I was going through some older photos and realized I had yet to post any photos from the top tourist destination in Wuhan, the Yellow Crane tower. During one of my last weekends in Wuhan I visited the refurbed grand tower which sits upon Snake “Mountain”. The tower is a tourist spot, with a bunch of little kitch shops inside selling miniature replicas of the tower and Mr. Miagi rhythm drums, but overall not a bad way to spend a nice afternoon.
Between the Yellow Crane Tower and the Yangtze River is the Hu Bu Xiang snack street. Which I have posted about here. Pop out the other end of Hu Bu Xiang and you will find yourself at the base of the First Bridge and the great Yangtze River. Following are some images of this colossal structure designed by the Soviet Union.
You can say a lot of negative things about Wuhan’s pollution, traffic congestion, and weather but when it comes to street snack food it ranks up there with the best. The crown jewel of the Wuhan street snack food has to be at Hu Bu Xiang Snack Street. This little street, the length of half a standard block and the width of two people at times, is all part of the tourist experience of Wuhan and will probably be featured in any travel writing about the city. I figure Wuhan only offers about one, maybe two days worth of standard tourist excitement and this is a perennial destination. Because of its central location, transportation options, proximity to the Three Gorges area and lack of most things interesting, Wuhan is basically a pit-stop for most travelers. If Anthony Bordain was to film an episode of Layover here he would basically spend his first morning by walking up to view Yellow Crane Tower from the street (no real reason to pay admission and go inside) so the video crew could grab their b-roll, walk a few meters to the famous Hu Bu Xiang snack street for an assortment of goodies, spend the day at Wuhan University or East Lake (China’s largest urban lake), and take in a music show at Vox followed by more street food at a night market and more drinks at ex-pat / local hangout Wuhan Prison. You could consume the next 24-hours basically by sleeping in and trying to take a bus from one side of the city to the other, which I’ve been told could take upwards of six hours.
Let’s not get hung up on the faults of Wuhan, and instead partake in the greasy goodness it has to offer. Anybody will tell you Wuhan is known for its breakfast street food, and in my opinion Hu Bu Xiang is the epicenter of the magic. Yes there are plenty of fantastic noodle and re-gan mian (hot dry noodle) shops all over town. But, even if locals say Hu Bu is not what it used to be, there is no better collection of street food energy in Wuhan than this little strip just east of the Yangtze River. They say it’s breakfast food but go there anytime during the day and you will not be disappointed.
Some snaps from my last visit.
This time last year I was spending my time at the Wuhan Institute of Physical Education. The fairly large university (7,000+ students) located in the capitol city of Hubei Province, China is dedicated to sports training and sports education. Students can major in basketball, ping-pong, dance, journalism, business, English and many other fields. The majority of the students study sports which makes for a pocket of larger sized Chinese. I can walk around Wuhan and be noticeably taller than most people, but here on campus I comfortably fit in with the sizable student body. The school is also host to China’s national rowing team and some young gymnasts in training. Let me tell you, these guys are all about quantity when it comes to training. The crew team is up with the sun and trains all day. Even the “universities basketball team” (which I cannot really figure out because they never play other teams, only inter-squad) runs and scrimmages all day. From my viewpoint they could really conduct a more effective and efficient practice, but I understand this is the way they like to do it China. In all sports in all levels, the theory is to get better you just train harder, not necessarily smarter. Obviously it has produced some good results in international competition (the school has training many Olympic gold metal winner, including Yang Wei) but it seems there are better ways. It was interesting to see how vastly different their basketball practices are compared to what I remember. In China the team practices together instead of doing individual drills. Most drills just seem to be a type of war of attrition, running up and down the court until you are completely exhausted. General wisdom would say this actually produces and practices poor technique, as the athletes tire, but they seem to just bulldog through it.
