Spring finally arrived in Guangdong! Jun and I decided we needed to get out of Shenzhen. During the Qingming (Tomb Sweeping) Festival, we decided to visit Kaiping on the other side of the Pearl River Delta. We had last visited there for a day trip in 2015. During that trip, however, we felt rushed as traveling to and from Kaiping took a lot of time. We ended up only seeing some of the many sights in the area. This time we planned on staying the night so we could see more. Additionally, one of our friends would be joining us on the trip.
The trip started early on Monday morning. We had to catch the 7:35 train to Guangzhou, where we would transfer for the train to Kaiping. Everything went smoothly, but all three of us were tired.
When we got to Kaiping we negotiated with a driver to take us around all day for a reasonable price.
We first ventured to Jijiangli Village. There we walked around the small village and went up two of the towers there. Kaiping is known for watchtowers (diaolous) that were built in the early 1900s as residences and watchtowers. Chinese immigrants in South Asia, Australasia, and North America would send money back to their families in Kaiping—and in some cases would travel back and forth between China and their foreign homes—to build these towers. Along with the money that was sent, many would also send postcards of the places where they lived, traveled to, or simply famous buildings they liked. Their families back in Kaiping would use these images to inspire them to build the towers in a hybrid architectural style of Chinese and foreign decorative forms.
The intricateness of the designs on these buildings served as a reflection of the wealth of the family. In Jijiangli, the Ruishi building is an example of an ornate and richly decorated building. Unfortunately, it’s privately owned; we were unable to visit the interior. But the outside of the building is quite a sight.
After walking around Jijiangli the driver took us to a local restaurant for lunch. We ended up on a street known for selling dumplings, which we ate and enjoyed. The food was quite good and helped us wake up a bit for our next stop: Majianglong.
This next stop is the largest site of watchtowers in Kaiping. It is comprised of a series of hamlets connected via a bamboo-covered path. The walk itself was nice as it shaded us from the afternoon sun. The towers here were scattered throughout the hamlets and from the top of them, you could look over the bamboo to see some of the other towers. We enjoyed walking around and visiting the different towers. I think, however, we were more interested in the gardens, orchards, and fields as they were teeming with new vegetation. It was nice being out in nature after having been cooped up in Shenzhen for almost two months.
From the village, the driver took us to look at the Chikan Ancient Town which is part of a revitalization and renovation project. The entire village is one large construction zone. It’s a shame we weren’t able to see what the village looked like before the project.
The driver then took us to rest a bit where we could get a drink. Afterward, he took us to our hotel. We thanked him for his help and said goodbye to him.
Our hotel—the Pantower International—was quite nice. The room was comfortable and offered us views of the city and river. After resting a bit we went out to dinner at a local restaurant. My exhaustion from the early start caught up with me as my patience with people ended when we got to the restaurant. They had us move three times before we could sit down and order. At one point they wanted to sit us in a room that was having a party! I told Jun to order whatever he want as I tried to collect myself. The food was great! It helped put me back in a better mood. The service at the restaurant could have been better, but at least the food was delicious.
After we finished, we took a car back to the hotel and went to bed.
After an amazing night of rest, Jun and I woke up feeling refreshed and revitalized. After going down for breakfast, we met up with our friend to plan the day.
Our first stop was to visit the village of Zili. Jun and I visited here in 2015. There were several differences between the visits. The last time we had come it was overcast and the lotuses were in full bloom. During this visit, it was sunny. The lotuses also were only starting to bloom.
Walking around Zili was enjoyable as the watchtowers are more exposed than they were at Majianglong. And they are more concentrated in one area. Walking through the different towers you could see the wealth of some of these families with the items they had in possession and the ornateness of the decorations they used.
From Zili we next went to Li Garden. Xie Weili built this complex based on the design of Daguan Garden described in the novel A Dream in Red Mansions. The different buildings in the compound were built for different family members. The ornateness of the buildings shows a mix of Chinese, European, and North American designs. The richness of the decorations also exudes that this family was wealthy. The place is impressive and a great place for us to end our visit to the diaolous and villages of Kaiping.
Before heading to the train station and heading back to Shenzhen, we stopped at Mountains Café and Bar. We got some drinks and desserts that were quite lovely and fortified us for the trip back to Shenzhen.
The journey back to Shenzhen was unremarkable until we got to Shenzhen and had to wait in a slow line to get a COVID-19 test. We ended up near the end of the line and had to wait almost an hour. When we were done, we were ready to go home and have dinner.
The trip was a nice excursion. It was great spending time with our friend outside of Shenzhen, as well as for us to visit and explore more of Kaiping.