6 April 2020

China: Lhasa, Hangzhou & Nanchang...

Despite what many think about China, the Middle Kingdom nation amazed me with three more outstanding cities during 2017. Stepping back in time for only a moment, Lhasa transported me to another world with its heavenly temples and seriously good Tibetan incense. Hangzhou served its effortless West Lake and Nanchang was my super snappy séjour! 现在走吧! Go, go, C!

Taking my Lanzhou bound flight only took me half from Wuhan to Lhasa, I then boarded my overnight train to the capital of China's Tibet Autonomous Region, Lhasa. My four days in the world's most heavenly city was amazing, giving me all the right vibes to have me ready for the craziness of my then Hubei city residence. Whilst the temples, monasteries and palaces shone brighter than any star I had ever seen before, it was the electric energy that I felt as my group discovered Barkhor Street in the old side of the city. Paying mind towards the pilgrims it was the done thing to walk in the appropriate direction. I'm not religious but in the moment it was impossible to not feel a spiritual connection with what was going on around me. Up to that 2017 moment I had had the immense opportunity to travel within China but Lhasa had something intangible, Lhasa had its own mystery. I was living for Lhasa!

During my Lhasa trip I did not have any fast food, I kept things Tibetan with my food choices. I had never had any Tibetan food before that Lhasa trip, I first tried some curried potatoes on the first evening in a lovely relaxed tea house. Going further I tried a serving of Bobi, it was like a chapati but I had some stir-fried vegetables and some raita like yoghurt to add to my Lhasa lunch choice. The food was similar to Indian food in one way. Being British I love a good cup of tea, in Lhasa I found several lovely Tibetan tea brews. The yak butter tea tasted so smooth, in the tea houses of Old Lhasa it was such a treat to relax with a few cups of that deliciousness. Away from the show-stopping temples, monasteries and palaces it was effortless to capture a slice of Tibetan culture, I would be reminded of that style when I visited India in December 2018. Lhasa was a place that I won't ever forget, it took me two days to reach it but it was worth every moment! Until next time Tibet. Thanks!

Hangzhou in China's Zhejiang Province allowed to experience a true changing of the season, that end of week trip beckoned the spring time season with such beauty and simplicity. Landing into Hangzhou without any delays, I dropped my bags at my hotel before I could get my sightseeing on! Hitting up the Lingyin Temple had me surrounded amongst some crazy busy scenes, I needed the temple to chill that crazy vibe out and then some! I loved that yellow temple, it was one of the temples that stood out for me because I had seen a fair few at that 2017 point. Taking a few moments after my temple visit I stumbled upon the Feilai Feng Grottoes, I loved that enchanted looking rock formation. I was half expecting to see a few fairies flutter about the grottoes because they possessed a mystical quality. With just enough time I made it to the light-show at Hangzhou's Wulin Square, my first day in Zhejiang was ace!

Bright and early the next day it was time for my China Highlights trip to experience Hanghzou's best bits. Hitting up West Lake definitely put the cat amongst the pigeons, after taking a short boat trip to the middle of the lake it was time see the view that would set my trip on fire! Living for the view that overlooked the 'Three Ponds Mirroring The Moon' allowed me to see another money shot from the Chinese RMB notes. Moving onto Chenghuang Pavilion gave me another effortless view over Hangzhou's beautiful cityscape. The local light snacks were just enough, I loved that pavilion. The final part of the day allowed me to pick my very own tea leaves within a famous tea plantation! Going back to the owners house allowed me to see the true way that tea is brewed and poured, she told me that I poured like a woman! No shame! Who would have known that I would be making another kind of move back to Zhejiang a few years after that lush weekend trip! No, I definitely didn't know!

Taking the night train after school one Friday evening allowed me to execute my 'Nanchang Escape!' Before my China hiatus would begin I wanted to visit as many provincial capitals within China's southern central region before Beijing became my new China home. Arriving into Nanchang before the strike of midnight allowed me to see the city centre at its quietest. Heading out early on the next morning I found myself at the Pavilion of Prince Teng, the metro helped me out for that part. Taking a bus from that city centre location I grabbed some lunch at a local non-assuming restaurant, it was nice to be in a calmer place, Wuhan had me crazy with its nonstop pace and crowds! Scanning a bike I peddled the short distance to find the Qingshan Lake and Park, the metro line wasn't in operation at that point so I had to get inventive. The quietness of the lake and park was great! I wanted noise! To the square!

The focal point of Nanchang's city centre didn't look like the square I had imagined that I would get to see that summer weekend! Nanchang's famous 'August 1st Square' (八一广场) was in the midst of a huge rejuvenation project, I snapped my photo from a distance with the traffic in the forefront whilst the square sat nicely in the background, it was utter chaos but I loved it! Stumbling across an alley way that looked mad old, I found some seriously old residential buildings that dated back to the Qing Dynasty as far back as 150 years previous to that 2017 moment. A local man asked me in English if I wanted to see one of the courtyards because he wasn't sure why I was in the alley, I explained that I was curious and he thought that was great! Xiaotaohua Alley looked amazing! Enjoying some local noodles was the right thing to do, I didn't pay McDonalds any mind! Ending my night with a Russian ice cream before going back to my hotel felt right! It was a great unplanned weekend!


Joseph Harrison 

India: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur & The Ganges...

No, I couldn't let my parents have all the fun, I followed their footsteps with my own visit to India in 2018! China Southern Airlines check-in at Beijing thought I was homebound? In the nicest possible way I said '我不回家,我要去印度'. Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and the rolling Ganges River were in sights! I was definitely looking for that 'Taj' bench that Princess Diana sat on! Yes!

Delhi was an assault on my very senses, I just needed to know! The calm of 'Gandhi's House' had me at ease but Delhi had me on my toes with its realness. I wanted everything from the first moment, it was like a race to find the realness. The taxi got me to the safety of 'Gandhi's House', he had the right frame of thinking  building his house within the 'New' Delhi area. The first night had me getting a shave and getting curry next to the railway station without any care given, the experience would give me something to remember. The story behind 'Humayun's Tomb' had me wandering within those peacock worthy jewel gardens. Getting the realness from the local places around my 'Grand Balaji' hotel had me relaxed, for me the Indian sweets never tasted better! I lived for the British colonial niches, get me a piece of toast and some baked beans for breakfast, masala chai! Beijing was a playground, Delhi's nature was mad!

I wasn't going to sit in my room, after getting back from my tour adventure I was looking for the real market streets, I found Pharganj because I wanted a custom suit to fly back in. I wanted to fill my suitcase with Indian incense, they weren't going to be cheap, get out! Getting real, I got real lost within the winding streets I heard a group of American tourists that were being babied. I found my Sister-in-Law the perfect carved Ganesh because the theme for 2018 was elephants, they are right! Those incense sticks were smuggled back into China like a drug, in a hefty quantity I carried those Indian spiced sticks. The Butter Chicken was off the scale, I was in my element! The food was so cheap! Delhi had grit, the India Gates had everyone crowding around but were they on the same page? I didn't think so, I did not pay 'Connaught Place' any mind, giving my coins to those alley way retailers gave me life! I wasn't there to be Mother Theresa, I wanted responsible adventure! No mercy mission!

Departing before the birds I left Delhi behind, Agra was on my radar! Meeting with my tour guide, we walked to the grand entrance of the 'Taj Mahal'. Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved late wife, Mumtaz Mahal as her own dedicated mausoleum. I ignored the throng of tourists, the views from afar of the 'Taj Mahal' were unstoppable. I found the bench where Princess Diana had her famous photo taken in front of the palace. I was being schooled, the Mughal ruler followed the Muslim faith, before my visit to India I was under the illusion that Islam hadn't been a popular religion. Set along the Yamuna River, the 'Taj Mahal' looked like an ivory beauty with the less than eye catching surroundings within the same area. I learned that there was a mass period of looting, the Taj Mahal had most of its jewels stolen and had been left in such a sorry state. The British would save the day? Yes T!

