The Valley of Light

Ah the mellifluous morning sounds of every driver in the area making sure the car/truck/scooter horn still works, interspersed with the more car-less gentlemen giving their throats a jolly good clearing. This is saving me a fortune on alarm clocks. This Monday I was roused bright and early by the cheery sounds of the neighbourhood and decided to walk up the road to Optics Valley Square to see what the fuss was all about.

But before we get there, I have to question the translation of this name. For whatever reason, the Chinese have opted to translate the name of this place to Optics Valley Square, which, as any foreigner trying to catch a taxi can tell you, is perfectly useless. Every other stop on Metro line two has the Chinese place name followed by Street, Road, Square, Temple or whatever—at least there’s a bit of Chinese in there to hold on to. Walk up to anyone in this town and say you want to go to Optics Valley Square and see how well you get on. And they aren’t even consistent. Some street signs say Guanggu, which is the romanised version of the Chinese. They’ll also slip in plaza instead of square as the mood takes them just as they occasionally run with Optical instead of Optics. Which brings me to a further point and I don’t want to be lecturing anyone on a language that I don’t even speak but the Chinese characters for Guangu are 光谷. My meagre Japanese tells me that the first character means light and the second one is valley. So given the opportunity to call the place the Valley of Light, they chose to run with a name that sounds like it’s full of spectacles and microscope factories. Anyway, I went there the other day. It was quite nice.

The weather has been quite pleasant lately. I don’t think the poor visibility in some of my previous photos of Wuhan is all due to pollution. It’s pretty warm here and the city area seems to be as much lake and river as it is land* so there’s plenty of humidity to also cloud up the air. However, the weather cooled down a bit and we had some wind so now I can actually see to the other side of the nearest lake.

*No, I’m not going to give you a map. You’ve got Google maps on your phone—show some initiative.

Look over there—it's the other side.

Look over there—it’s the other side.

On the way up the road, I had to get some breakfast. Before coming here, I had forgotten the joys of not speaking the language and trying to negotiate some food out of someone. Also I realise living in Japan has made me very timid in this regard. The Japanese can often freeze up in the face of uncertainty. In buying food, I like to just answer ‘yes’ to every question and hope for the best. You can’t really go wrong—it’s just food and I’ll eat anything. But what happens when I get asked if I want mayonnaise or brown sauce and I reply yes? This leaves the Japanese in a quandary. What if he gives me mayonnaise but I don’t really like mayonnaise? It rapidly descends into a nightmare of figuring out how to explain I really don’t care what he puts on top of my deep-fried octopus, I’m really hungry and I’m sure it will all taste lovely and here’s my money—please could I have some food? Luckily for me, the Chinese are not nearly so responsible in their serving of food. My strategy is to go to the street markets, wait until someone else has ordered and then just point at what they have and smile. They are not fussed about the niceties: ‘Do you want this? Too late. I’ve put it in. What are you going to do about it?’ This is the sort of strategy I like. It’s making me quite bold in my food choices.

I walked up to Optics Valley Square Metro Station the other Saturday and the place was chock full. The lines for the ticket machines were 10-15 people deep. The whole place was crowded. This Monday morning was a much more civilised time to visit. Here’s the outside of one of the big shopping buildings there:

Does it look to you like one of those 1970s visions of the future where everyone is wearing aluminium clothes?

Does it look to you like one of those 1970s visions of the future where everyone is wearing aluminium clothes?

And here’s the view in the other direction:

Sadly, it's not a real Ferris Wheel.

Sadly, it’s not a real Ferris Wheel.

I headed up the World City Optical Valley Walking Street, where “on festivals, millions of visitors come in flood, enjoying the happiness of shopping.” Alas, I was not there at night “when the special designed lights turn on, forming a piece of sparkling sliver river”. I knew I was getting nearer to the Spanish street because there was a little old lady taking a selfie with a model of a man running away from a bull. I soon came to Italy:

I thought I really was in Italy.

I thought I really was in Italy.

Where there were not one, not two but three fashion shoots going on at the same time.

Make love to the camera!

Make love to the camera!

The church even made a fair effort on the inside:

The pews were authentically uncomfortable.

