Annie Bananie en Europe

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December 2018

With the end of 2018 also came the end of December…or it really should be the other way around, but I like a little bit of plot twist 😉 The monthly photos continue as Wuhan entered winter in full swing, without central heating of course as we’re considered to be in the “southern” part of China according to the heating division. It’s harsh, alright, very harsh, but what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger! Here is December 2018 in nine photos.

Dining at Hutaoli, a (sort of) fancy restaurant with nice decorations and atmosphere. They pride themselves on the live musical performances, which are nice, but it’s definitely not a place to be if you want a quiet, intimate chat with friends because the music is SO LOUD. I guess the point is to try to mimic the style of a bar, so it isn’t somewhere I’d like to go often!

Friends with whom I dined at Hutaoli. On the left: my PhD labmates JJ (front) and YF (back). On the right: J (front) and me (back). JJ and YF are both from Wuhan, and we reunited here years after we all graduated!

A random cat that I encountered in a parking lot at Wuhan University. Not sure that it was impressed that I was taking photos of it and getting closer and closer by the second…

Photo taken by J when he went on his morning run – yes, even in the snow! First snow of this winter season but the final one of the year, and I didn’t even realized that it snowed so hard until after I got up (much later than did J). So cold, but so beautiful!

View of the neighbourhood in my residential complex from the window of my flat on the 11th floor. The snow didn’t make it for a white Christmas, but it was just in time for the new year! Traffic that morning was horrendous, and whereas it normally takes me about 20 minutes to get to church by bus, it took almost an hour T_T

Taking a short stroll around the residential complex in the evening, I passed by a lone lamp that lit up the frigid air. It was probably around 1 or 2 degrees Celsius, nothing compared to the -20s in Canada, but it was still freezing!!!

A trip to Shenzhen in the TRUE south of China in mid-December (warmth!) brought me to the summit of Lianhua (Lotus) Hill, where I was able to get an amazing panoramic view of the most prosperous area of Shenzhen. There was supposed to be a light show that got cancelled the day that I went, but since I didn’t know of it beforehand, I wasn’t disappointed because I didn’t expect it anyway.

Obligatory selfie with J! This is me going, “Why is it so cold in Wuhan 😦 I miss central heating 😦 😦 😦 ” J’s response was probably something like, “Hurry up and take the selfie so I don’t have to pretend I’m holding some sort of pose XD “

This photo was taken at the worst angle as it reveals without mercy the chubbiness of my face, but it was the only angle that was able to capture the Duomo Cathedral (not a real cathedral, but it mimics Notre-Dame de Paris) with the Christmas tree in front of it. Once again J was like, “Are you done with your selfies yet -_-” but no J, one can never take enough selfies, especially with the one you love!

And that’s all, folks, for 2018. It’s only day 2 and I’m already looking forward to the Chinese new year and going back home to Canada in exactly one month! 19 more work days to go – wait for me, my home!


November 2018

As I was walking this morning I thought, “The only time that I liked the city that I live in now was when I didn’t live here.” Sounds pessimistic, I know, but the air this morning smelt disgustingly of grease and gloominess (was it smog?) to the point where I wanted to puke, and at that moment I couldn’t gather up any pretension to say that I liked the city. Oh well, it’s the end of November, and it’s been a tough one, but we got through it safe and sound, thanks be to God! One more month till 2019…let’s go for it!

Third time in Macau. Away from the casinos and central tourist spots, Macau has maintained its history and traditions in hidden alleys and little-known districts. The red sign with the golden words says “Back in the day” in Chinese.

Annual chrysanthemum festival (one of the locations) in Wuhan, where the flowers bloom for weeks in the autumn. Such beautiful colours!

An insect on a leaf, caught while I was taking a stroll outdoors after lunch. Little details like this remind me of how much I loved taking photos of random things, the process during which I could sharpen my senses toward the world around me.

Sumptuous buffet in Macau, courtesy of my local friend and her family. Unlimited servings of lobster, scallops (and other types of seafood), sashimi, sushi…among other varieties of delicious food – indulgent and luxurious!

