29 July 2018

Xicheng District: Parks, Side Streets & Operas...

Looking for some renewal from the crazy, I chose Beijing's Xicheng District for some Sunday solace. MoBikes held the key, peddling for victory away from the days first mishap, it was all good from that first bike QR scan. Teamed with another park, street realness and a smattering of the Peking Opera! I did Sunday right, drama waited for me in the shadows Boo, bye! BYE!

Beijing's Temple of Heaven played mad tricks on me! Not taking too much cash out with me that Sunday morning I hedged my bets that I would be able to see that Beijing site with my WeChat Pay wallet, that wasn't so and I had less than thirty in cash! Getting the cheaper ticket I stood dumb at the second turnstile, I wasn't going to get that view of the main pagoda! I saw that mishaps a minor hurdle, I consulted my Baidu map with the intent to return to that part of Beijing once my work schedule resumed and my head had cleared after my British holiday. Tao Ran Ting Park seemed like a peaceful and unassuming place, it didn't take a minute to bike it, time was on my side so there was no stress! Passing some dodgy animatronic dinosaur exhibit, I made it to a nice piece of water, it was somewhere to sit and think about nothing at all. Oh Beijing, I luxuriated in that moment, the peace and quiet suited that situation! 

The pace of my teacher training course had nearly cut me down, making no apologies I made the most of the serene surroundings of Beijing's Tao Ran Ting Park because the city needed me that day! More like I needed the city that day? I don't know but whatever because I felt the calm float around me like a good vibe in the air. The Temple of Heaven tried to make look like a doughnut, I'd get back there soon enough so no stress needed to be created that lazy Beijing City Sunday. The normality of the park impressed me much, I haven't been to the famous ones like Jinsgshan or Bei Hai so that lesser know green oasis blocked the tourists out and the concrete nature of China's gargantuan capital.  My weekends would be making a full-time comeback, that Sunday about-town was a thing to get used to, that feeling felt blessed for certain! Trust the underdog, I ditched the big time and its ticket madness for something less assuming, not to mention less tourists! 我不是游客!

Feeling a touristy Hutong like a hole in my head, I trusted my Chinese map to find a street that potentially didn't have a name? If truth be told I really wasn't paying attention! I was hungry, fed up of takeaways and cooking for myself even I wanted something simple that Sunday afternoon! An unassuming Shanxi Noodles restaurant looked like the one, it wasn't flashy or appealing to the tourist market so that won me over in a second. Going for a noodle bowl and a beer to wash it down, it was nice to sit back and listen to those hurried Mandarin Chinese conversations. Ordering in a Chinese fashion the owner surprised me by talking about to me in English, now that surprised me because for the capital many people don't speak the international language of English that much, or not at all! For once it was a sober Sunday, now that was a turn up for the books! Yes, those very noodles made my Sunday diamond!

The unrefined nature of that Beijing Hutong corner impressed me much, so much is being changed and it was nice to see something more authentic than towering glass and steel structures, there is a time and a place for that! Gearing up for the Peking Opera I still had some time to kill after my noodles. Finding the rental bike that I had left behind I rescanned it, taking to the streets I had a little mooch between the neighbouring Hutong's, modernised to a certain level it was another normal Beijing sight. For certain I never saw such things in Wuhan, the contrast has worked itself out and if truth be told in that moment the pangs for Central Hubei City disappeared because my life had been upgraded, I am not making any excuses or apologises for being Beijing ready! That post-lunch freedom aside I made my way closer to the Liyuan Theatre for my Peking Opera show, all that biking got me well acquainted with those twisting and turning streets! My love for Beijing had returned!

Taking my seats at Liyuan Theatre within Beijing's Jianguo Hotel, I was ready for my first Peking Opera show. The painted faces and elaborate dresses had attracted me to this Beijing institution, not to mention the high pitched singing voices! Those tourists needed to take their damn seats, taking photos before the show didn't impress me much, of course I sat quietly before moving seats because I wasn't having my view ruined by some person holding their phone in my video whilst they filmed away! Relaxing into the show I enjoyed the first section, the gullible boatman didn't get fooled for long by the beautifully painted empress like actress. The second act captured a heartfelt song, captured to the left the stunningly dressed and painted lady sang of her distresses and how life had dealt her a bad card, but she sure looked good while doing just that! It was like a drag show with painted faces but in Chinese and traditional!

