Posted by: Richard Marshall | September 6, 2013

South China Part 2: Macau and Guangzhou

After our time in Hong Kong we took the ferry across the mouth of the Pearl River to Macau. The ferry was impressively fast and the trip was short. We were sitting in the middle of the boat so didn’t get much of a view but did see the Grand Lisboa casino and some of Macau’s really long bridges as the boat pulled into the harbour. It was strange going through yet another border post in the same country, but we got through without much hassle and caught a taxi to our hotel in the historic centre of the city. The hotel was the most expensive and nicest of all the ones we stayed in so we had a short rest before heading out to explore the city. The city had a wonderful European feel to it, with narrow, cobble-stoned streets, apartments with wrought-iron balconies and lots of scooters zipping about. Every now and then there were little squares with small churches and maybe an old merchant house. After walking a little way we came to the Largo do Senado which is the biggest in the town and lined with churches and historic buildings. We had lunch in a little Portuguese restaurant and I ordered “African” chicken in the hope it would be similar to peri-peri chicken. In fact it was in a spicy, tomato-based sauce which was nevertheless delicious. After lunch we walked further into town to find the ruined façade of St Paul’s Cathedral, the iconic symbol of Macau. The façade was indeed impressive and at the bottom of the huge stairs was another square with pleasant Portuguese buildings.  Above the cathedral was the imposing Mount Fort which had pleasant trees and gardens and whose battlements gave great views of the city, with the Grand Lisboa ever dominant.

Largo do Senado

Largo do Senado

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral

Fort and casino

Fort and casino

For dinner I was determined to find peri-peri chicken, so we did some research and decided to head to  a restaurant near our hotel and towards the docks, which gave the area a gritty feel very different to the glitz elsewhere in the city. The restaurant was packed and we were lucky to get a table without a reservation. I had a very tasty starter of chicken giblets and then we did indeed have peri-peri chicken which, although it couldn’t live up to my Coimbra in Harare expectations, was very nice. We had dressed up a bit so that we could visit some casinos and took a taxi to the garish Grand Lisboa. It was equally over the top inside, but since I had never been to a casino I found it fascinating. Mike was hoping to be able to try his hand at poker, but all the tables seemed to be baccarat or some or other Chinese card game neither of us knew. We had a cocktail at the bar and watched some (clothed) Eastern European women gyrating against a pole on a stage. It was so horrible I could barely contain my laughter, especially when I turned around and saw the stupefied expressions on the faces of the mainland Chinese tourists standing behind the bar. After the drink we decided to try a few more casinos, including the original 1970 Casino Lisboa which looked like something out of a Roger Moore James Bond movie. Eventually we found a place where they were playing poker but the blinds were too high so Mike shoved some money into a slot machine to demonstrate how bad the odds are. In fact he ended up tripling his money so we spent it on another drink. The next morning we crossed the border yet again and took a bus to Guangzhou.

Our hotel was just one street back from the Guangzhou bund, some of whose buildings were being upgraded as the Guangzhou Civil-Financial street. The most attractive buildings in Guangzhou were the commercial and residential buildings that had arcades built over the pavement, called Qilou. It really reminded me again of Southeast Asia which isn’t surprising since so many cities there were originally heavily influenced or populated by Cantonese immigrants. Given that the weather while we were there alternately boiling hot or pouring with rain the usefulness of the arcades was obvious. As always in China some were being fixed up but one fears for most of them – and I believe Guangzhou is one of the most ruthless demolishers of old buildings in China. For the time being though the street is attractive the embankment along the Pearl river, lined with huge Banyan trees, was beautiful. We walked up to a pedestrian street called Beijing Road but I believe I missed another, more beautiful one elsewhere. That evening Mike and I went to some vaguely dodgy bars by the river and drank Long Island Iced Teas, which gave us a pretty slow start the next day.

When we did get up, we headed to the old concession area on Shamian Island. Perversely the European buildings there are much better looked after than the Chinese old town, but the island was indeed lovely with a variety of European architecture and huge, beautiful trees. The fifth of the island that was French (the British had the rest) felt a bit like Hanoi. The British section had the usual imposing bank and consular buildings. We had lunch and then decided to head to the Canton Tower, which has the world’s highest outdoor observation deck at 488 metres. It was a pricey 488RNB to get up there, but we bit the bullet and it was really worth it – the view was astonishing. The tower faced a colossal new business centre for Guangzhou, which had civic buildings designed by celebrity architects like Zaha Hadid and several 400m skyscrapers. We stayed till evening and then crossed the river to the new business area but most of it was still being built – we had a pizza at an eccentric little restaurant as the mall was still closed. It was late by the time we eventually got back so we just turned in. The next day we went to the Chen Family Academy which was a nineteenth century meeting hall for the Chen clan. It was elaborate and very beautiful. After that we went to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall for some 1930s Chinese architecture and to see a statue of the great man himself – claimed both by the PRC and the ROC in Taiwan as their political ancestor. By this time we were getting a bit weary of sight-seeing, especially Mike who was ill, so we headed back to the hotel. Mike rested and I headed back to Shamian Island just to soak up the atmosphere. I came across a Thai restaurant that seemed to be busy so we had dinner there. They next day Mike headed to see the doctor and I went to the Mausoleum of the Yue King, who had been buried with numerous artifacts including a full body suit of jade. The jade and bronze objects were fascinating and the museum was a good reminder that Chinese civilization doesn’t necessarily owe all its roots the Yellow River valley. Mike and I headed to the (distant) airport early, which was in the end unnecessary as our flight was delayed. So we got back into Shanghai late and tired and dreading work, especially Mike who had to begin summer school the next day. But it was a great trip and we could look a Shanghai with fresh perspective after seeing some of the rest of the country. I’d certainly like to go back to all of those places if I have the chance.

Shamian Island

Shamian Island

Colonial-era building

Colonial-era building

New Guangzhou business area

New Guangzhou business area

The Canton Tower

The Canton Tower

Chen Clan Academy

Chen Clan Academy

Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall

Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall


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