Sunday, August 1, 2010

Day 6. Guangzhou

We slept in, so it was already 7 am when we hit the road. Let’s see, where shall we start? Let’s take the metro (old hat by now) to the memorial to Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Chinese Republic. I tried to explain to Luke that he was the equivalent to George Washington to the US, or Miguel Hidalgo to Mexico, but it took a while to sink in. Anyway, he is a revered figure throughout China, but they lay it particularly thick here in Guangzhou, so I suspect he was born here.

The memorial is solemn, but the lack of original memorabilia is noticeable. This “museum”, like many we have seen, have photos or reproductions, but no original material. I wonder how much of this original material may have been lost to the ardor of the Cultural Revolution, in the late 1960’s.

To find the exception that proves the rule, we then walked to the recently excavated tomb of the second emperor of the Han dynasty (II century). Fortunately for us, the tomb was discovered in 2003, and so escaped the purge of the Cultural Revolution. The museum is interesting (but all it has is what was found in this particular tomb), and the museum store had reproduction pieces to die for. I was very tempted, but at the end took control of myself and realized I could not be carrying the piece I wanted in my backpack (now, as I write this, I am kicking myself for not buying it, because I will probably never again have the chance of buying a bronze brassier from the Han dynasty).

Throughout our tourism it has been pretty hot, so I have not told of the many breaks we have taken. Now that we know the system, we zero on a small shop, buy a soda for Luke and a beer for me, and we sit in little stools outside the shop seeing the world go by. In this particular attention we saw the technique of a potted plant merchant, who carries her pots in a bike. An amazingly large amount of people stop to contemplate the plants (only 1 in 4 had flowers), so she takes the plant out and puts it on the ground, the costumer walks around it praising its merits or tallying its defects, they argue, he walks away, she snatches the pot and puts it back on the bike, and the circus starts again. The best beer I have had so far :)

Next was a visit to Yuexiu Park, the Chapultepec of Guangzhou. Streams of people flock to this urban park, which eventually could be followed to the top of the mountain, several kilometers away. Alas, we were not so adventurous, and modestly limited ourselves to a short walk up the hill to the Guangzhou Municipal Museum. A very neat exhibition, again showing artifacts excavated after 2000, which does a good job tracking the development of the city from Neolithic times to our days. As part of the visit we saw the Five Rams monument (should be called the One Ram and four She-goats), which commemorates the legend after which the city is named: The “place” used to be a miserable hamlet in the delta of the Pearl River, with nothing to eat. Then one good day, five immortals came from heaven riding a ram and four she-goats. On their shoulders they carried stalks of rice, as a present to the humans that were starving in the delta. Ever since, the region has enjoyed incredible prosperity, being able to feed themselves with plentiful rice. So Guangzhou has two other names: “Yangcheng” or City of Goats, or “Suicheng” or City of Rice Stalks.

“OK”, said Luke, “are you ready to get back to the hostel?” “What? Do you know what time it is?, said I. “It is only 11:30 am, kid. We have a long way to go.”

And a long way we went. I wanted to walk through old Guangzhou, which reminded me a lot of old town Mexico. First, every space open to the street is a potential trade spot. So, the street is a series of small shops, and people live either on top of the shop, or in “vecindades” in the inside of the block. Access to these warrens is through long and narrow corridors (we saw one that looked like the long and ark entry to Hades). Second, merchants of the same trade are all in the same block or segment of the street. So, you have one electrical components store after the other for a solid block, and then you have only toy stores, and in the next block only dried seafood stores. How much business can one store get? Well, it seems to work because (a) the costumer prefers the choice opportunities, and (b) the closely knit merchant community can set a fair price (a rogue who tries to undercut the price is quickly busted by a group price war).

On our passage through old Guangzhou we stopped for lunch at an authentic Dim Sum Cantonese restaurant (we were, once again, the only foreigners), where Luke was introduced to the pleasures of Dim Sum. It was a fabulous opportunity to sample the 1,000 different types of small dishes that Cantonese cuisine has to offer, so we ate our fill for less than 10 dollars.

After lunch we walked around some more, and then went to walk through the campus of Sun Yat-sen University, which is the equivalent of Stanford University here. It is a beautiful campus, mostly built between 1905 and 1910, before the 1911 revolution. We took this chance to relax from the hustle and bustle of the market place.

Our last leg was to take the taxi boat from the university to the hostel. We got here around 6 pm and are now “taking an afternoon off”, washing clothes, watching TV, and computing with a glass of nanche-wine by the side. We deserve a few hours of R&R, because tomorrow we need to leave for Guilin at the crack of dawn.

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