Yuen Yuen Taoist Temple

At the start of 2017, I wanted one day where I could avoid thinking about all that I needed to do—find a new apartment in Shenzhen, move to Shenzhen, get all the paperwork I need from my last job, fill and collect all the paperwork for my new job, getting ready for my trip to Harbin, planning a vacation for the Spring Festival, writing term papers. There’s a lot that needs to be done, but I needed one day just to do something fun.

As a result Jun and I decided to go to Huadu district in northern Guangzhou and visit a Taoist temple there that I had read about a few months back. It’s an easy trip to get there, but it’s a long trip. Once we got there we decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants nearby. It was a wonderful lunch and we were ready to visit the temple.

15800216_10104575735760660_14100992215409692_oThe temple’s name is Yuen Yuen and it is the central Taoist temple in Guangdong province. It’s a relatively new temple, having only been built in 1998. It’s built on the principles of feng shui and the layout of the complex does create a harmonious environment. Some of the buildings resemble more famous examples of other Chinese buildings, such as how Sangquing Hall in the center of the complex imitates the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

When walking into the temple you start to see how well maintained it is. The gardens are gorgeous, and you can actually see where they work and grow the plants that make up the complex’s gardens.

The first thing you see is Sangquing Hall. It takes center stage, but once you walk behind it you realize that the complex is much bigger than first expected. Behind this first area you walk to a number of halls where people may pray and leave offerings.

From there you are able to go and view the central platform dominated by a statue of Lao Zhi, the founder of Taoism. It’s an amazing site to see in person. From there you can see a large hall that is inaccessible to the public but has a commanding position behind the statue.

As we wandered around the temple complex, I felt more relax and at peace. Jun and I were quite content with our time there. I left feeling recharged and ready for this new year.

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.

Shunde

Having read about Shunde a few months back, I thought this New Year’s break would be a great opportunity to finally visit the place. The hardest part about getting to Shunde is navigating the public transport system to get to it. It’s about 50 minutes by Guangzhou metro to get to Guangzhou South Railway station, then a mere eight minutes on the train to get to Shunde, and finally a 20 minute bus to get to the central part of Shunde. Once traversing through that process it was worth it to see Shunde.

The first thing we did once we got there was to visit the commercial pedestrian street where we ate lunch at Minxin Laopu. Well, it was more like we ate dessert and had other snacks for lunch. Sunde is known for its double-skin milk desserts (双皮奶 shuangpinai); a Cantonese dessert originating from here. It tastes a lot like custard, and fruit can be added to give it a sweet flavor. We decided to try the mango one. That was genius!

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After having savored the shuangpinai, we ventured to see Qing Hui Garden. It is considered to be one of the Four Great Gardens of Guangdong. Qing Hui is really beautiful and does live up to its reputation. The garden is a series of smaller gardens that harmoniously coexist together to create a unique whole. As a result, each section, while unique, flows into the next garden seamlessly.

Walking around Qing Hui you notice the importance of water and aquatic life as central aspects to the garden. The fish here are some of the largest I’ve seen in mainland China. Each smaller garden also seems to have a water component to it as well.

The park was great, and we were ready to see the next wonder in Shunde. Walking north of the park we headed to Xi Shan Temple. It’s built next to a hilly park, so it is built vertically. The temple is dedicated to Guan Yu, a general from the Three Kingdoms Period. Unlike Qing Hui, the temple had less people and was more peaceful. It was a nice counterpoint to the garden.

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The last thing we wanted to see in Shunde was Shunfengshan Park. The park is quite large and surrounds a lake at the foot of Taiping Mountain. The park is known for its paifang, or Chinese architectural arch, as it is one of the largest in the world. Walking around the park was nice. We noticed that a lot of families brought tents to the park; they were not staying overnight but it appeared to be a thing for families to do. There were tents for adults and kids.

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As we walked around the park we noticed that there were a number of gardens just off the main path. As we walked towards one of them we noticed a number of vendors running away and hiding inside the gardens. Apparently they were not licensed to sell things inside the park and were running away from the security guards who were doing their rounds.

The park was really nice and it was a nice way to experience the late afternoon. But by early evening we were tired and ready to go back home. Not that we were excited about how we had to get back. Going back now required an additional bus. We decided before we went all the way back to Guangzhou, we would stop back at Minxin Laopu to get another shuangpinai. This time we would each get one and not share. It was a great idea and the trip back was uneventful.

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Xiaozhou

After having had an eventful 2015, I needed a quiet break to start 2016. Taking some time of work, catching up on sleep, cooking up some delicious food, and of course wondering around Guangzhou was what I needed.

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On the first day of the year, Jun and I ventured to the village of Xiaozhou. Guangzhou is a bit strange because it has largely in part grown by annexing large parts of communities historically independent of it. Xiaozhou has been annexed by bigger cities over the course of its history, and Guangzhou was the last to do so. It is now a part of Guangzhou, but has a completely different vibe to it than the city.

We left Liede and took the bus down to the village. Quite easy as it goes straight from our apartment to the village. Once we got there we started to go around and see what the village had to offer. The first thing we noticed was that the buildings were covered in art. It was neat to see the different styles used. Some were animated and others more traditional.

The village seems to be in a state of construction. Various areas were covered with scaffolding for new buildings. Old temples were being reworked. And dust covered everything. It felt as if we had swallowed a lot of dust. Besides all the construction, it was fun getting lost in the side streets and coming up to new finds.

We ventured down one street and found a Buddhist temple. Walking down another street we came across a canal with wooden boats. Crossing a bridge we found a variety of houses and guest houses inside old buildings.

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After having explored the village for a few hours we came across a building made out of sea shells. A traditional building technique in southern China, it was a cool sight to see. It also was kind of creepy to look at as well.

Afterwards we walked a bit more and tried to find a place to have dessert, but we had no luck in that regard. We decided to walk back to the bus stop and head back to Liede to find dessert.