Annie Bananie en Europe

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Tag Archives: city

Living in Wuhan – Transportation and getting around

I intended to write a continuously updating mini-series on living in China, specifically Wuhan, as a semi-foreigner but of course laziness (mostly laziness, though life itself had been hectic) wins. Oh, China. I’ve officially been living here for three and a half months and there was a whole lot that I’ve had to get used to. Let’s start with transportation, shall we.

Traffic and (the lack of) rules –> Survival of the fittest, fiercest, and fastest

OK. Where do I even start. The simplest way to put it is this: traffic is BEYOND CHAOTIC in China. I thought driving in Toronto was bad but realized that drivers in Toronto are tame little angels compared with drivers in China. Let’s just say that I’m going to delay the possibility of ever driving in China because well…I don’t want to die.

Wuhan is a Tier 2 city in China with one of the highest GDPs among the large Chinese urban centers. However, MUCH remains to be improved in terms of road conditions and safety. I WOULD talk about traffic regulations and driving etiquette and such…but wait, what regulations? What etiquette? Other than obeying the traffic lights (actually, bicycles, motorbikes, and pedestrians ignore them most of the time anyway), there aren’t really any strict… “rules”. What’s yielding? What’s signaling? What’s stopping? People will probably laugh at you and shrug it off if you suggest they do this because WHO HAS TIME TO SLOW DOWN, RIGHT!?!

To see it from another perspective, there’s nothing that you “can’t do”, in most cases. Going against the flow of traffic when you’re riding a bike or motorbike? NO PROBLEM! Just stay on the side of the outermost lane, be cautious, and you’ll probably be fine (don’t do this in a car…) No traffic light nearby and you need to cross a busy street? NO PROBLEM! When there is any sign of a gap between cars, JUST GO (preferably with a bunch of other people) and vehicles will reluctantly slow down or swerve around you as they approach. It takes guts and assertiveness, and the drivers WILL be reluctant, and pissed off, BUT IT WORKS and may be the only way to cross the road in some circumstances (unless you want to wait >15 minutes for a “safer” time to cross). The best comparison I can think of is playing a game of real-life Crossy Road (mobile app) where traffic is more random and not easily predictable as it is in the game. Life is a gamble – a potentially dangerous one if you live in Wuhan…

An “intersection” near my apartment, where road conditions are abysmal because of recent subway line constructions. That little gap where the scooter is – yep, that’s where you need to cross. It sometimes takes more than 5 minutes to get to the other side because of the absence of traffic lights, and no cars yield to bikes or pedestrians. Definitely harder than it seems during rush hour…

I think Charles Darwin has gotten it right when he developed the theory of “the survival of the fittest”. I, however, would like to extend this theory to what I call “the survival of the fittest, fiercest, and fastest” (the three Fs), with regards to living in Wuhan. The philosophy of “ME FIRST” dominates, and any consideration for other people will be looked upon as a weakness and a hindrance. Letting someone go in front of me? How abominable! Caring about the safety of others on the road? You’ve got to be kidding. In order to survive the chaos that is the roads of Wuhan, you’ve gotta practice the three Fs. It sounds cruel and that’s exactly it – it’s a cold, cruel world out here on the roads of Wuhan 😦

Get out of my way!

Another thing is that Chinese drivers honk a lot, whether it is on a car, scooter, or bicycle (ring, in this case). I’ve come to realize that it’s not necessarily a bad or rude behaviour – on the contrary, it is quite necessary. When I’m on a scooter and going behind a bike or pedestrian in a combined scooter/bike/pedestrian lane, I give a quick honk to let the person in front know that someone is behind and that I intend to pass. This allows them to shift slightly to the side and let me pass safely with sufficient space, avoiding a potential crash, and I don’t have to continue following super slowly. Same scenario when I’m on a scooter/bike and there’s a car behind me – I rather appreciate it when the driver lets me know by a honk that there’s someone behind me so I could be on the alert. In Toronto, honking is rare, but any time you hear a honk, it’s likely someone being pissed off at being cut off without warning or subjected to danger by irresponsible driving. Here, no one cares about signaling or safe passing or making sure that no one is behind when backing out, so you’re always in danger anyway, HARHAR. Then, honking here is more of a way to say, “Hey, be careful, there’s someone behind you” rather than “WTF man you !@*(##)@!!@#* jerk!” You kind of just learn to be more alert and react quicker, and somehow…we all manage to survive, which itself is a miracle.

Only at major intersections do bicycles, scooters, and pedestrians even consider following the traffic lights. Ready, set…GO!

Nah, I lied, most of the time honking is still the driver’s way of saying “Get the F*** out of my way or else suffer from the consequences of my wrath” (at least in the case of car/truck/large vehicle drivers). That epiphany hit me this morning as I was squeezed onto a crowded bus on a busy road, jammed to the max. The driver did not hesitate to show his aggressive temper as he continuously honked at the cars in front (some cutting lanes randomly) to get them to move, although I failed to see how it would have been possible to move as we were stuck at a red light. So yes, I completely contradicted what I said in the previous section by implying that people actually had consideration for others…too young, too naïve.

