Thursday, 30 August 2018

2018: My Hometown Glory...

I have a strange old relationship with my hometown of Bilston, it's a place I can't stand but when I go back its like no other place compared to China! Looking for a slice of 'Hometown Glory' I boarded two flights from Beijing to see my first niece Orla, she's lovely! Bilston Market gave me some interesting sights, a motivational tool nonetheless. It was such a wonderful week! 

Getting over my jet lag was very necessary  feeling rested it was time to visit Bilston to take care of some things. Depositing some money into my bank was on my list, my VPN would need renewing in November and being China there's always a few restrictions with that business. Swinging past the outdoor market allowed me to stock up on some much needed western 'Dove' toiletries because some of those soaps, shower gels and deodorants can be damn expensive in 中国! Hearing the local accent was the best, living in China I always hear the Mandarin language, so hearing a bit of a Bilston twang sounded good to me in that hometown moment. The indoor market took me back to scenes of normality with the meat and fish counters, the same sweet shop stood and being no Aero in China I had to eat a supersize bar there and then! The day before I had some pork scratching but I wanted that Black Country treat in my life again B!

It had only been ten months or so since I took off for round two of life in China, I had a very special reason to come back so soon after settling into my teaching life. The last ten months had been pretty damn hectic, a beach holiday was on the cards or more likely a trip around the Grasslands of China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region but flights to the UK had been booked well in advance. The drive back from the airport was the same as it was before, whereas the area in Beijing I live in is classed as a 'outlying suburban district' so not seeing high rises didn't freak me out as much as it had done the first time round. Seeing a China Shipping truck on the motorway pass gave me the chance to show accompanying family my Chinese language skills! Cheese and potato pie with beans and bacon went down a treat on the first evening back home, nothing tastes as good as home cooked English food! That week I would be eating everything in sight, no I didn't want any rice or noodles! Oh, no way!

Going back to the UK to begin my 'Uncle Duties' I couldn't wait to see my first niece! From that birthday phone call to only seeing photos through Facebook Messenger and occasionally WeChat, it was the greatest gift to see Orla Rose on the 22nd of August 2018 for the first time! Seeing my younger brother as a father made me feel so proud, he absolutely dotes on Orla and so he should because she's a beautiful little girl with an amazing future ahead of her! Seeing both new parents together with their daughter for the first time was equally as great, the last time we had all been together was the epic night out we had in Birmingham. During that August week I wanted to get in as many hours to see my precious Orla before I jetted back to China for the start of the new semester. With the wait over it was fantastic to see Orla! If truth be told, being an uncle felt amazing! Those 7,202.66 miles flown were worth it!

Setting out for a day at the Cotswalds Farm Park, it was nice to see some countryside because as much as its home the concrete fashion of Bilston gets a bit grey. Driving through the nearing countryside gave myself, Lewis and Alice to have a good old catch up, as mentioned before a lot had changed compared to our last meeting, it was all very exciting to be talking about the baby in the present tense. The farm was nice, we had lunch and got some important photos taken of me and Orla because being a long-distance uncle meant I needed something to remember her whilst I wasn't at home. We fed the animals, walked around the enclosures where were saw goats, sheep and a whole host of other farm animals. I couldn't help but think it would be a great place to take my 3-5 year old students to! Spoiling Orla with a special plush rabbit and a book about a 'Magic Rabbit', her mom and dad called the bunny 'Magic', of course she loves Magic! To meet Orla made my week completely!

For the rest of the week it was all about relaxing at home and catching up with family. I wasn't home for long enough for my sleeping pattern to get back into gear, the annoying thing was I found myself falling asleep before 10pm until the last night I was able to get back to normal! Sunday brought a lovely roast dinner, how I had missed Yorkshire pudding and mashed potatoes! Seeing my cousins all grown up was crazy, the eldest will be a teenager and at secondary before we know it! I loved the fact it was a week away from the madness of life in China, the weeks leading up to my holiday home were lovely, settling into my new campus was great. I had something genuine to look forward to upon my return to Beijing, China. The Sunday dinner was lovely, it was like summer Christmas because I am planning to spend it in India and possible some other place, that second place hasn't been confirmed yet. Yorkshire pudding are life!

