Thursday, 30 November 2017

Let's Introduce: Chaoyang District, Beijing!

Touching down into Beijing's Capital International Airport felt surreal, it was something that I had wanted for ages but I wasn't ready for the craziness that awaited me! Finding my apartment instantly gave me reassurance and having that WeChat Pay wallet ready helped a lot. Beijing had its perks but one bank was still acting the fool! No, I couldn't go back to Wuhan! Okay?

Through the paperwork and procedures I had finally touched down onto Chinese soil, it was a mission! Beijing seemed like a crazy mess of lights and noise but the buzz of China was back in my life, that three-month hiatus was something else but finally being in Beijing felt amazing! Jet-lagged like nothing else I waded my way through to arrivals at Beijing's International Airport to be greeted by my Chinese principal from my kindergarten. Staying with the same company was the plan but I wanted to be in the country's capital to experience another side of my preschool organisation. I had worked damn hard for that transfer, I was going to work a lot harder in the big smoke! Taken to my hotel I was plagued with a rotten nights sleep but those Emirates flights from Birmingham via Dubai were sure worth the tiredness I was feeling. Ready to feel Beijing's truth I wanted to sleep properly until a respectable time! Let's get it BJ!

Feeling slightly less awful than the previous day it was a good to be feeling refreshed after my epic journey. Agreeing with my Chinese principal, it was better to be looking for apartments before my company paid hotel room expired on the following Tuesday, it was currently Friday so it was best to bite the bullet with that apartment pursuit. Stepping down into Chaoyang Park Subway Station opened my eyes to Beijing's gargantuan Subway, I had studied the map religiously for months so finding the China International Exhibition Center was a piece of cake. Line 15 showed me Suburban Beijing, I wasn't going to be living amongst the crazy but within the wealthy Shunyi Guo Zhan area that presented a sea of flash cars and designer savvy Beijing wives. Piecing together the map I had in my head of that area from my research I saw 'Euro Plaza', there I found a McDonalds as expected, it goes to show that it pays to be aware of your surroundings. Greeted by the property agent, the search was on!

Leaving the apartment search with a firm choice, I signed for an apartment that had been lived in by the landlord, begging the question that he wouldn't live in a place that wasn't of a good quality. Getting a phone number had to be done, getting that taken care of in Shunyi was quite easy. Back in Chaoyang I had been set the task of getting a bank account sorted with China Merchants Bank, thankfully I had closed down my Wuhan account before leaving town. The staff who served me were so helpful, opening my bank account without any fuss was a breath of fresh air, Wuhan got me mad but Beijing was posing to be quite international and that was welcomed. Keeping two bank accounts worked for me in Wuhan, with a different city keeping my money synchronised had to be done for sure. Listen, I was not trekking back to Wuhan to close a bank account because the staff weren't prepared to think properly! No chance!

My Sunday wasn't going to be dictated by that idiocy because I wanted to see Chaoyang Park, thankfully I had the time to do just that. Transported to a bizarre situation, a setting within a Chinese park that served complete internationalism and I don't want to throw shade on other cities in China but Chaoyang Park was serving true Central Park realness! That afternoon was probably the first that I could breathe, the last few days had been fast and furious as I had parted with a lot of money and signed for an apartment within less than 72 after arriving from England. In retrospect, it was great to be shown three apartments in the same complex, but that park stroll relaxed me before the real work would begin. I'll definitely be back to Chaoyang Park in the coming months for a repeat visit and I hope Fiona will be with me to cause some commotion, the 'Wuhan Besties' could be making a comeback! Chaoyang Park was lovely, showing me that Beijing wasn't so smoggy after all! Exactly!

My first five days in central Beijing would soon come to an end, making the most of that city centre time I had a little message on my preferred social app. That message turned into dinner and that turned into my first Beijing friendship, I suppose it's all networking at the end of the day? Yes, of course! I'm sure it took me at least three days to completely get over the mammoth journey from England, but it was so worth it! If truth be told I wasn't and I'm still not in any hurry to see Beijing at a rapid pace, it will all happen when the time is right. Back to Chaoyang, I chilled in the hotel room to make the most of the heating because Beijing has so far served some bone-chillingly cold temperatures, it's not something I am a fan of at all! I noticed that most Beijinger's didn't stare like Wuhan City people did so aggressively! Beijing felt right, it hadn't quite sunk in that I had achieved what I had wanted, it felt so good! 是! 

