#2 China, January 18, 2002

Dear Everybody (thanks to all who sent emails!)

I think I left off just as I was going to another concert. What a concert! The Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra gave one of the most enjoyable concerts that I’ve ever attended! They used traditional instruments—funny stringed instruments and funny oboes, trumpets, and percussion along with funny xylophones, guitars, etc. They were set up like a western orchestra but the sound was quite different, as were the songs. The melodies were accessible though and lyrical—very beautiful. I shall check the Internet to see if I can buy a CD. I’m so glad the Bostonian urged me to go. He was there, and we took the ferry back to Kowloon together.

Next morning at 6:15 I left the hotel with my pack to walk to the pier to take a ferry to Guangzhou into China! While it was dark, the mile walk was not scary as there were a number of people around and my route was well lighted. The hotel lady (they live there) got up to see me off. The ferry was a jet-cat, very modern and fast. In two hours, I was in Guangzhou—going through customs was a breeze. A bus took me the 20-km from the pier to a particular 5-star hotel (I’m not sure why they do that but they do) and there I got some money from an ATM and a taxi to take me to the Guangzhou Youth Hostel. Actually he didn’t know where it was so I had him drop me off at the White Swan, a 5-star hotel that my guidebook showed the Chinese characters for, and I walked a half block to the youth hostel. (It’s always good to be near a 5-star hotel that the taxi driver will know!)

At the Youth Hostel I asked if they had any discounts for over 65-ers (!) but they didn’t. Anyway, I got a nice big room with bath. The other option was a bed in a shared triple room with no bath, and a young man was occupying one of the other beds.

I have a Walkman with me—the music seems to be western ballad-pop but sung in Chinese, pleasant listening. In Hong Kong there was one especially good station with a ‘British’ announcer, that played really good music, varying the type an hour at a time—classical, jazz, blues, etc. They also gave a news update. In Guangzhou I got ABC news in the morning on my TV for a half-hour only.

They clearly feel here that it’s very important to have hot water (to drink) at the ready. They provide huge thermos jugs with boiling hot water apparently to be drunk as tea or just alone. On the plane coming over some Hong Kong ladies next to me kept drinking hot water. I’ll have to say that I’m getting used to it, too, as it’s coolish here and it warms me up. The high seems to be about 68 degrees F., so the weather is perfect, SO FAR!

The island of Shamian Dao where I stayed in Guangzhou was a peaceful escape from the noisy, congested, smoggy city of Guangzhou. It was pleasant to leisurely walk around exploring the food in the windows, to try to decide where/what to eat next. There was a wonderful perpetual dim sum restaurant at the end of the block where I ate many meals. The food was terrific! One meal was sliced roast goose over tofu, and soup with spinach, garlic, and pork balls. Then they served some soy/sweet peanuts and some Asian pear and melon gratis.

On Tuesday I went sightseeing in earnest, starting with using the metro. It took me a half-hour to find the station as signs seemed to be conflicting and it certainly wasn’t obvious. I asked people for directions with my finger pointing to the Chinese characters in my guidebook. There’s not much English here, and I often can’t understand their attempts. (Imagine what my Chinese attempts would sound like!) Anyway, I was finally successful and then continually asked directions to my destination. I visited two significant Buddhist temples, one having a pagoda 17 stories high, from 1097 A.D. I walked up which exhausted me. I also spent some time at a wonderful museum on the site of a recent (1983) discovery of a tomb from about 50 B.C. Wonderful jade and gold artifacts as well as pottery and bronzes were displayed.

I had dim sum for lunch at a huge restaurant and the room I was in seemed to be exclusively for over 65ers. Maybe others had gone back to work, as it was 1:30. Somebody’s little three year old grandson was along, and he was dandled and petted by everyone. I photographed a beautiful old woman at my table. She then gave me her address (?) with perhaps a hundred Chinese characters and a long speech with her hand on my shoulder.

In the restaurant I noticed that these older ladies immediately poured some hot tea, then proceeded to dip and swish their (plastic) chopsticks in it, followed by the soup spoon, followed by their little bowl in which they would put morsels of food—all to clean their utensils. The waiter brought a pitcher for them to discard the ‘dirty’ tea into. And this was a fairly upscale restaurant! They obviously don’t trust the hygiene or else they were just showing off. I did try the chicken feet—the sauce on them was delicious and the feet were OK too.

