Guangzhou – the south

Last of the stash

In China, Guangzhou is known for many things – Cantonese (Perhaps the dialect furthest from standard Mandarin); a somewhat irreverent culture perhaps owing to its location far from the edicts of Beijing and from exposure to centuries of foreign trade, and of course, Cantonese food. The Chinese expression “When eating, eat in Guangzhou” sums it up.

Cantonese food, up until recently, was what the rest of the world generally considered to be “Chinese” food, mainly because many Chinese emigrants from the Gold Rush up until about the 1990s were from the Guangzhou area.

To sample the food we went out with my cousin – the clan’s bon vivant bachelor – to also do a bit of sightseeing and purchase some calligraphy brushes as gifts. In the Wende Road area we found a small shop specializing in brushes and picked some economical ones up for practice. Across the street the an official cultural items and antiquities dealer stocked more exotic brushes made from the strands of wolf hair with engraved handles packaged in gift boxes. As we walked my cousin pointed out an old temple in the middle of the city, of which only the central hall was left. The rest had been cleared for development, and it was only at the last minute that the central hall was saved, but not before a skyscraper / mall was constructed right next to it. In fact the walls of the skyscraper pretty much touch the walls of the temple.

We made our way to Beijing Road, a leafy pedestrian mall filled with people, even for a weekday. Though we were surrounded by restaurants my cousin selected a quail restaurant, where quails were served up roasted or herbed, and both delicious.  From the quail shop we moved to a tiny dessert shop and ordered up desserts. We waited huddled around a tiny rosewood and marble table for a few minutes until some bowls of coconut milk with mango, almond milk with red beans, and custards emerged from the back.

“It’s nice here in Guangzhou” my cousin remarked, “on a day off we could easily spend an afternoon having small meals at three, four restaurants in a row.”

Indeed, the proximity of the restaurants and shopping made it all possible; especially because the restaurants made up for their lack of decor with speed, quality, and affordability. Rather than a meal being an expensive 2-hour production, it could be done and paid for in 45 minutes, with plenty of time to do some shopping before working up an appetite for the next snack.

On our way back home we stopped at new Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou, located between floors 70 and 99 of the Guangzhou International Finance Centre. From the ground elevator we scooted up to the 70th floor lobby, took a look around, and then scooted up again to the 98th floor for another look. Around us we could see recently completed office towers along with several new hotels: from where we stood at the Four Seasons we could have walked to the also recently completed Ritz-Carlton, Grand Hyatt, and soon to be completed W Hotels Guangzhou.

Back on Earth we looked on from our car window as other cars in the opposite lane edged past an old man pedaling a tricycle cart loaded with cardboard down the street.

There are not many sights in Guangzhou that have the iconic status of those in Beijing, but determined to make the most of our stay we headed out to see what we could. On a Saturday we visited two spots. First we visited Yuexiu Park, a large park in the middle of the city. It’s location makes it a popular spot for locals and as we walked through, we saw families with kids running around, people practising tai chi, playing instruments in a band, singing in informal choirs, and kicking around a jianzi (The same game as hacky sack) in large circles. The sights and sounds of at least a hundred people bantering with 25 jianzi flying through the air at the same time would make anyone smile.

Afterwards we went to the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, a 2100-year old tomb discovered in in 1983. Apart from the tomb itself which is quite small, the main attraction is a spectacular collection of jade and gold artifacts, including a burial suit of jade tiles.

Jade burial suit

At home my dad nodded approvingly at our account of the sights we saw in the park. Without a trace of irony on his part despite having IPOed at least one company:

“You saw all those people having a good time together? These are the fruits of a socialist society.”

“Well, it’s not like they have backyards, it’s natural that they would all entertain themselves in a common space” I replied.

“That may be true, but you see how well those friendships formed – through common work – extend into personal lives also?”

My mom saved the day with dinner before I was outed as a class enemy.

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