I identify Wuhan with this wonderful family that I had met on the internet some months before my trip. It was past midnight when my boat tied-up in Hankou (Wuhan is a seven million conglomeration of Hankou, Hanyang and Wuchang). John Weng picked me up at the pier to help me find an inexpensive hotel. When the first one we tried did not accept foreigners, John spontaneously invited me to his home in Wuchang where I was warmly received without notice by his wife Guo Man and son Kan Kan.
The following day was a Saturday and the Wengs took me on a tour of Wuchang which included the Hubei Provincial Museum, a boat ride on East Lake where this and the next photo were taken and the Wuhan University from which both had graduated in computer science.
Wuhan is a big, busy, modern industrial city with all the noise and pollution this implies. High rise office buildings characterize Hankou and heavy industry marks Hanyang while the more residential Wuchan hosts high tech firms. It also has the University and the Museum on the shores of beautiful East Lake, an oasis of peace and quiet not far from the Weng home.
The Wengs operate their company "Turing Digital Vision" from offices in the University. John provides computer services and Guo Man does computer assisted industrial and marketing design.
On Sunday we visited the Guiyang Temple in Hanyang across the great Yangzi River Bridge and Wuchan's Yellow Crane tower. Many temples were destroyed during the cultural revolution but most have been reconstructed since and funds are made available for their maintenance. Taoist, Confucianist and Buddhist temples look very much alike and are more or less interchangeable as places of worship by those who still indulge in that. It is easy to tell that this one is Buddhist because it features 900 different gilt wood statues of Buddha's disciples.
Very few Chinese worship in temples regularly. The majority of those who go to a temple for more than tourism do so to invoke good fortune, or to appease spirits, or to pierce the secrets of their future. People who come here will wander through the maze of golden statues, start somewhere at random and count past an equally random number of statues before stopping at the one to which they will ask to be granted a wish. It is very difficult to grasp the meaning religion has for the average Chinese today.
Every one to whom I have asked the question has said that they do not believe in anything The stock answer was "I only believe in myself" but some have nevertheless made ritual gestures with joined hands or burnt a joss stick for good luck when visiting a temple with me. Clearly, religion has a completely different meaning here than in the West! By the way, this is the Yellow Crane Tower.
At this point, I had been in China for only fifteen days but it had been hectic, travelling 2 250 kms, visiting five cities and cramming in loads of new information, experiences and emotions. Although I was not physically tired, I had reached an intellectual saturation point and had to stop to digest it all. In computer jargon, I was suffering from stack overload!
I stayed home when the Wengs went to work on Monday. There was so much to absorb that I had to sort out my impressions by writing them down. I also used John's computer to do a lot of e-mail correspondence to friends and to make arrangements to get visas for some of the ex-soviet countries. After two days of this, I was ready to continue and my friends saw me off on the train on Wednesday morning.
The time I spent preparing my trip by reaching out to internet enthusiasts in the months preceding my departure paid huge dividends as made it possible for me to meet and exchange with people that I would never have encountered otherwise. All these contacts had access to internet computers and spoke some English. They had a more than average education and income and generally were more aware of what was going on around them that the man on the street.
I had three different contacts in Hangzhou, Victor Shen shown here with his wife Ruth, some postgraduate students of the Zhejiang University and Cathy, a brilliant young webmaster. Victor picked me up at the train station, brought me to his 20th floor penthouse and introduced me to his wife Ruth, his daughter Sally and some of his business associates. It was a unique opportunity to observe the life style of a successful and prosperous but very busy and hard working example of those who are building tomorrow's China.
Hangzhou's West Lake had traditionally been known as one of China's most famous tourist attractions. I had been here before in April 1973, it was already beautiful but it had less tourists! The lake's reputation was well deserved, well groomed footpaths invite you to stroll along the shore and several artistically landscaped islands, decorated with attractive pavilions and footbridges, can be reached by a variety of boats.
