Annie Bananie en Europe

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Tag Archives: wuhan

May 2020

After a month of working from home in April, I went back to the office in May, after the Labour Day holidays. The original plan of visiting my hometown Guangzhou during the holidays obviously didn’t work out because of COVID, so J and I stayed in Wuhan during our five days off (it was actually only one day off but I won’t go into details about the ridiculous way China regulates its public “holidays”). By May, the city of Wuhan has revived to a large extent, though everyone is still wearing masks, even at work (a big “UGH”). And summer arrived, woohoo? Not so much woohoo if you know about summer in Wuhan, but at least the heat was still quite mild in May. Let’s see what we were up to 😛

May is usually rainy season in Wuhan and in the previous years, we’ve had some rather severe thunderstorms in May. There was one particularly huge thunderstorm this year, but it happened during the workday so it didn’t affect us that much as we were in the office. These little flowers popped up on my way to work the day after the thunderstorm – how lovely they are! My plant recognition app tells me that they go by the name of hypericum or…St. John’s wort?!! How bizarre O_o

More delicate and pretty flowers popping up here and there, these are garden coreopsis or large-flowered tickseed, says my app.

During one of our weekend city outings, J and I came across this area in a park lined with trees on both sides, with canopies that acted as a natural shield from the sun.

And on my way to work in the early morning, the cloud formations never cease to amaze me. Even though I never look forward to the long workdays ahead, nature still has its way of giving me the surprises that become the little joys of life.

As the weather becomes more suitable for outdoor activity, many peole have begun getting out of their homes after months of COVID lockdown. The East Lake is always a popular and family-friendly location for a trip and is of course a favourable of ours too!

East Lake sceneries during the evening. The top photo was taken using the advanced mode on my phone, which I had never used before. I manually set the aperture and shutter speed and with a bit of luck with the stability of my hands, the photo turned out decent (though the features were a bit too far away).

Light rail train arriving at Qiaokou Road station in Hanyang, same view as the one in the October 2018 post.

Mr. J enjoying the company of some gorgeous yueji, or Chinese roses. Along the road where we were cycling, there was a stretch where these beautiful flowers were blooming their hearts out, as if shouting, “Embrace me! Admire me! Love me!”

Finally a selfie with Mr. J, after months of not posting one (most recent one was in February , with masks in Dalian). We still had our masks here, but took them off when there was no one around. There’s still a long way to go before we go back to mask-free days in Wuhan…if ever 😦

People have been asking me if life is back to normal in Wuhan and the answer is not straightforward. Malls and restaurants (even dine-in services) are open for business, most people are back at work, and public transportation is mostly running normally. But as long as we still have to wear masks in public places, I will not say that life is “back to normal”. OH WELL. Let’s see what June brings 😉

Chinese noodles at their places of origin

Last week, the noodle restaurant beside my apartment building in Wuhan finally resumed business! When I saw the open door I knew I had to get myself some hot dry noodles (I had written about it briefly before). What are hot dry noodles? You ask. It is a literal translation of “re gan mian” in Chinese and it’s only the most popular street food in Wuhan. If there is one food item that represents Wuhan, this would be it.

But this post is not only about hot dry noodles. There are in fact hundreds of types of noodle dishes in China, each region with their own specialty. I thought about which types of noodle I’ve tried and compiled a list of ones that I’ve had the privilege of having in their places of origin (with one exception). This means that (1) I’ve certainly had other noodle dishes, just not in the region/city where they originated, and (2) only one dish was selected for each region (Xi’an, for example, has tons of noodle dishes but only one is showcased here).

Re gan mian (hot dry noodles), Wuhan, Hubei Province, April 13, 2020.

You know I have to start with hot dry noodles. What’s an introduction without photos?! The first is the unmixed version that you get from the shop. Usually the noodles are blanched quickly in boiling water and topped with a variety of sauces, among which sesame sauce is the main feature. You then get to add whatever toppings you want and I usually only go for green onions, pickled green beans, and sour radish. The second photo is what you get when you mix everything together – and c’mon, you HAVE to mix everything together to eat hot dry noodles properly. It may look like a mess, and sometimes it is, but oh man it is a bite of heaven in my mouth. After three months of absence, welcome back, hot dry noodles!!

