Wednesday, 10 June 2020

This Departure Lounge... My Coronavirus Travel Plan: Part 3!

Throughout this lockdown period that I have spent in England, the medium of world music has allowed me to discover new places that I will visit once things normalise. Living in China makes the vast majority of Asia, Oceania and the West Coast of the USA accessible, I want to experience some Central & South American destinations, also the Caribbean! Estoy listo ahora!

Colombia, the home of Shakira and Maluma, baby! With my U.S tourist visa good till 2029 I plan to transit in the U.S mainland before taking the medium range flight down to Cartagena, Colombia to begin my South American odyssey. Like San Juan, Puerto Rico, I want to discover 'Viejo Cartagena' to see all of the Spanish colonial buildings, I'm already in love with the fairytale like turrets and winding cobbled lanes. I will find the way to Cartagena's 'Avenida Santander' to be at one with that Caribbean Sea vista! To get my castle fix, I want to get right into the charms of the 'Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas'. After the sunset I know I'll be getting down to some 'Reggaeton' grooves at one of Cartagena's bars because those hombres Colombianos will be set in my sights! I wouldn't just be going to see the culture within the 'Centro Histórico' de Cartagena! ¡Sé lo que anhelo! ¡Se va a poner peligroso! Right now, all I can do is dream on!

After taking a short flight down to the Colombian capital of Bogota, I know that several places deserve to be discovered! At the centre of the action I cannot miss 'Bolivar Square' otherwise known as 'Plaza Mayor', make no mistakes I want to take in all of its extras such as 'Catedral Basílica Primada de Bogotá'. Getting to know some pre-Spanish era architecture and history needs to happen during my time in Bogota! Within Bogota's 'Bolivar Square' I want to pay attention to the regal looking 'Capitolio Nacional'. Taking it to the 'Barrio de la Candeleria' to catch some Colombian city realness, keeping it within 'La Candeleria' it looks like the white washed rose garden courtyard within the 'Museo Botero' looks like a sweet spot? Yes! Real talk, I hadn't thought about Colombia as a viable tourist destination, this period of lockdown due to the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic has given me time, time to look at different possibilities. The rich colours and history are calling me! Some coffee?

After visiting the United States of America some years after I had worked in Newark, New Jersey, I had never realised how much I had missed the Spanish language! No! Teamed with a foodie documentary that saw three chefs travel from Tijuana, it had me thinking that I need to make tracks over the U.S border in San Diego. Tijuana has had a rough ride, but after a friend from San Diego told me that an opportunity to see Tijuana was possible, the seed had been planted! Mine's a tequila! From Tijuana I aim to visit two more Mexican places, including the capital and a beach option. Keeping it central, I won't trade anything to get a view of Mexico City's 'Zocalo!' Known in Spanish as 'Plaza de la Constitución', I would kill to see the Mexican flag flying high! Capturing some Aztec ruins in the city has to be done, within the Tlatelolco taking in the 'Templo Mayor' and the 'Plaza de las Tres Culturas'. Sure Mex, 'Cuidad' foods will be enjoyed! 

Getting out of Mexico City with my best foot forward, I have my sights set to see the 'Pyramid of the Sun' to bolster my appreciation before the Spanish civilisations. For sure, sites such as the 'Floating Gardens of Xochimilco' will be seen! Yes, I mentioned about the Spanish language being a draw for me to visit Mexico but I want to enjoy and observe all sides of the vast history of this Central American country. Catching a golden tan within the resort town of 'Puerto Vallarta' will set me free, get me to the beach to see those sea views within the 'Zona Romanticá!' It won't just be the scenery I'll be eyeing up! No, me gustan los hombres Mexicanos! Before the nightlife kicks in, I definitely want to take a stroll down the 'Malecon El Puerto Vallarta' to watch the world go by. Staying within the 'Zona Romanticá, I have every faith that I'll play some tricks during my Mexican beach resort in the coming years. Oh, the 'Zona Romanticá is the LGBT heart of Puerto Vallarta! ¡Venga, M!

After working at Newark Airport from 2012 for one year, I can call Fiorella Sanchez my sister from Lima, Perú! We have been talking about going to Perú for an age, with such recent life-changing events, there's no better time to start planning that Peruano trip! Meeting for brunch before I flew onto the UK from NYC, we definitely spoke about getting to Perú, ahora mismo! With that trusty U.S visa I reckon it would be wise to transit through America once again before landing into Lima, Perú. What will there be to see in Lima? Getting those 'barrios' once again, we need to get 'Barrio Chino' seen and food consumed! To catch the evening breeze or the mid-afternoon glow, how about let's walk along Lima's 'Malecon de Mira Flores?' Another 'boardwalk?' Yes! Catching some history I'm well up for going underground within the 'Catacumbas' to see what shenanigans went down there before! I wish to see Lima's 'Huaca Pullana!'

Remembering Channel 5s 'Around The World By Train' fronted by 'Sir Tony Robinson', taking the same train from Lima to Cusco will take us ever close to the Andean wonder, 'Machu Picchu'. Satisfying those Peruano cravings I will be grabbing a bottle of Inca Kola before anything else, I miss that Peruano pop! The winding cobbled streets within Cusco's 'San Blas District' will fix those Peruano wishes! 'San Pedro Market' knows that I want to the vibrance of Perú's food culture, tasting everything in sight is what the plan will be! My intolerance for heights isn't something to joke about but I need to see 'Machu Picchu!' Even if I have to chew on a few cocoa leaves to carry me through, I long to take my own photo at this Peruano UNESCO wonder even if I have a panic attack or ten! Making tracks back to Lima before the onward flights, I can't imagine that there'll be much else to do? Honestly, what my Peruano adventure will fully entail, I'm ready for it! Perú, estoy listo para todos ustedes! ¡Si! ¡Vamos! 

Throughout this UK lockdown I cannot lie that I've found many different world music to listen to, one genre definitely makes want to take an 18 hour flight from Shanghai to Havana via Montreal! Cubaton, otherwise known as 'Cuban Reggaeton' has been playing nonstop! Cuba, ¿por qué tu música tiene que ser tan buena? ¡No lo sé! Taking in the aged Spanish-era streets with those vintage American cars in view needs to happen, I'm counting on you, Havana! Calle Obispo, will you be the street for me? I don't do tourist traps! Like a prayer I want to take it to Havana's 'Catedral de San Cristóbal' to find that higher power! I don't smoke but definitely want to try a hand rolled Cuban cigar, get me a glass of Cuban rum with some music going on! This pandemic lockdown period has got me feeling seriously grounded! I'll start my own revolution! The 'Plaza de la Revolución' will be visited to honour Che Guevara! ¡Cuba, llegaré allí! ¡Si!

¿Dónde está la playa? No Varadero o Cayo Coco, estoy hablando de 'Playa del Santa María?' After doing some late night lockdown research, the unspoiled white sandy beach known as 'Playa del Santa María' looked down to earth, no 'Sandals' or 'All-Inclusive' style hotels going on there at all! Only a short drive from Havana, I envisage breaking my up my revolutionary island trip with a few days in the city with a week at the beach. I am already wanting several freshly made rum cocktails and fried Cuban snacks on the beach! Yes, there will be more to see in the city of Havana and I wouldn't rule out any day trips to any Parques Nacionales o sitios de belleza natural, of course! The flight might be mammoth, I won't be able to transit through the United States due to reasons I won't go into, the adventure will make my Cuban trip worth it even more! I will make this third Coronavirus travel plan into a reality!¡Este virus me ha demostrado que el mundo no me esperará! ¡Lo haré realidad! ¡Si!

Colombia, México, Perú y Cuba... ¿Estás listo?

