14 August 2019

Kashgar: China's Ancient Secrets...

My Xinjiang experience has had me roll over events from a previous day to the next blog post, with so much to see it leaves me without any choice to do the same right now. My first day in Kashgar had been full packed with a visit to the Id Kah Mosque and a huge walk around one side of the Old City. Yes, the evening saw me visit the night market with all of its lights. 

After seeing the Id Kah Mosque I decided to rest in my hotel for a little while, the overnight journey and days sightseeing in Kashgar had tired me out. Crossing the road from my hotel to the adjoining side of Kashgar's rejuvenated part of its Old City before the sunset allowed me to see the hustle and bustle begin. I already knew what I wanted to eat, lamb kebabs and bread all the way but it was a great time to people watch and to take in the whole environment. Many domestic Chinese tourists transcended upon the night market, for me to find a seat was almost impossible but low and behold I found one. Minding my own business I enjoyed my food and appreciated that cultural moment. The lights, smells and sights gave me life to no end. The feel of the night market left me questioning my mainland China location once again! I was all in it for the views and my taste-buds loved every second of it! Raisins!

My hotel stay in Kashgar included breakfast, finding the right floor just before the buffet opened was my plan. Executing things the right way up until a certain point, things were fine but I wasn't ready for the almighty stampede made by the domestic tourists! Not wanting to entertain their hasty nature towards that breakfast service I vacated that mess without a seconds thought! Things were only just opening due to the local observance of Beijing Standard Time, trusting the businesses within the nearby Old City served me a lovely breakfast that was quite unexpected. I had found some freshly baked bagels from the first bakery that I saw, then moving forwards a street side vendor selling camel milk because no coffee or tea was in sight at that point! To accompany my bagels I found some salted yoghurt that acted as the perfect treat to dip my bagels into. Looking back to the chaos of the hotel, I now feel so blessed to have had such a local breakfast in the Old City! Thank you, K!

Meeting my tour guide allowed me to find more about the other part of the Old City that I had been to the previous night. Met by a hoard of tourists at the main entrance gate to that side of Kashgar's Old City didn't impress me because it wasn't what I wanted, crowds! I had been to a Turkic kind of place many time before that morning, the music and ethnic attire wasn't  something that I had never seen before, I didn't share the crowds hysteria. Entering the Old City, I learnt that the outer stalls were famed for its terracotta works, the local merchants crafted their trade because they stuck to what they knew. Buying a beautiful dress and some jewellery for a friends little girl had to be done, the friendship meant a lot to me so I wanted to treat her daughter to some local Kashgar gifts. The mornings heat grew hotter, it was such a glorious dry heat unlike Beijing's heat and humidity! Kash, I was feeling the love for that morning!

I hadn't seen one single Starbucks whilst travelling in Xinjiang, seeing a place in Kashgar's Old City that remotely resembled a coffeeshop impressed me much. My guide recommended the 'Kashgar Coffee' would be a perfect choice as the coffeeshops signature drink. Set with a bedouin mud brick building, it felt as if I was lounging in an Arabian outpost with the soft furnishings that I had bagged. Choosing a walnut tart had to be the one, once the coffee had arrived I was so excited and intrigued to try it for myself! Brewed with a blend of local herbs and spices, my 'Kashgar Coffee' tasted a million times better than any Starbucks Coffee that I had ever tasted before! Opting to have another coffee with a Kashgar twist was the right decision, I lounged about in the soft and rich surroundings of that coffeeshop for some time, I wasn't bothered about the itinerary at that point. Funnily enough, I had been so relaxed I left my purchases on the sofa I was lounging on! It was blessed!  
Leaving the noise and tourists of the central area of the city, it was time to see something more authentic as far as the Chinese didn't consider. Adding an extra Turkic vibe to my final day in Kashgar, it was time to explore a market that wasn't touristy in any way shape or form. Locally known as Yeni Bazaar being the Turkish for New Market, how I felt as if I was at Fethiye's Tuesday market on the Aegean Coast of Turkey. I didn't buy anything at the market but to simply walk around to see the different things on sale was amazing, the lack of anything Chinese as such was quite frankly brilliant because I was loving the Uyghur style much more in that moment. The presentation of the stalls transported me once again back to Turkey, the local chat sounded the same with the surroundings presented in an uncanny way. Kashgar's new market showed me everything and more with spending any money! Kash, I loved it a lot!

With my flight back to Urumqi, we moved back towards the Old City to have one last meal in Kashgar. Dining at a Uyghur style house allowed me to taste some local food in a homely environment. I was suffering from really bad stomach ache, the weeks diet had been mainly lamb and bread and in the east of China its something that isn't the staple diet. I tried my best to enjoy the food but I was feeling the dietary change of the trip. The surroundings were lovely but the pace of the trip had hit me. Making my way to the airport, the car arrived at the airport terminal to find a very strict policy that only passengers could access the terminal building. The airport security was beyond and then some, it was such a relief to be taxing down the runway for Urumqi! The whole experience in Kashgar during the second day was just as good compared with the previous day. Yes, I was ready for a day in Urumqi before heading down to Turpan, Xinjiang was the gift that kept giving! Kashgar, I'm out!

Kashgar Done!

Joseph Harrison

12 August 2019

On The Borderline... Kashgar, China!

Travelling through the Taklamakan Desert from Urumqi to Kashgar on my night train was an experience to say the very least, no other night train provided such rugged views of such a harsh yet gorgeous landscape. The ancient city of Kashgar had been one place in Xinjiang that I was especially excited to discover! How I felt as if I was in a scene from Walt Disney's Aladdin! Go!

Boarding that seriously long Kashgar bound train felt like a different experience compared with other night trains that I had previously taken in China. Albeit the extra line that we had to make before taking the escalators down to the platform, we had to wait in line before the train pulled into Urumqi Railway Station at our designated platform. Settled in and with the first two hours reached, the landscape south of Turpan quickly changed from built up areas to a barren deserts mystery, as dusk turned the sky from day to night it was mesmerising to see the changes across the landscape. As the train approached the heart of the vast Taklamakan Desert the only reminder that I was in China was my phone signal, I felt like I was in the middle of an Arabian wilderness. I admired the changing views from my bottom bunk in the hard sleeper cabin on-board, whilst the people were so very friendly the views were gorgeous!

