Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Spring in Wuhan, China

If you’re not already aware, Wuhan, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, has been under lockdown since mid-January (along with the entire Hubei province, where Wuhan is situated) in an attempt to contain the coronavirus. What this means is that all points of exit have been blocked (highways, airport, and train stations), and people in the city can’t get out. Technically it is still possible to get in, but it is perhaps the most difficult task on the planet at the moment. For Jian and me, who live and work in Wuhan, this means that after our trip to Japan, we were unable to return home, and we had been staying in the city of Dalian since February. It seems promising that as the coronavirus situation gets better every day in China, Wuhan will be “unlocked” soon (whatever “soon” actually means), but until then, we wait patiently.

Didn’t manage to book a free ticket to Wuhan University’s sakura festival last year, so I went to the one at East Lake. So many colours, but many more people… (not obvious here, but trust me)

Rapeseed flowers covering vast areas by Yujia Lake last March. Not as huge of an attraction as the cherry blossoms so the crowds were not as heavy.

I think back to last March, when spring covered the city of Wuhan in blossoms and fragrance. I always say that I hate the climate of Wuhan – scorching hot summers and damp, cold winters. But spring is the exception and that ray of hope. March is the time when the dampness finally begins to disappear, and we welcome the sunlight with open arms because we know it won’t be long before we wished that the sun would hide itself again. People begin putting away their thick coats, and the East Lake suddenly comes to life with joggers and cyclists who can’t wait to embrace the warmth of nature. Little wild flowers appear out of nowhere and dress the city in a colourful gown, giving off the most subtle but pleasant scent without the need of a single drop of perfume. The hibernating spirit awakes – this is spring.

Countless violet-pink magnolia buds on the east HUST campus, some already in full bloom!

Tulip festival in Jiefang Park, among other locations. Didn’t have to go to Ottawa or Keukenhof to see these beauties!

Except that’s not the case this year. The unexpected COVID-19 outbreak has put Wuhan into a prolonged pause in 2020. The city continues to quarantine itself, and though spring has already arrived, the streets remain empty, the parks remain desolate, and the city remains quietly asleep. I miss the gorgeous cherry blossoms at Wuhan University, the endless sea of rapeseed fields at Yujia Lake, the graceful magnolias that bloom on the biomed campus, the vibrant tulips at Jiefang Park, and the humble yet charming peach blossoms that line my way to work. I regret that I will not be able to enjoy my favourite time of the year in Wuhan, but OK, I ought to be less greedy and give spring a break. For once, the spring air will be clean and without human pollutants, and nature itself will have a chance to breathe and rejuvenate. Isn’t that a lovely consequence of this seemingly unfortunate event?

Pretty little peach blossoms were everywhere I looked en route between my workplace and the bus station. They are my favourite spring flower in Wuhan because they’re so delicate and cute!

Night falls in Wuhan. We are still waiting for the day the city becomes its vibrant self again!

After all, spring will come back again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. For now, Wuhan, rest and heal. You’re almost there!

February 2020

Because of the COVID-19 situation in China, Jian and I couldn’t get back to Wuhan after our honeymoon in Japan. As a result, we’ve been stuck in the city of Dalian in northeastern China since the beginning of February. It’s been a month, and the lockdown in Wuhan still continues, so we wait. Thankfully, Dalian was not hugely affected by the virus, so our quarantine (expected as we were from Wuhan) was not extremely strict and we were at least able to go out and explore the city during this period of time. This would become the city after Wuhan where Jian and I had spent the most amount of time together 😉

Upon arrival in Dalian, we were directed to a specified hotel that was able to accommodate citizens of Hubei province under directions of the local government. It was not cheap, but we were thankful to have a place to stay (most hotels were not allowed to accept guests from Hubei during this period). And hey, at least the view out of our window was spectacular, as we welcomed a bit of snow on our third day here!

Same view, different day, different time of the day. Dalian is situated at the southernmost tip of the province of Liaoning, which is the southernmost of the three northeastern Chinese provinces. I guess that’s why it’s not extremely cold, even though it’s way up north by Chinese standards.

Third view out the window, this time at sunrise. We were facing east so every morning we had a nice bit of sunshine coming in through the window to wake us up.