Joseph Harrison 

Thursday, 4 June 2020

2019: Tomb Sweeping, Labor Day & Dragon Boat Festival...

2020 hasn't allowed me to experience any of the long weekend breaks that I used to enjoy in China, right now those festivities aren't acknowledged in England so I'll celebrate 2019s offerings. Take me home, take me back to China! From Nanjing to Guilin with a weekend in Shijiazhuang, 2019s shorter breaks during the first half of the year gave me life for certain! Oh, life?

2019s Tomb Sweeping Festival weekend saw me take the high speed train down from Beijing to the Jiangsu provincial city of Nanjing. Meeting my fellow teaching friend, Chris. We hadn't met in person before that weekend but we sure had a fantastic weekend in the city of Nanjing! Taking it to the streets, I was being served some serious Nanjing flashbacks from my first trip to the city a few years previous to that 2019 moment. Never did I imagine that I would be locked down in England one year later in a Coronavirus mess? No way! Scanning some MoBikes allowed us to get into the thick of the holiday weekend, people were out and about just like we were! I wasn't ready to bare all, the Korean Spa experience allowed for some questionable views but I was not complaining! Cocktails and conversations, we enjoyed a few drinks on the first night, the day had us ready to sleep! I felt blessed to be back in NJ! 

Refreshed from our slumber, we boarded a public bus towards Yuejiang Tower to see Nanjing from a higher point. Braving the heights we made it to the top of the tower to see views over the city's sprawling skyline that looked mighty fine, we'd be seeing more views later on that day! Chatting to the max, it was amazing to finally meet Chris after we had spoken for such a long time before that April weekend. We really needed to be thinking about food because those breakfast oats seemed like a while away, making it to the Zifeng Tower complex to try some local cuisine. Being a holiday weekend the waiting time was no joke, using our time wisely we took our seats at the Sky Bar within the InterContinental Nanjing. Pouring it up, the bubbles were amazing! Toasting to a weekend in Beijing before the year was up! Yes! McDonald's saved us! Star Club had us getting mad with it! Making those notes saved from North Korea rain, the dancers loved me with those constant tips! Get it, Nanjing! 

Labor Day 2019 had been extended to five days from the usual three, with that said I thought I would plan a little trip away to Shijiazhuang City within China's Hebei province. Located less than 90 minutes on the high speed train system from Beijing secured a short turnaround because the autumn and winter would bring me some expensive long haul holidays, I had to be cost conscious. During the actual holiday week I fell terribly sick, with an unexplainable illness I found myself bed bound. Thankfully I was able to cancel my trip for that Labor Day 2019 week long holiday. Returning to good health I found myself in Shijiazhuang City for real, I rebooked and got with the programme! Calling my friend, Fiona to help me book a car from my hotel to a very intriguing location. After a problem free journey out of the city, I found the former site of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Xibapo. It was something! 

If Disney Parks did communism that would have been that place deep within Shijiazhuang's Pingshan County. I saw Mao Zedong's former residence and was welcomed to a right royal fanfare, some celebration called for the brass to be played loudly! I was questioned by a young Chinese journalist, I had to voice my support to my LGBT Chinese brothers and sisters! Getting back to the city I enjoyed the rest of the day near to my hotel, getting some wine and snacks because 2019s Eurovision's Grand Final in Tel Aviv still went ahead. On the Sunday I checked Chang'an Park, being the only foreigner in that part of the park caused a frenzy in a really nice way! My Chinese language skills were called upon and then some, people were gracious and intrigued so that was all good! The Hebei Provincial Museum got me out of the humidity, the exhibits were interesting. Before returning to the train station I checked out the Rong Guo Fu Mansion, it was quiet and perfectly formed. 

2016 saw me visit China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region to see Guilin's Huangluo Yao long haired ladies and the breathtaking Longsheng rice terraces. During 2019s Dragon Boat Festival I had booked another tour with China Highlights to see the scenic wonders along the Li & Yulong Rivers. Being back in Guilin City had me feeling all kind of nostalgia, I knew where I was going and that counted for something! Meeting Fiona, my travel co-ordinator and friend from China Highlights for dinner was lovely. Enjoying a few local beers that night was just the ticket as the rain poured on down! 2020, this mess is supposed to be a sick joke? Get out! Driving out of the scenic city into the Yangshuo area of the vast Guilin region served me some seriously lush surroundings. Climbing some steep steps gave me the fear, the views were well worth it at the top of the Xianggong Hill. I was pumped to see more ace sights! 

Biking along the Yulong River gave me effortless views of the green karst shaped peaks, those up close and personal beauty spots had me feeling like I was in some kind of Chinese paradise! As the day afternoon heated up some more it was time to visit the ancient Fuli Village, I was schooled how to make a Chinese paper fan by some seriously talented craftsmen and women, they knew their art very well! I bought a gorgeous cherry blossom fan, I gave it to my friends daughter as a present because she loved the pink flowers. The rain had fallen the previous day along the Li River, arriving at the nearby Xingping Village, the boat ride wasn't going to happen but the view that resembles the 20 RMB note had me transfixed. The crowds were getting maddening, I needed some rest! Spending the night within the tourist streets close to Yangshuo's West Street had me chilled out. I had no budget, I didn't get crazy! Boarding my Beijing bound flight at the right time, I dodged the rainstorm!

2020, Don't Even Try Me! 

Joseph Harrison 

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

This Departure Lounge... My Coronavirus Travel Plan: Part 2!

Right now the world is currently in a COVID-19 mess, I need to look forward to life after this awful time has passed. Back with another instalment, I will continue detailing my Coronavirus travel plan, serving new places for the win! Returning to the USA needs to happen with currently nine years left on my ten year visa, Chicago! Russia knows that I'm ready for its Siberian train! 

Keeping it real, I cannot stress how lovely my comeback trip to the USA was in December 2019. After my North Korean trip I had to apply for a tourist visa, new regulations meant that I was no longer eligible for the ESTA program! Secured and safe, I was stamped into Newark, USA where I spent seven days in the tri-state area rediscovering my placement year haunts. Yes, Philly! Fast forward to present day, the USA is currently experiencing the harshest figures within the country in some serious times! Things were so smooth for a reason, nothing lasts forever! Anyway, when this stinking storm has past I pledge an allegiance to revisit the USA! Taking in the 'Windy City' I want to get all up into Chicago! Intrigued by its hardened past and south-side realness, I will most definitely be taking in Boys Town and the Downtown! Staying close, I want to embrace the 'Motor City! We've got 'one shot' at life! Detroit! 

'Rollin' On The River' there's no doubt in my mind that I'll see myself exploring New Orleans once again! Paying attention to the voodoo and cemeteries that featured in Disney's Princess and the Frog, I needed more time in 2012 but the rain poured and then some! Taking in a dark place, I'm very intrigued to visit one of the nearby former plantations to take time to pay attention to what happened during slavery, also to see the grandeur and to pay my respects to the toil. Going further north along the Mississippi River to Memphis, make no mistake, I'll be taking a stroll down Beale Street but that'll only be after my visit to Graceland! Walkin' in Memphis! Who will I be meeting in St. Louis, Miss Judy? Taking in that Missouri city will have to do before making it up to Minneapolis before flying back to China! I'll do my best to get down to Atlanta and Miami, that's what will keep me busy whilst I have this US tourist visa. West Coast, I will find you! Serving all kinds of crazy I'll get up to SF! 

The category will be Thailand! I have spent two Christmases back to back in the UK, once its safe to travel I will make sure my holiday is spent in the land of Siam. My parents went recently, they won't let it go that I haven't been, that will change! Flying into Bangkok with Thai Airways I plan to seek adventure during the day at the temples and gardens, taking it to the water to experience the floating markets. Once the night has come I will be out and about, getting up to all of my usual antics. It's no secret that Thailand has a relaxed view towards the LGBT community with its Buddhist principles teaching parents to love their LGBT because it's the right thing to do! Yes, those cabaret shows will be frequented and drinks will be consumed! The street food! Yes, I am looking forward to trying all of those street-side snacks! Within close proximity from the Chinese Mainland, it is the same time as flying from England to Turkey!

