The train to Guangzhou arrived just shy of 5PM. I mentioned before that I was going to see some family friends who are there, so let me explain the relationship. My dad mentors a woman at his work who is a recent Masters graduate; her name is Hualin, and her English name is Natalie. Hualin and her family are Chinese, and as I began my trip to China, Hualin’s parents, Mrs. Tan and Mr. Lu, were visiting her in America. They went over to my parents’ house for dinner to prepare a Chinese feast for them, and over the course of the night it was mentioned that I was traveling in China at that time. They said that I must come to visit them, and so I did.
I was met at the train station by Lily, who is one of Mrs. Tan’s colleagues. They work together at the Guangzhou Institute of Science and Technology. Lily was joyous and exuberant from the second I met her, and she surprised me greatly by hugging me when we met, and holding my hand as we walked across the street. This surprised me so much because, from my experience and observations in China up until that point, I hadn’t seen anything like it. Jacky, another of Mrs. Tan’s colleagues was in a car waiting for us, and drove us to dinner so that we could meet Mrs. Tan and Mr. Lu. Lily’s English is excellent, so the during my stay in Guangzhou, she was almost always with me, helping to translate and talk to Mrs. Tan. We had an absolutely amazing dinner. My favorites included snake, pigeon, and sauteed squash leaves. We all started the meal with soup. They instructed me only to have the broth because the soup was made with bones and less desirable meat. They forgot to mention one other thing that the soup was made from. Once finished with hers, Mrs. Tan fished a scorpion out of her soup bowl! I had no idea that they were in there, quickly grabbed my chopsticks, and fished five out of my soup bowl! I asked if I could eat it which they confirmed I could… and so I did. Seeing as it had been used to make the soup, it didn’t have too much flavor, but it still made for an interesting bite. Mrs. Tan is beautiful, and is always smiling, so that you can see she is an incredibly joyful person. At the end of our dinner, she smiled at me and wished me “Warm welcome to Guangzhou!” Her happiness was heartening and infectious. After dinner, she sent Lily and I off for a night cruise on the Pearl River, which runs through Guangzhou. The ride was lovely, and we sailed past the Canton Tower, which is a large observation tower by the river. It is nicknamed “Woman with Slim Waist” because it is tapered in its middle, just like a woman’s waist. Afterwards, we headed back to the University, because Mrs. Tan had arranged a room for me in the building that houses her office; in its top floors it also contains hotel rooms! In the room, I found a huge bag of local foods and snacks that Mrs. Tan had bought for me to try.
On Friday, I met Lily and Mrs. Tan in their office, and we went for “morning tea.” Morning tea means breakfast. Mrs. Tan ordered generously, as she had the night before, and I got to try chicken feet once again (still wasn’t too keen), among other things that I was far more fond of. Mrs. Tan headed to work, and Lily and I set out to see Guangzhou. We went to Yuexiu Park, which contains a statue of a Guangzhou’s symbol: five goats. The park was serene, although the weather was excruciatingly humid, which meant that I was bitten frequently. We watched people practicing tai chi, and later a dance class that made me miss the dancing class I took a few years ago. After the park, we visited the Nanyue King Mausoleum, which features interesting artifacts from the Han dynasty, as well as the burial site and tomb of the Nanyue King. Later, we went shopping, and I got a lot of fruit form the market, including durian fruit. You can read descriptions of what durian tastes like online… but none of them effectively convey how unpleasant it is (to most Western palates, that is). In texture, it is smooth to the point that I’d almost describe it as soggy. In taste, it is like sweetened, perfumed cream… and somehow, this combination of texture and taste is hard to bear. Lily and I went to Flower Road that night, which is beautifully lit, and full of people dancing and exercising together. We took a ride in a golf cart that drives past some of the larger and more famous buildings in the area, and then we headed home. I slept like a child that night.