Anyway, I had fun playing basketball with the students and by the end of my time there I was getting my game senses back and was able to shoot a little better (it had probably been about eight years since I played a game before coming to China) and they taught me a fair amount of Chinese profanities. At the beginning of summer I filmed a walking tour of campus, which I will attach below. The video is way too long for one download so I cut them into three segments. I know the camera is really shaky and not the best quality, but it might be interesting to some of you to see the campus of a Chinese sports university. It has only been a few months since this video was shot, but by the time you view it the campus will have changed a lot. That is the way things are in Chinese cities nowadays. Cranes are up everywhere and the old cities are being erased while a new image is being penciled in its place.
Can you see these videos? Leave me a comment, I think there might be a problem.
Here is the Youku version (not as high resolution) because YouTube does not like my music choice and has disabled the audio.
HERE is a link to Part 2 of 3 Youku version for all you Chinese viewers without access to Youtube.
HERE is a link to Part 3 of 3 Youku version for all you Chinese viewers without access to Youtube.
And some photos.
Not far from my place is a “National Park” called Moshan “Mountain”. Notice the use of parentheses here? Think of them as indications of my skepticism of their contents.
First, “National Park”. Many signs inside the park are written only with Chinese characters. Some of these signs have an official looking logo stamped and painted into them. The logo looks very similar to that of the US National Park system and the English on the Chinese version even states that this is a “National Park of China”. While very scenic for an urban setting like Wuhan, I’m not sure Moshan has, in my opinion, what it takes to be stamped as an official National Park. At first I thought it was just another Chinese rouge. Upon some further investigation I found that it is more a first degree National Park and not in itself a national park.
Moshan is a member of a family of “National Parks” under the East Lake National Park title (aka Wuhan Donghu National Park). I’m not really sure what constitutes a “National Park” and what does not. For instance, is the free public swimming area in East Lake a National Park? How about the Wuhan Institute of Physical Education (yes, WIPE)? It is located on East Lake. Not sure? Neither am I. While the scenery is nice, it does fall a little short of such a grand title. But Moshan has the signs to prove it.
The second use of parentheses has to do with the title “Mountain”. The title Moshan Mountain sounds odd to me for two reasons. First, the name Moshan (磨山) implies mountain. Shan (山) is the pronunciation for mountain. So Moshan Mountain is like saying Mo Mountain Mountain. But I have seen it referred to as Moshan Mountain in a few places and I even find myself calling it Moshan Moutain. My acceptance must be because in China you often hear the same thing repeated twice. Many nicknames are just the same word repeated (bao bao - means baby and is also the name of my neighbor’s cat) or doubling a word for emphasis is a popular practice (yi dian dian - means only very little of something). So when I first physically saw Moshan “Mountain” I thought to myself, “I want to see more mountain mountain”, or Mo Mountain Mountain if your from the city. See my reasoning?
Let’s get back to the characters making up Moshan (磨山). See the shan (山)? It kinda looks like a mountain. But 山 is very very liberally used in China. It can represent something the size of a pitchers mound to a base camp in Nepal (see how I refrain from using the T word to keep sensors at bay) (see how I spelled sensors with an s to keep sensors at bay) (see how I just want to put in another parenthetical statement). So if the Chinese are going to liberally use some thing like the word mountain, one of mother nature’s greatest creations, then it’s easy to slap the National Park title on every Tom, Dick and Harry Hill in the land.
The park was was a nice day out and a good way to get away from the hum of the city. Below are a few more photos from the day.