Taking it to the beach I would love to visit Krabi, taking in the old town will be one thing to execute! Getting by beach isn't something that I usually do but with such stunningly perfect views I want to visit Railay Beach! Not going to lie, the views look immense! Living my Bond Girl fantasy I want to enjoy that beach quick-time! Flying up north to Chiang Mai needs to happen, at the moment it's in the earliest stages of planning but I sense something will amaze me there! Getting a photo with the ladies who are from the Karen Long Neck Tribe will need to be done in Chiang Mai! The elephants better be treated right, I would love to see some! Thailand will be stunning, I need to keep calm and carry on before Thai Airways gets me over to the land of Siam! Phuket might be on the cards, even if I don't get there I am sure that I'll have a wholesome experience. Right now, the views are not heavenly but with a lot of faith and perseverance I know that life will bounce back! Oh, yes Thailand!

Staying at home I was introduced to Channel 5s 'Around The World By Train' fronted by 'Sir Tony Robinson'. During the fifth episode of the second series, Robinson took the Trans Siberian Express from Vladivostok, Russia westbound to Moscow, Russia. Being away from China, my visits to the far northeast corner of the country reminded me of the scenes shown in Vladivostok. I live for its San Francisco qualities, once I can fly I will be free to visit Russia and beyond! Leaving Vladivostok, Robinson headed westbound towards Khabarovsk to find that the city limits used to belong to China, some shady business dealt! From that station he spent two days on the train, the dining car looked very opulent with a very tasty looking menu being offered! For me, vodka would be the only drink consumed, I'd be toasting to Mother Rossiya as the train made its way into Europe's slice of Siberia! Get me on that train, get me a vodka! The Russian standard!

Getting off the train as Robinson did, I ultimately plan to visit Yekaterinburg to see 'The Church on the Blood'. Regardless of the past, the godlike image of the former Russian Royal Family looked like some kind of masterpiece. I want to catch a glimpse of Princess Anastasia's image! Moving ever closer to the nations capital, I would find the best parts of the train to enjoy the views. From my China trains, I have every faith that the journey will be smooth but for sure, one heck of an experience! Pulling into Moscow, I want to see Red Square with all of its sights and then a seat at the Bolshoi! Choosing the summer holiday I'll hopefully be afforded, I would love to take the high speed train up to St. Petersburg before jetting back to China for work! Those palatial wonders look amazing and the visa for Russia can be so tricky to secure I want to make sure I cover everything within one defiant swoop! The runway for now is me walking to the kitchen, I'll get my ass to Россия! Yes R!

I can't even go dancing, but getting on a plane to Australia will happen! When the world is ready I will be good to go down under once again! I had the immense opportunity to visit Sydney, Australia some years ago. My auntie, Denise was living there during her 'Working Holiday Visa' year, my paternal grandparents took us around the world to see her in Australia! Being 10 hours away from Australia once I'm back in China it would be an absolute travesty for me to miss out on Straylia! I plan on jetting into Darwin via Sydney with Qantas, spending a day or two where those unwelcome British vessels arrived. Boarding the Ghan train at whatever cost, this dark time during 2020 means all the stops needs to be put out! Taking in all the necessary Northern Territory sights, I want to use the Ghan train as my 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' to make it! After Corona's 2020 I will sure need the wisdom of Australia's Uluru! Hey, Ozzz!

Learning more about Indigenous Australia will be absolutely invaluable! The Ghan will take me down to the city of Adelaide, that's where I hope to spend a day in the city. Flying high I would live to experience a few days in the Australian city of Melbourne, to experience that Manchester looking place down under, the former British colonial city will give me life for sure! After that I plan to escape to Manly near Sydney for a day or two! Sydney as an adult will be nothing like the first time once the sun goes down! Darlinghurst, let's go out? Yes! Brisbane, maybe? I might indulge some of that 'surfers paradise' life for a few days. The red centre is more important to me! Miss Rona, get out of my way! I have nothing more to say, 2020 cannot go to waste! Rona, don't make a scene, don't worry because without any hesitation I'll be handy! With 2020s thinking space and character building moments, I know that my travel plan will be everything in real life motion. World, I need you! I miss you!

Live My Life?

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 1 June 2020

2020: Coronavirus Has Changed My World: Part 2!

Real talk, Miss Rona has taken my last piece of sanity! Here in June 2020, I have been home in England since early February due to the world pandemic altering my plans and then some! Straight up, I am done with 2020! As lockdowns ease and we find our temporary 'new normal', I want to look at how the world around me has coped. UK has been soft! 英国, 你疯了吗? 我的天! 

As the UK locked down it was astonishing to see how the public went into meltdown, how would we survive without McDonalds and KFC? I experienced seven weeks during early 2020 in lockdown in Beijing, China to find that the already strong mobile payment and food delivery industry was ready to brave a pandemic situation! No benefits system would fill the pockets of local Chinese people who had lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus lockdowns, across the country those unemployed citizens took up food delivery jobs without hesitation! During my Beijing transitional period I wasn't hungry, paying through WeChatPay I was fine to order my daily meals to my hotel room on my mobile phone app without needing to use any cash! With the exception of Hubei McDonalds locations, food delivery workers picked up thousands of orders without any closures needed at all! China took the wheel! Come on through 外卖!

Restaurants closed their doors to dine in customers, bolstered by an established e-commerce industry, those whose didn't want to cook throughout the Chinese lockdown were able to get their delivery meal fix. In the UK, we neither have mobile payment systems like AliPay or WeChatPay, turning to contactless payment has forced people to become entirely cashless in a society that still sees people not cave into the modern ways of paying for things. Will ApplePay become the next big thing? Back to those delivery companies in the United Kingdom, would it have taken to get furloughed staff into food delivery posts to assist restaurants and fast food outlets who were open for delivery? Instead of allowing people to stay at home in that respect, those furloughed individuals could have helped in the community to distribute medication and food shopping to shielded people like those delivery workers did in China? The lockdown effort in China was strong, but businesses continued! 

As I made my best efforts to forge on with my professional transition from Beijing to my new city, my lockdown friend, Cyndi had chosen to fly back to the United States of America to fix her head. Little did I know I would be following in her footsteps, back in our home country's we weren't ready for one nation to throw their toys out of their adult sized prams! The UK remained calm for the first few weeks of the lockdown, key workers made their way to work without hassle but on the other side of the pond a certain few citizens were feeling some kind of way, triggered maybe? Yes! As those 'stars and stripes' became visible on the news bulletins, me and Cyndi corresponding in shear disbelief as people demanded their country would be reopened because individuals wanted their prom or a haircut but their health wasn't any concern of theirs! Yes, Miss Rona would snatch lives, she knew who to attack! UK, stay at home! 

As I poured another 'quarantini' during the height of the UK lockdown, it was utterly earth-shattering to see countless UK citizens flout the rules of the Coronavirus 'stay at home' order. The message had been given to us by Boris Johnson one way or another, with one hour of exercise people started to take those civil liberties a little too far! Coronavirus was ought to get those who lounged around in parks, we had been given the opportunity to have a walk not have a stupid picnic, choices! Wales told us to 'sling our hook' otherwise in 'Nessa style' we'd have our faces broken! Go to the beach or stay at home? Most of the UK public knew how to abide by the rules but some really made a mockery of those 'social distancing' rules! If that was supposed to be a sign of democracy, I was witnessing a mockery! Black lives do matter, what carnage would break out at the end of May into early June turned the western world upside down! The world already has issues, Miss Rona don't stir the pot! 

