My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Evening Cruise on the Pearl River (July 21, 2010)

Sorry for the delay in posting -- I was trying to figure out how to handle all the photos & videos I took of the colored lights (and animated buildings!) during the cruise, and finally decided a few pictures were less important than the recollections & stories this blog is intended to share... So you may find a future post with additional photos & videos pertaining to this post. Meanwhile, back to July 2010...

There was a bit of a scramble when we got back to the hotel; traffic during the return trip from the Consulate made the traffic going there look light, and the clock was ticking down to the scheduled departure time for our evening cruise. I think the Pipsqueak must've loaned out her ability to teleport (remember the incident on the bed?) -- I really don't remember how we got from the big tour bus and into our usual minibus, but my memory jumps from one bus to the other so I figure that's how we did it. :-)

The ride back through the city on surface streets was different from the trip on the raised highway -- we were right down in the everyday rush at the end of the workday, and (since traffic was still barely moving) had a clear view of all the little vignettes that make up everyone's daily life. It was raining lightly, so people were moving quickly from one covered spot to another, some obviously shopping, some just trying to get home after a long day at work. The passing cityscape was also interesting -- we'd drive past grocery shops, apartments, clothing or electronics stores... and then suddenly there'd be a big nightclub with all kinds of crazy posters & photos in the windows (most including either photos or silhouettes of young women wearing quite a bit less than one would expect given the reputation of the national government).

One of the wilder signs I saw for a nightclub (of course there was a telephone pole right in front of it when the camera shutter clicked!) showed Bugs Bunny -- yes, I said Bugs Bunny -- ogling a couple of scantily-clad young women. (Holy copyright infringement, Batman!)  By this time I had gotten over my "not in Kansas any more" feeling, but this was one of the moments when I had to wonder exactly where I really was. Dude, pinch yourself again -- are you sure you're in the People's Republic of China and not back home...?

We got to the wharf on time and piled out of the bus, with Lucy warning us to keep close together and keep an eye out for any hands that weren't ours reaching into our pockets. We got into the "station" and Lucy tried to get us into the VIP lounge to wait -- but we were relegated to hanging out in the regular waiting area.  It didn't really matter too much in the end; we were only there a few minutes before the boat began boarding. We made our way through the dining room to our tables (happily right by the window), got all the kids & paraphernalia organized, and took a look around.

The dining room was nice, and we had enough space to be comfortable... but I was wondering if all the rushing had been for nothing because there wasn't much to see outside. It was too light for there to be any neon showing clearly (despite the heavy overcast), and everything looked pretty much the way it looked when we walked along the riverbank near the White Swan each evening. The fake "junk" tour boat we'd seen during our evening walks was maneuvering nearby -- up close, it proved even bigger than I'd thought -- and I watched it for a few minutes. Eventually our path was clear, and we cast off and motored into the main channel.

First we headed toward the new TV broadcast tower that was one of the newest additions to the Guangzhou skyline. It was supposed to be covered in lights that changed colors in a range of animated patterns, but they hadn't been turned on yet because the sun was just beginning to go down. With another pang of "oh well, at least I hope we'll have a nice meal on the river" I took a couple of photos (we were still a good distance from the tower when the boat turned around and headed in the other direction) and contented myself with watching the Pipsqueak play with one of the other girls on the wide sill between our table & the window.

As the sky began to darken, the rain tapered off... and I realized that the river had begun slowly filling with tour boats of all shapes & sizes, each with its own complement of neon & animated lights. Maybe this was the light show...? We just chilled, talking among ourselves, watching the passing scene and occasionally repositioning one of the kiddos on the windowsill (or moving potentially dangerous window blind cords away)...  Not too much time passed before it was dinnertime, and (as usual!) I wasn't exactly sure what I was eating but it was all pretty good. Meanwhile, it had been getting steadily darker outside, and the neon on passing boats was definitely becoming more of a show. I also noticed some of the buildings were beginning to light up... a colored rooftop here, highlighted edges there, maybe some moving lights on a large billboard...

Finally, whole buildings were lighting up, and the rain seemed to have finally stopped for real, so I decided that maybe my fears had been misplaced -- there really was a lot to look at, after all! There was a series of announcements on the PA system but without an English translation we had no way of knowing if it was a safety lecture, a running narration of the passing scene, or announcements about the evening's events so we just kept talking among ourselves while keeping one eye on the kiddos & the other out the window. (Hey, if a chameleon can do it, why can't I?!?)

