written/non-written things by me (from 2005-2008)

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Wuhan Strangers

My last day of adventure I was out of camera batteries and space, so I write what I can remember about my quietly unusual day in Wuhan:
On Thursday I left the mountain temple and the retreat to return back to Beijing alone. I was really looking forward to managing my way through small town bus stations and big cities with their big city train stations. But, in acutality leaving was very, if not too, easy. It was rather smooth buying a bus ticket, in fact. I immediately stepped onto the bus after the purchase. Even though its a long ride, three hours to Wuhan, I think a bus left every 10 minutes or so. In the well invested Eastern parts of China they're not short of transportation options, or individuals creating their own transporataion options.
I went from Huangmei to Wuhan the capital of Hubei province in the morning. The bus ride was really nice. The scenary: soft green hills, farms, etc--lovely. Not the most visually appealing bus, but really comfortable. There was only one well-behaved live chicken in a ladies' purse. The loudest part of the ride was the TV DVD player. I watched part of a stupid Hong Kong crime/romantic comedy and mostly all of the "music videos," which featured Chinese popstars performing on stage with extreme stage effects and over-choreographed dancers. It's hard to like most of the pop music as it is over-produced and the singers have ridiculuous Fraggle Rock haircuts. But my favorite popular group I think is Ma Tou Qin, from Inner Mongolia. They consists of a little girl, her cherubic mother, and her cherubic grandpa. They were rather liked by the other bus people too.

The solo adventure well rolling, I was really looking forward to a long afternoon exploring, though painfully on my ankle, Wuhan, the major Yangzi River port city that is one of the largest in China. First, I was to meet a woman at the bus station who had arranged a 8 pm night train ticket to Beijing for me. Zhu Shi, a connections of Master Zhuang Zhi's. I arrived and we met after some confusion. She ran up to me and bowed apologizing. She was small and chubby women, almost didn't look Asian in the face and figure. She wore a train workers shirt. In fact, she is a ticket saleswoman in the Wuhan station. I gather she sells hard-to-come-by Holiday tickets as a side-income.
She grabbed my heavy bag when discovering my sprained hobble. Then we attacked the terrible the congestion of oven-like Wuhan streets. Viscerally, the city really is miserabley hot and humid, and smells like wet, grimmy metal. But in appearance it was green and lovely. Very different than Beijing...more "South China" as I had imagined it. Here there were old men with long grey beards and mustaches crouching on little stools in oriental pajamas, with chinese collars and plain black slip-ons smoking long pipes. Ladies went bare legged, except for panty-hose socks with high-heeled sandals, and mostly all had umbrellas. Some men gathered under tents playing cards wearing dress pant cut-offs, with white button down shirts open to their bare chests.

Zhu Shi wanted to take me to lunch in a nice vegetarian restuarant near the downtown temple. There we ate some pickled cold fake meat versions of tongue, ham, and spongee tofu skin, a huge hot bowl of gelatinous yellow porridge (hot jelly-like porridge is the last thing I wanted to eat at that moment), some curly meaty vegetable mixed with deadly peppers, and the most enjoyable dish sauteed flower stems. It was a lot and I had to eat most of it despite not really enjoying the taste. We washed this all down with 2 cold bottles of some surprisingly good Apple Cider Vinegar.
She was too generous with the meal. I purchased the ticket from her during lunch. We awkwardly communicated, though I nodded a lot even when I didn't understand. She has a teenage daughter and husband and all are practicing Buddhists. I was kind of hoping to see some stuff around the city, but not wanting to dissapoint her as I didn't know what she had in mind next, so I said nothing of my plans to loaf around the River.

She paid for the lunch and led me a few blocks to her apartment complex. I wanted to say, "Oh that's okay I want to look around the city," but I was also curious and thought maybe the offer to rest in a nice women's apartment was a more real way to experience Wuhan...I suppose.

She lives in a big flat of apartment towers for train station employees. Her's was on the top floor over looking the loud train station. The outward appearance of the flats were not the greatest, all were gentley oxidizing. But her apartment was rather lovely and clean. We sat down on her couch she gave me slippers offered me huge container of cold mango yogurt even though I had just eaten a tremendous amount of incongruous foods at lunch. She turned on the television to women's international Badmitton. I looked down at my ankle and as soon as I got my sock off she was coming into the room with vile of oil. She then squated down and poured a bunch of it on my foot and aggresively massaged my swollen ankle into a soft numb and tingly mound; meanwhile, I sat there slurrping about a half a quart of yogurt watching badmitton (Netherlands vs. Japan).

So after the massage, yogurt, and television, and after we exhuasted the use of my crappy phrase book I was offered her daughter's room to take a nap. I obliged, after all, I did have about 6 hours to kill in this women's apartment. So I slept for about half that time, listening to the loud train and staring at her daughter's really well-drawn charcoal renderings of the busts of greek philosphers that were taped on the wall. I could have slept in that hot bedroom for 10 hours, but eventually I figured I should get up and go back into the living room. Immacculate timing: as they were all, Father, Mother and daughter, standing next to their a table with about five heaping dishes for dinner--though standing in a posture as if they had waited for me to emerge from the bedroom for the last 2 hours...

So we ate and the 14 year old girl (she was chubby in an american way, not in a chinese chubby way, which means simply a chubby face) shyly asked me that she would like to go abroad and how much would it cost. I thought maybe they were being so accomodating because I was a means to at least hook their daughter up with a program. I gave her as much information as I could, despite her poor english. And promised that would send her information via email, though she didn't have an email address. I asked her where she would like to go and at first she smiled and said "America" as if being polite to my question, me being an American and all. Then later she brought out a English picture dictionary and pointed to a flag and said I would like to go here..."Ukraine!?" I was more than surprised. I laughed acutally, then I resettled, when I realized her seriousness and I asked why and she said to study drawing. I said that her drawing was good, but then oddly, she replied "No, not good at all" So, sure, I guess Ukraine would be just as okay a place as any other for a chubby, shy, Chinese girl, with little english, and with no confidence in her art ability to study art abroad. Stranger matchings have occured...I suspect.

With still 2 + hours to kill we rounded out the unusual evening watching a DVD of tapped live performance of Singing Buddhist All Stars. The performances were grandiose and enchanting and heavily synthesized.

Then I was accompanied to the train station by Zhu Shi, treated to 2 bottles yogart drink for the train ride and then we proceeded to wait in the small poorly ventilated train station office with no windows for an additional 30 minutes. Both of us fiddling on our cell phones.

Wasn't quite what I had expected from my day layover in Wuhan, but surely I will always associate Wuhan with Zhu Shi and her insistent generosity and her quiet little family with their quiet little aspirations.

My name is Hannah Pierce-Carlson