I’ve already talked at length about Beijing and introduced you guys to where I come from. Beijing is special to me because it’s where my life began and where my favorite people in China live. But what about my other set of family? The ones on my dad’s side?
Now, I’m admittedly not as close to my dad’s side of the family as to my mom’s. I lived with them for a short stint as a baby. And I wasn’t able to return until one summer during college. By then, they were practically like strangers. I spent a few wonderful weeks connecting with the family I know so little about, and then left again, with no return planned.
That is, until now.
My dad comes from a small town called Wuhu in the Anhui province of China, a little area located towards the southeast part of China. I’m pretty sure this town is not on any traveler’s itinerary. Heck, even many China locals don’t know of its existence. In addition to documenting this part of my travels, I hope the next couple of posts bring a little more attention to this town.
Wuhu is only 350 km away from Shanghai, and now, with the development of high-speed trains, traveling there is simple. It was even better that my cousin, Jing, now lives + works in Shanghai, and I spent the first few weeks re-connecting with her in the city big. Together, we made plans to make the trip to Wuhu on our last weekend.
I remember random snippets of my time there so many summers ago: walking to breakfast with my grandma, going out to hot pot and my aunt sneaking in her own veggies from home, taking photo booth pictures with Jing, riding in the back of a police car to go to dinner, eating turtle for the first and only time in my life…
I can’t believe it’s been ten years again. Upon my return, it was like looking at the city with completely new eyes (though Jing said not too much has changed over the last decade), but as I re-explored the town, I was surprised at how much came back to me.
Even though I was only in Wuhu for a couple of days this time, those days made an impression on me. Here are some of the newly re-discovered things I enjoyed about Wuhu:
1 & 2. Slower pace of life and delicious Wuhu specialties!
Wuhu, located on the southern bank of the Yangtze River, is a small port town. It’s a second tier Chinese city – it’s not glamorous like Shanghai or culturally rich like Beijing. In the way of touristic draws, there’s not much. But it’s a good place for living. Unlike the constant hustle and bustle of the big city, life moves at a slower and more leisurely pace here.
“In Shanghai, nobody has time to eat a real breakfast,” Jing said. But in Wuhu, she pointed out, businessmen and school kids often sit down at one of the numerous roadside breakfast stalls to have a fresh, hot meal before getting on with the day.
And we did exactly that – starting our days with the best of the local breakfast. In the morning hours, you can find the streets and markets lined with vendors selling all sorts of goodies. The options seemed endless. Luckily, we had Jing as our guide and she was able to steer us to the best ones.
We started with sharing a bowl of pork, tofu skin, and glutinous rice – a breakfast specialty only found in Wuhu. This may sound weird to eat first thing in the morning, but I loved it. The pork was lightly battered in a rice mix.
And of course, it’s not breakfast in China if it doesn’t come with warm tofu pudding. The Chinese likes to dress it up salty by adding soy sauce and pickled vegetables. For the three of us, 2 portions of rice and 3 bowls of tofu pudding only came out to 15RMB, or a little over US$2.
Next, Jing took us to a market to visit a popular beef noodle soup vendor. Wuhu has their own style of beef noodle soup. The noodles are thin and round and are a bit harder in texture. Like most of the food in the Anhui province, the soup is slightly sweet and with a hint of spice.
This was accompanied with one of the strangest beverages I’ve ever tried: fermented rice water with sweet red beans – another Wuhu specialty. The rice water has a slight wine taste from the fermentation. The locals looove this stuff. And as for me? I found it strange but not entirely unpleasant, though I don’t think I’m eager to try it again.
3. It’s affordable and a good place for shopping!
Our free time in the city were spent aimlessly wandering around town. Wuhu is small and most of the popular hangouts can be reached by foot. One of the most happening areas is the pedestrian street, Zhong Shan Road, lined with shops on either side. A few times, I sent D back to the hotel while Jing and I slowly browsed the shops. I loved finally having a girlfriend to do girly things with!
