Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Category Archives: China

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…!

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.

November 2019

Eleven more days till we enter decade #3 of the 21st century – or enter the final year of decade #2? Not sure how you count anymore…but wow. Life continues to be hectic but as always there is beauty to be found and enjoyed everywhere. Let’s dive into November 2019.

A variety of plants on a shelf by the entrance of my office. The small lemon plant on the far right belongs to me. It was a company birthday gift that I never brought home because it would only die without sunlight in my small studio…so I left it in the office. We have a small balcony where I bring it out to breath occasionally so maybe…it would have a chance to survive.

There was a free open day at the Wuhan Botanic Gardens for a science festival, and I secured two tickets and went with Jian. It was a rare day of relaxed roaming in a natural setting – though with a lot of other people! November wasn’t a great time for plant-viewing, but there were some beautiful water lilies in a pond that caught my attention. These were small and delicate, different than the large ones that bloom during the summer. In Chinese they’re called “sleeping lily”, almost like sleeping beauty!

Some final rays of sunlight before winter finally set in. November was unusually warm this year, with temperatures up to 20 degrees Celsius even during the last week of November and first week of December. Sunshine was so abundant that I took the opportunity to go out for lunchtime walks around my workplace. Ah, warmth, do I miss you now!

An area around my workplace that looked like an undisturbed oasis in the midst of a concrete jungle. Not a bad place to take a slow stroll before a busy afternoon…

Dramatic cloud formations like these tend to make my day, especially when I see them early in the morning on the way to work. They remind me of the greatness of God and his creations and make me calm just to think that nothing is ever so big that we have to worry and fear. On with the day!

More clouds encountered during the final cycling trip of the year. Jian was out of town that weekend and I suspected that it would be the final weekend with weather suitable for going out, so I went on a solo cycling trip around the East Lake area. Peaceful and serene, so rare in a big city like Wuhan but thanks to the East Lake it’s not that hard to escape from the urban chaos into a piece of heaven 😉

For Thanksgiving, Jian and I attended a dinner gathering of our church small group. As it was a weeknight, only approximately half of the group members were able to attend, but it was a cozy night with lots of laughter and fun conversations. Oh, great home-made food, of course! In a more or less secular society, it really is necessary to bond with people of the same faith, even though we may only have limited time and energy. Christmas dinner soon (tomorrow, in fact!)

Subway selfie! My colleague remarks that I am always right in front of the camera in selfie shots but hey, it only makes sense because I’m the one taking the photo 😛 A lot of Chinese ladies don’t like being in the front as apparently it makes their face appear round and bloated. Meh, I don’t care, I think it’s cute, don’t you? Someone’s gotta take the selfie, after all 😛

Of course we were taking the subway to Hubei Theatre, where we saw the Mandarin theatrical play for “Tuesdays With Morrie” by Mitch Albom. TWM was the first book that I read by Mitch, who ended up becoming my favourite author. I had already seen the Cantonese version of the play years ago in Toronto, and with the Mandarin version coming to Wuhan, there was no reason to miss it. Morrie was played by a famous actor in Taiwan and Mitch was played by a Taiwanese comedian/singer whom I watched on TV when I was a child. The long-awaited play certainly did not disappoint – well, at least it didn’t disappoint me. Somehow TWM always manages to make me teary-eyed, maybe because it was a true story and the characters are REAL. Don’t know what Jian thought as he hadn’t read the book. He said he liked it though he did fall asleep in the middle for 10 minutes so…

The past week has had its ups and downs but I’m still keeping my cool and optimism. Early mornings and crowded buses may still be my least favourite things but there I continue to find things that light me up with hope and joy. See you soon, 2020!

