Sunday, 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 trips 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 had 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