Monday, July 9, 2007

A busy weekend

Note: This blog entry is posted here with pictures

This weekend, we discovered a fatal flaw with "I speak English, and I'm here to help."

Nobody else does.

Plus, we're pretty much the only ones who need help.

This weekend, we got to be freak shows a little bit more as we visited some of the tourist spots in Wuhan. Here are the highlights.

Saturday - Stop #1: Hubei Provincial Museum

The Hubei Provincial Museum is one of the most important research and collection institutions in the province. More than 140,000 collections, mainly from a big tomb excavated in 1978, are well preserved here, including 645 pieces of first class cultural relics and 16 pieces of national treasures.

Fortunately, most of the signs in the museum were also in English, so we got to read about the exhibits and actually understand what we were reading, a privilege we had almost forgotten about in Wuhan, where there is very little written or spoken English.

"Touhu Game"

"This is both a ritual and a drinking game played during banquets to entertain guests. Participants aim to toss arrows into the mouth of a wine jar. The person with he most arrows inside the vessel wins while the loser must drink as a penalty."

...basically an ancient game of quarters.

The air conditioner exhibit

Ahh, the air conditioner exhibit. This was always our favorite exhibit. When it's 45 degrees Celsius outside (about 115 F) and there aren't very many indoor places with air conditioning, the "air conditioner exhibit" becomes your favorite. Even in the museum, where there was air conditioning, it comes only in these singular tall air conditioning units that don't cool entire rooms. Standing in front of them is certainly nice, though.

Darlana's Instruments

Darlana spent a lot of time showing Dad and I how you would play various ancient instruments around the museum.

The book

I looked around for a long time unsuccessfully for a English to Chinese dictionary. I never found one in the U.S. that didn't have those funny characters in it. Darlana found one in Canada, however, and it's a darn good thing she did.

Because our driver doesn't speak any English whatsoever, this book was the only thing that mildly got us around Wuhan or helped us communicate with him at all.

However, because Chinese is a conceptual language, much like sign language, it was difficult to put words together and form sentences. For example, we asked our driver if he had children. He said yes. (This phrase was in the book as a whole). Then we asked him son or daughter. He said daughter. We wanted to know how old she was, so we looked up "age," and he laughed and said "no, no, no" then finally "47," indicating his own age. It took us pretty much all day to finally figure out that his daughter was 23 years old.

The next day, he came back with his own cheat sheet of Chinese characters scribbled on a folded sheet of paper, and first thing in the morning, told us slowly:

"Myyyy.... dog-a-tor... is twenty...three." Then he repeated it a few times a laughed. He's a nice man.

Evidently he goes home and studies English just as we go back to the hotel and study our book. Darlana said that the second day she was here she came down to the lobby to go to work she said "Good morning" in Chinese and he said "Good morning" in English. At least we're all trying!

Pizza Hut is gross

And on that note about our driver, that same Saturday, we decided to go to Wal-Mart to pick a few things up and to Pizza Hut for lunch. When our driver parked the car, we motioned for him to come with us to lunch. He turned us down several times, which evidently is a cultural thing they do that shows humility, and finally when we went back to ask again, he said yes and followed us to Pizza Hut.

We ordered a stuffed crust meat lovers pizza, and when we had the waitress ask him if that would be okay, she told us that he said "I would love that."

The pizza arrived, and it was a steaming tray of cheesy, meaty goodness. We all took a piece and started eating it with our forks and knives, because it was quite hot. He seemed to handle the fork and knife somewhat awkwardly, and made a face when he started eating the pizza. We weren't sure if the face was because of the taste of the pizza or the fact that he was probably not used to using forks and knives over chop sticks, but we found out later through a helpful translating doorman at the hotel that he didn't really like the pizza. Too bad. We're going to give it another shot and take him to a more traditional Chinese restaurant next time.

But I digress.

Saturday - Stop #2 - Guiyan Zenist Temple

There aren't very many things stranger than going to a temple to look at a bunch of false gods. When we first got there, we (at least I) didn't realize this was a working temple. Like at the museum, I thought we'd be looking at some ancient temple with little informational signs where tourists like me (strike that...none of the tourists are like me. I'm a freak show here) look at how they used to do things. Nope. I paid 10 Yuan to enter a place of worship of some religion that has more false gods than I could count.

The first thing they do when you walk in is hand you a few sticks of incense, which break as soon as you try to grab them. I reach down to pick mine up, holding up the line behind me. Finally the lady hands me three more, which also break. Apparently incense is thin and breakable. I don't have a lot of experience with incense because my brother was allergic to it growing up and I never got into the habit of using it after he moved out.

I take my handful of tiny bits of incense through the doorway and there are stands with ash, burning incense and flames, where people are lighting the incense and sticking them into the ash and leaving them there. I don't really know the purpose of this, but Dad and I assumed it was some kind of worship practice, so I threw mine in the ash without burning it and dad threw his little bits into a big decorative pot. Going to hell for idol worship? No, thank you.

The first thing we saw was a REALLY tall statue of a lady with her head on fire. We called her "hothead."

"Cool," I think. "That's a really tall statue..."

This was the point when we realized that people were actually there worshiping, and we thought it was pretty weird. People would come up, put their money in the little box, kneel down and pray to hothead, and put their foreheads on the ground.

So we chose to mock the false gods instead.

