Sunday, December 11, 2011

10. Guangzhou Toured

Then we go to the Chen family dynasty museum. This place I’ve got to come back to with the camera, hence the photos. This huge compound with its rooms open to the courtyards is where the Chens used to run their empire. The museum aspect is pretty ordinary, but the decoration on the buildings is pretty impressive. Those are all real people and events and legends up along the edges of the roofs and carved into the wall panels. I wonder if anybody can still read the whole story of this building from the walls. I wonder if the story is compiled into a picture book. A picture book in English. In fact, I wonder if there are picture books in English at all. Most any place I visit, there’s always picture books in a dozen languages at the gift shops. I’ve been looking for some. Aside from the photographer in Zhangjiajie, I have yet to find one.

Time for lunch. We have dim sum for lunch, inviting the driver in order to diversify the dishes ordered. Just one bit of this! Just taste that! It’s mostly delicious, but my stomach is groaning and easily upset from eating like this for days on end. It’s not polite for Chinese hosts not to push food on you, but it’s not polite for Western tourists to refuse, so in the end I’ve got another stomachache.

Happily, after lunch we get to do some walking.

We’re in a large shopping district, and in getting to our restaurant we passed lots of shops with jade jewelry and tiny beautiful teapots and lots of stuff like that that I’d be interested in taking home as a gift or a souvenir for myself. So I’m happy we’re going to walk down one of the long pedestrian streets lined with shops.

It’s an interesting walk along a nice broad and clean sidewalk dotted with sculptures. The shops are full of the things you find in any mall, however. Shoes, clothes, electronic gadgetry, that kind of thing. It’s the Made-in-China I don’t shop for at home, and I’m not going to start now just because it’s half price. All these clothes - I have not once noticed anyone in the street whose clothes made me wonder if I could get some. Where's all the beautiful silk?

We stroll up and down for half an hour, chatting and people-watching, but I’m not tempted to shop, so we’re back to our starting point in record time for a tour. My guide says this part usually takes more than an hour and they often do just the first block when she has a dozen clients. If they went to the end like we just did, it would take the rest of the afternoon.

Next it’s time to visit the Guangdong regional museum. And the TV tower! We’ll have a great view of the tv tower from there. This is a big point with my guide. I just want to take my time strolling around the museum and perhaps find a western-style toilet, because my stomach is rebelling against too much lunch. In fact, I’d rather we skip dinner, or at least have it much later than planned.

Oh, no, No skipping the dinner! Part of the tour! We have reservations at a special restaurant. Very good seafood. And we can’t have it much later than planned, either, because the driver has to finish his day.

Well... can we have some simple steamed fish? Nothing fried? I swear I will have just a little taste.

So I linger in the museum. But it closes at 5 and there’s no lingering any longer than that. When we go outside, the huge fountain on the grounds is having its hourly water show, so we watch that. I like the sign that announces the water show pond is “like a gigantic sailing ship carrying the pragmatic and struggling Guangdong people toward the ocean full of passion”. And another “Excellent Parking Lot”, and further on “Outstanding Garden Path”. These signs are merely typical. This glorious, heavenly hyperbole seems to be just how the Chinese express themselves. It’s normal.

No, it’s weird.

My guide does a lot of talking, which is apparently something she doesn’t always do on her tours. Usually, it’s just give a set spiel at each site and then let the clients talk among themselves. But I don’t have anyone else to talk to, so she fills in a lot. We talk about the myriad good luck charms and rituals all over town. Luck is very important in Chinese culture; it’s tightly linked to happiness and wealth. Which themselves seem to be inextricably intertwined. Again and again through the day, she equates happiness with money, and money with happiness.

I failed to write it down, but even the words for happiness and money seem to be linked. The same term can mean either one. The money=happiness thing is part of the foundation of chineseness, and a lot of what other people have said along this trip makes more sense now that I see this equation. Like this TV tower. It’s a sign of the people’s wealth, and that makes them happy. They don’t understand that it bores me.


Argent said...

It bored me too when I was there. I guess we are just too used to affluence. Your tour sounds about as regimented as the one I was on.

Peter Goulding said...

I ended up templed-out in China - couldn't face another one! Going to HK in February and was wondering if its worth doing the high speed train to Guangzhou for the day. Probably not?