Sunday, 25 March 2018

Wuhan: Somewhere That I Used To Know?

Leaving Wuhan wasn't a difficult choice but here in my new China life I do feel certain pangs for that Hubei provincial city. Living in that city for two years certainly made an impression on my soul, it was character building to say the very least but I wouldn't have changed one thing! Beijing is bigger but it's early days. Did I underestimate the enormity of this transition? Yes!

Arriving into Hankou Railway Station from Suzhou at the beginning of July 2015, I was fronted with a furnace like summer heat as I made my first bewildering impressions of Wuhan. The first two months saw me working at an English Language Training Center, that first transition catapulted me into another kind of teaching style, as for the company I am still with them today in Beijing. I can still remember the crazy pace of Optics Valley Square, a sea of construction that my apartment building overlooked, it was all new to me and with so much happening during those first three months it resonates during this time in Beijing, in different ways I am still learning and embracing epic change. My current location is silent compared to the energy of Guanggu, that's been a challenge yet a blessing in two senses. I loved Guanggu's convenient location, transport links were a plenty, it's a contrast between now! Oh!

Hot and dry noodles used to be my breakfast along with a few other street stop favourites, even though Guanggu irritated me at times to levels I can't bare to think of, it gave me an array of street food vendors. Shunyi is silent, sparse with food vendors that call the street their workplace but its made me look back and appreciate that smaller city vibe. Difference sets these places apart and I'm not yearning for those things that I had before because I left Wuhan for a reason and it took a lot of thought to leave a school that I had worked through the ranks and earned the respect I had from the management. I feel a reverse shock, its going to take awhile to get used to, but Wuhan's street food scene will be back in my life during a holiday weekend for sure! Guanggu is tarting itself up right now, we made a pact to see each other again, but that Wuhan area needed time, we both need time before that reunion! Guanggu Square had me crazy with the crowds but it became normal. 

It's no secret that professional development motivated my move from Wuhan to Beijing, having spent two academic years at my first kindergarten teaching position it was a monumental decision to not renew my contract, rather to transfer to the country's capital city. The children were sweet and made me smile, although many challenges faced with language and daily working life, regardless I got through whatever situation I was given, its strength like that I really need now. How the commute changed my life, well it makes my current twenty minute walk feel like paradise compared to that Upper Optics Valley bus commute! The days were long but it was all worth it, for the first year I was my own team then the second year brought the decision to change regions, that community and school will always be in my heart. I am still in contact with a select few of the parents, its just human nature keeping in-touch. 

Like the children I made meaningful connections of a different kind in my personal life, from the very beginning of my time in Wuhan right till the moment my train departed for my Shanghai flight, a series of indescribable feelings will always take me back to Wuhan. I met my 'China Bestie' Fiona during the first Christmas work social from our agency, our paths didn't cross again till the following February during the Spring Festival holiday. Fiona and I became the best of friends during that Wuhan time, we were there for each other through all the madness, it was a complete mind mess to live in that Hubei provincial city at times but looking back it was the making of many memories! I don't need another 'China Bestie' in Beijing because Fiona is irreplaceable but my new 'Beijing Bestie' came into my life and he's so far shown me some of the nighttime delights in the big city! One complicated face still plays on my heart and a tearful goodbye later still hurts my heart. Beijing, show me the way?

My time in Beijing so far has been predominately taken up by work, planning and other business as my responsiblities have increased. I have found myself in the city a few times but it does make me think of those sightseeing moments in Wuhan, that developing city showed me many sights during my first year in China and more still throughout the second. Catching Line 2 of the Wuhan Metro became like second nature to me, the crowds and the chaos turned into a normal thing for me to deal with, I'm not yearning for that back but they are memories I won't forget nor would I ever want to forget! It's actually been a step up in Beijing, the transport is more synchronised and the locals sometimes speak more English than in Wuhan so that comes handy when I have looked lost, but only on the rarest of ocassions. I think these feelings of withrdrawal are normal, its been a major adjustment! I loved the Yangzte River's view!