Most cities I have visited in China have lake-gardens like this one. Taking the family out for a stroll around the lake seem to be a popular release from crowded living quarters.
On the first day I spent the afternoon visiting the lake by myself letting my thoughts roam trying to imagine the life of the mandarins who first designed its attractions centuries ago.
After the lake, I went to see the tomb of Yue Fei, a 12th century general who, unjustly executed by a treacherous official called Qin Gui, was later re buried here after being recognized as faithful patriot. I was surprised to witness the veneration expressed towards this hero by the visiting Chinese, eight hundred years after his death. I was further astounded to see the visitors spit on and berate kneeling statues of the evil Qin Gui and his wife. The mausoleum complex was similar to Buddhist, Taoist or Confucianist temples and so was the atmosphere. I realized I had a lot to learn before I could understand the meaning of religion here.
On the second day I met my web-mates Xie Jun, Fong Wuwei and Kong Liping, three post graduate students working on their doctorate degrees in biomedical engineering at the Zhejiang University. We had a few beers and got better acquainted on a long walk in the Botanical Gardens.
I also visited the University campus and met some of their colleagues and professors who clued me in on China's educational system. I enjoyed open minded conversations and admired the intense dedication to learning shown by Xie Jun and Fong Wuwei seen here in the student dormitory room I shared with them.
On the third day I visited the museum early and then met Cathy who was to be my guide all day. Wherever I go, I never miss a chance to visit the local museum in an attempt to understand the historical and cultural background of where I am. This one was interesting but more concerned with natural history than ethnography.
It was a Saturday and the weather was fine so the lake area was crowded with tourists both Chinese and foreign.
I had been corresponding for some months with Cathy who I knew to be the webmaster of an important internet service provider in Hangzhou. Naturally I was pleasantly surprised when I met her for I had never imagined she would be so young and attractive.
We got on famously and had a great day visiting Solitary Hill island in the lake, the Tea Museum and the Temple of Inspired Seclusion up in the hills.
These two friendly beggars on the Baldi causeway to Solitary Hill Island looked so colourful that I just had to snap their picture.
I know I take good pictures but it certainly does help to have a photogenic subject. Cathy is a pleasure to look at but I think her looks must take second place after her sharp mind. You really have to be on the ball to hold a webmaster position at 24 against all the competition these days. Actually it must be because she was born in Shaoxing where all the bright people like Zhou Enlai and the writer Lu Xun come from.
This shot was taken in front of the tea museum. I visited it with great interest because I wanted to know how the characteristics of teas could explain the extremely wide range of value given to the different varieties. We had an excellent four course lunch at a good restaurant by the lake and Cathy introduced me to the local specialty, Longjing tea. There are so many things to discover; I wish I knew as much about tea as I do about wine!
The first Lingyin Si, roughly translated as either Temple of Inspired Seclusion or Temple of the Soul's Retreat, was built on this site in 326 AD. It had to be reconstructed several times like most Chinese temples who, being built of wood, are vulnerable to fire. It is a Buddhist temple. The main hall features a 20 meter statue of Siddharta Gautama (the Hindu prince who became the Buddha) while the entrance hall hosts a smaller statue of Maitreya, the future Buddha. The site is well attended and so is the cliff across the road that sports more than 300 sculptures from the 10th to the 14th centuries.
Cathy is not a believer but she did make a few ritual gestures. I found the whole business of beliefs quite puzzling in China so I made it a point to ask where people stood whenever I thought I would get a straight answer. She explained that it was a Chinese tradition to wish for good luck, or health, or money... More a matter of culture than of faith. I was hesitant in asking the Chinese questions about their beliefs because that would be generally considered indiscreet in the West but I found that it was not so here. Every one answered questions about religion readily in a simple matter of fact manner but they generally evaded queries that had political connotations.
Cathy and I had been lucky to have nice weather for our tour. It was cold, wet and clammy when I left for Shanghai by train the following morning.