There's Something About... Birmingham, England!

Birmingham became my student home some years ago, things change and places sure do evolve 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? 是, 中国很强大!

Arriving at New Street Station/Grand Central by the West Midlands Metro showed me something new. I looked ever closer to notice the sheer amount of homeless people and drug users had doubled compared to the time when I lived in Birmingham for university. It had only been three years since my 2014 graduation in the same city! 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 very 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 modernity looked amazing and by no means I just called what I saw. Birmingham, you made me feel uncomfortable for me to see such sights. With a harsh view on unemployment, Chinese people work in any job they can to save themselves from homelessness, seeing that lack of ethic really had me feeling for Brum. 

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 was used to seeing 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. Props for the new New Street! Birmz, fix up B! 

Getting back to Birmingham's Chinatown felt utterly amazing, for me to hear Chinese dialects being spoken and to see East Asian people felt beyond amazing! I had only been back a few weeks but I was missing the Middle Kingdom like nobody's business! Yes! Getting some good food at Peach Garden was nice, I had some hot water to drink because cold water is just wrong! On the flip side it was great to be reminded of a certain Oriental flex! 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. Happy Lemon served me a Bubble Tea, no it was that much? I was on Wuhan time still with those prices converted from £ to 元, I was not ready! 三块九! 为什么? 

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. In the end, 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 a lot. When I thought about living in Birmingham after being in China I had to be true, the cost and feeling of crime would put me off. 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. After living in the Middle Kingdom, I felt like I was in a mini Hong Kong with the only Mainlanders being students. 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. B1, I said what I said.

Part of my Birmingham experience was spent living within the 'Halls of Residence' called 'The Malting's', a purpose built student address for the students who attend the nearby University College Birmingham campus. I had the chance to spend my student career in the Westside of Birmingham from September 2010 to June 2014 with an extended break during 2012-2013 due to me undertaking my placement in Newark, NJ, USA. During the that visit to Birmingham I didn't venture back there because since I moved out for the final time in 2014, I have found the transition hard to bare. My life is a million miles away from those pre-drinking parties and dissertation cram days but the jump my life took from being a student to what it did, I can't forget. For me, I felt as if I was ripped away from my bubble that hadn't been perfect because believe me, Granville Street wasn't without those moments! No! I look back to this once intimidating place with a sense of gratitude and completion, I found myself at 'The Malting's' B! 

Each and every visit to Birmingham post-student life has had some kind of feeling of emptiness for me, absolutely I have been given life but nothing will ever be the same. I'll go back to Newark, NJ soon enough and after living there for a lot shorter time, I wonder if I'll experience any separation anxiety? That will be especially interesting to see when the time comes. Wuhan and Birmingham could not be compared, I hate pitting the two places together in the same sense. I can't lie that half of the foolery that goes down on Broad Street wouldn't be entertained along Han Street with the bars it has? No! The feeling of being in a very different system that I had known as my home during those formative years had me feeling very strange. Birmingham, I said what I said but I'll always have a place for you! Don't let me get mushy because things got scandalous during that final student year, I was taught a harsh lesson that Spring early morning after a seemingly amazing night! Nothing like that would ever happen to me in Wuhan! 不可能! 

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 again in the village. I was aware of Birmingham at night and had had much experience with getting back to my then student accommodation. That August 2017 night saw me stay in a Travelodge Hotel that was near the Bullring. With the night out done I walked back to my hotel knowing the route with a box of fried chicken in my hands, the only difference was I had to constantly watch over my shoulder constantly and be vigilant. Not one night I had to do that in any of the places that I had partied hard in China, never! Getting to the hotel reception I saw two door supervisors patrolling the reception, manning the front door to protect the staff. Why? 不!

My point was, how dangerous had Birmingham changed that much to need security staff to be manning the doors to the hotel? Of course, I questioned them in my inebriated state, asking them coherently for what reason they needed to protect us from? I said to them that I had been living in China, where most of the security guards in hotels are over 50 years old and have mostly been sleeping during the early hours. Even though my night out had been ace, in that moment, I realised in that things had deteriorated in England. Directly reflecting the reason as to why I didn't feel safe in that moment. Being back in Birmingham after having a taste of life in a place like China showed how different society's work, I didn't want to be in a country that feared its own public, I wanted that same China stability! It has been difficult to put this blog together because my experiences in Birmingham have been spicy but character building at the same time! Sort that homelessness out, clean those streets and make the people behave! 加油!!!

天啊, 我的伯明翰!

Joseph Harrison


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