Barkerville CEO Blogs from China, Part Three (三)

Here is the third installment of Barkerville CEO Judy Campbell’s travel blog from the People’s Republic.  Enjoy!

November 13th to 15th
For the next three days we were the guests of the Overseas Chinese Research Centre at Wuyi University in Jaingmen. We were put up in the guest residence on campus, in simple but very comfortable rooms.  Our contact here was Selia Tan.  Selia is a researcher from Kiaping whose main interest is the architecture of the diaolou.  She did a lot of the research that formed the basis of the application to UNESCO for the Kaiping Diaolou.  Currently she is working on her PhD at Hong Kong University.  She is trying to understand the origins of Western influences on the architecture of the diaolou.  Selia came to Barkerville last August for the Chee Kung Tong dedication ceremony and Bill had met with her previously in Vancouver.  She has arranged for us to make a presentation to the students and faculty of the Research Centre.

After touring the attractive campus at Wuyi, Selia tooks us to the older section of Jaingmen, where there are several streets of late Qing dynasty buildings that have been preserved, which also demonstrate a variety of Western influences on their architecture.  Many are reminiscent of early buildings in the Chinatowns of Vancouver and Victoria.

We met Selia’s husband and some his colleagues from the power company for lunch – our first non-banquet style meal in an ordinary restaurant.  The food was good, although I neglected to take Selia up on her offer to share her eels.

After lunch we visited a local market and Bill got his first taste of haggling.  Something that the Tibetan women were selling caught his eye and soon a crowd was gathered to watch the fun as he made his purchases.

The presentation at the Research Centre on Friday afternoon went very well.  There was great interest in Barkerville.  One of the professors had written a book in which Barkerville had a small mention and was very keen to learn more.  My presentation was mainly an overview of what Barkerville was, what resources we had, how we went about interpreting and presenting Chinatown, and some indication of the interest paid to Barkerville by the delegation from Overseas Chinese Affairs in 2006, and by the Chinese Consulate.  Bill talked more specifically about the research conducted to date and the methods used to approach the research.

Dr. Zhang, the Director of Overseas Chinese is very interested in an exhibit from Barkerville. There is good exhibit space at the Centre, and it is likely that the exhibit would result in increased interest in the study of the Barkerville area by the faculty and students of the Centre to the benefit of both Barkerville and the Research Centre.

Dr. Zhang expressed the sentiment that since many of the Chinese who went to North America never returned, bringing the photo exhibit here would, in a sense, be like bringing them home.  He and Selia felt there was a strong likelihood that the exhibit could travel to Hong Kong University, Kaiping Museum and Guangzhou Museum as well as the Overseas Research Centre in Jaingmen.

Dr. Zhang took us all to dinner and Bill and I were introduced to Chinglish.  It was a western style restaurant (which is always sketchy in China) but the food was quite good.  The menu, however, was hilarious.  It appeared to be a direct translation of the Chinese characters, probably done by computer.  It advertised things like “cowboy leg” (we still have no idea what that was), beef and chicken “dig outs,” and “diesel-fried” something or other.  Poor Dr. Zhang, who speaks no English, wondered why Bill and I were in hysterics, until Selia explained.

Dr. Zhang very kindly spent his weekend showing us around the Kaiping and Jaingmen areas, along with a Canadian author named Ling Zhang, and her publisher.  Ms. Zhang is from Toronto, and has written a novel about the experiences of “Overseas Chinese” in North America, starting in Kaiping during the gold rush era.  It recently won an award in Kaiping and will be translated into ten languages including English.

Our first stop was Sunmenli Village in Kaiping to see the oldest extant diaolou, Yinglong Lou.  This was actually built in the mid-1500s with an additional story added in the 1920s.  Bill and I were a little worried, as the old floor boards seemed a bit spongy.  Made the boardwalks in Barkerville seem sturdy!  Bill spotted nails in the flooring and so had to investigate their date.  They appeared to be wire nails, which would indicate that the floor had been replaced, possibly around the 1890s.

Our next stop was a village known as “Canada Village” as it had been mainly built with money from Overseas Chinese in Canada.  It even included a house that had been built as recently as the 1990s, indicating that the trend for Overseas Chinese to built houses in their ancestral village has not completely died out.  However, the village has no permanent residents other than the caretakers.

After lunch (another banquet put on by officials in Kaiping) we visited another UNESCO site, the Majainglong Villages, which are a cluster of five villages, including seven diaolou and eight villas.  The site is well preserved with all services underground and the original bamboo forests surrounding the villages.  All of the villages are still inhabited and we saw peanuts that had just been harvested being ‘processed’ by hand.

On the way back to Jiangmen we made an attempt to locate the original village of Chow Dong Hoy, the photographer in Barkerville and Quesnel.  Because of the different pronunciations in different local dialects this can be difficult, unless you can find an original written version of the village name.  We are not sure of the source for C.D. Hoy’s village name, but Selia was able to locate a village in approximately the right area, with a name that sounded very close.  As we drove in we were greeted by the oldest man in the village, who was 70 years old.  At first we thought we had hit pay-dirt and found a cousin, but further discussion revealed that although this man was born in the village, his father had come to the village 14 years before he was born.  The buildings were abandoned and they moved in and had been living there ever since.  They had no idea who owned the buildings in the village, including the ones that they were inhabiting.

On Sunday, Dr. Zhang took us to the Taishan Middle School.  Taishan is another of the “four counties” from which many of the Barkerville Chinese came.  A considerable amount of the money to build the school complex came from Canada.

Again, local officials in Taishan provided us with an official lunch banquet. 

After lunch, we made an attempt to locate the village of Wells-Barkerville’s Bill Hong, but again because we did not have a written version of the name (in original characters) we had some difficulty.  In the end, the village that Selia had hoped was it turned out not to be.  We talked to the oldest man in the village and he did not know the family.

We then said our goodbyes to Selia, Dr. Zhang and Ling (the novelist) and headed back to Guangzhou, with the driver kindly provided by Wuyi University.  We met Lily at the Rosedale Hotel.  Since we were now through with the “official” visit we would be paying our own costs, so Lily had found us a cheaper hotel.  All through the official visit, all of our accommodation, food and transport was paid by the Overseas Exchange Association or Wuyi University.  We have been put up in the best hotels – they would definitely be five star in Vancouver.  But the “cheaper” hotel that Lily moved us to would be considered a four star hotel in Vancouver, with excellent rooms, full facilities including a spa, and several restaurants.  The rooms are about $US60 per night, and since Lily and I are sharing it is very reasonable.

Tomorrow: the Voyage Home!