Now, getting out of the hotel, we began our exploration of Dalian. It was super foggy one day with very low visibility, but I was glad to be able to get out and get some fresh air (with obligatory face masks unless you want to be arrested) after the initial days of quarantine.

Dalian is located on a peninsula in the middle of the Yellow Sea between the Korean peninsula and mainland China, so we knew we had to go to the seaside for a stroll. Oh, it was windy, very windy alright…

A random bit of colour fun here as I contemplated what I could make out of what I had in the hotel room. Red and green are my favourite colour contrast, and strawberries give off such an aesthetically pleasing hue of bright red. I also got a small matcha-flavoured Swiss roll at the nearby bakery, but I definitely had to put the two together before I ate them 😛

Why, hello there. The sign in the elevator says “This region has been sanitized”, and most public places are now obliged to undergo frequent sanitization. Face masks have also become a rare and much-sought-after commodity in China, as you can imagine. Luckily we got some in Japan…

…and the Eiffel Tower appears in Dalian? Nah, just a small model in a commercial shopping area. Jian is so happy to be outside. Fresh air has never felt so precious.

Final view of the city of Dalian from our hotel window, at night. It might seem like we spent most of our time in the hotel. Well, this is true, as we didn’t want to cause any unnecessary hassle or misunderstanding. But I’d say within a month, we gained a pretty good idea of what life is like in Dalian. In the future, this city will always hold a special place in our hearts.

As we continue waiting for the end of the Wuhan lockdown and the day we are allowed to return, we are still thankful for the blessing of safety and health in the midst of the chaos in the country. Here’s to hoping that the March 2020 post will be written in Wuhan…!

January 2020

January 2020 has been a dark month for China and the city of Wuhan. Never would I have thought that the place I now call home would be in international spotlight, but overnight, everyone knows Wuhan because of the coronavirus outbreak. Everything was paused in China, and Wuhan was placed in lockdown with no entry or exit allowed. Till now, Wuhan has been on lockdown for almost a month, and the crisis is still ongoing in China, with many people dying and families falling apart. In the midst of darkness and despair, I put together several photos of night for the month of January, all with a single theme – there is darkness, but there will be light.

Night falls in the quiet village of Wanghe, my husband’s hometown. No one ever expected that anything could disturb the peace and serenity felt here.

Deserted street on the HUST campus. Most students have left the campus to go back home for Chinese new year.

Quiet alley in Gora, Hakone, the first stop on our 10-day honeymoon in Japan.

Side street in Ginza area in Tokyo, Japan, late at night. Even in a metropolis as prosperous and flourishing as Tokyo, night instills a sense of tranquil solemnity and protects the city folks in their dreams.

As the plane landed in Hokkaido, the sun left behind a colourful trail in the dusk as if saying, “Sayonara, see you tomorrow, enjoy your evening 😉 “

Residential area in Otaru, Hokkaido, where the guesthouse we were staying at was located. The city was covered in snow and it seemed as if everyone has gone into hibernation.

January 2020 was actually an important month for me personally as a lot of events took place. Jian and I held a wedding banquet in his hometown, after which we went on our honeymoon in Japan, after which…we couldn’t get back into Wuhan. As a result of the lockdown, we’ve been staying in the city of Dalian in northeastern China for around 20 days and counting. Trains and flights are still suspended, as is work in most companies, so we’re stuck until the coronavirus situation gets better in Wuhan and Hubei province. Till then, we hold on to the belief that there is darkness, but there will be light.

December 2019

(Written on December 31, 2019)

Good-bye 2019.

Time is continuous, so it is curious that humans artificially divide it into years, months, days, hours, seconds… Though, perhaps that is the only way we could live – in never-ending cycles of years rather than in a straight line. So then, a new year is a much a new “year” as it is a new “month” or a new “day”, an ephemeral moment in eternity. Only by establishing these time “points”, these “rites”, can we say that anything is “new”, see our lives in a relative point of view, and realize over and over again that all endings are also beginnings (we just don’t realize it at the time).

(The last part of the last line is a quote from “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” by Mitch Albom.)