Another meal in Macau: traditional dim sum (or yum cha, as we call it in Cantonese). This famous family-owned restaurant, Long Wah, is well known for its cha siu, or roasted pork (red in the center). Of course I also had to order my favourite, steamed spare ribs. You could never get too much dim sum!

Speaking of ribs, another spare ribs dish that I love very much is the garlic deep-fried spare ribs. I don’t know what the secret is to this dish, but the first time I had it in Glasgow, it was instant addiction…and it tasted even better in China!!

Movie night with the boss and the colleagues at a mini private theater. Good company, good times, good evening 😛

My company during the Macau day trip, TK (local friend) and LS (friend living in Zhuhai, which is literally right next to Macau). Bus selfie, cheese!

I love this man so much and I would go to the ends of the Earth for him – literally, because Toronto and Wuhan almost couldn’t be farther apart as they’re almost on the exact opposite side of the Earth as each other. It’s not been an easy month for him but we’re still fighting together. 明天加油!

October 2018

Since August this year, I’ve been posting a series of photos on my WeChat Moments at the end of each month to sum up the month. Unfortunately I don’t have the original photos for August and September anymore, so I will begin by sharing the October series here. November series coming very soon…

Trip to the Three Gorges Waterfall in the Three Gorges scenic area near Yichang in Hubei province, China, during the National Day week-long holiday. This is not the actual waterfall (which is huge at 102 m) but a small cascade that was on the way to the main attraction itself.

Dew drops on a leaf on the morning after a rainy night – the beautiful wonders of nature never cease to amaze me and bring joy to my routine everyday commute!

Fresh morning air – perhaps the only time that the air could be fresh in this polluted city.

Night in the Optics Valley area.

A fancy fountain pen set that I saw at a new bookstore that opened close to home. Normally I would probably have bought it – and I was tempted – but it was way too pricey to be anything close to worthy.

A collection of doorplates and road signs plastered on a block in the corner of an intersection in the Hankou district of Wuhan.

A dark and foggy morning – drivers would not be able to see farther than 5 m in front of their cars.

Qiaokou Road station on subway line 1, in the Hanyang district. There’s a stretch of line 1 that is completely overground, and being able to see the city outside the windows made the usual subway rides a lot more interesting and bearable.

A walk around Yujia Lake, and as it’s close to where I live, I’ve become quite familiar with it. A rare sunny day – not too hot and not too cold – meant that many people were out and about enjoying the weather before winter truly settled in.

Living in Wuhan – Really annoying public transit behaviours

Having already written a post about transportation in Wuhan, I didn’t think that I’d write another related post so soon. However, there are so many public transit pet peeves that frustrate me in Wuhan that I feel a need to write about them (i.e. bitch and complain about every single annoyance). I’m not even going to include things like the lack of queues the need to be the first one to get on the bus/train/subway, which seem to be universally accepted (at least in China). If I line up, I’m the one that’s not normal…I get that. But the following are behaviours I feel that would (should?) annoy every person that regularly relies on public transit (including long-distance trains and shared bikes) to get around. And I’m not only talking about passenger behaviour – drivers, too, contribute to much of the irritation. People who have been doing this for years will probably call me a petty and whiny foreigner – sure, call me that, if you could tell that I’m a foreigner!!! Anyway, this isn’t a happy post. I might write about the ups of public transit in Wuhan in another post, but let’s get the annoyances out of the way first.

Not obeying the “alight first, then board” rule. What may seem like universal common sense is not so common here. No matter how many announcements are made and how many posters are displayed, nobody ever seems to get this, making this the #1 frustration for me when I take the subway. And this is especially obvious for subways because you get on and off via the same doors, whereas for buses, you (usually) board by the front and alight from the back. The general phenomenon is that before you even get a chance to get off, people waiting by the platform are already packing their way in, regardless of whether the train is empty of crowded to the max. Solution: push and shove and squeeze furiously or you’ll probably never get OFF the subway at your stop…

Queues do not exist in Wuhan and this is as good as it gets.

Not moving inward on a crowded bus. OK, we’re all taking public transit in a shared space and everyone is grumpy and struggling. However, getting on at an earlier stop does NOT entitle you to extra space. If there are ten people trying to get on and there’s actually maneuverable space in the middle of the bus, THEN PLEASE MOVE IN. If you don’t, then I’ll get my ass on the bus and squeeze to that empty spot, no matter how crowded it is. In China, no bus is TOO crowded to a point that one person cannot get on – there are only people who are unwilling to move. Why don’t we switch places and let you see what it’s like to try to squeeze on? Be a little considerate toward your fellow travellers, please.

Not getting your QR code ready for boarding. QR scanning has become more common and convenient than public transit cards but it’s got its downsides. In particular, some people find it necessary to wait till the second they get on the bus to open up the app on their phone and retrieve their QR code. If you’re the only or final person getting on a bus that’s not so crowded, then fine, take your time getting that QR code to show up. But if there are 15 people behind you and the bus is hella crowded already, AND YOU SAW THE BUS COMING, then GET THE DAMN CODE READY BEFORE YOU BOARD to avoid blocking everyone else, or wait till everyone else has boarded. IS THIS TOO MUCH TO ASK FOR???

Putting private locks on public bikes. This one REALLY pisses me off but unfortunately it’s not uncommon. Around my work place, shared bikes are already scattered and scarce, so any available one is usually taken immediately. As I walk from the bus station to my work place (about a 15-minute walk), I regularly see two or three unused “shared” bikes and at first I was curious why no one took them. It wasn’t until I got closer and tried to use one that I saw that they were restricted by private locks while being blatantly parked on the sidewalk. OH SO THAT’S WHY no one could ride them. I believe they’re not abandoned because occasionally they disappear after work and reappear the next morning, so I think that the lock owners are indeed working around the same area. But really, how selfish can you get…-_- Ugh. I am not wishing for an altruistic society but this type of selfish behaviour is rage-inducing, to say the least. Sometimes I want to stay around and see who the culprits are and give them the evil eye. Worse yet, I wished I had a tool that would break the locks so that I could take the bike – fighting evil with evil, not exactly the best strategy but would at least release some of the spite.

A not-so-public public “shared” bike that has been so conveniently “claimed” by someone who feels that he/she is more entitled to use public property than everyone else…

Blocking the road with a public bike. One advantage of bike-sharing is that you could literally leave the bike anywhere you want but…could you at least park it in an area that DOES NOT BLOCK THE BIKE LANE OR CAUSE TROUBLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE. Ugh. Writing this post makes me so frustrated and I’m going to have a heart attack soon…

Internal organ damage. SPEAKING OF HEART ATTACKS, some bus drivers take aggressive driving to the next level. I applaud them for making a bus ride on a normal, flat road feel like a rollercoaster ride. Granted, the roads may not be in the best of conditions, but that still doesn’t explain how incredibly shaky and bumpy the ride gets sometimes. I wouldn’t be surprised if I get internal hemorrhage one of these days. Oh, and it seems like some drivers are always in a rush. Not only do they constantly sound the honk, but one tried to close the door BEFORE I even finish getting off the bus. There was one instance where my foot was still on the step and the door closed behind me and the bus started moving…eh?????

Honking for the sake of honking. On the subject of honking, I wrote previously that I appreciate gentle reminders in the form of a short honk, but some drivers find joy in infiltrating the city with noise pollution by honking every two seconds. Does it sound like music to your ears? Do you think that the person in front of you who is in the same traffic jam as you are, would be able to move one inch because you are abusing the honk? Maybe it is therapeutic, I don’t know. Do as you wish, I guess, but the amount of noise does make an already distracting environment much more dislikeable…

General disregard for safety: NOT UNDERSTANDING THE PURPOSE OF HAVING EYES. This one isn’t specifically related to public transit, per se. One would think that before a pedestrian crosses the street, he would look both ways to make sure that no vehicle is coming his way. WRONG. More than a dozen times my boyfriend and I, while riding the motor bike, have encountered people glued to their phones while walking OR WHILE RIDING A BIKE. I think you could imagine how frustrating it is when they suddenly appear in front of us with no warning, because their eyes weren’t on the road or they just assume that the busy road belongs entirely to them. And this is how people DIE on the road through no one’s fault but their own, yet they still find it more important to reply to a message or play a game. People. Make life easier for the rest of us (and potentially yourself) by putting away your phone for one damn second while you’re on the road, PLEASE.

Some other unpleasant behaviours that reflect general disregard for the comfort/convenience of fellow passengers on trains and buses include playing music/movies/games at max volume without headphones and blocking the bus or train aisle with bags that could be put on your lap. I realize that this is the way that things have been, are, and probably will be (for some more years to come) here in China (at least in Wuhan) and in no way am I saying that people should change to accommodate me. In fact, I being the one integrating into a new environment should be the one to adapt. However, I think I still have the right to express frustration, so don’t flame me for venting. At the end of the day, you still do what you gotta do and catch that early bus 913 to get to work. Run, bus, run…just don’t hit the motorbike that’s 1 cm away from you!!

Living in Wuhan – Food and dining

Ah, food, my favourite subject ever. I’m surprised myself that the first post in the China mini-series wasn’t about food but about transportation, but it’s never too late to talk about food, so let’s get started.

There’s nothing too extravagant or unusual about eating and dining in Wuhan. As someone who grew up eating Chinese food and LOVES it, I couldn’t complain about having it every day. Compared to other provinces of China, Hubei (the province that Wuhan belongs to) doesn’t have a very well-defined “characteristic cuisine”, per se. Take Sichuanese or Cantonese cuisine, for example. The defining characteristic of Sichuanese cuisine is its “numbing spiciness” whereas for Cantonese cuisine, it’s the preservation of the original “freshness” of the raw ingredients. Nothing really comes to mind if you mention “cuisine of Hubei”. It’s not particularly spicy or sweet or salty or anything, and at least in terms of overall taste, it seems to be a blend of all types of cuisines.

Lotus root stuffed with glutinous rice, one of the regional specialties of Hubei province.

That is not to say that there’s nothing special about food here in Wuhan. Hubei cuisine uses a lot of lotus root in their cooking, and I’m not surprised because I see a lot of lotus ponds in the city as I walk around. As a result, I’ve had the pleasure of trying a few lotus-based dishes, including lotus root pork bone soup, lotus root tip, and glutinous rice-stuffed lotus root (photo shown above). You’d also see people selling lotus seed pods everywhere and they’re actually pretty good if they’re freshly harvested! (Some people may not feel comfortable with their appearance though…)

Lotus seed pods in their original form (left) and after being extracted (right). The shell of the pods themselves need to be peeled, exposing a white interior with a core that is sometimes bitter and should be avoided.

Of course we can’t forget the signature “hot dry noodles” of Wuhan (literal translation), which means…breakfast! If you’re not too familiar with Chinese-style breakfast, it’s very different than what you’d have in either North America or Europe. Stuff like pancakes, eggs/omelettes (not as uncommon), bacon, sausage, ham, waffles, etc…nope, not getting any of that. Instead, typical Chinese breakfast involves one or more of the following (or a variation of it): congee, dumplings, buns, and noodles. Often there are street vendors along the side of the road that I take to get to the bus station, and it’s super convenient to grab what you want and either eat it along the way or while waiting for the bus.

Breakfast stands on the side of the street. The first lady sells hot dry noodles and cold noodles, and the other vendors sell dumplings, buns, fried dough, etc…

My favourite breakfast item has been pan-fried dumplings from a particular vendor, but lately I’ve started getting hot dry noodles from another stand. I actually love hot dry noodles, but they’re just a bit more inconvenient to eat while walking, so I sometimes opt not to get it. What ARE hot dry noodles, you ask? They are a very popular Wuhan street food, though also sold at many sit-down places, that is most often eaten for breakfast (or whenever you want, really). As the name implies, they are VERY HOT (temperature), as they are strained right out of boiling water, and VERY DRY, even though a sesame-based sauce is poured onto the noodles. A variety of sides can be added, including pickled radish, pickled green beans, scallions, etc. A good bowl of hot dry noodles to get the day started – sounds like a perfect morning to me!

Hot dry noodles! Not the ones I got from the lady at the breakfast stand, but they’re similar. I like it with a lot of sesame paste and a lot of scallions. One bowl is super filling!

