A Shantou Weekend

Last year when we went to Chaozhou, we saw that the train station was actually between two cities: Chaozhou and Shantou. Since we had already been to Chaozhou, Jun and I thought it would be nice to go to Shantou this year. So in the middle of August we took the train from Shenzhen and went to the eastern part of Guangdong once again.

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After taking the bus from the train station to the central district of Shantou, Jun and I checked-in at the Shantou International Hotel. This was by far one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed at. The staff was friendly, and our room was spacious and comfortable. And as a nice surprise, the hotel staff delivered a complimentary local dessert in the early evening for us to enjoy. Unfortunately, neither Jun or I actually liked the dessert. The thought, however, was nice.

After having cleaned up a bit, Jun and I then went to have lunch at a beef hot pot place that is popular in the region. The food was quite good and made us ready for an afternoon of exploration.

After lunch we walked to Zhongshan Park. As we went around the park Jun noticed that it kind of had everything you could possibly want in a park in a condensed form. There was a small zoo, a roller-skate rink, a museum, a botanical garden, a lake area with boats, and plenty of space to rest and enjoy the day. It was nice to walk around the park and see the different things that made it unique.

After that we walked towards the old city center. Currently they are redeveloping the area; entire neighborhoods are construction zones. We were still able to see what the architecture looks like, and it had a nice mix of Western and Eastern influences. You could clearly see this dichotomy in the Small Pavilion Park that had a Chinese structure in the middle of a square that was surrounded by more Western-style buildings. It was an interesting area. When they are finished with the construction it should be a nice area to visit.

From there we went to 1860 Creative Park near the waterfront. This area used to be a middle school in Shantou that was converted into the creative park. There were some interesting aspects to it. There’s a mix of offices and abandoned school room that leaves a vibe of creative abandonment to the place.

Once we were done going around 1860 we went to Xidi Park. It’s a small park next to the waterfront with some nice landscaping.

From there we took a leisurely walk along the shore towards Qilu Battery in Shipaotai Park. The old fort was really neat and a quiet place to explore. As Jun was taking pictures, however, a young boy started to make fun of him by emulating the poses Jun was using to take pictures. I saw the boy from a distance. When he came closer to me I put my arm around him and he started to panic. He began to speak to me in Chinese by saying he was sorry. I told him in English that I wasn’t the one he needed to apologize and I frog-walked him to Jun to apologize. He was so confused that he was apologizing in Chinese and English. I told him to be nice and that being rude to other people could be detrimental to him. Someone less kind could hurt him if he was not careful. At that point I let him go and he ran away to his friends looking mortified.

The rest of our time at the Qilu was uneventful. We soon had to leave because the park was closing. We decided to go back to the hotel to clean up before we went to dinner.

Dinner that night involved seafood where we chose which fish we wanted to eat. It was quite delicious and affordable. Afterwards we got dessert and went back to the hotel for the night.

Day 2

The next day we went to a village on the outskirts of Shantou. The highlight of the visit was exploring and appreciating the Chen Cihong Former Residence. The structure consists of many halls and rooms built by a wealthy family in 1910. It was the home for the Chen clan for many generations before it was converted into a historic museum. The structures are an interesting mix of Western and Eastern influences that creates a unique place. It was really fascinating to see the different ornamentations in each room. Much care must have been needed to maintain such an intricate and complex structure for a family to have lived there.

When we were done with that area we went to visit a temple on Tashan near the village. It was a nice, quiet area with beautiful buildings in the upper part of the mountain. But after a while Jun and I were ready for lunch and took a car back to central Shantou.

For our last meal we had steamed seafood. It was really neat to pick out the different seafood we wanted and then to steam it at our table for us to eat. That was a nice way to end our trip. From there we took the bus to the train station and then the train back to Shenzhen.

Overall, it was a nice visit to Shantou. It was quite a unique and different city in comparison to those of the Pearl River Delta. It was definitely a great weekend retreat that Jun and I both needed.

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Village Tranquility

After the more ad-hoc nature of last week’s trip to Huizhou, Jun and I decided to be more organized with our outing this week. On Friday we decided to go to Nanshe Village in Dongguan. Jun booked us train tickets to go there and figured out the fastest route to get there from the train station. Everything was set. But no matter how much you may plan for an incident-free excursion, the unexpected may arise and alter plans.

