Like most tourists, I prefer historical sites or “exotic” destinations when travelling, wishing to see something “different”. Since I regarded Guangzhou familiar from frequent visits during the early 1990s, I had not thought of exploring it as a tourist. Thanks to a friend who organised a weekend trip recently, I was surprised by how much the old city has changed. It not only looked different as expected, but also felt very different. Much of the old was thankfully still there, calmly giving way to the new. In such a dramatic and abrupt social transformation, anxiety is expected. But from the places we visited and the people we talked to, I sensed mostly optimism and vibrancy rather than misgivings.
Perhaps the two-thousand-year-old city has seen enough changes over the centuries to become unduly anxious. Things happen, some good, some bad. People come and go. What else is new? During Tang dynasty (AD618-907), tens of thousands of Arabs lived in Guangzhou. They built the oldest mosque in China — Huaisheng Mosque or the Mosque of Holy Remembrance. Today, Guangzhou is again home to hundreds of thousands of foreign residents from Africa and the Middle East. Halal kitchens are very common.
In the Guangzhou Museum, Fu Hao’s burial jades happened to be on exhibition. The much loved, feared, respected, Fu Hao was the chief wife, general, and shaman/priestess of King Wu Ding of Shang Dynasty (c.1600-1046 BCE). She died circa 1200 BCE.
We also saw a show at the Guangzhou Opera House, strolled Chan Clan Academy, and went to the great library (the library? Oh yes, it’s definitely worth dropping by for the architecture and atmosphere).