Inside the temple

What I didn't know when I took these pictures was that you weren't supposed to take pictures inside the temple. We had entered through the back instead of the front of the temple, and therefore didn't see the signs that had a picture of a little camera being crossed out. I found out about this the hard way though, because when I tried to take a picture of "false god with tiny dentists working on his teeth" next to "giant false god with lots of arms" the lady who was there guarding "giant false god with lots of arms" said "AIGO ADFHGODF BCLGWRIO CD DIOGDFHX IOHDFO VIXO CIOVE FGKLJ FDIO DFGIOSDF VID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" so I got the idea the I wasn't supposed to do that anymore. However, I did get a few pictures of some of my favorite false gods, and I have them here for your pleasure.

  • "Just killed a mosquito" false god
  • "Raise the roof" false god
  • "T-sip" false god
  • "Touchdown" false god
  • "Two false gods playing poker"

The Turtles

Okay, I don't know the purpose of the turtles, but there were a lot of them, and I took a bunch of pictures of them. Because I like turtles.

Saturday - Stop #3 - East Lake

East lake is one of the biggest lakes in something or other places and blah blah blah about location. It's also one of the things that makes Wuhan so beautiful. It had bridges, trees, boats, and other pretty stuff.

But more importantly, it had people who wanted to take their pictures with us. No joke. At one point, Darlana and I were standing around and a girl came up to us and said:

"Excuse me, can we take a picture with you?"

Apparently when you're in a city that doesn't have a lot of white people in it - okay, no white people in it - white people are so much of a novelty that you will ask to take their picture if you are brave enough.

While we were getting our pictures taken, she said "you are so beautiful!" to Darlana and I. So perhaps I had it all wrong. Maybe people weren't staring because we're such a freak show - maybe they're staring because we're just so crazy beautiful...

...nahh, that can't be it. We're usually with Dad.

The squatty potty

We had heard about the squatty potty from Sarah Campbell and others who had visited or lived in China. But the stories I heard about the squatty potty were mostly from my dad, who had visited India, where the squatty potty was similar to a trench, or at best, a simple hole in the ground. (However, it's hard to know what's true and what isn't from reading his blogs.)

Like pretty much everything about China, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. While I still haven't had to use one, it has the drain of an actual toilet, but it is in the ground rather than a toilet, which probably wouldn't change the way my mom uses public restrooms at all.

At one point, I was looking through my pictures with Betty, who works in the Club Lounge at the hotel, and she said "is that a toilet?" I guess it is strange to have a picture of a toilet in my tourism pictures.

Sunday - Stop #1: Yellow Crane Tower

The 5-story Yellow Crane Tower is a really well-known tower in China and the symbol of Wuhan.

The Yellow Crane Tower has a very long and complicated history. It was first built in 223, during the Three Kingdoms Period (220 - 280). Due to the ideal location, it was built by Sun Quan (182 - 252, King of Wu) as a watchtower for his army. After hundreds of years, its military function was gradually forgotten and the tower was enjoyed mainly as a picturesque location.

I think it's important to point out that the day before we went, Dad had woken up at 3 a.m. and, bored, he decided to do a little bit of exercise (a little bit being walking down 19 flights of stairs, then back up 5 flights of stairs). As a result, he was quite sore on Sunday.

The fun part about that was listening to him whine about the million bazillion quadtrillion stairs we had to climb to get to the top of the tower.

I was surprised to see what looks like a Christian church in the middle of Wuhan. I talked to Betty, who works in the Club Lounge here at the hotel, and she said it's probably not a real working church. A bell and stuff

I am so happy!

This is the second picture during the weekend in which random people came up to ask us if they could get a picture with us. The little one in red asked me if it was she could take a picture with me, and then asked Darlana to get in the picture too.

As we were taking the picture, my dad, who had been in the gift shop, came and got behind us and did what he's doing in this picture. When she saw him, she said "I am so happy!"

It's hot. Let's go shopping.

So it was hot. We decided that we'd rather be shopping in a semi-air conditioned environment for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, we had already told the driver that we wanted to go to a big famous hill in Wuhan after the Yellow Crane tower.

When we told him to go to the shopping mall, he likely thought we wanted to go shopping after the hill, so we ended up at the hill.

We looked at the sign at the bottom of the hill when he pulled up. 3 km to the top. That's almost 2 miles. And we were tired. We did our best to tell him through gestures that we didn't want to do the hill after all, and since we were very close to the Wuhan Botanical Gardens, we pointed to that on the list as an alternative activity before we headed back to the mall.

I'm not sure what we did to tick him off, other than the confusing directions to go different places, but he got back at us. We ended up at...

The Wuhan Zoo

Doesn't sound so bad, does it?

It was. This zoo makes the Little Rock Zoo look like San Diego. And trust me, the Little Rock Zoo was lame.

We figured we'd walk around for a while because we didn't want to turn the driver down again when he took us to the wrong place again, but oh man, this zoo was ridiculously awful.

Aside from the fact that it was 350 degrees Fahrenheit outside, there were no animals.

Okay, there were some animals. There were pigeons, and a few geese, and 4 lions that may or may not have been alive. Oh yeah, and these goldfish, that kids were actually fishing for with tiny little hooks.

And there's always the smelly algae we found in the pond. Fortunately we couldn't capture that smell on film, so you'll have to take our word for it. But it was icky. I'll just leave it at that.