23 June 2019

Guilin, China: Xingping's 20 RMB View & Yangshuo's West Street...

Guilin was surely the gift that kept on giving, the second visit to China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has pushed for three blog posts! 2019s Dragon Boat Festival allowed me to see a series of fascinating places, concluding the itinerary the 20 RMB view was on the cards for sure! My night would be in and around the crazy, in the heart of Yangshuo colourful centre. Go!

Mother Nature really knows how to through a spanner in the works, during my Yangshuo tour she did just that! The Guilin area had witnessed some really heavy rains, causing the waters to rise. I was supposed to take a raft along the Yulong River but seeing things from my then platform was good enough for me. My tour guide tried his very best to keep track of the local rafting companies to see if they had lifted the ban, things weren't meant to be but he helped me take a great photo of the 20 RMB view. The flowing river, towering karst mountains and the mysterious clouds gave me a winning view. The crowds made me mad, like me they wanted their own memorable photo of that 20 RMB view. Some people really needed to chill their lives out, they were going to get their amazing money-shot without pushing, shoving or just taking their sweet time. Of course I didn't lose sight, getting my photo was crucial X! 

Nearing the end of the tour, I had really been looking forward to the final stop of the day. Xingping Village was buzzing during that late afternoon, with the holiday taking its full force the crowds were growing progressively larger. My tour guide had all the right ideas, paying no mind to the people we made our way to a wonderful spot that was in front of a make shift photo line. Asserting ourselves we were able to take that winning photo of the 20 RMB view. In that moment it felt amazing to have captured my third money shot referring to the Chinese currency, securing the Potala Palace for the 50 RMB note and Hangzhou 1 RMB note on West Lake. With the 20 RMB note my third, it's given the motivation to captures the Great Hall of The People in Tiananmen Square for the 100 RMB note. Xingping's magnificent landscape and fast-flowing river impressed me much. All in all, the struggle to the front to secure that outstanding photo was well worth it! Let's remember its just a photo in the end!

With the tour completed, it was time for me to check-into my Yangshuo hotel and to witness the bright lights. My hotel was located right in the heart of the noise, thankfully the hotel room was nice and quiet because nobody has got time for dawn alarm calls without any sleep! No! Saying goodbye to my tour guide, I would be meeting the driver the following morning to reach the airport for my Beijing bound flight. Walking into the lights and the noise of Yangshuo's buzzing town centre felt bizarre, from one angle I could see the rolling mountains and in the other the crowds of people roamed around. I had heard about West Street, a foreign themed street with international foods and quirky bars but that evenings entertainment for me was going to be slightly different. Only two days away from pay day, my finances were only going to cover dinner and a drink. Would the night would be a challenge for me or not? No way sister!

The day had been long and that McDonalds breakfast and questionable lunch had well worn off by the evening time, I wanted something hearty! Choosing the German style restaurant that had the most delicious looking menu was the one for me! Choosing the sausage platter wasn't a difficult decision for me to make, plus the beers were huge and ice cold! The price tag was reasonable for the portion and type of food and of course the location was another contributing factor, anyhow it was a holiday weekend! I sat back, relaxed with my beer to begin with, the view was filled with a street of busy restaurants who were all trying to tout for business. Before I knew it my monstrous portion arrived, now in China potatoes might be plentiful and cheap but when out for food its always a blessing to have mashed and boiled potatoes for tea! Mind the potatoes, I was living for the gravy all up on that sausage combination! In food heaven, so I wasn't going to pull any tricks or drink too much.

Throughout the whole trip I had kept things cute, not going over my limit with the local beer or any crazy spirits and for that it felt good. Walking along the busy party streets that surrounded Yangshuo's West Street proved to be entertaining for many different reasons. The music bars had gorgeous gentlemen singers, playing guitar and singing live very well but their looks and dashing dress sense had me all distracted. The dusk brought the bars to live with their bright lights and neon signage, it was a good job funds were low because I might've got thirsty, very thirsty indeed! Leaving those energetic streets behind, I found a shop that sold the local Guilin beer. Taking a seat along the pavement in a way that didn't make me look like I was homeless, I enjoyed my beer and people watching. People watched me right back, they either got a smile or a sour face depending on their first glance. No, no I wasn't in a salty mood.

I decided to call it a night pretty early on, I left the noise as it was becoming louder and louder. Yangshuo showcased itself to me in a very energetic way, I appreciated my opportunity to spend one night within the madness but one night was enough. The whole day had been a very long one, it was time to rest before my early morning drive to Guilin's Lianjiang International Airport for my flight back to Beijing. Waking before the sun had risen, I had a right game finding my way in the darkness of the early morning but thankfully I found the meeting point. The whole trip had been amazing, up until that point things had gone like clockwork. Arriving at the airport with enough time to clear security and reach the gate felt like an utter relief. Little did I know I would be very lucky to take-off at all, the heavens reopened after the previous days glorious sunshine, thankfully I arrived back into Beijing's Capital International Airport ahead of the schedule. Guilin/Yangshuo, it was amazing!

Yass Yangshuo!

Joseph Harrison 

21 June 2019

Guilin, China: Xianggong Hill, The Yulong River & Fuli Village...

Meeting my guide early, it was time to make the short journey to Yangshuo. I was looking forward to see the greener pastures of the rice paddies and the karst mountains. It was definitely a day to remember for all the right reasons, getting to see the 20 RMB note backdrop was out of this world! Concluding with one night in and amongst Yangshuo's buzzing tourist honey pot.

Being an already scenic city, so it didn't take a long time for the landscape to morph into a paradise like view. As my car approached Guilin's Xianggong Hill the vistas were do die for, the glistening morning sunshine gave the rice fields and karst mountains such a heavenly glow. Arriving at Xianggong Hill filled me with a feeling of trepidation, I don't do well with heights so I was really glad the tour guide was going to walk to the top with me. I braved the way up to the top, it wasn't that bad compared to how I imagined it would have been. The views from the top were outstanding, I felt as if I was in another world. The winding river looked amazing, the cloudy vista added a sense of mystery. As with many beauty spots in China, people were going berserk to get a snap of the vista from the top of Xianggong Hill. One individual believed they were better looking than the views, in response I took my own sweet time. No!

The views were outstanding, I won't ever forget those breathtaking sights. It had been a dream to visit Xianggong Hill to capture that iconic Guilin view. No matter how much money a trip costs, if I can see something that was so gorgeous makes every single penny of that price. I didn't spend much time at the top because the itinerary was quite full packed, the growing amount of people making their way to the top also influenced that decision. If truth be told the height wasn't too bad, I saw what I had wanted to see during that Xianggong Hill moment. I'll never forget that gorgeous encounter. Making the way back down didn't take long at all, with the air conditioning on full in the car it was a moment of relief because the sun was really started to beam down some serious heat! So far the morning had showcased some stellar views, with my informative tour guide the conversation was good. We made our way to the banks of the Yulong River in the heart of Guilin's Yangshuo County.

Arriving at the Secret Garden for lunch made me feel like I was in a very touristy environment, the prices certainly weren't local but the break from the hot weather was much needed. Timings were perfect, things continued ahead as planned. Hiring some bikes allowed myself and the tour guide to ride alongside the rice paddies and the fast moving Yulong River. The landscape was truly spectacular, it was amazing to see the rice paddies as I peddled past, to witness the farmers at work was one for the books! Stopping for a little breather, I managed to see a water buffalo cooling off in a pool of water. Sharing some photos and short videos with my students via the  class group allowed them to enjoy the experience with me and to learn some English during a holiday weekend! The bike ride was lovely, it gave me the chance to take a series of breathtaking photos. So, with that breeze I got burnt, but thankfully it's tanned now!

How was this trip compared with my initial Guilin tour experience that I took during 2016s Labor Day holiday weekend? Choosing China Highlights for the first time I experienced an amazing day seeing two extraordinary sights within the Longsheng Country within Guilin's vast city region. The Long-Haired Ladies in the Huangluo Village, with their Rapunzel-like nature they showcased their jet black shiny hair for a rather intrigued audience of people to witness. They didn't speak China's  Putong Hua (Mandarin) because they had their own minority language. Moving on from one spectacle to another I ticked off an amazing feat, I found the courage to walk round the sweeping and very steep rice terraces also in Longsheng County. The misty skies and the glistening water in the rice paddies served a very special and breathtaking view for me, recognising the 'leaping tiger' pose in the paddies I was speechless! For differing reasons both trips gave me magical moments all the same!

As amazing as the bike ride was, I did feel a little battered by the sun. Arriving in Fuli's Ancient Village allowed me to turn the hands of time back to a simpler period. Stopping at a local fan making workshop opened my eyes into the crafting of Chinese paper fans. Taking some time to see the work that went into making the fans astounded me, the process and attention that the husband and wife team applied to their trade was amazing to see. I was able to try my own hand at making a fan, it wasn't as beautiful compared with the original designs but the experience counted for something. It felt so organic to see the semi-circular paper designs that were drying outside the workshop. I saw the folding of the paper and the inserting of the wooden handles. I totally fell in love with the look of the cherry blossom painted fans, asking for the price I simply had to  spend! Yes, the whole lesson was worthwhile!

The feel of Fuli's ancient village alleys and side streets gave me life, the old workshops really gave me a sense as to how the local area survived with their trades. Most of all the fan workshop really impressed me, it gave me a sense deeper into Chinese culture and history. That fan will help me cool down during the summertime. The day so far had been memorable for all the right reasons, I was really feeling the heat though. From Xianggong Hill to the bike ride, the mornings and early afternoons activities really set the tone for the tour, it was serving everything as promised, money very well spent! The feeling was right, I was so right to choose to return to Guilin, everything was meant to be. If the truth must be told, this blog was going to be the final Guilin post covering my latest trip but with the sheer amount of things seen I need to make a third! I still need to cover my time at the 20 RMB view within the village of Xingping and the buzz of Yangshuo's West Street! Blessed!

Karst Mountain Realness!

Joseph Harrison 

13 June 2019

Back To The Beginning... Guilin, China!

Going back to Guilin felt like a natural thing, with every city that I revisit there's always a purpose for the visit. Arriving before my Yangshuo trip into Guilin's new Terminal 2 allowed me to see the progression had taken place in that Guangxi Zhuang City. Being back in a slow paced city gave me life, people didn't stare because backpackers were everywhere! Yes, G!

Sitting on the window ledge at the boarding area, I waited for my China Southern flight to find the boarding gate at Terminal 2 of Beijing's Capital International Airport. Clearing security and the rest of it was like second nature, the time before that I flew it was to DPRK's Pyongyang, things felt more chilled. A little late my flight pulled into the gate and connected to the jet-bridge, those frantic individuals didn't lose any time to line up! Not worrying about anything, I boarded at my own pace with the knowledge that I was on my back to Guilin after a three year hiatus. I had some seriously beautiful sights to see, no delayed flights would have be appreciated that afternoon! Yes, I was so good that time around because I ate before reaching the departure lounge, saving those pennies where necessary had to be done during that pre-pay day trip! Taking to the skies, I got talking to a Russian couple who were sitting next to me. 

Touching down fifteen minutes early into Guilin's LiangJiang International Airport was a relief, things were looking rather different compared with my 2016 arrival. Not paying any mind to those airport taxis, I took the bus from the airport to a city centre location. I was prepared to use Chinese because here in Beijing not a lot of people can speak foreign languages, to my surprise one of the airport workers approached me to ask if I required any help, I wasn't ready for that! As my airport bus made its way closer to Guilin's City centre, I recognised quite a lot from the streets with not many changes it was great to see a familiar place. Arriving at my destination wasn't difficult because this time around I had my iPhone with Apple Maps fired up, directing me over three intersections I found my hotel without any major hitches. As if my luck, those higher pavements smashed one of the wheels of my suitcase! My weekend was in full motion, it was time to relax before my Yangshuo tour. Go!

When in a new city it's always good to play a few old tricks, I'll leave those to your imaginations. Fresh on the street I took some time out with a local beer on the main street that was opposite Guilin Railway Station. Guilin's chilled vibe sorted me out, with each sip of that cold local beer, the insanity of my Beijing situation melted away. I wasn't tolerating any nonsense during that moment, don't even think about! The vibe of Guilin's City centre put me at ease, people weren't fazed by foreigners, that alone told me something that a possible move westwards wouldn't be a bad thing at all! The day so far had been textbook, nothing had gone pear-shaped. As dusk turned into evening it was lovely to see things looking the same but with a smattering of progression in the air, things were just nice in Guilin that evening. Third time won't happen but I was feeling accomplished how life had found me back in Guilin. Yes, blessed!

Planning my comeback trip to Guilin took a long time, not entirely but it was finding the right time to visit Yangshuo. I would have visited it during my first trip but time didn't permit that Yangshuo extension, I was going to have to wait for that 'ish! Contacting China Highlights once again, they advised me that during summer would be the best time to visit the Yangshuo area to get the best of the weather. Choosing the one day tour from Guilin was for me, choosing to stay in Yangshuo for the evening was made possible by the arrangement with China Highlights and Trippest. Paying my balance up, securing rooms and bagging flights within the right time period, the tour became a reality! The weather the previous day had been bad, rain had battered the region and forced rivers to rise. I was intoxicated by the chilled vibe by Guilin's calm city streets and the beer also helped quash any feelings of apprehension about the weather in Yangshuo. No, not lying Guilin sure had me in a trance!

So, as the evening approached it was almost time for to meet my tour advisor and new friend from China Highlights, Fiona. From the first trip that I had booked with CH, I have been in contact with Fiona. A lady who has helped me secure my previous China Highlights trips, making them a reality with amazing customer service and very convenient payment methods by using WeChat. Meeting on the same road that I was, her taxi was fast approaching to pick me up. After meeting we arrived at a famous duck hotpot restaurant, now I don't like hotpot but that duck extravaganza served us every part of the duck! To be honest, certain parts of the duck actually tasted really good! The conversation flowed and for certain parts about Beijing communication made me feel at ease, not everyone in this country has such a sour view towards foreigners. It was going to be one of those quieter evenings, that was all good for me.

Things had gone pretty well, things were about to change in old Guilin! Being Guilin, I was prepared for some serious rainfall, so when the heavens opened I was on the run for the hotel! Dodging that torrential downpour had to be done, I wasn't going to let that stop my sampling of local brews. The hour wasn't too late and their were plenty places that sold beer on the way back to my Green Tree Hotel, it was fine! Making it back to the hotel was a shear relief, the day had gone smooth, from taking off from Beijing to finally meeting Fiona in person. I was ready to recharge before the long day that faced me the next day. Guilin will forever be a city that stays as one of my firm favourites, it still possessed a city scenic feel and for that I entertained that Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region City for certain! I stick firm to my recent declaration, it was blessed to return for the second time but that's it! No shade, it's all love because this Middle Kingdom nation has soo much to see! Guilin, I love you!

Genuine Guilin

Joseph Harrison 

1 June 2019

Sunday's Service... Shijiazhuang, China!

Shijiazhuang had already surprised me by its small city provincial feeling, teamed with its concrete style and communist sights I enjoyed my first full day in that Hebei City. For that Sunday I wanted to see a respectable amount of places before my Beijing bound train headed for home. Truly, Shijiazhuang's Chang'an Park challenged my Chinese skills that Sunday morning! 

That Sunday morning had me feeling delicate, the wine from the previous nights Eurovision marathon didn't leave me feeling good. It was a weekend away for me, I didn't think of it as a big deal! Nevertheless, I checked out of my hotel and headed for some much needed KFC breakfast! Clutching my coffee I made my way closer to Shijiazhuang's Chang'an Park to see what was going on that Sunday morning. Finding my way into the park was fine, I had my Apple Maps to show me the way. Things were pretty lively, people were out in their droves and with it being a Sunday most people were off work, justifying the crowds. With the previous nights beverages feeling like a big mistake, the morning's air felt so humid, like really humid! Taking some videos of the park for my students had to be done, we were learning about musical instruments, hearing several saxophone's playing gave them a Sunday lesson! Tks, SJZ!

After finding a rock to sit on for a moment or two, I was surrounded by local people who just wanted to talk about everything and anything! Beijing's less international environment has taught me that speaking Chinese is more than necessary. Being able to answer their questions felt good, they were so interested as to why I was working in China, deep down they were just curious and for that I wasn't going to dismiss them. It was a rare moment that reminded me that China has a lot of good people, people that are curious about foreigners and it's not all about those who aren't satisfied with our salaries. I enjoyed that moment of celebrity, being the only foreigner within that vicinity caused a slight commotion but I was more than accepting with what was going on. If truth be told, the heat and the distractions allowed my hangover to evaporate conveniently! Feeling content with my visit to the part I was ready to move onto the next phase of my Shijiazhuang Sunday! 

Taking the expanding and relatively new Shijiazhuang Metro a few stops away from the Bei Guo Business District part of town, I found myself outside of the Hebei Provincial Museum. I wasn't expecting much, making the most of the free admission I found some interesting exhibits about China's Inner Mongolian culture. I have a trip planned to China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in July, the knowledge and vivid images got me excited for my trip for sure! The museum itself was really quiet, giving me the chance to browse around the different pieces. I liked the Beijing Opera section, the elaborate make up and colourful dress impressed me much. Blending in with the monthly theme at school once again, I was able to ask the children what musical instruments that they could see through the photos I posted in the class group on WeChat. I always try to bring the learning outside of the classroom, oh it helps out!

Taking a moment to think about things, from leaving school on Friday afternoon till that Sunday mid-morning time, the weekend spent in Shijiazhuang had been jammed packed considering I didn't have buckets full of time on my hands. The previous day had been nice with the planned excursion to XiBaiPo but the randomness of the Sunday gave me more life, it was nice to not follow an itinerary in one way. Keeping a sense of spontaneity to my Sunday, I definitely think that embracing the local vibe of the park was the right move to make for certain. Aside from the park frenzy, it was crazy to feel like the only foreigner in the city, Beijing felt like a long way from that moment even though the high speed rail links the Mainland's capital with Shijiazhuang in less than 90 minutes. After paying a little more attention to the museum, I made my way to the final Hebei City point of interest. Tracking down a taxi through my DiDi app, I had one more place set in my sights. Sunday served!

Ending up at Shijiazhuang's Rong Mansion happened to be the wildcard option to add three places visited during my Sunday service. Not the most historic looking of places but it was quiet and the renovated old style looked just as it always does. I took my time to walk around the different sections, it wasn't spectacular but I was seeing something nonetheless! I'm not looking down on Rong Mansion, the immediate area was supposed to be an ancient town but looked fresher than I do without a hangover. I didn't expect much, in that way I wasn't disappointed in the slightest. I had gone out of my way to see six places over two days in a city that's not famous for tourism on an international level, every sight was an achievement. As the working week loomed, heading back into the city centre was the one, my train would be departing sooner rather than later. Rong Mansion wasn't a fail, it represented its own story, all good!

Heading back towards the Hebei Provincial Museum allowed me to connect with the metro system, linking back a direct route to the train station afforded me with plenty of time to eat before my train. Like a sniper out of nowhere that wine came back to haunt me, McDonalds was there to help me out! Minding my own business I was, a guy approached me with this box and his phone, the box turned out to be his product and his phone was meant for a photo he asked me for to advertise his product. I kindly declined because my Caucasian looks weren't going to be promoting his kit, I had my brand as a teacher to think about! Departing on time from Shijiazhuang Railway Station allowed me to make my marathon subway journey from Beijing West Railway Station before it got late. The weekend had been one massive success, considering the original trip had to be cancelled I had not done badly second time around. That weekend sejour inspired me to plan a weekender to Taiyuan, Shanxi!

Hebei Done!

Joseph Harrison

31 May 2019

Let's Introduce... Shijiazhuang, China!

Life stopped me from going to Shijiazhuang first time round, due to illness I had to cancel my Labour Day weekend trip but two weekends later I boarded the right high speed train. Embracing a city that wasn't famous for international tourism was the gamble I wanted to take! After using my Chinese skills, I truly felt part of Chinese life! I so lived for that concrete jungle!

Plagued by horrendous levels of pollution, Hebei's provincial city isn't one of the top ten places to visit in China by mainstream standards. Infamous for its many concrete towers and high-rise residential buildings, I felt there was a connection with a familiar looking council estate setting in England. Shijiazhuang was giving me all kinds of 'concrete jungle realness!' Endorsing this underdog city was the only good thing to do! Arriving the night before to the city's main railway station felt like a mission accomplished due to the original trip having to be postponed due to a mysterious illness that struck me before the Labour Day weekend. I had never missed a holiday until that point, thankfully with being in Beijing it was easy to plan a future trip to SJZ two weekends later due to the close proximity from the high speed train network with a train from Beijing West Railway Station. Trust, I sure made the most of Hebei's SJZ! 

After leaving work bang-on the clock, I made my way to my local metro station to take the three transfers to reach Beijing's West Railway Station. Dodging the taxi touters in the main pick up point at the train station happened for sure, finding my way out to street level felt like relief because it was like a darkened rabbit warren. Catching a DiDi taxi to the city's Bei Guo area, the city itself looked like a huge construction site with the banners advertising new developments. My hotel check-in was fine, if truth be told it was a good job my Chinese skills were on-point because the staff didn't know a stitch of any other language. Choosing a centrally located hotel had to be done, not being a famous city allowed me to try something more comfortable for the weekend. Rising early the next morning I unknowingly found a rather concrete panoramic view of the city of Shijiazhuang on my way out. Without any expectations, I kept an open mind to give Shijiazhuang the chance it deserved.

So, everybody should know that China leans on the Communist side when it comes to the Middle Kingdom's party core values. After doing some pre-trip research for Shijiazhuang I found Xibaipo Village as a firm contender. Used as the former headquarters of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. No, I'm not a fan of communism but there's still some series love for the 'red' way of life in modern China. Taking a private return car trip from my hotel to this Pingshan County 'red' model village had to be done, I had booked a Chinese coach tour but after coming to my senses I asked my friend and travel advisor from a reputable China travel company to help me book a car with ease. The sheer hysteria of Xibaipo amazed me, such places don't exist in England and for that reason it felt like a good thing. I navigated my way onto a fast moving trolley bus that kickstarted my communist fuelled morning.

The area surrounding the former residence of Chairman Mao Zedong had a line of excited spectators, same like the line for the Princess 'meet and greet' does at World Disney's Magic Kingdom does in the USA! I was staggered to see soo may young people, more over they were so excited and enthused by the whole communist movement and the whole reason that Xibaipo stood as a memorial. I was stopped by a reporter who spoke impeccable English, being the only foreigner for a good ten miles helped me stick out like a pink plaster in the snow. I told the reporter that certain elements of that location didn't symbol a modern future, having lived in China for a few years that certain practices haven't exactly made space for China's LGBT community. The exhibits around the memorial hall oozed perfect patriotism, more importantly if someone wanted a selfie it was going to cost them a fee! If truth be told, the whole visit was bizarre but throughly interesting all at the same time! Yes!

Arriving back at the hotel left me with some time to kill, using some of it however the heavens I felt using it! Going for a wander had to be done, checking out the nearby Lerthai Center that was attached to my hotel provided some chill and retail therapy. I cannot pack clothes for toffee and the room didn't have an iron, let's just say Uniqlo saved the day for that momentary fashion fixer. Spending sometime that allowed me to chill out with a bubble tea whilst watching the local young'uns walk past. Let's just say the talent in Shijiazhuang proved themselves well. That afternoon was really nice, work as usual had been berserk and after being off sick it had felt like the last few weeks had been mayhem and then some! No bars or clubs were needed that weekend, checking out Carrefour secured the evenings beverages at a much cheaper price. Burger King for tea, I wasn't worried about proper food that weekend!

Returning back to the hotel for the night, I kicked back with some YouTube to watch the grand final of 2019s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, Israel. Relaxing into that evening of wine, chocolate and Eurovision was the medicine that I needed whilst in Shijiazhuang! I didn't want a storming hangover the next day, maybe a headache would be acceptable but I was in no mood to frequent any nightclubs that Saturday night! For a city that supposedly had nothing to see, Shijiazhuang showed me things that I enjoyed. To be greeted with a new city shared concrete vibes like at home was nice to see, amongst other happenings that wouldn't be appropriate for me to mention. It was bizarre to witness the 'red' communist hysteria at Xibaipo that gave me a deeper insight into peoples modern day devotion. Shijiazhuang gave me a moment of space, it wasn't a huge city and it wasn't Beijing. I really need to make more weekend trips like I did to Shijiazhuang! Now Taiyuan and Pingyao are on the cards!

Shijiazhuang Saved!

Joseph Harrison 

27 May 2019

Dare To Dream... Eurovision Song Contest: Tel Aviv 2019

2019s Eurovision Song Contest Grand Final touched down in style, Netta landed her own jumbo jet and Dana International brought back 'Diva!' After a hiatus I decided to watch this grand final after I discovered Netta's winning song for Israel, 'Toy' reignited my Eurovision passion! Tel Aviv showcased its many tourism sights, previous competitors and brought us Madonna!

It had been a few years since I last indulged in the campery and political in-correctness of the Eurovision Song Contest until I found out who won the 2018 grand final in Lisbon, Portugal! Netta's show-stopping hit had me hooked back onto Eurovision and funnily enough I was contemplating Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as my summer holiday choices! As momentum grew, the evening arrived for the grand final but being in China meant I had to watch after finding out what entry won, nevertheless the blessing that's 'YouTube' definitely helped me out! 2016s contest in Stockholm, Sweden had been my last dabble with Eurovision, but since the show isn't broadcasted in China nor I don't have a television. Netta's powerful and catchy beats brought me back into the ESC fold, bringing some kitsch and crazy Eurovision culture back into my life and yes those gimmicks! Yes, I expected the political statements and the UK finishing last! Come on, UK!

I didn't watch the semi final shows but I managed to catch a glimpse of Dana International's tribute to Tel Aviv's show and Netta's amped up version of her winning song, both performers brought their own Eurovision flare! A few days later after the final had initially aired, I waited patiently for  the full version to become available on 'YouTube'. Touching down into the Tel Aviv Expo, Netta brought in a plane full of participants for the grand final. The beginning of the show signified the tone of the event, Israel was cleverly marketed throughout, its prime beauty spots were showcased in such effortless ways their tourism campaign was on point! The best thing about Eurovision for me is that its a show without room for prejudice, embracing the fabulous and crazy sides of music today! I'm a lover of flags and especially the rainbow flag could be seen in the audience, flying for Europe to show the world that we own the Eurovision Song Contest! I'm never taking another hiatus again! No, no!

Malta kicked off the show with their colour changing 'Chameleon' number that exuded the sound of todays modern pop music. I was perplexed by Albania's dramatic performance, it wasn't my cup of tea or coffee. Whereas, Czech Republic's Lake Malawi bounced around with their 'Friend of a friend of a friend' catchy beat! Germany's sister style duo was definitely a live vocal, it really wasn't my Eurovision vibe. Russia's masculine talent posed as some serious 'eye candy', good song and use of LED screens but looks won that performance for me! Jean Paul Gautier was in the house! Denmark's call to not get 'too political' sent me to sleep. San Marino was a 'Na Na' no! North Macedonia's debut entry sine their 'FYR' days, it was a powerful performance, I couldn't help thinking it had a few shady remarks towards their neighbour, Greece? Usually upbeat, Sweden's song was soulful, for that it did the IKEA nation proud!

Slovenia's strange electro sounding entry freaked me out slightly! Far from their usual Cyrpiot beat, Cyprus brought a fresh and current flavour with their 'Replay' banger! The Netherlands left behind the usual catchy beats and the all important Eurovision in-place of a striped back 'Adele' sounding entry, it was a winning effort! The UK served once of its best live vocals in a long while! With a heavy musical tone, Israel turned up the 'gimmick' of being the host nations entry, it was dramatic in all right places with lyrics to match. 'Keiino' of Norway turned it up with a lovely Euro-beat tune, giving off vibes of Aqua crossed with a mix of Swedish House Mafia! Iceland's insane leather clad rock gig gave me life! France's bilingual equality anthem made my heart sing, it was such a lovely moment to see Bilal live his truth and slay the competition for the true Eurovision audience! I loved Italy's clap-back rap! Albeit a few dud entries, my favourites had to be Norway, France & Malta!

The interval kicked in with a big change, Conchita Wurst entered the stage but she was a little bit dressed down! Switching up songs Wurst took a chance on Sweden's 'Heroes' by 'Mans Zelmerlöw'. A few other switched up songs were performed until a Eurovision favourite of mine returned to the stage, Verka Serduchka! Ukraine's previous entrant smashed 'Netta's' own song 'Toy', it was by far the best choice! Gali Atari who won the competition in 1979 in Israel for Israel brought the entrants together with her song, 'Hallelujah'. Madonna, the Queen of Pop made a short appearance! Music truly makes the people together, yeah! Taking things towards a more Arabic feel, Israel's own 'Idan Raichel Project' conducted such beautiful performance, consisting of live vocals and full orchestra. My reasons for choosing Israel for my 2020 summer holiday were definitely cemented after hearing such lovely music! לך, ישראל! Go!

Netta had performed her winning hit 'Toy' during the open of the competition's second semi-finals, returning to the stage dressed in a striking yellow fluffy dress to serve it up! Killing the competition, she oozed empowerment and with her no-holds attitude I loved everything about 'Nana Banana!' Being an event that attracts a rather fabulous audience, we sat with baited breathe for the 'Queen of Pop' to make her Eurovision Song Contest debut! Rising from a dark part of the stage, Madonna brought back 'Like A Prayer' for us all to relive it for the 30th anniversary since its release! Quavo joined her for their duet, 'Future' where Madonna used lots of vocal trickery but I still loved the two songs that she performed. She might not be the best singer but she always puts on one hell of a show! It was time for the winner, revealing that the Eurovision gimmick might be a thing of the past proved that the Netherlands snatched the trophy! Vengaboys for the Dutch Eurovision interval in 2020?

Thank You, Europe!

Joseph Harrison

19 May 2019

Beijing's Qianmen Street & Hutong's...

The last time was no joke, getting it together was the only thing to be done! Venturing back into the city was the medicine that I needed, getting myself situated before the cabin fever took over! Not blaming it on the booze for once, I boarded that Line 15 train into Beijing's urban core. Going back to the beginning, I wanted to get things done my way! Yes, Qianmen! Go, B!

As mentioned before it was no joke the first time when I visited Qianmen Pedestrian Street in Beijing's Dongcheng District. I had some unwanted and rather annoying baggage with me the first time, I was not going to play during that second visit because my days out at the weekend are cherished. Taking the Beijing Subway from Houshayu to Zhushikou caused no problems albeit the two changes I had to make. Retracing those original steps, my feet were firmly back on  Beijing's famous Qianmen Street. Fortunately, the pollution had disappeared that weekend but with blue skies in Beijing it meant that the winds were pretty fierce! Back to the street, during my first visit I wasn't under any illusion that a large part of that former historic street had been either renovated or rebuilt, things just looked a tad too modern! Nevertheless, I saw a few older looking shopfronts along Beijing's Qianmen Pedestrian Street. Chill, Beij!

During the second visit I was able to walk at my own pace, being able to do just that allowed me to see things closer. Between the old and new stood a huge contrast, with traditional Beijing style windows and other features to the more than obvious new brickwork that could be seen in a rather unsubtle fashion. I am used to the mass renovations that Beijing has committed to its many main attractions, looking past those modern mistakes I was able to appreciate the China Post building and such places that have been captured above in the photo. No, I didn't eat any Beijing Duck that Sunday afternoon, quite frankly those tourist prices don't impress me much! If the truth be told the street was very easy to navigate, it was insane to see so many walking Chinese tour groups! As if I lowered myself to eat KFC during my first visit, I really need to try some more Beijing food but the whole scene gave me too much of a tourist vibe. Yes, Beijing had a funny way of showcasing itself to me!

If truth be told, I really loved the sight that's been captured in the photo to the right hand side. The weather had cleared up and the winds had calmed down by the time I had almost reached the top of Qianmen Street. The revamped street car was in view with the main Chinese style arch in the frame, taking centre stage. In the far distance of the view stood the Archery Tower of Qianmen, apologises to Beijing's history but I didn't have a single clue what the tower was called or its relevance was to the city! I need to do my homework! So, the Qianmen Gate served as the southern city gate of Beijing during the Qing and Ming Dynasties, boasting over six hundred years of history for this Chinese capital city. Continuing to take things at my own pace, I took as many or as little photos because it was all about me, myself and I! Choosing a Sunday, I know that Sunday's will be my fundays for sightseeing! 北京, 没有星期六!

During the first visit I had chosen to visit on a Saturday dinner time, now that was a mistake of epic proportion due to the crowds that filled the nearby Dashilan Commercial Street. Famous for its welcoming sign, it was another first sights for me to accomplish whilst living in Beijing but the buzz was enough to endure after a few minutes, knowing better the second time I made a route recalculation! I never expected to end up in a quiet Hutong alley considering the noise lay two second's away from that unassuming Beijing spot. The first visit was a lesson, only take days out with people who don't complain like a spoiled child does! Realising they there was more to see in and around the many sprawling Hutong's in around Qianmen's Dashilan area I did my research to find somewhere interesting for the second visit. All in all, I was extremely happy with my snatched view of the street car and the rest of another picture postcard view within the city of Beijing, China! Get it, get it!

My research took me to Soloist Coffee Co. Set along a lovely looking alley style road that had  aged and partially restored houses, businesses and some derelict spots that looked perfect for the surroundings. Getting myself a salmon bagel and a posh coffee to match, I took a seat within the rooftop area of the coffeeshop, the view was quaint, no crowds could be seen, it almost felt like I had the best view from above the rooftops. Sipping my coffee during that Sunday afternoon relaxed moment allowed me to overhear a conversation going on at the next table, the ladies sounded like were from Singapore? They surprised me at first as they were speaking clear fluent English, that always gets me because ironically I speak more Chinese when I am out and about in Beijing, things aren't so international in the big bad city after all! Anyhow, I loved the surroundings and the overall feel of the Soloist Coffee Co. A result, B!

Realising work beckoned the next day, I boarded my first subway train at Qianmen Station along Line 2, changing twice more to reach Wangjing with Line 15 to take me back home to Houshayu Station! The day second time round had been well worth it compared to the first time, I had my bearings and most importantly I called all the shots, visiting the places I wanted to without any complaints or drama! I am glad that I have done Qianmen, next I am looking at visiting Beijing's showcase Tiananmen Square during the summer months. My coffee and bagel were lovely, the backdrop was also lovely and the conversations going on were ones I could full understand for once! Beijing has been in my life for eighteen months now and for that I feel I have seen a respectable amount of sights for that time but its time to pick up the pace now! Dashilan wasn't what I expected it to have been, but I was able to find something less tacky, rightly so! Beijing, just get your English together now!

Qianmen Done!

Joseph Harrison 

9 May 2019

18 Months in Beijing, China...

Beijing life has been eventful, from work to travel its been another busy six months in the country's capital city! From teaching my students about Christmas traditions in both northern and southern hemisphere's to visiting one of the world's most secretive nations, North Korea! Spring has come round, I could finally enjoy my weekends this year! It's been eventful! Yes, B! 

November at school allowed me to teach the children about the Indian holiday of Diwali, through our discoveries it readied them for my upcoming trip to the Indian sub-continent in December 2018. They were so excited, it was almost like they were going to be part of my trip! Through the first two weeks we looked at Christmas cultural traditions in both the northern and southern hemisphere's. The children really grasped the concept that both Australian and British Christmas festivities lead to very different but fun paths nonetheless. Away from the classroom I boarded my flight to New Delhi via Guangzhou with China Southern Airlines. I was about to spend six days in and around New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur with a day trip to see the Ganges River. It was great to be spreading my travel wings to another Asian destination outside of China so soon after getting back from Seoul, South Korea. Blessed to the max! 

Arriving into India was like no other, it gave me the same panicky feelings that I had when I arrived in China for the first time! Not knowing what to expect I was bowled over by the sheer craziness and the pulsating vibe of the streets near my hotel. New Delhi was amazing, keeping me on my toes I took a taxi tour! Gandhi's House was so chilled and sobering and Huyamun's Tomb served elegance in the round. My tour to Agra and Jaipur brought many surprises but I was prepared for mishaps because India wasn't on the level compared to other Asian countries. Getting back to Delhi gave me some comfort, exploring the streets by my hotel allowed me to find the best Butter Chicken ever! Chadni Chowk Market hooked me up with one years supply of incense sticks for the win! Rolling on the river, no trip to India wasn't going to finish without having the Ganges as a part of it! India was cool but it was time for me to fly to Birmingham for Christmas week, there was a lot of flying during that holiday!

January was all about working, it was nice to revisit the twelve Chinese zodiac's in-preparation for the then upcoming new year. School broke up in February 2019 for the Chinese New Year holiday, after finishing my language materials before the end of the semester I attended my pre-tour briefing before flying into one of the world's most secretive countries, North Korea! Choosing Young Pioneer Tours worked out amazingly, arriving before the CNY holiday into Pyongyang kickstarted my epic DPRK experience! Seeing the city from one perspective was a mind-blowing experience that I won't ever forget! The showcase capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea definitely showed me that its southern sister city, Seoul both currently stand as polar opposites! Pyongyang Noodles weren't my thing but the Pyongyang Soju went down a treat with any kind of juice from the bar! Oh, those hangovers were bad! 

Pyongyang wasn't the only city that I saw during my DPRK Spring Festival tour, going on a desolate motorway took us to Kaesong. Staring South Korea in the face at the DMZ was something else for me to process, eating dog meat soup at a restaurant in the same city put me out of my foodie depths! Sariwon provided us with a hearty climb to the top of a mountain park viewpoint, the mix between concrete and Korean architecture was a treat to witness with our own eyes. Leaving the capital I was able to experience Sinuiju, the Korean border city with the Yalu River that separates the DPRK with China. Crossing back over to a life in China with phone signal gave me life, exploring Dandong for the last day of my CNY 2019 allowed me to see the North Korean border from the security of China's mainland. Due to the craziness of the trip I spent the rest of the holiday at home in Beijing, that transitional time was much needed! Thank goodness that March was a busy month!

The month of March was all about work, it was nice to slip into April with a little long weekend off work. Taking a high speed train from Beijing to Nanjing had me up in my feelings, that fellow passenger needed to get some manners! Reuniting with Chris after talking for an age over social media, we had finally met in person both as promised in Nanjing, China. Reliving my previous first time trip to Nanjing happened without warning, Chris happened to live in the next street by where I got horrendously lost with a pizza in hand! Going to a Korean Spa allowed me to realise the body I am in is the right one for me, it was a life-affirming moment in that distracting Spa environment. Getting ready, we scanned some bikes to find a secret whisky bar that the boys had told me all about. Concluding the first day with some drinks in Catherine Park, after the early start it was time for a well needed rest! Nanjing had more to enjoy!

The weekend was a scream from start to finish, we saw a killer view of the city from an ancient tower. Taking things slow, we thought it would be good to find some local Nanjing food at the tower that housed the InterContinental Nanjing, taking our number in the line from the restaurant we got situated at the top of the tower in the SkyBar with a bottle of bubbles opened! Leaving those original reservations behind, we bought another bottle to toast the young successes of that Nanjing reunion trip, we had big plans for the night ahead! Dining out on the finest McDonalds fare, eyeing the talent as they also made their fast food purchases, that Nanjing mister was looking more than fine with his real leather bag. I went to the trouble of searching for it on Taobao, it was lovely! When the nighttime arrived we got crazy at a local bar that was a trifle difficult to find, it was a boozy night for certain! Making it back to Beijing I wasn't ready for the next day to be Monday again! No, no, no!

