Thursday, 20 December 2018

Jaipur, India: Rajasthan's Pink City!

After five hours on the road it was such a relief to reach the Indian Province of Rajasthan, home to its provincial city of Jaipur. Hailed as the 'Pink City,' I was on the last leg of my Golden Triangle tour. My driver had mentioned that Jaipur would offer some great shopping for handicrafts, oh I had my money at the ready to buy some cultural items for my pre-K materials.

The first place that I saw in Jaipur was the Jal Mahal, half-submerged in the Man Sagar Lake I secured my first glimpse of a very different palace. If truth be told I wasn't completely listening to the tour guide, the bizarreness in-front of me didn't need any backstory, out of the five stories a staggering four stay underneath water when the lake is at its fullest. The views over to the mountains, across Man Sagar Lake with the Jal Mahal in view sure gave me something to remember. Lined along the riverside walkway I saw many sellers, I couldn't help but buy everything in sight, from bangles to cute elephant embossed pencil-like cases. I had my upcoming language materials in mind and a good teaching friend of mine was considered for some gifts that we would both benefit from with our Montessori endeavours. With the Jal Mahal in the middle of a lake in the distance and my arms full of Jaipur made handicrafts, it was a time!

I was seriously looking for the 'pink' that gave Jaipur its name! Don't ever pester me, I had to dish some realness to the over-enthusiastic sellers at the riverside opposite the Jal Mahal. They wanted to make their coins but I stressed I wouldn't look at their stalls if they pestered me, it was simple as 1, 2, 3! Heading to a garment, ornament and jewellery showroom with much reluctance, I learnt about the unchanged art of printing cotton fabric with elaborate cultural patterns, I tried my own hand to emboss some fabric with an elephant stencil. Buying a lovely pink pashmina for the girls in my class, I half had one of my fellow foreign teaching friends in mind for that beauty. I tried on some sari fabric, secretly I wanted it but let's be real I'm not going to be making any wardrobe decisions like that in China! Jaipur, thanks but no thanks! I bought myself some semi-precious earrings because apart from holidays I don't treat myself ever! It was pushing on for lunch time, I wanted some food!

Situated in the heart of Jaipur's bustling centre, City Palace stood with its signature Jaipur 'pink' peach colouring and it looked gorgeous in the mid afternoon sun. I paid my entrance fee, entered without fuss to find simple directions that led me to the Chandra Mahal building, it had been the residence to the royal family of the time, what time period that was I didn't pay attention to that nugget of information, the stunning architecture and colour was the only knowledge I needed. Captured to the right stands the Diwan-I-Khas, I was amazed by the rich blend of pink peachy tones that mixed so well with the intricate details present that were adorned in brilliant white. I stood still with amazement, the whole palace complex transported me to another world, the fact I had reached to Jaipur in real-time was just something else! Jaipur presented itself well, it stood as a truly beautiful city from where I was. Yes, Rajasthan!

Venturing further into the Chandra Mall at Jaipur's City Palace allowed me to marvel at the rich displays within the Diwan-I-Am, exhibits and photos ranged from the times of the Maharaja and the Viceroy's hailing in India during the times of the British Raj. I saw a slice of many histories in one instance, keeping things at my own pace I didn't pay the tour groups any mind, soaking the culture up it was time to meet up with the tour guide before going to the Hawa Mahal. I was honestly beginning to get so confused with all the 'Mahal's' I had seen during my Golden Triangle tour! Throwing my money in all directions I bought a lovely Indian drum, I knew somewhere in my English Corner it would come in handy, aside from that purchase I was intoxicated by the vibe Jaipur possessed, it was nothing like the Delhi and that was just fine! The day was pressing onwards, Jaipur's colourful streets kept on giving me life, it wasn't going to be over yet! My third Indian City stayed!

Life in India for women is now slowly changing but during the time Jaipur's Hawa Mahal housed the royal Indian princesses it was another story, a story a million light years away from the likes of 2018. Translated from Hindi to 'Palace of Winds' the palace was engineered to give the palace-bound princesses a comfortable breeze during those scorching summer months, it was a lot to make sense that the princesses weren't allowed out of the palace walls. Nevertheless, I just adored the pink and red shades being served to me during that December afternoon. I was seeking the famous photo that depicts all of those windows, I waited patiently for that photo opportunity. Climbing some steep stone steps took some going, there was only seven or so but with no bannister and a towering view of the city in the next glance it was a tender few steps till I found the handrail! That view was sensational, those steps!

Sensational, yes! The view from the top of the Hawa Mahal gave me a Birdseye view of Jaipur's cityscape. I took all the views in, the landscape looked like some Arabian fairytale, the rooftops and mountains gave me everything that I needed from the view! After making my way back down to street level it was time to capture the one and only worthy photo of Jaipur's Hawa Mahal, well from my opinion anyway. Dodging the traffic had to be done but in actual fact I snatched a better photo directly underneath those famous windows. Checking into the hotel felt good, it had been such a busy two days with all the hours on the road and the different environments. The following day would bring the final drive back to Delhi before my Ganges day trip on the 19th of December 2018. Missing breakfast yet again during that trip because of the hotel I'll always state that breakfast is so important! Anyway, Jaipur gave me everything from its 'Pink City' palaces in Northern India's Rajasthan. Yes!

That Pink City!

Joseph Harrison 

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Agra, India: Taj Mahal, Agra Fort & Street Life...

Leaving the chaos of Delhi behind me I picked up my three day tour bound for Agra and Jaipur, my mission was to sit on the same bench at the Taj Mahal that Princess Diana did during her visit. The first day was a mission but well worth all the things that I saw, very much so indeed! Agra had two jewels in its crown, but the rest was a definitely an eye-opening experience. 

The drive from Delhi to Agra took about three or so hours, exiting the Yamuna Expressway meant the Taj Mahal grew nearer. After leaving the mayhem that was Delhi, the rolling fields gave me a different view before the unassuming Taj City of Agra. Seeing the road-side restaurant with their Hindi writing and colourful setups gave me even more of a curiousity to try more not-for-tourist foods. Picking up the guide, it was then only a short drive before reaching India's palatial icon. Tourists were out in their droves, with my one statement photo in mind I kept my cool, something told me the entry fee foreigners would be sky-high compared to the local price, that situation just isn't far! Nevertheless, I was merely steps away from one of the India's most famed pieces of Muslim architecture. Beware of the photographers, they get you working that pose in-front of the Taj, their motives were a no! Agra, don't play that! 

Being up-close and personal with the Taj Mahal's ivory white style made me fall in love with the love story behind its very existence. Crafted by the Mughal Emperor, Shah Janan to lay his beloved wife's body to rest. Mumtaz Mahal's death dealt such an impact on Shah's life, he felt his wife needed somewhere to rest that was just as beautiful as she was. Some shady business went down during a devastating looting, precious metals and jewels were stolen from the Taj Mahal's structure. I later learned that one of the visiting British Viceroy's of India felt so conflicted by the disrepair that the mausoleum stood in, he commanded a mass restoration project to commence that would restore the Taj to its former glory. Even though the immediate area surrounding the Mahal was crazy, I took in the beauty of Mumtaz's place with all of my attention. I was very impressed by what I saw from my visit to the Taj Mahal during that December mid-morning visit. Lady Di, I found your bench! 

I had heard about Delhi's Red Fort and those facts didn't impress me all that much, but as it stood I was very interested to see Agra Fort after my visit to the Taj Mahal. Intrinsically linked with the Taj, Agra's own fort was a stronghold for the Mughal rulers before the British relocated the capital to Delhi, the fort acted as the main headquarters for Shah Janan and his family. It was great to walk through the many compartments within the fort to be fronted by its grandeur, the marble designs gave a certain sense of luxury. It's Arabian opulence reminded me of Disney's Aladdin in the most basic sense with the references that animated film made to the main buildings. Agra Fort had so much of a back-story it was hard to keep up with the tour guides words but I remembered certain quarters were for Shah Janan's many wives, he had many children from those marriages and then some. Drama within those Agra Fort walls! Yes!