One of my favorite things about Wuhu is the fact that it is a lot more affordable than Shanghai. For this reason alone, China’s smaller cities are worth visiting. Wuhu was full of tempting cute fashion stores with even more tempting prices. See the store Sanfu at the right side of the picture? It may possibly be my favorite store ever now. It was girl heaven. And it most definitely contributed to the ridiculous collection of hair accessories I now have to lug around the world.
And fun fact along the same lines: one of the first things I noticed in Wuhu was how fashionable all the girls are! Even though it rained on and off during our time there, that didn’t stop the local girls from being all dolled up in mini skirts and heels. Let’s just say that D really enjoyed the scenery there. :P
4. Laid-back yet fun nightlife
In the evening, we headed out to check out the nightlife. We ended up at a new plaza sprinkled with outdoor bars. As the evening went on, the plaza became more and more packed with Wuhu’s youth population, and the tables with increasingly more empty beer bottles (if you’re under the impression that Asians can’t drink, then clearly you’ve never been to China).
We picked a bar at random on the second level (Rainbow). All around us, people were engaged in some sort of intense drinking game involving a pair of dice. But as we’re all no longer in our early twenties, we were content to simply sit back with a drink and listen to the live entertainment.
5. Anhui food is interesting and is one of the 8 pillars of Chinese cuisine
Despite the fact that my dad is from the Anhui province, I never really knew what exactly constitutes Anhui cuisine. Anhui cuisine is one of the eight famous regional cuisines of China, so we really wanted to take the opportunity to try it.
One of the evenings, we went with the entire family to a restaurant serving traditional Anhui style food. I learned that Anhui cuisine is often a little sweet, with a low, long spicy note that lingers in your mouth. It’s a flavorful, fragrant spice, not like the all-consuming spice of Sichuan cuisine. A lot of the meat is braised or stewed and there’s a focus on local ingredients. As a whole, the flavors are complex and yet clean at the same time.
We ended our short stay with a home-cooked meal at my grandma + uncle’s house. As much as I enjoyed the restaurant meal, there’s nothing like getting to know a culture through what locals eat at home. On the menu: Wuhu’s own version of roasted duck (so juicy and succulent in a sweet brown soup), a fish, dried beef slices with a spicy dip, and a variety of tofu and greens. A delicious end to our time in Wuhu.
The plan was to be in Wuhu for two nights, just long enough to see my family and have a meal together. But Wuhu ended up being so fun that we extended our stay for an extra night (post coming up soon!). And even then, as we were leaving, I found myself wishing that we could extend our stay once more. Wuhu may not be as exciting as its neighboring Shanghai, but I thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace and the laid-back attitude.
And just hold on, I haven’t even told you about the most delicious meal we had there yet!
One thing for certain, whether you put Wuhu on your next trip to China or not, China’s smaller cities are definitely worth spending some time in. You may just discover the real China.
How to get there:
The easiest way to Wuhu is from the Nanjing bus/train station. From Shanghai, we took the bullet train to Nanjing (an 1.5 hour ride) from the Shanghai Hongqiao Station (subway line 2). The cost was 135RMB/person (approx US$22). Once you arrive at the Nanjing Station, you can buy bus tickets to Wuhu at the long-distance bus ticket office, at 35RMB/person (or US$5.60). The bus was another 1.5 hours to Wuhu.
As the entire journey took 3-4 hours, Wuhu is just a bit far for a day trip. But it makes a perfect weekend trip. And because you’ll need to transfer at Nanjing, you can even use the opportunity to explore Nanjing for a bit.
Where we stayed:
We stayed for three nights in the Jin Ying Hotel (Golden Eagle) and I could have stayed for more! At only 198 RMB a night, or US$32 (after an online discount), it was the cheapest luxury hotel I’ve ever stayed in. The room was large, the bed with down bedding was like heaven, and the levels of service was exceptional. The location was also excellent as it was right next to the Pedestrian Street.
I hope you enjoyed this introduction to one of China’s less well-known smaller towns. Next: the best xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) I’ve ever had.