Wal-Mart and Mao
Posted by Heliocentrism on May 6, 2009
February 14-16, 2008
Nu-way-va-jork? Never heard of it…
I got to Wuhan at 12:00 am. I found a decent hotel with the help of my Lonely Planet and some shady looking characters milling around a back ally. While not stopping their heated argument with each other, they helpfully pointed to the street I needed. It was one of those moments where, had I been more rested, I might have been a bit more picky when selecting people to ask for directions. But, there is a level of tiredness I sometimes reach when traveling, where I just don’t care. As long as they just look like hooligans and are not at the moment taking part in any hooliganisms.
I complain about the short comings of the Lonely Planet books because sometimes their directions are vague. Many times they leave out very helpful information, like the name of a place in Chinese. It’s hard to ask for directions for the Great Wall of China when you have no idea how to say the name in Chinese. Imagine someone stopping you for help finding the interstate that goes to, “Nueva York,” where the “Y” here is pronounced like a “J”.
No travel book will ever be 100% useful to any of its readers. Even with the flaws, it is far better to have a travel book than to not have one. Personally I like Lonely Planet. I’m used to its format, but it is far from perfect.
Traveling in China is not easy for a novice and I was worn out by my first day in Wuhan. For one day I took a vacation from my vacation and stayed in all day to watch TV. I don’t have a television at home, so this was a treat for me.
My hotel had two channels in English. One was a movie channel. The other was the Discovery Channel, which, I must say, I love. I did walk around a bit to get some Chinese take-out, but then I ate my food back in my warm hotel room in front of the TV.
The next day I went downtown. I found out that there was a Wal-Mart there and I had to see it for myself. In the country-side I saw grocery stores that looked like little mom-and-pop-shops. They didn’t have much to buy inside but a few boxes of milk, some noodles, a few bottles of water, and small amounts of other things. But at Wal-Mart there was a lot more stuff to buy.
It wasn’t as big or plentiful as a Wal-Mart in the states or Lotte Mart in Korea, but it was very big. There were at least two brands of each item to choose from.
I saw products that I hadn’t seen since I left Korea, like lotion. There were also some unexpected finds too. In the fresh meat section there was a box of live frogs just ribbitting away.
I know what you’re thinking. “You go all the way to China, ignore pagodas and temples, and you visite a Wal-Mart?” Yes. I did. But remember:
- I live in Asia and after a while temples, pagodas, and shrines all start to look the same, but not all grocery stores are created equal.
- I’m a weather wimp and this trip was in the country-side of China in the winter. There was no heat anywhere other than in my hotel room. Every time I went out, I froze.
- It’s easier to ask for directions to a grocery store where people go everyday, than for directions to a pagoda that only tourists visit.
Besides, aren’t you even just a little curious about what’s on the shelves of a Chinese Wal-Mart? Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of the Wal-mart. I was a novice back then and didn’t have this blog.
Mao… Big communist guy who wrote red books?
In Wuhan there is a villa that Chairman Mao used to visit when he was in need of rest and relaxation. It was hard to get to, because I could not figure out what bus to take and nobody would help me. Every time I asked someone for directions they either didn’t know who Mao was, didn’t know what a villa was, or looked like they wanted to run away.
I would walk up to someone on the street and ask for directions. First I would try to explain who Mao was by pointing to his name written in Chinese characters. After this, the person would either flat out refuse to continue talking to me or he/she would smile, shrug, and walk away.
I finally got one lady to help me. She told me that I should take a taxi. She wrote a little note in Chinese for me to give to a taxi driver. I thought I was set.
I waited for a taxi on the side of the road for about half an hour. Hardly any cabs stopped for me. Whenever one did I would jump into the back seat. Then I would show the driver my note and he would tell me to get out of his cab.
I went back to my hotel and asked someone there to call me a cab. A maid who spoke no English eventually helped me. She called a taxi driver who seemed to be just sitting around in a nearby restaurant. He took me to the area where the villa was.
He dropped me off at what looked like the entrance, but it wasn’t. I walked around hoping to find something. Maybe where the cabbie dropped me off was the entrance, but it was closed. I wanted to ask someone for help, but then I noticed a very strange thing. There was no one around to ask. I was all alone with the trees.
It felt very odd to be all alone in China and outside at the same time. During my week so far in China I had been in one crowd or another. I ate in a crowd. I rode buses, trains, and planes in a crowd. I walk down the streets in a crowd. I went sightseeing in a crowd. Anytime I was outdoors there was some sort of crowd outdoors with me.
I didn’t get to see inside Mao’s villa, but I loved getting away from the noise and the busyness of China. Later I had an overnight train to Shanghai. The next day I would be back in Seoul, another crowed city. I really drank in every drop of the quiet peaceful solitude and forgot about the villa.
Who needs Mao when you can be ALONE?
How to get there:
- You can enter by plane, train, boat, or bus
- Make sure to get a visa before going to China.
- Visas to China are expensive for people of some nationalities.
- Getting a Chinese visa is not a quick process. Apply as soon as you can.
There is a long list of websites that cannot be accessed while in China. Facebook and parts of Wikipedia are just two of them. As with everything, there are ways around it. There are sites that will let you get to Facebook and other sites for free for about 15 minutes, then you will have to pay.
My advice is to find a few of them and use them for free. Then use them again on a different computer. If you are in China for a long time, then you might want to invest in paying for the service. Ask friends living in China for the best deals.
- A Bite of China (Playlist)
- Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations – Harbin, China
- China: A Century of Revolution (Playlist)
- China Uncensored (Playlist)
- Crash Course:
- Engineering an Empire: China
- The Bonesetter’s Daughter
- Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
- Dreams of Joy (Part 2 of Shanghai Girls)
- Empress Dowager Cixi
- The Joy Luck Club
- The Kitchen God’s Wife
- Lost on Planet China
- Mao’s Last Dancer
- Mao: The Unknown Story*
- The Private Life of Chairman Mao
- Sex Lives of the Great Dictators
- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
- The Red Chamber
- Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China*
*These books by Jung Chang are banned in China. But I highly recommend reading Mao: The Unknown Story before going to Beijing.
- If you want an internet cafe look for this (网吧) on a sign.
Meiling/ Plum Ridge
Mao Zedong Bieshu/Chairman Mao’s Villa
- 30°33’17.9″N 114°22’07.2″E
- Take bus number 14, 578, 701, or 709
- Get off at the Provincial Museum.
- “As you face the museum’s main entrance, turn left and walk along the main street. Immediately a street will branch off to your right – take it (the museum will be on your right). The street will lead to a roundabout, on which you should turn right, into a narrow shaded alleyway with some dilapidated houses and chicken coops. Eventually you will come to a gate (may look closed but will have an opening). Continue through the gate and straight along a causeway with water on both sides. You will get to an intersection – turn left. You will come to a parking lot in front of a large building complex – you want to get behind that complex, i.e. pass it so that it’s on your left (there’s a road with a blue forward-pointing arrow going there – take that road, then turn left). You will see an unremarkable-looking building with Mao’s old car in a glass enclosure – this is Mao’s villa.” – WikiTravel
Donghu Lu 56,
Wuhan, Hubei, China
8:00 – 17:00 I’m not sure what days they are closed, other than any day I show up.
- History Channel: Mao Declassified
- 30°34’37.7″N 114°17’28.1″E
- 30°30’17.5″N 114°19’30.9″E
Wuhan Zhongshan Road Branch
176 Minsheng Road, Jianghan District
There are many Wal-marts in Wuhan now.