Mumtaz Mahal spent a lot of her life at the fort before her death, by the sounds it she spent most of the marriage pregnant? Many shady things went down through the years of the forts Mughal presence, I adored the open courtyard with such sensational marble designs. Marble, really? Shah Janan didn't seem impressed with some of the structure or looks, modifying those imperfections he obviously was a man with style in mind. Aside from the family goings on at the fort, it was really interesting to learn about yet another reference to the Mughal Empire because I had no previous idea they ruled before the British assumed power in 1803 by means and for gains I don't really want to go into any further. My day so far had been long, the drive from Delhi had been lengthy but the sights on offer made everything feel much better. The fort surprised me, it taught me a lot about the city of Agra because things suggested the Taj Mahal stood as the poster attraction for the city. OK!

With the days sightseeing over I was famished, having not had any breakfast that morning I was ready to run my mouth because the driver wanted to cop an attitude, not on my watch! I wasn't going to any restaurants for foreign tourists with air conditioning because I wanted to save my money and it wasn't even that warm! Checking into my room for the night I crossed the road to check out a normal looking road-side restaurant that stood next to a Chaiwala. Getting some hearty curry, roti and lassi for the win I noticed a large Indian family were dining at the same place, they looked well healed so I had chosen a good place that served good for an honest price. Taking my time it was great to watch the crazy flow of traffic pass me by, forming my opinions on Agra as a city that definitely benefited from its sights but the city looked rundown, not justifying the 'UNESCO World Heritage' status of the Taj Mahal. Life!  

Satisfied with my lunch, I grabbed some snacks and water at the shop next to the restaurant. I noticed that a few guys were sitting inside the small road-side shop, they were sipping their chai and talking about something in Hindi, my foreign presence didn't cause a stir because they seemed interested to ask questions after I said I was from England. The chai tasted great in its own terracotta cup, I noticed the local Indian folk really had a fascination with the previous ruling British Empire for they had nothing negative to say but all positives. Being a British territory for such a long time has left a high standard of English spoken in India, for me it wasn't difficult during that tea time to communicate basic things because of the remnants of empire. Agra showed me everything that I needed it to show me, the street life impressed me as it was unexpected and wasn't negative. Returning to my hotel, I took it easy before my five hour car journey to Rajasthan's Pink City of Jaipur. Agra, done! 

Totally Taj! 

Joseph Harrison 

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Delhi, India: Taxi, Taxi!

After arriving in Delhi I was ready for the first phase of my jam-packed Indian holiday, it wasn't much of a holiday because I had such a busy itinerary. Taking a taxi tour was something my parents did during their visit to the city, they recommended that I see some of DEL's finest sights by taxi. I booked up with my hotel before my arrival, ensuring things were sorted. Go, go!

I had literally arrived into Delhi the previous night to an utterly chaotic scene at the airport, after catching a few hours sleep and some breakfast it was time for my Delhi Taxi Tour. My hotel didn't feel like an oasis of calm until I ventured out in my taxi that morning, but it did not take long to be blinded by the maddening sights and sounds that took over instantly. China had nothing on India, it's Delhi capital city vibe made 北京 appear rather sleepy! Rickshaws weaved through the bustling traffic, safety didn't seem to be the theme on the streets, it was pure bedlam! I had no clue what the first stop of day was going to be, it was something already amazing to see the craziness of Delhi's bustling streets, people and vehicles of all kinds were making their way past at break-neck speed and without any caution applied! In that moment the taxi seemed like the safest place, sure my eyes were forced wide open by Delhi's madness!

Delhi's Jama Masjid turned out to be the first stop, stepping out of the taxi I had my belongings close to me, I couldn't judge what reception would greet me but it was all good. Entering the main courtyard gave me a wide screen view of the largest mosque in India, crafted by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan between 1644 and 1656. Access inside the mosque wasn't permitted for non-Muslims, I respected that because the architecture from the mosques exterior was enough to marvel at. I hadn't banked on seeing India's largest mosque during my first berserk morning in Delhi. Chandni Chowk, the area that Jama Masjid fell into looked intriguing to me, at that early point I knew that I would be revisiting that corner of Old Delhi before my Air India flight for Birmingham on the 21st of December 2018! Learning fast that Delhi's history was rich, the Mughal rulers hailed from modern day Uzbekistan, something that I wasn't expecting to hear! How Chandni Chowk was so mad for a Sunday!

Raj Ghat was a no go, that Sunday chillness had finally surfaced as the remnants of the former British settlement of 'New' Delhi! No stresses that morning, it was all good! Things were kept all Mughal. Arriving at Humayun's Tomb was totally new for me, I was still learning about India's former rulers, I was being schooled for sure. The gardens surrounding Humayun's Tomb impressed me much, it was like a lush Indian summers garden. I made tracks around the visibly accessible parts but if truth be told I didn't really know where I was meant to be going, somewhere advertised peacock gardens but I didn't see those beautiful terrifying Asian birds. I was drawn back to the tomb of Isa Khan Niazi, a Pashtun noble in the courts of Sher Shah Suri. The garden in the round that had a simple yet very elaborate tomb planted in the centre gave me one amazing view, the vivid colours reflecting in the sun gave me everything.

I was so glad that I had brought enough money with me on the taxi tour, the thought of having to pay multiple entrance fees didn't make me feel good, as it stood the Jama Masjid was free to access and Humayun's Tomb only set me back a few hundred Rupees, all was well. The morning so far had been insightful, I had seen two Mughal inspired sights within what was known as 'Old' Delhi. As my taxi grew closer to the third stop I noticed the streets close in a little, things seemed more orderly and all the houses looked very ordinary and neat. Nearing the former compound that housed the British dignitaries during Indian's British Colonial rule sparked one of the main reasons why I had chosen to visit Delhi in the first place! Passing the Victorian styled Lodhi Gardens gave me a sense the days of the British Raj will always have a place in Delhi past, present and future. Delhi had shown me so much in such a short space of time, I was ready to see something about Mahatma Gandhi. Yes!

Having the opportunity to have visited Gandhi's House was a moment in my life that I will not ever forget, it was a serene places with a sobering wave of calm that acted as a warm blanket from the worlds troubles. Gandhi's House stood still, painted with a holy white shade gave things a sense of pureness, Gandhi stood as a figure of peace during his time and that vibe transcended within the perimeters of his former home. Captured to the left standing near to Gandhi's bedroom I found 'Gandhi's Steps', from the door he left on the morning his life was taken away from him I saw footprints in the footpath to symbolise his final movements. Rightly so, photography and etiquette was being monitored around the whole expanse of the gardens that surrounded the house, I stood further back enough to take that photo with caution and respect present in my mind. Yes, I felt at peace during my visit to Gandhi's House in New Delhi.

The simple yet thought-provoking exhibits that detailed Gandhi's final days really hit home that India had then lost its most influential person of the time, as Mahatma worked alongside the British to peacefully push independence for India from the British. I noticed that Gandhi didn't stand as a negative feature, he simply wanted what the Indian people wanted after the British Raj had lasted for over 89 years till India gained independence in 1947. A colourful series of puppet scenes showed the life events of Mahatma Gandhi's youth and through his other monumental life events that shaped his life, snippets of the British Raj cropped up and it was clear during Gandhi's time in South Africa had shown him that the British worked a certain way in their other Colonial outposts. Upon my exiting of Gandhi's House I felt calm and collected, the whole experience was so chilled and levelling I felt good. With Raj Ghat being closed that morning, the afternoon's offerings made up for that, DEL!

