4. Chaozhou (潮州）
17.01.2011 - 19.01.2011
From Yongding, the three of us parted ways for I was to undertake a personal journey of mine. Whilst Natasha and Elinor went ahead to Guangzhou, I took a bus to Chaozhou, my ancestral home where my dialect comes from. Now for years, a lot of people have jokingly said that it was a "made up" language (!) and to be honest, it was only this year that I discovered that there was an actual place called Chaozhou and of course after this revelation, it was a must on my own travel plans.
I'm here! I'm here!
Although Chaozhou did merit a small entry in the Lonely Planet, it wasn't really the tourist sights that drew me to visit Chaozhou, it was more for the people. Having checked into the cheapest hotel I could find (and realising that bargaining in hotels really isn't the done thing though this didn't stop me shamelessly using the 'Chaozhou boy has come back home' line, in perfect Chaozhou of course :P ), I set about looking for dinner though it was quite late by the time I had arrived in Chaozhou. I walked into a large but deserted restaurant and hesitantly inquired (in mandarin) whether they were still open to which the lady said "EH?" or something to that extent. I then pulled out my slightly-creased trump card and cleared my throat as I mumbled some Chaozhou to which she had a mini face contortion. I tried a second time in Chaozhou and this time, she smiled and ushered me in with a "yip lai yip lai"!
The rest of the family were sitting around eating peanuts and watching TV. Being past serving time, they hadn't expected any more customers so they all gave me curious looks as I walked in and plonked myself on a seat. Buoyed by the fact that yes, my Chaozhou *could* be spoken here and understood, I continued in Chaozhou and explained how I was a Chaozhou 'local boy' who was born in Britain and have now come here to see my ancestral home. This of course gave me bonus points and I was soon chatting to random members of the extended family who kept appearing from nowhere. The uncle in particular was very friendly and kept giving me heart slaps across my back whilst offering various Chaozhou delicacies. They rustled something up for me and although it was good, the company was better despite finding out how much of my Chaozhou I've forgotten through lack of use since coming to China (so much so that I had to say some things in mandarin instead!). Although some of their accents were quite strong, I was pleased to discover that I could understand others and be understood around 80% of the time. I retired to my hotel happy at my first authentic Chaozhou encounter
January the 18th
The next day was spent seeing the sights of Chaozhou though I never passed up any opportunities to eavesdrop on locals! I remember having a permanent grin on my face which must have looked weird whilst I was stalking old grannies to listen to their gossip.
One of the grannies I stalked. Going through the narrow market alleys of Chaozhou, I couldn't help but smile at all the Chaozhou I could hear being spoken.
Whilst wondering through West Lake Park, I stumbled across a procession where they had cardboard replicas of a car, a computer, a sofa, a microwave oven as well as an assortment of other appliances. I was ready to join this procession for it was lead by a chanting monk (which is always a plus) but I'm glad I didn't as I was to find out that I had gatecrashed a funeral!! I had asked one of the old ladies nearby what they were doing and after giving me a very obvious look up and down (with an expression that blatantly read "how is this tourist doing that?"), she told me the reason! The cardboard furniture was to be burnt along with paper 'heaven money' as they believed that this would ensure that the deceased would be well-prepared for the afterlife. DOH. I quickly walked away and left the ceremony to carry on without the elephant in the room (aka me) disrupting affairs.
Along with visiting the sites of the Kaiyuan Temple (housing the 1000-armed Guanyin - see above for the picture), I walked along Chaozhou's old city walls, climbed up its gate towers and crossed the River Han on the Guangji Bridge built in AD 738; a time when, according to captions which I read in Chinese (lie), Chaozhou was a marshy bog land filled with man-eating crocodiles and the sort. That is until Hang Yu, a Tang Dynasty administrator and poet, banished them all with...his words?? Meh. He was popular enough for the people to name the river after him - he even had his own temple built for him which I also duly visited.
January the 19th
Although I only spent 2 nights and 1 day in Chaozhou, I think I could have easily stayed there for longer. Everyone was so friendly and it was liberating to be able to speak my own dialect after years of feeling that it was useless. Whilst I'm still a bit embarrassed at not being able to speak mandarin fluently, I feel that after visiting Chaozhou, I no longer have that wish that I had instead been taught mandarin by my parents when I was younger. This local boy is proud of his ancestral roots :P