June 26, 2011 • 4:37 pm 0
Day 7 Photo Story – exploring the Xi’An’s past – the ancient city of Chang An. I am having problems updating wordpress at the moment – it seems to run really slowly when I am in China. The rest of the entry will *fingers crossed* arrive soon.
June 25, 2011 • 5:50 pm 0
Xi’An (西安) is capital of China’s Shaanxi province and the city was traditionally known as Chang’An before the last Han Chinese dynasty, the Ming (1368-1644). I have long known about Chang’An thanks to my love for the Romance of Three Kingdoms narrative so I am excited to be here. Xi-An is this year, host of the upcoming International Horticultural Expo 2011, one described by its official website as an ‘international gathering hosted by China after the Beijing 2008 Olympics and Expo 2010 Shanghai… an important opportunity to showcase green civilization and promote the nation’s image.’
Arriving in the evening at Xi’An’s Xianyang (咸阳) international airport a little later than scheduled and it was dark when I arrived. As mentioned in Day 1 of this series of posts – One of Four Great Ancient Capitals of China (中国四大古都), Xi-An is now an important cultural, industrial and educational centre of the central-northwest region, with facilities for China’s space exploration program. As one of the oldest cities in China dating back more than three millennia, the never-conquered-by-foreign-power city (the Japanese never made it that far inland) in central China Xi’an was the eastern terminus of the Silk Road and home to China’s first emperor Qin Si Huang’s Terra-cotta Army. Checking out the World Heritage Site of the Terra-cotta Army will be a priority on this trip to see first hand the origins of the idea ‘the Son of Heaven’ (天子) and the logistics and organization required for work on such a scale; historical records by Sima Qian reveal that 700,00 workers were involved in building the Qin emperor’s mausoleum and this was way back two millennia ago. A detailed report will follow.
The locals here speak a Shaanxi dialect though the cab driver anecdotally shared that few do, as it simply ‘does not sound very pleasing to the ear’ – this was a first time I’ve heard a local prefer the sound of Mandarin as opposed to local vernacular . Housing here ranges up to 7,000 to 8,000 RMB per square foot, taking on average 15-30 years to finish paying for; expensive for most Chines yes, but substantially cheaper (about five times less) than Beijing and Shanghai. Agriculture, tourism and education (Xi Jiao Da (西交大) is a member of China’s C9 university elite) are key drivers of the local economy, and first impressions were positive. The freeways into the city were wide and broad, with advanced and newly built tollways designed as a hybrid between imperial and contemporary China.
A quick walk around the city where I was revealed a high concentration of the Islamic Hui minority stock (with 8.61 million, they are one of the largest of the 55 ethnic minorities) running the restaurants in the southern part of the city. Will definitely be finding out more about their integration into Han China.
June 25, 2011 • 12:18 am 0
The Hong Kong stock are an interesting bunch, drivers seem to have little patience on the roads as horns and honks are staple to Hong Kong’s acoustic ecology. On the other hand, virtually everyone respectfully makes way for people coming out of trains, and they seem quite happy to put on facial masks if they are ill to prevent spreading of airborne germs. Retail and service staff are largely trilingual, able to switch easily between English, Mandarin and Cantonese; mostly with a smile.
Today was the day I changed my mind about Hong Kong. Well known as one of the most densely packed places on the face of this planet that was one of the earliest 24-houred cities; I had always thought all 1,104km2 of Hong Kong and its 7 million inhabitants to be pure metropolis. A 30-minute boat ride that cost $17 HKD = $2AUD to the outlying island of Lamma (南丫島) changed all that. The quaint fishing village is one of two outlying islands that were left largely untouched by the bullet of time and is third largest island in Hong Kong. Lamma is famous for being the hometown to Chinese actor Chow Yun Fatt and its seafood.
Interestingly, there are height restrictions to the hilly island, buildings stop at three stories, and there are no automobiles either; well not any most cities would be familiar with. The island community’s only means of transport is by foot or bicycle. There were only one type of vehicle apparent during my visit – distinctive open-back vehicles that looked more like pure chasis; perhaps indicative of the sensitivities of the island’s preferred lifestyle – laid back; an antithesis or perhaps alternative to the hectic bustle of the commonly represented Hong Kong.
June 24, 2011 • 12:48 am 0
Shenzhen (深圳) the first of China’s Special Economic Zones quite literally means “deep drains” as the place was once notably crossed with rivers and streams, accented by deep drains within the paddy fields. Twin cities with Houston of the U.S., Johor Bahru of Malaysia and Brisbane of Australia, the SEZ was formally established in 1979 with close proximity to Hong Kong as a major consideration as an experiment for modern China – market capitalism guided by socialism with Chinese characteristics. So yes, in a great way, China is what it is today because Shenzhen first led the way.
Personally, it has not been a bad run over a span of just four days getting to know Southern China better. A little bit of Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou and now Shenzhen has given me a wider latitude to inform my imagination of China.
Shenzhen will be hosting the 26th Summer Universiade on 12 August 2011. Currently it is constructing the sports venues for its first major sporting event in the city. The Beijing Olympics in 2008, Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010 and now the Shenzhen Universiade in 2011, it looks like China’s ramping up its use of sporting events for public diplomacy and media mileage. Read the rest of this entry »
June 22, 2011 • 4:09 pm 0
Today I made my way to Guangzhou, capital city of Guangdong province – China’s factory. On a more apt scale, the world’s factory. Two generations ago, my grandfather hailed from this very province known historically as Canton and it was in a sense, good to be back, albeit for just a day. With a land area ten times the size of Singapore at 7,000+ km2, it boasts a population at about 12 million, just slightly 2.5 times more than home. This places it as the third most populous metropolitan area in all of China.
Touristy stuff such as the newly built 600m-tall Canton Tower and the shopping districts of Shangxiajiu were done in a jiffy. A traditional dim sum lunch over at the 77-year old Guangzhou restaurant was necessary to pay homage to the home of dim sum. Yes folks, Hong Kong merely refined the idea of dim sum. It started from Guangzhou.
Most significant from the trip to Guangzhou was a visit to the The Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King (西汉南越王博物馆), which gave an intriguing glimpse to the past. Thinking that southern Chinese (likewise my ancestors) were also of Han stock proved to be possibly inaccurate – southern Chinese had stronger relations to the Yue and this tomb harks back to the ‘rebellious’ Nanyue (arguably the ancestors of the Vietnamese) who refused to cede control of their territories to the Han and Qin dynasties, building an independent kingdom in modern day Guangdong province, my home city of Chaozhou included. Read the rest of this entry »
June 21, 2011 • 3:02 pm 0
Macau, along with Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the PRC. An hour’s ferry ride away from Hong Kong, the dominance of the Portuguese over Macau is as apparent as the dominion of the British over Hong Kong, from the apparent like architecture (there were more casas than Victoria buildings) and signages, to the not so obvious like eating habits – the Portuguese egg tart.
Macau proved to be the first (starting from the 16th century – 1557) and last European colony (ceded back in 1999) in China. In the past, the port city was part of the Silk Road with ships loading here with silk for Rome. I had no idea from before the silk road extended this far down south.
Fishermen from Fujian and farmers from Guangdong were the first known settlers in Macau and Cantonese seemed the present day lingua fanca. The Chineseness of Macau was apparent in its visual composition and most I observed were able to switch comfortably between Cantonese and Mandarin (I believe it necessary to handle their mainland Chinese visitors). To a much lesser extent Macanese / Macau Creole is the language of the small population of Eurasians. Read the rest of this entry »