No one goes to Wuhan. It’s one of those phenomena the traveler finds in every part of the world, a super mega uber metropolis filled with 10 million people that no one outside the country knows exists.
I went because it looked like a big enough dot on the map to merit a stop at on my way inland from the coast of China. My first two days there were interesting enough: taking a tour of Chinese Muslim noodly delicacies with an Argentinian backpacker; falling into the city’s main river, cutting open my hand (permanent scar!) and subsequently having Chinese men in speedos save the lives of my dripping electronics; and dining with a nerdy Chinese student as he told me I should be killed in an alley for my thoughts on Tibet and Xianjiang.
But it was the third day that I’ll always remember. I was in the hostel’s garden continuing my streak of demonstrating my embarrassingly poor billiards skills in as many countries as possible. My new friend Victor emerged from inside the hostel. I say “Victor” because all Chinese have an alter-ego name left over from junior high English class that they can tell foreigners for whom Zhaoguo Xin is unpronounceable. The best self-chosen name I’ve heard is definitely Butterfly. Anyways, Victor, whom I shall call Xi Guoqiang for the remainder of this blog post because it may for all I know be his real name and at the very least is more fun to write, was a businessman on business travel — apparently they spend the big bucks and stay in hostels in China — and was the one guy around who spoke English. He burst into my pool game with news for me. These two Chinese guys behind him are also going to Yichang! Now I don’t have to go to the train station to find a ticket, because they have a free ride to Yichang! Free ride to Yichang! Leave now!
I rushed upstairs, grabbed my backpack and was off with the two strangers on foot.
The conversation, admittedly, was less than thrilling. We could each say “Hello how are you?” and count to 20 in the other language, but this provided for an unsurprisingly brief and less than profound cultural exchange. So we moved on to hand movements and saying words super slowly in hopes that the other party would spontaneously begin to understand our language. This didn’t work either, but is loads of fun and better than charades.