Tuesday rolled around, being my birthday it was ironic that I was moving into a lovely and spacious apartment compared to my previous one because I was asked to leave my last apartment due to water damage. I probably didn't have a fabulous or scandalous birthday but I lugged all my stuff to my Shunyi apartment within good time. Internet was installed that afternoon and the apartment was cleaned professionally, well to a better standard than I have seen before. Feeling settled in pretty well considering I had arrived less than one week earlier, it was refreshing to have everything so organised. Topping my birthday I walked to my local supermarket, WuMei showed me how to bag one weeks shopping and household bits for less than forty Pounds! The first five days blew the ball out of the park, all I needed was my visa taken care of and to start work but those two things would be sorted soon enough. Just to add, I got my medical sort and it was so easy compared to before! Yes!

Beijing Ready!

Joseph Harrison 

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Flying High... Emirates!

Fulfilling a dream I recently flew with Emirates from Birmingham, UK to Beijing, China. Saving up for that airline experience with one of the UAE's most recognisable airlines was worth it, championing my previous long flight by a long shot! From laughs in the galley from Birmingham to a seamless transfer in Dubai's glistening Terminal 3 only added to my Arabic experience. Fly!

I had always wanted to fly on the Airbus 380-800 since it was put into service for one reason, to say that I had flown on a double decker aircraft. Making that dream come true I chose the leader in the super jumbo market, Emirates had to be the one with a doubt! I had scrimped on my flight back from China in July 2017, so Emirates had big shoes to fill to impress me but that wouldn't be a problem! Waving goodbye to my parents I had just left my luggage at check-in, choosing to pre-check-in and print my boarding card beforehand made sense, it definitely made things flow better. Birmingham Airport being my local airport has the bonus of a double Emirates A380 service to Dubai, making use of that nearby benefit worked for me. With the boarding gate called I made my way to see what would be taking me on my first sector of my journey, seeing the swish crew sweep past reaffirmed why I had chosen Emirates.

Boarding was seamless, stowing my cabin baggage away I relaxed into my lower deck economy class seat, choosing a seat towards the front of the cabin had to be done because I needed to make my connection for my next flight to Beijing from Dubai. With the proceedings taken care of and the pre-flight checks done it was time to see if the super jumbo A380 would glide effortlessly off the ground during its takeoff? Yes, I was amazed to be lifted into the skies without any sudden movements or feeling any significant speed, now that impressed me much! I couldn't believe my luck, I was finally on an Emirates flight bound for Dubai for my onward journey to Beijing, China. Having previously interviewed for Emirates and it not working out I could at least hold onto that flight. With our smooth takeoff and easy ascent into the skies over the West Midlands it was time to choose what food option I wanted, oh the choices! The question stood, what would it be? Chicken or?

Bring out the Bacardi! Having previously flown on a Russian airline that didn't serve a stitch of alcohol I set out to enjoy my two Emirates flights responsibly. As the drinks trolley made its way down my section of the vast Emirates A380-800 I couldn't decide what I wanted to drink before dinner was served. Ditching beer or gin I threw caution to the wind by having a double Bacardi and Coke, I wasn't going on a holiday but it sure felt like a celebration. Choosing the chicken served with seasonal vegetables and fresh gnocchi, for afters I had a cheesecake and a small selection of cheese and biscuits to finish. I was seriously satisfied with the food, it all tasted so fresh and I was even able to eat with proper silverware! Having another Bacardi and Coke had to be done but I considered my surroundings and fellow passengers, I was happy for the option to drink something stronger than juice! Emir gave me it all to me!

I had heard about the award-winning in-flight entertainment aboard each of Emirates flights, known as 'ICE' I was able to explore the flight and the planes exact position and many other specific details within 'Information'. The 'Communication' feature wasn't something I that I utilised because I could connect to Wi-Fi as soon as I landed into Dubai and I didn't need to send any emails. Undoubtedly, I made the best of the 'Entertainment' amenities by choosing a great film to watch as I ate my dinner, choosing 'Suddenly Seventeen' within one of the Mandarin Chinese language films showed me a current romantic flick that was conveniently set in Beijing, China. On the second flight I didn't watch any films but I made the most of the current music choices, the wide array of popular upbeat music was actually quite good and yes I enjoyed a few more Bacardi's. Emirates's outstanding in-flight entertainment had no negative points, more-over it was simple enough to use throughout! Oh!