On Saturday, Lily, Mrs. Tan, and her friend Mrs. Tai came to pick me up, and we headed to White Cloud Mountain, or Baiyun Shan. Lily and I took the cable car up while Mrs. Tan and her friend looked for parking.; it didn’t take them long, and they soon met us. We went for lunch which was a mix of the delicious and bizarre, and then began to descend the mountain. We stopped at a Buddhist temple on the way down which was very beautiful. Mrs. Tan prayed for me, and afterwards, she told me (via Lily) the following: “I wish you will have good luck from now on, and during new job, and in travels and other countries by yourself, and peace and no dangerous, and healthy body and wished for your family. Forever.” Now, if you know me then you’re probably aware of the fact that I’m not religious, but I was so moved and very deeply touched. I think it’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. We continued our walk down the mountain, and then Lily and I left to see the Chen Clan Academy. It is now a museum of local artistry, but is housed in a fastidiously decorated, and beautifully ornamented building that dates back to the 1890’s and served as a place of ancestor worship. The locally made crafts were exquisite, and most impressive were the embroideries. The were meticulously precise, and that, paired with their size, made them an absolute marvel. We left the academy and went for foot massages that were heavenly! While there, we had some turtle shell pudding, which was far too bitter for my tastes. Mrs. Tan and Mrs. Tai joined us, and after we were all pampered, we went out for dinner. I am unsure what this type of cuisine is called, but each table has a gas element in the center of the table. The staff bring out a giant bowl of porridge, which is then heated over the element. The porridge can be eaten by itself, but then they brought out various meats that we had ordered, and they are then cooked in the boiling porridge. It was another delicious and filling meal! After that it was off home and to bed.
Sunday was my last full day in Guangzhou. I met Lily for lunch in a local restaurant, and our meal was very tame compared to a lot of things I had sampled in the past few days. Then I went and had a haircut, which I was sorely in need of. It looked good when the hairdresser styled it, but in my opinion, it’s too short and frames my face in a way that makes me look fat (I wore my hair up almost exclusively for the next few weeks). I then went back to where I was staying, and was picked up my Mrs. Tan, Mr. Lu, and a friend of theirs (whose name I never caught) who had recently returned from San Francisco. His English was quite good, so we were able to communicate throughout the evening without too much trouble. I’m not sure what area of the city we were in, but it was home to a large lake, surrounded by a park. We walked through the park, and then took a boat through the small canals that lead to the lake. The boat dropped us off by a restaurant where we went for a most exquisite dinner that night, where we were joined by their friend’s wife and daughter. After our meal, we walked around the shops that lined the canals, and Mrs. Tan surprised me with pastries that she had bought for the next day’s breakfast. Not long afterwards, we parted ways.
On Monday, Mrs. Tan, Lily, and Jacky came to pick me up at six in the morning to take me to the airport. As we drove, Mrs. Tan held my hand and smiled at me. It was incredibly endearing. She and Mr. Lu has been so kind and generous to me during my stay, and I wished dearly that my words of thanks didn’t need translating. I had an amazing time in Guangzhou, and it was due entirely to the hospitality of Mrs. Tan and Mr. Lu, as well as Lily and her companionship in those days. I cannot do enough to express how grateful I am for their kindness and generosity, which was unbounded. Before I left, they told me that I must pass along the invitation to my mother and father, and next time I come to China, I must come back with my boyfriend, and we have to make Guangzhou my first and last stop.
I know there’s no way you’re reading this, but Mrs. Tan and Mr. Lu, thank you a thousand thanks for everything you did for me.
So, that was my stay in Guangzhou, and with that… off to Nanning I went.
The snake dish, topped with a carrot sculpture
Scorpions! Nom, nom, nom
At dinner with Mr. Lu, and Mrs. Tan. Please excuse the fact that I look a mess. I’d just been on a train for hours.
A view from the Pearl River cruise that Lily and I went on
The Canton Tower
Lily, in front of the symbol of Guangzhou, in Yuexiu Park
The burial outfit of the Nanyue King; it’s made of jade tiles, and red silk.
Me, on the cable car up Baiyun Shan
Lily, on the cable car up Baiyun Shan
Mrs. Tai, myself, and Mrs. Tan 🙂
I’m lighting incense to place in the front of the Buddhist temple on Baiyun Shan.
My incense. 🙂 It seems to be symbolically important to always burn the incense in groups of three, although I’m not sure what the significance is.
In the Buddhist temple
The ornamentation on the Chen Clan Academy building.
Mrs. Tai and Lily at our porridge dinner
Mrs. Tan, myself, and Mr. Lu. 🙂
Just kissing a pigeon… no big deal.
Alright babies. Nanning’s up next, and hopefully it won’t take me too long (but I’m having computer troubles… so I guess we’ll just have to see)