We soon got a surprise: a huge animated neon billboard spanning almost half a city block advertising... Amway! Of all the bits of Americana I thought we might encounter in China, this was definitely not on the list -- I'm not exactly their biggest fan but I think I laughed out loud at the sight. Never mind good ol' Bugs... this was (supposedly) as American as it gets, but there it was, bigger than life and blasting out enough photons to read by!

Somehow it wasn't much of a surprise to see a big UPS billboard a couple of rooftops away... and at that point I decided to get a better view of things from the observation deck. AJ and the other mommies stayed put with the kiddos while the menfolk made their way (individually) upstairs and outside. Papa B and Papa S eventually went back inside, but I hung out topside with my camera for most of the rest of the evening. (Turns out I was missing a magic show and some other entertainment... guess I'll have to stay below in the dining room when we take the Pipsqueak back to China on a heritage tour in a couple of decades. <g>)

I'm posting some images below that don't really do justice to the passing scene -- problem is, I spent a lot more time with the camera in video mode than in still mode, and it's just taking waaaay too long to sample the hundreds of megabytes of animations to post it all here. Suffice it to say, they really like their neon in China -- as in, you need to go to the Strip in Vegas to see something like this, and that's just a few blocks while this is literally miles of waterfront! Some buildings just had decorative lighting; many had animated patterns running across their faces (often changing into different animations every couple of minutes); a few buildings were acting like giant TV screens (the pictures were low resolution but could definitely be watched, they just had no sound); and a surprising number of buildings had animated lights that actually displayed recognizable patterns (one of my favorites was a large office building whose entire facade was an animation of falling maple leaves).  Just to keep things interesting, most of the lights along the riverbanks were also animated, and all the passing tour boats were heavily decked out in many colors of neon (some of which was also animated). Here's a really small sample of what kept me enthralled for much of the evening:

Note: The last 2 pictures are frame sequences from one of my videos; I'll try to do a better job posting samples sometime in the future.

Eventually, even the passing light show on both sides of the boat wasn't enough to keep me from noticing that I had almost been blown over by the wind on several occasions, and I decided it was time to rejoin the group. It wasn't long afterwards that it became obvious we were nearing the end of the cruise, and we managed to have most of our stuff ready to roll when the boat docked. As we made our way back to our bus, I noticed the crowds were different -- there were a lot more twentysomethings, and many seemed dressed for an evening of club-hopping. At this point, I had so completely rewritten my old notions of what China would look like that I just kept one hand on my wallet and treated the crowd like any other I'd encountered in Europe or the Americas. In fact, I think we had all reached a similar point; the crazy traffic on the way back to the White Swan was just another ride through the city, and the occasional stare from someone in a nearby vehicle no longer seemed impolite or novel.

I don't know -- maybe, with the adoptions completed and our return home looming so large, Guangzhou had become just another city, China just another place...? All I know is that somehow things felt different, and while I really was in no rush to leave I felt like it really was time to return Stateside and get on with life. (Despite this feeling, none of us had trouble being amused by the sight of a street cleaner whose driver had tried squeezing beneath an overpass a good couple of feet lower than the top of his machine...!)

On the way back to the hotel, Lucy talked a little about what we could do the next day -- our last full day in China! -- and while AJ and I decided to see how much more sightseeing we could squeeze in, there were some noncommital answers from the rest of the group. We were all tired (especially the two newly-minted older sisters, who had been behaving wonderfully the whole time despite being exhausted) so as we disembarked it was left at "we'll see who's in the lobby at such-and-such a time" and we headed back upstairs to our rooms.

We did a little bit of pre-packing, Skyped with our folks a bit, and then AJ & Miri went to bed while I completed posting in our travel blog. Unlike any other evening during the trip, something about the almost generically urban crowds and immediacy of our pending departure had left me feeling a little melancholy. I'd felt similar feelings before, when pending returns to the U.S. from overseas postings were close and there was a sort of "this is ending very soon" scent in the air, but the feeling evaporated every time I looked at the Pipsqueak snoring quietly beside my sister in bed. It took a few minutes to sink in, but by the time I turned out the lights I had a new feeling that this wasn't an ending -- it was just the closing of a first chapter, very much the beginning of a whole new adventure.

NEXT: Last Day in China!

No comments:

Post a Comment