Saturday, February 17, 2007

Happy Lunar New Year!

CLICK HERE for Your Greeting Card!!!

Dear Friends and Family,

Wishing you blessings and peace during this time of celebration!

Have a great Year of the Pig!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Going Back to HK from Guangzhou

Wandering among the sea of people around the train station heading home for New Years, I found it very interesting that a lot of young military boys as well as police men were assigned to keep order. Overpasses had become enforced as one-way and entrances to the stations had also become one-way. At one point, the policeman sitting at the base of the stairs had to yell something out of his megaphone at me to remind me that the stairs were one-way only. A moment later, he ran after a Chinese lady who tried to go against the crowd.

As I was climbing some stairs, I encountered an old man with a ridiculously heavy bunch of items on a set of wheels which he obviously would not be able to lug up the stairs on his own. A lady, who may or may not have known him, didn't seem to be able to lift the bottom of the load on her own. I decided to do the unusual (at least in my mind, it was unusual in this society, but maybe I am mistaken) and lent a helping hand. I lifted and bar and realized how heavy the load actually was. "Aiya!" I exclaimed. I sucked it up and together with the woman, helped the old farmer man with the load up two flights of stairs. They both said,"Thanks," to me and it was so uplifting to know that Chinese people DID say thank you to strangers.

To describe Guangzhou's transportation structure (I got a feel for it after wandering around in confusion for an hour), there is a Rail Station and an East Rail Station, a local bus station and a long-distance bus station. Since buses apparently leave for Shenzhen from both bus stations, I decided to visit the less crowded of the two, the Lihua local bus station, which is just above the D4 exit of the Metro and across from the McDonalds.

Signs at the station indicated that I should buy tickets at the 2nd floor (rather than right on the bus). Once I had purchased my ticket and descended back to the first floor where the buses were moving in and out, no areas were listed for Shenzhen. The station workers I asked keeping pointing to a place off in the distance. My ticket said "Long Distance Station 2nd Floor". I was very confused and asked a young worker (the third or fourth person I asked by now) for directions. He said in Chinese, "It's written right there on your ticket!" To which I replied, "I can't read it! I'm not Chinese-ah!" Amazing how fluent I sounded when speaking with a bit of emphasis and frustration. Surprisingly he said, "I'll take you there, okay?"

I followed him 180 meters down the street, up some stairs and through a front entrance and into a waiting hall on the second floor where lo and behold, buses were waiting behind doors with ticket takers. How modern, how Taipei-ish. The bus departed promptly and we were entertained by a Jackie Chan movie and some music videos. The bus arrived in the outer edges of Shenzhen (by Shenzhen University) in just 2 hours. Unfortunately, the next hour was spent trudging along in rush hour traffic. From there it was the routine ride home to University.

Special Sights in Guangzhou

The girl always wanted to hold his hand and the little boy accepted it.

The arrival of New Year's means a lot of these orange plants at doorsteps.

Guangzhou's Southern Yue Museum

Early in the morning, I arrived at the Museum of the Southern Yue Royal Mausoleum which was adjacent to Yuexiu Park. Immediately what struck me was the contemporary design of the museum. With my Beijing student card, I received a student rate of RMB $5 over the regular RMB $12.

The first building of the museum housed a good collection of Han-Tang dynasty pieces. Being early, I was able to enjoy the displays all to myself. I was impressed by a large collection of some 200 ceramic pillows on permanent display. The second part of the museum was the actual mausoleum. The exhibit was such that visitors could walk around inside the tomb itself and explore its various chambers. I was surprised at how small it was...and I did feel a little strange reading descriptions which pointed out where the bodies were found. The third building of the museum showcased the actual pieces found within the mausoleum. It struck me that what I was seeing was none other than the very pieces I had studied in my Chinese Art History class with Professor Lingley at UH. I was able to witness, in person, a particular piece which had fascinated me from the textbook: a bodysuit completely made out of jade, sewn together with strands of red silk. Though the bodies in the tombs had long decayed and virtually turned to dust, the jade suit remained intact. Thinking of it now however, the jade looked in awfully good condition for its age. The King of Wen, inhabitor of the "suit", was buried with many jade bi as well and I was able to see the largest jade bi disc found intact in all of China on display. I was also able to see iron swords which looked more like tree bark now and gold and jade seals used by the King and his 4 wives (two of which were named Lady Right and Lady Left). To my surprise, three Japanese tour groups came through the museum while I was there. I had no idea the Japanese took tours to Guangzhou.

I really enjoyed visiting this museum and found it to be the highlight of this trip to Guangzhou. The unfortunate thing I find at most museums in China though is that, even though photos are prohibited, museum staff don't really care. People were taking lots of flash photography.

I heard from my roommate that another one is the making right at this moment and is being excavated just off of Beijing Lu.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Seeing Guangzhou's Famous Sites

At 9:00 AM, Yuexiu Park was filled with the city's elderly who were performing the usual park activities, taiqi, wushu, ballroom dancing, meditating in front of a tree or lake, kicking a feathered shuttlecock, playing badminton, and cards. I became particularly mezmerized by a couple in their 80s who were playing badminton together as if they could do it with their eyes closed. The rhythm and timing of their strokes were in perfect coordination, almost as if it were a reflection of their relationship with each other.

The park did have some "must see spots" but the 5 goats statue and the Ming-dynasty brick wall were equally underwhelming as was the park's Dai Culture Exhibition featuring a dozen or so plaster displays of the Dai minority people in the midst of daily life.

For lunch, I visited the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees and the Guangxiao Temple, both of which were popular Buddhist temples within close proximity to each other. I noticed nothing of note, however, and went to have lunch at a nearby vegetarian restaurant, of which there are three just around the temples.

The most lively and well-patronized of the three was probably the one along the eastern edge of the Guangxiao temple grounds in the alley just behind the main road. The servers were all genuinely happy and extraordinarily friendly and kind to me though I didn't dine here.

Following lunch, I walked to the Chen Academy or the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall as it is sometimes called and toured the grounds. Only when I arrived there did I realize that it was converted into a Museum for Guangdong Folk Arts sometime during the last century. Perhaps this is why it wasn't demolished during the Cultural Revolution, or perhaps there is an even better reason than that. I found the Academy moderately enjoyable because of its architecture, but was not particularly fond of seeing many of its rooms converted into shops for selling souvenirs according to that particular folk art (i.e. calligraphy, pottery). The main ancestral building did have several glass-encased artifacts which had been part of the original compound, but I would have liked to see how it was actually used when it was built. For example, where did the young Chen boys live when preparing for their examinations there? Since the last Chinese emperor fell less than 15 years after the compound was built, what happened to the "academy" part of this ancestral hall?

That evening, George, Andrew and I enjoyed a chat at the tables in front of the 7-11 and had a modest dinner together at a little shop across the Pearl River. Andrew hated seeing all the beautiful tree limbs along the river covered with as many as 12 lights. He wondered how much electricity was being used to put on the light show along the river. I believe it's common In China for buildings located along rivers to put on neon light shows.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Adoptions in Guangzhou

I went back to my hostel and chatted with my roommates from my top bunk. "I noticed a lot of babies," I said....and then the stories came out. Two of the longer-term residents had plenty to say about what was going on. Shamian was one of the many places foreign parents stayed for the one month period they needed in order to adopt a Chinese baby. Andrew, the outspoken Canadian, had no problems wondering about the fitness of these parents. He felt that many of the ones he had seen were too obese to raise a child or too elderly. He speculated that the price of adopting a child from China was about USD $30,000. George speculated about USD $68,000 from the quote a couple gave him of their first adoptee.

I asked why children in China were adopted over ones in their home countries. The answer I got was red tape. In China, it only takes a sum of money and one month and one can get a child which is still a baby. In their home country, these folks may have to wait years to adopt and on top of that, the codes are extremely stringent.

Andrew also went on to wonder about the adoption industry. He mentioned that it had come out about a year or two ago that a racket was uncovered where about 300 of the adopted "orphans" were in fact kidnapped. Some of these babies weren't kidnapped at all but sold by their parents, for maybe as little as RMB $1,500. But with foreigners like Americans, Canadians, and Germans willing to pay top dollar for a baby - the Chinese mind will find a way to create a lucrative business out of this demand. Of course, this happens in many other countries around the world, but I don't find it surprising that babies are kidnapped and then sold to orphanages (acting as the middle men) who in turn sell for a profit to foreign adopters. And according to my roommates, it's not only Guangzhou where you see this phenomenon. Plenty of other Chinese cities are in the business of exporting babies.

Of course there are those babies that are abandoned; I noticed about 9 Chinese girl babies to 1 Chinese boy baby while I was in Shamian. And there was no there was no particular type of parent; I saw parents who already had 1-3 biological children who had adopted a Chinese baby; I also saw parents who already had 1-3 previously adopted Chinese-American children who came back to adopt another. While for some, it did look as if it were their first child.

Guangzhou's Shamian 沙面 District

I got off the metro at the Huangsha station, which is the closest station to the area I wanted to go, Shamian 沙面. Shamian is an "island" (connected to city by very very short bridges) in the southwestern part of Guangzhou. I promptly got myself lost in a back street before finding my destination, but that back street was lovely. I felt the life of Guangzhou was in this back street.

Shamian was once the foreign concession for Guangzhou and hence, the buildings, the layout and the greenery were all of colonial design. I found it to be a feast for the eyes amidst the drab Chinese architecture I was so accustomed to. The hostel rate here, as I expected, was far more reasonable at RMB $50 per night. Once I had checked in and met several of my roommates (from Australia and Canada), I set off to explore Shamian.

Just on the main street around the corner, the finishing touches were being placed on a Starbucks. Painters were lacquering the outdoor wooden flooring as people inside were setting up the displays. As I continued along the street, I noticed a Blenz coffee, which I later found out was a Canadian coffee company. I decided to go in to explore. The interior was beautifully done in the colonial style. Two computers were set up for internet access and foreign travelers were stopping in to update their blogger or do whatever. A loud crowd of youngsters were talking in the back corner. I sat down to read the various local magazines on the racks, one of which was called "That's PRD (Pearl River Delta)" and provided a lot of useful information about the goings-ons in Guangzhou.

I continued on with my walk and admired the buildings, most of which had plaques which explained their original function (i.e. Japanese bank, Indian consulate, etc.)

As night fell, I stopped in a restaurant called Lucy's. An NBA game was playing on a large flat-screen and customers were being served VERY American fare: steak and french-fries and the like. But that wasn't what made being at Lucy's a completely surreal experience. On my walk around Shamian, I had noticed half a dozen "laowai", "haole", Caucasian parents carrying Chinese babies, or pushing them along the street in strollers. Here in Lucy's, every seat was occupied by caucasian (particularly American-looking) parents, uncles, aunts, kids, together with a Chinese baby in a high chair. They weren't all there together as a group either, it was just a random coming together of 50 people with the same purpose, adopting a baby from China. I felt like I was in the twilight zone.

My next post covers this topic a little further.

Getting to Guangzhou

Getting out from University to Lowu (Luohu) had become routine, and much simpler with the student visa since I no longer needed to needed to fill out departure and entry forms for Hong Kong. The Guangzhou bus station (the building just in front of and to the right of the KCR exit) was easy enough to decipher.

A large map on the wall showed the destinations serviced and the signs indicated that buses to Guangzhou were leaving from terminals 24 and 25. When I arrived there, two buses looked about ready to leave. And they were leaving only 5 minutes apart of each other. I think buses leave for Shenzhen from Guangzhou every 5-10 minutes. Once I was seated, they collected $60 RMB and that was it. The ride lasted a good 2.5 hours since we got stuck behind a car accident and New Years traffic around the Guangzhou train station was very heavy. However, the bus was quite comfortable and even provided a bottle of water, which I dared not use for drink.

From the bus station, I walked a quarter-mile to the first hostel on my list which was pretty much adjacent to the train station. Of course, they told me they had no single beds available, which made sense, because who would want to lose money during a high season like this? They offered me an entire room for RMB $168. I instinctively knew that a more suitable arrangement could be had elsewhere and continued on to the Metro station at Yuexiu Park. It was a bit of a longer walk than just walking to the Metro station underneath the train station, but it allowed me to avoid walking among the masses who were waiting for train tickets or their train, or both. Large 10 foot tall signs with train schedules were set up around the station and many large canopies were created to house the passengers. People everywhere were rolling along their suitcases and plastic bags on wheels. I noticed a fair number of foreign people of African descent walking about.

The Metro station of Guangzhou was very impressive. Obviously brand-new and obviously created by the same people who made the Shenzhen metro and possibly the Hong Kong metro before it. Payment is made by using a value-added card or buying a black, plastic token. The metro allowed passengers to disembark from one side before allowing passengers to board from the other. I have a feeling that Guangzhou will be able to develop quickly and well as a result of its ultra-modern metro.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Shenzhen Again (深圳)

昨天我回去深圳。I discovered that this time was much more enjoyable since I wasn't fatigued from illness and having respiratory problems. After adjusting to Hong Kong, I was delighted and almost nostalgic to see those aspects of China which are, to me, uniquely China.

What I really enjoy about China are the sheer number of specialty shops which have resulted from the massive manufacturing industry. I was able to purchase my stainless steel plates and bowls, where else? at the stainless steel kitchen equipment shop. I also returned to the delightful 2元 store for some knick-knacks.

I would say my best discovery from yesterday's trip was 东门接,which in my guidebook, was marked as a shopping area. I took this to mean that it would be little shops on a dilapidated street; I was completely surprised to find a veritable mecca for shopping! There was Starbucks (星巴克), McDonalds , KFC, as well as Baleno, Yishion, and other well-known Chinese franchises. I think one could easily spend a whole day just browsing 东门街。The quickest route to 东门街 is by bus, or take the subway from Luohan and get off at 老街。

深圳 is not a day city; it is a night city. By day, the city appears rather unremarkable. But at night 深圳 comes alive! The streets are suddenly lively and filled with young people who are very much at ease. Yesterday, I was able to sense how affluent a city 深圳 was.

Spring Festival is coming! Get your ornaments now!