The day before I flew back to China I went to the cinema with my mum, aunties and cousins to see 'The Greatest Showman'. I had seen something about it on Facebook a few months earlier but hadn't given it a seconds thought, I was unknowingly in for a treat! I was captivated from the very beginning right through to the rip-roaring finale. Hugh Jackman played a blinder as Barnum and I adored the 'freak unique' theme of the story that surrounded the show, the message of acceptance and that people should be loved no matter what they looked like or who they were really impressed me! Spending one final night relaxing at home, I was back on my Cathay Pacific flight bound for Hong Kong, I was over the flight on the way back! With a beautiful niece at home I need to get my ass home a lot more often! From Bilston Market to my family summer Christmas dinner, my whistle stop trip home was great! Who knows what goodies China Post will be sending over for my Orla Rose? Oooo!

Home Sweet Home!

Joseph Harrison 

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Flying High... Cathay Pacific Airways!

My long-awaited summer holiday finally made an appearance, it was time to check-in for my Cathay Pacific flight from Beijing to Hong Kong. HKG wouldn't be my final destination because Manchester was calling me back home for a few days to see family and the new addition, my first niece! Cantonese service in the skies was a win, win situation! Oh, that Airbus A350-900!

Cathay Pacific was an airline that provided me with the right price and a non London arrival point within England. Taking off from Beijing Capital International Airport bang on-time, the first meal served to me was a lovely chicken dinner with mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables and yes, I loved the Haagen Dazs ice cream and red wine! Watching 'Thelma and Louise' was just the way to relax and that Airbus A330-300 cruising from Beijing down to Hong Kong. I wasn't too impressed with the new additions on the in-flight entertainment, sticking to the classics was the best thing for me to do! The outbound PEK-HKG cabin crew were friendly and had impeccable English language skills, with the crew being fluent in English, Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese it wasn't a problem to ask for anything. So, it didn't take long for the afternoons sky to change into nighttime, the waters surrounding HK's island airport came into view. Go!

Being back in Hong Kong was amazing, the transfer signs were clearly laid out as I walked from the jet bridge that connected my flight from Beijing. Scanning my hand luggage through the transfer channel, I made my way into the Duty Free area that mirrored the likes of Manchester and Heathrow. I bought some cigarettes and whisky for my grandparents in no time, the staff impressed me much with their immaculate English skills! Being a former British colony for 99 years, Hong Kongers have better overall English skills compared to the Mainland, I don't care how that sounds because its true! Getting a McDonalds cheese and tomato toastie made me feel closer to home before I had even departed on my Manchester bound Cathay Pacific flight. The staff in Terminal One had impeccable manners and needless to say the Cathay Pacific staff represented their airline and the former British colony very well. Let just say, my Hong Kong Cathay Pacific transfer period was great! The timing was alright. 

Gate 71 unveiled my Cathay Pacific Airbus A350-900, the ground crew busied round that gorgeous aircraft! To my amazement that CX219 craft was looking fantastically sleek! The high price to fly direct to England from Beijing pushed me towards Cathay Pacific as the stop in Hong Kong interested me, it was an airport I had watched several documentaries about and had wanted to see it in real life. Boarding was smooth, no pushing or craziness was had because things down in Hong Kong were operated with precision, things were organised and chilled to optimum measure. I settling into my Cathay Pacific seat, I was comfortable and content with the cabin atmosphere, it was quite evident the A350-900 stood in mint condition with its fresh new cabin interior. Taking to the skies to a timely meal service it was a smooth cruise out of Hong Kong as the clock truck 01:15am HK local time. Of course, I was so Cathay ready!

London Heathrow Airport, I am sorry but I'm not sorry to say that you're an ache to reach my home from your near West London area, with that said Manchester was the next best option because airlines just don't fly into Birmingham from places like China or Hong Kong in the case of Cathay Pacific. Shunning the sky high priced directs from Capital Airport or going on a 30 hour flight to reach home, I chose Cathay Pacific for the added benefit to fly on the brand new Airbus A350-900. I am a lover of long haul travel even though suffering from jet-lag isn't fun at all, I just love the experience of flying from one far-flung destination to another. The flight on the A350-900 was smooth, with the odd spot of unsettled air it was a standard flight from HKG to MAN for sure. The in-flight camera gave me a birds-eye view of the aircraft line up for its arrival into Manchester Airport, it was exciting to see such a close up on the runway lights as we approached our UK touchdown! Thanks!

