As our first week in Wuhan has gone by, all too quickly, we’ve soon settled in and started to find our way around the Hankou part of the city, where Ed, Kate and Casper live. Although its name will now be forever associated with Covid 19, Wuhan has a long and illustrious history going back some 3500 years, as an important port region on the middle reaches of the river River Yangtze. The three former cities of Hanyang, Hankou and Wuchan united to form the modern city of Wuhan (with its concatenated name) in 1926, and are now the three main regions of the city, which was briefly the capital city of China in 1927 under the Kuomintang and after the fall of Nanking to Japan in 1937. The modern apartment blocks where Kate and Ed live and the pedestrian area round our hotel sit amidst narrow back streets of much older buildings – small shops and street food eateries are everywhere.
We were lucky enough to have timed the start of our visit for the May day holiday weekend and some beautiful weather, so the first couple of days were holiday time for Ed, Kate and Kate’s family too. This meant a lot of eating and a complete failure to pay for any of our meals, as well as a leisurely walk to the river Yangtze though the Plane tree-lined streets of the old colonial and European areas to watch people flying kites and see Casper dip his toes in the water there for the first time. One of the kites, shaped like a bird of prey, was so realistic we watched it being mobbed by magpies.
There are a sandstone casts of a huge range fossils on the bank above the lower Bund path – presumably fossils found in China, though who knows if they are all from this area. The last few seem to show part of the story of human but the earliest ones are certainly not in any chronological order as fish seem to appear very early in the sequence. As usual, plants are very underrepresented!
Splitting the cost of meals is not a thing in China and it soon became clear that Kate’s dad regarded it as a challenge to make sure we stood no chance of taking our turn! At least we should be able to reciprocate when they visit the UK in the summer. We already knew that people eat a lot of meals out in China, even if it’s just something as simple as a 50 p bowl of sesame noodles, but something else we’ve learned is that in a restaurant, rice is very much an afterthought, used to mop up any left over sauce. Ordering rice is apparently a sign that you can’t really afford to fill up on other more interesting dishes. I suspect this may be partly a reaction to the extreme poverty and famine suffered by so many during and after the cultural revolution.
I was intrigued to see people cooking stuffed flatbreads in a tandoor oven too on the streets – something I don’t think I’ve seen before in China, though apparently it’s not a novelty.
There was no possibility on Monday, with Kate’s family, that we’d get away with snack food for an evening meal after our Sichuan lunch so we ended up in a street food restaurant, whose location fully matched the descriptor – our table was separated from the road by a few traffic cones. We ate fish baked in chilli sauce, some sort of fried crispy rice, Chinese chives with a suya-like seasoning, grilled aubergine, meat and prawn kebabs, soyabeans and baby lotus shoots – all excellent – whilst sharing a ‘tower’ of Budweiser and lots of toasting – ‘Gan bie, Gan bei!’ It’s an art to avoid emptying your glass too quickly! Though restaurants don’t have much in the way of facilities for children, people are always happy to let them amble around and don’t worry too much about them sitting still and ‘behaving’ but it did mean that one adult was on constant Casper-chasing duty!
Tuesday followed a similar pattern but with Yunnan food for lunch on the top floor of an upper-end mall, where Kate’s parents had spent the morning in a play area with Casper. This was one of the meals we’ve both enjoyed most so far, with some very different dishes including water spinach, baked spicy fish, a tasty chicken and potato stew and thin fried potatoes like the Yunnan equivalent of loaded nachos.
After lunch, Kate’s family headed to the airport for their flight back to Chengdu and the rest of us relaxed – Casper was shattered and completely over-stimulated by having so many of us around and slept for ages when he finally gave up. Tuesday evening turned out to be the beginning of several days of very unsettled weather, the rain when it came being torrential, so we ventured no further than the nearest foodstalls to Kate and Ed’s and had some rather indifferent Mapo tofu and Fish-fragrant aubergine for dinner – Martyn reckons we cook both better!
Wednesday and Thursday were wet too, so it was our turn to entertain Casper in the mall. The play area was packed on Wednesday, the last day of the holiday. It was fun for a while but the novelty waned when some sort of group kiddy-karaoke started up, with a host encouraging the children at top volume. We escaped in the end to ToyRUs, which was a relative haven of peace and tranquility! We bumped into one of Ed’s pupils with her mum in a coffee shop and she played for ages with Casper and his new car – he’s always very happy to see other children.
Ed was back at work on Thursday, so the afternoon’s entertainment in the mall, after his birthday lunch, was teaching Casper the joys of riding an escalator while Kate got a chance to read with a leisurely coffee. Martyn’s day was made by arriving at the hotel lifts at the same time as a room service robot and getting to share a lift with it! The contrast between this high tech life and life in the older streets we walk through to get to Ed and Kate’s every day is extreme.
You wouldn’t think this automation would be a high priority with such a huge, under-employed population but maybe it’s forward planning for an ageing demographic. I find it quite shocking to see elderly people begging on the street and even in restaurants alongside the conspicuous consumption and high-end fashion in the malls we’ve been visiting, though that is no different to the UK.
By Friday, Martyn and I were starting to feel we’d got our bearings so ventured out for a run down to the river first thing. Early mornings feel much more like you are seeing something of an older, with lots of aunties and uncles out doing their Tai Chi exercises in groups, using the outdoor gym, flying kites or playing badminton in the riverside park or practising their musical instruments – a group of saxophones, in one case. It’s lovely to see older adults ‘playing’ – I’m sure the reason you see very few overweight Chinese, especially amongst older age groups, is this emphasis on exercising with your friends.
At the moment I’m still reading lots of e-books, alongside Late in the Day, by Tessa Hadley. I heard her interviewed about her newest book, Free Love, on Radio 4 some time ago and was intrigued enough to want to give her books a go. She writes beautifully about relationships within families and between close friends.
We’ve been eating yet more delicious food – Hong Kong food to add to the list of regional specialities now and Martyn had some excellent spicy clam soup from a row of street food stalls.
How super to experience the culture with the advantage of local guidance! Such a different view of Wuhan. Fascinating
Glad you enjoyed!
I know I only stumbled across you by accident, but am so enjoying your account of your time in China with your family.
I thought your blog would just be a botanical account – hope you don’t mind me listening in 😄
Of course not – glad you are enjoying it!