the furnace and its history
05/25/2008 - 05/26/2008 87 °F
It's humid, and quite hot. Saturday's high was about 96F, and Sunday's was 98F, both days partly sunny. Today's forecast is a high of 93F and partly sunny again. I can't be sure about these, though, because that's just based on Accuweather predictions, and I have reason to find them suspect.
Accuweather says right now, 9.15am Monday, that it's 82F and light fog, with 83% humidity. Light fog? The low last night was 77F degrees, which is also the current dewpoint. It hasn't been cool enough for fog. Accuweather said the same thing yesterday and the day before, for half the day: light fog. I haven't seen any fog at all. What I did see, yesterday we went out for about 4 hours, was haze. A thick greyish-white haze looking towards downtown. I don't see it from our apartment here, perhaps that's just nothing in the distance to observe from our windows. Maybe Accuweather doesn't have an icon for haze or smog, so they use "fog" instead?
Anyway, it has been hot, and humid. Wuhan is well-known as one of the "three furnaces" of China, cities in central China which are famed for being unbearably hot, the other two being Chongqing and Nanjing. Wuhan is the hottest of the three, and is usually at its worst in late summer, July and August. That's part of the reason we planned our trip for early summer, but we certainly haven't avoided the heat.
Yesterday morning, after breakfast, we went to the Wuhan Historical Museum (map), which is free (for the first 3000 visitors daily -- I don't think they ever exceed that number) and open daily 9-5. The taxi was about 11Y, but the air-conditioning was priceless! The museum is three stories of three large galleries each, with a large enclosed atrium covered with glass. I was interested in historical stuff, which they probably don't change very much.
There were half a dozen classes-worth of school kids in orange hats running around the museum, making quite a bit of noise. School kids on a Sunday? I think they were on a field trip from further away. Of course when they saw Skyler, or me, they were suddenly struck silent and stared. Some said "hello". I smiled at lots of them. They were gone after an hour.
Yeye and nainai kept Skyler busy while Zhewei and I toured the galleries. The permanent exhibits usually had English translations, but the English is quite weird.
The first floor had a gallery of artifacts from all eras, organized by materials: bronze, ivory, wood and bamboo, jade, ceramics, glass. A second gallery held a (slowly?) travelling exhibit of Ming dynasty objects. We skipped the third gallery which held art by living artists and was for sale.
The second floor was devoted to history of Wuhan itself and surrounding area. Three large galleries divided the material roughly chronologically: the first gallery begins with neolithic times (< 2000BC) and moves forward. It was difficult to follow, because names and borders changed frequently. Even the geography changed: a large island in the Changjiang river just south of the Wuhan area was an important trading port in early eras, eventually being named for a famous general who wrote a poem about it. By the Ming Dynasty, the island was gone completely, wiped away by the seasonal whim of the mighty Yangtze! The second gallery was devoted to tombs of a king (or viscount, perhaps? a local ruler with allegiance to the emperor) and some military officers during the Ming dynasty, buried just north of Hankou.
The third gallery was devoted to "modern" times, beginning with foreign trade appearing in Wuhan and going through industrialization up to the 1912 revolution. Interestingly, Wuhan (Wuchang specifically) held the first steel factory in China ( aha, the premier "furnace", right? ), and its first armory. The climax of this exhibit for most Chinese visitors seems to be a large heavy Chinese-made automobile (not sure what year). But for me, I found the cataloguing of various industrial businesses, often joint partnerships with foreigners, and the huge foreign presence in Wuhan fascinating. Sometimes the text was overtly political, condemning western influence in some exhibits, and celebrating it in others. There were land concessions for Russians, British, Americans, and French, at least, and other europeans were also pictured in various endeavors, like Belgians. Hankou had something of a Bund like Shanghai, with lots of banks and trading houses.
Not much evidence of that history today, that I know of, although a large iconic Customs House completed in 1912 still stands at the river end of the pedestrian zone (Jianghan Lu). This building replaced an earlier one that was at another location. I wonder what if anything remains of those various foreign quarters, like the churches I saw pictured?
The exhibit ended with praising descriptions of the democratic revolution in 1912 which finally overthrew the Qing dynasty and the entire feudalistic political system. Oh, and an opium pipe. The 1912 revolution actually began with a military uprising, the Wuchang Uprising, which started by accident on October 10, 1911 (the anniversary date is called "Double Ten"). Officers of the modern New Army, located in Wuchang along with China's most modern military industry, were influenced by the revolutionary ideas of Sun Yat-sen. A few were mixing explosives in a hide-out in the Russian concession when an accidental explosion led to an investigation by authorities. The officers had enough support that the local New Army revolted, the local authorities fled in fear, and Wuchang was the first city to declare itself independent of the Qing. Although he was elected provisional President of the new Republic in December, Sun Yat-sen had nothing to do with the actual uprising: he was travelling in the US and read about it in a Denver newspaper! I learned most of this by reading on the web, though, not in the Museum, where details are given (like a map showing the paths of New Army revolutionaries through the city) but the connecting context seems largely left out. Of course, that was also the case with the earlier exhibits, and understandably, there is an awful lot of context to know!
We skipped the entire third floor, which I think was empty.
We stayed until about 1.30p, by which time Skyler had zonked out and yeye had reclined the stroller against a bench and covered him. It was lunch-time, I thought maybe we could eat out. We asked a couple of the employees about restaurants nearby. Most were not helpful, but one guard gave us a good tip, a place within walking distance across the road.
The restaurant was on the second floor, was somewhat clean although it had a slight unpleasant smell, and relatively empty. Several waitress staff waiting by the door at the top of the stairs smiled and welcomed us, one taking Skyler from Z's arms (what presumption!) and leading us straight into a private room (no extra charge!) with a single large round table equipped (as always) with a lazy susan. One advantage of the private room is no cigarette smoke, and less noise, although because they were not so busy neither was a real issue. The waitress turned on the AC unit in the room (the other big advantage!), another waitress brought three small plates of snacks (sunflower seeds, chopped pickled vegetables (daikon radish mostly), and salted roasted soy nuts).
We ordered four dishes and two cold beers. Three of the dishes were má là : a flavor combining spicy peppers with tongue-numbing sichuan peppers, and the last was sweet-sour pork, with Skyler in mind. The food came really surprisingly fast after we ordered it. It was pretty good, although too salty and using a good bit more oil than we do at home. After a taxi home we took naps, or tried. Skyler wouldn't sleep, even with AC, so Z and I didn't either.
It's been hot enough that it's difficult to sleep. We have a wall air-conditioning unit in the bedroom which we use to help get Skyler sleeping. We turn it off later in the evening and switch to a fan (one of two in the apartment). We've also used the AC for nap-time after lunch. I have resisted using the AC until these last 3 days, when it's become so warm and humid. This is still early in the summer, and Wuhan is notably hotter late in the season. Z's parents also have a window AC unit, less modern, but they haven't used it yet. I imagine they only use it in the worst of the heat.
We often take extra mid-day lukewarm showers to rinse off the stickiness, just after lunch and before nap.
Hmm, it's 11.21a, and Accuweather still says "Fog".
[Update: In the afternoon today it started to look like rain. The there was lightning and thunder, for over an hour -- but no rain! What little water fell evaporated upon hitting the pavement, and the pavement remained dry. After an hour of this, we finally got some rainfall with continuing thunder, but not a lot. The temperature dropped a bit, but still warm and the humidity was oppressive. Late in the evening, a similar event: thunder and lightning with little rain. This is just weird. Maybe the city's micro-climate has something to do with it, somehow preventing the clouds from dumping their moisture here?]