Fun in Foshan

After having traveled outside the province for the last few holidays, Jun and I decided to stay in Guangdong for the Dragon Boat Festival. After talking a bit about where we could go, we decided to visit Foshan. Located next to the western side of Guangzhou, Foshan is an old city that is known for its cultural and culinary contributions to Chinese heritage. Cantonese opera is regarded as originating in Foshan, as well as lion dancing and high-quality ceramics.

Day 1

Our trip started by leaving Futian Station in Shenzhen a little after noon. The train ride to Foshan West Station went smoothly. When we got to the station, we learned that we would have to endure a winding line of health code monitoring and COVID-19 testing. After about 40 minutes of waiting in multiple lines, we were finally able to leave the station. We first needed to figure out how to do that. It turned out that the ride-hailing pick-up area of the station was on the opposite side of the station from where the health checking was happening. After walking an additional 10 minutes across the station, we got in the car and went to our hotel in the Qiandeng Lake area of Foshan.

Checking in at the hotel went smoothly; they even upgraded our room. When we got up to our room, we decided to rest a bit and decide what we wanted to do that afternoon. After thinking about it, we chose to stay close to the hotel and explore the area around Qiandeng Lake.

We started our walk on the eastern bank of the lake next to the hotel and walked southward. A lot of people were there to enjoy the long holiday weekend. As we walked, we saw some interesting artworks and gardens around Qiandeng Lake and in the adjoining Leigang Park. Jun and I particularly like the more abstract and fantastical artwork.

After a while, Jun and I realized that we were ready for an early dinner since we only had brunch that day. We decided to go to a local restaurant—Shuihuo Zuoyong—that served food in clay pots. The food was amazing. We tried a variety of dishes including scallop fried rice, vegetables, and over-baked pork. We then topped it off with some ginger and sesame ice cream.

After having eaten a lot for dinner, Jun and I went for a walk around Leigang Park and visited the southern section so we could see the Kuixing Pavilion and then walk northward back to the hotel. The pavilion, unfortunately, was closed, but we could walk around it a bit. As we got closer to the hotel, we did see some nice murals under some of the bridges and on some of the buildings.

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was getting late. Jun and I decided to relax for the rest of the evening and call it a day.

Day 2

Our second day started with us beginning the day in the Zumiao area of Foshan. Jun wanted to have a late breakfast at the Nanshan Snack Shop, which sold a variety of rice rolls and noodles. The meal was delicious and a great way to start a day of exploration. The street the restaurant was located on was also nice as the trees along the street were blooming.

From the restaurant, we next walked up towards Liang’s Garden. This garden is one of four famous Qing Dynasty gardens in Guangdong. I first visited here in 2013 when I first moved to Guangzhou. I found it interesting to see how much of it has changed, as there are more buildings open than I remembered from my last visit. Jun and I enjoyed walking around the garden and visiting some of the buildings. One thing I found particularly nice was that there were examples of contemporary arts and crafts by local artists and artisans that were displayed in the gardens.

From Liang’s Garden, Jun and I then walked along the historic streets toward the center of Zumiao. We both found some of the side streets more interesting than the main streets as they encapsulated the lived experience of the people and the changes in the city.

When we got to the Zumiao area, we decided to first visit Lingnan Tiandi, which is a city block of traditional buildings that have been renovated and repurposed into an arcade for restaurants and shops. While there we did some shopping and had a snack at one of the restaurants.

From Lingnan Tiandi, we then visited the Foshan Ancestral Temple. First built during the Song Dynasty (1078 – 1085 AD), the temple serves as a central node for the people in Foshan. Technically a Daoist temple, many people of different beliefs visit it for a variety of reasons. As it was a holiday when we visited, the temple staff had planned a few cultural activities and performances, such as a Cantonese Opera performance and lion dances.

Then we took the metro to Shiwan so we could visit Nanfeng Ancient Kiln and walk around Shiwan Park. Nanfeng Ancient Kiln is where the ceramic and pottery art of Foshan originated. Beginning around the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), it is the oldest known kiln in China and is still in operation. Nanfeng is a working historic site. Jun and I both found it fascinating as you could see people working, explore different parts of the history of the area, and enjoy just walking around the different alleys within the site.

Afterward, Jun and I walked around the surrounding area and did some shopping. We ended up buying two ceramic lions to remember our trip. Then we walked a bit around Shiwan Park before heading back to Zumiao for dinner.

When we got there, we found a restaurant located on the second floor—Shangyan Boutique Guangzhou Cuisine—and sat on the balcony. The view allowed us to look at the square around the bell tower. After dinner, we took a walk around Lingnan Tiandi and had dessert at Minxin Old Store before taking a car back to the hotel.