Xiao mian (small noodles), Chongqing, December 31, 2019.

Next up we’ve got what we literally call “small noodles” (xiao mian) in Chinese, and it is a specialty of Chongqing. Small noodles have the same status in Chongqing as do hot dry noodles in Wuhan. They are really just ordinary noodles immersed in a hot soup – both in terms of temperature and spiciness! This one may not LOOK very spicy but pay attention to the red soup base and you’d understand how much hot oil went into it. Delicious but painful for those who can’t stand spicy food!

Dan dan mian (dan dan noodles), Chengdu, Sichuan Province, February 6, 2018.

Another spicy one here, dan dan noodles of Chengdu, Sichuan. The province of Sichuan, of which Chongqing used to be a part, is famous for its flavourful and spicy palate. “Dan dan” doesn’t really translate to anything and the noodles are consisted of minced meat and a lot of hot sauce/oil. This was a small portion as a snack and thankfully it was a small portion because heck it was spicy!

Zha jiang mian (fried sauce noodles), Beijing, December 8, 2016.

We now go north to the capital of China, where zha jiang mian (fried sauce noodles) are quite popular among locals and tourists alike. I never really figured out why they’re called “fried sauce” noodles because I definitely don’t think the sauce (bean paste) is fried. And it may not seem like a lot of sauce from the photo but it is very thick and heavy, so this was actually enough to coat all of the noodles evenly for a great flavour.

Biang biang mian (biang biang noodles) with lamb, Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, February 1, 2019.

The word “biang” doesn’t really exist in China and is a made-up character that you can’t even type on a computer. But that doesn’t stop biang biang noodles from being loved in Xi’an, where noodles are the main staple. The unique thing about biang biang noodles is how long and wide they are. The first photo doesn’t quite do them justice and that’s why I’m posting the second one for comparison – the noodles are almost as wide as a person’s mouth!

Hui mian (braised noodles) with lamb, Zhengzhou, Henan Province, March 25, 2020.

J and I had a chance to stop by Zhengzhou for a connecting train on my way back to Wuhan, so we seized the opportunity to try to famous lamb hui mian (braised noodles). This was at a restaurant that ONLY served lamb hui mian and side dishes, so you can’t even get other types of meat if you wanted to. There’s normal-quality lamb, superior-quality lamb, top-quality lamb…you get the point. We only got the normal-quality lamb but oh man it was tasty! Perfect balance of lean and fatty meat that falls apart in your mouth without chewing. And the lamb soup based was top-notch!

Yun tun mian (wonton noodles), Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, December 21, 2016.

I had to save this for the end because Guangzhou (or Canton) is my hometown and I love Cantonese food. Out of all the noodles on this list, I would think that westerners would be most familiar with this one – wonton noodles. “Yun tun” is the Mandarin pronunciation of “wonton”, which is actually the Cantonese pronunciation (though more like “wun tun”). Whenever I go back to Guangzhou I always make sure I get myself a bowl of wonton noodles at least once. My dad told me that back in the day, the original wontons only contained pork and a little bit of shrimp and are not too huge. Nowadays, most wontons are gigantic and contain mostly shrimp, and my dad complained of the authenticity and texture of modern wontons. I’m often heavily influenced by my dad, this time in particular because he is the true Cantonese local who grew up in the city. So I went and looked for the “original” wonton noodles with the pork-based fillings and luckily they still exist (wonton noodles at Wu Cai Ji restaurant shown in photo). I understand what my dad meant but you know, I don’t mind the shrimp in any case 😛

Gan chao niu he (dry-stir-fried rice noodles with beef), Toronto, Canada, August 8, 2011.

