Sunday, January 01, 2006

Chaozhou, China - Part 2 - Good and Bad

Jan 1, 2006.

A good and bad start to the New Year. Slept in to 10:00 AM. Had a late breakfast at a small shop across Taiping Lu from the hotel. 6 Y for deep fried dough (yo bing). fried taro, and complementary kungfu tea from the friendly proprietor. Back to hotel to inquire about hiring a car for tomorrow’s excursion to San Rao town, home to Danyun Village, the famous octagonal fortified city. Then to the nearby bike rental. We tried out a tandem but it was too small for both captain and stoker so we opted for 2 very rickety and almost too small singles. The rate is 4 RMB (50 cents US) for both bikes per hour. We left a 200 RMB deposit and headed off to Xiang Pu Zai, a small, square, walled city that is 1000 years old.

The tandem that was too small.
Chaozhou China 20060101

We left the bike shop about 12 noon and arrived at Xiang Pu Zai about 1:10 after several stops for directions and butt relief.

Map checking near West Lake. Note the 3 boys who have just hired a “taxi”. Also check out the headgear on the driver. Many Motorbike drivers wear these “yellow helmets” that look just like a construction worker’s hardhat.
Chaozhou China 20060101

We did not wear our bike shorts under our pants as we have sometimes done in the past and my butt got pretty sore after and hour. As we left the old town for the new town, the streets became wider and smooth as they were recently paved. Heading west out of the new town, the roads became progressively narrower, more crowded, and noisier.

After a ride of about one hour, we finally arrived at Ziang Pu Zai. The last section of the ride we were led by some friendly locals on a motorbike.

The town of Xiang Pu Zai was very, very interesting to us since we had never been inside a small, walled, Chinese village before. It is square, laid out on a north-south grid, with 18 sections, 72 wells, and so forth. Sun-Ling’s guide book had a very accurate description of it. We parked our bikes outside the North Gate (below) and walked inside.

Chaozhou China 20060101

This is the view down the main drag.
Chaozhou China 20060101

There is no admission, no signs, no souvenirs, no salesmen, no touts, and no beggars. Just a small sleepy town with loads of character. We walked south down the main drag, crossing a few lanes, and past a women doing some outside sewing to the ancestor worship chapel at the far end. The chapel has 3 sections, 2 of which are restored. It is loosely “guarded” by an older man and his wife. No admission. No hassle.

The inside of the newly renovated chapel.
Chaozhou China 20060101

The doors of the chapel are painted with figures that guard against “evil”.
Chaozhou China 20060101

Another view of the narrow streets
Chaozhou China 20060101


After a self-guided walking tour of the town, including a chat with an old man cutting bamboo into small pieces of firewood, we tried to walk up the stairs to the tower above the North Gate but the stairs were locked. Two ladies sitting in the entrance told us that women for forbidden to go up in the tower. Another man told us that the town leader had a key and he was over at the town hall just across the square. So we headed over to the Town Hall, where under the watchful eye of a Chairman Mao poster, there were 3 tables of men gambling, playing a version of “big 2” for small stakes of several quai per hand. We were invited to sit and watch the game until the man with key showed up, but after several hands there was no man, no key. So we left. The children of the town were excited to see a foreigner. I guess they do not get many tourists here.

A second ancestor chapel not restored as well as the first.
Chaozhou China 20060101

Old man cutting bamboo.
Chaozhou China 20060101

Beans and peanuts in inner courtyard.
Chaozhou China 20060101

Children running out through an unofficial exit in the town wall.

Chaozhou China 20060101

View inside the main gate.
Chaozhou China 20060101

So at about 2 PM we started pedaling back to town. Lots of honking from the motorbike traffic. Lots of motorbikes. Many interesting loads being hauled by bike, truck, and motorbike: porcelain Buddha statues, styrofoam, wood, people, etc. This area is famous for its porcelain factories. Across the river, archaeologists have excavated a series of 7trh century kilns.

Porcelain Buddhas.
Chaozhou China 20060101

On the way out to Xiang Pu Zai, I had noticed an odd sight. Three water buffalo were tethered in front of a small shop and another one was inside and some men were inspecting its feet. “That’s odd” I thought. However, on the way back there were only 2 water buffalo tethered outside the shop, and chunks of skinned water buffalo meat were hanging from hooks inside and a river of blood flowing was out in to the street. The shop was a slaughterhouse. “Don’t look” I shouted to Sun-Ling as we rode by.

As we arrived back in town, we decided to ride to Peoples Square, which turned out to be a disaster. As we were circumnavigating the square, Sun-Ling’s day pack was snatched from the front basket of my bicycle by 2 men on a motorbike. We reported the theft immediately to the police but of course all was lost. We felt like idiots. We know you always keep a hand on your pack in a 3rd world country. First we reported the theft to the People’s Square security guards. After asking us many questions, they called the police and a pair of policeman came, asked us basically the same questions, and took photos of us at of the crime scene with a digital camera. We then followed their car, on our bikes, back to the station, where we gave our report to another policeman behind a desk who wrote out in longhand all the same details we gave to the security guards and policemen.

A view of People’s Square before the robbery.
Chaozhou China 20060101

By now it was almost 5pm and the pedal back to hotel was chilly as the temps get down to 55 or so at night. That’s why we had brought our now stolen rain jackets. Sigh. We returned the bikes, paid the 20 RMB rental fee, got our PolarTec jackets from the hotel, walked back to Temple Square, trudged through the beggars gauntlet, and ate dinner at Pu Ti vegetarian restaurant where we had a set menu for two plus 2 Tsing Taos for a total of 62 RMB. I was feeling better already. The Lian Hua vegetarian restaurant is very strict and does not serve alcohol, nor allow any alcohol or meat on its premises. So if you want a cold beer with your vegetarian meal, choose the Pu Ti over Lian Hua. Walked back to hotel, took showers, and crashed at 9PM. What a day!

Luckily no money was lost and our spirits were only lowered for several hours. Other than the bag itself, which will not be easy to replace, we lost a nifty LED flashlight, 2 rain jackets, my new cell phone, our city map, a nice book on the small villages of Guangdong, a lip balm, tissue paper, and bottled water. By the way, the Chaozhou People’s Square has a spectacular water fountain which we saw while waiting for the police to come but were not able to enjoy.

A few night scenes from Day 2 in Chaozhou.
Chaozhou China 20060101

View across river.
Chaozhou China 20060101

View of market near East gate
Chaozhou China 20060101

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