Day 3

On our last day in Foshan, we decided to have dim sum at Renshan Renhai Yueshi Dim Sum near our hotel. It was a nice walk in the mid-morning that helped us build our appetite. The dim sum was inexpensive and delicious.

From the restaurant, we next took a car southward towards the Shunde district of Foshan so we could visit Fengjian Village. The village is known for its water canals and has existed for over a thousand years. Many of the structures were originally constructed during the Song Dynasty. Nestled within the alleys and streets of the village are many temples and bridges that created a whimsical atmosphere. We enjoyed spending the early afternoon here.

Afterward, we decided to head northward to Beijiao and visit Lingnan He Garden. The garden first opened in 2018 and has a variety of architectural and garden styles from the Ming Dynasty to the present. It was interesting to visit the different sections and see how the styles both continued from one period to the next but maintained a unique character to them.

After our visit, we then had dinner at the restaurant within the gardens—Guoranju—that allowed us to sample Shunde cuisine. Most of the dishes were great, but there was an interesting dish of curdled milk with eggs that has a mix of savory and sweet flavors. This dish was a delicacy of this restaurant, but both Jun and I thought it was a bit too rich for us. The rest of the food, though, was great.

From the restaurant, we walked to the metro and took it to Guangzhou South Railway Station. Everything went smoothly at the station, and we were back in Shenzhen in a little over an hour. The trip to Foshan was a nice sojourn for us. We got to see some wonderful sites, as well as eat some amazing food.

Adventures in Xishuangbanna

Heading into the May Day holiday, Jun and I decided to travel further afield from Guangdong province. Yunnan was one of the few places we could travel to that had reasonable COVID-19 requirements. We, thus, decided we would go back to Yunnan for the second time this year. This time we would travel to the southwestern corner of the province and visit the Xishuangbanna region. This area is home to the Dai people, an ethnic group similar to others in Southeast Asia.

Accompanying us on the trip was Jun’s cousin and a friend of hers. We also decided that since Jun’s cousin had her driver’s license, we would rent a car to make traveling around Xishuangbanna easier. This decision would prove to create interesting situations during the trip.

Day 1

The first day of the trip started extremely early for me. My annual university conference occurred on the morning of May 1, which required me to be awake from midnight to 6:00 that morning. After my conference was over, I had to take a shower and then head off to the airport for our mid-morning flight. I was extremely tired by the time we got on the plane. Sadly the flight was short and required us to deplane in Nanning to pick up more passengers before heading to Xishuangbanna. Sufficed to say I did not get much sleep.

When we got to Jinghong—the main city in Xishuangbanna—we first had to go through airport health procedures. After we had cleared the health checks, we went to find the car. When we found it Jun’s cousin had some initial difficulties in figuring out how to operate the car. The attendant there helped, and we were soon on our way to the hotel. During that drive, I learned how inexperienced Jun’s cousin was when driving. She drove through a red light at one point thinking it had turned green. That incident made me nervous about what would happen next.

Fortunately, the hotel was close by, and we soon had our room keys. What should have been a time to rest in our rooms, however, soon turned into a frustrating situation.

When we got to our first room—yes, the first room—we found that it wasn’t ready and needed some time to be cleaned. We went back to the front desk, and they changed our rooms. Our second room was nice, but it had taken up some time to go back and forth. We decided that we had wasted enough time and we should go out and explore a bit.

We decided to visit a small temple nearby called Mannuan Longcun Temple. The grounds of the temple are quite small, but the central structure is gorgeous. It’s a white stupa with gold statues and silver candelabras and incense holders surrounding it. It was sublime to be there in the late afternoon, early evening sun. Jun and I enjoyed being there as it was relaxing and calming. Something I needed due to my exhausted state.

From there we next went to a local restaurant for dinner. The grounds of the restaurant were gorgeous, and the food was amazing.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel. When we got to our room, we noticed that it was quite warm. We turned on the air conditioning and realized that it wasn’t working. Jun called the front desk and they sent someone from maintenance to check it. The maintenance person found that the air conditioning unit was broken and needed to be replaced. That resulted in us moving to our third room. Fortunately, this was the last room change we needed to make. After taking a shower I was in bed and asleep for the next ten hours.

Day 2

After a wonderful night of rest, I woke up feeling more myself and ready to explore Xishuangbanna. Jun and I got ready and then went down to have breakfast. After we ate, we then went for a walk around the grounds of the hotel. As we walked, we saw that the hotel had several peacocks, including white peacocks. For Jun and me, it was the first time to see white peacocks.