Choosing the western food option once again, it was another great meal served by Cathay Pacific's in-flight team. The mashed potato was the winner, nothing else mattered to me in that moment! My second Cathay Pacific meal was served with fresh vegetables, cheese and biscuits, bread and butter with a cheeky Movenpick ice cream to finish that dining experience off. Topping up my cup, I stayed responsible with that red wine choice because I can choose the right moments to be sensible. Another classic film graced my seat-back television, choosing 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' was a great choice! I had luck with 'Thelma and Louise' from Beijing, so the next leg of my Cathay Pacific journey to Manchester, England had to be another golden flick. The cruising speed and height must have been just right because no turbulence could be felt for the most part of the flight No sleep yet, I wanted to finish my film! 帶我回家!

By the time I had finished my film and my tray had been collected, I was truly ready to sleep for a few hours because my then 12 hour flight from Hong Kong still had around 7 hours to go. The movable headrests helped me get in a comfortable position, comfortable enough for me to doze off for a few hours into the middle stage of the flight. Approximately 2 hours before touching down at Manchester Airport breakfast was served, the choice of an English style breakfast was a no-brainer! The cabin briefly saw activity during the breakfast service, for most of the flight the cabin lighting was dimmed due to the early hours departure from Hong Kong, it had been a long trip for me since taking off from Beijing the previous day! Loading up on some much needed caffeine, it wasn't any trouble getting an extra cup of coffee to keep me fuelled before our sleek Airbus A350-900 flight from Hong Kong had landed. I really enjoyed the breakfast, more importantly it meant home grew nearer! Go!

My previous long-haul flight presented the most chatty cabin crew that I ever did meet, I am yet to meet another set of crew who match that description. Both of the Cathay Pacific on-board teams worked really hard during those two sectors that I flew from Beijing to Manchester via Hong Kong, nothing was too much trouble and service was always conducted with a warm Oriental smile. As I approached the crew for a photo in the back galley as my Manchester bound flight grew near to its destination, the crew showed a really shy demeanour. East Asian people can generally be really shy and if truth be told, it's not the most natural thing to be asked for a photo with a passenger. Thankfully one of the crew members agreed to a photo, making my flight complete it was safe to say I could relax after securing that photo! Thanks to the Cathay Pacific crew that took care of my refreshments and photo request. 多謝!

I noticed that on both Cathay Pacific flights the female crew had immaculately tight hairstyles with the use of matching hair clips. Dressed in a red and gold uniform for the cabin duties in the economy cabin, they all looked very elegant and beautiful during the service and throughout the flights. The guys were as cute as cute could be with their grey waist coats, naturally serving their Cantonese charm and soft features they worked the cabin like the best of them. I have to say that all flights departed and arrived on-time without any problems, my luggage wasn't lost as many people said to me they had problems with theirs during a CX flight. Those classics kept me entertained throughout my two flights, the western food option impressed me much with the mashed potato and the politeness of the HK airport staff made all the different compared to Beijing's abrupt call for boarding! Boarding call? It's a good job I could understand the "I'm so over today" gate announcement!

Cathay Pacific! Keep it Cantonese!

Joseph Harrison 

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Wuhan: Returning To Hubei's Capital...

My weekend in Wuhan was turning out to be full packed with more and more sights! I accomplished a lot, I needed to create a second Wuhan post. Leaving Guanggu for the moment and Qin Tai for the day, I wanted to see Hanyang Art District and River Park to conclude my Hanyang flex. From a delicious bagel to a mad night out, my weekend concluded with a sweet reunion.

Leaving Qin Tai behind me I only had to walk across the road to find Hanyang's own art district, I had no idea such a place existed whilst I lived in Wuhan from 2015 to 2017. My pre-Wuhan comeback research provided some interesting options for me to explore. The art district itself was compact and quiet, it was considerably less crazy compared to Beijing's 798 Art District and for that reason I was thankful because I had left the capital behind me for the weekend for a smaller Chinese City. Keeping my MoBike close by I was able to peddle around at my own pace without any worries regarding the time. I found a quirky coffee shop that was housed inside a crater, bright pink in colour with a turquoise VW Beetle parked outside the front, it was an intriguing sight! The coffee and cake was nice, getting a moment to plan my move to the riverside. Wuhan City felt like such a different city but it was just the same way!

