Tuesday, September 25, 2007


I met Helen's extended family (whom Helen had also not seen for some time) and to say that they were gracious is really an understatement. For two and a half days they fed us, entertained us, housed us, transported us, and basically made sure that we had a great time. What friendly people! None of them spoke English but we were able to communicate through Helen and hand signals. Hospitality is definitely an element that has at least been partly lost in American culture.

They made sure that I got to try new foods and here I am trying chicken's feet which is an appetizer. Actually, I didn't like them that much, but I liked almost everything else that I tried. Hmmm, I am really liking Chinese food -- but I will leave my overall judgement until after I have tried the foods from other regions (Guangzhou is Cantonese food).

We also met one of Helen's cousins in Foshan, about 25 miles from Guangzhou. It is the ceramics capital of the world. And everything is so cheap! I wanted to send some of these ceramic vases home to my mother, but the shipping cost would raise the price several times over. The art work here was absolutely amazing. I really like ceramics.

We visited the Kung Fu museum in Foshan. Next to me is one of Helen's cousins who so kindly showed us around for a day.

Helen introduced me to a new cuisine, goose, and I really liked it.

I had a hunkering for ice cream, and that big chain with the arches has special ice-cream-only outlets in the area and I could not resist. After all, you do know where ice cream was invented, right?

I really enjoyed the big city of Guangzhou. We visited parks and I even got a chance to play some hacky-sack with the locals. I think I like the feel of Chinese downtowns, but I will need to see more. The negatives are lot of air pollution and traffic. But Guangzhou is a prosperous city that is growing like gangbusters. Many people we met were from all over the country -- many spoke Mandarin instead of the local Cantonese dialect spoken here and in much of southwestern China. Buildings are going up everywhere, and I could see welding happening on the top floors of skyscraper skeletons at 10:00 in the evening.

I was also surprised to find out that China has a big counterfeit money problem. You can be sure that every bill you pass worth more than about one US dollar will be carefully scrutinized by the recipient. Many places have machines through which they run all larger bills (bills larger than about 7 US dollars, usually) to make sure they are not counterfeit.

It is obvious that the Yuan is artficially undervalued (the Chinese government controls the exchange rate). We can eat like kings for under 3 US dollars per person. We can also eat for under 1 US dollar per person when we want . . . and most goods are quite cheap for a foreigner, even considering that China is still a developing country with low cost labor.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Meeting Helen in Guangzhou

I arrived on my all-Chinese bus in Guangzhou, China on August 31 after leaving Hong Kong 4 hours earlier. The area I traveled through, stretching from the north Hong Kong province border through Shenzen and then Guangzhou, is the manufacturing capital of the planet. This is where all those gizmos you buy at Walmart are produced. The main highway we traveled on was just lined with factories everywhere. Guangzhou and Shanghai are the most important commercial centers in China. Traditionally, Guangzhou was the main contact point of China to the outside world since at various points in history the Chinese Emperor banned all other cities from participating in outside trade.

Most importantly, I safely met Helen in Guangzhou! I know Helen from when I lived in the Bay Area. Last year I invited Helen to join me on the latter part of my Mexican trip. Since I speak Spanish, I did the translations there. Now it is her turn to reciprocate since Helen was born in China and speaks both Cantonese and Mandarin dialects! We plan to travel together for the next few weeks. Her hometown is Guangzhou.

On the first evening, as a favor for offering to shepherd me through her home country, I took Helen out for dinner and a cruise on the Pearl River. Wow, China is fascinating so far!