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Published: October 12th 2019
Days 75 to 77 from 81
Wednesday, and still the temperature and humidity is relentless.
We headed a small distance out of town this morning, to another temple - Pip 'whoopee!' The Nanhai God Temple, also called the Boluo temple, was originally built in 594 AD in the Sui Dynasty.
Y'all realise there's a test when we return to see if you can match Dynasties to dates!
It's the largest and most complete of the 4 Sea God temples preserved today in China, and as a birthplace and origin port of the Maritime Silk 'Road', the temple is an important historical location. Just inside its entrance are the well preserved remains of a Ming Dynasty wharf - a stone base on the bank of the Pearl River - essentially the same as a Tudor Wharf for us Brits.
Situated en route for ships departing Guangzhou/Canton, sailors would call in to offer up sacrifices to the Sea God asking for blessing for a safe and prosperous voyage. Or thanks for one if returning home.
Many of the officials who presided over the ceremonies were regarded as very important people, and so a large array of stone
steles was accumulated. Over 400 at its peak leading to it being referred to as the Forest of Steles. There are now only 47.
A very open temple, lots of space. It also looked as if the entire plaza and entrance had been subjected to a rebuild, the finishing touches for which were still being made. There was also a small museum element to it in demonstrating some particular building styles. It was a lovely place, worthy of more visitors.
Back into town to spend some time in the Central Business District, home to the typical clutch of high rise and out-there architecture. They have a newish Opera House, opened in 2010, architect the Iraqi-British Zaha Hadid. Another 'deconstructivism' building, all curves, strange angles and non rectilinear spaces. Regrettably, though not surprisingly, you can't visit the auditorium, just some of the outer spaces.
The biggest performance centre in S China, and 3rd behind halls in Beijing and Shanghai, it is nicknamed 'the double pebble'.
Across the way, in another new build, was the Guangdong Museum, another of those where the space given over to being empty is more than the exhibition space. Regrettably the modernity of the
Sea God Temple
Legend is that a 'foreigner' visited and liked it so much he stayed . He was layer immortalised in a statue
building was let down by the aged nature of the displays. It was as if the curator had just lifted the content of an old museum and plonked them into the new building. Our feelings for the place were not improved by the closure of the 'local history' section - our main reason for visiting - the lack of English, and the lack of seating inside eg the enormous entrance atrium, probably 50 m square, had a single 6 person bench seat hidden away in the corner. We saw security move on a frail old gent who had sat on a step in the centre of the hall, directing him to said bench seat .... which was already fully occupied anyway.
The best display was of the Jiangkou Battlefield treasure, unearthed in 2017 by erecting a coffer dam at the river side. The existence of the treasure was featured in many legends but was mostly thought to be that, a legend. But research and then excavations proved otherwise, unearthing many units of silver ingots and gold plaques. Who knows, one day the UK might be celebrating the finding of King John's treasure in The Wash!
In the evening
we had a Pearl River boat trip. Three ticket categories available, giving access to first, 2nd or outside on the top deck, which we had. It still amazes us to see so many people who were inside on the deck below us, just spending the whole 50 mins on their smartphone. Mind you they also had someone demonstrate calligraphy to them, so they quite literally got to watch paint dry.
On Thursday, closer to our hotel we started with the Guangzhou Modern History Museum / Revolution History Museum, co-located in the same building. The exhibits looked really interesting, and we got a feel for the timeline from the dates on the display photos, but not even a smidgen of English which was a real shame.
The surrounding gardens, the Guangzhou Insurrectional Martyr Cemetery (sic) Park, was clearly a 'big thing'. Built in 1954 to commemorate martyrs who died 'bravely and honorably' during the Guangzhou Insurrection led by the Communist Party of China in December 1927. The park was opened to the public in May 1958 as a national key protected site for martyr monuments. 'It serves as an exemplary base for national patriotism education, and a national education
base for primary and secondary students.' and there were several parties of primary school children there. Each group was being photographed outside, with hands in a salute position.
There are many memorial buildings in the park. In addition to a couple of tombs there are also structures with names such as the Blood Sacrificed Xuanyuan Pavilion, Sino-North Korea Friendship Blood Sacrificed Pavilion and Sino-Soviet Friendship Blood Sacrificed Pavilion.
In one area in particular the park was packed with groups of oldies, almost like an OAP Convention, engaging in mass 'singing', sometimes with a song leader and A0 lyric sheet out front.
On then to a truly wonderful museum, which we had expected to take an hour or so, but from which we had to drag ourselves out after 4 hours.
The Archaeological Site Museum of the Nanyue Palace. Discovered in 1995, another example of developers failing to build their expected investment. The Nanyue Period is 203-111 BC. The first main part of the museum is the period garden that was unearthed, the earliest of its kind discovered in China. The excavations clearly show a meandering, 160 m, stone-lined brook, complete with ripple creating humps, bridges, stepping
Wall of oyster shells
They were plentiful, cheap, and a good hot/cold insulator
stones, pagoda supports, sluice gates, and even escape slopes believed to be to enable pet terrapins to move between brook and garden.
We thought that was it, but there were then half a dozen further buildings each focusing on different aspects related to the palace. One building focused on wells, as over 500 have been discovered on the site. But there's only so much info on 'wells' that one can absorb.
Others focused on particular periods from other dynasties based on site discoveries. This was because the layers removed to get to the Nanyue Garden period were clearly stratified. Outside they had a display wall faced with thousands of shards of pottery, grouped by date and type. We guess it's better than just shoving it all in boxes, hidden from sight.
By chance, from a video we saw inside, we realised that back on the roof of the main building they had even built a (rough) replica of the garden, though it wasn't strictly faithful to the original. But a nice touch nevertheless.
Afterwards Paul popped into the next door ChengHuang City God Temple - you'll note that Pip didn't bother 😊 - founded 1370, lost
Explosive device container
These were at all of Guangzhou metro stations at the security bag check
during the 20th C but renovated and reopened in 2010. Consequently it looked quite pristine.
We then set off down Beijing Road, a supposedly old, prime shopping street. We had hoped for something akin to the fine old streets we had walked along in Hangzhou. It wasn't to be. It was more akin to the Shaoguan High Street - see previous blog. But with the additional harassment of shifty guys who kept approaching flashing cards at us offering to sell supposedly 'designer goods', especially handbags. They were quite a pain.
Beneath one of the shopping malls they have preserved a sluice gate, dating back to 200 BC, possibly the oldest sluice gate found in the world. So, again, dating from from the Nanyue Period of today's Palace Garden and the Mausoleum from earlier this week. In our terms, this wooden flood control gate is a little bit like a smaller version of Denver Sluice in the Fens, but somewhat older!
Friday, day 77, was our last full day in China, so we planned to do a range of things that reflected our time here - park, museum, shopping, herbal medicine, jade, food, ....
Li Wan Lake
Park out to the west first. As we stepped out of the Metro we found ourselves surrounded by shop after shop, a whole indoor market in fact, of the cutest children's clothes. Some just coats, or just socks, or just designer style..... had to drag Pip away 😊
The lake and park was very pretty, and once again full of OAPs, the women mainly 'singing', formation dancing, exercising or playing badminton. Now we say 'singing' but some of it, karaoke style, was a very accurate imitation of a group of feral tom cats on a night out. Seriously. That's not just a 'value judgement' that's a genuine accurate description. It really was truly, madly, awful. What also doesn't help is that there are many separate groups all within loud-speaker shot of each other. The men, meanwhile, mainly smoked and played cards, Chinese checkers or Mah Jong.
We popped into the Liwan Museum. Just 2Y for Pip, Paul free. Not huge but quite interesting, displaying artefacts about the history, culture and folk customs of the district, and some recreated rooms from the late Qing period. Outside, growing on and all over a rockery was a 'Flying Banyan', a wonderful
ficus microcarpa growing on the Taihu Stone rockery. Said to have grown from seeds scattered by bramblings, now over 100 years old.
After coffee - Starbucks have done very well out of us, particularly here in China, as coffee shops are surprisingly few and far between - we headed through the Qingping Chinese Medicine Market. Hundreds of stalls selling all manner of vegetable, animal and mineral goods, some of which we could identify, if only broadly, some. ... not a clue. Dried seahorses, goji berries, dried mice, mushrooms and funghi, antlers, ginseng, ..... and so so much of it. How on earth do they turn over such quantities?
Around the outside there were some streets dedicated to live stock. One area focused on aquatics, not just fish but all manner of turtles, terrapins, even shrimp. Another on more domestic pets, kittens and puppies. The layout and set up here made us feel comfortable that these are for pets, not for eating.
And Pip got a jade bangle from a return to the market we had walked in earlier in the week. An evening meal at the buffet selection place we had used earlier in the week -
great system. You make your choice and it is put into its serving dish. At the counter you just place the tray of dishes onto an 'area' and it displays the price, automatically. Add canned drinks, priced manually, and it is all pretty efficient. Can't be done by weight as portions are doled out manually, but couldn't see any sort of Near Field chip on the dishes. S & S chicken, baked aubergine dish, potato dish, bowl of rice, together enough for the two of us, 28Y, about £3.
We are now on our way to Singapore by Scoot Airlines. Great fun watching the whole plane crew stock up on MacDs from the stand opposite the boarding gate. Do they know about Scoot's on-board food?
This is our first flight since landing in St Petersburg around 11 weeks ago.
So St Petersburg -> Moscow -> Irkutsk -> Ulaanbaatar -> Beijing -> Xi'an -> Yangtze -> Chengdu -> Yangshuo -> Shanghai -> Hangzhou -> Guangzhou, around 12000 km, all without flying!
China has been wonderful, quite an eyeopener, and not what we expected:-
- it is vast. We have travelled 6000 km in China alone, but on the
map that is essentially only in the Eastern quarter of the country.
- there are so many people that even, supposedly, large numbers of non-Chinese tourists are lost amongst the throng. The corollary of this is that we are still seen as 'strange', drawing looks wherever we go.
- some may say that China is on the cusp of major change. Our experience is that it is well through that. The level of recent eg last 10 years, infrastructure investment is impossible to overstate.
- it is so clean. We have rarely seen any rubbish or litter. We have seen hundreds of street cleaners, sweeping, oh so much sweeping.
- and the cleanliness extends to the toilets, be they on the street or in buildings, museums etc. They have mostly been spotless. But
- they are mostly without toilet paper, or there is a single dispenser outside the cubicles which no one takes any paper from. So, what do they do.... ?
- China doesn't do quiet. If it isn't people shouting to or at each other then it's incessant noise from smart phones, music or especially games, or gaggles of women speaking nonstop, or the catawalling -in groups or
solo - in parks. There's almost no getting away from it,
- And talking of smart phones, these people are addicted. They can't put them down. Anywhere, everywhere, but especially on public transport. We searched and there are articles about why such a large proportion of, particularly young, Chinese wear spectacles, and it's two main reasons. Too much time indoors, studying, not just at school but home also. And, also, too much screen time.
- And talking of health, Chinese men, but rarely women, are smoking themselves into an early grave, big time.
- they don't know how to, or just don't care to, queue. Coming in at the front is just normal for them. And they don't give a jot for personal space either.
If you haven't been, add it to your bucket list.
With our revised travel plans, missing out Hong Kong, we are now in Singapore for 3 nights/days.
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