9 August 2017

China: Cities Off The Radar!

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

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