The vastness of Xinjiang really could be felt, the stations grew further apart from each other and it was reassuring to see the odd sea of lights when my train pulled into Korla before the cabin lights were switched off for us to sleep. I have to be honest their were some strange goings on during the twilight hours on-board the train to Kashgar but I won't go into detail because it could be seen as very sensitive. The dining options were very limited, I had my instant noodle pot and a healthy supply of local beer to get me through the journey. The extra can that I bought helped me get to sleep!  Night turned into morning, Kashgar grew closer and with no chance of a shower till after checking into my hotel, I wanted to arrive! The landscape maintained its rich red colour with a harsh mountainous texture, it was nothing like I had ever seen before that train journey. After more than seventeen hours since leaving Urumqi behind the previous day I was very relieved to finally reach Kashgar! 

Fresh from Kashgar Railway Station the first stop on the days itinerary was a brief stop at the Abakh Khoja Tomb. The outside of the main tomb was beautifully decorated with jade green and pearl white tiles with a splash of other colours for good measure. Learning fast that the tomb was home to the family of Abakh Khoja, a prophet revered so highly by the Uyghur people he's second to Muhammad. Abakh Khoja was believed to have brought Islam to the former region of Kashgaria, bringing the traditional Turkish text that became the grounding of the Uyghur language. I was very interested about the Islamic side of the history, funnily another nugget of information made it to me. During the Qing Dynasty, the Emperor Qianlong requested a beautiful Uyghur princess become one of his concubines, lovingly named 'Xiang Fei' meaning 'Fragrant Concubine'. Oh K, Emperor Qianlong definitely proved his love!

When Iparhan passed away in 1788, the emperor had a horse drawn vehicle bring his 'Fragrant Concubine' back to her hometown of Kashgar. Just to avoid any confusion, 'Iparhan' was Xiang Fei's name in the local Uyghur language. Leaving the mausoleum for the three mosques that were still standing gave me something worthwhile to witness. Juma Mosque stood out after the grandeur of the Abakh Khoja Tomb because the name meant 'Friday Mosque' in the Turkish language. Leaving the ancient stories behind in that protected area allowed me to watch a brief show about Emperor Qianlong's only Uyghur concubine. The sun was crazy hot and the umbrellas really didn't do anything for my viewing pleasure. Moving closer to the hotel I found out from my tour guide that Kashgar still attracts people from near and far for its huge Sunday Market, so much so that some shops only open on the seventh day of the week. I had been off the train for less than one hour, not bad at all K!

Freshened up, I then ventured out from my nearby hotel to one side of Kashgar's Old City. Being mindful that the old buildings had received some serious restorations by China's Central People's Government I wanted to keep an open mind throughout my visit. Grabbing some chicken and rice from an unassuming local looking restaurant started my 'foodie' journey just right. I went further into the older part of Kashgar's Old City to find a tasty lamb treat that I hadn't noticed whilst I was in Urumqi first time round. Using my Turkish language skills to blend in with the Uyghur folk I ordered five freshly cooked Samsa's, their taste transported me back to mother England because it reminded me of a certain high street pasty shop treat! That local Xinjiang snack tantalised my tastebuds, allowing me to further appreciate the beauty of the Uyghur culture and food. After Samsa's I explored more! The people were friendly, truly Xinjiang!

The feel of the Old City gave me a sense that I was exploring uncovered treasures as I walked through the alleys and saw the local Uyghur children play outside their front doors, the feel of the neighbourhood gave me a certain authentic feel. The relaxed nature of the Old City made me feel at ease, to roam around after such a long train journey felt amazing! The more lively streets contained more good food and a healthy serving of Kashi Water Ice Cream, something that I had saved for my time in Kashgar. Their was a strong sense that tea drinking was a thing like it is in Turkey, it was nice to see something familiar taking place within my Chinese location once again. I felt content with my visit to that side of the Old City in Kashgar, so much so I returned the next morning to find some breakfast because the hotel served some crazy goings on! The local establishments served me some freshly baked bread, salted yoghurt and fresh camels milk for my local breakfast. رەھمەت سىزگە!

First constructed in 1442, Kashgar's Id Kah Mosque stands as the largest mosque in China! I had seen this mosque on documentaries and Chinese tourism campaigns about Xinjiang, so I was very curious to see what was standing behind the mosques grand entrance. Being conscious that different countries view religion differently, I wanted to ask as many provocative questions during my brief visit to Kashgar's Id Kah Mosque! The quiet walled gardens gave me a sense of chill, a calm feeling transcended within that sacred space. I asked about the prayer schedule, the mosque has a function for the main Friday prayer with a key focus for the service to be special compared with the usual visit to a persons neighbourhood mosque. I was really happy to hear that people that the right to exercise their beliefs, to pray and to listen to the Imam read from the Quran. No, I'm not religious but others should have the choice.

Taking it easy for the rest of the day I returned to my hotel, being on the night train had disturbed my usual quality of sleep so I thought it would be wise to relax before going to the night market later on that evening. From my train passing through the mystery of Xinjiang's portion of the Taklamakan Desert, to learning about the involvement of Emperor Qianlong's Uyghur concubine it had been a fabulous portion of my trip. The fact prayer was still legitimately taking place within the Id Kah Mosque gave me a sense that normality for the religious ones in Kashgar could remain consistent for them. The buzz and charm of the Old City impressed me much, allowing me to use some Turkic language skills to order some seriously tasty Samsa's. I would resurface later on that day, the night market would be serving all kinds of delicious foods and I didn't want to miss on my only chance! Truly standing on the borderline, Kashgar showed me so much and more within its unique location.

A Whole New World!

Joseph Harrison

10 August 2019

Urumqi: China's Far West City!

With my first day in Urumqi so full packed I had to leave one element out of the first post, braving a freak rain and thunderstorm I tried my best to discover more during the first night. After returning from Kashgar, the two days that I spent in the city fared to be mental for a reason that was out of my control. Out of the crazy I saw some unforgettable sights! Go, U!

