For those of you who know I’m in China, I can skip to my visit to the city ‘Wuhu’ over the last couple of days. For those who don’t know I’m in China, I should probably mention that first. I’m living in China.
Three of my oldest friends from my hometown of Leicester finally after almost 5 years came to visit me and another oldest friend also living here in Shanghai. It’s Chinese New Year (as of writing this) so we thought travelling to particularly distant and awesome places would be difficult, given that almost everyone in big cities around China will be going back to their hometowns, unless their hometowns happen to be Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou.
With that in mind, we decided to take a 6 hour bus to a city called Wuhu, the hometown of my friend’s girlfriend. In the eyes of China, this is a small city of little importance, probably the equivalent of my own hometown of Leicester. Except it’s not the equivalent at all, given that Leicester’s population is 400,000, and Wuhu’s is 3.5 million – Bigger than every city in England with the exception of London, or about 3 times the population of Birmingham, the second biggest city.
Even so, it took us until the final night to find any other foreigners at all, discovering 3 Germans playing pool in a bar seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The way people looked at us made me feel like I was in Korea again; that astonished ‘whoa, people who speak English’ look.
So here is a small diary of how our two day trip panned out, and it gets pretty ridiculous.
The journey there was set to be 4-5 hours, but due to whatever, it took 6. This was ok. Time went quickly, we had some games of Mario Kart, I listened to some Final Fantasy Piano music, we chatted about various whatevers and arrived.
First thing to note is the 7RMB (70p) taxis we were very impressed with – Half the price of Shanghai. This would change rapidly as we found almost no taxi driver wanted to take us at any point throughout the duration of our stay. Probably because they’re only getting 7RMB to deal with us.
The 60RMB (£6) per person hotel was also very nice, a standard way above anything you could get for that price in, say, Bangkok. You wouldn’t ever get that price in London or Hong Kong so I decided not to even mention them even though I just did.
We split up into 3 rooms for 6 people and headed out. We hit the town and markets to ‘see the sights’, and checked out some of the street food. We had some kind of bread stuffed with beef, onion and a very, very burning hot spice that seemed to melt through my palate and gumline (but was still rather enjoyable.), among other things. One of our friends was a little more adventurous and dug right into an aborted chicken fetus. It was absolutely rank, apparently being able to feel every detail of the bony mass of death slowly dissolving in his saliva.
We had dinner with some local friends of my friend’s girlfriend, who from now on we will refer to as Pan Pan, that being her name. It was bland and uninteresting, but ‘nice’, as far as food goes. We read online that the City of Wuhu took foodal influence from Sichuan, famous for its very spicy food. so needless to say, we were a little disappointed.
Pan Pan, her friends and we took ourselves to a surprisingly nice bar we found to be in happy hour, and order a whole load of beers, sat by the window where we could overlook a mini lake of sorts. The bar was really quite big, and absolutely empty excluding staff and ourselves. The staff took it upon themselves to seize the opportunity to sing songs in English on stage, too loudly. This involved a CD being played, and somebody simply singing the same thing over it, but quietly so we couldn’t tell how bad they were.
We taught the three visiting friends how to count to ten in Mandarin by means of drinking games. I was pretty impressed that two of them got it down pretty quickly, and retained them, including tones for the most part, in the long term. We also got very drunk.
The next day we had breakfast in the street around the aforementioned market and shops. We dug into some rather doughy dumplings, some fried dumplings and a bit of noodles, all with some pretty potent sauce. The serving came with a large and blatant black hair, 2 seats for 6 people and a fair amount of stares.
Without going into too much detail, we visited a park with rides and other things, tried a few out, climbed a mountain to a shrine, and then a little higher to a temple. We climbed the temple and was rewarded with an amazing view of smog and city skyline – not dissimilar to my photos of Korean hiking.
We met at least a couple of English speakers by this point, very eager to practice their vocabulary by exchanging mundane conversation such as how they like England or how the view is nice. We also met an adorable puppy who attempted to untie my shoelaces with more passion and rigour than I could ever muster on such an exhilarating daily task. The poor thing still failed in its mission. This was probably the highlight of the trip. The park in general, that is, although the puppy was definitely the crown.
The park also had a cave with terracotta army-type stone models and, pleasingly, crazy mirrors, presumably abandoned after a failed attempt to make a crazy hall of mirrors. Before we left, we came across a zoo which was closed. I was thankful for this, because I did not want to spend my time observing bears trapped in a concrete pit with a pond for people to throw coins in. We turned around after seeing that and left the place.
At home, my China living friend was boasting about his Chinese Wallet service on his phone. The Chinese wallet thing is a system on the Chinese chat app, Wechat or Weixin. It has so many functions including the ability to top up your phone, order taxis and gamble, that I was envious and determined to get it myself. This is where everything went really bad for me.
The information did not appear to match, and I was having great difficulty setting it up with my passport number, name and bank information. I called my bank and after 25 minutes of being constantly forwarded and forwarded, spoken to in phonics-level English and forwarded again, I was told that my password (specifically clarified as the one I use in the ATM machine; pin number) was wrong. I tried twice, knowing that it was correct, before being sent elsewhere to try AGAIN, and that being the third time, had my account blocked. Somebody or something had changed my password.
