My train journey from Hong Kong to mainland China is a breeze; in an hour-something I'm in the Peoples Republic of China, worlds most populous country, economic powerhouse, manufacturer of half the things in your house. Probably. I'm on my way to Guangzhou
, capital of the Guangdong province and centre of one of the three biggest economic regions of China. In Guangzhou I also planned to meet up with a TravBuddy: Calvin (zkw
I was browsing TravBuddy a while back on information of southern China when I came across an amazing blog about chinese characters. It explained how the characters are based on drawings and how they're combined to create modern words and expressions.
Guangzhou pedestrian area
Read the blog here
. It all made perfect sense to me, instead of combining letters to form words. I contacted Calvin and he explained me a whole lot more. He gives me a heap of advise on traveling in China as well, which helped me out a lot. Calvin is a Gaungzhou resident, and as I would be passing through there, we agree to meet up.
Calvin picks me up from the train station and drives me to my hotel. I'm staying on the other side of the city, bordering the main train station. While checking I immediately experience a new reality: almost no-one here speaks english, so much unlike Hong Kong. The staff tries the explain to me that the price of my room will double on the third day because of a major trade convention kicking off, but there's no way we understand each other.
Witness some of the best food I've eaten in six months.
I'm glad that Calvin is there with me, as he sorts it all out in a breeze. After dropping my bags at me room (which is tiny, but good enough for me), we go to get some dinner. Calvin is determined to show me some of the famous Guangdong cuisine and he takes me to a nice restaurant in the middle of the city. Calvin orders the food and I don't regret it; in my five months on the road, I haven't eaten such delicious food! There is cow lung, spicy meat, steamed vegetables, sweet rice balls filled with sugar and seeds in soup, herbal tea and beer on the side, just amazing! It's so different than what we eat as chinese in the West. That would better qualify as general asian, not as chinese. Calvin insists on paying and we go for an after dinner walk along the Pearl River and on Shamian Island, where a lot of western governments, organizations and companies are situated.
Drinking tea with Calvin in Guangzhou
Back in the car Calvin has a question for me.Calvin
: "Hey Nic, do you know how to drink tea?"Nicander
: "Sure I can drink tea!"Calvin
: "So if I buy you a teapot, you can show me how to drink tea?"Nicander
: "Err.. What's the catch? What do you mean with drinking? But I reckon I can do it! I think everyone can drink tea, can't they?"
Well Nic, think again.
Drinking tea is a complete ceremony in China, almost an art. Your teacups are rinsed with the boiling hot tea before you drink from them, and the tea gets poured in different pots so that it doesn't get too strong while you're enjoying your first cups. Everyone gets two cups; a long slender one, and a small wider one. The tea gets poured in the longer cup, and you put the other cup over it.
Hold on tight, don't burn your fingers and turn them around, without spilling any tea. Then slowly lift the long cup, so that the tea flows into the other one. Enjoy! As I pour Calvin another cup, he taps two fingers on the table, then explains it to me. A certain emperor (can't remember his name unfortunately) wanted to know about the thoughts of the common people on his rule. As an absolute ruler, no-one would have told him in his face, so he disguised himself and his ministers and set out to the streets. At a tea house he would pour tea for his ministers, who obviously couldn't acknowledge their emperor by thanking him and getting on their knees. Instead, to would tap two fingers on the table, symbolizing kneeling in front of their emperor. The story, the tea drinking ceremony and Calvin's hospitality made for an awesome night for which I'm really thankful.
Ape in the tomb
Drinking tea with Calvin in the traditional chinese way is one of the best travel experiences I've had so far.
The next day I set out to explore Guangzhou on my own. I visit the Chen Clan mansions, a block of buildings build by the powerful Chen Clan. I'm in awe of all the magnificent wood, ivory and stone sculptures. Why don't we have people in Europe anymore who can do that? In the middle ages we had craftsmen like that, but sadly we lost that skill. I also visit Shamian Island again, where the rain starts pouring down. It's funny to see that every westerner flees to the Starbucks for shelter. Later I visit the mausoleum of the Nanyue King. The Lonely Planet thinks highly of the museum and tomb, but to tell you the truth I find it fairly boring. That saturday night I looking for a place to party, but can't find anything.
Another great lunch with Calvin!
Why oh why do I not speak Chinese? Why oh why do they not speak english? After a fruitless search I head back to my hotel, looking like a drowned rat. What a shitty night.
The following morning starts off better though. I'm ready to set out again when Calvin calls me. Having his own IT company, his time is very flexible and he proposes to show me around the outskirts of Guangzhou and the Pearl River delta. Sweet as! He comes over and helps me but my overnight train ticket to Guilin
before we set out to University City, the mega campus of Guangzhou. We have a stroll in an oldnew village along the river, and via the Guangzhou museum of art, we return back to Guangzhou for lunch. The food is, once again, amazing.
Roots.. to make you better. The big one in the middle will set you back 680.000 Yuan, some 62.000 euro or 97.000 US dollars!
Shoarma like pita bread filled with meat, roasted potato coated with sugar, noodle soup with alcohol, and a sort of mutton porridge. Delicious! This time I pay and afterwards we walk along the pedestrian area where we visit a traditional chinese medicine shop. You can buy anything here, from deer tails and turtle shells to dried sea horses and tree roots. The biggest root they have will set you back 680.000 yuan; 62.000 euros or 97.000 US dollars. Stop whining, I'm sure it'll will cure you!
After another great day Calvin drops me back at my hotel where we say goodbye and I make my way to the train station. My time in Guangzhou wouldn't have been half the fun without you Calvin. Thanks for your hospitality, your time and company mate, it was priceless!