Barkerville CEO Blogs From China, Part Two (二)

As promised, here is the second installment of Barkerville CEO Judy Campbell’s travel blog from the People’s Republic of China.  More to follow….

November 11 and 12 – Kaiping

Later in the afternoon we visited the Ruishi Diaolou, which was built in 1923.  The Kaiping Diaolou have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and this nine-story tower is considered to be one of the best examples.

The diaolou are fortified multi-story towers, generally made of reinforced concrete.  These towers are located mainly in Kaiping County.  Kaiping and its neighbouring counties of Enping, Taishan and Xinhui are collectively known as the “Four Counties” (and it was from these four counties that many of the Chinese labourers to North America, Australia, and Southeast Asia originated).

The first towers were built during the early Qing Dynasty.  Reaching a peak in the 1920s and 1930s, there were more than three thousand of these structures in existence.  Today, approximately 1,833 diaolou remain standing in Kaiping, and approximately 500 in Taishan.  Although the diaolou served mainly as protection against forays by bandits, a few of them also served as living quarters.

Kaiping has traditionally been a region of major emigration abroad, and a melting pot of ideas and trends brought back by overseas Chinese.  As a result, many diaolou incorporate architectural features from China and from the West.

In 2007, UNESCO named the Kaiping Diaolou and Villages as a World Heritage Site.  UNESCO wrote: “The Diaolou … display a complex and flamboyant fusion of Chinese and Western structural and decorative forms.  They reflect the significant role of émigré Kaiping people in the development of several countries in South Asia, Australasia, and North America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the close links between overseas Kaiping and their ancestral homes.  The property inscribed here consists of four groups of Diaolou, totaling some 1,800 tower houses in their village settings.”

Ruishi Diaolou, located behind Jinjiangli Village, Xianggang Township.

Diaolou near Ruishi

Constructed in 1923, it has nine floors and is the highest diaolou at Kaiping.

It features a Byzantine style roof and a Roman dome.

Because the diaolou were mainly built with money from “overseas Chinese” (Chinese who emmigrated to places like Barkerville to make money) they are of special interest to us.  Did any of the Chinese in Barkerville send money home to build a diaolou?  We don’t know at this point,but perhaps future research will reveal a link.

On Thursday morning we visited another of the key sites on the UNESCO list – LiYuan Gardens. This was an extensive villa including two diaolou towers, again featuring a blend of Eastern and Western architectural styles, all surrounded by traditional Chinese gardens.  A beautiful and tranquil setting.  The traditional covered walkway along the canal featured incredible plaster reliefs of plant, bird and animal life – some native, some exotic.

Next we visited Chikan, a town dating back to the early Qing Dynasty (about 350 years ago).  Here a street of buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th century and built by overseas money has been preserved.  Chikan is also famous because Jackie Chan filmed a movie here.  This is also the site of the Quan family library.  Here Senator Dyck was presented with a copy of the geneology of the Quan family.

Then back to Kaiping for lunch.  The vice-mayor arrived late, however, and apologized, saying he had just come from a luncheon with a bunch of the military and was a bit tipsy.  “You know what the military are like” was the translation.  He then proceeded to wax very political, especially on the issue of how the Chinese treat their ethnic groups – allowing them to have 2 children and granting them a number of additional privileges along with cultural freedom.  He also indicated that other countries who are mistreating their own indigenous peoples should not point fingers at China.  This is the first time and only time that we have encountered anything that could be considered political statements.

Have I mentioned the food here?  So far every lunch and dinner has been banquet style.  Breakfasts are included in the room price, and consist of extensive buffets of Chinese, European, and North American breakfast foods.

The banquets follow a common format.  We are greeted by our hosts (often the local government) and seated around a large round table with a ‘lazy Susan’ in the centre.  Hot wash clothes for washing hands are given on a small tray to our left.  There is usually a small plate and one or two small bowls with Chinese spoons, and a set of chop sticks on a bridge.  The meals consist of ten to twelve courses, usually starting with a soup.  Each course is served to us individually on a small plate.  It is much like eating Spanish tapas.

Here is an example of one of our lunches which was less formal, with no host or speeches because we were en route between Kaiping and Jaingmen:

1.   Soup made from two types of almonds in a quail broth

… one almond from northern China, one almond from the South.  Delicious.

2.   BBQ pork skins

… to make your skin glow.

3.   Bite-sized quail meat

… like Cornish game hen.

4.   Beef ribs in pepper sauce

… cut Maui style.

5.   Prawns with brocolli and linquinni

6.   Lemon pork ribs with pineapple

7.   Sea bass with scallop on rice vermicelli

8.   Bok choi and white fungus steamed in chicken broth

9.   Dumplings filled with onions and corn along with a spongecake

10. Watermelon and oranges

… the fruit course is always the last course.

All the food is delicious, although the fish tends to be very boney and hard to eat and the shells are left on the prawns, making it very hard to maneuver with chopsticks!  The only issue is volume – we are not going to loose any weight on this trip!  At some of the banquets large dishes were placed on the ‘lazy Susan’ and we just helped ourselves.  I preferred this because I could make sure I didn’t eat too much.

In Jiangmen we had our last meal with the Quan family.  Bill and I will be staying in Jiangmen for the next two days to make a presentation to Wuyi University, while Lily and the Quan family are returning to Guangzhou to attend the opening of the Guangdong Overseas Chinese Museum.

But more about that in my next, and final, installment.

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Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of Judy and Bill’s historic trek to China!