I tried to make it out to Foshan the day after coming back from Zhongshan, but as I mentioned before I struggled a little. And I found out that the GuangFo metro line wasn't under construction after all so I didn't need the bus. Three metro stops from where I was staying and I was at the end of metro line 1 and the beginning of the GuangFo line that took me to Zu Miao. My only real concrete plans were to go to the Nan Feng dragon kiln (there are three left in China and Foshan has the oldest one, it's over 500 years old) and possibly catch an opera performance at 2pm at Zu Miao temple.Since it was still pretty early, I wandered a bit to find my bus and head out to the kiln first. It took a while for it to register just how big the twin kilns were (30 meters). It's still in use too. Anyway, since traveling to Cortona I seem to have made a habit of picking up a ceramic item wherever I go and the area around the kiln was definitely the place to do that. I resisted for a while and found myself back at the window of one particular shop eyeing the zodiac teapots. So I am now the proud owner of a small sheep teapot. It's been my one big purchase thus far aside from getting a violin in ZhuZhou. I'd have loved to stay longer but I also get the feeling that I could have spent a lot of time just staring at tea cups so I took one last walk around the kiln and the surrounding area and caught the bus back to Zu Miao.
Zu Miao temple was a bit of a strange place for me. It was kind of an all in one culture and heritage site where you could light incense to Bei Di (the north god), watch some Cantonese opera, check out tributes to Ip Man and Wong Fei Huang, see some dancing and kung fu demonstrations, look at woodcarvings, visit a Confucian temple, look at an old boat, and buy Foshan's famous paper art. It was fun and Cantonese opera actually wasn't quite as unbearable as I wondered about (to my ears anyway). It definitely drew an older crowd. I've been told that interest in Chinese opera has been fading, and that the experience of going to Chinese opera is quite different from what we'd expect during a Western opera. People who go to such shows are usually familiar with the work and the stories so they just kind of wander out for a smoke and come back for their favorite parts. But it was a good way for me see it at a relatively cheap price without having to pay for a whole show in the opera house (and possibly find that the highly stylized movements, singing, and face makeup was hard for me to take).
After wandering about on Tuesday, going on my day trip back to Zhuzhou on Wednesday, and hopping metro lines, I took Friday to go out to ZhongShan. I heard that there was the Guangzhou-Zhuhai Intercity train but I struggled to find out if there was a separate line or if I needed to stand in a long line for the tickets so I went to the bus station just outside of the south train station. I got a ticket to a bus station in ZhongShan almost immediately and the ride took about two hours. I was a little disoriented at first since we were just told to get off at a corner across the street from an obviously busy bus station but I crossed the street and found bus 12 which took me to Sun ZhongShan (Sun Yat Sen) Residence. It took so long I was afraid I missed my stop, but after an hour I saw what was obviously a tourist site and got off in front of the former Sun Yat Sen residence. I came ready to pull out my passport and some cash, but when I got to the ticket counter, I was just handed a white card that I gave to a machine later on. It was all free. It was a nice change from Guangzhou. It was pretty warm and quiet. It's out of the way enough that I guess only people passing through or true Sun Yat Sen enthusiasts would come out that way. Neither Lonely Planet nor Rough Guide mentions anything about ZhongShan City.
