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National Day, complete with flags
On October 1, 1949, Mao Tse Tung's Communist Party won out over Chiang Kai Shek's Nationalist Party for control of China. Chiang was forced to flee to Taiwan, and the People's Republic of China was born. National Day is now celebrated every October 1st with the same fervor as America's 4th of July. Ever since we arrived in Beijing weeks ago, work crews in every city have been preparing for this day.
In a rare turn of events this year, National Day falls on the same day as Lunar Day, the full moon at harvest time according to the lunar calendar. As a consequence, most people (excluding tourism-related trades) had the day off. The roads were less crowded, but the tour sites were packed.
Especially crowded was Bai Yun ("White Cloud") Mountain, where 300,000 people were expected to make the two-hour hike up to the 382-metre high peak. Many would stay all day and contemplate the moon overnight (the moon's zenith would occur at 11:49 PM). We chose the easier way and took the cable car most of the way to the top. (Gail was not thrilled.) Then we hiked the remaining distance to Star Scraper Peak, where we could overlook the entire city of Guanzhou. We could almost see it through the smoggy haze.
Queuing up for the cable car to Bai Yun Mountain
We asked our guide Ricky where he planned to spend National/Lunar day after we were done (Ricky is 22). "With some lucky girl," he replied. "I am still single, and I am like a hunter." Then he added, rather sheepishly, "But I do not have any weapon."
We had specifically asked to have Bai Yun Mountain added to our tour instead of Qingping Lu Market. Yesterday on the phone, Nina of CTS had tried very hard to talk Gail out of it, saying it would be very crowded. At lunch today, Gail approached Ricky to ask what we were going to see at yet another Dr. Sun Yat Sen Memorial. Ricky became very defensive, saying that he had to take us there, that it was on the itinerary, and that it was only a 15-minute drive. Gail tried to explain that she was only asking what we were going to see there. Ricky has clearly been completely flustered by our family.
Lunch itself was particularly familiar. Guangzhou is the city of Russell's heritage, and we know its cuisine from countless Chinese banquets back home. (Yesterday, Ricky was able to guess that Russell was from here just by looking at him.)
After lunch, we paid a brief visit to the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Memorial, a huge park and theatre. Inside, when they are not presenting some public event (the movie "Pearl Harbor" was first screeened here), the stage is decorated with a huge stone tablet of Dr. Sun's final testimony to China. There is a very obvious and proud reverence for the George Washington of China.
Our next stop was the Six Banyan Tree Temple, a large Buddhist temple dating from 537 AD. The six Banyan trees are long gone, but the temple was filled with people paying their ancestral respects in honor of Lunar Day. (There is a large pagoda known for having 9 stories on the outside and 17 on the inside, but it has been closed for years.)
Six Banyan Tree Temple: the boys tried to throw coins into the incense burner for good luck
Our last stop was the Chen Clan Temple, a family temple that was built at the turn of the century and financed mainly by the Chens who have emigrated overseas. (The Chens still assemble here from all over the world once a year.) The place was a virtual museum of traditional Chinese arts, including elaborate wood, ivory, jade, and bone carvings as well as silk and bead embroidery. The Chens have apparently done very well around the world.
On the way back to the hotel, Gail and Ricky got into a conversation that did not go well. Ricky was explaining the logistics for tomorrow's ride to the train station, and a rather heated discussion ensued over how many of our suitcases they were willing to bring to the train station (we are four people but have five suitcases). It turned out to be a massive miscommunication, but we came away with the feeling that Ricky was going to go home, take several aspirin, and start looking for a new line of work.
We spent the remainder of National/Lunar Day in the comfort of our hotel room, playing cards and Chinese Chess. Tomorrow we go to Hong Kong, but that is like going to a different country. We are about to leave our last stop in mainland China; but for now, as Gail expressed, "I cannot wait to get out of this city."
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