I found Boon Yi big but Canton exceeded my expectations. It's scale reminded me of American cities in that everything was built on a huge scale. Shopping Centres are large; restaurants are enormous and the public places are huge. Little of the old Canton is visible being subsumed under a barrage of developments. When we visited the Shamin, the quarter that was granted to the Europeans in the 18th and 19th Century, it's buildings were dwarfed by the fly-overs and skyscrapers being constructed all around.
To put things in context, the journey from Boon Yi to Canton was about forty minutes along a highway. It was all built up with hardly a farm or countryside in between. Canton city itself is home to some ten million people. Boon Yi has a population of some million people and even our home city, Hoi Ping, has a population of seven hundred thousand. Dung Guan is as big as Canton!
In Canton, we visited the mausoleum of the the Nam Yue King. This grave site was only discovered in 1987 when excavations in a hill within Canton covered an undisturbed grave site from the third Century BC. This site had never been looted and yielded significant finds that shed light on the way of life before the establishment of the Han dynasty.
This grave belonged to the second king of the Nam Yue. He ruled over lands that covered Gwangxiao, Guagxia, Hunan, and North Vietnam. When this burial occurred, Rome was still a republic and was still to fight the second Punic wars. Alexander had not yet conquered the Persian Empire and Britain was inhabited by a collection of Celtic tribes who could barely boast a settlement of more than a thousand people in any one place, Yet at this time, just before the establishment of the Han dynasty, the Chinese had established a thriving civilisations in the South of China with its capital near Canton near Boon Yi that had a City of over hundred thousand people.
At the mausoleum museum, we also saw artists practising the art of decorating ceramics. This style of decoration is common to the southern Chinese Lingnam school of art. The artist paints on translucent ceramics which are then subsequently fired to fix the art work. This results in a fine translucent design on egg-shell thin porcelain. This style of art has been practiced for hundreds of year in South China. However, due to the difficulty of the art and the modest rewards, there are fewer and fewer artists practising this art.
We went out later to a restaurant recommended by a friend. They said that this restaurant was good value and the food was excellent. We took a taxi from our hotel and arrived at this four-storied building. Fortunately, we had booked beforehand as there were crowds queueing up to get into the restaurant. As I observed before, the scale in Canton is huge. This restaurant must have had a capacity of over two thousand. The restaurant looked like a large refectory crowed with round tables capable of seating twelve people. On the sides numerous private rooms were available for hire. On the ground floor, tanks full of fish and seafood was available for inspection. We saw chefs fishing out the fish to be cooked. It was that fresh. We also saw roast geese, cooked chickens and roast suckling pigs hanging from hooks off a rack. It was obvious that they had been freshly roasted that day.
What can I say about the food? Words cannot describe the pure gastronomic pleasure from this meal. The ingredients were fresh, the cooking was excellent, and, the quantities were more than enough to satisfy our party of seven. The only slight note of disquiet was an argument between the waitress and us about a vegetarian dish. We asked for a dish to be prepared vegetarian style but they chose to put pork slices in it. We complained and the waitress said she'd get it cooked again. When it came back, it was obvious that they had just removed the meat. That apart, it was an excellent meal and cost less than four pounds sterling a head.
The next day, we were joined by our relative, Sun, who took us around sight-seeing. We stopped at the Shamin area for lunch. This area was the original concession for the Western powers and contained buildingd built by the French, German and British in the 19th Century. I really wanted to spend some time looking at these older buildings but sadly we did not have time. Sun, had prepared an itinerary that was quite tight.
We then headed just outside Canton City. He wanted to show us the Canton University City. This has got to be seen to be believed. This is an area about the size of a small city that is crammed full of Universities. The Canton Provincial government had decided to centralise all the higher education establishments in one area together with the student's accommodation. The nearest I have seen to this is the Universities area in Boston Massachusetts where famous institutions like Harvard, MIT, Hamilton University etc. sit cheek-by-jowl. It will be interesting to see whether such a geographical concentration of higher education will result in improved quality of education. Certainly the Canton Universities have a good reputation within China as evidenced by the wide range of languages spoken by the students. San said that students are drawn all across China and not just from the province.
Sun took us to the University specialising in Music. Here both traditional Chinese and Western music is studied. Normally, visitors are allowed to walk through the University and listen to the students practice but on the day we arrived, they were holding auditions for the next years entrants so we could not go in. However, as we wandered through the grounds we encountered several students practising before their audition. On hearing the sound of a Chinese violin, we followed the sound and found a young girl rehearsing with her Mother in a pavillion in the gardens. She kindly performed a piece for us. My daughter Thalia, who is a music graduate, was fascinated. Later, we went on to the main concourse and encountered a girl who had just completed her audition. She unpacked her Chinese zither and gave us an impromptu performance of a famous Chines classic song.
Later in the afternoon, Sun, had arranged with an old friend to play in a soccer match at the Canton Olumpic stadium's site. Sung's team has been top of the Hoi Ping league for the last few years and a match had been arranged with a women's team from the Canton Universities. Thalia's boyfriend Ed, was asked to play and he managed to bag the first goal for the Hoi Ping team. Afterwards, the Hoi Ping's team sponsor treated both teams and us to a hotpot meal.
The next day, moved to Dung Guan, a city about ten miles from Canton. Sun has a friend who runs a pharmaceutical company. Since this company did a lot of business, he was able to obtain for us hotel roo0ms at a discounted rate. We stayed at this superb hotel and this friend, Mr Wong, took us to a historic town that was being restored.
This village was established in the early Ming dynasty. It contained many family temples that are currently being restored. This town was fortunate in being the origins of several rich families that became prominent in the empire. Some of the artwork on these ancestral temples were magnificent.