The pews were authentically uncomfortable.

I was a bit hungry by now but luckily I found a shop selling my favourite dwsserts.

No Median or Mode Dwsserts here.

No Median or Mode Dwsserts here.

As I proceeded down the street, the buildings were looking newer and emptier until there were more builders than shops. Finally, I came to the end of the German street and could go no further.

I don't know why he's smiling. He's about to be eaten by a dinosaur.

I don’t know why he’s smiling. He’s about to be eaten by a dinosaur.

And on the walk back I found some girls with wings.

Girl with wings wasting time reading a book.

Girl with wings wasting time reading a book. It’ll amount to nothing. Have you ever seen a girl with wings at a university graduation?

So I headed back and stopped to stare at my telephone on one of the pews in the church when the next thing I knew, there was a girl sitting next to me telling me to look at a camera that one of her friends was pointing at us. When she was done, her next friend had a go and then a third one after that. I felt like the man in the Mickey Mouse costume at Disneyland. I’m glad there weren’t a lot of people about or they might have made a queue and I’d still be there. I decided to get in on the action and get a selfie of me and the last girl.

I'm a tourist attraction!

I’m a tourist attraction!

I got stopped again by a bunch of kids when I got back to the main square area. After they had all lined up for individual shots, I made them take a group photo with me.

I suppose it's not every day you see a handsome movie star walking about your local shopping centre.

I suppose it’s not every day you see a handsome movie star walking about your local shopping centre.

I decided I’d had enough of busy shopping areas and decided to seek some serenity by having what turned out to be quite a long walk up the road to the Wuhan Botanical Gardens where I took some time to enjoy the nature.

It's not all new buildings at Optics Valley Square.

It’s not all new buildings at Optics Valley Square.

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A stroll to the river

Ni hao! Emboldened by my new-found ability to catch a bus, I caught the number 570 to Wuchang train station. I failed dismally in my main mission to buy a computer cable but did manage to take a walk around Wuchang.

Looks like a temple.

I found a park with a temple in it.

And the temple had a door.

And the temple had a door.

And a bit of photoshoot action.

And a bit of photoshoot action.

As well as these determined-looking chaps.

As well as these determined-looking chaps, gazing longlingly into the the bold future.

At the top of the hill, I found a guy having a nap on his back in a garden bed. With his feet in the air. It seemed a bit intrusive to take a picture of him and that was probably the right choice as when I walked back that way again, they were trying to revive him.

Further ahead in the park was the area around the famous Yellow Crane Tower.

It's a wall.

It’s a wall.

That's the tower up there.

That’s the tower up there.

After not going in to the tower, I headed for the river where I found a busy shopping street.

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Get a sketch of your favourite tyrant here.

Get a sketch of your favourite tyrant here.

Put your feet in a fish bowl.

Put your feet in a fish bowl.

I thought this was like some sort of cat cafe but with fish. However, I’ve since learned that it is becoming popular around the world to have fish nibble your toes. Opinion seems to be that it’s not particularly hygienic.

Rather more fun were these chaps making interestingly shaped sugary treats.

Rather more fun were these chaps making interestingly shaped sugary treats.

I didn't have one of them, but this man sold me a mini watermelon.

I didn’t fancy fighting through all the kids for the sugar, but this man sold me a mini watermelon.

And then I moved on to the mighty Yangzi River.

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Rollo on China

After a simple visit to an airport, I appear to have woken up in a strange land. What is my purpose here and will I ever be able to return home? I’m sure the answers will become apparent in time. But for now, we can say hello to Wuhan, capital of Hubei province and the hottest of China’s three furnaces. Situated at the T-junction of the sparkling Yangzi and Han Rivers, Wuhan comprises three towns separated by the two rivers and has a population of more than 10 million. It is growing impressively quickly with brand new high rise blocks of flats springing up everywhere and in such numbers that you could legitimately describe them as a forest in some areas. 

I’m staying at the campus of the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, which is a little way out from the middles of towns but certainly not clear of the city outskirts. It’s a short bus trip to the last stop of one of the city’s three metro lines, and about three-quarters of an hour’s drunken walking home if you haven’t figured out the bus system yet.