Touching down into Dubai International Airport I was ready to find the departure gate for my onward connection with Emirates. With my bags interlined from Birmingham to Beijing via Dubai all I needed to do was scan my bags and go through security but no passport control was required. I had watched countless National Geographic documentaries about the Emirates operation, I was excited to see the signs in Arabic and the vast Dubai Duty Free outlet within the departure lounge of Terminal 3. Thankfully I was already in the same concourse so I didn't need to take the APM, leaving me more time to have a look for a small present for my Chinese and Foreign principals at my prospective kindergarten campus. Going for two wooden decorative camels, they weren't garish no because I have taste! The Bacardi's and adrenaline of the experience kept me going but I was in a suitable state because Dubai doesn't do drunkenness!

I automatically knew that I had arrived at my Beijing departure gate because the passengers had their hot water and instant noodle pots. The chatter of the Mandarin Chinese language sounded different, the rough tones of the Wuhan accent wasn't in the air it was more of a standardised tone, they must have been Beijing Ren? Boarding was slightly annoying because the passengers weren't listening to the boarding calls that announced the letter zones that were allowed to board, I had to bring out my Chinese skills to tell the people next to me that they could take their seats again for a few more moments. Relaxing into my second Emirates economy class seat it took us an age to taxi to the runway because 2am posed to be the ultimate rush hour period for Dubai Airport. However long it took I would only have another seven hours of flying left then I would finally be in China after a three month break that was made a lot longer but I don't need to go into that shady business. No B!

Backtracking to the first sector from Birmingham to Dubai I had just enjoyed my main meal and had watched 'Suddenly Seventeen' but I wanted to catch a photo with some of the crew. Only five rows away from the nearest galley I asked one of the crew if I could have a photo when the other crew returned from their break, he was pretty positive that was going to be possible so I went back to my seat. Giving it about five or so minutes I returned to the galley to ask again, to my delight Chutipa and Elle agreed to a photo! I love the snap Emily took under the Emirates logo, it was a lovely moment compared to my previous long haul flight, the crew weren't so approachable but Emirates crew were lovely! Staying in the galley for a chat with Elle and Emily they made sure I had enough refreshments and also snacks! We must have been talking for a while as they told me it was time to sit down for landing! Two, Bacardi's?

With Elle being from Coventry it was like talking to my cousin Laura, she was lovely and told me lots about Dubai life, it sounded major! Emily being from Southern Ireland said that the Dublin flights were always a lively occasion, within a professional setting I read between the lines because like the British the Irish love a good drink en-route to their holidays! I could go on for days how that informal chat in the galley positively impacted on my flight because the crew were so welcoming and natural, it was definitely a flight that I didn't want to disembark from! As I waited to disembark the aircraft I managed to grab a snap with the world famous Emirates hat on before the line moved, I literally could have flown another six hours on that flight because it was so very good! The crew may have quiet during the second flight but the service was still really good, I couldn't fault one single thing. Needless to say, I've already looked at my next Emirates flights to Brum via DXB!

Double Decker Planes!

Joseph Harrison 

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Notting Hill & Kensington, London

Stepping back into London, Golborne Road became my runway, giving me all kinds of European and North African flavours! Seeing Trellick Tower being fashioned into its next phase for London City living, I had almost everything! Of course Portobello Road's market made an appearance, but not before finishing things with a bit of autumnal realness at Kensington Gardens. Go!

Great Portland Street Station planted me in the right part of London for my fingerprints at the Chinese Consulate, some new visa regulation called me back into London. I would be able to collect my visa on the following Monday, things were coming together at long last! Seemingly surrounded by those embassies and fluttering flags gave Portland Place some serious international flare! Westbourne Park Station had me staring the brutalist Trellick Tower in the face, I didn't feel it was right to be snapping those photos in front of Grenfell because that disaster zone is still bruised and hurting from the horrendous fires, so I decided to pay attention to its concrete cousin along Golborne Road instead. I didn't want to be one of dizzy and disrespectful individuals that saw it fit to see Grenfell Tower as a point of interest, maybe a memorial will be installed like NYC has for the late great Twin Towers? Justice for Grenfell already!