The Yellow Crane Tower and Baotong Temple sure impressed me much but it was those moments that have feelings attached to them that I miss the most! Even simple things like that first bubble tea with one of those special souls might have seemed insignificant at the time but in the here and now I appreciate them ten fold. Me and Fiona made it into the city countless times during our weekends off, we dined, shopped and got disorderly and didn't care what the basics did with their reductive lives in Wuhan. Those memories won't leave me, Wuhan showed me a lot during those two years and right here things are tough, I know in my heart of hearts I did the right thing and I know I need to ride this storm out because the Beijing blue skies will reveal a smooth forecast for my future here. I will get back to Wuhan soon enough, I'm not sure how it will feel or if the change will shock me or will impress me? So, Wuhan was the beginning and Beijing is the present, but who knows the future?

Oh Wuhan! 

Joseph Harrison 

Friday, 23 March 2018

Who's Calling ... It's Beijing, China!

Straight up, I took my weekends for granted before starting my weekend Montessori teaching course! Trying to salvage what I have of a weekend right now, have I actually been busy or not during my 'new' weekend routine? Sanlitun got me on that Destination Blue but deep down my four walls seemed like the best place to be. Serious, I still find time for my Soju nights B!

Fresh from my hiatus from China I had envisaged weekends full packed with sightseeing in China's capital city but after the workload kicked in and being in the classroom all day had me so sleepy, all I wanted for the weekends was to stay home and chill out. Of course, chilling out this time round means a good drink when Friday made an appearance, but with that boozy behaviour I didn't want to make it out of bed into the city. Previously in Wuhan I would pull the same tricks but my apartment wasn't as nice so this upgraded Beijing residence gave me that extra excuse to order in and close the world out. So many weekends passed me by, did I feel they had been misspent? No, I was entitled to relax and rest up with a drink in hand, but it did beg the question that I should have been in the city more? I'm planning on living here for a while longer, the chilled opportunities can continue as far as I am concerned! Another one?

Arriving in November the Beijing winter bit like a bad one, to combat that chill I was fortunate enough for my landlord to provide free heating for me during that sub-zero period. Getting home on a Friday to that warm air felt like a massive relief, washing all over me it was bliss and quite frankly I didn't want to leave my toasty warm apartment one bit! The odd trip to Wu Mei took me outside or to the shop to get some more drink but from Friday evening to Monday morning I didn't have any grand plans to leave my Beijing abode. That hermit life got me craving something more, breaking out in January to a problematic day within Beijing's Muslim Quarter reminded me why I should have stayed in the warm! Only joking it was great to get out but I would give my right arm for a two day weekend like they were before! I don't need sympathy because my current hustle is genuine and will benefit my future. Lazy weekends like that will return soon, but with all that lounging I wanted to get out!

It's no secret that I have always wanted to know what Montessori was all about, being in Beijing at my chosen International Kindergarten I was fortunate enough to be selected for the EMTTA Montessori Weekend Teaching Course. Before detailing certain terms I wasn't present at the first classes, I had carefully negotiated another contract to get myself some rest time. If fate would of had it, the EMTTA department moved into three vacant classrooms at my school before March 2018 made an appearance. Taking the tail of the 'Practical Life' module I had my eyes opened to the potential of the teaching qualification in hand, thinking about it more closely it was something that would have taken longer to achieve in Wuhan! Not disrespecting Hubei's provincial city but I left for Beijing for serious career development and getting a place on this Montessori gig was something I wanted, it was all meant to be. Work this!

I'm still pretty fresh in Beijing, China and this time around I don't have a 'China bestie' so any friendly face is recognised as long as I catch their vibe. Meeting Chanel and Kelly was the thing that I needed, we have been present in classes to simply laugh the day away, sometimes its serious and we listen and practise with the materials because we have been selected for the course but its a long weekend course and sometimes we have to be real! In a group with predominately Chinese females, not so much integration has been made so it's #TeamForeigner all the way! It's so far taking most of my time, meaning I train at the weekends and work in the week but I have a little break. At the moment we are working our way through the Sensorial module, its a lot of Geometry shapes and Trinomal cubes but I lived for the Thermic Bars because they will hopefully capture the kids for sure! Even though the schedule is full on, I know it will going to benefit me in time. Yes, Montessori is my future!