April brought two brilliant Saturday's out that both ended with head-splitting hangovers on the Sunday! Bringing Beijing's 'Haus of Lily' together at 'Home Plate' in Sanlitun for their 'Mardi Gras' themed drag brunch was an event not to be missed! It was camp and kitsch from the word go, I was so shocked to see such fabulousness going on in the city that keeps China's conservative ways alive. Through the lip-syncing and the booze it was an amazing time had by all, well I had a brilliant time seeing the queens give life with their performances. Getting home that day I wasn't content with my consumption of dancing juice, going back to my then usual haunts had to be done after the sequins and campery of that Saturday afternoon drag brunch! How the headache hurt, but it was an amazing Saturday without any regrets! If truth be told, Beijing's rainbow scene is growing fast! Beijing brought the house down! DOWN!  

Showing my support to two friends that I have met in Beijing was a big part of the following Saturday in April 2019. Getting my ticket to Beijing's 2019 Black Expo had to be done, I had some love to show! Both colleagues from my company, both friends expressed themselves very differently with their talents, bringing unique things to the event. My friend Chanel was busy baking at her 'Suga Mama' stand, going in for an infused cupcake had to be done, oh and some cookies later on! That apple pie was on order for sure! Yes, I will always support 'Suga Mama's' magic! Liz expressed herself through pure poetry, standing up at the mic, she proclaimed her words about the girl with the 'baloney curls' with much passion! Spending my money up, I bought some ground Ethiopian coffee that helped very much the next day and some natural Shea Butter. Seriously speaking, I learned some very valuable lessons during my eighteenth month period in Beijing! To be present means the most! 

May, GTFO!

Joseph Harrison 

30 April 2019

2016-2019: China's Tomb Sweeping Festival

Sweeping tombs I most certainly haven't been doing, from 2016 to present its been a regular holiday weekend spent away from working. From my visit to Changsha in 2016 to my recent second visit to Nanjing in 2019, this Chinese public holiday has allowed me to make memories. With West Lake, tea plantations and a lovely temple, Hangzhou was the most beautiful trip! 

Winding the hands of time back to April 2016, I stood waiting for my then friend Andy. He had invited me to spend the holiday weekend in his home city of Changsha in Hunan Province. Coming from Wuhan I was expecting to see a city that was on the same second tier status, I saw exactly that during that Tomb Sweeping time. I had no expectations, allowing my friend Andy to take care of the sightseeing arrangements. Arriving at Changsha South Railway Station, the journey from Wuhan Railway Station hadn't taken very long, taking the subway to find my friend had to be done. After dropping my bags at Andy's we headed for Orange Isle Park. With a huge stone statute of Mao Zedong's head it caused the same hysteria that Cinderella's Castle does at Walt Disney Word in Orlando, USA! I couldn't see what the fuss was all about, but it was an experience to see such devotion. I was open for whatever the weekend would bring.

Breakfast brought us some Hunan Rice Noodles, they were really tasty and the setting caused some attention, two children said in Chinese that they could see an alien. I am most certainly not an alien but to those children I was definitely the only 'Waiguoren' in sight! After breakfast we made a swift visit to Changsha's Tianxin Pavilion, it was a dreary morning with rain forecast for that afternoon. Even though the weather threatened to rain on our parade, it was interesting to see a rather concrete looking cityscape that had tonnes of visible construction works going on. Huogong Palace had such a vile smell, it wasn't anything sinister, however the foul smelling 'stinky tofu' really packed a punch! Getting caught in the rain big time, we decided to get some bits from a local supermarket for the evening ahead, ditching our plans we had dinner at Andy's place, we watched a film as the weather deteriorated. Yes, Changsha was nice, it was a nice weekend away from the buzz of Wuhan!

Tomb Sweeping Festival just kept getting better, leaving Changsha for 2016 I traded it for Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Booking my second China Highlights tour after the successes I experienced in Guilin the previous year. Landing without any hitches, I found myself checking into my hotel with the staff freaking out over my visa! They needed to chill because I've always been legal! After biking along the busy streets of Hangzhou I caught a rather crowded bus to the Fei Lai Grottoes and the nearby Lingyin Temple. The grottoes were lovely, finding that yellow temple impressed me much with its pint-sized environment, it was busily chilled. Hangzhou was a buzz with people in every single direction, the spring weekend had everyone out in their droves! Wulin Square showed me nice light and water show during that evening, within that city square the security presence was quite impressive! Hangzhou was sure on fire!

The next day started early, meeting my tour guide and the driver allowed me to begin my private tour in Hangzhou. Hitting up West Lake took some going, the crowds were out once again during that public holiday, but those individuals could not ruin the epic views that morning of West Lake. Moving away from the lake it was time to have some local snacks at Hangzhou's Chenghuang Pavilion gave me views above the city, such effortlessly beautiful views fronted me! I am not one for museums but the Chinese Traditional Medicine museum schooled me about the weird and wonderful things that have been and are still used to treat certain health complaints. Concluding the day I arrived within Hangzhou's very own tea plantation, learning the art of tea pouring was interesting but actually having the chance to pick some fresh leaves broke the record! From my own self-guided day to my escorted private tour, I found two different dimensions within Hangzhou's idyllic capital. HGH served!

Changchun was 2018's hidden Chinese treasure by far, stopping at the city's West Railway Station during a high speed journey from Harbin West to Shenyang planted a seed that grew into a tree of curiousity. Taking a surprisingly comfortable hard sleeper overnight train from Beijing Railway Station saved valuable time. Stepping off the train I headed for the city's Museum of the Imperial Palace of Manchukuo. Learning about the Japanese ruling contingent that played their part in the Northeast's questionable Japanese rule. The final Puppet Emperor looked more like a 'hipster' fashion icon rather than an accessory to the ruling Japanese counterparts in the region. Making my way to the hotel I had already checked out the city's People's Square straight from the train, it had been a full on morning, checking into the hotel sounded like a grand idea. Changchun underground sense was showing me something different! Yes!

So, the past three years have been blessed during China's Tomb Sweeping Festival from Changsha to Hangzhou then in 2018 to Changchun. 2019 brought my fourth Tomb Sweeping weekend, choosing Nanjing wasn't really a choice because it was time to meet one of my fellow teaching friends that we had been speaking over social media. The whole weekend challenged my first experience in the city, I was reunited with the places I got lost around and made new memories in places I never knew existed. From prosecco at the Nanjing Inter-continental Sky Bar to partying in a tower-block cabaret bar, things got really random! Nanjing was an amazing city to rediscover and I know it hasn't seen the last of me! The train back to Beijing was thankfully quieter than the outbound, tricky passengers don't impress me! Where for 2020's festivities? Lanzhou, Gansu? I reckon I'll be revisiting that Northwestern Chinese City to build upon my pit stop transfer before I took my train over to Lhasa.

Holiday! Celebrate!

Joseph Harrison 

2019-2020: This Departure Lounge of Dreams!

Travel gives me life, back in February of this year I had the bizarre opportunity to experience selected locations within North Korea and the surrounding Chinese border city of Dandong. It didn't take me long once that trip concluded to have another trip booked! 2019 progressively became booked up! Yes, Britney B, I know I'm ready to make my Newark, New Jersey return!

July 2019 will kickoff my first Chinese summer holiday destination, I will be boarding a night train from Beijing to Baotou in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Hitting the ground running I have chosen to be busy from the moment my overnight train pulls into Baotou. Visiting the Wudangzaho Lamasery was an add-on to the trip, its on a par with Lhasa's Potala Palace. Acting as the wild card I will visit the Northern Weapon City, I am really not sure what I am going to see? Getting back on the road, leaving the city of Baotou will give me the chance to spend an overnight stay at the Erdos Grasslands, I wanted to stay in a traditional family yurt but the hotel version will do for me fine. It didn't take much persuading for me to accept such a payment, this tour will in-total take me four months to pay off completely. I don't think I'll repeat such an adventure so its all worthwhile. Yes, I'm very excited for Inner Mongolia!