In 1932, British Viceroy Lord Curzon kickstarted a huge restoration project, the well planned gardens were added once the project had been completed in 1908. Putting a pair of slippers on, I was able to see within the interior of the 'Mahal'. The intricate detail that had gone into the mausoleum told me that the original building process was a labour of 'love' for the late Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. Leaving the hubbub of the 'Taj Mahal', I was taken to 'Agra Fort', the red brick wonder that had protected the Mughal Empire's leaders during their reign. My visit was brief but very informative, both Indian and British history could be traced back within the tales, Agra had its fort on lockdown! Known as a 'walled city', the fort had seen six ruling parties from the 'Lodhi Dynasty' to the 'British Empire'. Taking it easy near my hotel it was lovely to enjoy some roadside curry, finding the perfect tea biscuits I loved my masala chai at a very ordinary Indian corner shop. Agra served me very well!

Arriving in 'Jaipur City' had me ready to spend some of my Indian Rupees up! There was an abundance of handmade crafts being sold beside the 'Man Sagar Lake'. The backdrop impressed me much, the half submerged 'Jal Mahal' created the perfectly vista. Happy with my purchases, it wasn't my idea but I was taken to a textile factory showroom, more money was definitely spent! Lunch was mad tasty, the Indian food was out of this world in 'Jaipur City!' Right in the 'pink', the beauty of 'Jaipur's' 'Pink City' nature had me right in love with Rajasthan, the 'City Palace' had me speechless with its 'pink' grandeur. I took my time to explore that 'Jaipur' wonder. The street sellers in 'Jaipur' had me parting with more cash, my purchases were piling up! The vibe around the corner from the 'Hawa Mahal' had me feeling like 'Aladdin' as I weaved in and out of the maddening crowd! I was excited to see my final 'Jaipur' point of interest!

My personal favourite sight within 'Jaipur' was by far the 'Hawa Mahal'. Serving secrets for the gods, the 'palace' amazed with its intricate details, even the window frames had me mesmerised. On the other side of the famous display of windows, the interior of the 'palace' took me by hand to show me its former functions. The view from one of the viewpoints had me feeling all of kinds of love for 'Jaipur', the chaos of 'Delhi' was faraway, I adored that day spent in 'Jaipur!' It hadn't been all roses, both hotels were less than satisfactory, I had my last nerve stolen during that last morning spent on the road! I just wanted a bit of breakfast! The two days spent exploring in and around 'Agra' and 'Jaipur' won't ever leave me! 'Jaipur' served substance, it appealed to me more because 'Agra' just had its 'Mahal' and 'Fort', all the same different with a real tough edge away from the tourist traps! On the road for the final time, I was so relieved to get back to my 'Grand Balaji' hotel room to relax! Chill!

'Air India' so thoughtfully rescheduled my flight, twenty four hours later than originally planned! I managed to extend my hotel stay for an extra night, making a sorry situation better I found the perfect filler for that final day in and around 'Delhi'. No, I didn't have enough time to visit 'Varanasi', after checking the trail of the the 'Ganges' I saw that 'Garhmukteswar' stood as the closest point from 'Delhi'. Picking up my car from my hotel, the drive that morning showed me lush green pastures with the odd small village for good measure. In no time the sacred waters of the 'Ganga' stood before me. That river held serious significance for the local population. Many people took their daily wash in the waters, hoping to find vigour and strength from the 'Mother Ganga'. Taking a boat ride over to the other side I was able to seriously appreciate the view. Yes, I washed my hands in the waters of the 'Ganges', I had to! Bless me!

The riverside along the waters of the 'Ganges' bore many functions, I passed by the wood-stock used for the cremation fires. Their was the odd cow roaming around, that's India though! Getting some Indian sweets from a family run sweet centre had me feeling part of the 'Garhmukteswar' experience. The tented market area had me parting with some more money! Content with my purchases, sweets and the mighty 'Ganges', it was time to head back for Delhi. I thank 'Air India', them temporarily cancelling my flight gave me the opportunity to see such a sacred waterway. The 'Thames' flows with 'empire's' past but the 'Ganges' gave me a serious serving of 'renewal' and 'spirituality'. Varanasi section of the 'Ganges' will be bossed in the future! My week spent in 'India' showed me more, I enjoyed the crazy ride that it took me on! I will definitely be planning a future 'Indian' adventure with a beach feel tinged with a few 'Bombay' dreams! भारत, सुनहरी रहो! चलो अजनबी नहीं! 'India' is incredible!

India Calling!

Joseph Harrison 

5 April 2020

Destination: Nottingham

Being back in England because of the Coronavirus hasn't impressed me all that much, getting up to Nottingham gave me something to look forward to. Taking in Old Market Square was nice and to clock the Major Oak at Robin Hood's own Sherwood Forest had me excited! Getting out to Bulwell, I found that famous charity shop for myself! Notts history at the Lace Market! 

Leaving my Bilston home early on allowed me to catch my Birmingham to Nottingham Megabus without any hitches. I had a hazy plan but with enough time on my hands I headed for the city's Old Market Square as soon as I stepped down from my coach. Most of the city centre looked like it was being restored, so much scaffolding could be seen! I wasn't bothered with the history of the city at that point, where was Sue Tuke though? Bulwell would have to wait for me! The city centre street signs were helpful, without my China Mobile data plan I would be needing those street signs soon enough! I loved seeing the Council House as the focal point of the square, to the left I had period buildings that were busy shopfronts with people going about their business. Getting my photos quick, I felt an overwhelming feeling of 'reverse culture shock'. I would be feeling more of that later! Sure, Nottingham had more for me! 

Nottingham had been a city that my Nanjing friend, Chris had lived in. It was a shared excitement in one way because I was being told some funny stories about his time living in that city, with kind recommendations along the way. Where was I going to go next? Taking a moment or two within Nottingham's Old Market Square felt like the right thing to do. The city of Nottingham was serving all kinds Victorian realness, the abundance of 18th century architectural opulence had me thinking that I was in another time period! I love living in China but nothing compares when I get to see British period features! The reason for my Nottingham trip was to get out of the house, to see some place that would give my blog a new English directive because I seem to be a lover of Asian places. Getting up into Nottingham's raw city nature, I could tell that the city would show me many interesting characters! After listening to the local folk, seemingly sounding friendly with a sense of normalcy.

I got a little distracted for a quick second I missed the 12:30 Sherwood Arrow bus from Victoria Bus Station, that hourly bus service would take me to the famous Sherwood Forest. Breaking change for the bus reminded yet again that I was back home in the land of cash, the lack of mobile pay features had me running to change up some money! Leaving the city of Nottingham for the greener pastures towards Edwinstowe Village allowed me to see some lovely countryside views. Looking for the Major Oak had me following the forests path, I remembered watching 'Maid Marian and Her Merry Men when I was younger. I was half expecting to see her and her compadres skipping through the forest that rainy March afternoon. I wasn't going to see them but I was loving the scenic views with the threatening showers keeping people out of my way! I had the forest to myself! Nottingham, where was that Major Oak? Seriously?

I found the Major Oak without any issues! I marvelled at that wondrous tree that looked amazing for its 800-1,100 years of life! The tree had significance from the times of Robin Hood, the figures blew my mind but the real life view impressed me much indeed! The facts about the jays with the acorns hammered home that nature has largely helped the Major Oak last the test of time, the fence was introduced in 1975 because people just didn't have respect for the soil that got disturbed at the bottom of the trees impressive trunk. I remembered my time at Dengfeng's Pagoda Forest near the Shaolin Temple in China, it would have been lovely to have not had such a fence getting in the way! Being mindful of the time I made my way back to the bus stop, I wasn't about to be stranded in the village of Edwinstowe because time was pressing on and my hostel was away in the city centre. With no mobile data it was heaven to be helped, I found my hostel, relaxing that night was the perfect plan!

New York, Paris, Milan & Bulwell! I had a duty to hit up Bulwell before my Birmingham bound coach would leave Nottingham that afternoon! Taking the tram from the Lace Market had me making moves towards Charity Shop Sue's own store! Not an online personality, I saw her own shop because yes she's a manager! Passing the Bullwell Bogs I didn't want to waste any time, I was starstruck, so 'Scuse Me Laydeh!" Bullwell had hits of Bilston, with the outdoor market it reminded me of my hometown! I didn't see Sue's usual volunteers but to be within that famous charity shop made me feel like I had a second hand chance for sure! She needed to get back on that till! Becoming an icon for the LGBT community and a known fan of Rupaul's Drag Race, I hope to see Sue Tuke, Manager branch out into other ventures in the very near future! I don't care what anybody else thinks about my visit, I loved Bulwell! Yes!

