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Surprising Stories from Donghu Lake Greenway in Wuhan, China

Updated on February 18, 2017

The East Lake Greenway

The Donghu Lake (translation: East Lake) in Wuhan, China is an extensive greenway spanning some 28.7 kilometres. For the past two years my colleague has spoken many stories of so called big bosses coming to visit her husband’s onsite department. He being one of the directors of the East Lake greenway project. For the sake of this article his name shall be John.

As is quite commonplace in China, there were many set backs and delays, more often than not caused by poor communication between various companies and substandard workmanship.

Finally, the greenway was completed at the end of 2016 and opened to the public. Over the past week Wuhan has experienced some beautiful spring weather. My colleague’s husband, John, offered to be our professional tour guide along the 28 kilometres, providing us with an in-depth introduction to the greenway.

We were blessed with ‘blue’ skies and a temperature of some 25 degrees. Such weather, of course, invited an army of local city dwellers to the site. Our only saving grace, then, was that we visited the greenway on a weekday. The thought of visiting on a weekend is nauseating.

As we all live within 30 minutes of the greenway, we didn’t have to worry about transportation. In fact, the greenway is a little under 6 kilometres from my home.

Today I relay to you my experience of the greenway as guided by one of the project managers, John.

Bikes

First things first we all needed a bike. Given John’s position in the company developing the greenway, we were able to borrow the bikes from the greenway company without any charge. As a novelty, we all chose the bike with the incredibly thick tire. As a surprise, this bike was astoundingly light and easy to manoeuvre. Also on offer was a Chuckle Brothers style vehicle. Anyone who grew up in 90s Britain (or had children growing up) will know of this show. The first photo below shows the bike available at the greenway while the second shows the Chuckle Brothers in their parallel vehicle.

If we were to hire the bikes ourselves, we would have had to pay an RMB 800 deposit followed by RMB 20 per hour. This is quite high for locals, well for anyone in fact. I don’t want to hand over RMB 800 just to hire a bike!

Eager to begin our guided tour of East Lake, we were off, with our first stop at a quintessentially Chinese art form and selfie opportunity: gargantuan letters spelling ‘love’.

Young and old alike will embrace the chance to pose with such a site, not least so the resulting photo can be posted on the commonly used social networking platform, WeChat. In doing so, these visitors can take pride in being some of the initial tourists to this site. Indeed, in my years being in China, I have noticed this peculiar phenomenon: travelling is less about one’s personal delight, rather more about the gratification of showing others you have been somewhere before them.

Needless to say, my friends are locals, so doing as locals do, I too had to pose. For the below photo, however, I was behind the camera.

Railway Sleepers

Having moved away from the tackiness described above, John lead us to a distant section of the greenway, far removed from the crowds of the beginning.

Shown here are some recycled railway sleepers (railway tie). As many of you will know, China has become world famous for the development of its high-speed railway system over the past decade. While some of this railway has been constructed across untouched territory, some simply replaced old lines. As the old lines were removed, the sleepers were sent to local recycling areas, waiting to be destroyed. John informed us, however, that a member of the project design team had an idea to construct a path using the sleepers, as a break to the otherwise concrete design.

Each sleeper cost in the range of RMB 100 with, according to John, more than 100,000 sleepers being used for the entire length of this path.

Luo Yen

As we continued along the greenway, John informed us of an old myth of the area. The path we were cycling on was called Luo Yen Road. Luo Yen means goose. Apparently, in the past many geese used to migrate to Wuhan from the north during the colder months.

(This doesn’t happen anymore or at least I am yet to see such birds – a colleague explained: ‘it’s impossible for that kind of bird to live in the city in China, Chinese people would eat them.’)

The area surrounding East Lake, according to the story, had many foxes. Of course, the foxes would prey on the geese. Consequently, to protect the geese, Buddha created a special island for the geese to settle during the winter. These little islands you can see in the picture are said to be those islands.

John explained this is most likely an untrue fable but it still adds to the serenity of the greenway, further distinguishing it from the hustle and bustle of Wuhan proper.

Red Bricks

While John had a multitude of stories, the final I shall share here concerns another recycled path. Over the past years, China has torn down many buildings; industrial and residential alike. As with the aforementioned railway sleepers, there are many waste materials from such actions. The photo below shows a pathway of recycled bricks from old power stations. According to John, these bricks were sourced from many of the coal power stations of the north that are apparently being replaced by cleaner energy generating sites.

Thoughts on the Greenway

What I found intriguing listening to John is clearly the idea of recycling (as demonstrated by the two paths I noted here) exists in China. I asked John if any of the signs around the greenway informed the visitors of this, he replied no. I find it fascinating to think of the path I walked as having once been components of the first railroads in China or walls from original power stations yet it seems this wouldn’t have any significance for the majority of locals. Such opposites in the Chinese population inhibits a great deal of progress, particularly in the sphere of societal education. It was invigorating, then, to see some individuals, like those in John’s organisation, have an alternative method for thinking.

The East Lake greenway is well worth a visit. Importantly, the greenway becomes more peaceful and endearing the further one explores. As is normal in China, getting into any tourist attraction is quite a fete, battling through the crowds can easily make you want to return home before you have started.

If for some reason, you find yourself in Wuhan, the greenway is well worth a visit. Keep calm as you brawl through the initial crowd because partial tranquillity is near.

Since visiting, I have now added a quick jolly onto part of the greenway into my morning run; arriving there before 9 am is a sure method for avoiding people!

See you.

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