China 1985

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

China 1985

We rose at 5:45am this morning and travelled to Kowloon Railway Station.  If one had the time, inclination and finance, it would actually be possible to catch a train at Kowloon for London, travelling via Peking, Mongolia, the Trans-Siberian to Moscow, and through Eastern and Western Europe.  We were to travel just 60 kilometres to Canton (now more commonly called Guangzhou).

We cleared customs smoothly and had a fascinating trip with very photogenic lighting through the New Territories of Hong Kong.  On the way through the New Territories, we asked the students to write down their thoughts about what China would be like.  We received some fascinating responses, some quite perceptive, but others which may have indicated too little prior preparation, particularly among those who had not studied Geography.

Our train was a Chinese Railways express; and so we did not have to alight and walk across the border bridge at Shum Chun.  From the border we proceeded through the Special Economic Zone established by the Chinese at Shenzhen, and through the lush agricultural fields of the Pearl River Delta where there was much activity by both people and water buffaloes in the rice, vegetable and sugar cane fields.  After clearing customs on arrival at Guangzhou Railway Station, we were met by Mr Gan, our local guide.  During our travels in China, we had a national guide, (Miss Wei Tai, whose job it should have been to facilitate transport arrangements and liaise with her office in cities as we were approaching them), plus a local guide in each city with specific local knowledge.  Mr Gan’s enthusiasm was infectious, and his co-operative nature was a great introduction to China.  Having said that, we were to find that the quality of our guides varied through the trip.

The afternoon sightseeing in Guangzhou was brilliant.  We began at the Qing Ping Market, seeing live animals of all types on sale for food, including tortoises, eels, racoons, cats and dogs. The boys were enthralled to see racoons being killed by holding their hind legs and swinging their heads down onto concrete steps.  We also saw a kitten being washed down beside large cauldron of boiling water into which it was about to be dropped to kill it and cook it simultaneously.  Needless to say, the lanes were full of atmosphere, sights and smells – it is said that the Cantonese eat everything with four legs except tables and chairs, everything that swims except submarines, and everything with wings except aeroplanes.  After seeing the Qing Ping Market, I can well believe it.

We then walked a short distance to a jade carving factory, with items on sale, of course, in what is fast becoming capitalist China.  One item carried a price tag of 48,000 yuan, about $Aus22,000!  It was a crowded, dingy, poorly lit factory, but quite modern by Asian standards in general.  We learned that some pieces of jade take over a year of constant work to shape.  We then proceeded to Guangzhou Catholic (Patriotic Church) Cathedral.  We ventured inside to see quite a number of older people kneeling in silent prayer.  All the stained-glass windows were smashed during the Cultural Revolution, and it was strange to see this ornate French-style cathedral with simple plain glass windows.  We completed the afternoon’s sightseeing with visits to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall and a flower show in Yuexiu Park which was so grand in scale and intricate in design that it impressed even the boys.  Sun Yat Sen is regarded as the father of the 1911 Nationalist Revolution, and so is revered both in China and in Taiwan.  Thus, the visit to the memorial hall bearing his name, which is little more than a large theatre with an ornate roof, was to make a subtle political point about China-Taiwan reunification.

The only negative side to the afternoon in Guangzhou was my realisation at the end of the day when we arrived back at our hotel at 9:00pm that the film in my camera had snapped at its very start, and so I had no photos of the wonderful experiences.  Quite clearly, I will have to return one day to fill in what is now a gap in my photo library.

Our late arrival at the hotel was due to an excellent dinner we had in the magnificent surroundings of the 70 year old Guangzhou Restaurant.  At this dinner, one of the students of Chinese descent met his uncle and aunt for the first time in his life.  They live at nearby Zhaoqing, where the uncle is a school headmaster, and they made the trip to Guangzhou upon learning our group was coming just to meet their nephew for the first time.


Day 4

Hong Kong to Guangzhou

Friday, 6 December 1985