I knew that Beijing had the power even before I touched down at Capital Airport but Destination slayed the competition fearlessly! China shy's away from flying a proud rainbow flag, marred with a traditional society, I found a place in Beijing's party neighbourhood to wild out at. Peering through with much curiosity I was fronted with a sea of beautiful men, oriental by race and gorgeous by appearance, it was like a dream come true! Wading my way through the crowded walkways I found the dance floor, before me stood a hive of energy with so much to look at! Pretty boys worked their cakes for their adorning fans, I had to get myself on that podium for a brief moment because I was feeling my fiercest self during that moment! Destination Blue? The second visit saw me sink countless serving of that blue liquid, for what unfolded I don't think its worth going into but it's a drink that knocked me out! Destination, who?

Having a few beverages at home after my Spring Festival holiday I found myself in a taxi to meet my future 'Beijing Bestie'. Being a Thursday night during a national holiday it was like a breath of fresh air to not have to push and shove through a sea of queens, no matter where they are from they are fierce specimens. Taking charge of the venue I had my blue drinks on but there wasn't going to be any drama that time around, dominating the floor I was quite popular during that session of blue beverages. With training I have had reivent my weekend but I have the future in my sights. Weekends on a Friday or spent training, it's all the same because I have to make the best of this next year because if I don't I will end up insane or dropping down from exhaustion! Beijing's fiercer than Wuhan for all the right reasons, let's see how it goes but I'm going to keeping it blue for the drinks! I won't be staying in the warm next, I have to be thankful for what time I have off! Maybe just a little bit?

New Rules

Joseph Harrison 

Thursday, 22 March 2018

On The Metro: Beijing's Line 15

Going underground in Beijing opened my eyes for sure, beginning on the capital's vast network at Line 15 it's been an education compared to my previous experiences in Wuhan! From the suburbs of Shunyi District, discovering Wangjing then going for gold at the Olympic Green, I won big! Tsinghua University's station stop finally took me further west along Line 15! 

Wuhan Metro's Line 2 used to be my go to line but in this Beijing life that I'm currently living I find myself on Beijing Subway's Line 15. Stretching from Shunyi District in the east to Tsinghua University to the west in Haidian District, it spans a serious distance across China's capital city. Starting in Shunyi, I tend to take the train from either China International Exhibition Center or Hua Li Kan, both stations are both quite close to my apartment. Made up of a colossal exhibition center and a favourable expat community, there's not so much to see around those stations aside from villa complex's but its home for now. I might live a good distance from the buzz of Beijing's city centre but Line 15 keeps me conveniently connected with the action from my Shunyi suburban location. Shunyi might not be most expats cup of tea but with Line 15 on my doorstep I have the best of both worlds, no need for noise! Not like 光谷广场地铁站!

December 2017 saw me get myself to Wangjing to experience its Korean side, taking Line 15 on Beijing's vast subway system it wasn't a problem to get myself from Shunyi's 国展地铁站 took me around twenty minutes! With no interchanges needed it was a blessed day for sure, adding to those blessings I ate some great Korean food and discovered Soju, oh how that Korean rice wine has given me many vile hangovers! Wangjing usually helps me out getting into the city, its a transfer station between Lines 14 & 15 that opened my eyes during my second day in Beijing back in November 2017. Wangjing used to be a shadow of its former self, it was no sleepy place when I visited during that Sunday discovery. The relief when that train stops at Wanjing from Shunyi is alwatys a blessing, most people get off to change to Line 14 thankfully, it's commuter crazy! Telling the truth, I need to get myself back to Korean Town for some more Korean cosmetics, seafood soup and Soju now! Olympic Green, who?

Not long after arriving in Beijing, China I had to see what Beijing's Olympic Green looked like. Boarding a Line 15 train from Guo Zhan I found the Bird's Nest Stadium with ease, making an almighty impact it was a scene of national pride! With a paved promenade like walkway it was easy to bike it for most of the day, unfortunately I had to leave my rented bike ride for the next stage. Seeing Beijing's famous 'water cube' Aquatics Centre from the outside showed me enough, it wasn't necessary to pay the entrance fee. The Birds Nest Stadium dominated the whole area, causing hysteria even though the games were over nine years previous during that 2017 time. Finding my own slice of Beijing's Olympic glory didn't take me long, from Guo Zhan it was only forty minutes to Line 15's Olympic Green Subway Station. Preparations had already started for the recently announced 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing! Go for gold!