Breakfast had only been a minute ago but those street food wagons had me sniffing out the talent! I had originally found a steak restaurant called 'Flat Iron' but as soon as I saw those Tagine being served outside 'Le Marrakech' Halal butchers. Ordering the lentil soup and chicken Tagine had to be done without a seconds thought, freshly made I wolfed down my delicious lentil soup with some fresh bread but where was my Tagine? Exchanging my empty soup bowl for a piping hot chicken Tagine gave me life! With the chicken falling off the bone and the potatoes cooked to perfection I enjoyed every single bite, did I need a drink? I saw the other table had fresh mint tea, I got one for myself and it was so good! Cafe Lisboa and Oporto Patisserie served independent coffee house realness with most of their patrons genuinely Portuguese, an authentic hangout for certain! I don't endorse hipster trash, throwing my first choice in the bin I choice to eat with Moroccan food! Yes!

Portobello Road Market was one of the first places that I had on my London list before my visa run commenced but Thursdays only operated on half days, leaving it till the Friday I was afforded the full effect without the mayhem of the Saturday crowds! Not stressing my mind I took in the many colourful houses and shopfronts along Portobello Road Market. The food stalls were not on my radar as I had already ate some amazing food. From antiques to tourist appropriate garb I saw the lot but I wasn't bothered about making any purchases because it was all about the vibrant sights. The previous London boozers had been transformed into Thai eateries and Gin houses, something that London has done to transform itself over the last few years, I paid that attention to the Earl of Lonsdale served me a refreshing pint of Cider. I enjoyed my alcoholic drink but I noticed the amount of tourists, something that I was not! No!

The market visually impressed me, was it a work of art? Maybe just so it was with its colourful offerings, London may keep on changing but this Portobello Road Market has been going strong since the 19th century with an evolution from it's early days serving fresh produce to today's antique and bohemian delights, she's legendary! Yes, Portobello Road seemed to last forever and then some, the market stalls carried on a little further as Notting Hill slowly turned into Kensington. One thing I thought was ridiculous as W10, London turned into W11, those tourists had no sense snapping group photos outside those outlandishly designed rainbow fashioned houses! During my looks of disgust at those individuals I clocked that those houses looked damn expensive! I'll never know! London is a living legend, she deserves a level of respect that is boundless, no that wasn't understood by those tourists. I didn't buy any antiques but I left with an appreciation for another one of London's markets. OK?

Reinstating some calm, I made my way down to Kensington Gardens to find my favourite queen of all! Kensington Palace may have been in the background but a glorious statue of Queen Victoria stood strong, stony faced and commanding the attention, Queen Vic still has her way! With the sun almost deciding to set it was almost time for me to make my way back to the Tube for that Uxbridge bound train, I had one more thing to do though! Before doing that one last thing I appreciated the pint-sized Kensington Palace, one of London's Royal sites within a very Royal London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, I was fulfilling fantasy because yes I'm a queen too! Oh, the air was filled with an autumnal vibe without a doubt, taking every single breath of that seemingly fresh air I took some time to enjoy that moment. I would soon be off to Beijing, China where I guess Chaoyang Park will be my equivalent? Kensington Gardens killed it! 

Where was Princess Diana's Fountain? I asked that question myself and consulted my Apple Maps but my battery was about to go and if truth be told I was content with what I had seen within Kensington Gardens. Admitting defeat because of the time I found Exhibition Road, running hell for leather to South Kensington Station had to be done because the Uxbridge train would take about one hour on the Piccadilly Line. Maybe the vastness of the park meant I didn't see that final part, hey oh! All in all my final day in London served three treats that brought the right stuff, I admired the concrete fashion of Trellick Tower in place of Grenfell because it would have been cold of me to do so. Golborne and Portobello Road Markets lived up to my expectations if truth be told, I left London feeling very accomplished yet again. London would be seeing me for one final time the following Monday for me to collect my Chinese visa, after the three month wait, it's exciting stuff! Thanks again, London!

Lovely London!

Joseph Harrison 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

City of London: Cathedrals, Banks & Markets...

London crept back into my life somehow, I had waited three long months to renew my visa to return to China. Using that 'City of London' location to the best of my advantage had to be done, getting back to Uxbridge within a good time had to be considered. Oh, St. Paul's, the Bank of England Museum and Leadenhall Market were in my sights after my visa appointment!