On the way to a place to drink (what else? Wuhu was hardly designed for tourists), I checked an ATM to see if my password was indeed incorrect, and upon confirming, decided to split up and call the bank again to tell them what seemed to have happened. They allowed me to freeze my account after informing me that no money had been taken, and told me that it was very common at this time of year (Chinese New Year) for people to change passwords of accounts they had stolen, moments before the holiday began, making it almost impossible for the owner to get the problem resolved because everything shuts down for the holiday duration. This gives the thief plenty of time to sap all the money out (Because you generally get a daily limit).
Well, that was that. My bank was frozen and I had 500RMB (£50) to my name to last until they would unfreeze it 7 days (not working days) from that point. I wasn’t sure if that included the two weeks of holiday, but either way it’s not good when you have three friends visiting in the biggest time of the whole year.
Well, next dinner was a little more… questionable. The restaurant itself was pretty out of the way, but we were there to meet four more of Pan Pan’s friends. None of which spoke English but enjoyed our company anyway. Upon arrival, you see a row of ice cream freezers with the power turned off and the top-lids slid open. Inside you have a range of options from fish to mutton. Ok well, fish and mutton were the only choices, but not in the way you’d enjoy.
Ignoring the seafood, I was left with Sheep feet, Sheep testicles, Mini snails, Sheep tongue and Sheep ribs.
I went with the ribs and Lettuce. It was great fun watching the rest adventure with the feet and testicles, but I am not a food adventurer. This is because I know with pretty astounding accuracy when something is going to be absolutely horrible or completely plain. The idea of claiming I had something as crazy as dog teeth or monkey brains brings about as much pride to me as saying I had visited the Eiffel Tower or jumped down from the 7th step of my house.
The testicles, if you are interested, were about as horrible as the chicken fetus, in that the guys could taste the semen as it burst in their mouths. They soon found out that you were actually supposed to cook them first, bringing a whole new wave of dread likely lasting the rest of their lives, but I don’t think cooking them would bring much relief. Taste wise, a cooked testicle is much safer in texture, being compared to the liver you might have as a home dinner in England.
We followed the pattern of yesterday and went to a bar, where one of the Chinese guys worked. This is where we saw the Germans playing pool, and we had a tamer drinking game session which was fun to do with added Chinese people.
One of our friends needed to take a dump, and in this kind of city, you’re only going to get squatters, something he wasn’t experienced in. Long story short, the whole debacle involved 20 minutes, a power cut and a lot of laughter.
After the power cut, we left and got to bed. Me and another friend got up bright and early (about 9am I think) to visit an American-built cathedral supposedly erected after the apparently well known opium wars. The gate was locked. After shaking it rapidly for a few seconds, a gardener came and opened it from the other side for us and let us in. The front door to the cathedral was locked. We went around the side and sneaked into a poorly-locked side-door (a small rock wedged in front of it from the inside). We had a look around, it was a very basic place with not even stained glass windows.
We left and were confronted by two more friendly people there who insisted on unlocked the cathedral for us to view. So, we went back in and pretended to look interested again. We decided to be a bit more in depth for a few minutes while we were here and had a look in the altar bit you’re not meant to go. We looked down and saw blood. A lot of blood. Sacrificial levels of blood on the floor, along with a bent screwdriver and a shattered pot plant.
There was more blood in the main area with all the benches too. I took the final photo of the trip and we escaped before it was too late and our DNA was all over the place. This is when something much worse happened.
Jesus saw me and noticed I hadn’t cleared out my bowels for a good couple of days, and took the liberty of helping me out. Within minutes of leaving the cathedral, I became desperate. It was all coming down at a rate of gravity and I needed a toilet FAST.
I wasn’t about to drop to Chinese standards (that would come later), so I struggled to finish my banana and get to the hotel. I couldn’t risk going back to the room in case people were still sleeping and did not open the door, dooming me to shame. I got off on the fourth floor and relieved myself in an already-blocked toilet with an un-closeable door and a large, viewable gap between door and wall. I didn’t care.
I left feeling great but not entirely satisfied, waved at the man opposite in the office and went back up to pack and leave. At the taxi stand, it happened again. Sitting down was the only way I was going to get out of this alive. Shortly, a Chinese-style tuk-tuk was acquired by Pan Pan, and we all got on. Right about when the floor of the hand-customised motorbike was about to collapse, we arrived at the bus station and I was forced to be upright again and things started once again to get desperate.
I escaped to the public toilets, and they were really public. in one row of about 15 were some stalls about 3-feet high, with a bunch of Chinese heads sticking out. queued up were men close enough to get a clear view of the squatters in great detail. They had little metal doors, but a 3-foot tall door isn’t going to conceal much no matter how short you are. Thankfully, I chose the one with a broken door so everyone could just stare straight at me rather than having to stretch their necks out. At this point, I didn’t care.
Relieved again, I washed up and headed to the bus. It started again. The bus pulled off, and we were going home. The whole sitting down thing with buses saved me, since the 4-5 hours of sitting allowed things inside to solidify and keep itself in without a struggle until I got home, but first I had a bank card to deal with.
Getting off at a big station called People’s Square in Shanghai, I remembered the list of locations the girl on the other end said would be open until 8pm that day, and one place was here. Just as I recalled this information, I saw the very bank in the distance and split up with the guys to get it sorted. Within 20 minutes and 2 spoken words – Name, new? – , rather than 7 days, I was able to use the ATM again and my life was back to normal.
And that, people, is the end of this story. I wouldn’t live there, that’s all I’ll say of my opinion.
Next up is Chinese New Year itself, a trip to Suzhou and Hangzhou, and whatever else until routine returns. Unlikely I’ll write about any of it, but who knows.