To conclude my Line 15 Olympic Green day I biked up to the Beijing Olympic Forest Park that was linked with Line 8 of the Beijing Subway, not using that connection it could have potentially been fine for me to change at Olympic Green to reach the Forest Park upon leaving Line 15 for Line 8. Regardless, the vast Olympic Forest Park gave me some chill for sure, working in life in Beijing had kicked started at an almighty pace and I was lacking a scenic view! Making the most of the fresh air it was lovely to be walking at my own pace, people got on with their family time without stress. Having only seen the handover from Athens to Beijing it was great to see something in real life. Line 15 had so far shown me quite a lot, the Olympic offerings impressed me much, it begged the question if I would still be in the city for the upcoming Winter Games in 2022? Leaving that Olympic overness behind me, Line 15 had one more place to show me! Beijing's Subway dwarfs Wuhan's own ten times over!

Taking my time it was awhile longer before I found the time to travel to the western terminus station on Beijing's Line 15. Tsinghua University had something to show me for sure, upon exiting to street level I peddled for victory to reach one of China's most famous universities. Like Wuhan University I was expecting to see an array of pleasing sights, I was living during that rare Beijing city day out. From Hua Li Kan to 清华东路西口地铁站 took me about fifty minutes, anyhow I reached the gates of that famous Chinese university, gaining access without any stress. The Beijing blue skies gave the university buildings a certain shine, it was a lovely day to be exploring, blessed! No longer a student I saw that uni through experienced eyes, Birmingham had been the one for me, no disrespect to Tsinghua or Beijing, though! With that location found I wondered where the gardens would be? Of course, Beijing's Subway had big plans for me!

Trusting my Baidu Maps APP led me to the right turning, dodging the oncoming bikes like torpedos in battle I caught the right turning, I was so graciously afforded a chilled view of a period building or two. Allowing the predictable photos to be taken, I got my snaps of the scene that's featured above this section, it wasn't like anything I had seen in China, from the perspective it looked almost colonial with a European touch? Wuhan Univsersity may have had similiarities but Beijing's Tsinghua University served it own form of realness! My whistlestop trip to Line 15's western terminus gave me life, I have been extremely busy since I started my Montessori weekend course, getting out of my Shunyi locality gave me life to be within the grounds of Beijing's Tsinghua University. Wangjing, the Olympic Green and Beijing's Tsinghua University all impressed me much! Regardless of the shear number of commuters, Line 15 on Beijing's Subway continues to provide the sights! Which BJ Subway line is next?

Not Just Shunyi!

Joseph Harrison 

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Xiamen: Art Zones Temples & Fortresses...

2018's Chinese New Year festivities hadn't been dull by any measure, Shenzhen and Xiamen had so far thrown tones of shade but their attitudes had been for a reason. Xiamen had more to show me, I envisaged art zones and cake to finish my first full day. Clearing things up I slayed my final day with a terrible hangover, it had to be done! No matter where I travel! It was bad!

Xiamen's Shapowei Art Zone had cropped up during my pre-trip research, it looked different for a Chinese city! Using Baidu Maps I made my way closer to that fomer factory complex, but that lovely parent had suggested I grab a bite or two from Chello. Following the parents advice I wasn't dissapointed with my cake, the juice I chose tasted almost alcoholic but no translations were available so it wasn't an emergency. The area that surrounded Xiamen's Shaopwei Art Zone reminded me of a Chinese version of Spitalfields almost? Before I knew I was standing in front of the scene captured to the left, it was nice to see something that took a bit of thought. The whole vibe of the Art Zone impressed me much, it had something different, something that allowed Xiamen to redeem itself! Finding Mojito, a pure expat hangout it was time for a huge burrito, chips and a draft beer for the win! Oh no, I wanted more..!