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It’s ALL shopping centre.

That’s the little shop nearest to my place and as you can see, they are fully committed to being a shopping centre. Just as the meal below is fully committed to including 100 per cent of the chicken. I’ll examine food in a later blog post but suffice to say I have been picking a lot of chicken and fish bones out of my mouth.

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It’s ALL of the chicken.

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Here’s my buddy Zhangbin sharing dinner with me on my first night in town. Three per cent beer just means you can drink more.

The chicken was, in fact the first dinner I had here and I shared it with my new buddy Zhangbin, who has been looking after me and showing me about the place.

View from the back of Zhangbin's scooter. As you can see they are not shy of salmoning.

View from the back of Zhangbin’s scooter. As you can see they are not shy of salmoning.

Here's a spot of fishing on a lovely day. It's just a bit of smog, don't worry about it.

Here’s a spot of fishing on a lovely day. It’s just a bit of smog, don’t worry about it.

And here's a man in a uniform making the most of a mainly empty footpath because who would be mad enough to walk all the way over there? Note the views of the lake behind him.

And here’s a man in a uniform making the most of a mainly empty footpath because who would be mad enough to walk all the way over there? Note the views of the lake behind him.

Righto – that’ll do you for now. Must go and do something. More later. Cheerio!

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Meet the white lady

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It looks very much like there is a new project in the making. As any fule kno, the greatest aluminium frame ever made was the Bianchi FG Lite. Here is a link to one being held by renowned clean cyclists Stefano Garzelli, Mario Cipollini and Danilo Diluca. It is an awesome bike and people in the know speak of it in respectful, hushed tones. Having been discontinued for a few years now, they are as rare as hen’s teeth. I have managed to get my hands on a variant of the FG Lite – the Dama Bianca version. Some might say this is a ladies frame but those people simply have no appreciation of what they are dealing with here. It is light as a feather, the finish is awesome and it is my size. That is all that needs to be recognised. Such a beautiful frame deserves to be fitted out with Super Record and some sort of high end Campagnolo wheels but, alas, that’s not going to be possible so instead I’ll be building it up with whatever I’ve got lying around the place. At the moment that’s some spare handlebars, 105 shifters and Ultegra derailleurs. I’ll keep you updated as the project progresses.

Dama Bianca. the White Lady.

Dama Bianca. the White Lady.

It's actually the Dama Bianca Lei and has Hawai'ian themed flowers painted on it.

It’s actually the Dama Bianca Lei and has Hawai’ian themed flowers painted on it.

Is that hibiscus? Looks like hibiscus.

Is that hibiscus? Looks like hibiscus.

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Update! Here’s an instagram of current progress with bits and pieces I just happen to have lying around. I’ll need to get a seat post that actually fits.

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Off the asphalt

And here is a picture of Chong descending like a demon on the gravel. (But really I’m testing how to post on WordPress using my telephone)

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BMC GF02 Disc: the adventure bike

Originally posted on Elite Racing Cycles:

The GF02 Disc is as happy off the road as on it and to prove it I took mine up the Railway Haeritage Trail to Mundaring and then along the first part of the Mundabiddi trail. There is plenty of fun to be had on one of these gems.

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Test Ride: Bianchi Infinito CV

Originally posted on Elite Racing Cycles:

Bianchi Infinito CV 2014: The most comfortable bike you will ever ride.

Bianchi Infinito CV 2014: The most comfortable bike you will ever ride.

There has been a lot of hype about the 2014 Infinito CV since it was first unveiled at this year’s cobbled classics. Vacansoleil’s Juan Antonio Flecha rode it to 8th place in the Paris Roubaix and claimed it was the best bike he had ever ridden in the classics. Of course, he would say that wouldn’t he – it’s the team bike. But having ridden one down the roughest roads I could find, I have to agree with him. It is simply the most comfortable bike I have ever ridden.

The key to the Infinito CV is the Countervail technology. Countervail is not an anti-espionage system but the name Bianchi have given to a material they have developed which absorbs all the aftershocks of hitting a bump. They even made this video to show (amongst other things) how…

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