Mountain climbed

We arrived in Baimiaohe 白庙河 yesterday afternoon and were met by Zhang Lan’s lovely family, who are taking very good care of us. I’ll write about it more later, but just to say that we climbed a mountain today. An enormous mountain. It involved a cable car, a giant serpent, a glass walkway clinging to the mountain edge, a great glass elevator, nasty monkeys and a motorbike ride. And LOTS of steps. A spectacular day, but I forgot my phone, so all my pics are on my camera to download later. 

The photo below is the village where we are – our house is the highest in the top right. Last night we ate the rice and veg grown by our hosts. We’re in a wonderful place, and once we’ve recovered from the mountain will head out exploring the rice paddies.

Days disappeared

Without any guilt I’ve been reading books instead of posting here, so this is a quick post with lots of pics. In about an hour Janet and I leave for the mountains to the northeast of Wuhan – I’m not sure how access to wifi will be there, so may not post again until we return on Wednesday.

So, to catch up: Wednesday afternoon we sat in on staff presentations of their students’ work during the 18 week semester – there was some great work and we got to meet the photography lecturer Liu Bo 刘波. He showed us some really interesting coded work he had created, that has toured the US, Norway and goes to Germany next week. He likes to drive: with his family he has driven from LA to New York, from Melbourne to Brisbane, and next year is planning a 50 day trip from Wuhan to Yunnan, Tibet, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu and then back to Wuhuan. That will be a stunning trip through some of the remotest parts of China. I want to follow along behind their car… Janet and I found a fantastic hotpot place closeby and have had dinner there twice now, the second time also with Rez.

Rezwanul Haque is a mechanical engineering lecturer, originally from Bangladesh but now at the Sunshine Coast University, and is in Wuhan to give some lectures this week. He is a friend of Janet’s, and the three of us visited Hubei Museum on Thursday, and then the Wuhan Art Gallery. The art gallery had mostly 20th century work, and some more contemporary pieces. I really enjoyed the display around publications from the Mao years.

The pictures above are of little paperback story books for kids, that during the Mao years were placed on stands around towns for children to take. I think the purpose was twofold: improve literacy rates, and inculcate the population to Maoism.

On Friday Rez and I had spare time so I took him to the Yellow Crane Tower 黄鹤楼 and the Guiyuan Buddhist Temple 归元寺. Luckily because of recent rain, we had great clear views from the top of the tower.

Rez went back to Australia yesterday, and Janet and I decided to explore East Lake 东湖. I wasn’t expecting much, but it turned out to be really beautiful and enjoyable. First we got a taxi to Moshan 磨山, or Grinding Hill. We wandered around the Botanical Gardens, which had a range of beautiful spaces and no crowds at all. It also houses the largest collection of live aquatic plants in the world, in a kind of open display aquarium. Then we wandered down the road and came across some abandoned yurts (I have no idea why they were there – maybe an abandoned hotel) and some beautiful, huge open air restaurants spread out over ponds with lily pads and flowers. We weren’t at all hungry, but sat and had tea for at least an hour. Then we wandered further down the road to the main parkland at Moshan. This place is an absolute must-see in Wuhan. It’s an enormous parkland that is beautifully maintained, with lakes and forests and woodlands. There is an enormous children’s play area, a cable car to the pagoda on top of the hill and a toboggan ride down. (Unfortunately the cable car was broken, so we didn’t go up the hill.) It is right along the lake, with bikes for hire and a beautiful view of the city. Just near Chu Castle we found the Wuhan Old Camera Museum, which just opened this year. It is amazing: there are hundreds of cameras of all types in there, showcasing the entire history of photography: from 10×8 glass plate cameras, to tiny spy cameras, some weird ones on rifle mounts, a gold Hasselblad and everything in-between. After wandering back to the port, we found that there were no ferries. So we paid a 68 year old lady too much money to cross the lake on her little boat. It took about half an hour and took us to the East Lake parkland on the opposite side of the lake. It was a beautiful end to the day, before heading to our favourite vegetarian restaurant for dinner. And that’s where I’m up to. Mountain adventures are about to begin!

Wuhan Polytechnic Design School

This is our third day at the school. On the first day Janet gave an introduction to the design school staff about JCU, her research projects and student projects. The school encompasses a broad range of design – including interior design, branding and advertising, and photography and filmmaking. After the talk we met with the head of the department Duan Linjie 段林杰 for tea. He has a ten year old daughter, and also a ‘secret garden’ a couple of hours drive out of Wuhan. He invited us there this weekend, and hopefully we can go. 

On the second day we met with photography and photomedia students. I showed my photography work and discussed the thinking behind it, then Janet again showed her work, and then about six students showed their work from their first year of study. They showed quite a range of work, from landscape, to logo design and portraiture. There was a short presentation ceremony for the cohort. Yesterday afternoon Janet and I went to World City 世界城, the place in Optics Valley 光谷 I chanced upon last year where there is Germany Style Street, Italy Style Street and then Spain Style Street. Such a weird place, with fake European architecture, a huge dinosaur chasing a giraffe, some kind of Italian cathedral and statues of steins, toreadors and gondolas interspersed with pandas and polar bears. And of course the Lily Airways plane at the end of Germany Style Street. We wanted to go in just for a drink, but the set menu started at 200 kuai and we weren’t that hungry. Since we are ‘foreign friends’ however, the ‘captain’ let us board, so we could have a look inside the plane. It was really plush inside, a surprisingly nice place to dine. We left the weirdness of World City, passed by all the yabbie restaurants nearby and found a slightly Japanese-style restaurant with private booths – a quiet place to eat and relax after a full day.
This morning we are in a session where the design school staff are reflecting on their work and practice over the last semester, each making a short presentation. I’m learning lots of new words…

Hubu Alley

Janet and David arrived this afternoon, and together with Jennifer we went to Hubu Alley 户部巷 for dinner. This is in a really old part of Wuhan, just near the Yellow Crane Tower 黄鹤楼 and the Yangtze River 长江, where Hubu refers to the Board of Revenue that I guess used to collect taxes and other money from trade along the river. Hubu Alley is a place for street food, with a vast array of meat, sweets and local dishes, alongside a normal night market. After dinner we walked down to the river and watched the really spectacular lightshow that’s synchronised on the facades of many buildings along the other side of the river. I’ve done 23337 steps today – I think that’s a record.