With people locked down within their four walls, mother nature got to work and she went in hard! Venice cleaned up its canals, apparently dolphins returned for a little swim? Air travel was not on the agenda, the ozone layer went to work to patch itself back up! In Llandudno, Wales, the streets had been invaded by goats as they commandeered those streets back! The lions in South Africa knew it was safe as they slumbered in the middle of the roads. Bison ran wild once again in Poland, the world rejoiced in some mad way whilst Miss Rona massacred populations on a worldwide level! Getting back into the world remains my main priority, locked down at home in England had me reevaluating what I truly wanted out of life, it wasn't just the animals who were taking their territory back! People needed to stay home, allowing nature to take back what was rightfully theirs! Mother Nature has taken her world back! 

Will I get back to my life in China? Will things be like they were before? It's been like a mouthful of sour candy, 2020 is driving me super psycho during this lockdown period. Feeling completely grounded it was like a miracle when Wuhan's initial 76 day period of lockdown was lifted! It won't be instant but I'm plotting my comeback to the Mainland of China! Miss Rona, ain't nobody going to stop me from making those 'Before Corona' moves! 2019s successes had me blinded, 2020 gave me a false start with a thud that found myself touching down at Manchester Airport during February of that year! This is why I don't have time for these fools who disregard 'social distancing' in all outside settings because I actually have an international existence that I have a duty to pick up! Like the bisons and goats running free, I'm ready to take back what is mine and fly high once again! Miss Rona, I give you full permission to strike down those trifling ass individuals who aren't listening to those rules! Go!

The worlds aviation industry had been shot from the sky, masses of passenger aircrafts were being repurposed for cargo flights from their respected country's to China for PPE missions. Cabin crew donned their masks, boarding repatriation flights to bring back citizens who had been displaced whilst on their holidays as Miss Rona struck her deadly virus! National airlines took to the skies to bring back large quantities of 'Personal Protective Equipment' from China to the four corners of the globe, with the pandemic as the priority things have had to change a lot! People moaning that they had missed out on their holidays, 2021 would give them their chances to rescheduled Rona ruined plans! Airlines remain at the brink of collapse, surely people's jobs are more important than a one weeks package holiday to Greece for a summer week in 2020? I'm making my Coronavirus travel plan, this departure lounge of dreams! 

Coronavirus has changed my world, its locked me down and ripped me away from a lifestyle that I quite frankly took for granted! Yes, the lockdown in the United Kingdom has been soft, people continue to not listen to quarantine and 'social distancing' rules. I didn't want to come home, I didn't want a world pandemic to break out, all I can do is make those tracks back to China to rebuild my working life once again! The world has changed, masks will need to be worn at the disgust of some but if that gets those embassies and visa centres reopened I will sashay away in the middle of the night. Creating my plan, I have been afforded perspective during this world pandemic moment. From an e-commerce point, the UK needs to fix up and diversify for its life! I'm done with this Corona chat, I want to get back to my Asian life! 2020 continues to be one almighty lesson, allowing me to appreciate the blessed life in China. Miss Rona, get your coat because its curtains for you, B!

Trifling Ass Miss Rona! 

Joseph Harrison 

This Departure Lounge... My Coronavirus Travel Plan: Part 1!

If life resembled a departure lounge things would be pretty shambolic, with cancellations and mounting chaotic situations. With doubt growing due to the worldwide COVID-19 lockdown that has altered our lives! 2020 needs a slap in the face, the only thing that keeps has been the thought of future travel plans that will be in the near future! Corona, I need my life back!

2018s Chinese New Year saw me wading through some hectic sights in China's Xiamen City, taking things into another stratosphere for 2019 I went over to the Korean Peninsula to some select North Korean cities. Somewhere in the pipeline a proposed CNY 2020 trip was in the works to the Philippines with my friend Chanel. I had already had my marching orders to visit the former Spanish archipelago country, those Filipino-American friends had captured my heart and soul with their warm smiles and kind hearts, I had no choice but to have more fun in the Philippines. Life happened, I secured a new job in a different city and Chanel had her own enterprises that continue to flourish, a red light flashed! Aside from life, the more that I looked into the Filipino delights that awaited me in Manila and beyond amazed me! Fate was pushing me into another direction, after NYE 2020 I would be saying 'Salamat!' Pero, no! I cannot!

Through my pre-Philippines exploration I will seek adventure around Rizal Park along the Manila Bay, on my way I will get lost within the ruins of Intramuros, taking a Jeepney ride because I just want to! I already know what I want, yes those drop dead gorgeous Filipino men will be on my radar, I know I'll be under one serious spell! Taking the bus down to Batangas County within the wider Manila area, I will find the colonial town of Taal. I will do my best to find the Minor Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours, known as the largest church both in the Philippines and in Asia! Taking a flight over to Puerta Princesa for some city views and sights away from Manila, I know something beautiful and real will find me. Through the correct means I plan to take transport up to El Nido, island-hopping as if my life depended upon it, I know those paradise like views will make everything seem like a bad dream. One truth is that the world is a dark place right now, I want to look forwards! Pipili ako ng Pilipinas!

Back in Beijing, China during my extended hotel residency, I watched as the world started to change, I still had travel on the brain if nothing else I held that close to my heart. I challenged myself, looking out of the box for my travel choices I looked towards the African continent. Being an aviation geek I had become familiar with Ethiopian Airlines large expansion into Mainland China, with many African colleagues I had heard nothing but rave reviews. Seeking something different for 2020/2021, Ethiopia looked like a royal choice. Teaming with Amarhic tones and religious wonders, I looked towards Addis Abada to start my Ethiopian trip. With a supercool monastery in Lalibela, I will see where the Coptic Christian's make their prayers. The coffee culture in Ethiopia had me paying attention during that pre-lockdown time, I had to keep the faith because the world would be ready. I will see Africa when the time's right!

Learning about a former Italian colony close to the 'Horn of Africa' I just had to know more! I had vaguely heard of Eritrea before I quit the United Kingdom, that Eritrean reference was due to the burgeoning community that was building in England. Being within a short flight from Addis Ababa, I looked into the possibility of taking a flight to the Eritrean capital, Asmara. With itineraries readily available from Young Pioneer Tours, the North Korean style African country could become a reality, certain visas had to be sourced. Taking in the capital Asmara, that tour also made short stops in Keren and Massawa. Something Ottoman Empire would be waiting for me! I definitely look forward to soaking in the former Italian culture, to see the former European style buildings because I'm a sucker for anything colonial. From the confides of my then China hotel room, I had big plans for the future even though the world was changing fast! Africa looked amazing! Ethiopian will help me!

After my Spanish weekend to Benidorm, Alicante and Altea was cancelled due to the outbreak of COVID-19 I looked towards revisiting something Portuguese after my comeback trip to Newark's Ironbound District. Putting things into perspective I looked towards flying into Lisbon with the intent to see where the Ferry Street nature all started. During my early lockdown research period I found out about the rail network from Lisbon to neighbouring towns. With easy access I plan to split my time outside of Lisbon to visit Sintra, Cascais and Setúbal. I once shared a flat with a lovely Portuguese girl called 'Filipa' who hailed from Cascais, she told me a lot about her beautiful fishing beach town. I can trust my Portuguese friend from Lisbon to see what's worth seeing, Inês could you help me out? Spain needs to happen, I'll make it happen! Finding myself back in Europe during 2020 wasn't part of the initial plan. It'll work out!

