Saturday, October 10, 2009

Day 1/2 recap: Strangers on a Train & Foreign Correspondent

Let's you and me take a trip down memory lane and discuss my trip to Hubei, because I control this blog and what I say goes.

So, "how was Hubei?" you ask. Hubei is a land of exotic oriental treasures (obviously, because I live in China). Journeying to Hubei is like taking a trip into the jungle to confront the demons within (the horror! the horror!), or like opening a fortune cookie and finding that your fortune is, "An inch of time is an inch of gold but you can't buy that inch of time with an inch of gold," which is surely the least epigrammatic proverb that I have ever had the pleasure of finding wrapped in pastry.

Or, to use a metaphor we're all more familiar with, journeying to Hubei is like that time I trekked across Iceland for 6 days and had to keep resetting my compass to true North, which was also incidentally just like that time I attended Princeton. (Is it too late to make fun of our hilariously ill-conceived valedictory? I say no.)

Not sure where I was going with all this.

Anyway, I'm going to talk about some things that happened during our trip, just so you all can see how much fun we had.

Wuhan (capital and party city of Hubei) is a 13-hour train ride away from Guangzhou, which in China is not that far at all. I had been on an overnight hard sleeper before and found it to be very comfortable and convenient, so we set off in high spirits, ready for adventure, armed with no reading material except "Dubliners" and Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" ("One is a collection of loosely-related short fictions, and the other one is by James Joyce," he quipped). I was going to talk about how we saw a woman coaxing her child into defecating on the train, but Gus has already covered this fascinating aspect of our journey, so I will leave the story in his capable hands.

Once we arrived in Wuhan, we found ourselves in a bit of a pickle, insofar as we hadn't purchased return tickets to Guangzhou and the ticket office claimed that there were no tickets left to Guangzhou the entire week. As it turned out...they were absolutely right. There were zero train tickets left except for standing-room only tickets (for a 13-hour train ride), and I would. rather. die.

But then we went to the bus terminal and found tickets back to Guangzhou which was great news, since surely a bus ride couldn't be as bad as standing for 13 hours. Surely not. (Dramatic irony alert: get ready for Day 4 recap!)

We also went to Wuhan University, supposedly China's most beautiful university, and walked around for a while. We saw dormitories which (actually; not a joke) looked like this:



So, to everyone complaining that building Whitman in the collegiate gothic style made it too old fashioned: shut up.

We also went to the Yellow Crane Tower, which looks like essentially every Chinese-y tower you've ever seen:



The balls in the foreground are the same size as the balls way up on top and have been included for comparison. Incidentally, that's a sentence I wish I got to write more often.

That night went to a restaurant with fellow PiA fellows Larry and Chris, who generously treated us to dinner at a palatial Wuhan restaurant, where the four of us got a private banquet room with a dedicated waitress and a TV (!) and a bathroom (!!). This is a big change from our lives in Guangzhou, where the food is delicious but the sanitation situation of restaurants is questionable, and diners are accustomed to engaging in a symbolic cleaning ritual with tea and chopsticks to ensure that their place setting is sanitary. (Seriously, Gus and I do this at the beginning of basically every meal, and I have become unreasonably suspicious of bowls that have not be rinsed with lukewarm tea, and unreasonably accepting of those that have.)

I have no pictures of that place, so you will just have to imagine it. Basically, you should just go to Gus for photos, because I took approximately 40 photos on the whole trip, a non-zero number of which are video clips of me attempting to take pictures before realizing that the camera was on the wrong setting (available upon request).

That was days 1 and 2 of our trip to Wuhan. Stay tuned. The fun is just beginning.

And yes I will continue to give my Hubei posts the titles of Hitchcock movies because I. Am. A. Dork.