My first day spent in Urumqi was the gift that just kept giving, with my afternoon completed with the things I had wanted to achieve I needed a rest! Fresh from my short breather I bounced back, with a two hour time difference compared with Beijing I took my time. Making my way down to Urumqi's Erdaoqiao International Food Street had to be done, the following day would see me leave the city for Kashgar! The heavens opened good and proper as the majestic orange skies presented Urumqi with a gargantuan thunderstorm, it was spectacular to witness! Arriving at the food street after the rain had eased gave me views that I wasn't expecting to see. It took a few moments or so for the stalls to resume their business after the downpour, within about ten minutes orders were flying out of the stands as the mix of locals and tourists enjoyed the local Xinjiang foods. U, I already knew that I wanted some tasty lamb kebabs! 

Recovery from the rain was quick, the volunteers scurried around with bin liners to clear the rubbish from the tables. I found somewhere to sit, the rain dared to start once again but it was only a small shower. Feeling thirsty after my long day, I wanted to try some of the local beer and with a draft beer stall it was a done deal! The whole street looked very new but it was just what I was expecting to see, I loved hearing the different Chinese and Uyghur languages as people enjoyed their evening, a contrast in cultures once again. Throughout my first day in Urumqi, it had been manic but I was able to relax with my beer and delicious foods within that Xinjiang style food street! Did I want to try any Kashi Water Ice Cream? No, I would be on the night train the next day to that place, I wanted everything to be as authentic as possible! Content with the days offerings I started the walk back to my hotel, the streets were so quiet and if truth be told I felt so safe. A never-ending day concluded!

Rising bright and early the following day I put my best foot forward, finding myself at Urumqi's own Hongshan Park to find its famous red pagoda. I didn't know anything about that park but I was willing to walk up the steep hill to find the red pagoda. Leaving my hotel early doors, I flagged a taxi bound for Hongshan Park, the constant use of Didi taxis in Beijing had me feeling as if I was back in Wuhan, I just don't flag taxis in the capital! The security check was relaxed and the parks entrance stood still, that impressed me much because I loathe crowds. As I neared the top of the peak, a lovely vista of a growing city fronted me with a series of striking mountains as Urumqi's backdrop! Catching the first glimpses of the pagoda gave me another lovely view of the city and its mountainous backdrop, would I be climbing those steps to the top? No chance, URC! Admiring the view from a space where I felt comfortable was the ticket!

With my imminent departure to Kashgar that afternoon, I kept up the pace after I had caught a glimpse of Urumqi's Red Hill and Zheng Long Ta. Walking back to my hotel was just the thing, the city was waking up because it followed its own local time zone rather than Beijing's standard time. Finding a great place for lunch was a winner, chowing down on some lovely local Uyghur food satisfied those cravings during my Xinjiang holiday. Checked out of my hotel it was time to head for Urumqi's Railway Station for my overnight train to Kashgar, I wasn't ready for that train station! Getting my passport and tickets ready for another check, the train station security staff were baffled by my Chinese visa and British passport, thankfully I had some Chinese language skills to explain my legitimacy in China. I had a lot of time to kill but that gave me the perfect opportunity people watch, soaking in that new culture and language once again it was still amazing to be in China! The train was on-time!

Touching down from Kashgar allowed me to spend two days in Urumqi before my Turpan sector. I had booked a seriously cheap hotel that gave me some serious drama, more about that in a few moments. Leaving for Urumqi's Heavenly Lake brought up no issues, having a little sleep in the car was necessary. Getting past the security check I was narked by the procedures but the whole rigmarole to reach the banks of the Heavenly Lake was worth every piece of madness! The weather held out, only some cloud presented itself but it was cool enough for it not to be cold. I gazed into the distance, finding  my own secret gateway to paradise. The water lay still, the mountains shimmered with a green sheen, I was not bothered by the selfie sticks and the tour groups because the magnificent lake put me in a heavenly state of mind. I appreciated the view, sitting amongst the greenery whilst the hoards of tourists acted the fool! Go on!

Renting a private car and driver to take me from my hotel to the lake had to be done, I wasn't messing with any tourist buses. Being Xinjiang the heightened security checks posed more of a headache for me as an independent foreign traveller in a region of China that hasn't truly opened to foreign tourism, the fee for the car was well spent considering the nature of the place. Thanks to China's easy functioning apps and a good travel expert friend, it was all good! Rules and passports aside the landscape that surrounded the Heavenly Lake transported me to another world, the lush green pastures and mountainous scenery fooled me as if I was in Turkey. When all was said and done, the mornings visit to Urumqi's most beautiful landmark left me feeling very accomplished indeed! I wasn't going to miss those tourists but I would be missing those gorgeous Tianshan Mountains for sure! Acting like a boss I got myself a new hotel room, it was almost a disaster but I was savvy enough to sort it!

Fed up with having no running water and the general dankness of that awful budget hotel I snatched a full refund, consulting my go-to hotel booking app I managed to book another room and get myself into a taxi within no time. Arriving at my new hotel I was faced with some serious discrimination, something wasn't right because people were checking in and rooms were available! Calling my hotel booking company up, I stated they had a duty of care since I had a confirmed room within their booking system. I knew the situation before the hotel manager could spin any more fabricated chat, within five minutes the company had found me a nearby hotel that accepted foreigners, closed mouths don't get fed! The final hotel choice of that day was ten times better than my original abode, running water was found so I could relax! I wasn't going to let my drama impact on the evenings exploration time in URC! Get it together!

Feeling refreshed and blessed, I made it back to the city's Tianshan District for some Samsa and a haircut. I was in desperate need of a refresh, food came first because the day hadn't left me with anytime to eat. Embracing the buzzing Uyghur centre within Urumqi's Heping Road once again gave me life, children were playing out in the street and the infusion of foods could be smelt in the air. I devoured some tasty Samsa, they were like lamb pasties and they tasted gorgeous! Finding a Uyghur barbershop across the road allowed me to get my fresh cut for a bargain price compared with bargain soaring prices for a new do! That day had been bonkers, from the idyllic scenery of the Heavenly Lake to then being rejected from my rebooked hotel, things all ended well! Feeling content with my cut I revisited the food street for a less rainy view, grabbing a drink or two it was time for bed. Urumqi had served two unique days in its entirety during my summer holiday, oh it was complete madness!