Bike-sharing is your best friend

Even if I were given the choice to drive in Wuhan, I think I would likely pass because the traffic jam would drive me insane before I got to my destination. Through traffic jams on local roads, bike-sharing is a godsend. I’ve seen bike-sharing programs in Canada and in Europe, but they’re not nearly as ubiquitous and useful as the ones in China. Scan the QR code of a bike that you could find anywhere on the street (unless you’re in a remote, undeveloped area), get to your destination, hop off, and lock the bike. It costs around 1 yuan, which is around 50 Canadian cents (even cheaper if you have a membership), per half hour, and the good thing is that you could drop off the bike anywhere you want. I find it to be exceptionally useful when I have to get home from the nearest bus station that has a direct bus to my workplace. I COULD change to another bus, but that requires extra wait time and more traffic. I could also walk home from the station, but it would take ~25 minutes. The solution, of course, is bike-sharing, and I usually have no problem finding a bike at the bus station where I get off. Cycling back home takes approximately 7 to 8 minutes, and I could almost LOL when I get to zoom past the traffic jam along the way by riding on the side lane and zigzagging a bit if necessary. When cars are stuck at an intersection for 10 minutes, I could fly past it in a jiffy and enjoy home-sweet-home, whereas if I drove…good luck making it home with unscathed sanity, Annie. Cycling also alleviates a bit of the heat because the way back home is on a slightly downward slope, and the wind acts as a significant de-stressor. That’s what you gotta do in China, find the little things that make life a bit less stressful and make the long day a little easier to endure.

Lots of bikes ready to be used outside my apartment. The most popular ones are Hellobike (blue), Mobike (orange), and ofo (yellow). Just scan one and go!

I would like to continue on the matter of transportation and getting around, but this post is getting too long. In a future post I will specifically talk about the public transit system in Wuhan (buses and subway), which really does warrant a discussion on its own. Hopefully the next post won’t take another three months to write…

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Wait, what do you mean I’ve left Glasgow…

I left Glasgow almost two months ago after having lived and worked there for three years. As I embark on my travels in China, which are happening right now, as I reunite with friends that I’ve met in Glasgow I often marvel at how time has passed us by. For me, it hasn’t even been that long since I left, but the memory of my time in Glasgow somehow feels so distant, both in space and time. Those years have faded so rapidly into a blurry, mushy mess of history. It’s almost as if I’ve never worked at MiMe, never served at GCCC, never built those precious relationships, never written the first post about Glasgow, never loved this beautiful Scottish city…

First sunrise in Glasgow, October 29, 2014 @ 6:56am.

And it’s very strange. Had I fallen into deep sleep and dreamt a dream that felt too real for three years? Is there something hidden in those memories that I want to deny, and is this a way of throwing it behind me indefinitely? If I ever go back, will I regain what was lost and still call Glasgow my love, or will I be a stranger, a passerby?

Last sunrise in Glasgow, the day I left, October 30, 2017 @ 6:26am.

San Francisco in three photos

The second stop of my three-part trip in November 2017 was San Francisco. Here is San Francisco in three photos.

Sunrise over San Francisco, as seem from the Golden Gate Bridge.

A man, a mural, and a taxi in Chinatown.

Can’t miss the iconic Golden Gate Bridge itself, even on a rainy day, near Fort Point.

Boston in three photos

The first stop of my three-part trip in November 2017 was Boston. Here is Boston in three photos.

The glistening skyline of downtown Boston by night, as seen from Cambridge, on the north side of the Charles River.

At the Park Street T (subway) station in downtown Boston, a man was making friends with (i.e. feeding) the pigeon.

Not too late to catch a final glimpse of fall colours at Boston Common.

Paris, je t’aime…?

The curious thing about the verb “to love” in French – “aimer” – Is that it is the same as the word for “to like”, so the title of this post is a slight play on words. (“Je t’aime” = “I love you” or “I like you”.) You see, I’ve never loved Paris, not even liked. If you’ve ever read my posts on Paris, you would have seen that I make this point clear every time, and I’ll spare you the explanations. However, my most recent visit to Paris last month changed it all and I might even say…that I like Paris now, just a little…?

The original plan was to go to Paris with my friend TK, who’s never visited. I mean why else would I go back to a city that I never liked? Everything was booked except…TK missed her flight back to the UK because of Typhoon Hato in Macau, and that was the day before leaving for Paris. WELL THAT AIN’T COOL. Consequently, whereas the two of us were supposed to fly together from Glasgow to Paris, I ended up flying alone and spending the weekend in Paris without a companion…well that’s not true, I ended up meeting a lot of old friends as a result. In fact, the trip turned out to be a lot more interesting than I had expected.

Aside from my sudden lack of company, the most unconventional thing that I did this time around was that I left my DSLR at home and only had my phone camera on me, so all photos were taken and edited on my phone. I had to learn to not rely on Mr. Nikon all the time, and it was not easy! Also, at this point, the glamorous side of Paris (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc.) doesn’t appeal to me anymore, and I was more drawn towards the local neighbourhoods that were just waiting to be discovered. With a bit of research beforehand, I narrowed down my long weekend to a few places that I wanted to see…beware of photo spam coming up!