Clearly, I had big plans for my trip to Nottingham, getting up to Bulwell to see Sue Tuke, Manager and her shop was the one! She had her work cut out to spread the word of charity to the world to make each one of her customers look like a bloody star with her award winning makeovers! Content with my Bulwell explorations, I boarded the Nottingham Tram back down towards the city centre. Casting my mind back when several people at my hostel had asked me why I had chosen to visit Nottingham, I told them that it was to see Charity Shop Sue within the Bulwell town outside of the city of Nottingham. I loved Bulwell with all of its normalcy, the tram allowed me to zoom in and out of the city without taking lots of time. Bulwell had been everything that I had wanted it to have been, the bogs presented themselves just as they did in that renowned YouTube series. The Lace Market had me walking back to the Nottingham Tram, bidding a fond farewell to Bulwell, the shop and Sue!

The Lace Market? The final chapter of my Nottingham overnight trip was my visit to the city's Lace Market area. Once a powerhouse for the garment production of lace and with the master hosier's calling the shots! Before my trip I had no idea about Nottingham's garment trade, thanks to some time spent at my Grandparents I saw a television programme that featured an auction in Nottingham, paying much reference to the former craft, graft and social in-justice those workers faced. It was apparent that the production of lace products didn't stand as the current trade within Nottingham's Lace Market during my 2020 visit. I wanted to see through the renovations, to see what the stories stood behind the period factory buildings. During my pre-trip research that Kayes Walk within Nottingham's Lace Market oozed the current amounts of 'Victorian Lace Making Realness!' Nottingham's lace past had schooled me thoroughly, N!

The Lace Market was my contingent, a few days before my departure to Nottingham I found out that the city's castle was closed due to major renovation under a National Lottery grant. After my visit to the Lace Market I tried my luck to see the castle, it was impossible to see anything inside the castle walls but I did see a statue of the famous legend Robin Hood. My time in Nottingham had been short but I had made sure that I had seen everything, I hadn't left anything out during that overnight trip! Using that industrial revolution reference I used the Lace Market as my fourth element, paying dual attention to the castle even though it was being taken care of at the point. My final steps in Nottingham were walked along the canal towpath near Castle Wharf to see the British Waterways building. Catching the coach back to the West Midlands I got talking a Chinese student who proved to be good conversation throughout the journey to Birmingham. Sue Tuke, I'll see you soon! Yes!

Nottingham, Get Back On That Till!

Joseph Harrison 

3 April 2020

2020: That Spanish Shutdown!

2020 hasn't been so kind, it's thrown me into a whirlwind of uncertainty and has turned my once settled life in China upside down! With two UK overnight trips planned out and paid for I wanted to fly away to Spain's Costa Blanca for a cheeky weekend, I wanted a bit of Benidorm! Little did I know that Spain would be locked down fast! No Jet2 flight to ALC for me, B! 

OK, I had had a few drinks at my brothers house after getting back from my exit flight from China when I felt the need to book a little weekend away! The previous month had been filled with bureaucracy and hotel confinement, all I wanted was to jet away to Alicante to soak in some Spanish culture, tapas a bit of the other! Booked it, packed and I was all excited to go to Spain in under three weeks time at that point in early March 2020. I had planned to stay in Old Benidorm with easy access to more authentic food choices, making use of the tapas and cobbled streets opposed to the bright lights and 'Brits Abroad' nature on the strip, I was ready to be cultured for a little bit anyway. I had had a lot of time in my Beijing hotel room to watch 'Bargain Brits in the Sun', a documentary series about Brits living their Benidorm dream. I was so fed up of that Chinese quarantine, how I tried to use my return as a positive. 

Checked into my flight, I printed my boarding cards along with pre-ordering a breakfast for the outbound flight to add something different to my ever-growing 'Flying High' blog series. Prepaying for the accommodation was a choice I made, it was cheaper than paying on check-in, that was a choice! I had my itinerary all planned, I was going to be spending three days in resort that would allow me to see Alicante, Benidorm and Altea. The documentary series had me excited to see the Levante Beach as it had also been featured on the hit ITV series 'Benidorm'. In my home country and with the Coronavirus situation being taken care of in China, the faith that my return to England would provide me with some downtime was a momentary comfort. 2019 had been such a fruitful year for my travelling efforts, I wanted 2020 to have the best start considering the wave of shade I had been thrown so early on into the year! Yes, I wanted the food and sunshine, yo quería a esos hombres!

After completing my overnight trip to Nottingham without any hitches I still had faith that the Coronavirus wouldn't put the UK or Spain into any form of chaos, the resorts of the Mainland of Spain continued as normal without a care in the world those flights made their round-trip flights from Birmingham to Alicante without stress. Blissfully unaware I used my downtime before my then planned trip to Sheffield to make my Spanish weekend itinerary. Choosing to spend one day in Alicante to see that port side city, I wanted to see something cultural and cosmopolitan. I discovered that the Alacant Tram connected Benidorm with a whole host of nearby beauty spots! The Castell de Santa Bárbara, Explanada de España and old town surrounding Casco Antiguo were on my Alicante sightseeing list, no mistakes! Keeping the budget small was the one, the cheap eats would be great to scout like I did in Tarragona. I was excited!

Staying within Old Benidorm I was looking to enjoy some local tapas and wine, the full English breakfast could wait because that part of town deserved me trying a few cafe con leche y churros! Plaza Santa Ana would have took precedence, that view would have allowed me to see from far and wide across the Mediterranean Sea. Like a prayer I planned to take notice of the Iglesia de San Jaime y Santa Ana. Getting down with the nightlife I was planning to get nasty, I knew what I wanted to find! Altea had a plan for me to wander around its winding streets, I was looking forward to getting my 'Alacant Tram' on! Back to Benidorm, I wanted nothing more to enjoy a few Euro pints along the strip overlooking the famous Levante Beach, for the nighttime I wanted nothing more to see some cabaret along the bar street, where was Sticky Vicky? I had all my blogs planned out, everything was in place, I even had my taxi money secured for my flight. Miss Corona was about to strike! Si, esa perra!

Something told me that it wouldn't be wise for me to convert any of my British Pounds into Euros, I felt that something would happen but I wasn't expecting what actually happened! Around the 15th of March the Spanish government announced Spain would go into a 15 day precautionary lockdown to fight the suffocating grip of that Coronavirus, it had followed me from China and had effectively cancelled my weekend break to Benidorm! I wasn't going to let this dampen my spirits because 2020 already had me back in England against my will. I focussed on getting refund from my prepaid non-refundable room in Benidorm's Old Town, the property didn't want to know so I took to Twitter to bring my grievances with their media team. After a short wait I got my non-refundable hotel coins back! Jet2 pulled through with a refund issued for my flight, I needed to wait 28 days for that check to come on through!

It was crazy to see the Brits who were in resort within Benidorm's own 'Little Britain' as the iron curtain the tourists made their last orders with four drinks at a time. The Spanish police had their work cut out as the Brit loving tourist town had to locked down! I saw some hilarious footage of a gaggle of Brits who told the camera that having a beer would make everything better, happy days? I wasn't going to freak out because the seed had been planted for a Spanish return later in the year if I had my China life back together, that Miss Corona can sashay away! I know that looking towards Benidorm, Alicante and Altea wasn't a mistake, I'll be having that roast dinner on the beach with a pint of cider in the future! I know this pest will stay with us until its good and ready to leave. Miss Corona has got stunted but she's not won, she has given me more planning time for that regreso épico! ¡Esto es real, me estaré preparando para que esa perra muera! ¡Señorita Corona, estoy hablando de usted!

Miss Corona, Get The F**k Out!

Joseph Harrison

1 April 2020

China: My Shanxi Surprise!

Shanghai hasn't been the only surprise sprung upon me during my time in China, the northern province of Shanxi has served three stellar cities for the win! Surprising me with hanging temples, grottoes and banks with a smattering of shady nightspots, I definitely made those Shanxi moments count! Shanxi served three cities within two weekends with more to boot! Oh, Shan! 

