29 December 2017

Shunyi District: Strictly Suburban Beijing!

Transferring to Beijing from Wuhan was my number one priority but I had one district that I really didn't want to be placed in! Closest to Beijing's current interational airport, Shunyi District somehow became my new home in China after the noise of Guanggu, Wuhan. I will be completely honest I wasn't pleased at first but life so far in suburban Beijing couldn't be any better!

Arriving into Beijing was enough of a shock, getting over the jet-lag I made my way from Chaoyang Park to China International Exhibition Center Subway Station in Shunyi to look for somewhere to live with my Chinese principal and a property agency. Captured to the left is my current community, its quiet and situated within easy reach to two subway stations that connect with inner-city underground lines. My first impressions of Shunyi were good, even people in the McDonald's at Euro Plaza spoke English and those international Chinese people were definitely well heeled because many languages could be heard during those first moments. I couldn't begin to compared Shunyi with Guanggu because the differences are so stark, in my new area it's common not to see any crowds or loud speaker announcements during the weekends. The 'money compound' suits me fine, keeping the noise away in the city. 

I haven't shared an apartment/flat since my Hallmark Aviation placement days in Newark, New Jersey, with Chinese prices on a different scale completely I won't be considering anyone else's space for a long-time! My one bedroom Central Park apartment boasts a large living and dining area, bathroom with continental toilet, a fair sized kitchen and a double bedroom all to myself. Rents are higher in Beijing compared to Wuhan but Chaoyang rents are three times higher than my Shunyi price. Shangdu might have been above 24 hour convenience stores and other god-sends but I have what I need a couple of steps away from my door, with a closing time for these shops its an excuse to save money. On the whole my new abode works just fine for me, feeling like I have graduated its proof my accommodation reflects that movement as well my working status. The subsidised central heating is a god-send because the weather drops below minus two degrees most nights! B, show me Shunyi!

Having a Carrefour downstairs in Guanggu was amazing, it gave me the perfect excuse to stock up on wine after work on a Friday evening, fast forward to Shunyi life in Beijing its a lot different here. Carrefour can be accessed quite easy from my new place but I found a cracker, a supermarket called 'WuMei', which is practically Chinese in every sense. Snatching four full bags of shopping each week for around 20 pounds allows me to save! WuMei keeps it real, located past a rather exclusive shopping complex the luxurious nature stops dead at the door because the clientele aren't the usual compared to Shunyi's elite, those villa residents mostly shop at Jenny Lou's or BHG import supermarkets. I plough my shopping trolley to and from the necessary aisles because those shoppers get me mad! One Friday night had me so crazy, the APP payment machine broke at the check out, it was chaos! Get it together!

Introducing a professional tone, the whole reason I am now in Shunyi District is for my teaching job with a reputable international kindergarten company. Going back to the United Kingdom for three months wasn't the plan but with certain miscommunciations dealt with I was placed in my Beijing campus away from the noise and madness of Chaoyang District. I wasn't expecting to be assigned a Shunyi location but within time I was able to accept the changes and my new location for better rather than worse. Conveniently located from my community I can walk to my new kindergarten campus within twenty minutes, it beats getting the bus like I did in Wuhan twice everyday and it leaves me with more of an evening to chill out from the fast paced nature of kindergarten life. Buses, never again after Guanggu's offerings! WuMei's madness and normality gives me life in a strange way but being closer to school makes life much easier compared to that Guanggu life. Yes, Shunyi will do!

During my pre-Shunyi arrival research I was relieved to see that my campus was near to Beijing Subway's Line 15 that connects this outer city community with lines 14, 5, 8 and 13 that can all take me closer to the centre of Beijing. Google Maps and Baidu Maps had me recognising the area around China International Exhibition Center Subway Station with the surrounding golf courses and leafy exclusiveness I was well aquainted to that public transportation connection. I can get into the city within about ninety minutes, that might seem far but it works for me because the noise of the city can be left right where it needs to be, Shunyi for the moment gives me peace but I'm never isolated because Line 15's Guo Zhan and Hua Li Kan Subway Stations keep me connected. A DiDi taxi from the centre of Beijing's party district 'San Li Tun' was only 70 kuai the last time I went out, that's about 8 quid! Chaoyang, who? I'm not bitter!