Unbelievable Urumqi!

Joseph Harrison 

29 July 2019

Urumqi, China: Bazaars, Uyghur Food & Mosques...

Flying to China's most westerly located provincial city allowed me to experience the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in all of its finest. Touching down into Urumqi's Diwoqu International Airport kickstarted my seven day nonstop pursuit, being prepared I had my passport ready for all of the checks! Xinjiang's city of Urumqi showcased its own Turkic culture! ياخشىمۇسىز!

Ready for the metro ride to the nearest station away from hotel, I wasn't ready for the hassle my new British passport would give me during my first Xinjiang security check. The Han Chinese guards couldn't fathom why my internationally  recognised approved document wouldn't scan when they placed it in the slot reader. With my Chinese skills coming in very handy, I told them to passport was new and that I was just on my summer holiday, not tourist holiday. No WeChat was accepted at the tickets machines but as if luck came my way, the metro worker came to my rescue with enough notes to break my unused RMB note. That China trip was going to be unique for many reasons but I held the fact I could speak Chinese in those situations, it would be a huge help whilst in a city that wasn't so familiar with western visitors. I arrived at my station without any further security checks. My trip to Xinjiang was happening!

Making up good time, my early morning flight with Air China had been worth taking from Beijing's Capital International Airport! The chat on the streets wasn't strictly Putong Hua Mandarin Chinese, there was a certain Turkic tone when the local Uyghur people spoke their Xinjiang language. Amidst the odd Han Chinese person that walked past me the vast majority of people looked more Turkish or Iranian than the typical Han features the Chinese standard is known for. Was I in China or Turkey? I was loving every moment, I was still in Mainland China but the language was Turkic sounding and the people's features and attire fooled me as if I were standing in the heart of Istanbul, Turkey! Mosques appeared everywhere, it was such a great thing to see places of worship that gave the Uyghur nature of the city its authentic character. Urumqi had me soaking in its confusing yet relatable culture and views, I felt a certain kinship towards its Turkic culture. Yes, I was hungry for more!

Urumqi's International Grand Bazaar had my full attention, I had several language materials to find. Not about to leave empty handed I scoured the winding alleys that made up the main interior of the Turkish like bazaar. I knew my numbers in Chinese, ready to barter I wasn't afraid because getting duped isn't cool! I loved decoration within the grand bazaar, it transported me to another world and the languages kept on changing with more Uyghur languages being spoken, it was great! Finding two miniature Turkish print carpets, they were my first purchases out of many that afternoon. Getting two Uyghur style wooden drums worked out perfectly, that's where my Chinese numbers came in very handy! Smelling something utterly amazing I found some fresh lavender, bagged up and only costing me a fiver I had to have that find! Was I almost spent up after twenty minutes of shopping? No, I found two small 'Aladdin' lamps!

Venturing out into the main square that centred the International Grand Bazaar, I heard all kinds of Turkish sounding Uyghur music playing on the loud speaker systems. After seeing a rather energetic public group dance I was excited to see one for myself during my visit to Urumqi's International Grand Bazaar's main square. I didn't see a public dance but I fulfilled my own fantasy by having a little dance to the blaring Uyghur music during that piping hot July afternoon. I was feeling hungry but didn't want to buy into the touristic food so early on during my first day in Urumqi. As with most markets and souvenir shopping opportunities in China, the products were all very similar but with that said I made sure I found things that caught my eye! Urumqi had me on some efficient hype, I had completed all of my shopping in the space of thirty minutes, all the language materials and items for friends had been purchased without hesitation and because it was China I used WeChat Pay!

The food had been another reason I had to get myself to China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region! I was ready for the lamb kebabs and freshly baked circular flatbreads, feeling hungry after my shopping escapade I wasn't too impressed with the offerings close to the International Grand Bazaar. Taking an unplanned left turn down a side street I found a small soup kitchen like place that served me something that I wasn't ready for! Reverting back to my Shanghai pointing, I looked at the delicious rice and lamb dish the family behind me were eating and ran with it! The pilaff was cooked to perfection, served with sultanas and melt-in-the-mouth lamb it was a Uyghur culinary treat! Cooling things down I had some fresh yoghurt that had been slightly salted, reminding me of Ayran from Turkey! The owner had just cut a fresh watermelon up, looked like I was going to get a free piece of it to enjoy! Oh URC, that tea was just divine!

The atmosphere inside the soup kitchen felt so simple, the husband and wife team worked together without any help. The patrons looked like locals, quiet in nature and friendly at first glances. I enjoyed my meal, it had been sometime since my Air China breakfast and Starbucks airport treat so I was damn hungry! The pilaff was gorgeous and the surroundings made me feel one million miles away from Beijing, I had to still pinch myself and check my China Mobile signal to remind me that I hadn't left the country during that trip! Moving away from the restaurant I found myself witnessing a Uyghur wedding procession, the bride was gorgeous and the drums being played reminded me of a Turkish wedding rather than a Han Chinese affair. With different languages, ethnic features and mosques present it was an absolute culture shock! Well, to go from being in conservative Beijing to then be surrounded by such an abundance of culture made me think. Yes U, I loved the Uyghur style!

Being able to see inside a mosque was off limits, so I wanted to soak some Islamic culture from the streets from outside the mosques. Stumbling upon Urumqi's Heping Road Mosque allowed me to see a real working mosque in all of its glory, albeit from the outside. It's not for me to say but religion isn't something that is spoken in China, but it was amazing to see a level of observance in Urumqi for the Islamic faith. I'm not religious but being from the United Kingdom I believe we should all have the freedom to believe in whatever faith or entity that helps us in life, its life. I adored the feeling of Heping Road, it had such a feeling of 'community' and looked to be an exclusively Uyghur neighbourhood. Taking a walk back to my hotel to avoid the passport check on the metro, I found several mosques and quiet streets. Those quiet streets had life with bakeries and noodle houses doing their everyday business. Loved it!

