Monday, July 21, 2008

The rest of the weekend

Saturday night I was anxious to go out and see the Wuhan nightlife, so I asked the doorman, Kenny*, where he recommended, and the waitress inside, and between the two of them I had a few ideas.

It took me a little while to build up the nerve to explore this radically foreign city alone at night, but I'm glad I finally did. About two blocks north of the hotel, I came to a corner where people were crowded around, and as I got closer, I realized there were about 10 musicians there playing traditional Chinese music!! What an unexpected treat! There were about 4 or 5 men playing the erhu, one or two playing wooden flutes, one was playing a large percussion instrument that looked like a yangqin, I think a couple of small drums, and there were three singers, one woman and two men, and they took turns singing from song to song. IT WAS AWESOME!

It seemed like a neighborhood thing, but I mean these people were really talented and organized. I guess they've been doing it for many years. I tried my best to kind of hide behind some people, because who knows what kind of awkward hilarity would await me if I didn't. Of course, after the first song, the man who was MC said something to the microphone and everyone turned around and smiled at me expectantly. Haha! I just smiled like an idiot and waved. A man next to me said "they are welcoming you," so I meekly mumbled thank you in Mandarin.

I stuck around for about 3 songs and then headed on down Taibei Lu, which was my original mission. I didn't find much on Taibei Lu, which was the waitress's recommendation, that looked inviting, so then I took a cab to Jianghan Lu, which was Kenny's recommendation, and that was pretty exciting, like Nanjing Lu in Shanghai, but, like Nanjing Lu, it was all shopping, not clubs, so that was kind of a wasted trip too. Now I wish I had just stayed on that corner with the locals listening to the live music.

Really, what a dumbass I am. That was a priceless experience that you will not find on a tourist map, and nobody will tell you about (if they even know) because the young people here I told about it looked at me like I had antlers growing out of my head, like "you like traditional Chinese music??" Well, I mean how could I? I've never heard it before! There I was, reaping the benefits of having the gall to explore Wuhan at night alone, experiencing a bit of culture that could very well become extinct over the next 20 years, as China discovers the trappings of globalism and modern society, but I just had to break off and go find "nightlife." I hope dearly they will be out next Saturday night. I will bring a camera and not be shy.

Sunday I went to the Hubei Fine Art Museum, and then the Hubei Provincial Museum. Both were fine museums, but the Hubei Provincial Museum was huge, spanning like five buildings, and packed with cultural treasures. I got to see the Sword of Goujian, the most famous Chinese sword of all (2500 years old and not a speck of tarnish)!! Evidently it is one of the most important museums in China. I tried my best to see all of it, but after walking so much the day before, I was ready to collapse. Really, you need about three days to explore that museum. I think I gave it about 3 hours (that was after about 2 at the Fine Art Museum), and then just tried to find the Sword of Goujian.

The funny part is it took me like another hour to find that darn sword, but I wasn't leaving until I saw it. I started asking museum security at like every corner, "Jian zai nar?" (The sword is where?). They would point and say something back to me, and I would move a little closer. Building to building, room by room, I moved closer. Finally I found it, and the quest actually pulled me through every single exhibit that I hadn't seen already anyway. Ha!

*Kenny is his "English name," which is something most young people take for themselves to make doing business with English speakers easier. They often pick names that make you think 'why?' I also met his classmate, also a doorman, name of Jordan, "like Michael Jordan." They are both undergraduate students at a local university for hotel management. They are also both fluent English speakers and very eager to ask me questions about America. I appreciate the opportunity to ask them questions about Wuhan and the Chinese language.


Jonesy said...

Hey Martin, I just asked William about the Sword. He hasn't heard of it!!! But he also said he's only been to Wuhan once and most of that time was spent in a hospital with alcohol poisoning.

Digitizdat said...

Fascinating! I think Guojian was from the (what is now) Hubei region, so maybe they don't teach that legend in the east...? It is a very Chinese tale, and by that I mean it reads like a parable. Briefly, he was captured by an opposing king, and had to prove his fealty to the king, who eventually trusted him enough to set him free, believing in Guojian's loyalty. Guojian quickly amassed an army and destroyed the other king.