Did I mention that I only live 15 minutes from Beijing Capital International Airport? Yes, Shunyi District will hold the key to a speedy departure to the airport and then home after I touchdown back in Beijing. I have met certain Chaoyang teachers that throw shade on my airport side location, I have no issue getting a taxi to the airport for less 2 quid from door to door rather than traipsing across the city to catch a flight. I can see the control tower from the north exit of my community and its a plane spotters dream because my side of Shunyi District is on the final approach for each and every aircraft that touchs down at Peking International Airport, of course I see those departing flight soar higher across Shunyi! Back to the city, I've only been into town a couple of times since arriving because work has been manic but with a possible extended contract on the horizon I'm in no rush. So, Shunyi District is home for now, a different side to Beijing that I wasn't expecting but it's working out fine!

Countryside? No, It's Strictly Suburban! 

Joseph Harrison 

23 December 2017

Wangjing's Korean Connection...

Beijing isn't just about the Great Wall or its Temple of Heaven! Beijing is made of different neighbourhoods that aren't in the tourism glare. Making use of one very rare sober Sunday I got myself to Wangjing, an unassuming Beijing residential area that bridged a certain Korean connection. Things might be fractious on the Korean Peninsula but I wanted seafood Ramen and Soju!

Ditching the booze two Saturdays ago made for a rare sober Sunday, making use of that rare occurrence I jumped on Line 15 of the Beijing Subway to Wangjing. Why Wangjing? Formerly known as one of Beijing's outer 'sleeping towns' that northern corner of Beijing City has been fashioned into a place for its residents to work, play and live altogether. I was drawn to Wangjing because it had a certain Korean connection, I was originally meant to meet a friend near Wangjing South Subway Station but he was working overtime, turning an unfortunate situation into something worthwhile I wanted to challenge Wangjing to find its Korean side! From China International Exhibition Center Subway Station to Wangjing's underground stop it wasn't much of a journey, no interchanges were needed meaning the whole trip was under fifty minutes! Beijing is massive, finding somewhere to see closer to home worked out just fine!

My days out in Beijing haven't been so plentiful, mainly because I only arrived in November? But when the weekend comes round I lose that sense of adventure sometimes because the central heating feels way to good, the cold is definitely biting bad right now! Stepping off the escalator at Wangjing Subway Station felt great, it seemed like a normal residential area but I wanted to see through that classification. I had previously been to Wangjing but the exit seemed like it was slap bang in the middle of a construction site, that day didn't paint an interesting picture of Wangjing at all. Back to the phrase, 'sleeping town' because many outer communities that are away from Beijing were and are commonly ghost towns in the week and only come alive during the evening when the commuters return home from the office or at the weekends. Being a Sunday it was quite hectic but that's just China, frankly I was too hungry to care about that Sunday afternoon energetic pace! 나는 배고파다!

Heading for 'Korean Town' for something to eat and for a general nose around. Checking out the import supermarket had to be done, quenching my thirsty with a can of Korean apple juice had to be done. South Korea is known for its beauty and skin products the world over, so I wanted to get something to keep my face looking moisturised and on-point. Finding a deep pore cleansing face cream, trying it out a few days later I was so impressed with the results, my skin looked and felt utterly fabulous! South Korean guys from those K-Pop videos always have such sharp hairstyles, noticing a hairdressers I translated some Korean and got my hair restyled because it was looking like a damn mess! For about ten pounds I got my short sides and top style back, looking good is important here because its all about 'face!' Korean Town may have been pint-sized but it was serving it up! If I need any South Korean train tickets I'm Okay!

Hair done, thirst quenched and pore cleanser purchased I was ready to have something tasty and Korean for my lunch/dinner. Close to the hairdressers I saw a Korean barbecue restaurant that looked mildly authentic, regardless of anything else I was too hungry to care during that moment! I cook for myself most days so when I go out to eat I don't want to be cooking the food myself, backing that statement I ordered the seafood Ramen. I had heard of Soju, getting my own bottle for less than twenty Yuan I enjoyed it responsibly because it was Sunday afternoon, nobody has time for a hangover on a Monday morning, plus I like having employment! Back to the food, the seafood Korean style noodles tasted amazing, I was very impressed with my foodie find within Beijing's Korean Town! I'll definitely be back for some more Korean food, preferably not on a Sunday so I can enjoy a lot more Soju! My look had been improved and my taste buds had been satisfied, a job well done Wangjing Subdistrict!

