Dispatch 11

Date: June 25, 2001. Monday.

Location: Guangzhou

Greetings. We had another fun-filled day in Guangzhou on Monday, starting with a trip to a quick-shot photography shop across the street from the White Swan for Eleanor’s visa photos. Lucky for us, Elle’s remarkably compliant with such requests and generally goes along with whatever we are doing. Here are the Badger and the Odger in the photoshop. “I’m ready for my closeup now, Mr. DeMille.”

At the photo shop.

After the photo session, Susannah and Robert were introduced to public clinic medicine in China at the medical station on Shamian Island (within walking distance of the White Swan) to have Elle’s pre-visa medical exam–not so different from what Susannah knows about from the American public health system, but new to Robert. We didn’t get any photos of the scene because it seemed inappropriate to photograph the local people who were mixed in with us, but man oh man! What a riot scene! The place was packed before the arrival of fourteen American families with a dozen babies in full wail. There were three “stations” to pass: “face” (check! she has a face), “body” (yep–also present), and “length/weight” (77 cm long, a robust 23 lbs. 9 oz.). The levels of chaos and just plain noise escalated; kids and grownups began to feed off one another’s rising tension. It was hard for anyone to be patient (and here we do speak for ourselves as well). It was clear that many of these kids had either little or negative experience with people in white coats. Elle, however, was a trouper, remaining fairly blase until the “face” person tried to pry open her mouth with a tongue depressor (she must have concluded that Elle’s determined expression and shining array of teeth meant she might lose a finger). That tore it: Elle roared briefly, which gave the “face” lady a good view of her throat. “Normal”–check….

It has been raining off and on almost constantly over our 17 days and three cities, with only perhaps four partly-sunny (and intensely muggy) days. We understand vaguely that there is a typhoon raging in our area, but we don’t know any details and are hoping that it will not affect our flight out of Guangzhou on Wednesday. The rain has really been a blessing, since it’s meant the temperature has hovered comfortably in the high 70s and low 80s, instead of 90s and even low 100s that we were told to expect (they’re not kidding when they call Jiangxi Province the “blast furnace of China”).

Elle has no complaints about rain either–the puddles are cleaner and deeper and that makes for great stamping.

Puddle stamping extravaganza.

Guangzhou has a long history of foreign colonization and influence. After the Opium Wars in the 1840s, Shamian Island, where the White Swan is located, was designated as a British and French concession and continued to be a port of entry into China for the Western powers. Today it retains a very colonial, British look and feel, criss-crossed with wide pedestrian avenues, old, well-cared-for ornamental trees, and garden paths.

Shamian Island colonial outpost.

Of course, like most of China today it is being reconstructed and redeveloped. Everything–everything!–in China seems to be one big construction zone. In the photo below, you can see that the pink building on the left has just been rehabilitated; its sidewalk is now being rebuilt, while on the right side of the street the ubiquitous bamboo scaffolding is still up around the white building.

Everything is under construction.

This white building, by the way, is where the Sherry, Jennifer, and Benjamin of wide Internet fame all have their little businesses. It is positively uncanny how the Americans who stumble into these stores know one other from their online activity. We told Sherry that we had seen several photos of her and her shop online, and she seemed to be surprised and a bit incredulous. To drive the point home, we started asking Americans who came into her shop if they had ever heard of her online and every one of them said yes, they had. We even met a few people the two of us know from our various message boards and e-groups. Here we are at Sherry’s place showing off one of our art purchases — Elle was born in the year of the rabbit.

Inside Sherry's Place.

Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent with our Chinese friend Betty Wong, who was in Guangzhou hoping to get an immigrant visa from the American Consulate. There were worrisome SNAFUs in her case, and the four of us spent some time calling and emailing various people at the Consulate to help her straighten things out.

Since Elle was by this time very tired and uncharacteristically fractious (terrible 2s a little early? teething?–later that evening she woke with a rattle in her chest and a deep cough that required Cefelexin from the Texas Medical Kit), we opted for take-out from a Chinese restaurant down the street from the White Swan. This meant bypassing the Thai restaurant next door, where the foodstuffs were so fresh they were still trying to escape. The Chinese food was tasty and attractive, but the menu made for a giggly time ordering (we’d hate to imagine what ridiculous gaffes we’d make if we tried to translate an American menu into Chinese).

  • Pan-fried silver hake with salad sauce
  • Roasted pigen
  • Saoteed broccoli and scallop with macadamia not
  • Braised mixed superior dry seafood

We ended up getting the “braised bean cvrd with bamboo pith.” At least its struggles were over long before we got there.

Silly menu translations.

Another day has come and gone very quickly. Tomorrow, we have the big appointment at the American Consulate, the one for which we have lugged several pounds of paperwork all across China.


Robert & Susannah & Eleanor / http://eleanorjean.com