Thursday, December 2, 2010


A lot of the first impressions I had of Wuhan were not very favorable, I’ll admit. By graphically relaying what I saw to you, you might have gotten a bad impression of this city, so now I will set the record straight.

Let me be clear: many of the things I had previously reported still stand and are in fact reinforced by my wanderings about town. Other impressions I have conveyed surely deserve correction, if only because of the people I malign by having made the statements I made.

I have repeatedly told you that Wuhan is a very dirty city. That fact still stands. However, in making that statement I may have inadvertently conveyed to you that no one cares whether it is dirty or not. That is not the case at all. Everywhere you go you will see people sweeping the streets and sidewalks, picking up litter and cigarette butts. There seems to be a whole troop of sweepers and no matter what time of the day or night (that I’ve been out), or whether it is raining or sunny, these ardent sweepers are busily at it. They use oddly effective twig brooms and what appears to be homemade dust pans.

Unfortunately, their sweeping leads to the dust getting scattered around more than getting swept up, but I have to hand it to them: their immediate vicinity is neatly swept.

There are people who scrub the dirt from the walls. When mud splashes or when it rains and the inevitable mud makes its appearance, there is a legion of cleaners who busily wipe the mud and muck from wherever they are assigned to clean. They even wipe down the temporary walls that denote construction areas. The other day I saw no less than 7 construction workers scrubbing down a series of such panels that had mud all over them. These poor guys! As they got done with one panel our bus went splashing by and muddied it up again.

There are also people who wipe down dividers that separate bike lanes from regular traffic lanes. These are rather delicate wrought iron constructions, maybe ½ inch thick and a meter tall, painted white. They go on forever, too. I’ve seen a team of 3 or 4 women at a time tackle such markings during broad daylight while cars whiz by, kicking up dust. They use a small bucket of sudsy water, some rags and a brush. It seems one brushes the dust loose, one wipes the bars down and the other dries them. Theirs is also a never-ending chore.

Wait a minute: bike lane dividers? Where did those come from? Didn’t I previously report that there did not seem to be any lane markings? Ah, something else I must retract.

When I first got here I did not get out much. My limited view of Wuhan consisted of the area immediately around campus and for that area, I did accurately report that there are no lane markings and sidewalks are treated as just more road space. However, once you get out of this area and into the nicer parts of town…

There are in fact marked lanes, highway dividers (of the wrought iron kind mentioned above), bus lanes and bike lanes. There are also sidewalks with exceedingly high curbs to discourage automobile drivers from using the sidewalk as another traffic lane.

Which reminds me: I’ve talked badly about the drivers here, too.

While it is true that Wuhan drivers have atrocious skills and it is true that they cut each other off and try to gain whatever advantage they can over all the other drivers, in the more civilized areas of the city, most people actually do obey the stop lights. Mainly because there is either a uniformed policeman on hand to monitor traffic and issue immediate citations, or because the intersections are monitored by camera. It is apparently very expensive to settle a driving ticket in China, so many drivers play on the safe side and do not risk the penalty that burning a red light would bring.

Of course, some drivers have gotten clever and have masked their license plate with mud or a plastic bag so that they can burn red lights with impunity: the camera will only capture the image of a plastic bag or mud. That works very well until the driver is caught, and then the fines are doubled, so I’m told.

However, as previously reported, lane markings and pedestrian crossings are not necessarily observed. That statement still stands.

I have to confess: I still do not care too much for this city. While there seems to be a wealth of shopping opportunities, there is still not much in the way of culture or history here. I often wake up on my non-teaching days and wonder what I should go do or see. I’ve even checked on the Internet and found that there are only 11 noteworthy places for a tourist to visit; I’ve been to 9 of them. They were not spectacular.

Maybe I’ll go to the zoo tomorrow. The weather is supposed to be very nice and it will do me good to get out.

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