And with this last post, Jake’s Fulbright times in China come to an end. Our last leg sees us in Guangdong province, aka the origin of the vast majority of the first Chinese to come to the United States in the 19th century. After a long, long stretch of travel, we made it to the capitol Guangzhou, and spent a day there exploring various tasty treats and colonial architecture. I believe I’ve covered the Opium Wars before, but a brief refresher for all of you lovely people.
Basically, when the British first sent envoys to China in the 18th century, the emperor received them, but wanted none of their newfangled inventions, claiming that China was the pinnacle of civilization and had everything it could ever need. He was quite content to keep selling Chinese silks and tea to Britain though. This resulted in a staggering trade deficit that the British found offensive to their economy and their sense of global superiority. How to fix this? Drugs! Opium, specifically. Britain started cultivating opium in India and smuggling the drug to China. As more and more of the populace got hooked, demand increased and tipped the trade deficit in Britain’s favor while wreaking havoc on Chinese society. The emperor, of course, didn’t think this was very nice of the British, and told them so, imploring them in polite language to not inflict upon his country evils which they would find abhorrent in their own. To this, Queen Victoria basically replied, “yeah, but you’re not us,” and continued the whole business.
The emperor appointed Lin Zexu to keep order in Canton (modern Guangzhou which was the only place the British were allowed to trade in China), and he went about confiscating opium and destroying it while beefing up port security. The British didn’t like this and sent a military detachment to Canton to protest the seizure of (illegal) British goods. This lead to the first Opium War which ended in China being trounced and ceding not only Hong Kong Island, but also several other treaty ports to Britain. Twenty years later, Britain decided there was more benefit to be milked from China and they started the Second Opium War, which resulted in more unfair reparations being paid and a lot of Chinese territory going to foreign control (including all of present day Hong Kong to the British).
While in the west we like to think of modern history as only the last century or so, for the Chinese this is where they start counting. When you look at it that way, the victim mentality China displays today makes a lot of sense. From their perspective, China was doing just fine until the Westerners came a long and set off a series of events that resulted in the fall of the Qing, several revolutions, and ultimately the China today. While Trump wants to rebuild the (mythical for most) prosperity of America four or five decades ago, China’s seeking to regain the clout it had pre-1840’s when it was pretty much the center of the world.
Enough history, on to travel! Guangzhou offered us a lovely walk through a park, some wontons (which are written differently in Cantonese I learned), and some dope colonial architecture. Pictured is a rice roll (filling and a rice batter that is steamed), shots from Shamian Island where all the concessions were, and the Five Ram Statue. Legend has it that Guangzhou once suffered terrible famines, and in answer to the people’s prayers, five immortals descended riding goats that held five different grains in their mouths. The people planted these grains and Guangzhou has had prosperous crop output ever since. As a result, it’s known as the “Ram City”. Cool bit of local legend there.
That evening we shot down to Shenzhen, which served as our base for exploring Hong Kong, Macau, and our port of exit.
During the day we spent in Shenzhen we mostly just chilled and paid a visit to Dafen, the former village now incorporated into Shenzhen that allegedly produces about 70% of the world’s (legal) replica oil paintings. I went here last year in April, and this time I was struck about the sacrifice that art requires. This is a fairly tired saying, and usually refers to the sacrifices that artists make in terms of health, money, and personal lives to pursue what they love, right? I had another take on in while walking through Dafen. The main section there is a dense warren of workshops where people make frames and recreate works famous and not working from just a cellphone picture. How insane and amazing is that? I admit I have no idea what these people make money-wise, but I imagine it isn’t great and probably isn’t commensurate with their talent. And I would say they’ve got as much good technique as any artist on display in the high-end galleries. Maybe they lack inspiration for original work, but I can’t say. They’ve certainly put in the time and probably sacrificed to get their skills. That what made me think there’s another sacrifice that art demands however, a human one. I feel that in order to have a society that produces great artists, many more artists have to try and fail, sacrificing themselves to ignominy so that society still cares enough about art to produce those masterpieces that we all look to. Without enough people interested in art, art classes would never be offered, grants would never be given, great artists would not be given enough opportunities to practice and make a living with their passion. This then requires a lot of people to study and practice art without seeing any monetary return of recognition. That’s fine for those who do it as a hobby, but sad for those who staked their lives on the venture. The whole experience made me very grateful I don’t have that particular ambition.