August 2019

In August I got married!! Well, legally married. In China, the process of getting legally married is usually separate from the wedding. We call it “getting the certificate” and it was a half-hour process of registration, after which you are officially husband and wife. The wedding often takes place after the legalities are taken care of, which is the case for us. We are still planning the wedding, which will take place in BORDEAUX in October, and while everything seems ready, at the same time nothing feels ready. It’s difficult to do everything remotely and distance definitely adds to the stress. A lot of uncertainty, but an equal amount of anticipation…

Right after J and I got officially married, we went on a mini long weekend honeymoon to Lushan (Lu Mountain) in Jiangxi province, which was right next to Hubei. We based ourselfs in Jiujiang, which is where most Lushan tourists stay. At the highly recommended Floral Hotel where we stayed for two nights, there was a small tea corner in our room, which was what attracted me to book here in the first place. Though the hotel was right by the main road, the closed windows served as an excellent sound insulation, and the room was peaceful and quiet, perfect for some relaxation time. Of course, J and I actually went out to buy tea just so that we could properly make use of this intricate little corner…or pretend to, at least. Fancy and classy…we tried!

Speaking of fancy, we had a candle-lit dinner…not buy choice! When visiting our favourite Cantonese restaurant in Wuhan, there was a short power outage, and we were without light (and air-conditioning!) for about 20 minutes. While we waited, the servers lit a candle at our table so that we could enjoy some unintended “romantic” time, though I’d rather have a fan because it was 35+ degrees outside!

August was scorching hot but that didn’t stop J and I from exploring the East Lake on bike…always after 4:30pm when the temperature declined a bit. I didn’t realize this before but the East Lake was HUGE! We went cycling three times for approximately two hours per session, and I think we only covered about half of the East Lake Greenway. One segment had a long mural of random art, and this particular one of Lapras and Charizard caught my attention – and I think that’s a Krabby next to Lapras? There are surprises everywhere along East Lake. There shall be a post on the East Lake to come!

Next up, some photos of beautiful sky. I head west when I take the bus home after work, and when I reach the subway station, it’s usually just when the sun begins to set. As a result, I often see colourful patterns in the sky right in front of me when I hop off the bus, and some are quite impressive! Here a cloud was blocking the sun with its arm extended…or maybe the sun was wearing the clouds as a cloak and this was its idea of *smack my face*, ha!

Another view of the sky as I was walking to the subway station – how gorgeous are those clouds! Now that the sun is setting earlier and earlier, it will be harder to take photos like this because by the time I get to the subway station, the sun has usually set. Optimal time frame for photos at this spot: mid- to late August. Noted for next year…if I’m still working at the same company 😛

I love taking the train in China because you’re almost certainly going to pass by some amazing scenery en route. Sometimes you might also catch an almost-sunset, if you’re on the correct side of the train 😛

At Lushan, while everyone was busy taking photos of mountains and peaks (it wasn’t a very clear day so the photos didn’t turn out great for me), I saw this little guy chilling by a rock. I leaned in closer for a photo…or two, or three, or too many. Luckily it cooperated long enough for me to take a clear enough photo – and how pretty it was!

To prove that we went to Lushan and conquered the Five Old Men’s Peaks we took this photo. I think this was either at the second or third peak and my expression said it all: “It’s hella hot and I can’t feel my legs. Can we go home???” J’s expression was more like “I actually don’t want to take this photo, but we’re here anyway so we must take a selfie of celebration.” Let me just say that it was a VERY long day that consisted of probably 6 hours, 28 km, and 40000 steps of walking…all either uphill or downhill. At the end of the day my legs were shaking like mad and I literally had to lean onto J in order to walk properly. And my legs hurt and didn’t recover for an entire week afterward. Ugh. Never thought I’d fear walking DOWNHILL. An experience to be cherished, but maybe I’ll just stick to gentle hills in Scotland, thank you very much!!

We end with a group photo taken with DM (far left), a friend who visited us in Wuhan, and his friend XQ. We don’t get visitors often so it’s always pleasant to meet and chat when someone does come by. I think J was especially happy because he finally has someone to whom he could tell his secret guy stuff, ha!

As I write this we are counting down 27 days to the wedding…27 days!!! When the next monthly summary is posted I will have already arrived in Bordeaux…just the thought of it fills me with excitement!!!

%d bloggers like this: