Travels with John Smith
Chapter 38 (2016)
Family, Wuhan and Rock n Roll
-welcoming Don and Mieko/easing into Wuhan at the Marco Polo Hotel
-Wuhan more beautiful than Beijing
-quiet in the coffee shop/German food and smaltzy jazz
-Tailor Street and a new dress
-grateful for Zhang; driver and tourist guide
-Mao Dian food, dancing and pool
-posters for the Course fair
-the Washroom chart
-Monday metro to Han street
-suite in Shanghai
-wheeling and dealing in the fake market
-Financial tower view
-rock n roll and rain
Travels with John Smith
Chapter 38, year 5 (2016)
Family, Wuhan and Rock n Roll
We are on our way to the airport to pick up brother Don and sister-in-law Mieko. We are very excited because apart from a one night visit from friends Bonnie and Yves, during the 5 years we have lived here, NO ONE else has come to visit us here in China.
Since we found out that Don and Mieko were coming, John and I have been talking about where we would take them and where we would eat and what we would do, in short; how can we pack as much as possible into the time we have with them.
They are both World travellers so we know they will be up for everything and it’s been fun planning possible things to do, as Mieko did for us when we travelled around Japan.
This is a city of 10,000,000 people and the airport is at the opposite side of the city so it is a long way. And it’s a Friday and their plane lands at about 3:30, so it is the worst traffic day and worst time or will be by the time we get out of airport.
Since they are only here until Wednesday morning, we thought we might save some time by checking into our favourite hotel, ‘The Marco Polo’, for their first night here. It is on the same side of the city as the airport, in Hankou, so will only take us a 1/2 an hour to get there, instead of a possible 2 hour or more ride home to Wuchang, our side of the city.
They arrived via Beijing so we know they have already been introduced to China. In fact I got a Wechat (China’s version of Facebook, which I suggested he sign up with while he is here) message from Don, including a picture of Mieko posing on the Great Wall saying “Awesome”.
We left the school early today and we are in the car with our favourite driver Zhang. He has taught us how to say my sister in law (Wo de Di Shi Fu), as we already knew how to say my younger brother (Wo de Di Di).
Zhang waits in the parking lot of the airport while we go in. I catch sight of a familiar man towering over others coming out of the door of the arrivals exit and a familiar, elegant and beautiful Asian woman by his side. Both are smiling and looking calm. My heart fills up with joy.
We find Zhang in the parking lot and start loading the car with the luggage (they are not travelling light-they each have check-in suitcases and a bag that is entirely dedicated to presents they are bringing to Japan to Mieko’s family and friends. While we are doing this, Mieko disappears and Don says she is insisting on returning the luggage cart back to the terminal, which is quite a ways back. This is an example of her extremely good manners, sense of fairness and wanting to do the right thing.
We check into our rooms which are on the top floor of the Marco Polo, and inspect the view of the Yangtze River. Mieko says Wuhan is more beautiful than Beijing right now as it is still Winter there and there are blossoms and the new green leaves of springtime here. I feel secretly delighted that it is still winter in Beijing as it is rare for people to refer to Wuhan as being more beautiful than Beijing.
We go for a walk down by the river, where some people are also taking a Friday stroll. Some are flying kites and others are sitting admiring the late afternoon sun. Then we grab a cab and head toward Wuhan Tian di, the modern walking street where there are lots of restaurants and coffee shops.
We enter a coffee shop/book shop that has a terrace outside and a beautiful decor inside with lovely books lining the walls and shelves and a counter where you can order a coffee.
I am talking while we enter, explaining something about the area and the girl who works in the shop comes over to me and tells me to be quiet. I am embarrassed and also astounded! I could understand if it happened in Japan but in Wuhan! The noisiest city in China. This has never happened to me nor have I ever witnessed anything like it here before. Mieko, who is Japanese, thinks it’s normal. John thinks it’s funny that it happened to me, since I work in a Library.
We leave and find a German restaurant round the corner that looks like it’s got a good menu. There is a German chef and the food is quite good and comes in copious amounts. There are microphones, a piano and guitar amp in a small area right in front of us, that looks like we might be in for some live music. A pretty girl and 2 trendy young guys arrive and start singing some smaltzy English jazz songs and a few Chinese songs too.
They are pretty good, although a little close; 2 metres away, crammed into a corner, so it’s hard to talk but we stay for a set and head back to the hotel early.
Mieko is tired so she goes to bed but brother Don, John and I head for the pool where there is a whirlpool overlooking the Yangtze. We sit there until our toes and fingers are wrinkled talking about all sorts of things, including the Stockmarket, as Don is quite knowledgable about it.
We wake up to a beautiful warm, sunny Saturday, have a bit of a late morning, eat breakfast and hang around the hotel. Zhang comes to pick us up at 11:00 and we put the luggage in the trunk of the car, then head over to Tailor Street where we introduce Mieko to Yang, one of my favourite tailors. I have spoken about him before. He wears 3 piece suits and has a similar hairstyle to Elvis. Mieko picks out a peacock green fabric and leaves a dress for him to copy which I will pick up and bring back to Canada when we go there this summer.
Zhang waits for us and drives us to a little street near Tailor Street that has interesting shops and we wander around, eat a kind of fried rice pancake snack and then he takes us to The Yellow Crane Tower, (Huang he lou), which is the main attraction in Wuhan. It is pretty busy but we climb the stairs to the top, take lots of pictures and Zhang waits again and then drives us home.
Zhang tells us we should stop at the #1 Bridge, as it is an important landmark here. It was the 1st Bridge to be built across the Yangtze River, in China. Zhang has braved the traffic jams of a busy Saturday, waited for hours patiently and without complaint, entertained us, taught us Chinese en route and acted as tour guide, showing us parts of Wuhan we need to see. We were able to do all of this and leave our luggage in the car without worry and we ask him how much we owe him for the day. He holds up 3 fingers, meaning 300 RMB, which is about 60 Canadian dollars or 30 pounds in the UK). We try to give him more and he won’t take it. You wouldn’t get far for that much, in a cab in Vancouver or London, let alone a whole day.
We change our clothes and go to Mao Dian, our local Night Market, where we eat all our favourites; Edamame in Chili sauce, fried meat and vegetable dumplings, steamed dumplings (with soup inside), chicken roasted on a spit, barbecued mushrooms and eggplant, with watermelon and strawberry smoothies.
We walk to the square behind the market, where 5 different groups of women are dancing to 5 different Chinese songs, blaring out of 5 different Gettoblasters. Mieko and I join a couple groups and try to follow along to the graceful movements. We watch the women and the locals hang out, and walk over to the outdoor pool tables where there are over 10 groups of people playing Pool/Billards.
We watch them for a bit (we wanted to show Don and Mieko as it is unusual to see that many pool tables outside-all year round). We decide not to play as everyone is tired and go home.
Don and I play a couple of songs and talk some more but now it’s now quite late.
It is Monday and I have taken the day off without pay so I could spend some extra time with Don and Mieko. We had to work yesterday afternoon as we had a Course Fair. John had a booth to show what they do in his cooking class and spent the afternoon overseeing students making hotdogs and playing games to do with cooking. I made some ‘Foods and Nutrition Alumni’ posters for his stall. The posters had things like; ‘Fastest clean up Class of 2001’ and a picture of Superman or ‘Best Fish and Chips Class of 1933’ and a picture of the Queen or ‘Highest Mark Class of 1945’ with a picture of Einstein, etc. John gave me the idea and I ran with it and had a lot of fun.
I also made posters for the Library booth and tried to make it interesting by finding pictures of people reading in bizarre places; i.e.; a guy sitting on top of a water buffalo in a rice field trying to read a book and underneath put ‘Need a more comfortable place to read? or a guy sitting on top of a basketball net with a book and underneath put “Need a quiet place to study?, etc.