Through my extra time back home I delved further as to how I could get from Lisbon to Madrid, during my previous Spanish trips I had never chosen to visit the capital but with the mounting exposure coming from the Spanish capital before its lockdown gave me some ideas. By plane or train I will be able to make it from Lisbon to Madrid! To recreate my cancelled Spanish weekend, after Madrid I plan to visit Alicante, Altea and Benidorm for a raucous and culture filled few days. With a lengthy summer holiday on the cards I definitely want to recreate my cancelled Jet2 flight I plan to fly from Alicante to Birmingham to try again, my weekend to Sheffield had to be abandoned due to the impending UK lockdown in March 2020, that I will go back and do! Getting to the Kelham Island Museum was what I wanted to do, I'll make that happen and I'll have my Yorkshire cream tea for sure! I will snatch views of the rolling fields and find some redbrick Sheffield terrace houses. Yes!

Into the early stages of the UK lockdown I revisited one of the countries that has caught my attention. Kazakhstan had me transfixed by its post Soviet charms, governed by a leader who changed the name of the second city to his surname, that had me sold! Astana and Nur Sultan had me sold, it was something different! Teamed with places in-between Astana and Nur Sultan showed me Lake Balkhash, of course I found a worthy itinerary with a reputable tour agency. Knowing full well that my extended involuntary stay in England wouldn't have a clear end date, I kept my post-Coronavirus plan close with every intent to bounce back into the world whenever soonest! I definitely think that being grounded within the lockdown in the UK has been a sobering experience, I keep hold that I have these plans that I will slay. Kazakhstan attracted me so, I had met some Kazakh people when I went to China's Xinjiang region. Yes!

Captured above is the ancient Uzbek settlement of Bukhara, through my research surrounding the Kazakh tour I saw a place called Turkestan that intrigued me so. Looking closer I saw that over the borderline from Kazakhstan, Bukhara in Uzbekistan oozed much more Silk Road Arabian realness! Through my time listening to world music on YouTube, I found a music video by Hulkar Abdullaeva called 'Khiva'. Hulkar's 'Khiva' music video took me on a tour through ancient Bukhara, more so her music of a 'Turkic' nature has reminded me of my time spent in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region! I need those minarets and opulent domes back in my life, an eastern promise will do me the world of good! Along with Bukhara, the tour would also take me to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital would show me something more and act as a larger hub to fly back to China from. No world pandemic could put out my fire, travel will set me free! Miss Rona, I have places to discover, it's time for you to sashay away!

No Mistakes!

Joseph Harrison 

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Flying High... China Southern, Air India & Hainan Airlines!

Flying high with three different airlines during December 2018 had me crossing continents effortlessly, from Beijing to New Delhi via Guangzhou then I flew onto the United Kingdom before returning to Beijing for work. Served by China Southern Airlines, Air India and finally Hainan Airlines allowed me to clock up some serious air miles! Long haul flight are my favourite!

China Southern Airlines was an airline that I had only flown with domestically throughout China before their international fares had me booking up to New Delhi, India! Cruising down from Beijing to Guangzhou with CZ on-time was a blessing, the transfer from the domestic gates to the international departures within Terminal 2 was easy breezy! Beijing's Capital International Airport had me speaking all kinds of Chinese, the airport staff in all areas were not bilingual, once in Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport that all changed! Boarded without any issues, the super-size modern terminal had me looking at something shiny and new! The China Southern Airlines ground staff spoke English fluently with announcements made in both Chinese then English, I didn't need to speak Chinese because I understood the boarding call through the tannoy system! Yes, in Beijing other airlines tend to shout the boarding call! Oh! 

Flying away from the Chinese Mainland with China Southern Airlines switched things up for me, before that point I hadn't flown with a Chinese airline outside of the mainland. The crew were friendly and spoke English with hardly any accent, for that reason I made the effort to speak Chinese with them to order my drinks and when I chose my dining option throughout the flight. The in-flight entertainment boasted much choice, with Chinese and Indian titles to suit the flights origin and destination. The food served to me was edible and had much flavour, I went for the chicken curry option because I was on my way to New Delhi. I found that the crew were quite reserved when I asked them how was remaining until we landed, making up for the lack in conversation made the crew were professional throughout the flight with the company uniform standards being observed. Without any delay, I was impressed with my smooth Guangzhou transfer, CZ sure impressed me! I'll fly again! 

Bridging the gap between New Delhi, India and my British hometown in the West Midlands was made somewhat easy with Air India. Boasting a direct flight from New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport to Birmingham Airport got me home with a stop in Amritsar. Out of nowhere my Brum bound flight was pushed forward one day later without any explanation given. Making the necessary plans I was able to turn that mishap onto its head, I was back on track! Suffering from an epic case of 'Delhi Belly' I boarded my Air India Dreamliner that flew me the short way up to Amritsar to allow for some serious things to unfold. Uzbekistan had started playing games with the airspace, the route from Amritsar to Birmingham needed to be precise because certain warring countries couldn't be in our flight plan! After about two hours at the gate I longed for take-off but the doors remained closed and armed in Amritsar! Jesus! 

The main meal was served during our gate side wait, the curry option was the one to go for! I tried to watch a little bit of a Bollywood film but my mind was all on the moment for when the Dreamliner would start its long haul journey to Birmingham. By hook or by crook the all important flight plan has been handed over, my 787-800 made its accelerations on the runway as it made its way closer to Birmingham. The flight was generally smooth, the crew kept their cool throughout the flight and so did the other passengers. Nobody on the flight knew whether we had to fly over Afghanistan and Iran? It was an experience like no other I had seen on a flight before that Air India experience! Adding the two hours ground delay, also the overall flight time to Birmingham had been extended slightly due to the routing. Like a miracle, my Dreamliner touched down into Birmingham Airport, the relief that I felt was unreal! Air India got me to BHX! I was not impressed with Uzbekistan! B, I was home at last! 

Being my first long haul multi-flight holiday from China, my flight planning skills could have been better because those funds weren't going to allow me to cover the rent, I had to learn! For my Christmas present my parents bought my flight back from Manchester to Beijing, China. Flying direct with Hainan Airlines from Manchester Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport was seamless, I didn't need to make any changes in any connecting airport! Bussed to a remote stand during that early morning hour allowed me to see the Hainan Airlines A330-300 in all of its Manchester raining morning glory! Bound for Beijing I was relaxed onboard my first international flight with Hainan, I had already flown with the airline from Beijing to Shenzhen during the previous Chinese New Year holiday. Yes, I loved my simple in-flight amenity pack! Ooh, the Chinese male cabin crew were looking mighty, mighty fine! 太帅了! Yes!

Breaking boundaries for a Chinese airline, it was great to see non-Chinese cabin crew pass through the cabin who spoke multiple languages. Most western airlines employe Chinese cabin crew due many Chinese passengers not being able to speak English, Hainan flipped that format 360 degrees! My meal was flavoursome, I went for the British option. I enjoyed the varied selection that was available on my in-flight entertainment system, I loved watching Mamma Mia 2! I made my way to the back of the cabin to find some more red wine, the crew that I interacted with in the galley were friendly and attentive. I was impressed with the snack selection that had been set out in the galley, something that China Southern Airlines could introduce, maybe? The ten hour direct flight soon arrived into Beijing Capital International Airport with time to spare. Without any connections I was able to disembark in Beijing, clear immigration and get home quickly. Xmas flights done right!

是, 我会中文!

Joseph Harrison

Friday, 22 May 2020

2020: Europe, Shine A Light... Eurovision's Coronavirus Moment!

2020s Eurovision Song Contest had to be cancelled due to the Coronavirus world pandemic, what would happen without the usual spectacle? With Europe in lockdown with the rest of the world, we need some hope! The Dutch city of Hilversum replaced Rotterdam, broadcasting 'Europe Shine A Light' as a celebration of Eurovision history with the pandemic in mind. Oh!