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On the day of our trip to the village everything went according to plan. We took the train from Shenzhen to Dongguan without any issue. Then we took a taxi to the village also without issue.

The village itself is quite remarkable. There are parts of it that have been preserved, but there are also other parts that have not. These areas I found quite interesting. The type of building materials used for these traditional Lingnan architecture is quite different from modern materials. Instead of using concrete as the main building materials, wood and bricks were more prevalent in the past. As a result there’s a more refined and unique look to the buildings instead of the generic style prevalent in modern Chinese architecture. Outside of the signature skyscrapers, most modern buildings in one Chinese city looks similar to buildings in any other Chinese city. It was thus nice to see the subtle differences in the architectural styles at Nanshe.

As we first started to walk around the village we kept hearing music being played not far from the entrance. I thought it was music being played over loudspeakers to create a mood of old times. But as we went closer to it we saw there was a Cantonese opera performance. That was nice surprise to see and hear.

As we continued to walk around the village we saw some really beautiful areas with interesting buildings and small gardens. Other areas were in disrepair, but they had glimpses of what the building used to look like with different ornamentations hidden under the wild foliage. Overall, the feeling of the place was quite calming and enjoyable.

After a few hours at the village, Jun and I decided we were ready to go back to Shenzhen. We traveled back to the train station and got ready for the ride back. We boarded the train and everything was going well; we were making plans for what we were going to do for the rest of the afternoon.

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Then things went awry. As soon as we entered central Shenzhen our train stopped. We thought it was going to be a temporary stop and then we would be on our way. To our surprise our short stop turned out to be a four hour wait! Apparently the station that we had passed—Zhangmutou—had lost power. As a result all trains in both directions that traveled through that station had to be stopped. We couldn’t move into Shenzhen station until the trains there could leave. As a result we had a nice four hour wait for a 45 minute trip. Finally in the early evening our trained started to move, and ten minutes later we were at the station. We were only ten minutes away from the station! As soon as we left the station we set off for home as quickly as we could.

While the end of our outing to Nanshe was unwanted, our actual time visiting the village was enjoyable.

Escape to Huizhou

Rain. Sun. Humidity. The three characteristics of Guangdong in the summer. While it creates an environment that makes a person feel uncomfortable and makes you want to stay inside, Jun and I have not let it deter us from enjoying the time we have together this summer. Summer is the one time of the year where we consistently have two free days to do things with each other!

On our first real weekend we decided to go to Huizhou for a daytrip. We woke up on Saturday morning and decided to go to Huizhou on a whim. Jun booked the tickets and we were soon on our way to Shenzhen North Station. That station is ridiculous. As we needed to pick up our tickets, we had to wait in a line to get them. The line we chose—really all the lines—was ridiculously long. Fortunately, we were able to get our tickets before our train left. We made it with a few minutes to spare.

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When we got to Huizhou we had to transfer to a bus to get to Huizhou’s West Lake. By the time we got to West Lake we were ready for lunch. But as we were looking for a restaurant we ended up at Fenghu Academy. This academy had been a school on the banks of West Lake in centuries past. Since we were there Jun and I decided to visit the place. While we were there it started to rain heavily. We were a bit fretful that the rain would continue throughout the afternoon. We found a spot to sit and waited out the rain. Fortunately, the rain did stop and we soon started to continue our visit around the academy.

From there we did end up finding a nice restaurant with typical Cantonese cuisine. It was a scrumptious lunch and we treated ourselves to some frappuccinos afterwards.

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With our drinks we were ready to continue our visit around West Lake. We first went to the Sizhou Tower and walked around it. From there we went to the Dongpo Memorial Hall that commemorated the man who helped design the lake. After we had walked around the memorial, we went across the lake on the Jiuqu Bridge. That was a nice experience as we were able to see the lake from different angles. There were a number of islands that we visited as we crossed the bridge.

We finally ended up Yuanmiao Ancient Taoist Temple as the last stop of our trip to West Lake. The temple was a nice, calming place before we had to go head back to Shenzhen. It was needed as the train ride was noisy and smoky. Jun and I were glad to be able to get off the train and go to a nice dinner.

Overall, it was a nice trip to Huizhou. In the future we might go back to see what else that city has to offer.