I also found pictures of famous people reading; Audrey Hepburn, in unglamorous clothes and no make up, laying on a couch reading. Marilyn Monroe frowning and looking like she was concentrating, reading James Joyce. LeBron laying on the floor with a book spread out in front of him, etc.
I also brought my guitar in the hopes that Don might join me in a song. Sadly, we tried but it was too noisy so we didn’t play together while the Course fair was in full swing.
I did score some Brownie points with the Chinese Principal when he came by our stand later and we were the only stand who hadn’t started to take everything down early. It was quieter then and I was entertaining the volunteers with a couple songs and many parents were standing listening and taking pictures. Even though, I am not sure playing the guitar has anything to do with the library, he gave me the thumbs up.
Afterwards, we took Don and Mieko down to Wu Shang Liang Fan for our favourite dish; Gong Pao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken). The food was, as always delicious and we got to introduce them to the family that run the place and speak a little Chinese.
We showed them the long covered market where the hole in the wall restaurant is and the long rows of neatly stacked vegetables, spices, teas, live chickens, fish and so on. There are shops that are also like holes in the wall along the insides of the building and at the very back (behind the large wooden chopping blocks for the meat hanging from hooks is a terrible washroom.
Mieko told us she noticed a chart, when they were in Beijing, where all the washrooms were rated from 1-6, so Mieko invented one called the ‘Beijing Washroom Chart’ and we have been using the chart on all the washrooms we visit. On the chart, the washroom in the covered market might be a 0 or even less.
The Washroom has hard packed dirt on the floor, the toilets are holes in the ground, there is no paper, no soap, no water at all to wash your hands with but there seems to be an abundance of water on the ground, siphoned off from some dubious source, that form little streams inside and outside the washroom so you have to watch where you step. I don’t think they have ever been cleaned and often there are huge piles of s..t left in the flat area around the hole so even squatting over them is very unpleasant. Most of the stalls do not have doors but those that do have a kind of short door on on them-easy to look under and anyone could just look over at you and they have no lock on them anyway.
To top it off, the symbols on the doors are entirely in Chinese (no pictures of a girl or boy) so if you can’t read the symbols, you might find yourself in the wrong one.
We are on a bus on our way to Guang gu. After telling Don and Mieko about how crowded the buses are, we not only got a seat but there are plenty of empty seats around us. Don has not been able to find a bank that works to withdraw cash with his card (including the Bank of China) so we are headed for the Ramada Hotel to try the cash machine there, as there are many foreigners who stay there.
Don tries his card and it doesn’t work there either so he has to take money from a credit card and get online to pay it back while we have our breakfast at the buffet of the hotel.
I remember when we first got to China, we had problems getting money from our Canadian accounts but since we now have Chinese bank accounts, we have no problems. Another reminder of something we now take for granted (it also happens the other way around-it is difficult to find banks that will accept the Chinese bank card when we are in the West.)
We jump on the metro to go to Han Street (the modern street with lots of good shops). I am showing them how to get to the Metro so they can use it tomorrow, when John and I are at work, so they can visit the Art Gallery and/or the Temple. The Metro is really quite modern and one of the rare modes of transport inside the city where there is English and Chinese. John and I don’t usually take it because it is too far away from the school but for sightseeing and getting to different parts of the city, it is handy.
We get to Han street and Don goes off by himself so Mieko and I can do some serious shopping. Mieko and I have a wonderful afternoon doing just that, then the 3 of us get back on the metro to go back to Guanggu so we can meet John at the Indian restaurant.
It is Wednesday morning. Don and Mieko are leaving for Xian and then Shanghai. Zhang is waiting outside the gate so we walk them up there on our way into work. We are sad to see them go. They are wonderful guests; trying everything we suggested and also able to entertain themselves when we were busy. Yesterday, they rode around on the metro to various places, including a gallery and a temple, that we haven’t even been to yet. It was so much fun to show them around.
