Earlier this week I gave a lecture at a training program for middle school English teachers from Guangzhou. They held the closing ceremonies for the program this noon at the Quan Ju De Beijing Roast Duck Restaurant, and I was invited.
For most of the participants, this was their first trip to Beijing, so their first chance to eat authentic Beijing roast duck. And not just any roast duck at any old restaurant, but roast duck from Quan Ju De, “the most famous restaurant under heaven.”
At the end of the meal, the waiters gave each of us a certificate — proof we could take back to our families and friends that we had, indeed, eaten at Quan Ju De.
Not only that, the certificate identified by number exactly which duck we had eaten. Number 100560.
I’m normally not a fan of this restaurant because I think they are way overpriced (you pay for the name), but I have to admit that Duck 100560 was one of the tastiest ducks I’ve ever eaten.
And now I’ve even got the certificate to prove it!!!
Noel and I are sprinting to the finish line of our Esther Expedition, which ends in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Today we flew from Chengdu to Wuhan. On Tuesdaywe take the bullet train from Wuhan to Guangzhou, then another train to the border the Hong Kong border in Shenzhen. We will cross the bridge into Hong Kong, then board the light rail to Kowloon.
The reason we are doing such a circuitous route from Chengdu to Hong Kong is to follow the route of Esther’s final departure from China in May of 1951. Even though the People’s Republic of China had been established in October of 1949, many of the missionaries working in China at the time had been allowed to remain. By the spring of 1951, however, with the new government consolidating its control over the country and fighting between China and the US on the Korean peninsula, the local officials in Huili, Sichuan gave the final order for the foreigners in the city to leave within 48 hours.
Esther Nelson, along with another single woman and 2 families, set out from Huili, bound for Chengdu. Unlike our journey along that route 2 weeks ago, which was by car and train, their party made the journey on foot. Walking over numerous mountain passes and through towns and cities where they were viewed with suspicion, it took them almost three weeks to reach Ya’an. Added to the trauma of the departure and journey itself, when they reached the town of Hanyuan, one of the wives contracted meningitis and died, leaving behind her husband and 4 children, including a 6 month-old baby. They had to leave money with the Catholic mission where they were staying for a quiet burial, then continue on their way, with Esther taking care of the baby.
When the party reached Chengdu, it was decided that the now-motherless family and Esther would fly to Wuhan (as opposed to taking a slow boat), then take the train to Guangzhou and on to the Hong Kong border, which they crossed on foot. At the time, Hong Kong was really the only way in/out of China.
It is that route that we are tracing this week, although instead of a 36 hour train ride tomorrow, ours will take only 5 hours.
In the second week of our trip, we travelled by car and train along part of the route that she and the others trekked between Huili and Hanyuan. We had hoped to stop in Hanyuan and look for a grave or some kind of marker for the woman who died, but Mr. B, our friend and guide had contacted the priest at the Catholic Church there now and found out that the entire old city was flooded a few years back when a dam was built on the river below the town. There would be nothing to find or see, so we decided not to stop there.
Here are a couple of pictures of the area between Huili and Hanyuan which we got to pass through in relative luxury on the train. It seemed incomprehensible to us that Esther and the others had made this same journey on foot.
Regarding yesterday’s post — some (who are not familiar with Guanzhou) have written and asked what the city looks like today. Here are a couple of photos I managed to find online:
This is a picture of the Garden Hotel, across the street from the Baiyun Hotel, where I took that shot in the previous post. In fact, I’m thinking it may have been taken from the Baiyun Hotel — perhaps from the room I stayed in.The perspective seems very familiar.
My first trip to China was in the summer of 1979, the first year that Americans could go in as tourists. I was doing a summer internship in Hong Kong, and signed up with some friends to go on a tour to Guangzhou. We flew there (30 minute flight just ahead of a typhoon), then took the train out 4 days later. Here are a couple of photos from that trip:
I don’t remember exactly where in Guangzhou this picture was taken — somewhere near river, I think. Notice the sign advertising a Charlie Chaplin film. A Charlie Chaplin film in China was a big big deal that summer! Talk about decadent western influence!!!
For readers of this blog who are familiar with Guangzhou, this photo is taken from the 24th floor of the Baiyun (White Cloud) Hotel. At the time it and the Friendship Store next door were on the outskirts of the city. I don’t know if the building is even still there. The last time I was in Guangzhou (10 years ago), it was still standing — across the street from the Garden Hotel, and dwarfed by numerous skyscrapers.