The final segment named 'Farewell My Concubine' saw the leading lady stab herself to death because she couldn't deal with the Emperor's drama, she saw the only option to be at peace was to end her life. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed the Opera, it was well put together and gave me everything that I wanted from it. The subtitles kept me up to date with what was going on, the audience behaved themselves, including me because I moved seats to then be moved to another empty table but had great views so all was good in the end. The whole day was lovely, it was great to get out and have a day out during the summer madness that I had been experiencing. The park was nice, those noodles tasted good and the opera impressed me much indeed! The month of July has been crazy and quite frankly I want it over already, it needs to be dead and gone already! Oh and those shadows, lets just say I won't getting another one of those taxis anytime soon! Well, not for a while anyway Bei!

Farewell My Taxi Driver?

Joseph Harrison 

27 July 2018

Birmingham: Somewhere That I Used To Know?

Birmingham became my student home some years ago, things change and places sure do change but I felt something different during my 2017 summertime visit. Taking a hiatus from China due to visa business and changing cities I returned to Birmingham for the night, it was a great day and night out but things felt very different. Had the safety of China changed me? 

Arriving by the Midland Metro to the newly opened New Street Grand Central development showed me something new, looking closer I noticed the amount of homeless people and drug users had doubled compared to the time when I lived in Birmingham for university. After being in Wuhan, China for two years I hadn't seen more than five people begging on the streets, certainly I didn't see any drug users loitering around public transport or in any public domain. I felt uneasy, being in China during those first two years took me to an environment that was safe and free from any signs of homelessness on a full frontal level. Brum's Grand Central looked amazing and by no means I am not talking down on Birmingham, It made me feel uncomfortable to see such sights. With a harsh view on unemployment Chinese people work in any job they can to save themselves from homelessness, making those sights hard to find BH! 

Birmingham has had a reputation for being a shady place but during my uni days I paid no mind to those factors, turning the clock back some years I got used to see homeless people make their spaces but as mentioned before in China where I was living it just wasn't something I saw. I don't want to sound like I am beneath the United Kingdom because I have lived in other countries but I saw and felt different things during my overnight stop in Birmingham. I had previously wanted to move back after finishing my time at university but by the tired look and shadiness felt in the air I wanted that visa to be ready for my return back to China. Birmingham was cool to me during my uni days but things just didn't feel right during that August moment. Going back to the issue of homelessness around New Street, it definitely boils down to a social problem that the UK needs to sort out! I have firm plans to remain in China for a while longer, my last resort would be to move back to the UK. No!

Getting back to Birmingham's Chinatown felt amazing, to hear Chinese languages been spoken and to see Chinese people felt amazing! I had only been back a few weeks but I was missing the Middle Kingdom like no ones business! Getting some good food at Peach Garden was nice, yes I had some hot water because cold water is just wrong! On the flip side it was great to be reminded of a certain Oriental flex, it was nice but to be back in China had to be the one. Hearing those languages being spoken in the supermarket where I bought the same curry mix that I used to buy in Wuhan at my local Carrefour supermarket, I was able to ask for a bag but that language wasn't Mandarin it was Cantonese, the language of Guangdong and Hong Kong. It was interesting to see people didn't like to hear Mandarin, being the language of the Mainland I sensed a negative energy, I know the politics. Chinatowns are cool but nothing beats China!