Broadcasted from Studio 21 at Media Park in Hilversum, The Netherlands, three presenters kickstarted the 'Europe Shine A Light' without any audience due to the Coronavirus world pandemic. Edsilla Rombley, Chantal Janzen and Jan Smit put on their best Eurovision smiles even though Eurovision in recent years has been presented by four people. Blame 'social distancing?' Through the medium catch-up television through BBC iPlayer I tuned in a few days after the original broadcast that was on the 16th of May 2020. For the first time in Eurovision history it was weird and very sobering to see the montage of European and Eurasian cities that were all in lockdown, a sombre mood for such a joyous event felt very weird and not normal for us all to see. The show was all about shining a light over Europe to remember the reasons for the contest, with optimism for the 2021 contest. Nul points to Miss Rona! Go!

Looking for a sign it was amazing to see that the original venue for the 2020 contest had been transformed into a 'field hospital' to help nurse Coronavirus patients who weren't in conventional hospital wards. The complacency that I had put on the Eurovision Song Contest had me feeling shocked, one way or another I have either watched the contest or observed who the winner was since 2003. To not have a contest felt very strange indeed! Rolling back to Eurovision's before my existence had me seeing that this contest had been around for a long time, only now in 2020 it had been forced to cancel its usual order of events! A special Skype like video performance brought back Ireland's winner from 1980, singing 'What's Another Year?' The message was that we needed to keep the faith, we just need to wait for 2021 to roll around. Johnny Logan had won the contest twice, I was learning more about the Eurovision Song Contest. The use of video technology had saved Eurovision 2020. 

The unique thing about 2020s 'Europe Shine A Light' was that all 41 participants would be featured in the commemorative Coronavirus show. During a normal year, at least 15 countries participants wouldn't make it through the semi-finals. Each country had their turn throughout the broadcast to feature a short clip of their song that was paired with a message of positivity, the general theme was to 'wish love', 'to stay safe' and 'to remember' that Eurovision would return the following year in 2021. Country's like Georgia and Belarus had their chance to feature as part of the broadcast, they weren't supposed to be performing in the final due to not making it past the semi's. Sweden's trio even made a song about 'washing their hands', that added some mild hilarity because the main feeling of the show was quite sombre considering the current ongoing situation with the Coronavirus outbreak. COVID-19, be gone! OK!

Portugal's 'Elisa' was one of the acts who hadn't made it past the semi's, she had the opportunity to sing a little bit of her song during her clip. Azerbaijan's 'Efendi' promoted a message of 'love', from a country with questionable LGBT rights, she made her voice heard for a cross-section of Azeri people who might not have the chance. The category was 'mental health awareness' with several of the performers speaking words that resonated with those under quarantine measures, uttering the statement 'It's OK to not be OK'. Each country delivered their little speech with added Eurovision humour and quirk. The celebration of 2020s artists was even more important because it would have been such a great contest, I still cannot believe that I haven't able to see Russia's 'Little Big' perform their Eurovision banger, 'Uno!' 'Little Big' please come back to Rotterdam in 2021 with your hit 'SKIBDI!' One thing I do know is that Israel's 'Eden Alene' will be back in 2021! Feker Libi was great but 2021 will shine! 

Placing focus on the 'key workers' from around the world and more closely in Europe, former Sweden winner 'Måns Zelmerlöw' performed an acoustic version of 'Heroes' from his house in London, England. The lyrics within 'Heroes' fitted perfectly, the key workers are 'the heroes of our time!' Panning across a Jerusalem under lockdown measures, 'Gali Atari' walked through the empty streets singing 'Hallelujah' with a sense of hope. 'Netta' who won the contest in 2018 for Israel took the mood nice and slow with her lockdown recorded single, 'Cuckoo' allowed us to breathe a sense of relief because lockdown life has made us go 'cuckoo! The stripped back performances through the medium of video broadcast gave 'Europe Shine A Light' the chance to give us Eurovision from a chilled and respectful point of view. From the streets of Belgrade, Marija Šerifović belted out her 2007 winning song 'Molitva', just like a 'Prayer!'

The usual political voting didn't matter, it wasn't about tactics or 12 points going to the best neighbour during the latter part of Eurovision's Coronavirus commemorative show. Flashing several locked down views from select locations across the geographical span that Eurovision takes in, seeing the London Eye and the Acropolis in the UK and Greece respectively hammered home how crazy 2020 has become. Going further back it was a great opportunity to remember Eurovision legends who had crafted their careers after their ESC victories. ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus popped up in a small video insert, he expressed his sorrow for the pandemic and the bands successes post-Brighton after the four piece Swedish band won with 'Waterloo'. Concluding the broadcast, all 41 participants performed a line or two from 'Love Shine A Light' with help from 'Katrina' who won with that song during 1997s contest with her 'waves!' Confirming Rotterdam 2021, we all know that the show will go on!

Nul Points To Miss Rona!

Joseph Harrison  

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

My Eurovision Song Celebration: 2017, 2018 & 2020...

2017 and 2018 was missed and 2020 was cancelled, during my year with no mistakes I had climbed back onto the Eurovision Song Contest float, 2019 that was! Rotterdam, The Netherlands was poised to slay but Miss Rona had other plans! The hiatus gave me a chance to take a longer look at my favourite annual event! Europe, Miss Rona won't take the crown! ESC, Open Up!

Isarel's IMRI brought the looks and a lively start to the contests grand final! Poland's blonde 'bombshell', Kasia Moś served a strong vocal with 'Flashlight'. Easy listening by Austria with 'Running On Air', his light pop rhythm impressed me. The Dutch trio OG3NE came through effortlessly with their empowering number, 'Lights and Shadows' was so much and more to me! I lived for the lively saxophone beat from Moldova's 'Sunstroke Project', bizarre but very catchy like a Eurovision bop should be! I was in China during 2017's contest, life was hectic with that Saturday, was I out on the town? There was something really nice about Italy's 'Occidentaili's Karma from Francesco Gabbani, I needed a translation! Topping Poland's blonde 'bombshell', Anja from Denmark gave me life with 'Where I Am!' Kicking myself, what would have driven me to miss her amazing performance? Utter stupidity on my part entirely! Yes!

Portugal lost me, it was a slow song with no movement, the vocals couldn't match the other countries but somehow Salvador Sobral won the contest with 'Amar pelos dois'. Dihaj from Azerbaijan had me transfixed, her production was mesmerising with horse head masks and speaking in tongues. Croatia's plus-size pop-opera wonder impressed me with his switching styles and languages during his entry, Jacques Houdek served Mariah Carey tones in one sense then Pavarotti in the other! 2017 wasn't the strongest contest, with consideration my favourites had to be from Poland, The Netherlands and Denmark. Oh, I have forgotten something! Greece's 'Demy' switched her breathy ballad into a nightclub-like banger! A short half-time performance from the previous years winner, 'Jamala' brought some much needed soul! Having the time during 2020s Coronavirus lockdown has given me the chance to pay attention to 2017s missed contest, I feel better now! 2018, ready? You know I loved Denmark!

I will be honest the period around 2018s contest was no joke, I was in Beijing where I had a lot on my plate with my then teaching job. I paid attention through social media to find out the winner, of course it had to be Israel's Netta with her electronic anthem, 'Toy!' Australia? Yes, since the 60th year of Eurovision, the Oceanic nation had been granted a short-term right to perform. Jessica Muaboy brought nothing but light  and positivity to the stage during her performance! Being of Aboriginal Australian descent, she's a true Indigenous First Nations Australian entrant to represent her country! Commercially known in the United Kingdom since her stint on the X Factor UK, Saara Aalto represented her Finnish nation with 'Monsters'. Led by her fabulously slick dancers, Aalto slayed her performance, the energy brought something to the contest because the previous singers didn't attract my attention. Thanks, Finland!

