Week One: Food and Shelter

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September 1, 2013 by Sarah S. Horowitz

Greetings from Wuhan! AKA the Chicago of China, the Pittsburg of China, one of China’s “Three Furnaces,” and/or the Armpit of China. With 10 million people, Wuhan is the 10th largest city in China, and one of the fastest growing megacities in China today.

It’s been a week since I arrived here from Santa Fe (via Albequerque, LA, and Shanghai). With the exception of a minor hold up in the Shanghai airport, the trip was smooth.

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Engine check at Shanghai International Airport

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Landing in Wuhan

Huazhong University of Science and Technology, where I’ll be spending most of this coming year, is ENORMOUS. More than 1,100 acres, 56,000 students, and 29 cafeterias– about 20 times the area and 30 times the population of my alma mater. Though the busy on-campus pedestrian/bike/moped/car traffic and very casual approach to forming lines in the cafeterias make this place chaotic by American standards, it feels like a real oasis here. There are tons of trees which block out the megacity sites and sounds and keep it a few degrees cooler than the rest of the city (though personally I find it hard to feel the difference between 105 and 110). It’s been a little foggy these past few days, but still not Beijing. The cafeteria food is quite descent. The other day I enjoyed my first bowl of re gan mian, or “hot dry noodles,” a special Wuhan breakfast noodle with sesame sauce, pickled daikon, and scallions. What a hit!

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热干面 and hot soy milk

Juanjuan with fresh veggies from the campus farmers market

Juanjuan with fresh veggies from the campus farmers market

Juanjuan, my very gracious and very pregnant advisor, has taken excellent care of me. She and her husband both studied in the US and are very easygoing and fun to hang out with. Within my first 24 hours of arriving Juanjuan helped me settle into a hotel on campus, register with the international affairs office (a multi-hour affair of signing, stamping, arguing, and clarifying), buy a phone, explore housing options, and identify low-pesticide vegetables at the campus farmers market. She even stocked her fridge full of water bottles for me before I came, knowing Americans’ strange obsession with cold water. I’m staying with her and her husband now until I can move into my new apartment next weekend. I feel very spoiled.

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Relaxing on a Friday night: Reality TV and 拔罐

My future apartment (second to top)

Long march to my future apartment (second from top)

The housing hunt was arduous. The foreign student dorms I was assigned were full by the time I checked in, so Juanjuan helped me use the school’s online bulletin board to find a place. Very, very competitive to find housing this time of year. A room posted two hours before was likely be gone by the time we called. It was also very hard to find a place on campus with a kitchen. The vast majority of students don’t cook, since the cafeterias are so cheap and convenient. I finally settled on a place yesterday in a great location on campus, which, with a little bit of bleach and elbow grease, will be lovely to live in. I’m in the middle of negotiations with a family who’s looking for a room to bring their kid, or maybe a few kids, for nap time in the afternoon. Apparently this is typical of wealthy families who live far from school. They might use the other bedroom in my apartment, cutting the rent in half. My apartment is on the fifth floor, however, and the father is worried that 5 flights of stairs might be too strenuous for the child. We’ll see what they decide in the next few days.

Classes start this week, and so does my project with Juanjuan. I’m helping her write a paper about urban agriculture in Wuhan (based on research from her PhD thesis) for submission to an international landscape and urban planning journal. To our knowledge, there hasn’t been any academic literature– in English– written about agriculture in inner-city areas of China, so it’ll be very exciting if this gets published. We’ll see how much we can get done before her baby is due at the end of October!

I feel lucky to have gotten off on such a positive start. I’m sure I’ll eventually catch a case of the existential woozies, but for now I feel satisfied having found a place to live, good food to eat, and two very, very gracious hosts.

Stay tuned for more snippets and snapshots to come!

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