When I exited the restaurant (everyone in the room bade me ‘goodbye’) there was a city bus pausing at the curb. I got on and pointed to the White Swan Hotel in my book and the driver nodded ‘yes’. What luck. The bus went within two blocks of my hotel at which time the bus driver motioned for me to get off. I will confess to having taken a taxi from the temple to the museum, though, and again to the restaurant. In a grocery store I bought a bottle of Ernest and Julio Gallo merlot (!) and two apples for a treat. Enough dim sum and tea for the moment!

On Wednesday more metro rides more temples, lunch on the street (good roast duck, snowpeas, rice and soup). I was so well taken care of—a special table was cleared for me (on the sidewalk) with an overturned plastic pail to sit on. The food was served in a Styrofoam container and the proprietess proudly pointed out an almost invisible clear plastic tiny spoon for me to use. Actually I was having pretty good luck with the disposable wooden chopsticks as their rough texture allows the food to adhere to them.

The White Swan Hotel is full of American couples who have come to pick up their adopted Chinese babies. The babies are all healthy looking, and about one year old. When I was having a beer in a bar near my hotel, an adoptive couple and their Chinese baby were eating lunch. I asked them if there were any boys among the babies. They said that there was only one in the 40 couples that they knew here. They also said that all Chinese babies being adopted must be processed through Gunagzhou. Claire, is this where Judy and Doc got their baby?

Thursday was more sightseeing—a Ming Dynasty (15th C.) tower with city museum, a newish statue, a Gothic Cathedral (yes!) and more street food. I can’t believe the emphasis on food here. I gather pretty much everybody eats out. Obviously there are all prices to accommodate all needs, but the quality seems to be always good. And they seem to take a huge interest in me, and whether I like the food. I think because almost all the tourists are on tours, they don’t get to see many ‘close up’.

Each day I see many older women doing various kinds of slow exercises with various accouterments—swords, fans, sticks, and nothing, so far. They clearly take it very seriously.

My ‘penpal’, Karen Harvey, that I met on the Internet via Lonely Planet, and I have been emailing. She teaches English in Nanning where I shall fly today. She has invited me to stay with her for a few days. She also invited me to a birthday party this evening (my plane gets in around 4 pm) for a Chinese woman. As per Karen’s instructions, after landing I shall get a taxi, first asking (sign language, I guess) if the driver has a cell phone. Then I will have him call Karen’s house and she will have somebody explain where to bring me. She says that taxi drivers are used to this! I shall bring a bottle of California wine. (I warned Karen that I would be dressed VERY casually) and I shall bring Karen the book, “Galileo’s Daughter” by Dava Soble that I just finished reading (Judy and Ruth—I really liked it)

Talk about communications—a couple of days ago I got an email from a college friend (1954) that I have been out of touch with for at least 30 years. Apparently Macalester College had us submit email addresses. She and I are already talking of a reunion for next summer among five of us. She was surprised that I answered her email the next day from China!

The Chinese art in these museums, and in the shops for that matter—it exhausts me with its excessive detail and intricacy. The jade, bone, porcelain, woodcarving, bamboo, gold, embroidery, paintings—it goes on and on. I think there is nothing like it in the world.

This morning at breakfast I was seated with two Chinese ladies and later 2 children arrived. It turned out that the children could speak a little English so we had a little conversation. I asked if the ladies were their mother, and they said, “No, uncle,” meaning aunt, of course. I asked if they were brother and sister and they said, “No, cousins. In China only one child.” The children were both 11 years old.

Guangzhou is a bustling, prosperous city with an ancient history of being a trading center. A ‘capitalist’ market (which I visited) was set up here in 1979—an interesting experiment for them. At one time Guangzhou was the only open port for trading in China. So as the sun slowly sinks into the west—-I shall leave Guangzhou today. I find that spending five or six days in a city gives me a certain sense of familiarity and heightens my enjoyment. Until next time—- Carol

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