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Wuhan-a gem overlooked by many expats
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The soon-to-be Wuhan expat was about to embark on a 12-month contract in the central Chinese city, but before he left the United States, he logged onto a Wuhan Internet forum to ask a question: "Should I bring my wife?"

The businessman was concerned about the lack of things for his wife to do. Could she find jobs, friends, hobbies or interests?

He had a big project, but what was on offer for his better half?

A few smarties were quick to respond and urged the 30-something man to leave his wife at home and enjoy the ample opportunities Wuhan's vibrant nightlife can offer a single man. But the most interesting reply came from an English woman called Lara. She encouraged him to bring his partner and promised to meet with her when she arrived.

"She will have a great time here." Lara wrote. "I've been living here for 18 months, and I'm having the time of my life."

Wuhan-based Lara had accompanied her husband, who was a design engineer working with a pleasure boat building company. She later found work teaching English in this thriving metropolis of 9 million people.

I heard Lara's story in a bar on the banks of the Yangtze River and recently discovered the charm of Wuhan for myself. This place has so much going for it that if I didn't live in Beijing, I'd probably live in Wuhan.

The place is an overlooked gem. It has a huge river front like Shanghai, and just as many of those grand-style colonial buildings. About 100 years ago, Wuhan was one of those concession areas, and Americans, Germans, Russians, Japanese and French spared no expense building whopping big offices and homes trimmed with charming articulation on their facades. There are hundreds of them. The government has wisely preserved the architecture.

Despite its inland location, Wuhan is surrounded by busy waterways, mainly the Yangtze and Han rivers and the famous East Lake. The lake is huge and has sandy beach areas, which are packed in summer. Narrow roads snake around the mass of water and are lined with drooping trees. Sunsets are spectacular, and the calming view is best enjoyed from the window of a restaurant overlooking the lake.

I tried the "coming back fish", a popular dish with Mao Zedong. The white-colored, freshwater fish gets its name because it swims up to the mouth of the Yangtze near Shanghai, swallows a gill-ful of saltwater, doesn't like the salty taste and then comes back to Wuhan.

The Yellow Crane Tower was built by Sun Quan in AD 223 during the Three Kingdoms period and overlooks the river.

I'm reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and climbing to the top was a special experience. I stood exactly where Sun would have gazed out over the river and shared the same view as the king. The story jumped from the pages and came to life.

Like that white-colored fish, I'll be coming back to Wuhan for sure.

(China Daily February 26,2008)

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