A few weekends ago American Streetball came to China. A group of American players made the long journey over here to be ambassadors of streetball. The tour (organized by Crossover Sports and Shemgod) actually started back in the spring as event organizers hosted grassroot events in five Chinese cities as a sort of tryout for Street China, the team to oppose the American SKY team. Think of Street China as the Washington Generals, of Harlem Globetrotters fame… but not really. Once Street China had chosen its 12 players they were ready to take on team SKY in a three city exhibition tour. Luckily this included a stop in Wuhan at the Huazhong Institute of Science and Technology, just a few bus stops from my apartment. Each tour setup is basically a standard four-quarter game with music, dancers, referees (who were not really in on the entertainment value and made way too many traveling calls), SWAG (t-shirts and sweat bands) for fans, photographers (me), M.C. and short halftime skills program. Before opening tip the Wuhan crowd grew to over 4,000 in the 5,000+ stadium, so the house was fairly full. The fans cheered when the SKY dunked and Street China scored but remained relatively quiet yet entertained. Despite being a little frustrated by the consistent grabbing and reaching defensive tactics of the Chinese throughout the game (play a pickup game in China and you will understand their frustration), both sides found their momentum in the final quarter and ended a flurry of buckets and cheers from the crowd. Final score SKY 106 and China Street 53. It seemed closer but defense wins championships… and the Chinese have a little work to do in that category. The tour will continue on to Shanghai (and has already stopped in Beijing) to wrap up the month long experiment. Once the live basketball is finished CCTV will produce an eight episode reality television to be shown nationally. Unfortunately my CCTV 5 comes in fuzzy and is of course in Mandarin.
I was able to talk to a few of the players before the game and at halftime. Good guys who have a good life traveling and playing basketball in front of decent sized crowds. I did a little digging and found some info on Team SKY.
” Mr. 720″ Taurian Fontenette: from Hitchcock, Texas and former player at UTEP and Richland College (yep, the same one where I took photography and language courses while living in Dallas). Check out his dunk videos HERE.
“Spyda” Dennis Chism: from Atlanta, Georgia has traveled the world playing ball for the likes of AND 1, SKY and the ABA.
“Helicopter” John Humphrey: From Atlantic Beach, North Carolina has been a longtime teammate of Spyda on the streetball hoops tours. He played high school ball at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia and finished his college career at Middle Tennessee State University.
“Pat the Roc” Pat Robinson: from Prince Fredrick, Maryland area has been featured on advertising campaigns from Under Armor to the NCAA. Due to his fancy dribbling skills and dunking ability he has been added to a number or international basketball entertainment tours.
“8th Wonder” Antwan Scott: from New Bern, North Carolina was the big man (6′8″ and 215 lbs) in the paint all night. A force and a talent who played high school ball at the Oak Hill Academy and college (from 1998-2002) at Wake Forest.
“Big Swoal” James Rhodes: from Wilmington, North Carolina does the dirty work, rebounding and setting picks for so the flashy players have clear lanes to the basket.
“AO” Aaron Owens: from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a quick and crafty (6′3″ 165 lbs) player who has spent many season with AND 1 and the Ball4Real World Tour. In high school he played with Rasheed Wallace and Aaron McKie, spent his college days at Henderson State University, where he earned Division II All-American accolades) and has a few NBAD games on his resume.
“Space Invader” Guy Dupuy: the only player not from the States, he calls Paris, France and any court in the world his home. Mostly know for jumping over cars, people, horses, miniature cities, large cakes, and just about anything else on his way to the basket.
Spent some time last weekend looking around Wuhan for some good graffiti and found it. It seems there is a group of artists, calling themselves Hubest, who spend their nights tagging various business garage doors and advertisements. The names on most of the graffiti here in Wuhan tell me the majority of the work comes from this group. And lucky for us… they are pretty talented. Better than most all of the street art I found around Dallas and up there with some of the best I saw in the movie Style Wars (if you are interested in street art this film is a good introduction). From the looks of the art locations (one is along a busy bus stop connecting the Hankou and Wuchang districts) they can easily get away with their work. I imagine, like most things in China, there are people around to see the pieces being created (riding buses or waiting at the stop) and those people don’t know what to think of what they are seeing. Is it wrong, art, or the audience is so far removed from the world they just don’t care. Which brings me to the question… can you vandalize in China? I mean is it possible? In a place that sees most (80% is my guess) of its finished hot dry noodle cups tossed over the consumers shoulder to decorate the ground, what harm is a little paint going to do on a wall. And in a place with a rich history of graffiti (I am talking about the governmental slogans painted on walls across the country, from farms to factories, most of which are still visible), there may be an unconscious desire to see painted messages on walls. In America we accept the unflattering fetus billboard posted 10 meters away from the XXX nudie magazine/video shop all across our scenic highways. But we often squeal at the site of some well made graffiti in the playground nobody in the neighborhood has visited in years. Who’s right and who is wrong is anybody’s guess. Maybe it just comes down to our American appetite to let anyone who has paid to do something can do it (I image most graffiti artists would call it sacrilege to pay for a wall or a billboard to showcase their work). Anyway, the argument has already played out in American and people have chosen their sides. But here in China the argument hasn’t even started. So until then, if it ever happens, the streets and walls of China are open for art.
In sum, basically what I am saying is I want to see some pro-life graffiti painted on Uncle Jimbo’s XXX shop the next time I drive from Alabama to Florida. Otherwise all you graffiti artist should stake some new ground in China.
In the meantime check out some of the graffiti Wuhan is producing. I’ll try to have more posted in the future.
Yes I worked at Disney for one year. Yes I have visited the China pavilion in EPCOT many times. No I have not seen Disney’s Mulan. But… I have now visited her hometown and climbed Mulan Mountain. The story of this visit and the “true” story of Mulan follows.
In downtown Jiang’an Wuhan you can walk along the Yangzte River and find a plethora of small travel agents selling vacations all over Asia. Currently the best deals are to SE Asia, say Vietnam flight and six nights for only $600. Among these various companies is a small-time operation selling cheap bus tickets to the home village of our favorite fabled Chinese Disney character. On Saturdays buses departed at 7AM, 8AM, 9AM and 3PM. You don’t have to get there early, just get there on time (more on that later).
Yes traveling in China is cheap, and yes you often get what you pay for. So 15RMB (about $2.50) will get you a seat on a bus for the two hour drive up to Mulan Mountain. Make sure you are there on time, remember you don’t have to be early. When the small bus with the pictures of people having tourist type fun on Mulan Mountain pulls into the parking lot, chase that bus around in circles like the other Chinese. Sure you are wise to the fact that that bus needs to pull around and is going to park nest to the kiosk displaying the same tourist fun photos as the bus, but chase it around anyway, everyone else is. Soon it will stop just where you thought it would and the mob will jockey for position near the door. I assume this is the moment when the bus driver looks at the small frenzied crowd and places a mental bet on who will be first to board his hell on wheels. He times the release of the gate perfect with for the timely positioning of his favorite horse. And the first person to establish two feet on his bus he is is right, he is always right… it is the girlfriend of the slightly crazy looking one (who wedged himself between her and the rest of the crowd). In this kind of game the crazies always win. Should you be one of those closer to sanity (I place myself in this category), best advice is to stand back and watch. No need to get so close to the cage as to have your finger bitten off. Once on board you will know you this is not the nicest of vessels but hey $2.50 is pretty cheap. So you are happy with things. Even when the bus makes a stop 45 minutes away from your final destination to pick up passengers who will now double the cargo count. Because you have a seat, you consider yourself lucky. Even if that guy has his crotch too close to your face and the guy next to him just stares at your foreign face the entire time. It’s hard to find this kind of entertainment for $2.50. A Happy Meal is at least $3 these days. And this little box of a bus is much more fun. If you look close enough in the corners of the bus I am sure you can find some toy or souvenir better than a plastic Shrek key chain.
