My adventure to Xiaozhoucun & pancake day in China
18.02.2012 - 21.02.2012 24 °C
On our first weekend back in the orient, Rog and I decided to go to a village that I found randomly online (and I had troubles finding anything more about it after that). It's described as:
Lying in the southeast part of Haizhu District and covering an area of 4.5 square kilometers, Xiaozhou Village is a village in the Guangzhou Wan-Mu Orchard Conservation Zone (One mu equals approximately 666.7 square meters - Wan in Chinese means ten thousand.).
Dating back to the Yuan Dynasty, Xiaozhou Village boasts a history of some 1,000 years. As one of the earliest group of historical and cultural conservation zones of Guangzhou, the village is a cultural heritage. What is most worth noting is that the cultural relics and historic sites inside the village are well preserved against the backdrop of breakneck urban development. Thanks to its unique landscape and profound historical significance, the village has attracted an endless stream of artists who are eager to draw inspiration from this time-honored place. (http://www.gz.gov.cn/publicfiles/business/htmlfiles/gzgoven/s9138/201104/788887.html)
We were intrigued by this description, and wanted to find out whether it really was a well preserved historical village. The vast majority of towns in China that claim this description prove to be a mixture of newly built 'ancient' buildings that are claimed to be original and mass tourists cycling in matching hats and t-shirts following a leader holding a big flag over their head a blasting noise pollution from their boom boxes they carry around. Needless to say, we didn't hold out much hope for for this village.
We managed to locate it on a map of Guangzhou and found the nearest metro station. In Guangzhou, it seems that there is normally a metro station within 800 meters wherever you are, however this metro station looked to far to walk. So we came up the stairs from the metro and were faced by a 8 lane highway and spent the next 10 minutes flagging down taxi's. Every time we were excited that we managed to flag one down, and every time just as I'd be opening the door there would be a Chinese person who had appeared from nowhere, bumping me out of the way to get into my taxi. When I first arrived in China, I'd think 'Oh well, we'll just get the next taxi, it's not worth the fight'... but there's only so many taxi's that you can have stolen from you... 'When in Rome....'
We spent the next 25 minutes navigating off the highway and into a town that resembled my local village, Xiaohuangpu. That's not much of a claim because most town's here do look the same. At this point I was sort of thinking 'Oh my god... all this effort and we could've walked down the road', but I was surprised when we kept driving- the area started looking greener- we passed over numerous one lane bridges that looked as though they'd been thrown up in a day and were somehow managing two busses, our taxi and various bicycles piled high with good weaving between the buses.. and we stopped in front of a traditional Chinese gateway where there was a handful of food vendors selling freshly cut pineapples, dried fruit and some other things that I don't recognise.
Again, I started to wonder where all the mass tourism was as this seemed a prime location, and day, for this sort of activity in China. But, to my delight, it never appeared! Turns out if you venture far enough away from a metro station, you don't get the huge crowds.
So Roger and I wandered through the village, along the stream (that could have been a bit cleaner, to put it kindly) and enjoyed the peaceful surroundings...something that we had yet to find in Guangzhou.
Chinese couples like to wear matching outfits & Old architecture, surrounding by the concrete/tile modern Chinese houses
Yumm... Papayas & We found a coffee shop!
A Ming dynasty well
One of the three oyster shell houses left
Here, even in the most beautiful places, you are never far from a mother using the path as a toilet for her child (check out the background)
I'd like to think this peace will continue here, but after doing a quick google search I've found this:
'Described as "the most characteristic ancient village of the Lingnan waterside countryside", Xiaozhou Village will be developed into a thriving tourist resort. At a meeting held by the City Planning Committee of Guangzhou on 12th August, the Plan on the Protection of the Xiaozhou Village Historical and Cultural Conservation Zone was adopted unanimously.' (http://www.gz2010.cn/09/0814/16/5GMLFI150078003T.html)
Uhoh.... Thriving tourist restort... I'm glad I beat the crowd!
After Xiaozhoucun, we also visited Red Tory. Red Tory is an old abandoned factory complex that has been restored as art galleries. It was really nice to wander around and see a different, modern, artistic vibe to Guangzhou. We really had an artsy weekend! Below is my favourite piece, placed next to the Marilyn Monroe version.
We spent a few hours on Sunday searching out the ingredients for pancakes to use for pancake day. Amazingly, we found almost everything, apart from butter... which is a rarity in China outside of posh western restaurants. We used peanut oil instead. Surprisingly, peanut oil pancakes taste OK (or maybe that's just me missing western food!). After awkwardly trying to ask Wei whether it would be OK for Rog and I to bring one of our private tutorees up to our flat to show him how to cook pancakes for pancake day.
In response it was 'Oh so you want to bring food to your class?'... 'No, just bring one student to our flat to teach him... you know... the student we see to help his English' (I'm trying to be discrete because it's not technically allowed). 'Oh ok, so you want to help the students learn English and bring them pancakes'... 'No no, just one student to our apartment after school' .... 'Ooh you want to have an extra class after school? I'm not sure of the timetable'..... and so it continued until eventually another teacher who understood came over to translate. When she realised it what we were planning to do, she got excited and wanted to join in. 'So you are teaching them at 5 o'clock?'. Now I was in a dilemma because it is really a lesson with a student, but I couldn't say no! So I suggested Wei and her come round after the lesson at 7pm with her twin girls.
Roger and I did a test run of pancakes at lunch- just to perfect our technique (or actually Rog's technique because I was in charge of the hosting). 7 O'clock came round and we had Wei, the other teacher from my office and her two girls. They were amazed by the pancakes and couldn't figure out exactly how to eat them (we provided forks and knives as I think it'd be a bit difficult with chopsticks, and eating with hands here is not an option- they think its rude). When Roger demonstrated with his hands, they were quick to shout 'but that is rude!'... lesson learned.
They also thought it was hilarious that Roger wasn't wearing slippers, and was only in his socks. Cherry and Shelly, from my office, also came around to join the festivities. They adored the pancakes! So much so that Roger made another batch so he could teach them how to make it. Who would've thought that the most exciting thing was sifting the flour?! So exciting, actually, that I'm pretty sure there are a handful of videos of Roger sifting flour out there in Chinese cyber space somewhere.
In all the commotion, our neighbours across the hall with their 1 1/2 year old little cute girl (see pictures), the mother, and the grandmother. So now we had a house full of 9 people, which may not sound too much but putting it into perspective: our flat is pretty tiny, and we only own two plates and a few forks, and the majority of people didn't speak a word of English but were excited to talk to us in Chinese (I was left with a headache from thinking so much).
But we had a great time and Roger thoroughly enjoyed showing off his pancake flipping skills. The twins kept yelling 'Hei yah'... Higher? we thought, wow their English is great!... but we soon found out it means 'Again! Again!'. So Rog was kept busy!
An old mural in Xiaozhoucun