Although my parents grew up in small villages on the outskirts of Taishan, they were very familiar with the city. When they were kids, it was a “pretty big deal” if you made a trip to Taishan.
As our family friend from Zhuhai drove us into Taishan, my mom pointed out the hospital that I was born in. From an early age, I was told stories about how I was born in China before immigrating to Manitoba, Canada with my mom, when I was nearly one years old. The hospital seemed calm and quiet, as we rumbled by in our van.
Our hotel was close to the river and after we settled in, we began exploring our surroundings. I was surprised by the number of palm trees that lined some of the streets to create a lush, green walkway. However, despite the awning effect created by the palm leaves, there was little reprieve from the heat as the temperature continued to hover around 29-31°C with relative humidity levels of 80%+.
Taishan would be our “home-base” for the remainder of the trip (i.e. after embarking on day-trips, we would be coming back to the city in the evenings). My sisters and I got to know one of the main shopping areas – a vehicle-free street filled with small shops and boutiques.
With a conversion rate of approximately 1:5 for the Canadian Dollar to Chinese Yuan (abbreviated as CNY, RMB or by the sign ¥), we quickly got used to “mental math and shopping.” We picked up clothing and tech items at great prices.
Whenever I visit another country, I make a point to check out grocery and convenience stores to get a better sense of food items that locals might purchase. Our visit to Vanguard’s and Hui Jia did not disappoint. From cucumber flavoured chips, to purple sweet potato oatmeal, and dried chicken feet, it was neat seeing the different foods beckoning local taste buds. It was also interesting to observe brands, like Quaker Oats, tailoring their flavours to a specific market.
In addition, you could buy beer at Vanguard’s for the equivalent of $0.50 CDN.
Though the window shopping alone could keep us busy for a week, a trip back to Taishan wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the villages. My last Taishan village visit was during the summer of 1995. I was young, curious, and fearless. I stayed with my uncle and his family, played with other kids in the village, and caught frogs for fun. In present day, it was bittersweet seeing many of the homes empty. Most of the former residents had abandoned the village to live in larger cities, and improve their lifestyles.
As we walked around the village, we spotted an older, shirtless man at least 100 feet away (because of the heat and humidity, it’s not uncommon to see a man with his belly exposed or without a shirt – especially in the more rural areas of China). Before we uttered a word, the man shouted, “Is that Terry?!” My dad often bragged about being known by everyone “back at home” – he was right.
My parents still refer to a partially abandoned village in China as being “back at home.” What does “home” feel like for you? How would you define it?
Read more about the Choy family’s travel adventures: The Red Lanterns of Guangzhou.