Perhaps the final sunset for a while as we stepped into winter – and winter came fast. Though, compared to last year, winter has been quite mild so far, with temperatures hovering around 5-10 degrees Celsius and no snow (yet?) in Wuhan. Looks like we may be headed for a completely snowless winter… 😦

Perhaps because of the relatively mild weather, the Chinese roses outside my workplace haven’t wilted by December. Some of them were as large as my palm and were looking as lovely as ever!

No maple leafs around here with gradually changing colours, but this area around the HUST campus put me in a good mood because the red-orange trees were looking gorgeous. Bright colours are certainly welcome especially in constantly gray, misty, and smoogy skies X_X

One more nature photo – this one taken at a random park in Chengdu, which was a lot warmer than Wuhan when we visited in late December.

So the reason why J and I went to Chengdu in the first place was to attend his groomsman’s wedding! Congratulations to James and Hannah for tying the knot and giving us the perfect opportunity to revisit Chengdu. We also got to reunite with some old friends (Tingting and LS) and meet new ones, a lovely occasion indeed!

The day after the wedding, the bridal party treated some of the guests to an authentic Sichuanese skewers hot pot meal. This was my second time having it and I will honestly say that I prefer the classic hot pot without the skewers. The food was way too heavily marinated and I was not a fan so…this would probably be my last time. Still I had a good time with good company 😉

In Chengdu, I met with a former Glaswegian buddy and we had a brief but pleasant night of night-market-hopping – though I didn’t eat much as I was super full from lunch. We did grab these grilled cold noodles though (with spam and sausage fillings). I realized about 10 minutes after we parted ways that we didn’t take a photo together…SMH. So my memory of her from this her will be represented by grilled cold noodles – delicious, by the way!

After Chengdu, J and I dropped by Chongqing for a few days. Chongqing was a city that I had wanted to visit for a long time and I finally found the chance to go with J. It is known for its mountainous terrain that resulted in a lot of hills and steps. There was some interesting street art as well, like this one along the “Mountain City Alley”. Meow, I see you there.

Finally, we found a nice little cafe in a very secluded area in Chongqing to have a break in the afternoon. I ordered a regular latte while J got the matcha-flavoured one, and we sat there for a good two hours writing and resting. Ten years ago, when I travelled to a new city, I would hit all the tourist spots and take a million photos. Now, I would rather take some time to relax and reflect in the midst of travelling and just enjoy the moment. And all I need is a pen and a notebook. And a good cup of latte 😉

We’re well into 2020 already and the world has seen some sad and scary things, especially in China. Especially in Wuhan, where I live. More on the coronavirus situation in the next post…soon.

Reading “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”

I finished “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera on the bus this morning (could have finished it last night if I realized that the last 25 pages were an incomprehensible epilogue). Yeah, I skipped the epilogue after about two pages because it made no sense to me (it consisted of a lot of references to other works that I haven’t read). But about the book itself, I probably only understood 30% of it. And what I did understand, I understood it superficially. The book had a lot to do with philosophy, religion, and mostly politics of Eastern Europe in the last century. Not having any prior knowledge of events such as the Prague Spring severely hindered my full appreciation of the book, but I finished it anyway as I couldn’t bear leaving it half (un)read. I think another reason that this book was difficult for me to read was that I read it in Chinese. Frankly, it was one of those books that caught my attention at the book store and I bought it without having done any research on its cultural background or author or even considered whether I would have liked to read it. But yes, reading it in Chinese was a little awkward, mainly because a lot of the translated expressions were awkward themselves. The essence of the original text must have been lost in translation, even more so in Chinese. There was one part that I read over and over again and still could not understand, so I found an English translation online and, immediately after reading it, understood what it was all about. This made me realize several things: (1) I need to read more literary works in Chinese because there is a lot of room for improvement; (2) English works need to be read in the original version (except for maybe CS Lewis’ “The Four Loves” – his writing style was so profound that I gave up 1/3 of the way in and in this case, it may be better to try the Chinese version); and (3) thank goodness I was not arrogant/stupid enough to try to French version of Kundera’s work, as I would not have gotten past the second page. I should probably re-read the book in English, but not before I finally tackle “The Great Gatsby” and let Kundera sink into the back of my mind for a bit. The “read more” resolution for 2020 (and for many years prior to this…) is off to a good start – let’s continue to rediscover the joy of reading!

“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by French-Czech writer Milan Kundera, Chinese translation.

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