Saturday, August 26, 2006

Claire's mother in Wuhan assured me that I wouldn't soon forget the city, and she was right. Between my arrival in a state of feverish delirium and culinary delights of south-central China, my stay in Hubei was definitely a memorable one. Aside from the food and sightseeing, a highlight was the long overdue chance to play some real, organic music with living, breathing people...that is to say, not Karaoke. After a few days in Wuhan, another Carleton classmate (and the bassist in my band back at school), Ashton, arrived with his father. There had been some mention of playing a few sets in Claire's restaurant, but I didn't really know whether it would happen, or what to expect. As it turned out, the three of us (Ashton on electric bass, his Dad on Keys and myself singing)ended up playing for three consecutive nights in the restaurant. Claire's well-connected mother found us some rehearsal space in a friend's bar, God's Music Bar, housed in a converted church, complete with vaulted ceilings and cross-shaped drink menus. This place was a trip, and it definitely wouldn't make it in the States. I guess Wuhan's Christian population is either non-existent or apathetic, because this might have been one of the most blasphemous sights I've seen. In any case, we ended up putting together a repetoire of about a dozen jazz standards, a few of which I had a chance to sing on (think "you are so beautiful," "on a clear day," "route 66," etc). Performing in the restaurant was great fun, and it was great to have a chance to play some music again. The crowd wasn't particularly responsive, but we didn't hold it against them - jazz isn't exactly popular in most of China.

After one final meal at Claire's restaurant, I boarded a train to Shenzhen on my way to Hong Kong. At over 13 hours, this was the longest train I've taken so far, but it was quite comfortable. Shenzhen is an important city in its own right, and a financial center of Southern China, but it also operates as the gateway to Hong Kong. Customs and immigration are housed at the train station, as is the light rail train to Hong Kong.

When I arrived in Beijing in early June, I was prepared for the worst after hearing many tales of the city's chaotic character. Upon arriving in Hong Kong, I was surprised to find myself experiencing a bit of culture shock. The public transportation was clean and uncrowded, streets were clean, I wasn't assaulted by mysterious, unpleasant odors or enterprising, small pickpocketing children, and western style (non-squat) toilets abounded. The English on signs was still quite humorous, although for a different reason. I don't think I'll ever get over British English. I mean, "alight on the right"? Come on, that sounds ridiculous.

In all seriousness, Hong Kong really reminded me of New York. For one, the city has a comprehensive and well designed public transportation system. It's not easy to admit, but Hong Kong's subway system is in many ways more efficient than NY's. During my three days in HK, I don' think I ever waited more than 30 seconds for a train to arrive. This convenience is, of course, largely due to the relatively small size of the system. Hong Kong Island itself is very small, but the city manages to avoid the overcrowded, hectic feel of Beijing, instead eminating what I would describe as urban bustle. For such a small island, Hong Kong also manages to play host to some very diverse landscapes. My lovely host, Lena, and her family kindly showed me a bit of Hong Kong's wilder side on my last day when we went for a hike in the "country park" behind their apartment. They live in a fairly busy residential location, so I was pretty amazed that only five minutes into the hike, there were nearly no remnants of the metropolis below. Once we gained a bit of altitude and had some views, we could see the whole of Hong Kong's skyline in front, and only tree-covered hills behind us. I was definitely grateful to see some greenery and dirt paths...somehow, climbing the steps (4-hours worth) up Mt. Taishan with a few thousand tourists fell short of the natural experience I was craving.

So I now find myself in Singapore, visiting my Carleton roommate of two years, Reshad, and soaking up the last few days of this vacation. I'll be heading back to Beijing on Thursday Sept. 7 for the start of Carleton's Tianjin Seminar. I'll be sure to post on Singapore and Bangkok once I arrive back in China. Thanks for reading, guys, good luck to everyone who's starting school!

Friday, August 18, 2006

After just over 2 months abroad, I've finally made it to my first Internet Cafe, the place of study-abroad legend. I'm in Wuhan now, staying with my friend Claire and her amazing mother, to whom I literally owe my life. I got off the train running a pretty high fever and a badly swollen throat, and she decided we'd head straight for the hospital. Luckily, she knows a few people around Wuhan, so I was whisked from one waiting area to another, getting blood tests and temperature readings along the way. I ended up in a private room with an IV in my arm for the rest of the day. Luckily, I felt a lot better by evening and they let me go home, as long as I came back for the next 3 days for treatment...this trip was clearly off to a great start. As it turned out, I really only had to go back for 2 days, after signing my (chinese) name and assuring them that I felt better. Now, I've never been admitted to a hospital back in the States before, but I'm pretty sure some things were a bit different here. The gossipping horde of 7 nurses standing outside of my door, alternately staring and whispering, for example, probably wouldn't have been a part of a hospital stay in New York. The health history questionaire-turned-vocab lesson was another twist...one that conveniently was timed right after my friend/translator left the room to get some food.

Despite my residence at Wuhan Number 6 Hospital, I've had a great time here so far. Wuhan is a city of around 20 million, including its suburbs, but it doesn't show. The traffic, air quality, and general crowding on the streets are all far better than in Beijing, which actually houses less people. The city is notable for its location on the Yangzi River, and I've been told it's one of the only cities whose urban area spans both banks. We went down to the park/esplanade area on the banks last night and actually found our way down to the water's edge. Some kids were swimming in water that is probably about as clean as the NY's East River's.

The food here is amazing, much better than Beijing, I'm convinced, and that's not just because I'm eating it free of charge at my friend's restaurants. So far I've sampled frog, turtle, and several different types Wuhan's famed freshwater fish. I'm told we'll be having some snake in the next few days, which is rumored to be delicious.

All told, I'm healthy, well fed, and ready to see what else the South has to offer...more tales from the road soon.

Monday, August 14, 2006

CET's all over, and I'm leaving on an overnight train to Wuhan (Hubei province) in about 2 hours. Not too much to say right now, the weekend after graduation was kind of crazy, but I can't wait to start this 3 week trip south. I'll post soon once I get to Wuhan, but check out some of the new pictures I have up (the album's titled, "end of the summer")