Saturday, November 11, 2017

18 hours in Guangzhou

Yeah, I know, 45 hours to get to Dhaka (time at airport and layovers included), spend 48 hours there, travel 65 hours back home. But those 65 hours included an 18 hour layover in Guangzhou (Canton), the capital of Guangdong Province, China! This must have been the craziest work trip of my entire life. But hey, I got to take a tour of Guangzhou courtesy of China Southern (I mean, they made me spend 18 hours  as a layover, it's the least they could do, right?).

This was my second time in the city. The first one was 11 years ago, but that one time was about as rushed as this one and we didn't see much. Lucky for me, this tour happened to take me to stuff we didn't get to see in 2011!

But before I could hop on the tour I had to wait for about an hour (I landed so, so, so early...), so what did I do with that one hour? Have my favourite Chinese breakfast, a definitely acquired taste – congee (粥) with pickled veggies (鹹菜). So basic. I love it! A good way to start my short day in Guangzhou!

After that, the bus arrived and us eight foreigners on various long layovers hopped on. First stop? The Chen Clan Ancestral Hall (陳家祠), basically the best example of Lingnan architecture, an architecture typical to this part of the country. Having lived in the northern parts of China for so long, I was completely amazed by how different Lingnan architecture looked to me! The colours, shapes, motifs... everything seemed so new! Decorations were just so bright, and so dense, done in porcelain and wood...

Then, the roof itself was an intricate work of interlocking wooden pieces. Again, something I felt was aesthetically different from what I was used to seeing further up north.

The hall for the ancestors themselves had these beautiful lions on striking blue stands. We were told there's a hall in China for every Chinese surname, hence why this is called the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, because it's for the ancestors of people that bear the Chen surname.

Of course, this is a tourist attraction, and there are shops selling traditional crafts. But there was this one person that did catch my eye: an artist that made paintings by using just his hand, no brush. He'd use his palm, fingers, nails, wrist... and he'd create forests, waterfalls, rocks...

If that were all I had seen, it would have been enough (plus, all my travels and flights and jet lags were making my body beg for a long nap!), but we then went on to stop number two: Lychee Bay (荔枝灣). In old times, Guangzhou had areas with creeks and canals, which were then filled with earth or built over as often happens when some cities modernize. In 2009 the city decided to bring this area back to its former look and in 2010 there was water flowing again.

Of course this looks new, rather than preserved. But that's how it's done in most of China (just take a walk around the alleys around the Forbidden City, in Beijing). But still, I'd rather have this than a "more authentic" dusty street, right? I liked it. 

And the area around it was nice too, by the way. This part of Guangzhou reminds me more of certain parts of Shanghai rather than Beijing. Smaller streets, lots of trees, old houses... Oh, and something new for me in this part of the world – bikes for public use! In the photo below you can just see a few, but there were places with dozens upon dozens of them! From no less than five different companies! What!?!?

Hopped on the bus. On to stop number three: Yuexiu Park (越秀公園), to see the Five Rams Sculpture. Guangzhou is also known as the City of the Five Rams, and there are a few myths about the city and five immortals riding five rams, hence the nickname. The statue is rather new, some 50 years old. It sits atop a hill, and it may be new but it's nice nevertheless. Plus, it looked like the park itself could make for a really nice walk. Unfortunately, this tour stop was exclusively to see the emblem of the city, right?

Last stop? A restaurant! The tour included a traditional Chinese lunch! Oh, I was so grateful for this part! Our tour guide ordered plenty of food for us eight foreigners. Like, plenty. As you can see, some of the food didn't make it to the photo! LOL. I knew most of the things we ordered (I mean, I've lived a total of 7 years in China on three separate occasions, right?), but there were a couple that were very Cantonese and very unknown to me. Oh, and yummy. Cool.

That was the end of the tour. We were taken back to the airport, and then I took the bus to my hotel (also courtesy of the airline). It was a rather basic hotel. But it offered the one thing I really needed – an uninterrupted and calm six hours of sleep! That was one extremely long nap! But it was just what my body deserved and claimed.

Then off to the airport, buy some snacks for home, buy myself a green bean popsicle (another acquired taste of something you don't see outside China very often), almost miss my flight because my wristwatch was on Dhaka time... 

Last year I had the chance to visit Beijing again, after a good many years. I consider myself extremely fortunate for this opportunity, however brief, to see Guangzhou again.

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