Taking a walk around the centre of Wangjing's many imposing tower blocks I came across several shops, restaurants and other businesses that displayed colourful Korean language signs, reminding me of my time within Shenyang's Korean side of town it was nice to have that five minute flashback. The contrast between residential Wangjing to the SOHO development really made all the different, no I didn't give any of my time to that shiny new part of Wangjing. I almost ended my Wangjing outing after that moment but I came across an interesting looking square, it oozed 'twelve party core values' Realness without a doubt! Shiny in a rich red the famous references to the Communist Party of China could be seen, not judging it was a chance for me to test my Chinese reading skills, I managed to read three values. Sports Culutral Square added to the randomness of the day! Did I miss something? Yes B!

Wangjing's subtle Korean vibe switched up my Sunday in the best way, I was all but ready to call it a day and head back to Guo Zhan but something told me to do different. Stumbling upon an open market surprised me, they don't serve those sights in Shunyi by my community so I enjoyed that healthy dosage of Realness! Korean language signs could be seen within that darkened market area, many imported products were being sold from the Korean Peninsula. The wide array of colourful fruits and vegetables gave that corragated iron environment an injection of colour and vibrancy. Clocking the cut and blow dry stlye barbershops within that area I kicked myself because it was a lot cheaper, with that being said it did look like a conveyor belt and language could have been an even bigger problem! With my fruit purchases in tow it was time to head back to Shunyi before another new exciting week at work. So, Wangjing had something different, I appreciated that unknown area of Beijing!

20 December 2017

2016: A Very Yunnan Christmas!

Christmas 2017 is only round the corner, this year I'm shelving any holiday plans so I wanted to cast my mind back to 2016. Taking just over ten days off from work enabled me to see three outstanding places within South China's Yunnan Province. Getting that contract straight up felt great but taking to the skies from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport felt amazing! Fly!

Yunnan Province wasn't my first choice for my hotly anticipated 2016 Christmas holiday, I had originally wanted to visit Hainan island, eyeing up Sanya for a few days. The flights further south of Kunming were out of my price range as the next Spring Festival would be an expensive in far Northeast China. Kunming, Dali and Lijiang fell into place of that Hainanese tropical getaway without any fuss, well almost because my flights got changed three times! Touching down into Changshui International Airport in Kunming City kick started my Christmas adventure in Yunnan Province. The accomodation booked ended up being in a grotty high-rise building but for less than thirty pound for three nights I wasn't going to stress over that happening. The Stone Forest, Yuantong Temple and other Kunming sites were in my plan! To be honest, in that moment I could tell quickly that Yunnan was the right choice! Go!

Knocked out from December's busy schedule at my then kindergarten in Wuhan I dragged myself out of bed before lunch time on my first day, Yuantong Temple and a flower market seemed like the thing to do for that first afternoon. Taking it slow I took in the calm of Yuantong Temple, I want to drop-kick people who say China's temples are all the same, I looked deep into the spirit of that Kunming  place of worship to find something that I adored. Walking for what felt like an age I found the Flower and Birds Market of Kunming along Bailong Road. Being the 'Spring City' I appreciated the colourful blooms that were for sale, I didn't feel the need to buy any souvenirs because I was there for a mooch around and nothing else. Returning back to the city I found my friend who was waiting for me, we had met in a nightclub during 2015's National Day holiday in Chengdu. My first twenty-four hours in Kunming were amazing, I was ready for one more day in that 'Spring City' before Dali!

Kunming's chilled vibe had me sleeping in again the next day, grabbing a taxi to the city's east coach station had to be done. Again, I wasn't in any rush during that Christmas holiday. The express bus to the Stone Forest was easy enough to get right, arriving with just enough time to see what all the fuss was about it. Getting to the scene captured to the right took some going but it was all worth it. The Stone Forest looked like nothing I had ever seen before that moment, my alternative Christmas trip was turning out to be something else! Making my way through that jagged forest gave me certain illusions of the prehistoric ages, I loved that 'Glamasuarus' moment! I didn't want any random selfies! Chinese tourists know no boundaries! Successfully getting back to Kunming's city centre showed me the complexity to its main railway station but I was going to be fine the next day bound for Dali. How I loved Kunming so very much!

