Revisiting an old friend and playing tour guide

Trip Start Jun 26, 2005
Trip End Sep 14, 2005

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of China  ,
Friday, August 26, 2005

After the constant exploration of places unknown, it's nice to be back in the familiar surroundings of Guangzhou and to know where I'm heading for. Even though the city is vast and chaotic, it's easy to negotiate and the warmth is also welcome after the damp of northern China. It was nice to take an uneventful flight to and now it's time to cash in some hard earned loyalty club points and stay in an upmarket hotel for a couple of days.

I suppose I must have spent 8 or 10 days in Guangzhou in the past year and I think of it as being one big, ugly, charming city which I can get around reasonably painlessly. It contains the biggest shoe and jade markets I've ever seen and Tianhe boasts some of the biggest, shiniest shopping malls I've ever had the misfortune to get lost in. It's odd to be a tour guide for a Chinese friend in China even though it's not really necessary with the enthusiasm for exploration. A typical conversation went:
"OK, let's go!"
"Where to?"
"Oh, I don't know"
"Where are we?"
"Oh, I don't know"

It's a great attitude to have when you're travelling though, naivety and the trouble you can find excepted. That said, given my observations elsewhere about the Chinese lack of geographical orientation, (Chinese Navigation) I was undoubtedly a step or two ahead of the game when it came to navigating, just because I'd seen and noticed the things around me that were give aways.

Wandering around Baiyun Shan park, with it's stunning views of the pall of smog and pollution that sit over Guangdong, we were finding there were places we couldn't go without a ticket. Once again, I found myself posing the imponderable question about the People's Republic of China, which is, who owns the People's Land? How did parts of it come to be owned by private enterprise? I can guess, but the strange thing is that nobody really seems to know how the new order came to be. Perhaps it's the by-product of unquestioned state ownership that nobody questions private ownership.

As a visitor in China, I have most fun just ambling around exploring and being surprised by the many contrasts, the cheerful creativity of the people, and the energy and vitality of it all. As a tourist, you are steered toward parks and temples and gift shops which are less my scene. For all that there are faded bits of wood or old-style buildings, I'm constantly struck by how many of these tourist attractions are replicas or just newly created. For all that China is more consciously and culturally in touch with its ancient past than Western cultures, one of the sad things about China's history is that there have been frequent destructive purges of massive efficiency. This was a tradition that long preceded the widely publicised Communist Cultural Revolution as dynasties sought to establish and impose themselves. There are phases of history where high culture and fine art were encouraged in order to remove the focus on military arts and disrupt the influence of military, simply as a means of attempting to protect the new dynasty from overthrow supported by the army.

The common theme appears to be that when cultures and art were attacked and overthrown they were destroyed and expunged from memory with ruthless efficiency. The consequence of this is that today history has been re-written or destroyed and that's why there is so much newly created old-looking stuff, replica temples and so on. That's the real implication of the cultural revolutions and the dynasties that destroyed one another. It's happened everywhere, but here it seems so much more severe. Yet again, whatever I do or see of feel in China seems to be to greater extremes than I've known elsewhere.
Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • Please enter a comment.
  • Please provide your name.
  • Please avoid using symbols in your name.
  • This name is a bit long. Please shorten it, or avoid special characters.
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: