I discovered bubble milk tea (otherwise known as zhen zhu nai cha - gotta know how to order the good stuff!) in Bangkok, Thailand, on a trip where Zac and I met up with Auntie Jenny and Uncle Matt. Jen ordered a tea first, and from then onwards, we were hooked. When we returned to Wuhan after the trip, we realized that we had actually long been surrounded by bubble tea - but we'd had no idea what we'd been missing out on.
While we did shop around and get our fix from a few different locations, we quickly discovered that in Wuhan, there was a magical place that stood out for delicious milk tea. From the line ups, we understood that this was actually the go-to spot for the majority of bubble tea drinkers, but the wait was worth it, so waited we did. The place was called Coco, and just the simple act of getting this tea had the ability to fuse joy into our day.
After moving back to the GTA, we were in Markham trying to transfer my money (with little luck) from the Bank of China into my Canadian account. Lo and behold - we spotted a Coco.
I cannot describe to you the immense joy that discovery created.
Since our move home, Coco has opened up in several locations, including near Dundas Square and China Town/Kensington Market areas in downtown Toronto. We have never once deviated form our original order - the original pearl milk tea - though there are so many tempting drinks that come out of there.
If you have not enjoyed a drink from Coco, I highly recommend you do - as soon as we are able to go out and about. May I suggest the original pearl milk tea? :)
Well, since we're on the topic of food, we clearly can't NOT mention the noodles.
Our favourite noodles were re gan mien (meaninglessly translated as hot/dry noodles), and I believe most of Wuhan shared our opinion. They had a unique peanut flavour to them (via the sesame paste and oil) that we could not duplicate after our move to Shanghai - though Shanghai brought us xiao long bao (delicious soup dumplings), so I can’t complain too much.
As news of racism in the GTA spread faster than covid-19, good news also popped up, such as this story about people flooding to Wuhan Noodle 1950. When I read this article, I was excited to realize that I wouldn't need to wait until our next trip to Wuhan to eat our favourite noodles. Though I WILL need to wait until I can leave the apartment for more than a three hour dog walk.
In the meantime, I'm going to try my hand at making my own at home this week, and you can, too!
As I continue my reflections on our time spent living overseas in Wuhan, I feel myself starting to get hungry. We ate a lot over there.
Zac and I consistently devoured street food in Wuhan every chance we got. Our favourite market with food vendors was the Ravi Shinger market (named for the fancy hotel right next to it). I loved the market for its simplicity. And I loved what a visit to the market represented - slowing down, meandering, enjoying beautiful colours and fresh fruits and vegetables, and of course, eating food cooked for you for about $1 Canadian.
A trip to our favourite market meant about a 25 minute walk each way, though we would sometimes ride our bikes there as well. We’d stroll around, taking in the sights and smells, and contemplate what variety of foods we would settle on for lunch or dinner that day (if it was up to Zac, dumplings were usually involved!). We sometimes did this on our own, but we also enjoyed spending time with our friends there, too.
Something I’m missing a little bit as I hang out in self-isolation.
We didn’t confine our street food experiences to only one market, though (of course not!). There was a university market nearby (Wuhan is a big university city), and just about any time we went out and about, there were delicious opportunities waiting for us.
Last post, I shared one of my biggest sources of amusement in Wuhan. This time, I'd like to share one of my favourite simple pleasures of living in the city.
If asked to sum up Wuhan in a few key experiences, the dancing would absolutely need to be a part of that list. At home, traditionally dancing is seen at special events - certainly not by the side of the road or for no given reason. Doing so would generate a fair bit of stares, but not so from Wuhan residents (visitors to the country, however, yes. We loved watching).
In Wuhan, it was a daily experience to walk by a group of women (and the odd man or two) dancing together to music. This might be at the side of the road if an open space were available, in a square of some sort, or in a common area such as outside of a plaza. If there was enough space, it was fair game. It was relaxing, simple, and a good way of incorporating exercise and social experiences into daily life. It's no wonder that videos are popping up of Wuhan residents dancing during quarantine.
I loved it. And sometimes, got dragged into it, much to my child's delight.
As promised, I'm reflecting on our lives in overseas, and some of the things I enjoyed most.
When you live in Wuhan and you're not Chinese, you are constantly observed and frequently approached for a photo shoot. When requested, Zac sometimes obliged, but his smiles were fleeting and then it was time to stare at me with loathing as I documented the entire experience with glee.
A few years ago, when I would come home to Canada over the summer, people would ask me where in China I was teaching. Responding with "Wuhan" often did little in the way of explanation, so I would add "...it's in Central China". My questioners would nod vaguely, unsure of where I was talking about.
Clearly, not so anymore.
Wuhan was my first home away from home, an introduction to a new and different and completely exhilarating way of life. As the world has learned the name Wuhan, with a dose of fear and a sprinkling (or torrent) of racism on the side, I have been missing the city and worrying about the many people who still live there.
Though I also spent two years happily living in Shanghai - a much more well known city - it was living in Wuhan that gave me access to an authentic, immersive, and heartfelt Chinese experience. It is where China won me over and where I fell in love - with the people, the food, the markets, the dancing, the culture, the everything.
Wuhan was our first introduction to Chinese culture. It will always hold a chunk of space in my heart. For the next little while, I'd like to share it with you.