Once you arrive to the entrance of the Mulan Mountain village, pay little attention to the women who board the bus just outside of town. First, they don’t speak English. Second, they just want to tell you the town is sold out of guest rooms and theirs is the only remaining bed in town. When the bus arrives to town the crowd of even more women hawking their guest room will tell you differently and you will soon see there are plenty of guest rooms available and little English. Don’t be too shocked if one of the women follow you around all over town, even wait for you outside of the bathroom. That’s Chinese hospitality. Don’t give in too quickly to the pressure of your new Chinese friend. Take your time, walk the main street, pick a guest house that is right for you and in a location best suited to your liking (at the end of the street, need the convenience store, near the all night mahong game, etc.). If you still cannot decide then the Fat Guy Guest House has all you need for around 60 RMB (less than $9). The place is clean and operated by a nice family. But if your shoes are wet from walking in the rain they don’t take to kindly to moving your rooms coat hanger into the communal restroom and drying them from the heat lamp.
When you have time… enjoy the hike up the mountain.
The “Real” Story of Mulan
Well before Steamboat Mickey was drawn, there lived a young girl named Mulan. She was the only grown offspring of a famous retired general. He raised Mulan like he would a son, teaching her to ride horses and fight with a sword. One day, scrolls with a message from the royal military were posted in all the villages. “Each family must send one man to the army for battle.” The old man’s body was was too old to fight but his warrior mind too honorable reject the request. Mulan knew her father would die if he went to war again, but girls did not fight in wars. She knew she must take the place of her father. So that day she bought a horse, a saddle and bridle. The following morning she stole her father’s battle armor and rode silently away from her home.
Disguised as a man, Mulan fought for many years. Her battle skills were so impressive, when the war ended she was called before the Son of Heaven to receive an award for bravery. She was offered a high position with the royal army. But her wish was only to return home to her family. She declined the offer and asked for a good horse instead. The request was granted and she rode home. There her family warmly welcomed her return and she gladly gave the warrior clothes to her now grown brother. It does not take long for her to return to her true identity. After fixing her hair and powdering her face she is quickly transformed into a woman.
Not long after, friends who had served with Mulan came to visit. Their were amazed and perplexed to see the beautiful woman before them.
The story depicts the immortal character of Mulan. She is a person of unmatched ability but also a common person. She is the combination of a brave warrior and a beautiful girl. She does not wish for the high post and attention but instead is enthusiastic for a peaceful life. It is a story of personal courage and triumph. A story for each of us.
Last week I arrived to China (Wuhan, Hubei province) just in time for the May Day holiday and the opening of the World Expo. The airport in Shanghai was full of kids with their Haibao (the mascot of the World Expo) plush dolls, bags, key chains, phone charms and just about anything that can carry an ink print or be shaped into the Gumby-like shape. The layover in Shanghai was much easier this go round as I actually read a diagram of the airport layout (China Southern is in terminal 2) which limited the wondering around I did last time. A second win, the plane arrived on time. My last China bound flight squeezed me too close to my connection and left me standing in front of some blank faced Air China workers trying to tell me the next flight to depart was the following morning. This time the only snag was the 240RMB (about $35) charge for my luggage. Total weight was over 20K so they charge you. U.S. travelers, sound familiar? Yep, another wonderful idea export from the States. The rest of the trip was thankfully uneventful. The boxed meal served on the less than two hour flight (Shanghai - Wuhan) served was my first China ‘born’ meal and happily received by my time confused lunch, as I was probably eating this as dinner around 6:00 AM East Coast Time.
This weekend we had dinner at a friends new restaurant (the Golden Koala) in a side street near the University district in Wuhan and I snapped a few photos for the new owners. The food was extremely tasty… the best ‘baby lobster’ (crayfish) I’ve had outside of the South and the new menu items (a sweet and sour like pineapple pork, a sweet frog soup with little frog men swimming the backstroke, and pork ribs) they are thinking of adding was all well received except for the plum sauce on fish. That was a little battle in the mouth no one wanted to fight. The place is going to be there for at least another three months. Lets see if it has a life past that.
For those who may try to call my US phone number… it is no longer in service. The best form of contact with me is via email.