They told us they liked Wuhan and we feel like parents of a wayward child that someone has seen the good side of. We feel like they got a glimpse of our lives here and that feels good.
I am in the library and John comes in to tell me he has booked a flight and a suite in a hotel in Shanghai for me so I can meet and have one last visit with Don and Mieko. I am overcome with emotion. He is the most amazing man. I am so lucky.
It is Saturday morning and I wake up to a golden light filling the room. I look outside and can’t believe what I see. It is another ‘Blue Mosque moment’. There in the soft morning sun, framed by the window as if it is my own personal picture is the landmark of Shanghai, The Pearl Tower. All the times we have come to Shanghai and been in this hotel and never had it right outside our window. Wow. What a great start to the day!
I didn’t get much sleep last night as I arrived about 10, took the train and subway from the airport, bought some snacks on my way back to the room and then stayed up watching movies and enjoying the suite. It seems a waste to be in it without John and even more so if all I do is sleep.
We have stayed in this hotel before so it felt kind of like coming home. I knew how to get here without looking on a map and even knew where I would find snacks on the way, like stopping at your closest grocery store on the way home from work.
I am having an amazing breakfast with Don and Mieko in their hotel which is only a couple of blocks from mine.
We visit the art museum, which I have never been to, then I lead Mieko and Don to the ‘Fake Market’ at the Science and Technology museum subway stop. We walk around the underground maze, checking out bags, shoes, sunglasses and jewelry.
I use the Chinese I know and my bargaining skills to get some good deals. As soon as the sellers give a price, I answer in Chinese and tell them it is too expensive (tai guile), which it always is, at least double what you should pay for the item and sometimes a lot more.
They are usually surprised that I speak any Chinese at all as mostly tourists frequent these markets and then I tell them I live in Wuhan and they need to give me Chinese prices.
They still bargain but in a much different way; we go back and forth, laugh and joke and play the game.
In the end I get a good price but I know they still did too. I don’t want to rip them off as this is their livelihood and I would pay a lot more in the West for the same kinds of things but we both (seller and buyer) need to feel we did alright.
My Chinese friends all tell me they actually don’t respect you if you pay the asking price so the wheeling and dealing is expected. It is lots of fun and Don and Mieko are impressed by my negotiating skills and hard bargaining.
I take them to the area where the Pearl Tower is and up the Shanghai Financial Tower, that was, until 2014, the tallest building in Shanghai. There is an observation deck on the 100th floor that is approximately 500 metres or 1,555 feet high. To give some perspective, this is twice the height of the AJ Hackett tower in Macau. The one that John bungie jumped from and it’s the highest tower bungee jump in the world.
We get a magnificent view of the Pearl Tower. There are a couple of Chinese tour groups up there at the same time as us and it is too crowded and noisy for my liking. One group’s tour guide has a speaker attached to his belt and microphone attached to it and it is so loud, we can’t hear each other speak. We get a touristy picture taken in a room where they make it look like we are hanging on to the antenna on the top of the building and you can see the streets and tiny cars, etc below.
We have a delicious dinner in a great Thai restaurant where John and I ate the last time we were in Shanghai and go back to our respective hotels fairly early. I gaze at the Pearl tower from my bedroom window, as it changes from red to blue to yellow, surrounded by the rest of the lights of Shanghai’s skyline.
It is Sunday morning and we were meant to check out a park that Mieko wanted to see but she wants to return to the market for some more wheeling and dealing. One of my favourite places at the market are the Opticians, where you can pick out frames for glasses and they will either copy the strength of your old glasses or give you a quick eye test and you can go off and do more shopping and you will have your new glasses with appropriate lenses in about an hour (and it will cost about 1/5 of what it would cost in the West). So you can imagine what we did. It’s time for me to get the fast train back to Wuhan. I am happy I got to spend some extra time with them!