Oh, no! Going back just a few steps, I will have a little time to explore the Dalateqi Sand Bay before I'll check into my very own Chinese Mongolian style yurt. Inner Mongolia is an autonomous region that possesses such a rich landscape, no matter the dent into my finances I have to see it all! After my overnight stay in the Erdos Grasslands it will be time to see the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan as that will conclude my Inner Mongolian trip. I honestly don't know what to expect, I am keeping an open mind. Choosing China Highlights for this Grasslands summer tour didn't take much thought, I always know things are going to be organised and most of all I don't mess with group tours, I will be keeping it all private! There's one more instalment to go, definitely paying my fees on-time! Will this Inner Mongolian adventure be my next trip in China? No, I have Shijiazhuang to make up and Dragon Boat Festival will take me to Guilin's Yangshuo County for that June holiday weekend! A summer sorted?

Giving myself just enough time to repack my hand luggage overnight, I will be jetting from Beijing to China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region for the final week of my 2019 summer holiday. Sticking with China Highlights I will be guiding myself around the provinces capital, Urumqi for two days in-between my Uygur travels. Things at the moment seem to be cooking up in Xinjiang but I am not fazed by hearsay or a little bit of drama. My overnight train will take me to Kashgar, one Chinese city that borders with Pakistan as it lies within China's Far West region. I'll be looking for the Grand Bazaar and some hand pulled noodles that supposedly hail back to the days of the European explorers who lined the historic Silk Road? Like Tibet, China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has required planning, I know it will show me it all! Clearly, China keeps showing me more, its not just about Shanghai or Beijing! Oh, that Turpan!

Turpan will showcase to me the Gaochang Ruins along with the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Grottoes for the win! I am especially excited to be seeing the Suleiman Minaret along with a local vineyard because Xinjiang is famous for its grape production! High Speed Rail will help me get back to Urumqi before my Beijing bound flight, its going to be all about trains and flying because Xinjiang is huge! The itinerary is going to be mad with three cities but I am so prepared for this Far West China trip to take its full force! Urumqi will show me the Arabic Chinese city that I need in my life, Kashgar has been somewhere with an extra spice on my hit-list, whereas Turpan gets me fired up with its ruins and minarets! The two weeks spent between Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang Autonomous Regions will show me more! Moving to Beijing has made these trips possible, getting to Tibet from Wuhan was no joke, being in the capital affords those key transport links! I'll be Xinjiang rich!

So, National Day 2018 served me a nasty good trip to Seoul, South Korea but fulfilling a travel wish I emptied my account in January to book my Singapore Airlines flights for 2019s affair. Wanting to further expand my flight review blog series I wanted and got those Singapore Airlines flights! That Airbus A380 though! Spending three full days in Singapore has to be done without question! Staying in a capsule hostel style compartment in the heart of SG's Chinatown has saved me some pennies! Staying not so far from the lights of Marina Bay will secure those main attractions during my stay. Singapore's Chinatown isn't just known for its cuisine, no its got a perfectly formed Rainbow scene so when the sun sets it's definitely going to be nasty good! Getting those British colonial sites down, I am going to try at least one Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel because when in Singapore, darling it has most certainly got to be done!

Getting my Kampong Glam needs to happen! Singapore looks so vibrant and rich with so many colours! I am up for trying food in all of those ethnic and quirky Singaporean neighbourhoods! During my times in London's Chinatown I never got myself to 'Old Chang Kee's' for a colonially inspired Curry Puff Pasty, that foolishness will change without any questioning! Will I be hitting up Sentosa Island? I really don't know because I want to make my three full days count whilst in Singapore, for sure I want to boss Little India, Chinatown, Kampong Glam and be at one within the sparkling lights that surround Marina Bay Sands. Money isn't something that we can take with us, I want to make this trip work and if I paid through the nose for those flights then I'll be damned but I don't give a hoot! National Day 2018 got scandalous, with that said 2019 will be even more of a raucous affair! It's been a long time in the planning stages but with those Beijing links in place, I'm going to Singapore baby!

Nine long years have passed by, I am now in a place that's financially strong to make the journey back to Newark and New York City, USA! Even though this planned 2019 Christmas trip is in the planning stages things are pretty much already concrete in my head! I anticipate on touching down onto Newark Liberty soil from Beijing direct with United during mid-December. Eyeing up reservations at a hotel within Columbus Circle will keep me on the Subway and to be near Midtown Manhattan, I want to relive that life for a brief time if nothing else! I plan to make my Newark, NJ comeback with much gusto, getting down to the Ironbound for some Portuguese chicken, rice and beans needs no thought! The Downtown has big plans for me to witness, I am all about those simple things because a McDonalds breakfast at Newark Penn Station is in great need! It's been a long time so, World Trade Center guide me back to the PATH home! Yes B!

As much as this trip stands to be about reconnecting with Newark I plan to take the train up to New Haven, Connecticut for a chilled and slightly unplanned winter day out. I never made it to that state during my year stateside, taking the MTA New Haven Line from Grand Central will be the one. Feeling my Samantha 'KIA' James fantasy I will spend one night in Philadelphia, getting back to a mad city that I didn't see the half of during my first visit. Philly cheesesteaks from Ishkabibble's and cocktails and queens from Bob & Barbara's will happen! Of course, I want to soak up South Street and be horrendously hungover the next day! Returning to Newark Liberty once more to board my potential Birmingham bound flight for Christmas week will take me home, flying Aer Lingus via Dublin looks quite likely. To be part of the Christmas festivities with my brother and his growing family will be worth any jet lag! It's got to be right and I have waited long enough, no price tag will be quibbled over.

2019...  I'm Loving Life!

Joseph Harrison

20 April 2019

Nanjing, China: Ancient Towers, Sky Bars & Realness!

Refreshed from the long sleep, we had some breakfast then caught a bus to find one of the best views in Nanjing. The previous night out had been brief because I was so damn tired, we knew that it was going to be nasty good later on that night! I was open to pretty much anything happening that day, it was nice not thinking about plans! Nanjing slayed and then some! 

Bussing it to the foot of Nanjing's Yuejiang Tower kickstarted the longish hike up to the top, I am not good with heights but getting it together and directing my efforts to see the skyline of Jiangsu's top city kept me going! Me and Chris just chatted about anything and everything, making our way to the top allowed us to see an uninterrupted view of Nanjing's sprawling CBD. It was no Guomao but in its infancy it impressed me much with its new glass and steel megastructures. The sky was thankfully clear over the main city centre but in the other direction the smog from the paint and chemical factories littered the skies, it didn't impact our views, it only added to the contrasts that Nanjing was showcasing to us. Feeling all nostalgic, the tower itself resembled Wuhan's Yellow Crane Tower but with its own Nanjing edge. Complete with a Yangtze River view that gave me life for certain. It felt great to be near that familiar body of water! 

Nobody stared at us both for being the 'Laowai's', that felt lovely because we could go about our business, some school kids were so happy to see two foreigners but I shocked them by saying good afternoon to them in Chinese! The views from the top of Nanjing's Yuejiang Tower made everything make sense, we shared our feelings about the nearby Jiangsu Province city of Suzhou. Let's just say our experiences were different, one thing I haste to remember is a KFC Spicy Chicken Burger! Don't ask me! Making our way down the mountain at a slower pace gave us the chance to discuss about our experiences as English teachers in China, our approach to open the minds of the young people that we have the opportunity to teach English. Our jobs may be targeted towards different age groups but we had shared situations that we had both experiences with. Needless to say the gorgeous sunshine set the pace for the day, it was turning into early teatime! Nanjing had me falling for its charms! 