Lunch really needed to happen! Stopping first at what looked like an English precinct with restaurants didn't impress me, I hadn't gone all the way to India to be fronted with expensive food that wasn't worth the price or that didn't have any character! Making those feelings clear, the driver found a place called the 'Copper Chimney'. Ordering the Masala chicken with garlic naan bread and an ice cold lassi to drink was a winner! Onto the next place, that was meant to be the Lotus Temple but being without a phone that had any signal and the relaxed attitude of the driver with such a crowd growing didn't make me feel comfortable, I called that attraction off without hestiation! Heading for India Gate beckoned the final port of call for my Taxi Tour, throughout the morning I had seen some amazing places and the lunch was worth questioning, I wasn't dealing with that tomfoolery at the Lotus Temple for nobody DEL!

Leading up to India Gate, the Rajpath was rammed with people enjoying their Sunday afternoon. Lined with empty tiered seating I questioned why they sat where they did, finding out the Rajpath is used for processions and parades that include Indian Independence Day made perfect sense. The long wide design of the Rajpath oozed Britishness, the focal point being the 'All India War Memorial' grand with its rich stone shade I was thankful it towered above the building crowd that snaked all the way down the Rajpath. Finding an ice cream, I took in the sights during those moments, people hustled and then some with their goods for sale. Content with my snaps I went back to the taxi, concluding the tour we drove past the Indian Ministry of Defence. The immediate area confirmed why that area was defined as 'New' Delhi with its British Colonial style. After a long trip I felt fulfilled with that I had witnessed during my first full day in India, returning to my hotel it was nice to have a rest.

Taxi, Taxi!

Joseph Harrison 

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Flying High... China Southern Airlines!

Flying high once again, choosing China Southern Airlines wasn't my first choice but with low prices to my destination it had to be done. Jetting down to Guangzhou to meet my international flight to New Delhi was my objective, Guangdong's own scheduled airline allowed me to experience my first international Chinese airline from the 'middle kingdoms' vast mainland. 

Checking in for a flight isn't something that I do very often, I am all about self-service check-in and carry-on baggage these days. Finding the 'through' check-in counters baffled me, its usually all about one international section for most airlines, I wasn't going to pay that any mind. The check-in agent was baffled by my Beijing-Guangzhou-New Delhi itinerary, apparently holding a British passport meant I was going home? Apologises, I wasn't ready for England at that point. Breezing through customs like a midsummers night dream, security felt very invasive but my Chinese language skills have improved, that helped me a lot! Seeing my China Southern Airbus 321 connected to the rightful jet-bridge impressed me much, an on-time departure was in-sight! My flight time had already been changed twice before my day of departure, I had every right to be dubious about my Guangzhou bound flight! Boarding C?

Zooming down to a mild Guangzhou, my first flight of the day touched the skies above Beijing on-time, well after we taxied for an age because that's Beijing! It was standard service aboard that domestic China Southern flight, I had travelled with CZ domestically in China many times before that December 2018 moment. No direct flights to New Delhi were available with any other carrier aside from Air China, let me conveniently cut this sentence now. Touching down into Guangzhou on-time was a relief, I had less than two hours to disembark and to make it to the international concourse, I hadn't left China Customs at that point so I was hoping things wouldn't be crowded, disorderly or throw up any foolishness. Getting stamped out of the country was no problem, I didn't have to put my possessions through any security check either! I was fronted with a brand new shining duty free outlet, one that you would expect to see in any international airport. Guangzhou Baiyun Int'l impressed me! 

With CZ309 being prepared with enough time to go before our scheduled departure time, it was looking likely for my second on-time China Southern departure of the day. I was looking forward to seeing a China Southern aircraft that was bigger than an Airbus 321, it was time to experience their international service, something that influenced my China Southern choice. That Airbus 330-300 looked shiny and new, I was hoping that the interior of the aircraft would match the fuselage, things were looking positive. The cabin crew passed by the gate, adorned in a burgundy and blue uniform they looked pretty and presented themselves perfectly. The flight deck crew made themselves present to the gate before the cabin crew, they looked professional and ready for the flight over to India. Listening to many conversations, some of the other passengers had connected in CAN after arriving from another CZ flights.

Boarding took no time at all, the line was made orderly for a change, usually its a race to make it first to the economy boarding stanchions. I was surprised by the excellent English that was spoken by the ground staff, its hard to find such occurrences at Beijing's own international airport. I was distracted by the brand new cabin interior, everything looked relatively new and for that reason I felt at ease, it wasn't going to be a bad flight. Present at the front of the economy cabin was a China Southern sky marshal, usually in the United States they have marshals on transatlantic flights but I have read a few times that certain types of passengers have trouble respecting the crew as they carry out their duties. It was a relief to be finally en-route to New Delhi, the months had been counted down to that moment when my China Southern Airbus 330 hurtled down the runway at Guangzhou's Baiyun International Airport! Phew, I don't ever need to pick a certain flag carrier! 

During my flight experience with a certain Hong Kong airline I was introduced to some seriously shy cabin crew, securing a photo wasn't easy on that previous Manchester bound flight, surveying the situation I thought about asking during my time flying with China Southern. I made conversation with the crew mainly in Chinese, the cabin crew's English skills were much better on the international sector so I tried my best to speak Chinese to catch them by surprise. The crew that passed through my side of the cabin laughed when I said 'can I have a beer, please?' in Chinese. I think she was caught by surprise? I was able to get my beer, several actually after making friendly conversation with that crew member. She went onto asking me where I had learnt such good Chinese, I told her I have lived in China for three years and during that time I've been teaching English at an international kindergarten. C, I am learning! 

After two services of refreshments and our dinner served, the crew dimmed the cabin lights. The overall cabin service was good, the crew kept themselves to themselves within the galley out of service time. I stretched my legs a few times to get a drink, trying to make conversation was quite a challenge but when thinking about it, every airline has different crew who interact with their passengers in many different ways. With sparing amounts of conversation aside, I noticed the crew kept their appearance to a high standard throughout the flight, being less than six hours it wasn't such a long stretch for the crew compared to a longer hop that could have been from Guangzhou to the UK or Australia. From that experience using Chinese with the crew, I will definitely try my best to talk to them in their native language! I heard that China Southern have employed non-Chinese crew for their Australian flights? Yes, it's a great idea but I'd prefer to talk with a Chinese cabin crew. 

Embracing the culture of China Southern I chose a Chinese film, 'Walking Past The Future'. It was a raw and in-depth story about the struggles of a migrant family who were living in Shenzhen but they were actually from a poor part of Gansu Province. It was a lengthy picture showing the harsh struggles of the Chinese migrant workers that leave their hometowns for manufacturing hub such as Shenzhen, 'Walking Past The Future' portrayed the hardship a young migrant woman had to face to give her ageing parents some much needed support. Being a working legal foreigner in China made me feel that I stand in a very blessed position compared to the many realities like the film in-question featured. My meal during that New Delhi bound flight embraced the culture of my destination, I chose the chicken curry served with rice and some other tasty additions. I could have done with a drink served alongside my meal. C, I asked in Chinese!

After five hours and fifty minutes my China Southern aircraft touched down onto Indian soil, the long journey had concluded at Indira Gandhi International Airport within the scheduled time of arrival. Even though choosing China Southern was something that I had to do for my Indian adventure to be possible, the on-time departure of both my flights and the smooth transfer in Guangzhou surprised me! The crew were attentive and understood my Chinese, even though their conversation wasn't as free compared to the likes of Emirates or an American airline it was another cultural experience. The quality of the new aircraft on the second sector was new and the sky marshal kept us safe from any crazy passengers throughout that international India bound flight, also from Beijing to Guangzhou too! With cheap fares on many international flights from China, I definitely see another China Southern flight in the future. Do China Southern fly to Israel though? No, they don't yet!


Joseph Harrison 

Thursday, 29 November 2018

November 2017: This Time Last Year...

Last November was a month that kick-started my life in China and the unveiling of some very special news. My visa documents were getting sorted at long last and that flight had been booked to Beijing, China. Having the opportunity to spend some time in Gerrards Cross with my aunt and cousins was nice, it allowed me to see London on three occasions. Yes, I'm now an uncle! 