Charming Chaozhou

A few years ago an acquaintance of mine brought to my attention a city in eastern Guangdong—Chaozhou—he thought I would find interesting. The city is full of history and culture that has had a global impact. Many of the overseas Chinese who emigrated from China prior to the twentieth century came from this region.

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Jun and I had planned several times to visit Chaozhou, but due to weather and schedule conflicts we were unable to go in the past. Recently, we found that we had a free weekend and decided it would be an ideal time to go.

Day 1

We left Shenzhen in the morning and got into Chaozhou a little after noon. When we had finished checking into the hotel we decided to go to the old part of the city. We started our exploration of the city on Paifang Street. The street is neat. For about two kilometers the street has numerous paifangs—entry gates—interspersed every few meters. Chaozhou is the first place I had seen a street with so many paifangs placed in this way.

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The first thing we wanted to do was find lunch. Jun had researched a number of things that he thought we should try. We found a street restaurant and ordered sweet taro and an oyster omelet. Simply delicious.

After we had finished lunch we went to Kaiyuan Temple. The temple is fairly large with a number of prayer halls on the grounds. The buildings at the temple were a mix of old and new. We enjoyed seeing that mix at the temple.

After the temple we walked to Guangji Bridge. The bridge was built in 1170 AD during the Song Dynasty. Originally the builders constructed the bridge out of a number of boats connected with a walking platform, but over time many of the boats were replaced with stone structures. The builders of the stone structures, however, left a section of the bridge with the boats to ensure passing boats could traverse the river. The bridge was really neat and a fun experience.

On the other side of the bridge we went to Han Wen Gong Temple. This temple was built in memory of an important administrator of the city. The temple grounds are built on the side of a hill and has a number of nice courtyards. Jun and I liked the cool breeze that came from the river as we went around the temple.

When we were done seeing the temple, we walked along the river and enjoyed the sunny afternoon. We eventually walked back to the old city. We walked through some of the alleyways and lanes of the city to see what the atmosphere of that area was like. From there we stopped at a museum dedicated to a local artist near the main gate tower. While the artwork was nice, we both enjoyed the air conditioning more.

From there we walked up Paifang Street towards the Buddha Lamp Temple. We were lucky we got there when we did; the temple was preparing to close. They were kind and they let us in. The significance of this temple is the lantern it had, which sailors had used to navigate the river.

By that time Jun and I were hungry; we went to have beef hotpot at one of the more known places in the city. Dinner was great and it was a wonderful way to end the day. From the old city we went back to the hotel to enjoy a quiet evening.

Day 2

The next day we went to West Lake. When we got there we had breakfast at a soup noodle place. It was a hole-in-the-wall place, but the noodles were nicely prepared. From there we went into the park. We walked around the lake and the forested area and saw some interesting remnants of the old city. Parts of the old city wall, temples, and gate towers were some of the structures hidden inside the park. It was an interesting mix.

We spent a few hours at the park. From there we walked through a different part of the city. We stumbled upon a Song Dynasty house and a temple dedicated to Confucius. They were interesting, but nothing spectacular. As we were going to the Confucius Temple Jun spotted a place that sold Chaozhou rice rolls. Jun wanted to try this dish, so we decided to have some. They were quite good and had a nice peanut sauce.

When we finished with the rice rolls, we decided to take a stroll on Paifang Street before we left for the train station. We walked to the end of the street and stopped at a juice bar, a café, and had a few last Chaozhou snacks before catching the bus to the train station.

Jun and I had a wonderful time in Chaozhou. The food was great, and the culture fascinating.

 

Peace and Solitude at Feixia

When I first moved to China, my teaching center gave me a guidebook for the country. One of the entries was about a place called Feixia in central Guangdong. I read the entry but never really thought I would actually go there; it’s not the typical tourist spot for foreigners. I mentioned this place to Jun one day and he said he could plan a weekend trip if we wanted. I said sure if he was game, which he was. He went and planned an amazing trip.

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We left Guangzhou for Qingyuan in the late afternoon. When we arrived we checked into our hotel and then went exploring around the central area. We walked through a park and across the bridge and found a really neat restaurant for dinner. They cooked the food at the table using wood fire. It was a nice dinner and a wonderful start to our trip.

