Sunday, 21 September 2014

A walk up Yuelu Mountain

Today I took a walk up nearby Yuelu Mountain, site of a prestigious academy, temples, tombs and scenic spots, and has associations with Mao Zedong.

The ascent involved a gentle slope toward a TV transmitter and radar station at the 300m summit. Hundreds of people were also walking it, and others went up on shuttle buses.

Yuelu peak

It was a relatively clear, sunny day and occasional glimpses of the vast city below could be caught through the trees. Two high school girls were the first of several to ask for a photo with me, then were on their way.

West Changsha

The top didn't take long to reach, and I found shade and a seat to eat my bread and butter. As I was finishing eating another group of young girls came and gestured for a photo, and I said okay.

A slightly older family group descended, with others gathering beyond, and I said 'no, sorry' and walked off. I felt like an odd animal at a zoo and found it silly how they regarded my foreign-ness as a point of curiosity.

East Changsha

Taking a detour down to the wooded, ancient and peaceful scenic area, I slightly regretted being uptight by not indulging them.

In the grounds of a Taoist temple I came across a group of people surrounding a huge turtle which didn't move as it was slow and blocked in. One teen was poking a twig in its face and as I lacked the language to protest, left and continued my walk, resolving to avoid any more interaction with these probing and gawping groups.

Part of Lushan Temple

Further on another group of mixed youths stopped me for a further photo, and withered and cornered, I allowed, and they were satisfied.

The route down took me back to the main road running along the main river where some men fished near some marshes. Beyond them the vast city was in sight, today mostly unobscured by smog.

Xiang River

When I got home I was hungry and made dinner with chicken, tofu, wood ear and vegetables, flavoured with garlic, chilli, ginger, soy sauce, white wine vinegar and bean paste, and served with lentils.

Monday, 15 September 2014

My first week in this city

I've been here at my University a week and have another to wait until I start work, as I'll be teaching freshers who are currently doing military training.

That takes place on the track and field, within earshot and seems to be mainly marching through the day and singing until late at night, including the weekend.

They work in groups of 40 or so, except the other day when they sat together listening to a speech by a member of staff when I passed.

I was lucky to have company this evening and ate with a local who introduced me to the local speciality, Chou (stinky) Tofu, which was actually half tasty.

Stinky Tofu is the grey matter in the bottom left, which had a harsh aroma and bitter taste.

She said while Chengdu (where I was before) people were laid back, those from Changsha were straightforward folk and, "not wanting to sound negative, passionate about getting what they want".

A quick internet search on the local character brought me little except a Christian site, which quotes an unknown source from 1911 describing "the people themselves [as] the most clannish and conservative to be found in the whole empire, and have succeeded in keeping their province practically free from invasion by foreigners and even foreign ideas"; a people who are "the best haters and best fighters in China".

Mao Zedong was born close to Changsha, and lived here in his youth - this statue is in Tangerine Park.

It's surprising how little attention I've had compared to my last visit to China - relatively few stare or say a joking "hello", or "foreigner".

The city itself is almost always smoggy and grey, normal for China. There's so much construction, both in the inner city and in all directions outward. It's hard to imagine so many buildings are going to be occupied.

Last week my contact told me I'll be taking 'English corner' (informal conversation practice) this coming Wednesday. Other than that I'll continue to find ways to spend my time, exercising and wandering.

Monday, 1 September 2014


This blog aims to bring research, reportage and photography from Hunan province and its capital Changsha, where your author is to be posted on academic assignment.

We start with some basic information, transcribed from usual sources.

Its name means sand bar, located as it is across one on the Xiang, a tributary of the Yangtze giving its name to the local dialect and Hunan generally.

With an urban population of 3.6 million, it has a 3000-year history, becoming a major commercial hub from 750AD and capital of Hunan province in 1664.

Tianxin Tower, part of the old city

The old city was destroyed by fire during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938 then rebuilt to become a major commercial and industrial centre, described now as one of China's 20 most economically advanced cities.

Five locations of initial interest:

Sky City

This proposed skyscraper, if it gets the go-ahead will be the tallest in the world at 838m and if we believe the builders will take 90 days to construct using cutting edge prefabrication methods. Safety and environmental concerns have delayed progress so far.

Planned features include a 10km 'street' linking 1st to 170th floors, 56 'sky parks', city squares, a cinema, theatre and swimming pool, space for 30,000 residents, 'open sky' gardens and 'vertical farms'.

This planned complex is described as embodying "a unique variety of civic nodes and spaces: a grand theatre, a contemporary art museum, a multi-purpose hall and supporting facilities.

Not sure if this is construction of the above but found this when searching for "Changsha Grand Theater":

Now part of Hunan University, this is one of China's four most prestigious academies over the last 1000 years.

West Lake Restaurant - the world's biggest Chinese. Hunan is noted for its very hot food.

Finally, with a mystery - Hunan TV based in Changsha has grown to become the second most watched channel in China and it appears to be blocked from the UK.

It's accessible via a proxy server - the opposite of Facebook et al in China - the UK's or China's doing, and why?

Stay tuned to follow some real exploratories!