Saturday, November 26, 2011

Winter Migration

Zhengzhou was getting too cold for me, with nighttime temperatures plunging uncomfortably close to freezing and the hazy days faring little better. Exacerbating the situation was the lack of indoor heating that prevails in most of China - people just put on more clothes when they're at home in the evenings. There was only one solution: I bought myself a train ticket, direction due south. The scenery rolling past the train (when you could see through the endless mist) was one of small, steep hills with isolated villages surrounded by paddy fields, now denuded and home only to stubble and the odd, rather lost-looking, water buffalo. As soon as I stepped off the train in Wuhan I knew I was headed in the right direction and I was even able to take off my beanie, which had become a permanent fixture on my head since returning to China.

Like many large Chinese cities Wuhan is undergoing a boom that is seeing a rise in local investment and consumption. So far 4 of the cities I have visited have metro systems under construction and many are also building swanky shopping and leisure districts such as the one above that has regenerated an old canalside.

To be honest, there isn't much for the foreign tourist in Wuhan. There are some pleasant lakes and parks, and the city is renowned in China as the birthplace of the 1911 revolution that toppled the Qing dynasty bringing about the end to imperial China and ushering in the age of the republic, but the military garrison where it all started and which houses a museum dedicated to the event fails to cater to non-Chinese speakers by having no information in English (or any other language for that matter). A shame as not only is it a pivotal moment in world history, but this year also sees the centenary of those heady days. No matter though as I had a lot of fun anyway thanks to my hosts, a local girl named Xiao and her boyfriend Marek, who happens to be from Prague. Meeting a fellow Czech (from time to time I consider myself Czech) was certainly an unexpected, yet pleasant, surprise. I was able to dust-off my rusty Czech and watch some Czech movies together. He also helped me out by taking a package of odds and ends that I have accumulated over the past few months (I like keeping ticket stubs, city maps and other such memorabilia) back with him, thereby lightening my backpack a little.

A welcome change from museums and monuments: a picnic in a park beside one of Wuhan's many lakes with my hosts Xiao and Marek and their friend Nadia. Travelling isn't just about what you see and do, but also who you meet and time you share.

Xiao and Marek showed me around bits of Wuhan that I would never have found myself. Apparently the city is famed for its myriad breakfast specialities, such as hot-dry noodles, and soup dumplings (where the soup is inside the dumplings). Luckily the astute food vendors of Wuhan noticed that people are hungry not just in the morning, but throughout the day, and so these specialities can be procured at any time of the day, which is good for someone who doesn't like to get up early like myself. But even Wuhan, famed for being one of the hottest cities in China (albeit only in summer), wasn't doing it for me and I kept on aiming south in my search for warmer climes...

I don't have any photos of the food stalls in Wuhan so I thought you might enjoy this picture of Chinese snack food. As I've mentioned before the Chinese are not big fans of sweets, but they love vacuum-packed meat. Above is a small selection (clockwise from top left): shrimp, clam, beef, spicy beef, rabbit.

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