We had a packed second day in Guangzhou, starting this morning at 9:00. June (a local girl who is a friend of a friend, and our tour guide for the day) met us downstairs and we walked to a nearby hotel for “morning tea”. I was not excited about this at all (because I don’t like tea – and yes, I’m aware that China is wasted on me) but was quickly won over. Dim sum, the famous Cantonese food, is breakfast fare. It’s basically a bunch of snacks – both sweet and savory, covering every spectrum of color, shape, and flavor. We had rice dough and rice noodles stuffed with a mixture of chopped meat and vegetables, a honey-coated crisp that strongly resembled sopapilla, shrimp dumplings, two kinds of egg tarts, and sweet doughy balls stuffed with sweet sesame cream and covered in a peanut powder. The only parts that weren’t great were made two dishes made with taro and radish, which I don’t like.
After eating our fill, we went to the train station to buy our tickets. We successfully (though not without hassle) bought tickets on the world’s fastest train, leaving Guangzhou tomorrow at 10:50 and arriving in Wuhan three hours later. We were unsuccessful, however, in buying tickets from Chengdu to Xi’An for a week from now. Sometimes I really hate China, or at least can see nothing but things that I want to change about it – and this was one of those times. We were at a huge train station in the third largest city in China, and we couldn’t use credit cards (even a Chinese bank card) to buy tickets. You also can’t buy them online, but must buy them at a train station only within 10 days before the trip. So even on a good day, it’s 麻烦 (big hassle) to buy train tickets, but it gets even more so during 春运 (the great migration associated with the Chinese New Year).
In addition to the ridiculous hordes of people that are trying to get from point A to point B (one of which you are inevitably at), they introduce new rules designed not to make your life easier, but to impede travel. For instance – new rule, new rule – you can now only buy train tickets at the station of origin. I’m getting slightly worried about the completion of our trip according to original plan and in my stress I want to get mad at something, but there really isn’t anything. I heard the warnings but had to ignore them because, like every other Chinese resident, this is when my vacation is. So, this is the situation we’re in – adventuring towards Beijing.
After giving up on the Sichuan train tickets, we started touring. We came to Guangzhou for two reasons (to eat and to take the train) but there is more than enough here to fill a day. The first stop was YueXiu Park, the largest park in Guangzhou. We walked through it for about a half hour, working our way uphill, enjoying the relative quiet away from Guangzhou’s crazy downtown. Dad got to play badminton with some locals.
One of the main attractions of the park is ZhenHai Tower, part of the old city wall, that currently houses a museum about ancient Guangzhou and offers a nice view of modern Guangzhou. They also had an artist carving name stamps, so Mom bought one with her Chinese name, 马希茜 (or Ma XiXi).
The other highlight of the park is the Five-Goat Statue. According to ancient legend, five angels saw the distress of the starving residents of Guangzhou during a drought, and they descended from heaven on goats bearing rice stalks in their mouths, which saved the populace. Now they are now honored as the founders of Guangzhou.
The next stop was the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial, built to honor the Father of China. It’s a beautiful memorial, well-kept and peaceful. Sun Yat-Sen is an interesting figure because he is respected by both the Chinese on the mainland and in Taiwan. I’ve also been to his memorial in Taibei and found them to be very similar.
Then we went to the Chen Family Academy, a traditional Cantonese house built by the Chen’s for the pursuit of knowledge and artistic skill. It’s not something I would have gone to based on the Lonely Planet description, but we all really loved it. First of all, the building itself was beautiful.
But inside was even more amazing, each room housing an exhibit on some form of traditional Chinese art. There was ridiculously detailed embroidery, palm fan folding, calligraphy, musical instruments, painting, and carvings out of every conceivable material. We even got to watch one man work, painting landscapes with his hands. The quality of the art was jaw-dropping, the skills displayed were mind-blowing, and the intricacies displayed made my brain hurt.
The last stop on our Guangzhou tour was the Sacred Heart Cathedral. To get there, we walked through a huge, crazy-busy wholesale market, where you could buy 2,000 of absolutely anything. Then we turned a corner and there it was, a huge cathedral that could have been copy-pasted from Europe.
Their Mass schedule was pretty interesting, offering Sunday services in Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and English (at 3:30 in the afternoon).
After a long day that included a ton of walking, we were very happy to sit down for dinner. It was truly amazing meal: shrimp wonton soup, a vegetable cooked with ginger and garlic, and a mixture of duck, chicken, and pork that ranks among the best meat I’ve had in China. Mom and Dad loved it too. I can’t describe how tasty the duck was, but I will tell you that we ordered another plate of it. :)
Back in the hotel, after June left us for the evening, my parents watched some news while I wrote this. Obviously, last week’s earthquake in Haiti has been making news all over the world, and China is no exception. Apparently China had some troops over there as part of the UN peacekeeping force, and eight of them died in the quake. Their bodies were just returned to China, and the memorial services have been all over the news. It’s interesting how vocabulary can mirror the times, because since coming to China this year I’ve learned the Chinese names for Yemen (也门) and Haiti (海地).