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