Lunch with Mccormick

Mccormick showed me around this morning, although since it’s Sunday there wasn’t much open to show me. The name Mccormick is something to do with South Park, but since I’ve never watched the show I can’t tell you what it is… We ended up trudging through and leaping over rocks and mud in the construction on the main road to get to the Walmart shopping complex one block up. Walmart itself was three or four floors of bargain mayhem, packed with a full assortment of Sunday shoppers seeking to a) spend their money on ‘stuff’ and/or b) spend time in the air conditioning. It’s pretty warm and humid outside. I just wanted to buy laundry detergent, but the checkout queue was about an hour long – no exaggeration – so I quickly gave up on that idea. There’s a quite nice shopping and eatery district around the Walmart, with KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks etc. We ended up in a comfy quiet restaurant called Wanwan’s Little Kitchen 弯弯小厨 (Wanwan I just looked up is a well-known Taiwanese blogger, but I doubt the restaurant has anything to do with him/her?) and had a really good chat over a really good vegetarian lunch: edamame 凉拌毛豆, string beans & eggplant 豆角茄子, and grandma’s tofu 麻婆豆腐 with rice. Then we had iced milk tea with red beans 奶茶 – delish!

Mccormick’s twenty years old, so I have been travelling around China longer than he has been alive. He’s the president of the Polytechnic’s international association and his English is great. He’s a third year computing and English student and will graduate this year, but has realised he has no interest in computers and wants to work in advertising, which probably means starting university again next year. It was really interesting to see the world from his perspective: so much pressure from all directions to stick with the ‘right’ path and find success, but really just wanting to follow his hopes and dreams. It is tough being twenty, especially when you’re not really sure which way to go. I’m not sure it gets any easier with time actually, but I hope opportunity and fortune come his way.

He talked about the Gaokao 高考 which is like the final Year 12 exam, except it’s a one-off comprehensive test of a range of subjects, often with obscure and meaningless questions. The future prospects of millions of students ride on how well they do in Gaokao – whether they get into good universities etc. Mccormick said many students take it several years running to try to improve their result and find a more promising pathway through university. He took it twice. He has a friend who has done it three times. Mccormick originally started a communications course at Wuhan University, which he later withdrew from. While there he played in the university American football team. Apparently there are three such teams in Wuhan, and more in Shanghai, that play each other. Not something I expected to hear.

Mccormick also taught me a little Wuhan slang: ni1 hao4, instead of ni3 hao3, kuazi 胯子 for leg instead of 腿子, and mamu 麻木 for motor scooter – no idea why, since 麻木 means apathetic, or literally: as numb as wood!

Two sides of the street

The travel yesterday all went to plan and I was met at Wuhan airport by Jennifer 珍妮花, who teaches electronics and English at Wuhan Polytechnic. At my apartment I was met by an American called Luc who has been teaching English here for a year, and a couple of Chinese guys who are all going to give me a tour around the campus this morning at 10:30. Janet should arrive tonight.

I got up at about 5am to go for a run and try to get a sense of where I am. The polytechnic is a standard university campus: aging around the edges. I haven’t been to the new part yet, but I explored the western half of this Eastern campus this morning. My street is in the bottom pic, with my apartment building on the left. I did a few laps of the running track – I love to observe the range of exercisers out early in China.

Then I headed west, out of the campus gates and entered a construction zone. I don’t know if it’s for a new subway line, or if they’re widening the street, but it’s a huge mess of construction along the main road. I crossed over and headed into the suburban streets. This is where blocks of old apartment blocks are being systematically stripped and demolished, and replaced with taller new apartment blocks. On the street I walked down, literally one side was being destroyed and under construction, all grey and ruin, and the other side of the street was a sparkling new neighbourhood with flower beds, dog parks, playgrounds, sculptures and new shopping centres topped by highrise apartments.

I found a friendly little noodle place for breakfast and had a big bowl of noodle soup with fresh and pickled vegetables and chilli, a potato cake and a bottle of water for 8 块 – $1.54. I’m ready for the day…

Ready. Almost.

It’s only four and a half days of school until this trip starts to unfold. Our plans have taken a little more shape: we’ll be teaching for a week, and then I plan to spend a few days in a friend’s hometown: Tiantangzhai 天堂寨 is a village in the Dabie Mountains 大别山 bordering Anhui province, about three hours by bus northeast of Wuhan (where we’ll be teaching). My best current translation of 大别山 is ‘another big mountain.’ 😀 Wuhan is a massive sprawling city of about 14 million in central China, on the Yangtze River. It’s about halfway between Beijing and Hong Kong, and about halfway between Shanghai and Xi’an (home of the Terracotta Warriors).

I picked up my business cards today, and have almost started packing. And I’ve just set this blog to automatically update on Facebook, so people know what I’m up to and where I am without me having to worry about VOIP. The next few days are going to fly, and then I get a China Eastern flight directly from Sydney to Wuhan, hopefully NOT on a plane with a dodgy engine like the flight last week… which I’m trying very hard NOT to think about…