The final part of that day will have to wait, I will present that nighttime séjour within the second Urumqi blog. Arriving into Urumqi to the extra security checks wasn't a shock because I was prepared for them, but when my passport wouldn't scan at the checkpoint I won't lie it was worrying. The opportunity to see such a wide array of people who didn't look Han Chinese was amazing, the variety truly added the spice to my first day in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The Turkic like language transported me back to the streets of Istanbul and the wedding group showcased another kind of a Chinese wedding party. The shopping was great at the International Grand Bazaar, it definitely surpassed any precious preconceptions about the market before my visit. Urumqi opened my eyes, I had wanted to see China's far western region for some time and with that a reality, things felt correct! Only at the beginning of my epic Xinjiang trip, I was very excited to experience more within 新疆!

رەھمەت سىزگە!

Joseph Harrison

20 July 2019

Inner Mongolia... A Modern Ghost City!

My Inner Mongolia trip concluded in Ordos, a city that had a series of ambitious plans after the success of 2008s Beijing Summer Olympic Games. I had the chance to see for myself, why Ordos's newest district has been hailed 'a modern ghost city!' Turning back the hands of time, I was afforded the opportunity to visit a mausoleum that paid homage to Genghis Khan. Yes!

Leaving behind the peacefulness of the grasslands, I was more than ready to see a mausoleum that purely remembered a figure but didn't house any remains, just possessions and realia. The Mausoleum of Genghis Khan felt like a showpiece exhibition with its 90 something steps to the main hall that housed countless figures claiming to be part of his grand legacy, well if the truth be told they were carefully crafted replicas. No shade, I found the whole wondrous story of Khan's heroic Mongolian crusade very interesting indeed! He supposedly had three wives and a succession of children, but during that time his male children only bore value to him. Why had Genghis Khan been given this glowing mausoleum? I don't know too much about the history behind the battles he fought, it was safe to say this spectacle was more like a memorial because no physical remains of Khan are present. People did look quite intrigued by the whole thing! 

Inside the mausoleum all photography was banned, in China that doesn't necessarily mean that rule will be followed by all. In the case of Genghis Khan's place, I saw many of the staff scold people for taking any photos inside the sacred buildings. I knew nothing about Genghis Khan before that visit, as that mornings visit to the mausoleum continued it was really interesting to find out the tales of how the kingdom of Mongolia was fought over and how China's unification made way for their Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to present day life. I found a rather intriguing monument that was only meant for men or boys to access, it was supposed to bestow great power in all male folk that walked round the circular path three times. If any women or girls accessed that shrine like structure they would be cast with bad luck, taking that warning at face value one woman wasn't aware of the female warning. My visit to Genghis Khan's Mausoleum was wrapped up with some Montessori shopping! 

Truthfully, I'm not usually a fan of museum's but each province in China has one provincial museum within each region. Appearing to be as modern as the year I was standing in, Ordos Museum received my attention with much interest. Like any provincial museum in China, admission to the museum was free! The museum would show me that most things in Ordos were pretty silent and to use a phrase such as 'ghostly'. Finding the most understandable Chinese exhibition was easy enough, I was transported back to pre-historic China to find out that the first Chinese people actually came from Ordos within China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The whole exhibition fashioned the history that Inner Mongolia stood as China's version of Jurassic Park, complete with artifacts and pre-historic records for the first Chinese people originating in Ordos. Most of the exhibition was in Chinese, I read some.

The baking hot sun was unforgivable that afternoon, leaving the museum allowed me to see Ordos's Genghis Khan Square. The city centre masterpiece was a vision of a new city that looked brand new, no traffic could be seen nor were many people present in the streets or on the road. A huge government building fronted the head of the square, leading down to a parade of brand new landmarks such as a library, museum that I had been to and a glistening statue of Genghis Khan, aptly reminded me what the squares name was! I really enjoyed the local Inner Mongolia Chinese cuisine but I was gagging for a McDonalds, there was apparently one in the city but whether it was all for show? Everything seemed quite mysterious, the streets were so quiet and it was like no life could be felt within that supposed city centre space. Genghis Khan Square and the Ordos Museum were bizarre places, both presently beautifully but with no city life taking place. The best was for last! Yes, things looked 'ghostly!'

Before going to the airport in-preparation for my Beijing bound flight, I had just enough time to witness one of the most eeriest of sights that I had ever saw during my time in China to date! As mentioned before the successes of Beijing's hosting of 2008s Summer Olympic Games caused a frenzy of construction in the newest district of Ordos City, with a fault in the plan I was able to witness an uninterrupted view of a modern ghost city for myself! At the foot of Genghis Khan Square lay a well positioned line of shiny new skyscrapers, some fronted the logos belonging to a series of well known Chinese businesses. The new development appeared to be frozen in time, it reminded me of something that I had saw in a neighbouring country that possessed no life or buzz. My guide informed me that a hefty price was being paid to keep the silent development looking presentable. That view really put the cat amongst the pigeons! 

Directly captured above, I witnessed a solitary row of apartment buildings that existed beside the sleeping financial centre that wasn't trading. Those apartments had been built with much anticipation, word on the street was that these apartment hadn't got people living within the units. Driving to the airport allowed me to see the desolate streets that surrounded those ghost city dwellings, the kindergartens looked empty as well as any other businesses could only be seen operating at minimum capacity. Moreover, it was amazing to see that construction hadn't stopped during that scorchingly hot July afternoon. Ordos was mad, beginning with the showcase Genghis Khan Mausoleum to then the pre-historic finds at the city's own museum entertained my alternative touristy side. Finally, the frozen nature of the waterfront city centrepieces and apartments really served up something unforgettable. Arriving back into Beijing was a blessing, lets just say it was an eventful night! Oh, Ordos! 

Spooky Stuff! 

Joseph Harrison 

18 July 2019

Inner Mongolia... Sand Dunes, Pagodas & Grasslands!

Leaving Baotou at a reasonable time in the morning was fine with me, the short drive away from the city took me towards Inner Mongolia's famous grasslands. Before the grasslands it was going to be all about desserts, camels and a certain pagoda park. Dalateqi was certainly a small town but I found a few things to try out! Oh, Inner Mongolia definitely served the goods! 