My transition back from China to England for my passport and visa change was no joke, getting down to London for a double win had to be the one! Getting into the city wasn't all about that visa, no I got myself to three places within the 'City of London' in one day! Kicking off the day with the visa business I had that all taken care of before 10:30am. Keeping within that Bank vicinity I chose St. Paul's Cathedral for starters! Paying the entry fee was no joke but the cathedral interior was just as iconic as its exterior. London was working it like a professional, walking down the street were no supermodels no, I was living for their savagely handsome and sharply dressed city gents. Keeping it in the game I learnt a thing or two about the Bank of London at the museum, our British currency has never looked so good with Jane Austen representing lady Britannia for her writing efforts. LDN left me wanting more! So, the category was...L?

L, yes for Leadenhall Market! I needed a triple threat for my 'City of London' day out during early November 2017. Getting it together I saw a lot, that historic market sat amongst London's banking heartland with such a contrast as glass towered above that Victorian landmark. Those suits though! Lady London always shows me those sights! I caught a burrito for tea, remembering my budget it was back on the London Underground to Uxbridge. I was staying with my paternal aunt and cousins in Gerrards Cross, being located so close to the District and Piccadilly Lines made getting into the city much simpler than the train into London Marylebone. The road to that moment at the Chinese Visa Centre had been a rocky one, things had happened and then sometimes things didn't but by hook or by crook things had progressed enough for me to received a very important piece of paper. That day in London gave me life, it gave me the momentum to see things were going the right way!

New rules meant I needed to return in the next few days to get some fingerprints done at the Chinese Embassy. Going Underground once again from Uxbridge was easy, getting those prints I made it over towards Portobello Road for its world famous market. The Trellick Tower stood before me, reminding me that not too far down the road there had been the recent massacre that destroyed Grenfell Tower. I shelved my previous plans to find a trendy steak place for a Moroccan food truck that served me some seriously delicious cuisine! Making my way further down Portobello Road Market, I embraced the different colours, smells and sights that passed me by. For that reason its why I love London, its a city that has so much diversity and so much going for itself in one place, there's no other city quite like it ever to exist in the world over. Saying that with those wicked prices, you need proper paper to live in London!

Leaving the market area behind me I was faced with another contradiction within London's Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington, from the Trellick Tower to lavishly designed homes that weren't too far away from each other, London is a city of economic extremes! Kensington Gardens fared to be my final port of call, that regal park area was surrounded by a seriously nice postcode and those establishments looked damn expensive. London love aside I was missing the madness of China, those extremes are part of everyday life because social classes are so vastly spread apart but its just life there. Before realising it my phone hadn't got hardly any battery left, running down to the nearest Piccadilly Underground station had to be, mind I don't ever run! Making back with just enough power in my phone, I met my auntie just in the nick of time! London had been lovely once again, it was lovely to be back! My visa would be ready for collection, beckoning my return to China! I was ready!

I made sure I booked that Emirates ticket once my visa appointment was confirmed. Flying from Birmingham to Beijing via Dubai was something that I had wanted to do for a longtime. Taking off in an eastern direction felt great, I was ready to travel back to China in style. The in-flight entertainment was amazing with enough drinks to last before the meal was served it was great! I got speaking to the crew, they were lovely and agreed to a photo in front of the Emirates logo in the galley. I truly loved the first sector from Birmingham to Dubai. The connection time in Dubai was seamless, everything was really easy to find and I had arrived into the same concourse that the Beijing flight was being prepared. Seeing people with their hot water thermoses and instant noodle told me I had arrived to the correct gate. I was on my way back to China and that was the thing, the second flight was so quiet and the crew weren't so chatty.

Landing back into China was a funny old business, I had taken great care to make the most of the in-flight refreshments so my temperature appeared higher than usual, that played havoc when I walked through one of the heat sensors before I could proceed to immigration. I used my Chinese skills to convince the staff that they were wasting their time and that I was fine, as if luck would have it I got my passport stamped not long after by a customs officer into China. Checking into my company paid hotel allowed me to sleep some of the jet lag off but that epic journey had been smooth with Emirates for sure! Getting a few things straight the next day I was able to get my bank account in check and find an apartment in the outlying airport suburb of Shunyi. I had been preparing myself because I wanted the noise like Wuhan but in the long run I knew that Shunyi would be the district for me. November 2017 was a month to wait for, I was more than ready to break some hearts in Beijing!

I started off with a day out to Beijing's Olympic Village and Forest Park during my first week living in Shunyi, Beijing. I had a huge list that consisted of all the hotspots to visit in Beijing. I wanted to get back into my China blog posts but something or should I say somewhere stole my attention for a brief moment, well maybe more than that! Destination had been a club I had been looking to frequent for a long time! Having the chance I made the bold decision to visit, it was like no other Gay Club I had ever visited before in my life! The guys were on-point for the most of, serving their China doll Realness with their voguing moves on the podium mesmerised me for sure! I was living my best Beijing life, their were many bumps in the roads waiting to shake things up but amongst the beauties and the strobe lights it was all good in that moment. The the Great Wall needed to wait, I had to dance all night Bei!

Things worked out like a firework going off in someones living room but life turned it all around. With all of its twists and turns, November 2017 finally got everything together and me back in China more importantly. My brief visit to London to sort my visa out was full of adventures, allowing me to see parts and places in London that I hadn't seen before was great! Spending time with my paternal side of my family was nice, its not often it happens but that branch of the tree won't be getting broken off. Flying in-style had to be the one with Emirates, those flights were worth every penny truly. Arriving back to the dramas of China is always a plus and sure I faced a few during that first month or few for that matter. Beijing life is here to stay in the here and now, things have changed a lot since restarting work during that previous November time but everything has been for a reason. Beijing may have been a place that's taken a lot to get to but its all been worth it! Yes, Bei!

Yes, November!

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 19 November 2018

28: Work, Reunions & The Great Wall!

I welcomed my 28th birthday with a whole new outlook, it had been a crazy year leading up to that moment, I was feeling rather blessed during that recent celebration. Working on my birthday wasn't a chore, the children wished me a happy birthday at least one hundred times! The weekend brought many shenanigans, no I was not ready for Jinshanling's Great Wall! 

My 28th birthday had fallen on a Wednesday, being a day of work I wanted to make it special for the children. The morning was really fun, the work period was really busy with my English Corner filled with children learning and exploring, using the English language materials that I had made for them to learn from. One of the children also celebrated their birthday, celebrating together we all enjoyed songs and as a class we wished each other happy birthday in both Chinese and English. To my surprise, my lead teacher had bought me a lovely chocolate cake! I shared the cake with some of my colleagues but if truth be told I wanted to enjoy it by myself! I had a relaxed morning after the work period, observing my fellow foreign colleagues class was something that I needed to do. My birthday at work was nice, it felt lovely to receive some nice gifts from some of the parents! Not another announcement from the UK?

During the nap time I went to the local supermarket to pick up somethings for the afternoons cooking lesson, well food orientated learning that I try and do with the children once a week. Getting some bananas, cakes, peanut butter and some apple jam incase any children had a nut allergy, my shopping was complete. It was a very rare visit to Wumei because I use an app that arranges delivery to my door, its much more convenient and quite frankly I can't stand food shopping! The food lesson went down a storm, the cakes with peanut butter and bananas went down very well with the children, they sat down with their treats, it was strangely silent as they devoured their snacks! The day itself was really nice, my after school class came around like it usually did, things flowed well and the kids seemed to pick up on the happy vibes. As much as working on my birthday wasn't a bad thing that day it would be nice if 2019 could bring a weekend birthdate! Sure, the universe listened! 

Friday brought me back together with my two Montessori besties, we had gone through the spring and summer weekend course together and it was an experience to say the very least! The days professional development took place away from our usual campuses, meaning I got a taxi into town because the early alarm call made getting the metro sound like a bad idea. I was tired! Learning about 'peace education', 'sports' and 'health and hygiene of the classroom' took us out of the classroom for one day. Myself and Chanel went to QMex for a saucy lunch with a beverage or two, keeping it professional we were back on time, no fingers could be pointed at us! The social afterwards was good, a nice selection of beers were available, staying away from the mixed drinks I wanted to carry on the party, the last month had been mad busy at work! Kelly spent time with her Zimbabwe compadres, she's going to show me her country soon! 

My birthday week so far had been great, work had been smooth with only a few small issues. My birthday itself was nice and being a Wednesday I didn't touch a drop of drink because I can be professional when I have to be! Friday allowed me to get a little bit crazy, being aware of my semi-professional setting I enjoyed the beverages but kept things cute. Branching away from the social I went to Destination to see if it was going to throw shade or not, it wasn't the best if I am completely honest. I picked the pace up the following weekend at Kai with a more simple and less snooty crowd. Getting a huge McDonalds had to be done, I hadn't had much to eat at all during the social. A few crazy developments occurred on the Friday night but I'll keep those confidential, I had been exploring a new adventure of sorts, with that experience terminated I resumed life as normal because I have always have options. Let's just say it was kind of a complicated 'love scenario' so I'm like a cat with nine lives.

Being in Beijing just over the one year mark I knew I needed to start visiting the key landmarks that represent the city and the country. It was somewhere I wanted to visit before my Beijing journey had even started, choosing the lesser visited Hebei branch of the Great Wall had to be done. The Jinshanling section of the Great Wall gave me a quieter panorama of Beijing and Hebei's mountainous border regions, away from the craze of Badaling and Mutianyu, no I wasn't going to put my money into the commercialism of Simatai's side of the wall at Gubei Water Town! Going up to the top in the cable car wasn't bad, making my way to the nearest access to the wall started to the fear into me, I don't do heights but wanted to experience the wall for myself at least once. The views were unstoppable, the photos online really don't do the actual vista any justice, I walked slowly as the walls path hugged the mountain top. 

Knowing it was time to turn around I gathered all the courage I had, made it down the stairs and by the grace of whatever god exists I managed to get the cable car back down to the car park. I want to reinforce that my visit to the wall was well worth it, one of the wonders of the world has been bossed and I can say I have been to two iconic Beijing/Hebei landmarks. The views were out of this world but the height and the twisting turning nature of the walls path really knocked me sick, its a mixed feeling because the views were just indescribable but I felt terrified at the very same time. My birthday week concluded with such an epic event, things had panned out just fine and it was time to begin my first new week of work as a 28 year old, with each year I feel extremely blessed by the path my life has taken. I hope to have another packed year that's filled with travelling, hard work and drama because you know I love it all! Beijing, you better pull it out of the bag in 2019! 

Another Year Fierce! 

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 12 November 2018

Wangfujing's Little Secret...

Since I moved to Shunyi's Houshayu corner I hadn't ventured into the city, wanting to right that wrong I boarded Beijing's Line 15 into the big smoke, well the pollution took a day off so there was no smog! Why Wangfujing? I wanted something random and because I loathe shopping it seemed an unusual place to visit! My excuse was I was prepared to take any slice of the city! 

Known for its department stores and designer brands, Wangfujing Pedestrian Street in Beijing's Dongcheng District allowed me to see more than five people visible, my Houshayu area adopts a more country style of living. If truth be told I was looking for a McDonalds, my new address isn't within the delivery radius for a Maccies takeaway so I was gagging for a double cheeseburger meal! Wangfujing Pedestrian Street was like any other shopping street I had previously seen within China, I was reminded by the memorable towering departments stores like I saw along Shanghai's Nanjing Road. I had no desire whatsoever to shop for clothes at H&M, I personally claimed the store at Taikooli in Sanlitun, those delicious surroundings will draw me back soon enough. Staying away from anything tourist, I was shocked to see Chinese tour groups walkabout that Sunday morning. I wouldn't need a guide to show me Brum's New Street. 

Going underground wasn't like the usual chore, crossing from Line 15 to 14 was fine, getting off at Dawanglu was no problem at all! It was quite nice to be out and about, I had been lazy the previous few weekends before going into town on that Sunday occasion. Getting the subway here is getting easier after one year in Beijing, its monstrous compared to likes of Wuhan's growing mass rapid transport system but I won't get bitter, not today! Wangfujing Pedestrian Street allowed me to see life, hear conversations and oh stumble upon a typically tourist food street, I swerved that trick because the smells are not on my radar anymore! I didn't waste time seeing things that I could see across the country the same over. The Autumnal chill worked nice, the summer had been too much but the winter was about to bite bad! Nonetheless, I felt good vibes from Beijing during that weekend moment, things can switch here in China at a seconds notice, so I was thankful for that interval of calm.  
Amongst the shopping I stumbled upon a sight that I had been looking to see for some time, St. Joseph's Church stood before me. There was something really nice about the view, it was chilled and the church gave me something Western in a way. I am not religious but when in China its great to find some religious diversity, people don't really follow a god in the Middle Kingdom but after some research the reason for St. Joseph's made perfect sense. Built by an Italian Missionary during the 15th-16th, it begs the question how St. Joseph's Church was viewed during China's Cultural Revolution? Beijing, I'm not starting anything controversial! My time in China helps question the approach Chinese people have towards Western religions, personally I keep out of the big JC but it's interesting to see what convictions people have adopted over the years in China's showcase capital city. Did I have anything to pray for? Absolutely not Bei!

At first glance the church looked open, it was Sunday, being the lords day I was ready to see inside one of Beijing's houses of worship. Being lunchtime it was closed till 2.30pm, killing some time in another part of Wangfujing had to be done till St. Joseph's reopened. Upon returning I gained access to Beijing Italian built church, it was peaceful and people were saying a prayer or two. I had love for the church because my name is Joseph, seeing my name adorned on many parts of the church sure impressed me much! Had I done any shopping? No, I was all about seeing the views around Wangfujing to care about clothes or any other nonsense, I'll get up to TaiKooLi at Sanlitun soon enough! Sorry not sorry Wangfujing! St. Joseph's had shown me something different, moving onto the bus for Line 15 had to be done, that Sunday afternoon ushered the first preparations for the week ahead. But don't let me forget the second part of the afternoon before signing off this blog post!

Checking my Baidu Maps to fill some time before St. Joseph's reopened led me to find Changpu River Park. I had originally planned to visit Tiananmen Square that Sunday but I had forgotten my passport, using Wangfujing as the scape goat I wanted to bring back something linked to Tiananmen that didn't require any identification to be shown. Bordering the Forbidden City I stumbled upon Changpu River Park, tucked away from the craziness of Beijing's major attraction gave me something nice and quiet because it was utter foolishness on the other side of the wall. I didn't invest anytime researching about the history of that park, the stillness impressed me much, taking several seats felt like the right decision made. Those Sunday blues didn't exist during those moments, Beijing wasn't lying to me during that scene of pure calmness. Beijing, I will make it to Tiananmen Square eventually, oh that stupid passport BJ!

Beijing's pint-sized river park had something serene to show me, heading back to the church needed to be done, no I wasn't paying tourist prices for lunch! The price difference utterly shocked me, I much prefer treating myself to some foreign or niche foods in the city rather than tourist Peking duck! My unplanned Sunday out in the city ended nicely, returning to St. Joseph's to find it open was a nice touch. I found Beijing now boasts its own Hamley's toy department store, I don't think I'll be frequenting that establishment but the city has enough children to make up for that! I'll remember my passport for the weekend when I actually get my ass to Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Nonetheless, Beijing's Wangfujing Pedestrian Street and its surrounding sites impressed me much, they weren't the most famous by a long shot but the day away from the quietness of Houshayu was nice. Beijing life has reached the one year mark, I am slowly making my way through what the city has to offer.

