As in Hong Kong, I met less than ideal weather in Guangzhou. This caused an interesting phenomenon downtown; the city looked empty. The reason being that in many cases, residents have underground options when it comes to travelling.
You sometimes see these entrances to what appears to be little underground strip malls, but in reality, they connect you to kilometres of underground tunnels lined with hundreds of stores, and then you realize the city is NOT empty.
Apparently there are 1.3 billion people in China. It really doesn’t feel like it. It feels like there are 1.3 billion in Guangzhou alone!
One of them is my friend Rica, whom I met last year in Bali. I was delighted to see her again and to have a local guide. As it turns out, we both ended up going where we didn’t expect to end up. I wanted to go to a good and preferably non-touristy dim sum restaurant. She took me to a famous one, but it was closed for lunch and not yet open for dinner. I suggested we find a coffee place to hang around, but not being a coffee drinker, she could not suggest one. We randomly walked around looking for a Starbucks-like place, and ended up stumbling upon some little local coffee shop. I thought that would be fine and since Rica could order for me, I would even get what I want.
So we walked in. The noisy place went silent instantly. I looked around. I was certainly the only caucasian, but that alone would not have been surprising. However, Rica was the only chinese person, and the only woman. It was the two of us, and about 30 black muslim men looking at us with a surprised look on their faces. In Guangzhou! Very, very weird… and we went to the McCafe!
Even though the weather was not cooperating, some tourists were out and about and the parks had local visitors as soon as the rain died down.
Guangzhou has many beautiful parks where people gather to play music, card games and to just hang out. Often, you walk a few minutes into the park and the sounds of the city quickly die down, leading you to forget you are in the throbbing heart of this bustling city of 14 million. I’m not 100% sure, but I think this is the People’s Park.
Apart from the beautiful parks, Guangzhou also boasts a lot of interesting and spectacular architecture, such as the brand new Opera House, completed in 2010.
Designed by Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, it seats over 1,800 and attracts some big names. I saw billboards for representations with Zubin Mehta and José Carreras.
The new Guangzhou Library, completed just a few months ago.
Perhaps an allusion to the overbearing Chinese mother, a statue by Wang Peng, “Controlling/Homecoming”, with the Canton Tower in the background.
In 1983, a few tens of meters of rock were removed from a hill to flatten it and make way for a large residential project. To the amazement of archaeologists and history lovers, a complete, un-pillaged tomb of a 2nd century BC king was found, with over 1,000 burial artifacts. (I must say that as a real estate investor myself, I feel the developer’s pain!) The complex, known as the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, has been transformed into a museum.
The showcase piece is this burial garment, composed of 2,291 individual pieces of jade, held together with silk thread. While certainly not ideal for swimming or ballet dancing, the special garment was supposed to play some role linked to keeping the body in good condition in the afterlife. Even if that didn’t work, I suppose no harm was done. I can’t say the same thing about the 15 people buried with him to serve him in death (sacrificed and buried, not buried alive). On the wall, a picture of the garment as it was found, before restoration.
When facing decayed structures or artifacts, to restore or not to restore is often a difficult decision, with the need for authenticity confronting the desire to show the thing at its best. In this museum, they take a new approach; show the object as it was found, and build a replica to show what it would have looked like. I don’t recall seeing it done quite that way before.
The museum also holds items showing the incredible influence and reach of China over 22 centuries ago. To the expert eye, this piece displays obvious Persian motifs (no, not my eye). This shows the leaders of the time had contact with people in modern day Iran, over 6,000 km away, in a straight line!
Other pieces show the great ingenuity of the ancient Chinese. This hook on an upside down bell would serve to suspend fish and meat. If crawling insects tried to reach the meat, they would fall in the liquid-filled bell and drown.
Completed the same year as the Opera House, the neighbouring Guangdong Museum is the city’s largest.
There is often talk in the media of excessive infrastructure being built, sometimes coming from top communist leaders themselves. While this museum contains an amazing collection of ancient artifacts and contemporary craftsmanship, I must say the massive structure mostly holds empty space!
A woman taking a snapshot of a woman who does not want to be photographed, with another woman looking nervously, thinking her turn might be next.
The museum holds some amazing examples of embroidery and sculpture, and presents a complete history of the region from prehistoric times to the modern era.
This ivory carving is probably the most impressive I have ever seen.
I went on visiting China, onwards to Shanghai.