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Wuhan, China

As I prepare to compose an epic blog entry, I have set some cool music and turned off all the lights, leaving only the dimmed reading lights on to keep from straining my eyes. And as I slowly close my eyes, I'm off!

Well, let's see, there's been so much since the last entry that it's difficult to decide where to begin. Perhaps I'll start from where I left off, right before JD left, (he was another intern), on the day that we went for a shopping trip to another one of Wuhan's large and modern shopping malls. Although I found the architecture and layout to be intriguing, (hence the many pictures), the outing didn't result in many memorable highlights. We ate some delicious strange sushi, and I had my first encounter with energy-saving escalators, which don't start moving until you happen to lean on one casually for a little rest. (SURPRISE!)

Wait a minute, I've gotten ahead of myself again. Lest the pictures don't speak for themselves, I would like to jump back to the completion of the “naked man” bicycle excursion. Mainly, take a look at the pictures of the people cracking whips to spin large heavy wooden “tops.” It's too bad that I can't upload videos, because the sound is quite impressive. In the same park, several people spun around in large circles holding paper-birds on strings, controlling the birds and making them dip, dive and soar every which way...

I suppose the next notable event would be the Chinese celebration of fall festival, a time of full moon, family gathering, a week long paid vacation, and copious amounts of moon-cake offering all around. This year, fall festival coincided with Chinese “independence” day, or rather the celebration of when the current political party first came into power 60 years ago. In honor of the occasion the city planned to put on a magnificent fire-work show over the Yangtze river. Karen and I decided to attend the display after wandering the streets of Hankou for a while, eating a variety of odd foods at a food fair that had most types of food I can imagine. The fireworks were due to start at 8:00pm, but by seven o'clock I convinced Karen (who thought she had gotten us lost again), that a reasonable strategy might be to follow the rapidly increasing swell of migrating people, all walking in the same direction-- a decent clue as to which way we should be headed. By the time we had walked for 20 minutes the general flow had become a full-on torrent of people, all walking with one common purpose: to see the fireworks!!! After being swept along for a couple of miles we flowed onto the 50 yard wide river-side boulevard of Hankou, 20 minutes before the fireworks started. I was astonished to realize that people could be even more tightly packed together. A rough estimate suggested that considering how smushed together we were, the number of people along the river boulevard probably exceeded 70,000 and when the first fire-works went off miles away in the night sky, it was not the gun-powder but a roaring explosion of tens of thousands of excited Chinese throats that deafened me. (My estimate of 70,000 people is based on my recollection of what 40,000 people look like at the C.U. Buff's stadium). At a certain point a police vehicle attempting to make its way through the crowd created an opportunity for eddy currents of people to sweep in behind it, and Karen and I managed to take advantage of this to mindlessly penetrate an extra hundred yards into the impenetrable mob, for no particular reason other than that I thought it would be fun. The experience was what some might call “un bain de foule,” and perhaps the only place I've been more packed was on the bus we took to reach the fireworks. (See the pictures!)

A few days later I was having a bit of a down day for a number of now-forgotten reasons. Mainly, what I remember is feeling like I had been inconsiderate, and was shirking my social responsibilities of being an upstanding human being. I think I had failed to find it within-myself to contribute to several sincerely helpless beggars, among them some with talent, and one talented and well meaning mutilated street artist. In addition to this I had been surly in the morning about my work stuff (or lack thereof), and to exacerbate my feelings of being an ingrate, I had repeatedly ridden my bicycle inconsiderately and forced others to yield when I should have done so. So by the end of my day on the town, I was feeling rather sorry and ready to cheer up with a 10 yuan 45minute foot-and-back massage, though I was of the distinct notion that this luxury capped off the day with unjustly rewarding my nuisance of a self. The point is that I wasn't feeling too great on my way to the massage parlor, when I passed a well-dressed man sitting in the road on one of the main busy boulevards, at the heart of Wuchang City. He was hunched over and seemed to border on unconsciousness. Apparently he was invisible to the hundreds of people walking by on the sidewalk, not ten yards away from where he sat. I passed him on my bike and continued on my way, wondering absent-mindedly whether he was drunk or whether he'd been nicked by a car. I've seen birds in a similar looking daze when they've been hit by a sling-shot stone, as they slowly drift off into the soft embrace of death. I wondered idly whether the man would get out of the street soon enough to avoid an inevitable car trundling along ready to break both his legs and probably kill him. Then, partly because I'd had a guilty day and partly because I was jolted by the languidness with which I pictured such a scene, while I myself was on my way to enjoy a comfortable posh pedicure and back massage, I decided I was a shit. Even if the guy did happen to be drunk, there was no guaranteeing he was a drunkard, and who hasn't had their low times when they drank themselves into a stupor and proceeded to sit in the middle of a busy street? I imagined if it were Loic (my brother) sitting there twenty-five years from now, or any one of my family or friends, and how passionately enraged I would be to see people walking by ignoring the ones I love. I realized the man was a fellow human, and thought of his possible future days of happiness, and the family that might be wondering where he was right now.

