Wednesday, October 21, 2009
After Shanghai we flew down to Guǎngzhōu. Once again I had a babysitter to show me around. She booked us on a bus tour of Guǎngzhōu that covered one hell of a lot of kilometres. It was a lot to cram into one day!
Being on a tour definitely has its plus sides - one being the ease of getting around (no fears of getting lost), and you get to hear a lot about what you're looking at. One down side is that you can't spend longer at a place that you are particularly interested in. I know I could have spent MUCH longer wandering around Baiyun mountain. The view of the city was amazing (well, what you could see through the smog!), and stretched for a LONG way... Melbourne in comparison is so incredibly tiny.
One really nice thing did happen while I was there. Eileen (who was looking after me) took my picure in front of this garden(above), and while she was doing this I noticed a lovely young couple taking it in turns to take pictures of each other in front of everything. Thankfully, hand gestures are more or less universal. I pointed at their camera, then pointed one hand at each of them, then at the garden, and moved my hands together. They understood. The girl was so happy, she clapped her hands together and jumped up and down, then grabbed her boyfriend and they posed in front of the garden while I snapped a few pictures off with their camera. Then something unexpected happened. The girl grabbed me and took me back to the garden for pictures of us together, then me and her boyfriend, then the three of us. So I have these lovely pictures of a very smiley me with some very smiley people... and I have no idea who they are! I didn't speak their language, they didn't speak mine, but we all understood each other. I hope I remember that story for a really long time.
How did we get down the mountain? I mentioned in my post on Shanghai that, for someone with my fear of heights, I seem to get into a lot of them. And here I was again. Yes, we took a cable car down off the mountain. It was beautiful, but seriously, I need to stop doing this to myself!
On the way out to Changzhou Island and the Huangpu Military Academy (an hour or so on the bus... it might take longer if you stop at red traffic lights...) we stopped for lunch. I'm glad that some of my favourite places to eat at Chinatown here in Melbourne aren't that crash-hot to look at, because the place we stopped at... wasn't fancy. I really wish I'd taken a picture of the outside to share with you all but I didn't. We all trooped off the bus and into an open room with quite a few tables, two of which were set with massive lazy susan's in the middle, fair groaning with the weight of the food on them.
Oh, should I mention I was the only non-Chinese person on the bus? The reason I mention it now is that the ladies running the establishment saw me as I sat down and got all in a flurry - it turns out they were worried I wouldn't be able to handle the food with the chopsticks. I managed to say, through Eileen, that I could manage, although I'm by no means proficient. Hehehe... one of the ladies had already disappeared to the kitchen to see what she could rustle up. It was at this point that she returned - with a (please excuse my language) fuck-off massive-ass kitchen knife, and a tiny plastic fork. It made me laugh so hard...
Anyway, I tasted most of the dishes in the centre of the table. There was a whole fish (which I declined due to the number of bones in it), something with salted-chilli cucumbers, also chilli tofu, something sliced and green, something brown and squidgy (which was DAMNED tasty), and this:
I don't know about the spelling, but phonetically this is "too dow" (ow as in the sound in 'loud'). Shredded potato strips lightly stir-fried with garlic, oil, and chunks of chilli. Delicious. By-the-by, I had a slightly different version of this in Hong Kong, with carrot and celery and a few different flavours, but this simple version wins hands-down for me.
From there we went on to the Huanpu Military Academy, which is now a museum with the story of how it was founded, bits and pieces of its history, and paintings of some of its staff and graduates. It was a really interesting place to visit, and also included the old Customs House. If you're like me, and have an interest in the history and culture of places, you'd really enjoy visiting these places. Just be careful where you point your camera.
The penultimate stop of the tour was the Five Ram Statue. Not much more I can say about this one... there's the statue, and a shop of souvenirs... there looked to be more here, but we only stopped here for a minute.
From the rams we went to a jade shop, where there was a presentation on the types of jade they sold there, how it's carved, and the different grades of it. Although the presentation wasn't in english, I have some knowledge of jade, so I found I could figure out what he was talking about from what he was doing. Amazing!
Final stop, the bus let us all off a short walk from the Beijing Lu. Gah. I'm NOT a shopper, but I swear my purse was itching to empty itself in some of these stores. We wandered around for a short while, then the day caught up with us so we took a taxi back to my hotel. What a great day. I can't wait to go back and explore a little further!
Oh, but speaking of hotels... The Garden Hotel KNOWS how to look after its guests. Oh wow. The beds are pretty damn firm, but I think that's the worst I can say about this place. While I've got no problem with staying at lesser establishments (hell, I've kipped in many "interesting" backpacker accommodations), I can appreciate a little luxury. And this was not a little. It was a fair stinkin' whack of it. If the entry foyer doesn't impress you, the standard of the facilities you have access to there certainly will (try their massage... you'll melt). This is another place I'd love to explore a little further (rather than just the bar).