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March 23, 2018, China

Something old, something new

Christina Ching samples Guangzhou’s past and present on a whirlwind visit

Christina Ching

Guangdong holds special meaning for me.

My late maternal grandmother came to Singapore from the south-eastern Chinese province in the late 1920s.

Having heard stories about her rural home town, where she would climb trees and play in the fields, I was eager to see for myself what it was like.

Guangzhou — Guangdong’s capital and China’s third largest city — is now metropolitan, and bears little resemblance to grandma’s homeland.

I didn’t need to stutter in Cantonese to be understood by the locals, most of whom speak Mandarin.

The lively Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street, located in Guangzhou’s ancient town of Xiguan, is an interesting blend of old and new.

I shopped for trendy Korean- and Japanese inspired togs in stores housed within historic Tong Lau buildings that meld European with Chinese styles. These shops sit comfortably alongside famous longstanding stores.

After the frenzy of Shangxiajiu, I took a leisurely stroll to Shamian Island, which was an important port for foreign trade from the Song Dynasty in the 10th century to the end of the Qing Dynasty in the early 20th century.

Mansions built by trading companies from Europe, the United States and Japan are today used as government offices and apartments, and also house restaurants, cafés and shops.

Shamian, which evokes a sense of old world Europe, has broad boulevards lined with trees and dotted with bronze sculptures. There are pretty manicured gardens with fountains and planters filled with blooms.

Peeves such as traffic jams and exhaust fumes don’t exist here.

Many locals come to enjoy a stroll by the water or a game of chess in the park.

Dining also beckons — French, European and Cantonese cuisines are aplenty.

I homed in on local delicacies. The typical Cantonese dishes served rekindled memories of the meals that grandma used to whip up.

I closed my eyes for a moment, as the whiff of nostalgia overwhelmed me.

CITY GUIDE

WHAT TO SEE & DO

■ Shamian Island in Liwan District:

Stay at the White Swan Hotel (1 Shamian South Street), Guangzhou’s first five-star hotel, which offers rooms with river views.

■ Pearl River night cruise: Cruise China’s third longest river. Hop on a boat to see the city’s buildings and bridges lit up at night and the sky painted in different hues.

WHAT & WHERE TO EAT

■ Lan Kwai Fong restaurant in Shamian (5 Shamian South Street): Savour its famous roasted pigeon and other homecooked-style Cantonese dishes including double-boiled soups and braised duck.

Zhen Gong Fu: Have a quick yet wholesome meal at this well-known local fast-food chain. Fuel up with Cantonese-style steamed meals, such as pork ribs with soya bean sauce and chicken with mushroom, and beef with pickled vegetable.

Shi Jiu Yong Fisherman’s Pier: Visit this old fishing port at Nansha (Haixiang Road) to taste fresh seafood and buy local products like red banana and lotus root.

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