BONUS!!! I said there’d be an exception and this is it – dry-stir-fried rice noodles with beef. “Dry” has to be specified because there is a wet version – with sauce. Anyway, this is the exception of the post for two reasons: (1) It is the second Cantonese specialty and (2) I had this in Toronto, not the place where it originated. Again my dad seemed to be an expert on this dish, telling me that Cantonese chefs are evaluated on their basic kitchen skills based on this dish because it tests so many essential techniques in Cantonese cooking. Indeed it may look simple but the amount of work that goes into making the perfect stir-fried noodles takes years and years of training. And we love it!

So, do I have a favourite or a ranking for these goodies? I admit that I am completely biased and I will say that wonton noodles are my favourite, followed by stir-fried noodles with beef. Unsurprisingly hot dry noodles come third so I guess the conclusion is…the taste of home is the best???

Which noodles would you like to try? 😉

April 2020

April is a month of recovery for Wuhan. The lockdown has ended and people are now more or less allowed to move freely in and out of the city (as long as you meet the health requirements). Residential complexes are still under restricted movement control and there was still quite a bit of inconvenience for me as a foreigner, whether it was to take public transit or go into any sort of public area. It might stay like this for a while, and I’m definitely not looking forward to having to physically go back to work at the office in May (I have been working from home all of April). Having to wear a face mask for 8 hours straight AND not being sure if AC could be turned on as summer approaches…you could tell I’m not thrilled!

The temperature rose very quickly in April and by the end of the month we were up to 30 degrees Celsius! Seems like we might enter summer early this year…but not before rainy season hits in May! Before the rain came, J and I took the chance to get out of our residential area and enjoy the nature, generously taking advantage of the final relatively “free” time at the end of spring.

I recently downloaded a Chinese app that is able to identify plants in a photo, so I’ve been trying it out whenever I see flowers when I go outdoors. To my surprise this was…echinacea?!! I even did a project on echinacea in grade 11 but never knew what it looked like, ha! The little flowers in the previous photo are called cosmos.

The flowers in the top photo are Chinese roses, called “yue ji” in Mandarin, which literally translates to “moon season”. The tiny ones in the bottom photo are called spirea, pretty little things! In the summer, I will be looking forward to the lotus and sunflowers!

Breakfast for two – corn, eggs, and buns, simple yet satisfying. After the noodle shop by our place opened up again, we’ve been getting hot dry noodles from time to time, but it gets heavy if we each get one portion, especially because staying at home causes an extreme lack of movement! We’ve cut down the intake to one portion to share between the two of us (maybe twice a week), which is much more reasonable.

Tranquility within a large hustling city doesn’t come easy. Even though Wuhan was “paused” for more than two months, it is now back in action. On a day out post-lockdown, J and I chanced upon this small, tranquil lake in the midst of the city that gives off an air of peace and serenity.

Ohai there, says my shadow to J’s during our daily afternoon walk. We’ve developed a habit of two daily walks within our residential complex, one at around 3 pm and the other after dinner at around 7 pm. These days are able to end as my working-from-home days end next week and I head back to the office with much reluctance. And J will have to head back to the university soon, but he can’t wait for that!

Food? Yes! Spending a lot of time at home meant that we cooked a lot. This means that we use up rice, oil, and gas credit at greater than double the normal rate! But the end result is a whole bunch of culinary delight, mostly by chef J.

In fact, food photos made up most of my album in April and I almost thought that the April 2020 would be exclusively a showcase of my meals. Thankfully it is not, not that there’d be a problem if that were the case 😛

Of the different dishes that we experimented with, I was most satisfied with and surprised by how delicious the fried chicken wings turned out. No KFC, no problem, make your own! The secret lies in the batter composition, but controlling the oil temperature was perhaps the key to success, as we realized through three trials. We’ve started deep-frying other things such as fish and squid, and more is on my list of foods to try frying. By the way, this looks like a lot of food for each meal (and it is) but we usually cook for two or even three meals at once, heh.

May 1 was Labour Day and I’m currently in the midst of a 5-day national holiday. I had originally planned to go to my hometown Guangzhou during this rare occasion but obviously COVID-19 disrupted all travel plans. No long-distance travel any time soon (though I do hope to go to Canada for two weeks in October) so I might as well embrace my final days of freedom before I head back to the office in three days…with a desk fan to combat the already invading heat!