The next day we left early for Feixia. It was a quick drive there and we soon bought our tickets. We then took the ferry across the river to start exploring the area. Feixia has a lot of Taoist temples along the mountain paths. We noticed that most of the other visitors were taking the bus up to the main temples. Jun and I decided to hike along the path up the mountain to explore the area.

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Because we were essentially the only ones on the trail we had it to ourselves. It was really nice to go along the trail in silence and explore the area without anyone else. We passed many gateways and saw a temple nestled next to a spring. It was quite magical how the temples and gates were a part of the forest.

We soon made it to the first temple palace. These are a combination of temples and living quarters that are grouped together to create a palace like structure. They are really interesting and in the Feixia area there are two of these palaces. The first is better kept, but the second one has more character. Large parts of the second palace is unoccupied. These unoccupied areas are rustic. They give a nice glimpse into the craftsmanship that went into building this palace and maintaining it over time.

At the top of Feixia was a temple and a pagoda that offered spectacular views of the valley. It was an exhausting hike up to it, but the view was amazing.

 

Jun and I decided to take the bus back down and start our journey back to Shenzhen. Jun booked tickets on a train leaving from a nearby village, so we made our way to that village. It was interesting to see this place: Yuantan. A lot of the buildings in the village are quite old and interspersed in alleyways surrounded by newer buildings that are next to the main roads. In these alleyways you can see people preparing traditional medicine as they have for centuries. It was a nice experience to see that part of China.

Soon we were on the train and back to Shenzhen; Jun and I had a really nice weekend in Qingyuan and seeing Feixia.

Keyuan Garden

On a whim Jun decided that we were going to visit Keyuan Garden in Dongguan. It’s one of the Four Renowned Gardens of Guangdong from the Qing dynasty. Each of the gardens represent the Lingnan garden culture that tied architecture, art, and nature together in a delicate balance.

Keyuan was the last of the four gardens I had to visit. I had previously visited the other three in the last four years. It was nice to finally get to cross this off my list as I rarely have a reason to be in Dongguan.

This garden has its own unique feel compared with the other gardens. Keyuan feels much more intimate than the other three with the how close the buildings are to each other. Adding to this feeling are the different corridors that meander around the structures. The buildings are tightly linked to each other; it creates that intimate feeling as you walk around the different structures. Tied with how lush the gardens are and how intermingled they are to the buildings leads to a wondrous feeling to the place.

From the main structure the gardens go to a surrounding park centered with a pond. The park has a nice museum with a variety of art and examples of Lingnan architecture. In one of the courtyards there are examples of different building features to examine.

The gardens are beautiful and shows another side to the Lingnan gardens other than the other three gardens in Guangdong: Yuyin in Panyu, Liangyuan in Foshan, and Qinghui in Shunde.

It was definitely a nice visit.

Zhongshan

At the end to my New Year vacation, Jun and I decided for one last quick trip around the Pearl River Delta. We chose to visit Zhongshan, a small city southwest of Guangzhou.

The first thing we did in Zhongshan was to walk along Sunwen West Road. It’s a pedestrian street with a lot of buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The sheer number of them in one area was staggering when compared with the small pockets in Guangzhou and other cities. Here they seem to go on for blocks.

Afterwards we walked to Shi Qi Lao, a restaurant known for roasted pigeon. I ate pigeon once before in Egypt, but I wasn’t impressed with it then. Surprisingly the way the chef prepared the pigeons here was pretty good; the roasted nature of the pigeon gave it a nice taste. The other dishes, like the fish dumpling soup and pineapple buns, were quite tasty as well.

Afterwards we went to see  Fufeng Wen Tower at Zhongshan Park. The park had great views of the immediate area. The tower itself was nicely preserved as well. It was a nice to walk around the park and see the different style of buildings from centuries past to the present. It puts into perspective the contradictory nature of modern China: the tension between tradition and modernity.

The last thing we did in Zhongshan was to visit Zimaling Park. It’s a big park with some nice vistas, but it’s a typical park in China. Jun and I were tired by then and decided to head back to Guangzhou.

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One thing I have learned about Zhongshan is that I may be allergic to something in it. The moment I stepped off the train I started to develop a terrible headache. It stayed with me during my entire stay in Zhongshan, but the moment I left on the train back to Guangzhou it went away quickly.