Losing no sleep I arrived into Datong's own airport to be greeted by my China Highlights tour guide and driver. Getting on the road soon after, it wasn't long before we arrived at Datong's 'Hanging Temple'. Steeped in history, built into Hengshan Mountains I was amazed by the state of the temple, some restoration had been carried out. I was more than content with not going up those narrow steps, the view from the bottom was more than spectacular! Dating back to the 5th century, I was impressed with that hanging temple, I needed a nap thats all I knew in that moment! Before lunch it was time to explore the area around Datong's 'Yingxian Wooden Pagoda'. The cold noodles were lovely, I got into my holiday mood with a cheeky Zongzi because it was the weekend of China's Dragon Boat Festival. Fixed together like a jigsaw, the wooden pagoda was once used as a lookout point. Datong had me on my toes for sure, S!

Driving into the city, I had booked myself a nice hotel for the weekend. Making use of the bath had to be done, when there's only a shower at home, it felt like I was in some palatial suite as I soaked in the bath! The area around my hotel was slap bang in the middle of the city, I had some exploring to do. Tracking down the nearest Wal-Mart had to be done, those imports shamed other foreign supermarkets without question! Getting some Australian import cider and some cooked chicken had me set for the night ahead, it was going to be a sedate affair because the early morning departure from Beijing had wiped me out when evening came. Beijing seemed like a million miles away, I always craved noise because Shunyi's so damn quiet! Earlier on I got myself on a rental bike, that gave me the chance to ride around the unassuming city centre, I sensed a lot of development had gone on in that Datong city area! Anyhow, my ex-Holiday Inn hotel was comfy, I was ready for the next day! 

Starbucks breakfast completed, it was time for the second and final day of my tour in Datong City, Shanxi Province. Heading towards the 'Yungang Grottoes' had me excited, the pre-tour photos had me longing to see those vivid colours. The crowds didn't bother me because I had my senses in check, snatching my photos I made it clear to my tour guide that we could move on to the next place. The 'Huayan Temple' was easy breezy, the scorching temperatures kept the crowds away from the temples inner core. Moving on quickly, the 'Nine Dragon Wall' had me transfixed with its blue and golden design! I was schooled good and proper, I found out that China boasts several version of the 'Nine Dragon Wall', the most famous being in Datong. The morning so far had been fully packed with three worthy points of interest. Content but not, I knew that I wanted some more! To the rescue, my tour guide had one more place to show me. Go!

After climbing the short way to the top, I had a boss view overlooking Datong's cityscape from the newly renovated 'Datong City Wall'. My guide informed me that coal had been Datong's primary money maker but when the local government realised that the city boasted a series of show-stopping sights, it changed everything! The city wall was mad quiet, I was loving having that elevated path to myself. Taking it slow, I enjoyed the final part of my tour, the guide had been informative and knew what she was talking about. My weekend in Datong, the capital city within China's Shanxi Province had been fruitful, lots had been discovered and for that I felt that my China Highlights tour had been worth every single penny. Flying back to Beijing had to be done, I needed to complete one more month at work before my Montessori training kicked back in. With Datong done, I needed to see Pingyao and Taiyuan to complete my Shanxi Province trilogy! I wanted the Shanxi surprises to continue! 

Pingyao called my name in August 2019, I managed to get a cheeky high speed train from Beijing West Railway Station to Taiyuan after work on one Friday night after work. Meeting with my guide and driver early the next morning outside my Taiyuan hotel was seamless, Pingyao's ancient past was at my fingertips! Checking out the famous 'Qiao Family Compound' first, I dodged the gaggle of local tourists to get my photos once again. My enthusiastic guide told me about the class divisions of the former compound. Certain influences from America could be seen through the architecture that influenced the door frames within one courtyard. I appreciated the well preserved and crafted 'Qiao Family Compound', keeping the pace moderate it was time for us to hit the road, the ancient city of Pingyao needed my attention! I was so ready for more Shanxi cold noodles, the hot weather had me appreciating the food! Yes!

Parking up outside the walls of Pingyao's 'Ancient City', it was so easy for us to access the period style pedestrian street. I loved the feel of the 'Ancient City', the cold noodles were waiting for me and with the heat it was a welcome choice. The locally made vinegar made my cold noodles taste so good, loved it I did! After lunch we walked towards the city wall, I lived for the small time chaos as the first bank of China showed itself to me. Before the days of China Merchant Bank and China Construction Bank, Pingyao gave China one of its first fully functioning banks. It was so interesting to see the developments that were made during those early years, the rate of expansion was insane considering the early start the bank had. The bank's history impressed me much, with that gem ticked off my list it was time to see the second of two city walls in Shanxi Province. The views were so different, definitely more authentic compared with Datong's offerings. Yes, that darling temple! 

After napping in the car from Pingyao, the time had come to say goodbye to my guide and driver as the car arrived back at my hotel in Taiyuan. I took a short rest in my Yitel hotel room, feeling refreshed I got myself ready for my unplanned night out in Taiyuan. Consulting my go-to social media app, I asked around about the nightlife of a certain kind. The manager from the Pingyao tour company had suggested that I check out 'Mao'er Xiang' to see what foods were on offer. I lived for the lights and energy but didn't entertain any of the food. Opting for a Hui dish, I enjoyed my uncomplicated beef, potatoes and rice. My app consulting had paid off, I had a location to find later on that night by taxi. Feeling thirsty I called upon a drink at 'Joker Homie Pub' after seeing certain reviews on my Dianping app. I enjoyed a few beverages before moving onto the club with no name. I was loving the randomness of the night, T! 

The night took an amazing turn, I got frequented with a new contact for the night. Getting some more beers I found out quickly that the bar was managed by several Trans individuals, I loved the sense of difference because that has to be cherished in certain places on this earth. I made another contact, let's just say it snowballed into something that was very memorable for all the right reasons. Waking up the next day, I didn't feel good but the night had been a roaring success for many reasons. Getting down to the riverside to see the quiet Fen He waters gave me a sense of solitude. I committed myself to getting taxis for the rest of the day, I wanted to continue with my sightseeing before getting the train back to Beijing. I managed to get to the 'Twin Pagoda Temple' for my last point of call, I liked the closed interior garden with the pagodas in view. The previous night had left me feeling 'smashed' and 'spent', it was time to get the train back to Beijing before work.

Serving Shanxi Province!

Joseph Harrison 

1 March 2020

Flying High... Etihad Airways!

Flying has always been something that I have enjoy doing, my most recent flight wasn't for pleasure because I escaped the Coronavirus in China! Due to unforeseen circumstances I had to book a flight back from Beijing to England, my new job would need to wait. Thanks to the resilience of Etihad Airways I was able to make it home! شكرا جزيلا على طيران الاتحاد! Thanks, Etihad!

Staying away from alcohol, sugary foods or caffeinated drinks 48 hours before my flight took off allowed me to keep my body temperature down. I had found some news out that meant I would need to retreat back to my home country of England, making use of Etihad's continued Beijing to Abu Dhabi connection allowed me to leave China before more airlines could suspend their services into China due to the Coronavirus. Check-in was fine although Beijing's Capital Airport felt eerily quite due to major flight suspensions and cancellations. After signing my health declaration form and exiting China Customs gave me some serious piece of mind, I just hoped that my temperature wouldn't go above 37 degrees! Knowing that I wasn't infected with the Coronavirus I boarded my EY889 flight, onboard it was very somber with the whole crew and passengers wearing our face masks it gave me a real sense of the situation. Let's fly!

My Etihad Dreamliner soared above China onto its Abu Dhabi hub, that would take me halfway where I would connect with another flight to Manchester, UK. I managed to sleep for six out of the eight hours from Beijing to Abu Dhabi, we were all reminded of the virus came back to us all after our B787-9 parked at its remote stand. After the mandatory temperature checks I was allowed to disembark the aircraft to make my connecting flight to Manchester. The energy of Abu Dhabi Airport was so refreshing to experience, it was a far cry compared with the desolate sights that I saw in Beijing. Taking my mask off, I made my way towards Gate 53 within Terminal 3, I changed up my RMB for GBP, getting some whisky for my brother had to be done. Seeing life within the terminal in AUH gave me life, the last month had been practically silent within my Shunyi, Beijing shutdown bubble. With boarding called at the gate, another sense of relief washed over me. Thankfully, it was home time!