East Lake, the gem of Wuhan

If there’s anything that makes living in Wuhan more desirable, it’s the East Lake. You may have heard of West Lake, which is a world-renowned tourist attraction in Hangzhou, China, but I’m sure not many people have heard of East Lake in Wuhan. I had mentioned East Lake several times in my previous posts, and I had intended to write a post dedicated to it, but it’s hard to describe and represent so much beauty in one post. But I’ll try.

Wuhan is known to some as “the city of a hundred lakes” because of the large number of lakes that can be found within the city limits. East Lake is the second largest city lake in China (the largest is Tangxun Lake, also in Wuhan) and a (mostly) admission-free category 5A scenic attraction. How big is East Lake? Well, huge! Don’t assume you can simply walk around it in one shot, as the shore length is supposedly >100 km. The vehicle of choice is definitely the bike, and this has been made easier by bike-sharing schemes in the city. In fact, public bikes usually are quite difficult to find near East Lake because of the high demand, so we often had to find them before we got to the lake area.

When cycling the East Lake, the outer shore is not the only route and is actually perhaps the road less taken. What’s great about East Lake is the system of interconnected paths constructed specifically for cyclists and pedestrians, known as the “East Lake Greenway”. These run through the entire lake region, connecting islands, parks, and different sub-areas, making it possible to explore something new with every trip. The map below shows the major paths of the different sections of the lake, but the smaller cycling/hiking paths within each region are not illustrated. Looking at the map, J and I have completed the orange, green, teal, blue, and the right half of the light purple segment by bike. I’ve walked the dark purple segment but have yet to cycle through it, and the red segment, which is the main one through the lake, remains untouched. Well I shall get to you…

Map of the interconnected routes in the East Lake Greenway system, from the official web site (in Chinese only, unfortunately).

I happen to live a stone’s throw away from East Lake and so it is one of the places that J and I frequent, especially on summer nights and weekends. During August last year, we went cycling three times within a two-week period, each time going a different route. Let’s just remind you that Wuhan is infamous for its scorching hot summers and is known as one of the “four big ovens” in China. So, going outdoor in AUGUST was unthinkable for me, but I got tempted and convinced. We did decide to go after 4 pm, when the heat has subsided a bit, so it wasn’t all THAT horrible – just had to bring lots of water. In fact, one thing I like about the greenway is that the roads are mostly flat, so there aren’t a lot of hills or rough paths and it’s a fun, leisurely ride most of the way. Along with the late afternoon wind, you almost don’t feel the heat that much and you can spend your time admiring the beautiful scenery offered by East Lake.

With COVID-19 ravaging the globe, we are still strongly encouraged to stay at home and therefore I haven’t made a visit to East Lake yet this year. But I will see you again soon, East Lake! Now you are wondering where the photos are – I am saving them for the end and here they are! Enjoy 😉

Light evening cycle in the Luoyan Scenic Area (blue segment on map, “luo yan” translates to “falling crane”). There was a tiny lone island not too far from the shore, occupied by nothing but trees. The skyline of Wuhan can be seen in the distance on the right.

Leisurely stroll in the Tingtao Scenic Area (dark purple segment on map, “ting tao” translates to “listening to waves”). A boardwalk stretches outward into the lake, leading to a small pavilion.

Another segment in the Luoyan Scenic Area, this time across from the “Wangguo Park” (“wanguo” translates to “ten thousand kingdoms”). It’s an abandoned theme park built years ago, with remains of Egyptian pyramids, medieval castles, and windmills.

Can’t remember where this photo was taken, but the greenness of it always refreshes my mood. It feels like this could be a fairyland unknown to us mere muggles…

I think this was still the Luoyan Scenic Area, but it’s clear that this was in the middle of summer as the lotus pads covered entire sections of the lake. And the remaining rays of sunlight are still trying to outshine the looming clouds that announce the arrival of night…good evening.

