Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Yellow Crane Tower

This is the famous Yellow Crane Tower (黃鶴樓), as seen from the Yangtze River Bridge in Wuhan (武漢長江大橋). This is of course not the original. It is not even very old, being rebuilt only 10 years or so ago. At least, it was rebuilt in the style of the original, at the original site. That’s unlike what we do in Hong Kong, tearing down anything in the way of development and “progress”.
The tower is now bordered on one side by a major road, and on the other side by the railway visible in the picture, both leading onto the bridge. So the view from the tower is incomparable to the original grandeur described in so many poems. But the history, the stories and the feelings associated with it through the ages are eternal. I am grateful for the efforts in recreating or at least in preserving part of that.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mountain Fire

I was looking out the window flying from Hong Kong to Wuhan on a clear day. At first I thought there was a low cloud below the airplane floating just above the mountains. It looked neat so I took picture of it. Only much later, when I downloaded the picture and looked at it closely, then I realized it was actually a fire.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Wuhan Ferry

Vehicles getting on a ferry to cross the Yangtze River at Wuhan. Wuhan is made up of 3 cities, Wuchang (武昌) on the East side of the Yangtse River, Hangkow (漢口) and Hangyang (漢陽) on the West side. These cars are crossing from Hangyang to Wuchang, visible in the distance in the morning haze.

There is actually a major bridge linking the two sides right at the middle of the city. The Yangtze River Bridge at Wuhan is in fact the first bridge over the Yangtze River, the longest river in China, Unfortunately there is now so much traffic that vehicles are only allowed to use the bridge on alternate days. Odd numbered licenses on odd numbered days and vice versa. So a crossing which takes only several minutes on the bridge turns into an excursion taking more than half an hour. It was quite an experience for us. But for people who cross the bridge on a daily basis, it must be quite a nightmare.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sweet and Pretty Receptionists Wanted

Are you between 20 and 24, female, sweet and pretty? If you are, you can apply for this job as a receptionist at this Wuhan branch of a famous fast food place. I wonder how such an advertisement would be received in the US. Would someone in the US please enlighten us?

Village near Wuhan

This is an aerial view of a village near Wuhan, taken from an airplane while landing at the airport. At this angle and from so far away, it looks like a model, neat and tidy. One can even say pretty, with those white walls and orange roofs.

However, those Hubei villages that we actually visited on the ground reveal a different reality. Unpaved roads are rocky. Paved roads are often full of cracks and potholes. Windows are broken and walls crumpled. Even those houses that look good from the outside are often run down inside.

Friday, January 12, 2007

YangXin Computer Laboratory

This is “the” computer laboratory in a major YangXin high school. It contains 30 personal computers, in a high school of 5,000 students. If the laboratory is utilized all day, for seven days a week, each student can use the laboratory on average for about one minute per week. Because they are children of poor farmers, most have no computers at home. And the school forbids them to visit Internet cafes.

So computer lessons are learned mostly conceptually, with very little opportunities for practice. That partly explains why Chinese students are much stronger in conceptual and mathematical skills, but much weaker in practical, experimental skills. In this information-saturated age, this is a huge handicap.

This is collaborated by our experience with students from mainland China in the universities in Hong Kong. Many of them excel in mathematics, conceptual and analytical problems, tests and examinations. But they often perform less well in programming, implementation, and project execution.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

YangXin Students

This is one of the classes in a major high school in YangXin County in Hubei. They are children of farmers. They are survivors of the one-child policy, hence bearing their families’ hope for improving their lives on their small shoulders. The lives of farmers in mainland China are hard, and much harder than city dwellers (that’s why so many are so eager to move into cities). So the best hope of improving their lives (or at least the lives of their children) is for the children to get into a good high school, get into a good university, and then find a job in a big city. Under the one-child policy and the numerous abortions, most have no brothers and sisters.

That’s why these students start school at 7 am and finish at 10 pm for six and a half days, with only Sunday afternoon off. Most of them live in and around the school because they come from a long distance. YangXin is a county of a million farmers, and this is one of the best high schools around. So competition to get into this school is keen, and the competition to get into good national universities is even keener. We can see their books all piled up on their desks, because they practically live in the classroom, leaving only to eat and sleep. We were told they regularly outperform their counterparts in schools in larger cities.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Advertisement in Wuhan

This is an advertisement at a bus stop on one of the busiest streets in Wuhan武漢”, Hubei province, in China. Can you guess what this is about?

Literally, “人流” can mean the movement of people. But in this context it is “人工流產” (abortion). Such an advertisement in so public a place would be unthinkable in many countries. But in China, abortion in the first trimester may cost only 50 reminbi (5 US dollars) in a hospital. In the second trimester it costs more, about 215 reminbi (27 US dollars).