Don't get me wrong, it was amazing to be back in Birmingham but something just didn't feel right. I returned to Birmingham a couple of times over my three month stay in the UK to catch coaches and trains to places like Leeds, Cardiff and to Gerrards Cross and I have to say I got this pang that I wanted to be back because I felt I connected with the place again but my real sense of being knew that my life had progressed so much since my uni days living in Birmingham, it just wouldn't fulfil my needs and aspirations. Chinatown in all of its Oriental worth gave me something to remember before I moved to China, it was a part of the city I connected with amongst other parts within Southside but after living in the Middle Kingdom it didn't come close, but I will still regard it as one of the better places in the city. I will always respect Birmingham for the time I spent there during my studies but things have changed with safety and I just don't feel safe there anymore. Brum I said what I said.

In Wuhan I didn't have the opportunity to enjoy any Gay nightlife, I had to visit cities like Chengdu and Jinan to find such delights. With that being said I was excited to have a crazy night at The Village Inn, located in the heart of Birmingham's Southside. I had seen drag queens in Jinan and had danced the night away in Chengdu but I wanted to experience one good Brum night out in the village. I was aware of Birmingham at night and had much experience getting back to my then student accommodation but that August night saw me stay in a hotel nearby the Bullring. With the night done I walked back to my hotel without a problem, the difference was I had to watch over my shoulder constantly and be vigilant, whereas in China I could walk down the street safely. Getting to the hotel reception I saw two door supervisors patrolling the reception, manning the front door, essentially protecting the staff. Why?

My point was, how dangerous had Birmingham and other English cities become for those security staff to be manning the doors to the hotel? I questioned them in my inebriated state, asking them coherently why they were there and for what reason? I said to them that I had been living in China, a country that does have security guards but the presence of a uniform does the trick and in a society with rules and respect for authority there's never a cause to have such a presence of security inside a hotels reception area! I realised in that moment that things were changing in England and that I didn't feel safe in that moment, whereas I feel completely safe in China and even now in the capital the security presence becomes a normal part of everybody's day because people actually have respect for each other and for the police and the government. It's sad to say that during my next visit home in August 2018 I have no desire to visit Birmingham, I'll choose to stay in my family's company.

Oh, England!

Joseph Harrison

26 July 2018

2018: Springtime Shenanigans!

The shenanigans that I've been into this Springtime, let me take a moment to recount the foolishness that's taken place. KIA was allowed out in Changchun, that training had me learning more but Suzhou saved the day! Within Beijing I saw something more medicinal to be my cure, helping me get my head together but the hangovers hurt bad! Those shenanigans continued...

March picked up the pace both in the classroom and at the weekends, being in a crazy circumstance I found myself a lead teacher in a classroom without an English teacher. Having just negotiated my Montessori deal I was trying my best to keep things together, like I was trying my damnedest because those two years in Wuhan had taught me to be resilient at all costs and to push forwards. I arrived back from my Spring Festival holiday all refreshed and ready for the challenge in hand, also ready to begin my Montessori teacher training course, it was something extra and then some! Making the first month of my lead teacher days felt good, things were going smoothly in the classroom but I was virtually exhausted at the end of the day. I saw these events as pure experience, getting myself together it was another chance to hone new skills with the help of the academic leader, an angel. I wanted a break B!

Exiting Beijing on the night train to Changchun felt like I was escaping everything, arriving in the early morning I explored the city to my hearts content. I found the former Puppet Emperors gaff, those former lavish furnishings impressed me much. Being in a city that I had previously shunned felt correct, I used that weekend to correct those foolish mistakes. Fuelling my stomach with some hearty Japanese stew I knew the night ahead was going to be full of scandal and realness. Changchun gave me a place to slay, I luxuriated in that moment to not give a damn because things had been so damn crazy! Changchun allowed me exploration, something that being so dog tired in Beijing, I was thankful for Changchun's efforts. Changchun showed me some Japanese colonial realness and I even helped a Chinese junkie buy breakfast! Seeing what I needed I returned back to Beijing as the Tomb Sweeping Holiday concluded. I knew the next month I would be setting off to Suzhou, J!