Staying in the South Bucks commuter town of Gerrards Cross with my aunt and cousins enabled me to catch the tube from Uxbridge into Moorgate for my China visa appointment. The formalities didn't take too long with my Chinese visa so I was free to explore the 'City of London' for the rest of the day, mainly built up of banks and office blocks known as the 'Gherkin' and the 'Walkie Talkie' buildings I decided to head for St. Paul's Cathedral without thinking twice. I had last seen St. Paul's from the Millennium Bridge during a day wandering along the River Thames during 2014 or 2015 but then decided to walk back over to the southern side of the river for some reason I can't remember. Paying my only admission fee for the day I stepped inside the grand entrance of St. Paul's to see what all the fuss was about, seeing it from the gardens just wasn't enough for me! No photos were permitted, would that rule be followed?

As I took my first steps into the wonder of St. Paul's Cathedral I was blown away by the beautiful stonework, apparently that Anglican Church doesn't receive any funding for restoration works so I saw my admission fee as money well spent. Respecting the photography warnings I was pleasantly surprised to see other visitors were actually taking heed of that request. Taking the many stairs to the middle of the dome I looked down onto the cathedral floor from the 'Whispering Gallery' the height didn't bother me but the golden views of the dome roof and of down below were amazing, every penny was well spent! Lighting a candle had to be done but like any Church of England venue, I struggled to see the Madonna! Going down into the Crypt showed me the way to my next location but not before finding out Florence Nightingale had a monument within the grounds of St. Paul's. Viewing from the inside and out I was content with St. Paul's Cathedral that November morning. Onto the money!

They say money makes the world go round but I at least wanted to see how the Bank of England originated. Making the most of one of London's free museums opened my eyes to another part of the 'City of London'. Founded in 1694, the Bank of England was originally conducted from rented premises in Cheapside in the heart of the bustling city centre. I was staggered to find out that it was a full forty years later until the actual bank was put into business on Threadneedle Street. Throughout the museums instalments I discovered the original handling of money through the newly founded Bank of England, in modern terms it functioned like a building society. Forgery of the early notes was something the museum schooled me in, even though the less educated dwellers of London couldn't read they could craft their own counterfeit notes. I wouldn't be able to that but I'm no criminal, really I am not! No!

Funnily enough during June 2015 I had crossed the busy junction outside the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange after collecting my first Chinese visa, upon that occasion I didn't invest any attention so I was very willing to be considerate second time around. Going further into the many exhibits at the Bank of England museum opened my eyes, obviously my favourite reigning queen will always be Victoria, so the coins from her days ruling Britain and its Empire impressed me much! Jane Austen had her own little feature, the new material for the new bank notes educated me that they will be more durable and be harder to forge. There's a possible new face for the fifty pound note but I haven't seen one of those for an age, they must be all disappearing overseas? London kept on showing me more, I hadn't expected much from my day within the 'City of London' but St. Paul's and the Bank of England captured my attention. Money may be changing but that bank is still coining it!

The day was pressing on but the banking types of London's beating financial centre made good viewing for sure, those suits looked just right from where I was looking! As I'll be heading to Beijing this time around I began to imagine if I'll be seeing any delectable suited individual go about town? Oh, I think there will be a few! Feeling peckish I headed for my final stop of the day, Leadenhall Market stood out to me during my pre-trip research and being a former filming location used in the Harry Potter series I saw it as a winning choice to visit. Getting on for about 1pm I was so surprised to see as many suits as I did, their drinks were most certainly of the alcoholic kind and that begged the question of what decisions they would be making in the office after those boozy beverages! I'm not one to judge but it's definitely not something that I indulge in during my dinnertime break between teaching classes. Really?

I admired the cast-iron details of the roof, the 18th century market retained a sense of its past but effortlessly catered for the modern requirements of today's market goers. Upmarket dining options were plentiful but I was there to marvel at the architecture that had attracted me to Leadenhall Market nonetheless. Going for a burrito had to be done, keeping it simple I managed to grab a bite to eat for less than a tenner! Giving that busy burrito line some time to quieten down I took a seat just outside of Leadenhall Markets exit on Lime Street, sitting amongst a pile of towering steel and glass I turned my head to my left side to find the 'Walk Talkie' building staring back at me and the famous 'Gherkin' to the other side. For a half planned day after my Chinese visa appointment I managed to see as much as possible within the limits of the 'City of London'. Returning to Aldgate for my Uxbridge bound tube I felt very accomplished! London slayed yet again but it is so damn pricey! 

Suits, Suits & More Suits!

Joseph Harrison