KASUBA MULENGA, Wuhan, China
IT WAS raining cats and dogs, and one could hardly see the runway. Planes were momentarily suspended from landing or taking off from the gorgeous Beijing Capital International Airport.
The aircraft, which I and 41 other communicators from English-speaking African countries were about to board, could equally not take off for Wuhan, the headquarters of Hubei Province, which lies about 1,000 kilometres south-west of Beijing.
Our journey was supposed to start at 15:00 hours, but it was not until three hours later that we took off on a China Henan aircraft.
After about one and half hours, we safely landed at Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan, a city with both an ancient history and a thriving present. It is a city the local people affectionately describe as having been built on 100 lakes.
Outside the airport was a bus waiting to ferry the first-time visitors to Wuhan, and Hubei Province as a whole.
As the bus carrying the communicators cruised through the meandering roads and elegantly erected bridges across several water bodies, it appeared as though we were going back to the airport as everyone watched in awe the magnificence of the buildings that make up Wuhan City.
As the tÃªte-Ã -tÃªte on the prettiness of Wuhan infrastructure continued, the bus swiftly sped through what looked like a woodland interspersed by small lakes.
It later dawned on my mind that this was actually the route to the hotel where Mr Liang Weinian, a member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Hubei Provincial Committee and Minister of the Propaganda Department, welcomed and hosted a special dinner for the English-speaking African communicators.
This is where Mr Liang gave some brief overview of Wuhan and Hubei Province in general.
CULTURE, HISTORY OF WUHAN CITY
It is the capital of Hubei Province in Central China, and is situated in Jianghan Plain, a river-crossed fertile land created by the Hanjiang River on its confluence with the Yangtze River.
Wuhan is a routine port for a Yangtze River cruise. Divided by the Yangtze, the city is known as the â€˜Three Towns of Wuhanâ€™ with Hankou and Hanyang on the west bank, and Wuchang on the east.
It is a city whose historic relics excavated from ancient tombs tell its long history dating back 3,500 years. In the period of Pre-Qin (770 BC – 221 BC), Wuhan was the land of the State of Chu (one of the seven warring states before Qin, in Chinaâ€™s first feudal dynasty), and was the cradle of the brilliant Chu Civilisation.
Starting here, merchants followed the great Yangtze River and lake network to expand businesses throughout the Asian country.
In the Qing Dynasty, Hankou became one of the four best-known towns in the country. For centuries, Wuhan has been the centre of trade and transportation in Central China.
Today, Wuhan is an important hub in Central China and a feature of Yangtze River cruises for sightseers and business people travelling from Sichuan to Shanghai or Hong Kong.
Wuhan, the city that floats – as some local residents fondly put it, is the place to find both history and natural wonders. The Hubei Provincial Museum and the Yellow Crane Tower are two places to appreciate ancient Chinese history and culture. In the museum, chimes excavated from tombs reveal the incredible achievements of ancient people in music, acoustics and metallurgy.
The definitive poems and inscriptions on the tower, can inspire the spirit as one fantasises being a poet with a birdâ€™s-eye view of the river from the tower window. The famous Villa of Chairman Mao Zedong on the scenic bank of East Lake, Wuchang, is an ideal place for visitors to learn more about Chairman Mao.
THE FOOD IN WUHAN
During our stay at East Lake Hotel, meal times were exciting moments despite lunch and supper starting at 11:30 hours and 17:30 hours respectively. This was an odd phenomenon for some of us who traditionally have lunch around 13:00 hours and supper after 20:00 hours.
For visitors like us, meal times also proved to be somewhat interesting but sometimes a bit frustrating. For instance, when you ask for water to drink after enjoying the sumptuous food, the waiters or waitresses brought glasses full of â€œred-hotâ€ water.
Little did we comprehend that it is a healthy Chinese tradition to drink hot water after a meal so that it can easily dissolve the fat contents of the food in the body. And if you are a fan of salt, sorry you may not enjoy meals in China. Salt is not in their vocabulary.
One day, a colleague from Zanzibar asked for salt about five times from different waitresses and none of them appeared to have understood what my acquaintance was talking about. It took one of our interpreters to intervene for the waitresses to know it was salt my friend was asking for.
Worse still, it had to take the restaurant supervisor to go and look for salt from the hotel warehouse. And by then, we were almost finishing the meal.
In Wuhan, there are mainly two famous places for local snacks. These are Ji Qing Jie Night Street and Hu Bu Xiang Breakfast Street. Ji Qing Jie offers all kinds of special foods plus entertainment at table by traditional folk musicians. The usual snacks top on visitorsâ€™ list include Re Gan Mian, steamed Wuchang fish and fried bean sheets.
Street stalls in Hu Bu Xiang support the local peopleâ€™s habit of having breakfast at street stalls with their cheap tasty food and vendorsâ€™ expert performances. Benefited from rivers around, Wuhan cuisine earns its reputation especially from fish.
Away from the dishes of Wuhan is the enthralling night life. Wuhan is a city with extraordinary nightlife. Today, people have more entertainment choices than ever before.
Instead of watching television at home, the local people go to the cinema with friends, or spend the evening at disco parlours, karaoke rooms, bars and pubs as well as other fascinating places.
Most of the happenings in Wuhan are replicated in many other cities in Hubei, a province considered to be one of the cradles of Chinese civilisation.
The province, which is home to over 61 million people, is famous for Wudangshan buildings, Minxian Ling and some other cultural heritage, four ancient cultural heritage of Panlongcheng, Jinancheng in Jianggling, Leigudun in Suizhou, Ancient Mine in Tonglvshan, Daye, and five national historical and cultural cities.
Hubei is rich in water resources with lakes densely covering the province. Its network of rivers is vertical and horizontal, the reason why it has always been called â€˜A province with one thousand lakes.â€™
It is in this province where if you do not visit the Wudang Mountains in Shiyan, a five-hour drive from Wuhan, you will have probably not felt the real excitement of being in Hubei.
That is why I can safely say our visit to Hubei Province was complete, having actively participated in climbing the Wudang Mountains which consist of a small mountain range in the north western part of Hubei, just south of Shiyan. The mountains are home to a famous complex of Taoist temples and monasteries associated with the god Xuan Wu.
Climbing Wudang Mountains is just one of the many fascinating moments in this province in Central China. In fact, as Mr Liang, the Minister of the Propaganda Department put it, when you visit Hubei, you make an appointment with life in terms of happiness.
And it is perhaps the ascent to the Wudang Mountains that climaxed the African communicatorsâ€™ 14-day visit to China. And when this happened, it was time to return to Beijing, our base.
Unlike the heavy rains that characterised our departure for Wuhan, the weather on the day of our journey back to Beijing was superb, albeit the terrifying turbulent flight.
Wuhan: The floating Chinese City
KASUBA MULENGA, Wuhan, China