Returning to my hotel I decided to have a little rest, jetting off on holiday straight from my classes had tired me out, I didn't want to be a bore though and stay in my room anymore than I needed to. Checking out a random night street on my laptop, I ran with that last-minute research and hopped into a taxi bound for Wenhua Street because clubbing wasn't on the menu that evening. Dining at a curry house provided me with a lovely dinner, discovering the night lights impressed me much along that cute Kunming street. The shop windows painted the perfect picture and the atmosphere was nice and chilled, another reoccurring sight in Yunnan's booming big city. Calling it a night pretty early I wanted to get a good night sleep before my first slow train the next day, Dali wasn't served by a high-speed link so I saved a bunch with those 'hard seat' tickets. My time in Kunming was blessed, the accommodation was definitely basic but the bright and inviting nature of Kunming made it shine on!

Departing from Kunming Railway Station I made the six hour train journey to Dali on a slow 'K Class' train, I had only ever taken the high speed trains but on that route I had no choice but to experience the unrefined nature of that standard carriage. I don't mean 'unrefined' in a negative way because it was an experience worth having compared to the comfort of a 'G or D Class' train. Without any announcement I arrived at Dali Railway Station, flagging a cab I had to call the hostel to tell the driver where to go, it was a chore but another character building moment. Dali had attracted me for many reasons, one being its natural beauty and its protected old town. Settling into my hostel I hadn't chose the dormitory room, paying a little bit more I bagged a private room with its own shower for less than twenty pounds per night. Wasting no time I had a mooch down into the old town, it had been such a long day, I was sleepy.

Bright and early on the first real day in Dali I had got a ticket for a boat trip along the Erhai Lake, unddoubtedly one of the best natural views in China I had seen along with the rice terraces in Guilin, I was blown away by that Yunnan water! The tourists had no chill, feeding the seagulls didn't impress me much but we all make poor choices sometimes, I appreciated the view without paying them no mind, well I tried! Back on dry land Dali's Old Town was prettier than a picture, noticing somethings I didn't expect to see I found a roadside cafe that served a cold beer, taking some time out it got boozy! During my final day in Dali I took a chance to see the tranquil Chongsheng Temple and the three pagodas, seeking solace in that moment it was lovely to discover the three pagodas without any crowds. I felt a million miles away from Wuhan, that chaotic place had no place during my Christmas holiday in Yunnan, China. Dali was such a darling, I felt so contented boarding my Lijiang train.

Lijiang was my final Yunnan destination of my Christmas holiday during the final throws of 2016. Staying within Lijiang's Old Town felt like I was cocooned in a safe haven, that gorgeously restored UNESCO World Heritage Site impressed me much! Getting to my hotel was an adventure, tucked away down a narrow alley within the heart of the old town it was a relief to take my first steps discovering the shopfronts and seeing the general feel of the action. Flower cakes seemed to me the thing to buy, well for a good gift anyway? Taking it easy during the first day I found a little bar down one of the winding alleys, needless to say it was a good night. Christmas Day came, I dragged myself out of bed in my hungover state to Lijiang's Black Dragon Pool to catch Christmas from a different perspective. That Lijiang beauty spot was really quiet, I only saw a few people go about their sightseeing business. Lijiang was definitely lovely!

Back on the drink because it was Christmas Day I went back to that bar for more, calling family back in England on Skype was a juggling act because the signal was really bad! Waking up on Boxing Day, my head felt like hell but I found my way to Baisha to see the murals in that ancient village that played a significance to the Naxi people. Talking of Naxi people, I noticed the local minority within Yunnan province. From arriving to finally departing from Kunming Changshui International Airport I had an absolute blast during my Christmas holiday that I missed out on the previous year. Kunming was cool, a busy city with a chilled sense of chill. Dali was truly a darling, winding streets and the dreamest lake I ever did and oh lovely Lijiang gave me three horrendous Christmas time hangovers! The holiday was over after I immediately arrived back to Wuhan as New Year's got things turned up with Fiona and Elli, it got scandalous! It was ace but I definitely have more to see in Yunnan! Shangri-La next?

Last Christmas...

Joseph Harrison 

9 December 2017

Beijing's Olympic Dream...

2008 brought China's first Olympic Games in the country's showcase capital city, Beijing. I had my very own dreams to reach Beijing, China and like those athletes I did my own work to make it to the finish line. Going for gold I used my third weekend in Beijing to experience the showpieces of Beijing's Olympic glory. Will I be in Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics? Maybe B?

