Whatever the Weather

Written by Oct 17, 2006 08:10
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Wuhan was living up to its unenviable reputation as one of China’s ‘four ovens’. The temperature was sizzling and I had cut my first visit short for this very same reason but was determined to stay around long enough this time to take in some more of Wuhans history and culture. This strategic port city, originally three separate cities straddles the Yangtze River at its junction with the Han River - Wuchang in the south and Hanyang and Hankou to the north on opposite banks of the Han River.

Hankou may be considered the real center of the city for business and commerce, especially around Zhongshan Dadao and today still has some remnants of the foreign concessions that bloomed here when the Nanjing Treaty opened these already prosperous trading ports to foreign trade. Wuchang on the southern bank is home to many of the cities universities, parks, gardens and lakes and is a welcome escape from the bustle of this cosmopolitan city with more than its fair share of western fast food chains – there’s one or the other of KFC, Pizza Hut or MacDonald’s on almost every corner and they are often found in clusters of three. I booked us into the same hotel where I had stayed on my previous visit – the intervening three years had not been kind – but we would be content if the air-conditioner, toilet and shower worked.

From our hotel near the Hankou bus station we walked the back streets down to Zhongshan Dadao in search of the Bank of China. After finding the bank and familiarizing ourselves with the shopping district we made our way down to the river, and with just a few hours left of the daylight took a ferry across the very wide and busy Yangtze to get a closer look at the Yellow Crane Tower perched above the river near the Chang Jiang Big Bridge. In just ten minutes for a cost of Y1 the ferry weaves its way through a steady stream of river traffic arriving on the south bank just down stream from the big bridge. As we looked around, catching our breath, a young lass who had spent 6 years in New Zealand translated directions from her mother for us to find our way up to the Tower.

A long flight of stairs leading up to the approaches to this impressive two-tiered bridge, built in the 1950’s, was a challenge in the afternoon heat. As one of new China’s earliest projects this bridge, which carries the train line beneath the vehicular traffic was a significant accomplishment because prior to its construction all traffic was ferried across the river, a slow and labourious task. We watched as a train passed overhead and disappeared quickly from sight. Arriving when we did we were too late to enter the Tower grounds to look around and we were not the only ones to miss out. Wuhan has several very convenient tourist line bus routes and we were able to take one of these back to Zhongshan Park near our hotel.

Loud music attracted our attention as we wandered back to our room. It should have been a sign to walk the other way but I was curious. On the square a group of entertainers had set up speakers with some chairs for an audience. This must have been a regular event or the sound of loud music had attracted others since there was quite a gathering of people watching and when we were noticed in the crowd, two chairs were quickly placed at our disposal. We were invited to sit and enjoy what were incredibly loud music and singing – and not my usual taste. A bucket of plastic flowers stood in the foreground and the audience could pay tribute to their favourite by choosing a bunch of flowers, dropping some cash into the bucket and gallantly offering the flowers to the gracious entertainers.

My ears were protesting strongly to this assault and we beat a hasty retreat after two songs. In an effort to escape the sweltering heat we went in search of food, ending up in a basement food court, which was far from basement style food or service. We firstly decide what we’d like to eat then purchase a credit card to the value of our meals plus one yuan which we discover later is a kind of deposit on the card to ensure that you cash it in. We ordered delicious fried rice served for the first time in my experience in a lotus leaf on the plate, a glass of fresh mango juice followed by and Indian style pineapple pancake or feibi. A couple of coconut muffins for breakfast finished off our credit and we made a note to eat here again since it was only across the street from our somewhat rundown but cheap and convenient hotel.