Was I in the Sahara Desert? No, I had arrived at Dalad's Xiangshawan soon after the short drive from Baotou! Known in English as 'Whistling Dune Bay' I was certainly faced with some epic desert style sand dunes that morning! Saying no to the first cable car was a mutual feeling shared with my tour guide, Cherish. We decided that taking the bus would be a better choice, met with a pirate-ship style dune truck led us to the main sand platform. It was near impossible to capture any clear photos during that ride but the views were sensational! It was hilarious to see how some of the domestic Chinese tourists covered themselves up from the sun, it was a cloudy day but they were still cautious not to get bronzed! Camels? Setting the perfect Mongolian theme, there were so many camels! Taking photos for my students, they were able to join me! I saw some walking across the dunes but was I heck getting on one, no chance!

I enjoyed the speed of the dune buggies and they warranted the ticket price, I wouldn't usually go on such things but it was holiday and being in such a different environment it seemed like a great idea! Finding somewhere to sit, I enjoyed several beers as my view of the sand dunes impressed me much. The area reminded me of the Sand Lake in Yinchuan but my Inner Mongolian view looked a tad more touristy and no lake was present, it was a similar contrast but all good in the end. Finding a place to lounge around for a while with a few cold beers was just what I needed that afternoon. Finally, I could relax! The pace of the itinerary for that day was nice and slow, the mornings and afternoons activities at the dunes fared to be just enough. I managed to find some mini yurts for my students to discover back at school as part of a new language material! So, the sand dunes were brilliant, a different for me during my Inner Mongolian trip within one of China's few autonomous regions.

Leaving the sand dunes behind us prevailed to be the best thing, checking into my hotel was a welcomed blessing. The area that surrounded my hotel was so quiet and unappealing, I had to make my own entertainment, a few tricks were played that afternoon and evening! Amused for sure, I was afforded the chance to visit Dalateqi's very own Baita Pagoda Park. The mode of transport wasn't a taxi or a bus, I bagged myself a Jaguar ride down to the park in-question. I liked the ordinary vibe as the local people were shocked to see a foreigner, but it was all in a very endearing way. The visit to the park was brief but it gave me a snapshot of Dalateqi's town centre, even though the scene was quiet and underdeveloped it gave me the opportunity to get creative with my time. The fact it was so unassuming of a place, I had my first hotel cancel on me for being a foreigner! That's actually quite common in China! Yes, C!

The addition to the day wasn't planned, I had found the park on my Chinese style TripAdvisor like APP. I would like to think I'm getting good at living in China after almost four years under my belt! My evening in Dalateqi didn't see me dine at any restaurants, I ordered a takeaway to my hotel and enjoyed it in my room as I caught up with of my blogs. The evening was nice, I had no reason to leave the comfort of the room because the weather was absolutely awful, even though the rain poured and poured I had faith the grasslands would still look great the next day! My day had been packed with lots of surprises, sand dunes and a surprise park, with Dalateqi's unassuming nature allowed me to further create my own entertainment. Let's just say that for a quiet place I made sure I enjoyed my afternoon and overnight in Dalateqi. With a very early wake-up call for the next morning, I had a very restful nights sleep in my super comfy room, it was a welcomed change!

The long drive from Dalateqi to Ordos Grassland Scenic Area neared its final stages, the scenery started to change dramatically. The lush grasslands and occasional herds of cattle and flocks of sheep sure transported me back home. The rolling fields of green reminded me of the English countryside with elements of Wales's greener pastures also. Arriving at the yurt resort was such a relief, I was ready to explore the grasslands and then some! Taking in the lush views wasn't difficult even though I witnessed a mild portion of tourist money-makers, I didn't all of them no mind. Following the raised path took me closer to three Mongolian Yurts that stood in the distance. Taking some photos for memory had to be done, grabbing two lamb kebabs had me conflicted as a little lamb stared back at me! The yoghurt was sweet, I wasn't paying any attention to the cosplay photos that were going on around me. No!

The sunshine and the glowing green grasslands sent me into a state of chill, it was holiday! I was willing to embrace a certain level of tourist, I called it a day after finding the viewing point after lunch in the restaurant I found some good beer, taking a sun lounger for myself it was time to do some serious relaxing! With an amazing view in tow, finally having some time to relax I kicked back and allowed the sun to turn me a different shade of red! I didn't pay attention to the time because the views were idyllic, the lush greenness of the grasslands surprised me due to the desertification of China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. I was definitely the only non-Chinese person in the whole resort, no lie! How the sun got a little bit too much for me, the blazing sunshine had given me that glow, I needed some shade in my very yurt before my evening meal. Being in the middle of nowhere in the heart of Inner Mongolia's grasslands made me feel one million miles away from Beijing!

My trip to Inner Mongolia had been a rollercoaster ride, only when the hotels were concerned because Baotou's offerings were frightfully basic whilst Dalad's room for the night served plush comfort! Deep in the wilderness of the Ordos Grasslands Scenic Area, the accommodation was something different for all the right reasons. Personally, I had envisaged my grassland abode to be a family run yurt but the one that I stayed in was formed perfectly for the stay. Travelling solo on a regular meant I had lots of space to stretch out in my own circular room for the night, also I found Wi-Fi in the middle of 内蒙古! Tea was lovely, I spent time talking with my tour guide, Cherish. The conversation was real because we agreed about a lot of things in life, great minds definitely think alike! I indulged myself by having a bottle of Inner Mongolian red wine for the win, it all tasted delicious and with the rich food it was a beautiful meal!

As the night rolled in, the walk back to my yurt was magical for the sky glittered with stars and showcased three colours rather than a blanket of pollution as in Beijing. The cool breeze turned into a chillier feeling, the night was setting in and that was just fine with me. Going back to the yurt had to be done because it was getting late and it didn't seem like any entertainment was going on? I had noticed that the yurts that were both closer to the restaurant and connected to the reception had air conditioning, what for though? During the nighttime in the heat of summer it was chilled, the A/C was meant to heat the rooms up! I bedded down for the night, cosy and comfortable with my blankets and pillows in my very own Mongolian Yurt in the heart of the Grasslands of Ordos! The whole time spent in Dalateqi and the Grasslands had been amazing, different for all the right reasons but altogether very freeing to be away from everyday life. That nights sky though!

