Public transport in China is very efficient, from checking in, to on-board uniformed stewards bringing you free bottles of water, to getting through customs and immigration. We proceeded through the New Territories at a stately pace, which was convenient for those of us wanting to study the topography. Of course, it is largely built up now, with utilitarian tower blocks everywhere (unexpectedly, after we crossed the border into China the tower blocks had more of a nod to the aesthetic, with different colours or decorative balconies or other such flourishes). However, the hills remain resistant to development. How Dad and his colleagues managed to make their way through these very steep sided, scrub covered hills at night without serious mishap is a mystery. He complains that one of his companions had ‘no night sense’ and was frequently stumbling. I have some sympathy for the poor chap!
There was a moment’s panic when my guide, Nancy, was not at the meeting point, but it turned out to be a misunderstanding of the term ‘ground floor’. I thought I was at ground floor as people were going out and driving off, but there turned out to be another ground floor at the level below. Anyway, we had a quick tour of Guangzhou, which is the capital of Guangdong province, with huge skyscrapers and wide boulevards to prove it.
The high speed rail terminus is about the size of Luxembourg, but we eventually found our platform for the train to Shaoguan. We reached speeds of over 300kph, apparently slowed down since there was a massive crash of a train travelling at over 500kph some years ago.
The Japanese occupied China from 1937 and in 1941 they took over Guangzhou. The Chinese administration transferred to Shaoguan as temporary provincial capital. I’m guessing that that is why Dad came through here. He describes his journey to Shaoguan in the back of a truck, packed in like sardines with 34 others and their luggage, with no window and “to add to our comfort about 50% of the other passengers were constantly car sick”. At least the journey only took two days.
Shaoguan welcomed me with another comforting, familiar presence – rain. We went to the confluence of two rivers where I imagine Dad might have been staying for 10 days on his “floating house of delight”. Rather appropriately there was a symbol of love on the promenade.
I was then driven to Nanhua temple, one of the largest Buddhist temples in China, founded in 502AD and patriarchal monastery of the Chan School. Over the centuries it has been in and out of use, and is currently enjoying revival and restoration. It is in the most beautiful setting, surrounded by forest and hills and with pools and fountains to create a tranquil mood. We were lucky enough to arrive during prayers and the monks were chanting to drums and bells.
Tomorrow we visit Danxia mountain, which is a world heritage site. To take advantage of this newly acquired status a large hotel has opened nearby, which I am staying at. The room is spacious and comfortable and the toilet is western. Sadly no-one speaks English and the TV has no English channels, so the international clientele may fail to flock. Worst of all are the house rules – number 5 states:
“lecherous acts, prostitution, drugs taking and trafficking, smuggling, gambling, wrestling or any other outlawed activities are strictly forbidden”
So what CAN I do then? I’m rather pleased with myself for having 2 conversations in Mandarin. Admittedly they were short, but I managed to score a couple of bottles of water from a shop and explain to the receptionist that I can’t speak Chinese and learned that she can’t speak English. In spite of the utter foreign-ness of it all, I feel completely at home here. I love the scenery, feel very welcome and even though I am stared at a lot (not my incomparable beauty, rather my tallness, whiteness and curly hair) they stare like children do, with no judgement.