Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Lingnan Tiandi

After visiting Foshan's Ancestral Temple we still had a walk around another highlight of the city: Lingnan Tiandi (岭南天地). This is a part of town that has been renovated, with numerous old houses and historical buildings preserved and turned into shops, cafés, restaurants, galleries... Essentially, an open air museum-mall. 

Some of the buildings and small squares were truly interesting, with a fascinating combination of styles, both western and local. We loved the square old eavestroughs, and found the decorations above windows and doors intriguing and similar in idea to the porcelain decorations of native Lingnan architecture. There were even balconies with Buddhist swastika designs!

There were long narrow alleys, and more of the rounded roofs I adore so much. I find them so elegant, and so different from anything I had seen in the north.

And, once more, colourful porcelain applications depicting scenes and patterns. Plus, the trees around the tower were in bloom, too. A really nice area. 

One wonders what this place looked like before renovation, because it really is an unusual case that big sections of a town could be preserved or restored to create a uniform feel, as we experienced in 2007 when visiting some water towns near Shanghai, one renovated (Xizha, with all original inhabitants displaced) and one without renovating (Dongzha, and still functioning as a regular town). It would feel like, so far, it's either displacing everybody or letting a place fall into ruin. Maybe a concept like Mexico's "magical towns" (see our visit to Izamal, in Yucatán, for example) would be a nice compromise? Who knows, maybe there are similar efforts underway already. In any case, a really interesting and pretty place to spend an afternoon, for sure.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Foshan's Ancestral Temple

The previous Sunday we decided to finally visit a nearby city, famous for being the birth place of Cantonese opera, kung fu and lion dancing – Foshan (佛山). Since it is such an important Lingnan culture centre, we focused on one thing, the thousand-year-old Foshan Ancestral Temple (佛山祖庙), which is itself known for its relationship with martial arts, lion dancing and Cantonese culture in general.

Well, it was an incredible visit. Sure, we were expecting to be at least somewhat impressed by this Taoist temple, but it was more like being totally wowed. Just past the entrance we were greeted by a beautiful crouching lion and a dragon screen, an old gate with detailed niches like we didn't remember seeing before, porcelain paintings and incredibly busy and detailed porcelain decorations atop walls and roofs... Plus Chinese redbud trees (or zijing 紫荊 in Chinese) in bloom all around. Beautiful.

The rest of the visit was as impressive. Colourful roofs, a turtle pond, porcelain screens (including one with Buddhist swastikas), and a kind of round roof decoration I've only seen here down south and which is probably my favourite architectural element among everything I've seen so far!

And then, the interiors, revealing such a sense of sophistication, including some stunning intricate roofs with interlocking pieces of red wood. Loved it. Absolutely.

Incense burners, a stage with some amateur Cantonese opera singing...

There is a museum in the temple, but we had seen so much already and just felt like having a quick look, though we did learn that this temple was dedicated to Beidi (北帝), the God from the North, the local version of Xuanwu (玄武), or the Dark Warrior. And don't you love the clouds on this figure of Beidi?

Right before leaving, we came across this gorgeous black and red Buddhist shrine.

And after leaving and having lunch? We walked past the back of the temple. Have a look yourselves. Wow. Right?

So, yeah, amazing place. And that's not all we saw in Foshan! But I made an immense effort to use "only" twenty photos of the temple here, so that's in the next post.

Friday, March 23, 2018

from Japan to Argentina to Ireland on a Saturday

So, my previous post was about a Friday in Guangzhou, right? Well, Saturday was about as good! We started the day with brunch at what we thought was going to be home-style Chinese food, but which turned out to be home-style Japanese! Blame the app I used to find it, which only mentioned it was home-style. I guess they only apply the Japanese label if there's going to be sushi and the like? Anyhow, this was a fantastic surprise and I loved the place, called Retro Deli – completely unassuming, with a medium sized menu of simple but properly made items, like ochazuke! 