My snatched days off in the week allowed me to have a few drinks at home but those nights in town were off the menu, it was strictly Montessori during that time. Missing most of Practical Life I finally attended the Sensorial classes after my weekday rest day was considered, getting what I needed I felt able to fully attend the course. I loved the Sensorial course, it was truly interesting and that's not a lie! Pulling myself out of bed I found myself at Beijing's famous Tsinghua University, situated on Line 15 of the Beijing Subway it allowed me to have a half-day out during April or so, I can't quite remember the month its all blurred into one time. That university discovery made me feel like I had not seen anything of Beijing, I came to terms with that fact because I was dealing with other shenanigans so things would fine their way soon enough! The process meant I was still a stranger to Beijing in the day. Oh!

On the odd weekends I broke out of my routine, dressing in my best tee and trousers I would take a taxi down to Destination to dance my cares away! I had gone there after getting back from my Shenzhen-Xiamen Spring Festival holiday, I managed to get on quite well as I navigated the dance floor with confidence. Beijing so far had been mad, the springtime had been something else, I was riding a pure rollercoaster! Turning a negative into a positive, a princess entered my class, of Chinese and Australian parentage she knew she was beautiful and that confidence gave me life for certain! My class gave me challenges but I was applying my training to the fullest, my brain was mashed but I put my 100 into that space, the parents never gave me flack because their kids were happy but there are always haters. That person will know in time that I wasn't playing games! I had faith in what I was doing, something would give and I knew what was going to happen next was right! Go!

In the midst of the craziness I booked a tour during June 2018s Dragon Boat Festival to Datong to see its delights. I treated those three short holidays as therapy because I needed it, working four days then training two had me dog tired, so getting off schedule for 3 days felt good. Datong had many delights inside and outside of its city walls, the grottoes didn't get me mad but those tourists tried me. Mellowing out for the moment, fresh off the plane I saw the Hanging Temple. Carved into the Hengshan Mountain I was truly impressed by the shear craftsmenship of that house of worship. Chilling in the hotel with my Wal-Mart finds gave me life nonetheless, it was amazing to relax in that comfortable room. Datong has realness, it was dry with its normality and for that reason it grounded me. The noise of the immediate area worked well, my district is too quiet at times, getting into the noise felt good. Oh my, god!

The springtime shenanigans might have been docile and professional but I made sure I got my own time during those months. Throughout that time I experienced a very different spring to the ones I had in Wuhan but those were my training years, getting my things together here I was able to shutdown those rough times. Slipping away into town had to be done from time to time, those three trips grounded me with the chance to get away from Beijing because all I saw it for was work and training. I look forward to the summer to enjoy that season with more free time, but for all those missed weekends I can shock the lead teachers I work with, my Montessori talent might shock them? With a possible move beginning in August, I am ready for something more familiar. I already know I didn't come to play, but I didn't come to play to sacrifice my life, getting things into perspective as the summer makes an appearance I've got this! Beijing, you're out of your mind! Talk to me later B!

Shenanigans!

Joseph Harrison 

25 July 2018

The Sanlitun Weekender!

With a full weekend on the cards I wanted to grab it with both hands and enjoy it as much as possible! Beijing life has been so intense, with not much down time I wanted to turn up and then some. Shopping, eating and getting up to something nasty good happened for sure, that Sanlitun Weekender served up all of the above! Yes BJ, Friday started with that Famous Grouse!

Sanlitun in Beijing's Chaoyang District had me for the whole Saturday during my months crazy teacher training, beginning at Tai Koo Li for some serious shopping H&M had to be done. I had been neglecting my wardrobe since I had arrived in Beijing over eight months previous to that scorching July moment, it was like one hot mess after another fronted me! A few tipples the night before had left me feeling fragile but I knew I needed some new garments to wear during the nighttime, that's when things get real! A shiny glass development in the centre of Beijing's party district, I had been to Tai Koo Li before but those occasions just weren't fun enough! H&M had what I needed, I got some summer essentials and some statement black tops for my nights out because I love to dress in dark and mysterious tones at a certain Destination! Burning up my WeChat Pay it was a shock but my hard earned cash isn't just for buying flights, Bei! 