When Jun’s cousin and her friend were ready, we then went out to explore Gaozhuang. Located next to the Lancang River, Gaozhuang is known for its night market. There, though, is also a temple—Shuangjing—located within it that we wanted to visit during the day. The temple had an ornate pagoda that in parts was covered in gold. The surrounding courtyard was also quite magnificent. We ended up taking a significant number of photos there.

Afterward, we then went to have lunch at a local restaurant that was decorated with cattle skulls, which was an interesting choice in décor.

After lunch, we walked a bit around Gaozhuang. While Jun’s cousin and her friend took pictures, we took a walk by the river. When we met up again, we decided to go visit Manting Park.

The drive to the park was uneventful. When we got there, however, we had to deal with a lot of traffic. Jun’s cousin got nervous and decided to drive further ahead to see if she could make a u-turn. It ended up she had to travel over a kilometer before she could. Finally, however, we were able to park and enter the park.

Manting Park is over 1,300 years old. It was once an imperial garden to the Dai royal family. Remnants of those structures still exist within the park. Besides the historic importance of the park, the grounds are gorgeous. We enjoyed walking around the park and visiting the different areas within it and around it, such as our visit to Jiebajie temple.

As it got closer to evening, we decided to go back to Gaozhuang to visit the night market. When we got there, we first stopped to have dinner at a small rooftop restaurant. The food there was nice, but there were a lot of smokers outside. Our first table had a guy who kept blowing smoke into my face. It was not intentional, but it got to the point where I started using the menu to blow it back to him so I wouldn’t choke on the smoke. He was surprised that I didn’t enjoy the smoke. He, unfortunately, was unwilling to stop smoking. The staff at the restaurant helped and moved us to another table inside the restaurant.

After dinner, we went for a walk around the night market. There were a lot of people there, which was quite a different experience from the morning. After walking and exploring the different stalls, we decided to head back to the hotel.

Our second day was fun, and it was great to explore the different parts of Xishuangbanna.

Day 3

Our third day had us venture outside the city to explore the natural side of the area.

We first visited the Xishuangbanna Primeval Forest Park. The park is typical in its design of a nature park in China with paved walkways. There are several cultural and natural sites to see, such as the Ai’ni village and the indigenous monkeys. The best part of the park was walking through the forest on the bamboo walkway mid-way up through the tree canopy. Jun and I enjoyed that experience.

From the park, we next went to the Chinese Academy of Science’s Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden. The drive there was interesting as we had to stop at a health checkpoint to make sure our negative COVID-19 test was valid. It was, but I couldn’t use the electronic system and had to get out of the car and fill out the paperwork. Joy … After that was taken care of, we soon arrived at the park and took a little tram to the western area.

The tram dropped us off at an orchid exhibition. That was neat as they had orchid mantises. I had never seen them, and it was fun trying to find them in the orchids. The rest of the exhibit was quite impressive even though they were being watered when we got there, and we had to use our umbrellas to walk through the exhibit.

Jun and I decided to explore the rest of the park by ourselves. Jun’s cousin and her friend wanted to take pictures. Jun and I first decided to eat something since by then it was mid-afternoon and we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. Then we went around the park and explored different areas. We ended up visiting the water gardens. We saw huge lily pads. We walked through a fun hedge maze. And we generally just enjoyed being in nature.

By early evening we were ready to go back to the hotel. When we arrived back in the city, we first had to get a new COVID-19 test. We found one near Gaozhuang that was located inside a construction site. That was a bit strange, but it went quickly. We then decided to go back to the hotel for dinner. I was a bit tired and wasn’t interested in having a large meal. I decided to go back to the room to have a snack and catch up on some of my research for my dissertation. It was nice to have a relaxing evening to end the day.  

Day 4

Our fourth day was more relaxed than the previous days. We drove southeastwardly down to the Daizu Garden, which is a cultural area of five villages that were combined for cultural preservation. I enjoyed walking around the different villages and seeing the locally constructed bamboo buildings.

The temples within the different villages were also quite impressive. I particularly enjoyed visiting the Mansunman village temple. I was impressed by the intricacies and ornateness of the temple buildings and structures. One of the things I particularly found fascinating was the bamboo Buddha statue. Jun and I had never seen anything like it before, and we were quite impressed.

The food in the village was also wonderful. We had local Dai cuisine in the inn of a local family, and it was delicious and inexpensive.

Lunch gave us the energy to continue exploring the remaining villages for the rest of the afternoon. Before we left, Jun’s cousin also got us to take some pictures of her at one of the temples.

