From the outside looking in, there’s no reason to think I’d fall in love with Wuhan: another huge city of about seven million people (making it only the 11th largest city in China) in the middle of the country, the capital of Hubei Province, straddling the Yangtze River at it’s confluence with the Han River. But fall in love I did, changing a planned two-day stop over into a four-day visit.For me, the main draw in Wuhan is the enormous amount of parks and green space in the city, primarily along the Yangtze and around the enormous East Lake. (As an aside, I love the creative naming patterns we’ve encountered in China. Hangzhou’s biggest lake was West Lake, and here the biggest lake is East Lake. By way of comparison, Wuhan’s East Lake is six times the size of Hangzhou’s West Lake). I discovered miles of park and green space along both sides of the Yangtze, great for long walks, running, reading, and just watching Wuhan life go by.
Great as those parks are, they weren’t the only highlights in the city. The Hubei Provincial Museum, near East Lake was both free and fabulous. The museum includes hundreds of artifacts from the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng (don’t worry, I’d never heard of him before either) from the 5th century BC, uncovered only in the late 1970s. Part of what makes the exhibit so interesting is that it documents some of the Chinese achievements in art, technology, and astronomy that far outstripped Western civilization at the time. Some of the items displayed are considered so important to China’s history that the national government prohibits them from being displayed abroad. So you gotta come here to see them!
The museum and especially the grounds around it are teeming with student groups, all happy and rambunctious. Part of what I might miss when we leave China – assuming we leave some day – is how excited kids are to see Westerners. I can’t count how many times kids, and groups of kids, stopped to ask if they could take a picture with me. Apparently I like being treated like a celebrity.
And then just across the street was a more modest but still fun (and still free!) art museum. We were there in an interregnum between major exhibits – one ended just before we got there and another opened the day after we left – but the permanent collection was still interesting, including a big display of Hubei art in the 20th century. I was surprised about how open they were in acknowledging the way Mao’s policies inhibited art for much of 1960s and 1970s, but still they told an interesting story about the role of Hubei art over the century.
The architecture in Wuhan is interesting, too, with an eclectic blend of old, new, classic, collapsing, and intriguing. Wandering around random neighborhoods you walk through a variety of experiences, sometimes feeling almost European, occasionally evoking 1920s Shanghai, more often complicated contemporary China.
There’s not as much to say about the food in Wuhan as we enjoyed in and around Sėchuan, but I did have one of the strangest experiences at lunch, on two consecutive days. It’s obvious I don’t speak Chinese and that I struggle with the menu and then sometimes with the food when it comes. Both afternoons when I was exploring on my own I ended up in stereotypically huge, bright Chinese restaurants. I managed to order OK, but at the end of the meal the server brought over a comment card he wanted me to fill out. It was entirely in Chinese, with various check boxes to indicate – presumably – what I liked and what I didn’t. Of course, I actually have no idea what the card said since I don’t speak Chinese and the servers didn’t speak English. Still they really, really wanted me to fill it out, showing me how to check boxes as though the problem were that I just didn’t know how to fill in a check box. I couldn’t get it through that if I did check the box it would be purely random and thus of pretty limited analytic value. And that happened twice!
Meanwhile, Mark is still recovering from knee surgery, spending more time in the hotel than he or I would like all else being equal. Realistically, though, going on five- or six-mile walks to enjoy all Wuhan has to offer probably wouldn’t be smart, so he’s laying low. From here it’s off to Hefei, just another Chinese city we have the opportunity to explore.