Here at HUST, the students are beyond spoiled. Sheltered from the frenetic activity of the outside world, the university sits on 1,153 Acres with 72% green coverage. Trees, parklands, ponds and gardens have earned HUST the title of “The University in the Forest.” Unfortunately, one of the down sides of this is that the tree that is most in abundance is the Oriental Plane. Most Kiwis are familiar with this, though probably without knowing it. In our youth, the fruits of the tree formed the fibrous and prickly ‘itchy-bombs’ that we used to rub down each other’s backs. Here in China, the fruits are far more sinister. In full season, the fibrous fruits begin to disintegrate and form a fine cotton-like substance that floats through the air, mercilessly attacking airways and eyes with complete abandon. Many in HUST resort to wearing glasses and medical masks to avoid the irritants, and avoid them you must. Getting some in your eyes feels like someone is deliberately putting needles into your iris, and breathing the floating evil into your airways results in a hacking cough and an ample production of phlegm.
Apart from the evil floating death, classes have continued to be enjoyable for the boys. After finishing class the other day, the boys were taken to HUST Middle School, which sits just outside the university. The school consists of 3,000 students from intermediate to senior level. Each class has up to 50 students and there was not a single laptop to be seen! Broken into their groups, the boys visited an intermediate class where they were treated to singing, poetry readings and musical recitals. The boys also did a bit of Q&A and each class enthusiastically quizzed the boys about their lives back in New Zealand. We finished the visit with the boys doing a spectacular haka to several hundred of the students.
A day or two later (we are all quickly losing track of time due to all the activities on offer), the group found itself on a bus, fighting its way through the day time traffic in Wuhan. Driving in China is an experience in itself and the Chinese drivers are nothing short of spectacular. There seems to be no real enforceable rule other than the vehicle in front gets to do what it wants. Because of this, drivers are hyper vigilant and also extremely considerate. Horns are used as a simple positional warning and no one seems to get upset when cars cross lanes or cut into traffic. Because of this chaos, drivers are aware of the traffic around them and ensure that everyone gets to where they want without too much trouble. In our time so far, despite the quantity of traffic, we have yet to see a single accident.
Our adventure through Wuhan’s traffic culminated with a stop at the magnificent Yellow Crane Tower. The tower that stands is the most modern of approximately 12 plus iterations of the building that have existed since 223 CE. Build in 1983, the tower now sits more than a kilometre from its original position.
For those who like a good yarn, The Legend of the Yellow Crane Tower follows:
“According to the books “Retribution Record” and “A Biography of Immortals,” there was an immortal named Zi’an. One day Zi’an transformed into the image of a poor man and went to Xin’s wine shop. Xin did not judge Zi’an by his appearance and offered wine to him for free. This happened day after day, and it continued for several years.
When the immortal was about to leave one day, he used an orange peel to draw a crane on the wall and said, “Upon clapping, the crane will come down and dance.”
The immortal’s words were true indeed. The crane started to dance amid heavenly music, and it attracted many customers to the wine shop. Within ten years, Xin became a wealthy person.
One day Zi’an returned to the wine shop. Xin was very thankful to him for the crane. Zi’an took out a flute to play. A white cloud descended, and the crane on the wall flew to Zi’an. The immortal rode on the crane and left.
Thereafter, Xin built the Yellow Crane Tower on the site where the immortal had left.”
The tower itself is immaculate and its five stories rise 51.4 metres above Snake Hill, providing stunning views over all of Wuhan.
The Tower is one of the Four Great Towers in modern China and consequently, it draws large numbers of Chinese tourists. In this environment, our boys quickly found themselves the centre of attention as flocks of middle-aged Chinese women jostled to get photographs with them. Amidst the entire bustle, one student reluctantly found himself the centre of a huge amount of attention. Much like Harry Stiles among a group of tweenagers, Christian McCoy – with his fantastic hair – proved to be almost too much for the Chinese to comprehend, and people crowded around him, tugging his hair and pushing him into photographs. Standing on the sidelines, it really was quite hilarious watching how uncomfortable Christian was with all the added attention. After telling him to enjoy the fame and go with it, it soon became clear that Christian had no real desire to have flocks of people following him around and our group quickly moved on.
While Christian avoided the attention, some other boys, particularly Jakob Hoogenboezem and William Topham, made full use of their new-found fame and mugged for as many photographs as possible. Will was unarguably the most One Direction of the outing, winning the daily competition by getting a photograph of himself with the most women possible (13 by his count).
After the trip to the tower, some of the professional musical students from HUST treated the combined group to a musical performance. Here, a range of eloquent singers and musicians performed a variety of traditional songs on instruments that typified the beauty of Chinese culture. Many of the boys were taken with the attractive young women and spent a lot of the performance staring doe eyed at the performers. Despite the obvious genetic quality that was on display, I don’t think that the boys will be cranking traditional Chinese music through their iPods anytime soon. However, all these experiences serve to broaden their appreciation of some of the finer aspects of the foreign culture.
Tomorrow we are off to Malong Middle School, for the boys to further their cultural experience in a more ‘real’ China.