Monday, April 14, 2008

广州 Guangzhou

The weekend before last I was able to escape Beijing and visit my friend Erin, who lives in Guangzhou. It was extremely exciting to leave the 60 degree dry weather of Beijing for Guangzhou, who's temperature and humidity resemble Miami.

The city is situated deep in the mouth of the Pearl River, way down south, in Guangdong (广东) province. Before I left, I checked the weather and was happy to see the forecast predicted blue skies! I soon found out that blue skies in Guangzhou mean that there might be some blue behind the all-encompassing pollution dome that covers the city. The pollution was severely worse than any other city I have been to in China.
Aside from the gross smog-blanket issue, the city was pretty amazing. The most wonderful thing was the difference in culture and language. Northern China and southern China are very different. The south seems to be more social. The subway cars were full of chattering as opposed to the usual silent subway ride in Beijing. I got to speak to lots of cab drivers using the Mandarin I know and quickly found that it was difficult to understand their Mandarin. They had no trouble understanding me, but I had much trouble discerning their strangely accented Mandarin.

There are a few reasons why their Mandarin is so different from the Beijing accent I am used to hearing. One of the reasons is, of course, the distance between Guangzhou and Beijing, the city which sets the standard accent for Mandarin. Another reason is that the cities which are situated near the Pearl river in Guangdong province also speak Cantonese, and so their Mandarin carries a Cantonese accent. I absolutely love the sound of Cantonese. Every cab ride became a lesson in Cantonese, with the driver as Erin and I's teacher.
I cannot begin to stress how incredibly different this language is from Mandarin. When you speak Mandarin, like every other language I know, you must shift your tongue into different positions to achieve a desired sound. Well, a cab driver I met taught me how to say hello in Cantonese, which is something like lay? hoe? (pronoucing both syllables as if you are asking 2 separate questions). When I tried to mimic him, he corrected me. He told me that I was trying to use my tongue to speak, as I used it in Mandarin. He says to speak Cantonese correctly your tongue should not move at all, it should be completely limp. It will feel strange at first, he told me but assured me that I would quickly get accustomed to it.
广州Guangzhou, as much of a building erecting, counterfeit product producing, cancer-air city as it is, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. The quality of restaurants is comparable to Shanghai, the people are charming and the language is one which I must learn.

Thanks Erin! It goes without saying that you have free stay in Beijing anytime you'd like!

The Filipino, Maria Fernandez lip-syncing to It's Rainin' Men at a drag-queen show we stumbled upon.

Erin and I looking a bit glassy-eyed

An exhibition at Guangdong Art Museum(广东美术馆) of Jacques Henri Lartigue's photographs.

That previously mentioned museum had another exhibition where they had many paintings, each representing a country. Each Chinese artist was given a country to make a painting about. This was Cuba.
USA was a collage of every race smiling with an American flag draped in the background, oh my god.


alesh said...

Ahh, THAT Erin. I KNOW that Erin!

Silvia Elena said...

yes, THAT Erin!