Greece did not compete during 2018s Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, Portugal, the usual grecian fire hadn't been served. To tell the truth, I was really missing Turkey, having withdrew since 2012 citing dissatisfaction with the voting system. Their decision not to broadcast the contest from 2013 definitely had tones of distaste for Conchita Wurst's performance, it was bad but in the name of the competition I really miss a certain Turkish flare! Will Turkey ever make their Eurovision comeback? China first started to broadcast the show in 2017, the EBU didn't apologise for Ireland's two male dancers because Eurovision doesn't discriminate. I can only imagine how positive and empowering the LGBT youth in China felt as they watched Ireland! Queue Cyprus! Eleni Foureria served absolute 'Fuego' with her sexy and fiery performance, her dancers were on fire with her dance-worthy Greek Cypriot effort for the competition to be wary of her! Of course, Cyprus whipped her hair back and forth!

The Mamas started the celebration with 'Move', hailing from Sweden the trio served Hercules, Sister Act, Lizzo Realness with their fiery and soulful banger, truly an empowering bop to help us through a tough pandemic time. Moving towards Russia, Belarus entered with 'Da Vidna' that was performed by Val, with their slick black attire and sultry male pianist and semi-vogue serve, the female vocalist gave her Belarusian groove effortlessly, the home language worked. Semi? No, breaking into a synchronised vogue dance routine, the Belarusian trio served sass with a hit of Gay rights! Iceland had me living for its quirky 'Think About Things' geeky groove, I live! Ana Soklič slayed with her gravely tones! Ireland's Leslie McRoy brought human rights freedom into song with her 'Story of My Life'. Coronavirus, the Eurovision tradition shall continue beyond your evil wrath! Russia, go on? Russia, won't you death drop for me again? Go!

Russia was in for the vote, Little Big's 'Uno' served Eurovision gold with a death dropping portly fellow, only singing one to seven in Spanish for the most of the song they quashed any shady business, they were super camp! Malta's 'Destiny' showed Europe that the island nation could truly be a 'Chameleon' with her defiant wind-blowing fabulous banger, with a powerful vocal the message was true! Damir, who? I cannot understand Croatian but hell he was hot! Azeri's Cleopatra broke boundaries! The fire of Cyprus's dance banger had my eyes fixed on that tasty looking 'Sandro!' Come through Israel! 'Eden Alene' gave up all of her Israeli nature with an Ethiopian flare! Ukraine gave us their eccentric selves, 'Go_A' had me lost for words with their bizarre tune. 'Ben Dolic' from Germany served commercial pop! Kamusta Austria! Serbia's 'Hurricane' served post-lockdown me! Sure, Iceland's insane bop gave me life! Coming home, the UK's game was good! Perdóname guapo! Spain!

Here's To Eurovision!

Joseph Harrison 

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Friendships From A Far... My International Loves: Part 3!

The world has been turned on its head, our lives have literally been turned upside down during this world pandemic situation! Amidst the chaos it's given me time to review my previous blog posts from 2013 more specifically, now that the first instalment 'Friendships From A Far...' looks much better, I now want to add another 'international love' blog to celebrate Asia!

From 2010 to 2014 I studied at UCB, I didn't know that I would find such a dear friend of mine in Birmingham! Kelly and I were on the same Hospitality and Tourism degree course, we happened to live in the same 'halls of residence'. Throughout our time spent living in Birmingham we shared many days out, we went to Cadbury World and enjoyed some delicious meals together. With Kelly being from Hong Kong I was delighted to trust her to introduce new foods to me during our foodie outings to Chinatown in Birmingham. We would always find our way down to Caffe Chino for a bubble tea! I valued my time spent with Kelly, we got each other and we stuck together! With graduation on the cards, would we meet in Hong Kong? CNY 2016? Go!

Our graduation day came, dressed in our best gowns and caps it was time for us to accept our degrees. Kelly planned to work in Birmingham for a little while after graduation whilst I started my China job hunt. Fast forward to February 2016, I took the high speed train from Wuhan to Shenzhen North. I was reunited with Kelly a little while after I had crossed the borderline into Hong Kong. It was an amazing trip down to HK, we went for a lovely dim sum breakfast with Kelly's Mom and Maternal Grandparents. Me and Kelly went to the top of HK's Victoria Peak, we saw the best views in town for sure! I went about my business during the second day, hitting the streets together the next day we made our way back to the 'Big Buddha' when thankfully it was sunny! Yay! 很高興見到你! 是!

I'll introduce my Wuhan 'China Bestie' in time, first I would like to introduce the 'Chest Kickers! All brought together in Beijing during February 2018, Chanel and Kelly came into my life. We were embarking on our Montessori teaching course, it was such an intense few months but we kept each other going. Throughout the weekend part of the course we would make each other laugh with our deliriously tired selves making jokes and catchphrases, objection! We stuck together like glue, representing team foreigner we had to hold our own. Away from the classroom we would meet for dinner and drinks. Myself and Chanel met for a few boozy lunches at Q-Mex in Beijing. Above everything else we kept things real, like really real! We all had our struggles, in the here and now its not about where we are going, it's where we have been and the memories that were made. Keeping it 100, kicking chests! It's our saying!

As the spring turned into summer, the workload and schedule changed with our Montessori teaching course, a lot! Yes, it did! Even though I was so tired I would do my best to meet Kelly at our local station to take the subway into the city to meet Chanel, our training during July brought us closer together. Learning things about each other, we became a tight team and when one of us were missing it just didn't feel right. For my own reasons I bowed out of the training course, throughout the next year in Beijing we tried our best to meet up when time permitted with our working schedules and life. Chanel opened up her baking business, I loved the baileys cupcakes! Yes, 'Suga Mama!' Kelly transferred to my previous campus, her presence made my last few weeks so special! As January 2020 concluded our lives were turned upside down, we couldn't say goodbye due to the rapid lockdown in Beijing due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Staying in touch through WeChat has been our saviour!

Keeping it real, my first five months in Wuhan, China had me on a mad one! Kindergarten life allowed me to meet my 'China Bestie', signed to the same teaching agency was how I met Fiona Dade. Our first meeting was interesting, I was not going to be part of any sisterhood, no! After speaking during the CNY 2016 holiday, she was in Australia and I was in Hong Kong. Stepping onto that Xianning bound train, we had a seriously mad weekend out! Fiona made it over to Wuhan a few more times before the summer, she needed to move to Wuhan quick! Like a prayer, Fiona returned to China, both reunited in Wuhan! Even though we were signed to the same agency didn't mean we entertained that basic nature! We were too grown for that, Fiona! No!

I was based in Guanggu and Fiona was in Dongxihu, even though the distance was maddening we made those weekends count for everything! I would mostly visit Fiona in her district, those weekenders saw us hit the town, we stayed in sometimes with a bottle or three! She cooked us a roast dinner on one hob, I made my way across the city all the way to her community! Sangria and BBQ was our gig! We kept one hand each into the agency ish then the other for our own business, Beyonce and Kelly didn't need a Michelle! We realised that our friendship had been solidified because we got each other, Wuhan was our stepping stone. We both loved our lives but wanted much more! In 2017 I flew up to see Fiona in Scotland, the Buckfast was out, it was a weekend to remember! Yes! Bye Feliciaaaaa!

