Guangzhou #2: Chen Clan Academy and Shamian Island

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May 2nd 2019
Published: December 7th 2019
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I had slept badly during the night and I was shocked to wake up and find that it was 9 am. I couldn't even remember pausing my alarm that's how out of it I must have been. I quickly got sorted and headed out for some breakfast. I had located a Starbucks about a ten minute walk away, so I went there as I needed a caffeine fix. The place was pretty busy, but the tables outside were pretty empty, so I grabbed one of those. I think I must have been the only paying customer using them as the rest seemed to be filled with homeless looking people. There was even one guy who looked like he coyld have worked at Starbucks, but also looked like he could have been homeless. It was weird. Feeling a bit more alive after my coffee and breakfast, I headed to the first place that I wanted to visit, the Chen Clan Academy. It was about a 30-40 minute walk away, but basically along a straight road. I was happy just walking alomg and watching life go by. The architecture is different here compared to Northern China and it reminded a little of Xiamen in Fujian province, which I had visited the previous year.

I came to the Chen Clan Academy and could see that it was absolutely rammed. The queue to get in was massive.There were QR codes to scan with English information on how to get tickets. I had already debated leaving as it was so busy but decided to persevere. I kept scanning the QR Code and kept getting an error message, since everything was in Chinese I didn't know what it was saying, but I presumed that my ID was incompatible as it is not a Mainland ID card. Once again this annoys me as if they can be bothered to make the sign in English, then they should actually make the ticket purchase available and have English instructions on the webpage, but no, that would be far too logical. Also I seriously doubt that anyone with Mainland ID would need to read the English instruction/information boards over the Mandarin ones. I was debating leaving, but decided to go to the ticket office and buy a ticket, which was discounted because of the holiday. Then I joined the massive queue to get into the Academy. The queue was actually well organised and moved pretty quickly.

The Chen Clan Academy was built in 1894 using money from different Chen families in 72 counties in Guangdong, as well as some overseas Chinese bearing the Chen name. It was built for people to make sacrifices to their ancestors and to encourage their children to study hard after a man named Chen got third place in the imperial examinations during the late Qing Dynasty. This made the family name well known and he was bestowed a distinguished office title. One of the first things I noticed about the place was the dark colours of the walls and roof, and how they contrasted to the brightly painted figurines and other decorations on the roof. I enjoyed wandering around the academy. The style was quite different to what I am used to seeing when Visiting old houses/ancestral halls in China. I looked around some of the rooms, which displayed how a typical house would be set up. It was interesting to see in the master bedroom, how the young woman's things would be put on display as if to show her worth. I looked around another room, which had some beautiful embroidery on show. These shawls were traditionally a type of Southern European clothing and craftsmen from the Pearl River Delta began to make them for the Western market during the Qing Dynasty. From there, I headed out to the smallish garden at the back of the property. I would have to loved to relax here for a bit, but al the seats were taken. There were some interesting sculptures to look at. The Academy also houses the Guangdong Folk Arts Museum, so I wandered around the variois exhibits that they had on show. Looking around the ancestral hall was fun, I just wished it had been a little quieter.

I decided to walk to my next destination, Shamian Island. The walk took about 40 minutes and I really enjoyed it. It was nice to walk through the sections of what I presumed to be the Old Town, as it was more traditional with lots of small shops. I loved the big trees shading the streets and all the people sitting outside their shops enjoying tea or lunch. The pace of life seemed so relaxed. This was a sharp contrast to Shamian Island, which when I arrived was heaving with people. I really shouldn't be surprised by all the crowds in China, but I still am. Shamian Island is barely an island, you've got to look pretty closely at the map to see that there is a small body of water surrounding it, that separates it from the mainland. The island used to be a sandbank and during the Ming Dynasty, Huajie Pavilion was on it to manage foreign trades. Then during the Qing Dynasty, Xigu Fort was built to guard Guangzhou. During the second Opium War, Britain and France made a request that the Shamian should become a settlement in 1859, as previous commercial firms were destroyed during the war and new ones needed to be established. The land was leased to Britain and France until 1946. Now, the island compreises of old colonial buildings, sone of which are used and others are not. Now, it is a major tourist attraction.

