As far as travelling goes, Guangzhou is very close to Shenzen (my home base). A quick one-and-a-half-hour bus ride (the time it takes to cross Belgium from north to south!), brought the group of intrepid SACS travellers to a city as different from Shenzen as the moon is from the earth! Gone were the skyscrapers and hallmarks of a society focussed on business and making money, enter the more traditional Chinese society that I haven’t seen in China since I went to Beijing last year.
We met at Jingshan villas under a clear blue sky in November. After a few minutes of meet and greet, we boarded our bus and were on the way. I took advantage of the ample leg space I had in the back of the bus to relax and enjoy the scenery.
An hour later we arrived at Shamian Island at the White Swan Hotel (a tourist attraction in its own right; famous for the hotel of choice for Americans hoping to adopt Chinese babies, because of its (former) proximity to the US Consulate. It even earned the name “The White Stork.”). During the 19th century and before this island was the stronghold of western powers, especially Britain and France. The architecture of the island is very much reminiscent of that past, with townhouses and offices in the colonial style and the beautiful Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in the style of the churches in France. Yet once we crossed the bridge that connects the island with Guangzhou proper, we literally walked from West to East. For across the water lies the Qingping traditional Chinese medicine market.
The Qingping market harbours a plethora of traditional medicines that were, and are, very much central to Chinese traditional lifestyle. Unlike Shenzen, Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton), is a very old city. In the market one can find a traditional Chinese remedy for almost any ailment (though I did not try any myself) from dried ginger to live scorpions! Our tour guide, Zhou Ting (Judy), told us about the various properties of the medicines ranging from relieving headaches to increasing sexual prowess and curing cancer. From Qingping we went to the Chen Family Academy Temple, a beautiful example of traditional Chinese architecture. The Academy was used during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to train the bureaucrats of the Empire and to prepare them for the Imperial examinations. Nowadays, the building has no echoes of that academic past, but its gardens and lovely buildings create a paradise of peace and tranquillity where the visitor can enjoy exhibitions of traditional finger painting.
But time was short at the Chen temple as we had to hop on the bus to visit our next stop. The Tomb of the Southern Yue Emperor was my second favourite stop. The Emperor’s tomb, discovered in the 1980s, has been marvellously reconstructed with a walk-around tour of the original tomb followed by a wonderful museum which amongst other things displays the full suit of jade that covered the Emperor’s body (jade was believed to preserve the body). It is a definite must for visitors interested in ancient Chinese culture and though I would have liked to stay longer, are schedule had us on the bus towards our final stop of the day in the Chime Long Xiangjiang Resort.
Extravagant enough to rival the resorts of Disneyland Paris the Chime Long boasted, amongst other things, two in-hotel atriums inhabited by flamingos and tigers. After a delightful and truly international buffet dinner, we were off to the Chime Long circus, a laser-filled extravaganza of incredible acrobatic feats of acrobats and many animal acts, all performed to the music of several movie scores such as Alexander and Pirates of the Caribbean. The show was entertaining and a must for any visitor.
On Sunday, we awoke at 7:30 ready for an altogether more relaxed day. Half of the group split off to visit an antiques dealer in Quangzhou while the other half went to the Chime Long Safari Park to visit the famous pandas and white tigers. The pandas proved hard to locate as time after time, the Safari Park employees forbade us to see them.
Soon, however, one of our more intrepid members decided that a more rebellious course of action was required and after successfully evading the park employees we managed to catch a glimpse of the illusive animals. Obviously they were quite cuddly and I had to work hard to retain my serious “male” demeanor, though I soon failed and took many pictures of those wonderful animals. My resolve was further tested when we passed by the animal nursery, but in the end, I just managed to refrain from stealing a tiger cub that was trying its best to get out of its enclosure.
At lunch the two groups reunited for another tasty buffet and then we were off to our final stop of the trip; the Lianhuashan Buddhist sanctuary. The mountain-top sanctuary is filled with temples and towers in honour of Buddhism, not to mention a vast golden statue of the goddess Kwan-Yin a full 48 metres tall! Oddly enough there was also a Qing dynasty fortress in which the visitor could enjoy recreated panoramas as well as partake in archery. The view from the battlements was magnificent.
Finally, we boarded the bus back home, all of us pleasantly exhausted by our two day trip. However the bus ride was far from boring. While crossing the Pearl River, our tour guide talked to us about piracy and the role the Pearl River delta and Canton (Guangzhou) played during the Sino-British Opium Wars. Not much later and much to our surprise our tour guide called on us to sing songs and tell jokes. We all did our best to sing along with our on-board diva Patricia, and the children in the group who treated us to several Christmas carols.
At eight o’clock we arrived back in Shenzen and if I can speak for the group, I’m sure we all fell straight into our beds! I want to take the time to thank Mary Ann MacCartney and all those who helped put together this wonderful trip to Guangzhou; and everyone who went on the trip for their good natured spirit and patience.
Which leaves me with just one question; when is the next SACS-trip?!