Currently, China is experiencing severe floodings, causing over 500 deaths and leaving millions of people homeless across several provinces. What makes this tradegy even worse, is that this happens every year, with rivers incapable of transporting the huge quantities of rainfall during this rainy season. In Guanxi province, I saw some of the damage for myself, with large landslides that had destroyed roads.
Here in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, parts of this big city were flooded due to the quickly risen level of the Pearl River which intersects the city. Shops, homes, restaurants and offices located near the river were affected, and although the floodwaters have receded, sandbags are still piled up near the entrances of metro stations, ready to be used again when needed. Although neighbouring Hong Kong has seen heavy rainfall, here in Guangzhou it has been more or less dry over the past two days.
I went out to explore a small part of the city, mostly on foot, occasionally using the efficient metro. A custom of a large number of Chinese is, very unfortunately, spitting. This is done with great fervour and after a long, audible preparation that is almost as bad as the spitting itself. The Chinese government has been trying to discourage this in view of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and thankfully, there is a “no spitting” sign on Guangzhou’s metro.
I went around town, explored a beautiful Buddhist temple. Although the People’s Republic of China is officially atheist, Buddhism is one of the most followed of religions here. I walked the streets, including some of the many shopping streets with blinking neon signs, sometimes having to actually wrestle myself through the crowds.
One of the reasons I stopped in this city for a couple of days, was to try the Cantonese food, for which this province is famous. People from other provinces in China joke that the Cantonese like to eat anything with legs that isn’t a piece of furniture, and anything with wings that isn’t an airplane. And indeed, in front of many restaurants, there’s usually a small zoo with live animals, ready to be selected by the customer, as the Cantonese demand the freshest of ingredients.
Most Chinese are quite loud, shouting at eachother during normal conversations, yelling at the top of their voice into their mobile phones, and in the restaurants it can feel like you’re dining in a packed football stadium. After dinner, the tables resemble battlefields, littered with the cascasses of slewn poultry, seafood, and what not. But the food is admittedly delicious. Having gone to restaurants where nobody speaks English, and with no menus in English available, I found myself sometimes having to rely on the choice of the waiter or waitress, as they pointed to something on the menu, and exclaimed “haochi!”, meaning “delicious!". These choices have always been fantastic, wonderfully scrumptious suprise dishes.
Another famous part of Cantonese cuisine is yum cha, also known as dim sum, known in Mandarin as dianxin. Usually eaten for breakfast or lunch, it consists of dozens of small delicacies placed inside bamboo steamers, wheeled around on carts by waitresses, and you pick what you like. Most numerous are all kinds of fried or steamed dumplings, beautifully presented and absolutely delectable. Then there are the various kinds of buns, spring rolls, chicken feet, custard tarts, et cetera. For each choice, you receive a stamp on a small card, which you bring to the cashier when you’re finished.
Tomorrow, I will be trying to make my way over the Pearl River to Hong Kong. In Beijing yesterday, Donald Tsang was sworn in as new Chief Executive of this special part of China, where the so-called “one country, two systems” principle is used, to indicate it is part of China, but retains a form of democracy, self-rule, and a legal system inherited from the British. But when I enter Hong Kong, the first entry on my Chinese visa will expire, and I will have to get Hong Kong Dollars, instead of Chinese yuan.