Inner Mongolian Glamping?

Joseph Harrison 

14 July 2019

Inner Mongolia... Baotou, China!

Yes, Nèi Méng Gǔ! My summer holiday had finally arrived, packing my hand luggage and my sense of adventure I headed for Beijing Railway Station to reach my first Inner Mongolia destination! Baotou would be the first of three places visited in under 4 days, that included the overnight train from Beijing to Baotou. I was so ready to see another of China's autonomous regions!

Boarding my Z317 overnight train from Beijing Railway Station to Baotou was like a piece of cake! Reading those Chinese signs led me to my hard sleeper bottom bunk, it was a major relief not to repeat the same experience that I endured from Dandong to Beijing. Comfortable with much needed air conditioning being fed into the carriage and the motion of the train rocked me to sleep, don't snore otherwise you'll be reprimanded! My deepest apologises but such behaviour won't ever be tolerated! Waking up to views of Hohhot's rolling countryside impressed me much, at that point my train only had one hour till it reached my Baotou destination. The skies were looking mighty blue, checking my pollution APP revealed to me that no significant pollutants were in the air within that Inner Mongolian corner of China! My summer holiday had started, leaving the busy semester behind felt like heaven! Yes, yes BAO!

Meeting my tour guide Cherish was no problem at all, with my evening meal the previous night the only thing I had eaten up until then I was feeling pretty hungry, I needed breakfast! Heading across the road from Baotou Railway Station allowed me to grab something to eat before the days itinerary started. Heading to Baotou's Wudang Zhao Lamasery allowed me to see the unfolding beauty with my own eyes, the construction sites of the city melted away as the rolling lush green hilly scenery came into view, it felt like a different world compared with my corner of Beijing City. The air was fresh and the sky was the bluest that I had ever seen for a long time, well it was pollution free and no fierce winds were present, it was bliss. I was looking forward to seeing a place that reminded me of the Tibetan monasteries that I had seen in Lhasa. Baotou wasn't originally part of my tour, I opted to add the days excursions to my tour package for my Inner Mongolian summer experience. Baotou, go, go!

Now that we had found Baotou's Wudang Zhao Lamasery, I could be transported back to a piece of Tibetan beauty since leaving the heavenly city of Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region. Living for the ultra blue skies during that mornings hour, catching glimpse of some buddha inspired boulders and stones that led to the lamasery's East  Mountain. The fluttering red, blue, white and yellow flags danced in the breeze as the Inner Mongolian sky allowed the clouds above to float by so effortlessly, I was loving that rare moment of calm and then some. As the monastery came into sight I had some amazing flashbacks to when I had the immense opportunity to explore Lhasa's Sera Monastery, those white washed walls and slanted Tibetan style pleased me to no end! My decision to enhance my China Highlights experience in Baotou was worth every Yuan spent! For certain, I felt a higher love for Tibetan Buddhism.

The rich interiors of the Lamasery allowed the memories of Tibet and the previous semester infuse, the latter had been settled. Lunch took a different angle, embracing the change it was a great chance to try some local cold noodles and some Inner Mongolian yoghurt. Both the noodles and the yoghurt tasted lovely, with such scorching temperatures it was a relief to have something chilled for lunch during the afternoons heat. More about those noodles, known as 'Liangpi' I really enjoyed their sesame taste. Back on the road towards the city once again, the views captured from all directions gave me a sense that I was not in Houshayu, Beijing anymore! Stepping out of the car to see some Tibetan Buddhist flags was really nice, seeing them fluttering in the breeze with the rolling green scenery as the backdrop. The peacefulness of the Lamasery and the lush surroundings had me feeling all kinds of goodness within China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Baotou had it all sorted!

If truth be told I wasn't sure what Baotou's Northern Weapon City was all about, with an open mind I was willing to find out for myself. At first glance I saw a gaggle of silver tourists who were arguing in Chinese that they qualified for the senior entry price, it was amusing to be able to understand what they were complaining about in Chinese. Informed by my tour advisor, this Baotou attraction was something of an outdoor showroom for old Chinese artillery, fighter jets and armoured vehicles that were either used before the People's Republic of China was created before October 1st, 1949. Taking a stroll around the grounds of the Northern Weapon City allowed me to see similarities with Pyongyang's Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum due to such items from combat that were on display, similarities all the same as Pyongyang's military back-catalogue hailed from a different time and combat. Next B!

The days sightseeing had almost concluded, before going to the hotel we stopped a what looked like a normal roundabout. I had done some pre-trip research to find that Baotou was the city of deers, scouting down that roundabout revealed the 'Deer Monument'. I had requested to see during my day in Baotou, for the reason it represented the meaning of the city. Content with the days offerings it was time to check-into the hotel, funnily enough we were all staying at the Baotou Hotel. I had booked this hotel independently on the grounds it was cheap for the one night spent in the city. Needless to say I was taken by surprise, the questionable quality of the hotel was below sub-standard but for one night I made the best of that low quality accommodation. My next hotel and Mongolian Yurt would prove better options for the remaining nights. It wasn't right but it was okay because the whole day had gone smoothly, from the train station pick to seeing the three places mentioned above.

Famous for its lamb, beef, milk and yoghurt, I wanted to try some local Inner Mongolian Chinese food during my one night stop in Baotou. After consulting my 'DianPing' Chinese style 'TripAdvisor' like APP, I had found a local chain restaurant called '西贝'. My chosen Baotou restaurant served me up a delightfully hearty serving of roasted lamb chops with onions and sliced potatoes. The sliced roast potatoes weren't part of the meal but with potatoes plentiful and cheap in China, I asked in Chinese if I could combine a third option for my first Inner Mongolian meat feast. The answer was 'yes', after waiting patiently for my food I enjoyed my lamb chops without a care in the world. Finished with my main course, it seemed only right to finish my evening meal with a chilled Inner Mongolian yoghurt. With my stomach satisfied it was time for me to be civilised for once, an early night would be on the cards for me. Not bad!

