China 2017 (Part 1)
We left Hong Kong early Sunday morning from Hunghom Train Station. I had expected the process to be like that of travelling from England to Scotland. That was not the case at all. Despite HK now once again a Chinese territory there were border controls and passport visa checks.
It was interesting watching the scenery and noticing that Chinese towns, like many countries worldwide, have a typical skyline. That of high rise buildings.
My arrival into China did not start well, in fact, I thought I was going to be refused entry.
The night before, whilst in HK, we had purchased some fruit. One orange and apple were not eaten so I had dropped them into my backpack. How was I to know that taking fruit across the border was illegal? I didn’t even that the border still existed.
Anyway, once I understood the error of my ways, had apologised profusely and signed the required documents we were on our way. (Annoying as the oranges had been sweet and juicy and I could have eaten it on the train)
We were met at the designated point by our guide. A lovely young lady who spoke English fluently. On the way to our hotel she suggested we stop for lunch. We were informed that it was ‘National Children’s Day’ so many families would also be eating out, a good way to gain a sense of the family culture.
We assured our guide that we could manage ordering food etc as she appeared to prefer not joining us. Looking at the menu and associated photographs was a little more difficult than we thought, eventually selecting Peking Duck. We understood that dish and what could be easier?? We expected shredded duck, wanton pancakes, hoisin sauce etc.
What we received was a Whole Duck!
Apparently, this dish is for the table (usually 8) rather than for individuals. We ate what we could – our guide coming to tell us how the kitchen staff had been greatly amused – brought with her some small plastic boxes to gather up what was left. We ate this as a prelude to dinner and it was just as good cold.
We spent the remainder of the day with guide and driver sightseeing in the district. We visited the Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family, now an educational facility. https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/guangdong/guangzhou/chen_family.htm
Although at one time neglected it has recently been restored and it is easy to identify the old from the new.
We had a whistle stop tour of the Nanyue King Mausoleum, only discovered in 1983 it had laid quietly for centuries underneath buildings. It was ‘whistle stop’ as our guide quickly realised my husband would have stayed all day so demonstrated how to keep him moving whilst missing nothing (wish she had taught me, I still struggle to move him quickly through museums, usually take a book and meet him at the café)
An unexpected sight was the Sacred Heart Cathedral in the city centre. https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/guangdong/guangzhou/sacred-heart-cathedral.htm
Reminiscence of the Notre Dame, it demonstrates not only the skill of the craftsmen who designed and built it in the mid-19th century but also the Catholic Heritage in the city. Unfortunately, we could not enter as a service was in progress, although assured it is worth a visit.
On the way to our hotel we stopped to stretch our legs as we walked around the grounds of Dr Sun Yatsen’s Hall. Although built in 1930 it’s architecture gives it the appearance of a much older building. From what I could read Dr Sun Yatsen was a democrat supporter of a one party state and is spoken of highly and still held in great regard. https://www.chinahighlights.com/guangzhou/attraction/sun-yat-sen-memorial-hall.htm The building is still in use today, entry is free and although, other than the internal architecture, there is nothing to see it is worth calling in if you are nearby.
Shamian Island, where our hotel was situated, had been built in the mid-19th century for the English and French merchants who were based in the region. The gothic and baroque style buildings are still there today. Despite being a busy area there was a tranquillity amongst the parks, riverside paths and many statues portraying every day scenes.
The hotel (White Swan Hotel Guangzhou) was excellent and listed the Queen amongst its many important visitors. It was wasted on us to be truthful as we were only there one night and had little time to explore nor make use of its facilities. We decided to ‘wander out’ for dinner so I cannot comment on the food although I defy anyone not to breakfast well at the morning buffet. Such was the array of foods I could have sat all day and still not have tried all the options.
We sat and had a leisurely breakfast looking out onto the Pearl River. Different from our breakfast 30 years ago on that date which I recall was full of the last minute preparations and ‘comings and goings’ natural on a Wedding Day.
Following check-out from the hotel we had a leisurely walk around the local park with our guide. It was surprising to see the group activities that were taking place – dance classes, Tai Chi, Chess – amongst the trees. All too soon we were heading on a train to Guilin.
Arriving at Guilin we were met by our new Guide – another young lady who spoke English fluently. Although the British are noted to be commonly poor at speaking foreign languages in our defence we find it difficult as others which to practise their use of English with us. We did make attempts to learn basic words – Hello, Goodbye, Please, Thank You etc – in fact husband mastered approx. 12 and considered himself practically a Master!
Guilin was very busy as there was a public holiday and festival happening. Our hotel (The White House Hotel) was situated alongside the river and so, to avoid the crowds, we walked around the 4 lakes and 2 rivers before eating in the hotel. Obviously the lakes were small although it was all picturesque especially as we returned to the hotel in the dark – very clever use of lighting added to the festive atmosphere.
Whilst on our walk – and to give an example of the keenness of the locals to speak English – my husband was approached by an elderly gentleman. He asked very politely if it would be possible to have a word with him. I wondered what it would be about although stepped away as I felt the approach had not involved myself. 20 minutes later they said goodbye and the gentleman continued on his way. Turns out he was a retired University Professor of English and whilst still able to read books, journals etc in the language he worried about losing the ability to converse so took any opportunity to practise – English tourists not being common in this part of China. They had a good conversation – ranging from literature to politics (we were in the middle of an election at the time so the men compared the styles of Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May). I whiled away the time posing for photos with the locals, most likely my only experience of what it would be like to be pursued by the paparazzi.
Heading back to the hotel we had to cross the road – a terrifying experience. Standing at a zebra crossing meant nothing to passing drivers and the Pelican crossings did not work no matter how many times we pressed the switch. Following a few aborted attempts to cross we noticed a group of local people, so quickly attached ourselves to them and ran when they ran!!
Again the wonderful setting of the hotel was wasted on us as we were up and out early the next morning and on our way to the Li River for a gentle cruise to Yangshuo. Such a delightful few days that I think they deserve a ‘post’ of their own.