Those who read my blog site know that on occasion I feature some travel writings from my grandson, Jeff, who is in China this year studying. In the most recent story below, Jeff relates a modern version of frogs, snails and puppy dog tails.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Guangzhou, Canton, Gwongzau. Whatever they call it, I am here. I came alone, with a hotel's address written on a card and the Xeroxed pages of a travel guide for the city of Guangzhou and the city of Macau. My goal: eat cat. My deadline: Monday night.
Upon arrival I found my hotel and set out to explore the local area. A tradition I have when traveling alone and first arrive at a new place is to leave my hotel the first night, pick a direction and walk. Not only does it familiarize me with the area, but I can then see part of the city that I would not have otherwise seen. An hour into my exploration I came to the Pearl River and took one of those tour boats that are in every famous waterway. The city is beautiful, the night was cool, and I stood out as much as ever. Between people wanting to take pictures with me and dodging stares from the waitresses (whose only job was to deliver a bottle of water when we boarded) I managed to hear a bit about the city and the buildings we passed from the lady on the loudspeaker. I disembarked and started looking for dinner. It was around 10pm and I was not sure where to look. Down a side ally I saw three guys my age eating noodles so I inquired as to their taste. "They are OK," Their answer was good enough for my appetite to say yes so I ordered a bowl to go(60cents) and as I waked away the three guys called back asking me to sit with them. Why not? We talked for over an hour about the city, America, the NBA (the favorite topic of any young guy in China) and jobs. One of the boys folded dumplings at the local restaurant and the others also worked in the kitchen. They loved it though because they could use the hotel's basketball court for free. We exchanged telephone numbers and after hearing that I wanted to eat cat, they said they would see what they could do to get some friends together Monday to go eat it. After saying goodbye I caught a cab back to my hotel, watched a pirated DVD (Babylon AD, 75cents), and fell asleep.
Today I woke up with plans to go to the Qingping market, Shamian island, and a temple.
The qingping market is supposedly where all of the rare and exotic animals are sold for slaughter. My guidebook strongly recommended I not go. To say that I was disappointed means that the rest of the world can be relieved. I saw no cats, dogs, or other cute critter for auction (Except the street next to it which, ironically, is Pet Street where kittens, dogs and other cute critters as pets. I wonder if anyone gets confused???) But I did see dried frogs, snakes, lizards, fungi, seahorses, starfish, deer antlers, live scorpions and eels, as well as more traditional things like dried roots and leaves (tea?). There were also street vendors selling monkey heads and tiger paws that can't be real, right? If the price of the tiger paw was too much, they would cut off a claw and put it on a necklace for you. What service. Disappointed, I then walked around for two hours looking for a restaurant that had cat on the menu with no luck. I settled with fried noodles, wantons, and cold Coke out of a glass bottle with a straw.
I then walked to Shamian island and traveled back to colonial Europe. The buildings were nothing like their Chinese counterparts and were the same as the British and French built them centuries ago. It is also the preferred spot for newlyweds to take pictures, I saw at least 10 couples in their dresses and tuxes on photo shoots.
The temple was the highlight of the day. I payed the 5RMB entrance fee (0.75cents) and wandered around for a big. There were giant golden statues of Buddha in temples surrounding a seventeen story eight-sided temple. I walked around for 30 minutes before coming to a pagoda where an old, brown-clad monk was writing calligraphy on banners. Very pretty! I said. For the second time this weekend, an initial breach of language and expressed interest went a long way. The monk and I talked for a few moments and he asked if I wanted to drink some tea. I accepted and he limped off to fetch a teapot and a cup. He carefully poured the boiling water from a giant, rusted and dinged up tea kettle into a small plastic Dixie cup. I reached for it but he picked it up and dumped it out. Without saying anything he poured another and handed it to me. "Don't drink the first cup". He then left me for his calligraphy. After sipping a few boiling tastes, I went back over to chat. We talked about the states and he told me his 84 year-old master is now at a temple in New York. "Come sit," He told me, pulling out the chair next to him. I had noticed that he was fiddling with something in his lap, and when I rounded the table I saw that it was his ankle. It was swollen and bandaged. He saw me looking and smiled. "Can you sit like this?" I looked closer and he was in the lotus position. No, I laughed. "If you have time in the future, you can come back and I will teach you." It sounded more like an order than a request. He them proceeded to unwrap the bandage and remove slices of raw potatoes from his skin. Surprised, I asked and was told that raw potatoes against the skin help reduce swelling. He rewrapped his foot and let me take a picture with him as long as I made sure that the picture we took had his crossed legs in it.
He then insisted that I eat. He went to into the back of one of the temples and came back with a huge plate of seaweed, rice, boc choi, peppers, and spinach. I ate at a table outside with one of his students, a woman from Anhui Province. She had traveled by train for 14 hours to be under his tutelage hoping to resolve problems with work. She wanted to follow her dream to become a tour guide, and was interested in the United States and how best to study English. "Just find an English Speaking boyfriend." I told her. After an hour of chatting it was time for the temple to close. "Don't worry," She said, "That's just for tourists, I'll take you to the service tonight." (I am not actually sure what the name of it is, but they have one every night at 5:15).
The temple where the service was held had three 30 foot gold Buddha's in the back that took up half of the temple which was only 50 feet deep. Offerings were laid out before them and incense burned in the background. Lined in front of them were the monks, clad in brown robes, some carrying bells and drums and gongs. There were four main instrumental parts to their service. One monk beat a giant clam shell looking drum with every syllable of recitation. A gong was struck to measure the ends of passages and a small bell was beat along with them. They sang/chanted for an hour. The girl I was with had a book with what they said and was singing along and went through at least thirty pages of characters. It was amazing that they had it all memorized! At one point the priest took two small cups and poured water between them, then set one down and made a cross like symbol with the other. My Christian background was even more amazed when he held it to his forehead like the blessing of the Eucharist. He then sprinkled the water around the temple. As the service came to a close three people with a recently-deceased family member came to the front and kneeled before the statues and were blessed.
Needless to say it was fascinating and new. The temple is one of four in the city and is a major tourist attraction. To have an insider's perspective of it was something I will always treasure.
Tomorrow I leave early in the morning to Macao, I will spend a night there before returning Monday morning to finish my quest. Oh how sweet victory will be but if I am defeated…I will forever be shamed.