Thursday, August 24, 2006

July 28, 2006

I’m a lot calmer, a little hungrier, and in a completely different city. The calmer is partly because we landed in Guangzhou yesterday, and it feels saner and more manageable than Beijing, and partly because after my taxi-based freak-out, Colin and I spent a day roaming around on borrowed bicycles and suddenly Beijing felt more real. We most rode through ancient alleyways between courtyard neighborhoods called hutongs, where people have been living for thousands of years. The hutongs are beautiful to ride by on a bicycle – how I’d feel about living without indoor plumbing is another thing – and most of them have either already been torn down or are slated to be. I wish there were a compromise between ancient-but-decrepit and modern-but-soulless, but I can’t say I have faith in the current architectural climate to find it. Riding through the hutongs made Beijing feel human, though, and made me feel a little more human, too.

Guangzhou is a city of food. The major item on our itinerary when we were planning a trip to Guangzhou was “eat” and we are succeeding admirably. Last night, we spent two hours searching for a restaurant our Rough Guide told us was “probably the best restaurant in Guangzhou” but didn’t label clearly on tits map. We tried to get there via the clean, efficient subway system, which worked right up until the part where you get off the subway and have to walk on the streets. Long story short, everyone we met was extremely helpful, but to people who can’t read, speak, or understand Chinese “Chongxin Lu” sounds an awful lot like “Qianjin Lu” and we ended up with a detailed map and several people’s kindly mimed directions to the wrong street. So, that took a while to fix. But, finally we made it there, we ordered our dinner with the help of an English speaker pulled from a nearby table and it was yummy, all the more so because we had earned it. This morning we go out for dim sum. A block from our hotel is Da Tong, one of the most famous dim sum establishments in town and we show up hungrier than made sense after all the food we ate the night before. We eat dumplings after dumplings, custard tarts, sweet and savory filled buns, almonds, and finish with ginger milk pudding. It is perhaps the best breakfast imaginable, and I’m very sad to think about it being halfway around the world from my normal life. This beats the pants off brunch.

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