By the late afternoon, we were headed back to the hotel to rest before dinner. We decided to take a shared car to Gaozhuang and eat at a Laotian restaurant. The food there again was delicious, especially the first dish we had. After dinner, Jun and I got a coconut mango dessert as we walked around the night market. Soon, though, we all decided to go back to the hotel for the night as we were all tired by then.

Day 5

This day was our last one in Xishuangbanna before heading home. In the morning we decided to visit the Xishuangbanna Tropical Flowers and Plants Garden in the city. The park was interesting in that it had a lot of fruit plants within it. We saw figs, pineapples, lychee, and many more different fruit plants. We also enjoyed some Thai tea and coffee as we walked along the parks’ paths. It was a nice last stop for our trip.

Soon, though, we went back to the hotel to collect our things and drove to the airport to return the car and check-in. Everything went smoothly and we were soon back in Shenzhen getting our COVID-19 test and taking the metro back to our apartment. The trip was great! It was nice to visit a new and unique place in China when compared to the other parts of the country. It was a welcomed and needed escape from Shenzhen.

Qingming in Kaiping

Spring finally arrived in Guangdong! Jun and I decided we needed to get out of Shenzhen. During the Qingming (Tomb Sweeping) Festival, we decided to visit Kaiping on the other side of the Pearl River Delta. We had last visited there for a day trip in 2015. During that trip, however, we felt rushed as traveling to and from Kaiping took a lot of time. We ended up only seeing some of the many sights in the area. This time we planned on staying the night so we could see more. Additionally, one of our friends would be joining us on the trip.

Day 1

The trip started early on Monday morning. We had to catch the 7:35 train to Guangzhou, where we would transfer for the train to Kaiping. Everything went smoothly, but all three of us were tired.

When we got to Kaiping we negotiated with a driver to take us around all day for a reasonable price.

We first ventured to Jijiangli Village. There we walked around the small village and went up two of the towers there. Kaiping is known for watchtowers (diaolous) that were built in the early 1900s as residences and watchtowers. Chinese immigrants in South Asia, Australasia, and North America would send money back to their families in Kaiping—and in some cases would travel back and forth between China and their foreign homes—to build these towers. Along with the money that was sent, many would also send postcards of the places where they lived, traveled to, or simply famous buildings they liked. Their families back in Kaiping would use these images to inspire them to build the towers in a hybrid architectural style of Chinese and foreign decorative forms.

The intricateness of the designs on these buildings served as a reflection of the wealth of the family. In Jijiangli, the Ruishi building is an example of an ornate and richly decorated building. Unfortunately, it’s privately owned; we were unable to visit the interior. But the outside of the building is quite a sight.

After walking around Jijiangli the driver took us to a local restaurant for lunch. We ended up on a street known for selling dumplings, which we ate and enjoyed. The food was quite good and helped us wake up a bit for our next stop: Majianglong.

This next stop is the largest site of watchtowers in Kaiping. It is comprised of a series of hamlets connected via a bamboo-covered path. The walk itself was nice as it shaded us from the afternoon sun. The towers here were scattered throughout the hamlets and from the top of them, you could look over the bamboo to see some of the other towers. We enjoyed walking around and visiting the different towers. I think, however, we were more interested in the gardens, orchards, and fields as they were teeming with new vegetation. It was nice being out in nature after having been cooped up in Shenzhen for almost two months.

From the village, the driver took us to look at the Chikan Ancient Town which is part of a revitalization and renovation project. The entire village is one large construction zone. It’s a shame we weren’t able to see what the village looked like before the project.

The driver then took us to rest a bit where we could get a drink. Afterward, he took us to our hotel. We thanked him for his help and said goodbye to him.

Our hotel—the Pantower International—was quite nice. The room was comfortable and offered us views of the city and river. After resting a bit we went out to dinner at a local restaurant. My exhaustion from the early start caught up with me as my patience with people ended when we got to the restaurant. They had us move three times before we could sit down and order. At one point they wanted to sit us in a room that was having a party! I told Jun to order whatever he want as I tried to collect myself. The food was great! It helped put me back in a better mood. The service at the restaurant could have been better, but at least the food was delicious.

After we finished, we took a car back to the hotel and went to bed.

Day 2

After an amazing night of rest, Jun and I woke up feeling refreshed and revitalized. After going down for breakfast, we met up with our friend to plan the day.

Our first stop was to visit the village of Zili. Jun and I visited here in 2015. There were several differences between the visits. The last time we had come it was overcast and the lotuses were in full bloom. During this visit, it was sunny. The lotuses also were only starting to bloom.