Keeping all that in mind, I was really surprised when I came in and found that everything was labeled in both English and Chinese and about half a room on the second floor of the exhibits was about the contributions of overseas Chinese. They also had a "folk village" and spaces set up so that you could get a sense of how different socio-economic classes lived during Sun Yat Sen's lifetime. It was nice to walk around and not feel at all crowded, and I'd heard that ZhongShan was famous for its flowers but I was still surprised to find a number of things in bloom in February. Guangzhou felt very balmy when I first arrived but now it's kind of windy and chilly, or maybe I just feel it more strongly after taking day trips to warmer places. So there really wasn't much there and I didn't do much beyond go around Sun Yat Sen's place and the Xinhai Revolution Park next doors. I think it would have been nice to just relax out there for a night and explore a little more. I had a little trouble trying to get back since I took the 212 and found out that it wasn't the one I wanted to get back to the bus station I'd arrived at. I was charged twice, felt the intense stare of many locals and high schoolers who were crammed onto the bus as they realized I spoke English and was unable to understand much standard Chinese and next to no Cantonese. I was told to get out at the next stop and the conductor waved her arm in the direction of the road ahead and the bus left, leaving me a little confused and frustrated as to whether that meant I could walk there, catch a different bus, or if I needed to find another way. I wandered down the street, waited by a bus stop and ignored a man on a motor scooter offering me a ride and repeatedly saying "There's no bus at this stop!" (I'm sure he's honest, but my insurance doesn't cover any scooter related accidents...) and I finally decided to walk on down the street and see if I could find a bus that would get me back. I walked down the road the conductor had gestured towards for a long time. I decided to go back down towards where I had started but to go down the other side of the street as I watched buses with "Guangzhou" clearly written out in Chinese characters. They had to be coming from somewhere, I just didn't know where. Fortunately, I found a different bus station that had buses going from ZhongShan to Tian He in Guangzhou and with the help of a man who spoke a little English, was able to confirm that I could take that bus back to where I wanted to be. But just to be safe, the woman selling tickets called another man over who said "Ke shi, wo de ying wen bu shi hen hao... (But my English is not very good...)" and was able to double check with me in some very simple sentences that I was going where I needed to. So it all worked out in the end and I showed up to the hostel exhausted. I don't think I realized how tired I was until I slept in and felt how sore my feet were.I was going to go to Foshan the next day and struggled to convey what I wanted when I was at the bus station so I wound up just going back to Fangcun and checking out a street filled with tea shops and a whole tea mall. Inside the mall, there were red lanterns strung together in threes with the character for tea written on them. I amused myself by mentally sounding them out. Tea in Mandarin is "cha" so reading three in succession made it "cha cha cha". I've never seen such massive bags and varieties of tea and it was incredibly fragrant the whole time I was there. I'm also happy to say that I found myself some jin dui. I wasn't sure what filling was in the fried triangles but I overheard the woman next to me asking for some. So I had a nice restful day while I tried to figure out Foshan (I'll give that its own post) and spent some time just exploring the area I've been staying in.
I may not have seen much of ZhongShan, but the bus ride itself was worth the day trip too. The sight of more modern apartments, buildings in construction, and a changing China alongside houses that were clearly much older and the sight of boats on the rivers as the sun was going down was striking as we headed back into the city. It may not have had much to offer in the same way Guangzhou did, but it was peaceful. And it was also a new experience to walk into a place where overseas Chinese make up part of the area's history and a historical exhibit and then walk out and onto a bus where I can't actually communicate well and I imagine the people have fewer chances to speak and practice English.
So tomorrow is Friday meaning I've been here in Guangdong for nearly a week, although I had a bit of a rough start since I got on the train feeling pretty confident until I realized I didn't have my American debit card on me. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I had washed all my clothes, packed my documents, packed laundry detergent and a clothesline, charged my camera, phone, and nook, swept the whole apartment, mopped the whole apartment, washed my bedding and made it all up so I'd be set when I came back (and also because it's the new year) and forgot that one little thing because I keep it locked away and I never use it for anything other iTunes or ebooks. Fortunately and unfortunately, Zhuzhou is 2 hours and 20 minutes away by fast train. So I was able to book a day trip to my own apartment and spent Wednesday in the surreal other world place known as the fast train and fast train station. After being accustomed to taking all the slow trains and the activity that comes with riding one in hard seat, the large seats, tray tables, non-smoking cars was certainly a change. And while the 8 hour slow train I took to Guangzhou before was 8 hours, it was a nice gradual shift into a warmer climate. I don't think I ever realized how cold Zhuzhou really is until I got off on the platform, pulled my scarf out of my bag and caught the bus into town. It was wet and rainy too. But the operation was a success, I got to the station with plenty of time to spare, and even more after my train was delayed by two hours so I couldn't get the metro and wound having to get a cab at the train station. So it costly and annoying, but it seemed like a better idea to have it on hand and go through all that trouble now than to find myself in Kunming with nothing to fall back on and a 24 hour train ride back to Zhuzhou.
