Couple of days before my travel, I found new music for my playlist – Princess Chelsea. I was listening to one of hers titled Overseas (check out a live version of this song here!). Perhaps some parts of the song resonate with what we generally deem as vacation, like:
We skimp we save we go overseas
We pimp we slave so we get what we need
When we get there we try very hard to believe
That it’s better
Guangzhou, China, is my first travel outside Southeast Asia. It’s a place very similar to home. You get the crowds in metro stations. Nearing the plane touchdown, you see miniatures of many, many high-rise buildings. Multiple expressways that crisscross above one another. City lights in the evening. Traffic police. Malls. It doesn’t lack toilets anywhere as well.
- Multiplyin’ Chills
On the first day, all I wanted to do was to stay in with a kettle, half-filled with boiling water, on my lap with four layers of clothing and socks. It wasn’t the comfortable chill that my dad spoke of. We drank lots of tea, to stay warm and “wash out” the heat in our systems from the salty and oily food we had. You start to miss Singapore’s good 27 degree celsius – kind of weather at this time of the year. Subsequently on the second and third day, there was abit of nice, toasty sunlight. I wouldn’t mind abit if I could trade these uncomfortable chills for some snow. It can be quite a downer when you only get drizzles and wind from this kind of chills.
But it’s still an interesting place to explore. (Almost the) Same place but with different people. Riding the escalator in a typical crowded Metro station situation: You know that it is possible to occupy the step of the escalator in twos and not get the death stare or fidgeting from the person behind you when you don’t move to the left side of the step.
And electric buses that move in fixated routes because they’re bounded by wires to the roof of the vehicles. Chicken feet and wings in preserved packets? They sell alot, alot of milk in 7-11 too. And squat toilets, where most of us here would have strained our bowels for alittle while longer to avoid that one particular cubicle which requires us to squat. But it’s hard to find toilet bowls there!
Along one street, you get Hong Kong food alley and urban public parks while in another, Taiwanese fried delicacies. For a Chinese person, it is a place easy to assimilate but occasionally, there’re nitpicky customs that dazzle you. Speak Mandarin or Cantonese? Toilet cubicles – line up in a row or choose your cubicle and then stand right outside it? Within a compound which hangs a sign that bars smoking but the rule is very much transparent to the locals, should you do it or not?
I had Mcdonalds for three days out of the five we spent there. The place didn’t look any different from the ones we have here. Every time I get to a different place, I always look forward to find out what they have in the menu of their fast food restaurants. They sell doughstick and soy milk for breakfast. You could upgrade your regular coke to red date tea. Whereas in Singapore, most of the drink upgrades you get is either frizzy citrus ones or fruit punch that mask themselves as the real deal.
There weren’t as many exotic foods I’d expect to find there. We had roasted goose meat which taste like duck meat. Maybe a meatier version of duck? Pigeon meat as well, which I was told that the meat didn’t come from the plump, head-bobbing pigeons that we see outside; that only the ones raised domestically are safe for consumption. Each time a poultry dish was served, they’d never missed serving it to you with the head of the bird. Dad had turtle meat, the whole turtle to himself which was alive just before he ordered it. They prepare it braised or have it cooked with herbs.
We explored a live seafood restaurant where the special things they serve were water beetles and the head of the crocodile (picture on the left). In a dried food market place, they’d have sharkfin displayed in glass shelves in a posh-looking medical hall (that sells exclusively that if I remember it right).
Almost everyone we’d approached were friendly and willing to help when we asked for directions. Sometimes, they can get pushy and not notice it at all. Not with bad intentions and it does seem like most people are nonchalant about getting knocked across the shoulders. Some of them can talk very loudly, not in a berating manner, and when they do it very quickly, it can be quite amusing to watch and listen to them talk. The servers were chatty and approachable.
Dad and I rode a 3-wheeler scooter taxi one time and the driver cut across pedestrian sidewalks and skilfully maneuver itself out of the traffic when the red light was still on. Master of the roads. Pedestrians didn’t seem to mind getting honked and inconvenienced to allow the scooter to pass when they’re on the right lane. That 10-15 minutes ride violates countless number of traffic rules you can name out there.
It’d still be too quick to find out about how Guangzhou people are really like within the mere five days. We didn’t see many foreign faces but you hear alot of different accents and dialects in the metro, the hotel elevator and its lobby.
Afterthoughts on culture:
Awhile ago, Granny and I talked about how development in one place can diminish its culture. Thinking about it now, perhaps culture isn’t a static thing at all, that it’s constantly evolving with diversity. I guess what we were driving at is the distinctiveness aspect of culture. You get a whole lot of diversity in almost every other city in the world since it’s becoming increasingly fluid to move around. Will there come a time when every place in the world ends up with one mashed ball of culture? Then it’ll feel like home everywhere else. But origins never disappear into thin air. The same diversity mixes itself up with that particular culture to evolve into something new. It may be alittle too much to ask for some place to retain its unadulterated culture. You could allow a culture to thrive in a dome with gates shutting out outsiders. To do it otherwise, the limits to how many to let into the dome, whether its foreign workers or refugees, is subjective across states and remains heavily debated.
It was alot of fun to write this.