Walking around Zili was enjoyable as the watchtowers are more exposed than they were at Majianglong. And they are more concentrated in one area. Walking through the different towers you could see the wealth of some of these families with the items they had in possession and the ornateness of the decorations they used.

From Zili we next went to Li Garden. Xie Weili built this complex based on the design of Daguan Garden described in the novel A Dream in Red Mansions. The different buildings in the compound were built for different family members. The ornateness of the buildings shows a mix of Chinese, European, and North American designs. The richness of the decorations also exudes that this family was wealthy. The place is impressive and a great place for us to end our visit to the diaolous and villages of Kaiping.

Before heading to the train station and heading back to Shenzhen, we stopped at Mountains Café and Bar. We got some drinks and desserts that were quite lovely and fortified us for the trip back to Shenzhen.

The journey back to Shenzhen was unremarkable until we got to Shenzhen and had to wait in a slow line to get a COVID-19 test. We ended up near the end of the line and had to wait almost an hour. When we were done, we were ready to go home and have dinner.

The trip was a nice excursion. It was great spending time with our friend outside of Shenzhen, as well as for us to visit and explore more of Kaiping.

Welcoming the Year of the Tiger in Yunnan

Planning for our Chinese New Year holiday was complicated by recent cases of COVID-19 in Shenzhen. The place we originally had planned to visit has in place strict policies related to visitors from outside the province. As such we would only be allowed to enter the province if we were quarantined for two weeks, which would have been the entire holiday!

Jun and I decided to go somewhere else. After discussing things, we chose to visit northwestern Yunnan. Both of us had visited the area a long time ago separately. Now we could do it together.

Day 1

The start of the trip had us fly into Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. Everything went smoothly and we soon checked into our hotel. Since we arrived early in the afternoon, we had time to visit some places in the city.

Jun wanted to visit Dianchi Lake. We went to Dianchi Haigeng Park along the northern shore of the lake. When we got there, the first sight we saw was seagulls flying all over the lake. I was surprised, but Jun knew that we were likely to see them. We walked around the park and saw the birds flying overhead and heard the waves crashing along the shore. At the western end of the park, we visited Longwang Temple. The temple was quaint with a lot of plants situated around the complex. Afterward, we walked back along the route we came from to the entrance.

From there we decided to visit Guandu Ancient Town. One of the more important historic locations within Kunming, Jun and I enjoyed walking around the town to see the different structures. One thing we noticed was that there were a lot of restaurants and food kiosks there. One of the things we decided to try was spicy potato chips. They were really good and inexpensive.

Soon it was getting dark. Jun and I decided to go get dinner. We decided that we had to try Yunnan food, so we had southwestern Yunnan Dai Food at Yunse Daixiang. The food was great; it was a nice way to start our journey in Yunnan cuisine.

After dinner, Jun and I walked around the city center and enjoyed seeing the city lit up at night. We walked around the area until we turned to go back to the hotel. It was a nice walk before turning in for the day. 

Day 2

The second day of our trip would have us later that day take the high-speed train from Kunming to Dali. Before then, though, Jun and I had most of the day free. One of the things I had learned about Kunming after I visited there the first time was that there were three World Heritage sites near the city. One of them was a stone forest in Shilin. Given that we were here, we decided we would visit the park.

We hired a driver to take us from Kunming to Shilin. The ride went quickly, and we soon found ourselves in the town of Shilin. The driver, however, took us to the wrong part of the park. We ended up having to get another driver to take us to the entrance. When we got to the right place, we found ourselves the only guests buying tickets and taking the tram to the main entrance of the park. As we were on the tram, we passed by the place our first driver had dropped us off.

When we entered the park Jun and I marveled at the beauty of the stone forests. We also liked that there were only two other people there. Jun had been here once before and all he remembered from that time was how busy it was and that he didn’t enjoy it. I had to convince him to visit the place again.

From the entrance, we walked towards the Lesser Stone Forest. These limestone pillars are fairly spread out and the park has kept this place full of flowers and green grass. As we walked around the forest, we slowly made our way to the Greater Stone Forest. The stones here are more densely packed together and without a map and signs, it would be easy to get lost in the Greater Stone Forest.

As we entered the forest Jun had to take a call from work, I ventured around the forest until I started to feel that I might get lost and not be able to retrace my steps. So, I went back to find Jun and waited for his call to end.

We continued our trek to the forest and found ourselves on top of Wangfeng Pavilion, which gives a nice view overlooking this part of the park. While there we took a break and ate some of the fruit we brought.