I was ready for my first full sightseeing day in Beijing from my new home in Shunyi, Suburban Beijing! Scouting a MoBike I zipped down to China International Exhibiton Center Subway Station on Line 15, I'm lucky enough to live on the same line as the Olympic Green, it was a no-brainer! It was great not having to interchange lines because in Beijing that takes some serious time! As I surfaced from the underground shopping centre that was connected to the Subway Station I saw the famous five Olympic rings in perfect view. Why was Beijing's Olympic Green my first real day out? It was definitely that Line 15 direct connection that swayed that decision for sure! The openness  of what looked like the 'Olympic mile' was staggering, the pollution decided to take a day off so another rare day of blue skies gracing that Saturday. Biking some more because I wasn't going to waste an Olympic minute! No!

In front of me I could see a towering structure that resembled three flowers, rotating on the top were the five famous Olympic rings for all to see. I marvelled at the pristine environment, no litter could be seen during that manicured showcase area. I only ever got the chance to see the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on television in snippets during the annual family holiday, it was truly amazing to be in that triumphant location in real life. I noticed a development next to the Bird's Nest Stadium, it looked like it could be part of the venues for Beijing upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games? I wasn't surprised that Beijing bagged the second Chinese Olympic Games, China made a strong bid and has some grand plans for the main venues in Zhangjiakou. New high speed rail lines are currently being built from Beijing North Railway Station for the games with a dedicated station at the Badaling Great Wall of China. If I'm still in town during the games I wouldn't mind grabbing a ticket!

The main attraction had to be the Bird's Nest Stadium, the home to the main events during 2008's Summer Olympic and Paralympic games. Entering the Olympic 'mile' once more I caught the first glimpse of that gargantuan steel structure, it honestly looked like a giant birds nest! Another sense of national pride could be felt within that Olympic environment, I heard a Chinese song with the title '我爱你北京!' For those who can't read or understand the smallest bit of Chinese that song translates into English to 'I love you Beijing!' When I visited London's Olympic area in Stratford, East London I certainly didn't here any songs that went like 'I love you London!' China has that central core value to love ones country, known as '爱国' which is one of the twelve party core values, one which I agree with because I love saying that I'm from England but China takes that national pride for their country higher! Yes!

Making a splash during its time as the main facility for the diving and swimming events during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games the Beijing National Aquatics Centre served with all of its cubic glory. I had no desire to look inside at the exhibits because the view of the remarkable water like sports facility pleased me visually nonetheless. I could have gone into both the Bird's Nest Stadium and Aquatics Centre for less than 200 Yuan but walking around the area was completely free, I'll save my admission fee for the Mutianyu Pass at the Great Wall of China! Tour groups congregated outside the huge former Olympic Stadium for photos and for a rather loud commentary from their tour guide, I always try and be my own tour guide because I can't abide by following someone else's rule or being in a group, Tibet was the only exception! I had seen photos of the Bird's Nest Stadium lit up at night with all of its blueness but I wasn't so ready to see that, Beijing's nightlife better wait for pay day!

Scanning another MoBike QR Code, I peddled from the Olympic Stadium and Aquatics Centre towards the Olympic Forest Park to catch a sense of calm because Beijing can sometimes serve a little too much concrete and steel! Boasting its own Subway Station on Line 8 makes it easy for Beijingers and fellow foreigners, I wasn't in need of transport though. Astonishingly all 680 hectares of the Olympic Forest Park are man-made, constructed carefully with consideration of the Olympic venues in close proximity. I took a small stroll around the lake and towards the Gingko trees but I wasn't trekking through the hills for nobody! Families mostly made use of the scenic oasis of the forest park and the health conscious jogged and powered walked around the park but that wasn't my hype whatsoever! Beijing's blue skies continued to grace that Saturday with a smattering of haze, I didn't pay too much attention to that. BJ park-life!

Do I have an Olympic dream? Well, I had a dream to earn my transfer to Beijing with my preferred Kindergarten company from Wuhan. Being in Beijing, surrounded by the Olympic Green and Forest Park gave me a sense that I had reached the finish line and my dream had come true! But with that being said I haven't won the gold medal yet because there's a lot more hard work and diligence I have to put in before I get that target! Being 'Beijing Ready' has helped because I didn't want to remain in the same place for more than two years but now in Beijing with skills and knowledge I feel equipped to make a life here, who knows how long my Beijing dream will continue to be my current reality? My victorious visit to Beijing's flagship Olympic venues gave me life for certain, ready and waiting for Beijing's 2022 Winter Olympics Games I hope to return with a ticket to see something amazing! So, the dream lives on with more to execute, leaving me with only one more thing to say '我爱你北京!'

Stay Beijing Ready!

Joseph Harrison