Hanging around Shapowei's renovated style gave me life, it felt like a perfect example of responsible gentrifaction and that's something big cities in China haven't got that balance yet. In the shadow of the Conrad hotel that overlooks the bay, Shaopwei's got that location, location, location for sure! Chello and Mojito got me back on track, the day had been long but the night was very early indeed! Returning back to my hotel I was thirsty for more, it wasn't going to be a dancing night out but I was open for something different, I was willing to take a chance! Biking to 'The Londoner' I had to give up on the idea of getting a taxi, they seemed to be a rare thing in Xiamen during CNY 2018! Having a real pint was a blessing, enjoying a few scoops the people I spoke to were interesting but not my cup of tea. Finding myself in a Cuban style bar I had a delicious mojito, the music took me back to Puerto Rico but it was time for bed! No, let's keep it clear, the hangover wasn't delicious!

Barely keeping my life together I was determined to get the best from my final full day in Xiamen, China. Pushing my suffocating hangover to one side it was time to brave the packed buses to find Xiamen's Nanputuo Temple, it seemed like one highlight that attracted the masses during their visits to the city, I didn't want to miss out on that! Getting off the crawling bus a few stops early I was able to see the shear magnitude of people who were also visiting the temple that day! I had no energy to be unimpressed or stressed, paying the temple itself no mind during those first moments, I put all my energy into getting as far up the mountain that overlooked the temple, something told that I wasn't going to be disappointed. The glistening waters of Xiamen's bay and the Taiwan Strait came back into my view as I climbed higher, Nanputuo Temple was showing me much more than planned! I needed the hangover to be gone!

Sure enough I had reached a respectable height, the only daunting thing was occasionally not having something to hold onto when the steps faced a drop at both sides. Gazing into the distance I was served a beautiful sunshine vista, the warm weather complimented the view that overlooked the Shapowei Art Zone and surrounding area close to the exclusive Conrad hotel. Oh I say, I did pay attention to the temple but something told me the outer features needed my attention plus the crowds showed no sign of dying down, it wasn't worth stressing my mind with that craziness because I had been gamed out from all the drama thrown at me during that holiday! Carefully descending from that lovely view it was time to walk all the way to my final point of interest. By that time it was getting hectic to even walk from place to place, it was actually pandemonium! Eyeing up a McDonald's, I knew where I was going to eat through my hangover! So, Xiamen had almost shown me everything! Oh, Hulishan!

Set upon Huli Hill stood Hulishan Fortress, serving views from all angles I had truly saved the best for last. Snatching a calm photo took my everything but I could genuinely say I had some time to actually relax, having time to take in the view of the rolling waters that surrounded the island city of Xiamen and the outlying islands gave me some solace for sure. Making my way down to the foot of the Krupp cannons gave me a show-stopping view but the question still begs, could I see Taiwan? Probably not, I tried to keep the faith at least. The whole atmosphere of the fortress ended my week long holiday with a feeling of accomplishment, it had been mental but with views so majestic standing before me, it had all been worth it during that moment at the end of the race. Hulishan Fortress held history, it had been such a long week it was the view that captured my eye. Watching the vessels sail past was ace!

Content with the views bestowed to me from Xiamen's Hulishan Fortress it was time to begin my goodbyes to Xiamen, the crowds still hadn't dissipated as the evening approached, those tourists should have left town already? Telling the absolute truth, the jammed packed buses simply looked impossible to board! Walking back to my hotel took over one hour, I broke up that one hour long walk by having some food, taking a different turning on my way towards Zhongshan Road as my hotel connected to one of the avenues leading from that pedestrian street. Milk tea was on my mind and its something I don't indulge in Beijing, so with an ice cold one in hand I was able to experience a slightly less crazy Zhongshan Road. Xiamen had served me all kinds of crazy, calm and cool at the same time, so it was quite bittersweet to say goodbye the next day as my Hainan Airlines flight took off bound for Beijing Capital Int'l Airport. Keeping it 100%, Xiamen is one hell of a shady lady! Bye! 

Walking, Walking, Walking! 

Joseph Harrison