My Manchester bound flight was parked at a remote stand away from Terminal 3, that Etihad Airways EY21 flight was ready for me! Capturing the photo to the left had me acting fast, I wanted to catch a nice shot before time wasn't on my side. I was genuinely excited to be flying on their new Boeing B787-10 Dreamliner jet to Manchester, UK. Feeling half normal after my slumber on the first flight from China enabled me to get familiar with Etihad's 'E-BOX' in-flight entertainment system, I went straight for the three episodes of 'Very British Problems' to begin with. Moving onto a few episodes of 'Will & Grace' was the ticket to keep the seven hour flight ticking by nicely. The turbulence during the first half of the flight was bad, so it was great to have something to focus on as the flight deck crew ensured our Dreamliner B787-10 flew to calmer skies. It was a relief to not see crew wearing face masks, I was homeward bound!

I won't lie, I threw caution to the wind by having my first red wine in almost four days. I was well away from China at that point and to be honest I didn't expect any potential temperature checks to be taken at Manchester Airport. Relaxing into my Dreamliner economy class seat onboard one of Etihad's B787-10 felt amazing! Half way into my Manchester flight the turbulence grew stronger, the crew acted professionally as they had no choice but halt cabin duties upon the captains orders. The vibe during the second flight was more lively, as strange as it sounds it was a relief to see my fellow passengers go about the cabin. The somber vibe from my Beijing Coronavirus fleeing flight was traded for a slice of normality, I was relieved to be going home for what would be a short stay until the China resumes its normal way of life. I had never envisaged that I would be going back to England so soon, having two flights on two different Boeing Dreamliner jets made everything much better!

Departing from Beijing at 01:25 am on the 25th of February 2020 meant that I had already had my final meal in China for that stint, before the cabin lights were dimmed after take off the crew served a light bite in the form of a cheese and cucumber sandwich. Staying away from alcohol was wise, making mine a water had to be the one until I had boarded my Manchester bound flight later on the same day. I definitely know my limits whilst I'm flying, that AUH bound flight had to be very sober indeed! After waking up from my deepish sleep during the PEK-AUH sector of my journey, it was time for breakfast to be served before my flight landed into Abu Dhabi Airport. My omelette breakfast with a strong coffee had be ready to navigate my short transfer between flights in Abu Dhabi. I would definitely be ready for my Manchester bound in-flight complimentary meal. Honestly, I was ready for a few red wines! Easy EY!

I wanted to try some of the snacks and drinks onboard, part of the 'Sweet & Salty' range I couldn't because I do not have a credit card. I hope that in the future Etihad Airways will find alternative payment methods to extend their 'Sweet & Salty' in-flight treats to passengers who don't have access to credit cards. In between the intermittent turbulence during my Manchester bound flight with Etihad Airways the crew tried their best to conduct the meal and drinks service. I chose the lamb and rice option, I enjoyed another red wine as the aircraft was slightly rocked by the turbulence. I must admit that the meal tasted better than it looked, the chocolate mousse was lovely. As the flight soared closer towards the British Isles it was time for the sandwich and hot drinks to be served, I really enjoyed the cheese and tomato toasted sandwich with my coffee before landing into the United Kingdom. Considering the movement onboard, I tried my best to get that airplane meal photo.

Like their UAE cousin Emirates, the crew onboard my Etihad Airways flights were immaculately presented with their white, orange and scarlet purple uniforms. Being one of the only remaining international airlines operating from Beijing, China throughout the Coronavirus epidemic meant the crew were all wearing masks during my first flight to Abu Dhabi. Things were very quiet during that first flight, aside from that the crew passed through the cabin during services onboard that limited overnight flight. The crew during my second flight were more present within the cabin, it was great to hear the Mancunian accents spoken by the British crew who were flying to their home city of Manchester. The female crew member who passed through my section of the economy had a wicked sense of humour, she knew how to deal the passengers who were not listening to the crews words. Her realness gave me life! Slay, E!

Feeling that one more wine wouldn't hurt, I made my way to the rear galley to ask for some red wine. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines crew weren't allowed to take a photo with me, due to a social media policy from their head office the crew politely declined my request. Whilst on Etihad I got talking to Katrina, from Manchester she agreed that having home crew onboard any flight makes things much better! I asked Katrina if she would accept a photo with me, after explaining about my 'Flying High...' blog series. Thankfully, Katrina accepted my request, we posed our best 'Instagram' poses at 36,000 ft in the skies! Katrina was so friendly, it was great to speak with a crew member who was so bubbly and easy to talk with. Retreating back to my seat for the final stages of the flight it was such a relief to land into Manchester Airport. From the near deserted Beijing Capital Airport to the lights and energy at Abu Dhabi it was so nice to clear the automatic passport lanes at MAN Airport! Yes!

Dreamliner Done!

Joseph Harrison

2020: The Story So Far...

2020 started off so sweet, or did it? No, with every new year we have such high hopes for things to go swimmingly, I just got drama! From a very stroppy visitor to a deadly case of the Coronavirus, in its infancy 2020 has packed a few sucker punches at me! I stand strong and ready to continue to live my best life against all odds! Just don't make me stay in one more hotel! No!

After arriving back from my nonstop Christmas holiday I fell ill with sickness after going back to work so soon after flying around the world, no joke because I was done and tired! The previous night the new year had arrived, I wasn't impressed because certain drama went down good and proper! Retreating home for four days I needed some time to collect my senses, 2020 was going great, don't even try! I was so close to the finish line, I had handed my notice in at my current kindergarten due to reasons I won't go into. My new employer would expecting me in a matter of weeks, at that point things were going well. As the Chinese New Year holiday neared it was evident that a stream of sickness had engulfed the kindergarten, in that moment things carried on as normal with a few more absences than usual. How my weekend away in the city helped, I saw the Summer Palace, Yuanmingyuan Park and saw Wudaokou! Life, B! 

Sharing a mutual contact with a Scottish friend had me wondering if I wanted to experience something different, did I? Yes, I welcomed a new friend into my life for the weekend to find that his personal interests were as intense as his make-up routine, nobody rushes me on a Saturday morning! Lunch at the Conrad was fancy, for that discount I was thankful because those apps aren't foreigner friendly in the slightest. I sipped on wine and enjoyed my confit of duck, the weekend was getting on nicely. Shopping? One sport that I do solo, I cannot abide by time being wasted in a shop when I'm not benefiting. Call me arrogant, I just know what I want, don't damn me for being specific, choices! Fast forwarding to what would be my last Kai night out, I lived my best life with that caked queen who really pushed me to my limit! Getting the facts straight, the stresses of my current situation and those gold-digging tendencies weren't going to make a fool of me! GTFO, quite literally boy! Go!

My apartment would finish ten days before my last working day, teamed with the Chinese New Year government week in tow I needed to make certain reservations. Captured to the right was my second hotel out of three, I enjoyed my first hotel because I had my bed made and room cleaned every few days and I had ordered many snacks to help curb the cost of delivery meals because something ugly was about to get me without any warning given. Certain pushbacks had been made with a second announcement made, I felt confident that some previous company paperwork could be rectified before a third reservation would need to be made. Release me already! Yes, during CNY I'm usually abroad but those pre-Coronavirus streets were looking as quiet as a northward Korean city, let's keep it vague. A friend notified that my hotel had been shutdown by the police, divine timing allowed me to check-in on time! O!

Going back a few steps, I didn't see any risk with being in China during a growing epidemic. The Coronavirus had unfortunately hit worst within Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei Province. My heart dropped when I heard about the location, I had lived in Wuhan for the first two years that I was in China, when all is said and done I loved living in that city, it didn't sit well with my conscience. Netflix and blogging kept me busy, I felt as if I was going to be here for the long haul, I had the best fight on with my previous company because I knew my papers should have been lodged weeks previous to that February date! Hotel life felt like some twisted limbo, I kept the faith because that's all I could do! Those streets were no joke, the migrants hadn't made their way back to Shunyi, the quietness turned into deafening silence. Getting a drink or two had to be done, I had a date with the whisky devil! My funds were good and they are, I saved my coins but didn't want them spent as hotel reservations, B!

Friends, honest and real is what we need in times of madness, during times of mass panic because of a big massive epidemic! 2020, you had us fooled! Living our 'Pose' best lives, both me and my friend Cyndi both clapped back to the Coronavirus fearlessly! Embodying our best 'Electra' demeanours, we served all of what we could to walk the ball, the category was 'Coronavirus Realness!'. Ten's were across the board for Cyndi's cooking, she fed me well with her wholesome cooking, I was living on takeaways and noodles! We spent our days getting our lives together, I was adamant it was going to be a sit in, I had a lot in my head with getting my exit papers. The real life gravity of 2020s shadiness couldn't be seen! We kept each other going, with the stresses felt differently I didn't judge Cyndi for going home at all. The Coronavirus wasn't coming to Beijing's suburban Shunyi District, we kept safe due to our location.