Coulée Verte René-Dumont

If there was a place that could define “urban oasis”, then this was it. Situated in the 12th arrondissement, the “coulée verte” is a park-like promenade that spans ~5 km from nearby the Place de la Bastille to the edge of central Paris. I only walked part of the elevated segment, from one end of the Viaduc des Arts (which itself was a place I had wanted to visit) to Bastille, and what a nice walk! From 10 metres above ground, you traverse the heart of the 12th through a long garden full of greenery, with many viewpoints of the city and several fun murals along the way. Joggers seemed to particularly love this place, as there were plenty of them passing by in each direction. Certainly a quick and easy escape to an otherwise hectic Parisian city life!

Père Lachaise cemetery

Père Lachaise is a huge public cemetery in the 20th arrondissement of Paris where many famous people including Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, and Bizet were buried. Walking through the cemetery was like taking a stroll in a maze covered by fallen leaves upon the remains of those who have passed. The peace and silence were calming but not eerie, and I would have liked to spend more time there if it weren’t 30 degrees Celsius that day and if I hadn’t already walked all day…

Rue Crémieux

The first thought I had upon turning into this secluded street in the 12th arrondissement was, “Seriously this exists in Paris?!?!?” Delicate houses with colourful shades of pastel on both sides – you would have thought this was Burano or Cinque Terre but no, there it was, right in the midst of a grey, busy Paris. I could see why this place is often overlooked – the “entrance” is so inconspicuous that you’d have to actually know where you’re going to find it, but wow it was a beautiful street. The walls of each house was painted in a different colour with a different design on each door, and my favourite would have to be the pastel green house with the painted tree and the motorcycle parked in front. Such a unique find!

Mur des je t’aime

I guess this photo fits today’s post quite well seeing that it’s all about “love” or “je t’aime”. This is also probably the most “touristy” and well-known place out of all the ones in Paris I’m writing about here. The “I love you wall” has, as the name implies, “I love you” written in over 200 languages. Though it’s situated in a small park right outside Abbesses metro station at the foot of Montmartre, it is easily overlooked because people usually just head up to Montmartre and don’t venture into the park. A lot of couples come here to take their photos taken for obvious reasons, and I actually thought that it was cuter and more creative than the love-lock bridges that seem to be everywhere nowadays. I rather liked the quote that was inscribed above the wall: “Aimer c’est du désordre…alors aimons!” (Translation: “Loving is chaotic…so let’s love!”)

Parc Buttes-Chaumont

The Parc Buttes-Chaumont, located in the 19th arrondissement, is another one of those places where locals go to escape from the city centre. With an artificial lake, a small temple perched on top of a cliff in the middle of the lake, and several bridges crossing the lake, the atmosphere of this green haven was peaceful yet dynamic, as there were many runners, cyclists, and dog walkers throughout the park. In fact this was a lovely place for a picnic, but I had to catch a flight that afternoon and didn’t have time to prepare for a picnic. Not wanting to miss out on a beautiful day, my friend MM and I went to the nearby McDonald’s and grabbed some good ol’ burgers and wraps, found a space on one of the grassy areas, and enjoyed a sunny break with many locals who decided to do the same. Not a conventional picnic, alright, but still cherished as we had so little time to spend together!

Murals

Murals are one of my favourite types of art. Though I have heard of the street art scene in Paris, I had not intended to look for street art specifically during this trip. That is, until I caught a glimpse of several gigantic murals out the window of the subway during one segment of the ride on line 6 that was overground. WHAT. The bonus point is that it was actually only one stop from where I was staying, near Place d’Italie, and I estimated that it would take no more than 10 minutes to walk from my hotel to the mural area. Well then LET IT BE DONE. On the last morning of my stay, I went down Boulevard Vincent-Auriol from Place d’Italie and as expected, found no fewer than 10 impressive murals in various locations within a 15-minute walk (some shown here), on both sides of the street. Some of them were so huge and impressive that I had to stop and marvel for a good 5 minutes before continuing the hunt for the next. Now this was a surprise and certainly THE highlight of the trip. I late found out that the 13th is actually famous for its street art in Paris…well I know where I’m staying again next time! (Side note: the drawings on the wall in the Bastille metro station on line 1 and the ones outside of Gare de Lyon were also spectacular!)

Friends

Of course I had to meet up with some friends in Paris. The original plan of showing TK around Paris was completely foiled, and so I had more time than originally anticipated to spend with friends living in Paris. These were mostly old friends that I met in Bordeaux during my PhD days, those who in the past years have either settled down or been temporarily working in Paris. I had the chance to eat delicious grilled seafood at the famous Pedra Alta with Jiang, explore much of the above-described parts of Paris with MM, and attend Ara and Victor’s wedding celebration (where I also saw Diana and Edgar too, of course!) Definitely not a weekend wasted! Sorry TK, you’d have to come back to Paris again some other time 😦

So, this turned out to be the longest and perhaps happiest and most positive Paris-related post that I’ve ever written in my blog, and I’ve written…quite a few. I guess I can now say, perhaps with a little less reluctance…Paris, je t’aime 😉

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