A Wangfujing Winner!

Joseph Harrison 

Friday, 9 November 2018

1 Year in Beijing, China!

The fact I have now been in Beijing, China for one year absolutely blows my mind! Looking at the second six months during my Beijing journey won't be difficult, that summer/autumn period had me very busy indeed! Getting on a jet plane to see my first niece was the best, I have been getting into town more! Keeping it real, that Beijing has not wasted my time! 2018, yes! 

The grind of my training course had me exhausted, holding on for one more day it brought my weekend break to Datong, Shanxi. Taking off before it was barely morning was a relief, to be out of the city that was getting me crazy felt great! I loved my time in Datong, the tour allowed me to see all the relevant sites within the two day limit. I was unknowingly on the verge of a big change. I had been at my ever-changing campus for almost seven months, from the first class as an English teacher got me questioning things but that lead position got me reevaluating things. Datong took me out of this chaotic space, finding solace in a city that was less than international was the tonic. The 'Hanging Temple' showed me something that I had seen on a documentary about China a few years previous, to see it in real time motion was ace! Being in the present moment has took a lot, Beijing has kept me alert! B!

Datong lifted me a little, I was about to embark on a one month summer training that would take me out of my current class onto another adventure or challenge if I wanted to see the situation from a different slant. That month was insane, travelling for four hours per day to and from the training had me and my two Montessori besties dog tired and then some! The training was berserk in that moment but its all paid off, I made peace with that situation because I had to see what was really important to me. Looking towards a rainbow, would I find a shiny pot of gold sitting at the other side? Quite possibly, yes! Datong's delights seemed like a million miles away during those crazy long days but August brought a blessed beginning. That rainbow produced the goods, I found myself surrounded by a nice vibe. The summer had so been mad, a learning experience nonetheless, getting my bags packed it was time to fly England bound! That mammoth journey had me flying and then some! 

Home was short but very sweet indeed, seeing family was great but to meet a little lady called Orla Rose was the icing on the cake! Having the call on my 27th birthday sealed the fate, I was going to become an uncle for the first time but due to my China location I missed the birth. Jetting home at the next possible date had to be done, my Cathay Pacific flights took me from Beijing to Manchester via Hong Kong, the flights were long but the journey was well worth it! Getting back to Beijing ushered a new start, embracing the rainbow gave me the chance to put my new found experience and knowledge into actual practice. Things had been given to me at the end of that July situation, those things weren't going to get me down, restructuring things for the final time I said goodbye to the thing that had occupied so much of my spring and summer, it had been worth the madness! I finally had the time to apply the knowledge. Get it now!

Getting into the city centre of Beijing became a lot easier during September, I had my weekends back and with that freedom I was able to get back to my nightlife antics at the weekend on a more regular notion. I knew more places to shake it down at, a certain place called 'Kai' took me into more craziness but it was all beautiful to me! Houhai and Beihai Park showed me another side to Beijing, it was modernised history with a Hutong thrown into the mix, it turned a lovely autumn weekend into something very memorable indeed. I felt that the month flew past, it was a chance for me to work hard to improve the English Corner that I had adopted in that new rainbow coloured classroom. Getting my head into the game allowed me to enjoy things a lot more, it was sure with life's dramas but things were more manageable, those weekend free felt so good! I needed my new visa renewed because an Indian holiday had been booked, getting it back before Yinchuan was the one! SK, J! 

Yinchuan brought some western charm, it had only been a hot minute since I had got back from my Wuhan/UK holiday! Wuhan was a dream, it was a weekend that allowed me to destress and be appreciative of the journey I had worked so hard to experience, even if it had been mad I felt blessed to go back to the beginning after getting to Beijing! Yes, I got myself to Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Seeking something Halal gave me life, the Xixia Tombs had a backdrop to die for! That Hui Muslim City impressed me much, giving me some amazing food to sample was one of the many things that I loved about that trip! The Nanguan Mosque restored some calm in my life, it was the place that gave me the inspiration for my first Montessori dress up works. I knew that from that moment it was time to turn the stakes up! September was full of blessings but I was ready for Seoul's tricks, SK! 

Booked well in advance, it felt correct to be taking off during China's National Day holiday! I had missed the previous years holiday due to visa shenanigans but I was pulling out all the stops during 2018s 'Golden Week!' Going International I booked up my flights in April before the prices went sky-high! Touching down into Seoul felt liberating, I had left China for the first time since my return and it was right! Seoul took me under its wing, it had me crazy in the best way because the Soju was dirt cheap and damn right strong! Itaewon had me doing bad things once the sun went down, seeing the city with a hangover for the most part was hard work, those nights and mornings had all my energy! Seoul took me by the hand, it forced me to get rid of the baggage from the previous months and to embrace that moment, things were all coming good and in actual fact it was all a lesson! The autumn needed to be present, I had work to do before turning 28 years old! Oh, Montessori was the only way!

I had to find a new place to live, a certain landlord wanted to raise the rent to an amount that I wasn't prepared to pay! Finding a place closer to my new campus had all that I needed, cheaper and outside of the McDonald's delivery radius was just fine for me. The move wasn't stressful in the sense I was moving a few miles down the road, it was the communication with the first removals guy, not today! Living in Houshayu has so far pushed me to speak even more Chinese, my language skills have been pushed to the limit! I am ordering more and more on Taobao for my English Corner, having to communicate with the delivery workers isn't easy at the best of times but its given me the chance to practice that Pinyin! November crept in, being on the flight path gave a Birdseye view that reminded me that I had only touched down one year previous! Work wasn't without those everyday challenges but I had my materials!

I would be a liar to say that the second half of my first year in Beijing was easy, it pushed me to my limits but with those hurdles I found one way or another to cross the finish line! I am in a place that I will negotiate a new figure, the kids are adorable in my current class, my English Corner is on fire! Datong was like a dose of medicine during a tough time, the motivation to reach Orla Rose gave me life for certain! Beijing has become a lot more familiar to me and with those Chinese language skills stepping up a few levels I am slaying in the areas I need them! A new chapter is on the horizon, leaving my boozy week in South Korea behind me I look back on my memorable reunion with Wuhan back in August 2018, it was soberingly out of control! Let's get it together, India and the DPRK are in my sights and I am slaying the competition with my next level approach to work! Beijing has pushed me in the right direction this year, getting me ready for 2019 in the capital! 

I'm All About B! 

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 29 October 2018

Seoul, South Korea: Gangnam, JYP & Olympic Parks!

Keeping my hands on the ride was that my Korean holiday was getting on and then! Catching some 'Gangnam Style' and Samsung, I wasn't ready for my final instalment of Seoul sightseeing. A Strong coffee and a sense of getting on with it would be needed that day, the night before had gotten me bad! I was looking for the Olympic Park and the JYP Entertainment thing!

The morning time was filled with drama but thanks to Seoul's vast Subway I eventually crossed the Han River, I was on the lookout for some Gangnam Style! Taking an age in my hungover state it was such a relief to be amongst the towering glass structures that made Seoul's financial district. Home to many cosmetic hospitals it was easy to see the widened eyes upon the models posing on the billboards in the street and on the adverts for the surgeries. It didn't necessarily feel like I was going to see PSY trot down the busy streets of Gangnam but it did have a certain feel about it. Turning the corner I found the gargantuan SamSung Center, one of Korea's most famous brands for electronics. I could have been in New York City or London because it was truly an international setting with all the noise, glass and modernity. The day had seen a rocky start but I was taking my final afternoon in Seoul with all I had! Itaewon was bad for me!

Made famous for the chart-topping K-POP hit 'Gangnam Style' by PSY, representing Seoul with its larger than life music video, it showcased a once far off East Asian City that I knew I needed to visit! In all honesty, I should have spent one night out in Gangnam but the hill near my Itaewon hostel had too many devilish delights to enjoy, Gangnam had to be shelved for the day time! Would I be getting any fillers or cosmetic work done during my Gangnam stop? No, it was just too expensive for me to pay those prices, but in the future I'd be down for a lip filler or botox consolation for sure! Getting things together I lived for the next level nature of Gangnam's energy, from a Chinese perspective it reminded me of Shanghai's futuristic riverside with its modern towers, Gangnam's skyscrapers didn't have conversations with the clouds like Shanghai's do but they impressed me much all the same. When I return to Seoul, I might go back down to Gangnam for a night out but Itaewon had big shoes to fill!

For me the beat of Seoul had to be the K-POP music! Behind the machine that manages the practically perfect pop groups and solo acts of South Korea, there's one company that screamed out to me! 'JYP Entertainment' rules the roost along with a few other leaders in the K-Pop music industry. I was first introduced to K-POP music when I lived in Wuhan. JYP's 'Wonder Girls' captivated with their sexily crafted choreography and their sultry whispered lyrics, from that moment on I was captivated by that powerhouse of South Korean music! Where were the guys at? Yes, the guys who make up such bands within K-POP biz like 'Got 7', 'BigBang' and my favourite who have to be 'IKON'. Now, I would gladly fall into a 'Love Scenario' with one of those delectable guys! Fast-forward to the cafe at JYP Entertainment, it looked like swish demo lounge with a screen displaying K-POP videos and a stage for promos? It was so bizarre!

No, I didn't see any K-POP stars but the whole style can be found on the streets of Seoul, I had never seen so many guys with such flawless skin, perfectly cut 90's bowl hairstyles who were all rocking the latest K-POP styles! The Korean women were definitely looking pretty but 'Holy Mary, Mother of Jesus' those gentlemen slayed the competition hands down, leaving the scenes of 'JYP's' cute promo cafe I passed through the Duty Free at Seoul's Incheon Airport, the views were phenomenal, such beautifully presented gentlemen stood poised to assist passengers who were looking for cosmetics, truth be told those guys might have used them all up? Safe to say the K-POP phenomenon manipulated me for those few days whilst in Seoul with those flawlessly looking gentlemen folk! Seoul served all of that and more with its K-POP niche, yes the cocoa dusted hot chocolate tasted like heaven as I watched the music videos at 'JYP's' own 'Soul Cup Cafe'. My trip in was nearly over! Yes, Sel!

The final segment of my final sightseeing day in Seoul was a brief encounter with the park at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Park, conveniently located across the road from 'JYP's' 'Soul Cup Cafe' meant I didn't have to walk too far because by that time I was ready to sleep for a week! The peace and quiet that surrounded the park made me feel like I was a million miles away from the noise and chaos of Gangnam. I didn't spend much time at the Olympic Park but it was a nice scenic place to conclude my final full day in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Things seemed very subdued, I wanted things to stay that way because I wasn't feeling good, the night before had been insane and it was almost time to go back to Beijing, I really needed my bed! The calming nature of that Olympic Park wrapped my Seoul adventures into one big journey, the previous four days had been mental and right there didn't regret a single thing! No SK!

The Olympic Park subway station was my finish line, boarding one of three trains I made it back to that magical 'foreigner corner' in need of a kebab! The day had started off quite extraordinarily but I made sure it counted for something, the subway system had my back, helping me get to and from Itaewon. Gangnam showed me everything I needed to see, from cosmetic surgery billboards to the towering SamSung Center I was impressed within my hazy state. Bringing some K-POP vibes into the mix I was able to have a nice hot drink at the 'Soul Cup Cafe' at the headquarters of 'JYP Entertainment' because I wanted to incorporate something K-POP into my day if possible. Meeting with the finishing point of my final day in Seoul at the Olympic Park felt like such a relief, I had done what I needed to do in the state I was in! Seoul had me pretty crazy but I never allowed the hangover to stop me from seeing the things I saw! Back to the hostel it was for some good food and I didn't expect to meet such a cutie in the coffee room! Accomplishing lots during my five days in Seoul was my plan, trip fulfilled it was back to BJ!

Seoul's Scenarios!

Joseph Harrison 

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Seoul, South Korea: Palaces, Rivers & TV Towers!

Waking up feeling fresh on a glorious Wednesday healed my hangover, making the most of the G's free breakfast I headed out for the day. The previous day I wasn't very present, Gyeongbokgung Palace didn't happen, I needed to change that situation! Seoul's Nam Sam Tower was on my list without a doubt! Getting my life together, so Seoul held the key to a full-bodied day! 

Gyeongbukgong Palace helped me seize that Seoul morning, paying the small fee to access the palace grounds made perfect sense to me. Originally constructed around 1394 during the Joseon Dynasty I had a sneaking suspicious that some parts of the palace had been rebuilt, but saying that it all looked so authentic I paid that thought no mind. It was busy but it wasn't anywhere near crazy China would had of been during that Golden Week holiday. Ladies from all nationalities were adorned in the national Korean dress, those Hanbok's looked beautiful and the guys were dressed in the male equivalent. The Guenjeongjeon Hall stood right before me, shining with a rich red and green imperial Korean design that impressed me much! Keeping my manners in check I refrained from taking any interior photos, inside the Guenjeongjeon Hall looked very nice with an equally regal style. Seoul was looking just fine once again! 

Going international is the key, people took their photos and moved on swiftly, not like the usual hullabaloo in China. In my next life I'd want to be an imperial Korean Hanbok wearing princess! Leaving the royal courtyard behind me, I walked a little further into the ground to find the gardens that surrounded the National Folk Museum of Korea. I paid no attention to the museum, the mornings raise felt too good to miss out on, getting a drink from a nearby vending machine I took some time to chill out. I absolutely adored Gyeongbokgung and its many regal structures and the feel of the gardens put me at ease. The air was clear and tasted fresh, when you've lived in China for sometime its always a blessing to breathe in air that feels fresh! Nevertheless, I felt good and had saved some time seeing the palace and its grounds earlier on in the day. I had found the palace the previous day but that Soju induced state forced me to turnaround and try again the next day. Seoul slayed again! 

Getting to the Han River took an absolute age, the Seoul Subway system almost had me in circles. Finding somewhere to sit was appreciated, the cityscape along the Han River set the mid-afternoon just right, I had only just got over one hangover and I was already thinking of the next Soju! Thinking forward to my forthcoming trip to Pyongyang, North Korea, how different the Taedong River would look compared to its southern sister. The bikers energetically sped pass but my speed was practically zero, on reflection the view wasn't swanky or luxurious because I hadn't gone to that location by accident, accidents are the best to make to find the best things in a city! Seoul had me under its spell, I didn't care about the understated view, in fact its what I was living for! Seoul kept me living for its Korean cool. The subway had taken the Michael but I had made my destination nonetheless! Honestly, Seoul's riverside was just right for me!

Ditching the map, I was on the hunt for Seoul's N Tower the wrong way around. Finding a random shop I scrapped my pennies together to buy the first bottle of Soju of the day, getting on the right track I managed to find the vista of the tower in my sights. I was in such a great place, not just geographically, it was amazing to be out of a place that I had seen so much of. China is my heart but I was living for Korea's nonstop vibe, the signs are something that I loved the most. Seeing the first Korean signs in Shenyang, Liaoning had me looking at something different. Going down some stairs then climbing a hill led me to a rather hipster sight, that alternative hipster Korean hill gave me something different. Those Korean gentlemen looked amazing, sipping their booze during the dusk hour they looked lovely. I already had the night ahead in my head, the holiday was becoming something of an adventure and then some more! Yes, day three slayed, Nan Sam Tower grew closer and closer!