Taking my time round H&M and Tai Koo Li, it was evident the sunshine weather had brought a serving of delicious sights. Was I going crazy? No, Beijing is full of beautiful specimens so the rest I'll leave to the imagination. Imagination? No, what sights I saw definitely solidified the reason why I am still in China after almost three years! Sanlitun's glass structures glistened in the sunlight, the thirty something temperatures were hard to deal without air conditioning but the city of Beijing gave me life after a crazy and exhausting training course. The late afternoon summer vibe continued as I left with my purchases from H&M to my next port of call. Of course, H&M's patrons served Beijing chic and devilish good looks, I needed a drink after all of that thirsty behaviour! I really need to get out more of my work bubble, Shunyi and life gets me forgetting about things. KFC took me out of the glaring sun, I wanted to save my pennies for drinks that night! Would ninety pounds go that far at home? No, no!

I am usually the first person to shun craft beer or any kind of hipsterish place, but has Beijing got me feeling some kind of way? Choosing 京A was a winner! Feeling like I needed a serious livener, I enjoyed a pint of Chinese craft beer known as 'Dong Bei', with a flowery kind of flavour it was just what I needed to get back into the drinking mode. For my tea I chose the BBQ braised burger with homemade fries, being one of those new-wave places it was served on a steel tray, if truth be told I was more interested in my food and beer to even give that even a second thought. I had seen 京A posted all over Time Out Beijing and other local social media sources, being in the Sanlitun/Dongzhimen area it seemed like the done thing to get some hearty scran before getting inebriated within Sanlitun's lively scene. No rice or noodles were on the menu that day! Being 6.5% I toyed with the idea, so no more Dong Bei's were consumed! 

That Beijing beer house had a modern stainless steel feel to it, I chose to sit in the dining area amongst an exclusively Chinese crowd who posed as trendy millennial types, well some of them did but any sight of foreigners apart from myself were at the bar or in the first bar area. I definitely think I'll be back after a Tai Koo Li shopping trip again in the near future because it's only a short walkaway from the bustling Beijing streets that lead to my favourite Workers Stadium Road. Could I see myself propping myself up the bar there? No, but sitting at the bar with a few flowery pints sounds like a sure thing! Getting my food and drink finished I got a MoBike, riding along with my H&M purchases was a challenge but I am used to riding on the streets in China because there's a certain way to do it! Making my way back to Shunyi I had some getting ready to do! H&M got me my threads and the looks, yes the talent was sensational but 京A served me up the fuel for the night ahead of me! Yes, Sanlitun!

Dressed to impress, my DiDi taxi left the sleepy suburban district of Shunyi for the bright lights of Workers Stadium Road in the heart of Beijing's party scene. Maybe my location was wrong because my usual drop off point wasn't what it should have been? Scanning another rental bike I swerved between the traffic and the rain whilst dressed in my fresh black vest and jeans combination! Clocking the road signs and noticing a familiar feel I locked that rental bike to walk the rest of the way. A friend had shown me Kai, another underground club that was filled to the brim with delectable gentlemen folk, no admission fee unlike Destination and cheaper drinks I was willing to give this basement club a chance to serve its delights to me. The month of July had me chained to a gruelling routine, those early mornings and long commutes melted away as I sipped my drinks, sipped? No, I don't know how to sip!

My inner KIA was awoken, something that the faint hearted should not be exposed to, that side of me doesn't care and that suited the night well because Kai wasn't going to judge me that night and if other people wanted to, they would have had KIA to deal with! Dancing and drinking, the beverages and the tunes kept going till the early hours, Saturday merged into Sunday and with that time change I saw some negative energy fly away, I am not about that life. I needed a break from Destination because those queens get on a different level. I found the patrons in Kai thought I was #TeamTooMuch but I am totally fine with that because the week is for working, so when the weekend comes around I don't care! Throwing my last shape, finishing my last sip, it was time to find a taxi to take me back home before the sun made an appearance. Taxi ride completed and paid for, it fared to be another eventual full night in the city of Beijing. With funds low I'll be causing a commotion after payday!

Oh, Sanlitun!

Joseph Harrison