Back to Beijing to bring things to present day motion! I met Cyndi during a training day at my then teaching company in Beijing, China. We lost touch after that event, life got mad for me with the Montessori course and Cyndi had her own things to deal with. During the second training day we reconnected and stayed in touch through WeChat. Things happened, Cyndi found herself in a new place that was super close to my Shunyi location in Beijing's suburbs. She introduced me to 'Steak 'N' Eggs', we lived for that home cooked American comfort food! After work after the extended October work week before the holiday we met for an epic meal and a few well deserved drinks! Cyndi is from Boston, she's got that Northeastern nature that I remembered from my NJ days. With Puerto Rican roots it was great to step away into her culture during our time in Beijing. We didn't know that our lives were about to change drastically!

I had recently arrived back from America and England, my Christmas holiday was amazing and it was equally as great to be reunited with Cyndi! I was making plans to move forwards, ready for my next phase of life in China, we had no idea something was about to rock our expat world! I had moved out of my then Beijing apartment, clocking out for the final time at my previous kindergarten I was full of optimism for the next move that I was working on. Cyndi had just dealt with some serious business, we both realised quick that a certain Miss Rona was about to lockdown our lives! Throughout the early stages of the lockdown in Beijing, we kept each other company by having pasta nights at her place. We couldn't believe how the world around us was changing! One way or another we both made tracks back to our own nations, we had to keep the faith! In the here and now, we wait to return to a place we called our expat home! For now life seems surreal! We'll make it back to Asia!

The Category Is Friendship!

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 4 May 2020

2020: Coronavirus Has Changed My World: Part 1!

Lockdown has been no joke, receiving the address from the UK government, lockdown was declared. My ambition to return to China hasn't changed, I remain hopeful that international travel will resume soon and that borders will be reopened soon. Clapping for our NHS on Thursday evenings has become our new normal. Stay at home, save lives! NHS加油! Corona, I'm done!

The gravity of the situation didn't feel real, other countries batten down the hatches to prevent the spread of the deadly Coronavirus outbreak. Leaving my Sheffield trip to cease and desist, I had to also cancel my Spanish getaway. My weekend trip to Nottingham had been successful, although I did feel something in the air that didn't feel quite right. I remember being at my Grandparents house as the government made the first briefing to the people of the United Kingdom. In disbelief, the terms 'social distancing' and 'stay at home' automatically meant the following months would place us into lockdown. The cards dealt to us were not the ones that we wanted to see, we all knew something drastic needed to be done to combat the spread of the virus within our island nation. With a war time sentiment the people of the United Kingdom knew we had to listen! I know me and my family listened, other folk were acting the fool!

The daily briefings from the cabinet ministers and health advisors informed the population, the heat was on for the government because we were heading for a potential humanitarian disaster. Questions were asked, some truly were not valid during the earliest stages of our lockdown, all we had to do was stay at home and limit our movement, adopting a China-like lockdown wouldn't have worked in our British society because people just acted the fool by going to the park for a picnic! Boris Johnson surprised the nation by making a taped statement addressing the nation, his tone was sharp and with conviction that demanded the general population heed his words due to the severity of the situation. Our 5pm briefings took over the tea time conversation, when would the virus peak in the United Kingdom? Over the next six weeks, we would see many different faces whilst our Prime Minister faced his very own health battle! Nobody foresaw that the UK PM would contract Coronavirus!

Would we starve? Would everywhere close? It took time for people to realise that a Greggs pasty or sausage roll were not essential items! Buying up all the toilet roll wouldn't make this virus disappear any faster! The supermarket became a battle ground, the queues grew longer and the NHS workers were being denied basic items like milk, chicken and toilet roll! A certain level of outrage started to bubble as selfish shoppers panic bought during a pandemic, the NHS heroes were being denied the most basic of items as the shelves laid bare! Shame on your bad selves! Get out! Supermarkets employed extra security guards and prioritised early shopping hours for the elderly and NHS workers. Budget retailers like B&M, Home Bargains, ALDI and Lidl had their tills ringing like its Christmas week, every week! The category is 'social distancing', either queue up or go home! Miss Rona, we won't let you serve UK devastation!

If 2020 could be exchanged, I would demand a full refund with receipts to boot! If this Corona had a manager, I'd been taking this right to the very top! Miss Rona goes by many alias's, this COVID-19 mess saw me arriving back into the United Kingdom from China during mid-February 2020. I did not foresee a second personal lockdown, I had secured my papers and made some serious moves during a shaky time, I was ready! The COVID-19 Ballroom was serving nothing but shade since the clock struck midnight on New Year's Day! Miss Rona was not serving opulence, she is serving 'world devastation' and 'world pandemic' runway realness! As Miss Rona wanted to open up the door further, the world locked down as a collective, we still need to kick that Coronavirus to the curb! Let us 'social distance' for the gods, come on through United Kingdom, stay at home because there's nothing to it! Come on UK, be kind to the 'essential' supermarket staff, we still need to be able to eat! I need a drink!

We needed a light, even though the season was changing, April was still a very dark month during the UK lockdown. Addressing the nation calmly yet firmly, Queen Elizabeth II thanked those who stayed home subtly making a point others weren't going to get any thanks if they were not listening to the 'social distancing' measures. She outlined the unwavering efforts of the NHS frontline workers, with additional gratitude shown to the essential workers. Her direction towards the future held much optimism, she stressed that normal times would return but we as a nation, the United Kingdom needed to pull together. The Queen included thanks to our Commonwealth Nations, recognising that efforts were being made away from the British mainland. Reiterating that 'clapping for our carers' is the right thing to do, paying a secondary serving of thanks to the nation efforts. The speech felt very correct! Yes, Queen Elizabeth II!

Feeling extremely proud of our Queen, the country needed to pull together even more so, our monarch had spoken! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever envisage being sat at home in England during the first quarter of 2020, I had visited in December 2019 after my seamless week spent in and around New York City, Newark and Philadelphia, USA. The latter part of 2019 flowed effortlessly with my concluding weeks worked at my previous teaching company in Beijing, China the events that would unfold in 2020 would come out of the blue! Little did I know that Miss Rona was plotting her next moves as I enjoyed my problem-free trip, that Miss Rona was about to serve 'COVID-19 Overness!' So yes, the Queen's speech acted as a great leveller, it brought four members of the UK and the Commonwealth Nations together for a few moments during this world pandemic health disaster. As the UK PM had been transferred to ICU, we needed our country to crush that Coronavirus trick!

Clap for the NHS? Each Thursday evening it would be that the people of the United Kingdom stood on their doorsteps to 'clap for our carers'. People made noise with clanging pots and pans, waved flags of the union to give thanks to the tireless efforts of the NHS professional medical workforce. On my street the effort could be a lot more, it's been great to see those like us have clapped each week! Choices! It was one of the UK's main concerns that the NHS wouldn't survive during the height of the Coronavirus peak, our NHS angels have worked hard and then some! Clapping is a good way to show our thanks, government needs to give them a pay-rise, quick time! Florence Nightingale made her posthumous comeback! Named after the field hospitals that have been opened across the UK, the NHS Nightingale Hospitals stand ready to deal with our unpredictable pandemic situation. Come on through, Flo' Nightingale! Go!

Mary Seacole needed her name on a hospital or ten! NHS, we needed to recognise Mary Seacole as the British-Jamaican medical heroine with her 'British Hotel' during the Crimean War! Check your Black history! When will normal service resume? The month of May arrived with some much needed news, the hospital cases have reduced nicely. Hospitals have gained extra control over their wards, as the need for ventilators and ICU beds lessens, is it time to help Miss Rona to pack her things? Yes! She can cease and desist with immediate effect, her lease of terror has been served! I have faith that I will return to China soon, both South Korea and Singapore are slated to reopen international flights to the Chinese Mainland in the next few weeks. The UK and China have retained an amicable relationship with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both operating PPE cargo only flights from London Heathrow Airport to Shanghai's Pudong International Airport. UK, we will all get through this!

Miss Rona, NO!

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 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, 中国!

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