But that was my Wednesday. I arrived here on Monday evening and though my hostel is out of the city center, it is near a metro stop so I can get around pretty well when I want to. It's also nice to go somewhere relatively quiet at the end of the day after pushing through so many people on the metro to get to where I want to be. On Tuesday, I decided to go looking for all the free things I could do and it turned out to be a day of big contrasts which I guess set the tone for the rest of my traveling around the city. I got up and went out to Enning Lu since Changshou Lu, the metro stop that takes you there, is on the same line as the one I take to get to the hostel. The Changshou stop is under a big fancy mall and going outside I found a narrow street crowded with stuff to buy and more interesting to me, oysters with tons of garlic and green onions. They also had oyster shells filled with noodles but they didn't catch my eye quite as fast.
One of my first meals in Guangzhou. I later found out that the booths near the youth hostel out in Fangcun are even better, though more expensive. These were 10 yuan for the whole bunch. The ones in Fangcun were about 5 yuan per oyster but they gave you a basket so you could pick them out of the fridge yourself and then they put them on the grill, cooked them in the shell, and added the garlic.
At the end of that street, I walked to my right and went along Enning Lu. I've heard that Bruce Lee's ancestral home is out at the end and that there's not much besides a plaque there to mark the spot. I originally set out to try and find it, and never did but I did find a lot of neat things along the way. I heard a bit of opera as I walked on and then a child's plastic toy chain saw lit up and played the Xiao Ping Guo. Like I said, a day of contrasts.
I later went out to Zhujiang looking for the New Guangdong museum (free admission!) and Canton tower. The architecture was completely different. There were multicolored electric lights everywhere as it got darker and the buildings were huge. Since it was close to the financial district too, there were a lot more English speakers and business men walking around suited up for work. It's where I learned that what it cost for me to stay at a hostel for 7 nights would just cover a scalp massage at the four seasons hotel. No, I have not looked at what must be some crazy price for a night at the four seasons. Whenever I walk into a place like that I never feel right. Hostel dorms or single rooms are more my pace.
Today, Thursday, I decided to go see the Lingnan Painters Museum at the school of Fine Arts. But when I got there, it was empty, locked, and all I saw were some maintenance tools. So I wandered around the campus a bit before deciding to take the metro to YueXiu Park. I heard YueXiu come up many times so I wanted to see what was around there. I found the museum of the Nanyue King shortly after exiting the station and went inside. I'd heard about the king's all jade burial suit and was curious as to how it would look. It was all pretty elaborate, which when you consider that his tomb was a king's tomb makes sense. But his jade suit alone was 2291 jade tiles sewn together. I'm not even talking about all the other jade bi or jade jewelry or jade in boxes around him in his tomb that they found. I found that a good number of the staff working here spoke English as well which surprised and threw off both myself and the staff since I've become used to having to gesture with my limited vocabulary and well, with my appearance. But with the history here, it seems to be less of a surprise to see a Chinese-American person than it is when I reveal myself in Hunan. The area definitely had more Muslim influence. I found a pulled noodle place (a specialty of Xinjiang), and a few signs in Arabic. The orchid garden too has some connection to Islam in China if I remember correctly.
So, I've been having a great time but counting my change and reworking what I have available has been frustrating. I lost a lot of money getting my card and now it seems I lost money by booking ahead on my train to Hong Kong. For whatever reason, the directions say you can only pick up the MTR tickets bought online IN PERSON IN HONG KONG which doesn't really work since my ticket was from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. So I'll be up bright and early looking for another ticket it seems. I'm not proud of my Wednesday escapade, but I guess the bright side of this is that by the time I leave Guangzhou, I'll have gone through every train station in this city. I also found that I've saved myself more money than I initially thought. When I arrived, I paid for a youth hostel card which knocked the cost of my room down and the card (which was 50 yuan) was more than worth the discount. Though I didn't find a youth hostel in Macau, it will also cut down what I'm paying per night at the hostel in Kunming. And in addition to all this, I do get my deposit back at the end when I check out so that will be a little extra to feed myself with. I definitely think I could have been smarter, but overall it hasn't worked out too badly. And now I may as well take advantage of the discount I get in youth hostels across China since I know I have another week long vacation in May. I'll have to see if it's possible to visit Xian and Nanjing in the same trip. If not, I know Xian could keep me busy for a week with the terra cotta warriors, the walls, and other sites it has. So, another tool to my China travel bag to work with.
I'm planning on using the rest of my time here to make day trips outside of the city. So I'll come back and write about how everything works out with getting to Foshan, Zhongshan, and Kaiping (which is in Taishan if I understand correctly).
I'm a 3rd year WorldTeach volunteer.