After biggest hill ever I reached a respectable height, but even that climb was enough to reach the Nam Sam Tower. Things got pretty flashy, a well known Hyatt hotel brand came into view. Half remembering the directions given by one of the managers at G Hostel in Itaewon, I trusted those details, climbing higher and higher had me in this snooty area with hilltop restaurants and Beverly Hills style houses. Entering some kind of wilderness pushed me to my limits, getting over that initial burn I pushed forwards. It was something I needed to do! Making it to a viewpoint was enough for me, getting amazing panoramic views of the city had me captivated by Seoul's charm. Going down back to the city, I was living with the views, I captured my best shot of the tower with a bottle of Soju in hand, in Asia its acceptable to drink a beverage outside a local shop that has its own chairs and table. For those simple reasons I loved Korea! 

Satisfied with the views from my convenience store scene, I made it back to Itaewon. Finding a second hand bookshop impressed me much, getting a sports car book for the boys in my classroom had to be the one. I had gone batshit crazy the previous night out on the town, my money wasn't being budgeted well because I had only bought the bare minimum, Korea had me mad! Getting some funds sorted, I needed food! That hill needed revisiting, getting that sorted was a done thing, getting back to my tricks wasn't the right thing but I needed to be bad that night! Seoul had me slaying epically, I had to be on my game and then some in some venues because those drinks had got me bad! Did someone say something familiar and outright mad? Falling into the grey is where I leave that business, for the night took a turn I not prepared to mention, it wasn't bad or dangerous but for readers discretion and my Nan! Leave it to your imagination! Seoul had me on form, I was living for?

It Started...

Joseph Harrison 

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Seoul, South Korea: Itaewon, Hanbok's & Myeongdong!

I had no idea about Itaewon, that foreigner central area would play havoc with my head and chakra! Settling into my hostel, I felt a certain thirst for Soju. It would be in the homeland of that drink, things were going to get turned up! Seeing a certain sight that intrigued me kept me wanting more! Thankfully I had things to buy the next day, Seoul wasn't going to let me off!

Feeling completely foreign I ended up at the wrong station on the Seoul Subway because I was too busy checking out the talent. Finally arriving at G Hostel in the heart of Itaewon didn't need much to start me. It was a match made in craziness, those boozy Soju nights had come to real life, with my phone charged I walked into the night with full force to find a certain hill. I found one bar open and being the wrong side of the weekend, an underground club was also a welcomed surprise! Getting my first holiday drinks on I luxuriated in the fact I was in a foreign country, but no WeChat or familiar words were found. Getting a snap with Lily Savage's long lost Korean sister impressed me much! Not feeling complete with the night I bumped heads with a familiar sight, getting the things I needed I made that move possible. A certain bar kicked off the night fine. What went on that night made the first night of my SK experience! 

At the other side of a magical and surreal experience I got myself together the best I could. I was out of China, in another country that I had been looking forward to explore and then some! To be honest I hadn't really paid much care till the night time on the first evening as many people do on the first night of their holiday. Cracking open the Soju I enjoyed that strong drink and then some, for the extras that carried on I am not prepared to say. My first night and second morning in Seoul had a certain edge to it, but with that certain difference it wasn't going to be a problem. Only vacating that situation would give me clarity that morning, Seoul had shown me many colours that I had embraced their fullest, things weren't going to have their second chance saloons. Making my tracks back to the hostel in the mornings light gave me the confirmation the night had been full of mysterious twists and turns. Was I expecting this? No! Yes, the photo is of the morning after the night before! Go!

Embracing an almighty hangover and having experienced something extraordinary, I pulled myself together to see a slice of Seoul, South Korea. Chicken and beer sure saved me that early afternoon. Hitting the free coffee at the hostel was a good start, after five cups I found myself near Dongdaedon Market, if truth be told I felt like death but I needed to move on. The shoes didn't impress me but after a wrong turn I found a whole street made up of toys, it was a preschool teachers paradise with all of those goodies. I was genuinely looking for a Hanbok that would fit a little girl, it would take a little longer for that to happen. Beating the tourist prices I bought some unassuming magnets to the normal eye, after my Montessori training I had to get them! Those magnets have brighten up the mornings for some of the girls in my class, not to mention the book we have created from their drawings. But why did I get magnets SL?

I saw that my magnets were made in Korea, thankfully it wasn't its bigger cousin in the western direction. I managed to say 'thank you' appropriately in Korean, let alone I hardly speak English. Getting a hand puppet frog and a plush pink pig that had absolutely nothing to do with Peppa, no I don't endorse that little nightmarish piglet. Getting my goods during that Dongdaedon Market trip I found myself looking at more delicious South Korean men, it was a pleasure to be in-company of such smooth looks, yes they looked flawless, the women stepped back. I was going under at that point and the confusing signs on the Seoul Subway didn't impress me for once, I had to get it together several times before heading to the right destination. I can't express how hard the hangover was at that point, the pharmacist was consulted! The Seoul streets felt very different compared to Beijing's own, I appreciated the views and the Korean street signs, but those gentlemen folk were super hot hot!

Arriving at Anguk station was only possible because my Chinese reading skills relied on the translations at the metro stations, they seemed to make more sense to me, why I don't know? Trying to find the Gyeongbukgong Palace wasn't meant to be for that day, saving for the next sober day I found that the thing to do. Finding a street close to the palace had me sipping on some nice draft beer, it wasn't a livener because I wouldn't be going out that night, it was night to re-tox though. I saw many ladies pass by me who were wearing Hanbok dresses, talking of the Hanbok, I found a lovely little one at Anguk Station. It was about ten pounds and in good quality for the girls in my class to wear. Getting real I was going to return to the palace because it was a place that deserved a clear perspective. My first day in Seoul had not caught me by surprise, work had been much, drink was the plan. I needed to see more!

Getting closer back to Anguk station was the plan, finding Yulgok-ro Sam 3-gil in the process was lovely, it was somewhere that I had wanted to see. Unknowingly being inside Seoul's Bukchon Hanbok Village set me up, named after the streets for some reason I am not sure? The shops and feel of that cute street had me in my feelings for sure, I felt that holidays should be spent outside China since that chilled out moment, the mayhem had left me for once, something didn't feel right but it was alright. At first I was looking for Gyeongbukgong Palace, something somewhere told me that I wasn't going to be entertaining anything serious. Seeing the sunset happening soon I made my way to Myeongdong to see a million lights. The subway lines became easier at point because I didn't entertain the different diversions, I wanted to see what Myeongdong had to offer. The day had been long but I knew there would be one more element that championed a previous travel prediction blog. Very that!

Arriving into a million lights, I was looking for a scene that I had seen online, but in those situations a preconceived view sometimes looks better or worse compared to the actual sight. I felt like I was in a Channel 4 interval, those neon Korean lights projected money alone, it had some of the magnets for double the price but I had made the right more to find the market that served me the cheaper price. I shunned the top price foods within the tourist appropriated Myeongdong area, it was a place I had original planned to stay but the hangover made the move more than justifiable. Did someone say Miniso? Those kind of shops were in an abundance, but they were without that famous red logo seen at all. Those glittering lights were the entertainment for me that night, I wasn't feeling well at that point, but I had done the honest things during that early morning period. Myeongdong's food prices had me saying good-bye!

The day had been long and I had seen a lot compared to the early morning arrival back to my hostel, that morning coffee call saved my day for certain. The dawn saw a lot of madness for a great reason but I got things together to see the city, getting my life! Dongdaedon Market supplied all I needed for the new Korean items for my October English corner centrepieces, getting to Anguk I found the perfect Hanbok Korean dress that wasn't from the streets with a tourist mind. I wasn't going out that night because I was feeling badder than bad, I needed to sleep in order to get through another twenty-four hours of my South Korean trip in Seoul. Making my way back to Itaewon, the day had been full-bodied and for that I was thankful for that. I needed to charge my phone and sleep because I felt horrible. Considering hungover state, I carried on with my day. Me and Seoul needed to have words! My first full day in South Korea had been everything and more! I wanted a kebab and to sleep!

A Kebab for Tea?

Joseph Harrison