What to do in a Chinese city?
April 6, 2011 4:00 PM   Subscribe

I am living in a Chinese city for a month. What are some interesting things I can learn or do while here that I can't elsewhere?

So I am studying in the city of Wuhan China for a month. Since there a lot of down time in the afternoons and evenings, and the allure of pirated DVDs can only last so long, I am looking for interesting projects to spent time in. I am already pretty fluent in Mandarin, so Chinese lessons are not my priority. I am very much an arts and culture person, so one idea I had was take some lessons in traditional calligraphy. But otherwise I am kinda stumped for ideas. My question is what are some cool, unique things/activities you can do, observe or learn in a large Chinese city?

Note: I'll be using my weekends to travel, so I am really looking for ideas that fit into daily life in one city.
posted by Pantalaimon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
At the risk of being Captain Buzzkill, there is probably very little chance that you will improve substantially in only a month. That said...

Cookery (especially with anything illegal/hard to come by in the US)

The learning curve for an instrument is probably too high, but perhaps music appreciation would be easier -- what sort of folk music/opera scene does Wuhan have?
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 4:11 PM on April 6, 2011

Realise you might find this inappropriate or not your thing, but if it were me, I'd visit the good people at the youth autonomy project (link to their Douban page, which is in Chinese) and sit on some of their talks or other activities. As I understand it, they're a bunch of alternative youth involved in things like the local campaign to protect East Lake from developers. Certainly hits the cool and unique in my book and I'm pretty sure they welcome visitors, certainly to the lectures and film showings.
posted by Abiezer at 4:23 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's probably an amazingly banal suggestion, but why not simply head out on the street and find a few local places and strike up conversations. It shouldn't be hard at all based on my experiences living in China. Especially if your Mandarin is passable.

The large China cities aren't interesting so much because they are large, but rather that they harbour many, many small unique and diverse communities.
posted by michswiss at 4:48 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Food and snack such as hot spot, 麻辣燙 (some sort of spicy snacks),臭豆腐 (literally stinky fried tofu). spicy stuff are quite popular.

Not sure about sightseeing. In general, China is a big food culture, stick with food and you won't regret it.

It's really humid and hot there
posted by easilyconfused at 4:51 PM on April 6, 2011

People watch and soak up the culture? Just walk around cities and find interesting things. Go down alleys, try a new restaurant, walk into a store that you normally wouldn't be interested in, etc.

Also, there must be some place where older people congregate to socialize whether it be chess, mah-jong, exercising, cards, talking, etc. Try to engage and see if they'd be interested in talking to you. I'd imagine a lot of interesting stuff to learn from them.

Maybe, find people on QQ from Wuhan and ask them..?
posted by xtine at 4:52 PM on April 6, 2011

I agree with walking around- just doing that you will see so many new and unexpected things. I think you will find a month too short a time to take it all in!

Make chit-chat with locals, shopowners, etc. It'spretty easy to find acquaintances in China because most Chinese people are very interested in foreigners.

you could also join tai chi on early mornings, if that's your thing (in most parks or open public spaces), or in evenings join in on the ballroom dancing activities often held in public squares.

early mornings are great for wandering in general...get some breakfast street food and watch exercisers in the park!
posted by bearette at 5:07 PM on April 6, 2011

When my SO and I lived in Beijing, we picked up playing badminton. People play everywhere. We played in our parking complex with the cheapest pair of rackets we could find at our corner store. All our elderly Chinese neighbors started to gather regularly to watch us fumble and give us tips on flicking our wrists just right.

Chinese older couples often dance in the parks in the evenings. Learn to waltz and linedance with them. Sometimes this gets really goofy and fun.

There are a lot of Chinese card games that seem intriguing - whenever groups of men play, there's a lot of grunting and crowing and yelling. We tried to get different people to teach us, there's apparently a game called "Landlord vs The Renters" that gets people super heated up.

We gave up because the rules were inscrutable and played gin rummy a lot. Know what whenever you take a pack of cards out in a Chinese town, all of the sudden it will be as if five Chinese men appear out of thin air, just silently peeping over your shoulder at your hand, wondering which card you're going to play next.

And learn to fly a kite!
posted by sestaaak at 5:26 PM on April 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Go to parks!! You can learn everything from social dancing to Chinese chess to Tai chi and other forms of martial arts. Sometimes you'll find musicians in a pavilion just playing to their heart's content. People will actually write in calligraphy on the sidewalks with water and huge brushes in parks too!
posted by astapasta24 at 10:30 PM on April 6, 2011

Find a teacher and learn something like piano or 古筝 or local opera.
posted by msittig at 10:38 PM on April 6, 2011

Buy a 600 kuai bike and explore the city and surrounding countryside. Get a bike with a removable wheel so it can fit easily in either a ferry or coach cargo area. Really, Chinese cities are 100x better to explore on bike - they change so quickly from neighborhood to neighborhood. Sell it for 400 kuai when you leave.

Become a tea connoisseur. A lot of cities have a "tea city" with every type of tea imaginable, though smaller shops have the most interesting people. You can sit around chatting with the some of the friendliest, relaxed, cultured people in China for hours trying different teas. It's a great way to practice Chinese, interact with "real" salt of the earth people, and learn a hundred different flavor words. Just make sure you buy something if you're there longer than 20-30 mins.
posted by trinarian at 8:41 PM on April 11, 2011

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