Biking down to Hanyang's Yangtze River Park helped me glide down memory lane as I passed Hanyang's Guishan Park, the sights became more familiar as time past. The gates to Qingchuan Pavilion reminded me of my October 2015 day trip, such time had past but things still appeared to look the same from that point of view. Climbing the few steps to see the view overlooking the river park and the mighty river took me back to day one, memories from my first visit to the Yangtze in Wuhan came flooding back. I felt centred in that Hanyang River Park moment, it felt correct once again to be back, I was able to see Wuhan's huge waterway through new eyes with the same fondness as before. I had realised Wuhan had given me the platform to work towards Beijing, with a base and a career it was a home I wanted to give my regards to. It was a humbling moment, taking several seats I marvelled at the view, no second chances would be allowed during that trip! Hanyang helped!

Heading back to Guanggu had to be the one, battling the crowds at Optics Valley wasn't something I did, embracing the moment I allowed the hustle and bustle to pass me by. Entering World City to see the difference I was sorely mistaken to see things looking pretty similar compared to what they were before I left in 2017. Getting my hair cut at the usual SourceMe had to be done, moving through to a quick stop at Carrefour because if truth be told I just wanted one more nose around! Feeling hungry I moved on from Guanggu and those familiar sights with nothing but fondness and a feeling of progression. Wuhan Prison had been one of the first places I had got boozed up in the city back in 2015, three years later I was able to dine at the one time brands very own 'Prison Bagel'. I wanted to see if the hype was true, I was served a lovely bagel with fries to start my night out just fine! Wuhan Prison had changed lots!

Getting my glad-rags on, it was time to make my way over to my friends place for pre-drinks before another amazing All Stars night out. Being dropped off in the wrong place I stumbled upon a vibrant street scene, it was something that I don't see in Beijing anymore, taking that street scene in to the fullest it impressed me much! My friend and former colleague Mark had found my location, the taxi driver had dropped me off at the wrong location as per usual those taxis and their drivers hadn't changed, truth be told I did sense a familiar surrounding but no I wasn't entertaining that vibe! Boozing it up, the night was mad with many drinks mixed up that night. It was insane to be back at the club that housed my final night out in the city before I took my flight back to the UK. I made it back to my hotel just after sunrise to catch a few hours sleep before a special reunion that would take place in a few hours. Wuhan provided one full-bodied day for certain! WUH had me in a state!

Concluding my Wuhan weekender, I had planned to meet with the parents who had dropped me off at my hotel on the night I had arrived in Wuhan. Being jammed pack busy on the Saturday, it was set we would meet on the Sunday morning at my hotel to be reunited with their son, Joy being his English name was my student at the kindergarten I taught at for two years, he loved me and I adored him! One day during a school trip he said in front of his parents that he loved his 'English Dad', 'me' being the 'English Dad', so I called him my 'Chinese Son!' The reunion was exciting and a little overwhelming for Joy to handle, he went a little shy till we got to McDonalds on Han Street, I had promised to buy him whatever he wanted to eat and drink. Being against company policy I now send Joy a 'Red Packet' for Christmas and CNY because as his teacher I would have gotten into a lot of trouble! Seeing Joy was lovely! So, it was!

I wasn't feeling too pretty due to the previous nights shenanigans but I was lively and played my part, visiting a children's arcade I took part in most of the activities with Joy. We had some lovely Cantonese food for lunch, the language barrier was apparent but his parents tried their best and my Chinese has improved since being in Beijing because for the capital the level of English spoken is shockingly bad! Going to the cinema was nice, I had never been to see a film within the Han Street area during my time living in Wuhan, it was all about new experiences second time around that August weekend! Finishing with a steak dinner, the day had been beautiful and I had been truly spoiled with a great day out and to see Joy again was simply priceless, no amount of money was needed to see his smiling face again! Packing my bags and boarding my plane to Beijing the next day had to be done. Wuhan had surpassed any previous comeback trip expectations that I had! Wuhan, I'll be back B!

The Comeback Kid!

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 20 August 2018

Who's Calling? ... It's Wuhan, China!

Going back to Wuhan felt strange, I had wanted to leave that Central China City so very much back in July 2017. Going back was something that I hadn't planned, with my UK holiday home planned with a weekend to spare beforehand it gave me the perfect excuse to rediscover a place that I actually missed. My comeback was blessed, touching down I was greeted warmly!

Arriving just before midnight on the 18th of August it was lovely to be picked up by the parents of a previous student that attended my Wuhan kindergarten during my two years teaching in the city. They were so gracious, taking me to my hotel in the dead of night for no cost it was a blessed feeling to be with such nice people and back in the city that I called home for my first two years in China! Seeing the signs for Dongxihu reminded me of Fiona, we spent some great times in that part of the city during our time working in Wuhan, I wasn't going to dwell I was going to be thankful and look back on those memories fondly. Checking into my Hanting Seasons Hotel in the Optics Valley area was a relief, it had been a long day at work and the late evening flight left me wanting my bed before a hectic days sightseeing. Oh Wu, It felt correct to be back after almost 13 months since leaving for the UK before my transfer to Beijing. 