There are also lots of regional cuisines all over the place. J (the boyfriend) and I recently discovered a nice Cantonese restaurant that serves authentic dim sum – MY STAPLE as a Cantonese! – and a variety of Cantonese dishes, like white-cut chicken and stir-fried beef noodles. The menu is a bit limited but it’s got the most essential items, so it’s definitely a necessary dose of home once in a while. We also frequent this small restaurant that specializes in noodles of the Xi’an region in Shaanxi province. It’s close to where we live, cheap, and everything we’ve tried so far has been super delicious. I especially like their “biang biang” noodles, which are really wide (about the width of a waist belt) and really long. They were as good as the ones I’ve tried in Xi’an, though I should bring my friend from Xi’an to this place next time she visits, to validate its authenticity. In contrast to the Cantonese restaurant, this one has quite an extensive menu, so it’ll take many more visits to try everything! If you’re in the mood for something super spicy, there are quite a few Sichuanese restaurants, some specializing in hot pots. Recently we visited a place that serves “mao cai”, which is just a mix of everything you’d have at a hot pot all in one bowl at once. “Slightly spicy” is often already too spicy for us, so next time we’ll skip spiciness and just add chili sauce ourselves, thank you very much!


(Click to view the full image.) Cantonese cuisine (top row), Shaanxi cuisine (bottom left and middle), and Sichuanese “mao cai” (bottom right). We’re also discovering new restaurants every week!

Of course, these are just a few of the many types of regional Chinese cuisine scattered around the area. There are also international options, like Italian, Japanese (man I miss good sushi), Korean, and French. These options are rather limited, however, and they tend to be on the pricey side, so they’re more like a treat/splurge/indulgence for special occasions only. I’m craving a good steak right now…*drools*

Do we eat out all the time? You ask. Oh, we certainly do not eat out all the time, or else we’d be broke. Since J works at a university and I live close by, we like to go to one of the many university canteens for dinner. (That doesn’t count as eating out…does it?) The canteen themselves are quite an impressive sight and so much larger than the canteens or cafeterias I’ve been to in Canada or in Europe. And the variety of food is insane – from noodles to barbecue to soup dumplings to bi bim bap, if you could name it, you could probably find it! It’s almost like a hawker center in Singapore, and whereas you’d usually expect canteen food to be subpar, the food here is not bad at all! For less than $3 Canadian I can get a decent rice dish or several small portions of meats and vegetables. Maybe I should consider enrolling as a mature student in a Chinese university…just for the food 😛

One of the larger university canteen at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology. I heard there are around 30 canteens of various sizes at this university and I’ve definitely been to no fewer than 5. They’re only open at specific times during lunch and dinner and so they’re usually super crowded. You’d be lucky if you didn’t have to share a table with someone.

Oh, we do cook. Even though the kitchen at my small apartment is tiny, it is still a functional kitchen and from the first day I moved in, I intended to make good use of it. The thing is, after I started working, I’m too tired to cook when I get home (around 7pm by the time I arrive). Cooking at home now mostly occurs on weekends, when J and I would take turn cooking and washing the dishes. One thing I did notice when we did groceries was that meat and fish are rather expensive here. Well, compared to fruits and vegetables, that is. While 1 jin (the unit of measurement used here, equivalent to half a kg) of green beans cost 4 yuan (approximately 80 Canadian cents, all prices hereafter are stated in Canadian dollar), 1 jin of potatoes cost 60 cents, and a large watermelon costs $2.5, 1 jin of beef may cost around $6. And it isn’t even high-quality beef! Quite ridiculous, if you ask me. As a result, my meat intake has decreased significantly and I’ve been eating a lot more vegetables recently. Healthier, I suppose, but I do miss my chicken and salmon sometimes!

First home-cooked meal after moving into my apartment! Steamed spare ribs, stir-fried potato, and green beans with ground pork. Add a side of egg drop seaweed soup, please. Very satisfying!

Meanwhile, it’s almost dinner time and I’m waiting for J to come home after his basketball game so we can make our only home-cooked meal of the week. And I’ve got some lotus seed pods next to me that we gotta finish tonight. Life is good 🙂

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