I set off for my walk around Shamian Island. The architecture was beayutiful and I loved staring up at the old buildings. In one or two, I could see wasjing hanhimg out to dry on the balconies, while it must be nice to live in such a beautiful place, I don't think I could handle the swarms of people that descend on the place day in, day out. There were also quite a few statues/scuplptures about, depicting what life was like back in the day. One of the buildings had been turned into a Starbucks and it was absolutely rammed. I decided to do a loop around the island so I walked down the street to one side of the isladn before circling back on the next road. I came to a really pretty church and had a look around that. I enjoyed an ice cream as I walked through the park on the island and looked out across the water to the surrounding area. I wandered past more buildings and another church. A few buildings had nameplates, such as the Bank of Taiwan and the Guangdong Overseas Chinese Hotel, but I really wished that the buildings had signs outside telling you their history. It would be interesting to learn more while walking around the island.It was also nice to see that some of the buildings were being restored. Once, I had completed my loop of the island, I decided to leave. Shamian Island was pretty, but the crowds really detracted from it.

I was feeling pretty hungry, so decided to head for some lunch. The place I wanted to go to was too far to walk, so I took the subway as it was only a few stops. I was surprised to find that it was raining as I exited the subway station. The mall was only a two minute walk away and I made my way up the escalators to reach the Genki Sushi. I have been to Genki Sushi before in Japan and Hong Kong, and it had been ages since I'd had kaiten style sushi. Since it was well past the lunchtime rush, the place was quiet and I happily stuffed myself on sushi. I also tried the Osaka style dumplings, which I'd never have before. These were fried dumplings topped with the dried fish flakes and sauces that are normally found on takoyaki. I really enjoyed the dumplings, and hope to have them again in the future. When I came out of the mall, it was still raining and it was rather heavy. It was only about a fifteen minute walk to my accommodation, but it took me a bit longer as I was jumping from covered sidewalk to covered sidewalk whenever possible. I briefly walked down the busy shopping area of Beijing Lu and made a mental promise to return when the weather was better. I was still feeling really tired so ended up taking a nap. When I woke up, I spent some time researching what I wanted to do that evening and headed out.

I headed back to Beijing Lu and the pedestrianised shopping area. I had read that there was a temple in the area so decided to go and find that. I had actually passed it earlier in the day, and I thought it was a hotel, not a temple. The streets were buzzing as I made my way to the temple. On my way, I came across an Yi Dian Dian (一点点), which is an extremely popular milk/bubble tea store in China. I went to order a drink and was a little shocked that the menu was only in Chinese, as normally they are in English and Chinese. A few other things didn't add up and I was convinced it was a fake store. I have read a lot about copy cat stores of popular brands popping up. The final straw was literally the straw, it was small and thin, obviously cheaper. I was actually quite pleased that I had been to a fake Yi Dian Dian and managed to spot it was a fake pretty quickly. I headed along Beijing Lu and turned onto the street, which houses Dafo Temple. I had briefly seen the temple earlier in the day and I had thought that it was a hotel due to its size and appearance. The temple was beautifully lit up since it was evening. Dafo Temple is one of the most renowned Buddhist temples in Guangzhou. It was originally called Xinzang Temple when built by Liu Yan, the king of the Southern Han Dynasty in the 10th century. During the Ming Dynasty, the temple's name was changed to Longzang temple ablnd Tge building was expanded. It later became the Comissioner's Office, which burnt down in 1649. It was rebuilt during the Qing Dynasty and was given its more unique architectural style, as it was rebuilt to imitate the layout of official temples in the capital city. It also uses the local Lingnan style. It was nice to wander around the temple complex, although there wasn't too much to see, which was a little surprising given the size of the place. I was also quite content to stare up at the sky as it had that dark yet oddly light quality to it, that I find intriguing. After leaving the temple, I continued to wander the streets. I really liked the architecture in this part of town. The buildings were all really beautiful, it's a shame that I didn't know what they were.

It was getting rather late by this point, although the streets were still fairly busy. I was feeling a little hungry, so I looked for some food stalls, I came to a an open plan store with food stalls on it. Since it was late, some had already closed and there wasn't a lot of choice left. I found a stall that did fried dumplings and so ordered a portion of those. I got them slathered in vinegar and chili sauce. I never normally eat fried dumplings and now I'd had them twice in one day. After my late dinner, I headed back to my hostel to crash.

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