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Sunday 11/24/2002

The White Swan’s breakfast buffet is on par with what was served at the Dolton, but seems to be a bit more Westernized. The biggest difference is the absence of fried rice, which has become on of my breakfast staples. The dining room is huge (much bigger than the Dolton) and most of the tables hold Caucasian families with Chinese babies. In Changsha we were a distinct minority, a source of curiosity and delight for the hotel guests and staff. Guangzhou, on the other hand, is the final stop for all U.S. citizens adopting Chinese babies and the White Swan, being right next door to the U.S. Consulate, is filled to the rafters with Chinese babies. We’d come to enjoy our celebrity status in Changsha, but here we’re old hat, yesterday’s news. The hostesses and waitresses provide excellent service, but seem to have little or no interest in our babies. They’ve seen all of the babies the care to see, perhaps more than they care to see. I’m glad we’ve moved on, but I feel a unexpected twinge of nostalgia for Changsha.

On a more positive note, the White Swan does have one huge improvement over the Dolton - highchairs! As far as we could determine, highchairs were not available in the Dolton's dining room. Instead we took turns - one of us would eat while the other held Hope and fed her. It wasn't too inconvenient since she's such an eager eater, and often the waitresses would come and take her when she was finished. Still it's nice to be able to strap her into a highchair and then feed her and yourself at the same time.

After breakfast we board the bus for our first day of touring in Guangzhou. Even though the purpose of this trip is to adopt a baby, the actual adoption process requires very little time. Most of our time in China is spent waiting for paperwork to make its way through Chinese and American government bureaucracies. Two weeks is actually a remarkably quick turnaround for the amount of paperwork that’s being processed for us. All of this waiting leaves us with plenty of free time for touring and shopping, which our agency has been very good about arranging for us.

Today we’re visiting the Chen Clan Academy. This compound was originally a privately owned family shrine, but now it is a museum for the preservation of traditional styles of Chinese art and architecture. It reminds me of the Yuelu Academy in Changsha - lots of colorful, ornate buildings and courtyards filled with exotic plants and trees. John guides us through, explaining the architectural styles of the buildings and discussing the artworks contained within each building. I don’t know if I’ve reaching the saturation point in my Chinese touring, or whether I’m having trouble with John’s English, but I find it very hard to focus on what he’s saying. But I'm quite content to just follow along with the group, bouncing my new daughter and admiring the beautiful surroundings without really learning anything.

On the way back to the White Swan we stop by a large store selling high quality, traditional Chinese crafts - porcelain, bone carving, wood carving, jade, embroidery, etc. The items here are a little pricier that what we’ve seen elsewhere, but Cynthia (whom we’ve come to accept as the final authority on all things Chinese) tells us that the quality is very high and the prices are actually quite reasonable. The salesclerks are friendly, but quite aggressive. Showing the slightest hint of interest in an item brings an immediate sales pitch. There seems to be no concept of “just looking” in China. We wind up with a fine porcelain bowl that we’ll put away to give to Hope when she’s older.

After lunch we venture out to do a little exploring. The city of Guangzhou is divided by the mighty Pearl River, which is broad and filled with boats and ships of all types and sizes. Tiny Shamian Island, which is only a few square blocks in size, is located in the Pearl River. To the north, Shamian Island is separated from the rest of Guangzhou by a narrow stretch of water which is no more than 50 yards across. To the south lies the main expanse of the Pearl River, with the rest of Guangzhou continuing on the far side. At various times in the past Shamian Island has served as a colonial outpost for both the French and the British. It has lots of tree lined plazas and very Western architecture. The White Swan is located on southern edge of Shamian Island, butting right up against the Pearl River. The US Consulate is immediately to the east of the hotel and a large park is on the west. The area in front of the hotel is filled with numerous small shops selling various Chinese crafts and souvenirs, along with a couple of restaurants, and a 7-Eleven which, much to my delight, stocks Guang’s Pineapple Beer.

Everyone we’ve talked to who’s been here before has raved about the shopping - now it's time to see for ourselves. We head for the shopping area, where our first stop is Jennifer’s Place. A low doorway leads into the shop, which is filled with all sorts of cheap, tourist souvenirs. The rest of the shop is a warren of low-ceilinged rooms connected by archways so low that I have to bend over to pass through. It’s just a little bit claustrophobic. The salesclerks here are friendly, speak quite passable English, and are not nearly so pushy as those we’ve encountered elsewhere - they seem to be more used to the American way of shopping. They are also excited to see our “bee-bee” and ask lots of questions about her. We find that the clerks in all of the stores here are equally excited by her and also invariably say “bee-bee” (with the second syllable accented) instead of “baby”. In fact, by the end of our stay in Guangzhou “Bee-bee” will have become Hope’s nickname.

From Jennifer’s Place we move on to Sherry’s place, which is actually a series of small shops within a walled courtyard. Sherry has a good selection of decent luggage, and the prices are surprisingly low. We were packed tightly for the trip over, and we’ll almost certainly need an extra bag to get all of the stuff we’ve picked up in China back home. Beyond Sherry’s we see a sign for “Shop on the Stairs”. Upon reaching it we find that the sign describes the shop precisely. A narrow, double flight of stairs leads up from the sidewalk. The walls on either side of the stairs are hung with shelves which are filled with souvenirs. At the top of the stairs is a small landing with a tiny table from which the proprietor conducts business. In this city of 10 million, real estate is truly at a premium.

Back on the street we’re approached by two young Chinese men with big grins on their faces. We’re certain that they’re going to try and sell us something, but we’re wrong. They turn out to be students, delighted to have some real Americans to practice their English on. They like basketball, especially Michael Jordan and, of course, Yao Ming. We tell them about our travels thus far, the cites we’ve visited, and the differences we’ve noticed between Beijing, Changsha, and Guangzhou, both in climate and temperament. They tell us about China, especially their hometown of Guangzhou. They turn out to be wonderful ambassadors for their city.

White Swan   Kathy and Hope enjoy breakfast at the Whiteswan. The Pearl River is visible through the window behind them. 
White Swan   Another breakfast shot showing more of the Pearl River. 
Chen Clan Academy   These enormous gates form the entrance to the Chen Clan Academy compound.
Chen Clan Academy   Our Guangzhou tourguide, John, describes the Chen Clan Academy.
Chen Clan Academy   Fascinating sculpture of Chinese children in a courtyard at the Chen Clan Academy. I'm not certain, but I don't think this was carved from jade.
Chen Clan Academy   Interesting roof lines at the Chen Clan Academy.
Chen Clan Academy   Elaborate carvings decorate the roof of this building at the Chen Clan Academy.
Chen Clan Academy   Kathy and Hope at the Chen Clan Academy.
Chen Clan Academy   An enormous bowl of fish at the Chen Clan Academy.
Chen Clan Academy   A royal lion stands guard at the Chen Clan Academy.
Chen Clan Academy   Incredible detail can be seen in this carved stone wall at the Chen Clan Academy.
Shamian Island   Shamian Island in Guangzhou.
Shamian Island    Shamian Island in Guangzhou.
Shamian Island    Shamian Island in Guangzhou.
Shamian Island    Shamian Island in Guangzhou.
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