2020, look what you have done! I would say it's the divine way to embrace what was happening in that moment but I was not going to be broken down. Cancelling my first train that was down to Shanghai had me thinking things would be pushed back only a little bit, I still needed papers and they weren't going to be secured easily! Making links with an agent, that contact maxed out my budget but he negotiated fiercely with those ugly forces into doing their jobs properly. I wasn't playing any games, as time pressed on I then faced the prospect that could have taken me to the UK, that wasn't the plan and I wasn't going to take that lightly! Cue Cyndi's departure and my third hotel reservation, I wanted out of the hotels because I wanted housekeeping to leave me alone at that point. Although, I had a good stash of biscuits from the second hotel! Cyndi's departure was meant for her mental health, mine was being cemented together with booze and trashy shows. 2020, I can't!

Release letter done, I needed my cancellation letter hurried that would cancel my current work permit. The tomfoolery that was going on with my previous teaching company was no joke, the government bureau had reopened on the 31st of January 2020! Things weren't moving on because certain legal obligations hadn't been fulfilled, that was some shady business! With Cyndi back in the United States I moved onto my third and final hotel, plans had been made for me to venture down to my next city but the Coronavirus had my new employer safeguarding things, I had news that it was in my best interest to leave the country due to the timeline for visas and to also conserve my funds. I had to be pragmatic, honestly speaking this hotel life has become a real chore, not to mention a tad expensive! Ensuring a ticket booked, my parents snatched a flight for me with Etihad Airways from Beijing to Manchester via Abu Dhabi. Oh!

2020, get your ish together! Throughout January and February I handled a lot of foolishness, having the odd moment of hysteria I picked things up and moved on with life within China's Coronavirus! The hotels have been something to deal with, I was done with them after the first week, being one month in total I don't want to see another hotel for a long time! I didn't want to go home, don't get it twisted because I love my family but the visa business from home can get pricey with the bureaucracy, I have to get on with this situation because it was my choice to change companies and location. 2020 hasn't been kind but things have worked out well with each step, I have full confidence that the outbreak will be culled, allowing normal service to resume in China. Character building and mind altering, 2020 has pushed me beyond my limits but I'm standing to tell my story. Now, I won't lie I'll be enjoying the comforts of home, I won't miss this Shunyi ghost-town for nothing! Choices!

For Real Though? 2020, No!

Joseph Harrison 

On The Metro: Beijing's Line 2

Going underground for the third time, I wanted to look at Beijing Subway's Line 2. Standing as one of Beijing's founding lines, operating within its circular tracks it reminds me of London's Circle Line. Encompassing Qianmen, Fuchengmen and Chongwenmen, it's clear to see Line 2 acts as a reminder of Beijing's walled city gate past. The Coronavirus wouldn't stop me!

Beijing Railway Station was first introduced to me when I took my first Beijing departing night train during 2018. Line 2 was first opened in 1985, being over 35 years meant this line was one of China's first underground mass transit lines. The architecture within Beijing Railway Station's Line 2 subway station has a period stone style at platform level, that reminded me of the Pyongyang Metro in the DPRK. Was the Pyongyang Metro modelled on Beijing's Line 2? Keeping my eyes on the prize was fundamental each time I would either leave or enter Beijing Railway Station's own Line 2 subway station, the different layout only gives for a one way system that if taken during rush periods would great delays and create much annoyance because of the human traffic! My visits to Beijing Railway Station won't be anymore, I am moving onto to a city that only has a modern railway station. Line 2's railway station has helped me out!

Only a few stops along Line 2 from Beijing Railway Station's subway stop lies Yong He Gong Lama Temple Subway Station, I have needed that station a few times over the years that I have spent in Beijing. The main Entry and Exit Bureau can be accessed from that station, I have been meaning to visit the Yong He Gong Lama Temple but things just never happened. During my night Hutong food tour I met my leader and group at that subway station! Talking about the Entry and Exit Bureau, I needed to take care of some business during early to mid February 2020 because of my short stay permit. Things were abnormally quiet during that shutdown period! Due to inclement weather and the complete shutdown of temples within the city due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus my final chances to visit that temple were taken out of my control. I will be returning to Beijing like I did to Wuhan in the next year, I'll catch that Line 2 train to that station for the temple. Promise, B!

During 2019 I made it to Qianmen Pedestrian Street, the first time I took the Beijing Subway to Line 7 then when I was done I took Line 2 at Qianmen Subway Station. Walking the length of the pedestrian street allowed me to see the mostly renovated waking street. I was able to the tram that trailed along the length the street. Things weren't ideal the first time, making tracks back to Qianmen Street I went straight to Qianmen Station on Line 2. I enjoyed the sights along the street along with the secret feeling Hutong's that I found not so far away from the stations exit. Line 2's Qianmen Station gave me views of the Qianmen Drum Tower, I was snatching all of those Beijing points of interests because I knew that my time in that Capital was only temporary. Going in a circular moment allowed me to not make any mistakes whilst travelling on Line 2, the right way would always be found! Keep it moving 前门! Go!

Line 1 wasn't needed to reach Tiananmen Square when I needed to meet my tour guide during that heavily polluted Saturday morning, no! I took my usual Line's 15 to 13 then to 2 in order to reach Qianmen Subway Station. Using 'Exit A' allowed me to access Beijing's Tiananmen Square without having to face any crazy checkpoint near the National Museum of China, I didn't need that negativity in my life, of course not! Line 2 might not be the newest line within Beijing's ever-growing network but its got character with that marble design it showcases. During my latest ride along the tracks of Line 2's network I noticed that the signed had been replaced with fresh and clearer new signs, allowing for concise transfer times at those connecting stations. I was quietly impressed, the system needs more transparency and with so many stations, things need to be much clearer! Line 2 may actually be the final that I take during my 2017-2020 stint in Beijing! L2, get that renovation on the way!

Yes, my November 2019 breakfast Hutong tour took me around the Fuchengmen Hutong area, the meeting point for that tour happened to be on Line 2 at Fuchengmen Subway Station! Taxing it to that meeting point was the one, the week at work had been no joke but the traffic was an even bigger joke! Present day I have forgotten what a traffic jam looks like due to the Coronavirus epidemic that's shutdown most of the city! Anyway, the morning out allowed me to try all sorts of Beijing foods during that morning time period, just the Saturday love that I needed! Making my way back to Line 2's Fuchengmen Subway Station to get my pre-America currency converted. Line 2 had me covered in many senses, Fuchengmen acted as another Beijing 'gate' that formally kept the ancient walled city tight and secure! Without Line 2 I would have needed to get invented in order to find Line 10's Tuanjiehu. All good, B!

Line 2 may not be the longest line within the vast network of Beijing's Subway system, but with its circular motion and longevity its got a story to tell. For me I always loved travelling on the older lines because the newer stations are so modern looking with no character from the previous legacy of the city's development and past in one place. I have every faith that as Beijing makes more lines for the people to get from a to b, its going to give Line 2 more connections and choices to link the city of Beijing better, now that would be much better! From Beijing Railway Station to the Yong He Gong Lama Temple, I know that I'll be making tracks back to Beijing in the future to mop up those missed chances from the stresses of work to the final months that saw the wrath of the Coronavirus.  My breakfast Hutong food tour allowed me to see Fuchengmen in all of its Hutong glory, helping me connect onwards after my tour. Line 2 of the Beijing Subway better step its game up! Bye Line 2!

Team Line 2 Much!

Joseph Harrison 

Let's Introduce... Haidian District, Beijing!

As my time in Beijing concluded in February 2020 it was crucial that all of the top tourist sites had been seen! Making the best of a crazy situation I used my inner city hotel reservation to my advantage. Choosing to visit Beijing's Haidian District had me on a mission during that sunny weekend. No, the Summer Palace, Yuanmingyuan Park and Wudaokou weren't going to wait! 