Anyway, here we have Macau, where I failed to come last time I visited the area, and is kind of a smaller, older cousin to Hong Kong. It sits an hour’s ferry ride directly west from Hong Kong, and consists of a small peninsula attached to the Chinese city of Zhuhai and two islands just south of it. Portugal got it in the mid 1550’s from the Ming without having to resort to violence, and controlled the region until 1999. Macau then became another major port through which Chinese goods went West and European goods entered China.
One of these goods, of course, was tea, And here’s your first fun fact of the blog! If you look at a map of Eurasia, there’s a big line through Eastern Europe going down. Nearly all nations West of the line say “tea” as “tea, te, Tee” and variations thereof, which is due to those countries getting their tea from the Dutch, who procured it from Fujian province where the character 茶 is pronounced as such. Everything left of that line uses words similar to “cha, chai etc.” to refer to the delicious beverage. Conversely, the Portugese and everywhere East of that line got tea from regions of a different dialect where it’s “cha,” namely Canton for Portugal and norther regions for the rest of the map. Really cool linguistic question I always wanted to know the answer to.
Macau has been a bit more proactive than Hong Kong about preserving its colonial architecture, and the Senate Square in Macau is perhaps one of the most photogenic places I’ve ever been.
Just look at it, I’m taking bad pictures with a bad camera and even mine look amazing. The surrounding area near the Leal Senado (Loyal Senate) is chock full of old churches and other cool buildings. These include an old fort/governor’s residence, an old library that’s been expanded beautifully as you can see below, and perhaps Macau’s most iconic landmark, the façade of the burned down St. Paul’s Cathedral. The beautiful front wall is all that remains of St. Paul’s College after an 1835 fire, and it’s got some cool imagery including Biblical inscriptions in Chinese.
We neglected to go gambling, but here are some shots of the casinos all the same.
Another of Macau’s unique claims to fame is Macanese (would not have come up with that adjectival form myself) cuisine. Macanese claim that Macau is one of the few colonial regions where local and settler cuisines truly fused rather than just trading spices and flavors. It’s real heavy on the seafood, with a lot of random spices thrown in. We made it down to the south island Coloana to taste some on the Black Sand Beach, and were unfortunately limited to a bowl of soup and cod and potato fritters since we were on the end of our money for the day. Oh well, at least it was tasty.
We also sampled what are supposedly the best egg tarts in Macau (originally a Portuguese treat, but now distinctly Macanese apparently) made by Lord Stow’s. Good, but when compared to the ones in from Tai Cheong Bakery in Hong Kong I gotta give it to the Hong Kongers. A brief comparison. Lord Stow’s, the original, is real fluffy and flaky with a very eggy filling, not too sweet, and with a whole lot of butter. If that’s your thing, go for it. The Tai Cheong offering on the other hand leans more towards custard being sweeter and less buttery. The crust is a bit more cakey as well and overall the tart is just easier to eat.
Lord Stow’s being made
BTW, that picture of the Hong Kong tart on the right up there features the Central Escalators in the background, which run pretty far up the hill in downtown Hong Kong. This segues nicely to Hong Kong, a city that I’m finding becomes more photogenic with time, where we spent not one, but two days as it has a lot more to offer. I must admit I wouldn’t mind spending a longer period of time in Hong Kong as it seems there’s just soo much to explore. So many cool residential areas and hiking and biking and food. If it weren’t for the broiling summer and the exorbitant cost of living I’d actually be pretty down to live there, I’d even learn Cantonese.
Spongebod dim sum
For the first day we hit up the Hong Kong museum and then explored Kowloon which is across the water from Hong Kong proper and features prominently in many HK gangster movies. It’s also home to Tim Ho Wan, a Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant where we stuffed our faces for under $20. Must-visit if you’re in HK. I had been there before, but I will eat there any chance I get. Best meal of the trip in my opinion.
Our second day was spent fist on Lamma island just south of HK. It’s home to two fishing villages that I saw both of when I visited last year. Our time was limited, so we went over, hung out on the beach and got some dim sum on the water. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place that is super clean and environmentally conscious. Next time I go I may take an entire day to do all the hiking and give the beach some proper attention. Then we checked out Sheung Wan, which is the lovely graffiti/antique area I found so charming last time. I didn’t photograph any old pieces, but the post from last year has a lot more.
Finished with a hike up Victoria Peak to watch the sun set over the water and came back to the States!
Here’s one last batch of cat photos. I thank you all for reading the blog and sticking with me for this time. The feedback has been amazing and I hope I’ve been able to give you all a slice of the experiences I’ve been having, increasing your understanding of China and myself in the process. I’ve got at least one more post I want to do, but after that I suspect content will become less frequent. Stay tuned.