Shamian island is an oasis in the chaos of Guangzhou. The buildings are from the colonial period, all french or british style. There's even a catholic church here.
The central street is a boulevard adorned with gardens and fountains, and in the morning the local people come to do taichi or play badminton.
Guangzhou is devided by the pearl river into the north and south parts. There are quite a lot of bridges over the river, but it can be fun to take the ferry too and enjoy the night scene. But be aware, they finish work pretty early at night - something around 8.30pm.
Opera is very popular among the masses.
In its development, there have emerged several schools
of singing: Ma Shizeng's, Bai Jurong's and Hongxiannu's.
Hongxiannu's singing has lingering charm.
The opera 'Searching the Academy' and 'Guan Hanqing'
coperformed by Ma and Hong are excellent repertoires.
'Storms over Mountain Village', in which she acted
the leading role is a successful work of Cantonese Opera reform.
The Adventures of Jane's Sixteen - Part 2
"Tue 10 Sep - If it's Tuesday, it must be Guangzhou"
Got up 10am.
We all met up in the lobby of the hotel, to await taxis to take us to the train station. James was waiting for his luggage to arrive; apparently KLM had 'mislaid' it somewhere en route. Fortunately for him, just as the taxis were due to leave, his backpack turned up. We knew you were supposed to travel light, but I think that would have been stretching the concept a little too far!
The station was quite big but "cold" - like a modern mainline station in Europe, functional yet bland. We went through customs and immigration at the station without any problems; the train we were on was a non-stop train to Guangzhou East station, in mainland China. We waited in the open-plan waiting area for just under an hour before we boarded the train. There weren't as many people around as I thought there would have been; it was quite quiet in fact!
It was quite a nice train, a usual Western-style inter-city, plush, comfy, with severe air-conditioning! We even left on time! It seemed to take a while to leave the Hong Kong environs; for maybe an hour we were still going through the tower blocks and road systems of the New Territories. All of a sudden, we slowed to a crawl for a bit, we saw some military personnel, crossed a river, and the whole scene seemed to change. We passed through a grotty station full of Chinese people and lettering; we'd arrived!
The train reached Guangzhou East station after about 1h45mins; I think it was a minute late in fact! After leaving the station, we all piled into two minibuses. It was still very humid. We were driven to a part of the town called "Shamian Island", a part of the city surrounded by waterways but also what used to be an autonomous colonial sector; a concession. Until the fall of the Emperors, the colonial powers had their embassies here and effectively ruled themselves rather than be ruled from Beijing. Part of this is still in evidence; the US Embassy is located in this area and it's now the central point for American citizens to adopt Chinese babies. Apart from this small bit of history, there's not a lot else to the area nowadays; we were just using it as a stopover point.
The minibus ride to the 'island' was ... interesting; road rules appear to be somewhat similar to those in Paris and Naples - viz. made up on the spot. Minibuses weave between cars, which weave between motorbikes; all three take a liberal view of road markings and traffic signals, vehicles pull out into roads regardless of traffic, great fun is had by all ... and I was sitting in the front passenger seat and got a great view of everything!!
We reached Shamian Island after about 20-25 minutes through the centre of Guangzhou. We didn't have a lot of time there, some people went to look at the markets (where you could see and/or buy animals; cats, dogs, even scorpions! And none of them would probably end up as a pet ... !). I, and a few of the others, went to the Bank of China; I had a few HK$ to change (very similar exchange rate but completely different currency!), then we went to a local café to have a bite to eat.
The café wasn't great, not particularly memorable food and it took a while to reach us. In between ordering and receiving our food it started to rain, quite heavily. It was the first time we'd seen any rain thus far, though while in Hong Kong I did see a news report that a cyclone had hit a part of Eastern China. There had also been floods recently in the centre of the country.
We were to have a long overnight train journey so a few people went to a local 7-11 (popular in the USA; we don't have them in the UK, I suppose our nearest equivalent would be the "Spar"). I asked them to get me a pot noodle or equivalent. They brought me one back with the instructions and everything in English and Cantonese ... except the flavour!! At the time of writing the entry in my book, I still have no idea what it is!!
We had another "interesting" minibus drive to the other station, on the northern side of Guangzhou city centre. This station was much more of a hectic affair; people crowded everywhere and only one small entrance, or so it seemed anyway! In general, upon entry, security are supposed to x-ray your luggage but Jane thought if we just marched through as a group and ignored them (pretend to look like lost tourists !!) then we'd be able to make it through without. She was right!
The inside of the station was just as hectic as the outside; people everywhere, clutter, all very lively. We lurked around for a while in the mess before joining our train.
My ticket was for a bottom bunk. Our part of the train (we were riding "hard sleeper") was one long train carriage, a walkway along one side and a series of alcoves each with six bunk beds in two storeys of three. There was no doorway or divider between the beds and the walkway, so privacy was non-existent. This led to a social atmosphere. The walkway had seats along it at intervals, so it was easy to sit and chat to people. Every so often (approx. every 10 minutes?) a lady or gentleman would come up the aisle with a trolley of foodstuffs and/or cleaning products. On one of these intervals, Dan bought ... something; meat with rice. What the meat was, was never discovered!
Alan had brought these things that only I seemed to like. I'd describe them as being like oxo cubes wrapped in grass; they were small long stick-like things; again not sure exactly what they were.
We set off at 18:30 and surprisingly it got dark very quickly. The lights on the train were due to be switched off at 22:00; this is a feature of Chinese trains and you can't over-ride it. What you can do, however, is switch off the loud Chinese broadcasts that also accompany the ride. It was like an in-house radio; at times music, at times speech, at times comedy (oh how we laughed !!). The speakers operate in segments on the carriage, so you can switch off in just your little area and everyone else will still be able to hear it.
Each alcove also had a hot water urn, from where people could make tea or fill their pot noodles. I didn't feel hungry so I didn't solve my mystery.
Toilets at either end of the carriage were of the squat variety and somewhat precarious to use when the train's moving wildly on the tracks!!
We chatted for a while until lights out, when the music cut too (and for that we were grateful!). I went to bed, fully clothed, and didn't feel tired. To be honest I didn't even try to get to sleep until long after midnight. Too many people, you never know ...