Walking the rest of the way from the bus-stop, we made it to the Zifeng Tower. Originally planning to try some Nanjing food we got our ticket but with the holiday crowds out in their droves it was going to be a lengthy wait for our slot, taking the lift up to the 78th floor within the Intercontinental Nanjing was the one! Making ourselves comfortable within the plush surroundings of the Sky Bar felt correct. With sweeping views across the city, we had the best seats in the city! Ordering the most cost effective bottle of Prosecco sounded like the best idea in the world! Toasting to finally meeting in Nanjing we decided after the first bottle that we needed another one, those dinner reservations weren't really important! Nanjing's Xuanwuhu Lake looked amazing from our view from up above as the sun started to set. Our conversation was getting real, the bubbly was flowing and it was a great time to be alive! Yes, NJ!

Hitting the streets for some food we weren't fussy in our boozy mood, calling McDonalds for our pre-drinking meal gave us such a beautiful view! Now when we noticed that Nanjing Nan Ren, no he looked like perfection with his designer leather satchel! Our eyes we definitely not deceiving us in that tasty moment! You already know that I was Taobao searching that bag, let's just say I was convinced it was real leather! Going back to Chris's on the underground brought us back to the pungent aromas of Zhangfuyuan, it was time to get our best threads on for the night ahead! Getting my Britney t-shirt ironed and my new blue denim jeans ready, it was set. The night ahead was going to be memorable! Well, with the drink we planned to drink after the bubbles at the Sky Bar the hangover would be the only memory! The day may have started later than planned but we enjoyed the crazy at the Yuejiang Tower, our drinks with a view to rival impressed us during that Tomb Sweeping weekend N!

Scanning two rental bikes we rode through the pulsating city centre, dodging oncoming traffic and passing the neon lit thoroughfares, it gave me life! I had heard things from Chris about the place that we were going to that night, approaching an unassuming tower block we took the lift up a few floors, transferred lifts to reach the 21st floor. Finding this sparkly underground Gay Bar in what was probably the space of an apartment rubbished any previous expectations. Star Club was going to bring the drinks and the entertainment that night, I had my 5 RMB notes from my North Korea trip so I was going to be handing tips out left right and centre! When the place started filling up it wasn't the most refined establishment that I had ever frequented but the vibe of the place was authentic. With our twelve breezer's on the bar, the drinking was well and truly on! I was ready for the entertainment to begin! Absolutely NJ!

The drag performers threw some shapes on the stage, working their choreography they played no games! Their lip synching was definitely questionable but their commitment to their art was undeniably true, for the location I was still shocked I was sitting in such a place on the 21st floor of an unassuming tower block in the heart of Nanjing! The drinks continued, we got talking to some guys and what skills I used couldn't possibly mentioned in this publication, let's just say I turned a few tricks! Making my debut on the karaoke, I smashed gave my best rendition of Britney Spears's hit song 'Everytime'. The night was everything and more, we drank and had a really great night out in Nanjing! I wanted to recreate some early morning chaos like in Seoul but we had our wires crossed when we rocked up to that shady location. Kicking off because I couldn't get a Jianbing, needless to say it was well and truly time for bed! Oh, how my Beijing train the next day wasn't fun at all! Oh, NJ!

Tips For The Queens!

Joseph Harrison 

19 April 2019

Nanjing, China: A Jiangsu Province Return!

Returning to Wuhan was an exception even though I had never vowed to go back, in saying that Nanjing South Railway Station saw me make my return in the same fashion! My Scotch friend Chris had flown his tartan homeland to teach English in Jiangsu's capital, we met through a mutual friend and with Nanjing on the cards, it was certain that we were going to meet! 

My travel plans were almost in tatters quite like this blog post was before my fast thinking got me out of a right mess, it wasn't pretty! The tone in First Class during that Beijing-Nanjing train was lowered and then some, thankfully my boozy breakfast gave my words an edge! After meeting Chris at Nanjing South Railway Station we went underground, now that wasn't going to be the first time throughout that trip but I meant in that sense we took the Subway to his ends in Zhangfuyuan. I was having all kinds of Nanjing flashbacks, back then I was living in Wuhan and was fresh to travelling in and around China. Leaving the station showed me something that reminded me of those older gritty food streets that I had frequented many times during my Wuhan days, it was like a blast from the past even though it was part of my journey it felt like it was meant to be! Arriving safe in the end, Nanjing was on fire! Trains are so boozy!

Catapulted into the heart of an area that had a curious scent, the streets allowed me to catch a whiff of cooking oil and the pace of ordinary life in a corner of a Chinese city that hadn't seen mass modernisation. Zhangfuyuan was a-wash with signs and street-side shop fronts that sold food that I hadn't seen for a hot minute, my suburban corner of Beijing's Northeast doesn't have that type of fare because its on another hype on my side. It was great to finally meet Chris in the flesh, we had been talking since October 2017, to finally meet after talking for so long! Chris works for a training school, one thing I admire him for because that professional calamity need not call me up again! My early morning alarm hadn't caught up on me at that point, away from the big smoke felt great because work had me on a mad thing! I was unknowingly ready to be reunited with a place that I got horrendously lost the first time! Going back to reevaluate things made everything feel correct in the end! 

Passing the front of a meat market gave me such a stomach turning nostalgic smell, no disrespect to my friend but I wouldn't like that scent on a daily but it transported me back to my first morning in China during that Shanghai week in June 2015. The local market sold everything edible, usually I wouldn't want to pass those places but for that experience it had to be done! Leaving the backstreets behind us, something hit me bang on in the face! I had got massively lost along Jianye Road, it was such mad feeling seeing the main road, the Qinhaui River and the same McDonalds that stood in the same place as before! I was stunned by the whole experience, that flashback gave me life! Scanning two rental bikes we took to the streets, swerving past traffic had my heart in my mouth but the experience was ace! Getting to see the city sights from a different point of view was everything to me! Go N!

We wanted pizza but places open and close all the time in China, we had to be realistic because Chinese food was not going to be on the menu that Friday teatime! Walking the streets for a little bit after our biking moment took us to the Paulaner Brauhaus, a German restaurant that served us just what we love! Beer and sausage for the win, the waiters in that place were all on fire! With my bangers and mash and litre beers doing what it promised to, the conversation got real whilst the scenery merged between German brewhouse to Chinese talent! Spa? Chris had said we would be going swimming, I was open to that but after meeting his friend Steven that prospect changed entirely! Baring all, I entered into a whole new Korean Spa situation but I cannot begin to retell the cakes that walked past me! Chatting and bathing in the hot springs put my fears at bay, excuse me I caught a glimpse of my reflection and I was like! After feeling a new sense of self love I said props to the Spa! Yass Bitch!

Going back to Chris's had to be done! Getting changed for some drinks was the plan, it had been a full bodied day, judging by the previous activity it was literally! Scanning our bikes, riding to a secret Whisky Bar took us to a bar I never knew the name of. Myself, Chris, Steven and Jiaming enjoyed a drink each in a cosy hipster kitsch environment. Going for a Long Island Ice Tea, it was a refreshing drink but if truth could be told it needed to be stronger! The chat was on-point, I recounted my time in Beijing getting up to the things I fall into to. Being in that boys club felt nice because I usually keep my ladies close by. The night was young but that day had been so long up until that point, I wanted to push forwards to see Catherine Park. Making it to Revolucion, I thought it was going to be like the underground Catina that I had found in Xiamen but it was more sobering than ever! NJ, I for one well and truly needed my bed!

From leaving my apartment in the dark of morning to reaching the end of the night in Nanjing, Jiangsu it had been a full bodied day for certain! I've said that twice! Going back to Chris's it was time to sleep till dinnertime the next day because it was holiday! Getting back to Nanjing was amazing, it was fulfilling not to plan anything for a trip like usual, to literally arrive and just for it all to fall into place felt like such a blessed thing! Nanjing had big plans for us the next day and then some but the first day had been filled with the right amount of everything! I had found a new freedom in the Spa and had out-witted a snotty nose passenger who freaked out when I took her charger out of the power outlet on the train from Beijing! I told her the world would still turn, the sun would still shine so her phone would still be sufficiently charged! Beer for breakfast has a lot to answer for! No, that stank ass attitude spoke volumes without that passenger even talking! Those tracks were on fire! 

Now Nanjing! 

Joseph Harrison