My restful nights sleep was very much needed! The overnight train from Beijing to Baotou was a cinch, things from there to the Wudang Zhao Lamasery progressed in a smooth fashion with only a slight alteration for lunch. Those chilled noodles and yoghurt helped the scorching temperatures and the used artillery at the Northern Weapon City interested me. The natural blue skies gave me life, with no pollution in air it was like breathing in new air into a new set of lungs. The hotel may have been sketchy but my early morning pursuit for a KFC breakfast the next day allowed me to see that outside the big smoke of Beijing, a passerby thought I looked lost as I unknowingly looked for share bike, the thought counted! Shantay, he could stay! Starbucks was playing games, not opening until 9am! Nobody has any time for that negativity! Regrouping the next morning before 8am allowed us to depart from Baotou for our next destination without any hitches. Why yes CN, Baotou served it all!

Boss Baotou!

Joseph Harrison 

6 July 2019

Sanlitun, Beijing: After Hours!

Hailed as one of Beijing's premier nightspots, a night out within Sanlitun's party district was on the cards for that Saturday! After living in Beijing for over 18 months, I have become pretty familiar with my favourite haunts and how navigate those city centre streets during the small hours. Getting over the hangover from another booze fuelled night had to be the one! Get it!

Genuinely speaking, I had originally planned to spend the afternoon at the second 'Haus of Lily' drag brunch but due to an impromptu night out with some Shunyi friends I just about made it for my 'Blue Frog' dinner with my friend Chanel. Recovering from that Friday night out with a very large blue cocktail was the only cure for me in that moment! Refuelled and re-toxed, I had decided to spend the night in a local Tuanjiehu hotel that was only a short distance from my first Sanlitun nightspot. Leaving my hotel, I made sure that afternoon that I was dressed to impressed! Out for myself, living the truth that I was worthy enough to be my own soulmate, I was ready to marry the night! My hearty 'Blue Frog' dinner had me covered, stopping for a street side snack had to be done before the true boozing recommenced. Watching the world go by from my street side spot felt good, my area can get awfully silent! Damn, I'm the one B! 

Centrally located in the heart of Beijing's Chaoyang District, it was a sight to be seen for me because my Houshayu corner of Beijing leaves me feeling wanting some lights and action when Saturday rolls into town. That central corner of Beijing's City had been my go-to remedy to relieve the stresses of work after a hectic week, that weekend was no different to any other but I felt a sense to take things slow. Slow? No, from the respect I was able to begin the night in the thick of it! Finishing my snacks, I made my way closer to my first watering hole of the night because those afternoon drinks had been consumed much earlier. Back in Wuhan it was all about groups going out, apart from getting wrecked with a special Scottish sister friend, things were rather basic! Beijing life has allowed me to reconnect with my independent flex, if you're basic its a no go! With the nighttime drawing on, I made some serious steps ahead to the next phase of my night! I was ready for all the debauchery! 

Let me keep this 100% because I usually go straight to the club but that Saturday night I wanted to soak in every part of that night out! Fronting Sanlitun SoHo since our previous encounter, the previous instance I was very boozy! It was absolutely heaving, mixed with families and young people who were enjoying their evening as the twilight hour approached, the noise and lights impressed me much! Dashing towards a drink, I was done with the noise and people going about their Sanlitun SoHo time! I was thirsty! Revisiting Red Dog was the right thing to do, it was the first Gay venue before I got to my regular places that were on Workers Stadium Road. I had previously been to Red Dog to see their Vogue contest, it was a different scene compared to what I'm used in Beijing but it was worth me revisiting for those revitalising mixed drinks that Saturday night! Voguing in China? Yes, these fierce Beijing queens serve! 

Red Dog had given me those key first drinks, onto Workers Stadium Road for some real 'rainbow' nightlife! Albeit, Red Dog has been a new edition to my Beijing Gay night scene, I allowed its bougie nature to carry on with itself whilst I sipped my mixed drink. I know I can get bougie from time to time, no shade! I usually get my taxi from Houshayu to drop me off in the thick of Sanlitun's party street, doing things differently I walked through a myriad of dimly lit winding streets with my iPhone as my helping hand, not that I needed help. Feeling my spirit rise, I was back in my domain with Beijing's underground bars in a pretty commercial environment it was like coming home! For a country that gets into its feeling about anything that's less than traditional, after coming to Beijing it was a revelation to find four top venues that embraced the rainbow side of society! Going underground my night was about to get scandalous! So, I had my wits about me though, because I'm a danger to myself! 

Moon, with its bright red fridge like door had my attention from the very first night it was opened. As if luck would had it there were two gorgeous guys dancing on the centrally located podiums, wearing almost just their birthday suits I had to take a moment to check that view out! The drinks were truly flowing, the weekend was happening in full force and I didn't care about a single thing! Migrating to Kai served something that I front in there on a regular, a queen who pushes or shoves isn't cute or clever! For me Kai gives me the best people watching opportunities within Beijing's close-knit Gay venues, those lip and cheek injectables could be seen from a mile, girl! I assumed my rightful place on the dance podium, some queens really needed to calm down and let me execute my moves! Not appreciating their temperament I enjoyed what time I spent in Kai to the best of my living ability! They knew I would be back to shake it bad! 

Kai may have had some spatially confused queens, paying them no mind I finished my drinks before moving onto the nights final venue, Destination. Sometimes I wondered how these pushy queens would find their impatient ways in a LGBT venue in the UK? Pushing and shoving isn't big and quite frankly its pointless! Scanning my AliPay payment, I headed straight for the bar to get my Destination Blue concoction! Queuing can sometimes get interesting whilst in Destination, playing by the rules I made to the dance floor to get lost into the music! Famed for being the biggest and most famous of Gay clubs in China, no matter how crowded it gets I keep finding myself back at Destination in Beijing! Bumping into a friend around the seating area outside had the night take a different avenue. Would it? No way! I wasn't going to allow any foolishness! The night was mine from the very beginning and it was going to be mine to finish with! So, Beijing showed me another night out of mayhem! Yes!

Over The Rainbow!

Joseph Harrison 

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