WuHan Means Eat! Eat! Eat!

Trip Start Aug 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 15, 2005

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Flag of China  , Hubei,
Sunday, October 16, 2005

Many people ask why we are traveling to WuHan, a city nearly devoid of any backpackers or tourists. My companion and I have a Chinese friend from college who's parents live here in WuHan. They have graciously offered to show us around the city for a couple of days (I will refer to them as "mom" and "dad" hereafter). Until they called our global cell phone, we weren't really sure what the plan was once we got off the train. They even let us know what time the train we were on was supposed to arrive (the tickets don't like to mention that). At 9:35am, we walk out of the station, into the outside arrival area, and down the gauntlet of people. Amazingly, we walk all the way down (being the only foreigners) without anyone picking us out. It turns out our train is a few minutes early and soon enough a smiling man walks past my companion a few times then raises up a sign with our names on it. This is dad. Dad doesn't speak English, but we soon get the idea that mom would soon find us. Mom soon joins us and lets us know what the plan is (mom speaks decent English).

Mom informs us that they have already booked a hotel for us near their house and that we are going now to drive around the WuChang area. There's no time to argue as we're on our way with our smelly day old clothes and unshowered bodies. We stop by a local food stall and grab some vegetable balls to tide us over to lunch. We head over to the prestigious and massive Wuhan University to get a quick feel for campus life. It reminds me a lot of the land grant schools back in the US whereby the state gives a large mass of land to the school with the restriction that a certain amount must be park area. Their track-and-field track is a rounded square as opposed to the oval we use in the US.

Near the university is the East Lake, a lake so large that you can't see the other side (smog aside). We begin a drive around the lake and stop at a park that includes a temple from the Chu Dynasty. I should mention here that nearly (if not all) of the dynastic structures in China have been rebuilt (some many times) over the centuries. If I quote a date or age, it is relative to the original structure's construction, not the current. I believe this temple was constructed sometime between 1100 BC and 200BC. The temple sits on a high hill that can be accessed by car (our way), walking, or a very strange combination rope-tow/log-flume that will pull you up to the top of the hill for Y10. For Y30 you can ride down the other flume at a high speed. At the top of the hill we pay a Y5 entrance fee and start the long climb to the top of the tower. Inside are series of traditional bells on a stage, but the next showing is more than 2 hours away so we press on. At the top we have a good view of the park and the East lake, but the smog is a little depressing. It seems that China is perpetually obscured by it.

We head to lunch at an upscale restaurant in the HanKou district. The food is very good, especially the deep fried balls of fish and yellow dessert noodles. I forget to take a picture of it. China must be the most crime-ridden place ever. In the restaurants they put a covering over your chair-back to cover your jacket and purse so that nobody steals it. This is in a nice restaurant too! After lunch we head to our hotel, the Holiday Inn. It's without a doubt more than twice expensive as any place we've stayed at so far on this trip as it seems mostly western business travelers stay here. Mom and dad insist on paying for everything despite our protests. It feels good to finally shower off after the train ride and morning adventure.

Around 5:00, mom comes back to the hotel ready to take us to more sights of Wuhan. Mom has brought along her niece who is a senior in English at a local university. She hopes to study abroad and get a masters degree in the UK next year. We jump into a taxi and head to the Yangzi River boardwalk, yet another project completed during the current construction boom. The boardwalk goes on for some kilometers in each direction between the first and second bridges across the Yangzi. Along the riverfront road is a line of colonial buildings constructed mostly by the British in the first years of the 20th century. Most all of them are still standing and have been taken over by local companies. This time of year, the boardwalk offers a plethora of vendors renting kites to the people strolling along the river. Many of them have strings of kites that seem to reach hundreds of meters into the sky. Across the street we find a fast food place looking suspiciously like a KFC, but with a Mr. Magoo-looking mascot. Mom says that a Taiwanese company owns this chain and that they do reasonably well in China.

As night settles in, we head into the commercial sector and walk along the shops. We grab a variety of tofu dishes from some street vendors, some of which are rather spicy. I buy an ice cream cone to cool off my throat and we check out an indoor mall. Near the mall is none other than...Wal-Mart. Unable to resist, we head inside to see what it's like. First of all, the entire store is on the second floor of a medium size office building. The Wal-Mart seems to be a grocery store, not a consumer goods store. In fact, they carry far less non-food items than a typical grocery store in the US (I'd say the checkout line was the only place). This seems ironic to me considering how much of Wal-Mart's inventory comes from Chinese factories. Every checkout line at the walmart seems to have a stack of 4 point-of-sale stations. If completely manned, I assume everyone just crowds into line and finds a clerk that will help them. I picked up some batteries from the checkout line and the guy behind me was suddenly in front of me.

After the adventure to Wal-Mart, we head to a "Hot-Pot" restaurant on the second floor of the mall. Each person at the table has a small pot of oily soup with some sterno underneath to make it boil. There is a buffet of noodles and raw meats that you can stock up on and then cook in your pot. There is a sauce buffet where each person can combine ingredients to make their own dipping sauce. I'm finding it easier to use the chopsticks to manipulate my food in crazy ways to make it edible. In any case, I make full use of the "all you can eat" aspect of the hot-pot restaurant. Feeling a little bit awkward that mom is paying for all kinds of things for us, I head for the register and pay while she is distracted getting ice cream.

After dinner we take a taxi over to mom and dad's apartment. The taxi's seem really cheap here. Using the meter it won't cost more than $1-2 to get around Hankou. In any case, it's definitely cheaper than the bus when you have 4 people as the price does not vary with the number of passengers. The apartment is bigger than I expected to see in Asia for two people. Seeing their apartment fully equipped with all the modern conveniences of the western world makes me feel positive about potentially living in this country.

Heading back to the hotel, we get to bed early as mom has already planned out the next morning's breakfast and day trips.
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