(As usual, all photos are clickable)
A surprisingly large array of seeds are sold in small packets: on the outside, not much bigger than those familiar to North American or Australian backyard gardeners, but loaded rather more generously. (Something like 10 grams of seeds, while an American retailer these days would often sell seeds in milligrams!) Many packets sport mysterious names of innumerable Chinese greens and beans that are often seen in China's farmers markets and restaurants, but rarely elsewhere. Other packets, although full of text, don't even seem to name the vegetable in question - apparently, the seed companies feel that the picture is enough. Many such small packets are priced at just Y1-3 (US$0.15-0.50), although some varieties cost quite a bit more. Some seeds, especially larger ones (such as corn), appear in progressively bigger packets, up to 1 kg in weight; watermelon seeds appear in cute little cans. Others (beans etc) are sold in bulk, some by weight, some by count. For example, the huge dao dou 刀豆 beans, a.k.a. jackbeans, went four for Y1 in one of the shops; that would be about 25 beans for $1.
I would be curious to know to which extent Chinese farmers rely on shops like this to get their seed supply every year (after all, some are hybrid varieties, and the packages often say that you can't save seeds), and to which extent they would just come to a shop like this just one to buy some new variety, intending to save the seeds in future years. In any event, the trade appears brisk enough, both in August and in February.
Some vegetables however, can't be started with material from a seed shop: you apparently need to be a farmer who knows another farmer... Luhao (芦蒿), a prized specialty of the lower Yangtze area (tastes a bit like asparagus to me) is said to propagate only by root material, rather than by seeds. Although shanyao (山药; something that looks like a remarkably long and rather expensive radish, and tastes to me rather like a potato) is propagated by seeds, its seeds are said not to be commonly available commercially either.
Wuhan, of course, is not unique. Other cities have such seed shop blocks too: Nanjing's is in the market at Dong Fang Cheng 60 (less than a kilometer east of the Eastern Bus Station), and reportedly Hong Kong has an area like this as well, in Sheung Wan Connaught Road West. While places like this are interesting to visit for their educational value, if you actually intend to take some seeds outside China, it is advisable to become aware of your country's applicable quarantine laws and regulation.
Chinese New Year - just like Christmas, but with a rabbit instead of Jesus.Maybe it's better this way...
Around the Chinese New Year, Yangzhou's street vendors roll out the traditional Yangzhou New Year selection: strawberries, radishes (green outside, red inside), and water chestnuts. Apparently, there is a large district of strawberry hothouse just east of the city.
Days of frenetic shopping activity before the holidays, although I guess what's mostly bought are various ornaments to "deck the halls" and delicacies for the New Year table, rather than gifts.
As the families sit down for the festive meal in the early evening on the New Year eve, the sound of firecrackers outside makes you feel that the city is under artillery bombardment by enemy forces. By the midnight, everyone blows up their firecrackers and fireworks all at once, waking up an occasional sleeping foreigner, and all car alarms in town go off.
At 9:30 am the next morning, I find the hotel door locked. Fortunately, the back door is open.
Xin nian hao!
"How do you like Wuhan?"
"Oh, it's nice here, but a bit cold".
"Yeah, in Beijing they have heating ( 暖气, *nuanqi*), but here we don't".
It is mid-January, it's around -5 C (20F) outside, and hardly much
more than +5C (40F) in the office. Everyone involved wears a winter
coat, and some (at least me) a winter hat too.
And indeed, unlike northern China (such as Beijing), indoor heating of
any kind is viewed as merely an *option* (a somewhat extravagant one,
at that) in the cities of China's Yangtze valley, such as Wuhan and
Nanjing. The region is at roughly 30 degrees latitude - the latitude
of Los Angeles or Morocco - but the climate is a lot more continental.
It is very hot in the summer (these two cities, along with Chongqing,
are known as China's "three furnaces"), but the winter is decidedly
"wintery" - it feels about as cold as in Southern Indiana or in some
parts of British Columbia. I am not sure what the traditional way of
heating the living space in winter in this region was - maybe burning
coal brickets in small stoves, or something like that - but these
days, the only available option in most modern buildings here would be
turning on their air conditioners in the "heating" mode. This, as I
understand, is considered a rather extravagant thing to do, at least
by the older generations, often even in fairly fancy offices or
apartments. And of course even when the A/C heating is on, it's not
very effective: it gives you a stream of dry hot air blowing through
the room, the rest of the place still being pretty cold.
I am not familiar with the local electricity prices, but budget hotels
here sometimes offer the use of A/C (for heating in winter) as an
option, for Y10-20 per day per room - something that would amount to
Y300-600 (US$50-100) a month.
From the environmental point of view, I suppose we all should be
grateful to the people of Jiangnan for not turning their heating on,
as the extra electric energy needed for that would come from burning
coal - and it probably would take more coal to heat the homes in the
region from Chengdu to Shanghai than any European country uses....