Nearing the northernmost tip of the light purple segment, Wuhan’s skyline is now clearly visible in front of us and feels easily within reach.

Almost arriving at the westernmost tip of the orange segment, the sun has decided to grace us with its last appearance of the day and give us a break from the heat, finally.

March 2020

Almost a month has passed since the previous post and J and I have since returned to Wuhan. And well, life has been slow and quiet, but we are enjoying this serendipitous serenity while working at home. The lockdown in Wuhan is gradually coming to an end – we arrived at the end of it – but as a foreigner in China, I face slightly greater restriction than Chinese citizens, which is completely understandable. As a result, I spent quite a bit of time at home after coming back to Wuhan, and the rare times that I went out were to take a stroll in our residential complex, which feels like a rejuvenated garden during the spring. Totally don’t mind that at all!

From the beginning of February to almost the end of March, J and I were “stranded” in Dalian, a city by the sea in northeastern China. We took a chance to go around the city and I may have fallen in love with the seas and hills in the vicinity of Dalian. Top photo is the majestic Xinghai (Star Sea) Bay Bridge taken at the top of a hill at the Dalian Forest Zoo, and bottom one is the sea by Haizhiyun (Melody of the Sea) Park, with some small islands in the distance.

High-speed train on the way back to Wuhan! We first flew from Dalian to Zhengzhou then took a train back to Wuhan, passing countryside and villages between the Henan and Hubei provinces along the way. Excited to be finally allowed to head home despite that Wuhan was the epicenter of COVID-19 in China.

View of our residential complex from my window – so green!!! I actually gasped when I saw this because I don’t remember it being THIS GREEN and pretty last year. I first thought that maybe the decline in human activities led to the rapid recovery of nature, but J and one of my colleagues suggested that we just didn’t take the time to observe these carefully last year. While there may be some truth the the former theory, the latter is more likely. Last year, day time was spent mostly at work and there weren’t many opportunities to look out the window at home in full daylight. Now that we’re still mostly stuck at home, this is almost a surprising discovery even though I’ve lived here for close to two years. The things you realize during quarantine…!

Of course we had to take the chance to go for a walk in our neighbourhood (only within the residential complex) and seriously I never thought it was this beautiful. The greenness felt surreal and it was as if our surroundings transformed into a zen garden of some sort. The trees and plants were full of life and I couldn’t help to think that our lockdown gave nature a long-awaited chance to breathe again.

I mean seriously, this pond was never this clean before and now it seems like an area from the botanic garden or something. I’m rather glad to have had the chance to experience this place at its best before we move, which is in about two months. I will miss this area!

Another small pond in the residential complex, this one looking sort of like a well-maintained Japanese garden, said J. I could have sat there all day with a book if the weather were nice, but it was still a bit chilly in late March 😦 And I was (and still am) working from home…

These flowers sprung up everywhere in our neighbourhood – saw them last year around my work campus as well – and apparently they’re a breed of cherry blossoms :O I previously mentioned that I thought I might miss spring in Wuhan entirely this year but it seems like we came back just at the right time. No cherry blossom festival at Wuhan University of East Lake this year but hey, we got them in our own backyard 😉

More flowers around the area – top left: wisteria; top right: camellia; bottom left: azalea; bottom right: cherry blossom. Shine on, nature, the stage is yours!

Having eaten take-out food for almost two months in Dalian, being back in Wuhan brought us to the opposite end of the spectrum – home-cooked meals every day! I am beyond thankful to have a husband who not only is a great chef, but also is WILLING to cook most of the time. Here is one of our typical meals – tomato and eggs, cabbage slices, and green beans with beef.

At the end of the February 2020 post, I said that I was hoping that the March 2020 post would be written in Wuhan. Well that wish came true! Working from home for the past few weeks has certainly brought many changes to my lifestyle, some for the worse unfortunately, but there’s a long way to go before life will be back to “normal” as we knew it. And it might never go back to what we think is normal, for all we know, but I’ve learned to see the beauties of life even during volatile and unpredictable times. So, onward, 2020, let’s see what you have in store next!

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