning of a Chinese city, taking different elements of the unexpected things I saw and experience gives me the motivation to keep on pursuing China's alternative lesser known cities. Going undercover to these three provincial cities had me challenging the tourist norm, passing challenges that megacities have lost I had the power to see all of this realness! Get it C!

Challenge Difference!

Joseph Harrison