Making my way from my Beijing hotel in the heart of the city's lively Tuanjiehu, I took the underground to Beigonmen Station to reach Beijing's Summer Palace. I had been looking forward to seeing that Beijing landmark but the weather needed to be on its best behaviour, well more like the pollution! Finding my way to the entrance, I paid my discounted seasonal admission fee. The signs were pretty hazy so I trusted my Apple Maps and half of my Chinese sign reading skills to find the frozen Kunming Lake. It took a little bit of walking to find my chosen photo point, the walk along the frozen lake had me feeling all kinds of thoughts for the year that was ahead of me. The famous 'Hill of Longevity' stood before me, I was all about seeing the 'Tower of Buddhist Incense' from a distance. The 'tower' and the 'lake' make this Haidian District attraction look so iconic, definitely impressing me! The beauty B!

Beijing's 'Qingyi Garden' was first constructed in 1750, those formative years were founded on a different plot of land because a certain shade was thrown! After some unfortunate happenings the modern Summer Palace was built in 1888 with a much needed name change, the Empress Dowager Cixi pulled funds from unauthorised sources to ensure she had somewhere comfortable to live through her final years. I could only imagine the opulent surroundings that China's former Empress had views for days as she would look over the palace's Kunming Lake. I enjoyed the views from the safety of the stone path, others were dancing on the ice but that certainly wasn't for me! It had taken me some time to get to Beijing's Summer Palace but all good things come to those who wait, it was a case of timing. I would soon learn about the foreign led changes that had forced Beijing to built a new palace in Haidian District. Keeping my head clear was the best choice for that weekend. I had clarity! 

Wanting to add to my previous university discovery, I tried my luck to access the Beijing University grounds. Tsinghua University guards allowed me to bike into the gates without any questions asked, unfortunately I wasn't meant to be that Saturday afternoon. Jumping back onto the Beijing Subway had to be the thing to do. Arriving at Beijing's original Summer Palace had me confused, I needed to do my research quick-time! The old Summer Palace had been constructed during 1709 by the lead of Emperor Kangxi during the Qing Dynasty. Fast forwarding to 1860, it was believed that French Allied Forces made a right old mess at Beijing's Yuanmingyuan, the former emperors pleasure playground. I didn't care about those delicate details because I simply wanted to marvel at the ruins that stood before me. The walk from the entrance to the park had taken a few hundred steps to reach! The was setting, I didn't have time! 

Impressed by the history and the ruins that stood before me, I didn't feel bad that I couldn't gain access to the gardens within Beijing University. The distance from the modern Summer Palace to Yuanmingyuan Park wasn't a lot but with walking and metro interchanges taken into consideration it was almost my whole day to cover a small part of the district. Enjoying my view at the original palace I also felt that timing had brought me to that Beijing landmark before my Ningbo bound train would take me to my new city the following month. The other visitors to the ruins couldn't take their eyes off me, had they never seen a foreigner before? Anyhow, I made my way back to the entrance from the ruins with a feeling of accomplishment. With the evening drawing in, I needed to get back onto the subway to conclude my penultimate day of sightseeing in Beijing, China. Well for now, I do intend on returning in a year or so like I did with Wuhan. Beijing had something Korean for my tea!

After battling my way through the Saturday evening rush on the ever hectic Beijing Subway, I arrived in Wudaokou to be greeted with lights and a lot of energy! I preferred going out in Sanlitun to my usual nightspots, so I hadn't paid Wudaokou until that point. Keeping to my level headed focus for the weekend, I was limiting myself to one beer. The traffic was chaotic, people were absolutely and if truth be told I was feeling very hungry! Wudaokou is known for its large Korean student population, taking heed of that Korean connection I chose a Korean restaurant to have some much needed food. I picked the first place I saw in amongst the lights and action, waiting for my table I didn't take a lot of time before I knew what I wanted! I ordered a large Korean draft beer, some Korean fried chicken with a side of Tteokbokki. The BJ Tteokbokki was a lot spicier compared with the variation I had enjoyed in Dandong!

The restaurant had KPOP music videos playing all around, that KPOP display had me feeling some of way because I wanted Korean and its craziness back in my life! Enjoying my food, I ate way too much but everything was good even if the Teokbokki and sweet chilly chicken packed some spicy flavourings. I kept to my one beer limit, I wasn't about to get wasted because I was aiming for a very sober Sunday! Enjoying the mayhem of Wudaokou's traffic and shopfront lights, it really hammered home much I had been sheltered whilst living in Shunyi District. Making my way back to the hotel wasn't bad, the train journey on the Beijing Subway from Wudaokou to Tuanjiehu didn't take so long. I didn't have any thoughts about heading into Sanlitun that night, I needed my bed for certain! The day spent within Beijing's Haidian District had been a genuinely lovely day out, it helped me wrap up more of my last places to see in the city of Beijing. Keeping it chilled, the warm hotel room was lovely!

Haidian Done!

Joseph Harrison 

This Departure Lounge... South Korea, India, The DPRK & Singapore!

Dreams are good but making them into a reality is what counts to me! Since 2018 I have made the most of my freshly issued British passport, I never intended to stay waiting in that departure lounge of dreams forever! It think not! From South Korea's electric capital city to India's unstoppable nature, I crossed into North Korea before trying a Singapore sling in Singapore City!

With the exception of Hong Kong and Macau, during my first two years spent in China I chose to stay within the Mainland. My passport didn't have enough pages for me to risk any more stamps during an international trip, I knew I would make my international comeback in time. For National Day 2018 I flew to Seoul, South Korea. I got myself into the KPOP vibe and lived for the neon lights along Myeong-dong's narrow alleys. I stayed in Itaewon, that foreign friendly part of Seoul showed me a thing or two, I was ready for some hedonistic behaviour! Enjoying my days with sightseeing I bagged some Korean gifts for my students, I know that I buy a lot of things for them! Gyeongbukgong Palace was beautiful! Bukchon Hanok Village presented Joseson Era architecture, just so cute and authentic, I loved it! Namsam TV Tower had me walking up hill for time, the view was worth every single step, K!

When the sun went down it gave me the chance to get my soju drinking on point! That Korean liquor was so cheap, it just had to be the one! Finding 'Homo Hill' opened my eyes to that fabulous corner that was filled with gay bars and clubs, during the week it was quiet but I made sure I enjoyed my drinks and if truth be told, I used those weeknight moments as research for a possible weekend trip. Finding Hyundae Spa, I lived my best life and for what took place I can't possible mention! My Korean spa experience in Seoul was magical, the experiences also gave me the thoughts that I needed to return. One thing that I noticed in Seoul was the gentlemen, aside from having killer looks, they were dressed in the best fashion that I ever did see! I wasn't into Korean food but it was safe to say I enjoyed the men folk of Seoul! Who needs Kimchi when you're surrounded by sizzling Korean male hotness! Seoul, South Korea gave me everything that I needed, I knew I'd be returning! SK birthday vibes?

After returning home from England I had already applied for my Indian E-Visa in-preparation for my December holiday. Arriving into New Delhi had me feeling all kinds of crazy, it was pure pandemonium at the airport as I waited for my transfer. The first day spent in New Dehli, I chose to take a 'taxi tour' around the city. The inexpensive taxi allowed me to see the Jama Masjid, Gandhi's House and India Gate amongst other places on the way. The contrast between New and Old Delhi had me shocked, from one side it was all colonial houses then to the other it was city dwellings of another kind! That chaotic city gave me life for sure, I stayed near Delhi Railway Station with sights and smells served to me like no other I had ever experienced before that December 2018 moment! I was amazed by the English spoken by some of the local people that I spoke to, on the whole they were friendly people. India is incredible! Oh, it was so crazy!

I didn't plan on spending all of my time in Delhi, I had booked myself a three day, two night tour from Delhi to Agra and Jaipur before going back to my Delhi hotel. First driving down to Agra, I was able to spend some tome at the world famous Taj Mahal, moving on I lived for the red tones of the Agra Fort. Spending one night in Agra, I tried some local foods and enjoyed some lovely masala chai on the roadside. Driving for what felt like an eternity, my driver pulled into Jaipur, known as the 'Pink City'. Taking in the Jal Mahal, along the lake front I spent my rupees up because I wanted some locally made crafts for my students to enjoy. The bustling vibe of Jaipur didn't intimidate like Delhi had almost tried to, I lived for the chilled opulent vibe I felt as I discovered the 'City Palace'. The Hawa Mahal impressed me much! 'Rollin' on the river' I made it down to Garhmukteshwar to see the mighty 'Ganges River' for myself! My rescheduled Air India flight gave me another day in India!