I am back in Wuhan and John and I are at the Strawberry Festival. The festival has nothing to do with fruit but it is showcase of Rock music in China. It is a yearly festival, that we just heard about from Sophie, who works at the FNS and is aware of all the cool things going on Wuhan.
Sophie is from the UK and speaks excellent Chinese. Her Chinese is so good that Chinese people hear her on the phone and think she is Chinese. She is a delightful, intelligent girl and she also has a Chinese boyfriend so I guess she gets a lot of practice. We are meant to meet them at the festival and she says there will be Rock music from different parts of China and a couple foreign bands playing here.
John and I decided to stay in a hotel near the Stadium grounds where the festival is being held as that way, we can walk everywhere. The venue and the hotel are also close to Aloha (the American-Hawaiian restaurant I have spoken about before in Hanyang. I think I mentioned before that Wuhan is basically 3 cities that have grown into each other. Hankou, Wuchang (where we live) and Hanyang.
I looked up the weather before we came and it said rain so we have come well equipped. Both John and I have wellies (or rubber boots), umbrellas and we bought clear plastic raincoats that cover our bags. I bought a purple one in remembrance of Prince. We heard yesterday that he had died and I am devastated. I feel like he was the soundtrack to a lot of my life in Paris and the beginning of London. I can’t believe both him and David Bowie died in the same year (Bowie was another earlier soundtrack, also Paris).
We scouted out the venue for the festival this morning and bought our tickets from some scalpers that were outside. We weren’t sure the tickets were real because they didn’t charge us any more than the ones you would buy at the door but we got in no problem.
Right now, we are at the ‘Wuhan stage’, standing behind a guy with a ‘Sons of Anarchy’ jacket. John asks if he can take a picture with him and he speaks some English. He says he is a drummer and his band is the next band up so we stay to watch them.
I feel a tap on the shoulder and see a tall Chinese guy with hair that looks like a 50’s rocker with a blonde streak through it. He says ‘Are you a teacher at Maple Leaf?’He looks familiar but I can’t place the name. He says ’I am Rocky’ and I remember. He was in the school the 2nd year we were in Maple leaf.
He is the only guy that knew it was me when I wore my Queen Elizabeth costume on Halloween that year! He was the one of 2 guys who played drums at the school so he was always in all the Rock bands at that time. He lives in Beijing now, and is in an acting school which is a good choice for him.
There aren’t many people yet but the few that are here are obviously not regular festival goers as we have only seen a couple people with rubber boots. There are selling the little blue shoe covers at the door and many people are buying them but they are the size of ballerina shoes and don’t cover the whole foot so people step into a puddle and their foot is soaked or the muddy field and the mud squashes off to each side of their foot and then meets in the middle and sticks to the top of the shoe. People are walking around with mud up and down their legs, looking cold and miserable. John and I are feeling dry and comfortable and grateful.
I get a message from Sophie and we find each other thanks to Wechat (the Facebook of China). She is with her boyfriend Huang Fei and Melissa (the FNS teacher we have hung out with in Bangkok and Tasmania). They look like they are going to a museum in their thin sweaters. skirts and dainty little shoes, which are now covered in mud.
Apart from Sophie and us, we have only seen about 3 other foreigners here at the festival. Melissa looks Asian due to a Chinese Vietnamese background. Huang Fei is a drummer and he tells us who the bands are and what kind of music they play (Heavy Rock, Punk, Folk, Traditional -from Minority groups, Funk, Rockabilly, Indie, etc. ).
We hang out for the day and John and I stop for dinner at Aloha on our way back to the hotel. We are enjoying the satellite TV in the room when John is violently ill. It seems too soon for it to be anything we ate and it continues all night. I am not ill but seem to have contracted some kind of skin allergy. So much for Rock n Roll.