Waking up with the birds it was going to be a full on day, I wasn't going to be wasting any time, it was on from the word, go! Scanning a MoBike, I peddled towards the forever construction site that's Guanggu Square, as I had imagined it was still a sea of cranes and crazy with the ongoing metro projects still being built! Almost getting into an altercation with a street seller for leaving that rental bike in his pitch, the adrenaline of Wuhan life came flooding back to me! Guanggu Street stopped me in my tracks, it was the same but it felt slightly different. The China Merchants Bank looked fresh and the building that I used to live in was still standing, no noodle or tang bao shop was present but I knew where to find that breakfast food without stress! The craze of Guanggu had me from the first moment it came back into my view, it felt like a home away from home and then some! The rain that morning had lessened the usual mayhem around Guanggu Street, the buzz was easier to navigate through.

Walking back towards Optics Valley Square station led me to a familiar sight of pandemonium, Minzu Avenue helped get my Hot & Dry Noodles fix! I tell you the stares didn't faze me, I got my noodles without a fuss. It was crazy to think how much I had missed that famous Wuhan breakfast food since leaving the city, somedays that Wuhan favourite turned my stomach because I ate it too much, but it was a divine treat! My morning so far was going so well, I had seen a blast from the past, had some amazing breakfast and had been shouted at all before 10am! I had been feeling some kind of way about Wuhan since the quietness of Shunyi, Beijing had become my new China dream. Getting back to Guanggu and the city that showed me the path to how mad things are felt great, if not surreal to sat the very least! Yes, I had missed those noodles so much, I even bought some instant mixture from TB before my Wuhan flight to BJ!

Backtracking, to see Guanggu Street felt bizarre, the foyer of the building that I used to live in looked the same, maybe it looked cleaner? Yes, a certain truth! This might sound bad, the people looked the same because the vibe was exactly the same! The contrast between Shunyi was no joke, the elite in Beijing's airport suburb with its international schools and embassy villas played the contrast, the down-to-earth nature of Guanggu brought me back down to earth, injecting some insanity back into my life for a short while if nothing else. Being typically tourist that time around felt mad, since moving to Beijing my China life has been turned upside down with the stresses of everyday life, being back within a familiar craziness put me at ease! Breakfast was amazing and the construction continued, Wuhan knew I was on my way to the next phase of my day! Getting a Wuhan Tong wasn't too much of a challenge, I had been in such a rush to leave 北京 I had forgotten my Tong! 

The last time Hanyang crossed my path it was hotter than hell, the humidity that 2017 day ruined any chance of a productive sightseeing day! Rerunning that Hanyang option I took the metro from Optics Valley to Qin Tai via Jianghan Road, the threatening skies cooled the air down enough for me to check out Hanyang's Qin Tai Pavilion without being uncontrollably hot or bothered by the heat! The views over Hanyang's Moon Lake impressed me and reminded me of the day me and Fiona made it down from Dongxihu. The quietness allowed me to see what I needed in a respectable amount of time, taking in the history interested me and then some, a tale of talent and friendship informed me about Hanyang's Lute Pavilion. Yet again it did feel insanely weird to be in back in the city of Wuhan without my China bestie, Fiona! Of course, no basic energy would be brought into the mix, no way Wuhan! Hanyang, slay on!

Hanyang had the perfect formula for my comeback moment! Qin Tai seemed chilled, around the metro station it was nice and quiet, the usual Wuhan pandemonium was nowhere to be seen or even felt, it was truly refreshing to experience the city for the second time without loosing myself in some rage, those breakdowns were dead and gone! I had already seen a lot of Wuchang and Hankou, choosing to focus on Hanyang was the one, I planned to take my time but to keep those Wuhan goals in mind because the next day would be spent with a previous student from my kindergarten I worked at in the city. I had two more places to see during my Hanyang adventure, it was onto the next stop! The day was still young, I had seen so much up until that point. Guanggu served realness from the word go, need I say one more time that those Hot & Dry Noodles were out of this world! Keeping me on my toes from the very beginning, Wuhan City knew I had much more to see within that one day!


Joseph Harrison