Before I lived in China it never occurred to me that I could visit one of the world's most secretive countries so easily from China. After my experiences in South Korea my in-depth knowledge of its northern neighbour had me researching trip to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Booking with Young Pioneer Tours I took off for Pyongyang with Air Koryo, accompanied by some of the tour group members we had already had our pre-trip meeting the previous day. Meeting our guides, we gave them our passports as they would be keeping them for the duration of our time that we spent in Pyongyang. Seeing Kim Il Sung Square allowed me to see where the military parades take place, we enjoyed a surprisingly good coffee, the power supply tripped out! Getting to the train station allowed us to welcome the remaining members of the tour before checking out Ryomyong Street where we had our dinner. Go!

Smartly dressed for the entire length of the trip, it was suggested that we wore formal attire at all times. Pyongyang was so different compared with Seoul, I couldn't get me head around the stark differences. Our tour took to many of the highlights in Pyongyang, we visited Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on the third day. Adhering to the required behaviours we were able to see the two former leaders in state, it was a very surreal experience indeed! Taking the high road we drove all the way to Kaesong, we visited Panmunjom Village to see the unsigned peace treaty and to peer over the DMZ! Back in Pyongyang we took a ride on the deepest metro in the world, the grandeur of the stations and the vintage german metro impressed us all! The restaurant that we visited on the second official night was amazing, the food was something but the waitress certainly entertained us with their musical talents! I experienced one day in the border city of Sinuiju before crossing back into China.

So, National Day 2019 had big shoes to fill, the previous year had seen me get up to some crazy things in Seoul, South Korea. I jetted off to Singapore with the national airline, paying more because of that choice it led to be the best decision ever made! Catching the indoor waterfall at Changi Airport's Jewel transit feature, that futuristic space impressed me much! Getting to know Chinatown had to be done, I had arrived a few hours earlier than I had expected to. I tried a 'Curry O' from Old Chang Kee, trying my best to stave the jet leg I enjoyed my curry flavoured puff. Thankfully, I checked into my pod hotel bunk for some much needed sleep. Chinatown had me playing some tricks, let's just say a certain establishment that mirrored Seoul's Hyundae Spa had crossed my path, I was ready for all of that business! Ending the night with my first Singapore Sling at Dorothy's had me somewhere over the rainbow. Done!

Taking the MRT over to Little India had my tastebuds sent to another planet, lunch at the Tekka Centre allowed to eat at one of Singapore's many hawker centres. Serangoon Road's many colours took me back to India for sure, I caught a glimpse of the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple! Kampong Glam served me an Arabian flare, the city's Sultan Mosque impressed me much! Taking things seriously beside the Singapore River during my third day in Singapore had me starting things from the top of Fort Canning Hill Park. Catching a glimpse of Sir Stamford Raffles in statue form have me another element of the river. Sipping my money way at the Long Bar adjacent to the Raffles Hotel allowed to fall in love a Singapore Sling or three! The Esplanade allowed me to find the Merlion, catching my desired photo with Marina Bay Sands in the background was a challenge! Hor Fun never tasted so good at Lau Pa Sat before I concluded my magical week at the Gardens by the Bay! Singapore was amazing!

Travel Sets Me Free!

Joseph Harrison 

9 February 2020

Flying High... KLM Royal Dutch Airlines!

The journey back to Beijing, China takes long enough, choosing Birmingham Airport once again made getting to airport a lot easier. Making use of KLM's short connection from Birmingham to Beijing through Amsterdam allowed me to arrive in China without any delays. Sorry, Birmingham Airport really needs to step up those international direct flights! Get it direct BHX! Go!

Check-in had me shocked, one of the Passenger Services Agents had a foul look on his face! His KLM/Air France colleague apologised profusely for his unprofessional demeanour, she checked my bag in without any issues and apologised further even when it wasn't her problem. Proceeding towards the security checkpoint at BHX meant I had to say goodbye to my parents, with those farewells in order I proceeded through security. I was pleasantly surprised how streamlined the process was, I passed my compliments onto one of the security checkpoint officers. The previous December I chose to fly from Manchester Airport, the security checkpoint before departures was an utter mess compared with Birmingham's stress-free pre-departures security check. Manchester should take several pointers from Birmingham's operation, for that I was impressed! Fair play BHX, but we need more direct long haul flights! OK!

Tracking the inbound flight that would be coming from Amsterdam revealed a slight delay, I wasn't worried because the airline had to honour our tickets if we missed our connections. I got speaking to a fellow KLM passenger who was also going on to China from Amsterdam, she appeared to be quite worried but I reassured her in Chinese that there wouldn't be any need to worry. I didn't need any beverages that afternoon before my flight because I had to be focussed, I could wait for the flight over to Beijing, China that evening. With a boarding gate announced it was time to proceed further before boarding would be commencing. The inbound KLM flight from Amsterdam had arrived with enough time to spare, it would make the time up in the air and it was only a short flight. Taking to the skies, we were served a sandwich box with either a hot or cold drink. I asked if the refreshments would be complimentary because Aer Lingus Regional charged me! KLM had me sorted over to AMS!

After touching into Amsterdam's gargantuan Schiphol International Airport, my KLM City Hopper flight taxied to the dedicated stands for their smaller European based aircrafts. My Beijing bound KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight would be boarding within thirty minutes after the Birmingham flight had fully disembarked. We were bussed to the nearest drop-off point that led to connections and arrivals, I for one ran for my life towards the escalators that led to the international concourses. Confirming with some fellow Beijing passengers in Chinese I had the confirmation I was going in the right direction! Thankfully I arrived at my gate with plenty of time to spare, the boarding process was quite lengthy so I took some time to marvel at the amazing photo opportunity I was bestowed. My aircraft was being prepared for the flight to Beijing from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Yes, KLM's new bluey livery impressed me! 

Bluey? I had shown the KLM 'Bluey' series to my former homeroom kindergarten class, they loved the adventures that the little KLM jet experienced during the cartoon. My Boeing 777-200 wasn't the Dreamliner that was originally scheduled, I took that change in my stride because I couldn't change that factor. I had tweeted KLM well before my departure date to see if the aircraft change was correct compared with the reservation details I had on my Trip.com account. Boarding for me came around, I patiently waited for the economy cabin to board on this China bound flight I didn't want any drama to arise. Luck was on my side, my Beijing seat was on the bulkhead row and better still the seat next to me to the left was empty! Taking off on-time, my KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Beijing would only take nine hours! If truth be told, I was content with the flight time! I was excited to experience the in-flight entertainment and customer service during the flight. 

I had completely relaxed into my bulkhead seat, I had plenty of room to not feel restricted during that long haul flight. I didn't have a seat-back screen so I took out my screen from in-between the seat to the right hand side of me. I browsed through the film titles to see some seriously good contenders for that Beijing bound flight. Choosing to watch 'Pulp Fiction' was the one for me, I waited for the meal service to begin before I started my film. I had enjoyed a lot of rich home cooked food at home in England so I chose the oriental option for my meal. The attentive KLM crew passed through the cabin with the first drinks service of the flight, they spoke English excellently and always had natural looking smiles on their faces! Not being a fool I had opted for a few red wines because the connection between flights had been quite rushed, again it was nice to relax into my seat onboard KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Let's get to China! 

Getting into my film, I absolutely loved my economy class meal, I even ate the salad and I never ever eat the salads provided onboard a flight! Pulp Fiction was a really twisted 90s film, I really enjoyed watching it! Half way through the flight I went to the rear galley to ask the cabin crew if they accepted photos to be taken with passengers, they were very gracious but due to company policy they had to decline my request. I respected their response and for the company policy in place, overall the cabin crew that were on board my KLM flight from Amsterdam to Beijing were really friendly and attentive. Morning came around with the final service of the flight, I enjoyed some caffeine and the cooked breakfast option was much appreciated. I felt that the services offered were exceptionally good for present day economy class. It felt like such a relief to finally arrive into Beijing's Capital International Airport, my two week holiday had come to an end with those three long flights! Dank u, K!

Ik hield van KLM!

Joseph Harrison