Ochazuke is, basically, leftover rice, various toppings (often nori, or seaweed), and hot tea that you yourself pour over it. The umeboshi (preserved Japanese apricot), the tea and (in my habib's case) salmon were all absolutely delicious! Oh, and we also ordered some cool fresh tofu. Also, very simple, but with just the ideal few ingredients to make it perfect.

After brunch, what follows? Well, coffee, of course! For that we headed nearby to Grainy Bakery&Café (I mentioned it in a previous post), where we had not only our usual latte with their amazing strong coffee, but also a light and airy and unusual green tea cheesecake. I'd definitely order that again.

Now, what else is there to do besides, you know, eating and drinking? Although, to be honest, eating and drinking is such an important deal when getting to know a place, but back to the question – what else? Well, if you are queer and want to learn tango, you go to the Saturday LGBTQ tango lessons! I'd love to show you the photos of the couples dancing, but privacy, right? So here's just a pic of a short clip we were shown at the beginning of two men doing some tango. 

Now, there was another gay party going on like the one we had gone to the night before. But we don't usually like to do two similar things in a row, so we opted out and headed to celebrate St. Paddy's (Saint Patrick's Day) instead! With such an enormous diaspora and Irish descendants all over the English speaking world and beyond, the Irish bars of Guangzhou were full to the brim with people celebrating! 

We began with some Guinness (well of course!) at Hooley's, where there was a band and, as we found out, the hunkiest of Irish pool-players! 

We would have had dinner there, had it not been absolutely jam-packed with barely enough place to stand! So we headed to another Irish bar – Morgan's. At this time of night, the place was rather quiet. But they had one very valuable thing besides Guinness on tap... Irish stew! Cooked just for this one night, this is probably one of the best dishes we've had in Guangzhou! As unappetizing as the photo may make it look, the sauce, potatoes and lamb were unbelievable! 

We should've stopped the eating there, but when Guinness flows, decisions are poor, and we finished with a portion of bread pudding as well. And it wasn't a poor decision because it wasn't good – it was! – but this was really an act of gluttony. But hell, St. Paddy's just once a year, right? And so many of our friends are Irish or have Irish roots! (not me, though, despite my hodge-podge ancestry, no Irish or Celts there) 

So that's it, a Saturday in Guangzhou for you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

on a Friday of haze, contemporary dance and gay parties

So, what happens during a Friday in Guangzhou, you could ask? Well, for example, last weekend it was hazy as hell! There are this gargantuan towers on my way to work, and the top of the tallest one was completely hidden! Cool view, I think!

Then, at night, it was time for some dance by the Contemporary Dance Company of Guangdong, presenting "Sumeru". Personally, I enjoyed most of it – the technique was good, there was a nice play with lights on the floor, and it was very cool to detect some Chinese elements in specific moments of the music and in certain poses. The women, by the way, were either much better than the men or the choreographer was more interested in showing them off. 

At moments I did wonder, though, if this kind of dance doesn't feel somewhat empty in this time and age, especially in comparison with, for example, "To be straight with you" by DV8, which we saw in Toronto back in 2009 – a brilliant example of dance and content. But still, a good performance.

That would have been it, except the friends we went with were going to a gay party we didn't know of! There are no big LGBTQ nightclubs here in Guangzhou. There are a couple of bars, but the latest nightclub closed a while ago. So, instead, parties are organized every now and then. We weren't going to let this opportunity to go to our first one pass by, right?

To avoid problems with authorities, and probably to protect the identities of party-goers (being in the closet is still the default here in China), this party took place in some textile factory-commercial complex. It was a bit of a labyrinthine walk from the gate, but we made it to "Take me".

And once inside? A good DJ (at least in my opinion), a drag queen show, go-go dancers, foreigners being extremely extroverted and showy (oh, wait, that was our group of buddies!)...

And a very good looking crowd! I gotta say, my memories might be distorted after so many years away from China, but I don't remember going to parties in Beijing and having my head turn constantly because of all the eye candy! Hell, we even felt ugly and out of shape! But in a good way, of course. That was one fun party.

And that was just the beginning of the weekend, you know?