A must see in Wuhan is the Hubei Provincial Museum which houses some unusual items unearthed in 1978 near the small city of Suizhou to the north of the Province. The Zhenhouyi Tomb dates from 433BC and thousands of items; many of them exquisite pieces of gold and jade were buried with the young man Yi Zhong. One of the most interesting items unearthed from the tomb is the huge set of two tones seven note bronze bells. 64 in all, they hang from timber frames and are played using hammer and poles. For an extra Y10 you can catch a performance on a set of replicas at 11.00am and 4.00pm daily (more often on special holidays or on request). Hen hao ting!! It’s certainly worth timing your visit to listen to these stunning bells and other ancient instruments. The rest of the Museum is well laid out, displaying the hand painted, leather-covered coffin of the deceased along with a range of vessels, weapons, horse and chariot equipment, and an assortment of instruments and utensils.

After the Museum we went in search of Mao Zedongs villa, which is nearby. After asking directions we followed instructions walking down Huangli Lu. At each corner I would ask again and get fresh directions and we eventually found ourselves on the edge of East Lake walking down a lovely tree lined causeway with water on both sides and a high gate at the end. It did not look promising but everyone we asked assured us that the villa was this way. Walking beneath the shady plane trees was cooler at least. It was close to noon and fishing nets made a soft bed for one man taking his siesta. Another group of men sat around fishing and chatting beside the locked gate. We asked again but got no joy here. The villa was on the other side of the fence but there was no way of getting in without retracing our steps and it was so hot. We almost envied the guy asleep on the fishing nets.

When we got back to the street we hailed a taxi to take us around the other side of the small lake that separated us from the other access to the villa but we were stopped from entering here as well. The taxi driver was able to communicate to use that the place was closed for renovations and not open to the public – so what now. We would try to find some lunch. It was hot and despite the area being the terminus for the 701 buses and a back entrance to East Lake there was nowhere to eat either. We grabbed a packet of biscuits and headed into the park looking for somewhere cool and quiet to eat and have a rest. We were wilting in the oppressive heat and this would prove to be anything but a peaceful place.

East Lake is huge and so is the park that surrounds it with an equally huge ticket price of Y30. Electric carts or bicycles can be hired to get around within the park. While we chose to walk, the electric cart drivers who originally asked Y150 for the service quickly dropping it to Y50 pestered us relentlessly. After a short rest we began our walk heading towards the waters edge where we sat awhile beneath a small hill enjoying the faint breeze blowing across the lake. While we took another rest we were the unwitting witnesses to another loud expression off emotions – this time a family domestic. The husband was giving his wife a good talking to, while their young teenage son stood buy taking notes or perhaps wishing he could crawl into a hole. The wife eventually walked off - a courageous action - but the situation seemed unresolved.

East Lake it is a great green escape from city life, with boating, parasailing and many other entertaining activities on offer including a swimming pool near the main gate. Despite its many groves of trees through which we could walk escaping the heat of the sun we remained lethargic and wandered slowly and rested frequently on this hot sweltering day. Not so far from downtown is the more compact and much busier Zhongshan Park with its small lakes and islands where you can join the locals in the slightly cooler evenings and hire a stately white swan to swan around the waterways or simply sit and watch as others pass by.

Wuhan warrants a visit of at least a few days to appreciate all the city has to offer but summer is not the best time to visit with temperatures soaring to nearly 40ºC. It’s hard to venture outside for too long and still enjoy yourself in this oppressive kind of heat so we decided to keep moving – in search of cooler climes.

Photo: Leather covered coffin Hubei Provincial Museum

From Zhongshan Dadao in Hankou bus number 402 runs past the East Lake park entrance. The next stop will get you close to the Hubei Principal Museum and Mao Zedong Villa. Get off at the next stop after the park entrance and walk about ten minutes to the museum, which is on the corner of Huangli Lu. The Villa and the back gate to East Lake park are down at the end of Huangli Lu which is also the terminus of 701 buses.

 More Wuhan Travel Reviews
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2. Wuhan at Last MISHEN from NZ Feb 26, 2006 09:02
3. The River - Part Four – Not Quite Wuhan MISHEN from NZ Feb 16, 2006 05:02
Comments (1)


Oct 18, 2006 22:17 Reply

MAY001 said:

Yes, Wuhan is desperate hot! In winter, it is also very very cold.

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