In 2010, I traveled to China with my dad, his most favorite country in the world. It wasn’t our first time in China, but it was the first time I was just traveling with him. The itinerary included Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuhan, Guangzhou. From Shanghai, we took the normal 6-hour train to Wuhan. My dad wanted to go to Wuhan for several reasons – most importantly, the Yangtze River, Chairman Mao had swum there, so he wanted to check it out. Especially after reading Peter Hessler’s book ‘River Town; Two Years on the Yangtze’, his passion in China’s history and its integration into the world grew. After I read the book, I caught the China bug too. Since then, he had read every book related to Chinese culture, politics and the Silk Road that led to a rising passion of the Xinjiang Province. He invested time into the careful selection of authors and topics.
Wuhan is densely populated, smogged up and a major transportation hub. It’s history goes back to 3,000 years that reflects Wuhan’s identity, a combination of three villages that flourished in alternating dynasties, architecture that evoked Western influences and structures that resisted natural disasters, flooding in particular. I remember thinking how colossal the roads and bridges were, and whether we should have worn a mask, never mind setting foot on one of China’s profound cities.
As soon as we arrived, we walked to the riverbank lined with a colonial buildings; one that particularly caught our attention, was the ‘National City Bank of New York’. We walked in the park, devoid of natural greenery, but designed meticulously with plantings, fountains and exercise machines. The park was populated with young and old locals doing all sorts of activities; flying kites, exercising, wedding photo shoot (I crashed), Tai Chi, people stopping by on their way home, and a graduation (I crashed too)! With hardly any out of towners in sight, we were often asked “What are you doing in Wuhan?”. We walked towards the Han Pedestrian Street and stopped by Honeymoon Dessert, a Hong Kong Franchise dessert paradise in major Chinese cities and Singapore. Honeymoon Dessert was a standard ritual with my parents.
The next day, we climbed up the Yellow Crane Tower with a long history behind it that I vaguely remember. The original tower is a km away and attempting to understand the legends and poetry attached to it would mean diving into a massive rabbit hole. Nevertheless, the view of the Yangtze and some parts of the city were incredible!
On our way back, we kind of lost the way, so walked some extra miles as drivers honked incessantly in the traffic congestion. The haze, for what seemed to be permanent, didn’t brighten the experience, but I am glad to say that we crossed the one of thousands of bridges in Wuhan and made it back in time to catch the bullet train to Guangzhou. The train station was an hour away from our hotel on a vast highway that seemed endless. Although it was far from picturesque, it validated China’s economic boom and active industries.
While waiting to board our train, we witnessed a furious lady assaulting her husband by repeatedly throwing her shoe at him, while he continued to talk on the phone. They walked towards the ticket counter in that manner. He showed no reaction and was still on the phone. She, on the other hand, was ENRAGED and relentless.
In other news, this train ride was another reason we were in Wuhan. It cut a 10-hour trip short to 3.5, and Thank God for that, because regardless of how Matrix-like the ride was, most passengers stuck to their old ways (from all I can remember) – loud slurps, frantic conversations, reclining into our space, standing by our seats and to top the list – cracking sun flower seeds! We remained impassive and enjoyed the ride. I guess inner peace comes naturally when you’re rolling on its source.
Before smart phones proliferated all over our lives and turned everyone into professional photographers, we held large bricks of a camera, printed films and were amazed at how our Nokias or Blackberries took extremely poor photos, case in point, my gallery below. I purposely left them in poor pixel form to appreciate the time we thought Blackberries were so meta.