So I doubled back and made my way to the man siting in the street, noting again his nice clothes. I realized that these alone were likely what evoked in me the form of sympathy and compassion that snapped me into doing something. I thought back to what we were taught in psychology 101, all the way back in New York, so many miles away. Then, ever so tentatively I nudged the man's foot with my front bicycle tire, trying my best to form appropriate Chinese greetings and to raise the man to consciousness. If I could just get him out of the road, I would have considered my duty sufficiently fulfilled. But the man wouldn't budge. I could see that he was still breathing, and if his heart was stopped he would have been dead by now. He didn't have any visible open wounds, so I was well convinced that I needn't approach him too closely. But it did look like he might need to be carried out of the road. I was conscious of the attention I was drawing, as a foreigner looking semi-helplessly and poking a guy sitting in the road. I continued to nudge the man, more and more vigorously, and to raise my voice to try to get him to stir. He drooled a bit, then tipped over sideways, now fully laying on the street. Several cars coming by tried to get me to move to let them through more easily, but I firmly kept my bicycle between the cars and the man's foot. It had only been five minutes since I found the guy, but by now I knew he would have been broken in one way or another. Within a few more minutes, some pedestrians and mo-ped people stopped--mostly couples--to try to figure out what to do. Most of them wandered off as they had come, but by chance one of them managed to communicate to me the local emergency number. I dialed it, and after several minutes the voices on the other end managed to find someone capable of speaking broken English on the line. I explained the situation. I was assured that “later we will send someone.” As I waited obstinately for this “later” time to arrive, another young couple pulled up on their motorcycle, and earnestly asked about the man before making a call themselves. The guy seem also determined to wait for the ambulance, and assured me that if I needed to go somewhere, I could leave. He spoke English well, and we occupied ourselves in friendly conversation for fifteen minutes next to the man in the road, drawing a crowd of thoroughly confused onlookers, who were clearly having trouble making sense of a foreigner and a young Chinese college student, calmly talking about the weather, while apparently unconcerned about a guy lying in the road immediately next to them. As we waited for the ambulance, a troupe of marching military men walked by and joined the scene, inquiring about the situation and then trying unsuccessfully to revive the unconscious (though still breathing), man. Even what looked to be a professional photographer joined the scene briefly, just long enough to snap a picture of a tall foreigner sitting on a bicycle and chatting next to a sprawled Chinese body in the road. Eventually the ambulance arrived. By now after much laborious effort and assistance, the military squad had almost managed to get the man to sit up, and with the help of the medical staff they got the man onto a stretcher and into the ambulance. I bade my newfound “good Samaritan” friend good-bye, and finding a common interest in ping-pong, we exchanged phone numbers. I went to the massage parlor, and was told to return the next day, because it was now too late. I felt redeemed, and returned home light-of heart.

permalink written by  smartwater on November 1, 2009 from Wuhan, China
from the travel blog: The easy way. Wuhan, China, fall 2009
tagged BackToTheCloserToThePresent

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Well, I'm really enjoying your blog! Sounds like you're having lots of interesting adventures.

permalink written by  Carlin on December 8, 2009

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